When Violeta Ilik, MLIS, joined Adelphi University as dean of University Libraries in July 2020, the libraries' collections were light on materials that showcased, illuminated or explored the experiences and contributions of marginalized populations.
“Our country was reeling after watching the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis just a couple of months before,” said Dean Ilik, “and I was determined to help open hearts and minds through knowledge.
“In order for libraries to remain relevant in an ever-changing world, they must continually adapt,” said Dean Ilik. “We, as library professionals and academics, are lifelong learners who are willing to improve and build on what we already understand and who recognize the need to simultaneously question the ways we do things, self-reflect and be creative. We are on a mission to continually grow our libraries’ resources to best meet the needs of a changing student body, faculty and community.”
Library Diversity Council co-chairs Kimberly Mullins, associate professor of University Libraries; James Cho, assistant professor and catalog and metadata strategies librarian; and other University Libraries faculty are making this vision a reality through the creation of LibGuides devoted to works by and about people of color and other marginalized groups.
LibGuides are library-based content management and information sharing systems. The platform allows for the collection of and easy navigation through resources in a particular subject or field. They are enormously useful tools for teaching and learning, serving as research resources for faculty and students alike.
“We want everyone to see themselves in the library,” Mullins said, “both literally and figuratively. There should be something for everyone, and all cultures should be well represented. Part of promoting equity and inclusion is making the resources inclusive as well.”
There are more than 180 LibGuides within the University Libraries’ main LibGuide directory, covering 48 subjects ranging from accounting to sociology. But, in between, you’ll find African, Black and Caribbean Studies; Diversity Book Awards; Middle Eastern Studies; a Native America Libguide; Social Justice; Spanish Literature; Transgender Studies; and Women in American History.
“In addition to supporting faculty and students’ research, a culturally diverse library supports our goal to decolonize the curriculum. We also seek to decolonize the catalog by removing outdated and offensive terminology, making our catalog more effective,” said Library Diversity Council (LDC) co-chair Cho.
Decolonization involves looking at knowledge through a broader, more contemporary and honest lens. For centuries, American libraries—and indeed American curriculum from K-12 and beyond—have retained the patriarchal, white, Christian sensibilities that were in place when the United States and other regions of the world were colonies of Great Britain and other dominant nations.
Since then, the United States and countries across Africa and Asia have also broken free of the empires that once ruled them. This postcolonial reality and the need to move past imperialistic thinking begs for the development of diverse courses and resources. Postcolonialism seeks to deconstruct knowledge, in part to illuminate and unravel the way that colonized nations have been dominated culturally, linguistically and economically throughout history.
Adelphi Libraries is also committed to recognizing the history and contributions of Native Americans, another subjugated population. Cho has compiled a Library Guide (LibGuide) on Native America. Included are expertly curated resources, including books from Native American history to Native Americans in the 20th century to an encyclopedic volume on treaties with American Indians over the years.
Cho is acutely aware of issues around immigration and marginalization, and is highly attuned to racism and inequality. “Sometimes objectivity is not possible,” he said. “We have to be very intentional about covering disenfranchised groups.”
Former University Libraries employee Luis Fernando Aguirre ’18 created a LibGuide on Transgender Studies Resources. Additional resources to learn about trans history and allyship include the Digital Transgender Archives, as well as the University’s vast LGBTQIA+ resources, which include a LGBTQIA+ Library Guide and an extensive list of LGBTQIA+ book award recipients.
Transitioning from works about marginalized populations to works by underrepresented authors, the University Libraries faculty are proud of the recently completed African Writers Series project, which features major works in modern African literature from 1946 to 2002. Anne Mungai, PhD, associate provost for strategic initiatives and graduate studies, carefully curated the collection of approximately 130 works that include fiction, poetry, drama and nonfiction prose.
Diversifying the University Libraries collection is an ongoing project at Adelphi. Each college, school and department at the University has one or more dedicated librarians, and each has been asked to think about resources that the University can purchase relative to supporting underrepresented groups in their respective areas.
“You need to increase the knowledge base to increase knowledge creation,” Dean Ilik said.
Resources in Adelphi’s comprehensive LibGuides include books, articles, publications, videos, audiovisual (AV) materials, links to outside sources and multimedia online content, as well as the digital transgender archive.
Cho and Mullins have enjoyed working on the collection diversification efforts as part of their roles as co-chairs of the Library Diversity Council, which is part of the larger University Diversity Committee. This work, which is consistent with a trend in libraries, many of which are working to diversify their collections, has allowed Cho and Mullins the opportunity to collaborate with faculty at other university libraries, at major national library conferences and with Adelphi’s academic departments.
For more information about the highly diverse LibGuides at Adelphi, visit the Adelphi University Libraries website and LibGuides directory or email Violeta Ilik, dean of University Libraries, at email@example.com.