The history of public libraries is deeply rooted in white supremacy, and white cultural norms still dominate management practices in public libraries today. In order to create more inclusive workplace cultures in public libraries, new norms must be established by creating decision-making processes and modes of communication that honor the cultural norms of BIPOC staff members.
As libraries emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with an increased awareness of racial inequities in the communities we serve, the time has also come to look inward at the ways our own management systems and structures perpetuate inequities among those who work in public libraries. By dismantling and re-weaving organizational culture norms to decenter whiteness, we can work together to create a better, more inclusive future.
This panel discussion provides background on white cultural norms in librarianship, illustrated by examples from the lived experience of the panelists, so you can develop a deeper understanding of the way that these norms marginalize, silence, and harm BIPOC library staff members.
Originally presented June 3, 2021.
This panel discussion was organized and hosted by members of PLA’s Leadership Development Committee.
At the conclusion of this on-demand panel discussion, participants will be able to:
- Explore how modern library management was shaped by white cultural norms;
- Understand the damaging impacts of white cultural norms on BIPOC library staff members; and
- Introduce strategies and new norms for de-centering whiteness and creating inclusive library workplaces.
- Slides (PDF)
- Nice White Meetings:
- Knowledge Justice:
- The Legacy of Lady Bountiful:
- On the Disparity Between What We Say and What We Do in Libraries (PDF):
- Dreaming Revolutionary Futures:
- White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS:
- White Supremacy Culture (Tema Okun) (PDF):
- We are the Equity Alliance:
- 20 Subtle Ways White Supremacy Manifests in Nonprofits and Philanthropy:
- Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (adrienne maree brown):
- JCLC 2022: The 4th National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, October 5–9, 2022:
- Chat Transcript (PDF)
Who Should Attend
This on-demand panel discussion is designed for BIPOC library workers interested in learning how to work within and how to spark change in organizational norms that emphasize white values, as well as for white library workers interested in learning how they can better center their BIPOC colleagues (without placing additional burdens on them) in order to better hear and honor BIPOC voices, perspectives, and contributions.
Since 2014, moderator Derek Wolfgram (he/him) has been the director of the Redwood City (CA) Public Library, where he spends every day collaborating with partners from local government, businesses, nonprofits, and schools. His work supports Redwood City’s community aspirations of equity and inclusion, as well as creating experiences to help people share the joys of literacy and learning. Since earning his MLS from Kent State in 1996, Derek’s career has included management and administrative roles at Denver (CO) Public Library, Butte County (CA) Library, and Santa Clara County (CA) Library District. He is a past president and past treasurer of the California Library Association (CLA), and the winner of CLA’s Outstanding Librarian in Support of Literacy award in 2009. In the community, Derek serves as treasurer for Redwood City International and as a member of the Redwood City Chamber Education Committee, the San Mateo County Pride Center Community Advisory Board, and the Welcoming Redwood City Working Group.
Chantel L. Walker (she/her) serves as the assistant director of county library services at the Marin County Free Library (MCFL) in San Rafael, CA. She has more than twenty-five years of experience in government, philanthropy, and the broader nonprofit sector. At MCFL, Chantel’s focus is finance, human resources, library technical services, capital projects, organizational strategy, and working with partner organizations and institutions. A core component of her overall leadership role at MCFL focuses on equity and inclusion in librarianship, library services, and community partnership. Chantel values volunteerism and continues to be an active volunteer supporting family and community issues with several organizations and public agencies.
James Allen Davis Jr. (he/him) is a senior librarian for the Bear Valley Library, a branch of the Denver (CO) Public Library (DPL). He sits on the executive board of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) and is the former president of the Colorado Black Library Association. He is currently serving on the steering committee of the Joint Council of Librarians of Color and co-chair of the Professional Development Committee of BCALA. James has worked in public libraries for over seventeen years and has developed programs and outreach to several communities. He’s an advocate for the professional development and advancement of Black librarians and actively works to mentor and assist in recruiting and retention of librarians of color. James is a member of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Advisory Council for the Denver Public Library and is the co-founder of the R.A.D.A. book group. R.A.D.A., which stands for Read. Awareness. Dialogue. Action., advocates for intellectual freedom by working collectively with several DPL staff to host social book clubs in several communities by addressing current disparities among marginalized groups. The work of R.A.D.A is featured in Intellectual Freedom Stories from a Shifting Landscape, edited by Valerie Nye. James’ motto is “Work to make this world better than the way you found it.”
Lalitha Nataraj (she/her) is the social sciences librarian at California State University, San Marcos. She holds an MLIS from UCLA and a BA in English Literature and Women’s Studies from UC Berkeley. Lalitha also spent several years as a public librarian championing adult and early literacy resources and programs, as well as advocating for the inclusion of diverse materials in children's and teen library collections. Her professional interests include feminist pedagogy, critical information literacy, South Asians in librarianship, and scholarly inquiry and the research cycle.
Sonia Falcón (she/her), MSW, is a community resource specialist with the Denver (CO) Public Library (DPL). In her role, Sonia provides connection, resource navigation, and urgent social work support to library customers throughout Denver’s east side. She is passionate about advancing equity and cultivating inclusive spaces where all can experience a sense of belonging. In accord with that ethic, Sonia has served on DPL’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Advisory Council since January 2019. She is a founding member of the Youth Belong @DPL Task Force, working to eliminate the inequitable impact of exclusionary banning practices on BIPOC youth. Sonia received her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Washington and spent more than a dozen years working with youth, young adults, and families in community mental health, juvenile justice, foster care, and higher education settings before beginning her role at DPL in 2018.
This on-demand webinar is free and available 24/7 for your viewing convenience.
How to Register
No registration is required.
To playback this archived webinar you should have either the latest version of Flash running on your computer, or use a browser with native HTML5 support. Please use the most up-to-date version available of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer. A fast Internet connection and computer is recommended.
Credits or CEUs
PLA does not award credit hours, CEUs, or certificates of attendance/completion/participation for its on-demand webinars and cannot verify participation.