In short, this involves three main components: humility, competence, and responsiveness.
Humility means that there’s no way we can ever know and experience everything. Thus, we’re bound to make mistakes. That’s okay as long as we don’t privilege our own experiences over those of others.
Competence happens when we start to learn about and listen to people who are different from us. By trying to really understand what a community needs — from their own culture, perspectives, and lived experience — we can build meaningful relationships.
Finally, responsiveness proceeds from knowledge to action. When we genuinely listen to the voices of others, we can respond as allies rather than saviors, and we can support the outcomes that they want to see.
Beth says that we need to consider each of these parts in order to create meaningful change. We can’t do the larger work without addressing our own biases first. That requires turning inward and working on ourselves.
What might a culturally competent response look like on the part of libraries? They could serve as a critical communications channel, delivering important crisis messages in multiple formats and languages. They could serve as an information hub, understanding that trusted sources are different from community to community, and forging partnerships to ensure those messages are getting through to all constituents. And they could provide a space where technology and the Internet can be accessed by community members who need it.
The next step for libraries, Beth believes, is to think about their role in the context of providing continuity in times of crisis. Access to information is at the core of that continuity, and it’s the primary purpose of libraries themselves.
We need to think about the services libraries provide and examine how to continue them when resources and physical spaces are limited, unrest or displacement has affected broad swaths of people, or access to infrastructure has become limited. That would shed light on how to best serve the communities most affected by disaster now and in the future.
In the end, it could mean the difference between prolonged crisis and recovery.