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Decentering whiteness in libraries: relational work for an inclusive culture

Jessica Denke (Trexler Library, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA)
Nicholas Cunningham (Trexler Library, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 5 December 2023

Issue publication date: 5 March 2024




The purpose of this article is to share a year-long initiative of a predominantly white liberal arts college library that fostered relationality and inclusive culture through an understanding and critique of White Supremacy Culture.


This case study presents the development and implementation of a library-wide reading group to discuss Okun's (2021) White Supremacy Culture Characteristics through relational meetings (Chambers, 2003). Relational-cultural theory provided a guiding framework for implementation of relational meetings in the context of conversations about race.


After participation in the reading group, participants reported their ability to identify characteristics of White Supremacy Culture in their lives and a greater preparedness to participate in work related to diversity, equity and inclusion. The authors suggest vulnerability, consideration of power and privilege and observations of White Supremacy Culture within the local context frequently occurred in the reading group conversations.

Research limitations/implications

This work operates as an opportunity for library staff to learn about White Supremacy Culture in a way that helps to undermine white privilege and, therefore, holds similar aims to anti-racist affinity work (Michael and Conger, 2009). However, the library staff only has one person of color and, therefore, the authors cannot speak to engaging a more racially diverse staff. The authors include reflections on how their racial identities impact their engagement in this work.


Attention to White Supremacy and white privilege is, according to Gulati-Partee and Potapchuk (2014), an overlooked part of diversity, equity and inclusion work. This case study demonstrates a path toward inclusive culture that focuses on the identification of White Supremacy Culture Characteristics (Okun, 2021) in the authors’ local context and provides rationale for utilizing relational meetings (Chambers, 2003) to emphasize individual and collective reflection.



Denke, J. and Cunningham, N. (2024), "Decentering whiteness in libraries: relational work for an inclusive culture", Reference Services Review, Vol. 52 No. 1, pp. 149-162.



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