On Not Knowing

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Image retrieved from Instagram

When I saw this meme the other day, I experienced a little bit of #mindblown and a little bit of #yep. It reads “things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight & continue to pull back the veil” – adriennemareebrown’s Instagram. This was posted shortly after the tragic murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police officers. It got me thinking about what we know and what we don’t know and everything in between. Sounds a little bit like…library science?

Personal agency, social media, and deep justified anger have empowered the masses to bring these issues to light. However, sometimes it just hurts too hard to keep finding out these truths. The truth really, really hurts.  Sometimes not knowing is a willfull act. Starting on July 5, I saw news about Alton Sterling filling my social media news feeds adjacent to #blacklivesmatter. And I already knew what had happened, at least the gist of it. Another black life had been lost at the hands of the police state. While I “knew”, I also chose to not find out the gory details immediately. I didn’t know Alton Sterling was known as the “CD Man”. I didn’t know he had five kids. I didn’t know he had been living in a transitional shelter. I didn’t watch the videos right away because I just wasn’t ready to feel the truth. I knew what happened, yet I didn’t know a lot.

This was willful ignorance. It reflects that sometimes it is important to take a step back for our own mental health. However, pulling back the veil is different. This inherently implies that truths are being covered up, and there is a systemic method to the madness. The fact that there is an increase of publicized murders of black, brown, and LGBTQ people has to make you wonder…why are we hearing about this now? Systemic violence is purposeful. And so much of this power derives from NOT reporting (and covering up) acts of violence based upon race, gender, and/or sexuality. But we don’t hear about this because it’s hard to remember what you never heard in the first place.

So, in the context of library science and library school, how does this look? What kind of information is being erased due to systemic barriers? And what kind of information is too much for us to handle? How do we address this in library school and in the field?

As students, we can question the texts we are assigned and asked why marginalized voices are not being represented. We can also choose to not read something because getting burned out can just be too much for us. Perhaps we can make a suggestion for changing a policy in the local student ALA chapter that highlights a limitation that no one had brought up. This can be as minor as the meeting time. But it can also be a call to examine any potential racial, gendered, and sexually oppressive practices. As reference librarians, we can take research questions and try to find resources that highlight perspectives of those that do not have voices. We can use our power to educate our patrons that libraries are not neutral. But we can also realize that we cannot overload patrons with information. Sometimes we just want to give ALL THE INFORMATION because we just love our job. But we also have to take into consideration the patron’s assignment, timeline, and their needs. We can’t always be the library heroes we want to be, and that’s OK.  As catalogers, we can keep fighting to use terminology that doesn’t degrade humanity. But we can also take a step back and see that doing so is a long process, and, while perseverance is necessary, so is patience. We can also just ask a patron the simple question, “Have you found everything you’re looking for?” This can open lines of communication and provide comfort to patrons. However, sometimes we also need to give patrons the space they need. This can be hard to decipher, and we can only do the best we can.

Speaking up can do amazing things. In silence, a lot of truths are simply unspoken. But we must ask why. These silent truths are NOT created equal. Sometimes they are oppressive. And other times they can help heal. What are some ways that you have broken the silence and pulled back the veil within librarianship?

 

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