Calling in Librarianship: A Manifesto

What is calling in? To state it simply, it’s a much nicer way of calling people out:

Much like calling out, calling in aims to get the person to change their problematic behaviorThe primary difference between calling in and calling out is that calling in is done with a little more compassion and patience.

EveryDay Feminism

I’m not here to make friends–yet I desperately want all of you to like me–but more importantly, I want to share with you some things I believe to be true, and sharing these truths is much more important to me than being liked. I feel the need to call some of ya’ll in. So–here we go.

cool, real cool

I have some bad news:

Libraries are not cool.*

Libraries will never be cool.

Libraries are for freaks and geeks, nerds and know it alls; the voracious reader and the most vulnerable people in our communities. The elite and privileged do not need us, so let’s stop chasing them the way I chased emotionally unavailable alcoholic men in my early twenties.

Of course libraries are more than books (there’s often brick and ugly carpeting and a vending machine that’s always broken), but when it comes down to it, people come to us for books. Add other amazing things if you want (but wow can we cool it with the “MORE THAN BOOKS” screaming?), but remember, people still want books from us!

do more with less needs to die

The phrase “ nimble staff” is dangerous. Should staff be flexible and pitch in when needed? Sure! Should you have a computer specialist from your IT department helping kids find books? No. Let people be experts and do what they are good at. Getting to do what you’re good at is essential for happy staff, and happy staff lead to happy patrons!!!

Our job is not to be belittled, abused, or harassed. Our job is not to replace city hall, mental health care, or adequate social services for our communities. Libraries are information hubs, a center of a wheel, and it’s our job to set people on their courses path armed with accurate information.

Also, if you want people to use libraries, you need to invest in libraries, not cut them:

We found that as investments, such as revenue, staffing, and programs, increased, so did critical use measures, such as visitation and circulation. In the same way, as investments were reduced, mostly in reaction to post-recessionary budgetary reductions, we saw decreases in library use. Another important finding is that even though investments might have declined, any decreases in use did not drop by the same magnitude. People continue to use their local public libraries—for access to books and information and for gathering as a community.

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/americans-like-their-libraries-but-they-use-them-less-and-less-pew/477336/

children’s librarians, we need to talk

I’ve seen a lot more Kindergarten readiness programs coming out of libraries lately, and while that in and of itself is ok, I guess (we’re not school, you know), some of the promises y’all have been making to parents are out of bounds, and the way you’re acting is insulting to our colleagues, the early childhood educators.

“While I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, I do not have an advanced degree in early childhood literacy.  What I do have is the passion and ability to research information and share it with others.”

from the ALSC blog I refuse to link to it you know how to google

Think of the blazing hot rage you feel when some random person wants to come “read to the kids”? Now think of how that above statement must feel to preschool teachers? Early childhood educators are underpaid, disrespected, and instead of demeaning another profession that is primarily female (and the lowest paid in this low-paying profession are overwhelmingly women of color), children’s librarians should be advocating for quality early childhood education opportunities in their communities instead of insisting that librarians can replace them. Support, not supplant.

Just because you love Jason Reynolds doesn’t mean you don’t have work to do

Melvil Dewey is trash and so is the Dewey Decimal System and it’s high time we had a different/better/more inclusive/anti-racist classification system.

If you’re a white librarian, you can and must do better when it comes to being inclusive and anti-racist. If that sentence makes you feel defensive then that’s how you know I’m right. As a white librarian myself I know I have work to do, too.

At every conference you attend, talk to publishers about diverse books. Ask specifically about Black and Native American characters. It will be uncomfortable. But again: you can’t always want to be liked. The truth is more important than being nice.

I’ll say it

If your definition of intellectual freedom causes your trans workers to feel unsafe in both your library and the profession, then that definition damn well needs to evolve.

For library directors and other high level folx with POWER:

  • If you’re not actively working on ways to diversify the profession, you need to start immediately.
  • If you’re not working to make your workplace better for mothers/families, you need to start immediately. The profession is majority female and we should be leading the charge for excellent maternity leave and flexible work environments for families.
  • Speaking of flexibility: Covid-19 has proven library staff can work from home in many instances. Use it as a launching point for improving work/life balance for your staff.
  • If you don’t consider library employees to be part of the community the library serves, you’re wrong. You should treat your employees just as well as you treat your patrons. If your community is happy with the library but your library staff are miserable, your library is failing.
  • Edited to add after I took a rage nap: If you’re unwilling or incapable of saying Black Lives Matter and you let hate speech flourish in your library in the name of “intellectual freedom”, you have some serious soul searching to do, as does our national organization, ALA, which LOVES to permit atrocities under the banner of intellectual freedom. If your definition of intellectual freedom causes your trans workers to feel unsafe in both your library and the profession, then that definition damn well needs to evolve.

Library directors: if you’re not actively working on ways to diversify the profession, you need to start immediately.

the time for silence has passed

If you’re suffering in your job, talk to someone. Your coworkers, hr, staff from other libraries, use employee assistance programs, put your feelings on Twitter, whatever you’re capable of doing. Because silence is complicity, and those who can speak need to speak up for those who cannot. Whether it’s micro-aggressions against a co-worker or a lack of support for vulnerable patrons, band together and speak up–one voice might struggle to be heard, but a chorus is impossible to ignore.

*I think libraries would be better served striving for the urban dictionary definition of cool (read at your own risk, there is a swear word!)

A cool person to me is being real. Being themselves and not caring how other people view what they say or do. When I say you’re cool, that’s what I mean. Today too many people are concerned how others view them. 

Wondrous Pitiful

My story being done
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.
She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange,
‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful. – Othello, Act 1, Scene 3

The stories of Othello’s youth moved Desdemona to love; they intrigued her, inspired her, incited her to action and emotion. The best stories do this to us–provoke strong response, either positive or negative. Laughter, or tears, or fists clenched in rage.

My American Literature professor once related the story that when he first read As I Lay Dying, this chapter incited him to throw the book against a wall and leave it there for nearly a week:

As-I-Lay-Dying-Vardaman-William-Faulkner-My-Mother-Is-a-Fish1

This is the power of literature, of art, of story.

I finally got my hands on a copy of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, and read it several times over. It was a disorienting experience; not quite on the level of “My mother is a fish” but I was perturbed nonetheless–yet only mildly so. I was sad that this story had fallen so short of the work that its subject truly deserved.

The work is not completely without merit. I found the text to be more successful on its own, divorced of the images. The text at least hinted at the tension there must have been between Hercules and his owner: how his stern expression became a smile when Martha Washington entered the kitchen, and his tone of voice changed as well; how everyone held their breath when the cake was taken upstairs; how Delia’s heart hammered in her chest when George Washington came down after the cake was eaten. After all, if the honey experiment had failed, wouldn’t there have been a punishment for Hercules? But this is never mentioned–only the gifts of fine clothes and theater tickets. Their lack of freedom is certainly unspoken, both in the text and images.

The images, I think, went too far in the direction of trying to depict the slaves as “happy” and “prideful.” There was none of the nuance of the text, where tension could be inferred from word choice and description. In every image and spread, everyone’s expression is happy or, at least, neutral, except for perhaps Martha’s expression of concern early in the book.

I still think Hercules’ is a story that should be told, but it deserves to be told in such a way that we are left aching from how passing strange and wondrous pitiful it was for such a talented man to have and achieve so much, while being denied the only thing he truly desired–his freedom.