Library Leadership

91. Staff Equity and Inclusion Training: An Award-Winning Program with Rosy Wagner

How do we implement award-winning Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training in our libraries? On this show Rosy Wagner, Lifelong Learning Librarian for the Burlington County Library System, shares what her organization did to win the EBSCO Information Services Library Staff Development Award to do just this. It’s something from which we all can learn.

Transcript

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Adriane:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

How do we implement award-winning diversity, equity, and inclusion training in our libraries? On this show Rosy Wagner, Lifelong Learning Librarian for the Burlington County Library System, shares what her organization did to win the EBSCO Information Services Library Staff Development Award to do just this. It’s something from which we all can learn.  Enjoy the show!

Rosy, welcome to the show.

Rosy Wagner:

Thank you so much for having me. 

Adriane:

The Burlington County Library System is the 2021 winner of the prestigious EBSCO Information Services Library Staff Development Award. Congratulations!

Rosy Wagner:

Thank you, it’s really an honor.

Adriane:

Question #1: With this award your system is training staff in skills and techniques to foster more empathic and accessible services and spaces for patrons. Specifically, in equity and inclusion. As we start, can you tell us what made your library want to apply for this award opportunity? 01:32 

Rosy Wagner:

So, about a year ago I was supported by my director, Ranjna Das in creating an inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility task force which we refer to as the IDEA Taskforce and I wish I knew the origin of the acronym, but I don’t, but it’s a good one.

During our first couple of meetings we identified staff training as a priority for us. Most often organizations start their diversity and inclusion work by diversifying their external resources, but we recognized that not only is inclusive customer service integral to the user’s experience but we also wanted to offer our staff as many resources to develop or improve upon their relationship with empathy as possible. 

Unfortunately, as if often the case, and especially this year—funding was out of our reach. So, one of my task force members found the EBSCO grant, which was the perfect opportunity to bring in the training we’d been hoping for and we were overjoyed to receive the award.

Adriane:

Question #2: Will you tell us about the program that is being implemented with the award funds? 02:44 

Rosy Wagner:

Yes. So, we knew we wanted to hire a consultant and trainer, Lourdes Tango, to bring in her anti-bias training. She’s worked with libraries in New Jersey for over fifteen years and I’d had the privilege of receiving her training many years ago. It had actually made such an impact on me—it really planted the seed for the personal/professional growth I’ve undergone, and continue to work towards. So, her approach is to emphasize that no one of us is free from bias. The goal is not to eliminate bias, but to manage it. It’s a very accessible training, and I feel like it has value no matter how far along someone is on their journey to be more equitable and inclusive.

Adriane:

Question #3: I know Lourdes Tango has already conducted training sessions with your staff. How has this gone? 03:24 

Rosy Wagner:

It went so well. Most of our staff were able to attend, which was an achievement, as you know. Library staffing and scheduling can be tricky, especially right now. There was opportunity for personal reflection, prompts for attendees to share with the group, and activities for one-on-one conversation. So, it was very engaging. We had multiple sessions to accommodate everybody’s schedules. And, I attended all three of them in order to help manage the Zoom, and the break-out groups. Every single one of them helped me uncover something new about myself and my relationship to biases.

Adriane:

Question #4: Did you have any personal ah-hah moments during Lourdes Tango’s presentation? 04:02 

Rosy Wagner:

Absolutely. The reason they were ah-hah moments for me were specifically because I had been doing a lot of personal work around my own biases for a while. Not that I didn’t think I was going to learn anything, but I thought I was pretty aware of the ways these things show up for me. In one of the activities in the first session, I really—I really identified that as a parent I do have biases against the way other people parent their children. Not to say that I think I’m doing it the right way, but I hadn’t really thought about it before. As she was asking us to explore the kind of biases that show up for us day-to-day, I realized pretty clearly it’s not just about the big differences that exist between us, you know—race, gender, sexuality, but it does come down to those nuances of lifestyle. 

Now that I recognize that within myself I’m going to work really hard to mitigate that. Because, we all bring something different to the table. Just because someone makes a different decision than I would in one single moment, does not mean that we don’t have a lot of other things in common. And, it certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve my support, or appreciation.

Adriane:

Question #5: So, how are you going to measure the impact of the program? 05:31 

Rosy Wagner:

We started by serving our customers, and staff, in advance of the training. For our customers, we wanted their anonymous thoughts on how they feel the library supports them—specifically, if they’re members of a marginalized community. And for staff, we wanted a sense of how supported they feel by our organization, as well as their expectations for the training, and how comfortable they feel addressing microaggressions in the workplace.

We followed up with another staff survey immediately following the training. And, we will be serving the community again in a few months, as well as the staff, to see if there’s a marked change in the customer service experience, or a marked change in how the staff feels when addressing microaggressions, or generally about the library culture.

Adriane:

Question #6: That sounds like a great start. Do you have any advice for other libraries who might want to implement similar trainings? 06:15 

Rosy Wagner:

So, I know funding can be one of our most common barriers. But, not being able to pay out of the library’s budget for something like this should not be the thing that halts your efforts. Look at barriers as opportunities to find a more creative solution, or even opportunities to evaluate the system that’s in place that sets up the barrier. 

Staff training in general, and especially training that will improve your customer’s experiences of the library, and help staff feel supported should be on-going, in my opinion. We were so fortunate to find the EBSCO grant right when we needed it, but if we hadn’t then we’d look for financial support.

