Leadership and Management Development Community

 View Only

On Diversity and Inclusion in Libraries: An Interview with Co-Editors Shannon D. Jones and Beverly Murphy

By Dan Bostrom posted 01-21-2021 10:25

On Diversity and Inclusion in Libraries: An Interview with Co-Editors Shannon D. Jones and Beverly Murphy
By Ray Pun

In this interview, co-editors Shannon D. Jones and Beverly Murphy share their experiences and thoughts on their edited book Diversity and Inclusion in Libraries: A Call to Action and Strategies for Success. This interview was conducted by Ray Pun, an SLA LMD member.

Diversity and Inclusion in Libraries

Ray: Congrats on your book: Diversity and Inclusion in Libraries: A Call to Action and Strategies for Success (2019)! Thank you for speaking with me! I’m curious, can you tell us how this book came about?

Shannon: Thanks for the invitation and the opportunity to discuss our book.

This is an excellent question.

In 2017, the MLA Books Panel distributed a Scope Statement seeking to publish a book on diversity in libraries. The statement indicated the Book Panel wanted to publish a book that discussed workplace diversity and provided practical guidance for cultivating it in a variety of library environments. I saw the notice and sent Beverly a quick email to say, “We need to do this”. We share a common passion for championing diversity, equity, and inclusion in health sciences libraries. Serving as co-editors for a book on this topic seemed like a natural progression in our work.

Beverly: Thank you Ray and thanks for inviting us!

When Shannon came to me with the idea of doing this book, I said yes immediately, because it had always been on my mind to do a project like this. As women of color, in a profession that is predominantly white female, I knew our voices and those of others could resonate loudly in sharing our experiences as advocates and supporters of equity, diversity, and inclusion in libraries and librarianship.

Not only would I be doing something impactful but I would be working with Shannon while doing it. She and I have our own set of skills and we work well together, because we know how to operate in our lanes, and out of our lanes, when we have to. I knew we would bring our own flavor to the project. Personally, I would get a chance to dig into some great content and edit, which I love to do, while also increasing my knowledge base along the way. It was a win-win!

Ray: Any specific highlights you’d like to share? I know all the chapters are excellent, were there ones that really stood out, and if so which ones?

Beverly: Well Ray, I would have to agree with you that all the chapters are excellent and it's difficult to say what stands out from the pack. There is such a cornucopia of choices in the book that it's like loving everything on the platter and not being able to pick one thing in particular to feast on.

The chapter that Shannon and I wrote as the sample chapter (Chapter 8) has special meaning for us I think, because it gets at the core of a crucial DEI issue which is recruitment and retention of staff to increase the diversity of our workforce. Unfortunately, the needle has not moved in this area for many years.

On a personal level, I learned a lot from Chapter 1, From Whence We Come, which presented the historical perspective of why diversity and inclusion matters. While reading, I realized that there were trailblazers and events that I was not familiar with, so not only was I getting the opportunity to be up close and personal with the content, I was also growing even more in consciousness and understanding at the same time.

Part 3 (Voices from the Field) may be the most impactful to readers since it offers a platform for our diverse colleagues to describe their experiences and share their stories with DEI issues, in their own voices, in their respective environments.The transparency, boldness, and bravery of these marginalized communities was awesome and we are forever grateful for their contributions.

Shannon: I have said on many occasions that bringing this book to fruition was a labor of love and represented the work of 33 dedicated professionals who committed to taking this journey with us. Having read each and every chapter multiple times during the process, so it is indeed hard to pick just one. I am grateful for the contributors who helped us to shine a light on DEI issues occurring in libraries by sharing their wisdom and experience in a variety of areas. While I have enjoyed them all, the ones that have stood out to me recently are:

Chapter 8: Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce which Beverly and I co-wrote. The chapter is really the genesis of my DEI efforts. As a leader, I endeavor to cultivate a library space where people can bring their best selves and do their best work.

Chapter 1: From Whence We Came: A Historical Perspective celebrated the achievements of early pioneers in Black Librarianship. The chapter is deeply personal to me as it allowed me to reflect on the amazing professionals who paved the path for myself and countless other Black librarians. More importantly, this chapter reminded me on whose shoulders I stand and whose sacrifices made it possible for me to show up in librarianship.

And finally, Chapter 20: A Prescription for Critical Consciousness, Courage, and Cultural Humility in Cross Cultural Communications offers recommendations for facilitating professional development, cultural humility, and improved cross cultural communication.

Ray: We are now seeing more positions in libraries focusing on EDI and anti-racism in the leadership levels. What are your thoughts on those roles in addressing the inequities and challenges we see in libraries today?

Shannon: Another great question. I am encouraged to see more positions focused on EDI and anti-racism. It is a step in the right direction. We absolutely need more people doing this work. Increasing EDI in libraries has been a stated goal for years yet we still struggle with moving the needle. So my hope is that the institutions who are creating these positions are deeply committed to taking strategic action. It's time to align our EDI walk with our talk.

