Posts Tagged 'social jutice'

no crystal balls

Below are my remarks from the Look into the Crystal Ball: Future Directions for Higher Education and Academic Libraries panel at ALA, sponsored by ACRL University Libraries section. I think it was recorded and will be available somewhere. Google that in a few days if you want to hear the whole thing.


There are no crystal balls – the future is notoriously unpredictable and it is certainly not linear.

I think the events of just the last few days make that clear – at least to me. On the same day that the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling for marriage equality – something many of us simply couldn’t allow ourselves to hope for in our lifetimes – our President gave a eulogy for a pastor who was murdered in a heinous act of racial terrorism that also claimed the lives of 8 members of his historical black church in Charleston SC.

Yesterday was a day of both celebration and sorrow.

I believe Dr. King was right — the arc of the moral universe is long and it surely bends towards justice; but it does so in fits and starts; and it includes times like this marked by progress and by pain. In the span of a few days we have seen history being made and we have seen history tragically repeat itself. Three black churches have burned in the south in the last 5 days.

So I’m even less inclined than I usually am to try to predict the future, or to describe how libraries ought to react to future trends.

As my friend and colleague Francis Kayiwa says – if we could predict the future, I hope we’d all play the lottery and then use the winnings to build great libraries.

That said, just as many us work towards social change even though we can’t predict the path or timing; we can and should work towards the kind of future research library we want.

I am less interested in how libraries can respond to changes in higher education and much more interested in how libraries and those of us who work in them can create the change we believe in.

Let me respond to some of what my colleagues have talked about and bring up a few other topics:

Most of my colleagues on the panel stressed the coming wave of online education and roles librarians can play to support faculty and students in online courses. Sure, libraries and librarians can do all the same things around online education as we do for face to face education; but to me a big challenge of online education that only libraries can address is one of preservation – of the massive amounts of data being generated by the multi-institutional experiment in online learning that is at the heart of edX and other online education ventures.

I’m also less interested in helping faculty find open resources for their online courses than I am in pushing to make more and more scholarly content and educational resources open in the first place, so finding resources that can be used in open education is easy for everyone.

As more university presses land under the purview of the libraries, we have real opportunities (obligations?) to work together towards our common cause of providing access to scholarship. Together we can and will figure out sustainable models for funding the production and dissemination of scholarly research.

My fellow panelists also talked about the need for librarians to help students find the “right” information by providing curated sets of resources. Again, yes librarians can help students make sense of a deluge of information through curation …

But it would be so much better if we could develop discovery environments that put intuitive curation and filtering tools in the hands of users, so they could do their own curating. Let’s give them the power and the choice.

[Here I gave an extemporaneous shout-out to the Code4Lib article Bess Sadler and I wrote about building feminist values of choice, empowerment & transparency into our discovery environments.]

Along with that – I want to put real resources into developing truly effective virtual browsing capacities – instead of mocking scholars who tell us that browsing physical stacks is important part of their research process; let’s figure out how to recreate and enhance that experience in a virtual environment. Let’s get to work creating a virtual browsing enviroment that allows a scholar to browse collections regardless of format or physical location.

On library instruction I agree with my panelists that there is an ever more important role for librarians, and want to stress the need for us to work in the realms of data literacy and critical thinking.

I also think librarians are uniquely equipped to help students and our communities understand that the issues we are grappling with as a society have histories.

I think librarians’ single most important contribution to the future will be to equip our communities with the history, the context, and the data to understand and solve the big problems of our times – persistent racial and ethnic injustice, climate change, global poverty, and staggering and growing degrees of income and wealth inequality to name a few.

Let me be very clear, I am calling for activist librarians who will be the change we want to see in the library world, in higher education, and in our communities.

We have a particular expertise, a perspective, and a set of values that goes well beyond merely supporting and advising faculty – we need to lean in and claim our seat at the table when the future of higher education is debated and decided.

In some cases we need to take our cues from the new generation of activist and radical librarians and archivists who are already doing this kind of work.

I hesitate to name names because I will inevitably leave folks out who are doing great things; but I have to single out Bergis Jules & Ed Summers who are creating and analyzing an archive of #CharlesonShooting tweets. Others among us contributed to efforts to develop a Ferguson syllabus and resource guides, a Ferguson archive, and a Charleston syllabus. Former Stanford colleagues developed a GIS application to track Mass shootings in America after the Newtown shooting.

These are examples of curation, education, publication and yes activism all rolled up together.

There are more examples and more people who rarely get asked to talk about the future of libraries, but who are making that future every day. My twitter pals, you are the future of libraries and I see you. I see you.

