LAM Collaborations: Diversity and Inclusion

By Sofía Becerra-Licha and Susan Irwin

Diversity and inclusion efforts loomed large at all three 2016 LAM conferences attended by the Collective Wisdom Cohort: in programming, in strategic planning, and in conference atmosphere. Diversity here is broadly conceived to include individual characteristics (race, ethnicity, gender, class, dis/ability) as well as institutional types (mission, size, location, audience). What follows is a brief overview of how diversity figures in the work of AAM, ALA and SAA, followed by a discussion of how this was manifested in each organization’s annual meeting, and concluding with some reflections on potential points of entry for cross-sector collaborations to promote diversity and inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion are values embraced by all three sectors and organizations. The values are articulated in numerous statements, standards, policies and plans to help provide frameworks for professional practice: as a core focus in the new AAM strategic plan, embedded in the mission, goals, priorities, and code of conduct for SAA, and a key action area for ALA advocacy, initiatives, and cultural competency efforts. A sampling of presentations at the three conferences showcases how the values are being interpreted and acted upon, and provide potential areas for cross-sector examination.

  • The AAM conference included sessions on efforts to connect with specific communities (Engaging Latino Audiences), inclusive hiring practices (Autism-friendly Hiring practices), metrics (Benchmarking Museum Inclusion Efforts), and advocacy (Museums as Platforms for Dialogue and Social Change) to name a few.
  • A pre-conference session at ALA provided an update on diversity efforts in career development, noting that 88% of all librarians are white, and suggested strategies for disrupting processes that perpetuate disparities. ALA also included multiple section meetings on diversity (ACRL, RBMS, LITA, LLAMA, BCALA), efforts to expand diversity in collections (Finding Yourself on the Shelves: Diversity in Ethnicity and Language for Your Teens) and publishing (Increasing Diversity in the Publishing and Library Workforce), descriptive practices (Diverse and Inclusive Metadata: Developing Cultural Competencies in Descriptive Practices), gender (Not Your Granny’s Dinner Conversation: Diversity, Race, Sex and Gender), and underserved communities ( annual ALA Diversity and Outreach Fair).
  • The SAA plenary session, Getting Our House in Order: Moving from Diversity to Inclusion, and the open forum on diversity helped set the tone for the conference. Session topics included student efforts to raise awareness of diversity issues (Working for Tomorrow; Student Activism, Education and Diversity), acquisition (Collaborative Approaches to Collecting and Preserving LGBTQ Materials), partnerships (Out of the Shadows: Bringing Black Collections Together through Radical Partners), religious materials (Religious Materials Toolbox for Archivists) and technology (Archives and Digital Inequality).

Across the three sector’s conferences, diversity and inclusivity efforts were broadly conceived and modeled, including signage and accommodations for those with disabilities, programming that responded to current events, awareness of the need to recruit, nurture, and retain a diverse workforce, and an increasing focus on interrogating collecting and descriptive practices long perceived as neutral.

  • At the AAM annual meeting, ASL interpreters were present at sessions and the MuseumExpo hall included an “Alliance Resource Center” dedicated to workshops and other programming focused on barriers to diversity in the museum profession. In addition, a stand-alone set of sessions, “Museum and Race 2016: Gathering for Transformation and Justice,” took place, the product of partnerships between AAM, its Diversity Committee, and the Empathetic Museum, the Incluseum, Museum Hue, and the Museum Group.
  • At the ALA annual meeting, held in Orlando in the wake of the PULSE nightclub shooting, the Association’s code of conduct was displayed prominently at registration, alongside rainbow ribbons and black armbands, in addition to the usual bevy of badge ribbons for self-expression (of everything from sub-memberships and allyships, to personal and professional interests). A multi-stall gender-neutral restroom was designated and there was signage throughout the venue with contact info for any disability-related access concerns.
  • At the SAA annual meeting, badge ribbons were also featured prominently, including preferred pronouns as well as ones for the nation-wide “I’ll Go With You” initiative for supporters of transgendered individuals’ right to use the restroom facilities of their choosing. One of the three cornerstones of the presidential address was precisely inclusion (in addition to advocacy and generosity).

These are but a few examples. While diversity and inclusion has been incorporated into the work of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), American Library Association (ALA), and Society of American Archivists (SAA) to varying degrees throughout the years, two clear points of convergence emerged over the course of the Collective Wisdom cohort experience: an increasing awareness of the need for culturally-sensitive descriptive practices as well as ensuring that practitioners and leadership across all three sectors are diverse. Both of these areas of mutual interest are rife with opportunities for collaboration.

Various initiatives in each sector have been undertaken in an effort to diversify the various LAM professions: ALA’s Spectrum Scholar program, the ARL/SAA Mosaic program, and the IMLS-funded Knowledge River Institute at the University of Arizona, all of which provide financial and mentoring support to library science master’s students from underrepresented groups in one way or another. Cross-sector points of entry for launching joint efforts could include each association’s respective diversity committees.

The LAM Collective Wisdom Conference Exchange itself is another example of efforts to reach across disciplinary lines with an eye towards commonalities that might strengthen all three areas. Overall, the cohort model seems to be the key to longitudinal impact and sustained collaborations. Developing more communication and coordination regarding descriptive practices, particularly working towards more inclusive and culturally-sensitive description standards, is a tall order, but another case in which relationships would seem to matter greatly.

[Check out the previous post by Kenn Bicknell on Shared Priorities Across Sectors in this Collective Wisdom Cohort series. For a cogent summary of the cohort’s experiences and insights, read Collective Wisdom: An Exploration of Library, Archives and Museum Cultures.]