Building a Community of Grace Through Library Collections

Charleston Library Conference LogoIn the first week of November, several DePaul University Library staff members attended the 2020 Charleston Library Conference held online. While the week was full of valuable discussions, talks, roundtables, and Q&A sessions, one keynote speaker in particular caught attention of our Collection Development Department, and it is in this Collections blog post we’d like to reflect on his words, keeping in mind that examining the entirety of this talk is beyond the scope of one blog post.

On the morning of November 4th, Earl Lewis, Founder and Director of the University of Michigan Center for Social Solutions gave a keynote address entitled “Leading in an Age of Chaos and Change: Building a Community of Grace.” With COVID-19 cases on the rise, economic uncertainty facing many, and racial divides impacting our communities, Lewis called for libraries, publishers, and vendors to “build a community of grace by seeking new approaches, connecting with new partners, and developing a tolerance for experimentation as we face these challenges. Because of COVID-19, libraries across the country have had to limit patron access to many library services. And doing so has meant that remote learning and teaching have created an even higher demand on our services and resources, and this demand continues to rise.

In discussing the economic fallout of COVID-19 on universities and colleges, Lewis weighed in on the reality that many academic institutions are facing large budget cuts. A fundamental responsibility of library operations is collection development, the responsibility of making decisions about what resources belong in the collection. At the best of times, libraries must perform information needs assessment, develop collection development policies, put selection processes into practice, maintain awareness of traditional publishing models while embracing alternate means of information dissemination, perform fiscal management, and engage in continual evaluation of resources. We do this by employing knowledgeable Library Liaisons to select material for university departments and programs, listening to feedback, and curating a collection of essential resources to support the teaching, learning and scholarship at our institution. Shrinking budgets force us to be even more exacting when faced with the questions, “What is essential? What do we select?” 

But as Lewis wonderfully points out in his talk, in order to facilitate a community of grace, we are called to do more. In the flux of providing more remote services, prioritizing online content, and combating unexpected issues with creative solutions, it is mandatory to reflect on the demographic profile of our collection; we must curate a collection of not only diverse topics but authors as well, centering the voices of marginalized communities and aspiring for greater equity and inclusion through our materials. While Lewis’ examples on this subject focus on the demographics of an institution’s workforce, the same thought applies to our resources, and we can thoughtfully examine them to better ensure our decisions do not contribute or uphold structural racism in our country.

Lewis’ keynote address was met with resounding appreciation by attendees of the 2020 Charleston Library Conference, and although we all sat many miles apart watching from our homes, I would argue that at that moment we felt a sense of togetherness, a sense of community, and as Lewis said, called to be “architects of grace.”

If you’d like to watch the full talk, you can watch it here.

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