By Lily Martin, MLIS
While the MLA NY/NJ Annual Meeting was a bit different this year, I felt very fortunate to be able to connect with colleagues virtually for two days of thoughtful talks and lively discussions. The meeting theme, The Round Table: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, focused on making everyone’s voices heard by providing opportunities for roundtable discussion, self-reflection, and sharing personal stories and experiences in the profession. The sessions I was able to attend over the course of the two day conference focused on fostering equitable and inclusive library environments as well as discussing individual experiences in the face of discrimination.
In her keynote on Disrupting the Narrative: Cultivating an Inclusive Library for All the Lives We Touch, Shannon Jones focused on the guiding question, “What impact will working for or using my library for any given time have on an individual’s psychological, physiological, and emotional wellbeing?” She argued how libraries should cultivate inclusive environments where everyone (both patrons and employees) feels safe, welcome, and included. In order to create a truly inclusive and diverse space, librarians have a responsibility to acknowledge their own biases, which in many cases can act as blinders to issues and concerns that may affect others. Everyone is multi-layered and brings with them unique identities, and the intersection of these identities creates privilege as well as oppressions. Recognizing the identities that shape you allows you to reflect on the ways they impact how you see the world, interact with people, make decisions, and judge people.
An important point that Ms. Jones expanded on was that changing inequitable systems involves critical examination and disruption. Self-reflection is a crucial first step in creating an inclusive environment for both users and employees of the library because it enables this disruption. Other strategies for enabling disruption were presented, including advocating for others different from you, leveling the playing field for library patrons, ensuring equitable access to professional development for personnel, and cultivating a culture that resists shame. Disrupting the narrative starts with, in Ms. Jones’s words, “owning your stuff.” After you acknowledge your biases, you must be willing to engage, commit to ongoing development, and use your privilege to intercede in inequitable situations.
The Diversity and Inclusion Panel chaired by Beverly Murphy, Brenda Linares, and Jerry Perry touched on similar ideas. Each panelist was able to share their own personal experiences with discrimination and bias in their professional lives, and gave insight on ways that libraries should address inequity and open up discussion for change. In thinking about the aspects of librarianship that particularly need more diverse perspectives, the panelists discussed diversity in collections (and lack thereof) as well as how the structure of information and how we intellectually organize for knowledge discovery can lead to bias. The panelists also recounted experiences with allies, including their coworkers’ efforts to cultivate safe spaces in work environments, as well as times when colleagues owned up to staying quiet when witnessing microaggressions in the workplace. Overall, the panelists conveyed the important message to advocate for those without a voice, especially if you’re in a position of power.
For the second day of the conference, I attended the roundtable discussion “Assessing Bias in Education” which focused on addressing implicit bias in medical education. Some prereading covered the Upstate Bias Checklist, a tool designed for medical educators to self-reflect on the educational content that they create. The checklist was developed in response to biases inherent in medical education, as well as the recognition that these biases may play a role in reinforcing false beliefs about the biological differences between different groups of people in medical practice. In particular, the checklist promotes reflection on representations of race, gender, class, and other indicators in medical education. Through a series of questions about the content that educators provide to learners (such as slides, lectures, and handouts), the Bias Checklist flags content that may need to be altered and promotes further growth for educators by suggesting relevant resources to learn more. As a result, it is a concrete example of a tool that can potentially help foster more inclusive spaces in medical education by encouraging self-reflection and quality improvement.
Using this checklist as a jumping off point for discussion, we talked about other ways in which educators can address issues of bias and discrimination presented throughout the conference. Cultural competency has been a common model for addressing race and culture as social determinants of health, but educators and practitioners need to be aware (and promote awareness) of the structural inequalities that influence health outcomes and care beyond individual interactions with patients. In this way medical education can begin to address not only cultural differences, but also systematic constructs that influence health care.
An important question that came up during this discussion was, what can we do as librarians to advocate and push for educational models that address and attempt to divert bias? While librarians may not have direct power to change medical curriculum, they may be able to play a role as advocates for inclusive practice, pointing medical educators and leaders towards resources for inclusive education and encouraging them to be proactive about identifying issues before they impact learning environments. Additionally, librarians can apply these inclusive practices to their own teaching and assessment of educational material.
Disrupting the narrative of bias in medical education, as well as medical libraries more generally, involves a commitment to ongoing development and personal growth. This year’s annual meeting gave us the opportunity to come together to openly discuss fostering equitable learning environments while holding a mirror up to each of our individual biases. It is important that we continue to engage in these critical conversations, commit to learning and reflecting, and use our privilege to advocate for those whose voices may be misheard or not heard at all.