Social Justice is a Library Issue; Libraries are a Social Justice Issue

Notes and slides for this talk

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[image: title card with talk title Social Justice is a Library Issue; Libraries are a Social Justice Issue]
Hey there and thanks for having me. I want to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the tocobaga and Seminole people. In this week of Indigenous People's Day it's worth remembering that it wasn't until the middle of the 19th century that the US government stopped trying to remove the Seminole people from Florida and they weren't officially recognized until 1957

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[image: my name, the URL for the talk and my twitter handle]
(slides and links are available at this URL if people want to follow along) I'm a librarian, technologist and educator who is concerned with the digital divide, social and digital inclusion, and how these issues intersect with the larger world of politics. I work mainly as a technology educator (from teaching library school to doing "drop in time" at my local high school) and I do a lot of writing on technology and library topics.

you can find these slides, my notes, and links with more information to the things I am talking about at this address. And that's my name and twitter handle. I always love staying in touch with people. :)

And I want to say that even though the things in the US that are going on RIGHT NOW are horrible and difficult to deal with, this talk is more general than just "What to do right now about this terrible man and his terrible friends" and I apologize for that in advance. I love dreaming about optimal library services and having other people to do that with. Thanks for listening, and caring.

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[image: a picture of Inspector Murdoch and a short list: 1. History 2. Theory & Ideas 3. Action]
Like many nerd types, I've got "my shows" I like watching. Lately I've been watching Inspector Murdoch. For those of you who watch this show... it's a period piece mystery about Toronto at the turn of the last century, based on books by Maureen Jennings. Now in its 12th season. It's a cop procedural with a lady coroner who, in later seasons is joined by (click)

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[image: a picture of Rebecca James a black woman in a period costume same short list: 1. History 2. Theory & Ideas 3. Action]
...this character Rebecca James. Now, there were no lady coroners in 1890s Toronto and certainly no black lady coroners. But Yannick Bisson (the main guy) doesn't solve mysteries in real life either so while we're making up a world why don't we make up one that looks like what WE want in terms of diversity and inclusion? Representation matters. And it's clearly somehow difficult for people. Last year I worked with #1lib1ref adding cites to Wikipedia and I found, disturbingly, that even really boring tv show Wikipedia pages often have less information for the female characters and the PoC characters. This character wasn't even listed as STARRING in the show in the Wikipedia page. I fixed that. This will be a theme moving forward.

I've got three chunks of stuff to talk about HISTORY, THEORY & IDEAS and then ACTIONS

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[section one begin, image: graffti picture of a woman tossing a copy of A Handmaid's tale. Overlaid with a tweet from AirBnB and a map of an ICE detention center, as described]
It's been a really difficult few years. The good news is, it's a great time for organizing, woodshedding and finding ways to be useful. And we've been given an opportunity to help some people who are concerned, nervous and uncertain, as well as the same old people we've always been helping. For people in service professions the opportunity to serve more and to serve better, to step up in a time of crisis is a challenge we are good at rising to meet. We don't all have the reach of a tech company like AirBnB but we do have the ability to reach more people, more KINDS of people, through our actions. And maybe we have the data skills that can show people where all the ICE detention facilities are because we helped do that.

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[image: cartoon from the first SRRT Newsletter with a drawing of someone holding a Librarians for Peace banner and text as described ]
I've been involved in library activism since I was in library school. Actually maybe before that. I went to an alternative college. I thought I wanted to go to law school because I wanted to help people. I decided I maybe didn't want a job that required me to dress up and get up early and I sort of fell into library school. Once I got there, I knew it was the place for me. A dedication to intellectual freedom, to the right to read for adults AND children, to diversity and inclusion, to access for people with disabilities, in prison, without homes, all of those were things I could get behind. And the dress code worked for me.

I joined SRRT (social responsibilities round table) of ALA when I was still in library school. This is a screenshot from their first newsletter along with the headline of one of the articles. I don't think I am an unreasonable person but I know that to some people demanding rights (or simply refusing the abridgment of rights) can seem... cheeky. And my response when people ask me "Why so political?" is just to say "I wasn't defending my rights before people started trying to take them away"

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[image: Vermont quarter which shows a person harvesting sap from a tree]
Sometimes people ask me what libraries have to do with politics... I settled in Vermont (I am not from there) partly because I agreed with the politics of the place. I've been there for 20 years. Do not talk to me about Bernie Sanders!

Vermont's got a Republican Governor. He's mostly fine. But one of his first acts was to accept the resignations of many people heading up his departments, including our state librarian. This is unusual. Usually people offer letters of resignation to an incoming administration which are politely dismissed.

