April 23, 2018

Building Equity from the Ground Up | Diversity 2016


At L.A. County PL, a dedication to diversity and inclusion starts
before day one on the job

ljx161201webdiversityslugbig2The County of Los Angeles Public Library believes diverse programming begins with assembling a team of people from various backgrounds and cultures who can offer different perspectives, ideas, and out-of-the-box solutions that appeal to a wider swath of the population. Diverse teams are helping to guide the organization toward its goal of reducing barriers and increasing access to the ten million residents (3.5 million in its designated service area) of the County of Los Angeles, itself a diverse group: 26.6 percent white, 9.1 percent African American, 48.4 percent Latinx, and 15 percent Asian.

Starting with staff

One key ingredient of achieving diversity in the library’s organization is the recruiting and hiring process. The goal is to identify and attract talent from a diverse pool and ensure that every candidate is treated fairly.

We make a clear distinction between diversity and favoritism. We achieve diversity by posting job vacancies to various channels including industry associations, social media, professional referrals, community job posts, and more, and guarantee every portion of a job application and interview process is accessible to all. Selection is based on skill sets, merits, and best fits in our organization. We take a realistic approach to considering our demographics from the top down, looking inward, and asking, “Does our management and staff team truly reflect the diversity of our communities?”

While our staff reflect the demographic composition of the local community, we also take into consideration that having a diverse staff can help educate the community on issues of acceptance and tolerance. We take into account the sensitivities of changing neighborhoods to build trust, acceptance, and tolerance. For example, it is typical to see library managers and staff members from diverse cultures in historically homogenous neighborhoods that are undergoing transformations.

Creating a culture of change

The library recently introduced the concept of iCount (­colapublib.org/iCount), an all-inclusive initiative that embodies the goal of equity of service to library customers. Equity extends beyond equality—fairness and universal access—to deliberate and intentional efforts to create service delivery models that will make sure that community members have the resources they need. Often these needs are different not only as the result of race and ethnicity but also owing to religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identification, socioeconomic status, or physical ability.

Through iCount, the library makes a conscious effort to design services and programs that address the needs of the diverse community it serves. To align its staff with the iCount initiative, the library started by inviting Simran Noor, the VP of policy and programs, the Center for Social Inclusion, to deliver the opening keynote about racial equity as social innovation for the library’s annual full-time staff training day this past August. The one-time event, at which the library introduced the concept of iCount, also featured Emily Weaks, Eurekan Scholar from the Oakland Public Library, who addressed the perspective of “white librarianship” and the staggering statistics of the ­profession.

ADDING VALUES iCount training for staff stresses service equity.  Photo courtesy of LA County PL

ADDING VALUES iCount training for staff stresses service equity.
Photo courtesy of LA County PL

The training day breakouts and speakers involved a mix of multigenerational and multiethnic professionals, and the engaging discussion that followed helped promote awareness by opening a dialog on equality and getting staffers to reflect on what more they can do to serve underrepresented communities. For those joining the library after the advent of iCount, the human resources team is rebuilding the orientation program to include sensitivity and diversity training.

As part of the iCount initiative, the library is also planning to introduce a series of internal trainings to continue the discussion on equity in spring 2017. The training will initially target the library’s 200 managers/supervisors and then phase in training for other employees. Group trainings will provide an overview of equity and what it means as well as discussions of particular issues around gender, race, and sexuality.

We recognize that perception cannot be changed overnight; it must be achieved through continual education. We need to make a lasting impression that equality has an enormous impact on our customers’ quality of life, and we must design our programs to be inclusive and adaptable. To that end, we are also looking to create toolkits to help our librarians design better programs. This would include tools to help them identify the needs of various community groups and design innovative ways to address them, as well as tips on how to reach out. Toolkits for managers to use on a monthly basis will help them create a commitment plan.

Planning programming

Having a diverse management team plays an essential part in building an organizational culture that values diversity. It is also instrumental in placing an emphasis on equality and equity in all of our programming. The library takes a holistic view of the various communities we serve and identifies groups that are underrepresented and face significant barriers to access. Through the iCount initiative, staff strategically target these groups with new or existing programs to serve their specific needs and connect them with the resources required to improve their quality of life.

For example, programs such as My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) and Girl Empowerment address the needs of specific ethnic and gender groups. MBK was implemented in February 2014 by President Barack Obama to help young men of color achieve success. We invited staff from all levels to join the steering committee, and the response was overwhelming. We were able to assemble a diverse board that leads our department in assessing current practices, recommending innovative approaches to embedding MBK goals into current library services, and creating tools and resources for building awareness around gender inequity among our staff. The same principles were applied in the design of the Girl Empowerment program, which helps girls realize their power and potential, overcoming obstacles and inspiring others.

Family Place is designed to prevent kids from disconnecting from parents and falling behind in their literacy skills. Through parent-child workshops, the library frequently links parents of children with special needs to agencies and specialists who can provide support. System­wide autism awareness training helps equip our staff to serve differently abled children. Several of our libraries feature an array of assistive technology such as digital enlargers, “talking” calculators, special computer keyboards for those with low vision, and screen-reading and magnification software.

In addition to systemwide programs, our staff is encouraged to adapt the iCount project locally. Homeless Services Think Tank is a staff-initiated group that invites speakers from homeless service provider agencies and nonprofits with the goal of connecting homeless library customers to medical, legal, and housing resources. WeHope is an LGBTQ resource fair that showcases the Archives of Sexuality and Gender databases and allows customers to share their coming out stories. Life Ladders @ the Library: Helping Foster Youth Become Successful Adults is a local program founded by our Lancaster Library that provides foster youth who have “aged out” of the system with personal effectiveness training (PET) and real-world, paid work experiences in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Community & Senior Services.

There are many more programs and services created under the iCount umbrella. Our management team’s emphasis on diversity and equity results in purposeful programming at all levels.

Diversity is about recognizing our differences and accepting and respecting them. We must first embrace them before we can serve our customers equally. Then there can be hope that through our efforts, we can educate and influence our customers to accept and respect the differences in others.

Geraldine Lin is the Marketing & Communication Director, County of Los Angeles Public Library. She is responsible for developing, directing, and implementing marketing and PR programs. She holds an MBA from the University of Southern California

This article was published in Library Journal's December 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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