9/6 #critlib: Public-Academic Library Collabs

I’m going to be moderating a pretty impromptu #critlib chat for Sept. 6 at 9pm EST. The topic is collaboration between public and academic libraries. As someone who started her library career in a public library and now works in an academic library, I’m always on the lookout for ways that public and academic libraries can come together. Specifically, I’m interested in the ways that academic libraries, with all their resources atop their ivory towers, can help support the work being done by the public libraries in their areas.

One of my former library jobs was in a community college setting where one of our system libraries was also the community library: West St. Petersburg Community Library @ St. Petersburg College. So that’s kind of what has me started thinking along these lines, but I’d love to hear about more potential and actual collaborations happening out there.

This is going to be a very informal chat—well, they’re all informal, but this one will be even more so. I’m soliciting questions; feel free to drop them in the comments below or send them my way on Twitter.

Here are some of the questions I’ve gotten so far (thanks, all!):

  1. How can academic libraries support public libraries with research? (from @janeschmidt)
  2. How can academic libraries be more aware of and help out with public library advocacy? (from @chiuchiutrain)
  3. How can big research university libraries share with community colleges as well as public libraries? (from @sunnykins)

Keep those questions coming! And join me on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 9pm EST!

More Thoughts on Diversity Initiatives in LIS

The National Diversity in Libraries conference has been over for almost two weeks, but I’m still reflecting on all I encountered there. What a great time.

Right now, I’ve been thinking about some conversations and presentations that arose as a response to my article in In The Library With the Lead Pipe on diversity initiatives in LIS. During our panel on “Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce,” Mark Puente pushed back on my assertion that diversity initiatives have been largely unsuccessful in increasing the numbers of librarians of color, noting that to date ARL programs have helped over 440 underrepresented librarians in entering the workforce. He also talked a bit about the intangible benefits these programs have provided for librarians from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups: Being a part of a program cohort provides many opportunities for peer and informal mentoring and networking, which is vital for librarians of color who very often end up working isolated in a profession that is 97% white.

In their poster session “Beyond Diversity ARL Initiatives: Peer Mentoring,”Genevia Chamblee-Smith and Christian Minter also picked up on this thread, detailing their in-depth focus group/interview research with current and former program participants on their experiences with peer mentoring as a result of participation in these programs. As a former participant in an LIS diversity program myself (2012 Spectrum), I can attest to the importance of these networking and mentoring opportunities.

Ultimately, we all agreed that more can and should be done to increase both recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in our profession. But for Puente, Chamblee-Smith, Minter, and others, it was also important to note the successes, however intangible they might seem.

I agree. But. But. The conversations also got me thinking. Because throughout the conference—and indeed this happens at any library conference whenever I attend sessions that focus on how program participants feel about their diversity initiatives—I noticed one glaring fact: Many, many, many of these participants are repeat participants. It is more than common to have someone begin a panel discussion on diversity initiatives by saying, “Hi, I’m a 2012 Spectrum Scholar, and I participated in the Mosaic, IRDW, and CEP programs.”

Don’t get me wrong. That’s great. I’m glad people are taking advantage of and enjoying these programs. But it also makes me wonder, of the 440 participants that have come through, how many are actually unique participants of a diversity program? For every repeat participant, how many folks didn’t/couldn’t participate because they were unable to meet the application requirements that are, as I argue in my article, rooted in our system of whiteness and false meritocracy?

And when it comes to the mentoring and networking opportunities—again, who’s missing out? Which of our could-be colleagues, who are otherwise perfectly qualified to do the work of librarians, are missing out on these opportunities to learn and connect because they were unable to get transcripts in on time? Or couldn’t come up with a professor with whom they were close enough to get a recommendation?

The fact is, once you participate in one of these programs, you become exponentially more adept at successfully applying for and entering any of the other programs. You’re in a unique position to leverage your peer mentoring and networks to put forward a stellar application for any number of other opportunities. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. More power to those folks. But we still have to ask about who’s missing out.

