Sunday, February 21, 2016

Revisiting Diversifying the LIS Faculty

This week’s blog post is a piece from Nicole A. Cooke, originally published in Library Journal's September 15, 2013, issue and used here with the author’s permission.

I am fortunate to count Nicole as a colleague and a friend, and we have many conversations about the possible solutions to the Whiteness that pervades library education and practice. Together and individually, we’ve been working on ways we can either create a truly inclusive and cultural competent field or at minimum subvert the system enough to leave things better than we found them. (And, in case you missed it, Nicole also had a thought-provoking article on the Spectrum Doctoral Fellowship Program in InterActions in 2014.)

Diversifying the LIS Faculty
By Nicole Cooke on September 25, 2013
LIS faculties need diversity: more so of gender, of ability, of thought, and of race and ethnicity. If we as a profession keep saying that we must recruit more minority students because this makes us better prepared to serve increasingly diverse patron populations, shouldn’t we do the same at the faculty ranks?

Considering recent conversations, including those over editorials “The MLS and the Race Line” and “Diversity Never Happens” by former LJ editor in chief Michael Kelley, and my efforts to create a for-credit class about library services to diverse populations, I suggest an additional dimension to the LIS diversity recruitment agenda: strategic, ongoing, and purposeful recruitment of diverse candidates to the LIS professoriate.

According to the latest Association of Library and Information Science Educators (ALISE) statistics, only 3.83 percent of full-time faculty members are Hispanic, compared to 16.7 percent of the total population (according to 2011 U.S. Census Bureau estimates); while African Americans comprise just 5.39 percent of full-time faculty, compared to 13.1 percent of the population. Another 15.33 percent of LIS full-time faculty are of Asian/Pacific Islander descent, compared to 5.2 percent of the population; and American Indian/Alaska Natives comprise 0.84 percent of full-time faculty, compared to 1.2 percent of the population. Caucasians make up 74.61 percent of full-time faculty, compared with 63.4 percent of the population.

In an article in Education Libraries, Paul Jaeger and Renee Franklin propose that increased numbers of minorities in the LIS professoriate will shape and transform LIS graduate curricula and programs, which in turn will impact and inform the next generations of minority librarians, who will then adequately and appropriately serve the diverse communities that patronize libraries. One hopes the model of these minority librarians will inspire up-and-coming students to pursue librarianship as a career.

Efforts along these lines already exist, such as the Spectrum Doctoral Fellowship from the American Library Association (ALA), an outgrowth of ALA’s successful Spectrum Scholars Scholarship Program funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). I was one of 12 inaugural fellows in the program, who began doctoral study in 2007 and 2008. Fellows were drawn from the four underrepresented ethnic populations (American Indian/Alaska Native, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander). Most of the Fellows were librarians, and our interests ranged from distance education and information behavior to LIS education, technology, and critical studies to archives, academic librarianship, and medical librarianship. We fanned out to LIS schools nationwide, and so far three have graduated and are now tenure track assistant professors teaching in LIS graduate programs. In fall 2013, a new round of six librarians will begin PhD curricula.

This program is special because it aims to increase the ranks of the LIS professoriate with scholars from underrepresented populations. The focus is on teaching and research that will put minorities in front of LIS classrooms and facilitate the creation of research and publications for and about diverse ­populations.

Where do we find good candidates to apply to doctoral study and ultimately join LIS faculties? Kelley suggested recruiting from the LIS workforce for master’s programs. We should do the same for doctoral study. Concerted efforts should be made to recruit practicing librarians who are fired up by research and teaching and are looking for another dimension of librarianship and perhaps an alternative way to advance their careers. Where are the instruction and information literacy librarians, school and youth librarians, and catalogers who bring distinct expertise to the table? ­Practitioners’ depth of experience enriches the classroom experience and can address real-world questions in ways that reflect an understanding of both theory and practice. Adjuncts should not be the only graduate school instructors who bring practical experience to the discussion.

This is not to say that faculty life for diverse candidates does not have challenges. Diversity issues in LIS schools require care and deliberate attention to retention and inclusion issues [for example, a new interview series at my school, Reflections on Inclusion].

