Monday, June 8, 2020

Black Lives Matter in the Library and the Workspace

Over the past two weeks, the nation and globe have been rocked by demonstrations set off by the police and vigilante murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Despite the continuing fear of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, people have turned out in the thousands in their local communities; and many more have offered their support online, unable to attend the demonstrations due to health concerns. Communities that have never seen demonstrations before have seen hundred take to the streets, and even historic hot beds of Klan activity have seen communities demand justice for Black victims of police and vigilante justice and an end to systemic racism that regularly strips Black Americans of their most basic rights.

Library workers should take this moment as an opportunity to support this movement in what ever way we are able as a field committed to equal access to information and information justice. Further, we should take a deep look into a profession that has long upheld white supremacist power structures and relied on systemic gate keeping that has resulted in a disproportionately white profession, even in libraries that serve predominantly Black communities.

Too often, library professionals decry the inequality in our profession or wax philosophically about ideas like antiracist practices and decolonization without changing the ways our libraries function. Comfort is often given precedence over the difficult changes that will need to be implemented within our libraries and our profession.

It is well past time to listen to our Black colleagues and patrons, who are all to familiar with the disregard given to their concerns. Our libraries were built upon white supremacist ideals of propriety, civilization, worth, individualism, objectivity, and space by the likes of Melville Dewey, Andrew Carnegie, and the Boston Brahman class. The literary cannon reflects these same ideals, and the publishing industry has yet to make the changes demanded for years by authors of color. This is to say nothing of higher education which remains painfully unrepresentative of society and pushes the voices of Black academics along with other marginalized groups into the periphery or niche fields.

While the labor movement was indusputably founded upon the racist ideals of the early AFL which sought to elevate the white labor force from the newly freed Black work force following the Civil War and white workers benefited the most from the labor peace that followed WWII, we also know that the labor movement has a long history of anti-racist struggle when Black workers have been allowed the space to lead. From the Industrial Workers of the World to the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement to Amazon workers who have launched one day strikes just 25 miles outside of Minneapolis, Black workers have often been at the forefront of the labor struggle.

Those of us fortunate to be in a union ought to be asking our union leadership what it plans to do to ensure more Black librarians are hired. We should all be examining our library collections and programming, as well as library policies about handling disturbances in the library. We must be aware that every time police or armed security is called we are putting our Black coworkers and patrons at risk.

Calls are being raised to defund police departments across the country and redirect those funds to services that will help communities without having to turn to law enforcement as the first and last choice. Libraries that have been starved for funding, that have seen the very real needs of our patrons to receive social services, psychiatric help, improved education systems, housing, food security, jobs, and so much more have an opportunity to lend our voices to this discussion and this call. Libraries and library workers often lament that the library has become the catchall in the wake of the hollowing out of our social safety net, with library workers needing to wear many hats that we have never been trained to wear, now is the opportunity to join the efforts to see that that is no longer the case.

Those of us who work in libraries ought to join the call, loud and clear:

Black Lives Matter
Black Books Matter
Black Library Workers Matter
Black Communities Matter
Black Education Matters
Black Health Matters

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post. The struggle for social and economic justice must include all workers. For far too long people of color have been left behind. The labor movement helps create equity. The wage gap between white workers and workers of color shrinks when those workers are unionized. When it's run democratically it offers workers a voice in their wages and conditions of employment.
    In solidarity,
    Scott Houldieson
    UAW Local 551 Chicago

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