News - MLA
Thursday, June 23, 2022 02:27 PM

MLA’s Equity, Diversity, Accessibility and Belonging Journey 2019-2022. We're in it for the long haul.

A journey is one that takes time, focus and energy. Since 2019, MLA has been intentionally and consciously on a journey to address equity, diversity, accessibility and belonging, and “we are in it for the long haul.” Our board, staff and ambassadors have been instrumental in keeping this front and center for the past 3 years in all that we do, in all decisions we make, and in our daily work to address the inequities that are inherent in our society. By digging deeper to examine the root causes of these inequities, MLA has become a more innovative and responsive organization with each passing day.

But it is hard work.

I am my family’s “history keeper,” and on many days, the journey to address equity and diversity feels similar to tracing my family history. In researching, learning new things along the way, interviewing family members, documenting dates and places and stories passed down from one generation to the next, I have found that there is no finish line. It is never done. It is ever-evolving. There is always more to the story, always more to mold and shape, always a fork in the road, always walls to climb over. And as careful as I am, sometimes I spend months documenting a whole family line that needs to be erased and I am back to square one when a new piece of information crosses my path. But for 30+ years, I have never wavered from learning and growing in my knowledge. I guess the same can be said about MLA’s and my own personal journey in equity and diversity. 

I am proud to be on this journey with all of you, yet we (and I) still have a long way to go. There is always something to learn, always something to take into consideration, always a new path to travel, and always something to work harder at.  

I am proud to say that MLA doesn’t just have a statement…we have a plan…and we are taking important and intentional actions to address the plan.  

It is important to note that MLA works with libraries and library workers in all 83 Michigan counties and our goals and values encompass the demographics of the entire State of Michigan. As a statewide advocacy organization, we have made the Lansing area our home, as do most other organizations that work on a statewide basis, due to the legislative agenda that fuels our work at the state Capitol. With that being said, MLA’s journey these past few years (with board, staff and statewide member input) has elicited many wonderful accomplishments to date, and I want to take the time to share them with you.

  1. In 2019 MLA adopted (and then updated in 2021) our Equity, Diversity, Accessibility and Belonging statement – signed by the full Board and staff. It is our north star and one that guides our work to be better prepared to address the inequities our state and country are subjected to.

  2. MLA’s number one strategic priority is Equity, Diversity, and Accessibility, and Belonging. It was with intentionality that MLA’s Board and staff created our plan in 2019, updated in 2020, updated again in 2021, and again in 2022 with Equity, Diversity, Accessibility and Belonging leading the way. View the MLA Strategic Plan (pdf)

    • EQUITY, DIVERSITY, ACCESSIBILITY AND BELONGING: Advance, advocate and support a more diverse and inclusive environment within MLA amongst our board, staff, and ambassadors. We are committed to ensuring that all individuals who apply to, work with or otherwise interact with us are treated with fairness and respect and accorded equal opportunity. We must be vigilant that our programs and services are inclusive of all library personnel in all cities, townships, and villages, in rural, suburban and urban areas in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula.

  3. MLA added a non-discrimination statement into our by-laws in 2020:  
    • MLA does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities or operations. These activities include, but are not limited to, hiring and firing of staff, selection of volunteers and vendors, and provision of services. We are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all members of our staff, clients, volunteers, subcontractors, and vendors.

  4. While it should be noted that 88.7% of librarians nationally are white, MLA took the extraordinary step to update our by-laws in 2020 to state that the nominating committee will present a slate of candidates that mirrors the state of Michigan demographics in racial representation (80% white). This year five individuals on the slate out of nine were BIPOC, four of whom were voted onto and will serve on the Board of Directors from 2022-2024.

  5. MLA has much to celebrate in terms of overall diversity on our staff as well. Diversity is defined as the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, political beliefs, as well as others. Of the five full-time staff members and one that works less than 10 hours a week we are: Race: all white; Sex: there are five females and one male; Age: we have one in their 20’s, three in their 30’s, one in their 50’s, and one in their 60’s; Physical Ability: we have three with known disabilities; Education: one has a Master certificate, three with Bachelor degrees and two with Associate degrees; Marital Status: two of us are married (one with children), one of us is divorced (with children), three are single; Veterans: while we do not have any veterans on staff, we do have a spouse of a 20-year veteran who was a military family member for 15 of those 20 years. These are some of the unique attributes we can see and are shared, there are certainly many more that make us a very diverse staff.

