November 19, 2017

The Power of Words: Answering the call to action on inclusion | Editorial

RebeccaWebEdit2015I hadn’t heard of the Diversity Council of Australia’s #WordsAtWork campaign until my feed lit up with its call to remove the word guys from workplace use. The comments express conflicting perspectives on whether it was on target or over the top in terms of political correctness. While I basically agree with the council—I’d already been working to break my habit of using guys when addressing colleagues at LJ and School Library Journal (SLJ), a team predominantly made up of women—the full-throated response made me reflect on how challenging and necessary such conversations are.

The dialog around diversity has been robust and valuable in the last several years. The We Need Diverse Books movement (a 2015 LJ Mover & Shaker) and other efforts renewed our profession’s awareness about its lack of diversity and helped us see the many hurdles that remain in the ecosystem. It has issued a call to action, and many are responding, including us.

“We needed to answer the question, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ ” says Kiera Parrott, reviews director for LJ and SLJ. She oversees the teams responsible for reviews of some 12,000 titles annually. “We’ve seen responses in terms of style guides and other decisions being made to address the wider conversation about diversity. We considered our sphere of influence and realized that we may not have control of what gets to market. We do have control over how we describe and address it.”

We decided to increase the awareness about how words, and editing choices, can exclude or include readers. While LJ and SLJ editors have long been committed to cultural sensitivity and fairness, Parrott has started several initiatives to deepen the application of inclusive language in our coverage. She and assistant managing editor Mahnaz Dar have been working to build staff awareness around editing and word selection that can reinforce biases or, alternately, build understanding. A series of brown bag lunch sessions, led by Dar, who had taken external training on the subject, have ignited a valuable dialog.

“The words that we use can directly affect how we think,” says Dar. Now, she adds, the team is getting better at knowing what red flags to look for. “There aren’t necessarily easy answers,” Dar adds. “Now we have a safe space to surface issues. I hope if we keep doing it we can affect how our readers and reviewers think about the world.” Using this inclusive language, she adds, is a “subtle but important way to bring people into the fold.”

For the community of LJ and SLJ reviewers, Parrott and her team have developed and launched an eight-week online course called “Diversity & Cultural Inclusion in Professional Reviews.”

“We need to articulate better the issues around diversity and cultural literacy in books and media, and we can’t wait for the profession itself to diversify,” says Parrott. “As we know, the overall publishing and reviewing community is predominantly highly educated, middle-class white women. It does not echo the culture at large or the communities our libraries and schools serve. That needs to change, but it’s not going to change fast enough, and we can’t afford to wait because people are still producing and buying books.” Readers, she adds, “come from all walks of life and backgrounds. How we choose to describe books reflects attention to the range of backgrounds our readers bring.”

The choice to engage in ongoing education is important. “We are all learning, and we need to be transparent about not being experts in everything,” says Parrott. This practice supplies moments, she adds, to “stop and examine our own assumptions, interrogate them a little bit. If displays and book lists are being improved by this work, that’s a powerful outcome.”

Sometimes biased language is wielded to wound. More often and perhaps harder to recognize is when it is used out of unthinking habit. Habits are hard to break, especially when they are reinforced by acceptance of, for example, guys as a gender-neutral term. Sometimes, being more inclusive is about seeing something afresh.

“Just saying we’re going to become more inclusive isn’t enough. It’s an ongoing process,” says Parrott. “We don’t check off a box and say we’re done. It’s about conversations, and it might slow down some of our work, but it’s worth it.” This is the type of work we at LJ and SLJ intend to keep doing, and what we as a whole profession need to keep taking the lead on as we continue to try to foster a more inclusive and truly diverse society.

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This article was published in Library Journal's June 15, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Michael Schau says:

    You forgot to mention it is predominantly LIBERAL field. After 28 years as a (male) librarian I would say us conservative librarians are a tiny minority. Any thoughts on how to recruit more of us? No I did not think so. Not politically correct.