Online Tools to Leverage for Heritage and Identity Month Digital Displays 

A good digital display can set DEI work into motion

Service models and strategic plans of academic libraries across the US are incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As part of this work, library collections are usually evaluated and updated to better align with DEI goals. However, once the work is done, it can be challenging to showcase the results. An obvious way to highlight collections is through physical displays—but these often have limited engagement. So, the alternative is to use the library’s virtual front door (i.e., its website) to host and exhibit diverse content. 

Well, why bother? Why not spend your time on more meaningful, action-oriented DEI efforts—like recruiting and retaining diverse staff? The reality, as we see it, is that passive efforts, like digital displays, build the foundation that permits and supports larger DEI initiatives. Digital displays expand on Emily Style’s concept of Windows and Mirrors: where users can see others (windows) and themselves (mirrors) represented in what is supposed to be “their” library. In other words, they help frame DEI work by starting the conversation and generating an environmental shift.

Let’s speed right into it. Below are three, free digital tools that we recommend for building digital displays.

The Tools

Canva

Learning curve: low 

Use cases: digital signage, slides, other graphics 

Once you overcome a relatively low threshold for competence in design, you’ll be rewarded with highly customizable, attractive visuals that enhance your collections work. The tools included in even the free version of the platform—in concert with colors, graphics, and images associated with your institution—can be enough to create attractive templates for iterative use. We’ve used Canva to build slideshows in our library’s reading room and their thematic, webpage equivalents to draw attention to new content with a refreshed color scheme.  

Example of a graphic for Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month with a QR code
Sample graphic made in Canva
A graphic showing examples from two different special collections
Another graphic made in Canva | Photograph Album No. 2, page 80, 1913. Herman L. Dillingham papers. Baker Library, Harvard Business School. Accessed December 18, 2023. https://images.hollis.harvard.edu/permalink/f/100kie6/HVD_VIAolvwork737821 (olvwork737821). | Loading bananas – Guatemala, circa 1930. United Fruit Company photograph collection. Baker Library, Harvard Business School. Accessed December 18, 2023.
https://images.hollis.harvard.edu/permalink/f/100kie6/HVD_VIAolvwork720071 (olvwork720071).

Using templates allows us to standardize the accessible formatting of large, bold text no matter what we change. The simple process of adding QR codes or relevant images can be especially effective for communicating theme, subject, and findability. The presence of thoughtfully designed graphics can counter an unwelcoming environment and quite literally bring new faces into the room. 

There are a number of features hidden away behind Canva’s pro version paywall, but don’t be dissuaded from trying your hand at the free toolbox. It beats learning Photoshop, and you can shake up your digital presence with just a dream and a discerning eye. 

Flourish 

Learning curve: medium 

Use cases: digital bookshelves, showcasing library statistics, highlighting people/concepts/ideas 

Quietly padding shelves with new, diverse titles won’t mean much to your patrons if they never see what’s there. Interactivity, discoverability, and usability are fundamental to any digital display. Our digital bookshelves give us an opportunity to connect patrons with titles they never would have found in passing. Working at a specialized library with uniform, intimidating stacks, we have found that patrons don’t expect to find a great deal of diversity among our items and are disincentivized from browsing. Presenting titles in a Flourish display does the work for them and removes the anxiety around asking for help.

Constructing simple book listings and adding filters for genre or access method create an uncluttered, inviting interface. While Flourish’s visualizations can seem basic, they go a long way toward promoting your collections work. Some more advanced features require a bit of HTML knowledge, but luckily Flourish has guides on their site. 

That’s all it takes to connect your audience with works by diverse authors across your library network, including eBooks they can read right on their devices by connecting to your library’s catalog. These visualizations are fantastic for their ease of sharing. Take a look at some of their examples to see how far you can go. And once you’re done there, see how we used Flourish to showcase some of our materials.

Tableau 

Learning curve: high 

Use cases: digital bookshelves, showcasing library statistics, highlighting database features 

While this tool requires thinking about data in terms of columns and rows, nothing is impossible for information professionals to overcome, right? The true power of this application is in its customization and unintended design outcomes. To see what we are talking about, browse Tableau’s Viz of the Day gallery. We took inspiration from this gallery and developed a few visuals to highlight underrepresented collections and underutilized databases. Tableau not only makes things more visual, but also more tactile—at least through the clicks of a mouse.

For us, this was an active form of engagement that promoted discoverability and encouraged community participation. Users were able to submit their own recommendations to our Pride Bookshelf via a built-in link to a quick survey. This enabled us to continue adding new content throughout the month, which could be sorted by different metadata facets. The browsing factor is extra potent in a Tableau bookshelf. Hovering over a book’s spine reveals a floating dialogue box with the book cover and a short blurb. And of course, clicking through leads to the catalog listing for the book, telling you exactly how to read or access it. 

Tableau graphic of various countries' flags
Graphic made in Tableau

Conclusion 

You’re pouring your time, knowledge, and judgment into diversifying your collections. Don’t let these efforts go to waste. These tools can amplify your library’s diversity work and digitally transform your web presence—at least a little bit. There are plenty of tutorials out there, so play around with the interfaces, read some guides, and build up your DEI work.


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