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Learning and Change Through DEI PDEs

Adult Students

Research Problem

How do impactful Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) related Professional Development Events (PDE) change academic librarians’ attitudes and professional practice at the personal and organizational levels?

Research Methods

Hermeneutical Phenomenology

A Posteriori




Critical Incident Approach

Retrospective Reflection Technique

This study used a hermeneutic phenomenology approach. Hermeneutic phenomenology focuses on discerning the meaning of human experiences from individuals' own narratives. The research was designed to be a posteriori, that is, there was no predetermined theoretical framework and preformulated hypotheses. Instead, the researchers allowed conclusions to emerge from empirically collected data and only then looked for a fit with existing theories. In alignment with the phenomenological approach, the qualitative survey was chosen as a research method. Participants were asked to retrospectively reflect on one PDE (hence, a critical incident approach) that took place at least a year ago and made a lasting impact on their practices and attitudes.


Participants' Characteristics

Table - Participants' Characteristics

Perceived or Expected Significance of DEI Issues by Years of Experience

Table - Perceived or Expectedd Significance of DEI Issues

Aspects of Learning Reflected in Responses to Open-Ended Questions

Table - Aspects of Learning Reflected in Responses - L&C.

Changes Resulting from Impactful PDE

Cognitive Learning and Change: Awareness

Attendees experienced several changes including a realization that:


"We need to have space around the table for everyone because [when] our students are so diverse, they need teachers and mentors who reflect their personal realities."


But there was also doubt and skepticism:

“there was an incident of a white person finding the work of librarians of color to be“aggressive.” My white mentor later wanted to speak with me about the incident and made it clear that they agreed with the white librarian and they expected me to agree as well. This made me wonder if every white “ally” in attendance was really posturing and only there because they know they should be or because they themselves want to professionally benefit from engaging in work around EDI.“

Much of the transformative experiences came from hearing personal experiences:

“It was a good lesson on making sure that my purpose and scope remains intersectional and truly inclusive for participants. I don’t think you can lead a session on the topics of diversity equity and inclusion without making extra efforts to ensure that the session itself is inclusive to all, including issues of race, sexuality, religion, and ability.“

Behavioral Learning and Change: Action

Attendees became motivated to make real change after the event:

The event "got [them] even more fired up to integrate and advocate for these issues at [their] institution."

Some responses focused on organizational culture and procedures:

They not only saw the DEI issues “more objectively and clearly at work and away from work” but also “speak more persuasively about the systemic needs […] and some concrete things to change in our hiring processes to improve access of our searches.”

Participants also looked for information about advocacy:

They learned “techniques and tips on engaging in hard conversation, as well as when to walk away or disengage from bad-faith actors.”

However, skepticism about the effectiveness of PDEs lingered:

“The session made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Although everyone listened attentively and said they support diversity/ social justice issues (e.g. letter-writing campaign, etc.) -people didn't seem aware of the issues present in our own workplace culture (e.g.bullying, team dysfunction, lack of empathy, etc.).“

Personal Learning: Self-awareness and Self-improvement

Some responses indicated that personal transformation took place during the event:

“Attending the library-sponsored event made [her] realize that [her] comfort as a white, cisgender woman is not important. [She] had gone into the training hoping that it wouldn't be uncomfortable, and in the more than a year since [she] attended, [she has]realized how wrong that approach was.”

Only two responses showed how the event helped BIPOC librarians deal with their own experiences of discrimination, specifically:

“it reaffirmed [their] own experiences as a BIPOC librarian at [their] own institution.”

Affective and Emotion Learning

Some attendees experienced positive emotions, such as being:

“hopeful because of the amazing people doing the work.”

However, many emotions were negative, for example, being:

“worried because of the sheer amount of work that still needed to be done.”

These negative feelings sometimes allowed for transformation:

The event "did make this particular issue more real to me even though I knew about it from books."

Organizational Change

After attending a DEI PDE, 48.5% of participants noted there was a cognitive change at their workplace. However, the purely intellectual change frustrated some:

“for real change, people need to acknowledge everyday issues and build empathy for others (rather than write statements voicing their collective outrage).”

Many participants saw no change at all:

The event “[c]onfirmed [their] beliefs that white people really do just want to engage in virtue signaling, will never give up or share their privilege, and are uninterested in the hard work of dismantling systemic racism.”

Some experienced negative consequences:

“I work for a university that is associated with a religious institution and I have been able to be a safe person for students here who do not feel heard or seen. I have intentionally purchased books and other resources to grow our collection of LGBTQ+ materials. Sadly, my university is not currently willing to reconsider its stance and that reality has also meant that I am planning to leave this job to find another.“

Some frustrations ran deep and brought about negative perceptions of the organization:

“If anything, I cared less [after the training]. The exercise and the aftermath [were] so demoralizing, it was like “why bother saying anything? why bother going to another one of these?” It’s affected my job satisfaction in that I’ve lost a lot of trust with my library’s and my unit’s administration.“


Most librarians saw DEI PDEs as a matter of professional and personal significance.

Most librarians expect cognitive and behavioral outcomes from DEI PDEs.

Personal change was the hardest for attendees to embrace and sustain.

Organizers should pay attention to intersectionality and gaps in their training.

References to disability, immigration, and religion were missing from responses. Perhaps a sign that these issues are excluded from DEI-related learning.

The responses from the survey were mapped to the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of Change, which can be seen on the TTM handout.

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