Freedom, Access, Diversity: My librarianship philosophy

At the time I wrote my librarian philosophy statement, I was envisioning a career as a public librarian. As usual, life had other plans for me. And I have to admit, in this case, the universe really did know best. My primary mission as a librarian is to empower people with information and promote positive social change. What better way to do that than in my job as a health sciences librarian at a public university in the midst of a pandemic?

One promise I made to myself as I was finishing my library degree was to never forget the beliefs and principles that drew me to librarianship in the first place. My philosophy statement is an anchor I can hold onto when I get discouraged, a line in the sand when my principles are challenged, the spirit that will keep me going in the midst of tough times.

Although I wrote these words when I was still in the public-librarian mindset, I think they apply just as well to the academic library path I am now on. “The library” I refer to in the beginning of the statement is no one library in particular, but rather the library in general as an institution, as a concept, and as a democratic space.

It was important to me that the statement include references to the librarianship core values and ethics as defined by the American Library Association (ALA), as well as to lesser known aspects of the librarian’s charge, such as ALA’s statements on Services to the Poor and the Prisoner’s Right to Read. Before library school, I did not even know that the last two statements existed. The more I learn about how hard librarians work to break down each and every barrier to library service, the more inspired I am to begin work in the profession.

While I am sure some of these ideas will become more refined as I immerse myself in the day-to-day realities of library work, my commitment to service and my belief in the power of knowledge will not change.

My librarianship philosophy

(From my capstone portfolio, originally published July 2019. Verb tenses and wording modified slightly to reflect changes in the timeframe.)

At the heart of my philosophy of librarianship is the belief that the library belongs to everyone. It is the table where the administrative assistant sits after work and reads a novel for 30 minutes before returning to the noise and bustle of home; the meeting room-turned-talent show stage where the teenage spoken word artist, nervous and excited, stands before an audience and performs in public for the first time; the gathering spot for the master quilters who are teaching their successors the intricacies of stitch and visual poetics; the makerspace laboratory where students build robotic hands and use Legos to understand fractions (Jakubowski, 2019; Herb, 2015); the school where the aspiring business reporter learns the complexities of corporate finance without paying a dime of business school tuition (Asher, 2015). This is the library I have studied, experienced, read about, and believed in.

Yet I know that, as beautiful as this library is, it has a dark side. This library has not been a welcoming, supportive place for everyone. A man experiencing homelessness has received stares at this library because of his smell. A drag queen who was invited to do children’s story time at this library has received word that the library system no longer supports the event (Brasch, 2019). A programming coordinator’s request to invite an anti-capitalist feminist to this library has been turned down without any reason being given. A librarian of color has been criticized by a colleague at this library for being too sensitive on matters of race (Alabi, 2015).

The library is a complicated place. Whether it is a place of safety, learning, community, and optimism or one of anxiety, pain, and frustration, depends to a large degree on the staff who work there. My main goal as a librarian will be to try to make the library a safe and welcoming space for everyone in the community, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, race, cultural identity, political affiliation, or physical abilities. I will do this by treating both library users and library workers with the highest degree of respect and professionalism and by being particularly attentive to the needs of communities marginalized due to their gender identity, race, sexuality, or carceral status.

I want to assist any library user or colleague who needs my help with navigating all aspects of the library universe, especially those aspects that seem intimidating or are exclusionary. I believe that the way to be a navigator is by partnering with people on their journeys rather than controlling the direction in which they go. This means respecting their freedom of thought, even when their opinions differ from my own and eliminating barriers that will keep them from accessing the materials, the services, and opportunities they want and need. With this in mind, my work as a librarian will be guided by the principles stated in the American Library Association’s Core Values of Librarianship and Code of Ethics. These values and ethics are embedded in the three pillars of my librarianship practice: resisting censorship, ensuring access, and promoting diversity.

Three Pillars of My Librarianship Practice

Resisting Censorship
Core Values: Intellectual freedom, Confidentiality/Privacy, Democracy
Code of Ethics: 
2. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
3. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.”
6. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.

I explored the many facets of intellectual freedom and censorship resistance while taking the courses Foundations of Library and Information Studies, Information Access and Policy, and History of Libraries and Librarianship. In Foundations, I was inspired by the stories of librarians who went to court or to jail in support of a person’s right to walk into a library and borrow materials without fear of government surveillance. In Information Access and Policy, I read the ALA Freedom to Read Statement, the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I reflected deeply on the ideas that resonate throughout all three documents, one of which is the right of people to think freely and not be coerced into conforming their thoughts to a particular worldview. In both the foundations course and the history course, I read works by and about librarians who were passionate about resisting censorship and ensuring that all people, and particularly the socially marginalized, can access the information they need from libraries. 

