Library workers perform multiple roles within the scholarly communication lifecycle. As selectors of content for their user communities, librarians make choices about what content they will acquire and how they will describe and make that content discoverable. As experts in how content is curated, reviewed, and published, librarians support their user communities in understanding the peer review process, author rights, copyright, and publishing strategies. This work is performed in an environment that mirrors the demographics of the publishing profession (Department for Professional Employees, AFL_CIO, 2023). Despite longstanding efforts by professional associations to diversify the field, e.g. ALA Spectrum Scholarship Program, librarianship remains a predominantly white and female profession.
Representation in hiring and retention
Research about why libraries and information centers have remained so overwhelmingly white points to the profession’s biased hiring practices and failure to retain BIPOC librarians. Both of these factors perpetuate a status quo wherein, as some librarians have described it, “homogeneous environments foster homogeneous attitudes and practices” that reverberate in the field (Espinal, Sutherland, & Roh, 2018). There has been an increase in programs to diversify academic libraries, largely focused on racial diversity and on hiring early career librarians. But there is much more to do to increase racial and other types of diversity among library workers. “If the goals of diversity in librarianship are to enhance services and the profession, then librarianship must move toward a strategically larger view of diversity recruitment and retention that would welcome and acknowledge all dimensions of diversity to avoid these limited hiring practices.”(Kung, Fraser, & Winn, 2020).
Beyond hiring an increasingly diverse workforce, libraries need to focus on and invest in explicit efforts to recognize the kinds of systemic issues that affect marginalized library workers and, by addressing those issues, support retention of these new hires. An increase in resignations, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has hit libraries hard, and marginalized library workers even harder. (Ewen, 2022) Library leaders are called upon to examine how they benefit from the power structures in place and to “invest internally as much as we invest externally” (Ewen, 2022) in order to put the values in diversity and mission statements into action.
Libraries’ descriptive practices (subject headings, metadata) have also been critiqued for their biases. Efforts to address these biases within the language of library classification systems (Library of Congress, Dewey Decimal) have been slow to evolve, in large part because libraries use these complex and bureaucratic systems to standardize practices to ensure consistency of description and ease of discovery. As one researcher explains,“librarians tend to wait for the approval of larger institutions, governing bodies, or associations before making changes that could be beneficial to local users” (White, 2018).
The efficiency of standardization, the slowness of bureaucratic approval processes, and in one recent instance, congressional intervention, have impeded the profession’s ability to shift toward inclusive language (Ros, 2019). Several library initiatives are underway to update catalog records by replacing biased/racist terms with more inclusive descriptive terminology. The latter practice is sometimes referred to as ‘decolonizing’ the library catalog’s subject headings, removing the terms that reflect “…the biases of the time periods and places they were created” (White, 2018).
Contracts with publishers
The “serials crisis” refers to the ever-increasing and unsustainable costs of subscription materials. New models, such as “publish and read” agreements between libraries and publishers seek to address this subscription crisis by enabling authors to publish their research articles open access. Many of these agreements are structured around an author-facing Article Processing Charge (APC), in lieu of a subscription fee, which some authors can pay with financial support from their libraries and funding agencies (University of California, n.d.).
While these agreements certainly level the playing field for readers in terms of access to published research, the costs associated with APCs can be a financial barrier for many authors who seek to publish their research. Some members of the community believe these pay-to-publish models privilege those scholars who already enjoy the benefits of well-funded research disciplines and institutions; those who are not in these positions of power and resourcing are less likely to have the funding to pay APCs (Hudson-Ward, 2021).
Academic libraries are increasingly assuming the role of scholarly publisher on behalf of their institutions through Diamond OA library publishing programs that eschew APCs and instead focus on open access models that provide equitable access to both knowledge and the means of producing that knowledge. Library publishers are deeply embedded in academic communities and able to partner closely with university presses, scholars, and students at their institutions using non-commercial funding models and values-driven services. See the Scholarly Publishers page for more information.
Instruction & Outreach
Libraries play a crucial role in promoting scholarly communication knowledge through instruction sessions, workshops and events, one-on-one consultations, and web-based guidance. Librarians are increasingly seeking ways to transform these instructional activities to be more inclusive, relatable, and meaningful (Pho et al., 2022). Designing instruction, outreach, and information resources to be globally inclusive and with a cultural humility lens means taking into consideration the languages spoken by learners, cultural backgrounds and diverse learning styles, and the inclusion of knowledge examples from the Global South (Espinosa de los Monteros & Mandernach Longmeier, 2022). Similarly, “critical pedagogy” can shift the power dynamic in the classroom to a student-centered experience, where the beliefs, values, and knowledge of all learners are recognized (Saunders & Wong, 2020).
Beyond being intentional about their instructional practices, library workers can and should play a role in informing their audiences about bias and inequities in the scholarly publishing system and open access models, as well as the inherent biases built into measures of value such as “the impact factor” and terms like “predatory publishing.”
What can I do?
As experts in how content is curated, reviewed, and published, librarians support their user communities in understanding the peer review process, author rights, copyright, and publishing strategies. Librarians perform this work in a predominantly white and female profession. Given this fact, librarians should be intentional about addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in hiring and retention, descriptive practices, contracts with publishers, and instructional activities.
Effect change in your library with the following suggested actions:
- State your library’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and include actions your library is taking to meet that commitment.
- Support the diversification of all areas of the library profession and support marginalized workers.
- Recruiting for Diversity – The American Library Association Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Service provides an outline of strategies for incorporating practices to make hiring more inclusive.
- Avoid the “culture fit” mindset and create inclusive and equitable interview processes.
- Build intentional retention practices: the Canadian Association of Research Libraries offers specific strategies for creating inclusive organizations.
- Pay attention to and address harmful library description practices.
- Learn about what librarian colleagues are doing to address bias in description.
- Assess and address areas of under-representation in your own collection through established strategies to diversify collections
- Expand your library collection review rubric to include DEI values, e.g. the VIVA Consortium’s “Applying EDI Values to Collection Assessment”.
- Work with vendors and publishers to ensure that the materials you license and purchase are aligned with your institution’s goals for equitable collection development.
- Work to advance support of DEI principles among publisher or vendor .
- Ask publishers or vendors to describe how they address the need for author open access fee support: OA fee waiver tweet.
- Add specific language about expectations regarding accessibility to licenses: Library Accessibility Alliance.
- Request examples of concrete actions taken to increase diversity, equity and inclusion both within their own workforce and within the publishing and/or service models they offer.
- Incorporate inclusive and anti-racist practices into library instruction, outreach, and research services.
- Incorporate awareness of the institutionalized racism of scholarly publishing in publishing and information literacy consultations, presentations and workshops.
- Advocate for equitable scholarly communication environments and systems in alignment with ACRL’s Open and Equitable Scholarly Communications report.
- Practice inclusive teaching by using multiple methods for participation and inclusive examples; apply critical pedagogy. strategies to challenge bias and center learners in the classroom; contextualize your teaching in the diversity, equity, and inclusion practices of the discipline/field you are addressing.
- Incorporate The Carpentries practical strategies to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility before, during, and after workshops and related events.
- Incorporate anti-racism practices into research services and library guides.
Page updated: May 12, 2023