Well, that was intense; and I am exhausted.
I’m actually writing this on the plane on the way home to my wife, my kid, and my dog; and I may well decide to publish without editing as a way of capturing my own immediate, raw thoughts and feels about the Taiga Forum we just had. These are going to be my personal opinions, and I have no idea whether others on the Taiga Steering Committee share them — which is why I’m posting them here and not at Gentle Disturbances. We will be posting the notes and speaker slides and stuff over at Gentle Disturbances in the coming days.
In many ways, I’m feeling pretty proud of the work my colleagues and I did in planning and hosting the Taiga 9 Forum on Diversity in Academic Libraries. Our speakers were fantastic – I have nothing but love for Christine Williams, Courtney Young, and Mark Puente. Ditto for Dale Askey and Jenn Riley for joining me on our morning panel; and for Amy Kautzman for kicking things off and Susan Parker for being our facilitator.
The overall discussions throughout the day were good, and I was especially impressed with the honesty and humility displayed by many who spoke up. I am especially happy and deeply grateful for the fact that the event brought people together in a room for a day who might not otherwise have connected. I have personally already reaped many benefits from new connections with some incredible people – many of whom have restored shored up my faith in the future of libraries & librarianship as radical forces for social justice.
All of the above is true; and at the same time, there are plenty of things I’ll want to do differently next time:
- I think calling the forum Diversity in Academic Libraries contributed to a struggle I had (and many shared) with the fact that our conversations tended to stay at the personal level and we had a very hard time acknowledging and talking about systemic, structural inequalities. I’m thinking a title like “Social Justice & Libraries” would be better. Suggestions welcome. Note that I don’t think the title of the forum was the only thing that kept us from tackling structural inequality and privilege, but it didn’t help.
- The physical set-up of the room was not good for group discussion. We had rows of chairs and a packed room. Next time, we need more space, probably tables for small groups, and structured opportunities for people to talk in smaller groups.
- I really wish I had come to the event much more solidly prepared with some ideas for concrete action that might come out of the event. I wanted to be open-minded about that part; but truthfully that is no excuse for not having done some hard thinking ahead of time on tangible outcomes.
- We had a keynote speaker and two panels. While we had decent diversity amongst those on the stage (a few too many of us white women, IMO), what I didn’t realize (but should have) until someone pointed it out, was that the keynote speaker and the morning panel were all white, and our only speakers of color constituted the afternoon panel. Yep – I put together an agenda on diversity that had segregated speaker panels. WTF was I thinking? That damn sure won’t happen again.
- I’m still wrestling with the frustration voiced in Eternally at the Starting Line #taiga9. I think the gist of the frustration is captured by the question “How effective or useful is a forum on diversity if most/many participants do not have a basic grounding on the relevant topics?” I actually have no idea how many of our participants have a basic grounding in the topics, but I didn’t think that the conversations we had were dominated by the kind of counter-productive “stopping so privileged people can get educated on racism, sexism, ableism, classism, etc.” dynamic that often accompanies these topics. That crept in, but I don’t think it was pervasive. But of course, that’s just my perspective; and it is a biased and privileged one. Others may well have experienced it differently and that’s valid.
- It is no surprise that people came to the discussion with different levels of prior engagement with the issues, and that makes these conversations difficult and understandably frustrating for many. There absolutely are people who are still at the starting line, but/and I truly believe they want to move forward. And I think it is important to provide spaces for them to do so (we’re librarians – we want to encourage learning, right?). But no forum or event can simultaneously be a “Privilege & Inequality 101” classroom, and a space for organizing and acting. In hindsight, a clearer articulation of the goals of the forum might have helped with this. I wanted to do ALL THE THINGS, I guess.
- I think I’m going to want to send out a list of readings ahead of time if/when I plan another event on these (or maybe any) topics. Better yet, start a list and ask those who are coming to the event (and others) to help build it (turns out I don’t know all the answers – or all the research).
- Finally, next time I’ll stop saying “I’m not a hugger” every damn time I hug someone. I think if you hug more than 5 people in a day, you might be a hugger. I blame @tressiemcphd.
There’s probably lots more, but these are the thoughts and feels that are on this plane with me right now.
(Note: If anyone thinks this is me beating myself up, don’t. This is just me trying, ever so imperfectly, to learn out loud.)