Don’t Miss: The SJSU iSchool’s Diversity Webcast Series

iStudent Blog

Published: October 12, 2020 by Leslie Parry

The fantastic 2020 diversity webcast series continues its run through the fall. If you haven’t already, you can check out past episodes through the SJSU iSchool Podcast Feed via Apple Podcasts, SJSU iSchool YouTube Channel and iSchool On-Demand Webcasts Portal. Under the direction of Dr. Michele Villagran, Chair of the Diversity Committee for the SJSU School of Information, the eight-part series features a variety of speakers discussing equity, social justice, cultural competency and other issues as they relate to information service. 

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as Action

I particularly enjoyed the recent insights of Pamela Espinosa de los Monteros, assistant professor and Latin American Studies librarian at The Ohio State University who presented on “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as Action: Designing a Collective EDI Strategy.” 

In her presentation, Espinosa de los Monteros poses valuable questions, such as: 

  • What does equity, diversity, inclusion (EDI) and social justice work look like in the library? 
  • How do librarians move beyond palliative buzzwords and make rigorous, conscientious changes to institutional culture and responsibility? 
  • Whose responsibility is it? 
  • What does that change look like? 

In addition to addressing these questions, Espinosa de los Monteros highlighted an initiative she co-developed, EDI@OSUL, which helps library employees identify EDI challenges within their organization and create a strategic action plan. Below are highlights from her presentation and her work. 

Defining EDI: What is the Work?

“Many of us are actively doing [EDI] work [and] the values themselves are being reflected in our institution’s strategic documents,” says Espinosa de los Monteros, explaining how a commitment to EDI is being incorporated into university charters and codes of conduct. EDI initiatives can include programming, instruction, scholarships, collection development and community outreach. 

Still, EDI work is often held back. It can be siloed, underfunded and/or misunderstood. In order to put equity, diversity and inclusion into action, an organization first has to decide what these words actually mean. People are bound to interpret them differently, or not fully grasp what they are. The terms need to be explicitly defined so that they can be understood by everyone, Espinosa de los Monteros says, at “the individual, department and organizational level.” 

Who Does EDI Work?

EDI work is complex and far-reaching, encompassing many different needs. Some of the challenges are invisible to staff members because they haven’t personally experienced them. Others can identify problems but don’t know how to offer solutions. Traditionally EDI work has fallen to diversity committees, where people of color usually bear the responsibility of organizing and educating everyone else. Not only is it unfair to put this work on minority communities, but it assumes these communities are monolithic and that substantial change will happen simply through inclusion and visibility on special projects. While that recognition and representation is important, it’s not the solution. Structural reform is. 

The problem, as Espinosa de los Monteros maintains, is that systemic inequality persists, and the system “is not designed well to be equitable in including diversity.” Gaps have to be understood and addressed at a greater scale, rather than treated as individual circumstances. The obstacles libraries face are often related to longstanding structural inequality: blind spots, inefficiency [and[] inaction. But change is possible. “Our era could be different if we actually act on it and actually change these systems,” she says. 

For one, majority communities have to help carry the load and amplify the voices of their peers. The focus should be on cultivating long-term relationships rather than opting for short-term comfort. It’s going to take openness, growth and communication to implement and sustain EDI initiatives.

EDI Work in Action

As well-meaning as individuals may be, awareness of the issues “has not always translated into advancing EDI,” Espinosa de los Monteros says. She co-created EDI@OSUL, a workshop-based tool meant “to reframe EDI work as action” with “solutions that are reproducible by the average employee.” 

“We try to bring these values down to reality,” she says. “How do they actually manifest in the library?” The objective is to move library staff from discussion to action, to help them set priorities and understand that EDI work is the responsibility of everyone. At OSU, 114 library staff members participated in a workshop that was designed to “build a common language about EDI and a collective EDI vision.” Espinosa de los Monteros says that the greater the number of participants, the more reflective and incisive the plan will be, and the more people will be invested in maintaining and supporting it.

“Look for solutions that are within reach,” she says. It’s an ongoing, collaborative process and the work is often difficult. One should expect conflict, rejection and mistakes. But rather than folding, she urges information professionals to stay curious, persevere, and learn by doing. “The more that we try… we’re going to get it right.”

Join the Discussion

The next webcast, Integrating Cultural Humility into Librarianship, is scheduled for October 13. All webcasts are open to the public and held on Zoom. 


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