operating on the principle of good enough

Higher Ed: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

After my last post on why OA is doomed, I started having a lot of thoughts about elitism in academia and the OA notion of making research available to the ‘public’. Part of the reason I think OA will fail (or fail to make a significant impact) is the general requirement that academia be elitist. The academy has always been about elitism. Whatever its publicly stated values are, its existence depends on elitism (and authority).

The notion of the ‘university’, in the European tradition, started way back when education was only for the most privileged of society, the ruling class. They were literally the only ones with the time and money to do this kind of learning. This is something that has largely remained true up until the modern era and the rise of the middle class. But all this means (the inclusion of a middle class) is that the ‘elite’ of higher ed simply expanded somewhat to include more people.

As has been noted, education (in Canada and the US at least) is priced as a luxury good. And even when it isn’t (many European countries offer very low or no tuition) educational products are still priced as luxury goods. As librarians we are keenly aware of this. Indeed, the fact that educational products are luxury goods is exactly what motivates the OA movement.

One of the most interesting elements of OA rhetoric, to me, is the notion of publicly funded research should be available to the public. In a lot of ways, this feels deeply paternalistic to me, since who is considered ‘public’ is rarely ever explored. Nor does it ever seem that the ~public~ has a voice in this discussion. Did the ~public~ ever actually say it wanted access to niche monographs of esoteric subjects? Or did it ever actually claim to want to read high level physics articles?

Another key element to OA is that it relies on the internet. While I could speak to the strangeness of claiming something freely available on the web counts as ‘open access’ when digital divides exist, I’m more concerned about how existing in a networked environment significantly challenges the construction of a ‘public’. Looking at a social network like Twitter, where people are not always using their ~real~ names, how do we coherently say “these are academics” and “this is the public”. When you look at the hashtag #canihazpdf (or #canhazpdf) a lot of the people needing access to research are… academics. Or professional researchers of some kind. Is this the public that OA is hoping to reach?

Part of what I’m getting at here is that the OA focus on making stuff available to the ~public~ appears to be… simple rhetoric for the real problem, which is that libraries can’t actually afford to buy stuff for their research communities any more. This is where my comments about libraries seizing the means of academic production come into play. The real problem is that academic research is a luxury good. Why is it a luxury good? Because the academy is all about elitism. Literally almost everything about how it functions is about supporting this elitism.

This is the rock.

Now for the hard place, the rise of neoliberalism in higher ed. Many have noted how this is a serious and sincere problem for the academy. Unfortunately, as I heard during my brief listen of the opening DLF keynote today, many point to a fictitious ‘golden’ age of higher ed. The speaker, Bethany Nowviskie, pointed out things like the New Deal or the Veterans Act (can’t remember real name), which helped break down some of the class barriers to higher ed in the US.

In looking backwards like this with nostalgia glasses on (and I see this all the time, especially amongst people decrying the apparent dying of the humanities) certain historical realities are erased in an effort to make this significantly more elitist academy appear a better option than the new, neoliberal one of today.

My first thought (which is a frequent thought for me these days) is “a plague on both your houses!”.

The period of time she glowingly mentions was a period in which my parents marriage would have been illegal. I wouldn’t have been allowed to go to school with white people (or, because I’m light skinned, I might have been able to pass as white so long as I was willing to entirely walk away from my pilipin@ heritage and family — providing they’d have even been able to get into America at the time, despite being a colony). Passing would have been my best bet for getting access to higher ed. But then there is the whole trans thing… and, yeah, it gets complicated really fast.

Is looking to past elitism the answer to the neoliberalization of the academy? No.

The academy wasn’t better before neoliberalism. It was just oppressive in a different way. At no point in history has higher ed ever not been oppressive and a site for entrenching social disparity. This is literally one of its main functions.

The commitment to elitism in higher ed is often disguised as ‘rigour’. I have in mind my recent article where I took an ethical stance against citing non-OA resources. I’ve also been recently thinking about maybe trying to do a PhD again, since this whole librarian thing seems to not be working out all that well for me. But when I think about trying to do academics again, I realize that there isn’t any room for someone like me. Not with my current beliefs and ethical feels. Would I be allowed to do a dissertation on research ethics that refused to use non-OA resources? No. Because of ‘rigour’. Could I write a dissertation using mainly blog posts and such as my sources?1 No.

I actually don’t think that the elitism of the past has been subsumed by neoliberalism. Rather, the two fit rather snugly together since part of the function of neoliberalism is to entrench and widen disparities. Which brings us to an academy that prices itself as a luxury, but is marketed as being ‘for everyone’, while creating an entire generation of students with the most education and the most debt.

