ODLOS Glossary of Terms

The Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services (ODLOS) maintains this glossary of terms. This glossary is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every word and term used in our conversations about equity, diversity, and inclusion. The intent is to provide guidance and open discussion in the spirit of creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive society. Language can both contribute to oppression and be a tool of liberation. In recognition of the way language works, especially around these concepts, many of the words and terms will continue to evolve. 

The American Library Association believes that everyone deserves equitable rights and opportunities. The goal is to create a just and equitable association, profession, and society where everyone has access to social power, resources, and physical and psychological safety. ALA has chosen to define “diversity” in all its complexity in order to recognize and honor the uniqueness of each ALA member, all members of our profession, and our very diverse communities. ALA believes that, to be inclusive, our association, profession, and society must recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every member of the community; involve and empower all members to participate and contribute; promote and sustain a sense of belonging; and value and practice respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of all members. 


Equity is not the same as formal equality. Formal equality implies sameness. Equity, on the other hand, assumes difference and takes difference into account to ensure a fair process and, ultimately, a fair (or equitable) outcome. Equity recognizes that some groups were (and are) disadvantaged in accessing educational and employment opportunities and are, therefore, underrepresented or marginalized in many organizations and institutions. The effects of that exclusion often linger systemically within organizational policies, practices, and procedures. Equity, therefore, means increasing diversity by ameliorating conditions of disadvantaged groups. (Adapted from National Association of Social Workers)

Adopted by ALA Council in 2017 per the recommendation of the ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.


Diversity can be defined as the sum of the ways that people are both alike and different. Visible diversity is generally those attributes or characteristics that are external. However, diversity goes beyond the external to internal characteristics that we choose to define as ‘invisible’ diversity. Invisible diversity includes those characteristics and attributes that are not readily seen. When we recognize, value, and embrace diversity, we are recognizing, valuing, and embracing the uniqueness of each individual. (Adapted from National Education Association)

Adopted by ALA Council in 2017 per the recommendation of the ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.


Inclusion means an environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully; are valued for their distinctive skills, experiences, and perspectives; have equal access to resources and opportunities; and can contribute fully to the organization’s success. (Adapted from Society for Human Resources Management, Hewlett Packard, and Ferris State University)

Adopted by ALA Council in 2017 per the recommendation of the ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Racial Justice

"The systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. Racial justice—or racial equity—goes beyond 'anti-racism.' It is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities, but also the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures." (Race Forward)

Social Justice

Social justice focuses on power dynamics among different groups of people while acknowledging historical and institutional inequities. It has a vision of a society with equitable distribution of resources, in which “all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure, recognized, and treated with respect.” (From Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, Adams, Bell, Goodman, and Joshi, 3rd ed., Routledge 2016)

Systemic Vs. Individual Bias

"Systemic bias is prejudice, bigotry, or unfairness directed by health, educational, government, judicial, legal, religious, political, financial, media, or cultural institutions towards individuals of an oppressed or marginalized group. [Bias, whether conscious or unconscious,] is prejudice, bigotry, or unfairness directed by someone from a privileged group towards individuals from an oppressed or marginalized group. To put it simply, systemic biases are barriers maintained by institutions while unconscious biases are ones upheld by individuals." (From Leesa Renee Hall)