Where Do We Talk about Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion? Staff Meetings, Of Course!


By: Jo Schofield, Branch Manager, Stark County District Library

As professional librarians and library workers, what is our role in social justice? How are our library policies and procedures reflective of our mission to create and sustain inclusive spaces and services?

My staff and I are a mixed identity group that is diverse in almost every sense of the word—racially, culturally, religiously, etc. It was clear to me that topics around equity, diversity, and inclusion were not only important professionally to my team and our library but also personally. Tiffany Hughes-Troutman, Director of the Center for Assessment, Referral, and Education at Georgia Tech argues that the best way to start a conversation about race (and assumingly other EDI topics) is to start small and make people feel that you “are sincerely interested in learning about” about their experiences (Rogers, 2020). Taking her advice, I determined that intentional conversations on specific subtopics during our monthly staff meetings were a great first step to creating an inclusive workspace and library.

A frequent phrase my staff hears from me is “To do better we must know better.” When I first began exploring the concept of using our staff meetings as an intentional space for learning, growth, and conversation I sought resources that I could ask my staff to explore before our meetings to provide additional context to our discussions. I encouraged my staff to prepare for each meeting using a specific module from the University of North Carolina’s Project Ready. This free curriculum looks specifically at equity and access for diverse youth in libraries; however, the ideas can be applied to working with all ages in libraries. Each module is filled with videos, articles, key concepts, and discussion questions. By reviewing the modules before our staff meeting, we were able to have a shared vocabulary and base knowledge with which to frame our experiences and ideas. This was critical to our first step in the process which was “to know better.”

Within our staff meetings, we engage with each other using a shared set of ground rules that allow us to show our respect for each other and feel free to make mistakes in order to grow. These ground rules include statements like:

  • This is a conversation and not a debate.
  • Everyone is encouraged to participate, and a big part of participating is listening to others.
  • Respect everyone’s experiences.
  • We understand that we speak for ourselves and not for the entire group we are a part of.
  • Try to enter the conversation with a growth mindset.

We operate from a place that establishes from the beginning that we are kind and thoughtful people who truly want to do our best to not hurt or disrespect each other.

3 librarians in front of the library wearing masks with signs that say "#LibrariesStrong," "We're Open" and "Thank You"

After we have prepared for the conversations by engaging with pre-work and agree to our shared ground rules, we begin to openly discuss topics such as microaggressions, implicit bias, and systemic racism. We usually start by defining topics or vocabulary and agree on shared definitions, give our own experiences, and collaboratively share ideas for addressing the topic within our own work. Now that we “know better” we share ideas for “doing better.” For example, when we were discussing implicit bias, I shared a research study that found people perceive young Black boys and men as bigger, older, and more physically threatening than white boys and men of similar size (Wilson, Hugenberg, & Rule, 2017). When I first heard this study, I didn’t believe that I shared that bias. Later, I made a judgment about a young Black 10-year-old child and his reading taste assuming he was in fact older than he was. I was shocked! I shared with my staff that I now knew that I had been socially conditioned to have this implicit bias (it isn’t conscious or hateful), and I go out of my way to check myself when working with young patrons. I now know that I need to ask the question, “How old are you?” to my younger patrons because my estimate may be incorrect. I discussed this reasoning with my staff and modeled how this increased knowledge has impacted the way I interact with the public. I encouraged my staff to integrate knowledge about themselves into their behaviors in a judgment-free way that supports the library’s mission.

Please do not let me convince you that these conversations are easy. There are times when the air feels thick with unease and I begin to worry how my staff will respectfully engage with a topic. These conversations, however, are important and vital to our community and profession. It is the responsibility of all leaders to create safe spaces for staff to reflect on the realities of our historically oppressed populations and our role in providing these groups equitable access. Leaders must start these conversations in an authentic way by acknowledging they are not comfortable conversations, but they are important. For libraries to fulfill our mission for access, diversity, service, and the public good (American Library Association, 2019) these conversations must happen not once but frequently.


American Library Association. (2019, January). Core values of librarianship.


Rogers, V. (2020, June 30). “Can we talk about race---and racism? Yes.” Georgia Tech News Center.


Wilson, J.P., Hugenberg, K. & Rule, N.O. (2017). Racial bias in judgments of physical size and

formidability: From size to threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 113 (1), 59-80.