I was glad to read this article on the Library Journal website recently:
This has always seemed like a bit of an elephant in the room to me. When I was in library school, I was one of a few students of colour. Although I tried not to let it bother me, I often felt marginalized. I can clearly recall several instances where classmates were organizing themselves into groups, and I was the leftover student that was taken in out of pity. In one case, I walked up to a group and asked to join them, and was coldly told “we already have enough people.” I stood there in confusion and disbelief as the group members turned their attention away from me and began discussing the project amongst themselves. I wondered what I had done. Was it my tone of voice? Did I smell bad? Did I have food in my teeth? The first time, I chalked it up to bad luck. When it continued to happen, it shook my confidence, deeply. Eventually I made some friends and allies, and began to wonder if I’d been overreacting.
Library school progressed. I listened to many lectures from information professionals currently working in different areas of the field, but I rarely saw any who looked like me. It’s a large, varied field though, and it’s not as if every single librarian and information professional in Toronto was coming through the Faculty of Information Studies’ doors, so I wasn’t deterred or discouraged in any way. In fact, it sort of motivated me: I wanted to be one of those successful librarians of colour, setting an example for those who would follow, eventually acting as a mentor, and reaching out to youth of colour and encouraging them to consider a career in the information profession. I knew it wouldn’t be easy:
According to the 2011 Current Population Survey from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which Chaparro cited, 83.9 percent of librarians are white; 9.2 percent African American; 5.2 percent Hispanic; and 1.7 percent Asian. ALA’s most recent report, which was last revised in 2007 and uses 2000 census figures, puts the number of white librarians at 89 percent.
89%! That’s a looooot of white people. And that is okay: there is heterogeneity in that population as well, which is important to remember. But it’s equally important to think about and challenge the assumptions and ideas of the “majority”, especially when power is being exercised, and white privilege is an ever present issue that continues to disadvantage and undermine many, many people of colour. “Minority” populations continue to grow, and the information profession’s population needs to reflect those changes, especially in senior and management positions. If we, as a profession, are truly committed to “providing a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve“, then we need to include those communities in their design and development – not just as a source of feedback, but as the architects and providers.
Panel participant Anchalee ‘Joy’ Panigabutra-Roberts succinctly sums up the problem:
“We have been the objects of knowledge of librarians and curators for a long time. What if we want to switch that role where we are now the knower, not only in areas of study where people think we belong but in the mainstream?
I want to be the knower. I want to be the architect, providing a full spectrum of resources and services to our diverse communities. I want to continue and expand the dialogue, instead of tiptoeing around it. As someone who has overcome a number of obstacles to complete my Master’s of Information Studies, I want to inspire and encourage others from similar backgrounds to do the same thing. I want to slowly but surely transform the face of librarianship and the information profession. So, despite all the setbacks and failures and cold shoulders I have encountered and may encounter in the future, I’m sticking with this librarianship thing.