Being welcoming and accessible — and above all, helpful — to the diverse communities we serve is a challenge librarians wholeheartedly accept. However, making this a reality calls for dedication, planning, and a creative use of resources. The Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET) offers a number of resources that support the mission of providing service to a wide variety of patron groups. In addition to offering classes that build on different professional skills, SOLINET keeps an eye open for the best practices and approaches in librarianship to meet the needs of a wide variety of populations.

For example, SOLINET offers a number of sessions to help deepen and update those collections and services focusing on African-American communities. One such session is " Reference Resources for African-American Research " ( /workshops/ws_details.cfm? doc_id=3301&WKSHPID=26RSAA ), which assists patrons in finding and using primary and secondary historical resources on the Internet. " Employee Diversity " ( /workshops/ws_details.cfm ?doc_id=3615&WKSHPID=26ED ), coming to Virginia Commonwealth University in June, covers all aspects of employee diversity and how to appreciate and handle differences.

Teens as a group can be a challenge to serve and, as librarians, we're not always sure what to do for them and how. " Serving the Underserved: Helping Library Staff Work with Teens " ( ) uses real-world examples to demonstrate how to design better young adult programming and build better young adult collections. " Adolescence 101 " ( ) teaches what experts are saying about teens, the issues and challenges they face, and the types of teen programs and services that resiliency researchers say really make a difference. " Keeping Up with Pop Culture " ( WKSHPID=26KPC ) is a must because of the huge influence current fads have on young people and the way teens approach information, schoolwork, leisure time, and their lives.

Woman at desk.

Books are a powerful resource for helping people overcome the challenges and problems of life. " Helping with Books: The Value of Bibliotherapy " ( ) teaches how to use "book therapy" to help children, teens, adults, and the elderly cope with developmental issues. For example, the angst of divorce and stepfamilies, bullying, the aging process, making choices, and other fearsome life events can all be alleviated using knowledge gained with bibliotherapy. The Internet is also a rich source, but other challenges can make Internet access difficult or impossible for some. " Web Accessibility: Addressing Disabilities and Other Barriers " ( ) shows how librarians can evaluate their library's existing website for accessibility; the course also teaches design techniques for creating webpages that can be readily accessed by most users.

Talking the Talk — en español

" Services to the Hispanic Community " ( ), "Collection Development for Hispanic Populations" ( ), and " Reference Resources: Hispanic Materials " ( ) are classes that assist in enriching collections and meeting the information needs of Hispanic/Latino populations. These sessions teach the importance of knowing Hispanic/Latino cultures as a means of identifying patron needs and developing policies that correctly guide collection building, access, and maintenance. " Spanish Language for Library Staff " ( ) teaches culture and communication styles and provides basic library terminology to better serve Spanish-speaking patrons.

… the angst of divorce
and stepfamilies,
bullying, the aging
process, making choices,
… can all be alleviated
using knowledge gained
with bibliotherapy.

In addition, SOLINET teaches some of its classes and provides some of its materials in Spanish. SOLINET's Preservation Services has two such classes available. Libraries interested in these classes may contact Preservation Services Director Tina Mason at or call (800) 999-8558 ext. 4894. " El Cuidado de Sus Colecciónes: Una introducción a temas de preservación " ( ) promotes preservation practices to ensure the longevity of collections and circulating materials. " Preparación para Prevenir Desastres " ( ) is the Spanish-language version of SOLINET's critically acclaimed "Disaster Prevention" class, which promotes general prevention practices but focuses primarily on measures, plans, and resources for libraries and archives located in disaster-prone areas such as the hurricane corridors in the Southeast and the Caribbean. Many of the translated course materials are available for free on the Preservation Services publications page ( ).

Large group of people.

HBCU Library directors and deans at the 2002 Founding Conference of the HBCU Library Alliance.

