The University of Denver’s academic libraries defend the rights of all members of the University of Denver community to read, to seek information, and to speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Penrose Library also makes many of its resources and services available to people without DU affiliation. A core value of librarians, free and equal access to information for everyone also is a democratic right. The American Library Association has a Bill of Rights affirming that libraries be forums of ideas and information, that information must represent a variety of viewpoints, and that no one be excluded from information and resources because of his or her background and beliefs. In that sense, librarians have long embraced diversity – diversity of ideas, and diversity among our patrons.
Last week, the University of Denver hosted its 11th annual Diversity Summit. In his welcome to summit participants, University Chancellor Bob Coombe asked that we recognize the objective of striving for diversity as going beyond merely respecting others and supporting equity for all. Reflecting his background as a chemistry professor, he implored audience members to consider themselves agents of potential, as in a laboratory experiment. Unless we mix with those unlike us, we lose the power to create sparks, to enrich the cultural and intellectual experiences that result from exploring our differences.
In the summit’s keynote address, activist and journalist Jeff Johnson challenged participants to not only embrace diversity during the summit, but to live it every day, and cautioned that inclusion requires courage. Inclusive excellence requires that we get to know people who typically scare us, whose traditions and histories we don’t understand, and that we embrace the cultural value of inclusion and not settle for a program labeled “diversity.” We must work through the discomfort of addressing our own ignorance and prejudices. Segregation often reveals a lack of understanding and lack of cultural connection, rather than a malicious or aggressive effort to separate from those who are different. Johnson says we must build alliances with those who are unlike us in gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, age, political views, and more. A program may promote diversity, but truly interpersonal relationships make us inclusive.
Jeff Johnson said that inclusive excellence requires constant evolution, honoring all of humanity’s various and valuable traditions, while breaking down barriers and creating new alliances. Penrose Library strives to be fertile ground for such transformation, and is proud of the ways we foster a rich academic, intellectual, and cultural environment to create a climate where diversity is the norm. During the Academic Commons at Penrose Library building project, all library services remain available with on-going collections development that honors diversity, and equal access and services to patrons with disabilities. When the Academic Commons opens in early 2013, we look forward to the opportunity to more actively reach out to under-served groups, and to more visibly promote understanding and awareness through exhibits in our expanded exhibit areas, and through events in our new event space.