Thursday, November 26, 2015

We Can Be Heroes*

“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Attributed to June Jordan

In the time since I’ve joined the library world, from my first days as a circulation tech in 2001, all through my MLIS program, and into to my doctoral program and teaching, I’ve gathered strength from the writings, actions, and legacies of those who came before us. I tend to refer to these as my library heroes: people like E.J. Josey, Augusta Baker, Sandy Berman, Ruth Brown, Elfreda Chatman, Pura Belpré, Arnulfo Trejo, Oralia Garza de Cortes, Eliza Dresang, Kathleen de la Peña McCook, Lorienne Roy, Elizabeth Martinez, Sandra Rios Balderrama, etc. (I could go on and on.) Some of these people are no longer with us, while others are still active in the field. 

As I’ve spent more and more time in LIS, I’ve also met others, more experienced people in the field who I had thought (hoped) would rise to the challenge of questioning/changing the status quo in library practice, education, and research. Some have, while others have disappointed me by getting caught up in ALA or library system politics, putting their own interests above the interests of those they serve, or just giving up altogether. 

Over the eight years I’ve been teaching, I’ve had students who’ve asked me who I thought the new heroes of LIS were and have had to scramble to think of who those heroes are now. While I’ve always been able to give them some names (including many of those above), they were more interested in younger people (20s, 30s, & 40s). 

Relatively recently, I had a Facebook exchange with a former student who helped me realize that I had been approaching the situation from the wrong direction entirely. She told me that, upon one of her first opportunities to hear me speak/teach, I had reminded her of Sandy Berman. Besides being one of the best professional compliments I’ve ever received, this was also the wake-up call I needed to realize that we are already here. We can be and are our own heroes. We are already challenging the LIS status quo in places around the world. 

In many ways, we have opportunities our heroes never had. Through the power of social media and other virtual spaces, we can and do find each other in ways that weren’t possible in the past. We’re having conversations around critical librarianship, social justice, and human rights outside of physical conferences, snail mail, and letters to the editor. New open-access journals are starting in the field (including the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies) that will provide further opportunities for those of us who use critical perspectives. More books are being published including a number of edited volumes on how race, gender, sexuality, and class impact LIS. More conferences are focusing on these topics as well. Given the challenges many of us have faced in presenting and publishing our work in traditional LIS venues, we need these types of conferences, journals, and books. 

We also need to find even more ways to use collaborative technologies to work together to bring about change in LIS. I know that many of us are working individually in our own spaces to make changes at the institutional level. And I am thrilled with all of the ways we’re expanding conversations across Twitter, blogs, etc., and I think this public writing needs to be a part of our efforts, but we can’t let it stop there. I know that many of you, like me, constantly critique the profession/discipline for the glacial pace of progress, for being all talk and no action, so I think it is crucial that we not fall into the same trap.  We’re already good at what we do in our own spaces. Collectively focused on a single list of goals, imagine what we could accomplish on a larger scale!

*Used in a non-gender specific way throughout and with compliments to David Bowie.

BONUS: Fitting Harry Potter quotation I couldn’t resist adding as a postscript (with minor spoiler):

“Come on!” he muttered, staring about. “Where are you? Dad, come on—“
But no one came. Harry raised his head to look at the circle of dementors across the lake. One of them was lowering its hood. It was time for the rescuer to appear—but no one was coming to help this time—
And then it hit him—he understood. He hadn’t seen his father—he had seen himself
Harry flung himself out from behind the bush and pulled out his wand.
And out of the end of his wand burst, not a shapeless cloud of mist, but a blinding, dazzling, silver animal. … He saw it lower its head and charge at the dementors…. Now it was galloping around and around the black shapes on the ground, and the dementors were falling back, scattering, retreating into the darkness…. They were gone.

From J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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