A few questions come to mind for me:
  1. How have the individuals in these positions been set-up for success in terms of funding resources and personnel?
  2. What preparations have these libraries made to their ecosystem [people, processes, spaces, policies, procedures, collections, etc.] for the EDI journey?
  3. Where does EDI fall in terms of the library’s overall priority?
  4. How deep are these libraries willing to go to unpack and address systemic inequities in their environments?
I do not want to read anymore statements, I want to see receipts. I want to see actions.

Beverly: I'm really glad to see this coming about. It has been a long time coming. Though having these types of positions in libraries is great, without the proper execution and follow-up of appropriate and best practice strategies, and the authority to make real movement, change and engagement, they could end up being just window dressing --- mere sounds without a purposeful voice and direction. The inequities and challenges are great and critical and crucial conversations must take place.

Diversity training and representation only get us so far and we must be careful to not just fall in line with mere assimilatory initiatives. We must ensure that we are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

A library’s strategy for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion work has to align with the intention of the library’s parent organizational strategy (if there is one). The clarity of intent, readiness, authority and action are key and especially from leadership.

Ray: Your book was published in 2019. What has been the book’s impact on the Medical Library Association/medical library profession at large that you can share?

Beverly: The response to the book has been tremendous and positive and we are so grateful. We have sold almost 700 copies and the book is available in US libraries and those around the world including Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Nigeria, Israel, Qatar, South Africa, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Australia.

Recently, it was listed as one of Our Favorite Books About Libraries and Librarians by ilovelibraries, an initiative of the American Library Association to promote the value of libraries and librarians. In light of events surrounding the senseless killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the book may have taken on even more significance and interest especially from a social justice perspective. This has shown us just how impactful a book written by people from BIPOC, diverse, and marginalized communities can be.

I hope that the impact on our profession at large has been to offer a platform to address some of the challenges that diverse individuals face in their communities and workspaces, while providing best practice strategies, tempered with wisdom and experience, to help libraries and librarians realize a high level of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Shannon: Beverly has summarized the book’s impact nicely. I could not have said it any better.

Ray: Anything else you’d like to share that we did not get to talk about?

Shannon: It is indeed time to get real about inclusion in libraries. Cultivating library environments where patrons and library workers alike feel safe, welcomed, valued, respected, heard, seen, and included requires intentionality and action. Achieving this level of inclusion requires consideration of the impact that being in a particular library environment has on an individual's psychological, physiological, and emotional wellbeing. Within the pages of our book, the contributors share meaningful insights that will allow readers to increase their personal knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of EDI. More importantly, I am hopeful that the information gleaned will strengthen EDI efforts undertaken in libraries of all types.

Thanks again for the opportunity to shine a light on our book.

Beverly: Increasing the diversity in health sciences librarianship is critical because diversity makes us smarter and is necessary to help us survive and thrive in this profession. The melding of many different minds, thoughts, activities, feelings, and interactions produce a plethora of healthy, productive experiences that we all can gain from if we remain open and flexible. Having people of color in leadership is especially important because this is one of the domains where librarians can impact and effect the most change, while serving as proactive examples for those who seek similar positions. Black librarians in leadership can champion for minority recruitment and retention, opportunities for inclusion, and cultural competency and humility, while proactively dealing with the challenges of bias, privilege, microaggressions, racism, white fragility, and more. This is extremely important in creating an open, welcoming and inclusive environment for patrons and staff.

Ray: Thank you! For those interested in getting a copy of the book, please note there is a discount offer using the code RLFANDF30 when ordering the book!


Shannon B. Jones.

Shannon D. Jones’
(pronouns: she/her/hers) career in libraries spans 20 years. She is the director of libraries for the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Prior to her arrival at MUSC, Jones was the associate director for research and education at the Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond. Shannon received her MLS from North Carolina Central University (NCCU). In addition to the MLS, Shannon also holds a BA in English from North Carolina State University, a MIS from NCCU, and a MEd in adult learning from VCU.

Beverly Murphy.

Beverly Murphy (pronouns: she/her/hers) has been a librarian for 40 years and holds a BS in Biology and an MLS from North Carolina Central University. She is the Assistant Director, Communications and Web Content Management at the Duke University Medical Center Library & Archives. She is also the Hospital Nursing Liaison for the Duke Health System and Liaison for the Watts College of Nursing. A Distinguished member of the Academy of Health Information Professionals, Beverly has served in several capacities for the Medical Library Association including service as the first African-American President.

Ray Pun.

Raymond Pun (he/him/his) is a solo academic/school librarian supporting all library services and resources to a community of educators. He was previously Co-Chair of LMD’s Professional Development Committee.