Tuesday, March 28, 2017

With a loose grip on a very tight ship

Like many of you, I went to ACRL in Baltimore last week. I was on a panel about gendered expectations for library leaders and I presented a paper that used the Framework as a lens through which to view cataloging policy and practice. I tried to think of a thread that unifies my feelings about my ACRL experience, but I honestly don't have one. So I'm going to give you a few disjointed, half-formed thoughts.

1.) ACRL is not my home within ALA--that's ALCTS, the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services. I was really happy with the increased number of collections and technical services programs this year. While I haven't been a supporter of ACRL creating a section specifically to address collections and technical services issues, I think that having a venue within the ACRL conference to talk about these issues is really important. Also, I found that having more collections and technical services-related programming helped make me feel like I wasn't a weird outlier for attending ACRL. I hope that the 2019 installment of the conference will continue this trend. If you're a collections or technical services practitioner, I would encourage you to propose a session. If the content isn't there, there isn't much the program planners can do to raise the visibility of this part of academic librarianship.

2.) I was troubled by the number of programs that were social justice-themed or Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)-themed that were proposed and lead by white men. I feel like it requires a significant lack of self-awareness to be a white man and think that you're the person uniquely qualified to speak on issues related to social justice and/or EDI. It's especially shameful when you consider that nearly 90% of librarianship is made up of white people. And it does a lot to perpetuate the gross white savior narrative upon which librarianship seems to be built. I know that social justice and EDI are hot topics right now in librarianship, so everyone wants to be on record as saying something. But if we really want to advance these issues in our profession, those of us in positions of privilege would do well to sit down and make space to amplify the voices from marginalized communities. See also: the Roxanne Gay Q&A debacle of Aught Seventeen.

3.) I grow more and more annoyed at the Q&A periods during conference sessions. By the end of the conference, I was getting up and walking out when people finished their presentations. I feel like these Q&A periods do little to advance the work of the presenters and that questioners rarely ask good questions that are generally applicable to all in attendance. Instead, these questions usually fall along one of two lines:

1. The questioner has no question.
2. The questioner has a question that is so specific to their particular situation that the answer to the question is of little value to anyone other than the questioner.

I started to think that the Q&A period should be done away with and the time given back to the presenters. But the more I think about it, I think maybe that the Q&A period, with  some tweaks, could be useful. So don't approach the microphone unless you have a question that is general enough as to be valuable to all who are in attendance. And also, yes, do use the microphone--even if you think you can project.

4.) I had a real love/hate relationship with the social media back channel at this event. I found myself using the back channel to say some things that weren't very kind about situations and programs in which I found myself. I feel like everybody has to decide for themselves how they use social media, so this is more a self-critique than a hot take on the social media back channel writ large. At some point, in wanting to build a brand and cultivate a following, I lost track of my authentic voice in favor of something snarkier. And I don't like how I feel when I do that. I think I need to spend time thinking critically about how I use my voice in online spaces. As someone who wants to be taken seriously and who wants to have their voice heard, I recognize that my words have power and that I bring energy into a space with what I say. Maybe it's all the weird things happening in my life and in the world but at some point, I started putting snark in front of thoughtfulness in the words I express on social media. As someone who wants to build a Unified Library Scene, I can be truthful and say hard things without being...unkind, and I really need to think about how to strike that balance. That being said, I really appreciated the tweets that a lot of you made during the course of ACRL. I appreciate how thoughtfully and thoroughly you documented sessions and how smartly you held us all accountable for the ways in which we forgot to be our better selves during the course of the conference.

Stay positive,


Jenni Burke said...

Thank you for posting this, especially No. 4. As someone new to this type of library, it's been amazing at how negative we can become and how much focus is placed on titles, prestige, and the idea that "I know more". I have seen a lot of devaluing of others, not only of other types of libraries and other librarians, but of the students & faculty we serve, who are at the heart of what we do. Competition takes precedent over simply being nice to each other, which is crazy - we are a service industry. Yes, research, critical thinking, proper instruction, all of these things matter, but without the service and the people, we wouldn't exist!

I didn't attend ACRL but heard some things that have been kind of going along with this attitude that I've seen over the past year. That being said, I've truly enjoyed my first year in academic libraries and feel that I've found my niche within libraries. I've found that I almost have to become independent of my colleagues sometimes even to focus on the good and the positive. It's completely worth it. You may not have many people speak up, but I think there's a lot of us who agree with you - being strong, kind, and positive is always worth it. Humility goes a long way and allowing others to speak up who may not do so otherwise adds so much to our industry and our society as a whole. Thanks for your thoughts!

Polly said...

So with you on #2 and #3. I spent all of the last library conference I was at hating white and/or straight people--especially white straight men--going on about diversity, and I have always loathed Q&A after anything except maybe author presentations.