A Queer Perspective

29/02/2012 § 16 Comments

Photo Credit: Flickr User Anna-Stina Takala.

Expanding on the theme of diversity within HLS began by Micah and within the LIS profession by Rebecca, I would like to take a moment to add a queer perspective to this discussion.  My identity as a queer person has played a major role in my entry into this wacky world of library and information science.  The importance of access to information for queer people, who often cannot turn to the usual sources, such as family and friends, to learn about themselves or form positive self images, is huge.  So, from my perspective libraries and queer people are forever linked because libraries have what we need–information!  My goal is to make queer materials and queer issues more visible in libraries, and the most obvious place to start is with myself, and right now, here in my first HLS post.

I’ve been able to build queer themes into almost every class I’ve taken at San Jose State SLIS, and I even had the opportunity to take a class last semester devoted entirely to the subject of serving LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer) library users with Ellen Greenblatt. From term papers on censorship to a pathfinder about queer art to a research proposal on library outreach to queer youth, I’ve done my homework.  And this semester I feel very lucky to be interning at a queer library, the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center, located within the San Francisco Public Library.  The Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center collects, preserves, and promotes queer materials, and gives a very public face to the library’s queer collections.  Places like the Hormel Center, the Lavender Library, One Archives and others were created in an attempt to rectify a history of censorship and marginalization of queer materials within libraries and archives.

Thankfully, the ALA has very progressive policies around diversity and access to information, but as Micah’s and Rebecca’s posts on racial diversity point out, creating real live diversity among library staff, library school student bodies, and I would add library collections/programs/services, etc., is not so easy.  And as queer people become more assimilated into mainstream culture, I’m not convinced that that necessarily translates into more queer books, programs, services, or necessarily even more out queer staff members, at the library.  Seeing Ellen on TV everyday may lead some in the LIS field, or people in general, to think that all the battles for LGBTIQ people have been fought and won.  But there is still much work to be done!  As libraries aim to be on the cutting edge of technology to remain relevant, why can’t libraries also aim to be on the cutting edge of diversity by creating collections and services that reach beyond the status quo?  I’m talking about really investing in it, promoting it–getting innovative about diversity, all kinds of diversity.  I think that would be great way for libraries to remain relevant–forever!

But then, how do we actually make this happen?  One idea that would put the library’s progressive ideals into action is for more libraries to serve as safe-spaces.  I’d love to hear your ideas and comments.

The Color of Knowledge: Diversity and Librarianship

21/07/2011 § 11 Comments

Stacie Mari Williams will complete her M.S. in Library Science and Archives Management at Simmons College?s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies in August 2011. She currently works in Access and Reference Services at Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library and sits on the board of directors of SLA-Boston as the organization’s archivist. She is interested in accessing all of the known information of the world on her smartphone, and reaching out to librar* folks, DJs, pastry chefs and Jedi knights via Twitter (@Wribrarian).

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Diversity: A new perspective

12/07/2011 § 13 Comments

Recently I read an article in Library Journal about a panel held at ALA Annual that encouraged the ALA to do more to promote diversity in the field.  I’m certainly not the first blogger to discuss the uncomfortable racial demographics that exists in the information field and I will not bring any earth-shattering solution to the table.  Instead, I want us to think about what diversity really is, why do we care so much about it, how would it help our profession and, ultimately, the population we serve.

Austin’s No-Majority and the iSchool

Talking about the state of diversity discipline-wide is outside the purview of this article; instead, I want to focus on the city where I live, work, and go to school: Austin, Texas.  Austin is a particularly unique city because it has no racial majority: the white population in the city has dropped below 50% and the second largest racial group, Hispanics, are sitting right around 40%.  This population trend is evident in the services the Austin Public Library offers, namely the New Immigrant Centers located in eight (of 21) branches.  NICs have computers with ESL software, bookmarked links to citizenship and immigration websites, and guides to job and house hunting.  Austin Public Library is aware of the growing need to serve a diversified (read: non-white) population and, in my opinion, does a pretty good job.  Nearly every professional job posting at APL prefers a candidate who can speak Spanish.

Unfortunately, the librarians entering the Austin job market aren’t as diversified as the population.   Many professional librarians at APL matriculated from the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information.  Let’s take a look at who makes up the iSchool student body:

According to the 2010-2011 Statistical Handbook of the University of Texas at Austin (see page 38 of the “Students” PDF), there were 268 graduate students in the iSchool in the Fall semester of 2010.  Of those, 207 (77%) are white; 26 (10%) are Hispanic and the remaining students are comprised of black, Asian, Native American, and Pacific Islander.  Not even close to representative of the population we will eventually be serving.  And unlike some other programs that require a course in diversity (such as UCLA’s Ethics, Diversity, and Change), the iSchool doesn’t.

The Value of Diversity

Its easy to look at these numbers and think, well, so what?  I’m inclined to do the same, particularly because the Austin Public Library seems so well attuned to the changing demographics and implementing new services to reflect those changes.   What does a diversified library staff mean, anyway?    What is all this diversity fuss really about?

