10 Things Librarian Allies Can Do

According to a 2010 ALA diversity study, 88% of librarians are white [1]. This is a huge problem in its own right, but guess what? 88% of us have an awful lot to learn. It’s not the fun kind of learning, either, that makes self-avowed lifelong learners cheer. We need to listen, sit in discomfort, and recognize the role that we have played in this system of racism, violence, and inequity. It’s time for the profession to step up and put our actions where our stated values are.

The YWCA created the poster “10 Things Allies Can Do,” embedded below. In this post, I will walk through these ideas with library work in mind. How might we serve as an ally within our institutions? These are just a few ideas—I hope you join me in this discussion and add your own thoughts and ideas in the comments.

1. Listen.

How long have libraries decided what was good for their communities rather than asking community members? While there’s been more of a focus on turning outward and engaging in community conversations lately (one popular example is the work done by the Harwood Institute), we need to redouble these efforts. What does our community really need, where can we use our strengths to fill those needs or empower others; and what changes do we need to make within our own organizations?

2. Get educated.

We know how to find necessary resources. Let’s promote access to them, and let’s USE them. We’ve seen countless anti-racism book lists flooding the internet, plentiful webinars and articles are out there regarding EDI in libraries in particular, and even Instagram and Tik Tok have a wealth of educators who will provide history and perspectives on race in America and the world. Not sure where to get started? Here are a few I’ve been following:

(Drop your favorite learning resources in the comments; I’d love to check them out!)

Quick reminder that it’s not our black colleagues’ or friends’ jobs to educate us.

3. Get involved.

Partner with local organizations who work towards social justice. Join committees that are working towards a better system. Don’t just leave it to someone else to take the plunge and do the work.

4. Show up.

While the YWCA poster talks about showing up for events, I want to emphasize our need to show up in our communities. What neighborhoods in your service area don’t have easy access to library resources or might not think that they are welcome? Let’s do what we can to get out of our buildings and go there.

5. Speak up.

Library staff members have practice advocating for the library itself. How can we utilize those skills to advocate for oppressed groups? If you’re on any committees, use what you’ve learned in steps 1 and 2 and speak up there. If you’re currently in school, discover what your university is doing and encourage more.

White folks who feel like we’re not the ones whose role it is to speak on this topic: it is.

6. Intervene.

Learn how to recognize when someone is being targeted and how to do something about it. Consider watching the webinar “’You Don’t Look Like a Librarian’ – Decoding Microagressions” and/or taking a Bystander Intervention training. If you’re anything like me, you were probably completely blind to the many microagressions our black colleagues face every day. Let’s get better.

7. Welcome discomfort.

One of the quotes I’ve seen making the rounds lately is “It’s a privilege to learn about racism instead of experience it.” Because we don’t experience it every day, it’s all too easy to brush it aside and retreat to ignorant bliss.

We can’t do this. I know, librarians like feeling like we have all the answers. I relate to that strongly. But we can’t stop seeking out conversations with our community the moment they tell us that we’re doing something wrong. It’s going to feel uncomfortable. We must be willing to make deep, deliberate change both personally and systemically.

8. Learn from your mistakes.

Libraries need to analyze not only how we can serve as allies to the black community, but also realize how our systems have been contributing to this harmful structure. We need to confront the realities of the history of racism in library spaces and how that impacts us today. I vividly remember the first moment I realized this history, when I read “Ron’s Big Mission.” I hope to explore it in more depth with the help of Karla Strand’s “Disrupting Whiteness in Libraries and Librarianship: A Reading List.” Let’s discover our history, learn from it, and change our behaviors.

9. Stay engaged.

Whether you’ve been engaging in racial reparations work for years or are just beginning to realize the need to take action, allyship is a long term commitment to improvement. We’re in this for the long haul. It’s easy to burn out from being a true, active ally or get distracted by what seems more pressing in a moment.

I plan to create a learning plan to keep engaged. It’s impossible to read all the books or watch all the webinars now. Instead, I’m going to create a list of what I hope to engage with in the next 3 months, then the next 6, and reevaluate and set my plan from there.

10. Donate.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably in grad school or thinking about enrolling. Donating with money might not be feasible. What we CAN do as library folks is donate our expertise. Let’s utilize our information literacy skills and help address misinformation when we see it. We can teach others how to recognize propaganda, fact check sources, and spread the truth.

[1] http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity/

Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

Read more about this topic in recent posts “We need to talk about diversity and neutrality in libraries” and “On pride, plagues, and Black Lives Matter: The life and death of the right to information.”

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