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Whiteness from the top down: systemic change as antiracist action in LIS

Alyssa Jennings (Columbus State Community College, Columbus, Ohio, USA)
Kristine Kinzer (Columbus State Community College, Columbus, Ohio, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 14 December 2021

Issue publication date: 2 March 2022




The purpose of the paper is two-fold. The first is to inform the readers of the racist origins of libraries in America. Readers will learn about historic instances of systemic racism in libraries and those that persist today. The second purpose is to give readers examples of antiracist actions they can take on an individual level, in concert with library administration, and on the institutional level.


This paper gives an overview of systemic racism in librarianship. Part I outlines the history of libraries and their institutional oppression origins in America. Part II reviews some of the current racial issues in Libraries and Information Science (LIS). Part III gives the author's viewpoint on how to incorporate antiracist action within libraries and how to decenter whiteness at the national level.


The authors found that libraries were established on institutional oppression and systemic racism, which continue to this day to center whiteness and disadvantage BIPOC. Having said that, now is the time to make changes, decenter whiteness and remove systemic barriers through antiracist actions. These actions will help increase the number of BIPOC working in libraries and improve the retention and promotion of those BIPOC too. If the American Library Association (ALA) heeds this call to action, Critical Race Theory (CRT) will become part of the Master's of Library and Information Science (MLIS), BIPOC will be better funded and supported, and the credentialing stigma will be removed.


This article highlights concrete action that should be taken beyond individual bias awareness and into systemic changes. It advocates for more critical awareness and daily antiracist action within the LIS field.



Jennings, A. and Kinzer, K. (2022), "Whiteness from the top down: systemic change as antiracist action in LIS", Reference Services Review, Vol. 50 No. 1, pp. 64-80.



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