Friends, there’s a lot of work to be done in the field of librarianship, and in the world at large. Too many of us are squatting in our bunkers, watching videos and waiting for trouble to blow over. It’s time to stop expecting someone else to take responsibility and act for us. It’s time to start turning ourselves back into citizens instead of consumers.
In The Participatory Museum, author Nina Simon introduces the concept of “me-to-we” design. It’s a method of scaffolding the museum experience for patrons, so that they are comfortably led from passive individual interactions to active community ones. I think about this idea a lot, especially the intermediate steps. Before I read this book, it hadn’t occurred to me that there was any middle ground between “art producer” and “art observer” in the museum context. Art imitates life, and we can create our own scaffolding to bridge the gap between acting and being acted upon.
Thinking: Pick Just One
Picking just one problem on which to focus may be the most difficult of the steps, especially in the long run. It’s important, though, because otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed and unable to act at all. The trick is to remember that you can change your mind later, if it turns out a particular cause just isn’t for you. Think about issues that have held your attention lately. Are you concerned about hate speech in libraries? The overwhelming whiteness of librarianship, and how our BIPOC colleagues are being treated? The many imperfections of the American Library Association? What would you like to see changed?
Thinking: Educate Yourself
I was going to skip this entry, but then I read an article about how many of the anti-racist books people ordered over the summer were never even picked up from the store. (Click here to read the article) You don’t have to be an authority on a subject before you begin to act, but you should have a solid base from which to start. It’s okay to spend an extended period of time in this stage, especially if the cause is outside of your lived experience. Read some books, attend some webinars, take a class, join a discussion group. Acknowledge to yourself your own ignorance. Reflect on how your day-to-day actions either contribute to the problem or help to alleviate it.
Acting: Donate Money
This recommendation troubles me because it feels as if I’m being hounded 24/7 to give money away, and that the demands have been getting steadily louder and more persistent. I’m keeping it on the list because it’s generally the easiest and most accessible way to contribute to a cause. Remember to pick just one, and that $5 a month is fine.
Acting: Contact Your Representatives
Contacting your elected representatives, whether it’s in your local ALA chapter or your national government, seems more daunting than it really is. If I’m feeling jaunty, I’ll send a card through the mail, but electronic communications are fine. You don’t have to write a detailed treatise on your topic, one or two sentences are enough. Here is a script for you:
I urge you to (vote no on the proposed ordinance/support paid internships/provide more educational opportunities about accessibility issues/etc.)
Acting: Join a Group
Whether it’s a volunteer organization or a committee, joining a group is a good way to grow in activism. Many places have an application process for volunteers, but newer or more casual groups will be happy to have you just show up. I like the structure of volunteering at the same place and time every week, but often there are one-off opportunities, such as going to protests or picking up trash along the highway. If you keep your expectations low and show up consistently, this is a great way to make like-minded friends and learn about other opportunities. Joining a group is generally much easier to do in college, so if you’re out of school don’t be discouraged if your local Friends of the Library or climate activism chapter never gets back to you. Try again in a few months or apply somewhere else.
Acting: Be a Leader
Most folks in library science will find leadership roles stressful, not least because talking to people is a requirement. I don’t mean to scare you, but the longer you’re active with a group, the more likely it is that you’ll be put in charge of the mailing list and meeting schedule. This is almost inevitable for volunteer-only organizations, especially small local groups. Try to remember that it’s important work, and that someone has to do it.
Alternately, you may find yourself advocating for a cause that is underserved in your area. Or maybe your workplace needs to change its policies, or you’ve thought of the perfect way to fix ALA. A beginning needs to be made somehow. Remember, you don’t have to step up, but the world would be better if you did.
Emily is about to start her final semester of library school and her main job search. She works well individually and in groups, is an excellent communicator with a passion for serving the public, and is willing to relocate anywhere with decent hiking trails.
Categories: Advocacy & Activism