Why Primary Sources Matter

I have spent this week reflecting on how many times my heart has been heavy as I have witnessed yet another death of a person of color. As we continue to see fake news that tries to fabricate the narrative of mainly peaceful protests, I am grateful that there are organizations and professionals who can use curated information to counteract the systematic attempts to stifle the legitimate rights of protestors over too many years of inequities.

Several years ago, I attended the Access Services Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. With only a few hours to spare, I made the choice to head to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. I read newspapers denouncing Rosa Parks. I looked at letters written to Dr. Martin Luther King from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Gandhi. I viewed an exhibit of systematic oppression of the LGBTQIA+ community; and I wept publicly and without shame. All of the exhibits I mentioned earlier brought tears; but my open display of sadness and anger was triggered by an interactive exhibit. I sat at a lunch counter. With headphones, I was instructed to place my hands on the counter, and keep them there as long as I could. As I sat, audio recordings of what African Americans were subjected to were hammered into my head. Screaming, filthy language, the sound of batons hitting bones, and most chilling of all, sheer hatred. I sat as long as I could until I stumbled off of the stool and a docent handed me a box of tissues and gave me a hug. That docent was African American and all of us at that counter of all colors were crying and hugging and muttering never again. Yet, we are still witnessing oppression, hatred, and violence.

I know I am privileged as a white woman. I have witnessed friends, neighbors, and the students I supervise subjected to indignities I will never have to suffer. Thus, though I cannot walk in their shoes, I can at least do my best to educate myself and those I serve as a librarian and as a citizen.

This means pointing patrons to books especially @ownvoices. Building a research guide that features archives, like the slave narratives preserved through the Library of Congress. Featuring authors of color in every book display, and encouraging programming that is rich in celebrating all cultures and traditions. If you work with children, then make sure your collection is diverse and that your story times include distinctive voices from all cultures.

As information professionals, it is our duty and our privilege to uphold the standards of ALA and use the many resources in our toolbox to combat racism and promote diversity. Without the foresight of historians, archivists, and librarians, many of the resources I mentioned above would have been lost. So, perhaps we should take the time to create our own primary resources for future generations so they have a legacy to point to when future generations ask who George Floyd was.

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