Our patrons are diverse and should have access to librarians who themselves represent diverse populations; similarly, to attract and retain excellent master’s candidates from diverse backgrounds, there should be faculty members from similar backgrounds who share their needs and experiences. The better, and more inclusive, the graduate education experience for diverse candidates, the better prepared they will be to serve diverse patrons in their libraries.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

No More Privilege Porn

“I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one's own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge.” Audre Lorde

Merriam-Webster has one definition of pornography as “the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.” I’m using this definition for this post. I’ve been increasingly dismayed and even angered by the number of Whites lately who are posting, writing, and talking (and even singing) at length about their White privilege.

Recently, Fredrik deBoer wrote a very thought-provoking post for The Washington Post about this proliferation, calling it a “cottage industry.” While I won’t go quite as far as deBoer does in arguing that all such recognition should be private, I do think that, in many ways, too much of what is being written is antithetical to the entire point of owning one’s privilege. Too many White people seem to be using these pieces to further re-center Whiteness in the discussion.

Whites have to go through a period of recognizing and “owning” the privileges they receive (both individually and collectively) in the world (in the United States specifically). As a scholar who often writes about race and racism in the library field, I do mention a recognition of my White privilege in my writing, particularly my more research-oriented efforts. But I always do so briefly and as a means to an end. I mention it as part of my responsibility as a researcher addressing subjectivity and rely on Alan Peshkin’s approach from the appendix of The Color of Strangers, the Color of Friends. Own it, but move on.

What seems to be happening in too many quarters is Whites who are stalling in this spot and not moving on to authentic actions from their recognition. When this happens, when the recognition becomes the locus of supposed anti-racist work, it makes me angry. It’s one of the reasons I resist describing myself as an “ally” or an “anti-racist.” (Read more about this resistance and on being an accomplice.) Too many self-described “allies” and “anti-racists” make things more about a glorification of the recognition of their White privilege than about actually doing something to change things. As Hannah Gomez would say, you get #nocookies for this.

I also see this happen specifically with librarians, teachers, library and educational organizations, etc., many of whom know the “right” language to use and who are vocal about the progress they’ve made since their “color-blind” days. Many of these people even recognize their own non-racial forms of oppression (female, Queer, working class, etc.), which makes me even angrier because they should be the ones who know better! I’ve seen too many people who consider themselves antiracists who use racial coding or, in a group of Whites, say nothing when someone else uses these codewords. And I've seen too many organizations that suddenly seem to be interested in "diversity," but aren't putting any actual long-term, meaningful resources into making organizational changes. 

Start doing some work that actually fractures the system. Join and be an active member of organizations that are fighting racial oppression and injustice. Talk to your friends and family about the work you are doing and why you’re doing it. Within organizations, be that person who makes sure that conversations stay on track and that concrete actions result from these conversations (even at the risk of lots of eye-rolling and pushback).

And maybe read a little more Cheryl Harris and a little less Peggy McIntosh.*

* I don’t think that McIntosh is a bad place for some White people to start their journeys, but it seems too many people read her “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and don’t read any of the exceptional work on Whiteness, intersectionality, etc. by writers of color and Native writers.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Self-Censorship: Alive and Well

“Perhaps the most insidious form of self-censorship, and therefore the most difficult to overcome, is that rooted in personal bias. And that’s when it’s time to be more assertive in affirming a library’s responsibility to the diverse members of its community and to the First Amendment rights of everyone it serves. A library collection should reflect the wide-ranging needs and interests found within the community it serves, not those of the librarian(s) responsible for selecting materials. A librarian who is rejecting items on topics or with content that he or she finds personally objectionable is, quite simply, not doing her or his job.” Megan Schliesman

Recently, Roger Sutton over at The Horn Book wrote “I’d really like to ban the term “self-censorship” from discourse, given that we already have a spectrum of words–from “prudence” to “cowardice”–that say more precisely what we mean, and because it causes us to be confused about what censorship actually is.” I’ve been thinking about this post since I read it and felt that it warranted a response here. While Roger’s post wasn’t inherently about the type of self-censorship I cover in my teaching and research, I do think it’s important to consider the (ironically) chilling effect that his words could have on our field. (Of course, it could be that Roger was being a bit facetious, but many people take his words at face value regardless of intent.)

I do believe that we need to keep using the term “self-censorship” in LIS education, practice, and research. Regardless of whether we are limiting our definition to acts of suppression by the government or using a more expansive Foucauldian definition to recognize the government’s subversive power throughout our daily lives, any librarian that receives their paycheck from a local, state, or federal governmental agency is capable of self-censorship.

