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  • Table of Contents
  • About the authors
  • Reviews

This accessible and compelling Special Report introduces cultural humility, a lifelong practice that can guide library workers in their day-to-day interactions by helping them recognize and address structural inequities in library services.  

Cultural humility is emerging as a preferred approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts within librarianship. At a time when library workers are critically examining their professional practices, cultural humility offers a potentially transformative framework of compassionate accountability; it asks us to recognize the limits to our knowledge, reckon with our ongoing fallibility, educate ourselves about the power imbalances in our organizations, and commit to making change. This Special Report introduces the concept and outlines its core tenets. As relevant to those currently studying librarianship as it is to long-time professionals, and applicable across multiple settings including archives and museums, from this book readers will 

  • learn why cultural humility offers an ideal approach for navigating the spontaneous interpersonal interactions in libraries, whether between patrons and staff or amongst staff members themselves;
  • understand how it intersects with cultural competence models and critical race theory;
  • see the ways in which cultural humility’s awareness of and commitment to challenging inequitable structures of power can act as a powerful catalyst for community engagement;
  • come to recognize how a culturally humble approach supports DEI work by acknowledging the need for mindfulness in day-to-day interactions;
  • reflect upon cultural humility’s limitations and the criticisms that some have leveled against it; and
  • take away concrete tools for undertaking and continuing such work with patience and hope.

Examination copies are available for instructors who are interested in adopting this title for course use.


1    Introduction

2    Introducing Cultural Humility

3    Cultural Humility in Relation to Other Approaches

  • Cultural Competence
  • Critical Race Theory

4    Defining Cultural Humility

5    Culture and Humility

6    Cultural Humility as a Threshold Practice

7    Practicing Cultural Humility

  • People, Context, and Situation
  • Keys to Practicing Cultural Humility

8    Cultural Humility and Organizations

9    Cultural Humility Reflected in Leadership

  • Mayor Landrieu and the Confederate Statues in New Orleans
  • Provost Chaouki and the UNM Seal

10    Critiques of Cultural Humility: The Problem of Humility and Minoritized People

  • Cultural Pride and Cultural Humility, or, Is This Only for White People (Part 1)?
  • Centering Whiteness, or, Is This Only for White People (Part 2)?
  • Complexity of Power Differentials

11    An Indigenous Perspective on Cultural Humility

12    Conclusion

About the Authors

David A. Hurley

David A. Hurley is the Web and Discovery Librarian for the University Libraries. In addition to cultural humility, he writes and presents on search, reference services, and information literacy. He was previously the director of the Diné College libraries on the Navajo Nation, chief of the library development bureau at the New Mexico State Library, and branch and digital services manager for the public library of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. With Sarah R. Kostelecky and Paulita Aguilar, David co-edited “Sharing Knowledge and Smashing Stereotypes: Representing Native American, First Nation, and Indigenous Realities in Library Collections,” a special double issue of the journal Collection Management.

Sarah R. Kostelecky

Sarah R. Kostelecky is the Director of Digital Initiatives and Scholarly Communication (DISC) for University of New Mexico Libraries. Her research focuses on outreach efforts to underrepresented communities, diversity in academic libraries and library collections, and Native American language resources. Previously at UNM, Sarah has served as the Education Librarian and Access Services Librarian in the Indigenous Nations Library Program (INLP). She earned both her MA in Information Resources and Library Science and BA in Sociology from the University of Arizona. Prior to working at UNM Libraries, Sarah was the Library Director at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM, the premiere educational institution for contemporary Native American arts and cultures. Along with David A. Hurley and Paulita Aguilar, she co-edited “Sharing Knowledge and Smashing Stereotypes: Representing Native American, First Nation, and Indigenous Realities in Library Collections,” a special double issue of the journal Collection Management. Sarah has enjoyed working in a variety of libraries including university, public, tribal college, and museum. She is a member of Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico.

Lori Townsend

Lori Townsend is the Learning Services Coordinator and Engineering Librarian for the University of New Mexico Libraries. Her research interests include threshold concepts and information literacy, academic librarians of color and cultural humility. Lori holds a BA in history from the University of New Mexico and an MLIS from San Jose State University. Before coming to UNM, she worked as the Electronic Collections Librarian at California State University, East Bay from 2005-2010. She is co-author, along with Amy R. Hofer and Silvia Lin Hanick, of the book Transforming Information Literacy Instruction: Threshold Concepts in Theory and Practice (Libraries Unlimited, 2018); she and Silvia Lin Hanick are Series Editors for the just-launched Libraries Unlimited Series on Teaching Information Literacy Today. Lori is a member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of Duck Valley.

"The value of cultural humility—that is, the emphasis on understanding that our own positionalities and personal experiences are not universal—is a quality that makes cultural humility particularly important to adapt within a library and archives setting ... [This report's] conclusion reiterates a fundamental tenet of cultural humility that is echoed throughout the report: that a central goal of cultural humility is to build and maintain positive relationships that actively seek to reduce harm and resist power imbalances. A particularly helpful closing note that the authors offer is that despite best efforts and energies to implement cultural humility at an individual level, if people in power choose not to join us, 'we move on to find other partners, leaving the door open for them to learn and grow' (p. 39). This stance leaves room for an essential component of cultural humility—that of experiencing the great joy that diverse perspectives offer us. Given the often defeating, uphill battle of implementing cultural humility frameworks into organizations with dominant perspectives, I find this endnote to be of critical importance."
— The American Archivist

"This report provides a succinct, clear and practicable approach to reducing personal and structural harm in our libraries. Many libraries are already making great steps towards improving cultural practices, but the focus on cultural competence could be contributing to slow progress amongst staff and some upper-level management. The importance of reducing structural barriers to library use and access cannot be overstated ... I would consider this recommended reading for all information professionals at every level and in every type of library."
— Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association