  1. Note, I’m not talking about studying blogs and posts as the subject for my research, but as the sources for critical and intellectual thought relevant to my topic.

Some Thoughts on Why Open Access Is Doomed

Earlier this week, I had a series of tweets about OA and the means of production. It was sparked by someone’s happy post about publishing an OA monograph. Monographs are one area where OA hasn’t made a great deal of inroads. OA has done better with serials and with the sciences, which is kind of interesting given that I imagine your average person might be somewhat more interested in reading stuff in the humanities or social sciences than an article on physics…1 The humanities are still very much monograph focused and so there is just a lot less OA discussion and materials.

But when I read that article and it noted that the cost to publish OA was over $10K, I was just… This is patently ridiculous. Really. I’ve said before that I think gold OA is bullshit, but this is a great indication for why it is bullshit. This is truly an absurd amount of money to pay, especially when the author isn’t going to be making any financial gains from royalties. At this point, not only have you done a great deal of uncompensated labour (writing the damn book), you are also now paying more than half of my annual income to for the great honour of publishing it with a company that only cares about making money. And, for that matter, will still make a profit from your OA monograph.

Now, the main argument usually provided for why these publishing costs are need (or why we need the publishing industry at all) is the value-add on services like editing, cover design, book design, and so on. Which… okay… but what I don’t understand is why people think that the only editors, book designers, graphic designers, and so on work for publishers. What would happen if we took OA funds and, um, you know cut out the middleman? Why not just pay other human beings directly to edit your book? To design it? To create a cover? I can understand needing publishers if they only way to access these services was through them. But this isn’t the case…

So what is the actual issue here?

Credentialism/elitism/and related notions.

One of the primary reasons why closed access journals continue to thrive is that all the ‘best’ ones are closed. Academics must publish in those journals because of the name brand effect. We can try to dress this all up into the endless discussions about bibliometrics and impact factors, but this is really about brand names. This is also why university rankings are critical. It isn’t about the relative quality of your education, but about the brand name you are able to slap onto your CV. Likewise, you need to publish via a publisher because of the brand.

What these brands serve to do is to impart a sense of quality and luxury to your academic work (and CV).

And these brands live on because, well, the academic world only gets increasingly more niche, siloed, and complex, so the brands allow people to judge value via the association rather than an critical assessment of the content.

One thing that always strikes me as wonderfully hypocritical is the academic assertion that they care about the free study and dissemination of ‘knowledge’ but if you ask them to read a self-published work on critical theory…. Especially if that self-pub’ed work has errors or whatever, all they’ll be able to concentrate on is these superficial details.

I experience this on the blog all the time. People who think because I don’t care to re-read and edit my posts, leaving them with grammatical errors, typos, and so forth, that it impacts not only my credibility, but the quality of my ideas.

As the academy becomes increasingly organized by neo-liberal principles, the importance of brands will only remain constant or become more more important.

The problem with OA is that it attempts to address one of the symptoms but nothing about the causes of the crisis in ‘scholarly communication’. I mean, why tell people to publish in industry journals and presses at all? Given the state of technology and the networked environment where we currently work, we could easily just sidestep the publishing industry.

Obviously, things like the PKP projects for Open Journal Systems and Open Monograph Press attempt to do this, but they still require some centralized management. And it still, ultimately involves relating yourself to a brand (since most instances are tied to an institution of some kind).

But why not self-publishing for academics? Write a paper? Just post it on your profile or website. Write a book? Create the pdf and epud and likewise post it. Want to make a little money from it? Set up a gumroad account and charge a small amount of money (while still having an OA version). You’d likely make more money this way than going through a press.

But where do libraries fit into this? Or the rest of the publishing ecosystem (reviewers, etc.)? No idea. And the sad thing? Neither do libraries.

Not too long ago I remember reading something about how difficult it is to get libraries to consider buying your self-pub’d book (but let’s stick to OA). So how would libraries get and acquire OA books? Given how reliant collection development is on reviews and other things contained within the publishing industry, it is hard to see how libraries could possibly start extricating themselves from it. Even as there is a clear demand for non-traditionally published works (remember that kickstarter campaign for just such a service?).

The question though, strikes me: why aren’t libraries even trying? Again, because of the brand name issue. In an era of limited budgets, it is generally better to go with what faculty want (luxury brands) because they want it and because (when they don’t) it is a ‘safer’ way to spend your funds and time. You also have to make fewer decisions for collection development. Buy this self-pub’d book or one published by Oxford University Press?

I think my basic problem with OA is that one of its underlying assumptions is that ‘scholarly communication’ is primary about disseminating knowledge. This doesn’t appear to be the case in reality and in practice. Scholars care about disseminating knowledge, but they don’t particularly care how it gets disseminated. Scholars care about accessing knowledge, but where the knowledge comes from matters more than the knowledge itself.