I spoke to the president of the Vermont Library Association about what our response would be. She was concerned, saying "I don't really like this political stuff." I get that, or at least I mostly do. My personal feeling is that if there are enough of us to do the political mixing it up, it's fine if it's not for everyone. But I'd like to make an argument that there's at least some parts of this that could be for anyone. (we got a new state librarian, he is great)

And, relatedly, that Republican governor just passed some pretty serious gun control legislation in a state that has NEVER HAD ANY and came out in favor of impeachment. So sometimes people can surprise you.

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[image: an older man leaning in to stare at his laptop]
And I think it's necessary to be at least a little political but maybe not in the way people think it's defined. I'll start with an anecdote and broaden it into some critical theory. This part is about technology, but it doesn't have to be. I run a free technology drop in time at a local vocational high school. The hardest to serve have always been the hardest to serve and we've tried to remove as many barriers as we can to people getting help.

This is Ed, one of my students. He is trying to make sense of facebook. Not because he suddenly wants to start "social networking" but because he met a woman who he would like to get to know better and that is the best, maybe only, way to communicate with her. Ed is struggling a little but we talked him through getting online, using Facebook Messaging and sending a message. He composed a message one week and came back to send it the next week. Ed doesn't have broadband or a computer at home.

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[image of people bringing fiber through the woods using draft horses and text as described]
Ed also doesn't have a mobile phone. Many people don't. This can be challenging for them, signing up for websites that want to text you codes etc. Especially when you forget your password. As many people do.

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[image: man at an old time switchboard, text as described]
So what does Ed need? He doesn't need a computer class. He needs his technological question contextualized. It's helpful to him to know WHY facebook operates the way it does, not just how it operates. This helps him understand how to respond.

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[image: woman holding on to table in front of her laptop looking like she is holding on in a windstorm]
(ever notice how all broadband ads look like this?) And this is extra important because, really, most technological interactions people have, whether it's getting an ebook on to their cell phone or sending a message on facebook, are created by companies whose "prime directive" is not to solve your problems, it's to solve theirs. Cash flow problems usually. I don't think this is a conspiracy I think it's just capitalism.

I focus on tech in these talks because with print materials specifically, once you buy a book, the publisher is out of your life. Not so for technology, you get the content for free but what is being "sold" is your attention or YOUR DATA TO SOMEONE ELSE. And people need to be able to understand this attention economy from someone who is not actively involved in selling it to them. Me. You. Digital content isn't difficult on its own but the digital marketplace makes dealing with digital content very very difficult. We all know this. Ed very much doesn't

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[section two begin, image: of a talk bubble describing the banking approach, as described]
The theoretical underpinning I use a lot is Paulo Freire. He was a Brazilian educator and philosopher and the person who founded the body of work known as Critical Pedagogy. His best known work is Pedagogy of the Oppressed, worth a read. He talked a lot about what is really happening when people learn. His argument is that issues of social justice and democracy itself are not distinct from acts of teaching and learning. And that there is no such thing as "neutral" education.

The model a lot of people like to use in traditional education is the "banking model" as mentioned here.

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[image: talk bubble with text as described]
His argument is that when you do this, it just winds up reinforcing dominant models of ... everything. Strong ideas get stronger and aren't critically reflected on. The STRUCTURE of knowledge itself isn't reflected on. If your society has some ... problematic ideas, they just get passed along without regards to whether they're causing trouble, harming people, increasing oppression and inequality.

Aside: I just saw a movierecently called Change the Subject about activist students at Dartmouth who petitioned the Library of Congress to change the subject heading "illegal alien" to "undocumented person" That's the sort of thing I'm talking about, the STRUCTURE underpinning our systems.

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[image of bell hooks and quotation as described]
So, if the structure is actually part of what is causing the problem—and this is often true with social problems that have reached institutionalized levels like structural poverty, sexism and racism—then you shouldn't just learn about them in a "Hey poverty is bad!" way. To really address issues like poverty, sexism and racism, you have to look at the structures that underlie them. You don't have to be like "ergo: THIS SUCKS" but you do need to commit to learning together. So your own role and context as an educator (librarians are educators) is part of this interaction. bell hooks is a critical theorist who writes well on this subject.

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[image: colorful background with the word PRAXIS above it and the hashtag critlib]
The operative word is praxis, the idea of "informed actions". Engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. In library terms this is more like ... how I learned it in library school was ISAR systems. Info storage and retrieval. You built a thing to do a job. Then you tested it to see if it was doing its job. Did it find the things it was supposed to find? Did it not find the things that it wasn't supposed to find? You evaluate how the thing worked critically not just "We were supposed to build a website. This is a website. Therefore we accomplished our goals! Next!"

