Intersections | Penn Libraries: The GOLD Standard

Intersections - The Blog of the ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services

By Amanpreet Kaur, Rachelle Nelson, and Rebecca Stuhr ( | In 2005, the University of Pennsylvania's Vice Provost & Director of Libraries, Carton Rogers, charged a group to promote diversity in Penn Libraries.  The team consisted of 4 librarians and a representative from the University's Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunities Programs. The team named itself “GOLD” - the Group on Library Diversity, and initially addressed the issue of young people of color not being aware of librarianship as a career choice.

GOLD designed a 7-week summer internship program for high school students from West Philadelphia, identified co-workers who would serve as mentors, welcomed the inaugural class of 7 student interns, who were exposed to the library system through a series of hands-on experiences.  Over 4 years (2005-2008), 30 students participated.  In recognition of the program, GOLD received Penn’s 2006 Models of Excellence Award for “supporting the Penn Compact goals of inclusion by recruiting under-represented minorities to the profession of academic librarianship while working broadly within the Philadelphia area, with a focus on the West Philadelphia community.”

Although a success, the Summer Internship Program was put on hiatus in 2009 when GOLD was asked to design a 2-year, post-MLIS residency program for entry level professionals from underrepresented groups.  The Eugene Garfield Residency in Science Librarianship was created to engage recent MLIS graduates in research and instruction activities, collection development, liaison responsibilities, and digital initiatives across the STEM Libraries at Penn.  Since 2010, the Penn Libraries has made 4 resident appointments.

In 2014, a number of long planned GOLD initiatives came to fruition including the University of Pennsylvania Libraries Diversity Statement, a 4-year Road Map, and the Diversity at Penn Libraries website.  During the same year, the Libraries established the Community Outreach Librarian position and, for the first time, specifically addressed diversity in the Penn Libraries Strategic Plan. In 2015, GOLD had its first Open House and held our first Staff Potluck Picnic.

In 2016, GOLD continued hosting the annual Open House and Staff Potluck. In addition, GOLD launched Diversi-teas, its largest initiative to date. Diversi-teas is a series of presentations and conversations with campus resource centers, including cultural centers at Penn. GOLD holds six or seven Diversi-teas per semester. At each Diversi-tea, staff and/or student representatives from a resource center present on how the center supports students, staff, faculty, and/or the general public. Library staff learn when or how to make referrals to the center as well as  think critically about library policies that hinder access and use of library services, spaces, and resources. Diversi-teas have opened up the dialogue between the libraries and resource centers to partner in new ways.

At the Diversi-teas, library staff heard consistently from students who felt uncomfortable in the libraries. Not only were students reluctant to ask for assistance, they were reluctant to enter the libraries. As a result of the Diversi-teas and subsequent conversations with campus resource center directors, the GOLD team decided to develop a peer mentor program that connects the libraries to the first generation, low income student population. GOLD worked with Valerie De Cruz, the Director of the Greenfield Intercultural Center, which houses Penn's new First Generation Low Income Program (FGLI), to pilot hiring first generation students to serve as Library Resource Liaisons (LRLs).

LRLs are trained to provide basic reference services to Penn undergraduate students. LRLs are trained to provide tours, assist with finding materials in the libraries' stacks, track down cited materials, work with citation formatting, and guide students through Penn Libraries' website and online resources. In addition to training students to mentor other students in using the libraries, GOLD members mentor LRLs by providing weekly professional development opportunities and checking in with them about their experience as Penn students.

The LRLs work out of the campus cultural centers and are expanding into college houses (Penn's undergraduate residence halls). While the target audience is first generation students, the LRLs work with all students who approach them for assistance. As the FGLI Program grows at Penn, Penn Libraries is also gaining new partners. GOLD is optimistic about the possibilities in this program and find that the liaisons are benefiting from the training and mentoring we are providing through the program. GOLD has been fortunate that the inaugural cohort of LRLS are quick learners and dedicated liaisons.

Over the past 12 years, GOLD has embedded itself at Penn Libraries.  GOLD has paved the way for young people from underrepresented backgrounds (i.e. minorities, first generation, low income, etc) to gain experience working in an elite library system. Conversations at GOLD social events and professional development programs have influenced changes in library policies and services. At Penn Libraries, GOLD has become the standard. To learn more about GOLD and its initiatives, visit