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.

    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.
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    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.

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    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.

    Diversity and Inclusion at Our Core

    On November 12, 2010, I posted a message on my Dean’s Messages web site on the topic of diversity. The message addressed one of the sculpted bronze hands embedded in the walls of the Poynter Library. One of those sculptures extols the value of DIVERSITY. I originally wrote about diversity as a response to a student who had contacted me wanting to know why we had hosted an exhibit on Black History but hadn’t done an exhibit on Irish Heritage Month. In the summer of 2013, I again addressed the issue when a student wrote to President Genshaft complaining about what she considered pornography in the Library because we were advertising a talk on the 1964 Florida Legislative Investigative Committee’s Report on “Homosexuality and citizenship in Florida” by using an image from the state government document showing two bare-chested men kissing.

    These concerns from USFSP students, along with recent incidents in our community and around the country, make it clear that the topic merits much more discussion. For that reason, I am reposting my original message, with some additions.

    The KKK incident in the City of St. Petersburg’s Stormwater Department that happened in October 2013 but was reported on by the Tampa Bay Times on August 16, 2014 is one indication of how close to the surface tensions around diversity really are. The August 9, 2014 shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri and the subsequent reactions in that community and around the world have highlighted our need for closer self-examination and renewed commitment to a diverse, inclusive society. The ongoing battle in the courts about same-sex marriage is another manifestation of how divided we as a people are regarding diversity and inclusion. There are countless examples from around the country and the world of people wanting to be included in all the benefits enjoyed by others and accepted as they are and sometimes negative reactions from other members of society.

    What is diversity and why do we consider it one of the core values of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the Poynter Library? Diversity in the U.S. has often been a political hot-button, serving to divide rather than unite us. One of the definitions given in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a point of unlikeness; a difference, distinction; a different kind, a variety.” One simple definition, then, is variety in who we are and how we live.

    Wikipedia lists many kinds of diversity, including political diversity, ethnic diversity, diversity training, biodiversity and more. Under political diversity, Wikipedia asserts that the term is used “to describe differences in racial or ethnic classifications, age, gender, religion, philosophy, physical abilities, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, intelligence, mental health, physical health, genetic attributes, behavior, attractiveness, cultural values, or political view as well as other identifying features.”

    In its statement on diversity in its mission and vision, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg asserts its “dedication to the diversity of human beings as well as diversity of ideas and viewpoints.” Respect and tolerance for different backgrounds, different abilities, different physical characteristics, different points of view, and different modes of self-expression are the cornerstones of our university. By accepting our right to be different and to be uniquely ourselves, we are able to call on a wider array of resources as we face new challenges. In diversity, we are strong.

    We in the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library support and celebrate the diversity of our students and faculty, the university, our local community, and the world around us. Libraries actively strive to present multiple points of view. This is a principle that is well defined within the North American library community, as outlined by the American Library Association in the Library Bill of Rights. To this end, we will continue to host a wide variety of lectures and debates representing diverse points of view; we will continue to mount exhibitions on wide-ranging topics such as military history, Black history, Gay pride, Native American identity, Jewish culture, the Holocaust, Women’s History and more; we will continue to develop collections of materials that reflect a full range of viewpoints on important topics in support of the University’s courses and programs; we will continue to strive to serve all of our students in the ways that they need, such as our services to students with special needs through improving our Assistive Technologies Room and more.

    The Nelson Poynter Memorial Library is a safe haven for all people and ideas. Come to the library (physically or virtually) where we will strive to make you feel safe to ask questions and explore the world around you, value you for who you are, and encourage you in your journey of self-discovery, self-expression and lifelong learning.

    The Library this year will be developing a formalized diversity program. As we proceed, we will be inviting members of the campus and the broader community to take part and share experiences and insights. Drop me a note at hixson at usfsp.edu or call me at 873-4400 if you would like to be part of the discussion.

    Whoever Saves a Life …

    The Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, in partnership with the Florida Holocaust Museum, is pleased to host the traveling exhibit “Whoever Saves a Single Life… Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust.” Displayed in the first-floor atrium of the Library from March 28 through April 24, the exhibit is free and open to the public all hours that the Library is open.

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    For more information on the exhibit, visit the web site of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous and read about the exhibit at: http://www.jfr.org/pages/education/exhibit-on-rescuers