Librarians and Cultural Humility: Check Your Privileges and Recognize Your Biases

Twanna Hodge, Integrating Cultural Humility into Public Services Librarianship, INTERNATIONAL INFORMATION & LIBRARY REVIEW, 2019,

This article was written by the first-ever Diversity Resident Librarian at the University of Utah library. In it, the author challenges public services librarians to explore and address their implicit biases, and to incorporate cultural humility in their librarianship practice.

Of course, this type of exercise in self-auditing and vulnerability can be difficult and uncomfortable for people who engage in it. As the author points out, some of our most pervasive biases develop on a subconscious level from the time we are very young, as we process messages and opinions about the world, other people, and other cultures that we get from our families, our friends, and others. These types of biases, which include “both favorable and unfavorable assessments” are, as the author notes, “pervasive.” However, this does not mean that they have to be permanent.

The author suggests several methods and exercises for identifying and assessing your implicit biases and working to overcome them and to integrate cultural humility into your librarianship practice, including the following:

  • Conducting an “Implicit Association Test”
  • Using “privilege checklists”
  • Engaging in “counter stereotypic imagining”
  • Through “positive contact” with members of a stereotyped group, create a safe space for mutual dialog and learning
  • Engaging in “reflective practice” by assessing the influence of bias in your thoughts and actions every day

According to the author, cultural humility is critical to the practice of librarianship because it means helping patrons with “as little lens (stereotypes, biases, and more) as possible,” while also changing the nature of the remaining lens to one of “openness and respect.”

There is a lot to unpack in this short article. I am so glad that the author wrote it and provided practical advice for incorporating cultural humility into our daily work. The author concluded with the following thought, which illustrates the larger value of this exercise: “In public services librarianship, we never know how interactions will go, but instilling cultural humility in our practice helps us help others.”

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