  1. I’m somewhat saying this because of all the math involved. However, I don’t mean to suggest that social sciences or humanities scholarship is anymore cognitively accessible to teh ~public~ given the disciplines’ love of jargon and dense prose.

Where Things Stand

It feels like forever since I posted something of a more personal nature here… While, yes, this is my ‘professional’ blog, I’ve also been pretty adamant that my conception of ‘professional’ includes the (non)obvious fact of my humanity.

On that thought, I figured I’d mention that I’m depressed (again). Depression is something I’ve struggled with on and off since I was a teen. It happens enough that I sort of live my life like I’m depressed all the time. What I mean by this is that my coping mechanisms for surviving and living with depression are things that I try to keep operational even when I’m not depressed. It makes things easier for myself. One of my main coping mechanisms is sticking to a fairly strict schedule. I go to bed and wake up around the same times. I have little rituals that I observe daily. Things like this. My desire to maintain these behavioural patterns is usually what (these days) gets me out of bed.

Even so… sometimes I just can’t. Especially since I have to carefully watch how much time/effort I put into things to make sure I can still get stuff finished. Great example for how this plays out: last weekend I went to the Gender and Sexuality in information studies colloquium, which meant that by the end of my ‘weekend’ I didn’t have the energy and motivation to clean the apartment (this is something I do every week). Of course, now this means I’m feeling excessive guilt over not doing it and irritated by the mess (and feeling de-motivated because cleaning this week will take even more effort because of the build up). None of this is really helping, as you can imagine.

And there is the “omg, I just want to lie around in bed and eat junk food’ feels that I’m having a lot of the time. While my life, at the moment, does mean that I could spend a lot of time in bed if I wanted, I’m trying not to indulge this too often. Which also means super fun (and unproductive) hours just sitting at my desk and staring at nothing, while wishing I was in bed. Maybe if I refresh my tumblr dashboard one more time (even though there is no notification of new posts) there’ll be something interesting to look at…

This isn’t (in general) a great place to be since I actually have quite a few things I ought to be doing. And I really wish that I could just… give up my commitment to a bunch of the things I said I’d do (can I give up on life yet?). I will probably have to drop some stuff because in my current state I’m just barely getting the minimum amount of stuff accomplished.

My job is suffering from my general lack of motivation and focus. And with my ever present anxiety, getting criticism about my shitty performance at work generally leads to spirals of “omg, I wonder how soon I’m going to get fired? I’m a barely functional human being and what happens when MPOW notices that tasks that should take me a certain amount of time are actually taking me double/triple the amount of time?”. I can’t even blame my colleagues for their “wtf?” about some of the stuff I’ve been doing because I know that my overall performance has been subpar for longer than I’d really like to admit.

(How many times a day can you wish you were dead before you should start worrying?)

It feels a little weird to write this all out when I know that my ‘professional’ contacts (yes, some of you are friends!) will be reading this. As a (neglected and abused) kid, I grew up knowing that my feelings didn’t matter and that whining is a punishable offense1. I also know that nobody truly cares about these sorts of struggles, especially not in the workplace. I can only hope that I can continue to fool my colleagues into thinking that I’m worth keeping around…

One thing I spend a lot of time doing when I’m depressed is daydreaming. I think a lot about how the world could be different. About how great it would be to get ‘sick days’. About how life would be so much different for me if I could have time to rest, recover, and heal. If everything didn’t feel so hard all the time. I think about contacting a bunch of people to tell them “hey, so this thing I’d said I’d do… I can’t because I’m depressed and it is taking most of my energy to not die and keep a roof over my head”. I think about what it’d be like to not worry all the time about everything. I think about all the hours I have until I can sleep… and all the days left until my final rest. I think about how my ancestors must be disappointed that I haven’t set up an alter yet and left offerings.

Oops… I started listing anxieties rather than daydreams.


  1. Whining = any feelings other than enthusiastic compliance.

Exporting the Metadata of a Range of Handles in Dspace

This is for Andromeda!

