Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

DEI at Yale Library: Message from the University Librarian

July 20, 2021

When I joined Yale University Library in July 2020, I pledged to put equity, diversity, and inclusion (DEI) at the heart of all we do. A year later, I see this work as even more critical and central to the library’s mission. Yale Library’s commitment to DEI is longstanding, and we continue to move forward—but we have a long journey still ahead.

A key resource for me in my first year has been the Advisory Committee on Library Staff Diversity and Inclusion. With the committee’s assistance, we have finalized and now are implementing an action plan for recruiting and retaining a more diverse staff. As part of this effort, we have engaged to provide inclusive management training to all of the library’s managers and supervisors. This training program is critical for our ongoing efforts to ensure that our community is respectful and nurturing for all, that our spaces are welcoming, and that our services and programs fully meet the needs of our library users. 

Over the past 300 years, Yale Library has accumulated and preserved extraordinary collections that represent a vast diversity of the human experience. Our collections power teaching and learning, inspire research, and galvanize thinking on questions of the day through exhibitions, social media, and other forms of public outreach. Increasingly available and preserved in digital form, the collections support scholarship worldwide.

Students’ immersion in library collections and engagement with our staff and services are distinctive and transformative elements of a Yale education. We recognize that service to the Yale community is our top priority, and this goal drives us to be better in every way. To fully support Yale’s educational mission, we must also strive to make our collections as discoverable and accessible as possible to research communities at Yale and beyond, and particularly to communities whose heritage may be represented in the collections.

We are currently engaged in a broad review and revision of our Collection Development Philosophy, to be completed in the next few months. The goal of this work is to ensure that as we continue to add to and manage our collections, we will take into full consideration systemic inequities and bias and underrepresented views and experiences. 

Another milestone in our efforts to make collections more accessible and inclusive is the recent appointment of Michelle Light as Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Director of the Beinecke Library. 

As an institution of great privilege, we are part of a system that has benefited from and perpetuated societal inequity and injustice. Grappling with this legacy includes recognizing that the descriptive language used in our archival records is far from neutral. The library’s Reparative Archival Description Working Group has developed a Statement on Harmful Language in Archival Descriptions to help guide the library in making the language in our finding aids, catalog records, and metadata more inclusive and respectful, and to weed out racist, sexist, colonialist, homophobic and other offensive or hurtful terms.

Yale Library is a constellation of collections, spaces, technology, and people. In all these areas, there is potential for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. In the coming months and year, I look forward to working with colleagues across the library and the university to build out this Web page with a fuller picture of our aspirations, efforts, and activities related to DEI. Like the critical DEI work we seek to move forward, this Web page is very much a work in progress. Please check back for updates and new information.

—Barbara Rockenbach, Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian