All posts filed under “Diversity/Inclusion

[one person giving another person a bowl of cherry tomatoes] - Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash
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My Service is Not Selfless

This past Friday I attended the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium (GSISC18) at Simmons College in Boston, MA. It was an empowering, invigorating, and thoughtful conference that left my heart and mind so so full. Please forgive me as I spend the next few blog posts working through some of the thoughts and and feelings that surfaced during this day and have been percolating ever since.

I had the privilege of presenting at the end of the day with my colleagues Joanna Gadsby, Sofia Leung, and Jennifer Brown on Deconstructing Service: Identity and Expectations. We wanted to have an informal, semi-structured discussion on the idea of service in libraries, and the ways in which it is complicated by different facets of our identities and expectations surrounding people like us in libraries. I feel like I could listen to Jo, Sofia, and Jen talk for hours about anything and everything. They are brilliant women. One theme that kept resurfacing as I listened to them address different topics we raised during our presentation was something I mentioned early on in our panel session:

My service is not selfless.

I don’t see myself as selfless or giving to a fault. I do the work of helping and teaching in libraries because I gain satisfaction from this work. I enjoy facilitating learning in and out of the classroom because I want to help people recognize the critical thinkers and researchers inside themselves. I feel like in doing this, I am doing some good in the world. I am helping to build an educated, critical populace. In helping to empower others I am also empowering myself.

BUT (of course there is a “but”), I want to be valued for this work. I want to be paid adequately. I want to feel as though the relationships I engage in through my work are reciprocal and genuine, not exploitative. This is a job I enjoy, but it is still my job. I offer my care and good work at this job, and I expect care in return.

How does service play out in practice?

That was my ideal. This is my reality: I feel as though service is performative. The ethos of service in libraries makes it solely for the benefit of others. I have to actively work to prevent my service from becoming a drain. Maria Accardi and Megan Browndorf have both explored the phenomenon of librarian burnout, which is often rooted in a mismatch in affect (performative vs. genuine), job ambiguity, and overwork. Fobazi Ettarh’s groundbreaking article on vocational awe talks about the dangers of this selfless altruism, and the ways in which it is used to silence critique and further exploit library workers.

Jo, Jen, and Sofia all brought up the ways in which our service-oriented job culture contributes to the exploitation of librarian hidden labor, particularly for women of color. The effort behind our service remains hidden, because we don’t want to show, or, more likely, people don’t want to see, the hard work that goes into reproducing the work of libraries, scholarship, teaching, and learning. At one point, a conference participant stated that she often felt like The Giving Tree, giving of herself to others at work until there was nothing left! I don’t want to be that tree.

A feminist version of service

I want to reframe my service through a relational-cultural lens. I want my service to be rooted in empowerment for myself and others. I want libraries to value service when it comes time to promotion and pay increases, and not just traditional service on committees within the library, university/college, and profession. I think we need to value the emotional work we do as teachers, researchers, and librarians and compensate it accordingly. Just because we can’t quantify our relational work doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It is the bedrock of our profession.

I understand we are working within the confines of patriarchal academia, and that academic libraries often replicate that structure, but I also see opportunity–thanks to adrienne marie brown’s Emergent Strategy–to start small and begin a culture change within our libraries/departments/units. I want to be the start of a new fractal that replicates outward, replacing a harmful version of service with one that feeds and nurtures ourselves. I want to see libraries replicating the helping behavior we want to put our into the world within our own working structure. Our ethic of care should be ourselves as well as others.

More to come

As I mentioned at the start of this post, this is likely going to be the first of many reflections from GSISC18. I’d love to hear from other participants and continue conversations we started on Friday. Also, many thanks to the conference organizers:

Emily Drabinski, Long Island University, Brooklyn
Derrick Jefferson, American University
Allison Gofman, Tufts University
Rebecka Sheffield, Simmons College
Stacie Williams, Case Western Reserve University

If you didn’t get a chance to attend, you can also read through the live notes from the conference thanks to the many volunteer note-takers. Your service is appreciated and valued!

 

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Acculturation, Integration, Assimilation

I’m at the end of week three in my new job and have been thinking a lot about the process of on-boarding new employees. UH Libraries has a very comprehensive on-boarding and orientation program. With 50+ librarians that’s not surprising. I’ve had one-on-one meetings with everyone in my department, other supervisors within the library, and am looking forward to meeting people outside the library in the next few weeks (summer just makes for fewer folks on campus). There is a big stress on understanding the library’s organizational culture and strong encouragement to ask questions and offer feedback on the orientation / on-boarding process, which I appreciate.

I’ve had some interesting, open conversations with my colleagues about what it means to a) come back to work after being on sabbatical for 8 months, and b) come back to an entirely new place of work. There’s a fair amount of culture shock happening, which is to be expected when moving from a small liberal arts college to an R1 university. Thankfully I feel like I can talk about this at work.

I can also talk about what it means to be a new employee at a library without simultaneously being a new librarian. This is the first job I’ve started as an established librarian. My first subject librarian position at the UH Libraries was my first job out of library school, and I was green, green, greenie-green. When I started working at St. Mary’s I was relatively early career (about 2.5 years in). But now, as I settle into this new Instruction Coordinator role, I realize I’ve been doing this for more than a hot minute. I have a much stronger sense of who I am as a person and as a librarian. I have my own values, beliefs, hopes, and goals. I have established ideas about librarianship, teaching, and scholarship. I bring my own culture. I don’t want to be so rigid that I espouse my own values and culture as the right values and culture. I always want to be open to learning and to new experiences. I also want to recognize that I have something to bring to the table and that my own identity matters.

