Reflections on the Public Library System in Canada: Inclusivity, Race and Power


  • Grace Bourret School of Information Management, Dalhousie University


Public libraries as an institution are of the upmost importance to Canadian society as individuals from a variety of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds rely upon these spaces to gain access to information, education, and recreational activities. For this reason, these institutions strive to be inclusive and welcoming spaces. However, they are not always successful in these endeavours. The following paper highlights the ways in which Canadian libraries promote a homogenous culture of whiteness. Although this subject has been discussed in the American context, this paper situates Canada within this scholarship through investigating the makeup of Canadian libraries, the treatment of library patrons, and the documented experiences of racially marginalized staff. Based on these findings, this paper highlights scholarly and practitioner recommendations while also advocating for further research on this topic within the Canadian field of Library and Information Sciences (LIS).


Aabà¸, S., Audunson, R., & Và¥rheim, A. (2010). How do public libraries function as meeting

places? Library & Information Science Research, 32(1), 16-26.

Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies. (2010). People with mental health issues: What you need to know.

Beaudry, G., Bjornson, P., Carroll, M., & Demers, P., (2014). The future now: Canada's

libraries, archives, and public memory. Royal Society of Canada.

Beilin, I. (2017). The academic research library‘s White past and present. In F. Schlesselman-

Tarango (Eds.), Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science. (pp. 79-100.) Library Juice Press.

Bethune, B. (2018). How public libraries are reinventing themselves for the 21st

century. Maclean‘s.

Blackburn, F. (2015). The intersection between cultural competency and whiteness in libraries.

In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Bourg, C. (2014). The Unbearable whiteness of librarianship. Feral Librarian.

British Columbia Library Association. (2015). Working Together Project.

Brook, F., Ellenwood, D., & Lazzaro, A. E. (2015). In pursuit of antiracist social justice: Denaturalizing whiteness in the academic library. Library Trends, 64(2), 246-284.

Canadian Federation of Library Association. (n.d). About. Canadian Federation of Library


Caruk, Holly. (2019, March 14). ‘It‘s a dark stain on our city‘: Millennium Library lovers meet

with staff to discuss security measures. CBC News.

Dali, K. & Caidi, N. (2017). “Diversity by design.” The Library Quarterly, 87 (2), 88-98.

Espinal, I., Sutherland, T., & Roh, C. (2018). A holistic approach for inclusive

librarianship: Decentering whiteness in our profession. Library Trends, 67(1), 147-162.

Ettarh, F. (2019, January 10). Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell

ourselves. In The Library With the Lead Pipe.

Garcia-Febo, L., Hustad, A., Rösch, H., Sturges, P., & Vallotton, A. (2018). CFLA-FCAB Code

of Ethics. Canadian Federation of Library Association.

Galvan, Angela. (2015, June 3). Soliciting performance, hiding bias: Whiteness and

librarianship. In The Library with the Lead Pipe.

Halifax Public Libraries. (n.d). Strategic Plan: 2017-2021. Halifax Public Libraries.

Hathcock, A. (2015, October 7). White librarianship in blackface: Diversity initiatives in

LIS. In The Library With The Lead Pipe.

Helmick, C., & Swigger, K. (2006). Core competencies of library practitioners. Public Libraries, 45(2), 54-69.

Hines, Samantha. (2019). “Leadership development for academic librarians: Maintaining the

status quo?”. Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship 4, 1-19.

Lam, E. (2020). The new public library. The Canadian Architect, 65(1), 4.

McMahon, R. (Executive Producer). (2018-present). “It happens because you‘re Indigenous.” [Audio podcast]. Canadaland: Thunder Bay. happens-because-youre-indigenous/

Macias, J. (2017) “Looking the part”. In F. Schlesselman-Tarango (Eds.), Topographies of

Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science. (pp. 113-120). Library Juice Press.

Matthews, A. (2020). Racialized youth in the public library: Systemic racism through a

critical theory lens. Partnership, 15(1), 1-17.

May, F., & Black, F. (2010). The life of the space: Evidence from Nova Scotia public

libraries. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 5(2), 5-34.

Santamaria, M. (2020). Concealing white supremacy through fantasies of the fibrary:

Economies of affect at work. Library Trends, 68(3), 431-449.

Selman, B., & Curnow, J. (2019). Winnipeg's Millennium Library needs solidarity, not

security. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 14(2), 1-9.

Shachaf, P., & Horowitz, S. (2006). Are virtual reference services color blind? Library &

Information Science Research, 28(4), 501-520.

Schlesselman-Tarango, G. (2017). How cute! Race, gender, and neutrality in libraries.

Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 12(1), 1-18.

Schmidt, J. (2019). “White fragility and privilege in librarianship”. Canadian Journal of

Academic Librarianship. 4, 1-7.

Summers, S., & Buchanan, S. (2018). Public libraries as cultural hubs in disadvantaged

communities: Developing and fostering cultural competencies and connections. The Library Quarterly, 88(3), 286-302.

Warner, J. (2001). Moving beyond Whiteness in North American academic libraries. Libri, 51(3), 167-172.

Watson, M. (2017). “White feminism and distribution of power in academic libraries.” In F.

Schlesselman-Tarango (Eds.), Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science. (pp. 143-174). Library Juice Press.

Williment, K. (2020). “It Takes a Community to Create a Library.” Public Library Quarterly,

(5), 410-420.

Working Together Project. (2008). Community-led libraries toolkit.