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Equity Leaders Roundtable: Baker & Taylor and Broward County Library

Kelvin And Aman Sharper

Q&A with Broward County Library's Kelvin Watson and Baker & Taylor's Amandeep S. Kochar

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Leading on race and social equity is a lifelong journey, requiring continuous conversation, reflection and action. In December 2020, ULC Corporate Partner Baker & Taylor helped to advance dialogue about anti-racism and social justice among library leaders by sponsoring the third session in ULC's Beyond Allyship Conversation Series, "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents — A Conversation with Isabel Wilkerson."

Building on the Beyond Allyship series and demonstrating the organization's continued commitment to this work, Baker & Taylor facilitated the following roundtable discussion between Broward County Library Director Kelvin Watson and Baker & Taylor Executive Vice President and General Manager Amandeep S. Kochar. Read below to learn insights from both on the evolving role of public libraries as essential race and social equity leaders, and how BCL and Baker & Taylor are working individually and together to elevate that role.

Why is it important for libraries to foster equity and inclusion?

Kelvin Watson (Broward County Library):
I feel that it is vital for libraries to foster equity and inclusion because libraries are our society’s great equalizer, a place — physically and digitally — where all are welcome and everyone’s ideas can be heard. Equity and inclusion are essential to nurturing, promoting and practicing intellectual freedom, which is at the core of everything public libraries do and believe. To encourage such freedom of thought, we must invite and include everyone.

Amandeep Kochar (Baker & Taylor):
Baker & Taylor has been privileged to partner with over 5,000 libraries over its 128-year existence. Libraries have evolved their collections and programming over the last 200 years, yet never deterred from their mission of promoting lifelong learning. From our viewpoint, libraries are a great equalizer in our society, whether it be a safe space for anyone to explore or for someone to further their career or to simply escape the reality of life with library books or programming. The trust that libraries enjoy from the public is unquestionable and that’s a derivative of the safe space they provide for the societal fabric to evolve and strengthen.

What steps have you taken to promote DEI in your organization?

Kelvin Watson (Broward County Library):
“Inviting the Uninvited” is Broward County Library’s philosophy and policy strategy and has been since I became director in 2017. “Inviting the Uninvited” is a call for inclusive and impactful library initiatives that leverage our creativity and our community partnerships to provide targeted services to specific, underserved populations and advance participants’ educational and professional opportunities.

These include programs for veterans, families living in poverty, the formerly incarcerated, people experiencing homelessness, minority business owners and entrepreneurs, English language learners and newcomers to our county and our communities. It also means inviting non-traditional library users by expanding opportunities that break down barriers and make it easy for everyone to access library services.

We accomplish that with award-winning initiatives like “Library Services on Air, Land and Sea,” which provides access to digital materials at satellite libraries at locations throughout the county including the airport, parks, schools and public transit. Our Project Welcome initiative uses library resources to support English language learners/newcomers to Broward on their path towards literacy, economic prosperity and a sense of belonging.

We also promote DEI at Broward County Library through our series of community forum events. These include the Stand Up Speak Out discussion series on social justice issues; the Director’s Book Club, which centers around timely, socially relevant titles; and Cultural Conversations at the Center, which features intellectually stimulating programs with thought and industry leaders, scholars, educators, filmmakers, artists and others whose work celebrates and illuminates aspects of Black history and culture.

Amandeep Kochar (Baker & Taylor):
At B&T, we have worked with libraries over decades to deeply immerse ourselves in their needs and ensure our collections and programming are a reflection of society. While B&T has been listing diverse content from publishers for decades, we took a more direct and poignant view of DEI and launched Kirkus collections in 2018. The extraordinary editorial and review skills at Kirkus allowed B&T to create a children’s and adult-focused curated collection centered around diversity. Each collections is built on lifestyle identifiers such as ethnicity, LGBTQIAP or disability and correlating that to:

  1. Identification: A book in which cultural identity informs characters/plot but is not the center of the plot.
  2. Inclusion: A book in which cultural identity is in the background.
  3. Learning: A book with a strong educational component that puts identity at the center.

This sort of interactive tool allows libraries to explore collections that have been specially curated but allows them to look at them from multiple lenses to create the best possible collections reflecting the needs of their community.

