UVA Today is featuring an article about the Library’s efforts to foster greater appreciation for the differences that exist between members of its staff, not only difference between ethnic cultures, but between religious faiths, younger and older workers, people with different sexual preferences and gender identities, those with and without disabilities, and between socio-economic groups.
University Librarian John Unsworth has begun a staff-wide conversation about understanding difference, asking all members of the Library staff, at least once a year, to engage in activities that bring them “into conversation with people different from those with whom [they] normally associate, with the goal of increasing our cultural fluency and improving our information services.”
Shortly after arriving at UVA in 2016, Unsworth created a library Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, and named Phylissa Mitchell as director. Mitchell, who has taught law and journalism from West Virginia to the Ukraine, was “charged with creating programs to attract underrepresented populations to library professions and to UVA.” She’s “also responsible for inclusion and equity outreach across libraries and the University.”
Members of a group that Mitchell created, based on Debby Irving’s book Waking Up White, have responded to their discussion in a variety of ways. Fine Arts public services manager April Joy Baker is learning what it takes to fight “institutional racism,” overcoming an “instinct to be defensive and close down because of shame.” Social sciences research librarian Christine Slaughter is “organizing an event to facilitate the library’s purchase of material by underrepresented voices …” Music collections librarian Winston Barham traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border with his faith community and blogged about his group’s experience of “being the foreigners, strangers, guests” in the border towns.
For more about Library efforts to be more inclusive, visit the Understanding Difference resource guide put together by Library organizational development coordinator Suzanne Bombard, and read the article “Library Employees Take Up Challenge to Learn More About People Different Than Them” (UVA Today 11/1/2018).