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Special Interest Group Archive: EDI SIG 2/5/2021

These are the notes from meetings dating back to 2015.

February 5, 2021

The meeting was held on Friday, February 5, 2021. Peyton Powell was the meeting convener.

Notes from the Meeting

Introduction 

 

Convenor Peyton Powell works at the Finkelstein Memorial Library, in Rockland county. She’s been an educator for 16 years, and is currently enrolled in the MLIS program at Queens college. 

 

This is the third and final time Peyton is facilitating, and she’s glad to see familiar faces and a community forming around these EDI SIGs. If you would like to facilitate a future meeting, please reach out to Carolyn. 

 

Today’s meeting builds on the article Nice White Meetings

 

VIDEO CLIP: a clip from the office, “Did I stutter” in which white boss David repeatedly calls on a Black employee (Larry) to “weigh in” on a suggested idea for an “urban” outgoing message. 

 

Defining terms: 

 

Bureaucracy: Bureaucratic practices self-present as equalizing and inclusive but in fact enshrine institutionalized practices that privilege white workers and exclude, minimize, or silence BIPOC. 

 

The Critical Race Theory is a framework that was developed from a legal studies scholarship by BIPOC lawyers, scholars, and students (Leung and López-McKnight 2020, 19) and provides to us the vital language to understand and challenge embedded bureaucratic practices that too often disregard the knowledge and experiences BIPOC workers bring to their roles in the field.

 

Employing Critical Race Theory makes it clear that BIPOC library workers are the most negatively impacted by a system entrenched in whiteness. 

 

Preparing for group work:

 

This is a space of grace. A safe place for people to express how they feel.

 

Group Discussion Guidance 

  1. Evaluate your office Hierarchy...What does it take to advance in your library space? Are the people at the top homogenous or a heterogeneous mixture that represents the diversity of the community ?
  2. Reflect : What is your library’s mission statement ? Do you think the library's mission and promise to the community is mirrored in every structural practice within your library space ?
  3. Reflect: When libraries’ decisions do not match their social justice–oriented missions and, in the process of being enacted, cause further harm to BIPOC employees, it is evident that the declared values are tools meant to sustain the status quo (Yousefi 2017)
  4. Reflect:  Bureaucratic screening processes around hiring (e.g., requiring certain degrees and qualifications or years of experience) allow libraries to maneuver around diversity requirements. Nowhere is the bureaucratic apparatus more apparent than in library hiring practices, where job descriptions are elegantly wordsmithed to reflect a commitment to hire candidates from a diverse candidate pool. (aka Civil Service) 
  5. Reflect: Bureaucratic practices allow libraries to simply continue the status quo because it is easier, “rather than advocating for different views by picking ‘unfamiliar’ candidates who might interrogate the processes” (2015)
  6. Reflect : Analyses of library bureaucracy (which are few) have yielded little insight into or critique of the effects of such systems on BIPOC. Galvan writes that “neutrality is the safest position for libraries because it situates whiteness not only as default, but rewards and promotes white cultural values” (2015).
  7. Reflect: Galvan (2015) observes that performing whiteness requires invested time and wealth; it’s an involved enterprise ranging from hair styling to attire to eliminating accents, and so on, that conceals marginalized librarians’ authentic selves. To survive and thrive in librarianship, BIPOC must remove, or at the very least downplay, all markers of intersectional identities in order to embrace a paradigm of whiteness.

 

Report outs: 

 

Group 2:

  • Importance of working toward diversity statements
  • Board membership, needs to reflect community
  • Statements on specific goals for equity, inclusion
  • Commented that in their experience, library staff is mostly homogenous, doesn’t reflect community diversity, and at higher levels of authority, almost all white professionals.
  • Community that’s not white doesn’t feel empowered to get involved in library boards
  • Hard to get a leg up in library programs, profession without outside support. It’s a profession of privilege, student loan debt, these are important considerations.
  • Mission statements, briefly touched on, should include values related to DEI.

 

Discussion:

 

Importance of including diversity in mission statements. Library boards should change over time to reflect the communities that they serve. They don’t shift unless they get pressure to change. 

 

Example: library where current director is invested in diversity, includes in values statement, have openings, brings in candidates of color. When these candidates came, was only BIPOC person in the library, one other person came - then left. Hoping as boomers retire, composition could change.

 

Opportune moment, when we would hope for change - we have to get on it, en masse. The people in positions of power are aware that even if they are not focused on diversity and equity that moving forward with formal diversity initiatives, looking at equity in their institution, needs to be on their agendas. this is a horrible horrible time in the US. But hopefully it’s an opportunity to get voices for change to be heard. 

 

Bouncing off idea of boomers retiring, should be more diverse folks coming in. But inequalities being exacerbated by economic hardship under the pandemic, folks losing work, having to leave school, losing access. Concern about how this will impact BIPOC trying to enter the profession. 

 

So many thoughts about the pipeline, in hiring, there’s often an incredibly structured process. Have to have certain keywords in your resume that match keywords in the job description. All theoretically created in the name of “fairness” so there is not nepotism, favoritism, but the end result, because of institutional racism and oppression, is that it excludes, and privileges insiders who have knowledge of how that system works. How do we build into our hiring processes which do have certain requirements, alternate pathways to hiring. Question, would that make the position or person less valued because an alternate pathway taken?

 

At some libraries, lots of part-time jobs, which requires a certain degree of financial privilege to enter. 

 

There are issue of mentorship within libraries, the problem of librarians mentoring “people like them.” 

 

Important to note that problems extend beyond hiring. Say a BIPOC person went through school, got into a position, but then white colleagues or higher ups prevent advancement. 

