Intersections | Words Matter When We Strive for Social Justice

Intersections Blog: ALA Office for Diverstiy and Outreach Services

July 17, 2018

Case in point. Language added to the Library Bill of Rights Meeting Rooms: An Interpretation included the words “hate speech” and “hate groups.” This sparked outrage in many members of the association and gave rise to the narrative that ALA supports hate groups and does not value diversity.

Context is also important. Calling out “hate groups” in today’s divisive political climate leads many to assume “white supremacy groups.” Groups that have historically been aligned with condoning and instigating physical violence. It can be interpreted as giving more power to voices that already have power and dismisses the voices of those who currently, and have historically lacked power.

There is a difference between equality and equity. ALA states that libraries provide equitable access. Being equitable means you take into account the needs of all communities. Legally, it may be the reality at this moment that if a library denies a group of any kind they are subject to legal action. That does not mean that we agree or condone hate or oppression in any form. We know that laws change, and libraries can choose to be defiant of any law that harms their communities or violates their stated values. However, we have a responsibility to acknowledge there is a risk and provide context.

However it happened, it happened in our association. Does that mean it cannot be changed? No. That is the power of a member driven organization. Does it mean we are incapable of change? No. It is mistakes or missteps that can be the most effective teachers.

ALA agrees with its members that conversations on issues that impact equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) efforts within the profession and association must take place and future opportunities for engagement explored. ALA Council and leadership are discussing procedures and viable options to act on member concerns regarding the Library Bill of Rights Meeting Room Interpretation. In the recent past, members expressed their concerns that ALA offered limited EDI resources and best practices. Those voiced concerns resulted in the creation of the Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, which produced a list of 58 recommendations to improve the climate of ALA and its conferences.

The Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services (ODLOS) along with other ALA offices continue to work to support members with the creation of multiple resources and services well documented within the ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Final Report

Also last year the ALA added a fourth strategic direction on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and throughout the year ALA staff and members contributed to an implementation plan for this strategic direction.

ALA is also committed to putting its words into action. ODLOS has hosted a meeting for ALA Staff to come together and share the progress that is happening across the association in the hopes of creating more opportunities for collaboration. The Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Implementation Working Group held a similar meeting with member leaders from across the association at Annual Conference in New Orleans.

In addition, the ALA ODLOS has been traveling around the country providing workshops, facilitating discussions, consulting on diversity planning with many libraries. We have a goal to develop a foundational pre-conference (similar to the Advocacy Boot Camp) that can be delivered throughout the country.

ALA leadership has committed to spending resources to bring in training for all ALA staff around social justice, privilege, and implicit bias in the coming months. We are working on developing orientation materials for new councilors, chairs, and board members; members are working on lists of preferred terms; and the creation of a speaker’s bureau is in progress. There is so much happening to make ALA a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse organization.

We have the interest, we have support, what we don’t have are lots of resources. That is why we are focusing on bringing people together to share our resources as we work towards a strong EDI focused association.

Given how polarizing our society is at this moment, we all continue to work to find our way. However, we can’t weather the storm alone. The conversation does not end with the interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights, but rather is a continuation of member dialogue by exploring how we can support the profession’s needs.

At the request of ALA leadership, OIF staff have reconstructed a timeline through which the Meeting Room Interpretation was adopted by Council. 

Jody Gray
ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services