So, those are my thoughts. A quick note to close out, though. As I said during our panel discussion and several times after publishing my article, none of my thoughts are a critique of the incredible work done by the inimitable Mark Puente. To the extent anyone reads critique of diversity initiatives as a direct critique of Mark, well, you’re demonstrating our problem right there. Improving diversity in our profession should not and cannot be the job of one lonely man of color. That’s ludicrous. These critiques are meant for us all. They are meant for all of our initiatives: the ones put forward by our national organizations, but also the ones cooked up in our local institutions.

We should all be asking that essential question: Who is being left out? And then, we need to work together to make things better.

Look It Up *Wavy Hand Emoji*

My mother is an educator by trade. And my father believes in doing your own hard work. Put the two together and often when we had questions about stuff growing up, our parents encouraged us to seek out the answers on our own. Not that they wouldn’t help us tackle difficult questions, but they also saw the importance in teaching us how to find the answers we sought. Teach a kid to fish and all that.

Nowadays, as “grown-@ss people” (Mama Hathcock, 2016), my parents don’t even try to be gentle about it anymore. In fact, a common meme in our family is an image of Mama waving her perfectly-manicured hand back and forth in a dismissive wave and saying, “Look it up. I’m done.”

waving-hand-emoji

Waving Hand Emoji from Mihika P. on Google+

Last week, I went to NDLC and spoke a couple times. It was a wonderful conference, and I had a great time; but there did seem to be a common theme that kept surfacing: The fatigue of those from marginalized identities as a result of constantly being expected to educate those with privilege. As a fellow black woman said during dinner one evening, “I’m just tired.”

The fact is there are simply too many situations that spring up in our institutions/organizations/conferences that look like this:

Nonindigenous person: Please, teach me about the effects of colonialism. Like, what’s the deal with that Dakota pipeline?

Indigenous person dragging self up through pain and degradation from modern effects of historical trauma and continuing settler violence: Uh, ok, sure. I mean, there’s all kinds of information on the internet about it. And I’m kinda busy fighting against the day-to-day marginalization of my people in a world that thinks we’re all just characters in some racist cartoon, but by all means, let me take some time and energy to educate you…

 

Cisgender person: Gee, why’s everyone talking about bathrooms all of a sudden? Can you fill me in on why this so important?

Genderqueer person tightly and painfully holding on to bladder muscles because they don’t feel safe enough to risk being gender policed in the binary restrooms, which are the only facilities available: Ummmmm, ok. I’m in physical pain and discomfort right now because there’s nowhere safe for me to go engage in basic human bodily functions, but sure, let me just take a moment and educate you on why my physical existence matters…

 

White person: People of color are are always talking about racism and how they’re offended by stuff. But isn’t there a limit to how racist something can be? Like, explain to me how and why exactly you get to decide? I’m really asking ‘cuz I wanna learn.

Black person closing up news app after reading about yet another unarmed black person shot by police for no other reason than they were black and thinking fearfully about their own lives and the lives of their friends and families: Uh, have you been watching the news? I’m really scared for my physical safety right now; it’s like people who look like me are being hunted down by the state on a daily basis. But, sure, let me put those things aside to teach you a few things…

 

Able-bodied person: Why are disability politics a thing? When you think about it, aren’t we all disabled in some way?

Person with a disability who has just spent virtually every waking minute of the day trying to navigate a world that has made pretty much zero attempt at accommodating their needs while privileged others whiz through without a second thought: Riiiiight, I’m really exhausted from just trying to live in this world, but uh, let me gather some of my remaining spoons to educate you on why my life matters…

There are so many other examples I could name, but I’m sure you get the point. These conversations are annoying and exhausting and we need to do something about them.

What can we do? Well, if you’re someone with privilege who is really looking to learn, follow my Mama’s advice and “Look it up.” It’s really not hard. The hard part is actually doing something about what you learn. Making real change in the way you relate to marginalized people in your world.

