After five months of work, participants in the inaugural Inclusive Services Institute produced a self-assessment tool that will allow libraries to evaluate the inclusivity of their spaces, programming, services, and administrative operations. The institute, comprised of 16 public library and regional system staff, as well as four members of the leadership team, produced this resource to bolster development of inclusivity in Wisconsin libraries.
The self-assessment tool is rooted in an understanding of inclusivity in libraries put forth in a 2017 statement by DPI. The statement addresses Wisconsin statute (43.24(2)(k)), “promotion and facilitation of library service to users with special needs,” defining inclusivity and its importance. An excerpt from the statement notes: “Diverse communities are strengthened by libraries that intentionally develop and deliver services to individuals or groups for whom accessing and using the library is difficult, limited, or minimized.”
The institute was explicitly designed to foster deep dialogue to build awareness about a variety of social issues and facilitate a sense of community among participants. There was also a feeling of immediate comradery in coming together around issues of inclusivity and accessibility in library systems. “Everyone came with so much commitment,” said a participant. “There were no weak links.”
“Sometimes I worry that my small town library isn’t as inclusive as it could be, that I’m miles behind other library systems,” said another. “But in coming together with library staff from throughout the state, I don’t feel as alone. A lot of libraries are struggling with these same things.”
In addition to providing participants with a sense of common ground and community, the struggles with inclusivity exhibited by libraries across the state propelled the direction of the Inclusive Services Institute: toward a tool that will allow libraries to evaluate the inclusivity of their spaces, programming, services, and administrative operations.
A beta version of the tool will soon be released to libraries. Participants intend to develop the tool further, working to make it interactive and eventually packaging it with educational resources such as webinars or training programs.
“Libraries provide crucial services and information, and exist as a cornerstone of so many Wisconsin communities,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “The passionate efforts of these library staff are important in ensuring these spaces are welcoming and accessible to all people.”
Participants emphasized part of DPI’s statement on inclusivity, noting that the everyday practice of providing inclusive services requires constant reflection, dialogue, and assessment with and between members of the community—particularly those who are underserved or underrepresented—and all levels of the library staff and administration.
The teams dedicated to different areas of inclusivity during their formal meetings and then worked remotely to formulate questions and criteria that would eventually become the tool. Examples of such questions are: Does the library offer programming for diverse audiences? Are printed library program marketing materials available in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic text? Do staff understand the meanings of the various words associated with LGBTQ/gender expressions? Are spaces in the library accessible to individuals with a variety of needs and interests?
Because each team was focused on a specific aspect of inclusivity, the combined criteria will be comprehensive and deep, addressing all layers and facets of inclusivity in libraries. “No two libraries are the same,” said Tessa Michaelson Schmidt, the public library youth and inclusive services consultant at DPI. “This tool is meant to be holistic, contextual, and dependent on library staff’s engagement within their communities.”
“It is vital that libraries approach inclusive services from multiple angles,” said Shannon Schultz, DPI’s public library administration consultant. “The director, staff, and board of trustees all play a role in making the library welcoming, safe, and respectful. It’s not solely one person’s job.”
“It’s been remarkable to be on the ground floor of something that could potentially impact the entire state,” said a participant from a smaller library. “It’s important to put a finger on the pulse of the state and be a part of positive change.”
The Inclusive Services Institute was funded by a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services administered from the Public Library Development Team at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.