I’ve been the latina who anglicized my name in college because I was tired of hearing my professors and fellow students stumble over it. In my early twenties I struggled to reconcile my own latinidad with the whiter world around me and just ended up feeling alone and confused. I wish I could go back and tell 20-year-old me to stop code switching and take pride in myself and my culture (and for the love of God stop tweezing your eyebrows so much). These are lessons I’ve tried to keep with me over the years (including the brow-shaping). I bring them with me as I start this new job, and think about ways I can integrate myself into this new library. I don’t want to assimilate, and I don’t feel pressure to do so. I want to continue to question, reflect, act, and practice librarianship in an intentional way that aligns with my own values. I want to learn new ways to be in this profession from my colleagues. It’s a very different approach to starting a new job for me, but it’s one I’m committed to pursuing in the months to come.

 

 

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Spaces of (Dis)Comfort

Photo of the NYPL Rose Reading Room

NYPL Rose Reading Room by Sebas Ribas via Unsplash.com

When my partner and I decided to spend our sabbatical year in Houston, we thought long and hard about where we wanted to live. Criteria included:

  • In Town (we’d had enough of rural suburban living)
  • Affordable (think very small apartment)
  • Within walking/biking distance of Rice University (where my partner would be working on his research)
  • Zoned to a good public school (my son was starting kindergarten)

That last criteria, when combined with the others, pretty much restricted us to a very small and tidy garage apartment in a very upscale neighborhood near Rice University and the Texas Medical Center. When deciding on a place to live, I had lots of discussions about what made a school a “good school” with other POCs, white friends who get it, and my parents, who were both public school teachers. “Good school” is such a loaded term, and is often, unfortunately code for “white” for many white people and POCs alike. For us, good school meant a school that wasn’t falling apart, had caring teachers, a diverse student body, and good learning opportunities for students. Our son’s school has all of these things, thanks to the VERY WEALTHY families who live within its zoned boundaries and their ridiculously expensive property taxes.

As much as I love my son’s school, it makes me very uncomfortable on a daily basis. My husband and I might posses combined education equal to or greater than most of the parents in the neighborhood, but it certainly doesn’t translate into dollars (thanks, academia!), and it shows. The school repeatedly asks for money for upkeep, special events, classroom needs, teacher professional development, etc. and I can’t help but think a) I don’t have that kind of cash; and b) there are other schools with a much poorer tax base that need that money so much more. I was terrified at kindergarten registration that we wouldn’t have the necessary documentation to prove that we were actually living within the school zone boundaries after being asked to bring in far more documents than the school district actual requires because, and I quote “so many families try to sneak in” (side note: what does that say about other schools in this district and distribution of funding?). I felt small and brown and poor as I waited for the registrar to give us the ok (which we eventually got, after having to go home for more documentation). I felt like I was trying to sneak in.

I feel like an imposter at PTO meetings. Despite the diversity of the school, I can still count the number of black and latino students on my hands. The wealth is overwhelming. There are small apartments and duplexes hidden in this neighborhood, but I don’t ever meet those parents at PTO meetings or school events because they are, as I would be if I weren’t on sabbatical, working. I want to feel as though I have every right to be at this school with my son, but somehow I haven’t internalized the comfort in all situations that comes naturally to my white, male partner.

I write all this not to air my grievances at public school funding or socioeconomic stratification in large cities–ok, maybe I want to do this a little. I write this because I don’t stop to think often enough about the ways in which students may feel completely out of place and uncomfortable in our library spaces. There are likely many students who walk into an academic library for the first time and immediately think: nope, not for me. I had a wonderful time at the Identity, Agency, and Culture in Academic Libraries conference at the University of Southern California this summer, but again, felt way out of place in that library space. It felt old and dignified and rich and not for me. I feel that way (and did when I was an undergrad) about the Rice University library as well. It sounds ridiculous but if I see heavy wooden trim and oak desks I immediately feel like someone is going to tell me “I’m sorry but you can’t be in here,” and I’ve worked in libraries for 10 years!

There’s something about the University of Houston library and my local public library that doesn’t feel that way at all. They’re bright and bustling. I hear people speaking Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and a host of other languages I can’t readily identify. It’s loud. I see brown faces studying, working the service desk, conducting campus tours, and leading story time. It all makes a huge difference. It makes me feel like I belong.

I know that there is this tendency to want to blame people for their own feelings of imposter syndrome; that somehow it’s their fault that they are feeling that way and should just get over it. I want to call bullshit on that tendency. There are real divisions in our society that break down along racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic status lines. Class, gender, and sexuality all have an impact on how we experience the world. We can’t expect all students to find our libraries comforting and helpful unless we think about ways to actually make those students feel welcome and comfortable. Re-examining our library spaces shouldn’t be confined to studies of function and use; they should include studies of feelings as well, particularly those feelings of students who never set foot in our spaces because it’s a source of discomfort to them.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel 100% comfortable among the parents and teachers at my son’s elementary school, but I keep going to school events in hopes that one day I’ll sit next to another parent living in a duplex or garage apartment in this neighborhood. We’ll see each other’s worn out shoes, Target t-shirts, and outdated phones and think: Yes, I do belong here.