New Initiatives Take Aim at Systemic Racism

Selections from the Steve Louie Asian American Movement collection, 1930–1980; UCLA Library Special Collections.

In the wake of a nationwide reckoning with racism and racial violence, UCLA Library has renewed its commitment to lead with equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) by expanding representation in our collections and by dismantling structural racism across our organization. Libraries have an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that a range of voices and experiences are preserved in cultural heritage and the historical record. What libraries collect–and how those materials are described and made accessible–directly influences what is studied and taught.

In order to build equality for all, we have embarked on two intertwined programs: an Anti-Racism Initiative (ARI), which is guided by a steering team composed of representatives from divisions and job responsibilities across the Library, and a sweeping new Strategic Directions Plan that centers EDI as a core Library value and direction. These initiatives are designed to advance the Library’s mission to uncover and understand how systemic racism and oppression operate within the Library, to redress inequities, and to embed an active commitment to anti-racism in the organizational culture.

UCLA librarians already play an essential role in correcting how materials are described to accurately reflect historical facts. A UCLA-initiated proposal prompted the Library of Congress to amend a subject headings list –from “Armenian massacres” to “Armenian genocide.” This resulted in international attention for the Library when it was successfully implemented last fall. The Library is now working to suppress and replace other terms, for example, amending “illegal aliens” to “undocumented immigrants.”

In collaboration with the global library cooperative OCLC, UCLA Library catalogers worked for more than a year to add non-Roman scripts to older records for selected languages in WorldCat, an international search database. For the Russian language, 1.2 million records were augmented, followed by 43,000 Armenian titles. As a result, database searchers who work with languages that do not use the Roman alphabet no longer have to know the inconsistent ways libraries transliterate Russian names, like the composer Tchaikovsky (does it begin with Tch... or Ch...?). Researchers are now able to work with native scripts, rather than through transliteration into English. 

It’s initiatives like these that improve equity and access for UCLA researchers, and for researchers around the world.