We’ve also launched a children focused SEL multi-access e-book collection with Highlights for Children, where each book comes with a weekly reading schedule and offline family activities to promote DEI and familial bonding. This program allows libraries to run remote children’s programming, which is imperative at this time.

Dan Ringo

Pictured: Dan Ringo's panel at Cultural Conversations at the Center discussing his new book, Airman to CEO: From the Boiler Room to the Boardroom with fellow veteran and Broward County Library Director Kelvin Watson. In honor of Veterans Day the two sat down and had a conversation about life after the military, creating successful career paths, and maintaining a commitment to a life of service.

Why is it important for libraries to partner with organizations that align with their mission to promote DEI?

Kelvin Watson (Broward County Library):
To achieve the goal of a more equitable society, it is crucial for libraries to form, nurture and strengthen partnerships with organizations that share a similar vision of DEI and how to achieve it. Partnerships such as those with corporations, nonprofits and other government agencies allow libraries to tap into new resources and extend their reach. They provide additional funding and support for educational, professional, personal and cultural enrichment programs that advance DEI in Broward’s communities and beyond.

One example is “Your ID is Your Key,” Broward County Library’s win-win collaboration with Broward County Public Schools, which provides all public school students with an instant digital library card that uses the student’s school ID number to provide access to the library’s digital collection. This was a lifesaver for parents and students during 2020’s social distancing remote learning.

Amandeep Kochar (Baker & Taylor):
When organizations and individuals come together to serve a common outcome, there is definitely non-linear synergy. At Follett and B&T, our purpose is to inspire learning and shape education which is a derivative of libraries’ mission to promote lifelong learning. This is perhaps the reason why B&T enjoys a worthy reputation and loyalty from our library partners.

African American Research Library & Cultural Center

Pictured: Facebook Live panel discussion on "COVID-19 & Black Businesses," presented by The African American Research Library and Cultural Center in collaboration with Broward County Black Chamber of Commerce.

How has Broward County Library and Baker & Taylor partnered to promote DEI?

Kelvin Watson (Broward County Library):
One of the key components of the “Your ID is Your Key” program was the inclusion of Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 digital library service for youth. We partnered with Baker & Taylor to provide Axis 360 to students in our community because the collection supplements school library collections, empowering students to become successful learners and lifelong readers. More than 84,000 digital cards have been issued and over 65,000 e-books for children and teens were checked out from Axis 360 between March and May 2020.

Amandeep Kochar (Baker & Taylor):
B&T and Broward have launched several programs, including the Community Share program. Community Share allows public libraries to share age appropriate e-books and soon e-audiobooks with the schools they support in the community.

Under the dynamic leadership of Kelvin at Broward, engagement in the Community Share program quickly grew through the 2018-19 school year. When COVID-19 first arrived in March of 2020, and remote learning became the norm for many schools, the Community Share program saw even greater use, increasing by 58%. By the end of the 2019-20 school year, there were over 83,000 students in the Community Share program.

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Kelvin Watson

Director, Broward County Library

Kelvin Watson oversees 38 locations and an approximately $70 million budget for the library system that serves 1.9 million people. Watson has made transformative changes in his more than three years with the system, leading ambitious and innovative initiatives that have positioned the Broward County Library as a community leader. The library has streamlined access to resources, introduced new technology and developed partnerships along with cultivating new collaborative relationships with internal agencies and external organizations. The Florida Library Association has recognized Broward County Libraries as the 2020 Library of the Year. Additionally, Watson was named 2019 Librarian of the Year by the Florida Library Association.

Beginning February 16, Kelvin will begin a new role as the Executive Director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District.

Aman Kochar

Amandeep S. Kochar

Executive Vice President & General Manager, Baker & Taylor

Aman Kochar is responsible for leading global public and academic library sales, supply chain, technology, partnership strategy and publisher relations and the overall P&L. Aman also takes on global product engineering and International Operations with dual accountability for Baker & Taylor and Follett School Solutions. Kochar joined Baker & Taylor in 2014, previously serving as McGraw Hill Chief Product Officer/SVP Product Development. Aman has a master's degree in business administration and a bachelor's degree in technology.