A Bibliography of Published Literature about EDI Issues in Reference and User Services

The Research and Statistics Committee searched the published literature for works about the support and recognition of EDI issues, particularly as they relate to reference and user services. In searching the literature three themes were common—library collections, support for diverse populations, and supporting and recruiting a diverse workforce. The following bibliography presents a selection of research published since 2015 about these topics. For each of the subtopics, the committee has noted trends within the published literature as well as some possibilities for future research.

2020-21 Research and Statistics Committee, Reference Services Section, RUSA
Qiana Johnson (chair), Meg Galasso, Jennifer Hunter, Deborah Ripley


The most recent professional literature has focused on developing more diverse collections as well as users’ interactions with those collections. One tool to aid in building diverse collections has been using lists of award-winning titles. Book awards are also a tool for assessing the diversity of existing collections. Within children’s literature, there seems to have been a greater focus on increasing the number of titles representing BIPOC communities. There has been a smaller number of resources published about increasing the number of children’s books with LGBTQ representation. However within academic libraries, there is more published literature about increasing LGBTQ representation within the collections as well as research on how those collections are used by those communities. Finally, there has been published literature about the acquisition and description of materials by and about diverse populations, including the use of less inclusive subject headings.

There is an opportunity for increased research in the area of the use and reception to materials about BIPOC communities in multiple library settings. The profession would also benefit from the increasing research around the description of materials about diverse communities to aid in their findability and to use more inclusive and descriptive subject terms.

Elrod, R. and B. Kester (2020). Diverse BookFinder: BIPOC collection development for children's and young adult collections. College & Research Libraries News, 81(10): 481-485.

Graziano, V. (2016). LGBTQ collection assessment: Library ownership of resources cited by master’s students. College & Research Libraries, 77(1): 14.

Hays, A. (2020). A question of space: Surveying student usage of LGBTQ resources in the LGBTQ student center library and the campus library. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 26(1): 110-132.

Kelleher, M. (2019). Is world music racist? Classification and Os Mutantes: an ethical dilemma. Music Reference Services Quarterly, 22(1/2): 42-55.

Kristick, L. (2020). Diversity literary awards: A tool for assessing an academic library's collection. Collection Management, 45(2): 151-161.

Manuell, R., et al. (2019). The equity collection: Analysis and transformation of the Monash University design collection. Art Libraries Journal, 44(3): 119-123.

Norris Blackson, G. (2015). Reflecting the diversity of Hispanic cultures in children’s and young adult collections. Kentucky Libraries, 79(2): 20-23.

Oltmann, S. M. (2015). Variables related to school media center LGBT collections. Libri: International Journal of Libraries & Information Services, 65(1): 25-33.

Proctor, J. (2020). Representation in the collection: Assessing coverage of LGBTQ content in an academic library collection. Collection Management, 45(3): 223-234.

Roy, L. (2019). Finding face: Building collections to support indigenous identity. Collection & Curation, 38(1): 19-22.

Stone, S. M. (2020). Whose play scripts are being published? A diversity audit of one library's collection in conversation with the broader play publishing world. Collection Management, 45(4): 304-320.

Warsinske, A. S. (2016). Missing multiculturalism: Finding diverse picture books for a library collection. Against the Grain, 28(4): 25-26.

Williams, V. K. and N. Deyoe (2015). Controversy and diversity: LGBTQ titles in academic library youth collections. Library Resources and Technical Services, 59(2): 62-71.


In the past five years, reference and public services librarians have published research articles, case studies, and best practices for serving diverse populations of users, highlighting the ways in which people from minority and underrepresented communities perceive and use reference services and how practitioners can improve service delivery and build better relationships with their user communities. Recent, relevant research has implemented a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods, with the majority using questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups to gather data. One notable exception was an exploration of library literature and standards using critical discourse analysis to evaluate and demonstrate the positionality of reference services within systemic and institutional racism (Brook, Ellenwood & Lazzaro, 2015). User groups identified and studied in the recent research included international students, visually impaired users, incarcerated users, African American students, Hispanic users, transgender users, functionally diverse users, student-parents, and users from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. 

This body of recent scholarship indicates that librarians working in reference and public services require updated and effective training in communicating with a broad range of users about their information needs. Specifically, the training must prioritize antiracist, gender-inclusive, and ability-inclusive frameworks for understanding and working with users. 

While the most recent research has identified and examined the particular service and information needs of a range of population groups, more research is needed to inform reference services across library types, sizes, and locations. Further, much of this research has been done with groups of users who are more easily identified due to their status with an institution, including international college students, incarcerated users, and students who already work closely with campus accessibility offices. Future researchers should consider new and different ways to identify, communicate with, and study users from minority and underrepresented groups who are not actively engaged with institutionally created or mandated structures. 

Abdoh, E. (2021). Library anxiety among Omani and Saudi Arabian international students: A case study at the University of South Carolina, USA. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 47(2), 102305.

Bodaghi, N., Cheong, L., & Zainab, A. N. (2016). Librarians empathy: Visually impaired students' experiences towards inclusion and sense of belonging in an academic library. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 42(1), 87-96. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2015.11.003

Brook, F., Ellenwood, D., & Lazzaro, A. E. (2015). In pursuit of antiracist social justice: Denaturalizing whiteness in the academic library. Library Trends, 64(2), 246-284. 

