Photo Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

In the United States, a week of riots and violence protesting racial inequities was enough to send me in paralysis of inaction. It was soul-crushing. Like many of you, I sat at my computer or scrolled through my phone. I felt anger and despair. I felt hopeless and helpless.

I’m just a library marketer. What can I do to help?

Equality, inclusion, and diversity are social justice issues. Social justice aligns with the core values of library work. Equal access, educational equality, free service, and safe spaces are all essential and valuable library missions.

Many of the librarians I work with have hearts bent for social justice. They may not be aware of it. But their empathy, compassion, and drive to pass on information and ideas make the world a better place.

Every time a library staffer teaches someone to read or feeds someone or helps someone to get a job or offers a space for a group to meet in safety and peace, they are doing social justice work. Every time a library staffer recommends a diverse book or helps someone fax an unemployment claim to job services or helps a minority-owned business owner secure a grant or a patent or a trademark, they are doing social justice work.

If you feel that the problems of the world are too numerous or too difficult, that your job is too small, that no one cares about what you do or say, YOU ARE WRONG. You do make a difference working in a library. And you have the power to change lives.

This week, I want to share a list of resources and ideas to respond to racial inequity. I believe that libraries can help our communities to be more equal, inclusive, and diverse. Here is advice I’ve learned from experts, and tools to help you make changes in your collection, your marketing, and ultimately, your community.

What is your #1 library marketing worry or concern right now?

Be aware of your own bias. I was raised to be prejudiced. I must consciously work on my own mind. And so should you. We must all make a habit of constantly questioning our own beliefs and reactions.

It’s not easy. It’s work we must do every single day. It starts with educating yourself. I’ve found several resources to help me with this. The best is this fantastic list of anti-racism resources for white people. There is also this great list of resourcesto help with racial division and the ongoing COVID crisis on the Facebook page Libraries Step Up (in times of crisis).

I also turn to friends like Kim Crowder. Kim is a former library marketer who now runs her own consulting firm aimed at helping organizations like libraries to make sure they are diverse, equal, and inclusive in their marketing, workforce, and services. She’s written for this blog on diversity in library marketing.

Kim is offering an anti-racism course on how to live an inclusive life. Inclusive leaders and professionals live diverse lives. She says, “Anti-racism and silence cannot inhabit the same space. Find out tools you can take with you and ways to grow and influence those around you. Let’s get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Humanity must lead.”  Sign up for her newsletter now for more details.

Recommend diverse books. One of a librarian’s main jobs is to recommend books to readers. This is your chance to create empathy in your community.

There are SO MANY resources to help you find diverse titles, including the website for the social movement We Need Diverse Books and The Children’s Book Council. My friends at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County responded this week by quickly pulling together a list of books about race and anti-racism, which they displayed at the top of their Overdrive page. Your library can replicate that.

You can also turn to the Own Voices movement to find diverse books. Own Voices is an adjective that describes a book about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.

If you aren’t familiar with diverse titles, there are two great places to find these books. The first is NoveList. (Note: I work for NoveList.) I have found many library staffers have no idea that their library is a subscriber. Check your library’s website. If you have NoveList, you can use it to find diverse and Own Voices books to recommend.

The other place is Pinterest. Searching “diverse books” and “Own Voices” on Pinterest will lead you to a host of booklists created by librarians, publishers, and other book industry websites.

Lift up diverse voices on your platforms. If you have a blog or a newsletter, ask patrons and community leaders from diverse backgrounds to write for you about their experiences at the library and beyond in the wider world. The library is built on stories. Those stories can be a way to affect change in the world. There is no more powerful way to do this than to amplify diverse voices.

Be intentional about adding diversity to story time and programs. Children’s librarians, you have the power to influence the next generation of readers. Read diverse books and share songs and crafts from diverse cultures at your story time. My favorite example is happening on the DC Library Facebook page, where they’ve posted bi-lingual story time videos.

The DC Library is also leading the way with diverse presenters for their programs. Be intentional about including presenters and experts from a variety of backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives. Your library is a safe space where ideas and information are shared. Let’s make sure we include all voices in discussions about all subjects, large and small.

Use diverse images in all your marketing. Representation matters. The library is a place where everyone in your community feels welcomed and included. Studies show that younger library users are more likely to respond to marketing that includes visual representations of diversity.

It is difficult, but not impossible, to find free diverse stock photos. Some good choices are Pexels diversity photo collection, Nappy, Women in Tech, and Unsplash.

Use social media for good. I know your social media feeds feel like a cesspool of hell. It doesn’t have to be that way. Libraries can help by curating content on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

You should, of course, share library resources to help your community learn about diversity and inclusion. But also look outside the library for content to share. Share posts by readers and people in your community from diverse backgrounds. Start a conversation with your followers about diversity. You can even do this live on Facebook or Instagram. And share posts from local organizations about events or educational opportunities tied to diversity and inclusion.

Do you have more ideas for how libraries can help their communities deal with racial inequalities and promote diversity? Please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading this.

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