Tag Archives: In the library with the lead pipe

Making a New Table: Intersectional Librarianship

Reviewed By: Jodi dela Pena, Katie Vanous, Crystal Lanoucha, Melissa-Ann Reyes, Sean Smith

Link to article: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2014/making-a-new-table-intersectional-librarianship-3/

In “Making a New Table: Intersectional Librarianship,” Ettarh elucidates the concept of diversity or lack thereof in the MLS/MLIS profession. The article explores how libraries and those within the profession often discuss the lack of minority populations or people of color in libraries, yet still fail to understand how this discussion impedes progress. The author asserts that segregating diverse and underrepresented populations into distinct categories, or silos, does nothing to alleviate the problem. Ways in which diversity can be increased in the MLS/MLIS profession are addressed within the article through the theoretical framework of intersectionality. Intersectionality is described as “the study of how different power structures interact in the lives of minorities, specifically black women, a theory Crenshaw coined in the 1980s” (2014, http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersectionality-i-wanted-come-everyday-metaphor-anyone-could/). This theoretical framework was first used to describe the lived experiences of battered black women and domestic violence survivors and the ways that sexism and racism intersected in their stories. It was later adopted in the academic feminist community and as the author asserts, “Intersectionality is a tool for studying, understanding, and responding to the ways in which axes of identities intersect and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege.”

Rather than attempting to answer a question or to prove her point through statistics, Ettarh broaches this topic by posing questions and explaining why it is important to rethink how we approach the concepts of diversity and neutrality in the library. Ettarh asks, “What is intersectionality?”, “How do we make sure that both existing and aspiring librarians interact with patrons and other librarians in a manner that is respectful?”, “Why does [intersectionality] matter?”, “How can librarians make their respective libraries safe for these populations, if people in the field don’t feel safe?”, “Whose table [are we sitting at]?”and “What now?”

From experience, our group is aware that librarians can adhere to the role of an ally by “educat[ing] ourselves on how these intersecting oppressions affect our community.” Ettarh says, “LIS theory is based on a foundation of understanding and interpreting the information seeking practices, behaviors, and needs of patrons.” As librarians/associates we find ourselves interacting with patrons of many backgrounds and identifiers, both in gender and race. Librarians need to welcome all who walk through their library doors with a variety of techniques including, but not limited to, Ettarh’s suggestions like “[Challenging] all of the assumptions about your patrons, your collections, and your attitudes toward your employees and coworkers.” Openness and advocacy will provide a safe space. Libraries must enforce the policies that ensure that open, diverse spaces are maintained. Upholding library policies and making the public aware of them is important. These policies should stem from a familiarity of the community and the needs of patrons. Rules protecting the rights of all who wish to use the library should be emphasized.
Additionally, librarianship in the 21st century is about service. Service is for all who can benefit from it, without prejudice. Hiding behind the terms “neutrality” and “objectivity” are no longer viable in the current model for librarian behavior. In order to best serve those who wish to use our services, we must advocate for all. Instead of representing no specific group, we must provide resources and service for all, including those who come from communities who may experience intersecting oppressions.

Ettarh states, “No one lives a single-axis life” meaning humans are intersectional, multidimensional, and created and defined by a multitude of factors that make an individual unique. The author suggests librarians should “no longer hide behind neutrality and objectivity” especially because an Americanized neutrality is not necessarily neutral. By making a “new table,” librarians are no longer inviting patrons to sit at a table previously set by a “dominant white, heterosexual male society.” Current-day librarians are instead inviting patrons to a table that will take shape via the variety of influences, personalities, cultures, and beliefs brought to the table by the “guests.” With the theory of intersectionality influencing discussions, conversation between librarians are more versatile, taking into consideration not just a single factor or trait of an individual or population, but a combination of qualities that make up an individual or group. Ettarh states, “Engaging in conversations and then turning those conversations into action is paramount. If librarianship at its core is a service profession, then we must do everything to ensure that the culture in the libraries and archives and in the field serves all populations.” In essence, the larger the scope in library conversation, the more response and positivity will flow between patron and institution.