Diversity should mean more than just scholarships, quotas, and pats on the back.  Striving for a more diversified library staff should be about the integration of the library into the community.  Community-integration requires mindfulness of the library’s location in the city, its collections, its policies and yes, the people working there.  In my statement of purpose to the iSchool I talked about entering librarianship to be a part of community building and what I called community-based collections and organizing, a process that involves creating relevant, comprehensive and sensibly organized libraries that engage all members of the community.  The fact that so few people of color choose to not enter this field (and yes I realize there are myriad reasons higher education is inaccessible to people of color or why those who do would want to choose something with a bit more earning potential) could mean that we, as librarians and community members, are out of touch with our communities.

What can LIS education do about it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the lack of diversity in the information profession is complicated, messy, and has no straightforward solution.  The first step, though, has to start with ourselves.  If your program doesn’t require an internship or some other field experience, do it anyway.  Find out where you live, who you live with, what services are offered, what services aren’t, and who is satisfied.  If your course guide is lacking in critical analyses of race, gender, and other sociopolitical demographics, take one in another department.  Bring it up in class.  Let’s demand a space for the uncomfortable, challenging, and important conversations.

Secondly, as Melody Dworak suggested in her blog, we should try to consult with other “pink collar” and predominately white workforces.  Do they know something we don’t?  I think she’s really on to something when she suggests we look for other ways into the profession that don’t cost as much time and money as a two-year graduate degree.  We, as the future of the profession, need to figure out what roadblocks to the profession exist and what we need to do about them.

We’re facing a critical time for the information profession.  I hope the future brings new meanings and responsibilities to librarianship, but more than anything else I hope we find a way to become an essential service to our communities.  And we’re not going to do that by all looking the same.

Diversity in LIS Education

10/02/2011 § 4 Comments

This is a post I originally posted on my blog after being inspired by Micah’s post on diversity in LIS. I agree with Micah that the best way to start promoting diversity is to start talking, and I’ve already had some really great comments in response to this post. I’d love to hear what you have to say too!

A couple things have happened lately that have caused me to spend some serious time contemplating diversity issues in LIS. The first was a post made on a professional listserv I follow. One individual shared a letter she had written to Iowa legislators about a number of issues, including library funding. She mentioned that the letter included other issues, but that she shared it on the list for those who were struggling to find words when talking to elected officials about libraries. For those of you who aren’t from Iowa, you may or may not know that a lot of people here are very divided at the moment over the issue of gay marriage, and the fact that this woman’s letter included mention of her support for gay marriage was upsetting to some other list members.
One member’s response was basically, “if she wants to go against what THE BIBLE says, that’s her right, but keep libraries out of it.” I tend to stay away from angry listserv discussions (people get riled up about everything from tuna fish to book boards on the lists I follow, and most of the time I just sigh and delete the thread), but this instance was one where I felt compelled to respond and say that the list included non-Christian individuals, and that not only did that response make them uncomfortable, it took time and attention away from the library issues the list was created to discuss. I did not mention my stance on gay marriage in the hopes that I could diffuse things rather than add my own anger to the discussion (but, for the record, I’m an ardent supporter!) I also wanted to avoid belittling the author’s views, because she has most likely formed them with as much care as I have formed my own.
This angry response, and a number of others on both sides, gave me a chance to reflect on what was happening. Are these discussions we should be having on professional listservs? I think the answer can be yes, but the trick is how we approach it. As librarians and info pros, we are in charge of providing information to people and (I hope) focusing more heavily on what their needs are than what about them we don’t like. I suspect most of us do this very well, and so the list might be a place we can talk about how to provide services to diverse groups or, maybe, even to discuss our own views or how we react when confronted with a patron we find challenging. My request is that we refrain from the anger and divisiveness I saw in some of those responses and focus instead on the issues and on discussion rather than on tearing each other down. About a week later, Micah Vandegrift published this awesome diversity post on the Hack Library School blog, and it made me think that maybe now would be a good time to share some of the thoughts I’ve had on diversity since I’ve been in LIS.
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Diversity in LIS – From My Perspective

07/02/2011 § 33 Comments

Dear Reader,

Please take one moment to scroll down the page a little and look at the fancy little avatar photos we have below, exhibiting the contributing writers to this here blog. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Have any first impressions? Thoughts? I know I did. When bringing this group together for purposes of writing about library school and the profession we are about to enter, I approached the bloggers I had been reading, heard about, or came across in my daily interweb scanning life. It wasn’t until all those photos were posted on this page that I saw an issue. 1 white guy and 5 white girls. Two things bothered me about this discovery. First, if this little group of writers is any sort of microcosm of the greater LIS student body and the profession, there is a problem. Second, and this was most embarrassing to me, when scanning my Twitter lists and blogs for confirmation, I found very little evidence of diversity there.

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