Structural Racism, Actions, and Libraries

On January 6, 2021, I was getting some work done when I heard that the U.S. Capitol was being breached. For the rest of the night, I settled in to watch the aftermath: receiving the constant Twitter and news updates, seeing images and videos roll in, and grappling with the amount of white supremacy that was on display to the world.

A little less than a week later, I’m still trying to formulate the words to express my thoughts. Surprised that such events would happen? Not really. Angry? You bet. 

While reflecting, I found some connections between libraries and January 6th. In addition to Joanne’s article, I want to take a look at structural racism and actions – or lack thereof – taken in librarianship.

My general take is this: reading anti-racist is important; allyship with BIPOC is important; acknowledging that there is a structural racism problem in libraries is important. But, as Lauren emphasized in her article about neutrality and diversity, we’ve hit a point where “we just keep paying it lip service” without showing results. I have to wonder, what is the purpose of taking in this information and saying “we need to do better” if we can’t start applying that knowledge?

January 6th should be a wake-up call for all – especially the LIS community – to start taking consistent actions to dismantle structural racism. Racism in libraries and information professions is not new; and previous Hack Library School articles have talked about it in several capacities. In June 2018, Alice Law described her experiences working at the reference desk as woman of color. In June 2020, Jane reminded us of the racist problems with Library of Congress subject headings. That same month, Mary Elizabeth detailed how search engines and algorithms promote racism.

In Joanne’s most recent article, she explains “how we think about racism today is reactionary” and the different ways folks react to racism after individual events. I completely agree with this. With thousands of social media posts sharing anti-racist resources, black squares, and book lists over the summer, you would think white people were ready to listen to BIPOC and unlearn white supremacy culture. January 6th disproved that assumption. Dismantling structural racism shouldn’t occur sporadically whenever it hits the news. There needs to be consistent action.

To quote Joanne’s article again, “this is a broad and serious topic, and on that would be foolish to try and resolve within this article’s word limit.” As library school students during dual pandemics, I believe that the next several generations of librarians can start implanting consistent changes to dismantle structural racism. But, to do so, we need to hold each other accountable.

In addition to the articles previously cited, I highly recommend that readers reference the following HLS articles to learn why racism is an issue in LIS and ways to start taking action:

Kerri: 10 Things Librarian Allies Can Do (2020)

Conrrado: Thoughts on Racism in LIS (2020)

Kelli: To my fellow LIS Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Series (2019-2020); this is the first article of Kelli’s series

Sheila: Book Talk: So You Want to Talk About Race (2018)

Alice: Diversity: Am I Doing Enough? (2018)

Nicole: Thinking about “Post-Truth,” #ThisIsNotUs, & Charlottesville (2017)

Of course, this list is a small sampling of articles on HLS; so please feel free to add any other articles to your reading list.

One of my personal goals for 2021 was to use my voice more. As a white library school student, I strive to make anti-racist work a priority in my personal and professional life. 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Sarah is starting her last semester of her MLIS at the University of Maryland. On top of job hunting this semester, you can probably find her binge-reading books and constantly sipping on coffee.

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