  6. MLA is also proud of the diversity of our social media interns that have joined us each semester since the Fall of 2021. One was Black, two were white, and one identifies as LGBTQIA+. All three have been women, all in their early 20’s.

  7. In 2022, MLA widened our search to fill the role of Database Coordinator. Our posting was sent to portals that we have never considered before to widen our reach to BIPOC applicants – paid advertising on Indeed, through Lansing Community College, and to 10 of our statewide universities through their “handshake” portal. Those qualified candidates with resumes that reflected the skill set needed were vetted and interviewed but none included a candidate of color.  Besides this newly created position in 2021, MLA’s staff remains stable and with only five full-time and 1 part-time positions, with limited staff turnover in the past three years. Can we do a better job of finding candidates of color to be vetted for a position when we have an opening – absolutely. When we have a position available, we will again widen our reach even more to identify qualified BIPOC candidates. As with most nonprofits that have small budgets, it is important that we are able to sustain, provide good pay and benefits, and support the staff who are dedicated and committed in their current roles.

  8. To address any barriers to professional development opportunities amongst BIPOC library workers, in 2020, MLA added a small but dedicated source of funds for scholarships through Equity Fund Grants. This fund reduces financial barriers and uplifts the professional development for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, North African, and Middle Eastern individuals by providing resources to be used for memberships, attendance at workshops, educational events or conferences of applicants’ choosing, or for other purposes that they believe increase their ability to impact and transform the library profession. Close to $10,000 has been distributed to date.

  9. During their tenure as MLA Presidents, Jennifer Dean (now the director at the UofM-Flint Thompson Library) Kelly Richards (now the director at the Free Library of Philadelphia), and Ryan Wieber (Director at the Kalamazoo Public Library) asked the finance committee for increased investment in EDI training for the MLA Board and staff. Concentration on the internal leadership of MLA  gave us all a firm understanding and direction for the role we can play in offering more external trainings in the years to come. In 2021 and again in 2022, the MLA board/staff went through deep and robust training with the Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights and ALA Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Opportunities for individual trainings have taken place by participation in the Michigan Civil Rights Symposium in 2022 and through direct work with MLA Think Space trainers.

  10. Under the leadership of MLA President Kelly Richards in 2021-2022, MLA developed a 4-day in-person program for library directors, called Think Space with focused sessions on equity, diversity, and inclusion as the theme. Speakers and trainers were contracted who were diverse and could speak with authority on theory, best practices, and ways to implement action steps for themselves and for their staff and boards.

  11. Our world has been thrown into a variety of chaotic challenges over the past three years and standing as a credible and trustworthy authority, MLA addressed statewide and national issues with public statements through the lens of EDI on Black Lives Matter, the Jurnee Hoffmeyer haircutting incident in Mt. Pleasant, and the insurrection at our nations’ Capitol

  12. In 2021-2022, MLA stood strong in our legislative advocacy and publicly opposed two bills that were introduced that bar schools from teaching critical race theory, the 1619 project and any other anti-American and racist theories.  The first, SB 460 introduced by Senator Lana Theis in May 2021 would also attach punitive repercussions and withhold school aid resources of 5% for non-compliance; and the second, HB 5097 introduced by Representative Andrew Beeler in June 2021.

  13. MLA publicly supported HB 4275 “The Crown Act” introduced in February 2021 by Representative Sarah Anthony. This bill sets out to amend 1976 PA 453 entitled the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and includes a new definition of “Race” being inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles – including but not limited to, braids, locks and twists.” 

  14. In May 2022, Dr. Michael Rice, the superintendent for the Michigan Department of Education requested that MLA sign on as a sponsor to a series of webinars directed at teachers to learn more about how to teach the full breadth of US and world history – including race, racism, sexism and other difficult and challenging subjects. The series will provide educators with additional tools to teach relevant content about historical movements, events and peoples that are part of the rich, diverse history of our country beginning with the Holocaust and then to using Indigenous-developed studies about First Peoples. Additional webinars on other topics will be announced in the coming months.

