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Be the Goose: On Barriers, Roadblocks and Finding Your Way in LIS

Thank you to the conference organizers who invited me here to speak to you today. I know that standing in front of an audience and self-deprecatingly confessing that “I’m not the right person to speak” can feel disingenuous, particularly from someone who is speaking to you from the privilege of being an invited guest. But there’s a big part of me that still feels this way. While I’m here, I’m going to have a chat about barriers, about failure, and about how being a “problem child” could quite possibly be the best thing that could have ever happened to me professionally. And I’ll also talk about how, in the face of all of this, I managed to find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places.

DISCLAIMER
DISCLAIMER

Before I go any further, I am required to make the following statement: I am appearing here today as myself. I am not representing my employer in any way. For as long as I have this platform, there is no association between me and the organization that signs my paycheques. I am unfettered by anything but my desire to keep a regular paycheque, all the while understanding that this compromise places me in a difficult position.

I have worked hard to make sure that this talk doesn’t end the conference on a downcast note, but in the interest of transparency and honesty, I want to say up front that there will be aspects of this talk that may be a huge bummer, particularly for those of you who identify as white and are committed to all that this belief and the associated privileges that come along with it. My friend Robyn, who made this very long trip with me, taught me about an experience that happens in her church when people are presented with new information that they hadn’t previously considered. She told me that people can feel convicted by this information, challenged, put on trial and found guilty. That is not my purpose today. I hope that in presenting ideas that may be new information for you, that you will use it in pursuit of building a better, more just system. I believe discomfort is necessary for structural change to occur. If you are interested in becoming a person who is more committed to justice, anti-racism, eradicating homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination of all kinds.

I also want to say that in an attempt to prevent this talk from being derailed, I will not entertain questions or comments at the end that ask me to absolve you of blame, or that require me to assure you that you’re a good person. It has been my experience that when discussions of race, gender, or any issue that relates to identity take place in mixed company, it creates a conflict for people with marginalized identities: we can choose to speak up at significant personal and social risk, or we can choose to remain silent to prevent conflict. The issue is not your relative goodness, or the degree to which you are blameless for the inequalities that exist in the profession. Even if you are an entry-level librarian, you possess certain privileges that minoritized people like me do not have access to. My goal today is to inspire you to be less concerned about niceness and more concerned about how you can use whatever power and privilege you possess to make your individual workplaces and the profession as a whole a more equitable spaces for the most vulnerable among us. If you find yourself in need of support after the talk, I hope that you will work through those feelings with your (white) friends, colleagues, families, mental health professionals, members of clergy, or whomever you might talk to about thorny issues. Only through rigorous inquiry and commitment can we hope to lose the social inhibitions that make it difficult for “nice” people to wrestle with the inequality and injustices that exist in librarianship.

How I Got Here

But first I want to share a bit of my origin story. I’ve been an active library user since I was three years old, and libraries have been a part of my life for all of my life. But when I was five years old, a librarian quite literally saved my life, and it’s hard to overlook the kind of impact that has had.

On a stormy April morning in 1974, my mother bustled my older brother and me off to school, just as she did every other morning. The skies were leaden, the air was muggy and warm, and there was a sense of foreboding hanging in the air. Shortly after my mom dropped us off, all the power went out and kids started to cry. I didn’t really know what tornadoes were, I just knew they were scary and bad. I was terrified, and I knew that my big brother was in a classroom three floors above mine, so I did what any logical five year old would do: I sneaked out of my classroom and made a beeline for the stairs, just as the winds began to howl. Mrs. Jeanne Blackmon, the school librarian, spotted me, flew from her office in the library, caught me by the back of my shirt, and dragged me to safety. In the aftermath it was clear that we had been spared, but she couldn’t have known at the time that the school would be safe.

As I got older, I thought of this story often. I also thought of how, after teachers had treated me like a curiosity and paraded me around to other classrooms so that I could show off my reading abilities on par with children 3 or 4 years older than I was, Ms. Blackmon made sure that I was rewarded for these demonstrations by granting me extra time in the library stacks. She held space for me even after I transferred to a different school in a wealthy and mostly segregated part of town. She let me look through book catalogues and choose books I wanted to read when it was time to prepare orders, and she never had anything other than an encouraging word for me. Ms. Blackmon made my school library a happy place, somewhere I felt like I belonged, and a place that was made better by my presence.

Because of her gentle but firm stewardship, I learned to love the library as a place. My vision of what libraries could be was shaped by Black women. It’s important for me to say this because the racial demographics of the profession in North America indicate that my experiences were not at all common. All of the librarians I encountered growing up were Black women, which is startling when you consider that in the United States, Black people make up only 5% of the professional librarian population. Between the ages of 5-18, everywhere I looked, I saw the faces of librarians and other library workers who looked like me and who had come from similar circumstances, and I think that this representation went a long way toward making me a more confident child who, even at a young age, knew the value of her worth. Black librarians took care of me if I couldn’t pay my library fines by letting me sit quietly at a table reading to my heart’s content. I might not have been able to take the books out, but I could still read them, and there were many times that these Black library workers would hold these items behind the desk for me (as long as no one else was waiting for them) when I couldn’t check them out because of overdue fines.