Which leads to the other thing people with privilege can do: Be a good ally and offer to take on these 101 lessons. Give marginalized folks a break and educate your fellow people of privilege. Pull them aside and offer to explain the basics so already exhausted marginalized folks don’t have to. That is a huge help.

Let’s make a point of remembering that people from marginalized identities aren’t here for our education or edification. They are not responsible for helping us to learn. Learning is our own responsibility as “grown-@ss people.” So, if we’ve got a question and want to fill in our gaps, let’s just take the time to “look it up.”

 

A Lot’s In a Name, Romeo

I’m sitting in my office diving into Hope Olson’s “The Power to Name: Representation in Library Catalogs” and thinking about the power of naming.

Yesterday, I taught a pre-college library instruction course to a group of students entering their freshmen year in the fall. They’ve gotten a jump-start on their studies over the summer to help with the transition. All of these students in my class were students of color, and they are entering into an institution that is physically, mentally, value-ly, historically and systemically steeped in whiteness.

It’s no wonder then that one of my students, while running a database search for her summer essay topic on “concepts of beauty in the black community,” was aghast to come across the following suggested subject terms for her on search on “blacks” as a race:

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.34.53 PM

Screenshot of a sample search for “blacks” in PsycINFO

I, then, as a librarian and as her instructor and as a fellow black woman in this very white institution, had to explain to her how our subject headings for academic libraries come from the Library of Congress and, sadly, the LoC continues to use the outdated term “negroes” as an official search and categorization term. I then had to tell her that if she wanted to get a full picture of the research available, alas, she was also going to have to consent to the use of that term in her search.

Having to explain these things to my student infuriated me. Not because she didn’t understand but because they existed for explanation in the first place.

It also made me think about all the to-do surrounding the proposed changes to the LoC subject heading “illegal alien.” Even the recommended changes—”noncitizen” and “unauthorized immigration”—are hugely problematic.

No one—and I mean no one—is a “noncitizen” unless you’re that Tom Hanks character in that goodness-gracious-awful movie Terminal. And even then…no.

 

portugal street

No one is illegal!” in Lisbon, Portugal, CC BY-NC 4.0 April Hathcock

As simple as it would seem to allow people to name themselves, the established order resists any and all attempts to reconstruct the way we name, organize, and identify ourselves. The power to name is indeed a power. It is a vastly effectual power that those with privilege are always hard-pressed to cede.

But those of us on the margins continue to fight and resist and rebel. We continue to insist on our own names. We continue to wrest that power away from those who would deny us.

What’s in a name? A lot, Romeo.

Pokémon Stop and Reflect

I’m not a fan of fads.

The last book had long since been released when I finally deigned to read the Harry Potter series. I fell asleep on most of the Star Wars movies, including the originals. I played Nekoatsume for about a minute and really enjoyed it before becoming hopelessly bored and giving up.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a curmudgeon (much). I love video games and all things geek. I’ve played Pokémon on consoles from back when it first came out. I like fun.

But fads in general, and this whole PokémonGo craze in particular, really bother me.

11079329615_4f3613dd32_z

“pokemon” by 5th Luna via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Here’s why: Fads represent what the dominant culture has decided is cool, necessary, important, valued. Fads never come from marginalized communities, never benefit them, never highlight their needs or desires. Fads are always based on what the dominant, privileged group decides is worth focusing on.

Last week, for about a minute, the dominant, privileged group decided to talk a wee bit about #BlackLivesMatter and police violence and racism. The destruction of black and brown, queer and trans lives, which happens ALL THE TIME, was important for a minute last week. But this week, the dominant, privileged group has decided its far more important to catch imaginary beasties. And we’re all falling right in line.

I am totally disheartened to see so many critical librarians, people who care about social justice and reaching out to patrons beyond the mainstream and into the margins, touting the value of PokémonGo as a way to “reach all the patrons!” I’m not concerned about them enjoying the game for themselves. And while I find the privacy concerns worrying, I also realize that those concerns are no worse with PokémonGo than with any other app anyone uses on their smartphone.

