Assessing Library Services with a DEI Lens

The annual American Library Association conference returned (at last!) to an in-person format this year. It was great to meet up with colleagues, and miraculously, the heat and humidity of Washington DC were bearable, even at the end of June.

Transformation was THE theme of the conference, from collections and access to library physical and virtual spaces. Many sessions related to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. It’s always interesting to hear from a variety of library types – it expands my own thinking about opportunities and challenges.


In the panel Everyone is Welcome: Designing for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in Library Buildings, we heard from Richard Kong, director of the Skokie Public Library outside of Chicago. A recent renovation required them to seriously rethink how best to provide a welcoming library space to a public that is 40% foreign born. Kong spoke to the concept of architecture as having potential for healing, a space to reduce personal and social anxiety. But in practice, there is a need to balance aspects of inclusiveness with other building qualities.

  • Kong spoke to an example of converting a court yard from a green space to a hardscape. While the green space was lovely to look at, and contributed to a sense of wellness and calm, it limited use by patrons in wheelchairs, with walkers or strollers. The hard surface isn’t as attractive, but allows for more kinds of programming.
  • Big staircases encourage flow through a building space, and support exercise – but elevators provide access to users with mobility issues. It’s important to make those elevators visible too.
  • Variety and flexibility came up again and again – in practice this means seating that supports all kinds of bodies, and tables that support multiple uses.


Conducting a Large-scale Diversity Audit for Urban Public Library Systems described a project to evaluate the St. Louis Public Library system’s fiction collection to insure its diverse community is reflected. Staff at 17 locations went into the stacks and manually assessed a sampling (213,207) of the fiction titles with an eye towards diversity in its many aspects, including: race, religion, LGBTQIA+, neuro and body diversity, mental health, and author identity. Hugely time-consuming and admittedly imperfect an approach, the exercise provided staff with a deeper appreciation of collection development and assessment practice.  Presenters Tiffany Davis and Anna Strackeljahn felt this was an important strength, in spite of tht time commitment. For a collection of 11 million titles, more feasible approaches include analysis of collection diversity using Library of Congress subject headings, or Baker & Taylor’s DEI Collection HQ tool.


While not explicitly about DEIA, the session Save, Edit, Delete – Pushing Virtual Services Forward while Returning Onsite Post-Pandemic also raised important issues about making our services as accessible as possible based on lessons learned during the pandemic.

  • For instance, patrons loved the outdoor pick up services offered by libraries during the pandemic, and being able to check out internet access “hot spots”.
  • While Zoom-enabled reference consultation is now popular across the board, and will definitely continue, the “drop-in Zoom” received mixed reviews. Most libraries have returned to past practice of staffing a desk for in-person reference assistance.
  • Some libraries have dispensed with fines entirely, and provide for online card registration.
  • A new kind of programming that works well in the virtual space is conversation groups for language learning.

To wrap up the session, facilitators asked each table to consider this question:

What services put into place during the pandemic would you most like to discard, and get rid of entirely?

A crowded room of 150 attendees all laughed in recognition as a librarian provides this idea:  “Let’s discard our resistance to change.”

This entry was posted in access, collections, conference reports, library spaces and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.