VIVA Anti-Racism Webinar Series explores systemic racism in library practices

The following was contributed by Jennifer Roper, Director of Digital Strategies and co-chair of the VIVA Anti-Racism Task Force.

This February, VIVA, Virginia’s Academic Library Consortium, launched a new webinar series intent on tackling the topic of building anti-racist practices into library work. The webinar series is a direct actionable response to the VIVA Anti-Racism statement issued in June 2020. A task force comprised of individuals from a number of VIVA institutions, including UVA Library, was appointed in Fall 2020 to develop and implement the series as one action to foster an anti-racism culture within member organizations. The task force is co-chaired by Carmelita Pickett, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Resources & Content Strategy, and Jennifer Roper, Director of Digital Strategies, both of UVA Library.

White supremacy and the structures that inherently support white supremacy pose a threat to equity everywhere. The goal of this webinar series is to build community through conversation, creating a space where people can talk through their projects, engage with scholars, and learn what libraries could and should be like if in fact libraries value diversity, equity, and inclusion. Further information about the series is available on the VIVA website.


Elaine Westbrooks

The first webinar focused on Leadership, and Elaine Westbrooks, Vice Provost of University Libraries and University Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was the keynote speaker. Westbrooks, who assumed her current role in 2017, provided a brief overview of the events that led her to analyze the work of her organization and take radical action to halt the effects of systemic racism on the overall practice.

She suggested 5 broad steps framing her approach:

  • Acknowledge the existence of systemic racism and oppression in library practices.
  • Account for what has happened and accept responsibility for the present and future.
  • Shift to focus on equity in all aspects of the organization and its work.
  • Create an environment where race and white supremacy are discussed openly.
  • Create a culture of learning and growing together.

Westbrooks’ talk was powerful, and she engaged with the audience in a robust Q&A session after her prepared remarks. This keynote address and Q&A session were recorded and are now available on the VIVA website.

Following the keynote address was a discussion panel in which Westbrooks joined a group of VIVA institution librarians discussing their day-to-day work and projects that actively pursue anti-racist practices. Participants provided an overview of their work as practical examples and demonstrated how leadership in this arena can exist at different levels within organizational structure. Additionally, participants discussed their motivation for pursuing the work and how the work affects them as individuals and professionals. Q&A with the panel yielded greater detail on the projects and the personal cost and benefit to deconstructing existing practices in favor of anti-racist approaches.

In closing, the VIVA task force presented guidelines for beginning conversations at individual institutions. There will be further webinars in the series, with future webinars having a focus on topics such as LIS Programs and LIS Faculty of Color, Collections, Metadata, and Technology.

Read more about the Anti-Racism Webinar Series and watch the webinar now.

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