What concerns me is the eagerness with which, we, as a profession, jump on the latest fad or bandwagon in the interest of “reaching out to our patrons.” Too often we do so unthinkingly, unreflectively, not taking the time to question and trouble the implications of that latest fad.

The fact is fads are not for everyone. PokémonGo is not for everyone. It’s not for people with deep privacy concerns, perhaps because they are engaged in important activism and already being surveilled by the so-called authorities. It’s not for people who don’t have the financial resources to maintain a smartphone with loads of data, enough to support the endless running of a location-based app as they wander about town. It’s not for people who don’t have the physical ability to wander around town staring at a tiny screen or the manual dexterity to put an augmented reality creature in a red and white ball on that tiny screen. If the focus of our library outreach du jour centers on PokémonGo, then we are effectively telling all these folks that, at best, we’re not thinking of them and, at worst, we don’t care about them.

There’s nothing wrong with bringing popular stuff into the library to draw people in. It’s part of our marketing strategies. But we need to be careful that we do this, as with everything we do, critically, reflectively, constantly asking the key questions: Who is this really for? Who will benefit? Who will be excluded? What message does this send to those in the margins?

By all means, have fun catching your Pokémon. But as we develop new means of outreach in our libraries, let’s also look beyond the fads, beyond the mainstream, and make sure we’re reaching those who are forever on the margins.

When You’ve Got Privilege, You Don’t Need Pride

It’s summer time and Pride celebrations are going on all over the world. Last week, I was in Portugal on vacation and saw the posters and other festive remnants from their celebrations.

Unfortunately, just as Pride comes every year, so too do the swarms of cis-het folks claiming they want to celebrate their so-called “heterosexual pride” or “cisgender pride.” People with privilege who can’t stand to see marginalized groups band together in celebration of their right to simply be alive. (Which, after the devastating tragedy at Pulse earlier this month, is a big f–king deal.)

What these people fail to realize is that when you have privilege, you don’t need pride.

I’ve alluded to this a little in my pieces on exclusive spaces. When it comes to celebrating identity, as with everything, context is key. Folks from marginalized identity need their pride celebrations as a means of resisting the mental and physical violence of an oppressive society that tells them they have no right to exist.

LGBTQ Pride is about fighting a queer-phobic and trans-phobic society that says that LGBTQ folks have no right to live their lives. A society that insists that they do not matter and are not worth protecting. This society already values the lives of cis-het people; we have that privilege of knowing that society privileges us and centers us in subtle and very not subtle ways.

So we don’t need pride.

We can use restrooms safely and securely without running the risk of someone hurling verbal or even physical abuse against us for stepping outside their construct of gender identity.

We can love whom we want and marry whom we want without running the risk of someone refusing to provide us service or care because of their false conceptions of religious convictions.

We can go to nightclubs with out friends and have a good time and come home safely without fear that we’ll suffer physical violence or worse because of our gender expression or sexual practices.

We don’t need pride. We have privilege.

Just as white people don’t need race pride. Middle class people don’t need class pride. People with a full range of mental and physical abilities don’t need ability pride.

Pride is for those who are oppressed and marginalized by society. Those who do not have privilege. But if you’ve got privilege, if you’ve got the stamp of approval and value from society, then you most certainly don’t need pride.

 

Write FL Legislators!

Looking for something to do in the wake of the tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando? Please take a moment to send letters to the state legislators responsible for that part of the state. Orlando is my hometown, and I just can’t sit back and watch this kind of hate and violence flourish.

Here are the contacts:

Florida House of Representatives for Orlando

Florida Senators for Orlando

And here’s a sample letter you can use:

Dear Florida Legislator:

The tragedy that occurred on June 12, 2016 at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando was a devastating blow to the city, state, and our entire country. It is now time for long-needed action to protect the community from gun violence and preserve the rights of the LGBTQ community. Orlando is one of the country’s top tourism spots, but it cannot claim that honor for long when this type of hate and violence is allowed to flourish. Act now to increase gun control and provide meaningful protections for the rights of LGBTQ residents and visitors to the state.

