Civil Engagement and Librarianship

Choosing to be civilly engaged has never been easier. As citizens, we are bombarded with 24-hour news through every means of device: our phones, computers, televisions, and, if you are in an urban environment, billboards both print and electronic. A simple Google search can link a protester up to a march in a matter of seconds. We can watch TED talks on social justice; and we can write our political leaders without even going to the post office.

These past few weeks have shown how instantly the American populace can suddenly become engaged, over a situation that has been systemically and historically present in our country from it’s very beginning. But, unless we, as citizens, use this time and this opportunity to examine our own behaviors and those around us, I fear that once again the necessary changes to our society to create “liberty and justice for all” will not occur.

This past week I participated in a work conversation around an article about vocational awe in librarianship. This was a voluntary Zoom meeting among both librarians and staff in our equity, diversity, and inclusion reading group. Many spoke bitterly about the expectation of librarians always being willing to do more, with little or no financial compensation commensurate with the education they had obtained. It was a difficult discussion, with a division made by the very real division of “professional” staff versus those without a library degree. Since this meeting, I have thought a lot about the balance I am striving for to maintain my passion for social justice and the reality that everything I say, or post, or write could hurt me as I try to transition into public librarianship. This is because, like it or not, there are many who want to continue to maintain the status quo and do not believe that people of color deserve more, or that women should have equal pay, or that LGBTQ+ folks should have the same rights as everyone else.

Yet, my assigned reading this week in my youth informatics course includes an article on youth and civil engagement. I am the proud daughter of a man who marched with Harry Bridges and the Longshoreman in San Francisco to bring attention to the poor wages and dangerous working conditions that existed in the 1930’s. Thus, I realized that discourse with my patrons is what makes me enjoy my work. Pointing out resources and helping patrons dig deep is what librarianship is all about. The final nudge in my realization that this is who I am and that, as a librarian, I can’t separate from advocacy that occurred in, of all places, a grocery line. At a big box warehouse store this week, I excused my closeness to the clerk, who was checking me out. Her response? “Oh. I’m not worried, this Covid thing is all a hoax. No one is actually dying from it. Even Google says it’s a hoax.” My response to her and those around us? “I am a librarian. Trust me when I say that not everything you see on Google, Facebook, Twitter or Fox News is the truth.”

Yesterday, my partner and I drove to our state capital of Montpelier, Vermont. I wanted to see with my own eyes, the statement that is now proudly written in yellow on the street in front of the statehouse: BLACK LIVES MATTER. It has already been defaced and repainted, and most likely will be again. If I am not going to be invited to interview for a position because I may make some uncomfortable with the beliefs I hold dear, then perhaps that is not an organization I want to be affiliated with. At times it feels like I am walking a fine line, but given the choice, I choose social justice every time.

Image taken by author on July 4th, Montpelier Vermont

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