Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Amelia Gibson receive ALA Diversity Research Grant

June 20, 2017

Two UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) faculty members have received a Diversity Research Grant from the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services. SILS Professor Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Assistant Professor Amelia Gibson will use the $2,500 award for a pilot study to learn more about how youth of color perceive and experience libraries and to produce preliminary guidelines to help staff members make libraries more welcoming.

Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Amelia Gibson
Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Amelia Gibson

Despite the increasing public and professional perception that libraries should promote learning, technology, and community, there is mounting evidence that public libraries are often unwelcoming places for youth of color. Previous research shows that African American teens feel like outsiders in the library and believe library staff lack an understanding of teen behavior and are often dismissive of teen information needs.

With the 2017-18 Diversity Research Grant, Hughes-Hassell and Gibson will coordinate interviews and focus-groups with youth of color between the ages of 12 and 19 from eight North Carolina counties. Participants will include those who do and who do not regularly use their local school and/or public libraries.

In addition to sharing the findings through publications and conference presentations, researchers will draw on the results to develop preliminary guidelines that library staff can use to increase youth of color’s access to and ownership of the library as a learning space, a social space, and a public commons. They will also develop a survey that can be distributed nationally to help further gauge youth experiences in library spaces.

This new study focuses an issue at the intersection of work by Hughes-Hassell and Gibson on information access, equity, and poverty in traditionally marginalized communities. Hughes-Hassell, who previously led the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)-funded summit Building a Bridge to Literacy for African American Adolescent Males, is the current director of Project READY: Reimagining Equity and Access for Diverse Youth, which is developing a continuing education curriculum that will enable school librarians to become more culturally competent educators. Other recent endeavors by Hughes-Hassell include the Steinfirst Artist-in-Residency Program, which gives Triangle area youth an opportunity for in-depth study with internationally acclaimed authors and illustrators. Diversity, both of the author and the participating students, is a high priority for the program, which was developed by Hughes-Hassell and SILS Associate Professor Brian Sturm. Hughes-Hassell is also the current president of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)  and co-author of Libraries, Literacy, and African American Youth, published by Libraries Unlimited in 2016.

Gibson has received an Eleanor M. and Frederick G. Kilgour Research Grant Award and a UNC Junior Faculty Development Award for her project titled, “Know That! Young Black Women and Personal Geographies of Information Seeking,” a youth participatory action research study exploring the health information needs and behaviors of young black women in the Durham, N.C. area. Earlier this spring, she received an IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Early Career Award for a three-year project to examine the potential for libraries to help people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and their families fulfill their information needs and reduce information poverty in local ASD communities.