August 21, 2020
We begin a new academic year at Weber State and Stewart Library in the midst of uncertainty. Our campus and library will look different this year because of COVID-19. In the library, we have had to make difficult choices about restricting access to the building to meet social distancing guidelines. We don’t want to turn people away from a space that we have worked hard to make welcoming. But we need to be responsible members the public and do our part to make our space as safe as possible for our students, our staff, and for our broader community. Read more about our Library Access and Services for Students and Faculty. While access to the building needs to be limited, our provision of online services and delivery of materials is not limited. We are committed to providing what have always been our core, essential services: access to information and knowledge resources, information literacy instruction, and personalized research help for faculty, staff, and community members.
Public health guidelines determined many of the details of our plan, but we also made decisions based on principles of equity and justice. In July, I wrote about the Stewart Library’s commitment to anti-racism and the need for action and accountability. One of those actions was to plan for the fall semester through an equity and justice lens. When making decisions about library building access, staffing, and technology provision, we were mindful of the ways in which COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on black, indigenous, LatinX, and Pacific Islander communities in Utah. We implemented a reservation system to provide more equitable and predictable access to those study spaces. We committed staff resources to curbside delivery, laptop and wifi hotspot checkout, and online research help so that students who are at higher risk, or live with those at higher risk, of complications from COVID-19 can get what they need without having to come to the library building.
We also identified actions to advance anti-racism in our library for coming academic year. As I wrote in July, we must be held accountable for this work, and like the planning described above, it must be the foundation of our thinking and not the work of a separate committee, not an “extra,” not theater.
My thinking was enhanced by an Association of College and Research Libraries presentation on Generous Accountability by McKensie Mack. Mack defined accountability as “preventing, intervening in, responding to, and healing from harm.” They emphasized that we all do harm and can make choices to reduce or amplify that harm, and that generous accountability is a recognition that accountability is not “punitive, shaming, hateful, damaging.”
Generous accountability requires anti-racist analysis, not just statements of solidarity. According to Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative:
- I think it’s really important that people understand that if you’re genuinely engaged and recovering from human rights abuses, you have to commit to truth-telling first. You can’t jump to reconciliation. You can’t jump to reparation or restoration until you tell the truth. Until you know the nature of the injuries, you can’t actually speak to the kind of remedies that are going to be necessary.
For me, that’s very immediate. I believe colleges and universities need to have their own truth-telling process to document the ways in which they contributed to the history of racial inequality, the history of white supremacy. If you were a college and university functioning in the first half of the 20th century, there are things you should acknowledge you did to sustain racial inequality. (Bryan Stevenson on how Americans can heal, Vox.com, July 22, 2020)
In this spirit, Stewart Library has committed to the following, to build our practice of anti-racist analysis, truth telling, and change.
- Continued self and collective education:
While this is not enough or an end, library staff have committed to a regular series of readings, viewings, reflection, and discussion to build our ability to engage in anti-racist analysis.
- Policy review:
We will hire an external consultant to help us analyze our current policies and procedures across the library, including hiring practices, through an anti-racist and equity and justice framework.
- Curriculum revision:
Library faculty will review and revise the curriculum in LIBS 1704, including learning outcomes and assessments, to integrate anti-racist and anti-oppressive approaches. Much of the course centers on evaluating information. The review will consider how assumptions of authority, about whose knowledge counts, is the essential understanding and learning outcome for information literacy as a practice of epistemic and social justice.
- Truth telling from the archives:
University Archives is researching the history of Weber State and developing online exhibit and educational materials to advance Bryan Stevenson’s call for truth telling first in order to understand the anti-racist remedies required.
As I wrote in July, we will keep you updated and ask that you hold us accountable.
Dean of the Library