Monday, November 21, 2016

Librarianing is a Political Act

White text on a gray background:
"Librarianing is a political act"

As I mentioned in my last post, I feel like everything we do as library staff is political. Everything we do (at least, youth services library staff) can help to affect the social order through our communities perceptions of themselves and the world. We can empower marginalized groups, and remove barriers to service, or we can assert the status quo. We well better be deliberate about it.

Yesterday morning I wrote a letter to ALA regarding the latest statement by their Washington Office. After that I saw that the executive board has responded to the many letters they’d already gotten, addressing some main concerns but ultimately not redacting the statement of the Washington Office (which is more for the public than for members). I am posting this letter publicly, edited from its original for clarity, in solidarity with those who have already; and to possibly validate the feelings of those who felt the same types of feelings I did when reading the statement. I understand it is imperfect.

“I am writing today to express my sadness and frustration at the most recent revision of the ALA Post-Election Statement. In an attempt to remain neutral, I fear than in the minds and hearts of many ALA members you have chosen to show support for a president-elect and his team who have so far shown that they do not stand for many of the values our profession embraces, including equity and inclusion. To show support in this transition is to exclude 74% of registered voters, many of whom are disenfranchised voters with barriers to voting, as well as people who live here who are ineligible to vote.

"Every day, the front line staff of our public libraries address questions asked out of fear for the lives of the families we serve. Reassurance here comes in the form of sharing signs and messages that ‘all are welcome’ at the library, but even this phrase has turned political in our current climate. To see that ALA has chosen to support an incoming administration that has voiced again and again that they are against this idea feels alienating.

"Many of us are making tough decisions now, and I am choosing to remain a member of ALA to continue the inclusive work that the Center for the Future of Libraries Advisory Group has been involved in.*

"Thank you for your time. Your words matter so much, especially now, and I hope that library staff can continue to feel empowered by your support of inclusion and equity in our communities.”

White text on a gray background:
"Welcoming all families is a political act."

Libraries have a history of defending human rights
even when doing so might compromise their standing to people in positions of power.  If you are new to libraries and/or are wondering why many of us are so disturbed by the position of the Washington Office claiming to support the administration, here are a few high-profile stories from the past decade of libraries supporting the rights and needs of their communities, even when doing so meant taking risks:

Four Librarians Finally Break Silence in Records Case:  four librarians in Connecticut sued the United States attorney general after receiving a demand for patron records. Afterward, they spoke publicly about the ability of the Patriot Act to usurp libraries’ policies that protect patron privacy.

Courage in Crisis: after the shooting of Michael Brown, schools in Ferguson, MO closed in an effort to keep children and staff safe. Ferguson Public Library took the opposite approach, knowing that closed schools meant more chaos for the community’s families in a time when structure is needed. The library stayed open throughout the crisis, creating resources and providing space for community expression.

Kansas City Libraries Defend Free Speech in Face of Arrests, Resignations: at an event at Kansas City Public Library, the library director was arrested while defending an attendee’s right to free speech and his presence in a public building.

ALSC Cancels 2016 National Institute in Response to HB2:  to stand with genderqueer and trans* library colleagues whose safety would be put into question following North Carolina's House Bill 2, the Association for Library Services to Children (a division of ALA) took an unprecedented step and canceled their 2016 in-person meeting and rescheduled it as a virtual institute. It is worth noting that following the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, the ALA Black Caucus called on ALA to cancel or reschedule their 2016 Annual Conference in Orlando due to the Stand Your Ground law. This call was largely ignored. Hopefully ALSC's late decision has proven it's possible to respond to your members' concerns in this way, though ALSC (under the umbrella of ALA) is a smaller organization with different leadership.

See other public letters here:
Librarian in Black
Emily Drabinski
The Magpie Librarian

*we did a lot of work the past couple weeks, and the results tell me not to give up just yet. Stay tuned for the full line-up of the Symposium on the Future of Libraries at Midwinter. It's not gonna fix this but it's gonna be something.

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