Room of Silence film
There are several ways that I can use the ideas expressed in these resources in library practice and teaching:
- Using Shades of Noir resources to improve my knowledge of artists and designers of colour in order to ensure our collections are representative of different groups. We participate in the Liberate My Curriculum project where students can suggest library resources but it is important that we are proactive in doing this work ourselves.
- Ensure that I use diverse examples of artists and designers when demonstrating searches for students
- Consider the case studies in Shades of Noir and the experiences of the students in the Room of Silence film to consider how students of colour might experience the library space.
However, I would like to use the article ‘A pedagogy of social justice education’ to examine the idea of libraries as neutral spaces, where everyone has full and equal access to the resources and services. This idea has received much critique in recent years, but it seems that some library organisations and librarians remain quite complacent. Fobazi Ettarh has written about the idea of ‘Vocational Awe’, a term she uses to describe the view many librarians take that libraries are noble, sacred places and thus beyond critique, and how this silences people of colour who use and work in libraries. At a debate in America last February entitled “Are libraries neutral?” David Lankes argued that equity is not a neutral position, “If we do not address inequities, we are not neutral—we are harmful and instruments of oppression”. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/are-libraries-neutral/
We must consider the power dynamics that take place in the university and wider society as they are likely to play out in the library too. In their article, ‘In Pursuit of Antiracist Social Justice:
Denaturalizing Whiteness in the Academic Library’ Brook et al. describe how students of colour may have a different experience of academic libraries to their white peers. They may gravitate towards staff members who have a shared background or common language and a lack of diversity among the staff may discourage them from seeking help or using the library at all.
Across the UK library sector 97% of employees identify as white, compared to 88% of the labour force in general. What does it mean if the librarian sat at the enquiry desk, who could be perceived to be in a position of authority, is almost always white? Or how could the methods the library employs to manage the library space and enforce behaviour policies be construed?
Librarians often take an ‘anti-censorship’ stance when considering whether offensive materials should be kept in the collection i.e. many librarians would opt to keep a racist publication in the collection because that is perceived to be the neutral point of view, and an item being in the collection does not mean it is endorsed by the library. It is often argued that it is wrong to deprive students of any information, however offensive, and they may want to respond to or critique it. I have usually agreed with this view, but now I am wondering to what extent this viewpoint stems from a position of white privilege.
As Hahn Tapper says, for social justice education we must consider the social identity of our students and the power dynamics that exist in wider society. For example, we could start by considering the microaggressions the students in the Room of Silence film experience in their lives at university. If a student of colour is often having negative experiences within the university setting, and they come across a racist publication in the library, this could be very harmful. In keeping offensive material in the library, in Lankes’s words, are we being ‘neutral’ or are we being instruments of oppression?
I wonder if it might be a good idea to start a library services equality committee made up of a diverse group of students and staff to examine issues like these, and possibly library policy on a more ongoing basis. This would allow us to engage with students and discuss these issues deeply in a way that we do not do currently. Resources like these would be useful reference points for such discussions.