Black librarians showed me kindness, and they showed me that I mattered, regardless of my financial status, my race, my gender, or any other identity markers I carried with me. When I look back on it, it feels truly miraculous, in large part because it was an experience I would never have again.

I moved to Canada in 2001, and at the time I thought a degree in African American Studies wouldn’t carry me very far in a city where Black people were less than 1 percent of the population. I needed I needed to find a line of work that would (1) make me employable, and (2) earn me a degree from a Canadian university. This last point is important because as I learned from fellow immigrant, having a diploma from a Canadian school made it a lot harder for companies to say that you didn’t have the right qualifications.

I didn’t work in libraries immediately out of school. In fact, I thought I only wanted to work in corporations. But after a few years of designing systems that sold things to people that they didn’t really need, I decided to give public libraries a try. I also knew I wanted to go into management someday, and maybe even become a library director. I had the drive, confidence and ambition that I thought would carry me far in librarianship, and because I thought of libraries as feminist, activist workplaces that helped democratize education and provided access for so many who had so little. While this isn’t untrue, I now see that I was displaying some of the earliest signs of “vocational awe”, a term coined by my friend Fobazi Ettarh, that is used to describe a set of ideas, values and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in notions that libraries are inherently good.

But instead of finding a feminist utopia where everyone got along and where hummus was present at every office potluck, What I found instead startled me. I’d unknowingly entered a deeply conservative profession that was committed to upholding the status quo, and one that talked a good line about increasing equity, diversity and inclusion, but took very few concrete steps in that direction, preferring to throw their hands up and call it a “pipeline problem” or something that was beyond their control.

I looked around at professional conferences and primarily saw people who looked nothing like me, or who had none of the same life experiences that I had. On the rare chances that I did encounter other Black female librarians, almost every one of them shared stories of how the profession’s racial demographics and dominant culture caused them to question whether they had a future in librarianship, or whether they belonged in the profession.

What I discovered through conversations with librarians who live with racialized and other minoritized identities is that my experiences were not isolated. Many others had similar complaints. One librarian I spoke with told me about a time when a colleague called her credibility into question in front of a class that where she was delivering a lecture on information literacy and navigating the university library’s website. She was interrupted by the course instructor who asked her — in front of the other students — “Why are you (listed as) a Professor? What do you teach?” When she told him she was there to teach students about information literacy, the professor sighed loudly, and said — again, in front of a classroom full of students — “You get to be a professor doing this?” effectively undermining her authority in the classroom.

Another librarian I spoke with, Nancy Kirkpatrick, shared examples of microaggressions she had encountered in the workplace with her white colleagues, who urged her to present evidence of these instances to management. When she did, she was later told by management that racial microaggressions “did not exist”, that what she had described was merely “implicit bias”, and nothing would be done to address the issues she brought forth. Nancy told me that initially this experience left her feeling defeated and angry, but now she feels resigned to the outcome. “Everyone has their own narrative,” she told me, “and what I’ve learned as a woman of colour is that mine has less value.”

These stories had unifying threads that were woven through my own experiences: each person felt undermined by white colleagues, had had their professional expertise discredited, sometimes loudly. What was also notable was that each experience had lowered the librarians’ morale, making them feel as though they weren’t valued as much as their white counterparts, or that their accomplishments and qualifications were not acknowledged by their colleagues.
Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, associate professor and associate librarian at Medford Library at the University of South Carolina-Lancaster, has been studying the effect of low morale among academic librarians. Her 2017 study defined low morale as “repeated and protracted exposure to emotional, verbal/written, or system abuse and neglect in the workplace”. Kendrick also found that there were two unique impact factors for racial and ethnic minority academic librarians: stereotype threat and deauthentication. Stereotype threat is the sense that a racialized person might be judged by a negative stereotype that exists, and deauthentication requires that the affected person reduce aspects of their personality, personal responses, language, or other personality characteristics in order to avoid micro aggressions, incivility, punishment, or retaliation.

What I learned through these conversations and papers I’d read was that I was not alone in feeling the impact of feeling racially and culturally isolated in the workplace. As I started to think deeper about this subject, I reflected upon other areas where I felt I had to alter my career ambitions and diminish my capabilities. Many of the other minoritized librarians I spoke with had experienced many of the same issues, so much so that several of them either had or were making plans to leave the profession because the stress was too great.

Physical Barriers

And while I do think that the lack of cultural literacy in most workplaces greatly impacted my work experiences and those of other minoritized library workers I’d spoken to, it wasn’t the only barrier I and others had faced. Physical limitations also effected my ability to see myself as a professional success.

When I entered the workforce in 2004, I didn’t think a lot about accessibility and the ways that libraries — both as as buildings and as ideas — can be inhospitable to people with physical limitations. I was fit, had completed several fitness bootcamps even though I started to notice that I couldn’t complete the punishing workouts that I had previously been able to do a couple of years earlier. Four years into my library career, I was diagnosed with two chronic illnesses, both of which can cause extreme fatigue and pain, and all of the over-exercising I’d done to become more fit resulted in the rapid degeneration of the cartilage in both knees.