(click) There are many people working on these sorts of topics in librarianship, a lot of their online discourse can be found via the #critlib hashtag, linked on the links page.

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[images: overlapping Google Search results for "are women" and a close up to show that they used to turn up "are women evil" and now turn up "Are women stronger than men"]
This is more relevant than you might think because SO much of our "learning" nowadays is mediated by search engines, the modern day information storage and retrieval systems.

This is one recent gaffe that Google has since (click) fixed. And by fixing it they let us know something very important: that these things CAN be fixed. And this isn't just idle search engine goofery, these things have repercussions in the real world

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[image: Southern Poverty Law Center logo and a map of the US showing which states have more hate groups, with the south, Montana and Idaho and VT/BH showing a lot]
An example: The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971 so it's about as old as I am. They are known in the US as the group that bankrupted the Klan. They keep track of hate groups (Vermont is not doing so well, we've got an active secessionist group who are also racists, we have jerks who are putting white supremacist literature in library books). One of the things I like about them is that they also place a huge priority on education, to help people learn to not be terrible. They have a whole website committed to educating children about tolerance but also more complex topics like white privilege, anti-racism, ableism and GLBT rights. If you're an educator they have a lot of lesson plans to this end.

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[ovelapping images from the linked video showing the text described, visual is all shots of library stacks]
They came out with a video (6 min long, it's linked in the resources) talking about Dylann Roof the man who murdered nine people in a black church in South Carolina. He used Google to get information on "black on white crime" which, I can tell you right now, isn't a thing. I mean it happens, but white people get killed by white people more often, much more often. Google sent him to white supremacist sites which were using effective SEO (search engine optimization) to reach the top of the results and they offered him "fake news" and bad information that led him to believe that not only was there a lot of black on white crime, but it was going unreported! This is a strategy using what people call "data voids." A library wouldn't do that. It wouldn't even have a White Supremacist section. So when people ask "Why libraries in times of Google?" this is one of my go to stories.

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[image: same colorful background with the words WE LEARN TOGETHER above them]
Learning is a thing that takes place between and among people, not simply material that is passed from one person to another unchanged. A librarian is a part of that learning conversation and often a trusted part in an era when it's tough to figure out who to trust.

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[image of a white woman in a button dow shirt next to the words unlearning,

learning, relearning, reflection, evaluation]

We learn iteratively. We unlearn old ideas and relearn new ones.

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[same slide but with a woman astronaut, as described]
I had used the earlier slide in another, previous, shorter talk. As I went over my slides for this talk I asked myself "Why did I choose this white lady?" I mean, I'm a white lady and something about that seemed "natural" to me. The image was public domain (and the public domain, being older, often has issues with representation)

But that's something *I* need to unlearn, not something I should make everyone else deal with. This is Kalpana Chawla. She was an astronaut, a victim in the Columbia disaster. Representation matters.

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[two images of a set of Indian women]
I should qualify that to say that accurate representation matters. I went to find "that photo of the women Indian scientists" that I had seen when India launched their mission to Mars in September 2014. I vaguely remembered this photo, sent around as "scientists rejoice!" Turns out, and with no disrespect, those women are administrative staff for the Mars Mission. (click) THESE woman are (some of) the scientists. Great articles about that on the links page. A large portion of the world got the right story but the wrong images because of how quickly that first image, a happy image, went viral. And this is how casual stereotyping can continue to fester. It's much easier to do than undo.

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[image: nice looking white mushrooms and the words FOREVER over the top - why did I choose this image I have no idea]
And it's a constant process. You're never done. You change. The world changes. Technology changes. Having the right approach generally is part of it. But being open to getting better is also part of it. Which is hard because it means appreciating that we're not there yet, will never be there, and other people are also not there. Everyone has to make their own decisions about the tricker parts of social awareness, social justice and social activism (Nazi punching, yes or no?) and part of avoiding burnout is understanding just how much you can control. And how much you can't.

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[third section, actions: image is votes for women suffragette picture]
So my response to people asking why I am making things political is often just to restate that I am just trying to help people achieve equity which is not the same as equality. Equality always implies that we are all starting from the same place, so it's fine if we have, from today forward, equal opportunities. This ignores a great deal of history. But the awkward part is that sometimes getting at this equity can mean rebalancing things from where they are now. Doing this in response to social issues is considered social justice. OK then.

