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Addressing Structural Racism at HathiTrust: A Commitment to Change

July 1, 2020

A message from the HathiTrust Board of Governors  and Executive Director, Mike Furlough.
We at HathiTrust know that Black Lives Matter and support efforts to advance racial justice. We have learned of the disturbing murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, and uncountable numbers of Black people who have suffered and lost their lives because of deep, lasting, structural racism, and we know that this is not the world in which any of us should live. During these same few months we’ve also witnessed and felt the effects of COVID-19, a pandemic which has disproportionately harmed people of color in the U.S. and around the world. 
We have also been heartened by the worldwide response and support for Black Lives Matter, especially in the streets, and among politicians, in businesses, higher education, and libraries. Making sure that this current wave of anger and protest results in sustained change is now the collective responsibility of us all, including HathiTrust. Over the last several weeks, HathiTrust staff, the Board of Governors, the Program Steering Committee, and other colleagues have discussed what HathiTrust can do to contribute to sustained changes, and in what ways we are positioned to meaningfully address structural inequities. 
Our mission situates HathiTrust in systems of knowledge creation and sharing based on long-standing power structures, which have shaped our collection, our services, our policies, and the organization itself. HathiTrust can’t undo that history. But, as Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian at the University of North Carolina Elaine Westbrooks has recently written, libraries “must have the will to seriously interrogate each system and to understand how it fails to advance equity and justice. We must then determine how we will reform these systems and implement change with courage and conviction.” 
We are committed to undertake such work and are committed to developing a full agenda for it over the next several months. There are some actions we can take towards this in the near term, but more significant changes, such as the nature of the collection, our membership model, or our access policies, will take significantly longer to implement. Here are some of our immediate plans:
Our Values
The Statement of Values and Code of Conduct Task Force, begun earlier this year, will complete its work, so that a new code of conduct is in place for our 2020 Member Meeting in October, and for future events. The Statement of Values will include an explicit commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to addressing structural racism. We will share at least preliminary versions with the membership and we will plan to hold listening sessions by the time of the annual Member Meeting.
Our Governance
Centering anti-oppression issues in the work of a member-driven organization will require sustained effort through our governance. The Program Steering Committee has charged several task forces and working groups that address collections, metadata strategy and user engagement, which will be asked to address structural inequities in their work. The Board of Governors will develop an agenda for addressing these issues in the organization as a whole, and will review our finances in anticipation of making budgetary commitments for anti-racist work in 2021 and beyond. The listening sessions referred to above will provide us with an opportunity to engage and align with our membership to more effectively work towards change.
Our Staff and Services
The HathiTrust staff are committed to this work and will pursue additional training to support future anti-oppression work as well as implementation of the Code of Conduct. The staff have already begun examining where and how structural inequity is built into HathiTrust’s activity so that they can center anti-racist work in day-to-day service provision and development. The HathiTrust Research Center team has also begun planning research to address under-represented collection areas and we should have more to report on these in the fall. We will review recruitment practices with the goal of diversifying our team and bringing in a broader range of perspectives on our work.
HathiTrust’s Strategic Directions state that we will “include many voices and perspectives in collections, services, and governance.”  We resolve to give this objective the full attention it requires. That is the work before us. We intend to report regularly and continually seek your feedback as we begin this work. We are writing this now so that you may hold us accountable for helping to change the legacy of structural racism as manifested and reinforced by HathiTrust.  

For media inquiries, please contact Jessica Rohr, Member Engagement & Communications Specialist, at jbelle@hathitrust.org. For all other inquiries, feedback@issues.hathitrust.org.

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