A recap of our Open Board + Community Meeting on reckoning with our pasts and building our futures

By Kathleen Williams, January 21, 2021.
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On January 15th, at our Open Board + Community meeting, we hosted a community conversation, Reckoning with Our Pasts + Building Our Futures, about working to live up to our common commitments to equity and inclusion in 2021 and beyond. Thanks to DPLA board member Elaine Westbrooks, Cecily Marcus of the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Digital Library, DPLA’s Director of Community Engagement Shaneé Yvette Murrain, Marcia Walker-McWilliams of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, and Penelope Shumaker of the State Library of Ohio and Ohio Digital Network for taking part in this frank, actionable, and inspiring conversation. In case you missed it, a recording of the event is now available.

Meeting just nine days after the Capitol riot, Elaine Westbrooks opened the conversation with a reminder of why working toward equity is so essential in the libraries and archives that serve as guardians of the historical record: “Reckoning is about accounting and accountability….there are no shortcuts to a multi-racial democracy…and before we talk about unity, we have to talk about reparations, change, accountability, and reckoning.” She went on to describe ways in which the library profession, despite good intentions, have upheld white supremacy, and talked about the concrete steps institutions need to take to live up to our commitments to anti-racism. “And so we have to completely revisit our work and change the paradigm around what we do. It’s not a matter of getting another two hours a week, it’s a matter of understanding your work, understanding the systems, and then understanding how you can bring equity and anti-racism to that system.”

Elaine’s opening remarks were followed by a panel discussion led by DPLA’s Director of Community Engagement, Shaneé Yvette Murrain, who talked about the need to “be clear about who we say we are and accountable for what we say we’ll do,” and outlined some of the steps DPLA is taking to that end: “Building diverse networks, coalitions, and institutional collaborations to empower a pipeline of leaders of color; evaluating our practices and how we invest in internal and external training, as well as infrastructural tools that will enable a more robust and diverse national programming landscape; and how we design that program with our partners to ensure that underrepresented communities are included, particularly as it relates to DPLA being able to prototype and create solutions for digital access building diverse networks, coalitions.” The panel, made up of Cecily Marcus, Marcia Walker-McWilliams, and Penelope Shumaker, discussed a wide range of issues, from turning statements into action to building strong community relationships to overcoming barriers to curating equitable collections. Some highlights:

“With these statements and best practices, what we’re seeing is that a lot of institutions in our hubs across the country are starting to look at them as an example…writing them is giving other institutions a place to start and evaluate how to evaluate their best practices.” – Penelope Shumaker 

“If your physical space, your culture is not open and welcoming, your collections will not be perceived as such…so I also would argue that there’s important work that often has to be done within an organization to make itself more accessible and inviting that then opens up the ability to have conversations and to work through an equitable partnership with diverse communities.” – Marcia Walker-McWilliams

“I would also think about the ways our zeal for access can in fact be barriers to ethical and equitable relationships. I’m thinking of the collections that we digitize, that we make available, without regard sometimes for the people whose work is represented in those collections, who may not have intended those collections to be archived and made available.”  – Cecily Marcus

“…when you step in to a space of wanting to open up and have conversations….you have to be fully committed to a different kind of future, and not one that you predetermine from within…but one in which you’re saying ‘we want to build this together with you, what does that look like?’…it has to be ‘we’re committed to doing better, how can we do better? And how do we do that in partnership with you?’”  – Marcia Walker-McWilliams

“A lot of the work has to be inspired…by principles to do no harm, and that means acknowledging harm that has been done historically and understanding and knowing what that harm is. I think some of the really concrete things we can do include dedicating funding lines to digital projects and efforts, making those positions available and accessible to early career librarians, ay of whom the cohort may be more diverse than we might find at higher levels of our organization and field, and having pathways ….for movement upward in the field.” – Cecily Marcus

The full recording is available here. In addition, there are several more opportunities to hear more about our work over the next few weeks: 

  • On Wednesday, January 27, at 3 pm ET, we’re teaming up with EveryLibrary Institute to present a free webinar, “SimplyE and Digital Resource Solutions During the Second Wave.” The webinar will include a demonstration of SimplyE, an overview of its benefits to libraries and their patrons; a report from Brooklyn Public Library about how SimplyE has been deployed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to increase access; and from Alameda County Library about how they work with DPLA to provide quality titles to their patrons. Please register here.
  • If you’re a member of our Hubs Network, the next DPLA Network Council meeting is February 2, 2021, 1:30-3 pm ET and the DPLA Advisory Council will meet on February 4, 20201, 3 – 4:30 pm ET. To keep up with each council’s work, check out the running agendas. 

DPLA Advisory Council Running Agenda 

DPLA Network Council Running Agenda