Simmons University Library Receives National Award in Recognition of DEI Efforts

Students seated at tables in the Simmons University Library

The Simmons University Library today announced it has received the 2024 Library Excellence in Access and Diversity (LEAD) Award from Insight Into Diversity magazine, the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education. The LEAD Award honors academic libraries’ programs and initiatives that encourage and support DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) across their campus. These include, but are not limited to research, technology, accessibility, exhibitions, and community outreach. Simmons University will be featured, along with 55 other recipients, in the March 2024 issue of Insight Into Diversity magazine.

“Our DEI work is informed by the University’s mission, vision, and values,” says Library Director Vivienne Piroli. “The library looks to support those values through teaching and learning, inclusivity and accessibility, sustainability, and professional engagement. That’s our foundation.”

Insight Into Diversity magazine recognized Simmons University Library’s efforts to support diverse collections, practices, and events, as well as recruiting, retaining, and advancing a diverse library staff. These efforts include a collaboration with the Trustman Gallery to display artwork by local BIPOC visual artists, working with an external consultant on anti-racist collection and policy development, and accepting and processing records from the League of Women for Community Service (LWCS) and the Greater Boston Association of Black Social Workers Inc. The work of creating a diverse collection and increasing access is ongoing, but Piroli can already see the benefits. “These are collections that will be available to researchers, extending the reach of these organizations while also underscoring the value of the content.”

Moreover, DEI-rooted initiatives shape and curate the Library’s collection. “In recent years, we’ve established a Zine collection,” says Piroli. “The Zines are largely focused on women-centered topics, which aligns with the University, and spotlight [the work of] marginalized communities. Students have created Zines for the collection, and they are available to anyone who wants to read them.”

In the course of renovation, the Library has added accessibility features to assist students of different abilities, including the creation of a low-sensory study room for students with sensory processing disorder, and digitizing print books for use with screen readers. The library website, including its research guides, underwent an accessibility audit to attain a high level of accessibility. The DEI focus influences how library staff see their work as collectors of material and finding ways for patrons to access that material. “There is a fairly rapid and sustained shift to electronic access,” says Piroli. “Digitization projects are always front and center. We’re looking into the notion of controlled digital lending of materials that may not be originally digital, digitizing these and allowing our students to borrow specific chapters or articles. This is especially important for our online and hybrid students, in order to create an equitable experience whether students are on the ground or remote.”

The Library’s signature DEI achievement is the Library Fellowship Program, which offers five full-time library staff positions to students in traditionally underrepresented groups in the library and information science field. In addition to salary and benefits, fellows receive full tuition remission to attend Simmons University School of Library and Information Science (SLIS). “The students can overcome the barrier of affordability to get their Master’s in Library and Information Science. And they can connect their staff positions with what they are learning in class.” Simmons welcomed the first cohort of Fellows in 2022, and currently has five positions filled. SLIS is working to expand the program, with fellows serving full-time positions at other libraries while attending SLIS.

“It’s also important to remember that we’re not a stand alone library,” notes Piroli. “We are collaborating with the Fenway Library Organization [FLO] on social justice issues and providing greater access to content for all our patrons. FLO supports member libraries through collective purchasing for subscriptions and implementing open source library services platforms to benefit libraries and their users. This is being put together by librarians, for librarians. That level of collaboration benefits libraries and patrons.”

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Alisa M. Libby