Chapter 8: Challenges and opportunities to continued diversity initiatives – Diversity Programming and Outreach for Academic Libraries


Challenges and opportunities to continued diversity initiatives


This chapter discusses the current IUPUI campus climate and how it offers opportunities to continue and expand diversity initiatives in the library. Libraries can serve as models on their campus by offering ways to engage students and create an environment where they feel comfortable discussing what are often difficult and sometimes inflammatory issues.

Key words




academic libraries


campus climate

Current campus climate: opportunities to make a difference

IUPUI’s Office of Information Management and Institutional Research (IMIR) frequently conducts student surveys on a variety of issues, such as satisfaction with campus services or reasons for leaving the university. The results of the 2009 Student Pulse Survey ( – which covered a wide range of topics from cost of parking to the operating hours of the library – indicated that ‘intercultural-communication and diversity on campus’ was of the highest importance for the students who responded. While this result was somewhat surprising, it was the analysis of the comments made by the students that gives us pause. While we had hoped that we had made significant strides in creating a more open, diverse, and welcoming environment, the responses indicate that we still have a good deal more work to do. This also means that we are now presented with a great opportunity to pursue new ideas and continue our diversity dialogue.

The most striking aspect of the comments exhibited that most students define ‘diversity’ almost exclusively in terms of race, ethnicity, cultural heritage, and national origin; very few mentioned other aspects of diversity, such as ability, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status. Many respondents, regardless of race or ethnicity, indicated feelings of being marginalized: Caucasian and Christian students, who are the demographic majority, feel that they are overlooked as not being ‘different’ enough to merit special attention. Minority and international students feel that not enough is being done to support them in campus program activities, in the classroom, and financially. To us, this indicates the University Library Diversity Council and Diversity Scholars are on the right track by developing and hosting events such as Beyond Stereotypes that offer opportunities for students of all the diverse groups, not simply multicultural groups, to discuss issues of importance in a safe, non-judgmental environment. The students’ comments underscore the need for us to continue the Beyond Stereotypes series and perhaps expand upon it and offer it more often. There is also great potential for developing new initiatives in partnership with other campus units, such as the Office of International Affairs and additional student organizations.

With regard to diversity-related events on campus, many students indicated that we need more of these events and that they should be better publicized. As we have encountered with library events, our students, particularly those who do not live on campus, complain that events are not scheduled at times that permit them to attend. In addition, several students suggested that rather than events to celebrate a specific ethnic group, IUPUI should offer events that encourage the interaction of all cultures. IUPUI’s Office of International Affairs currently hosts an annual International Day that strives to do this. The event is widely publicized and, in good weather, held in a prominent location outdoors so there is great potential for spontaneous attendance by students who hear the music or see the booths from a distance. Unfortunately, the new campus Multicultural Center is sometimes viewed as a bastion of a single ethnic group and various student organizations are often seen as unwelcoming by those outside these specific groups. We feel that the library can also assist in these arenas by serving as a neutral space for people to interact and feel comfortable establishing inter-cultural relationships. The library is viewed as a place that doesn’t ‘belong’ to any one group and we experience the diversity of our student population in our building on a daily basis in numerous spaces where students can study, socialize, or work in small groups. We can recruit the library’s student advisory group or campus student organizations to suggest event scheduling options that may improve attendance, although we fear we are all competing for our students’ attention and precious free time. This could be another signal that those of us pursuing diversity programming should pool our resources, creativity, and suggestions for a better coordinated approach to garner greater student participation. The students’ comments indicated a desire for campus unity on issues of diversity; perhaps we should unify our diversity efforts to reach the students.

Many students believe a diverse campus enhances their college experience, but stressed the need to emphasize commonalities across groups rather than differences. They also raised concerns that undue attention to diversity may come at the expense of teaching or faculty quality and actually impede their education. Many find their instructors are often unaware of diversity issues, citing language barriers (actual and perceived), and lack of tolerance or respect for diverse student populations. These comments provide clues to ways we can help increase awareness of diversity issues among the faculty by building on our current librarian/faculty relationships and expanding those collaborations beyond one-shot bibliographic instruction sessions and collection development budgetary concerns. Successful connections between the library and students are often based upon first establishing the library’s value and importance among the faculty. University Library’s International Newsroom could serve as an excellent setting for course-based information literacy sessions that expose instructors and students to new sources of information and different points of view. This may be especially attractive to many junior faculty who are eager to experiment with new ways to engage students and provide alternative learning experiences beyond traditional lectures.