I’m ashamed to I admit that I didn’t give a lot of thought about how people with disabilities can be limited by their work environment until I started to be affected by it. I had a deficiency in my understanding, and I’m embarrassed that it took personal experience to make me aware of the ways that physical ability is held up as a measure of success or fitness for the profession. I had learned from talking with other people with disabilities that remote work often made it possible for many to bridge the gap between physical presence and being able to do the jobs they had been hired to do.

Previously I’d worked in large corporations with offices spread across the globe, so my model for what management might look like involved having the flexibility to work remotely when needed. Fundamental to this model was always being available via telepresence, chat, or at the most basic level, reachable by email. But the typical method of providing library service is heavily dependent on presence, and the thinking is if you aren’t physically located in the office, it’s quite difficult to succeed at your job. I ran into this particular wall head on. I was told that my absences were creating hardships for my direct reports, yet my performance reviews suggested otherwise.

As libraries continue to pursue the newest technologies and services that appeal to a wide variety of library patrons, such as tool lending, maker spaces, or digital creation laboratories, library jobs, particularly those in public libraries, seem to follow along traditional lines that are tied to desk coverage, or in-person information service or program delivery.

But it isn’t only the nature of library work that makes it difficult to be a person with a disability in the workplace. Librarian Kel Karpinski recently tweeted about a conversation they had with a friend about the difficulty of disclosing your chronic illness in the workplace. When their colleagues aren’t suggesting Treatment X or Treatment Y for their conditions, they’re also failing to provide the space for chronically ill library workers to talk about their health concerns openly and honestly.

Around the time that my physical health started to falter, I had to face the fact that my professional ambitions would need to change, something that was difficult for me to accept. I’d done a lot of work on myself to appear confident and competent, particularly in the face of opposition, so to see everything I thought I wanted start to slip away from me served a particularly nasty blow.
We say that we want to be able to provide library services to all people wherever they may encounter us, but we make it difficult for community librarians to work where our community partners are by locking supporting documents behind VPNs or closed systems that only work when you are physically connected to a workstation in a library building. While I realize that privacy and security regulations vary from place to place and as stewards of community resources libraries bear a responsibility to safeguard our systems, I believe that the use of telepresence is key to envisioning more open and accessible workplaces and goes a long way toward positioning the library as a more inclusive space.

Racial Barriers

I thought that not being able to be a library director meant that I was a failure, and as a failure, I had no hope of seeing my circumstances change. I started to think about positions that had greater responsibility but that would be less demanding than the corner office and talked about my future plans with trusted friends. Yet when it came to applying for these positions, a few people advised me not to seek out these positions because “(They) would never hire someone with an accommodation for a job that has more responsibility”. I felt defeated and hopeless and it negatively impacted my willingness to apply for new jobs that were posted internally.

Yet my physical health was not my only area of concern, my emotional health also suffered as a result of encountering these barriers. When I spoke clearly and confidently in meetings about areas of my expertise, I was considered strident, aggressive, or positional. Positional is an interesting word because it suggests that only the person who is advocating for change is taking a position. Failing to advocate for equity and justice is also a position. Not creating a supportive and protective environment for minoritized colleagues is also a position.

The reason that these actions are not considered positional or political speaks to the way that benevolent whiteness and the flattening of lived experience works in library and information science. When we assert that libraries are egalitarian institutions where everyone is welcome, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, it inevitably positions those of us who think otherwise as adversaries. When you are viewed as an adversary, it becomes yet another barrier on the long list of hostilities that minoritized library workers face.

I wanted to learn to do better, so I dutifully attended communication workshops and tried to put the techniques I learned into practice, yet I still fell short. I hired a career coach at my own expense, because I wanted to develop skills that would help me better cope with letting go of my ambitions. Imagine my surprise when, at the end of our engagement, the coach told me that she could not in good faith help me cope with the situation I was in because she felt that it was harmful. She believed that teaching me how to be more like the system that was causing me hardship went against her professional ethics and teaching me to be more like them would be doing me a grave disservice. Her advice to me was to start developing an exit plan as soon as possible, and to start thinking about what the next phase of my life might look like.

On the surface that sounds like rational advice. I could find work in a library system that would be more closely aligned with my sense of integrity and one that demonstrated through words and actions their commitment to advocating for equity and inclusion in their workplaces. I don’t doubt that such places exist, but the reality of the demographics, and the words of other minoritized librarians were a caution: regardless of the location, the leadership, or the well-written mission statements, the fact was that I would more than likely still be “the only” in these organizations. This was the world I operated in, and it was my responsibility to hold on to those qualities and values that reminded me of who I was, where I had come from, and where I hoped the profession would go in the future.

I thought about the conversations I’d had and articles I’d read and discovered that it wasn’t unheard of for minoritized library workers to exit the profession when the stress of existing became too great. The daily burden of being a Black woman in a predominantly white workplace negatively impacted my mental and emotional health, as well as my performance, but because I was the only full-time Black librarian on staff in my organization, I didn’t have colleagues I could turn to in support. I couldn’t really even bring it up in the workplace out of fear of being told that I was imagining things or that these conversations would make people uncomfortable. I felt silenced and isolated, like a nuisance to be (barely) tolerated. Because of those feelings of isolation, I began to guard myself with an emotional shield to protect myself against microaggressions and microinvalidations.

