I am a White woman, a book lover, and a librarian. I believe in the power of books. I started a book/discussion group for local White moms in response to the public and brutal killings of Black people across the nation. During past protests and responses to police killings, I have made booklists for children and parents at my library.
This article, by Tre Johnson, has me reflecting on that impulse and what it achieves. Titled “When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs,” it discusses how White people look for performative responses to the death of Black people, such as book clubs. Of course I believe books are vitally important. I wouldn’t do this work if I didn’t. However, if we’re looking at reading alone as a solution to injustice, we’re not going to get anywhere.
If libraries assert, as they have for so long, that we are about more than just books, we have to be about more than just books in anti-racist ways. We have to professionally develop as anti-racist librarians, including supporting ALA’s Black Caucus, understanding racist library history, and shifting workplace culture and policies. It’s also about our programs, reader’s advisory, and marketing/publicity. It’s how we interact with the public. It’s about acknowledging pain we’ve caused Black people, personally and professionally, and finding ways to do things differently.
Lisa Nowlain is a community college librarian at Sierra College in Northern California, but has spent the bulk of her library work as a youth librarian. Her website is lisanowlain.com
The author of the Washington Post article is Tre Johnson. Their website is trejohnsonwriter.com