Ask A Librarian: Librarian Resistance tips?

sign that says PRAXIS in big letters on the side of a building

From the Mailbag, a UVM grad: I’ve always had a deep love for libraries, reading, and learning. In college, that love coalesced into a passion for leftist politics and I hope to direct this love into constructively making a difference in the world. I’ve been researching and working on applying to graduate school to get a Master’s in Library Science. In conversation with one of my favorite professors… she recommended I look you up. Your work as part of the “librarian resistance” as you call it is super inspiring to me as a firm believer in libraries as having massive potential for advancing social justice as far as they spread free access to knowledge and technology to the community they exist in. I’m wondering if you have any advice for an aspiring librarian?

Hey there — always good to hear from another library-interested person in Vermont. I should note before I go much further that I have a lot of interesting jobs but do not currently work in a library, so I may not be the best person to talk to about actual library work. I do have a lot of advice though.

  • If you’re into social justice stuff and you use Twitter, there’s the #critlib hashtag which is great for finding like-minded librarians
  • Similarly the Social Responsibility Round Table of ALA (American Library Association) is the more “radical” wing of leftist politics there. There is also the Intellectual Freedom Round Table (and Office of Intellectual Freedom) which many of “us” find a little too mainstream-liberal, but it takes all kinds so poke around.
  • Think about going to a library conference if you can afford it. There is VLA which has a very small conference and NELA (New England) which is bigger but requires travel most years. You can see what people are talking about and if it jibes with what you are looking for

Above all think very closely about going into debt for another degree. I don’t know what your situation is (and don’t need to) but jobs DO NOT PAY WELL and it’s a lot harder to smash the state, if I am being honest, if you are burdened with a lot of debt. This is a complex issue since, of course, this means that the profession (and those who can be radical within it) favors the privileged. Most library degrees will prepare you okay for a job in a library, a lot of the rest of  it comes from you, so unless you want to go to a high-powered academic library, you can pick and choose your library education somewhat based on cost.

And speaking of privilege, if you’ve been in Vermont your whole life (and I have no idea if you have, and I do not know your personal background) make sure you get out and around the country a little. Vermont is so white it can be hard to understand that some of the diversity we do have (class diversity, GLBT diversity, and Chittenden County is certainly less white than most if not all other counties) is small potatoes compared to places that have a lot of people from many other cultures all of whom are the populations that you, if you are in a public library, serve. And they don’t all get along. I was talking about this with someone else today: part of librarianship, if you’re doing it right, is figuring out how to deal with all these people with conflicting and competing interests.

So anyhow, make sure you understand issues of diversity, accessibility (not just ADA stuff but how to really provide equity for all patrons) and what it really means to honor a child’s right to read, the difference between having a “balanced” or “neutral” collection and one that empowers people, etc. It’s tricky and people within the profession do not agree. I have strong opinions in one specific direction, many people disagree with me, and I don’t have to worry about the institution I work for putting pressure on me to not shoot my mouth off.

So that is jut me talking about MY things. If you have specific questions that aren’t any of the things I talked about, email me back. And feel free to look me up if you come through Randolph.

2 thoughts on “Ask A Librarian: Librarian Resistance tips?

  1. Thanks for giving such practical advice.

  2. The part where you mentioned “the difference between having a ‘balanced’ or ‘neutral’ collection and one that empowers people” really struck me! I’m currently in an online MLIS program (will be halfway through after this semester) and I am always getting into disagreements about this on discussion boards. I might have to borrow that “empowerment” language for future use, as most of my classmates seem to be more interested in maintaining “neutrality.”

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