National Day of Racial Healing 2022 - Library News

We in the Williams Libraries were honored to be joined online by Dr Kijua Sanders-McMurtry, the VP for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at Mount Holyoke College on Monday the 10th. Dr. Sanders-McMurtry spoke to us about Cultivating a Community of Care: Embracing a Liberatory Praxis as we begin to weave our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Plan into our overall strategic plan. Among the many things Dr. Sanders-McMurtry urged us to think about and act on, she told us to be visible, to be bold, and to participate in national movements, pointing to the National Day of Racial Healing as an event of which we, like many libraries, should be part.

The National Day of Racial Healing in 2022 is January 18th, and comes very soon after Dr. Sanders-McMurtry spoke to us; it also comes the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and just a few days before Williams own Claiming Williams. We didn’t have a lot of time to organize something so I am writing this report in the spirit of making our actions visible, but very aware that what is listed here is not enough. We need to continue to do more.

Each item here is necessarily brief. If you want to know more about any of the items listed here, please reach out to me or to your liaison librarian. We are also interested in ideas you have about how we, as your library, can tackle systemic racism in our librarianship, on campus, and in our society.


  • Hiring a diverse staff that reflects the diversity of campus – as a predominately white department, in a predominantly white institution, in a predominantly white region, we have a long way to go in this regard, but we rigorously review and rewrite our positions descriptions and job ads, actively recruit diverse applicants, and seek to limit bias in our searches.
  • The Lowe Fellowship, now in its fourth year, seeks to introduce special collections librarianship as a profession to Williams graduates from groups historically and currently under-represented in the profession.
  • Our Staff Development Committee continues to organize training and workshops for all library staff to develop an inclusive organizational culture and workplace.


  • Our Collection Development policy explicitly addresses diversity and inclusion in our collections.
  • During the pandemic, like other departments in the College, the Libraries collections budgets were cut. Collection Liaison librarians committed to preserving existing diversity of voice and difference in our collections as they implemented those cuts.
  • Our university press book approval plan has been focused on subjects that ensure diverse and marginalized voices are regularly added to our collections.
  • Special Collections has paid particular attention to diversifying materials acquired in the Special Collections, in both the Archives and the Chapin Library.
  • Starting a zine collection emerged in response to the dissemination of flyers with xenophobic, white supremacist, and anti-Semitic messages in Sawyer library in 2018. In the wake of this aggression, the library sought ways of ‘reclaiming the stacks’ by highlighting marginalized voices. Funded through one of the college’s Toward Inclusion Diversity and Equity (TIDE) grant, the zine collection is a way to affirm underrepresented identities.

Description and Discovery

  • Special Collections staff have undertaken reparative description of archival collections including materials that include offensive and harmful nomenclature, and discussed how to work with researchers who may need to engage with such materials.
  • After screening the film Changing the Subject at Claiming Williams in 2019, we used Primo normalization rules to enable access to materials about immigration and citizenship that sidelines offensive subject headings like “illegal aliens” embedded in national schema.
  • Librarians provided library instruction sessions for courses in Anthropology, Arabic studies and WGSS  discussing  the politics of library classification.
  • Catalogers in Williams Libraries are now planning to reclassify about 1,200 items that use N Cutter numbers, which have been in use since the mid 20th Century when the Library of Congress established cutters beginning with N to classify materials about African Americans.

Library spaces

  • With the help of our colleagues in Facilities in 2018 we were able to convert a set of previously gendered multi-stall restroom facilities in Sawyer Library into gender neutral facilities.
  • Since 2018 when the program enables it, the Libraries have been both sites of Claiming Williams events and library staff have also organized Claiming Williams events.
  • Now in its third year the Student Art in the Libraries Program enables us to acquire  work from the Senior Studio Art Exhibit. By focusing on artists whose voices have been historically marginalized on campus we have been able to permanently display works by Black, Latina, and Indigenous student artists in the Libraries.
  • Our programs of exhibits in Sawyer, Schow, and in Special Collections have paid particular attention to foregrounding historically marginalized voices on campus.


  • In 2020 we organized a Minority Vendor Taskforce that proposes specific recurring transactions that can be directed to Minority Owned Enterprises, with a focus on Black-owned businesses. So far we have directed paper purchases and some book purchases to such businesses and the task force is looking for more.
  • In our FY23 budget proposal we have proposed that we double our events and outreach budget with the increase being focused directly on events and outreach that increase the diversity and inclusiveness of our programming.

Some of these are small, some will only bear fruit in the future, and many should have been done a long time ago, but as Dr. Sanders-McMurtry also told us,  nothing is too small in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are interested in your ideas about what we in your libraries can do to advance racial healing in our society and on our campus. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

Jonathan Miller, Director of Libraries