The Practicalities of Cultural Competence
Cultural competence is defined as the capacity to understand and respect differences of culture, and “to address issues of disparity among diverse populations competently” (Montiel-Overall 2009). ACRL has recently released the “Cultural Competency Standards for Academic Libraries.” These standards represent an excellent step towards inclusivity and cultural pluralism -- a necessary part of the continuing conversations about social justice and the importance of diverse perspectives in civic life. However, many of the discussions about the practical side of developing cultural competence in the library and information science literature tend to focus primarily on recruiting library staff from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds. While this is an essential piece of the puzzle, it is by no means a complete answer to the question, “How can librarians develop cultural competence in their practice?” By focusing on recruiting, librarians who are already currently working in the field are left out of the conversation. Omitting currently practicing librarians from the discussion could lead to the presumption that librarians will just figure something out on their own, or, even worse, feel that they should defer the reference questions or library tasks requiring cultural competence to their colleagues of color.
Our goal with this Research into Practice session is to develop and communicate a simple, practical checklist of “To-Do’s” which any academic librarian can use to further cultivate their own cultural competence. Borrowing from some of the most effective strategies in other service-oriented professions where social fluency is critical (counseling, healthcare, and more), and integrating these strategies with survey responses and follow-up interviews with our colleagues in California college libraries, we will propose a straightforward series of tasks which librarians can undertake as part of their own personal professional development to cultivate their own cultural competence. Furthermore, an important part of the process will be soliciting input from our professional colleagues during the session, since we are most interested in making recommendations that are simple, practical, and manageable enough to implement in everyday practice.
Montiel-Overall, Patricia. 2009. Cultural competence: A conceptual framework for library and information science professionals. Library Quarterly 79(2): 175-204.