While Ettarh makes a strong argument for what is to be done in the context of furthering diversity and intersectionality among libraries, some unanswered questions we had and what we feel future research can and should address include documenting the experiences of minority groups or people of color (POC) currently working in these libraries and how they feel libraries overall can advocate for more diverse collections and develop programming that meet the needs of our communities’ intersectional experiences, which could then address critiques of neutrality raised in this article. Additionally, further research that interrogates and problematizes the concept of neutrality in libraries needs to be done, as this concept is foundational within the core values of the contemporary American library. In order for librarians to shift or deepen the concept of diversity, how can trainings be systematized across different libraries that can influence the way libraries operate? How can we help librarians internalize that the work we do is actually deeply political and not neutral? All of these questions connect to what Ettarh has outlined, including which collections are selected and how marginalized experiences are tokenized or only featured during certain months or seasons. How can libraries better represent the intersectional experiences of our communities in more authentic ways? How do we individually and collectively develop an intersectional perspective and practical framework for it?

The good news is that there are ways to start with a fresh perspective and rehash what already exists. The author suggests,“While it is not their job to educate you, engaging in a dialogue with people from underrepresented communities and listening to how their oppressions intersect can go a long way.” By inquiring about the needs within an underrepresented community, a library can begin by having a thorough understanding of the population as a whole, like traits unique to individuals within a particular group. Ettarh also recommends a change in perspective and states, “By treating these issues as separate entities, we as librarians fail to fully understands how oppressions work in various contexts.” To resolve this issue, “We need to educate ourselves on how these intersecting oppressions affect our community.”
In order to both begin with an intersectional perspective and reconfigure old ways, Ettarh says libraries should, “Provide staff with diversity training, address signs of microaggression and injustice in the workplace, investigate complaints quickly, thoroughly, and sensitively, and take disciplinary action against those who break the policy.” You might also consider defining the term “neutrality” within your work space. What does it mean? What should it mean? How do we eliminate bias?
In total, the article recommended creating what the author calls a “new table” where everyone is invited and there isn’t preconceived influence. The author sections the theory of intersectionality the idea that both identity and marginalism exist simultaneously and interact on many levels (Ettarh, 2014). Librarians should form a perspective and sense of neutrality alongside this multidimensional theory in order to best serve their patrons and the community.

Adewunmi, B. (2014, April 2). Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality: “I wanted to come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use”. Retrieved April 29, 2017, from http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersectionality-i-wanted-come-everyday-metaphor-anyone-could

Ettarh, F. (2014). Making a new table: Intersectional librarianship.
In the library with the lead pipe. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2014/making-a-new-table-intersectional-librarianship-3/

The Right to Read: The How and Why of Supporting Intellectual Freedom for Teens

Reviewed By: Sarah Pace, Emily Phillips, David Fournier, Elysse Fink

Link to article: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2014/the-right-to-read-the-how-and-why-of-supporting-intellectual-freedom-for-teens/

It is not news that teenagers are developing and exploring their world. In her article, The Right to Read: The How and Why of Supporting Intellectual Freedom for Teens (2014), Emily Calkins shares her opinion on what perspective libraries ought to take concerning the intellectual freedom of teenagers:

“It’s not that caregivers should stop being involved in their children’s’ library use and
reading habits when their children reach adolescence. There may be times, however, when a young person wants or needs information to which her guardian might want to restrict access. Because of the developmental needs of adolescence and libraries’ commitment to intellectual freedom, libraries should support the intellectual freedom for teenagers rather than the right of guardians to control their children’s intellectual lives.”

Libraries have intellectual freedom in mind and in their very hearts. This fact is evident based on the ALA’s very own Library Bill of Rights. So it is that teens should be afforded the same rights. During those tumultuous years of adolescence, one is becoming sexually active and should be offered fair and honest information regarding the ins and outs of sex. This is just one example that highlights Calkin’s larger point–that information ought to be free and open to everyone and that a person or entity has no right to censor information. Sure a parent can discourage materials in their own house, but they cross a line by saying that other teens/adolescents cannot have access to this information thus limiting that groups’ intellectual freedom.

