All Lives Matter

In a January 19 article on the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) blog, The Hub, Alegria Barclay wrote a piece entitled “Black Lives Matter: Building Empathy Through Reading” that outlined a role for librarians that challenges a more traditional view of librarianship and promotes a role of actively influencing our readers. She wrote:

“I feel strongly that it is an essential part of our calling to do more than simply recommend books to our teenage patrons; we must promote, persuade, and provoke our young readers to pick up those books that broaden and challenge our understanding of what it means to be another and to be ourselves. To echo the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, we need diverse books because reading can change the world one perspective at a time. And change must come. And it will come because reading is an act of communication that can and does open minds and hearts, transcending our often irrational and unfounded fears to create newfound empathy and compassion.”

While librarians, like journalists, are committed to providing access to a wide array of information and points of view, does that mean that we must remain impartial? Like Ms. Barclay, I have been concerned about the ignorance and complacency that I encounter all too often when it comes to understanding what people from non-majority backgrounds experience on a daily basis. And like her, I have felt the need to poke and prod and get people to think and question the world around them. I think helping to develop critical thinking skills is one of the main reasons that libraries exist, especially academic libraries. And learning to think critically about one’s own assumptions is surely the foundational critical thinking skill.

As a white woman who is now firmly entrenched in the more privileged end of the middle class, I seldom experience discomfort when I enter a room – unless I consciously seek out an experience that puts me in the minority. Although I came from a poor background and was the first person in my family to go to college, I am now able to “pass” in the world of privilege – at least, if I keep quiet. Yet, I continue to seek out those uncomfortable experiences where not everyone looks and sounds just like me because that is where I can still grow and change. That is what lies behind my love of travel, what lies behind my study of foreign languages, what lies behind the diversity programming that this library has offered and continues to develop.

After recently seeing the film Selma which chronicles a key part of the Civil Rights Movement under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s leadership, I have challenged myself to read more, think more, and do more. And I pledge to share my reading and thinking with the students and faculty of USFSP and the broader community. I’m still thinking about how best to do that and welcome suggestions and feedback from everyone, either here on this blog or to my email at hixson at usfsp.edu.

To close this posting, I return to Ms. Alegria and the first paragraph of her article which so eloquently sums up the beauty of reading and the value in being a librarian:

“Librarians are peddlers of empathy. We understand that reading is a chemical reaction between reader and writer producing a visceral engagement with the characters that allows us to live the lives of others, if only for the space of a novel. We know that when we give a book to a patron, it can be at once an act of revolution, a strike against ignorance, a catalyst for change, a necessary escape, a life-saving event, a clarion call, a moment of peace, or simply a riveting read. Whatever it turns out to be though, it is always founded in empathy. As readers, each book allows us to, at turns, discover, reaffirm or reimagine what it means to be human.”

Spring Diversity Efforts

As I welcome everyone to the spring 2015 semester, I wanted to renew my emphasis on the importance of diversity and inclusion as a guiding principle of the Poynter Library.

In a recent message from American Library Association (ALA) President Courtney Young, she noted that “diversity is an essential value for everyone working in a library or pursuing a degree in library and information science or a related field. Libraries that have the most significant impact on their communities understand and embrace the importance of diversity. They showcase their librarians, staff, and volunteers as members of a vibrant community and their library as a place where difference is welcome.” She has recently established a Diversity Membership Initiative Group whose mission is to “provide:

  • A space for success stories and best practices and broadly highlight examples of activities that have improved services and fostered organizational change;
  • A community of practice for members to discuss ideas, concepts, and methods to positively impact library services to increasingly diverse populations;
  • A base for deepening our discussion and collective understanding of diversity and inclusion issues across our professional organizations.”

  • Like ALA, the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library has made increasing awareness and celebration of diversity a top priority. The Library’s Diversity Committee is charged to make recommendations to me as Dean on:

  • defining the scope of diversity needs within the context of the System’s, the University’s and the Library’s strategic plans and mission statements
  • reviewing Poynter Library services, collections, and technology to ensure full support for people of all backgrounds and perspectives
  • the development of signature events, services, collections, and exhibits to promote diversity and inclusion
  • improving the library’s work environment to ensure a safe, welcoming, supportive environment for all Library faculty and staff
  • arranging staff development opportunities to increase awareness and appreciation of different backgrounds and perspectives
    reviewing recruitment and hiring practices within the Library to promote diversity and inclusion
  • reviewing policies and procedures to remove obstacles and promote greater diversity and inclusion
  • developing the Library as a role model for diversity for the USFSP community


  • The Diversity Committee made a tremendous start with the fall Multicultural Day the centerpiece of which was the Living Library event. For the spring, the Committee is working on a new program to explore tensions between police and African-American communities across the United States.