(I will come back and edit after I post this to describe stuff a bit more)

#this script can be placed in whatever directory is needed
cd /dspace/bin

#this is an interactive part to ask for the first and last handles of the series.
echo "First handle in series :"
read first
echo "Last handle in series :"
read last

#a loop to iterate over every handle in the series and export the metadata for each handle to a csv file with the handle as name
for (( i = $first ; i <= $last ; i++ ))
  ./dspace metadata-export -f /dspace/upload/dspacescripts/$i.csv -i 10315/$i

#this gets the desired name of the final .csv file produced by the export
echo "Name of new file :"
read filename

#this is the directory we use to host our dspace scripts.
cd /dspace/upload/dspacescripts

#this concantenates all of the csv files produced above (there is one per handle) into a single csv file with your chosen name
for (( i = $first ; i <= $last ; i++ ))
  awk 'NR!=1' $i.csv >> $filename.csv

Situating Myself

One of the more interesting things about my experience as #gsisc14 yesterday was feeling kind of out of place based on the presentation I gave and my own position relative to the two major kinds of people at the colloquium. The group was mainly comprised of either academics and/or information professionals. I feel like my presentation stood out for being classified in either.

While I was technically there as an information professional, the content of my presentation had very little to do with my job. I tweeted at one point that I wish I hadn’t mentioned my institutional affiliation because the work I was describing has nothing to do with my institution, so it shouldn’t be given roundabout credit for the work that I do around my community-based web archiving project. The project, rather, was started because as a member of a certain community, I felt it was important. And my presentation was definitely more about my position within this community, rather than how I make money.

I very much was also not there as an academic and, indeed, a great deal of my presentation on ethics was a not-so-subtle calling out of academics for how they exploit marganilized people online. Beyond this aspect though, it was more apparent in my entire lack of citation or mention of any academic discourse in my presentation (and paper). The ethical considerations I discussed within my presentation were developed via participation in intellectual communities situation outside of academia. While, sure, these communities don’t exist in isolation from academia and many individuals have various ties to the academy, the ways that the ideas are articulated and developed aren’t academic (indeed, often are about resistance to academic ways of expression).

As much as I have conceptual issues with identifying as an activist, it really does seem the best way to situation myself within a colloquium like #gsisc14. I was definitely more there as an activist than either an academic or an information professional. I mean… this is pretty self-apparent in the preamble to my presentation where I acknowledge my position as a settler on Indigenous land. This is a fairly common thing to see at more activist oriented spaces/gatherings, but I think I may have been the only person to do this yesterday.

Conceptualizing things this way helps explains some of the intellectual disagreements I encounter with other librarians or academics — we aren’t really articulating ourselves within the same domain of discourse.

As an example from some tweets yesterday… I mention in my presentation that I fully support the ‘right to be forgotten’. Which, in the context of my presentation, is a claim I’m making about marginalized people (and to be even more specific, a claim I’m making about people of colour with multiple overlapping sites of oppression). This claim was not a universal one or one that should be understood to apply to all people. But, on twitter (who, to give credit, may not have had the context of the presentation) I get people playing the devil’s advocate asking about what happens when overtly oppressive privileged people want to exercise this right…

My response is, of course, why is my discussion being derailed right now?

But, of course, this question is pretty reasonable within the decontextualized, general, abstract discourse that academics prefer. It is also pretty reasonable in a professional discourse that is often policy based, thus interpreting my claim as being about or primarily relevent to policy decisions (where this kind of hypothetical is necessary within policy discussions).

In activist types of discourse… playing the devil’s advocate is derailing. It serves to disrupt productive dialogue and discussion by recentering privileged people. It is also very aggravating and irritating.

A great example of how this disjunct between activist styles of engagement vs. academic ones is my discussion with Wayne Bivens-Tatum over the enlightenment:

I had one Twitter interaction with nina de jesus regarding the Enlightenment where we each decided that we were right even though we completely disagreed with each other, so pretty typical for an Internet discussion. source

I guess… First, I’m not sure why either of us needs to have ‘convinced’ the other. This certainly isn’t why I engage people. Moreover… I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have debates or discussions about my humanity. Enlightenment thought is an ideology where I literally cannot exist (not just as a human, I don’t exist within the ideology). He has his opinion, I have mine. My opinion happens to be that I’m human and that I do, in actual fact, exist. I see no reason to think that my ‘opinion’ is something I should be willing to discuss with anyone. If you disagree with me… well, I can’t really say anything to you because, um, I either don’t exist or I am not a human being, according to you.

I think people will get on better with me, or be better able to understand why I engage in discourse the way I do if they keep the “nina is an activist” in mind, rather than trying to situate me within either academic or professional discourse. I actually think that this is what I’m going to start writing in my bio for the professional things I do. Heck, I’m going to update my twitter bio once I’m done writing this.

White Women as Default Librarian #gsisc14

To anyone whose looked at the demographic data of librarianship recently, it isn’t any big secret that the majority of individuals working in the field are white women. This is just a simple fact. Concurrently, it is also a fact that in many different areas and discourses the default ‘human’ is white (cis/het/able) men. This leads to the interesting phenomenon that occurred yesterday at the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium whereby it is clear that “women’s” issues within the field are still relevant and important in a larger social context by the internal community dynamics are often smoothed over in the discussions.

