Diversity is Strength

Following the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11-12, 2017, I wrote a message for the FAU cimmunity which was shared on social media and the Libraries’ web site on the morning of August 14:

The FAU Libraries value diversity, inclusion, learning, and mutual respect above all else, and as such we denounce the violence and rhetoric of hate that invaded Charlottesville and the University of Virginia campus this past weekend. We work to embody that diversity and respect in everything we do. The FAU Libraries support all in our community, and are here as a safe space, especially for those most targeted by hatred.

We mourn those who lost their lives in Charlottesville, and our thoughts are with their families and friends.

The terrorist attack over the weekend was aimed at trying to silence voices speaking out in support of and working to establish a diverse and inclusive society. The weekend’s events do not define us – not as a nation, a community, or a university.

 

Many others have also voiced their outrage and strongly condemned the actions and the words of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who seek to intimidate through their violent actions and words.

The FAU Libraries stand for diversity and inclusion. We will strive to provide a welcoming and safe environment for all of FAU’s students, regardless of background.  We will support every point of view except those that seek to cause harm to others.

 

Denim Day 2017

This spring, on April 4, 2017, the FAU Libraries partnered with the University’s Victim Services department to host Denim Day. Denim Day, commemorated internationally on April 26, is “an event in which people are encouraged to wear jeans (denim) in order to raise awareness of rape and sexual assault,” according to Wikipedia.   The movement stems from an Italian Supreme Court ruling in 1998 overturning a rape conviction because the victim wore very tight jeans and they ruled that the victim had to have assisted in the removal of the jeans and, thus, could not have been raped. Denim Day has grown as an international movement to raise awareness against sexual assault.

At FAU, the Libraries collaborated with Victim Services to host an event in early April (before students got engrossed in end-of-semester papers and finals) in which people were given an opportunity to paint denim jeans with messages of solidarity for victims of sexual assault.

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The event was very well attended by people from all backgrounds and ages taking part

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in the painting or in discussions or in learning about resources and services provided by FAU.

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Following the day of painting, the decorated jeans were hung in the Wimberly Library to

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continue to raise awareness about the seriousness of the issue and to demonstrate the Libraries’ support in making FAU a safe haven for students and community members from all backgrounds and with all manner of life experiences.

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Photographs courtesy of Patricia Koppisch, Information and Engagement Department, FAU Libraries.

Black History Month

February is designated as Black History Month in the United States. Started in 1926 as Negro History Week by the noted scholar Carter G. Woodson, the entire  month of February was designated as Black History Month in 1976. February was chosen because it included the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

The FAU Libraries has been commemorating the month with a series of events and exhibits, including the multi-media “Pursuit of Equality” exhibit celebrating Boca Raton’s historic Pearl City community, as well as the women who were the unsung heroes in the exploration of space, and many more achievements.  This month’s Meet-the-Dean event in the Wimberly Library from 10:30-11:30 on February 28th encouraged students to sign a poster congratulating Carla Hayden as the first woman and the first African-American to be appointed as the Librarian of Congress.

Carol Hixson explaining about Carla Hayden poster in background

Carol Hixson explaining about Carla Hayden poster in background

Celebrating Black History month is just one example of the FAU Libraries commitment to the diversity of our community, our country, and the world in which we live. Come to the libraries often to check out our events, our exhibits, and our exploration and celebration of the world around us.

Students signing banner congratulating Carla Hayden

Students signing banner congratulating Carla Hayden

 

Deepening Resolve

In my first full-time library job years ago at Cornell University working to acquire materials for their Southeast Asian collection, I learned in practical terms about the commitment of libraries and librarians to providing access to resources and services to support individual inquiry and creative output. I learned that libraries acquire and make available materials regardless of the point of view represented, that they help anyone who walks in the door or reaches out for help over the phone, email, or online, that they strive to be a safe place for everyone to explore the world. And librarians routinely stand up in defense of people and groups that are under attack. While we respect diverse points of view, those points of view must be expressed in ways that don’t threaten or harm other people.

Today the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), an independent, nonprofit organization that works with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher education to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments, and the Digital Library Federation (DLF), a “community of practitioners who advance research, learning, social justice, and the public good through the creative design and wise application of digital library technologies” issued a statement on their deepening resolve to support diversity and oppose divisiveness. The full statement lays out the principles and explains what it means practically when they say that they “stand in resolute support of our dedicated and diverse community of information professionals and organizational sponsors, promoting the fullest and most inclusive vision they may hold of the publics they serve: individuals and institutions that are both stalwart and vulnerable, people living now and generations yet to come. We also stand with our community in determined opposition to any political policies, actions, and divisive ideologies—like those we have observed during the current transition of power in Washington, DC—that contravene our shared, core values of enlightened liberalism and scientific understanding, and threaten our mission to create just, equitable, and sustained global cultures of accessible information.”

