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The Diversity Audit: A thought-provoking tool for academic librarians

4 October 2022 | 9 min read

By Kawanna Bright, Marilynn Larkin

Group of young creative people collaborating in modern office

The Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Self-Assessment Audit (DEISAA) reveals what you’re doing well and what remains to be done—in your DEI efforts.

What does “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) mean for academic libraries? “All too often, it means focusing on recruiting and retaining librarians of color,” says Kawanna Bright, PhD, an assistant professor of library science at East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina.

“But having a diverse workforce is just one small part of the picture,” insists Bright, who created the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Self-Assessment Audit (DEISAA) to help libraries spot areas where they can make a greater impact in their DEI objectives. “Going through the audit will show you where your organization is on important DEI issues such as cultural awareness, organization values, program and services development, and organizational dynamics—and it will point the way to improvement with specific action steps.”

Library Connect talked with Bright about why she created the audit, its benefits for academic librarians and their institutions, and why it’s so important to engage in the audit process.

You’ve noted that many academic librarians think they are doing effective DEI work, but they’re really not going far enough. Please elaborate.

I’ll give you three examples that many academic librarians will be able to relate to. One is the displays we do for what we call our “special occasion modes.” These really don’t go far enough. Instead of trying to put books and authors into a box like Black History Month or Native American History Month, we should be celebrating authors, books and topics year-round. We can still do special months, but bring in those authors and have their books displayed throughout the year, as well.

Another example is having DEI in your mission/vision statement, but not in your strategic planning process; if it’s not there, then it’s really just words. We need to state specifically how we will implement the mission or reach a goal. Putting inclusive words in your mission doesn't mean you're actually doing that work.

A third example is creating a diversity committee—and I’ve served on many—that has no power, no funding, no charge, no support. Essentially, this is a group of people getting together to talk, which is good, but if there's no action coming out of it, what is its value? We can spend 10 years talking and continue to have the same problems we had when we first started the conversation. A diversity committee needs a specific charge, funding, support and some power—in other words, the ability to make real changes in the organization.

group of people working at a computer

What happens now, in many cases, is that a diversity committee decides to put together a cultural competence training series, for example, and then the committee is tasked with putting on the series without any funding and without being able to call in experts to do the presentations. And despite all the advance work, there's no requirement for people to come. So the same people who are on the diversity committee and a few others who want to support them show up. This has no effect on the entire organization. In order for attendance to move from just a recommendation, your diversity committee probably needs to be at the same level as an advisory committee to leadership. That will enable the members to make a difference.

Let's move on to your audit, which will lead to action steps libraries can implement. Can you give us an idea of what’s involved?

I developed the DEISAA in the summer of 2017 as part of a consultation with a medical libraryopens in new tab/window. At that time, it covered organizational strategies, organizational structures, organizational processes, how library employees were rewarded and external efforts, a structure suggested by collaborator Nikhat Ghouse, an academic librarian and organization development consultant. Later, in consultation with another library utilizing the audit, another vital component – accessibility – was added.

Overall, the audit contains statements that are ranked with regard to where the library is at in their efforts, from “non-existent” (0) to “expert” (4). And you need to provide evidence for your effort level. So it's not about clicking a box and saying, “I think we’re doing great at this,” and then moving on. If you can’t provide evidence for the rating, then you may need to accept that you’re not doing as good a job as you thought, and the level of effort should be changed.

For example, on the librarian/employee side, you have the rewards section. How is a job well done rewarded? Do you get a raise in salary or simply a pat on the back? Is there a reward process—ways to celebrate achievements?

Stand-out pictogram (person in magnifying glass, surrounded by two others)

The people section of the audit looks at staffing: Have you put processes in place to increase the number of diverse candidates coming into your library? Have you put processes in place to retain them? Have we done more than just say, we want to be more diverse?

The other area I think libraries struggle with is the external outreach efforts. We know that our job is mainly about reaching out to our communities—but have we taken an in-depth look at our communities? For that, the audit includes questions like, “Have you done a demographic analysis of your community?”

