Letters to a Young Minority* Librarian

I’ve been thinking about what advice I’d give to a young librarian or information professional who was just starting out in this career, in part because Jessica Olin of Letters to a Young Librarian asked me to write a guest post. But I’ve also been thinking about it as part of my larger interest in recruitment, retention, and mentorship of minorities* in this profession.

If you are a library who self-identifies as a member of one or more minority or marginalized communities, what sort of advice would you have liked to hear before you attended library school? What advice is useful to you now that you’re working as a librarian? Comments are open below, but you can also respond via Twitter if you’re so inclined.

*I use the term minority not only to indicate racial or ethnic minorities, but also as a way of including LGBTQI-identified people, differently abled people, or any other identity that places you on the margins of the professional or societal centre.


If You Skate Upon Thin Ice

brave souls skating on thin ice

click for larger view

It was a chilly 2°C/34°F as I rode around the seawall today; cold, but not that cold. Everywhere I saw water I saw DANGER! THIN ICE signs, except for this little pond just off Georgia Street in Stanley Park.

I asked one of the guys how he knew where not to skate. “Pretty much anywhere I see water,” he replied. He said he and his friend had been out on the pond for the past four days. You can tell by looking at the etches in the ice from their skate blades.

I said it would probably be the last day they’d be able to skate, as the weather forecast indicated a warm-up later in the week. I waved goodbye and shouted “Enjoy it!” as I pedaled away.

Sometimes you have to go against conventional wisdom and think the unthinkable, to do something utterly ill-advised, naysayers be damned, to find your own moment of bliss.


Scene From the Bike Lane

It’s a gorgeous sunny day, and I’m pedalling up the Hornby bike lane. I’m on my way to get blood work done, but I’m feeling quite happy because the sky is a fantastic shade of blue, my knees don’t hurt, and the streets are teeming with people for me to gawk at. I’ve stopped at the light at Georgia/Hornby intersection, and a rangy white guy who looks to have seen better days makes eye contact as he crosses the street. A mile-wide smile spreads across his face as he draws nearer.

“Happy Black History Month!” he calls out loudly, pausing on the median to have a chat with me. Some pedestrians smirk at his exuberant greeting, some give us the side-eye, but mostly we’re ignored. I smile and thank him, but I tell him he’s a day early.

“Well, shit”, he chuckles, “I missed Martin Luther King Day completely, so I’m just happy I remembered at all!” We share a laugh and I raise my fist for a fist bump, which he heartily returns. The bike signal turns green, and I ride away, happier for this small moment of shared humanity.


Moving the #Libtechgender Conversation Forward

I’ll flesh these out later, but I wanted to quickly share some notes I made this morning as I prepared for the Challenges of Gender Issues in Library Technology panel at ALA Midwinter. Maybe they’ll help others to understand where I’m coming from.

EDITED TO ADD: a credit to Race Forward and their paper “Moving the Race Conversation Forward” and Jay Smooth for articulating these concepts in such an accessible way.

  • We need to move the conversation forward and talk about not only internalized and interpersonal failings, but systemic barriers to equality and advancement.
  • We tend to focus on individuals instead of systems. The ALA CoC covers interpersonal actions. It’s important to address these intentional actions when they arise, but they’re the simplest to focus on and easiest to solve.
  • What are we doing on an institutional level to dismantle discriminatory practices that promote inequality in library technology?
  • How do we move this conversation forward?
  • Expand our understanding of sexism beyond personal prejudice and actions to systemic barriers
  • Focus on actions and impacts rather than attitudes and intentions – the ALA CoC does this to a degree
  • View through an intersectional lens; add conversations about race, class, sexual orientation, gender presentation when talking about gender in library technology
  • Examine the unfair policies that occur within your institutions that produce inequitable outcomes for people on the margins.

The problem of a panel that focuses solely on gender means that by focusing only on the most privileged group – white women – those who are “multiply-burdened” (Crenshaw – PDF) are marginalized.

For white women, discussions about the role of gender in library technology gives the impression that but for their gender, they would not be disadvantaged. Their race is never a factor in their discrimination, and therefore it becomes the standard sex discrimination claim.

Things are more complex for women of colour or for lesbian, bisexual, or transgender women, because we can receive protection only to the extent that their experiences are similar to those whose experiences tend to be reflected in anti-discrimination rhetoric.


Further Tales (on Armistead Maupin)

I personally have gone from being both a crime and a mental illness to someone whose homosexuality is now my strongest value. — Armistead Maupin

I honestly don’t know if queer folks who didn’t come of age during the time when AIDS was a death sentence, when Queer Nation, ACT-UP, and the Lesbian Avenbers were out in the streets fighting, dying, kissing, and fucking for revolution, can really understand how drastically things have changed in such a short period of time.

I’m reminded in large ways, like when marriage equality passes in a red state, but I’m also reminded in small, very personal ways, like when my boss talks about her (female) partner in staff meetings and nobody blinks an eye.

My mom used to say “Keep on livin’” whenever I made a crack about her advanced age, but now I know she wasn’t only talking about age. She was talking about lived experience and the wisdom you gain through survival.


“Of what had I ever been afraid?”

The librarian twittersphere* has been (rightly) up in arms about a number of things having to do with gender, sexism, intersectionality and privilege over the last few days. Some discussions have pushed a number of us right over the edge, causing outbursts like the one I uttered this morning:

In my frustration, I somehow overlooked that this shared outpouring of words, thoughts, and emotions was not only very necessary, but healing. I felt connected to, heard, and validated by these women and men who stood up to say “Not on my watch,” or “Here’s where you’re wrong,” or even simply “We tried. We have a long way to go. We welcome dialogue.”

It reminded me of something Audre Lorde once wrote in her essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”:

“(F)or every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences. They all gave me a strength and concern without which I could not have survived intact…Within the war we are all waging with the forces of death, subtle or otherwise, conscious or not — I am not only a casualty, I am also a warrior.”

I have frequently felt out of place in this profession, felt too coarse, too brash, too outspoken, too unrefined, too, too, too. And what I’ve come to realize is that these little arrows of insecurity and vulnerability are part of a much larger skirmish that I’ve fought my entire life against a society that not only made me feel unwelcome, but that had little interest in my success or survival.

This is familiar, this battle. I have seen it all before, and I have — we have taken on bigger foes than those that would end us, and we have won.

We are so powerful. We can do so much.

Thank you for pulling my coattails and reminding me just how full of the right stuff we are.

*Is this a thing? Can we make it a thing?


A Photography Break

Now that walking is difficult, I don’t pick up my camera much. The act of photography was something that was connected with walking about town, and as much as I love riding my bike, I don’t get quite the same feeling when shooting from behind the handlebars.

Today is the first day in a really long time that I’m pleased with something I shot. Click to see larger versions.