 

Group 3

  • Discussed the trouble with library board composition. Often older white folks, not reflective of the community, which is diverse racially and also in terms of age, socioeconomic status. Problem of library board members who don’t even use the library they are serving. 
  • Libraries tend to be bureaucratic, set up reasons to exclude rather than include people. If people don’t see themselves on the other side of that desk when they arrive for an interview, they may not feel comfortable. Wall comes down when, as an interviewee looking around the building, seeing no other BIPOC working in the building. Being the only person of color in a library, you become the go to person, that’s a lot to step into. 
  • Important to think not just about staff, but also, are you doing diverse programs? Are you consulting the community as you are selecting books? Are you promoting those books on social media, letting people know that they are there? 
  • Discussion about cover of School Library Journal - Why White Children Need Diverse Books - centering whiteness on a cover of an issue for Black History Month. Reveals depth of entrenched whiteness in librarianship that this made it through layers of editing to be published.
  • Issue of neutrality and language used in systems - catalogs are a space where whiteness can be entrenched in language. How can individual libraries or library systems push against that, or choose to make local terms?
  • What do we think of when we talk about “nice white meetings”? We think about surface discussions that make white people feel safe, and an assumption of equality, this assumption of “colorblindness” that effectively erases the perspectives of BIPOC.

 

Discussion:

 

There was a very interesting webinar awhile back about hiring practices in libraries, it had a lot of good ideas about how we hire, recruit, and structure jobs.  

 

Language of civil service exams, designed to speak to one group of people, white folks, who designed this exam

 

Group 1

 

Discussion

 

The oppressed are not supposed to be the ones who come up with the ways to not be oppressed. 

 

Nice white meetings: you say something slightly outside the norm, or are passionate, you can be deemed “unprofessional”. If you get emotional, you can be get gaslighted, because bureaucracy requires this kind of dispassionate presentation. 

 

As a woman, person of color, member of LGBTQ community, space to express yourself doesn’t exist, and if you do express yourself, you may then be avoided, made an outsider for expressing ideas or experiences outside of a dominant culture. 

 

Meetings are seen as egalitarian spaces but the reality is that different genders, race, ages, levels of education, feel different ways about how they are able to occupy that space, how able to speak, who is heard.

 

“Characteristics of white supremacy culture” objectivity seen as characteristic of white supremacist culture and can be weaponized against people of color. 

 

Group 4

  • People hire folks “like them” vertical, civil service “objectivity” as a major issue
  • Some folks will / won’t apply for a job based on meeting requirements, who is willing to throw hat in the ring. People with greater privilege are often more likely to apply for a job for which they don’t have every single qualification.
  • Diversity and Inclusion Apprenticeship, L.A.-based library program, students of color encouraged to do an internship over the summer to explore librarianship. Mentorship is so important. 
  • Emotion in meetings - how this gets cast, people get silenced, sometimes even before they speak.

 

Discussion

 

Having courage to be the person who calls someone out. How do we get further than a group that’s in a room. How, in a case in which someone does something problematic, can we confront in ways that are effective and don’t get caught in a bureaucratic vortex?

 

Zoom meetings are a great place to establish new rules. We don’t have to carry over our old rules. Chat offers another opportunity, for those not as comfortable speaking in a public, to contribute to the meeting.

 

Post it notes as an anonymous way to bring up concerns in a meeting. Gives you opportunity to participate without having to be on the spot. 

 

Emotionality in meetings, seeing the way it is often targeted at women as a form of gaslighting, or minimizing a contribution. 

 

Not wanting to be the “angry Black woman” may lead to holding back, not contributing or choosing very careful and circuitous routes to say something. Exhausting. How can we be truly authentic to ourselves and be accepted for who we are and how we present things?

 

End of Discussion

 

VIDEO CLIP: YouTube Clip: Black Americans Trevor Noah (Start at 7:11)

 

Closing Statement (Peyton’s notes)

 

The mission of this discussion is to remind ourselves that we are all human. And to be able to shift the focus to our similarities rather than our differences to be able to see the human in us all. But at the same time be aware that our differences mean opportunity for some but not for all. 

We want to create a world where we recognize our privilege and use it to help others be successful. 

 

In  those moments of awareness let us remember the importance of creating equitable 

Opportunities. To be mindful of  who’s in the room, and whose presence is in the room is under constant threat of erasure.To be mindful of whose ideas are the most heard and whose ideas won’t be taken seriously because they aren’t in the majority.

 

To quote the article Nice White Meetings, “Bureaucratic systems function to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of a libraries mission and goals, however,  these bureaucratic systems can have singularly disastrous effects on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, serving to preserve whiteness in libraries and requiring BIPOC to assimilate, suffer in silence, or leave.”

 

Identifying and openly naming the institutional racism inherent in libraries,

bureaucracies, and library bureaucracies not only allows us to better understand the

historical oppression of BIPOC workers, but to remember to ask the question “is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong, and whose safety is being sacrificed and minimalized to allow others to be comfortable?”

 

A Quote from TV Personality Bevy Smith sums it up well: “America has got to acknowledge the stain. This country has a stain, and the stain is racism.  A stain is not something that ruins an outfit. A stain is something that can be acknowledged, and cured. Sometimes a stain is not something that goes all the way away, but at least it fades with acknowledgement.”

 

We are creating something great. Let us be the change that changes our world. We appreciate your continued support and Look out for an invitation to the next SIG. 

Southeastern NY Library Resources Council
21 South Elting Corners Road | Highland, NY 12528
Phone: (845) 883-9065
www.senylrc.org