The College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland was founded in the 1960s with an overtly activist mission.
The UMD iSchool is a notably welcoming and encouraging environment, with members of the college community representing a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.
In the past few years, surveys taken of the College students, faculty, staff, and alumni have shown the College to have embraced diversity and inclusion as central to the mission of the school. The numbers of students in the MLS program who identify as LGBTQ or a person with a disability, for example, are far above the national averages. Many iSchool students at the University of Maryland – regardless of their educational focus – have listed the emphasis on diversity and inclusion as a main reason for choosing to enroll here.
College Climate Survey
In the spring semester of 2013, a Diversity Climate Assessment Survey about the College of Information Studies was made available for a period of six weeks. As part of the College’s ongoing efforts to ensure that diversity and inclusiveness are woven into all aspects of the College environment, the goal of the survey was to better understand how members of the College community perceive the current state of diversity and inclusion. The survey provided the opportunity to get not only a sense of perceptions of diversity and inclusion within the College, but also a detailed picture of the diversity within the members of the College community. Read about the survey results.
The faculty and staff of the iSchool engage in a wide range of scholarly, professional, community, and educational projects related to diversity and inclusion. With a broad focus on promoting access to and the ability to understand and effectively use information and information technologies, the iSchool has courses, centers, research tools, conferences, and resources devoted to promoting greater inclusion for individuals and communities in information.
This range of diversity and inclusion efforts at the iSchool includes:
- Improving health and technology literacy skills for socio-economically disadvantaged students;
- Mapping and demonstrating the century-long impacts of redlining of communities;
- Designing apps to promote STEM learning in low-income communities;
- Working to improve access to legal information for who cannot afford representation;
- Promoting equity and justice as key functions of archives; and
- Making the world accessible for people with disabilities, among much else.
Every year, the iSchool offers courses focused on diversity and inclusion issues, including courses focused on serving diverse populations; digital literacy and inclusion; the design of inclusive technologies and programs; law, policy, and ethics related to access; the information needs of different populations; and human rights and social justice, among a number of other course offerings. Students interested in Human-Computer Interaction, for example, can take a course that prepares them to design and build accessible technologies, while students interested in careers in libraries, archives, and museums can take a course devoted to human rights and social justice roles of cultural heritage institutions. The iSchool also offers the Diversity and Inclusion specialization in the Master of Library & Information Science program, making Maryland the only MLIS degree program in which students can make these issues the focus of their education. Faculty and staff members of the iSchool also have leading roles in many local, regional, and national efforts in scholarly and professional organizations to advance issues of diversity and inclusion in the information professions.
- The TRACE Center focuses on preventing and eliminating barriers to technology through research, design, and evaluation. For more than 30 years, TRACE has worked to create a world that is usable and accessible for all people, regardless of age or ability. Many innovations from the TRACE Center are central to the daily technology-based experiences of most people.
- The Center for Archival Futures (CAFe) develops and disseminates human-centered approaches to creating the systems, processes, and institutions which enable the use of and care for digital objects and data over time.
- The Information Policy & Access Center (iPAC) focuses on inclusion, community engagement, and social innovation related to information, exploring these issues in contexts of libraries, government, and health care among others. Many of iPAC’s initiatives emphasize education and professional development.
- The Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL) engages in design, development, and evaluation of technologies and interfaces to better understand and support the needs of all users of technology. HCIL in particular works with design and interaction across age groups, and hosts the annual HCIL conference.
In 2018, the iSchool founded the International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion (IJIDI), journal promoting discourse on diversity and inclusion issues in the field. Conceived by iSchool Professor, Paul Jaeger, IJIDI provides a space for papers about research findings, best practices, and educational innovations in making information, technology, and institutions more equitable and inclusive.
A large amount of the scholarship written by the faculty and staff members of the iSchool discuss issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, rights, and justice as it relates to information. Some of the work focuses on specific populations, while others focus on social and political issues or technologies and infrastructures. At the bottom of this page, a small sample of the many publications in this area written by people from the iSchool is provided.
Ursula Gorham. (2017). Access to Information, Technology, & Justice: A Critical Intersection. Rowman & Littlefield.
Paul T. Jaeger. (2012). Disability and the Internet: Confronting a Digital Divide. Lynne Rienner.
Paul I. Jaeger, Natalie Greene Taylor, & Ursula Gorham (2015). Libraries, Human Rights, and Social Justice: Enabling Access and Promoting Inclusion. Rowman & Littlefield.
