Recommended Reading: White Fragility

I spent most of last weekend home sick with a cold, sniffling under blankets and cats, though the unexpected bright spot was the time to finish a book that was so fantastic that I can’t not recommend it. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo, floored me with its honest discussion of the role that we white people play in maintaining the racist systems in our society.

From the first page of the first chapter DiAngelo pulls no punches: “White people in North America live in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race, and white people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality. As a result, we are insulated from racial stress, at the same time that we come to feel entitled to and deserving of our advantage.”

DiAngelo makes a compelling case for why white people must push through our discomfort and learn to talk about race. She reviews the history of racism and white supremacy, and points out that the focus on individual acts of racism as perpetrated by bad actors sets up a binary that prevents white people from discussing racism at all. Throughout the book DiAngelo shares examples from her work in antiracist trainings to highlight the ways that white people — including herself — behave in conversations with people of color and conversations about race. Most importantly, she reminds us that “the antidote to guilt is action” (p. 143), and shares concrete suggestions to help white people resist white fragility and white solidarity, and to push back against racism in our society.

I feel strongly that this book should be required reading for all white librarians. As has been much discussed in recent years, librarianship remains over 86% white, despite years of advocacy and efforts to attract and fund students of color in LIS programs and hire librarians of color. And while librarianship remains predominantly white, the undergraduate population in the U.S has only continued to diversify. I work at a large public college that primarily serves New York City residents, and our student population is reflective of the city we’re in. It’s critical to my work that I learn about and practice antiracism. I’m also a chief librarian, and I want to especially urge my fellow white library directors and managers to read this book; we are responsible both to our campus communities and our library colleagues to interrupt our white fragility and strive for a more inclusive workplace.

There are lots of ways to learn about racism and antiracism. I am still learning, though I can share what’s been helpful to me. A few years ago I attended a three-day antiracism workshop that was a good place to start with both learning more about the structural racism of U.S. society and to begin having conversations about race. I also read a lot (probably not a surprise!) — as librarians, we are terrific at doing research, finding resources, and extending our learning. Searching online for antiracist resources should bring up numerous lists of resources on race and racism generally. Twitter has afforded me the opportunity to listen and learn from people of color in librarianship, academia, and activism. I also attend a white antiracist discussion group which I find incredibly valuable because, as DiAngelo demonstrates so well, talking about race is hard for white people, and we need to practice in order to get comfortable with our discomfort.

This is so important — if you’re a white librarian I hope you’ll take the time to read this book, too. At just over 150 pages it’s a quick read, and DiAngelo is a clear and thoughtful writer. And if you’d like to get familiar with her work before diving into the book, I recommend this video:
Deconstructing White Privilege
and this article:
White People are still raised to be racially illiterate. If we don’t recognize the system, our inaction will uphold it.

Academic Library Job Search Roundup

The fall semester is in full swing at most U.S. colleges and universities. While many folks finish up their graduate library degree in the spring, others finish at the end of the summer or after fall. And as I was scrolling through Twitter last week I was reminded that the academic library job search can happen anytime during the year, and is not necessarily tied to the semester schedule:

Seeing this tweet — and the super useful library interview questions database that Gina links to — made me think about all of the job searching posts we’ve written here at ACRLog over the years. Here are a few I’d like to highlight that might be of use to recent LIS graduates looking for positions in academic libraries:

Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve: The Library Job Hunt: Last year recent ACRLog alumna Quetzalli Barrientos wrote about her experiences both as a job searcher and as a member of search committees.

First Generation College Students and the Job Search with an MLIS: During our second Hack Library School/ACRLog cross-blogging collaboration last year, HLS blogger Chloe Waryan wrote about looking for academic library jobs from a first generation college graduate perspective.

Academic Interviews from Both Sides: This post, co-written by Brenna Murphy and me during our first Hack Library School/ACRLog cross-blogging collaboration, explores job interviews from the perspective of an interviewee (Brenna) and an interviewer (me). While I’d add a few things to this if I could rewrite it — for example, we now send our interview questions to all candidates before the interview — I think it still holds up fairly well.

For interviewees, I’d also recommend browsing Hack Library School’s entire archive of job searching posts. And for interviewers, Angela Pashia’s fantastic piece Seeking a Diverse Candidate Pool should be required reading (h/t to Angela for the suggestion to send interview questions in advance).

What other resources have you found helpful in an academic library job search? Let us know in the comments!

Seeking First Year Academic Librarian Bloggers

With the brand new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few brand new academic librarian bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank Abby Flanigan and Nisha Mody for their terrific posts this past year in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, please use the ACRLog Tip Page to contact us by September 10. Along with your contact info, please send:

– a sample blog post
– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog during your first year as an academic librarian

Please send any questions to msmale@citytech.cuny.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Expectations of Expertise

With the slower summer days I’m better able to keep up with library and higher education news, blogs, and Twitter, though I have to admit that sometimes I wish I didn’t. I’m not going to link to the very snarky, and, frankly, mean piece currently making the rounds in which a researcher belittles the work of archivists. I guess it brings in the pageviews and ad dollars, though as a commenter noted, I can’t imagine that any archivist who comes across this essay will be welcoming to that researcher in the future. I’ve also been bothered this week by what seemed like a summary dismissal of a librarian’s concerns about textbook publisher access models in response to a faculty member’s question about the potential for student savings. The librarian pointed out that this very sort of vendor leasing model had often ultimately resulted in higher costs for libraries, as the vendors in question increased their prices every year.

