A Tale of Two Outlooks

Like many of the Hack Library School writers and readers of our blog, I had the good fortune to attend the annual American Library Association (ALA) conference Chicago a week and a half ago. As we have acknowledged on this site previously, ALA Annual is notoriously overwhelming, due to the sheer number of people in attendance and the great variety of events taking place at once. I was able to attend ALA annual under the auspices of the Spectrum Scholarship, an effort to make the library and information science profession more racially and ethnically diverse (as a side note: if you are a prospective student to an ALA-accredited graduate program and a student of color, do please apply). The Spectrum Institute, which took place during the first two days of ALA annual and featured programming for this year’s Spectrum cohort and alumni of the scholarship, was a decidedly more intimate space than the conference at large. This year’s Spectrum events were especially special because it was the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the Spectrum Scholarship.

In addition to activities designed to help us get to know members of our own cohort, there were panels and presentations about community-building, networking, salary negotiation, introductions to the ALA roundtables and caucuses, and creating affirming spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) folks. Throughout these talks, although presenters were realistic—and even sometimes pessimistic—about the struggles they have faced in this profession, they still were often able to cite specific examples of the changes that they were able to influence in their organizations and communities as a whole. For example, Kalani Adolpho, of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, recounted their creation of the Decolonizing Library Science zine, which has generated a lot of conversation since it came out last year. Finally, the closing ceremony of the Institute, in which we each received our certificates and shared what the scholarship has meant to us, was incredibly moving. It felt fantastic to be a part of this community and to know that I would have this connection to other Spectrum Scholars for years to come.

A few days after returning from ALA, when I was still in reflection mode after this rejuvenating experience, I received a Twitter notification that Jarrett Drake was leaving the archives profession. For those of you who don’t know, Jarrett Drake, was a digital archivist at Princeton University. He has been involved in documenting campus activism at Princeton and in the Archives for Black Lives Project in Cleveland, Ohio. He is someone I’ve definitely looked up to since coming into the field. Like me, he was a Spectrum Scholar. Like me, he has written for this blog. He has written about liberatory archives, community archives, and the desire for archives to stop excluding marginalized people.

When I first saw his article, I felt sad and worried. If someone I have thought of as an innovator and a superhero is disillusioned with his experience, what does the future hold for me? What does it hold for my peers? The library science profession as a whole has had well-known and persisting problems retaining the people of color it recruits. April Hathcock has written about this matter, as has Nicole Cooke. The reasons that Drake cites for leaving in his article include various microaggressions he has encountered, coworkers and professional organizations who have been oblivious to or uncaring about the police shootings of Black people, and how the very concept of professionalism inhibits possibilities for liberation.

My time in the Spectrum Institute, along with reading Jarrett Drake’s article, brings up the age-old question among people who aspire to foment enduring social change: is it more effective to work outside the system or within it? Based on my education and life experiences, I generally believe that the former is the answer. To quote the revolutionary Assata Shakur, “No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.” However, when it comes to actually acting on that belief, I struggle to feel that I have the courage or the creativity to follow through. Even knowing what I know, I feel pretty invested in the place where I am now. If I had not chosen to attend library school, I would definitely be at a loss for what to do with my life as an alternative, to tell the truth.

In light of this cognitive dissonance, I feel both hopeful because of the community that I have found here and mindful that that hope can and will be challenged in the future. I have more questions than answers, but I will continue on my path because that is what feels right right now.  

Cover photo: A photograph of balloons spelling the word “Spectrum” from the Twentieth Anniversary Celebration. Photograph taken by the author.

Ayoola White is a history and archives management dual degree candidate at Simmons College.

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