Michael J. Kurtz. (2009). America and the Return of Nazi Contraband: The recovery of Europe’s Cultural Treasures. Cambridge University Press.
Jennifer Preece, Helen Sharp, and Yvonne Rogers. (2015). Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (4th ed.).
Articles and Conference Papers
Bertot, J. C., Real, B., & Jaeger, P. T. (2016). Public libraries building digitally inclusive communities: Data and findings from the 2013 Digital Inclusion Survey. Library Quarterly, 86, 270-289.
Clegg, T., & Kolodner, J. (2014). Scientizing and cooking: Helping middle-school learners develop scientific dispositions. Science Education, 98, 36-63.
Jaeger, P. T. (2015). Disability, human rights, and social justice: The ongoing struggle for online accessibility and equality. First Monday, 20(9). Available: https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6164
Kacorri, H., Mascetti, S., Gerino, A., Ahmetovic, D., Tagaki, H., & Asakawa, C. (2016). Supporting orientation of people with visual impairment: Analysis of large scale usage data. 18th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers and Accessibility.
Kumasi, K. & Hill, R.F. (January 2013). Examining the hidden ideologies within cultural competence discourses among library and information science (LIS) students: Implications for school library pedagogy. School Libraries Worldwide, 19(1) 128-141.
Lazar, A., Diaz, M. Brwer, R., Kim, C., & Piper, A. M. (2017). Going gray, failure to hire, and the ick factor: Analyzing how older bloggers talk about ageism. CSCW, 655-668.
Punzalan, R., & Caswell, M. (2016). Critical directions for archival approaches to social justice. Library Quarterly 86(1), 25-42.
Shilton, K., & Srinivasan, R. (2007). Participatory appraisal and arrangement for multicultural archival collections. Archivaria, 63, 87–101.
St. Jean, B., Taylor, N. G., Kodama, C., & Subramaniam, M. (2017). Assessing the digital health literacy skills of tween participants in a school-library-based after school program. Journal of Consumer Health on the Internet, 21(1), 40-61. Available: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15398285.2017.1279894
The iSchool hosts two annual conferences devoted to diversity and inclusion issues:
- The Conference on Inclusion and Diversity in Library and Information Science (CIDLIS) is the only annual conference devoted issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity in the field. Founded in 2011 as the Symposium on Diversity in Library and Information Science Education, CIDLIS includes presentations, workshops, educational sessions, and lectures for professionals, students, researchers, and educators.
- The Disability Summit is an annual disability studies conference that explores social issues, politics, and advocacy for disability across disability and across research disciplines. Founded in 2015, the Disability Summit is a venue for discussing research, education, and practice.
The iSchool also hosts events to explore current issues, such as the April 2017 “Do Good Symposium,” coordinated by the Advanced Information Collaboratory (AIC). This workshop demonstrated the transformative impact of collaborative digital curation on local communities. The themes of the workshop focused on the impact of displacement and disparity, leveraging digital curation, and other technologies to develop the insights and data needed in resolving vital local issues, including environmental, justice, health equity, and equitable development issues that demonstrate resolve in transformative collaboration with local communities.
Many iSchool projects lead to the creation of new resources to support the needs and rights of specific communities:
- Campus Community Connection: Fifty Projects with Surrounding Communities is an initiative of the iSchool and the National Center for Smart Growth to improve the quality of life in communities surrounding the University of Maryland. These projects include issues of sustainability and resilience, carbon footprint, water and traffic management, and transportation access, as well as cross-cultural communication.
- The HackHealth initiative creates courses and online training materials to promote health literacy and health efficacy by empowering individuals with the information literacy and digital literacy skills needed to successfully engage health information.
- The International Research Portal project for Holocaust-Era Cultural Property is a new federated search engine makes research in this area much more accessible and feasible for Holocaust survivors, their families, and all others who have need of this information.
- The Science Everywhere initiative provides a social media mobile app and community displays to help children in low-SES communities connect, share, and enhance STEM learning experiences they are doing across the contexts of their lives.
- The NatureNet project is developing community technologies (i.e., social media app and large displays) to engage diverse community members in community-driven environmental projects.
- The PERVADE (PERVAsive Data Ethics) promotes issues of inclusion and equity in big data research by discovering how people understand their ethical obligations and choices with big data and understandings of the risks and realities of pervasive data itself, answering fundamental questions about the fairness and ethics of such research.
- Technology Use and Dementia explores the use of technology to challenge predominant conceptions of dementia and to support activities such as sharing online. As many of our technologies are designed for a single individual to make decisions, these studies help to understand how technologies can be designed to take into account the shared-decision making that takes place between people with dementia, family members, and healthcare professionals.