Diversity initiatives require administrative support

Since the campus administration considers diversity to be a major focus, it can be assumed that other units on campus will follow suit, including the libraries. But such initiatives go nowhere without campus support, generally in the form of a diversity officer and occasionally with modest sums of money. In academic libraries, these efforts falter without the wholehearted backing of the library’s Dean or Director and support of a dedicated administrative team. While many units on our campus have created diversity committees or councils, their efforts seem to center on recruitment (students and faculty) and do little regarding outreach or awareness programs. This presents academic libraries with a unique opportunity to be a leader on campus by creating a model for other units, increasing the library’s value to the university, supporting the university’s mission and vision, and furthering the library’s own mission and vision.

Academic libraries worldwide face shrinking budgets and reduced purchasing power and often ‘extras’ suffer, such as our Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program, which had originally been two part-time hourly student positions. In light of probable budget cuts and using the recent student survey, the Diversity Council made recommendations to the Dean of the Library that we continue the Diversity Scholar program with one Scholar rather than two, and not provide a stipend or release time to the Scholar’s supervisor. Since the supervisory responsibilities are additional duties for a full-time librarian, we had experienced difficulties finding someone willing to accept this role from year-to-year due to the increased workload that the position entails. The Dean was able to earmark funds to maintain a single Scholar for the coming year and supervisory responsibilities have been spread around to ‘project leaders’, which allows the Diversity Scholar to engage with multiple teams and individuals in the library. One librarian maintains a mentoring relationship with the Scholar as a central facilitator.

Issues of bureaucratic red tape

Another challenge to establishing diversity initiatives in academic libraries is the inherent bureaucracy and red tape found in many universities. This was especially evident when our Diversity Scholar, Autumn, proposed sending computers to Southern University of New Orleans. It involved multiple campus departments, paperwork, and signatures. Other projects, such as ‘To Mexico With Love’ with Diversity Scholars Trina and Ashley, were handled more expeditiously and in-house. Often this bureaucracy is something that simply needs to be tolerated or overcome with improved planning, particularly when it comes to locating funding sources. IUPUI makes some funding available for diversity projects and initiatives, but we have also discovered grant sources at the unit level, such as the GLBT Faculty Staff Council grant we pursued for a special event and to develop the library’s GLBT collection of DVDs. Bureaucracy can also be, if not avoided, at least ameliorated by locating the proper contact person within a unit who will respond quickly and offer guidance. Pursuing and nurturing networks on campus not only helps obtain funds and information, but makes others aware of the library’s goals, projects, and events.

Ability to move quickly

Speed and agility is often needed to act on unexpected opportunities, particularly when writing grants for project funding. The Diversity Council often doesn’t hear about grant opportunities until the last moment, or the grants have short lead times. But we discovered that the more grants we wrote, the better and quicker we got at it, even when ‘writing by committee’. A natural lead grant writer often emerged, often the person who had first learned of it and suggested the Council pursue it, or another committee member who had a passion for the specific topic or event. Occasionally we learned that there are no short cuts and we regretfully had to allow some opportunities to pass, but we always learned from our experiences and gained more confidence and expertise to prepare for the next prospect.

Lack of campus coordination

We find our efforts to coordinate activities with other units on campus difficult due to a lack of knowledge and interaction with other campus diversity groups. Although the IUPUI Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) has a substantial website (])it does not serve as a practical central clearing house to locate resources and grant opportunities, share ideas for cross-campus events and projects, or publicity. What University Library can do is ensure our Diversity Council is mentioned on the OEDI website and communicate regularly with this office’s Director of Multicultural Academic Relations. We can suggest ways to share projects and co-develop events, raise the library’s profile on diversity issues, and prove our value to the University. The work performed to date by our Diversity Council and Scholars has already opened doors among student groups and other units on campus, so we have established a solid foundation upon which we can continue to build. We may someday take the step of creating a position for a Diversity Librarian. This type of appointment is becoming more common among US academic libraries, generally as means of diversifying the library’s workforce. We would certainly expand that role to encompass our current outreach and programming activities.

Spreading our message

IUPUI enjoys a plethora of campus communication tools, including campus e-mail, school and departmental listservs, and the JagNews online campus-wide newsletter, which is pushed via campus e-mails twice a week, but severely limits the amount of text permitted for each announcement. There is also an online event calendar and designated locations on campus for approved posters and flyers. Unfortunately, students tend to pay scant attention to campus e-mail, often ignore their school listservs (which use the campus e-mail system), ignore or opt out of JagNews, and generally do not make the effort to visit the event calendar unless they’re searching for a specific activity that will garner ‘extra credit’ for a course grade. The university also has a very rich campus website, but in the jostling for front page real estate, even the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion lacks the status to merit a top-level link. Our challenge has been to cut through the ‘noise’ generated by these myriad communications and ensure that our students, faculty, and staff are aware of University Library’s diversity initiatives and outreach events. Since campus marketing outlets have yielded limited results, we have tried to find other ways to promote ourselves.