Some people yesterday took my morning session tweets to be a call for increased instersectionality. They weren’t. Not least in part because of recent discussions about the misappropriation and misuse of ‘intersectionality’ by non-Black women:1

But at the end of the talk, their was a question and answer section. I had decided to ask her [Patricia Hill Collins] a similar question I asked Kimberle Crenshaw. How do you feel about the ways white feminists have taken your work on intersectionality as a feminist way to be more inclusive while erasing the creations as part of a Black feminist tradition and without a dedication to Black women’s lives in any way?

She gave an anecdote. She asked if the House of Blues was still in Cambridge or Boston. We said yes. Recently I was at a Bootsy Collins show there, maybe a year ago. So yes, it was there. I was so suprised when I arrived. And she elaborated on why with her anecdote.

She said what has become of her work on intersectionality and Crenshaw’s as well is what has been done to Blues, Jazz and Rock. When I went to the Bootsy Collins show I was actually appalled at how WHITE the audience was. these are NOT true Bootsy fans or lovers. but once whiteness gets their grasp on something they love that Black people have created, they have to make it more and more inaccessible to Black people while also whitening it to be no longer noticeable as a Black creation.

So, no my tweets about how many of the morning presenters were talking about white women only wasn’t about asking them to be more intersectional.

Rather, the tweets were more about a plea (an echo really, of past generations) for these white women to remember that they are not the default librarian. That their experiences within the field (especially in a historical context) are not universal and that treating them as such erases the reality and lives lived by women of colour.

One example from the opening panel… Melodie Fox’s talk discussed legal meta-narratives of sex and gender around the editions of the DDC (see here for full description). Early on, she mentioned the historical feminization of the profession and read some white guy’s explanation for why librarianship is suitable work for women… except that he was talking about white women. And so was she. But at no point was this mentioned.

I especially find discussions about the professionalization of librarianship, as well as its relative low-paying status to industries requiring similar levels of education but have a more balanced gender distribution or are weighted towards men, faily interesting in the ways that the race of these white women played a significant role in their ability to be professionalized in the first place.

When we think about the three classic women’s professions of teaching, nursing, and librianship, we can easily begin to see that these women’s professions in the early days were really for white women. The fact that these are considered professions whereas domestic service, for example, is partially a function of white supremacy.

Domestic servants are not today and could not ever have been ‘professionalized’ in the same way. Why? Well, because domestic service as a ‘job’ really only came about (if we are talking about the US) because white slave owners had to start paying their recently emancipated servants. Prior to this point a lot of the ‘positions’ were occupied by enslaved Black women. This is also true of nannies, farming, and a whole host of other ‘jobs’ that relied on forced Black women’s labour.

This is why discussions of the professionalization of librarianship must mention race. It is just as important to how the field and profession are constituted and created as gender. Librarianship might be devalued because it is women’s work, but it is valued because it is white women’s work. Both of these realities operate at the same time. This generally holds true for any discussion about how ‘women’ entered the workforce… as if Black women and other women of colour hadn’t already been forcibly working for centuries under colonialism.

In many different panels and talks, there was repeated mention about bringing in or using feminist ethics/epistemology/discourse within librarianship to do make the field better. And yet, for the same reasons I resist (white) feminism, I have to say I’m largely unmoved and unimpressed by the necessity of this based on what I heard yesterday. By assuming white women as default woman and librarian, by assuming that white women’s experiences within the field are universal and generally applicable, I find myself deeply unclear as to what changes feminism could possibly bring about within the library.

While, sure, it is true that men are over-represented within library management, it is still true that management is mostly white women. Presumably, given that the field is (at least according to most stated professional ethics) fairly progressive and liberal, how is the solution to bring in (more) white feminist ideology going to make a difference to the white women already running the show? Or is the idea to put different kinds of white women (eg white feminists) in management instead of the supposedly not-feminist white women currently managing libraries?

Am I mistaken to understand that one of the prevelant ‘solutions’ discussed yesterday was to essentially solve white women’s problems by applying more white women’s ideologies to the situation? That, essentially, what the situation calls for is a Nice White Lady™?

  1. The other reason is that I think many of the topics were fine as they were. As in, they didn’t and don’t necessarily need to talk about women of colour if they don’t want to. But saying, as one presenter did, that ‘you don’t have time to talk about race’ is disingenuous because you are talking about race. Especially if you are universalizing white women’s experience. My point, in part, here is that if you want to talk about white women only, just say so. But framing your discussion about ‘gender’ with white women as the default assumption by just talking about ‘women’ is only to enforce this racist notion that white experiences are universal. What I’m saying here is that your talk is, whatever you might think, already about race. So, mark the race of the people you are discussing. If they are white, say so.

