That quaint blog post I published last month squeaked out just before Nazi rioters marched, threatened, and violently harmed counter protesters (killing one) in Charlottesville, VA. This post comes at the heels of the “worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history” (1) at a Las Vegas music festival. My first ever post for ACRLog was indirectly a response to the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting – the previous “worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history”. Not to mention plenty of crazy sh*% that happened in between, including a deadly shooting in the heart of my own downtown.
Zohra Saulat’s HLS/ACLog Collaboration post last week on professional uses of twitter made me think about the scope and purpose of blog writing as well. Granted, the relevance of academic blog posts may have already been questionable, but with all that’s happening in the world, the practice seems suuuuper unimportant by comparison.
Trying to get myself back to normal work after such events requires a bit of music therapy. This usually settles my brain enough to keep me focused and driven to stay on task. It also helps all the feels inside have space and language to work through what doesn’t make any sense. Somewhat atypically as therapy goes, I recently started listening to Kendrick Lamar’s (probably NSFW) Be Humble . The takeaway message to sit down and be humble in a way characterizes my go-to response to tragedy and the shame-spiraling need to do something while realizing I don’t have the first clue what or how. When I first heard the radio version of Be Humble, the rhythm was what really grabbed me. The refrains’ driving hol’ ups, against beats of censured silence counter-intuitively push and pull the lyrics’ directive to sit down…be humble. The full uncensored version of this single, as you may expect, has a much harder message to hear. I can’t yet decide if that is just the how the language raises my white, Christian lady eyebrows, or if it challenges me to a serious musical-linguistic study of what changes when the word b!%@# replaces silence, and vis versa – that’s another post altogether. I continue to force myself to listen to the uncensored version because I’m a stubborn, analytical sort by nature and because I know I need to test and question those eyebrows.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
So what does this have to do with libraries? My leadership responsibilities in the libraries concern people and how they work – not just at work, or the work they do, but how they think and relate and cooperate within the work and with others. The events that shape our lives, not just at work, matter a great deal in this respect and challenge the notion that there are strict dividing lines between our work and private lives. At times, not so fraught as these, some may question the need for this or that professional development training, or why we are addressing such heavy-feeling topics like emotional intelligence, active shooter training, microaggression, and privilege. These events have an unfortunate way of focusing our attention to them.
When the career test I took some pre-internet years ago showed only librarian, I thought I’d overestimated the amount of weight I could lift — you know, handling books. I had no idea I would be handling license negotiations or learning code, let alone dealing with bullying in the workplace, accident reports, the senseless death of colleagues, or facing and challenging my own racism and other phobias. However, if there is any truth to what I have learned through 17 years in academia, I know it has come by deeply considering how events, both horribly tragic and enormously joyful, have actively shaped my professional and personal paths. As it turns out, a wholly different kind of heavy-lifting is required in my day-to-day work and leadership.
I continue writing amidst these greater, weightier issues as a matter of development. Writing helps me think before I talk and think more quickly as I talk, which enables me to respond better within moments, not just after the fact. Fundamentally, though, I do not blog because I think my words matter significantly to these events or that a wider audience will be changed by any words I offer. I mostly do it because of how I am changed by it. As small, removed, and privileged my development is against the experience of gun violence, police brutality, rape culture, and systemic oppression, not changing – letting guilt and privilege stop my changing — is no longer an option for me.
One different action I have taken to be more than just a seated, humble thinker and writer has been becoming an facilitator for the ACTive bystander training for sexual violence prevention (2). This month I co-facilitated my first session with about 20-30 freshmen. I am not an instruction librarian, remember, and confess I couldn’t help but agree with an initial reaction to my embarking on this challenge.
“That is some heavy material for a librarian.”
Determining how best to reach out meaningfully to serve others, especially in the face of violence and injustice, I think requires an openness to seeking out a common denominator. That common denominator, interestingly, is not common to every single person. So, while Lady Gaga points to kindness — and I’m all about that — as librarian, I am about questioning. By remembering to question myself, I stay humble and kind in responding to painful tragedies that leave me without words. Amidst my growing awareness of injustices in everyday work and life, this questioning is also the necessary preventative to a more damaging temptation to shut down myself or others.
(1) CNN charts the Deadliest mass shootings in modern US history (1949 to present) at http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/13/health/mass-shootings-in-america-in-charts-and-graphs-trnd/index.html
(2) This training was adapted from Bringing in the Bystander, a program developed by the Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, and One Act, a program developed by Student Wellness at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.