Diversity, equity, and inclusiveness are vital issues for society in the United States and beyond. National policy discussions have catalyzed concerns that our higher education institutions are not providing the leadership on these issues that we would like to see. Ithaka S+R is today announcing our latest project examining diversity in cultural organizations, this time focusing on academic libraries.  

The Spring 2016 ARL meeting provided ample evidence of the importance that academic and research libraries place in diversity and social justice issues today. There is a palpable interest in moving beyond just simple measures of diversity to address shortcomings in organizational inclusiveness and equity. There is a clear sense of responsibility among library leaders to confront inequities designed into and taking place within their buildings: everything from redesigning bathrooms to recalibrating the balance between offensive and free speech. And there remains great interest in the structural barriers that continue to impede not only staff diversity but also inclusiveness. Not all ARL directors and organizations are equally well positioned to engage with all these issues at this particular moment, but I felt I heard broad and serious interest in the ARL community in expanding engagement with these issues.

Over the past two years, my colleague Liam Sweeney and I have studied and reported on staff diversity and inclusiveness in museums, New York City cultural organizations, New York City dance companies and venues, and in a case study format on an important Brooklyn arts organization. Much of our work in this area has been designed to establish a baseline understanding of the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of employees, volunteers, and board members. We have also examined programming, policy issues, and other indicators of equity and inclusiveness. In addition, we have provided custom reports to more than 100 organizational executives to help them situate their own efforts and lead positive change.  

Now, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has asked Ithaka S+R to take on a project to explore diversity, equity, and inclusiveness issues in the academic library community. In this study, we will gather data about the demographic composition of the employees of academic libraries in institutions that grant the bachelor’s degree or higher. We will also study policy and perceptions about issues of equity, inclusiveness, and diversity, from the perspective of library directors. The research will be conducted on an aggressive timeline so that findings can be reported in the fall.

We are pleased to be working with an advisory committee that includes:

  • Joyce Backus, Associate Director for Library Operations, National Library of Medicine, and co-chair of the ARL Diversity and Inclusion Committee
  • Jon Cawthorne, Dean of Libraries, West Virginia University
  • Tammy Dearie, Associate University Librarian, Enterprise Services, University of California, San Diego
  • Frances Maloy, College Librarian, Union College
  • Mary Jane Petrowski, Associate Director, Association of College and Research Libraries
  • Mark Puente, Director of Diversity and Leadership Programs, Association of Research Libraries
  • Donald J. Waters, Senior Program Officer, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
  • Jeff Witt, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, University of Michigan Library

Our work on this project begins in earnest immediately. We will be hosting an open session at the ALA annual conference on June 26 in Orlando, where we will provide a current project update and also seek community input on how to shape the project. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP at https://ithaka_sr_diversity_study.eventbrite.com.

If successful, our project will provide additional evidence to help leaders prioritize these issues and to guide their interventions and our broader community strategy to address inequities that remain present in our organizations. We will be grateful for your support as we embark on this study.