Message from your 2020-2021 President, Laura Spears: Lead Inclusively

In 2019, we made a commitment with our president, Eric Head, to lead forward. To lead with heart but also with vision. And as library workers, we established even better literacy programs, took the funding fights head on, and continued to extend our services and resources to those for whom this may be the only contact they have each day with a kind voice. 

And then 2020 happened. What we thought were our problems were sidelined by a need to simply change the air we breathe. COVID-19 has caused us to close our doors, back away from both friends and strangers, to retreat into our homes until it is safe to come out. But still many have experienced first-hand the impact of this disease so our libraries reach out to help and to comfort.

In addition to the exceptional challenge posed by COVID-19, we continue to bear witness this year to racism, bigotry and discrimination, towards our Black, Indigenous and People of Color co-workers, friends and library users. And taking a breath, again, symbolizes in a very basic, devastating way, an often life-threatening experience.

These events affect and diminish us all.

I have witnessed racism against my Black friend at the hands of a middle-aged white retail store employee who was very happily helping my friend select a wrench for his plumbing tool kit. And when they agreed upon the best wrench for the job (while I yawned and rolled my eyes), the employee then offered to show my Black friend where the “slim jims” were kept.

A tool commonly used to break into a car.

Immediately I demanded he apologize and get his manager. But my friend, Andre, took my arm and asked that we just leave the store. And that’s what we did.

Yet, from that moment, having witnessed the ugliness of white supremacy intended to insult and oppress another human being, and seeing how immediately my friend retreated away from the confrontation, I realized that this was definitely not his first experience with a racist. And that he knew that things could definitely get worse if the situation escalated.

For me, I still feel great sadness. But more importantly, I am humbled, because my sadness is nothing compared to the burden of Andre and other BIPOC or LGBTQ+ individuals. But as these sad, life-threatening occurrences continue around us, I am also motivated to take the actions in front of us.

And as we continue to lead forward, let us also Lead Inclusively.

To that end, I ask you to join me and commit to kindness, care and decency. To make the promise of libraries - access, democracy, intellectual freedom, diversity, and privacy among others - truly extend to all. Can we agree to re-examine our own spaces, services and resources to make sure that our BIPOC and LGBTQ+ colleagues are represented, safe and happy with those?

I think there are areas in this profession that merit some scrutiny so that we truly realize the purpose of our libraries. Intentionally adopting anti-racist structures and ensuring that our behaviors and language reflect the values of inclusivity will demonstrate to Black library workers, and other vulnerable communities, that their lives do matter.

To do this, I am proposing that the actions we undertake for FLA this year, to Lead Inclusively, are guided by this urgent purpose and newly articulated values. I hope you will join in as we undertake the following:

  • A Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Task Force that will articulate the FLA organizational values to inform our newly developed strategic plan and develop key priorities for us to undertake to further our library mission and support all people.
  • Reinvigorate the committees and member groups so that our values are fundamental to their missions and to hold the conversations that include concerns for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and other emergent but marginalized communities.
  • Develop peer-review standards and a process to better engage our academic library members with a view toward profiling our scholarship and understanding our systemic values.
  • To fully support the Public Library Directors Member Group, to keep both our public library personnel and our public library users safe during this next year, in which we will be asked to provide services in the midst of unsure conditions.
  • And, to support our academic and school media workers, who face unknown challenges as we attempt to re-establish a safe way of delivering our services and resources.

This year, we seek to undo the implicit biases in our profession that harm BIPOC library workers and to focus on serving our communities. To Lead Inclusively, we must look critically at our library spaces, services and resources, to better meet the needs of Black, Indigenous and People of Color and those within the LGBTQ+ communities.

Let’s look at this and Lead Inclusively. It’s our next chapter. Welcome to 2020-2021!