From the Executive Director: Take Action Against Racism

Posted: June 25, 2020

Continued killings of Black Americans are an acutely painful reminder of systemic racism in our country, and leave many difficult questions.

To me, the two most important questions are: What can I do? What can we do?

Our country’s history regarding race and racism is an extremely difficult thing for many white people to talk about. However, part of why libraries and other cultural organizations are so important is that we help society ask and address hard questions, expose people to different perspectives, and promote lifelong learning. Discussing race and racism can lead to discomfort, particularly amongst people who have long held a dominant position in society. But without discomfort, we don’t grow.

Many library organizations, corporations, and others have made statements in support of the Black community, and condemning systemic racism in any form, be it through police violence, or our country’s history of subjugation, disproportionate and mass incarceration, and discrimination against Black Americans, indigenous persons, and other persons of color (often abbreviated as BIPOC).

As the MCLS Executive Director, I can say unequivocally that MCLS condemns racism in any form. Black Lives Matter.

That’s a statement. But what is it really worth?

Some, including my colleague Nancy Kirkpatrick at OhioNET, have called for more than just statements. They ask rightly, what action can we take? That’s where I want to focus. The topics of race and racism are vast. Where to start?

What can I do? What can we do?

  1. Learn more about racism, anti-racism, and how to talk about it
  2. Become an ally to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)
  3. Be intentionally inclusive
    • There are many inclusive booklists of titles to add to library collections.
    • Consider including race and social justice as key tenets in library strategic planning, as Seattle Public Library has done.
    • PLA and ACRL each have initiatives working toward greater library staff diversity, equity and inclusion, and libraries and librarians can participate.

Learning about and talking openly and deeply about racism is hard for many white people, and for organizations whose staff are mostly white. Taking sustained action against racism is hard. It requires an ongoing commitment that cannot be allowed to dissipate out of organizational weariness.

What can I do? What can we do?

Get started. Do something. Don’t be ruled by fear of doing, saying, or writing the wrong thing. If that should happen, acknowledge it and continue forward. I’ve started by learning, using some of the resources listed above. I will engage our management team to consider actions we will take at MCLS, including how to talk about these issues as a staff, and what we will do to build and maintain a more diverse staff than we have today. If you have thoughts or ideas, please connect with me at garrisons@mcls.org.

I would like to thank the following individuals who gave me much to consider in writing this piece: Michelle Bradley, Chelsea Denault, Jim Flury, Nancy Kirkpatrick, Chrystal Pickell, Debbi Schaubman, Marcellus Turner, Lance Werner, and members of the MCLS Board of Directors.