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Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries: Cultural awareness of self and others

Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries

Librarians and library staff shall develop an understanding of their own personal and cultural values and beliefs as a first step in appreciating the importance of multicultural identities in the lives of the people they work with and serve.

Cultural competence requires that librarians and library staff examine their own cultural backgrounds and identities to increase awareness of personal assumptions, values, and biases. The individual’s self-awareness of their own cultural identities is as fundamental to service as the informed assumptions about constituents’, colleagues’, and co-workers’ cultural backgrounds and experiences in the United States. This awareness of personal values, beliefs, and biases informs services to constituents; influences collection development, cataloging practices, program delivery, and library assessment; and influences relationships with colleagues and co-workers. Cultural competence includes knowing and acknowledging how fears, ignorance, and the “-isms” (racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, heterosexism, ageism, able-bodiedism, and classism) have influenced their attitudes, beliefs, and feelings.

Librarians and library staff need to be able to move from being culturally aware of their own heritage to becoming culturally aware of the heritage of others. They can value and celebrate differences in others rather than maintain an ethnocentric stance and can demonstrate comfort with differences between themselves and others. They have an awareness of personal and professional limitations that may warrant the referral of a constituent to another person, office, or center that can best meet their needs. Self-awareness also helps in understanding the process of cultural identity formation and helps guard against stereotyping. As one develops the diversity within one’s own group, one can be more open to the diversity within other groups. Cultural competence also requires librarians and library staff to appreciate how one needs to move from cultural awareness to cultural sensitivity before achieving cultural competence and to evaluate growth and development throughout these different levels of cultural competence in practice. Self-awareness becomes the basis for professional development and should be supported by supervisors, library administrators, and the organization.

Culturally competent librarians and library staff shall:

  • Examine their social identities and cultural heritage to increase awareness of their own assumptions, values, biases, and prejudices and how these influence interactions with constituents, colleagues, and co-workers.
  • Identify and acknowledge how fears, ignorance, and the “-isms” have influenced their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
  • Develop and employ strategies to identify and change detrimental attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
  • Recognize when personal and professional limitations warrant the referral of a constituent to another resource and skillfully execute such referrals.
  • Recognize that normative behavior in one context may not be understood or valued in another context.
  • Acknowledge the ways in which membership in various social groups influences worldview, what privileges one is afforded, and the potential to be a target of discriminatory attitudes and behaviors.

Standard 1 Readings