One such available publication is the 2002 online Spanish---language edition of Michael Trinkley's hurricane survival guide ( ). ¡Huracán! Como Sobrevivir la Gran Tormenta is a basic working document for museum curators, librarians, and archivists charged with the task of preserving collections in areas visited by hurricanes and other violent storms. Its focus is on surviving a hurricane through appropriate planning, with sections on hurricane-resistant building design, structural retrofits to improve survivability, necessary supplies, and actions to take prior to, during, and after a storm. Much of SOLINET's membership is in the hurricane corridor, and the 2005 hurricane season certainly demonstrated the value of such a working guide.

Collection Development

Hard copy or digital? In the library or at home? Whatever the format or delivery method, library collections have to meet the needs and interests of diverse communities. SOLINET's Program Management & Development (PM&D) staff is constantly assessing and reassessing new and established resources. PM&D seeks out vendors of databases and ebooks that focus on diverse cultural offerings — among them Alexander Street Press, the Brown University Women Writers Project, and a LexisNexis series called "Primary Sources." SOLINET's NetLibrary Shared Collections are another good source for enhancing ebook collections. OCLC's FirstSearch databases are also an excellent source of materials about and for populations that enjoy little notice or support in the mainstream. Some of these FirstSearch databases include Alternative Press Index, ATLA Religion, Clase and Periódica, Contemporary Women's Issues, PAIS International, and Index to Legal Periodicals and Books. In addition to providing materials of interest to underserved populations, FirstSearch makes it possible for libraries to provide remote, full-text information to patrons who may not otherwise be able to access it.

… the 2005 hurricane
season certainly
demonstrated the value
of such a working guide.

OCLC also offers a number of other valuable e-resources:

  • WorldCat Resource Sharing (ILL) allows libraries to obtain items from participating libraries throughout the world, providing access to unlimited resources for a very diverse population. Even though they could never purchase materials to cover all possible peoples and cultures, libraries can still obtain them via ILL.
  • OCLC Language Sets ( ) help libraries buy collections in foreign languages even though no one on staff speaks those languages. The purchase includes catalog records as well, so that patrons can find the materials in the online catalog in their own languages.
  • Open WorldCat ( ) makes the library known and available to folks who use Google or Yahoo!, including those who would not have otherwise thought to visit the library.
  • CONTENTdm ( ) provides libraries with a tool to put media (historical documents, photos, monographs, etc.) that might otherwise be hard to find online so that anyone can access them. There has been a lot of interest in this among Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) for putting black history collections online.
  • WebJunction ( ) gives librarians and library staff a way to keep in touch with issues in which they may not have expertise. WebJunction helps librarians serve a more diverse population by seeking advice and support on these topics (mostly technology-related) from peers worldwide.

All of the e-resources available from SOLINET are categorized for easy searching in the SOLINET database index ( ). And SOLINET staff members are ready to assist with selection and support at the member services help desk (email or call (800) 999-8558).

HBCU Library Alliance: The SOLINET Connection

In the interest of promoting, developing, and supporting the leadership role of librarians within the HBCU community and of preserving and making accessible the cultural heritage of the African-American community, SOLINET provides financial and administrative support to the HBCU Library Alliance ( ). The founding conference in 2002 was an event of historic proportions, bringing together 100 of the country's 103 HBCU library directors. Six Virginia HBCU libraries are among the membership. The HBCU Library Alliance is conceived and led by SOLINET board members Loretta Parham, formerly of Hampton University and now director and CEO of the Robert W. Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center, and Janice Franklin, director of the Levi Watkins Learning Center of Alabama State University.

In January 2005, SOLINET and the HBCU Library Alliance received a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to provide professional development opportunities for librarians in HBCUs. The focus of the two-year project is to create a culture of leadership within the library staff, strengthen that leadership within the HBCU library community, and integrate library services into campus programs for teaching and learning. Lillian Lewis, based at SOLINET, is the HBCU library alliance program officer. Lewis is responsible for the operation of the alliance and for coordinating and conducting the HBCU Library Alliance Leadership Program. Elsie Stephens Weatherington, dean of library and media services, and Tessa Perry, associate librarian of technical services, both for Virginia State University, took part in the Pilot Institute in June 2005. Hampton University's Library Director Gladys Bell and Peabody Librarian Sherin Henderson participated in Institute I of the leadership program.