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[image: talk bubble with the words Do I belong? as spoken by a potential library patron]
As I said before, representation matters. Libraries are, nominally for everyone, but does everyone feel included, does everyone feel like the library is the place for them? My public library specialty is outreach. Basically (at least partly) figuring out who is in your community, subtracting everyone who is coming in to the library and figuring out if there is anything you can do about the ones who don't come in. Maybe not... but probably there are things you can be doing. I'm not going to say it's not tricky...

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[image: talk bubble saying "Is there going to be trouble here"]
but one of the most basic things that helps people feel included is safety. Safety from harassment, safety from judgement.

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[image: overlapping look at different ways to represent gender neutral bathrooms, as described]
And in some cases, the world as many people understand it has changed. And this is an opportunity to say "we recognize everyone and want them to be included." and you can try things, work them out, maybe one set of signs doesn't work because it's too cutesy (who is that person?), or too vague (is there a urinal?) and maybe it takes you a while to settle on one option.

...and this isn't just "yay progressives" People may have religious reasons to feel a men-only or women-only bathroom is appropriate, so keeping those options is *also* a way of supporting diversity. So talk to them, have transparency in your process.

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[image: specific picture of gender neutral bathroom signs from THE WHITE HOUSE, at least as of a few years ago]
It's important to recognize our power in this. The library doing this is not just another business, it's a representation of people's public efforts and contributions (this pic is from the White House by the way) and when people see THE LIBRARY doing it, it becomes a more normal thing to do. We help set norms by doing things. We help set positive and inclusive norms by doing things in a positive and inclusive way.

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[image of many different teenagers all looking different with the caption above them "What is normal?"]
And I use the word normal carefully and intentionally. Because there are lots of ways to be normal, most people are normal. Even weird people are normal. But normative, settings norms for how we treat each other, figuring out guidelines so that we can all share space, share society, that's a larger social job.

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[image: screenshot of the library policy linked to in the links, Core Values of Librarianship]
This is why libraries have so many policies! And the good news about this social justice stuff is that the guiding principles of our library organizations state right up front that this is what we are about.

This is the ALA Code of Ethics (June 1976) but you knew that.

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[image: a few other overlapping library policies including Diversity, Combatting Racism, Governmental intimidation]
Here are a few more examples. Again I presume you know these things but it's never a bad idea to get a refresher. Quoting policy is useful and has tactical usefulness. We are people who care about these things: diversity, combatting racism, protecting people against government intimidation.

(ALA Policy Manual Section B: Positions and Public Policy Statements)

Put another way being antiracist is our job. Part of it.

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[image: SPLC website screenshot with bullet point "Report hate:]
So I've got a few lists coming up here. Links are on the web site, for example things libraries can actually DO. First set is about knowing tools to help people with inclusion and diversity ... friction points. Problems. Know the resources which are out there. You don't have to build everything yourself.

SPLC - southern poverty law center

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[image: pro publica screenshot with bullet point "Help people talk about hate crimes"]
ProPublica is a non-profit journalism group who counts the things that others can't or won't. They have a website for reporting hate crimes.

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[image: ALA report challenges web page screen shot with bullet point "Report censorship"]
Within your libraries, report challenges to materials and programs. How do you guys do this here? Within your regional associations? ALA just came out with their most challenged book lists, a lot of GLBTQ books reported. We know that, we can gently push back.

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[image: bullet point "Create support and maintain a diverse workforce]
As I repeat over and over, representation matters. Look around at your workplace and see if it reflects the population you serve and ask yourself "why not?" if it doesn't and see if you can do something about it.

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[image of Justin Trudeau greeting a Muslim woman by placing his hand over his heart not grabbing hers]
There are many reasons why this sort of thing is important but the biggest one is that diversity makes us smarter. This seems obvious, but isn't always. And when you're serving the entire public, it's important to know things like "No, you don't necessarily shake a woman's hand if she's Muslim" (or, better yet, ask her) as well as more complex things like "Gee everyone using your software isn't going to have the same perfect vision and lack of shaky hands as you do when you're 30" (the average age of employees at Google, Facebook, Microsoft)

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[image: list with second bullet point "Understand when you are coming from a position of power and use that for good"]
We often don't feel like we are powerful or have status, in libraries, but to the people who use our services, we are the ones in charge, the ones who can levy fines, give out computer time, track down an item, explain a confusing tech interaction. Depending on the institution, people may see us as "the local government" Every time we have a patron interaction that shows grace, that shows that we are human too, we help people feel included, that the library is theirs.

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[image: President Obama leaning over to let a small boy touch his hair in the Oval Office]
This is one of my favorite photos of the Obama administration. Seeing a person in a position of power saying they are like you (and showing you) has value.

"I want to know if my hair is just like yours," Jacob Philadelphia told Mr. Obama...