Welcoming the Massachusetts Black Librarians Network to MIT

Today I had the great honor and pleasure of welcoming the Massachusetts Black Librarians Network to MIT for a luncheon event hosted by MIT Libraries.

It was a wonderful event, full of great conversation, inspiring people, and really terrific ideas about how to advance equity, inclusion, diversity and social justice in and through libraries.

Below are the remarks I made to open the conversation.


Barbara Williams asked me to share a few thoughts to kick off a conversation about how we can create a culturally relevant profession, and I do have a few things to say on that topic.

What I want to be able to say is that libraries, and by extension those of us who work in and for them, are arguably the most culturally relevant social institutions of our times. Full stop.  

But I think we all know that libraries and librarians suffer from a strange kind of image and PR problem.

On the one hand, the vast majority of people in any public opinion poll rank librarians high on all kinds of positive dimensions – especially helpfulness and trustworthiness.

And people generally love libraries, but often nostalgically and not so much when we start talking about funding needs.

But even with all the positive sentiment about libraries and librarians,  there is a profound lack of understanding about the range of what libraries and librarians really do.

In fact, the night before I flew here for the interview for this job, my wife and I were out to dinner with friends and I was expressing some nervousness about the presentation I would be giving as part of the interview process. One of our friends actually asked me: “What do you have to do in your talk, recite the full Dewey Decimal System?”

We can chuckle at that, but uneasily I hope, because we all know that libraries and those of us who work in them bring tremendous value to our communities through a range of activities, resources, services and expertise.

In a time when information and misinformation is shared and used and misused at dizzying speeds; and at a time when our country is increasingly polarized in its views about everything from climate change to whose lives matter; libraries and those of us who work there are more relevant than ever.

We can and do provide the spaces (physical and virtual), the resources, and the expertise to host productive, informed and inclusive conversations about the topics and issues that our communities care about. And I believe we have a special responsibility and the special expertise to provide access to the information and the tools people need to understand current events and to contribute to solutions to the big problems of our day.

So one of the challenges for us in asserting our cultural relevance is in updating the image of libraries and librarianship to include the full range of what we do and how we can empower our communities. We also all know that another challenge is that our profession is a painfully homogenous one demographically.

The challenge of recruiting and retaining librarians of color is one I think about all the time, and frankly I don’t have a magic solution. I hope that our conversations today touch on both the supply and demand sides of the problem.

On the demand side, there is no doubt in my mind that racial bias – conscious and unconscious – seeps into the recruiting and hiring practices of libraries. And I suspect sadly that many of you know better than I do that once in the profession, people of color do not experience workplaces as welcoming as our values say we are.

On the supply side, we need to make the profession attractive and rewarding to young people of color — which maybe goes back to the issue of making our cultural relevance more obvious.

So when i think about promoting the cultural relevancy of libraries and of those of us who work in them, I think about updating our image; I think about reminding library leaders like me of our responsibility to uphold the values of librarianship with respect to diversity, inclusion and equity; and I think about finding ways to excite people about what they can do as a member of our profession.

Mad for racial justice and equity

March Madness is here, and this year I’m running a Bracket group to raise money for Community Change, Inc., a non-profit in Boston committed to promoting racial justice and equity. From their website:

Community Change was born out of the Civil Rights Movement and in response to the Kerner Commission which named racism as “a white problem.” CCI has done what few organizations are willing to do: shine a spotlight on the roots of racism in white culture with the intention of dealing with racism at its source, as well as with its impact on communities of color.

I know some of the folks working at CCI (in person and/or online) and I am in awe of the work they do and their commitment to it.

So here are the basics:

  1. I set up a Bracket Challenge group on ESPN for the men’s tournament (I’ll probably set one up for the regular tournament* when that bracket is announced later today–DONE). You have to register, but registration is free.
  2. Join the Mad4Justice Men’s group, and fill out your bracket before first game on Thursday.
  3. Entry fee is $10,and there is no limit on how many brackets you can fill out.
  4. If you are cool with using PayPal, just submit your $10 entry fee to me directly via PayPal.
  5. I’ll also accept cash or check for the entry fee – email me if you need a snail mail address to send your entry fee to.
  6. Winner gets 1/3 of the pot, bragging rights for the year, plus a special token to be determined by me. The rest of the pot goes to CCI.
  7. I’ll also come up with a prize for the Best Thematic Bracket – last year we had an ARL bracket, and an all HathiTrust bracket. I’m sure we’ll get some creative themes this year as well.

OK – let’s do this! Go Duke, Go Stanford!

* Y’all see what I did there?

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