Blogging Task on Race

Resources used:

Shades of Noir

A Pedagogy of Social Justice Education: Social Identity Theory, Intersectionality, and Empowerment by Aaron J. Hahn Tapper

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.

Blogging Task on Faith

For this blogging task I considered the three resources below and how their ideas and the resources themselves could be used in library practice.

Religion, belief and faith identities in learning and teaching

Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education. Modood & Calhoun Stimulus Paper 

(I mainly concentrated on the sections ‘Multiculturalism’, ‘Religion and dissent in universities’ and ‘Religion and knowledge of religion in UK universities’.)

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s lecture on ‘Creed’.

Supporting enquiries on faith in the library

I occasionally receive enquiries from students relating to religion and I am always aware of asking for more details from them in a sensitive way so that I can help them appropriately. In the UAL Case Studies on the ‘Religion, Belief and Faith Identities in Learning and Teaching’ website, I agree with Angela Drisdale Gordon’s comments on approaching discussion on religion “from a perspective of curiosity”. Being curious and asking open questions is a good approach.

This resource shows how important faith is to many students and that this is something they wish to explore in their work. As well as supporting study needs, I believe that the library can play an important pastoral role. It should provide resources to support well-being, explore aspects of their own identity and come across unfamiliar beliefs too. As Modood and Calhoun also make clear, faith is inevitably a part of public society, not just a private matter and can’t be ignored as an aspect of class, community, economics, public policy and geopolitics. Therefore, it is a subject on which the library should hold a good selection of resources.

Calhoun mentions librarians as playing a key role in supporting knowledge of religion, along with other university staff, and that it would be beneficial if staff could improve their knowledge. Recently a subject guide on ‘Faith and Belief’ has been created by staff at LCF. This lists books on different faiths and themes and although it may need further development, it could be a good starting point for librarians and students alike. As Angela Drisdale Gordon mentions, it is also beneficial to do our own research into subjects the students want to explore but with which we are unfamiliar. This could be partly achieved by the many online courses in religious literacy such as this one from Harvard: Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures

At CSM Library we recently allocated some extra funds to buy books on faith and spirituality as it was felt that our resources were not adequate to support student’s research. However, I have been unsure how to go about deciding what to purchase but having read these resources I would like to ask the UAL SU faith societies, such as the UAL Christian Union and the UAL Islamic Society, the UAL Religion, Belief and Faith Identities in Learning and Teaching Community of Practice, and staff and students more widely.

Library displays on faith

It would be interesting to do a project with students where groups of students or individuals could create library displays relating to their faith, using items from the collections and/or their own work.  The displays might show to other students who have a faith that it is something that the library embraces. All these resources could be used to start discussions about faith in universities, and what the displays could contain and how they could be presented. For example, it might appear divisive if each display cabinet contained items from one religion. On listening to Kwame Anthony Appiah’s ideas about faith not being just about beliefs but also about practices and community, I thought perhaps it would be interesting to theme each cabinet on a practice or community event e.g. prayer, festivals and celebrations, art, dress, mourning. This might highlight similarities as well as variance between and within faiths.

Here are some images of previous library displays as an example

Zines Display, CSM Library
Green Week Display, CSM Library

One of the main messages in the Modoon & Calhoun paper is that secularism is also a complex ideology rather than the absence of ideology, so the displays would need to include secularism, humanism and atheism too. Kwame Anthony Appiah noted in his lecture on ‘Creed’ there is much diversity within religions, so it would be important to respect that. This could be addressed by ensuring as many students as possible are aware and able to take part if they wish, and by adding a notice to the displays inviting students to add further content to make it an ongoing process.

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.