Other library organizations have also been more vocal recently in support of diversity and inclusion. The Association of Research Libraries, a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries at comprehensive, research institutions in the US and Canada,  and the  Association of American University Presses recently issued a joint statement that emphasized that they “have longstanding histories of and commitments to diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. As social institutions, research libraries, archives, and university presses strive to be welcoming havens for all members of our communities and work hard to be inclusive in our hiring, collections, books and publications, services, and environments.”  Referring to the Presidential travel ban recently promulgated, they noted that “while temporary, the ban will have a long-term chilling effect on free academic inquiry. This order sends a clear message to researchers, scholars, authors, and students that the United States is not an open and welcoming place in which to live and study, conduct research, write, and hold or attend conferences and symposia. The ban will disrupt and undermine international academic collaboration in the sciences, the humanities, technology, and global health.”

Like these other library organizations, the FAU Libraries will continue to support all FAU students and faculty, regardless of their backgrounds and point of view, and will always strive to provide a safe environment for our students and faculty to study, carry out research, engage with each other, and create new works of artistic endeavor and scholarship. We don’t play favorites.

Diversity and Inclusion (Liberty and Justice) for All

The FAU Libraries as a whole and I personally as Dean are committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all students, faculty, and staff of the University, regardless of their background and personal experiences. This means celebrating diversity and including everyone. It means working to ensure that everyone feels valued and safe to express their thoughts while also being exposed to and exploring other perspectives. In a university and surrounding community that is home to people from so many different backgrounds and experiences, it is challenging sometimes. Within the United States right now there is a great deal of discussion – and action – that underscores our differences in ways that make it hard to find common ground. But we in the Libraries are committed to trying.

Library associations, individual libraries, and thousands of librarians and library staff around the world are taking stands on a daily basis in support of people from all backgrounds. The International Federation of Library Associations proclaimed their support for all people of all backgrounds in their Open Societies are Healthy Societies document in which they stated that “Libraries are at the heart of healthy societies. By bringing people together – students, researchers, creators, citizens – they support learning, sharing, and the creation of new ideas. They also support the delivery of key human rights, as set out both in national constitutions and international conventions, most importantly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: freedom of expression and access to information, as well as the right to participate in cultural life and enjoy the benefits of scientific progress.”

The Association of Research Libraries, which has numerous programs supporting diversity in the profession, and the American Association of University Presses issued a joint statement in which they said that “President Trump’s recent executive order temporarily barring entry into the US by individuals from seven countries is contrary to the values held by libraries and presses, and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) stand unequivocally opposed to this immigration ban.”

The FAU Libraries’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee has recently developed a statement to guide the Libraries in the development of services and programs that will promote a safe and welcoming environment for all. That statement reads:

Diversity and inclusion are fundamental values of the FAU Libraries and integral parts of our strategic plan. We seek and provide opportunities to gain experience working and collaborating in diverse, multicultural, and inclusive settings. Our appreciation and dedication for diversity allows us to serve our increasingly diverse community with sensitivity and adaptability. We define diversity to include race, sex, gender identity, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, national origin, and religion. 

We also recognize inequity can accompany diversity. We acknowledge that providing all users with the same level of resources and support is not necessarily an issue of equal access. Our goal of removing barriers that might impede or discourage access and engagement is as important as providing information across space and time to our users.

 This month, the FAU Libraries are celebrating the diversity of our students and our community through several events.  In honor of Black History Month, the Libraries Exhibitions Committee has created the “Pursuit of Equality” exhibition to highlight local and national efforts to achieve equality for African Americans. Displayed in the Wimberly Library’s atrium and featuring materials culled from the Libraries’ Special Collections, Digital Library and other sources, the multi-media exhibit celebrates the efforts of residents of Boca Raton’s historic Pearl City community, as well as the unsung heroes in the exploration of space and advancements in math and science; featured in the film Hidden Figures and some pivotal moments in Black history, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and the Little Rock Nine.

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On February 10, from 7 to 10 p.m. the Wimberly Library will also be hosting “Blazers and the Arts 2017,” an evening of entertainment developed and sponsored by the FAU student chapter of Progressive Black Men (PBM). Chartered at FAU in November 2012, PBM focuses on academic excellence, community support and fellowship. This event gives artists an opportunity to display their talents through music. The evening will feature poetry, dance, music, a fashion show, paintings, and Ffod. Also, on February 28, we will be in the lobby of the Wimberly Library from 10 to 11:30 a.m. to encourage students and others tod to sign a congratulatory banner for Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first black Librarian of Congress appointed by President Barack Obama in 2016. In the Jupiter campus library, the staff will be hosting a scaled down version of the Human Library event first hosted in the Wimberly Library in November 2016.

There are many other events and activities in the works for this spring and beyond. I encourage students and faculty to bring your ideas to us so that the FAU Libraries will become known as the place for people to learn about the world through engagement with other people as much as through study and research.

 

One World, Many Stories

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On Tuesday, November 15, the FAU Libraries are hosting an event we are calling “The Human Library: One World, Many Stories.”

