At college and university academic libraries, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives often involve improving item-collection policies and enhancing access to materials for students and community members, resources for faculty research, and educational programming on related topics.

Experts say that growing opposition to DEI in higher education across the country makes this work even more essential. 

Two institutions — Lafayette College, a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), a public health sciences university — are setting examples for others as they spearhead projects from Banned Books Week events to more in-depth actions like developing a strategic DEI plan.

Lafayette College

Ana Ramirez Luhrs
Ana Ramirez Luhrs

At the Skillman Library at Lafayette College, staff members and students in a DEI working group created a four-year DEI strategic plan in 2021. The plan includes a variety of initiatives focused on the development of collections, programming, teaching, and digital and physical accessibility, says Ana Ramirez Luhrs, co-director of special collections and college archives.

This has already led to projects such as installing gender-neutral bathrooms in the library building and a recent review of digital resources to ensure vendors meet the college’s standards of accessibility. The library is also purchasing reading materials from companies with ethical policies — such as businesses with reputations for positive treatment of employees — and working with independent and local bookstores and supply companies.  

Librarianship has a long history of being Eurocentric, says Ramirez Luhrs. To help change this, Lafayette is among a group of schools offering Careers in Library and Information Science, an annual paid internship program for students of color.

At Lafayette College, more than 100 copies of “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, and other books identified as the most banned books in America are available as part of banned books library programming. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College)
At Lafayette College, more than 100 copies of “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, and other books identified as the most banned books in America are available as part of banned books library programming. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette College)

Programming for its popular Banned Books Week has taken place at the college for over 15 years, Ramirez Luhrs says, and includes events like impromptu banned book readouts and discussions. More recently, the Office of Intercultural Development and the library collaborated to purchase more than 100 copies of the novel “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, which was named one of PEN America’s most banned books in 2022. They also distributed bookmarks that listed commonly banned books.

“[The library is] a central space, and in carrying those duties of being a central space, we have to make sure that everyone in our community feels not just welcomed but seen and heard and respected for who they are,” Ramirez Luhrs says.

University of California, San Francisco 

Sarah McClung
Sarah McClung

Library staff across the University of California system both individually and collaboratively address DEI matters, says Sarah McClung, head of collection development at the UCSF Library.

A recent university-wide project known as the Anti-Racism Initiative focuses on dismantling structural racism and the impact of bias. As part of the project, McClung and colleagues developed a guide to the library’s antiracist books and articles. Featured materials are introductory, historical, and focused on racism in health sciences and medicine, McClung says.

“[UCSF’s] mission is advancing health care worldwide, and in that statement, there’s no room for racism. There’s no room for bigotry,” she says.

The library is also involved in the Inclusive Skin Color Project, which began as part of the School of Medicine’s Anti-Oppression Curriculum Initiative. McClung is expanding the availability of literature that illustrates medical conditions on a spectrum of skin colors.

In addition, she is working on a project that addresses the issue of informed consent for the publication of images in academic journals and books, as best practices and standards aren’t applied equally across the industry. The library is starting to review top dermatology journals to see which ones specifically mention their informed consent policies and is modifying their own collections based on industry standards and institutional values. 

“In the last couple of years, I’ve definitely heard [much] more about DEI in academic libraries. … In the past, it was just kind of a buried part of the mission, vision, values [of an institution, but] I think folks are more motivated to bring that back up and realize it was a lot of lip service,” McClung says.

She feels fortunate to receive consistent support in DEI-focused projects at her institution.

“This [antiracism work] is a forever thing,” says McClung. “It’s not something that I can just check a box and say I’m done, either personally or professionally. It’s something that I have to do every day and fight for.”

This article was published in our September 2023 issue.