Staff grants will advance equity and inclusion work at the University Libraries

March 16, 2021

The University Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has selected eight projects to receive funding through its newly established IDEA Action internal grant program.

IDEA Action puts the values of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility to work in the day-to-day activities of the University Libraries. The grants incentivize this work by empowering Library employees to identify systemic racism or exclusionary practices and to move forward with solutions or new approaches.

Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian Elaine L. Westbrooks launched the program in 2020 as part of the University Libraries’ commitment to reckon with systemic racism and oppression.

Westbrooks wanted the University Libraries to move beyond the statements and learning activities that sprang up at libraries and universities following the killings of unarmed Black people and the protests that followed.

“Trainings and reading groups are important,” said Westbrooks, “but the only way to truly make change is to invest in it and support the people doing the work.”

Westbrooks has allocated $250,000 over two years for projects and initiatives that help to build more inclusive collections, services and approaches. Staff members can propose projects to an IDEA Action committee that reviews them and distributes the funding.

“Our goal is to say ‘yes’ to as many proposals as we can,” said Kristan Shawgo, social sciences librarian and IDEA Action committee chair. “Advancing inclusion and equity takes action and the committee is thrilled to see this important and critical project work take shape.”

The first projects in the IDEA Action portfolio are as follows. Shawgo expects the committee to approve additional projects throughout the year.

  • The North Carolina Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library will create a 3D map of North Carolina based on an 1854 map by William Dewey Cooke. Cooke helped found and lead what is now the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh. The 3D rendering will make it possible for blind and low-sighted individuals to experience this historical document.
  • Wilson Library staff will commission translations for two exhibitions into the languages of communities they represent. “Ancient and Living Maya in the 19th and 20th Centuries: Archaeological Discovery, Literary Voice, and Political Struggle” will add Spanish and Yucatec Maya versions. A permanent display in the North Carolina Collection Gallery, “Eng and Chang Bunker: The Original Siamese Twins,” will receive Chinese and Thai translations.
  • The University Archives at Wilson Library will sponsor stakeholder reviews of the website for the Black and Blue Tour. The campus tour and website introduce Black history at Carolina. The intent is to significantly expand and update the current tour website and to center the actions, words and experiences of the University’s Black students and staff.
  • The steering committee for the University Libraries’ Conscious Editing initiative will hire a copy editor for its Guide to Conscious Editing. Through the initiative, librarians and archivists are reconsidering the ways they describe materials in order to provide a more accurate and inclusive view of collections.
  • Wilson Library staff will also conduct user interviews to help guide the work of ethical description and conscious editing. These discussions will allow staff to revise and improve descriptive practices in ways that advance equity and justice.
  • The On the Books: Jim Crow and Algorithms of Resistance project team will purchase software to improve the project website. On the Books uses machine learning to identify Jim Crow laws passed in North Carolina between 1866 and 1967. The website will then provide easy searchable access for researchers to the full body of laws ratified during this time to facilitate additional research.
  • The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center will expand its extensive collection of online newspapers created by and for Black North Carolinians. The Center will add scans of year 1951 issues of The Carolina Times and early issues (1876-1925) of The Star of Zion. These issues will join 32 other African American newspapers on DigitalNC, creating the largest open access collection of North Carolina Black newspapers.
  • University Libraries’ staff will work with a consultant to learn about creating equitable and inclusive transcriptions to oral history recordings, specifically oral histories of Black interviewees. The training will help staff create realistic and equitable guidelines for increasing access through transcription without censoring the authentic voices and narratives of the speakers.
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