This section will offer proactive strategies libraries can implement to create environments that discourage hate speech and hateful conduct. Strategic planning, policies, best practices, staff training, and ongoing resources can aid in managing conflict and growing a mindful culture that prioritizes inclusiveness and equity.
Examples of questions asked of ALA
- How can we prevent vandalism in the pages of our spiritual collections?
- How can our library address hateful conduct in a behavior policy?
- How can libraries, particularly state and municipal ones, proactively send the message that they are spaces that discourage and discredit hate speech?
- What role can a library play in fostering relationships within a community?
Points for consideration
Creating an environment that discourages hate speech and hateful conduct involves ongoing efforts to understand and invest in creating diverse, inclusive, and equitable spaces. This can be achieved through intentional conversations and an investment in carrying out concepts of social justice.
Libraries use policies to maintain order and fulfill their mission to serve the community. To create policies that effectively manage expectations while being aware of unintentional barriers to marginalized or underrepresented communities, library staff, trustees, and volunteers need to put in time and effort to learn more about issues of power and privilege.
A library is not going to be able to brainstorm for every possible situation, but establishing protocols and communication channels can support staff and patrons in the event of an incident. Here are some questions to consider in drafting protocols for responding to incidents:
- Who should be contacted if there is a hateful conduct situation? Should they be contacted during the incident, or after it has ended?
- How does the protocol differ — or not — if the incident involves patrons or happens internally with library staff?
- How should the incident be documented, and where should that information be stored?
- What security does the library have in place?
- If minors are involved, should the parents be notified?
- In what circumstances does the library involve law enforcement?
- What situations will need a public response, and who is it shared with?
- What might it look like for intimidating behavior to elevate into a hate crime?
- How do responses differ if the incident happens in the physical library building, at an off-site location, or virtually?
- Will the library provide time and space for continued conversations?
Proactive preparation should begin with a reflection on the internal identity of the library. A simple way to start this work is by exploring the language utilized by the library. The words and phrases used in policies, missions, visions, and general space identification are integral to ensuring accessibility for all. Words are fluid and can change meaning and power over time.
For example, a word like “diversity” has taken on numerous definitions over the years. In recent years, there has been an intentional push away from using the words “diversity” or “multicultural,” as many feel they have lost their power and become code words for race. It is more common to use terms like “equity” and “inclusion,” at this moment.
In this document, the ALA definition for “diversity” is available as a sample. This definition does not intentionally call out race, ability, or any other social identity. This allows for flexibility in the interpretation of the definition and avoids a laundry list of identities. Instead, it focuses on the appreciation of differences that exist and the importance of exploring and understanding multiple identities.
It may make sense for a library or community to be more descriptive about the makeup of the community in terms of race, immigration status, gender, and sexuality, for example. It might be worthwhile to also invite feedback from the community on the library’s definitions. If a library decides to include a list of social identities, allowing the communities it serves to provide the language they prefer is a great way to build a stronger relationship with the community.
Investing in staff training, professional development, and exploration of equity, diversity, and inclusion sends a message that hateful conduct and hate speech are not welcome in the library. It also provides staff tools to address issues in a thoughtful and strategic manner. Positioning the library as an institution that values inclusivity enough to invest in and provide training will demonstrate the library’s priorities to everyone in the community more than a policy ever can.
In addition to an investment in understanding these nuanced concepts, these are some practical steps to address policy issues and behavior expectations:
- If the library adopts a policy for behavioral conduct, vet the policy with an attorney.
- To discourage acts of vandalism, move collections to more visible areas, install cameras in a way that makes it obvious the collection is under surveillance, and make regular staff sweeps of the area.
Below are long-term planning strategies that will help make the library more inclusive as an institution:
- Holding annual/quarterly staff, board, and volunteer trainings surrounding inclusion, equity, diversity, and implicit bias
- Partnering with community organizations that work to ensure equity in workplaces
- Reviewing the hiring process, including recruitment strategies
- Including language regarding equity and diversity in the library’s strategic plan
- Auditing selection sources for materials and programs to provide a broad range of viewpoints and perspectives
- Engaging with community members and leaders in their spaces before inviting them into the library
- Not assuming what is best for community members and inquiring about what would be the most useful to them
Supporting library staff
As with many other areas, staff support is based on both policy and practice. An organization committed to the well-being of its staff makes it clear that there is a difference between public service and public abuse.
Administrators, supervisors, and front-line workers should be empowered to set and oversee clear boundaries of acceptable behavior in the workplace, particularly when directed toward staff. Human Resources training should address those boundaries, how staff might re-assert them, or use strategies to disengage or seek other assistance if they feel threatened. Strategies should be established for staff to step in for or back up each other.
Despite the presence of thoughtful policies, things will still go wrong. This provides an opportunity to debrief the situation, check in with the feelings of staff about the incident, and develop new strategies.
Ongoing training should use real-life examples of microaggressions, harassment, and hateful conduct as a way to educate staff and work toward being more prepared for possible future incidents. Consult human resources to determine what trainings are required by your state and if there are any laws or regulations concerning staff member exemptions.
There are many free resources to continually learn about these issues. The section “Resources for Further Development” lists a few starting places. In addition, ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services offers presentations, workshops, and consultations for libraries looking to begin or deepen their work on equity, diversity, and inclusion issues. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom offers webinars and consultations for libraries looking for guidance on policy development or crisis issues.
Refer to the “Assistance and Consultation” section to learn more.