PLG Coffee Talks: Diversity and Social Justice

October 23, 2018

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library & Information Science

Progressive Librarians Guild UH Student Chapter Coffee Talks

Diversity and Social Justice

Monday 22 October 2018


"Neutrality is not only unachievable, it is harmful to oppressed groups in our society."

Farkas, M. (2017). Never neutral: Critical librarianship and Technology. American Libraries Magazine.


If you are choosing neutrality, you are choosing the side of the oppressor.

  • Jim Crow era: libraries who chose to abide by segregation were choosing the side of the oppressor. Obeying the law or harmful policies of the time is still taking a stance. There is no such thing as neutrality.

  • In today’s time, do libraries support social movements that advocate for the oppressed? How can libraries support #blacklivesmatter or the #MeToo movements? Should they?


Social Responsibility

  • Libraries serve their communities. But what if your library’s community is racist? Should your library support racist values? What about communities that are misogynistic or homophobic?

    • Even in communities where a majority support bigotry, there are still women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, and other oppressed groups living there. How can the library support the oppressed without alienating the rest of the community?

    • Would the library be a safe space if it advocated for marginalized groups in a community where the majority are against it?

  • If librarians only choose to work in communities that reflect their own values, who will empower the oppressed in communities where the majority support bigotry?


Diversity and Inclusivity

  • How can the profession draw in more diverse librarians?

  • The Masters requirement is prohibitive to people experiencing poverty, the cost of tuition is unacceptably high and there are few resources to fund tuition and the cost of living.

    • The ALA Spectrum Scholarship only provides $5000 which is pennies compared to the average annual cost of the MLIS which is around $22,000 per year.

  • Libraries should prioritize hiring diverse candidates.

    • Hawaiʻi should prioritize Kanaka Maoli candidates.

    • HSPLS and the universities and community colleges should hire from within the local community rather than hiring white/haole candidates from the mainland, which perpetuates settler colonialism.

  • Be aware of your own position, the privilege you have, be aware of your biases and work to deconstruct them.


Social Justice

  • Librarians can’t do everything. Librarians are not social workers.

    • Dual degree -- library and social work?

    • What can librarians do for social justice?

      • Collaboration and partnerships with local groups and organizations providing services.

  • Developing consciousness of social justice issues. Using the library’s power to get information and awareness out.

    • Financial wellness/literacy programming at the public library

    • Basic computer skills training at the library

  • Librarianship shift in focus to social issues

  • What role does LIS education play in preparing students to be culturally competent and social justice oriented?

    • Students who are against social responsibility, diversity, and social justice might take issue with LIS curriculum that incorporates these values into every course. They might claim it’s propaganda.

    • A focus on these issues could lead to defunding of libraries.

      • In a heavily conservative social climate, and with the rise of white nationalism, with those in power making decisions about library funding we may lose libraries and library services. If librarianship takes a position of social responsibility and advocacy for social justice and diversity, we may not have the power to help anyone because we may not exist anymore.

    • Should LIS programs serve as “gatekeepers” in a way? Should programs “weed out” students who stand against diversity and social justice?

      • How would this be implemented? Again, the influence of the radical right would oppose such programs.

      • Wouldn’t doing so also perpetuate a sort of “echo chamber”? Could LIS education be transformative? Shouldn’t we try to engage in a dialogue with library students and library professionals whose values are in conflict with diversity and social justice?

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