Blogging task on Gender

Supporting Trans Students UAL website

There were two quotes from UAL students on this website that I felt had particular resonance for library work.

“It’s good to do a bit of your own research. Focus on resources written by or at least with the community you’re looking into. Everyone is their own expert: you on you, me on me.”

Julius Jokikokko

This shows how important it is that the diversity of LGBTQ identities are represented within the library collections. We should ensure we purchase resources by authors from across the LGBTQ spectrum, as well as using those resources within workshops.

“If you’re an LGBT person and you don’t know who these 2 women are [Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera] , go change that, because they changed the world for you.”

Charlie Craggs

This indicates how essential it is for people with LGBTQ identities to be aware of the history of those communities in order to build solidarity.  UAL’s libraries should ensure they are places where students find out about their history and find authors they identify with in the collections.

The libraries already seeks suggestions from students, including through the Liberate My Curriculum project, but it would be beneficial for the collections to have a closer relationship with the UAL LGBT+ student network to gain a deeper understanding of any imbalance in the collections and how that could be redressed.

It is also important to use language carefully. In an article Jessica Colbert also proposes ideas for patron-driven subject access, which although imperfect, could help to make library systems more responsive to the LGBTQ communities at UAL and ensure they are able to access information using preferred terms.

Student responses to LGBTQ-related resources and how they are organised within the library, could be used to provoke discussions in workshops about the importance of LGBTQ history, how this is recorded and preserved and accessed.

bell hooks : Understanding Patriarchy

hooks quotes John Bradshaw on the destructive effects of patriarchy, including

“the repression of thinking whenever it departs from the authority figure’s way of thinking.”

We need to look at the concept of “authority” in library resources carefully and critically.  As Alan Carbery says in his lecture on ‘Authentic Information Literacy’ (mp4 video) it is too simple to assume that someone with a PhD has authority and someone without a PhD does not. He proposes that in teaching information literacy we should show examples of individuals speaking truth to power. As hooks argues, a system of authority and control damages everyone even those who supposedly hold the power. Critical Information Literacy puts forward teaching methods we can use to democratise the classroom, question the idea of authority and control in information, publishing and libraries, and recognise that everyone has their own authority. Using texts such as hooks and these methods could encourage all students to think critically about the relationship between power and information and how that can be challenged,

Pay it no mind: the life and times of Marsha P. Johnson

Watching this film, I was thinking how great it would have been for the LGBTQ community in Greenwich Village had had a library that catered for them where they could find out about LBGTQ history and build solidarity.  Libraries can be safe havens for marginalised communities if they are truly inclusive, or if not, they can be another institution that marginalises and oppresses groups.

To be inclusive, libraries must preserve information on the lives of people in marginalised communities and ensure access to all. Michael Musto who appeared in the film said in a panel discussion about the film that he was “happy that her life hadn’t fallen through the cracks of LGBT history”, suggesting the precariousness of individual lives within the historical record.

Often the physical documents that could be collected  – magazines, zines, pamphlets, photographs, oral history- are fragile in nature and may not be preserved. This film shows how the importance of how, for all the problems they have, open access digital resources such as Youtube can play an important role in creating, preserving and disseminating knowledge and experiences from communities such as Marsha P. Johnson’s.

Resources such as this film and student responses to it could be used in workshops to raise discussions about why some people have 500 page biographies written about them and some don’t, why some identities might be underrepresented in library /archive collections, and the importance of including different kinds of materials to ensure inclusive, diverse collections.

“The heart of the matter lies beyond all regulation”. Aoun, Whitehead and Palmquist/Kant

I found the main recurring themes in the readings were how universities should teach and how they should be run. They all seem to agree that the promotion of imaginative or critical thought is the main purpose of university, rather than the acquisition of knowledge alone. Interestingly, Aoun and Whitehead both mentioned that if we wanted students to only acquire knowledge all they would need are either books or a library card, as if all that can be found in the library are dry facts. It seems to be stating the obvious to say that libraries and their resources can feed the imagination just as much as good teaching.

I was prompted, particularly by Pamquist and Whitehead to consider the link between the purpose of the university and regulation, and whether all regulation is necessarily a bad thing. In Pamlquist, we see that Kant acknowledges the need for regulating the faculties which train professionals, but that the philosophers, while keeping the other faculties in check, should not be subject to regulation themselves, as they should have “reason alone” as their authority. Whitehead argues that public opinion is the only effective measure of a good university, and that the authorities must not attempt to treat universities like businesses.

This has a great deal of resonance today, in view of the new frameworks for regulating universities, particularly the TEF. This diagram from WonkHE illustrates the TEF metrics.

Aoun also argues that it is imperative for universities to prepare students for work in the future, which I believe is important. One of the TEF metrics is the numbers of graduates gaining skilled employment. Concerns were raised in the discussion group over whether the TEF would force university teachers to concentrate too much on useful skills at the detriment of inspiring the imagination and allowing students the chance to play, discover, and take risks without adverse consequences.  However, I have found that sometimes having a structure to guide your work and aims that will help the students in their working lives can be a positive thing. In the library service we have used UAL’s Creative Attributes Framework to develop learning outcomes for our information literacy workshops.

Creative Attributes Framework logo

Often, we only see students for one or two workshops per year, so having a clear aim for each session is helpful.  We can select an appropriate goal for the workshop and then plan exercises that aim to achieve that. By linking to the CAF, we can also show how the library sessions are key to meeting course outcomes and not just an added extra.

I think our learning outcomes also show that teaching for employability doesn’t necessarily disallow creativity. The outcomes emphasise the importance of encouraging the students to research independently, find inspiring resources, solve problems and think critically regarding information and publishing practices, which I think all fit into the key skills and literacies set out by Aoun, particularly critical thinking. All these skills can be useful in employment and life generally, but I don’t believe they compromise creativity. Therefore, it shouldn’t be assumed that teaching for employability means we are seeking to produce automatons, as it can mean helping students acquire the skills they need to work and live creatively.

I was also inspired by his views on how powerful learning can be when students take ownership of it, “it is one thing to have a story told, it is another to be the protagonist”. I am interested in ideas of critical information literacy , involving teaching methods such as ‘flipped classroom’, which I already use in one workshop, where the students carry out a simple research task with very little direction then present their findings back to the rest of the group. This is effective as the students discover the resources for themselves and they are they are interested to hear from their peers about what they have found.

So far, academic libraries have been free from external regulation. However, libraries have always felt under pressure to prove our value and many, including UAL libraries, have been willing to sign ourselves up for mechanisms such as the Customer Services Excellence framework. This sits uncomfortably with me. Although it can be a good idea to have standards to aim towards, it demands a great deal of staff time in compiling data and evidence, and it feeds the trend of framing students as customers. This trend can be seen in the direct link between new government regulations and funding models, as having demanded students pay higher tuition fees, the government is now deeply concerned over ensuring they receive ‘value for money’ plus demonstrate appropriate use of government money.

So, although I don’t think all effects of the TEF are necessarily negative, I think the marketisation-regulation-marketisation merry-go-round that Whitehead warns against is potentially damaging, As students are increasingly framed as customers, and universities even begin to view themselves as providing a service, students might engage less in constructing their own university experience, and may be less likely to become independent, critical thinkers. I don’t know what the effects of the TEF and the new Office for Students’ powers will be, but it seems that teaching the skills and literacies such s those set out by Aoun is increasingly important, and not just to shield future graduates from the growth for artificial intelligence.