For example, on the librarian/employee side, you have the rewards section. How is a job well done rewarded? Do you get a raise in salary or simply a pat on the back? Is there a reward process—ways to celebrate achievements?

The questions are reminders that maybe you should be using these analyses to make decisions about your collections and your services, and that you need to be careful about making decisions based on preconceived ideas. You might say, “Well, we’re a Hispanic-serving institution, which means we need to have more services that are bilingual.” But that’s not necessarily correct. Identifying as Hispanic doesn't always mean Spanish-speaking—you need to know your community, what their language skills are and what their backgrounds are before you start making expensive decisions about your collections, your databases and your services.

Who is responsible for doing the audit?

Most of the time, I do at least an initial consultation with the organization. My goal is to get the entire library engaged in the process. It’s definitely not meant for one or two people or even a small group. I want your staff, your faculty, your administrators, your students. Of course, we can’t force anyone to participate, but that’s the ideal. We need at least one person in a high-level position and someone really engaged in DEI work, then as many others as possible who are involved in or using the library.

a person doing a presentation

Choosing a “champion”—someone willing to take on a leadership role—is almost a necessity. There needs to be at least one person who has the ability to not only take on the work of doing the audit, but has the authority to do it right. This often means it's got to be a dean—someone who has the ability to tell the library, “We need to go through this process, and we’re going to do it.”

It seems that many action steps can evolve from the audit. Do you have a discussion about these steps, so the library knows how to move forward?

When I work with a library, I do the data analyses, crunch all the information and assess the organization based on what I’ve learned, then create an extensive list of recommendations and also possible steps for implementing those recommendations. I leave it up to them to decide what to implement and how to prioritize the steps. I may offer eight recommendations based on your audit, but the organization has to decide where to focus their attention and put their resources.

I also provide examples of other libraries that have done similar projects so participants in the audit can follow up with them, or they can follow up with me in a one-on-one, short-term consultation. But most libraries can identify action steps themselves after going through this process. They know their personnel. They can sit down, especially if they’re in a leadership position, make decisions and figure out how they want to go about following through.

How long does the audit process take?

It’s about a two-month process if everyone is also working at their usual jobs at the same time. If people are only involved in the audit process, they could probably complete it within a couple of weeks, then send the information to me for analysis. My part takes longer because I'm crunching numbers and figuring things out.

I’m not aware of any libraries that have gone through the audit process fully on their own, though I do make the audit freely available on my websiteopens in new tab/window. However, I’ve worked with libraries like those of the State University of New York, where I consult periodically to guide them and help plan out certain steps.

Partnership pictogram (handshake)

I generally encourage libraries new to the process to simply look at the audit first. I've learned from previous consultations that for most people, it's full of things they've never thought about. It's not hard to go from looking at the audit to saying, “Well, okay, let's look at our mission, let's look at our vision, let's look at our strategic plan.” It’s almost like a checklist, and they can start thinking about where they want to spend their time. That helps to make the audit less overwhelming; they understand that these are questions they can answer.

Anything else academic librarians should be aware of?

I want to emphasize that libraries are already doing a lot of this work. They just don't know they're doing it. They don't have a record of what they're doing. They haven't looked at the whole picture yet and they haven't had the words to convey that they're doing the work. What they're missing is doing what they do in a cohesive way, and in a way that enables them to show others what they’re doing. The audit will enable them to do just that.


Bright describes the audit and its development in “Implementing Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: A Handbook for Academic Librariesopens in new tab/window, in a chapter entitled “Assessing DEI Efforts in Academic Libraries: More than a Body Count.”

The latest version of the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Self-Assessment Audit (DEISAA) is available on her website at in new tab/window


Image of Kawanna Bright


Kawanna Bright

Assistant Professor

East Carolina University

Marilyn Larkin


Marilynn Larkin

Writer and Editor for medical, scientific and consumer audiences

The Lancet