In his 2005 article “Trippin’ Over the Color Line”, Todd Honma asked why it seems that LIS scholars and students do not want to talk openly about issues of race and LIS. While Honma’s analysis specifically focused on race, I think there are aspects of his findings that are applicable to other identities. The overarching monoculture that informs librarianship ensures that people of colour, people with disabilities, or people who are LGBTQ+ will struggle. Our struggles will be largely invisible to those in the majority. If we raise these issues as a concern, they are either ignored, or we are made to believe that we are the problem, not the unequal and oppressive system that all libraries operate under. But another thing that keeps these issues from being discussed in libraries is the expectation that libraries are “nice” spaces where complaint or dissent is discouraged, and, in some cases, actively silenced. As a profession we hold the myth of our own benevolence close to our hearts. We are “nice people” who strive to do the right thing, so when someone comes along to suggest that our inherent “rightness” causes them pain, we either don’t want to or can’t see the ways that we contribute to and advance these systems of inequality. Honma’s “mythic benevolence” of whiteness and Fobazi Ettarh’s “vocational awe” prevent people from engaging with any idea that would challenge the status quo. We are burdened by the idea that libraries are inherently good and are just spaces where everyone will be treated equally, and we are causing harm to minoritized library workers by failing to give credence to their lived experiences. When your organization cannot or refuses to see you for who you really are, it is no wonder that this fatigue causes minoritized library workers to consider leaving the profession.

The (US) Center for Community Practice calls these feelings “minority stress”, a term that first came to prominence in queer communities in 2003. Minority stress refers to the additional stress that members of marginalized groups experience because of the prejudice and discrimination they face. I would append this definition to include that being “the only one” in your workplace, even when people are not intentionally hurtful, also contributes to minority stress. The CCP argues that the experience of minority stress is additive to general stress and can lead to poorer health outcomes compared to those who do not experience it.

So what was it that made me think I couldn’t find a sympathetic ear? Well, Canadians do not like to talk about race, unless it is to say to a radicalized person “This is Canada, we don’t have a problem with racism.” Until very recently, it was even impossible to get a census count of how many people in Canada identified as Black (with respect to cultural membership) because the Canadian census only counted country of origin, not ethnic background.
I could declare that I was American, but there was no way for me to declare an ethnic identity.

But while being statistically invisible, I was hypervisible in other ways. I walked through my workplaces every day, and noticed that when I encountered Black library patrons, they would gravitate to me. Representation matters, even in ways that you might not expect, particularly when providing library services to people of colour.

Despite what you may have heard about race being a social construct that has no basis in fact, let me say this: while it is true that race is a social construct that was created to divide people and to ensure that people who were classified as white would gain and retain advantages that were not made available to anyone who was not white, race also carries cultural significance that members of the in-group use to form bonds, and to emphasize kinship linkages that people use to form relationships, organize communities, and to share in a wealth of cultural capital. Race is at once fictional and very, very real. Racial and cultural representation matters to minoritized people in the workplace as well, and when you lack the social capital necessary to create those bonds with your colleagues, that situation will begin to wear heavily on your sense of well-being.

In her book The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table, author Minda Harts writes about moral injury, a term that originated with the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Moral injury is defined as “psychological trauma…a construct that describes extreme and unprecedented life experiences, including the harmful aftermath of exposure to such events. The kinds of events that are most harmful are those that go against a person’s deeply held moral beliefs or expectations. My expectation upon entering this profession was that I would be surrounded by fiercely intelligent women who are concerned about equity and social justice. My childhood experiences led me to believe that I would encounter many, many Black women. What reality taught me was it was foolish of me to hold these expectations.

The harsh, isolating, and hostile work environments that I and other minoritized people have endured have created trauma in many of us. This trauma leads to feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety and anger, feelings that are sanitized and labeled “imposter syndrome”, which not only minimizes the seriousness of the trauma, but shifts the burden of healing this trauma on those who are already traumatized.

People who experience these feelings, like I have, feel that we aren’t good enough to be in the positions we hold, not because we lack confidence in our feelings, but because the oppressive systems, lack of cultural literacy on behalf of our organizations and colleagues, and lack of representation makes it difficult for us to trust what we know and our own competency. But in order for us to counter these feelings, we must challenge their validity, champion our own successes even when our respective organizations may not, and begin to collect meaningful experiences and valued relationships with like-minded colleagues who can act as the mirrors we hold up to reflect ourselves that enable us to see ourselves as we really are.

I’m not standing here claiming that I’ve had it harder than any of you. I know many of you in the audience are also struggling with barriers and impediments to your career, roadblocks that I may never understand because I am not you. I also suspect a fair number of you also received and internalized the advice that you should remain silent about any inequalities or injustices you have experienced as you tried to advance your careers. Reprisal can be swift and dirty in the professional world and finding library jobs seems to get more difficult year after year.

But if I could urge you to do anything as a result of this keynote, it would be to break this silence. Talk openly and often about the kinds of interpersonal struggles you are experiencing, especially if those struggles are a result of “cultural fit” or your perceived “otherness”. Speak up when you witness bias against your minoritized colleagues and listen to us as we share these stories without explaining or justifying the treatment we’ve experienced. Make noise. Be heard.