Method and Unanswered Questions-
Calkins is concerned in this essay with the ability of librarians to assist young adults in a time of personal growth. Establishing self-sufficiency and independence is a crucial rite of passage for young adults. Challenging and questioning the beliefs of their family and culture is an integral part of this, and is not something that can easily be done at home with parents watching their every move. Even more so, teens’ intellectual freedoms are limited when parents censor their information pursuits, so they must find a place in which they can safely fulfill that need.
Calkins only briefly touched on how “young adult” and “adolescent” are defined, footnoted at the end of the article. A first unanswered question would be to explore that concept more thoroughly from a psychological standpoint, as well as an informational one. Are the information needs of a 12 year old different than an 18 year old? How can the library acknowledge and support this difference?

Second, Calkins discusses library policy in regards to protecting the privacy of adolescents, suggesting several variations of library card policies and how they affect access. Are teen’s accounts private, or do caregivers have access to information about their teen’s check-outs? If so, then how are teens supposed to feel protected? A possible solution to this is an honor system collection by providing access to materials to teens that don’t need to be checked out with a library card. This allows teens to take out what may serve their information wants and needs without intimidation and embarrassment. The legal ramifications of these policies for the library, with regards to a minor being able to be the sole party responsible for an account which may have financial liabilities are not discussed. This is not a deal breaker for being able to offer young adults full privacy, but it is a very real legal reality that the library needs to be able to deal with.

A discussion of how to have conversations with parents regarding the privacy of their teens was also missing. Discussing these issues with the staff was brought up, but many of the suggested policies will greatly anger some parents, especially as these policies directly contradict their parental rights with most other institutions and may come as a surprise. How to approach these conversations in a calm, professional manner, with talking points on how to best support the library’s position, or at least resources on how to prepare for this would have been helpful.

A similar question, how do we talk to adolescents about their privacy rights in ways that are relevant and which connect with the realities of their lives was missing. Young adults will not read a policy brochure that lists their rights, and many of these ideas may be very foreign to some. How do we open this conversation in a meaningful way?

Calkins concludes by acknowledging that the theoretical side of intellectual freedom is often the easiest part; librarians agree not to censor materials and leave the decision-making about who can or can’t read something up to the patron or their guardian. But not wanting to leave it at that, Calkins outlines practical suggestions on how libraries can practically support intellectual freedom for teen patrons, beginning with due diligence: research and familiarize oneself on the library’s policies regarding minors. Next review the collection to see if it includes materials for a variety of patrons. Go a step further and train staff on intellectual freedom. Other creative (albeit not fully researched) suggestions put forth were to develop an “honor system collection” for Teen Self Help titles and to partner with community organizations to promote intellectual freedom and access to information. Relatively simple steps for a librarian that could make a huge difference in a teen’s life.

A critical take on OER practices: Interrogating commercialization, colonialism, and content

Reviewed By: Nichole Bonaventure-Larson, Bryan Duran, Mia Faulk, Ursula Lara, and Carlee Osburn

Link to article: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/a-critical-take-on-oer-practices-interrogating-commercialization-colonialism-and-content/

Article Synopsis and Core Questions
Sarah Crissinger’s 2015 article is concerned with critiquing Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Access (OA) in relation to commercialization, colonialism, content, and the changing landscape of the university when it comes to adjunct versus tenured faculty. In her critique, Crissinger address issues of labor, the corporatization of higher education, oppressive learning formats, imperialism, and technocratic discourse around development and the information poor in the context of OER and OA.
Sarah Crissinger’s 2015 article is concerned with critiquing Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Access (OA) in relation to commercialization, colonialism, content, and the changing landscape of the university when it comes to adjunct versus tenured faculty. In her critique, Crissinger address issues of labor, the corporatization of higher education, oppressive learning formats, imperialism, and technocratic discourse around development and the information poor in the context of OER and OA.
While libraries around the country are pushing for free resources such as OER and OA, Crissinger urges librarians to pay closer attention to contextualizing content rather than just collecting content in what can potentially become an educational “dump”. Crissinger (2015) writes, “A learning object with relevant context, an application that is not culture-specific, and the capacity to be truly localized and understood is more important than a learning object that is simply free.” At the same time, as universities are increasingly relying on part time / adjunct faculty who are urged to contribute to OER, an issue of labor inequality arises. Since unlike tenured faculty, adjuncts are not compensated for their research but instead by the number of classes they teach.

