Canada’s national Working Together Project published the absolutely stellar “Community-Led Libraries Toolkit” in March.
The resource treats a variety of subjects including social inclusion, fees and fines, collaborative planning, and the role of “community development librarians.”
When the Working Together Project asked librarians to talk about developing inclusive library practices and services, discussions stalled. Many librarians were hesitant to discuss social inclusion issues with us because they believed that the library already was inclusive. Some librarians cited long open hours, appropriate physical access, and creative programming as evidence of inclusiveness.
Others defined inclusiveness by describing their own comfort level serving anyone who walked through the library’s doors and by their personal commitment to developing original programming. The dilemma for the Project was to have discussions about inclusion that went past personal definitions and further than asset-focused examples.
To begin discussions about social inclusion and libraries, the Project started discussing social exclusion and communities. Social exclusion should be understood in broad terms. It can affect any stratum of our society, including people who are poor or live in poverty, people who are unemployed or underemployed, and people who are members of ethnic or cultural minorities.
Being excluded can mean being alienated from the political, social, economic, and cultural life of the community because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or class. Excluded communities can include new immigrants, refugees, the working poor, and groups that have been historically isolated such as African Nova Scotians and First Nations people. For some people, being excluded can stem from, or bring about, drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. The conditions that define social exclusion can often be multiple …
Understanding that there is social exclusion in our communities and recognizing that it does keep people from engaging with mainstream institutions such as public libraries is necessary before we can create truly inclusive libraries.
Kudos to Sandra Singh, Annette DeFaveri, and their many colleagues! This publication demands wide distribution and discussion.