Panelists talk racial equity in education through libraries at Beyond Barriers

Stephanie Adeline

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said public library programs in Austin mitigate racial inequality in access to information at a panel Thursday called “Beyond Barriers.”

The purpose of the event, hosted by UT Libraries at Perry Castaneda Library, was to start conversation on diversity and dispel racial issues through knowledge, said Travis Willmann, UT Libraries communications officer.

Adler said public library programs that benefit minorities include foreign language assistance and access to technology such as computers and Wi-Fi.

“Libraries play a critical role in the city’s digital inclusion program, making sure that everyone in the city can reach that level of computer literacy,” Adler said.

Ha Rin Jung, a management informations system junior, said she was surprised to hear about the importance of libraries in the community.

“We all see (libraries) in our neighborhoods, but we don’t really stop to think how much libraries really do impact the community,” Jung said. “It really is a place for everyone. No one is restricted from coming in, it offers so many different resources and opportunities for people of whatever race and gender.”

Panelist Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, said the association is fighting for more federal funds for libraries.

“This particular administration in Washington is zeroing out all federal money for libraries,” Todaro said. “This is not about Republicans, it’s not about Democrats — it’s about libraries and trying to make sure that people understand the return on investments and values no matter what color you are.”

Panelist Gregory Vincent, UT vice president for diversity and community engagement, said student housing is proof of inequality on campus and how institutions can perpetuate disparities.

“We have some students who live close to campus in beautiful residences and others who are being pushed out further,” Vincent said. “These issues have historical roots. Some of the reason why we see these persistent inequalities are rooted in government-sponsored exclusion.”

Panelist Ling Hwey Jeng, president of the Texas Library Association, said she became interested in supporting diversity because of her personal experience as an Asian woman.

“A student called (my) office and she couldn’t remember who she talked to so she said to the staff, ‘I talked to that woman with heavy foreign accent,’” Jeng said. “(My boss) advised me I should avoid speaking in public. She even started drafting my emails because she thought I couldn’t really speak or write in English.”