ALA Midwinter 2019

Let’s do better #alacouncil #alamw19

It’s a somber time at council this last day of #alamw19

We have been voting over the last few days to make the work of libraries more supportive for civil rights of diverse genders, disabilities, sustainability, and the social justice of fines at libraries, etc. All huge and giant issues for the library and the issues that we see in our daily lives of work.

 

But, by now you may have heard that there was a violation of the code of conduct at an ALA Council forum on Monday afternoon. If not– check twitter. And this morning– more than 100 people are in this room– sitting in the aftermath of failing a person… and failing ourselves. If we can’t guarantee a safe space to discuss council issues for all people– not just the majority being white persons– I wonder how are we failing in our libraries?

 

This is something I think about a lot in my work. I hope everyone is thinking about this at their libraries and in their committee work, too. We are a predominately white profession that I hope wants to do better— but we have all seen how hard it is to change against the institutional racism that we live and work in. Most usually because it is hard to acknowledge- it makes us uncomfortable, so we sweep it under a rug and move on— ignoring the plight of people who are not us. We spoke about that during Debbie LeeKeenan’s presentation at the ALSC Leadership Meeting on Saturday. I ask us to allow ourselves and others some uncomfortableness in an effort to actually be allies and build safe spaces where voices can be heard– even if it “hurts” you to hear it. Learning can be a hard time— remember growing pains as your body adjusted to its growth– I think we owe ourselves some emotional growing pains.

 

The realities are conferences and library committee work is hard for lots of people. There are cost prohibitive problems; microphone issues that impact people’s ability to hear presentations, bathroom problems for diverse genders, ramp/elevator accessibility issues, and many, many others. And even if you can survive all the physical barriers— the big organizations can feel like a cool clique that is nearly impossible to get involved with.

As we look toward the future of ALA and ALSC— I hope we are looking out to break down barriers and working to reach out and pull in new voices and viewpoints for the betterment of this organization and the work that we all do.

10 comments

  1. Julie Corsaro

    I was at MW but didn’t hear about a council incident until last night. I did see some references on Twitter but nothing that explained what happened. Can you provide a reference to something that is specific? Thank you.

    1. Emily Schneider

      Ms. Corsaro,
      There is an article at insidehighered:
      http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/02/01/american-library-association-criticized-response-racism-complaint
      The article gives incomplete information. Of the two people apparently involved in the incident, one has spoken out extensively; the other has not.
      I also found this ALSC post to be puzzling, as it proceeds from the premise that everyone understands what happened.

      1. Julie Corsaro

        Thanks. Like you, I remain somewhat confused. As a librarian (and long time member of ALA and ALSC), I like to be as informed as possible.

  2. Amy Steinbauer Post author

    Thanks for your comments. I’m glad that lots of us are thinking about this issue. I was not at the Council Forum where the incident occurred, and I don’t love the article in Higher Ed since the person they quoted was also not at the event. The ALA Executive Board released this statement regarding the incident. I suppose the gist of it is that a council member was racially attacked during a council forum session, and filed an official complaint with the Code of Conduct. The ALA Executive Board is investigating the matter.
    While I didn’t originally mention the incident, I more so wrote a call to action to my fellow ALSC members to be the allies and advocates that we try to be to our patrons, for our fellow librarians and library staff.

    1. Julie Corsaro

      Thank you, Amy. I’ve been approached about running for Council and was interested in finding out more. I have now read several sources other than Higher Ed. Nothing specific is reported, which I can understand to a certain extent. However, we know that accuracy can be lost as retellings become second and third hand. This is not to say that a racist insult was not hurled, which would be unacceptable by any measure; rather, most of us will likely never know exactly what happened, for reasons that are probably justifiable. I do applaud your call to be allies and advocates. But it seems to imply that we are not, which discounts the hard work and commitment in all areas of library service by the vast majority of ALA and ALSC members.

      1. Amy Steinbauer Post author

        Julie- I know sometimes we want to know the gritty details of things to “see” it clearly, but I think all we need to know is that a Council member was verbally attacked on the bias of her race. A formal investigation is underway, but the offending Council member resigned.

        In relation to my post–I am calling for more than allies and advocates. I think most, if not all, of Council members would consider themselves to be allies and advocates for our patrons and communities… but we also need to be that for our peers. To me, this whole attack is illuminating the disconnect between what we say we want to be, and who we really are. I know I walked away from this session and midwinter thinking hard about how to make people comfortable, safe, and welcome in both my library and my professional library connections– and I think I am not alone in realizing that there is still work to be done.