We have had some success by advertising events on the News & Events page of the library’s website and pushing stories via Gateway, the library’s electronic newsletter. Our subject librarians have also contributed by forwarding our marketing e-mails to their schools and departments for distribution to students and the teaching faculty. Librarians have also assisted by making announcements while performing instruction in classrooms, giving library tours, and posting notices in the university’s online course management systems during first year seminar courses, with which we have been involved for many years. Achieving buy-in from faculty is perhaps the most effective method of reaching the students. This was instrumental to the success of the Beyond Stereotypes events in 2009 as a few faculty encouraged their students to attend and, in one case, brought his class to the event site. The Diversity Council and Scholars have also tapped into the growing number of social networking tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, and weblogs to promote programs, exhibits, and events (LinkedIn, Hyves, Tuenti, Skyrock, Hi5, etc., can be used for this purpose as well).

But our most successful means of making our constituencies aware of our diversity programming and resources has been old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Our most recent group of Diversity Scholar applicants all indicated that they had heard about the Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program from current or former Scholars. We plan to capitalize on this strategy by contacting campus groups, such as the O Team (upperclassmen who conduct orientation for incoming students), to schedule brief presentations about the Scholar Program, indicate where to find application materials, describe upcoming events, and suggest library materials related to diversity. The Diversity Council has also decided to develop specialized online research guides about diversity topics, beginning with a gay/lesbian/ bisexual/transgender (GLBT) guide, and will be digitizing unique library resources on the history of the campus, which was built on what was, historically, primarily an African American neighborhood. We anticipate that short videos made available through a variety of venues (the library’s website, Facebook, YouTube, and the campus website) will increasingly be used to promote our outreach as well.

Engaging students and staff

The primary goal of our diversity outreach and programming has always been to engage our students with the library. We have worked most effectively with campus student organizations through our young Diversity Scholars. Although University Library has made inroads by interacting with students directly, for example by conducting surveys or recruiting a student advisory group, we have found that students are always more willing to interact with other students. These peer to peer interactions have proven to be especially rich and valuable. It is always challenging to find the ‘perfect’ time to schedule programming that will ensure strong attendance, particularly by students at an urban, commuter campus. Whenever possible, we schedule an event for two dates and times to give the attendees an alternative opportunity to attend.

Another goal of our outreach has been to engage the library staff. We have been fully cognizant of the need to alleviate concerns and resistance inherent in any new initiative, particularly ones that may have emotional implications for some. Again, our Diversity Scholars have been instrumental in building bridges. The Scholars have desks and computers in an open cubicle area of the library that houses support staff, such as cataloging, interlibrary loan, and technology support and are able to meet and greet staff as they walk to and from their desks. The Scholars have also been working with multiple library teams and have taken advantage of these relationships to foster real change on a one-to-one level. The students’ enthusiasm has been infectious and they have requested staff input and assistance with displays and events. Perhaps the single greatest barrier to staff participation in diversity outreach and programming has simply been time. It is difficult to attend events during work hours – hourly staff members require supervisor permission to attend events during normal work hours, while faculty librarians have more freedom in this area – and events after work hours are also problematical due to family and other commitments. Generally, supervisors grant release time to staff for library initiatives, provided entire departments are not decimated at crucial service times. This is an additional advantage to scheduling events at multiple dates and times whenever possible.

Developing attractive activities and events

Our greatest challenge is to develop ideas for projects, exhibits, and events that will be attractive to the students and also help them learn about the library and what twenty-first century librarians do. We have had great success with the following:

 Trained Scholars to digitize diversity-related scholarly and archived materials in the library and print these materials for displays and online presentations.

 Partnered with campus departments and student groups to create exhibits that raise awareness about the library and its resources that support diversity at the university.

 Used American Library Association (ALA) software packages to design, create, and display personalized READ posters that celebrate the diversity of library staff. The posters are displayed throughout the library and appear on the library’s website.

 Recorded oral histories of faculty, staff, students and members of the local community from diverse backgrounds and made them available online.

 Partnered with the IUPUI Office of International Affairs’ annual International Festival. University Library librarians staffed a table with games, information on resources, and free giveaway items.

 Developed a film series using DVDs owned by the library (with public presentation rights) and follow-up discussions with speakers from the local community.

We plan to expand our outreach activities, despite mounting budget constraints and other pressing concerns. We feel that diversity issues will continue to be of great importance to our students, and therefore our campus. University Library can continue to contribute to IUPUI’s commitment to diversity and perhaps even be a model to other units on our campus.

We invite our many dedicated colleagues from other libraries to share their experiences with diversity outreach and programming so we may learn from each other to enrich ourselves and our students’ experiences.