What is the point of books?

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.

I highly recommend you read the article. I have illustrated a few points below.

"This isn’t the time to circle up with other white people and discuss black pain in the abstract; it’s the time to acknowledge and examine the pain they’ve personally caused."
This is the racial ouroboros our country finds itself locked in, as black Americans relive an endless loop of injustice and white "Americans keep revisiting the same performance, a Broadway show that never closes, just goes on hiatus now and then. This is our own racial ouroboros."
"It’s not just about amplifying our voices, it’s about investing in them and in our businesses, education, political representation, power, housing and art."
"It starts, also, with reflection on the harm you’ve probably caused in a black person’s life."

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

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