On Monday, I went to the annual one day conference of the Librarians’ Association at UNC-Chapel Hill (or LAUNC-CH, pronounced “launch”). This is a reliably informative and inexpensive commuter conference in a pleasant facility. I generally recommend it. This year’s theme was “Library Spaces Reimagined,” and most of the presentations aligned with this general idea. The sessions covered a range of topics, including a keynote by library architects Victor Vines and Jeff Schroeder of Vines Architecture talking about how they go about working on libraries.
Among the most interesting sessions I attended was a presentation by Patrick Rudd and Jennifer L. Smith of Elon University, who spoke of how they conducted a needs assessment to create a more inclusive library in order to better serve underserved populations on campus. They began with focus groups of students, discussing issues of race and gender in library spaces. They will be doing a second focus group with international students this semester, and have a third focus group with library staff involvement in the fall of 2019.
This short session was paired with another session by Joyce Chapman and Kelli Stephenson of Duke University, called “The Libraries as a Safe and Inclusive Space.” They looked at a biennial campus wide survey which, among other questions, asked students if they feel emotionally and physically safe. They found that 37% of white students strongly agreed that they felt safe on campus, while only 20% of black students strongly agreed. When asked about feeling safe at the library, that number jumped to 61% for white students, but only rose to 50% for black students. The survey found roughly similar disparities when comparing men to women and non-first-generation students to first-generation students. Among the comments collected from survey respondents, two stood out. One was to the effect that if the university as a whole is unsafe, the library can only be so safe, even if it is better. The other comment was basically that if the library wants to be a safe space, it could say so (with signs, decorations, etc.). With this info in hand, and influenced by the second comment, the Duke Libraries set up a working group to develop a statement about safe spaces in the library to be publicized and shared.