 

We have been planning this event for months to show our commitment to the principles of diversity and inclusion, of making sure that everyone knows that the FAU Libraries are a safe haven for people from all backgrounds, walks of life, points of view. We are joining the worldwide Human Library movement which bills itself as a “worldwide movement for social change” and which “is designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue. The Human Library is a place where real people are on loan to readers. A place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered.” At our event on Tuesday, we will be featuring 13 Human Books – FAU students, faculty, and local community members – who will be available for conversation with anyone who is interested in learning more about them, their lives, their point of view. The event starts at 10:30 and continues until 12:30, with four twenty-minute rounds of conversation where people can move to another area and “check out” a different book.

The FAU Libraries’ Human Library event seems especially important now in light of what has been reported on across the United States. This past week (November 7-13), there have been numerous reports from across the country of people being verbally and sometimes physically harassed or attacked because they were female, Muslim, Hispanic, African-American, gay, or different in some way. The Internet and the news media are reporting on many incidents, such as CNN’s Reports of racist graffiti, hate crimes post-election. As awful as this is, the reality is that there have been incidents like this across the country for a long time. A year ago, the New York Times ran a piece entitled Racism on Campus: Stories From New York Times Readers.

FAU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is seen in its Strategic Plan for the Race to Excellence, 2015-2025  where it has identified Diversity as one of its nine Platforms and where it is stated that FAU strives to “Become the national model for the diversity of the student body.” FAU’s “Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs promotes the academic and personal growth of traditionally underserved students. The office collaborates with the campus community to create an institutional and community climate of social justice. We promote access and equity in higher education and offer programs that educate the campus about diversity.”

Others in the country are also taking strong stands in support of diversity and inclusion. The University of California System this past week issued a statement  that read, in part: “The University of California is proud of being a diverse and welcoming place for students, faculty, and staff with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.  Diversity is central to our mission.  We remain absolutely committed to supporting all members of our community and adhering to UC’s Principles Against Intolerance.  As the Principles make clear, the University “strives to foster an environment in which all are included” and “all are given an equal opportunity to learn and explore.”  The University of California will continue to pursue and protect these principles now and in the future, and urges our students, faculty, staff, and all others associated with the University to do so as well.”

The FAU Libraries are making it clear that we stand on the side of diversity and inclusion. Our newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Committee is charged to make recommendations to the me as Dean of University Libraries on:

  • defining the scope of diversity needs within the context of the University’s and the Libraries’ strategic plans and mission statements
  • reviewing FAU Libraries services, collections, and technology to ensure full support for people of all backgrounds and perspectives
  • the development of signature events, services, collections, and exhibits to promote diversity and inclusion
  • improving the library’s work environment to ensure a safe, welcoming, supportive environment for all Libraries faculty and staff
  • arranging staff development opportunities to increase awareness and appreciation of different backgrounds and perspectives reviewing recruitment and hiring practices within the Library to promote diversity and inclusion
  • reviewing policies and procedures to remove obstacles and promote greater diversity and inclusion
  • developing the Libraries as role models for diversity for the FAU community

The Human Library event on November 15 is just one manifestation of our commitment to being a safe haven for all of FAU’s students, faculty, and staff. Come to us for help. Come to us to discover and celebrate who you are. Come to us explore the world in safety.

 

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Reflections on Who We Are

Although tragedies such as the one in Orlando shock us, we can show our support by continuing to be devoted to the ideals of inclusion and providing a safe haven for all people and ideas.

 

We in the FAU Libraries support and celebrate the diversity of our students and faculty, the University, our local community, and the world around us. Libraries actively strive to present multiple points of view. This is a principle that is well defined within the North American library community, as outlined by the American Library Association in the Library Bill of Rights. To this end, we will continue to host a wide variety of lectures and debates representing diverse points of view; we will develop and host exhibitions on wide-ranging topics such as Black history, LGBT pride, Native American identity, Jewish culture, the Holocaust, Women’s History and more; we will continue to develop collections of materials that reflect a full range of viewpoints on important topics in support of the University’s courses and programs; we will continue to strive to serve all of our students in the ways that they need; we will continue to promote these ideals through events like the Human Library we are planning for the fall.

 

As author Scott Page notes in The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, “When a collection of people work together, and one person makes an improvement, the others can often improve on this new solution even further: improvements build on improvements. Diverse perspectives and diverse heuristics apply sequentially: one gets applied after the other, and in combination. One plus one often exceeds two” (2007, p. 340).

 

Together, by staying true to the ideals of American libraries, we can defeat those who would destroy or demoralize us; we can defeat those who encourage us to be afraid and to exclude, differentiate, eliminate. Come to the Libraries and explore the beauty and challenge of our diverse world where not everyone looks alike, thinks alike, or talks alike and where the main thing we have in common is tolerance and respect for everyone’s right to become the best they can be.