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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 11. Response to Diversity

by Glennor L. Shirley

Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL), with its philosophy of " Give 'em what they want" , took major steps to confront the challenge of providing services for and in a demographically changing community in 1998. The factors that led to BCPL's decision to proactively promote behaviors that addressed the issue of diversity were:

The County's demographic trend showed a declining European based population while there was a significant increase among non- Europeans.

Click here for a table containing The Demographic and Socio-Economic Outlook for Baltimore County

The kinds of services required by the users in the areas where the greatest population shift occurred demanded more staff intensive information transaction, yet circulation, the traditional hallmark of the library's success, continued to decline.

The Staff Development Committee of BCPL had begun to receive numerous requests for training to deal with "new users."

The new Library Director, Jim Fish and the Board of Trustees charged BCPL to develop strategies that would result in a workforce more reflective of the diverse community. The Personnel Advisory (PAC) produced a Diversity Workplan Project Report, for creating a more diverse work force. From the onset, it became evident that BCPL needed outside professional help to assess customers and service with regard to diversity. The system hired Paso Training and Consulting to:

  • Look at BCPL's policies, procedures, customer service, staff relations, and buildings.
  • Prepare reports and recommendations on how well BCPL was serving non-traditional customers, and how inclusive the system was regarding staff.
  • Design a "train-the-trainer" type diversity training for all staff.
  • Customer Service Survey

In December 1998, Paso submitted two reports - Diversity and Library Services: Recommendations for Institutional Change and Assessment of Diversity Training Needs for BCPL Staff. This was followed by a report that summarized the perspectives of customers of the Randallstown Branch. Randallstown library was selected for the survey because that library had the greatest diversity in terms of customers and staff. Of the 682 persons responding to the survey, 49% identified themselves as African-Americans or Black, 26% identified themselves as Jewish, 15% identified themselves as European American. While these were the major groups, a few individuals from each category identified themselves as being native of Trinidad, Nigeria, Eritrea, West Indies, Estonia, Russia, France, Israel, Poland and Ukraine.

Of the other groups, less than 3% identified themselves as Asian American/Pacific Islander, American Indian and Hispanic/Latino. 8 persons identified themselves as bi-racial or multi-racial, while a small number did not specify racial or group identity. The Paso Report stated that older Jewish and European American customers were more likely to use the library for traditional purpose of checking out books and to a lesser extent videos, and read magazines and newspapers. The African American user, however, in addition the above uses, were more likely to use the library as a quiet place to read or study, use the computers for Internet or word processing, and to do research. The Report stated that "African Americans were more likely to ask for a quiet study room, additional staff, and fax services and less likely to want more copies of new fiction; Jews and European Americans more often listed "more copies of new fiction'."

These reports formed the basis of BCPL's Responses to Diversity. Although diversity, as defined by Paso, encompassed age, race, sexual orientation, and class, because racial groups have been the most glaringly historically oppressed, there was emphasis on racism.

Action Plan identified in the Responses :

  • Form a Diversity Steering Committees to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the consultants. The Committee would work with branches to identify current diversity initiatives, identify diversity issues, resources and information, and initiate network alliances with outside groups and agencies.
  • Form a Diversity Training Subcommittee to work with the consultants to design, select, and train staff for a ëtrain the trainer' module.
  • Ensure a more diverse pool of applicants by employing staffing initiatives that included extending vacancies for longer periods and including wider media, making contacts with local organizations serving groups that would include the diverse population sought.
  • Revise Staff Handbook to include language that recognizes and is sensitive to diversity.
  • Adjust the Performance Review Process to include wording that emphasizes awareness of diversity issues.
  • Consider diversity issues during staff transfer processes.

Diversity Training

Diversity training for sixteen branches required huge investments in staff time, cost, and scheduling. BCPL's commitment to diversity was manifested in the implementation of this portion of the recommendations.

Twenty-five staff members were given 38 hours of intensive training on being diversity facilitators. We were selected mostly from staff recommendations, with each nominee having to provide written answer to in depth questions on issues regarding diversity. We were given the questions to determine our comfort level with being facilitators in a forum that had the potential for displays of intense emotions. As facilitators we worked in pairs, one European American, and one African American. In addition to the training, we spent an average of 16 hours making preparations for the sessions that were held in 3 regions across the county, over a period of 9 months. The consultants encouraged each pair of facilitators to have frank open discussions on diversity issues regarding their background, experiences, and any topic that may cause discomfiture. For example, I discussed with my partner that I become defensive whenever European Americans say or imply that people of color got jobs because of Affirmative Action. Should this occur in a session, I expected my partner to diffuse the situation. These preparatory discussions were very helpful in preparing us for potential questions, comments, hostility, and possible verbal attacks that could arise during training.