  15. To fulfill our vision, MLA has built, and is dedicated to maintaining, an inclusive and equitable community where all people can come together to advance our shared vision. Directly attributed to the MLA statement on Equity, Diversity, Accessibility and Belonging, in June the MLA Board approved and updated a comprehensive Code of Conduct for staff, board, ambassadors, and members addressing conduct at all MLA Functions. MLA will respond aggressively and immediately to any violations of unjust or discriminatory conduct (gender, age, race, religion, political affiliation, marital status, etc); sexual harassment; violence, threats and criminal acts; as well as excessive drinking. View the MLA Code of Conduct (pdf).

  16. With every event that MLA produces - from our Spring Institute to our Annual Conference to Think Space - we are intentional in discussing, vetting and ultimately contracting with a diverse group of speakers and keynoters who represent many different facets of our world. We have been blessed to hear the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community through people like Alex Gino, voices from the Black community through people like Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes, and voices from the Indigenous community through people like Angeline Boulley.

  17. MLA affirms and values gender identity. To be inclusive and respectful of each and every person’s individuality, MLA began requesting that all who attend our events add their pronouns on nametags. We have also added pronouns to our own staff email signatures as we continue to help normalize the sharing of gender pronouns which can be particularly helpful to people outside of the binary.

  18. Not only are our programs and services accessible through free, scholarship-based and/or reasonable pricing; they are geographically accessible and available through remote online platforms; they are available in an alternative format for those with hearing or visual impairments, and barrier-free for those with physical limitations. All requests for accommodation for hearing, sight, meals, etc. are addressed proactively.

  19. MLA continues to work toward being ADA compliant with each new addition to our website. Our choice of fonts, alt-text on photos, colors, anchor text, skip navigation, video subtitles, etc. all matter in addressing those with visual impairment. Being aware of the challenges makes MLA staff more proactive in addressing ADA compliancy before any problems occur.

  20. MLA made intentional changes in 2022 to our guidelines for the Youth Literary Awards that addressed the need to represent the diversity of human culture and experiences. The MLA Youth Literary Awards recognize that there is a book for every reader and a reader for every book and aim to recognize and celebrate the very best books for every young reader in Michigan. Workgroup members consider authenticity and representation – who is telling the story, and is it their story to tell, when reviewing titles on the reading list, in an effort to find the most engaging books for Michigan’s youth.

  21. MLA is committed to doing everything we can, in our libraries and our communities to promote justice and equality for all. We continue to add to our webpage that addresses Racial Equity resources as they become available as we plan and act on our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, in our organization, libraries and communities.

  22. As book banning across the nation increases, MLA is taking a proactive stance against the impending national crisis for libraries. Books currently being targeted are those written by and about traditionally marginalized people and experiences - LGBTQIA+, BIPOC and women. MLA believes that it is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity, including those that some individuals in our society may consider to be unconventional, unpopular, or unacceptable. Censorship is nothing new. However, the volume of attempted censorship efforts we are seeing across our nation is unprecedented.  MLA determined that it is our duty to provide resources (both monetary and information) to protect intellectual freedom and our first amendment rights for Michigan citizens.  We fear this is just the beginning and, if not stopped, will have long-term ramifications on society.  In March 2022, MI Right to Read was initiated and a robust coalition of individuals from across Michigan have joined to help protect the right to read in Michigan. Read MLA's Statement of Principle on Intellectual Freedom.

While we know we do not have all the answers and we acknowledge that this is a long and hard journey, let’s not squander the momentum that we have made.  I’m sure there is more but I guess the question now begs: By 2025, what else should we/could we do to address equity, diversity accessibility and belonging? If there is something that you would like to see addressed – you know the door is always open for conversation and action. Your input, as members of MLA, is what is fueling the journey. 

There is so much more to do to embed, engrain and elevate our work in equity, diversity and inclusion. We are in this for the long haul. We believe with our hearts and souls we will affect real change within the library field for generations to come.

Deborah E. Mikula 
Executive Director, Michigan Library Association


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