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Sunday June 20th

University Libraries launches Reckoning Initiative to advance anti-racism work

"You’ve earned the right to be here, and we want to ensure that you belong, you’re represented and you’re treated equitably."

Wilson Library overlooks Polk Place on March 1, 2021.
Buy Photos The University Libraries recently launched their Reckoning Initiative aiming to increase diversity, inclusion and antiracism work in the library system.

University Libraries launched its Reckoning Initiative, a layered approach to advancing diversity, inclusion and antiracism work within the library system, on May 13.

The Reckoning Initiative aims to raise awareness of inequity through five broad, intersecting categories: 

  • Education and training opportunities for library staff
  • Programmatic work
  • Systems analysis, intervention and change strategy
  • Integrating antiracism practices into library work
  • Tracking and assessment.

Elaine Westbrooks, vice provost for University Libraries and University librarian, said that prior to the pandemic, the Libraries held an exhibition examining the historical role of science in creating concepts of race, as well as other exhibitions meant to demonstrate active commitment to the equity and inclusion work stated in the Libraries' framework.

Westbrooks said inclusive excellence has been part of the library’s strategic framework since 2018, but the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black individuals became a call to action to elevate the “seeds” that had already been planted. She said the last three categories of the Reckoning Initiative are new focal points University Libraries aims to integrate within its daily practices.

The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Council leads library efforts in creating an equitable environment for library staff and users. The council takes charge in proposing goals and recommendations, developing training and programs and collaborating with other UNC organizations for the purpose of furthering anti-racism awareness within the library system.

Monica Figueroa, interim librarian for inclusive excellence and chairperson of the IDEA Council, said academic librarianship everywhere — not just at UNC — is predominantly white, so University Libraries is exploring how to attract and retain a diverse staff. 

Figueroa said the Libraries held discussions about Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” to push staff to think about racial equity in a direct manner, and to bring those conversations into the library system and workplace.

University Libraries also participated in a 21-day racial equity challenge, where staff members were encouraged to engage with resources that deal with racial equity on a daily basis.

Figueroa said they have also addressed accessibility, including making electronic resources available to people who use screen readers and other digitally inclusive technologies. 

Westbrooks said an integral part of the Reckoning Initiative includes IDEA Action grants, which support employees who intend to contribute to the library system’s work toward inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. $250,000 has been allocated over two years for the grants.

“This is actually our second round of project proposals that we’re going into this summer, and some really great project ideas,” Figueroa said.

The first round of project proposals accepted in March involve ideas surrounding equitable and inclusive transcriptions regarding oral history recordings, translations for exhibitions of key marginalized communities and other plans to bolster accessibility and racial equity.

Kristan Shawgo, social sciences librarian and chairperson of the IDEA Action committee, said she thinks the IDEA Action grants demonstrate a commitment of leadership for supporting anti-racism and social justice through University Libraries’ work in a tangible way — both with funding and making the time and space available for people to put their projects in practice. 

Shawgo said the IDEA Action committee held several ideation sessions where they invited people to discuss projects they had in mind. She said she could feel the energy and passion individuals had for the work.

“Conversations are happening in a way that they hadn’t happened before Elaine Westbrooks’ leadership and the framework of the Reckoning Initiative,” she said. “It’s exciting because it’s opened up the space to think about deep structural change in everything we do.”

For students and faculty looking to get involved with the Reckoning Initiative, Westbrooks said feedback could help University Libraries understand how to meet expectations, as well as when they meet them.

“You should belong,” Westbrooks said. “You’ve earned the right to be here, and we want to ensure that you belong, you’re represented and you’re treated equitably.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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