Each trainer received a Training packet containing photocopies of articles on racism. We requested, and received statistics as supporting evidences for some of the arguments we anticipated. The consultants were always available to discuss our apprehension, concerns, and fears, and one consultant stayed with each pair during our first training session. Although they took a secondary role at the training, they willingly stepped in when we needed them during that first session. A BCPL diversity list serv was set up for consultants and trainers. This list serv became a supporting network as many of us used it to ask questions, give suggestions, tell of our successes or challenges during a training sessions, or to inform the group of relevant web sites, readings, events or insights on diversity.

Diversity Training at BCPL started in September 1999 and by December, all full -time, and a significant portion of part-time staff had attended one full day session of training. The second session began in January 2000, lasted a half -day and included showing the film, COLOR OF FEAR . In this film, a group of men from different ethnic backgrounds spent a weekend in intense and frank discussions about race. One outcome from each half-day session was the requirement that participants make recommendations for creating a more equitable workplace. All recommendations will be collated and sent to the Administration to incorporate into their strategic planning.

Although managers attended the general training, as a group, in September 2000, they will have a full day of diversity training The theme of Staff 2000 will be Many Spectrums/One Vision. The goal is to provide an action plan that intentionally recognizes and plans for the demographically changed community.

Our Human Resources Department has been a key element in coordinating the activities around BCPL's diversity initiatives. They have been responsible for:

  • Updating the Staff Manual to incorporate languages that recognizes diversity.
  • Ensuring that the recruitment practices are in compliance with the responses to diversity.
  • Communicating to staff ways in which BCPL is demonstrating commitment to diversity. Institutionalizing Diversity: Benchmarks in the area of Human Resources outlines the measures that will be taken to address diversity.
  • Communicating to staff the mechanism available for dealing with complaints that have diversity implications.

BCPL and Diversity in Year 2000

Since the training there is heightened awareness particularly among diversity trainers who have become a kind of support group and are very open to discussing diversity issues. Many staff members, both European Americans and African Americans, say that the training has created an awareness of racism which will help them to provide better customer service. Others say they are more comfortable in intervening when they witness aspects of racism. Yet others feel there was and still is no problem.

Our Marketing Department is more responsive to including diversity in its calendars, advertisements, and programs. Materials Selection Department has embraced diversity in its collections outlining specific action that the department will take to ensure diversity . A consequence of this is the addition of collections in Spanish and Korean and appropriate signage, in the communities that have a large number of these ethnic groups.

The system wrote a grant that sought funds to add more computers at the Randallstown library, where customers use the computers for word processing.

Individual Branch libraries display and label materials based on the community and cultural interest. For example, at Randallstown, books on African Heritage themes or by authors of African heritage, are labeled, and there is a permanent display of African heritage titles. At Woodlawn, another predominantly African American community, there is an African American collection. While labeling and special collections are not widespread in the county, they have received affirmative responses among the African American, Korean, and Latino users.

The system has developed an Intranet Diversity web page that invites questions, and comments, includes the diversity calendar, and the BCPL Mission Statement and Values.

Spreading the word

At the Maryland Library Association Conference 2000, BCPL's Diversity consultants, the Assistant Director, and four training facilitators hosted a workshop on BCPL's diversity initiative. At this workshop, two of our African Americans and two European American diversity facilitators spoke about the impact of our diversity training. The frank open and discussion about initial concerns on being trainers among their colleagues, and their own personal growth and development during the process, was very poignant. At the workshop they answered many questions from the attendees who praised them for their courage in telling their personal stories about diversity and racism. Those of us from the BCPL staff who attended the workshop were proud of our colleagues who did the presentation, and even more proud of our organization, BCPL, for taking such a proactive role.

While Baltimore County Public Library acknowledges that there is no ëquick fix' to diversity and racism, they realize that their diversity initiatives make good business practice for a system that is committed to its philosophy to " Give 'Em what they want."


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