Intersections | The Social Work of the 21st Century Librarian

ODLOS Blog Header

Teneka WilliamsBy Teneka Williams ( | In the past year, librarians in the communities of Ferguson, MO, Baltimore, MD, and Charleston, SC were confronted with civil unrest while trying to maintain a presence in the community as common ground for all served in their community. As 21st century librarians, we are aware of the technological advances that are steadily increasing our need for continued training. However, as the last year has shown, we are in need of sociological training for communities as our world becomes smaller and more diverse. ALA Core Competency 1I states, “The techniques used to analyze complex problems and create appropriate solutions.”

Libraries are in communities that are more divided than ever. Post-racial America does not exist and will not until we are honest about the founding principles of American society which were constructed around parameters based on the color of one’s skin: Race

On the national level we need more programming that focuses on social learning and development programs. It is not enough to have multi-cultural initiatives, if the cultures represented are not able to comfortably integrate perspectives in an environment that nurture respect. America is at a crossroads and libraries are right there in the middle but even in the middle we should be developing and implementing diversity and inclusion action plans for other social institutions to follow.

Diversity and inclusion are more than words, they are actions.

This past June, my article “Inclusivity in any Library”, was published in the June issue of American Libraries magazine. Although, that particular perspective was angled towards providing and promoting accessible services as a standard of service, this same approach is needed when we tout our profession as a paragon of diverse and inclusive climates. Library programs are graduating more minorities but little to no changes can be seen in demographics among academic and public library administration.

As more theories are tested, oftentimes, we are left with more questions. What have all the diversity in recruiting done if the end result is the tenuous relationship among differing groups within the same community? What are the librarians in that community doing to promote and protect the cultures of all people within that community? How do you serve everyone, when as an individual, your own personal beliefs affect how you interact with those that are different? How do we negate these personal biases intertwined with experience so that they do not affect our ability to engage our communities?

Community focused engagement is an essential tool in breaking the individual barriers created by external factors and experiences. Programming that brings people together in informal settings and creating opportunities for cultural exchange through conversation, demonstration, and mediation. As the library continues to solidify its’ place as a common ground for all in its’ community, librarians must be more cognizant of our verbal and written communications, our library culture, and go forward with a purposeful effort to promote strategies that create a welcoming and nurturing environment for all.

As our role has been historically, so it must be in the future, to guide our communities in curating a reverence for humanity.

Teneka Williams is manager of the distribution center for Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services in Morrow, Georgia.