Family Microaggressions Support Group

Last week I spent a wonderful week of vacation at my parents’ home in central Florida. Everyone from my immediate family was there, and I felt safe and secure and renewed. My parents’ house has always been and will always be my Camp David.

When it was time to leave, I grabbed my parents tightly and wailed, “It’s time to go back to my real life! I gotta go back to watching my own back and wearing my armor against oppression!”

A big part of what I was talking about was the constant stream of microaggressions that are a part of life as a person of a marginalized identity. Microaggressions are subtle insults or slights, verbal or nonverbal, intentional or not, that people enact against folks from marginalized backgrounds. It’s a way to perpetuate systemic oppression, rooted in stereotypes and underlying bias.

As a black people, every single one of my family members and I have been the victims of microaggressions on almost a daily basis. While these subtle incidents of oppression may seem like not so much to those with privilege, they add up and can have major effects on the health and well-being of marginalized people. To counteract these effects, it’s important to develop healthy and effective coping strategies. For my family, one of the things we do, though many of us live in different places, is to connect across the distances (usually via text messages or video chat) and share our experiences and frustrations.

Here’s a typical conversation from our Family Microaggressions Support Group:

Queen B: Hello, my beautiful family! How is everybody?

The Colonel: Pretty good, boss lady. The usual.

Baby Bro: Today at school, I was driving in the parking lot during rush hour looking for a space, and I started following this girl, hoping to get her space. When she saw me, though, she clutched her purse and darted between the rows. Later I saw her waving someone else toward her space.

Everybody Else: Hm, was she white?

Baby Bro: Yes. It was daytime and I wasn’t the only person in a car following people to a space!

Everybody Else: Was the other person who got the space from her white?

Baby Bro: Yep.

Queen B: Watch out, baby. It’s not fair, but people like that will call the campus police on you in a heartbeat, even if you’re not doing anything wrong or out of the ordinary. If you want a space, stick with one of our brothers or sisters. And be sure to leave early enough to give you the extra time you need to find a place.

Dr. Sis: Today at work, a dudebro med student mistook me for a nurse. Again. Even though he’s been working with me for a week AND I’m wearing a white coat like he is AND my white coat is embroidered with my name and the letters “M.D., M.P.H.”

Everybody Else: Was he white?

Dr. Sis: Yep. Still in his third year of med school. And I’m in my second year of fellowship. I graduated years ago!

Everybody Else: Groan. That’s so idiotic. What’d you say?

Dr. Sis: I told him he better get better at recognizing his superiors or he won’t last long in this profession.

Me: I guess being prejudiced makes it hard to recognize faces or read. Today at work, I had a faculty member mistake me for a student, even though I’d emailed and told her I was coming to meet with her at that time AND my email has my picture AND my name with the letters “J.D., L.L.M., M.L.I.S.” When she saw me in person, she just couldn’t believe that I could be a lawyerbrarian.

Everybody Else: Let us guess…

Me: Yep.

The Colonel: I was standing in the lobby of our office building, and this old man came up to me and asked if I’d take him up to the seventh floor. He then stood by the elevator and waited. I guess he thought I was the doorman, rather than an executive in one of the contracting firms with offices in the building.

Everybody Else: And of course, he was…

The Colonel: You know it.

Everybody Else: What did you say to him?

The Colonel: Nothing. I had important business  to attend to and didn’t have time for his ignorance. I turned and walked away. If he was waiting for me to escort him up the elevator, he’d be waiting all day. Racist old fool.

Queen B: Well, I was at the gym, and this woman came up to me to tell me that one of the stalls was broken in the ladies’ changing room…

Everybody Else: Uh oh.

