One Saturday morning, a mother and father take their daughter to the public library for the first time. The young girl walks around her parents to look at the librarian at the front desk, gazing at another Black person in a public space that’s usually occupied by white people.
“Do you work here?” she asks.
“I do,” the librarian answers.
“That makes me so happy,” the girl says.
Tenecia Phillips, branch manager of the Joel D. Valdez Main Library in Tucson, tears up at the memory. It’s one of many such moments she has shared with Black families over her nine years with the Pima County Public Library.
“This isn’t a job, this is a calling to me,” said Phillips, who chairs Kindred, a program to diversify Black staffing, events and the collections in Pima County branch libraries.
Although the program is only 3 years old, its founding principles trace to decades of cultural invisibility. The need for better representation of the Black community in libraries, publishing, bookstore ownership and on bestseller lists has gained urgency through a recent wave of social justice movements across the nation.
Access to diverse titles is still a struggle for library patrons, and there is plenty of room to add inclusion, said Wayne A. Wiegand, an F. William Summers professor of Library Information Studies at Florida State University.
“Librarians can only purchase the books that publishers publish,” Wiegand said. “If publishers continue to publish books largely for the dominant culture, then those residing outside that dominant culture are always at a competitive disadvantage.”
“Historically, this type of equity and inclusion work within the library archive field has never been a priority. It’s always been seen as a token outreach or an initiative to meet a yearly quota,” said Nancy Godoy, who heads archives and is associate archivist of the Chicano Research Collection at ASU Library.
Godoy said she was aware of inequities in historical archives long before she started working at the library in 2012.
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