Library Task Force Issues Recommendations to Make Spaces More Inclusive

The Harvard College Library Task Force on Inclusive Spaces has issued a report with recommendations around artwork, signage, and other priority areas to make library spaces more welcoming to all.

The HCL Task Force on Inclusive Library Spaces was appointed last year by University Librarian Martha Whitehead, who shared the completed Task Force report with library staff last week.

“Our physical spaces are a core component of our library services and are an outward manifestation of our organizational values,” Whitehead wrote in her message sharing the report. “It is crucial that all members of our Harvard community and our visitors feel our spaces are for them and reflect who they are.”

The HCL Task Force was greatly informed by the work of the FAS Task Force on Visual Culture and Signage, and guided by Harvard Library’s vision and values. The Task Force spent a year conducting surveys and interviews with Harvard community members, reviewing literature on inclusive spaces, and learning about similar work at peer institutions. Its members gathered and analyzed this information before compiling it in their final report [pdf].

“The Task Force’s in-depth assessment of where we stand will now serve as a compass for where we want to go,” Whitehead wrote in her message to library staff.

The report includes recommendations for both short-term and long-term measures to make library spaces more welcoming and inclusive. In her message, Whitehead focused on one recommendation in particular: reconceiving Harvard Library’s approach to artwork.

“Making thoughtful and intentional choices about artwork in library spaces is a way to make all library users feel reflected in their surroundings,” she wrote.

The HCL Task Force’s recommendation on artwork echoed one from the FAS report, to use artwork to “rebalance the historical narrative” and highlight previously overlooked individuals and histories that deserve recognition.

Based on both reports, Harvard Library will begin working with FAS on a new curation plan for artwork in HCL library spaces, Whitehead announced. This plan may incorporate out-of-copyright images from Harvard Library’s own collections, as piloted in the Harvard Library Online Gallery (best viewed in Chrome or Firefox).

“Our aim will be dynamic art programs that highlight the values, achievements, and cultures of historically underrepresented groups,” Whitehead wrote, “and heed both reports’ advice to move away from the predominance of traditional portraiture.”

The library’s next step is to operationalize this artwork recommendation, as well as Task Force recommendations around signage, furniture, and seven other areas.

Whitehead noted that the library is “not starting from zero with this work,” offering several recent examples of creating more inclusive library spaces: The “New Faculty” exhibit in Widener Library, a partnership with Harvard’s Office for Gender Equity to denote gender-inclusive library restrooms, and the renovation to make Houghton Library accessible and welcoming to all.

These recent projects are examples of what the library will now be doing at scale.

“Transforming our spaces will take time and will require patience from our community,” Whitehead wrote to staff, “but it will undoubtedly improve our ability to serve our library users and make all feel welcome.”