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.

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.

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.

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  1. Dr. Carolyn Denard at Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA 

#L1S Tweetchat a Success

The inaugural First Generation Library Professionals chat went very well last night – much better than I expected. The biggest takeaway for me is that there is definitely a need among those of us who fall into this group to network and discuss issues around class, access, and navigating professional responsibilities. What I didn’t expect were the heartbreaking stories of how entering into the professional class created distance — and in some cases, resentment — from family members.

Other chats are forthcoming. If you have suggestions for chat themes, leave them below in the comments, or connect with me via twitter.

Many thanks to Abby for creating the Storify archive of last night’s chat.

Tweetchat for First Generation Professionals – Monday June 1

Looks like Monday is the preferred day for our Tweetchat, so let’s chat on Monday, June 1, at 5:00pm Pacific/8:00pm Eastern. We still need a hashtag, as #1GenLibProfs doesn’t exactly sing. Suggestions welcome!

First Generation Library Professionals Tweet Chat

“Survey says…!” (I’ve just dated myself with that reference, haven’t I?

It looks like most of you thought a weekly tweet chat was the best way to stay in touch, so let’s get one started! First, we’ll need to settle on a day of the week. Because #libchat and #critlib both take place on Tuesday and I don’t want to compete for attention, I think we should hold this chat on a different day of the week. Also, if you have an idea for the hashtag we should use, leave it in the comments below.