New master’s track in Library and Information Studies hosts spring webinar series on information equity

KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 27, 2021 – The national conversations on race and gender, sexuality and class are not restricted to politicians or social media. They are also a big focus of librarians.

In the fall, the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies launched a unique master’s track, Information Equity, Diverse Communities, and Critical Librarianship. And this spring, the program is bringing those classroom conversations on race, gender, sexuality, class and information equality to the public forum by hosting a webinar series featuring national library and information science scholars.

The webinar series, Voices for Information Equity, opens Thursday, Jan. 28, with Tracy Drake, a historian and archivist at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. All lectures in the series run from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., and are free and open to the public. Please, click here to register for any of the semester’s five lectures.

“Pretty much all parts of library and information studies actually have to do with equity,” said Melissa Villa-Nicholas, assistant professor in URI’s graduate library program and organizer of the webinar series and master’s track. “It goes anywhere from archives to collections to reference, but really it’s just every single part of librarianship. Library and Information Studies is assumed to be a neutral field, but it’s actually very political.”

The opening speaker, Drake, inaugural archivist at Reed College whose scholarship focuses on radical empathy and anti-racism in society and information, is co-founder of Blackivists, a group of trained Black archivists that prioritizes Black cultural heritage preservation. She will speak on “All Power to the People: Centering Collections and Communities in the Archives.”

On Feb. 25, DeAnza Williams, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, will discuss “Seeing Black Boys in 21st Century Young Adult Literature.” On March 25, the topic shifts to prison libraries and access for people who are incarcerated as Jeanie Austin of the San Francisco Public Library talks about “Information Access, Systemic Oppression, and Incarceration.”

On April 8, Sarah Lamden, professor of law at the City University of New York and a member of the Mijente Immigrant Defense Project, discusses how digital library tools are being used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track immigrants and how those practices conflict with privacy policies. The series closes April 22 with Miriam Sweeney, associate professor in Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama, exploring privacy issues associated with emerging technologies in library services and programming.

“Our students and our community should learn a direct skillset out of these lectures. For example, in the talk about Black boys and young adult literature, I hope our students and the community of librarians will think, ‘I’m going to go out and purchase these books that are representative and have a diverse array of experiences,’” said Villa-Nicholas. “For the broader academic or public community, this is hopefully a way of getting to know our field and that these conversations, which are really compelling, are happening every day.”

URI’s 36-credit Master’s in Library and Information Studies is an online program providing four tracks, including, starting last fall, the Information Equity, Diverse Communities, and Critical Librarianship – one of the few such offerings among library and information studies programs around the country. Students in the master’s program tend to be older, working students, and the program’s online setting provides a needed flexible alternative.

The new 12-credit Information Equity track is designed to enable librarians and other information professionals to acquire foundational knowledge, skills, and competencies required for a diversifying workplace. The program centers on a required course in multiculturalism and libraries with three electives that allow students to mold the track to their interests. Choices include such topics as immigrant and migrant communities, disability approaches in library and information studies, and social justice in children’s and young adult literature.

“All types of communities feel like libraries are their own spaces,” said Villa-Nicholas about her motivation in creating the track. “Differently-abled people, people from different cultures, races, genders all want to access the library and see themselves reflected in it. I think that’s the basis for trying to start this conversation where students are really thinking about how do I make this library feel like different communities are welcome.”

“Our students go everywhere from academic libraries to children’s libraries to school libraries,” she added. “In every single one of these settings, these conversations will come up.”

More than 100 people have registered for the first webinar, said Villa-Nicholas, and she hopes the series will be an annual event.

“There are so many topics that I want to cover. In the next couple of years, there’s going to be a lot on information technologies coming up, and there will be further conversation on antitrust of big tech companies. I want us to talk about how that will impact our field,” she said. “We’re just tapping into the topics that are being talked about among librarians and among the public.”

For more information on the Information Equity, Diverse Cultures, and Critical Librarianship track, contact Melissa Villa-Nicholas at