Hyper/visibility, Poppies, and Stars

Cecily’s latest post has me feeling all the feels this morning. I’ve talked about this sort of thing before1. And recent articles about social networking as social surveillance further drive home one of my oft repeated points… that I do as I do on this blog, twitter, etc. because I am human and refuse to be anything less (or more).

Interestingly, I remember the social media class I took in library school where I pointed out that it would be an interesting change of pace for me to get punished for something I said vs. who I am. This is especially ironic given my current legal predicament which is, yes, about something I said but, as I’m learning, this doesn’t mean that is isn’t also about who I am.

I’m not sure whether or not I’m the sort of person who might be perceived as a ‘tall poppy’. It is hard for me to guage as a person who has always been hyper visible to power and peers. From the racist, gendered, and homophobic bullying I experienced as a youth to the racist, gendered, transmisogynist bullying/abuse I experience as an adult, I have always felt visible. Of course, this feeling is reflected by reality because, sadly, I have always been visible. My youth (and much of my adulthood) has been spent longing to be invisible. Longing to fade into the background so I can just quietly live my life. So that I can live. When I think about these concepts of being a tall poppy, of being a ‘rockstar’, I truly can’t understand what they mean. Not on a personal, visceral level2.

Of course, given the paradoxes of oppression, I write all this as it is commonplace for my self to be erased in discourse around these topics (and most professional ones, for that matter). I exist not as an individual human being but as a token. As an abstract concept for a lot of people (if I — or people like me — ever even occur to them at all). I exist as a statistic. As one of the approximately 11% of poc in academic librarianship. My humanity is lost in what I represent…

All of this means that everything I do, regardless of intention, means that I stand out. Simply by existing within a massively homogenous profession, I stand out. But it also means that my peers and colleagues are always watching. And I’ll stand out if I ‘conform’ to stereotypical expectations for people like me, if I embody the model minority. I’ll stand out if I fail to live up to this expectation. If I’m too good, forces will endeavor to ensure that I don’t get ideas. If I’m not good enough, punishment will be swift and disproportional.

If I stand here and simply say that my ‘professionalism’ is to exist as a human being, then I’ll eventually be pushed out (my time is coming, I’ve no doubt).

And, yeah, I guess I do want to know where those of us standing in the unflattering spotlight exist within these frameworks. I want to know what we are to do if we are neither tall poppy or rockstar, but still…still so very, very visible. This kind of hypervisibility isn’t a privilege. It doesn’t bring you any advantages. Nor are my comments here an expression of paranoia. I know people are watching. I see it in the expressions of disgust every time I exist in public. But, c’est la vie.

  1. See here and here

  2. Obviously, I understand what they mean on a conceptual, abstract level. But I have no frame of reference for understanding it.

On the Implications of ‘Locating the Library in Institutional Oppression’

My last blog post about Nice White Ladies™ kind of delved a little into what the implications are of my recent article, “Locating the Library in Insitutional Oppression”. The general implication of the post and article is that working within a library necessarily means to be complicit in white supremacy (as institutional oppression)1.

As should be clear, the meaning of ‘complicit’ depends on the subject position of the labourer within libraries. For people of colour to be complicit in our own oppression generally means making bargains with power that allow us to obtain individual and singular gains, at the cost of selling out our people and selves. This doesn’t imply, however, that we are ‘oppressing ourselves’, rather it means that we have to compromise and allow our selves to be subjugated by power in order to continue to survive. Indeed, living with the cognitive dissonance and mental strain of making these bargains is part of our oppression, rather than a contribution. Recall Foucault and the panopticon, which describes how power operates to get its subjects to police themselves, rather than having to use overt force.

For white people working within libraries, however, the case is different. They do not make bargains with power, because they are power. They, collectively, constitute an important and necessary part of the ‘institution’ which oppresses via white supremacy.

As noted in the blog post, this isn’t about individuals and their actions. Since the library itself is structured and maintained via (both external and internal) mechanisms of institutional white supremacy, it becomes hard for individuals to enact or engage in any meaningful resistance to this structuring logic.

Again, great examples are taken from cataloguing. We have entire books written about how institutional oppression works within cataloguing. If you are a cataloger and work using either the LoC or DDC classification schemes (which I imagine is most cataloger’s working with Canada or the US), how exactly are you to resist the white supremacy encoded by these classifaction schemes? Yes, you can propose new subject headings. You could re-classify stuff and put in a call number that would be incoherent outside of your individual library (possibly even within your own library if you are the only person doing this).

