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VIVA: Member Spotlight EDI: W&L

Virginia's Academic Library Consortium

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Approaches to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: 

Washington & Lee University

What would you like to share about EDI work done at your library or at your institution?

We started focusing on EDI work in the summer of 2020 and have continued to include it in our annual strategic goals for FY21 and FY22, both as a stand-alone section and “baked in” to other goals. While we have done a lot of little things across the library’s purview, four initiatives in particular stand out:

  • Over the summer of 2021 a small team of library faculty and staff worked with Tina Rollins from Hampton University and Toni Olivas from the University of California at San Marcos to develop an “The University Library’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.” This working document is intended to lay out the principles of DEI for the library and to provide a guiding outline of areas for improvement over the next few years. We created it as a way of focusing efforts on non-performative communication and action. This work started with internal conversations in June 2020 and preparatory work over the 2020/21 year; we expect to share the commitment with the campus and library community in 2022.

  • As a direct response to the 2020 murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the protests that followed, we created a guide to “Race, Racism, and Anti-racism” resources in the library ( This work was done with campus partners including the Office of Inclusion and Engagement and the Law Library. We won a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund to purchase e-books for the guide, which dramatically improved our holdings in this area. Collection development and sharing work continues:

    • In the fall of 2020 this guide expanded to include readings for the First Year Reading Program, which focused on articles by Ibram X. Kendi in The Atlantic partnered with relevant local articles and manuscripts.

    • In the summer of 2021 we coordinated a resource guide for the community Juneteenth celebration that included resources from Washington & Lee, Virginia Military Institute, Rockbridge Regional Library, and the Rockbridge Historical Society ( The creation of this guide also prompted purchasing new materials for the collection, this time from the operating budget.

  • The library pursued and won two subcontract grants in the summer of 2021, both with VIVA colleague institutions as the primary investigators: ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

    • The first, On these Grounds: Slavery and the University, is a Mellon-funded project intended to create and share an ontology for describing archival holdings relevant to enslaved peoples at academic institutions ( Colleages at UVa are part of the core team; we joined this fall as testing partners. As one of the oldest institutions in the country, and given our continuing ties to the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War, we feel a responsibility to interrogate Washington and Lee’s history as enslavers and enslaved. This project allows us to discover and describe our own collections while helping further the larger work of historical analysis of the time period.

    • The second, Leading the Charge: Advancing the Recruitment, Retention, and Inclusion of People of Color Within the Library and Information Science Field, is an IMLS-funded project focused on creating and assessing several different initiatives ( in different contexts. Hampton University holds the primary grant; our initiative is the development of an internship and recruitment materials aimed at recruiting undergraduates of color to pursue graduate work in library science.

  • Like many of our colleagues across the state, Washington and Lee has one main library built during the brutalist design boom of the late 1970s. We have been working with student and student affairs partners to rethink spaces to maximize accessibility and the sense of welcome. This has included small changes like redefining study areas with repurposed furniture, assessing carrel policies from using an equity lens, creating new signage and wayfinding materials, buying new “happy lamps” to counter SAD, rethinking our book and exhibit display policies, and replacing portraiture with modern art by diverse artists. Our Library Student Advisory Board, which includes student work-study staff and library enthusiasts, has been a wonderful source of ideas about making the library more inclusive and welcoming. WLUnite, a new group for disabled students, has been a great partner in rethinking accessibility in the library.

What are your library and/or institutional plans for future EDI efforts?

For the most part we will be leaning on the Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion to guide our next steps. The draft plan lays out potential and current initiatives in six broad areas: staff training, physical spaces, collections, outreach, and programming. We are working to add two additional areas for pedagogy and hiring and retention.

The past 18 months have held many challenges and changes. How have you grown and learned to do things better? Were there initiatives that didn’t go as you had planned or things you would do differently in the future?

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned is that this work takes time, effort, and good ties with the college and community stakeholders. We have had good success reaching out to campus partners, but also recognize that they are likewise living through a pandemic and social upheaval. I think we expected to have the commitment plan done in six months – a goal that quickly became unreasonable once the overwork inherent to the fall semester started. The initiatives that were built into the standard workload or processes of an individual or group were more successful than ones that were add-ons. Having learned this, we’re interested in rethinking how we identify and implement new initiatives so that they don’t present new work for someone.

Luckily, we have not had much pushback on our initiatives from campus. We have been careful to align them with work being done at the campus and state level, which has helped us get support from campus partners and administrators. The W&L Library does not have a lot of racial or ethnic diversity among its full-time staff and faculty. We have compensated for this by listening to the much more diverse Library Student Advisory Board and friends among the faculty and staff, and by hiring consultants to guide us more formally.