In early 2017, the University Libraries expressed a commitment to providing an inclusive space for the University at Albany community. “The University Libraries will always strive to be welcoming and safe places for all members of our communities and to provide service and access independent of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, age, veteran status, ancestry, national or ethnic origin, or citizenship status,” wrote Dean of Libraries Rebecca Mugridge.
The University Libraries reaffirmed this commitment in the Fall 2019 semester with the creation of the Libraries’ Climate Committee, a group dedicated to addressing barriers (whether in policy or in practice) to diversity. Additionally, the Climate Committee elevates voices, raises concerns over inequities, provides resources, connects individuals to support networks, and, if necessary, advocates for structural change.
“Every individual deserves to feel safe and welcome when they walk through a library’s doors or when they reach out to their librarians online—no matter where they were born or what they look like, and whether they are a patron or an employee,” explained Charlene Martoni-McElrath, Access Services Student Supervisor, who serves on the Climate Committee.
The eight members who comprise the committee come from different functional areas of the Libraries. They are Subject Librarians and Archivists, Access Services Staff and Catalogers, Programmers and Finance and Administration Specialists. In forming the group, the Libraries found it important to represent every area of the organization.
“The committee is aligning its efforts with the campus Office of Diversity and Inclusion, attending events specific to the Climate Committee as well as encouraging attendance at campus-wide events sponsored by ODI,” said Jan Waterhouse, Director of Technical Services and Chair of the Climate Committee. “To support ongoing professional development in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the committee is also designing a self-guided curriculum for library staff using freely available online resources and including topics deemed important to the library environment, such as implicit bias and bystander intervention.”
After a few organizing meetings, the Climate Committee introduced two programs for the faculty and staff at the University Libraries: a group read of So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and a series of Focused Inquiries.
That’s not to say everything has gone smoothly. The committee has run into a number of hurdles, including navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like the Libraries itself in the face of the shutdown, the Climate Committee persevered and went to work with a renewed focus. They developed a virtual alternative to the Focused Inquiries, believing it to be of the utmost importance.
Angela Hackstadt, Subject Librarian for Political Science, Public Administration, Public Policy, & Law said, “The meetings are held via Zoom, so we are missing out on the face-to-face interactions and social cues we all use to show understanding, empathy, and care. We also want to be mindful of tech issues, like different equipment and WiFi capabilities, that may affect someone’s ability to participate. The Committee tries to mitigate difficulties by moderating small groups in Zoom breakout rooms to give everyone an opportunity to share and we ask everyone to be patient with the format. Our first meeting was held in August. We had a good turnout and it’s clear that library staff are interested in having these growth-oriented conversations.”
One group meeting won’t erase all of the challenges, but it makes for a good start. Difficult conversations need to happen, and the Libraries have just the committee in place to facilitate them.