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[image: last bullet point saying "If you have privilege don't waste it"]
One of the most difficult parts of all of this is learning about privilege. And the way different kinds of privilege intersect. You may be privileged in one way and not on another. I'm White. I'm Jewish. I'm short. I'm female. I'm in front of this room.

Many people, especially people who haven't really spent a lot of time learning about social justice issues, may not be aware of the privilege they have and so they can't use their power for good because they don't feel that they have it (or worse, feel antagonized by others' accomplishments). Learn about what privilege is. Learn to talk to other people about it.

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[image: screenshot of the linked Implicit Bias Test with the bullet point "Beware of unconscious biases"]
And while we're talking about talking, let's really dig in to how we talk. There is science that shows that people hold a lot of unconscious biases. Stuff that you get from sort of society's background radiation. You can take a number of implicit bias tests to check yourself.

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[multiple images, main one a tweet from Newsweek saying "Are immigrants are patriotic as the rest of us?" and bullet point "Understand microaggressions]
Once you realize that these biases exist you can take efforts to not have them creep into your language. There's a lot of casual language people toss around without meaning to hurt but it has the effect of "othering"

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[image: screen shot from conscious style guide and bullet point "Stay up to date on terminology"]
Being conscious about your language generally is a good thing to do and something I could do better at. I suggest this newsletter about conscious language (linked on the page) Now being mindful doesn't mean you need to make every language change someone says you should (you hear a LOT of blowback against the idea of "language policing") but that you should think about whether what you're saying is having the desired effect. Speaker intention and listener interaction don't always line up.

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[image: last two bullet points with being knowing that you will make mistakes and helping others forgive themselves and others]
Be forgiving to yourself when you make mistakes and help others learn at the same time.

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[image: bullet point saying "Collate and annotate"]
But most importantly (and finally) USE THE SKILLS YOU HAVE. We don't have to become different sorts of people just because we're trying to be socially conscious. We just can turn that on to different projects. Highlight different voices.

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[image: cover of Beyonce's Lemonade album, turned into a LibGuide (linked on the links page)]
This is an example I love. When Beyonce's lemonade came out (click) this librarian made this excellent LibGuide about the themes and related stuff within it. Good stuff.

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[image: screenshot of web site described]
Gustavus Adolphus College' Library wanted to do something about their bathrooms but they wanted to keep the community informed and educated. So they made a libguide!

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[image: screenshot of Libraries Resist website]
More recently there is this. Not only does this document have links to great information but it's a good outline of just what the topics are that need attention

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[image: bullet point on list "Create Resources and give them away"]
Not only can we make things: we have the ability to give the things away that we make. Put free or Creative Commons licensing on things. Scan and share.

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[image: hand drawn image of young girl superhero character captioned Power Girl]
The Vermont Library Association went to VT ComicCon and had a table. We had a coloring area. We handed out coloring sheets that were made by another librarian I knew from facebook who had drawn these and just given them away freely (link on sheet) with female superheroes including female superheroes of color. Representation matters.

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[image: postcard of Tampa with alligators on it and a pop-in image showing the rights holding of that image: PUBLIC DOMAIN]
And one of my favorite in the entire country, Florida Memory.

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[image: bullet point saying "Create partnerships with other communities (online and offline) to strengthen each other."]
And you don't have to do it all. Sometimes just lending your voice, your authoritative voice to others who are doing useful projects can go a long way.

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[image: screens shots of the Wikipedia #1lib1ref project along with the wikipedia page I created and the search page described]
I found an interesting photo of a woman I didn't recognize doing library things and I made a wikipedia page about her.

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[image: bullet point "Don't forget to mention: librarians did this"]
But always at least mention, "hey we're the librarians" the good deeds you do promote the entire profession. And even though I think we're pretty cool, we can always use more help with the image thing.

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[two overlapping images with women holding signs saying You know things are messed up when librarians start marching, one from 2011 and one from 2017]
Because even though I look at these signs and say "What? Librarians have ALWAYS been out in front of social issues..." that's not how people see us so much. Which means we have more room to move, pushing the envelope, before we're maybe starting to get "out there" this is a good thing.

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Because we know, that libraries have transformative properties but we can always use the PR

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[image of glorious Peabody Library with the text on the side "learning is a place where paradise can be created. "]
This is another bell hooks quotation.

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[image of glorious Peabody Library with the text on the side "The library is the classroom where we learn to be human."]
And this one is mine. The learning that people do at libraries is what helps them to be people.

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[image of same library with text human, citizens, parents, neighbors, coworkers, friends, people]
and being people together helps us be a better society.

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[final side with contact information]

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