Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It's not comforting, cheery, or kind

ALA Annual 2017 is nearly upon us and one of the things I am most looking forward to is Dr. Hope Olson's talk at the ALCTS Cataloging and Metadata Management Section's forum. Like most people who concern themselves with the myth of neutral and unbiased description of resources, I read Dr. Olson's book, The Power to Name, and found in it some arguments that have helped to orient my thinking on this topic.

CaMMS leadership posted some questions over on twitter in the hopes of generating discussion around the topic of a code of ethics for cataloging and one of the questions was about what a code of ethics might cover.
So let's do this. Let's talk about ethics in technical services librarianship.

The first thing to acknowledge is that The Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the ALA Code of Ethics was adopted by the ALCTS Board in 1994 at the most recent revision of the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association happened in 2008.

For a lot of us, the world today is incredibly different than the world we lived in 23, or even 9, years ago. But for a lot of us, for a lot of reasons, many things are the same as they ever were.

It's a fairly tepid take, but I think the values codified in both the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association and The Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the ALA Code of Ethics reflect the fact that our profession is almost 90% white. Yes, our identities are intersectional so some of the white librarians in that oft-quoted statistic, exist in both privileged and marginalized spaces. But the idea inherent in both of these documents that the professional is not also somehow personal comes from the privileged place of believing that people can simply turn off their personal beliefs and ignore their lived experiences when it comes time to staff a service point or catalog a book.

Let's be clear: the illusion of neutrality in libraries is a luxury afforded to those with privilege enough to believe that libraries somehow exist outside of systems of oppression. Libraries have always been biased and those of us with privileged identities have been part of systems that have oppressed our colleagues and our user communities whose identities are more marginalized than our own.

A catalog code of ethics that comes anything short of addressing both the ways in which libraries have served as an oppressive force and the ways in which our lived experiences impact our work is not worth the paper it's written on. And those of us with privileged identities need to ignore our impulse to engage in vocational awe (a term coined by Fobazi Ettarh in this wonderful post).

Libraries are not neutral spaces. The acquisition, description, and preservation of the materials in libraries is not a neutral act. Librarianship is not an inherently noble profession.

We build the systems and structures in our own image.

Stay positive,

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