In mid-December, the Free Library welcomed Dr. Guy Sims as the institution’s first full-time Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.
Prior to this appointment, Guy was the Assistant to the President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Bluefield College during his seven years at the school, where he most recently served as Dean of Students. He has also participated and led community-building committees, commissions, and programs throughout his career.
We hope you enjoy getting to know our Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer a bit better through this special Q&A!
What are your primary goals as Chief Officer for Diversity and Inclusion?
My primary goals are threefold:
- To lead the Free Library’s DEI strategic plan on efforts surrounding diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Oftentimes, discussions center primarily around diversity, equity, and inclusion but the reason why social justice is important is because it seeks reconciliation with history while meeting the goals of access, participation, shared power, and upholding human rights.
- To review our institutional policies and processes and make recommendations for clarity, relevancy, and equitable application. Just as no one should be above our rules, no one should be harmed by them.
- To evaluate and provide guidance for initiatives and trainings designed to impact positively how we engage with one another as fellow staff members, as well as enhancing the quality of service we provide to our patrons.
Why are these important? We all share the duty to cooperate with one another, to be civil toward one another, to be good stewards of the confidence the public places on us, and to uphold the very mission that guides us. We all play a role in creating and maintaining the kind of workplace that invites, uplifts, is responsive, and is supportive of its members. Many people use sports teams as analogies for how an organization should work together. I will do the same. The staff of the Free Library are an Olympic team and just as the Olympic team has runners, swimmers, wrestlers, and gymnasts, we have many different people doing different tasks. Success is not measured when only one group or individual does well. Victory is determined by the overall tally of points. The same goes for us. All of our achievements are the measurement of our collective success and our success is the end result of our diversity, our intentional inclusiveness, and the equitable actions.
What drew you to work at the Free Library?
For most of my career, the work of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion has not only been part of my job responsibilities but has also always been my personal ethos on how engagement in the workplace should be. I found the work of DEI to not only be both challenging and rewarding but an integral part of the modern work environment. The world continues to change and our institutions must move with the times, seeking ways to create and maintain spaces where people of all backgrounds can enter, contribute, and be successful.
I had come to a point in my career where I felt that it was time to make a change. I spent most of my career in higher education and while the college campus is a wonderful place to work, I wanted to find another arena for my experience, education, skills, and passion. A colleague of mine introduced the opportunity here at the Free Library to me and I was intrigued. The Free Library of Philadelphia has been a part of my entire life; from my early days back in Mt. Airy going to the Lovett Library, in high school hanging out at the Coleman Library (we just called it Green and Chelten), or the treat of going downtown to the Parkway Central Library. Even when working on my masters at Arcadia University, my weekends were spent working on papers at Parkway. Even when I was in Iowa working on my doctorate, at the dissertation stage, I came back to Philly to use the library for research purposes during holiday breaks. Additionally, when I was researching the 1984 MOVE incident for my novel, Living Just A Little. There was no better place to go to do my research but the Free Library of Philadelphia.
To make a long story short, the idea of working for such an esteemed institution was intriguing. After further investigation, I saw that not only was this a place where I believed my skills and background could be of use, the prospect of returning to the place I love—Philly—was the cherry on the top.
What is your neighborhood library and what do you love about it?
Without a doubt, the Lovett Memorial Library is my favorite because it played such a role in the foundations for my writing. Lovett was one point on our social triangle: On one corner was Acme where we would get our treats to pig out, on another corner was Sedgwick Playground where we would hang out, and to the third corner, Lovett, where we would cool out. As my writing began to blossom, I would be inspired at the playground to create short stories and poems but would go to the library to write my thoughts down before heading for home.
What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading two books: What If I Say The Wrong Thing by Verna A. Myers. What If I Say The Wrong Thing is a nice read for those interested in the practical applications of the tenants of equity, diversity, and inclusion. It is comprised of short vignettes with advice on how to navigate social faux pas. It is the kind of book where you can read one short section a day, mull on it, and see how you can apply it to your life. The second book I am reading is Walter Mosley’s And Sometimes I Wonder About You. Mosley is one of my top three writers—Richard Wright is my number one. I like to write mysteries and Mosley is a fine author to emulate.
What is something that's surprised you about the Free Library since you began work here?
As I shared, my experience with the Free Library has been from the patron’s perspective. Since my arrival, I am learning there is a fantastic ecosystem of talented, skillful, committed, and knowledgeable staff who make the magic happen. There is so much more than books on shelves and somebody checking materials out. Services such as community outreach, programming, and patron support do not begin to tell the story of how the Free Library works to meet the needs of the public
Do you have a favorite librarian or other Free Library staff member at your neighborhood library you think we should shine a spotlight on? Let us know in the comments!