The History of Activism at the iSchool
The College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland was founded in the 1960s with an overtly activist mission, with the founding dean and faculty focused on the ways in which libraries and other information institutions could serve as agents of social responsibility and community good. The many innovative efforts to promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice had a significant impact on the profession of and education in library and information science.
The University of Maryland’s School of Library and Information Services (the original name of what is now the College of Information Studies) began at its founding in 1965 with an agenda focused on bringing information to communities that were typically ignored by libraries and expanding the range of people who joined the library and information science professions. Paul Wasserman, the founding Dean of the School, and faculty members such as Mary Lee Bundy, James Welbourne, and Richard Moses focused the early years of the School on truly innovative – and in some cases audacious – projects to alter the ways in which libraries and information functioned in communities.
Many years later, reflecting on the daring of the School’s early years, the great F. William Summers identified the School as the first library and information science program to fully embrace the “social gospel” and focus on “identifying and addressing the manifold social needs of the community” as the heart of the education program. Or, as Wasserman summarized the goals of the School, faculty and students from the School “formed the vanguard of the activist movement [in librarianship] by demanding social responsibility from the American Library Association.”
Within the first few years of launching the School, the faculty had established three major initiatives to broaden the inclusiveness of library and information science education and practice.
1) The School created an office to recruit students and faculty from underrepresented populations in library and information fields. Several members of the faculty and staff of the School were drawn from urban library systems in the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia as a result of these efforts. The School also became the first library and information science program to have a scholarship program specifically for students from populations underrepresented in the field. Shortly after founding the School, Paul Wasserman wrote that the duty of the School was to “equip human beings who are both competent and committed to expanding the potential of man, of our culture and our society.” This belief was reflected in many courses focused on special populations – people with disabilities, prisoners, the urban poor – that were developed at the School in its early years and that influenced subsequent course offerings at many other library and information science programs.
2) The School designed an Urban Information Specialist Program specifically to prepare librarians to work in high poverty, urban areas. This Specialist Program was a 36-hour Master of Library Science (MLS) degree program entirely focused on the information needs of residents of urban areas. The majority of the students in the program were from traditionally disadvantaged backgrounds. Program design and financial support for the first students in the program came from a grant from the federal government.
3) A partnership was established with the Enoch Pratt Free Library of the City of Baltimore to create a “public information center” in the city to serve as a clearinghouse of information related to health, housing, education, police and emergency services, consumer affairs, employment, and government in general. The public information center was established in a high poverty area of Baltimore and featured large amounts of information related to daily life information needs and as well as telephone-based reference services.
Outside of the School itself, several members of the faculty founded a non-profit corporation to create materials for improving the conditions of the urban poor. Through this non-profit entity, faculty members created publications and provided training and consulting services to libraries and other organizations. Very much a do-it-yourself operation, the nonprofit nevertheless managed to produce a series of publications and kits and even ran conferences on the topic of improving equality for the urban poor.
In 1967, the School established it's own public library as an experiment to see if a library could function as a resource and community center for a community with limited access to resources and information. The School established the High John Library in Fairmount Heights, a largely Black neighborhood with high levels of poverty and limited information and educational resources located in Prince George’s County, MD, less than ten miles from the UMD campus in College Park.
With Richard Moses and Mary Lee Bundy as its directors, the library was designed to serve the needs of the local community while also serving as a learning lab for students in the MLS program. For community members, the library provided information resources that were otherwise not easily available to them. For MLS students, the library was the ultimate field study experience. For the School’s faculty, the library was a chance to try out new ways to make the library services relevant in an urban community with a wealth of poverty and a dearth of resources.
The utterly unprecedented nature of the High John Library (named after an African American folk hero from the era of slavery) raised controversy in the field of librarianship, seen as a public challenge to the entire field. Critics at that time, when libraries were viewed as sanctified archives of literature and did not engage with their communities, attacked High John for overstepping the boundaries of the library profession. Some argued that libraries should not serve poor communities altogether and that library students certainly should not be educated specifically to work in such communities. The High John Library was even criticized for using language and terminology in its literature that was tailored to the community.
Pushback on the concept of the High John Library was also fueled by the bold activism of the faculty and students involved. They organized and staged a series of protests at the ALA conference to pressure the ALA to create the Social Responsibilities Roundtable (to bring greater field-wide attention to issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion) and drove around the South in a truck emblazed with the High John Library logo to publicly shame libraries that still practiced de facto segregation.
