Penn Libraries has launched a new initiative to help make sure students from all backgrounds see themselves represented in the libraries.
As part of the program, known as "Diversity in the Stacks," Penn Libraries has been expanding its collections that represent minority groups who are part of Penn's student body. Penn Libraries has also started a series of monthly blog posts to highlight diverse aspects of the libraries' collections, including East Asian comics, LGBT film, and Latin American ethnohistory. The goal is to make libraries more accessible and inviting for all community members.
"I think the initial idea was in response to research from students that research libraries can be intimidating, especially if they haven’t used large academic libraries or research libraries before,” said Mary Ellen Burd, Penn Libraries’ director of strategic communications.
Engineering freshman Hannah Gonzalez, an international student from Mexico, said she felt intimidated when first visiting the library at Penn because she did not see many titles she recognized.
“I feel I would be more represented if I go to the library and saw a book I read in high school or something like that, with a title I would recognize,” Gonzalez said. “If [students from minority backgrounds] don’t see themselves represented, they might feel intimidated or not go to the library as much as someone who felt represented would go."
In response to student research on this topic, Burd said, Associate University Librarian for Collections Brigitte Weinsteiger and about a dozen other librarians began working on "Diversity in the Stacks" to make sure all students see themselves reflected in the collections.
The librarians have added books that are winners of 67 literary prizes in diverse categories of fiction, Burd said. They have also added recent literature in various languages and in English translation, comic books and graphic novels in different languages, and subscriptions to news media sources in languages other than English.
Burd said the team took feedback from students to determine which collections to expand.
"[We heard] a number of requests from students that we develop a comic book or graphic novel collection in various languages, so that’s something that actually happened over the last few years," Burd said. "We have developed that collection, which is growing."
Burd added that the team also looked to add more diverse fiction because studies have shown reading fiction leads people to be more empathetic.
To help students learn about the initiative, Penn Libraries plans to release monthly blog posts to highlight specific aspects of the collections.
“It’s one thing to put together a collection, but you need to let people know that it’s there," Burd said. "That’s how the idea for the blog posts came about.”
The first blog post, released Sept. 24, focused on Afrofuturism, or the movement of black writers to address racial issues through science fiction. Penn Libraries plans to release about 24 blog posts over the next two years.
“We’re continually striving to make the libraries more welcoming and it’s our core mission across the board to provide knowledge to all Penn community members,” Burd said.
College junior Zahra Elhanbaly, a board member of the Penn Muslim Students’ Association, agreed that representation in libraries is important.
“The library is essential to Penn," Elhanbaly said. "Everybody goes to or has been to Van Pelt. It's one of the buildings that ties all of the schools together, so it’s very important that it does something like that."
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