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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. Editorial: Combating racism in library and information services

It is generally accepted today that the needs of Black communities are not being met by public libraries. This is shown, for example, by Roach & Morrison who concluded that the "public library service has not yet managed to engage fully with ethnically diverse communities (and that) there is a lack of clear vision and leadership on ethnic diversity and racial equality matters within the public library service". Similar conclusion was reached by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry for local government services as a whole. More recently, this point of view was confirmed by the Social Exclusion Unit which concluded that "people from minority ethnic communities are at disproportionate risk of social exclusion (and that) racial discrimination plays an important role in the disproportionate social exclusion experienced by people from minority ethnic communities".

Similarly, Black library and information workers are not allowed to play any significant role in deciding, implementing (except at the lowest level) and monitoring policies. The serious nature of the problem is reflected by the fact that out of over 25,000 personal members of the Library Association, only 1.2% - i.e. 286 individual members - are of African, Caribbean or Asian background. Even more worrying, only 3 Black members earned over £27,000 p.a. (Khan, 2000 ). What this means to individual Black members is reflected in one of the contributions in this issue of Information for Social Change - Case Studies and Comments. Going by some recent publications and some of the articles in this issue, the situation in the USA, although marginally better, is not one to give hope that the concerns are seriously being addressed by those in power in the LIS sector in USA either.

Yet there is no lack of ideas and actions for addressing this social injustice. The CRE standards provide an excellent tool to struggle against racial discrimination, as shown by Susan White in her contribution in this issue. These Standards have been around for a long time, yet they have made no overall difference on the ground. At the same time, there are a number of other studies, reports, guidelines and recommended action that can help to change the situation, as shown in the "Combating racism checklist" reproduced in this issue. Yet, as the reports on the last two years' Annual Library Plan indicate, social exclusion has not been addressed adequately by most library authorities. Similar conclusion is reached by the research of the Public Library Policy and Social Exclusion Project.

To make matters worse, there is a lack of forum where racial discrimination in public library service can be debated and possible solutions discussed. Few, if any, Black Library worker groups with significant power exist. Few, if any, authorities have mechanism to consult, in a meaningful way, Black communities and Black LIS workers so that they can influence library policy, monitor implementation and ensure that the outcomes meet their needs. No journals or books exist to document the struggles of Black communities and workers for justice. The profession as a whole, dominated by white, male, middle class power-holders seem to have decided that if they do not acknowledge that there is injustice and discrimination in the service they provide, the problems will disappear.

It is for this reason that Information for Social Change is devoting this issue to combating racism in library and information services. What we need desperately today is an open debate about what the problems are and a discussion of new ideas on how to address these problems. Many authorities and individuals are already doing much to address the issue, as shown by some articles in this issue. We hope this issue of information for Social Change will help to carry this discussion to a higher level. The joint LINK-ISC Conference in November will provide another opportunity to come together and look at more creative and innovative ways of eliminating racism from the society.

"Change, like death, is inevitable", Karimi Nduthu, a Kenyan freedom fighter said. It remains to be seen if we, as a profession, change willingly and remain in control of the new agenda - otherwise forces of social change will surely drag us to a new, just and "equal" society.

Shiraz Durrani


Tel. 020 8545 4061


In the spirit of allowing all forms of diversity to flourish, the spellings in the original contributions are left as they were submitted by the contributors. It is only in such a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect that genuine solutions to racism can be found.


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