    Every librarian and library staff member is committed to providing a safe haven for every member of the USFSP community and the broader community of which we are a part. I encourage students, faculty, and community members to tell me their concerns, send me their suggestions, and show up for our events in support of a truly diverse and inclusive community.

    As author Scott Page notes in The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, “When a collection of people work together, and one person makes an improvement, the others can often improve on this new solution even further: improvements build on improvements. Diverse perspectives and diverse heuristics apply sequentially: one gets applied after the other, and in combination. One plus one often exceeds two” (2007, p. 340). This is the goal of the Poynter Library’s diversity awareness programming. Please join us and let your voice and your perspective be heard.

    2014 in review

    The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

    The blog was visited by people from 36 countries around the world. Here's an excerpt:

    A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

    The busiest day of the year was September 8th with 49 views of the post “Diversity and Inclusion at Our Core.”

    Click here to see the complete report.

    Service, an open mind, and accountability pay off

    As finals week for the fall 2014 semester is winding down, we in the Library are reflecting on how busy things have been. On Monday December 1, we experienced the highest door count in our history: 2113 visits. The previous record high count of 1661 was a year earlier on Monday December 9, 2013. We experienced a 21% increase overall in unique visits to the Library during the exam period this year over the same time period last year. To get a sense of how busy we were, you can visit a photo album on the Library’s Facebook page.

    One thing that we see all the time is how often students are using the library space to work together, which was what we had in mind as we set about redesigning the space.Students Collaborating Whether they are using “old” technology like whiteboards
    Using Whiteboards
    or the new computer workstations on the busy collaboration zone of the first floor.
    Collaboration at computers
    When I get asked why our door counts are up 21% in a semester when enrollments are down, the deliberate redesign of our space to enable students to work together effectively would seem to be one reason.

    But we also know that not everyone wants to collaborate all of the time. Sometimes, a quiet place to study is just what they want, as we saw this week as almost every single space of any shape or design was filled with students.
    Students in old carrels
    Whether they were taking advantage of our semi-quiet Scholars’ Lounge on the first floor
    Scholars' Lounge
    or were making use of our brand-new computer workstations on the designated quiet third floor.
    quiet computer space - 3rd floor
    We also opened up our instruction room on the second floor with dedicated computers as another quiet study area with computers. These steps have all been taken following student feedback. As much as we can, we try to give our students the type of equipment, space, and experience that they need to be successful.

    But beyond redesigning the space, we continually redesign our services based on feedback from students and faculty. This semester, we provided instruction to 39% more students than for the fall semester of 2013.

    We also hosted 83% more events for students than in the same semester last year. We pride ourselves on putting the students first, listening to what they have to say, and doing our best to give them what they need and want to have successful academic careers. Some of those events are less serious than others, such as our periodic visits from the Therapy Dogs International at stressful times, but they are all designed to engage, educate, and enlighten our students.
    Therapy Dogs International December 2014

    As part of increasing our transparency and accountability, we have also worked diligently to create up-to-date and informative reports from all library departments, documenting our activity, achievements, and challenges. We invite everyone to look at our Library Departmental and Committee Reports

    The Poynter Library faculty and staff are a dedicated, hard-working, creative group of people. We have managed to accomplish some amazing things together. If anyone reading this posting is inspired to give us a hand, I invite you to visit our giving pages where you can see all the areas of support needed to enable us to continue to serve the students of this beautiful university. Join in the fun!

    Multicultural Day at the Library November 18, 2014

    This week the Library hosted its first comprehensive multicultural event, the centerpiece of which was the Living Library.

    The Living Library brings in people from different backgrounds to be “Living Books” so that others can “check them out” and have a conversation with them about their life’s experiences. The Poynter Library’s first Living Books included USFSP students, faculty, and staff as well as people from the surrounding community.

