This semester I’m taking another library school class as an elective, Equity and Inclusion in the Information Professions. It felt like a good fit for my PhD 3rd area, the rhetorics of knowledge control and dissemination. And so far, I was right. It’s going to be a very good fit. Each week we’re creating a personal response of some kind to the readings and we’re allowed to do this response any way we see fit, including a multimodal approach. I enjoyed sharing my Visual Rhetoric posts over the summer so I’ve decided to continue that idea by sharing my personal responses for this class each week. The posts won’t be perfect, as they’re my attempt to connect with and understand the readings, but I’ll do my best to convey my thoughts as clearly as I can. And while I still feel like a bit of an outsider, given that I’m not actually an LIS student anymore, I think I’m going to like it here. With that being said, lets go to the library!
This week’s readings were an excellent start to the semester. They were certainly theory-heavy, to be sure, and while I’m not used to that with LIS classes, they fell in line with what I’ve come to expect from my PhD program. In truth, they would have fit in with the readings that we’ve done in my rhetoric courses so I felt right at home. To be honest, they were some of the most engaging assigned readings I’ve had in an LIS class.
The assigned readings were as follows:
- So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo; intro through chapter 3
- Racecraft, by Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields; intro and chapter 1
- The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory, by Brittney Cooper; “Intersectionality”
- “‘Owning Up’ of White-IST Trends in LIS to Further Real Transformations” by Bharat Mehra and LaVerne Gray
The first two readings focused specifically on racism in America; where it started, where we are now, the systemic issues that surround race, and why it’s important that white Americans not only understand these concepts but that they actively work to dismantle the structures that enable systemic racism to continue. Oluo makes the argument that “A lot of people feel like acknowledging race in a problem will make that problem only about race, and that will leave a lot of people out. But race was designed to be interwoven into our social, political, and economic systems” (2020, p.20). Until we can accept and admit that racism is built into every system in our lives, we can’t move forward. Acknowledging racism doesn’t make a problem solely about race because race was always a part of the equation.
The third reading, Brittney Cooper’s chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory details the history of intersectional theory and how it has been changed (forcibly in some instances) from the original underpinnings created by Kimberle Crenshaw, which was the idea that “Intersectionality constituted a specific paradigm or framework for understanding black women’s subordinated social position and the situated effects of mutually constructing systems of power and oppressions within black women’s lives” (2018, p.390). This is the heart of the theory at its most basic level. The theory has evolved and changed over the thirty years since it was first voiced and I’ll admit that, in all the time I’ve been studying it, I don’t think I ever drilled down this far with it. That’s on me for not looking into it deeper but I’m glad I know now.
The last article is the one that had the most impact on me. In “An ‘Owning Up’ of White-IST Trends in LIS to Further Real Transformations” Mehra and Gray state that “Alignment of what is good for society through the promulgation of libraries as neutral entities dismisses and renders invisible ever-present racist ideas and practices in a white supremacist society” (2020, p.197). This struck close to home for me as I’ve been studying the myth of library neutrality for a few semesters now. I took a Visual Rhetoric course over the summer and both of my projects focused on American library propaganda and the changing concept of library neutrality. I wrote about both the “radical militant librarian” idea of the mid-2000s and the ALAs war efforts during both World Wars.
Where the ALA claims to be now is very far from where they were before the 1950s. Overall, the myth of library neutrality is one that can cause serious harm when libraries allow this kind of doctrine to influence their public displays as well as the use of their public spaces. By taking a “non-political” stance, they are allowing racist, homophobic, and transphobic discourse to take place in these spaces, despite the trauma it could cause to their employees and community members. And yet I know so many librarians who continue to ride this party line. It begs the question: can American librarians ever get past the concept of library neutrality and accept that this is a myth that is, in and of itself, a political stance, even as they insist that librarianship shouldn’t be political?
The same authors also discuss information access and dissemination in recent decades, stating that “the new information science field in the twentieth century certainly developed a focus on information access, information organization, and information dissemination. This, however, provided a narrow conceptual pompous space that initially ignored the broader reality of lived experience, the notion of impact on everyday life settings, and the need to go beyond experimental lab environments to shape changes in the social, political, economic, and contextual circumstances within which information access and other information-centered activities were embedded (Mehra, forthcoming)” (2020, p.205).
This one also struck close to home because it made me think of the state of the Open Access movement and the academic librarians and researchers who have taken it upon themselves to put down the movement for a variety of reasons. The best known is, of course, Jeffrey Beall, who created “Beall’s List” in 2008 to track what he believed were “predatory” journals. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Beall had a tendency to mark down most Open Access journals as predatory. He was especially harsh to any Open Access journal that wasn’t from a majority-white, English-speaking country.
Beall, a white male librarian, made himself the arbiter of what was good or bad and then began to claim harassment and oppression when some of these journals began pushing back. He refused to consider the situations that might lead to scholars needing Open Access because he didn’t consider the fact that not all scholars are from well-funded schools that can afford to buy expensive journals. And too, he also condemned the idea of scholars publishing in these journals, which many of them needed in order to increase their publications and citations. He viewed (and still does view) Open Access as a threat to the hegemony of the Ivory Tower and he has used a number of political dogwhistles in his work, as well as some antisemitic phrasing. At the same time, he publishes these screeds in Open Access journals, for reasons that I do not understand.
The point I want to make here is that librarians should not be the arbiters of how/when/where/ knowledge is disseminated and to whom. Information needs are not the same for everyone and everyone should have the access they need to succeed in their fields. Open Access allows scholars from underfunded schools to gain access to the research that they need, in a timely manner, which can help them to achieve equal footing with their contemporaries. This is not a bad thing.
Cooper, B. (2018). Intersectionality. In L. J. Disch & M. E. Hawkesworth (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Feminist theory (pp. 385–406). essay, Oxford University Press.
Fields, B. J., & Fields, K. (2012). Racecraft: The soul of inequality in American life. Verso.
Mehra, B., & Gray, L. V. (2020). An “owning up” of white-ist trends in LIS to further real transformations. The Library Quarterly, 90(2), 189–239. https://doi.org/10.1086/707674
Oluo, I. (2020). So you want to talk about race. Seal Press.