As the start of another academic year approaches, the spaces and places on campus receive special attention. Classrooms and laboratories see new equipment and maybe a fresh coat of paint. Even virtual spaces are upgraded with additional features.
In academic libraries, the staff will review more than the collections. Not so surprisingly, librarians today share concerns that go far beyond books on shelves.
Researchers have found that a sense of belonging affects a range of student success measures, including academic achievement and classroom engagement. Yet the values and assumptions many have about libraries and librarians can become obstacles. Cherished ideals of neutrality and impartiality have traditionally ignored systemic racism in libraries and the exclusion of people of color in those spaces.
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“It can’t be us. We’re not the problem. We’re welcoming. We have the best of intentions. Which means that we’re not actually looking at what we’re doing as librarians. So we need to learn more about racism and about being antiracist,” explains Jill Hurst-Wahl, an antiracism auditor with Widerstand Consulting, which offers specific, institution-focused assessments to identify the most effective strategies for an organization to move forward in its desire to be antiracist. Hurst-Wahl is professor emerita at Syracuse University, where she most recently was director of the iSchool Public Libraries Institute.
According to Julie Edwards, who also is an antiracism auditor with Widerstand Consulting and an instructional designer for the Niche Academy, which provides training and community engagement for librarians and administrators in academic libraries and public libraries, “library anxiety” among students is real, even if they don’t or can’t recognize it.
“It is a real thing for all kinds of people coming in,” Edwards tells me. “They may feel uncertain or unsure, but they may not know why. And it’s our job to help them feel secure in the space.