University Libraries’ Reckoning Initiative Framework

Last Updated April, 2021

Although the University Libraries has taken affirmative steps to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion, the persistent racial and social injustices of our time demand more of us. On June 1, 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, Vice Provost for University Libraries Elaine L. Westbrooks issued a call to action that launched the University Libraries’ Reckoning Initiative. The initiative represents a commitment to go beyond a mere focus on diversity. We will instead use racial equity, inclusion, and social justice as a lens for all of our work and the means by which we achieve our mission.

This Reckoning Initiative Framework will guide the University Libraries’ efforts to address inequality and promote racial equity, inclusion, and antiracism within our organization and through the work that we do. We will dismantle the individual, interpersonal, and organizational levers of systemic inequality. We will implement practices and policies that sustain equity, opportunity, and inclusive excellence. This shared framework empowers strategic action and coheres our efforts in support of a common direction.

What is the Reckoning Initiative?

To “reckon” is to account for what we, the University Libraries, have done—or have failed to do—as an organization. Regardless of who was responsible for creating unjust, racist, or oppressive systems in the past, we, as an organization, will take responsibility for identifying and dismantling them.

Fundamentally, Reckoning is an umbrella term that encompasses all activity dedicated to these goals:

  1. Studying the past to understand what role the University Libraries has played and continues to play in upholding systems of oppression, exclusion, and inequity
  2. Eradicating inequity and increasing equity throughout all library systems and services
  3. Instilling antiracism practices, policies, and procedures into all library work
  4. Engaging and partnering with communities that have been erased, dehumanized, silenced, or marginalized in the University Libraries or by the University Libraries
  5. Making the University Libraries a more inclusive environment where both staff and library users can be their true and authentic selves
  6. Prioritizing accessibility
  7. Increasing the diversity of the library staff
  8. Providing appropriate resources to incentivize and reward antiracist work
  9. Prioritizing programs and events that promote, center, and highlight marginalized groups
  10. Offering education and training to help employees become more aware of injustice, inequity, unconscious bias, and other barriers to diversity and inclusion
  11. Being an engaged and active voice for racial equity, inclusion, and antiracism work on campus, in the community, and in our professional organizations

Reckoning Is Transformative

A commitment to racial equity, inclusion, and antiracism is our future. It is not optional, temporary, or additive—it is strategic. When we reframe our work through an equity lens, we fundamentally change how we approach every aspect of it.

As we go down this ambitious and long-term path, the goal is to create an organization where every staff member fully belongs and can bring their full self to work. All students, faculty, and staff will know they belong in physical and virtual library spaces. They will see themselves represented in our workforce, our collections and services, our programs and events, and in our boards and advisory groups. We will discontinue harmful practices and policies—regardless of the discomfort that doing so may cause.

Reckoning Requires Organizational Commitment

To be successful, we must establish and nurture the following five conditions:

  1. The work of Reckoning must be supported and resourced from the highest levels of the organization.
  2. Library staff must be encouraged and supported in undertaking any kind of reckoning work.
  3. Constituents must see our commitment to racial equity, inclusion, and antiracism in the work that we do with, for, and about them.
  4. We must center underrepresented communities to make up for harm inflicted because of racist and damaging practices, policies, and procedures.
  5. Everyone in the organization must take ownership and responsibility. We will not place the burden of this work on the staff members who experience or have experienced harm.

The Work of Reckoning

The work of Reckoning itself fall into five broad categories that intersect and overlap.

1. Education and Training

Raising awareness about racism and inequity is not a means of correcting injustice. However, learning together prepares our community to have courageous conversations and to take action. Developing skills and understanding racism, bias, and the power of intergroup dialogue, are necessary to address behavioral, cultural, and systemic factors that activate bias and engender inequitable practices. We will promote growth in engagement, self-awareness, knowledge, and learning throughout our organization.

2. Programmatic Work

Programmatic work refers to the programs, tools, events, projects, and work that we perform, host, or create for the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and beyond. We want to support and create programs that are designed to center underrepresented groups; engage underrepresented communities; highlight inequities; or curate information, data, and other content that are especially relevant to the campus, the state of North Carolina, and researchers of and communities in the American South.

3. Systems Analysis, Intervention and Change Strategy

According to Ijeoma Oluo, “Systemic racism is a machine that runs whether we pull the levers or not, and by just letting it be, we are responsible for what it produces.” The systems through which we accomplish our work currently amplify and reinforce inequity. We must analyze each of them to identify failings and design sustainable and effective interventions. Inclusive, just, and equitable processes are achieved through intentional policies, practices, and procedures.

4. Integrating Antiracism Practices into Library Work

Antiracist and equity practices are a critical component of every person’s job. Racial equity, inclusion, and antiracist work is not about stopping one thing in order to do another. Rather, we need to focus on changing our approach, understanding, and mindset regarding the work that we each do. We will provide the tools, training and support that enable each individual and every group to see their work through an equity lens; envision new ways of working based on antiracist and equity practices; and take the steps to integrate those practices into their work.

5. Tracking and Assessing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Antiracism work

We attract and retain a diverse workforce when our workplace demonstrates a genuine appreciation of differences. Simply counting the number of people in various groups does not encourage this. We need to go beyond counting and understand what drives and limits diverse and inclusive practices. There are no tools that truly assess the work of racial equity, inclusion, and antiracism in academic research libraries. Developing meaningful goals, metrics, and deliverables will be an important part of our work.