All of which has me thinking about expertise. Librarians have it — why don’t many of those outside of the library seem to expect it?

Academia has a hierarchical structure, and academic librarians like all academic workers are embedded in it, which I’m sure influences perceptions of expertise. Last Fall Veronica wrote about the power dynamics in academia that affect the ways that faculty don’t recognize the information literacy expertise of librarians. This is a familiar and frustrating experience that I imagine all librarians who teach and do reference have found themselves in (myself included). Veronica noted that:

we are not necessarily seen as possessing valuable expertise until we prove ourselves worthy

Veronica specifically highlighted expertise in information literacy in her post, and I also think that there are many ways in which the expertise of workers in all areas of the library isn’t acknowledged. We’ve been trained and have worked to develop our practice in our libraries, often earning one or more advanced degrees as well. What is it about librarianship that leads otherwise smart people to assume that expertise is not required for our jobs? While I’d been a heavy user of libraries before becoming a librarian, I can’t ever remember thinking that librarianship was an unskilled job, or that librarians weren’t necessary in order for the library to function.

This summer I’ve also finally gotten around to reading Roma Harris’s book Librarianship: The Erosion of a Women’s Profession, which has provoked lots of thinking about expertise and gender. Harris notes that librarianship, like other female-intensive professions (examples include nursing and social work), has long had the perception of being low-skilled and requiring little training, and that low status and pay follow from these low expectations. Some aspects of librarianship that Harris discussed were less relevant to the current state of the profession, now 25+ years after it was published, though it was somewhat disheartening to see that some things have not changed. Not long ago I added “Dr” to my Twitter handle in solidarity with academic women in expressing their exasperation at having their research questioned or even explained to them by folks who assume a lack of expertise until otherwise demonstrated.

We have expertise as librarians, and I expect it of myself and my colleagues, who work hard to provide resources, services, and space for our academic community every day. I also expect that I will continue to need to share that fact with others to shine a light on the terrific work we do in and beyond the library.

Failure and Feelings

This semester I’m co-teaching a graduate class at my university in a certificate program in interactive technology and pedagogy. It’s a course I’ve taught before, though it changes somewhat each time I teach it, in part because it rotates between several different faculty members every year or so. The course focuses on the practice of teaching and learning with technology, and this week, our last “content” week before our students’ final presentations, the topic was failure.

We’ve had a session on failure during the other times I’ve taught the course, though I believe this is the first time that failure is leading us into the final presentations (and papers due soon after). Our discussion this week was terrific — the students and my co-teacher and I brought our own experiences with failure inside and outside the classroom to bear on our conversation, and we talked through both logistical/practical and emotional aspects of failure in academic contexts generally as well as around their projects specifically. An article by Alison Carr, In Support of Failure, was the focus of much of our discussion, especially about the emotions around failure.

It’s not yet the end of the semester (my college’s semesters go very late — 11 more days!), and I’m thinking about failure too. I’d meant to write more often on ACRLog this semester, but failed to do it. I’d meant to find something more interesting or relevant to write a post about today, but failed to do it. I’m thinking about failure that’s both general and specific: it’s not that I don’t have ideas for topics to write on, but that the topics seem either too well-trodden or too local. There’s a lot going on right now, though I do have time to write, but I’ve failed to take that time to write. I’m feeling all kinds of emotions around these kinds of failure, most of them of the mopey variety, though I also realize that here near the end of the semester it’s not unusual to have more feelings than usual.

When we were talking through classroom failures in class earlier this week, we talked a bit about failure in research and library instruction and how some experiences that might initially seem like failures can actually be pretty valuable for students. The pre-planned vs. spontaneous approach to teaching about keyword searching is a great example of the way a failure can be a useful learning experience. Students are unlikely to find exactly what they’re searching for the first time around, and for a librarian to model (in front of the whole class) that process of searching, not getting useful results, and refining your keywords and strategy to search again is much more realistic for students to see. And (I hope) it makes them feel less anxious about doing their searching “the right way.”

Thinking on this more today I’ve realized that a successful spontaneous search in an instruction session is somewhat choreographed, and still has some measure of control that prevents it from being a true failure. There is that element of uncertainty — it brings me some discomfort to be spontaneous in front of an entire class because what if it doesn’t actually work? What if we refine keywords again and again and still don’t find anything useful? There’s a right way and a wrong way to fail in the library classroom, which seems tied to control. I wonder, if we’re willing to give up some of that need for control, is it still possible to fail in the right way?