Kicking off the Digital Equity Project

By Shaneé Yvette Willis, July 21, 2022.
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On Tuesday, we gathered with more than 70 of our colleagues for an information session on our recently announced Digital Equity Project. Our goal was to give some context and background on the project, share information on our big-picture plans and the opportunities this new funding presents, and answer questions from our community. 

In 2019, DPLA embraced a new strategy centered on three core values: our belief in the power of collaboration; a focus on equity and inclusion; and the potential for technology to positively transform the way libraries and archives work. As part of this journey, we began exploring new ways of collaborating with partners to ensure all Americans’ stories can be told.

One of these explorations was the launch of the collaboratively created and curated Black Women’s Suffrage Digital Collection, which launched in September 2020, in collaboration with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library; Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library; Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture in Charleston, South Carolina; Tuskegee University; the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University; and Southern California Library. Our learnings from our partners and from doing this work, as well as from the last several years of working through the pandemic, have made us more keenly aware of the obstacles that must be overcome as libraries and archives move toward building collections that more truly represent our nation, its people, and their stories.

Ultimately, these experiences have led us to a big, audacious goal. We know that libraries should reflect the voices and experiences of all Americans, yet the stories of people of color and women are vastly underrepresented in American archives as a whole. If libraries are to fulfill their fundamental purpose as instruments of democracy and equity, a radically different approach is needed. Libraries of the future must be built by and with individuals who look like the people whose stories are being told: Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous experts, and community members. 

We believe that DPLA, as a trusted library convener with a demonstrated commitment to equity, can play a role in shifting the library and archival space toward the greater inclusion of diverse stories and voices. To do so, we must continue building DPLA’s capabilities for partnering with community-based and community-serving entities, examining DPLA’s internal structures through an equity lens, and considering what fundamental shifts may be needed. We approach this work with optimism, as we have seen DPLA member organizations begin to make significant efforts to live into our collective commitments to inclusion, diversity, equity, access, and social justice, but also bring recognition of our strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. 

As part of the Digital Equity Project, DPLA will establish a 10-person, paid Advisory Board of diverse library leaders and practitioners that will provide overall project guidance and help select Digital Capacity Building grant partners to join the Community of Practice. Current DPLA network members will have access to guidelines and toolkits developed by the Community of Practice to help guide them in their outreach and partnership-building efforts, and the structure and organization of Community of Practice projects will serve as models for the entire DPLA network.  

In line with our goal of centering this work on equity, we want to ensure that we are reaching diverse, under-resourced groups that are typically excluded from projects like ours. To that end, we will hire a consulting partner with deep expertise in community outreach, anti-racist and anti-bias practices, and coalition-building to support us during the first year of the grant with convening the Advisory Board, designing and executing an open call process for subgrant proposals, and co-designing and guiding the direction of the Community of Practice. 

While laying this groundwork, we also plan to jumpstart project work and the Community of Practice by providing Digital Capacity Building Grants to an initial cohort of three existing partners with projects ready to be implemented: DPLA’s Recollection Wisconsin Hub, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, and Seattle Public Library. These partners will make up the Community of Practice during the first six months of the grant period (July – December 2022) and will continue to participate in the CoP for the duration of the grant. Kicking off the CoP with this initial cohort will allow DPLA to test and refine program elements (such as technical orientation for CoP members) prior to launching the full CoP in January 2023. It will also enable the initial cohort to offer feedback and guidance to the Advisory Board on the development of the subgranting program. To find out more about each organization’s projects, watch the video of our session or you can read the Community of Practice announcement here.

I have been inspired by the work of our initial cohort, as well as by the conversations, both internally and externally, that have already begun about next steps. I invite you to watch the full video of our information session here, and to reach out to us if you have ideas or would like to become involved in this project.

In solidarity,

Shaneé Yvette Willis

Director of Community Engagement

Digital Public Library of America

DPLA’s Digital Equity Project is supported by the Mellon Foundation.