Queen B: And I turned to that little miss and said, “Excuse me? Now, please, help me understand, because I am so confused, despite being an incredibly intelligent woman with a graduate degree and a doctor, lawyer, and computer scientist for children. Please help me understand why in the WORLD you assumed that I work here? You walked past the assistant in the company t-shirt over there to tell me about the stall. Why do you think I CARE about the stall? Hm? Please help me to understand.”

Everybody Else: *rolling on floor, laughing* We don’t even have to guess.

Queen B: Oh, you know she was white. Well, at that point, she was red. And gone. I think she left; I didn’t see her for the rest of my workout.

The Colonel: Well, this has been a good meeting. Stay strong, everyone. Remember what we taught you. Remember who you are.

Everybody: We love you!

FIN*

As you can see, our meetings center on what it means to be black in our respective spheres of school, work, and play. But microaggressions affect people across all intersections of oppression. And while they may seem minor, they are extremely harmful, particularly as they signal a deeper problem running through society. 

*While this was a dramatization, it was by no means an exaggeration. These are real things that happen all the time. I actually had trouble picking from the multitude of possible examples. Please keep that in mind.

Context is Everything

I’m sitting at my desk during an unexpected moment of free time (a meeting got cancelled) and reading Maura Seale’s excellent “Compliant Trust: The Public Good and Democracy in the ‘ALA’s Core Values of Librarianship'” when I come across this paragraph about the myth of library neutrality, using the Ferguson Public Library during late 2014 as an apt example:

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.16.27 AM.png

To be honest, I stopped there. I still haven’t finished reading Maura’s amazing article, though I fully intend to. This paragraph, and the broad set-up of Maura’s argument, unleashed a host of feelings and thoughts that have been bubbling within me for a while now.

It’s about the vitally huge importance of socio-political context.

Context wraps around everything we do. EVERYTHING. And by “we,” I mean, us human beings here on planet Earth. Not just librarians. Not just Americans. All of us. Context is everything.

I’ve said it before and others have said it before (here and here and oh look! here) and I’m sure we’ll all say it again: Neutrality does not exist. We live in a system of oppression. We LIVE a system of oppression. ← [No, I didn’t leave out the preposition there.] I said this in a recent talk I gave at the Association of College Libraries of Central Pennsylvania and again at Temple University (so, Pennsylvanians should really have it by now):

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 10.48.49 AM.pngRacism and other forms of oppression are like a river with a fast moving current. If you attempt to stand still in the form of so-called “neutrality” or “colorblindness,” you will quickly be swept away and become little more than debris in the mess. To make any kind of difference, you must actively fight against the current of oppression. Otherwise, you are just part of the problem.

Nothing about oppression is an accident. It’s all rooted in the broader context of systemic and structural oppression that goes beyond individual motivations and good intentions. In fact, good intentions mean precious little.

So, every single time a white man opens his mouth to say something to me or ask something of me, that experience is rooted in the history and socio-political context of slavery, Jim Crow, race and gender oppression. Even if we never mention race or racism, sex or sexism, it is there. It saturates the context. And it matters.

All of my encounters with white women are rooted in the context of racial oppression. Even if the encounters are pleasant. Even if we’re friends. It doesn’t matter. The context is everything.

Every time I open my mouth about my life as a woman, I am bringing in the context of gender identity politics that affects the lives of trans and non-binary people.

Every time I say anything about what I do, physically or mentally, I am implicating disability politics that touch the lives and experiences of people with disabilities.

Every time I even hint at general life or resources as a middle-class person, I am bringing class politics into the mix in a way that affects poor folks.

The list goes on.

This is something that can be so difficult for people to understand but is so vital to DOING THE WORK. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered folks who are so caught up in their innocent intentions that they fail to realize the broader contextual implications of what they’re asking for, saying, doing.

Let’s all do the world a favor and take a step back to observe the context around us. Let’s be mindful of how that context rests on the lives of others. And let’s do our work from that place of mindfulness.