Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It's getting kind of hectic

I spent the better part of January trying to get my paper for ACRL 2017 into shape for submission and I am only now returning to the things I was doing before that. One of those things is working my way through Frances E. Kendall's Understanding White Privilege. This book has really helped me think about the privilege I have and how it has helped me advance in ways I am not always aware of.

In one of the chapters, Kendall talks about our natural inclination to see the places where we don't have privilege instead of the places where we do. She writes:
Because we measure our own privilege by looking at what other have received that we haven't, rather than at what we have that others don't, frequently it is hard to believe that we have access to power and influence because we belong to one identity group when we are so clear that we don't have power and influence because of our membership to another (108).
I immediately put this quote into conversation with the fact that as of 2009/2010, 87% of female librarians are white, according to some number crunching I did from this table off the ALA Diversity Counts 2012 report. There are certain intersections that this table hides, of course. But think about what kind of access to power and influence white librarians have, and then recognize how this statistic reflects what many of our marginalized colleagues already understand to be true about librarianship.

Because we measure our privilege against what others have that we don't, I have often looked at what I lack as a female librarian. My male colleagues have access to leadership opportunities and opportunities for advancement that I don't. And surfacing the difference in expectations for male and female leaders is absolutely a valuable conversation to have--and one that the LibLeadGender community has coalesced around. But what reading this passage in Kendall's book reminded me of is that when I think about this, I also have to consider the ways in which my whiteness and position in the middle class give me access to power and opportunities.

Memberships in professional organizations are expensive and yet they are often a requirement for volunteer service. I am able to pay those dues, so I have access to those volunteer opportunities. And as I look around at in-person meetings, I see a lot of people who look like me. Traveling to conferences is often costly--between registration fees, flight costs, and meals. I am fortunate that my library pays a portion of the amount that it costs me to attend multiple conferences in a year, but I am also able to pay the amount that isn't covered out-of-pocket. When I look at who is in the room with me at conferences, I see a lot of people who look like me.

It is worth acknowledging that certain parts of library professional associations shape policy and practice within librarianship. One such body that comes to mind is CC:DA, the Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access. Housed within the Cataloging and Metadata Management Section of ALCTS, this committee serves as ALA's voice in the international conversation about cataloging policy. Being able to serve on that committee is contingent upon one's ability to afford to be a member of both ALA and ALCTS. Those who cannot afford to pay association dues or travel to conferences are excluded from important conversations about the future of librarianship.

The Unified Library Scene is about building relationships within libraries. As part of that work, I am committed to learning how to be an ally. One of the places where I have started in this process is honest self-reflection about the places where I benefit from my power and privilege. Anything I do before an acknowledgement of how I have benefited from my whiteness, my able-bodied status, and my middle-class status make my actions both inauthentic and oppressive of those I wish to be allied with. I would invite you, friend of the Unified Library Scene, to also engaged in honest self-reflection. If the idea of power and privilege is new to you, there is a body of work that exists on this topic and reading more about this should definitely be part of your self-reflection process If you're interested in understanding more about the intersection of privilege and librarianship, I would offer two articles as a starting point: April Hathcock's piece in Library Lead Pipe on diversity initiatives in librarianship. I would also recommend Angela Galvan's piece in Library Lead Pipe on the perpetuation of white, middle-class values in librarianship. If you have additional recommendations, drop them in the comments!

Stay positive,
Erin


1 comment:

Janelle Wertzberger said...

It's also worth noting that some ALCTS committees publish their committee reports in paywalled journals like Technical Services Quarterly, putting up yet another barrier between those privileged to participate and those who are not. Library Pipeline's Green Open Access Working Group is trying to change that part, at least! https://www.librarypipeline.org/lis-publications/green-open-access/