Despite criticisms of the radical nature of the High John Library, students and faculty continued to use it as a test case for many new approaches to outreach and community services. The library held outdoor rock concerts, projected movies on the outside walls of the building, and used surrealist promotions – “Read 1,000 books and win an alligator!” – among many ways to creatively reach the community.
Contradictory to its goals, the library fundamentally failed to connect with the local community and struggled to maintain staffing and resources. In 1970, the High John Library was absorbed into the local public library system, ending its life as an experiment in library activism. Looking back, a major failure of the project was the lack of co-design with the local community. Services were based on expectations and assumptions about the community made by the experiment’s facilitators. The facilitators themselves were also predominantly white and did not reflect the diversity of those they aimed to support. Ultimately, the local residents did not embrace the library as a part of their community.
The High John Library remains the only attempt made by a library and information science program to run a public library as a central part of its educational and public service mission.
The College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland and the Citizens for Maryland Libraries (CML) – a Maryland non-profit organization – jointly present the James Partridge Outstanding African American Information Professional Award each year. The award recognizes information professionals who exemplify the highest ideals of the library/information profession, including career-long dedicated service, leadership, and a commitment to the empowerment of those whom they serve. Established in 1997, the award has recognized nearly two dozen extraordinary pioneers in the field of library and information science. Click here to view past recipients of this award.
To Learn More: D. Barlow & P. T. Jaeger (Eds.), Celebrating the James Partridge Award: Essays toward the development of a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable field of library and information science (pp. 21-32). London: Emerald.
The activist ethos of the early years of the College had an enormous impact on the education of future library and information science professionals and the activities of current professionals and institutions. The focus on social responsibility, outreach, meeting community needs, and courses and programs that emphasized serving the needs of diverse populations significantly shaped the field as it is today.
The School – now the College of Information Studies or the University of Maryland iSchool – is still devoted to efforts to promote diversity, inclusion, and justice. The approaches have changed over time, but the goals remain the same. The College now has an undergraduate degree, three Master’s degree programs, and a doctoral program, with diversity and inclusion being strong themes across the College’s degree programs.
Every community owes its existence and strength to the generations before them, around the world, who contributed their hopes, dreams, and energy into making the history that led to this moment. Some were brought here against their will, some were drawn to migrate from their homes in hope of a better life, and some have lived on this land for more generations than can be counted. Truth and acknowledgment are critical in building mutual respect and connections across all barriers of heritage and difference.
At the College of Information Studies, we believe it is important to create dialogue to honor those that have been historically and systemically disenfranchised. So, we acknowledge the truth that is often buried: We are on the ancestral lands of the Piscataway People, who were among the first in the Western Hemisphere. We are on indigenous land that was stolen from the Piscataway People by European colonists. We pay respects to Piscataway elders and ancestors. Please take a moment to consider the many legacies of violence, displacement, migration, and settlement that bring us together here today.
In addition to teaching, service, and research, the iSchool has several positions and organizations specifically devoted to promoting and celebrating diversity and inclusion in the iSchool and connecting the iSchool to wider university, local, state, national, and international communities.
- Renee Hill, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Faculty Equity Administrator - Coordinates efforts related to diversity and inclusion in the iSchool, serves as the primary representative of the iSchool on campus-wide and broader community initiatives, and is primarily responsible for monitoring and evaluating diversity efforts at the iSchool.
- Kibbi Henderson, Associate Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Staff Equity Administrator - Ensures that considerations of diversity and inclusion are central to hiring and personnel decisions at the iSchool, coordinates diversity training for personnel, and identifies additional opportunities to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- The Diversity Committee - Collaborates to lead efforts related to the iSchool’s ability to inclusively engage and meet the needs of all faculty, staff, students, and partners. This includes, but is not limited to, promoting awareness of diversity issues within the College; facilitating efforts to increase the representation of underrepresented populations among the students, staff, faculty, and partners; arranging for the College to work with organizations and be represented at diversity events; and coordinating the James Partridge Award.
The iSchool also is home to iDiversity, an organization for iSchool graduate students interested in inclusion information practice and diversification of the information professions. iDiversity hosts a range of talks and events on these topics. The activities of the organization include providing information literacy tutoring at local educational institutions, helping local libraries with fundraising, building free libraries for communities with no local library access, and other advocacy projects. You can follow iDiversity on Twitter at @iDiversityUMD #iDiversity or go to their website at idiversity.umd.edu.
For any questions or suggestions about diversity and inclusion efforts at the College, please contact the iSchool’s Diversity Officers, listed above.