What comes through clearly in all of these writings is that intellectual freedom is the thread that runs through the fabric of our most treasured liberties. Without the freedom to think, the freedom to speak, read, write, worship, and love will unravel. Censorship is dangerous because it restricts our freedom of thought. It is not always as obvious as a book being removed from a shelf; I have learned that censorship can happen passively when certain materials are never purchased to begin with due to a librarian’s own biases and fears. Censorship is something I will fight against both systemically and personally, by supporting anti-censorship advocacy efforts (such as Banned Book Week) and continually questioning my own biases. I will also have the utmost respect for library users’ privacy and resist any requests to disclose their data to unauthorized parties.

Ensuring Access
Core Values: Access, Service, Education and Lifelong Learning, The Public Good
Code of Ethics:
1. We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.

One key reason that libraries exist is to provide opportunities for education and lifelong learning to all people. Although libraries do an outstanding job of this overall, there are many people who still do not benefit from consistent library service. While studying the evolution of libraries in the United States (Foundations, History of Libraries), I became familiar with different types of libraries and the economic and physical barriers to library service experienced by various marginalized communities. Too many people lack the transportation needed to reach the library or are housed in jails, prisons, or other facilities, that make it difficult, if not impossible, to receive adequate library service. ALA’s statements on Library Services to the Poor and the Prisoners’ Right to Read acknowledge these realities and the critical role of libraries in these situations.

During my time as an MLIS student, I supported the ALA Core Values of Access, Service, and Education and Lifelong Learning by delivering resource materials to people in assisted living facilities who could not make it to the library, always striving to provide the most professional service possible. Regardless of the type of facility in which I work, I want to make sure that the offerings and programming help marginalized and underserved community members at all stages of their learning journeys by honoring their life experiences, incorporating their insights, and responding to their concerns. Furthermore, in recognition of the library’s role in enhancing the public good, I will strongly support and advocate for increases in public funding for library services to marginalized populations.

Promoting Diversity
Core Values: Diversity, Preservation, Sustainability, Professionalism, Social Responsibility
Code of Ethics
5. We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.
8. We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.

The ALA Core Values state that libraries have a role to play in addressing social problems. If libraries and librarians are to fulfill their responsibilities to society, diversity must be more than a slogan. It has to be part of how we think about our hiring processes, programming choices, meeting interactions, and funding decisions. A deep understanding of diversity, which recognizes the unequal environmental burdens borne by poor people and racial minorities, goes hand in hand with the ALA Core Value of Sustainability, which compels libraries to embrace “practices that are environmentally sound, economically feasible and socially equitable.” When diversity is embraced profoundly and not just talked about superficially, library workers are better equipped to serve diverse communities and address the social challenges impacting them. As an aspiring library professional of color, I am strongly committed to promoting diversity in all aspects of librarianship.

Cultivating and honoring diversity at work uplifts everyone. It enhances the intellectual and personal growth of both library workers and library users, and it makes people more empathetic and informed. A staff that understands the importance of worker diversity is more apt to value diversity in collection development. Such a staff understands the need to have a wide of range of materials preserved in multiple formats so that everyone in the community can benefit from the library’s resources. In my library volunteering and practicum, I interacted with colleagues from backgrounds different than my own to gain a better understanding of their jobs, interests, priorities, and life experiences. I did the same in my work with outreach library clients, building rapport with them, talking with them about their goals, and learning about their resource needs and format preferences. As an online MLIS student, I engaged deeply with my classmates on the course discussion boards, and I  learned as much from their insights as I did from my professors’ lectures. As a librarian, I will support all efforts to create and maintain a diverse staff that supports each other and that values diverse perspectives of community members.

Both the ALA Core Values and the ALA Code of Ethics mention the importance of professionalism in the workplace. Treating colleagues with respect and dignity creates a healthy work environment. It helps ensure that the profession attracts and retains highly knowledgeable and skilled people. I am committed to upholding the highest standards of professionalism in my interactions with my colleagues.

References

1. Alabi, J. (2015). Racial microaggressions in academic libraries: Results of a survey of minority and non-minority librarians. Journal of Academic Librarianship,41(1), 47-47. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2014.10.008

2. Asher, Z. (2015, January 12). Trust your struggle [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT2XlI8oeh0

3. Brasch, B. (2019, May 23). Atlanta mayor to host snubbed drag queen’s story time at City Hall. The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved from https://www.ajc.com/news/local/atlanta-mayor-host-snubbed-drag-queen-story-time-city-hall/RKx0YhtFBdCvGrsbIGaYMP/.

4. “Core Values of Librarianship,” American Library Association, July 26, 2006. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/corevalues

5. Herb, J. (2015, December 30). 4 innovative uses for LEGO in the classroom. Instructional Tech Talk. Retrieved from https://instructionaltechtalk.com/4-innovative-uses-lego-classroom

6. Jakubowski, L. (2019, January 10.) Makerspace activities that lead to robotics. Teq. Retrieved from https://www.teq.com/news/makerspace-activities-robotics/

7. “Professional Ethics,” American Library Association, May 19, 2017. http://www.ala.org/tools/ethics

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