All posts filed under “gender

[one person giving another person a bowl of cherry tomatoes] - Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash
comment 1

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!

 

comments 4

Growth in Connection

two hands holding one another

Hand in hand as one by Anete Lusina via Unsplash.com

Last summer I read Women’s Growth in Connection: Writings from the Stone Center, and it may have changed my life. It was published in 1991 by a group of women psychologists working at the Wellesley College Stone Center as a feminist response to traditional (aka clinically accepted, aka Western, aka masculine) models of human psychological development. It turned the notion of women as emotionally deficient on its head, arguing that existing models of development didn’t account for women’s experiences in the world. The Stone Center scholars, clinicians, and educators used their experiences working at women both in and out of Wellesley to describe what they saw as a relational model of human development, one where women, and really all of us, grow in our lives through relationships with others. What traditional developmental researchers at the time saw as co-dependency, these women framed as a healthy way of working through the world. Their development of relational cultural theory was, and continues to be (to me) mind-blowing. We grow through connections with others. We grow through relationships.

Before reading these essays and case studies I’d never really stopped to think why I’d internalized this idea of being independent, alone, and totally self-sufficient as being successful in life, when culturally, my Mexican-American upbringing always stressed family and strong ties among women within that family unit. It also forced me to think about ways in which I was forcing that independence, and really distance, on my son, who is just naturally one of those children who thrives on the confidence and positive reinforcement he receives from close meaningful relationships. Why can’t he take a bit more time to grow through our connection as mother and son?

This collection of course also brought to mind so much of the work that we do in libraries. I have a chapter in the forthcoming book, Reference Librarianship & Justiceon relational theory, the concept of mutuality, and reference work, and am thinking more and more about the ways in which so much of our work as librarians is rooted in relationship, and how those relationships can either be vehicles for empowerment and personal growth, or simply leave us unchanged and unmoved. There is of course, the issue that relationships require the involvement of someone beyond yourself, but in keeping with the writings of the Stone Center folks, there are ways in which we can move through the world that increase the likelihood of more meaningful, even powerful relationships.

The word empathy gets thrown around a lot these days, in conversations about everything from child-rearing to website development, to user experience research. What I like about the Stone Center definition of empathy is that it is a deep connection in which people are open to truly understanding one another. It is affirming and mutually enriching. It isn’t about using empathy for some kind of corporate gain like creating a better user interface, or selling more product. It’s about using empathy to forge a meaningful connection that will help both people grow and change.

But back to librarianship…

I’ve been thinking so much about the notion of the “information literate individual” and how our concept of this mythical person in many ways conflicts with a relational theory of development and also contradicts itself. In academic libraries we want to create independent, information literate researchers, but we also want them to know that they are part of a scholarly community. We want them to have their own voice and question the authority of others, but we don’t talk about the ways in which we all compromise both our voice and authority in our daily lives. We want our students to be able to do things on their own, do their own work, find their own information, but so much of our work is about working together with other colleagues, faculty, and and students. Our Framework for Information Literacy talks about communities of learning and seeking guidance from others, but I wish it also spoke to the need for relationships in learning and understanding the world of information, and the ways in which we as librarians can forge those relationships.

I’ll end with one last thought from the October issue of the SGI Living Buddhism magazine, which, in the way that all things converge in my life, was about mentoring relationships. The description of mentor-mentee or teacher-student relationships was so in line with relational theory. The bonds we make with our students and colleagues shouldn’t be hierarchical; the foundation should be one of “mutual trust” and “common purpose.” When we work together, through a relationship, towards a shared goal, we bring a piece of ourselves to the interaction, but we also open ourselves to possibility and growth. In those moments I’m happiest being a librarian because I’m happiest as a person. I feel as though I’ve actually connected to someone else and made a small imprint on them, and they’ve done the same to me.