Your safety, your mental health, your confidence in your abilities are worth the effort and worth the risk. Not only will you lift your own burden by daring to speak out and speak truth to power, but the conversation you begin will also benefit others who have, I assure you, felt exactly the same (or very similar) to how you’re feeling right now.

I have learned that through my silences, I have ceded power to oppressive systems that were designed to keep me “in line” and in ceding that power, I have contributed to a system that made it difficult for anyone like me to succeed. I was afraid to use the one privilege I had — my voice — to speak up about injustice because stress and exhaustion had taken their toll, and I was weary of carrying this burden alone.

I recently came across a video clip of the filmmaker Ava DuVernay where she spoke about finding her true purpose even though the road ahead was not clear. DuVernay is one of a very few Black female film directors working in Hollywood, and she was the first Black female director to be nominated for an Oscar.

‘I’m bolstered by folks who create their own ceilings.’ — Ava DuVernay

In the clip, DuVernay said “When you’re in your lane there is no traffic”. Once she truly knew what she was put on the earth to do, what kinds of stories she wanted to tell, and had a clear vision of the kinds of workplaces she wanted to create, DuVernay said that her path ahead became clear. “I’m less interested in banging down the door of some man who doesn’t want me there,” she wrote, yet she maintains that there are ways that we can learn to work within these systems so that we can push for not only the inclusion of different views and perspectives, but the centering of marginalized voices and experiences.

I knew that I could never be as polished or professional or as white as the people at the top of each of my organizations, and I would never enjoy the same privileges that come with being part of the dominant culture. I carried a lot of shame for things that were beyond my control. Yet even as I faced these challenges in one area of my life, other areas continued to open up for me. I continued to receive requests to talk at library and user experience conferences, and my social and political capital among justice minded library and information professionals continued to rise, and I am heartened by that. It has helped me see that there are other ways to find fulfillment, to create meaning, to pave my own lane, to use Ava DuVernay’s phrase. It was the development of this lane that led me here to speak before you today.

I was — and am — burned out on librarianship as it is currently practiced. I am tired of the language of social justice being co-opted to talk about issues that impact minoritized people the most without library leaders giving up space, power, and influence to make the changes that would be necessary to benefit those who are most impacted. I may lack the organizational power and influence to affect any significant changes, but despite the drawbacks, the fears of reprisal, and uncertainty over my own future, I felt I had to speak out, because to remain silent would be doing a disservice to the Black library workers, to the people of colour who work in libraries, to trans people, or disabled people or anyone else who feels they were drummed out of the profession because they were too much, too confident, too queer, too Black, too indigenous or any other identity that does not fit the dominant mold. I knew that if I simply closed the door and on the idea of making change (or influencing others to make change), I would be just as complicit as the gatekeepers who upheld and reinforced the systems of inequality that were causing Black, indigenous, and library workers of colour so much moral injury.

I believe that the future of this profession isn’t just dependent on publishers negotiating fairer ebook licensing deals or staying ahead of the rapidly changing technological requirements that our patrons expect of us. Our future is also dependent on how libraries include its most vulnerable workers and how we prepare them for success. When I think of what the library of the future might look like, I not only imagine a space where patrons have open and unfettered access to the resources they need to enrich their lives, but I also dream of a world where minoritized library workers are fully supported, well represented in library leadership roles, and never has to bear the burden of cultural isolation or questions about their “cultural fit”. I dream of a profession where the troublemakers continue to make good trouble, and where this good trouble causes those in the majority to acknowledge these injustices and become advocates for dismantling these systems and creating something new that benefits all of us. This good trouble will mean inconvenience, difficulty, and yes, chaos but in the long run it reminds us that while we may be different, our difference makes it so that we can’t continue to coast on a sense of fairness that only benefits the majority. We are united within this system, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to make it a place where we all can be successful, regardless of how success is defined.

My vision for the kind of profession I’d like to see came from an unusual place. While I draw strength from the many minoritized library workers who have come before me, and draw inspiration from those who will follow me long after I leave the profession, I wasn’t fully able to articulate my ideas about the kind of people who would be necessary to make it more equitable. Then in September of 2019, a new guiding star emerged.

Be The Goose

If you’re a very online person like I am, you may have heard of the Untitled Goose Game. Developed by House House, a Melbourne-based game studio in conjunction with Panic software, players play the game as a little white goose. The goose has a to-do list that they have to get through in order to complete a level. In order to complete these tasks, the goose must interact with the unassuming yet dominant humans who live in the village.

The goose isn’t violent, but they do create disturbances by taking items that they need to complete their list. The goose does this by loudly honking and flapping their wings to create a diversion. They are not afraid to take up space and to speak — or honk — loudly in order to meet their needs. The goose doesn’t change itself in order to make itself more easily understood by the townspeople, they remain firmly a goose, retaining the qualities that make them who they are. The goose does not offer fake smiles, nor does it speak (or honk) deferentially so as to not appear threatening to the townspeople. They’re simply a chaos agent who exists to make the townspeople face the fact that they don’t have as much control over their lives as they might think.

