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ULC Is Speaking Up for Social Equity

By ULC President and CEO Susan Benton

Last month, ULC was honored to partner with the National League of Cities to host a webinar about the critical work of NLC’s Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) Program, which educates and empowers local leaders to address racial inequity in their communities. REAL Program Director Leon Andrews shared his view that libraries are uniquely adept at teaching people to become "comfortable with being uncomfortable," and to open their minds and hearts to diversity in their communities. ULC couldn't agree more. Embracing the "uncomfortable" — remaining receptive to new ideas, asking hard questions and navigating uncharted paths — is a guiding principle of 21st century libraries, and one of their greatest strengths as leaders in the fight for race and social equity.

This month also offers a vital opportunity for libraries to learn from each other and forge stronger partnerships to advance race and social equity in their communities year-round.

This February, libraries across the U.S. and Canada will engage their communities in thought-provoking discussions and activities as they celebrate Black History Month. These programs will help participants of all walks of life learn more about African American history and culture, as well as the systemic issues in our societies that continue to exacerbate racial inequity. This month also offers a vital opportunity for libraries to learn from each other and forge stronger partnerships to advance race and social equity in their communities year-round.

As Black History Month begins, ULC is excited to launch a special communications campaign aimed at helping library leaders discover, discuss and rethink ways they can foster greater equity in their work. Across our social media channels, we are inviting our followers to #TakeAPageFromLibraries and consider how they can learn from examples of strategies, tips and tactics that libraries are implementing to create a more just world for us all. Through weekly blog posts, we will feature the voices of innovators who are driving groundbreaking social equity initiatives at our member libraries and allied organizations. Finally, we will send out and share the results of a new Flash Poll to gauge our member community’s progress in reducing racial and social disparities.

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ULC is proud to support libraries in all that they do to foster understanding and inclusivity. Our commitment to advancing equity spans each of our initiatives and strategic focus areas — education, digital inclusion and healthy, sustainable communities. Some key examples include:

  • To date, 142 public library systems have signed our Statement on Race and Social Equity and used it as a foundation to create more equitable policies and actions.
  • Our collaboration with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to elevate the role of libraries as entrepreneurial hubs focuses especially on understanding and meeting the needs of women, people of color, immigrants and veterans.
  • Our interactive Fine Free Map raises awareness of the disproportionate impact of overdue fines on traditionally underserved communities, and how libraries can reduce key access barriers by rethinking their fine policies.
  • Our annual Innovations Initiative showcases creative solutions that libraries are using to address race and social equity, and inspires libraries across the world to better serve their communities.

We encourage all our members and supporters to actively show us how we can do better to fulfill that promise — and to join us in celebrating the strides we will make together this Black History Month, and on the road ahead.

As an organization, ULC upholds our commitment to equity by championing diversity within our governance and member community. Between 2010 and 2018, representation of African American, Latinx and Asian individuals increased 19 percent across ULC's Executive Board and by six percent among directors of member libraries. Looking ahead, we are committed to welcoming an even greater range of voices in our conversations, decision making and storytelling. We encourage all our members and supporters to actively show us how we can do better to fulfill that promise — and to join us in celebrating the strides we will make together this Black History Month, and on the road ahead.