Cover photo by Paul Sableman
A month ago, I attended a webcast seminar, titled ‘Transgender Inclusion in Libraries’, hosted by San Jose State University’s iSchool. This was the first webcast seminar, or webinar, I was attending under my own power since entering SJSU’s MLIS program, and this likely contributed to my wild underestimation of the number of audience members and, thus, overestimation of my ability to personally engage with the webinar speakers. Last semester saw the composition of my first academic paper written as an MLIS candidate, and with this sixteen-page paper on the queer information community in hand, I was eager to supplement the narrow spread of academic work that I had found that covers transgender issues in the library.
Instead of a dialogue, by the end of the presentation, I had received a comprehensive review of inclusive language focused on pronouns, as well as general guidelines of increased representation, improved restroom accessibility, and other basic, yet important, issues involving trans people in the library. This, especially with the trans library resources provided that can be seen below, most definitely aided and encouraged a large proportion of the 70 or so members of the webinar audience, especially those who are trans or otherwise gender variant. It was not the deeply informed academic experience I had been hoping for, but, frankly, as this webinar was a public event open to those with any interest in trans issues in the library, fulfilling my desires would have likely made it uninteresting , or even inaccessible, to many others.
As such, this webinar was not the dialectic I was looking for, but an opportunity to gauge my current position as an MLIS candidate and what I hope to do with my eventual degree. While cis, aka not trans or gender variant, myself, I am a proud member of the queer community in other respects. For me, my aspirations of working in public libraries in a way that uplifts and invigorates queer experiences means seeking out constant education on all queer experiences, especially the last letter of the oft name-dropped LGBT. Much as it is in academic literature, showcasing of trans people and their experiences are often either hyper-exposed or subsumed under the moniker of gay issues, gay rights, and a word that, while at odds with heteronormativity, does not in any way interrogate cisnormativity. Having been aware of the issues involved in this situation for some time now, focuses on language usage and statistics on murder have acquired a surface level sheen that I am unwilling to spend much time on when faced with underlying structures of transphobic oppression. For example, ‘trans panic defense’ laws enable the getting away with murder of trans individuals in all but three states in the USA, and I value concrete political action taken in combating these laws over passing around of graphs and charts. However, as someone who aims to work with the public, aka on one of the forefronts of mainstream levels of knowledge, it is vitally important that I establish rapport with interested patrons, rather than scare them away with the more horrific aspects of various issues. Only then can I ensure that what I have to say will be listened to, in hopes that patrons recognize something relevant or needful in their own library experiences and, ideally, begin to engage more deeply with the inclusive policies of libraries when it comes to trans people and other marginalized groups.
The time when I get the opportunity to put into practice the ideals I am building here is likely a long ways into the future, and who knows what will have changed in the sociopolitical landscape of libraries when it comes to trans people and the queer community as a whole. However, as was demonstrated by my experiences with this webinar, even a less than informative engagement can still result in valuable self-reflection, and I hope to maintain a similarly open perspective in the future. In light of that, what awareness or uplift do you, whether librarian, MLIS degree holder, MLIS degree desirer, or reader of this post, seek to integrate with your career trajectory? If you have never thought about it, what comes to mind, whether an issue that directly impacts you and your community, or one you recognize would benefit from outside assistance? Hacking Library School oftentimes requires that you step back from the grades and the internships and spend some time hacking yourself in terms of what you truly want to do in a field that, for all its increasing reliance on technology, still involves you putting yourself out there for the people. Who are these people? And how you will you help?
MLIS Candidate at San Jose State University’s iSchool