        If you are interested in running for Council- I would suggest attending a session at Annual. We meet Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday mornings- check the scheduler for times.

        1. Julie Corsaro

          Thank you again for your time and attention. Since I am currently co-chair of ALSC Organization and Bylaws through June 2020, I would not consider running for Council for a while (but it never hurts to start gathering information). In addition, I probably will not have time at conference to attend a Council session over the next year, something I would never have thought about doing without your helpful suggestion. Thanks again!

  3. Julie Corsaro

    To your main point, we can always do better. However, I think it is dangerous to extrapolate from the behavior of one badly behaved apple to that of our association as a whole. Yes, librarianship is primarily a white profession as most professions in this country are mostly white because we are still a predominately white nation. All professions are not primarily female, however, which has arguably resulted in our marginalization. Despite our low pay and status, I have always admired the unwavering dedication and hard work of the many librarians I have known over a 35+ year career, both on the job and especially in association work. Many are my most trusted friends and allies who have never made me feel uncomfortable nor in need of moral instruction but rather highly valued as both a professional and human being. On an institutional level, I never found ALA/ALSC to be unwelcoming (then again, I didn’t expect a slot on an award committee nor in governance from the get-go). As far as institutional racism goes, there may be some, but when I started library school, Robert Wedgeworth, who is African-American, was ALA’s Executive Director; he had an MLS and, by all reports, did an outstanding job (no token was he). Yes, we can do better. But, hopefully, we can do so with a little less eating of our own. P.S. If you’re willing, I’d love to get coffee with you at Annual Conference.

    1. Amy Steinbauer Post author

      I think one of the key elements in this discussion– and something I encourage you to explore a little more through other posts on the topic– especially, the victim’s perspective– is that other people were present at this encounter. It wasn’t two figures alone in a singular moment. It was a room full of ALA members and Council members who were bystanders and ignored the problem and its ramifications. I can’t speak to why that was, as I was not there.

      As far as danger goes, I think it’s even more dangerous to think that this is the only racially charged event that is happening at the conferences. Unfortunately, there are incidents all the time, but normally we don’t hear about them. April has been really brave about coming forward and speaking out. If you think things are happening- search Twitter for all of the aggressions that occurred on the exhibit floor where people of different races other than white faced discrimination as they looked at the free ARCs.

      ALA is hard for lots of people. And, I do think there are lots of hardships and barriers to being involved with ALA and ALSC. But the point of my post, was for us to all think beyond our experiences– I’m glad that ALA and ALSC have been easy for you and accepting of you, but that is not everyone’s story. While you seek to not toss out the whole bunch for just one bad apple, I think it’s also important to not think of one good apple meaning all the apples are good.

      According to the ALA document Diversity Counts as of 2010 (which is almost a decade old) out of the 98,273 credentialed librarian women in the profession, 86,107 of them were white. So, I think it’s fair to postulate that with predomination of white women and men (18,285 out of 20,393) that it is probably not the same experience to be as race other than white and work in this profession. I won’t get into it here— but think about those numbers as we look at who is in the higher admin roles and making decisions for libraries.

      I wonder if you think I am being more declarative than I had intended. I am not prescribing or ordering anything. I am just commenting from my POV that for April to be willing to stand up and speak out and serve her professional organization, and then have to experience racism and injustice for it is just not cool to me. And, as a white woman, I hope I am an ally and advocate– and I would imagine that others in that room probably thought of themselves as the same. But, in moments that test us and make us question our desire to feel safe/comfort over doing something that is hard for us but speaks volume to others— how to we actually fair? That is what I am thinking about now, and I would like my fellow ALSC members to think that as well.
      Maybe everyone is doing everything “right”, but I still implore us to think about the people beyond us and think and talk to them about their actual perspectives and not just our socially conscious good intentions. It’s great to think about how to be a 2019 socially conscious person, but there are cracks in our veneer, and even if it’s hard– if we want to stand by our good assumptions, we need to be better than we think we are.
      Sure- let’s get coffee.

      1. Julie Corsaro

        Great! I will contact you directly later in the spring. I think we are in agreement that we have to recruit (and support) more diverse librarians. This was one reason when I was ALSC President that the theme of my tenure was mentorship, which led to the founding of the ALSC Mentoring Program. As subsequent chair of the ALSC Nominating Committee, I requested that a nominating committee member reach out to the CSK Committee for potential ballot candidates (we successfully secured some, as well as new ALSC members).

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