In September 2005, SOLINET and the HBCU Library Alliance published an assessment of the state of HBCU libraries. Produced with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, The State of Libraries at Historically Black Colleges and Universities describes levels of support for and services from HBCU libraries and compares it to that for other peer academic libraries in the U.S. It offers a baseline for future comparison among HBCUs and between HBCUs and non-HBCUs, as well as data that can be used to strengthen libraries at HBCUs individually and as a group. The report is available on SOLINET's website ( ) and on the HBCU Library Alliance website ( ).

Two men in suits.

In February 2006, SOLINET, in partnership with the HBCU Library Alliance and the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL), received a $20,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a pilot test of an exchange program for librarians from HBCUs. The pilot will place librarians from HBCUs at five ASERL libraries for two weeks during the summer of 2006. The match between each librarian and the institution is based upon the librarian's strategic focus and the expertise of the ASERL institution in that area. SOLINET continues to play a supporting role, but the HBCU Library Alliance has a proud and significant life of its own.

National Diversity in Libraries 2004 Conference in Atlanta

On another order of magnitude was SOLINET's role in cosponsoring, along with ASERL and the HBCU Library Alliance, the May 2004 National Diversity in Libraries Conference in Atlanta. Record-breaking attendance and a broad spectrum of session topics resulted in an energetic, inspiring, and fruitful event. Sixteen librarians from nine different libraries in Virginia were among the nationwide participants.

African-American group in fron of table.

The African-American staff at SOLINET.

Raymond Santiago, director of the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida ( ), commented in his keynote speech on the three main conference tracks. He defined staff diversity as the first recognition of diverse user populations and collection development as a balancing act between Dewey and ethnicity. With respect to access, Santiago argued against the trend toward regional concentrations and called for reintroducing the small neighborhood library. Closing speaker Francine Henderson, administrator of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture & History in Atlanta ( ), hailed the connections librarians have today that were lacking in the 1970s. "What brings a person to uphold and promote diversity," she said, "is not statistics. It is our discovery of other cultures — that there are other people out there, with all their vitality and dynamism. And how do we learn about these other cultures? By hanging out, by being in their midst." Barbara Dewey, president of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries and a longtime member of ARL's Diversity Committee, was very pleased with the results: "This was the first time in this series of conferences that we included librarians from all types and sizes of libraries — not just ARL members — which contributed greatly to the sense that we can achieve very real results through collaboration with partners on many levels. I think diversity is important for all libraries, and I'm very happy to see such widespread interest and support among my colleagues."

Gay and lesbian group at table.

SOLINET's gay and lesbian staff and friends.

On the Home Front

SOLINET promotes and celebrates diversity on the home front as well — in hiring and promotion, of course, but also socially. To celebrate Black History Month each February, SOLINET's African-American staff put together a festive and informative month-long exhibition of the history and achievements of Americans of African ancestry, culminating in a beautifully presented (and eagerly anticipated) feast of traditional Southern/African-American fare, fondly known as the Soul-to-SOL luncheon.

Later in the year, SOLINET staff dedicate Gay & Lesbian Pride Month to promoting the humanity and dignity of the women and men throughout history whose sexuality has placed them outside the mainstream and who deserve to be accepted as "us" rather than "them." The observation includes weekly films devoted to gay issues and intranet snapshots of known and unknown gays and lesbians and their contributions in all spheres.

It is SOLINET's ongoing mission and vision to participate with the library community in upholding and popularizing cultural diversity. Libraries are the repositories of the cultural and social histories and traditions of the peoples of the world. Just as we seek to preserve these cultures, so we support and promote them. That is our goal. VL

Sara Swain is a veteran of the civil rights and women's liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s and was a writer/editor for Womankind, a pioneering national publication. She continues to be an activist on behalf of communities that experience oppression and discrimination. She has been at SOLINET for more than seven years, where she serves as writer/editor. "It is my greatest pleasure to be employed by and work in the service of librarians, a community of men and women in the forefront of the struggle to maintain our First Amendment rights and to demonstrate diversity and equality in practice."