Tag Archives: feminism

Conscientious Engagement and the Framework for Information Literacy

In April 2017, an article written by Geographers Carrie Mott and Daniel Cockayne was published in Gender, Place & Culture entitled “Citation matters: mobilizing the politics of citation toward a practice of ‘conscientious engagement’” (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0966369X.2017.1339022?journalCode=cgpc20)  Mott and Cockayne problematized the ways in which certain voices are privileged in scholarly circles. As with many other feminist academic polemics this article drew the ire of many conservative outlets, including the National Review which alerted its readers that “Feminist Geographers Warn Against Citing Too Many White Men in Scholarly Articles”

While yes, technically, the article does talk about moving away from dominant white male voices in Geography; the National Review, and many others, miss the point entirely. Mott and Cockayne investigate what they term the “politics of citation,” which “contributes” to, the authors explain, an “uneven reproduction of academic and disciplinary geographic knowledge.” (Mott and Cockayne 2) As the authors see it, “performativity of citations,” borrowing from Judith Butler and J.L Austin, leads to a place where “well-cited scholars have authority precisely because they are well-cited.” (Mott and Cockayne 13) Certain kinds of scholars, perched upon hegemonic forces, are better represented because of the echo-chamber-like machinations of contemporary scholarship. Mott and Cockayne conclude by suggesting that authors “carefully read through and count the citations in their list of references prior to submitting papers as a way to self-consciously draw attention to whose work is being reproduced.”( Mott and Cockayne 13) This has direct ties to how we approach information literacy, and, more directly in the scholarly communication field, how we measure the use and quality of materials.

With an eye toward students, the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education maintains the distinctions between novice learners and seasoned scholars in its “Scholarship as Conversation” section. It states that students should be able to “contribute to scholarly conversations at an appropriate level, such as local online community, guided discussion, undergraduate research journal…” while acknowledging that “systems privilege authorities and that not having a fluency in the language and process of a discipline disempowers their ability to participate and engage.” (Framework 8) Part of this though plays on the fears that Mott and Cockayne are exploring; namely, that fluency is required to gain access to the academe.  Fluency in what? Acknowledging that students must be fluent in the authorities of fields (somewhat contradictorily) reinforces the barriers that the Framework attempts to disrupt, and echoes discussions in the literary world over canons and canonicity. In some ways, this is how it is, and our part as librarians is to prepare students for the academic worlds they inhabit and the games that have to play. While I do not want to retread old discussions and debates over library neutrality, fluency as a requirement for contribution is not a neutral act as its neutrality reinforces the hegemonic forces that dominate academia.

This is not to say that the Framework is silent on the hegemonic forces behind standardization in academia as it explicitly names biases in the way that authority is constructed and contextual (Framework 4). However, I wonder whether or not “authority” is always somewhat limiting in the way in which we approach new concepts. Authority is nearly always, even in fields traditionally and statistically female like librarianship, heavily skewed toward dominant (male, white, heterosexual, cisgendered, Western) voices. Even if we name authority as contextual or constructed do we not give in to that construction when we teach to the standards and fluency in dominant paradigms?

This hegemonic echo-chamber is even more visible in scholarly communication. As long as the citation is still the lead indicator of influence for tenure track faculty it will represent a have and have-not situation for our newest faculty. The most-cited articles will be the most authoritative and therefore cited more often. On a practical level, this makes things difficult for new or outsider voices to be heard and/or respected. By encouraging “conscientious engagement” with sources and sourcing, we might be able to spread influence beyond the greatest hits of a genre and beyond the old, white, male, heterosexual forces that have defined authority for centuries. In so doing we could work to further include younger faculty and historically disenfranchised faculty in the larger conversations, which could greatly benefit the future of individual fields as well as individual tenure cases on a more pragmatic level.

What should a librarian do who is interested in conscientious engagement? I, for one, am going to start demoing and suggesting sources to my students outside of the cultural hegemony. While these sources may not be the “greatest hits,” this small(ish) action will promote larger engagement with new and challenging ideas. In my own work, I will also strive to cite voices outside of the dominant hegemony, and use my status to promote work that is challenging to the status quo. Is there a way to preserve the hallmarks of a field while encouraging new voices? I believe so.  I think there could be a middle ground, where disciplinary fluency is possible without the parroting of white male voices only. By being conscientious about who we cite and who we read, we can build a larger and more diverse set of authorities.

Given the outcry on the right over the mere suggestion that we cite non-dominant voices in scholarship, it is difficult to see this a quick and easy transition. Yet, if we take Mott and Cockayne’s piece beyond the scope of Geography and let it influence our own approaches to research and information literacy, it will benefit many of our stakeholders. On one hand, it will increase exposure for those faculty on the outside of the cultural hegemony, and, on the other, it will encourage diversity of thought and action for our students. Part of encouraging critical thinking should be encouraging conscientious engagement.

Things Left Unsaid

There are moments of confluence in our day-to-day lives that can impact the way we see ourselves in the world. Sometimes they are moments of revelation and other times they are just a slight shift in perception, a tweak in the way we experience life. This month, which just so happens to be Women’s History Month, a convergence of personal and professional experiences have all centered around gender, womanhood, and librarianship. The events, in no particular order, include:

  1. Reading Roma HarrisLibrarianship: The Erosion of a Woman’s Profession.
  2. Participating in a women faculty focus group at my college.
  3. Being interviewed for two different projects on intersections of gender, sexual identity, and race/ethnicity in LIS.
  4. A conversation with a dear cousin on the parallels between nursing and librarianship as “women’s professions.”
  5. Gearing up for an ACRL conference paper presentation on library instruction coordinators and gendered labor.
  6. Discussing casual sexism in academia with a handful of trusted colleagues and friends.
  7. Being called “unprofessional” by a male librarian for participating in the women’s strike.

Definitely a theme, right?

In living through these past few weeks and in writing this post, this has been the most intentional focus I’ve ever given to my identity as a latina, cis woman in highly feminized field within academia. It’s made me realize that there is so much in my professional life as an academic librarian and in my personal life that goes unsaid because to call attention to gender and intersectional gender identity on a daily basis is simply not done. It’s an academic exercise, a luxury. Something those “theoretical librarians” engage in while the “real librarians” do the “real work” in libraries.

Except it is not.

It is not navel-gazing to examine intersectional gender identity in academic libraries and academia more broadly, and here’s why.

Deeply Entrenched Patriarchal Structures in LIS

Roma Harris’ book was published in 1992, but reading it 25 years later, I’m struck by its relevance to my current work experiences. Despite being a feminized profession, we’ve somehow adopted masculine ideals in terms of what we value as a profession, how we seek to advance librarianship, and how we treat one another as librarians. Olin and Millet’s Lead Piparticle, Gendered Expectations for Leadership in Libraries, and Neigel’s LIS Leadership and Leadership Education: A Matter of Gender, thoughtfully analyze the ways in which, decades after Roma Harris critiqued librarianship for working towards a masculine ideal, LIS still models leadership–or more accurately, management/administration–as masculine labor. It’s a lose-lose set-up for women, who are viewed less positively when they perform both stereotypically masculine and feminine behaviors at work. This was abundantly clear to me after a colleague shared our library’s posters and flyers for Day Without a Woman with librarians at other institutions. I thought it was a bold move, an example of us taking action for other women in feminized professions–teaching, social work, nursing, childcare–who were not able to take the day off work. Yet we were immediately called out by a man for being “unprofessional” by not making ourselves available in service to others. It was hard to see those gendered expectations played out in front of a larger audience of our peers.

I’ve been seeing those same gendered expectations in my own research. Digging into the literature and interviewing instruction coordinators in preparation for an upcoming ACRL presentation, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that certain spaces and roles in libraries are more “for women” than others.  Teaching in libraries is ultra feminized. The relational work that instruction coordinators do and the interpersonal competencies they possess should be highly valued, but are–by virtue of being women’s work–instead simply expected, unacknowledged, and undervalued.

It’s a bummer.

As Within, So Without

Then there are the expectations that accompany being a woman in academia. I wrote a few weeks ago about the power imbalance between faculty and librarians in most academic settings, but think it’s important to stress the role that gender plays in those interactions. The service ethos in which librarianship is rooted is complicated by our gender identity and the expectations attached to women at work. My cousin, who works as an oncology nurse, doesn’t understand why something so obvious as an overwhelmingly female workforce in a structurally masculine setting–hospitals, academia–is hardly discussed. I have to agree.

In speaking with women faculty and staff I confirmed that the casual sexism I experience on a daily basis is not just unique to women in libraries, but to women in academia more broadly. It wasn’t until we gathered to explicitly address these incidents and issues that we felt less alone, more validated, and more empowered to speak up in defense of one another. Examples ranged from outright sexual harassment to more subtle power plays: being told to smile more at the reference desk or in classes, being expected to take on more of a sympathetic listening ear to students, being talked over in meetings and undermined in our work, being casually touched by male colleagues who never do the same to one another and that contribute nothing to the interaction but making us uncomfortable.

There was an acknowledgement of our shared experiences and a desire to work to support one another to change it.

An Airing of Grievances?

I’m not entirely certain what the intent of this post is as I attempt to wrap it up. I don’t want this to be finger-wagging or an airing of grievances, but I do think that some cathartic purging is always needed when discussing events and ideas that impact us in such a deeply personal ways. In some ways I’m just trying to open a conversation. I searched for “gender” in ACRLog before beginning to write and was surprised to find so little that addressed gender identity, sexism, and LIS explicitly. Roma Harris would argue that it’s an intentional if not conscious effort to separate librarianship from “women’s work” by not talking about gender.

I’m heartened by the good, feminist research being done by my academic librarian colleagues and hope that this much-needed introspection continues in our profession. We are a discipline, a profession, a field of primarily women, and the way that gender plays out in our work is worth analyzing, discussing, pulling apart, and putting back together. It’s the only way we’ll create a feminist, inclusive practice of librarianship, which is perhaps the larger point I’m trying to make, but maybe just dancing around.