Round Rock Library

Inclusiveness – It’s What Libraries Are About

Written by: Edward Y., Adult Services Manager

In many cities, libraries have long provided community locations and resources that are intentionally arranged and developed to suit the needs and expectations of everyone in that area. This approach to public service means our facilities, policies, and various collections are setup to ensure access for all our neighbors, including folks who might in other circumstances typically be excluded or marginalized. The term for this perspective is inclusiveness, sometimes written as inclusivity, and in today’s library blog we’ll focus on one element of how libraries practice inclusivity – collection development.

Libraries have inclusivity built into their structure because of collection development (CD). CD is the fancy phrase that simply means: how does a librarian or her team decide what books and other media we offer on the shelves? Fundamentally, there are two variables that dictate what’s for checkout in the library, depth and breadth.

A very deep collection would have very few authors or genres available, but every title available from those few authors or all the books and movies made for that genre. Some comic book stores showcase this approach, where they may offer no items outside of comics, but have incredibly complete collection of all known comic titles and their complete back issues. This is extremely rare these days, as these stores have to offer more options to have a competitive business, but there’s a few still out there that are go-to spots because they are one stop shops for one particular kind of item.

Breadth is the opposite concept. An extremely broad library collection would have many, many authors available, and many genres represented, but only one or two titles of each of those authors or genres. WalMart is a perfect example of a broad item collection, everything you can think of is for sale, but only 1 or 2 versions of each type of item.

All libraries, whether public, academic, or school, wrestle with how to balance these two extremes. It’s easier to see how breadth directly endorses and supports inclusivity, because by the basic nature of having more genres, more topics, and more authors, a library helps insure broader representation. However, more subtly, depth also supports inclusivity, because an author may discuss a wide variety of topics over the arc of a career, and even more crucially, complex topics like race relations, homelessness, or wage gaps demand thorough readings of many different publications on the same topic. Including more perspectives, opinions, and arguments on one topic or by one author by default supports inclusivity too. So no matter where libraries settle in the Cartesian graph between these two points, as long as both are valued with collection development practices, inclusivity is supported. And why is inclusivity like this important? Two very general subjects contain all the specific reasons: empathy for our fellow citizens and practical benefits reaped by organizations that practice inclusivity.

Empathy gets a bad rap these days, with many folks in public discussions arguing, ‘why should I care about services that I personally don’t see a direct benefit from?’ But, for the unselfish out there, empathy towards the wants and needs of others makes sense. If a person considers how they would feel if denied opportunities to express themselves or enjoy life, they can see how it’s equally important for everyone. Plus, in justifying our own arguments and efforts to get what we want from life, we can only reasonably hope that opportunities will be there if others in our society have the same options and opportunities to get what they want/need. If opportunity only exists for the few, statistically it’s easy to see that you might not be the few, now, or eventually.

However, even if someone strongly disagrees with this perspective and believes that his or her own individual decisions and qualities are all it’ll take to insure a good future, that person can still logically welcome inclusivity from a purely selfish perspective. That’s because inclusivity is consistently demonstrated in objectively measurable ways to improve outcomes and incomes for every citizen of the country that improves its own inclusiveness standards. One organization worth recognizing that clearly proves this argument is the Othering and Belonging Institute. While one could perhaps question the quality of this nom de guerre, it is much tougher to deny the results of their impressive project, the Inclusiveness Index. They describe it as “…a holistic gauge of the degree of inclusivity experienced by marginalized groups across the globe and within the United States.”

With this diagnostic instrument, judging between how marginalized or included a minority or classically undervalued population is treated in their state/nation/society, it can be quickly shown how every nation that scores well in inclusiveness policies enjoys an equally high standard of living for all its citizens.

It’s worth mentioning that this Index takes into account: race, gender, sexuality, religion, and disability/ability. It also looks at incarceration rates, political representation measurements, and income inequality, using seven years of data collection to reveal clear trends. And the results are very consistent. The more a nation turns its policy-making focus towards improving inclusiveness, a corresponding and causal trend of overall economic and living standard improvements occur for that nation; all groups see their lives improve when marginalized peoples in their country see their paths to inclusion open up.

This is true even though the Inclusivity Index intentionally discounts GDP, which can make nations that do poorly with inclusivity actually look much better than they are as a society.

Inclusiveness helps participants realize that everyone has multiple identity factors in their mental makeup and background, and helps defeat ‘othering’, (seeing other people as significantly different from ‘your’ people) by revealing latent ties between us all through a fuller and more complete picture. They are still working on including other indicators in their scoring models, so the index will improve each year as more data is gathered.

Public policy and laws drive inclusiveness. Closing the gender gap and eliminating other marginalizing social barriers improve broader representation within government, which in turn improves that government’s responsiveness to all the major social concerns of their citizens, thus enabling a broader swath of their populace to contribute and deepen the strength of their economies and social cohesion. This in turn brings down crime rates, decreases household debt as all dwellers are more able to achieve finanancial independence, and etc.

So, after checking out this organization’s website and seeing more of what they’re about, please consider for a moment how every visit you make to the library is the opportunity to learn more about your community, your nation, and the ideas that affect us all. Everyone’s included at the library.

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