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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

"an activist organisation that examines issues of censorship, freedom and ethics amongst library and information workers..."

ISC 11. Using CRE standard to combat racism in library services

by Susan White

  • Race "a group or division of persons, animals, or plants sprung from a common stock; a particular ethnical stock (as the Caucasian, Mongolian etc.); a subdivision of this, a tribe, nation or group of peoples distinguished by a less important difference; a clan, a family, a house (Concise Oxford English Dictionary).
  • racialism "antagonism between different races" (Concise Oxford English Dictionary
  • racism " belief in the inherent right of one race to rule over another" (Concise Oxford English Dictionary) or
  • racism "race hatred, rivalry or feeling (Chamber's Twentieth Century Dictionary)
  • bully " to treat in a tyrannical manner; to tease, oppress, terrorise (Concise Oxford English Dictionary

That racialism exists in the UK is beyond doubt. Antagonistic encounters between races and nationalities are a regular occurrence both here and abroad. Many people report behaviour from strangers, neighbours and colleagues that they feel is a direct result of racism. These behaviours would be defined as bullying if experienced between people of the same race. The long term physical and mental impact of bullying and racism is finally being accepted and serious measures introduced to combat it.

Shropshire County Council have a Dignity and Respect at Work policy aimed at combating bullying. The definition of bullying in the policy includes the provision that a person who perceives actions as bullying is, in fact, being bullied. In other words the person who defines certain behaviour as bullying is the victim, not the perpetrator or society. The Policy provides a support mechanism for victims of bullying and procedures to enable them to receive the dignity and respect at work that everyone is entitled to. These procedures challenges the behaviour of the accused, making clear the possible disciplinary measures, while also maintaining their individual rights to dignity and respect. This definition of bullying also applies to racism. The victim of racism is the person who believes that they are subject to racist acts not the individual or group with the particular behaviour, or even society, or the community which observes from a distance.

We as librarians are very proud of the fact that we are not censors, that we respond to the demands of our customers when developing the collections so that they represent the needs of the communities using our libraries. There is the danger of complacency when the local community is predominantly from one race, used in the widest sense of the word as defined above. There is a risk in this case that collections and services will be dominated by the needs, wishes and demands of the majority. Minority groups within the locale often identify their "special" services as merely tokenism and recognise the fact that just as they are marginalised from mainstream society, so are the services they receive. Minority communities should be forgiven for feeling that this is another example of the majority race " belief in the inherent right of one race to rule over another" or racism. As shown in the research by Roach and Morrison these communities often look to other means of provision for their information and reading needs.

We live in times of budget constraint, increasing demands on staff and resources, and marginalised services for minority communities. How can service provision be planned and delivered in a way that ensures equality of service, demonstrates and promotes a multicultural society and enables the community it serves to have a voice in development of appropriate services? This is a question of particular interest in Shropshire with a very small number of minority ethnic communities which do not have a loud voice either collectively or individually. Enter the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) standard.

The CRE standard "..aims to bring equality into mainstream of local government by providing a common standard based on quality, with which to identify and acknowledge achievement made, and to plan systematically for improvement. The standard is a mechanism for self- assessment and forward planning". The standards require policies developed from a commitment to equal opportunities from the corporate level down to the front line service. Individual services have to have in place policy documents and service level agreements that reflect their communities demographics and corporate planning. Councils are expected to act as champions of good practise in the community they serve. The procedures developed from these policies are monitored and evaluated with on-going consultation with all groups in the community. Performance targets and appraisal systems ensure that managers are operating the polices and procedures as laid down , therefore not relying on an individual's commitment.

Senior and middle managers are required to demonstrate equality of opportunity in both planning and delivery of service. Grievance and disciplinary procedures monitoring ensure that equal opportunities policies are adhered to. This ensures that even if an individual is racist they realise that their personal belief systems will not be allowed to affect the way they manage either services or people.

The Standard has particular benefits to offer library workers and services. We have to show that our services are available equally to all community groups, that they are developed in line with the services wanted by their communities rather than based on assumptions of need. This responsibility starts at the corporate level thus ensuring equality of service falls on many shoulders rather than just one or two "specialists".

The "glass ceiling" is a major issue for many black librarians. As in racism or bullying, the perception that there is a "glass ceiling" means that it exists. If the perception is that a black librarian will never achieve promotion above a certain grade or outside "special services", the effect is many do not even apply for those posts beyond the "glass ceiling". The CRE standards require that employment is monitored from application form, through interview and onto appointment. Monitoring of training, and tracking through promotion and development opportunities will identify when and if a "glass ceiling" exists. Positive action such as mentoring schemes, support groups and secondments should provide development opportunities outside the range provided by working in "special services". Finally, exit interviews will identify the reality of the culture of a library service as experienced by all departing employees. Appropriate mechanisms can then be put in place at any stage of the monitoring process to combat racism and discrimination.

My own experiences as a woman and as someone who has experienced bullying helps me to empathise to a degree with a person who has experienced racism. I have been accused of being racist merely because my surname is "White" and that minor experience of racism from many years ago has left a lasting impression on me. I recognise, however, that I can never totally understand how it feels to experience societal attitude and racist behaviour on a daily basis. I feel that the CRE standards are a vital tool in eliminating the effects of racism in library services in the UK for both our customers and our colleagues. By using the CRE standard to change corporate cultures, by challenging unacceptable behaviour and supporting and developing equality of services and opportunities we can all make a difference.


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