Towson University Albert S. Cook Library
Building a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Foundation
by Joyce Garczynski
Located just north of Baltimore, Towson University (TU) is the second largest university in the University of Maryland system. The campus contains a single library, Albert S. Cook, and our 50 staff work diligently to meet the research needs of TU’s 20,000 students, 3,400 faculty and staff, as well as members of the surrounding community. As TU has prioritized creating a more diverse and inclusive campus, we have sought to contribute to meeting that priority by incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into our work. This profile details where we started, what we’ve accomplished so far, and what DEI initiatives are in development.
In 2009, we began our intentional efforts to support DEI by launching our Library Residency program. The first of its kind in Maryland, this program provides a new librarian from an underrepresented group with practical experience as a professional librarian and the opportunity to bring creative and fresh ideas to an academic library setting. Initially our Library Residency lasted two years with the first year featuring rotations through library departments and the second year devoted to a capstone project. In 2019, we expanded the program to three years and this has given the current resident, Myiesha Speight, additional time to learn about, develop, and contribute to a broad array of library initiatives. For example, Myiesha has chaired our library display committee and has led our transition to digital displays during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We believe that DEI is not just the responsibility of our Library Resident, but that all of our staff have more to learn and should participate in DEI-related professional development. To that end, our IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) Committee led an initiative for different individuals and groups to facilitate conversations about DEI concepts at our monthly staff meetings. These 20-minute interactive dialogues, called IDEA Sparks, have led to continued conversation about how we can be a more inclusive library.
One of our library’s greatest strengths in incorporating DEI into our work has been our events. We’ve also built partnerships with both campus and community groups in order to incorporate DEI into our outreach and programming. For example, we’ve partnered with TU’s Center for Student Diversity to host a Human Library program for the last four years. At a Human Library event, attendees engage in conversations with others to learn more about their identities. In fact, we pioneered transitioning the Human Library program to a virtual format during fall 2020.
We’ve also focused on incorporating DEI into our collections. In the last five years, we have undertaken a massive weeding project and we’ve removed over 52,000 outdated titles from our reference and circulating collections. We’ve also been more intentional about the resources that we purchase and have begun to incorporate DEI into our resource selection criteria. Education Librarian Miriam DesHarnais has focused on acquiring diverse materials for our children’s collection and has transformed it into an exemplar collection that is used by students in multiple programs. Her efforts are also being replicated by our other subject specialist librarians who are seeking to diversify our main collection.
In addition, Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) is working to diversify their collections and outreach. Because the University Archives is the repository of university records, many of their collections materials reflect the official administrative perspective. SCUA is working to diversify their holdings by actively reaching out to campus student groups to obtain their records. In addition, SCUA has partnered with TU’s Department of History, and the Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity to support the Unearthing Towson’s History Project. Two TU faculty and four students received funding from the Office of the President to be a part of this research project devoted to uncovering, understanding and explaining the history and experience of diversity at Towson University. The Unearthing Towson’s History Project has led to TU being included in the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, a multi-institutional collaboration focused in sharing best practices and guiding principles about truth-telling projects addressing human bondage and racism in institutional histories.
In order for our resources to be beneficial to our users, they must be accessible. As a result, we have invested staff time and other resources to making our online resources more readily available to more of our users. We have worked to reduce the number of PDFs on our website (they can cause problems for screen readers), provide alt-text for images so those with limited vision can still access the content. We’ve also partnered with information providers such as EBSCO, Atlas, SpringShare, Adam Matthew Digital, and LibraryH3lp to make their databases and other resources more accessible.
We view our previous efforts in staff development, programming, collections, and accessibility as just the beginning of our work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community. Our staff are working on increasing access to DEI professional development, how we can enhance recruitment and retention of employees of color, and how we can continue to strategically expand our work with community partners to create impactful events. Ultimately we hope that our current and future DEI work will enable those from marginalized communities to feel comfortable working and researching at our library.
Copyright 2021 by Joyce Garczynski.
About the author: Joyce Garczynski is the Assistant University Librarian for Development & Communications at Towson University’s Albert S. Cook Library. In this role she teaches journalism students about the research process, manages her library’s social media, and raises money for the library. She obtained her Master’s Degree in Library Science from the University of Maryland, College Park and has a Master’s in Communication from the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania. Joyce also has written two books: Fundraising: How to Raise Money for Your Library Using Social Media and Fundraising for Academic Libraries: A Practical Guide for Librarians