Book Review: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility & Inclusion in Museums

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Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion in Museums

Edited by Johnetta Betsch Cole and Laura Lott, 2019, Rowman & Littlefield


While it was released last year, this collection of essays edited by the American Alliance of Museums is an excellent resource for any museum trying to better understand the DEAI landscape and incorporate these important issues into conversations with board and staff. 

The book is divided into four sections: Call to Action, DEAI Strategies, The Necessity and Power of First-Person Voices, and Personal Journeys.  Each section is a collection of essays written by amazing scholars both within the museum field and in other arenas (many of which were original prepared as keynote addresses for AAM conferences).  Lonnie Bunch, now the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, contributed a piece entitled Flies in the Buttermilk: Museums, Diversity and the Will to Change, from a keynote presentation he gave at an AAM conference in 2000.  Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, contributed an essay Twin Threats: How Ignorance and Instrumentality Create Inequality and Injustice.  Haben Girma, the first deaf blind graduate of Harvard Law, contributed Disability and Innovation: The Universal Benefits of Inclusive Design, based on a keynote address from 2017

As with any collection of essays, it is sometimes difficult to read the book as a cohesive whole; these are each unique, and can easily stand alone as necessary resources for any museum professional looking to study the issues connected with DEAI.   Each author writes with a different tone, and some of the essays seem more positive, and hopeful that change can happen; others are more strident, and “say it like it is”.  For instance, one sentence in the essay Museums, Racism and the Inclusiveness Chasm was very blunt: “the museum field needs to stop pussyfooting around its failure to be inclusive and deal with it once and for all.” (page 10).  Girma’s piece about universal design was also very clear: “All of the barriers that exist are created by people, and it’s up to all of us to choose to remove those barriers.” (page 102) The topics covered mainly dealt with racism, but also covered gender bias in museum leadership and the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

This book made me uncomfortable, and it made me proud to be a part of the museum community. It made me question some of my assumptions, and it left me wanting to do additional research to learn more and make changes.  In my opinion, that is exactly what a resource about Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion should do.  It is not an easy read, but it is well worth the investment of time and energy.

Reviewed by: Jennifer Thomas, Director

RSVP to join us on September 1st at 11am EST as we reconvene our Tuesday Talk series on topics related to DEAI.