Assessing Collections for Diversity & Inclusion: e-Forum Summary

This article was co-written by the e-Forum moderators.

The ALCTS e-Forum “Assessing Collections for Diversity and Inclusion” was held April 16–17, 2019. This session was sponsored by the ALCTS Aquisition Section Committee on Research & Statistics. Committee members Katherine Brown (Auraria Library), Keri Perlitz (ProQuest), Jeff Eller (Wake Forest University), and Katy DiVittorio (Auraria Library) moderated. Discussion topics focused on how libraries are working to diversify their collections.

Word cloud of e-Forum summary text

The first day most of the discussion centered around the general question of “What is your library doing or what have you heard other libraries are doing to assess and diversify their collections?” Participants described efforts to increase collection diversity including creating a “diversity” fund to purchase books that might not align with university curriculum, working with instructors to identify diverse leaders within their fields, and keeping a manual record of the diverse attributes of new resources as they are cataloged. In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action is a critical component of the work of assessing collections for equity and social justice. University of Manitoba is using it to assess their collections. In the United States, the University of Denver (DU) has a Collection Diversification Task Force to identify gaps in the collection where works by Cheyenne and Arapaho writers — as  well as works about Cheyenne and Arapaho nations — are concerned in order to address the university’s complex history in the massacre of these nations. The second question of that day prompted participants to consider how the makeup (mostly white) of the library profession and the scholarly publishing field influences collection building.

Discussion continued in the afternoon centered around limitations to assessing collections for diversity. A major limiting factor for most librarians is time, since there are so many resources to consider and means by which to incorporate more diverse titles. Automation can also negatively impact diversity of collections. Different workflows and resources are needed to better incorporate diversity, looking outside the mainstream vendors, publishers and data feeds. There was a lot of agreement that more could be done regarding metadata, and many libraries are focusing on how users are searching for materials when considering collection assessment. The discussions helped highlight the many ways unintentional bias impacts the diversity of our collections and how our awareness can help combat this. 

The first question of day two asked participants to think about ways in which the project of improving diversity in collections can be a proactive, rather than a reactive, one. Conversation centered initially around graphic novels as a growing presence in libraries and a worthy component in terms of diversity and inclusion. One library mentioned holding a zine making workshop and then adding the zines to their collection. Discussion then turned to textbooks: did participants consider buying textbooks to be an inclusive practice by libraries? The resounding answer was “yes,” even if providing them might entail institutional or fiscal challenges. Participants mentioned that there is a growing focus on advocating for and implementing open educational resources to either supplement or replace library textbook support. The second question of the day asked what challenges participants have faced in trying to diversify their collections. The foremost answer? Time. Depending on a library’s size and level of staffing, individuals might struggle to make space in their schedules to work on addressing existing inequities in their collections. Not everyone has a committee (or a budget) for that.

In the afternoon discussion turned back to a topic that had been mentioned a bit the day before. How are the current metadata structures or Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) negatively affecting our ability to assess collections? University of Colorado Boulder recently added inclusive, non-Library of Congress subject headings to catalog records on the topic of “immigration.” There were concerns that this type of project is labor intensive. We were lucky to have the leader of the CU Boulder project participating in the e-Forum, and she shared her process with the group. It was great to hear that Yale University Library, Denver Public Libraries, Bard College, and Williamsburg Regional Library have also batch updated LCSH on “immigration.” Participants noted that this process seems to be easier in Sierra than other integrated library systems like Alma or Voyager. The final topic looked at whether libraries factor in the practices of the vendors they work with when trying to be inclusive and diverse. For example, Westlaw works with ICE. Some libraries are moving towards supporting local and independent bookstores.

Thanks and appreciation to everyone who participated in this e-forum for the great discussion! To view the full e-forum transcript, visit the ALCTS e-Forum email discussion list.


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