In its inimitable fashion, the Goose taught me that my mission as a member of this field was to be the person who reminded us that while we have made strides, we still have a long way to go toward uplifting and including underrepresented people in library and information science. Just like the goose, I have a to-do list to complete before I can level up. My to-do list includes advocating for justice, equity, and inclusion for library workers, to challenge the status quo, and to provide support to minoritized library workers, wherever they may be. Because I am isolated (there are no other geese in the game), I have to take inspiration and make meaning where I can find it, and I do that by connecting with other Black women, other minoritized people, and our allies as a way of reminding me that I deserve to exist as I am, and that while I am a bit of a problem child, that doesn’t mean that I am a detriment to my workplace or that I don’t have a place in this profession.

Let the goose be your guide for when you are faced with opposition, with a lack of cultural understanding, or if you are the only minoritized person in your workplace. The irate townspeople may not want the goose to complete its tasks (and maybe rightfully so, as the goose is taking things that don’t belong to it), but the goose remains undeterred. It’s important to the goose that they continue with their errands, just as it is important that you continue to hold true to your purpose. People in positions of power will try to redirect your energies, sometimes in forceful and demeaning ways. But I believe that for every blissfully “innocent” library employee who either can’t or won’t see how they contribute to inhospitable environments for their minoritized colleagues, there must be a goose who will take up the cause of making them reckon with their biases.

Playing the Untitled Goose Game provided catharsis when I most needed it. The game helped me realize that trying to mold myself into a form that, while more palatable to the majority, was unrecognizable to me was not the path forward to finding my own fulfillment. The goose showed me that sometimes being a nuisance can be a path toward my own redemption, toward finding the confidence in myself that my circumstances drummed out of me for so long. I can flap my wings and honk loudly when I encounter injustices, and I can continue to do so until people in power make firm commitments to effect change. And so can you.

It’s my hope that after this keynote, you will find it within yourselves to become the horrible geese in your own organizations. Call me an optimist, but I have faith that if enough of us honk loud enough and create enough trouble, that we can’t help but make libraries and information organizations safer, more equitable spaces that are committed to the success of their Black, Indigenous, people of colour, trans, or disabled employees. How about a honk in solidarity?

Thank you.

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miscellaneous

🤷🏾‍♀️ Privacy vs Convenience: My Move Away from Google Revisited

This Ask Metafilter thread about some recent changes to Google’s search results has me thinking about a post I wrote six years ago. I moved away from Google for email, search, and document creation, and I offered suggestions on how you might make a similar move. At the time I recommended using DuckDuckGo, something I still recommend, but not always as enthusiastically as I have in the past.

There’s a simple reason for that: after almost six years of nearly daily use both at home and in the workplace, I still find myself using Google as a fallback search engine1, primarily because of how I use search engines. When I turn to a search engine, I’m primarily trying to answer a question or choose between the best options for a product I’m interested in buying. The kinds of results that these two search companies produce can be very different, and I’m not just talking about how Google (now) includes favicons in search results. Let’s take a look at a few screenshots.

A screenshot of Google search results that highlights Google's featured answers

In this search, I was trying to learn about the differences between acrylic gouache and regular gouache, and Google delivered the results right away. It even provided featured links to websites for additional information in an accordion beneath the most relevant search result.

DuckDuckGo search results for the difference between gouache and acrylic gouache

DuckDuckGo returned a search result that wasn’t relevant to my question even as it offered a direct link to the specific question I asked. The answer I needed was second in the list, which may seem like a small thing. Over time, not having the most relevant result presented first adds up and leads to a general dissatisfaction with their results, hence my reliance on Google as a fallback search.

I asked folks on Twitter what the balance was between privacy and convenience, and while I didn’t get a direct answer to that question, one user told me that they switched back to Google because of DuckDuckGo’s unreliable/unrelated search results.

User tweet about their problems with DuckDuckGo's search results

“DuckDuckGo has mysteriously gotten worse for image searches for me. Seems like it declined about 3-4 months ago”, they told me. Another Twitter follower said that they’d noticed a similar decline in quality.

I don’t know what’s going on over at DuckDuckGo, but I hope whatever it is they’re able to right things very quickly. I think it’s important for consumers to have options when it comes to search results, particularly if a search engine company is dedicated to returning results to lesser-known sites that still provide useful information. Until then, I’ll begrudgingly continue to use Google (in private browsing mode) as a secondary search engine.


  1. I always open a private browsing session to do this ’cause I still don’t trust Google. 
Categories
personal

Is it Work or is it a Job?

Have you ever given any thought to the difference between a job and work? If we have a regular daily grind that we are rewarded financially for, in conversation we blithely say “I’m going to work” without taking the time to think about what that really means. I believe that having dissatisfaction in one of those areas (a job) doesn’t have to mean dissatisfaction in the other (work). Here is how I differentiate between the two:

A job is a series of tasks, usually directed by someone who holds a position of greater authority than your own. These tasks are intended to help an enterprise reach a certain goal. A job is a regular position that, if you’re lucky, comes with some sort of remuneration.

