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VCU Libraries’ gender-inclusive report shares ideas for better service

January 18, 2019

VCU Libraries’ new Gender-Inclusive Library Workgroup Report is now available online.

The new report, a roadmap to providing better service to patrons, is thought to be an example of a best-practices approach to studying and addressing public services issues related to gender diversity. “I’ve already received inquiries from several colleagues at other universities about our approach and our report,” said Gender Inclusive Workgroup chair Erin White, who heads VCU Libraries’ digital engagement department.  

“From our research, libraries and campus spaces at other institutions are at various stages of discovering how to best serve trans and gender-nonconforming users,” says White. “For example, many libraries are struggling to build all-gender restrooms, while Cabell Library already has three. That is one example of what we are already doing well. And, we’re working on doing more.”

In spring 2018, VCU Libraries’ leadership created the Gender Inclusive Library Workgroup and charged it to find ways that VCU Libraries can design an inclusive library experience for all library users, regardless of a person’s gender identity. The diversity of its community is one of VCU’s hallmarks, and VCU Libraries, like many other places on campus, wants to make sure its spaces, services and systems are inclusive to all members of the VCU community, including those who identify as transgender or nonbinary.

In research and in discussions with staff and students, the workgroup explored questions including:

  • How can we help library users who go by a name different from their legal name, which is commonly used in university and library records?
  • How can we improve service interactions for people who identify as nonbinary or transgender?
  • How can our policies, guidelines, websites, forms and communications be more gender-inclusive?
  • How can our restroom facilities provide safety, privacy and easy access for all users?  

In addition to identifying improvements, the workgroup identified ways to better publicize existing services and spaces. For example, Cabell Library was the first large academic buildings on the Monroe Park Campus to offer gender-inclusive restrooms. Since 2010, Cabell Library has had two gender-inclusive, single-stall restrooms on the lower level. A third similar restroom opened on the third floor in 2016.

The workgroup of full-time staff took a holistic view, identifying changes across the libraries that might make them more welcoming for students of all gender identities. The group also reached out to self-selected student workers and its student advisory group, the Cabell Library Undergraduate Advisory Committee. The group finished its work in fall 2018. Its report is available online in Scholars Compass.

VCU Libraries has begun to implement many of the report’s recommendations, including:

  • Training front-line staff and improving wayfinding signage for single-stall, all-gender restrooms in Cabell Library;
  • Working with the Dean of Students to update library checkout system to use name of use rather than legal name;
  • Offering gender-inclusive library services training for library staff;
  • Creating more ways for staff to display their pronouns in business cards, name tags and on their online biographies; 
  • Making menstrual products available for purchase in vending machines;
  • Updating web pages to eliminate use of legal first name and add  gender-inclusive title option “Mx.” to forms
  • Publicizing ORCID as a gender-inclusive identifier for researchers;
  • Funding an engineering study for further enhancements to library restrooms.

Questions about the report and VCU Libraries’ approach: Contact Erin White or (804) 827-3552. Says White: “VCU's diverse campus community makes us distinctive, and we're proud to demonstrate VCU Libraries' commitment to supporting folks regardless of gender identity or expression.”

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