Libraries have always been institutions of cultural heritage. They foster the preservation of diverse histories and the advancement of social justice.
In fact, libraries have become key supporters of social justice movements. It was even the theme of the 2015 Association of Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) conference. These centers for learning, inclusion, and community cater to people of all backgrounds and have recognized the importance they play in furthering the rights of different groups. Libraries have taken on the responsibility of meeting changing community needs as leaders of cultural change in society.
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Libraries Foster Safe Environments For Social Justice Education
According to John Vincent, social justice is “every one of us having the chances and opportunities to make the most of our lives and use our talents to the full.” Libraries work with this concept in a variety of ways like service to patrons, contributing to research, and educating the public on new topics. There are a number of ways that libraries have worked to create environments conducive to learning and promoting social justice.
- Curating conscious digital collections.
- Recruiting diverse staff.
- Re-examining library policies that may lead to inequity in access.
- Training staff on social justice topics and emerging news.
- Offering safe spaces for community discussion.
- Listening to library patrons and developing responsive services.
Developing Social Justice Competent Staff
There are also a number of library organizations that are ensuring that social justice training and education are incorporated. The Public Library Association (PLA), a division of the American Library Association, hosts conferences and continuing education at libraries across the country to help spread information about social justice. These regional symposiums cover topics of equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice.
These trainings help staff become impactful and useful library resources and leaders to their communities. Major focuses of these trainings and presentations touch on self-awareness and historical understanding as well as insight into successful racial equity initiatives. The PLA works to develop action plans with these community public libraries that jumpstart or build on equity work.
Many learning institutions that cater to library studies are also including social justice oriented topics into classes and recognizing the need for recognizing diversity in the library profession. Oregon State University’s library science program describes this field as an “area of intersection between social justice and public service in which a scholar can apply their passion in a meaningful and impactful way.” They include many resources for budding librarians to use to help them understand the importance of their roles as well as the relationships social justice and equity has with libraries.
Social Justice Education At Local Public Libraries
Local public libraries have also done the work to make sure social justice education is something that is accessible to their communities. Many have realized the importance in pursuing an active role in empowering the voices of minority communities. Outreach programs can be found at libraries across the country. These programs help patrons explore current social justice issues and invite civil rights leaders in for discussions.
The Seattle Public Library has programs in place that promote digital equity, intellectual freedom, and social justice education. It has become a core participant of the Mayor’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) which is a city-wide program that brings diverse voices across organizations in the community. As a result, the library makes sure to hire from diverse backgrounds and offer programs that are relevant to all cultures residing in the community.
In addition, they’ve also implemented a Social Justice Series comprising 3–6 community programs, a social media campaign, and exhibit per series. Topics in the past have touched on homelessness, criminal justice/abolition, and environmental equity/Indigenous knowledge systems. This past year’s series focused on the subject of food justice and recordings from all past series can be accessed through the SPL’s Social Justice podcasts.
The Massachusetts Library System has created a social justice resource guide for libraries and library professionals to use. This guide includes selected library resources that touch on the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-racism, and whiteness as well as how to talk to children and teens about these topics. There’s plenty of tools included to help library staff promote healthy conversation and become allies to patrons they serve. This resource guide has collected links, books, and webinars to promote social justice support in communities.
The role of libraries has evolved around meeting community needs since their inception. The social responsibilities of these institutions have expanded and become more apparent in recent years. This increased focus on social justice benefits people of all backgrounds and cultures and exemplify why libraries are key supporters of social justice.