Advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in academia

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One month ago, I was very pleased and grateful to accept the Cynthia Graham Hurd Award, sponsored by Springer Nature to attend the in-person Charleston Library Conference in South Carolina. The main ‘hot topic’ at Charleston 2022 has been, once again, open access, and thus is directly related to my recent librarian role. I am currently working as Digital Scholarship Librarian in Research Commons at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Vancouver, Canada, where I am supporting researchers with scholarly communication, including increasing campus awareness of author rights, funding mandates, research impact, open access, managing the open access fund, overall supporting open scholarship and related open access initiatives. The SFU Library is known as a leader in open access, for the development and implementation of innovative technology, and outstanding user services.

Since I have been in this role for only four months, the work I have been engaged with in my previous role as the SFU Special Collections and Collection Assessment Librarian, with Special Collections and Rare Books (SCRB), and Collections Management, respectively, led me to receive the Cynthia Graham Hurd Award. I would therefore like to highlight a few of the initiatives and activities I was involved with that contributed to advancing EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) goals for the library, while also making a positive impact on local communities.

In alignment with the SFU Library's statement on standing against anti-Black racism, and with the commitment to reinforce “efforts to collect works that challenge anti-Black racism and support the work of dismantling white supremacy", I’ve finalised and analysed the results of a BLM Collection Gap (includes anti-racism, white supremacy) in my Collection Assessment Librarian role by conducting, in collaboration with my colleagues, a methodological collection analysis consisting of comparing our collection to authoritative lists, and collections at peer institutions. We have focused on books only, with no audio-visual, movies, documentaries, or articles being included, monographs on Black Lives Matter, the Civil Rights Movement, anti-oppression education. SFU Library continues to collect resources, especially books in electronic format, to support the understanding of these complex phenomena. 

As a Special Collections Librarian, I’ve also contributed to EDI initiatives by researching strategies to remediate archival description and by leading the division in a project to draft and develop a statement on harmful language in archival description. Furthermore, I developed inclusive description guidelines for Special Collections after completing an audit of archival records for problematic language, where we were able to compare and contrast the results of two different approaches, the manual audit, and the automated language audit tool.

I have also researched, designed and executed a very successful exhibition “Depicting Dante”, which attracted a wide range of visitors, from high school students to SFU professor emeritus, and offered more than 30 tours to SFU students, faculty and staffand members of the general public. SFU Advancement and Engagement created a video for their Instagram social media account featuring the Dante exhibit.

Furthermore, I have recommended, piloted and implemented a new service, a standing monthly in-person tour in Special Collections, attracting a diverse audience, thus fostering community outreach, and contributing to division’s efforts to promote our holdings more widely. In my tours, I have inquired in advance regarding visitor’s interests so I could tailor my sessions to best meet their informational needs. In these tours, I have done more than simply showcase pretty things; I have demonstrated to visitors the crucial role of specialcollections and archives in preserving our heritage. 

Reflecting on my participation in the Charleston Library Conference, a very impactful and enriching conference in a very charming historic city, I believe the learning that happened there, the newly forged connections and networking, and even the numerous questions raised, already have, and will have a profound impact on my current librarian role. I am also feeling energised by Dr Buhle Mbambo-Thata, University Librarian of the National University of Lesotho, the opening keynote speaker’s powerful address, about global issues impacting the LIS (library and information science) sector and opportunities for transformative interventions, focused on social justice and equity, and especially her uplifting statement about “using the information as the currency of optimism, collaboration and cohesiveness” in this complicated world and the ever-evolving academic library environment. 

In years to come, the image that comes to mind when thinking back to the 2022 Charleston Library Conference will be the Pineapple Fountain of the Charleston Waterfront Park, as the pineapple, a symbol of warmth, represents not only the hospitality we received in Charleston but also serves as a gentle reminder that the library is awelcoming and inclusive space for all, and bringing a creative, invigorating and innovative approach to access and finding ways to promote a user-centred vision of library services is the epitome of my work.

Ioana Liuta is Digital Scholarship Librarian at WAC Bennett Library, Simon Fraser University