Answering Research Questions
Crissinger uses existing critiques of OER and OA by Drabinski, et al. (2015), Cheney (2015), Shirazi (2015), Winn (2012), Burkett (2000), and Christen (2011), to answer her research questions. She determined it was best to explore OA along with OER considering they both share similarities that allow lessons learned to be applied to both. Crissinger uses critiques to explore the issue of labor, the tenure structure, and the unwillingness of universities to fund projects they are willing to promote. Crissinger analyzes critiques that explore oppressive learning formats, economic and social inequality, the “information poor” and the digital divide. Through these critiques Crissinger can reflect on OER practices.

Findings and Conclusions
Per Crissinger, access to OER is not the be all, end all. Simply increasing one’s access does not make them more knowledgeable or eradicate a digital divide. Social and global inequality cannot be reduced to a simple fix and access to OER. “Free and unrestricted access to OER is just one step in improving education, not the primary solution. Librarians are apt to do the integral work of reframing and complicating the OER movement. Our extensive understanding of copyright, instructional design, and discovery, combined with our interest in social justice, makes us natural leaders for helping others understand why Open Education matters” (24). Increasing the number of adjunct positions results in change to the labor system and the continued commercialization of higher education since adjuncts are paid per the number of classes they teach rather than the research they produce. “We must think critically about whether our open work is doing the social justice, political work we envision it doing. If we fail to ask these questions, we risk endorsing programs that align more with profit than with access” (10). Taking into consideration the goal of many academic libraries is to further the mission of their universities, we must consider how the marketization of OER compromises our ability to do the work we claim to value. “The politics of our campuses or leadership can limit how loudly our voices carry within our institutions (Acccardi, 2015). Still, our critical perspective is needed now more than ever” (Crissinger, 24).

Unaswered Questions and Future Research
Crissinger proposes some interesting further research at the end of her piece, but even these ideas did not touch on the potential for further research raised by her article. One of the considerations she mentions is the consideration of how librarians can better determine if an OER resource is one which provides good information and content, with context, or if it is not. This could be further expounded upon through research into a universal guide or standard set. Additionally, Crissinger discusses encouraging open pedagogy on campus. Crissinger (2015) states, “if faculty on campus are not integrating open pedagogy into their classrooms, it can be more difficult for librarians to do this as well.” Are there ways to combat this besides increased advertising and teaching? Would inclusion of OER in academic goals from an administrative position be possible? Lastly, one of the arguments mentioned, but not touched on, is the inclusion of a broader range of creators in the OER sphere. Crissinger (2015) quotes, “‘content creation…on the Web is currently heavily dominated by the developed and English-speaking world.”. How can librarians help to encourage the development of use of OER that is more inclusive, as well as more contextually focused and not an “information dump”? Is this a librarian’s role, and if so, how could this kind of expansion better serve the purpose of OER and academic research in the long run?

Answering Our Own Questions
Unfortunately, these questions are not easily answered. However, conducting further research on OER and OA would be a good starting point and may help to find the answers to our questions. Incorporating other viewpoints, ideas, and examples of how librarians are creating, sharing, and using OER/OA may help illustrate what their role is in promoting inclusion amongst contributors in the OER/OA sphere. Additionally, we can find the answers to our questions by doing what was suggested earlier; asking those questions aloud and as often as possible. We cannot expect to find answers and meet the challenges of OER/OA if we are not engaging in open and constructive dialogue with our peers and colleagues around the world. It is only after we have asked our questions aloud and engaged in collaborative dialogue that we will be able to give concrete answers, and move forward with making OER/OA accessible to everyone without devaluing information, the work of OER/OA contributors, and its content.

Crissinger, S. (2015, October 21). A critical take on OER practices: Interrogating commercialization, colonialism, and content. Retrieved from In the library with the lead pipe: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/a-critical-take-on-oer-practices-interrogating-commercialization-colonialism-and-content/