In July 2020, Loutit District Library signed the Urban Libraries Council’s Statement on Race and Social Equity.
The library joins 7 out of 397 other public libraries in Michigan in an ongoing commitment to social equity. In order to sign the statement, staff were required to answer the following questions. Reference & Information Librarian Ben Knight provided the answers:
- How is your library eliminating racial and social equity barriers in its programs, services, policies and practices?
To start, we’ve recently gone fine-free as well as automatically renewing items for patrons. This helps keep the library from being cost-prohibitive for people facing financial insecurity and gives greater flexibility in return times for people. We’ve made the effort of buying authors of color in our fiction collection, and, whenever possible, preferencing underrepresented voices in our nonfiction (e.g. buying native-written materials on Native American culture). We’ve also started the process of adding more languages to the collection as well, beyond English and Spanish. We also are as often as possible trying to curate an international collection that is more than just English works in translation.
- How is your library creating and maintaining an environment of diversity, inclusion and respect both in the library system and in all aspects of the library’s community role?
We first aim to hire as diverse a staff as possible along as many lines of inclusion as possible (LGBTQ+ individuals, people of color, staff that signs). These staff help give us a broader perspective and inform of ways that we can be welcoming and supportive of all members of our community, regardless of background. For example, through the suggestion of LGBTQ+ employees, we’ve added pronoun signatures to staff emails, and through our ASL interpreter’s suggestion, we’ve explored getting a video phone for the deaf and hard of hearing. Beyond this we recognize that there are always ways that we can do more for our community, and all staff at Loutit strive to learn more and be more accessible. We’ve taken trainings and used resources to help fill in the gaps in our knowledge.
- How is your library serving as a convener and facilitator of conversations and partnerships to address community challenges?
We’ve intentionally entered into many relationships that help us use our platform and resources to share information. We’ve worked with the Human Relations Commission here in Grand Haven, MI on several projects including supporting and advertising their Fiesta en el Parque and participating alongside them in the upcoming Virtual Town Hall Meeting on Public Health and Racial Justice.
- How is your library ensuring that it is reaching and engaging disenfranchised people in the community and helping them express their voice?
We have a community that is quite affected by the digital divide; a significant amount of our service area does not have access to internet or computing technology. We’ve recently started circulating mobile hot spots to help offer internet access in our communities for both rural areas that don’t have access to an ISP or people who cannot afford an internet connection. During COVID-19, we were forced to pivot to an entirely digital operation. To address the digital issues, we reached out to older patrons that may be at greater risk and more isolated via phone. We did our best to reach out and find solutions and offer comfort.
- How is your library being forthright on tough issues that are important to our communities?
We do not shy away from tough conversations. We frequently make displays that seek to address topical issues such a LGBTQ rights, race/racism, feminism. We even were a host for the controversial Remembrance Project, and, while we did make a statement that the views of the project did not reflect the views of the library, we still actively sought out dialog about the issues surrounding immigration and provided resources to contextualize the issue. In the same spirit, we also made a public statement in support of the Black communities during the George Floyd protests and made and shared a resource guide on race, racism and protest. This statement also helped to connect us to others in the community and led the library to collaborate on the Virtual Town Hall Meeting on Public Health and Racial Justice.
- Does your library collaborate with national or local organizations on race and social equity?
Momentum Center and Human Relations Commission