I can come to your library, book club meeting, or conference to talk about how to help your readers find their next good read. Click here for more information including RA for All's EDI Statement.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Call to Action: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Begins At Home

I stand with April.

This statement refers to the horrible treatment April Hathcock received during an official ALA Council session. April discussed the issue at length and in great detail here. Please read it, including the current ALA President's response.

Some have questioned April's professionalism. Some say there is more to the story. I am not one of those people. April is out on the front lines as a POC library leader. She is always insightful. She is undeniably brilliant. She also is someone who pushes ALL OF US to do better. Are her methods direct and meant to stir up actual, honest debate. YES! And thank goodness for that. I stand behind her 100%.

Some people in our profession [and the world] think that when younger people engage in honest, real talk about uncomfortable issues that we are being "unprofessional." I disagree completely. We are simply not willing to put up with the way things have been and also are unwilling to talk around the issue. Being to the point and addressing difficult issues head on is way more professional than ignoring them.

How do I know this? Two reasons. First, I was elected as a library trustee in Cook County, IL at the age of 26. So I know what it means to be fighting for change within the confines of and "old school" governing body and "Roberts Rules" and all that. Some people have argued that April uses methods outside of the established rules to get her point across. Well, duh. I did that too. For years. I fought against people who tried, in public meeting, to tell me that you can't just do that, Becky. Well guess what. You can. And I did. I talked right back to them and wouldn't stand down. The result, I'm still standing and they are not. Also, I became the youngest IL Library Luminary ever, partially because of this work, so...

Second, I too have been accused of being unprofessional in a public, professional setting. I was called out in Public Libraries magazine as trying to ruin RA by "deprofessionalizing it." And my attacker wouldn't even use my name, although he was very clear as to who he was attacking because numerous people contacted me to tell me about it as soon as it was published.

But unlike April, I am white. I can push harder than her on all of these issues because of this privilege. I know this and it sucks. I am not half as smart or well spoken as April, but I get to stand on my soap box with very little resistance, and definitely without being threatened to keep quiet, like she was threatened.

As I travel the country, I am constantly faced with opposition when I demand that all libraries must cultivate diverse collections and but that I mean ALL. I wrote a longer post about it here and even used some quotes from people I have met on my travels who were so thankful for my help in their fight. And listen, it is not just the places you would expect these blatantly racist and homophobic things would happen. I promise you, it is everywhere.

Here is a recent example from this Fall. I stood up in meeting about the revisions to our State Library Standards during the ILA Annual Conference and defended the need for diverse books in every collection, even when a high ranking member of my state library association challenged me in that public meeting by saying, "Well my community is too white and conservative to handle too much diversity." I said, "No they are not. Every community needs diverse collections that represent all view points. And, they need you as a community leader to set the example for change." I know her library. I know she would face push back. But I also know that if she fought for what was right, they would eventually relent because she is well respected. But as of now, she won't

After that meeting a few people came up to me to thank me for standing up for EDI being added to our state library standards. They are still in revisions and I don't know what will happen.

Here is another example, once, while visiting a library where the bathrooms were identical, single use bathrooms [neither had a urinal], I spent some of my break time seeking out and finding the library manager to engage her in a discussion about why these bathrooms needed to be gendered. They could  both just be "restrooms." Her argument was that people expect them to be labelled. I said, I think you would find that people will still know that they are places where people can relive themselves without gendering them. It is unnecessary to gender, single use genderless bathrooms, ever. I have no idea if they were changed, but I will not stand by in places where I see EDI problems and NOT speak up.

Which leads me to all of you, my readers. Especially those of you who are nodding along with everything I have written. Yes you, well meaning white ladies reading this. What are you doing to stand up for true EDI in our profession and with your own actions?

Don't tell me, "A lot" because that is not true. Even I am not doing as much as I could. For example, while I always include very clear and firm content in my presentations-- both passively and actively-- arguing for diverse collections, I do not let people know that is one of my themes and goals up front. Why do I hide that mission?

I think it is because I figured people expect this from me. But as I mentioned in a previous Call to Action, some of what I say is shocking and uncomfortable to people. What happened to April, someone who has made it clear that she is on the ALA Council to help move the organization forward by discussing our underlying racism [it's why I voted for her and am proud she represents me], I too am going to be clear and take a strong stand with every single one of my clients.

To that end, I have crafted an EDI statement below. It is a first draft and I am very open to comments that will help me to improve it, so pass them on:
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion statement: RA for All’s programs are crafted and delivered to encourage all library staff to use leisure reading as a way to connect with the community, with a particular focus on reaching the underserved and promoting "own voices" authors. Throughout all of my training sessions we will explore ways in which library staff can provide services, collections, and programming that puts EDI concerns at the forefront. Examples include but are not limited to, delivering the same information in different formats, advice on how to diversify your displays, and ways to include more staff voices in basic RA service [more voices leads to more equitable, diverse, and inclusive offerings]. Libraries that hire RA for All must be interested in allowing all staff [not just professional and/or public service staff] to participate in serving all populations, not just the ones most represented by staff or as identified in a local census.
This statement now resides on my Recent and Upcoming Programs page; the same page where I post my rates and links to my programs. It will also be included in every single contract I write from here on out.

I am going to be blunt and honest about my agenda and if that makes me unprofessional, well then that's your problem because I know I am correct.

I stand by April both in theory and practice. What about you?

1 comment:

Deweyscrapper said...

Currently I am featuring one book by black authors each day on our library's Instagram and Twitter accounts. These books are ones that the library staff has enjoyed. The posts/tweets all have quotes from the staff about why they liked the book. I wanted to call out these books during Black History Month, because we need diverse books! My community is mostly white, and I'm trying to broaden everyone's horizons. The first, I had a comment from a patron thanking me for doing this.

I will continue to do these types of posts after Black History Month. I applaud you for this post. I am so glad you stand up and say these things, and I am so glad you stand up for April. I do, too. NO ONE should be treated like that.