Work, on the other hand, is a thing that occupies your time, incorporating your interests, the things you love, and, if you’re lucky, will guide you toward a more fulfilled sense of self. Work is produced when you exercise your creative muscles, your curiosity and intelligence toward some sort of output that grounds you. This output centers you and helps you understand your place in the world.

I am thinking about this in the context of my professional life and my own feelings of inadequacy/feelings of failure. What I have one to understand is that as long as I use my job as the sole or primary performance indicator, I will never measure up. In a system that is designed to privilege a very few, I am incapable of fully being the person I am. If I can’t fully be myself, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to give my all to a concern that, by design, is not intended to benefit all people.

Coffee break (Gouache on watercolour paper)

What I have learned to do instead is to find work — things, experiences, and connections — bits of effort that produce items that bring me pleasure. I choose to engage in this type of work because it makes me happier and more fulfilled than a job ever could. I had to learn to divorce remuneration from measurements of success, because my mental, physical, and emotional well-being are far more precious than the number on my bi-weekly pay advices.

Perhaps this has been obvious to you for many years. I won’t beat myself up for not figuring this out sooner. I’m just happy that I’ve stumbled on a new definition of success that doesn’t leave me wanting.

Categories
libraries

The Case for Normal, Natural Emotions in the Workplace

A few things I’m thinking about today:

  • How often I see words or phrases like “positive energy” in library job descriptions
  • How frequently I have heard the refrain “respectful workplace” used to squash critique
  • The effect of forced positivity from library leaders on lower-level library workers and their trust in leadership

A couple of things I’ve encountered online recently are making me think about this even more. In what ways do library managers who insist on a culture of positivity create barriers (interpersonal or structural) for their staff?

Food for Thought:

Susan David’s 2017 TED talk on emotional courage:

Toni Morrison’s essay “The Source of Self-Regard”, but especially the section on how elision and indirect language used in slave narratives contributes to people’s assumption that the treatment enslaved people endured was ‘not that bad’;

Slave narratives were very much like nineteenth-century novels, there were certain things they didn’t talk about too much, and also because they were writing for white people whom they wanted to persuade to be abolitionists or to do abolitionist type work, did not dwell on, or didn’t spend a lot of time telling those people how terrible this all was. They didn’t want to call anybody names, they needed their money, so they created an upbeat story.

I’m thinking about the silences and the shaming I’ve endured in the last 12 years in this profession, and I’m thinking of what it has cost me.

More to come.

Categories
black folks libraries

Thoughts on the Universality of the Black Experience

It took me three years to read Beloved. I tried on my own as a college sophomore but couldn’t handle it. It wasn’t until I took an African American Women’s Literature course, taught by the then president of the Toni Morrison Society1 that I was able to make it through. I was surrounded by my contemporaries, led by an older, wiser Black woman who helped me see the gutsiness, the sheer defiance and love it took to call that which is most reviled Beloved. I could never have learned that lesson from a white woman (or a white man, for that matter).

I am thinking today, on the occasion of her death, of how Morrison emphasized Blackness and centered Blackness in her work, daring to call Blackness universal when the world tells us in no uncertain terms that we are the margins, and therefore strange. Unworthy. And I am thinking of the beginnings of stories, of essays, of keynote speeches that have gone unwritten because at their heart they’re about Black people but because I could not whitewash those words and make them palatable to a white audience, I thought I was a failure.

(I am also thinking about how many of my story ideas came from dreams where Black people could set things on fire with their minds, and I chuckle, but I digress.)

My upcoming keynote in Australia has vexed me for months because I received the advice that I should try to make it universal. And I couldn’t. No matter how I tried, I could not get away from the pain, heartache, and self-doubt this profession has caused me, a Black woman, and others like me. Keynotes are supposed to address solutions, they’re supposed to set a tone. My tone is righteous(?) anger, and a desire to tell anyone like me to abandon the idea of universality. Do it for yourself. Do it for US. Let the rest burn.

I will set them on fire with my mind and I will not apply salve to their burns. And as things burn and are destroyed, I am also creating a path forward for others like me. That’s what my instructor did for me with Beloved. And that’s what I’ll do for others.

Embed from Getty Images


  1. Dr. Carolyn Denard at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA 
Categories
culture & society

Mama Used to Say – a British Soul Playlist

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me occasionally post links to my morning Get Ready With Me songs. The songs are usually tunes from my youth that lift my spirits as I start my workday, but I am also a woman of a certain age who sometimes feels a disconnect and a tiny bit of auntie-ish disdain for modern music.

I was an inveterate Anglophile as a teen/twenty-something, and I’m also fascinated by Black people who make homes in places like the UK or Canada, where the Black experience is vastly different from my own Black American one. The other day I tweeted that I wanted a playlist of nothing but 90s British soul music and so I present the fruits of that labour. You’ll notice that the list isn’t limited to the 90s, nor is it limited to soul music/R&B. Some of the best Black1 music to come out of the British Isles wasn’t made by Black people.

Because I’m the Internet’s Auntie, and because I sometimes have a secret desire to show that I’m still cool enough to listen to new music, there are a fair number of newer British artists on this list. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did. Lists are available on Apple Music and Spotify because I can think of nothing better to do with my disposable income than to have subscriptions to two music services.