So what can be done? This sounds like just a bunch of theory with no praxis, doesn’t it? It also seems so huge to attempt to change/transform/etc an insitution when individual actions appear to have very little impact on the institution itself…

This is where collective action comes into play. No, it is very true that individually white librarians can do very little to effect any real, substantive change on libraries to resist or dismantle white supremacy. The solution is for white librarians to begin working collectively towards these goals (and, obviously, librarians of colour should most definitely get involved where safe for us to do so2).

But the collective action has to be aimed at big changes. Not incremental or reformist ones. Note the cataloguing examples. From radical cataloguing we can see that some headway has been made to revise subject headings with the LCSH to use less offensive language and to stop erasing the lives of marginalized people… but this is too slow. The clearest solution is to either entirely revise the LCSH or entirely get rid of it and make a new system of classification. The clearest solution, but also the most difficult and time consuming one. Also, not the most ‘efficient’ one, which is a positive in my mind, since efficiency is desired by capitalism.

Or, if we want to talk about another low-hanging fruit. We often talk about the difficulty in diversifying collections. One of the biggest problems I find with how collections development discussions go re: diversity, is that they never, ever truly identify the real problem. The problem, of course, isn’t that librarians are terrible at making diverse collections (some are and some aren’t). The problem is that the publishing industry does not produce diverse products. Which also feeds into the lack of diversity in reviews (which are a key resource in collection development). For me, the solution here is for libraries to seize the means of production. Or to simply stop being only consumers of published materials. We can (and I think should) be publishing material from our communities. And, better yet, sharing this material with other libraries. Can you imagine the library collection ecosystem if we did this?

I recently saw a kickstarter for a platform intended to get self-published works into libraries. To me, this is easily the most ridiculous thing in the world. Here is an absurdly easy way to diversify collections. Individual creators are doing the hard work of producing and publishing. And libraries are doing what, exactly?

Anyway. One of the major implications of my article is that showing up (as a white librarian) and doing your job cannot be understood as a ‘doing good’. I know a lot of passionate librarians who think that just being and working as a librarian is doing good. Which, on a institutional level, simply isn’t true. Yes, if you help a unemployed person gain computer skills and find a job, this is a good thing. But it isn’t wholly good, because it maintains a system of capitalism whereby an individual’s worth is based on how productive we are. Obviously, the solution isn’t giving this individual a copy of Das Kapital and telling them to riseup against the bourgeoisie.

It isn’t easy (or perhaps even possible) to resolve the difficulty of knowing that your intentions are good and that you are helping people, with the reality of being complicit in someone else’s oppression. This is something that everyone needs to struggle with3. But this is a struggle that can often result in the conviction necessary to go out and change the world.

  1. Again, while white supremacy was what I focused on within the article, it easily could have been any other institutional oppression.

  2. I’m partly focusing on white librarians here because it is a simple fact that librarians are mostly white women. Thus, they (and white men) hold the majority of power within libraries.

  3. Yes, this includes me. I have my own privileges and struggle all the time with the ways I contribute to other people’s oppression. This is life in the world we live in.

The Problem With Nice White Ladies(tm)

A week or so ago, I tweeted this:

The biggest issue I’ve had with librarianship in general is that it is filled with Nice White Ladies™. And some Nice White Men™.

Sadly, this remains true. And since it turns out that my supervisor thinks I’m covered by academic freedom perhaps it really is time for a really frank discussion about the role white women play in white supremacy. As well as a discussion about racism, in general, in the library field.

A note on language: in the past few years I’ve favoured using ‘white supremacy’ over ‘racism’ because it is more exact and clear about the relationships of power that operate behind this type of institutional oppression. The unfortunate thing about trying to use racism is that we get super educated people like Richard Dawkins tweeting this:

Some people here think you can’t be racist against white people! Look it up in dictionary. Needless to say, no power asymmetry is mentioned.

This is a man with a doctorate telling people that dictionary is the authoritative text on racism. This, despite the fact that there are entire academic fields that study racism and that they do not use the dictionary as their guide. So you start talking about racism and you get a bunch of people trying to derail the conversation with absurd positions like this. Thus, I prefer to talk about white supremacy, since this is actually the organizing logic behind ‘racism’ as oppression. Of course, this comes with its own set of problems, but I’m okay with this.

Here is the source video for why I use “Nice White Lady™” to talk about a certain kind of librarian:

And if people want an example of what this appears like in the wild:

Here we have a staunch, white feminist saying that I, a twoc, should simply trust my fate to the legal system (while also being ableist). A white woman, a feminist, advocating and supporting the prison industrial complex is pretty much a clear example of how white women are complicit within white supremacy1.