    All Living Book participants selected a book title and Associate Librarian Kaya van Beynen, Chair of the Library’s Diversity Committee, created book covers to guide attendees to their selected Living Book.
    null

    In our first effort, we had 12 Living Books and approximately 70 students and others who came to have conversations and learn a little bit about what life was like for someone with a background different from their own.

    null

    Following the Living Library event, Dr. Vikki Gaskin Butler, USFSP Instructor of Psychology, presided over a Mediterranean Luncheon (catered by Maazzaro’s) and led a discussion about the event asking people to share what they had learned and with whom they were going to share what they learned. Discussion among attendees and Living Books was lively, with feedback making it clear that everyone thought it was great start to what they hoped would be an ongoing event. The day concluded with a demonstration of SAA Bollywood Dance Team’s performance of “Nagada Sang Dhol”

    For more information about the event, participants, and to see posters, pictures, and videos, please visit the event site at: http://dspace.nelson.usf.edu/xmlui/handle/10806/12396

    Upcoming Multicultural Events

    As part of the Poynter Library’s renewed focus on issues of diversity and inclusion, we will be hosting a series of events in 2014/2015 to promote conversation between the USFSP community and people from many different backgrounds. The University’s strategic mission places an emphasis on being inclusive and supportive of diverse backgrounds. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, libraries in the United States abide by the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights which asserts that librarians have a responsibility to ensure that all points of view are represented in our services and collections. To bring this principle to life, the Library is hosting a series of events to encourage conversation, reflection, and questioning of assumptions about other people.

    The first event is scheduled for November 6 at 6 p.m. in Poynter Corner. Jean-Charles Faust, the President of the French-American Business Council of West Florida and French Honorary Consul will be speaking about “The French Economic Presence in the Tampa Bay Area.” Co-sponsored by the Library and the Department of Society, Culture, and Language, the event is free and open to the public. French wine and cheese will be served.

    On November 18, on the Library’s first floor, we will be holding our first “Living Library” event. Following a model utilized by libraries around the world in the Human Library movement, this event takes the concept of inclusion to a new level and challenges us all to confront our preconceived notions about people from different backgrounds. Individuals from the local community and from USFSP have volunteered to participate as “Living Books” available for checkout for short conversations about their background and experiences, just as in this image from a Human Library event in Copenhagen. HUman Library Event in CopenhagenThe intent is to encourage conversation and understanding among people who might otherwise not have a chance to interact except at a very superficial level. USFSP students and others will benefit from broadening their awareness of the world around them. Starting at 9 a.m. and going until 11 a.m., there will be four separate discussion sessions with 10 minutes in between for people to move to another individual “Living Book” for a new conversation. Following the morning discussions, food from different cultures will be served at an informal luncheon served in the Library’s Poynter Corner. Dr. Vikki-Gaskin Butler, Instructor, Psychology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at USFSP, will be leading a wrap-up discussion of the morning’s event at the luncheon. This event is free and open to the public and is co-sponsored by USFSP’s University Advancement office

    Come broaden your outlook at the Poynter Library.

    Upcoming Discussion on The Cost of Textbooks

    On Thursday, October 23 from noon to 1 p.m. in the University Student Center, the Poynter Library and USFSP Student Government will be sponsoring a panel discussion on the Rising Cost of Textbooks : What’s the Answer? There will be four panelists who will each be addressing the issue from a different perspective:

    • Mr. Jay Hartfield, Manager, USFSP Barnes & Noble Campus Bookstore (the bookstore perspective)
    • Dr. Han Reichgelt, Regional Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, USFSP (the faculty and administrative perspective)
    • Ms. Tina Neville, Head of Library Research and Instruction, Poynter Library (the Library perspective)
    • Mr. Juan Salazar, Student Government Representative and Psychology Major
      (the student perspective)

    I will take five minutes to introduce the topic and the panelists. Each panelist will then have five minutes to outline their perspective. After all panelists have spoken, those in attendance will be encouraged to share their comments and questions.

    This discussion is one of a series of events being sponsored by the Poynter Library in commemoration of International Open Access Week and it is also one of the regular Lunch & Learn Series coordinated by the Division of Student Affairs. All students, faculty, and administrators will be invited and encouraged to share their experiences.