Adriane:

Question #7: What has the Burlington County Library System done to help level the playing field when it comes to implementing IDEA work? 06:53 

Rosy Wagner:

So, one of the first things we did as a task force was put together a resource list for the staff. We wanted to make sure that everyone had access to information that helped them understand why we’re making the changes we wanted to make. Everyone is coming from a different part of their journey and has a different understanding of it. So, we’re in the business of information and everyone feels more comfortable when they’re informed. 

We made lists of books, and podcasts. We made sure to put the time commitment that each one of those required along in the list just to give people the opportunity to know whether or not they were able to take it on. Just being able to give them the vote of confidence that, We trust you. We want you to have this information because we want you to be informed and we know that this is the way to go on the road towards empathy, which will ultimately not only benefit our customers, but your fellow staff as well.

Adriane:

Question #8: What advice would you give libraries that are experiencing a little resistance in implementing IDEA work? 08:02 

Rosy Wagner:

Definitely keep trying. It’s worth pursuing for the community that you serve. You need to look outside of the people you see every day, which actually we learned in Lourdes Tango’s training. It’s called proximity bias—when you favor the people that you see every day over the people you don’t see as often. It especially applies to the people that you see everyday that look like you, have similar life styles. Just because someone else’s experience of the world is different than yours doesn’t mean that you can’t come to see eye-to-eye on things. 

So, providing as many opportunities for people to grow as possible. And ultimately over time, if that becomes the central focus—if that’s really the center of your values then it will change the culture of your library. Therefore, it will change your relationship with the community.

So, even if it’s a bit of a struggle to get people onboard, there’s so many resources out there, and there’s so many major organizations now that are supporting this work, you can find a lot of statements from major library organizations all over the country, especially, ALA. It’s sort of—I’m going to say it’s necessary now. It’s necessary to get onboard with this. And, when you meet resistance you can even say simply, If you don’t feel like you’re a person who needs this work then there’s no harm in interacting with the material, because you’ll just be learning something you already know. 

I think people are afraid of examining harmful mindsets that they’ve held in the past and that’s okay. It’s okay to feel that way, but the sooner that you address the ways that you see the world that might be harmful towards others, the sooner you can work against them, and change the way that you serve the people around you.

Adriane:

Question #9: And, I know your organization did some work leading up to winning this award. What did that look like? 10:05 

Rosy Wagner:

The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Task Force did do presentations where we led guided discussions of the concepts that we work on with the management team, and then with our branch staff. So, we maintain that we are not experts in any of these things but we wanted to present information that we had found and ways to look at library services through that IDEA lens. 

So, first we had a couple of really great sessions with the managers where we talked about applying that lens to our programming, to our hiring, to our collection development— all those other corners of our jobs that can benefit from it. Then when we talked to the branches we zoomed out a little and we focused more on customer service and just the importance of centering the person that you’re talking to—remembering that they are a whole person with lived experiences, and they deserve to be treated with respect, and that we can’t assume anything about someone’s needs based on who we see when they walk through the door. So, getting those sessions out, those guided discussions out, leading up to this training felt like a nice level of groundwork for everyone.

Adriane:

Question #10: Is there anything else you’d like to share? 11:23 

Rosy Wagner:

Yeah, so training like this benefits all sides of your organization. I know that probably goes without saying, but I feel sometimes in certain spaces people are hesitant to bring training like this in because it’s almost like admitting there’s a problem. You might have staff or administration, or board members who are uncomfortable with introducing training like this because no one wants to admit that they have biases they need to work on. But, it’s worth that discomfort. Biases are natural and everyone has them, which is part of the training we received, and I imagine is part of most training like this.

The discomfort is where we learn, and we change, and we grow. And, prioritizing the inclusive treatment of marginalized user groups over the discomfort of the few staff, or stakeholders, will take your organization so much farther.

Adriane:

Question #11: Do you have a favorite management or leadership book or resource, and why? 12:10 

Rosy Wagner:

It’s not a management book, necessarily. But I feel like it is relevant, especially to people in leadership roles. It’s Burnout, by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. I think it’s a very important read. It is written primarily for cis women, so it isn’t going to be for everyone. Not only are the women who wrote it cis women, but the research that they use is centered around cis women, and mostly hetero women. 

But it does address how women are raised to be of service to others and how that can lead us to neglecting our own needs. They address what the stress cycle does to the body and why it’s a biological component of survival that no longer works in the modern world. And, how to manage not only the symptoms of stress, but the stressors themselves. It’s really helped me to pay attention to my own emotional and physical state and I’ve got so much better at putting up necessary boundaries or asking for what I need to stabilize myself. So, I can’t recommend this book enough.

Adriane:

Question #12: Rosie, in closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 13:07 

Rosy Wagner:

To me, libraries mean access. I was a teen librarian for ten years up until very recently. So much of what thrilled me about that role was connecting teens to library sources that empowered them. We can bridge the gap between home space and school space, allow them to experiment with learning tools, and experience growth opportunities in a low pressure way. And, that just doesn’t apply to teenagers, that really extends to all ages. 

I’m so inspired all the time by the innovative ways that libraries across the world are connecting their community members to resources, but even the simple structure of lending materials for free is access that almost no other type of organization in the world provides. We have the honor of being a necessary entity for many vulnerable members of our community and that is something that we should be committed to and take seriously.

Adriane:

Rosy, thank you so much for being here and for sharing your experience with winning the EBSCO Information Services Library Staff Development Award. It’s just fantastic and I’m so grateful to you for sharing this experience with us.

Rosy Wagner:

Thank you so much, again, this has been really lovely.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have monthly updates delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors.

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