In 1958, Marjorie Fiske published the ground-breaking Book Selection and Censorship: A Study of School and Public Libraries in California (there are still used copies floating around if you don’t yet own one) and offered an extensive look at the influence of self-censorship on selection. Louise Robbin’s Censorship and the American Library: the American Library Association's response to threats to intellectual freedom, 1939-1969 is also an important work for connecting the work of Fiske and others to the larger issue of censorship in U.S. libraries.

I tend to take a more expansive view of self-censorship, following in the footsteps of Sandy Berman. (Back when I was still selecting in libraries, I would humorously imagine a tiny Sandy Berman sitting on my shoulder, guiding me through any qualms I might have about ordering something.) Typically my work falls within the realm of youth services or “diversity” in libraries, but this semester, I am teaching our required collection development course, which allows me to explore the issue in a number of contexts. And I will be using the term “self-censorship,” rather than some of Roger’s suggestions (although I’m sure those will come up as well).

From personal experience, from current and former students, and from the literature, I know that self-censorship is happening in libraries across America. I know the internal struggles I faced when starting a bilingual Spanish/English youth collection in a county that wasn’t exactly friendly to the growing Latinx community. I know how I had to overcome the resistance I expected from library staff and vocal White library users when I spent a lot of my collection development money on diverse titles in multiple formats.

I also hear from students, both former and current, about their own internal battles. These librarians and future librarians are not only thinking about perceived threats to their selections but also about actual threats. I hear from school librarians who know that their principals have removed “controversial” GLBT and/or “edgy” POC titles from their collections overnight who worry that buying future titles will not only be a waste of their limited budgets, but may even one day cost them their jobs. I hear from public librarians who have been “discouraged,” if not actually forbidden, from buying “those ethnic award” titles, because their communities are White and they won’t circulate. I even hear from academic librarians who, due to antiquated vendor agreements, have basically given up selecting many of the GLTQ and POC/Native books because the paperwork required to purchase books not carried by the vendor causes too much suspicion and questioning from their acquisitions and technical services peers.

And we have all heard from the literature, from the sources linked above to Debra Lau Whelan, Rebecca Hill, Peggy Kaney, and a number of others. A great starting point for those new to this conversation is this LibGuide.

I purchase a lot of books for my teaching and research every year and my work tends toward GLBT and POC/Native voices and subjects. To save money, many of the books I buy are used, particularly as these titles often go out of print more quickly than books by/about White, straight people (a post for another day). One of my research projects at the moment arose from a trend I noticed when buying these titles. Over the past several years, I have been able to get “Like New” copies from third parties such as Better World Books. Once they arrive, I discover that they are obviously uncirculated but withdrawn titles processed for library use. My belief is that these titles are arriving as part of purchase plans but being pulled before they even enter the collections. Since these titles are preprocessed, I know the public and school libraries from whence they originate and have verified through OPACs that this isn’t a case of too many copies, as these libraries actually don’t have the books in their online holdings. Since some of the school library catalogs aren’t online, I’ve even called to ask if a particular title is available. These titles never made it to the shelves.

As quoted by Megan at the onset, the most insidious form of self-censorship results from personal bias. This is why research in this area is so difficult. We don’t want to admit that our biases might affect our jobs. I’m currently working on a book chapter for a Library Juice Press title, Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science, edited by Gina Schlesselman-Tarango. The tentative title of that chapter is “Blinded by the White: Color Blindness, Racial Coding, and Self-Censorship in Public Library Collection Development and Management” This chapter is based on the experiences I had during the course of my dissertation fieldwork. In it, I will explore how racial bias and racism can cause conscious or subconscious self-censorship, which in turn influences any meaningful, widespread progress in providing library users with collections that reflect the lived experiences of people of color and First/Native peoples. I will also address the possibility of increased self-censorship regarding racially diverse titles that intersect with other forms of identity (especially gender identity and/or sexual orientation). This topic wasn’t even the point of my dissertation research, but rather arose because of things that White library staff admitted to me (often inadvertently) during my interviews. Since I am White, I guess they had no qualms about admitting their biases and how they influenced the selection (or not) of certain types of diverse titles.

