Our committee, Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers, is part of Priority Group 1: Child Advocacy. We are dedicated to lifting all library staff up to advocate from any position for underserved children and their caregivers. In our toolkits and blog posts, we detail the process of researching your community, listening to your community, and comparing the needs to your current and potential library services. The later piece of evaluating your own organization is crucial for conducting outreach, programs, and services to underserved communities.
We have two committee members, Erika Lehtonen and Melody Leung, who have worked together to create a list of tips when conducting advocacy through an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) lens.
Spend time understanding your organization and the people in it.
No matter if you are a library director, school librarian, public librarian, library staff, or in library adjacent industries; concentrate on building relationships with staff from all levels. Every individual has a unique perspective on library services. Listening to them will not only diversify the organization’s approach but also make change easier.
Have meaningful conversations by asking and answering questions thoughtfully.
This creates a scaffolded way to plant small seeds that permeate more people. One way to start is to assume a growth mindset in others while role modeling it as well. Use phrases like, “I like that idea but I wonder about…” or, “In order to create an inclusive environment, what about the perspective of X community?” Encouraging this type of dialog can help focus ideas and build a healthy amount of tension that can propel an organization forward.
Listen to each other.
This work can be emotionally challenging. Remember to listen to each other, and if possible, create safer spaces for the marginalized staff in your organization who may be experiencing more hardships than they are willing or able to verbalize. Give people the opportunity to say “I don’t have the capacity to address or support that right now,” and be respectful of their boundaries. The inequitable burden of sharing personal experiences can be harmful.
Focus on changing the organization; the people will change with it.
Imagine your organization as a train. It keeps going but it takes stops where people will come on and off. This is a natural process that reflects changes in our communities and culture. During these changes, you will need changemakers to change the tracks and the destinations but the train itself does not stop.
Take opportunities to form teams.
With EDI work, it is easy to weigh one issue as heavier than others based on your own experience or the experience of those who make final decisions in your organization. Keep in mind the intersectionality of issues and how we can work together to create a more inclusive space for all children and their caregivers. For example, I was given an opportunity to form a team to create a training on EDI for Youth Services. Our team consists of changemakers from different positions within the organization, with different backgrounds and lived experiences. This intersectionality allowed us to bring topics to each others’ attention that we may not have thought of ourselves due to our own personal, unconscious biases.
You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing to research, learn, and share what you learn with others.
We believe EDI is a subject that does and should change and evolve over time. One strength of our training team is our shared desire to help staff and patrons succeed by giving kids and teens in our community the tools they need to be successful. How our patrons define success is up to them.
Even if the current answer is “No”, ask “Why?”
Big picture barriers of budget, capacity, or framing can make it difficult to execute an idea. However, there can be steps to take in the long term to help an idea come to fruition. As long as the core of the idea lives in your organization’s values, your particular community’s values, and both of those are always evolving with current needs, there is a possibility of success. For example, you want to give away books for a virtual book club, but you’ve been told that your library doesn’t have the budget. Asking “Why?” starts a conversation about access, barriers to library use, and alternative funding. It might spark creative ideas for long-term funding for your program through grants or partnerships to get books to youth who are marginalized by traditional library services.
Advocacy is the long game.
Don’t feel discouraged if an idea you have doesn’t go your way the first, second, or tenth try. Take a break, re-evaluate the importance or the core reason why this idea is important, and focus on finding common ground with your organization. At times, the common ground is to pivot from your idea to something else that still resembles the core.
Creating positive change can be difficult, but the end results are worthwhile. Remember what brought you to this work in the first place: chances are, if you are reading this, you are here to bring better experiences for the youth and caregivers in your community. Remember to take care of yourself, find supportive spaces, pause when you need to, and be open to learning and sharing.
Feeling inspired? Have tips of your own? Post a comment below or email us at LSUCTC@gmail.com
Melody Leung is a Youth Services Librarian at the Everett Public Library in Washington State. She’s always asking the questions, “Who is missing?” and “What is missing?” in hopes to always be working on fulfilling projects.
Erika Lehtonen is a Youth Services Librarian at the North Mason branch of Timberland Regional Library, and a 2020 ALSC Equity Fellow. She is passionate about helping others and learning how to create positive changes for the kids in her community.