Social Justice Summit Summary
This is a guest post from Catherine Michael, Communications Librarian, Ithaca College (1st Cohort of D4L).
Our Keynote presentations were by Martin Garnar and Dr. Loriene Roy. We began our discussion with the question of library neutrality. At my table, I asserted that libraries and librarians are not neutral; other commenters echoed my assertion. Although we are our code of ethics calls for us not to let our personal beliefs interfere with service and access, and although we attempt to be unbiased and courteous, we are passionate and vocal advocates for equity, diversity and inclusion and incorporate those values into our practice. In addition to its Code of Ethics (sec. IV), the American Library Association has four strategic directions: advocacy; information policy; equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). Since libraries are public spaces, they cannot always be safe. We must learn how to try and create “responsible spaces”; a resolution just passed at ALA Annual in Chicago to implore us to do so. The Summit helped us to learn of a variety of methods to take action. One way is to find exemplars of our community: people and organizations that demonstrate through their actions how to foster love and forgiveness in our communities. We can team with other organizations who share our values of love, forgiveness and social justice.
The Civic Engagement workshop with Dr. Corley and Nasha Taylor helped us to reflect on force and action. They provided us with a process (deliberative democracy) and a disposition (to appreciate inquiry and form connections) that can heal communities through dialogue. It is helpful to have an experienced moderator to lead people with different values to see other sides and change. At Ithaca College, I attended a meeting on dispute resolution a couple years ago; it informed me of the CDRC of Tompkins County; they have local and experienced mediators. We also must realize that information can presented and received within frames. It is good to look at the situation and ask which values are highlighted. What are potential solutions? The moderator will help community members weigh their different values. To illustrate the process a couple scenarios were presented: 1) smoking bans & 2) “Rat bites baby.” Some problems are “wicked problems” — very complex and one solution may create yet another problem. The solution to this is what educators do: provide training and education. As a librarian, I plan to educate myself by taking advantage of future learning opportunities. Could librarians be mediators? Are libraries spaces for mediation? Is there a difference between moderation and mediation?
It was serendipity that I sat next to the library director of my local village library. There are two issues in our village that I used to apply the conversation to my home life: 1) in June of 2016, the director chose George, about a transgender youth, as the Community Read. It made news — and it caused conversations in the community. I had just moved to the village in the summer of 2015 so I recall reading about it in the press (see, “Be Who You Are: The transgender issue in local schools and libraries,” 6/15/16 Ithaca.com by Glynis Hart); the director drew on this experience and shared it with the room. I appreciate her expert handling of the situation. The handling of such issues in libraries can be a real challenge. The “letter from Jason” — where a community member questions the need of a LGBTQ celebration — was read and discussed. One person commented, “If someone is trying to give rights to a group, it does not mean they’re taking rights away from you.” We talked about attachments (ex. Ruiz’s Five Levels of Attachment). 2) More recently the village, is facing a proposal of a large development which is concerning to residents; this has created articles using the acronym NIMBY in the local press, community meetings, blogs, flyers, etc. One resident is collating everything on her blog. One article from Canada she posted read, “Making cities more dense always sparks resistance; Here’s how to overcome it,” (6/20/2017, Vox by David Roberts). NIMBY is a way one group may frame the issue. As this second controversy comes to the community, I considered our need for deliberative democracy forums.
Many librarians in my morning session were concerned over propaganda and fake news. They were concerned with those who may not wish to discuss issues. Last night (7/21/17) I listened to This American Life, episode 621, “Fear and Loathing in Homer and Rockville.” It was a portrait of a small town in Alaska that discussed a resolution welcoming immigrants. I was glued to the experience of an open-minded citizen, Ben, and his struggle to understand the the resolution. He researched immigration but was faced by skewed news reports. It was fascinating listening to his frustrating journey in trying to gather and understand information about immigrants. One piece in Breitbart that contained hyperbole and distortions, was explained by a BBC reporter who covered the news in Germany as part of his beat. The deconstruction of the article illustrated how difficult it is for working Americans to verify the news they find, even in earnest attempts towards understanding. I was greatly impressed by Ben, who, in the end, expressed sincere surprise by the truth and thought his original position on immigration in his community was wrong. Information can certainly confuse. Could he have gone to his public library? Would that have helped? This piece popped out at me after the Summit as it looked at citizens, information, and deliberations.
As we ate, we were presented by a myriad of training opportunities, programs, and legislative issues to consider. The New Yorkers for Better Libraries advocates for libraries in Albany; the Human Libraries program is a program libraries can arrange where living people can convey information & promote understanding in a safe environment — people are the books and the those that check them out are the readers; with the burgeoning opioid crisis in the U.S., many public spaces are learning how to administer narcan to save lives — this is possible in libraries as good samaritans can be trained to administer narcan to those in crisis in libraries; some libraries are extending from the academic libraries into the community by connecting with high school students — Alfred University is planning a program between high school and college students involved with the Gay Straight Alliance; a school librarian enthusiastically described meeting with students at a Human Rights Summit where students learned to read and share the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to others in order to foster human rights in their communities world-wide; finally, the Design for Learning program, which I took advantage of participating in, presented its Diversity module where librarians can learn to teach online, and, even in an online environment, be sensitive to stereotypes, being inclusive, and understanding diversity via the ACRL Diversity Standards. Dr. Roy, a conference keynote speaker at the event, was also the instructor and designer of the Diversity module. Beyond understanding the terminology and practice of diversity in libraries, the diversity module encourages reflective practice — looking at ourselves and the communities we come from. Attending the Social Justice Summit permitted me to continue to learn more tools and terms to practice EDI in my community; I saw it as a “deep dive” into putting knowledge into practice.
The afternoon session was a Diversity-Equity and Inclusion workshop with Dr. Nicole Sirju-Johnson and Lea Webb that focused on hiring practices. They planned a series of activities that caused us to reflect upon the “Power of Words” through word associations; acknowledging unconscious bias and its influence on hiring; microaggressions — and tip-sheet of things of things not to say; and advice on creating a Diversity Plan for your library or organization (they pointed to the University of Michigan as a model). A characteristic of a good search committee is that members of the protected class should be included, even if it is necessary to go outside the hiring unit. There should be not conflicts of interest between those hiring and the candidates (ex. nepotism). In one scenario, we looked at criteria used for reviewing resumes. What is a diverse candidate? Diversity may pertain to the skills and ability to work successfully with a diverse background. One participant’s library said only two members of their hiring committee are library staff; the others are persons with whom the candidate will work with in their job (I liked this approach). The “Windshield Survey” is an exercise where you pay close attention to the condition and nature of your community; this relates to another handout on, “Creating Inclusive Spaces” where you scan your physical environment and look for opportunities to improve it, to make it more inclusive. There were lots of handouts from the session including a “Sample Job Posting Language Tips”; “Diverse Definitions of Culture”; etc. They suggested places, such as Spectrum scholars, to recruit for diversity.
We reconvened for a wrap-up discussion with Mr. Garnar and Dr. Roy. They provided us with additional stories from the personal experiences to reflect on. Before we left, we wrote ourselves notes of some actions we’d take after the summit. These would be mailed to us in the future as reminders to take action.