Drabinski, E., & Rabina, D. (2015). Reference services to incarcerated people, part I: Themes emerging from answering reference questions from prisons and jails. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 55(1), 42-48. doi:10.5860/rusq.55n1.42

Drake, A., & Bielefield, A. (2017). Equitable access: Information seeking behavior, information needs, and necessary library accommodations for transgender patrons. Library & Information Science Research, 39(3), 160-168. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2017.06.002

Duan, X. (2019). Know your international user behind the screen: A conversation among Chinese students and librarians regarding virtual reference services (VRS). International Journal of Librarianship, 4(2), 34-75. 

Ibraheem, A., Devine, C., & Scott, S. (2018). Saudi students, American academic library: Revisited. Reference Services Review, 46(4), 565-577. doi:10.1108/RSR-01-2018-0007

Li, X., McDowell, K., & Wang, X. (2016). Building bridges: Outreach to international students via vernacular language videos. Reference Services Review, 44(3), 324-340. doi:10.1108/RSR-10-2015-0044

Mulliken, A. (2017). “There is nothing inherently mysterious about assistive technology”: A qualitative study about blind user experiences in US academic libraries. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 57(2), 115-126. doi:10.5860/rusq.57.2.6528

Pionke, J. J. (2017). Toward holistic accessibility: Narratives from functionally diverse patrons. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 57(1), 48-56. doi:10.5860/rusq.57.1.6442

Rabina, D., & Drabinski, E. (2015). Reference services to incarcerated people, part II: Sources and learning outcomes. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 55(2), 123-131. doi:10.5860/rusq.55n2.123

Scott, R., & Varner, B. (2020). Exploring the research and library needs of student-parents. College & Research Libraries, 81(4), 598-616. doi:10.5860/crl.81.4.598

The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(4), 466-474. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2015.04.003,>

Sin, S.-C., & Kim, K.-S. (2018). How are we the same or different: Information needs and barriers of domestic and international students. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(6), 712-723. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2018.10.005

Soria, K., Nackerud, S., & Peterson, K. (2015). Socioeconomic indicators associated with first-year college students' use of academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(5), 636-643. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2015.06.011

Stewart, B., Ju, B., & Kendrick, K. (2019). Racial climate and inclusiveness in academic libraries: Perceptions of welcomeness among black college students. The Library Quarterly, 89(1), 16-33. doi:10.1086/700661

Tewell, E. (2019). Reframing reference for marginalized students: A participatory visual study. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 58(3), 162-176. doi:10.5860/rusq.58.3.7044

Yoo-Lee, E., Rhodes, T., & Peterson, G. (2016). Hispanics and public libraries: Assessing their health information seeking behaviors in the e-health environment. Reference Services Review, 44(2), 85-99. doi:10.1108/RSR-02-2016-0015

Organization/the Profession 

As noted in the Population summary (above), “librarians working in reference and public services require updated and effective training in communicating with a broad range of users about their information needs. Specifically, the training must prioritize antiracist, gender-inclusive, and ability-inclusive frameworks for understanding and working with users.” The items cited here highlight ways in which research, public, and academic libraries are integrating EDI/cultural competency training into their work as well as demographics of library staff currently and historically, the meaning of diversity in libraries, and analyses of research and data collection practices related to equity, diversity and inclusion.

Much of the research emphasizes the role leadership plays in increasing cultural competency within libraries. Most of the material is not specific to reference and user services, but is inclusive of those services.

One article notes the “lack of data on the effectiveness of these and other DEI interventions.” Another presents analysis of “the potential problems with our data collection and analysis related to diversity and organizational culture.” More research on best practices and the effectiveness of these in educating reference and user services librarians (non-leaders) is needed. 

Deards, K., and Puente, M. A. (2020). Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in libraries: Programs and methodologies to consider.” Research Library Issues, 301: 43–70. https://doi.org/10.29242/rli.301.4.

Erickson, S., et al. (2019). "Drops of diversity": How a small academic library is working to increase cultural competence." College & Research Libraries News, 80(11): 608-626.

Fallon, H., Connaughton, L., and Cosgrave, E. (2020). Promoting a culture of equality: Diversity training at Maynooth University Library. An Leabharlann. The Irish Library, 29(1).

Fife, D., et al. (2021). Leader responsibility for diversity, equity, inclusion & justice in academic libraries: An exploratory study. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 4(4), July 2021, doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2021.102361. 

Schonfeld, R. C. and Sweeney, L. (2017). Inclusion, diversity, and equity: Members of the Association of Research Libraries: Employee demographics and director perspectives.” https://sr.ithaka.org/publications/inclusion-diversity-and-equity-arl/

Sonnie, A. (2018). Local and regional government alliance on race and equity: Advancing racial equity in public libraries: Case studies from the field.” https://www.racialequityalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/GARE_LibrariesReport_v8_DigitalScroll_WithHyperlinks.pdf.

Vinopal, J. (2015). The quest for diversity in library staffing: From awareness to action. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity.