Advocating with an Open Heart

Editor’s note: This guest post has been authored by Alejandro Marquez. Alejandro is a Collection Development Librarian at the Auraria Library which serves the University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Community College of Denver.

I recently heard a term in passing called guerilla librarianship which I envision is similar to guerrilla theatre. I imagine it to be the idea of fast moving and small-scale actions. Library workers who are subverting the way things are normally done. Library professionals who aren’t allowed to do a LGBTQ+ display during pride month so they do another display on summer reads with only queer authors. Individuals who are taking action whenever and wherever possible to advocate for change behind the scenes. Other visible actions would be starting a union, writing editorials to the newspaper, or political advocacy.

I feel like there needs to be more action in the world. I don’t like reading the news anymore. Book challenges, anti-intellectualism, and DEI higher education legislation makes me hide away from it all. This is just what is happening in library land. I see the spike in anti-trans legislation, assaults on women’s health care, and Tennessee’s drag ban. It often feels like there is not going to be a white knight coming to save us.

As a queer and BIPOC librarian, it makes me fearful for the future. Growing up Hispanic and gay meant that I was always having to assess my surroundings. From this early age, I felt like if I could control myself, my actions, thoughts and desires then I wouldn’t face the disapproval of my parents, school, and society. I became hypervigilant. By trying to control everything, I was unconsciously trying to protect myself from experiencing trauma again. I would make myself invisible.

I feel like all of this political legislation is erasing all the marginalized communities that I love and care about. The worst part of feeling invisible is that I feel like I am the only one. Do others feel the same way? Do others care to try something? If this message is resonating with you, know that you are not alone. Take care of those beaten down. As the cliche airline phrase goes, “Put your own air mask on first.”

It begs the question, Where do we go from here? James Baldwin once said, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” Black, Brown, and Queer folx have been around for millennia. They have been documenting their history and making their contributions to society. They weren’t afraid to go out on the streets and live their lives. They have left behind a rich legacy of photographs, diaries, books, and pamphlets. If we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of our many ancestors.

As library workers, our learning materials provide our communities a chance to connect with themselves and others. It is an opportunity to connect to our spiritual and historical ancestors both real and fictional. Marcus Garvey famously wrote, “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Libraries provide a space to connect with our collective history and hopefully heal.

The recent political legislation and systemic barriers are a harm to marginalized communities and a harm to everyone. Even people who we feel are on the other side of the issue. Just like I monitored myself growing up, maintaining rigid rules is exhausting. The world we live in is rarely binary but rather a spectrum of diversity. This inflexible thinking keeps us as a society from building connection, health, vulnerability, and joy which makes us human.

It is hard to show up every day with an open heart. It means feeling vulnerable, offering critiques, and speaking up. I invite everyone to be a hero in library land by creating the world they want everyone to live in.

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