  1. Not all of the artists on this list are Black people, but they are all performing styles of music that are associated with Black cultures. I acknowledge that this is some messy-ass shorthand, but :shrug emoji: 
Categories
miscellaneous

The Most Beautiful Part of Your Body Is Where It’s Headed

The week is over, I have a four day weekend, and it’s unseasonably chilly in Vancouver. The roller coaster that was this week was full of peaks, valleys, and loop-de-loops, but at this particular moment, it feels good. Onward.

Here are a few things I shared this week:

  1. Going Home With Ocean Vuong – an Atlantic profile on a young Vietnamese-American poet and novelist. The excerpt from his poem “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” stopped me in my tracks. It’s also the where the title of this blog post came from.

  2. VALA 2020 Keynote Speakers – I’m pleased to announce that I’m one of six keynote speakers at the VALA – Libraries, Technology and the Future Conference that will take place in Melbourne, Australia in February 2020.

  3. Anthony Ramos (Hamilton, She’s Gotta Have It) shared the official lyric video of Cry Today, Smile Tomorrow, the (incredibly moving) song he performed during season two of She’s Gotta Have It.

  4. ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom details Lynda(.com)’s Privacy Problem. LinkedIn now requires library users to create a LinkedIn profile to use the LyndaLibrary technology resources, which appears to be a violation of the Library Bill of Rights.

  5. Apple’s Memoji Makeup Tutorial, featuring Patrick Starr and Desi Perkins. Initially, I hated this video, but the more I watch it, the cuter I think it is. I especially love that they worked in Patrick’s head wrap.

  6. If Austin Kleon says having a messy studio can make you a better artist, then I must be the best artist alive.

  7. If you follow me on Twitter1, you saw as I opined about career precarity in Gen X librarians, talked about how I managed to improve my credit score over the last 5 years and went on and on about how Phil Collins’ ubiquity in the 80s gave us some of the most memorable pop and rock music of all time.


  1. My account is currently locked, but I review new follower requests carefully at least once a week. 

Categories
miscellaneous

Is This Thing On?

It’s been almost two years since I’ve written anything in this space, but thanks to a tweet from my friend Jen Hanen (and okay, also some words from Neil Gaiman) I thought I’d give this another try. I attempted a newsletter but for whatever reason it never stuck. I don’t like the idea of writing on a set schedule, especially if I’m not being paid for it. I suppose I don’t think the flexing of my own spongy intellectual muscles is enough of a reason to keep up a writing habit, which if you want to get all deep about it, is a sign of my mental health and feelings of self-worth in general.

keep it inside - acrylic on paper, copyright 2019
keep it inside – acrylic on paper, copyright 2019

deep exhale


Yesterday on my way home from work, I passed an apartment building where someone had soaped a message onto their window. “This is a lonely place without friends,” the message read and it would have stopped me in my tracks had I not been in traffic. It made me wonder how much pain a person had to be in to go to such lengths to write this message on their window, in reverse no less, so that other people would see it. Vancouver can be a very lonely and isolating place, and yet I’m still here, still trying to reach out, still trying to make friends. I’m making more of an effort to see people than I have in the past, and that feels good. It’s almost like I’m rounding a corner or something.


Here are a few things I’ve read/listened to lately and enjoyed:

Categories
blogging

That “Skinny” Dress In Your Closet, or Hopeful Hoarding

red dress with black beltIf you’ve never gained, then lost (then regained) weight, this metaphor may be meaningless to you. If you have gone through that experience, you’re probably familiar with holding on to an item of clothing that no longer fits, but you hold on to it because “It might fit again someday if I go on a diet/eat healthier/work out more.”

That’s what this blog has become.

I’ve been blogging across several different domains, across multiple platforms in some form or fashion since 1993. There are people who follow me on Twitter who weren’t even alive when I wrote my first blog post. And to spare you my middle-aged reflections about how things were so different back in the early days of blogging, I’ll simply say that my attention span, willingness to write, elevated professional profile, and fear of writing something that might run afoul of work supervisors doesn’t really make it seem worthwhile anymore. Still, I held on to this domain and to my web hosting the way I held on to that skinny dress at the back of my closet. It’s probably crumpled on the floor, buried under a mountain of other stuff by now, but I know it’s there, and it nags at me.

I think the time has come to throw this dress away.

Categories
Uncategorized

Langston Hughes: The Black Man Speaks

I swear to the Lord
I still can’t see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me.

“The Black Man Speaks” from Jim Crow’s Last Stand (Worldcat)

To say I’ve been feeling this acutely over the last few weeks is an understatement. I honestly think I’ve felt this way almost as long as I’ve been alive, but the feelings grow sharper the longer I live in Vancouver.

Today is Langston Hughes’ birthday. Hughes has long been one of my favourite poets/cultural critics, though I feel like he’s fallen out of favour a little over the last 20 years or so. Though he is better known as a poet, his essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” has been a source of inspiration for me, more so when I was a young African American Studies scholar who was trying to balance claiming my place in the Black community with my feminist leanings and my queer identity.

If you find yourself in a despairing place, read a little Langston Hughes today.