Many of us who work in this field do so because of the importance these books have in the lives of the youth in our communities, states, nations, and the world. There is power in naming the forces that work against serving all of these children and teens. There is also power in not naming these forces. Removing terms like “self-censorship” from our discourse won’t prevent it from happening. In fact, it could make it easier for librarians to ignore the professional responsibilities that should guide daily decisions. Self-censorship is real. Self-censorship is alive and well in libraries around the world. Calling it something else doesn’t clarify what’s happening. It actually muddies the water.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sins of Omission

"American history is longer, larger, more  various, more beautiful, and more terrible than  anything anyone has ever said about it."  -- James Baldwin

We all have moments in life that stick with us, moments when we realize how we’ve been betrayed or lied to by the various people with power in our lives. I still remember the day when I realized that the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real and that, by extension, neither was the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. Some of these realizations are harmless and just a part of growing up.

Other realizations are more pivotal because the implications are earth-shattering and often reveal more insidious betrayals. Often these realizations don’t revolve around outright lies but sins of omission. One of the earliest such moments for me was in high school, in the hallway outside of a classroom. That’s when I first heard about the Orangeburg Massacre. Not in the classroom, but in the hallway. 

Even though I was born and raised in Orangeburg County and educated in Orangeburg County public schools, I never recall hearing about the Orangeburg Massacre from a teacher inside an actual classroom. Once this teacher, an African American man, mentioned it to me, I began to read about it and a lifetime of lies began to fall away. 

I imagine most of my Black classmates knew about the Orangeburg Massacre, but it certainly wasn’t talked about by Orangeburg Whites. I had even spent quite a bit of time on the campus of South Carolina State University (College at that time) while growing up, but still I had never connected the building named Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center to any actual event. I guess, growing up in a small town where half of the buildings, streets, and monuments seemed to be named after long-dead (usually Confederate) White men, I just stopped making connections between these names and the people they represented.

But this isn’t really a post about the Orangeburg Massacre, although I hope anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with this pivotal moment of resistance will take the time to read about it. There’s certainly far more available now than there was when I first heard about it in high school (just one book then).

And, although I think about them often, this isn’t a post about the three young Black men who died on February 8, 1968: Henry Ezekial Smith, 18; Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., 18; and Delano Herman Middleton, 17 (pictured above, left to right). No one ever served time for their deaths or the many injuries of the other students involved in the protests. One of the projects I am working on (in all of my spare time) is a narrative non-fiction collection for teens about the young people we have lost in this country, names now largely ignored and forgotten in the curriculum (if they were ever there to begin with). Look for that post-tenure…

Instead, this post is about the need, every day of every month, for all of us in libraries and education to make sure that we aren’t part of this legacy of omission. We still need Black History Month and all of the other history, heritage, and appreciation months that shine a brighter light, 28-31 days each year, on the stories and counternarratives of people of color, Native peoples, women, LGBT people, etc. But that is not enough!

Every day we have to make an effort in our libraries and classrooms to look at whose stories we're telling and whose we aren’t. This applies to every single book order, classroom library purchase, book display, bulletin board, brochure, bibliography, blog post, storytime, booktalk, etc.

In my classes, I have students read a selection from James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me. We talk about trailblazers including (but not limited to) E.J. Josey, Augusta Baker, Charlemae Rollins, Pura Belpré, Arna Bontemps, Virginia Lacy Jones, Arnulfo Trejo, and Sandy Berman. Students read the work of contemporary activists and advocates in the field, including Debbie Reese, Cecily Walker, Edi Campbell, Nicole Cooke, Chris Bourg, Ellen Oh, Hannah Gomez, and Max Macias (and many of the blogs linked on this page). If we’re lucky enough, we even get to have some of these people join us in the (virtual) classroom.

When we talk about publishers, I have an honest conversation with students about why I focus much of that conversation on small and independent presses. We have great conversations about the supply chain in publishing, about how vendors work, and about the time and effort required to actually have a balanced collection (not just a “balanced” collection based on what the Big 5 are publishing and your vendors have in stock).

I do all of this (and lots of other things) in an effort to help students explore how their pasts are also laden with these sins of omission. I also do it in an effort to help students become (or sometimes become even more) aware of how our daily decisions can either maintain the status quo in libraries and classrooms or can counteract and subvert this status quo.

Maybe one day we will get to the point where including different stories, voices, and perspectives becomes second nature in our daily library and classroom decisions. Maybe one day the major publishers, review sources, and vendors will be more reflective of the rich diversity (of all forms) of the United States. But we’re not there yet.