Library Develops More Representative, Anti-Racist Materials
By Tim Meehan
It may be slight hyperbole to say the United States changed forever in the summer of 2020.
It’s not an exaggeration, however, to say sometimes it takes a monumental event to create a revolution.
When the decision-makers within the California State University system watched events unfold that summer, they knew they had to create actionable events to respond to the great call of action coming specifically from young people. Hence was born Assembly Bill 1460, which, in conjunction with the state legislature, was signed in August 2020 and mandated that CSU students take ethnic studies as a graduation requirement.
That same summer, Cal State San Marcos’ library upped the ante by committing to develop library materials to be more representative and specifically anti-racist. And now the CSUSM library team is going even farther.
So far this year the library has acquired approximately 20 new digital information resources, many directly in support of the ethnic studies and American Indian studies curriculum. The material will go far to diversify the information, experiences and voices represented in the library’s collection.
“The library is moving beyond statements of support to action, and this includes coordinated work across the CSU system with the support of provosts,” said Jennifer Fabbi, dean of the CSUSM library.
Earlier this year, the university introduced its new strategic plan, “The Power of CSUSM.” The third goal of the plan is to achieve its vision through diversity, equity and inclusive excellence. The library’s work is an example of the university’s commitment.
“I am incredibly excited about the library's tangible commitment to developing our collections in ways that wholly represent the experiences and voices of communities and groups that have been historically underrepresented and marginalized in academia,” social sciences librarian Lalitha Nataraj said. “To me, this is a clear sign that we are moving toward a more anti-racist praxis.”
The collections include both historical documents and current content as the CSU system continues its work in becoming a progressive agent for positive change.
The biggest benefactor is the CSUSM student body. Much of the content will be made available locally for the first time, which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on students.
“Most of the new resources we have added include primary source documents, films and other resources created by and for marginalized communities, and much of the new content is not available anywhere but in these digital collections,” said Lauren Magnuson, the library’s head of collections, delivery and access. “For example, the Black Drama collection contains more than 1,700 plays written by more than 200 Black playwrights from around the world. Many of these works were previously unpublished, rare or no longer in print. Our access to this online collection allows CSUSM students and faculty to read and study these works and contribute to original scholarship that centers Black experiences and honors Black contributions to the history of drama.”
Thanks to money from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), the library was able to purchase access to these digital collections that go directly to support virtual teaching, learning and research. Additional funding came from the chancellor’s office – with support of the CSU provosts – following a vote of the CSU council of library deans after feedback was requested from campus faculty.
“These collections help situate students in historical and cultural moments where they have never been afforded an opportunity to see themselves,” Nataraj said. “These resources will facilitate self-reflection as well as beginning or extending vital scholarly conversations that will positively impact current and future generations by helping them feel validated within the academy.”
The library worked with the ethnic studies and American Indian studies departments when deciding which collections to pursue. A survey also was sent to all faculty early this spring to garner feedback and narrow down focus on what would have the greatest impact on students.
The new American Indian Histories and Cultures collection includes art and written work from the culture’s earliest contact with European settlers.
There is also a collection called Race Relations in America, which was an institute that investigated racial conflict and documented the fight for civil rights. It includes speeches, reports, surveys and analyses produced by the department and institute participants, including Charles S. Johnson and Thurgood Marshall.
“Actively working to center the experiences of those who have been excluded, marginalized and harmed through our shared history is essential to building CSUSM’s library collections and furthering CSUSM’s social justice mission,” Magnuson said. “CSUSM’s library collections need to represent the research interests and experiences of our students and faculty, all of whom have a right to see themselves and their communities represented when they do research with CSUSM library resources. It is critical for libraries to intentionally collect and preserve histories and narratives of people who have been excluded and marginalized from dominant culture, so that researchers can use them to surface and amplify voices that otherwise may not be heard.”
A dedicated group determined to provide impactful resources, the library also is planning community and campus oral history projects focused on campus community voices. A deep dive of the library’s print book collection also will occur to establish gaps to be filled.
A university library has long been a place for learning, a place to revisit the past to create a better future. Like bees pollinating to positively impact our environment, the new collections are expected to inspire learners to take their newfound knowledge from the CSUSM library and spread it into the world.
The pay-it-forward arena always has available seats.
“The library does not exist in a vacuum, inured to the structural inequities and systemic oppression that impacts Black, Indigenous and People of Color,” Nataraj said. “Our collections are organic, and library staff and faculty constantly update them to reflect the changing sensibilities of the world around us, including developing our materials to be more representative and anti-racist, addressing instances of racist language in our collections and catalog records, and analyzing our print collections to fill gaps.
“Being anti-racist is a collective responsibility on the CSUSM campus. Since the collections directly support the teaching mission of the university, the library also commits to creating co-curricular programming for the campus community on anti-racism, systemic oppression and similar topics.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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