The University Libraries’ Role in Reckoning with Systemic Racism and Oppression

June 1, 2020

A message from Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian Elaine L. Westbrooks

Portrait of Elaine Westbrooks in the Fearrington Reading RoomDear members of the Carolina community:

Like many of you, I have been watching the news and am horrified by the anti-black violence that has led to protests across the country. The death of George Floyd is but one example of a much larger systemic problem of racism and oppression that permeates the fabric of this country. All this is happening in the midst of a global pandemic that has upended our lives over the past three months.   

While this violence may seem far removed from our daily experience at the University Libraries, we do not work here in isolation. We have an obligation—and a great deal of work to doin order to be part of the solution. The value and importance of inclusive excellence is a foundational element of our Strategic Framework. Although I am confident that we are making progress, we will not get there until we reckon with our past. Now is the time for the University Libraries to fulfill our promises to be a library of the public and for the public; to be dedicated to equity; to be a place and an organization where ALL are valued, all are respected, and all belong.   

What can we do to ensure that the University Libraries is fully committed to action? Today I announce a new University Librariesinitiative to engage that work of reckoning. The University Libraries, like any institution, operates through a set of legacy systems that have been in place for decades. These systems implicitly and explicitly perpetuate inequity because they have been traditionally centered on whiteness and patriarchy as a default. They permeate everything that we do—what we collect, how we describe it, how we deliver services, how we organize our operational functions and design our spaces, how we structure our budget, where we invest resources, how we recruit, what we choose to elevate and highlight. 

Although we aspire to be inclusive, we often miss the mark because we do not focus on the systems that create and perpetuate inequity. We must have the will to seriously interrogate each system and to understand how it fails to advance equity and justice. We must then determine how we will reform these systems and implement change with courage and conviction. That is the goal and necessary outcome of our initiative for reckoning. I will be sharing more information with you in the weeks ahead about how we will proceed. 

In the meantime, I encourage you to spend some time with Anti-Racism Resources for All Ages, curated by Nicole Cooke, the Augusta Baker Chair in Childhood Literacy at the School of Library and Information Science, University of South Carolina. 

As always, please stay safe and continue taking care of yourselves and each other.


Elaine L. Westbrooks

Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian

Tagged with: