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Renewing Our Commitment to Diversity

Posted 12:30 a.m. Thursday, May 5, 2022

Murphy Library from its northern face.

DEI initiatives throughout Murphy Library

By Chelsea Wyman, Amber Leibundgut-Peterson and Katherine Fish 

As one of the core values of Murphy Library, diversity plays a role in much of what we do, including our collection development, services, programs, teaching and research. Recently, we have placed renewed emphasis on our work as it relates to areas of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). This has taken many forms, and a selection of these activities is included below. We will continue sharing information about the work we do in this area in order to raise awareness of the various DEI-related resources and services we offer as well as to add a layer of transparency to the work that goes on within the library.

Diverse collections

A selection of books in the Curriculum Center about history making women. Collections like this are featured on the monthly guides. Image designed by Shealyn McMahon, Library Outreach Student Worker.

This year, we are working to align with UW-La Crosse campus promotions centered around months celebrating identity and race. As part of that, we have begun curating several Library Guides that highlight our diverse array of resources.  

Thus far we have developed guides for Black History Month and Women’s History Month. These showcase some of our best and most useful resources on the topics and can be used by anyone on campus as course materials, program support or tools for self-inquiry. While these resources are timely during their designated month, we encourage people to use these guides to promote DEI projects and research throughout the year. We look forward to expanding this selection of guides to include topics such as Asian American & Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, Pride Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Native American History Month. Look for these guides to be promoted on the library’s homepage, social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram & Twitter) or on our Library Guides platform.

Diversifying the library catalog

Jonathan Majak and Mike Olson have been removing outdated or problematic language within the library catalog.

In addition to the resources themselves, work has also been happening behind the scenes to address outdated language that is used to organize and describe these resources.  

Books and other library materials must be grouped into categories (cataloged) in order for library users to search for them within the library’s online catalog. As part of this process, these materials are given a call number so they can be found on the shelf and are also assigned subject headings, which are specific words or phrases used to find and organize resources by topic. Here at Murphy Library, as well as at most academic libraries throughout the country, Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and the Library of Congress call number system are used to do this. While these are both effective for organizing and finding information in the library, the words and descriptors used within these systems can become outdated and must change in order to adapt to the current accepted vernacular. 

This is especially important when considering the appropriate words used to describe people. Many libraries across the country, including Murphy Library and other libraries within the UW System, have been assessing language used within their catalogs and are working to correct instances that have become problematic and sometimes even dehumanizing. For example, to align with new guidelines from the Library of Congress, the cataloging unit here at Murphy Library (Mike Olson and Jonathan Majak) has been removing the outdated subject heading “illegal aliens” from our local records, replacing it with “noncitizens.” Now, all Murphy Library resources on this topic will utilize this updated subject heading. Additional work has also taken place to update call numbers assigned to Murphy Library materials. Over 600 books in the collection have been re-cataloged to change their call numbers from the outdated category of .N for Negro to .B for Black. While users may not notice drastic changes, this is one way the library is working to remove systemic biases from the tools our students and faculty use daily.  

Institutionalized Commitment

Our equity liaisons Amber Leibundgut-Peterson and Katherine Fish.

In 2020, the Council of University of Wisconsin Libraries (CUWL), of which Murphy Library is a part, released a Statement of Solidarity that states, “Libraries embrace the values of free speech and social justice, but we must be proactively anti-racist, inclusive, and equitable. To not be only perpetuates the status quo.” 

At Murphy Library, one way we have institutionalized our commitment to this work is through the UW-La Crosse Equity Laison Initiative. As an academic department at UWL, the Library Department, consisting of faculty librarians, has participated in this initiative in the past. However, we recently made a shift in order to account for participation from all library personnel, and we as a library are committed to making DEI initiatives an ongoing focus of our work. As one example of this, we organized a staff-wide workshop on DEI in libraries, in partnership with UWL’s Division of Diversity and Inclusion. We plan to make learning opportunities like this a regular occurrence and are also exploring ways to incorporate what we learn into the resources we provide, services we offer and other work that we do. 

As we work as a library to identify and close equity gaps affecting students and employees, we welcome input from the campus community on projects Murphy Library could consider to improve our facilities and services. Please contact our equity liaisons Amber Leibundgut-Peterson or Katherine Fish with any questions or suggestions.