But why are Nice White Ladies™ a major problem within librarianship? A significant portion has to do with respectability politics. They wish to have ‘discussions’ and appear ‘reasonable’ when it comes to certain things. They believe that, if we are having a discussion, that this means that a consensus or agreement necessarily must follow, otherwise the conversation is unproductive. They truly believe that, just by showing up and doing their jobs, they are helping the world and doing good.

Except, that this is impossible within a white supremacist institution like libraries. So far as people are willing to buy into the argument I presented in my recent article, this means that working within a library, as they currently exist, means to be complicit with white supremacy. This includes me2. What is interesting about this, is that librarianship has historically been populated by white women. This means that, in general, white women have a lot of responsibility for maintaining this white supremacist institution. And, certainly, given the employment record, they have been some of the prime beneficiaries of this insitutional white supremacy.

Also note: the Nice White Lady™ trope as presented in the video is about well-meaning white women who, by failing to understand their relative position of privilege over people of colour, end up doing nothing at all to help. These women aren’t bad or evil. That isn’t what this is about. This also isn’t about me calling all white women within librarianship white supremacists. That isn’t how institutional oppression works. This isn’t necessarily about individual actions and individual morality. Because the library is an oppressive institution by working within it, we become complicit in its oppressiveness. As stated above, this includes me.

However, because Nice White Ladies™ do mean well and are, to give them credit, legitimaately trying to help, it also makes them incredibly difficult to criticize or engage. Because many of them are passionate, engaged professionals who care very deeply about social issues. And they really and truly want to do good and make the world a better place. They are good women with good hearts.

But institutional oppression restricts the number of choices we have and makes it very difficult to truly exist as an ethical person. A great example is choice activism and/or conusmer activism. There is no such thing as ethical consumption in late capitalism. Literally nothing we do as consumers is ethical. End of story. We cannot make ethical choices because there are no options available. Not a single one. The best we can do as consumers is try and pick the lesser of many evils. And, unfortunately, what we think is the ‘lesser’ of many evils will largely depend on your personal beliefs and priorities. But there is no moral high ground here. There is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ since we are all unethical consumers.

Fortunately, the situation is not nearly as bleak for Nice White Ladies™. There are ways you can work to stop being a Nice White Lady™. The very first? Start with trying to understand your position within white supremacy. Start looking and taking intersectional feminist type stuff seriously. And, since we are information professionals, start educating yourself about these issues. Soon enough, you’ll find that even though you remain a white woman, you’re no longer capable of being a Nice White Lady™. Even better, you’ll finally understand the difference and the point of this post.

  1. Here is a sort of explanation for why from INCITE!

  2. Although, my role and complicity within libraries is, obviously, different because I’m not actually white and don’t benefit from my support of a white supremacist institution.

And Yet We Are the ‘Heroes’ You Have #teamharpy

As discussion surrounding the lawsuit I’m involved with continues, the expected parade of respectability politics continues to claim that Lisa and me are not the ones who should be doing this. Or something. And, of course, there are many people who think we should have gone about this in a ‘professional’ manner, rather than how things are currently playing out.

This is a pretty puzzling position to take given that the ALA’s Code of Conduct only came into effect this year. And, of course, there are still many library conferences without CoCs. So, prior this at ALA conferences what, I beg of you, was the ‘professional’ and ‘respectable’ way to address sexual harassment?

Given that, since the details of the case went live, I’ve heard more than a few stories of women being harassed at work, reporting it in the ‘professionally’ accepted fashion, only to have nothing happen. And this is at work. Where things like sexual harassment are usually covered by some kind of law and often also covered by some kind of organizational policy. There are usually some kind of reporting procedure and ways to address incidents. All of which is meaningless unless said laws and policies are effectively enforced. In case anyone is wondering, “doing nothing” does not count as an effective method of enforcing anti-harassment policies or laws.

Given that, in the US, there are also 55 colleges under a Title IX probe for how they deal with sexual assault and harassment and that there are many many stories of victims/survivors attempting to go through the ‘proper’ channels only to be retraumatized by the police or the judicial system. Given all of this… please, what is the ‘professional’ way to handle incidents of sexual harassment at conferences?

The thing is, is that I truly do get why #teamharpy’s approach to the case and our frank and unapologetic stance is making a lot of people unhappy. This is a polarizing issue, even without our attitudes1. But let me ask you: if (and I hope that if you haven’t you never do) you ever experience sexual harassment would you want #teamharpy on your side?

I have vague recollections of being the one starting the whole #teamharpy thing a while back. It actually isn’t something that was created just for the case. If memory serves, I started using the hashtag after saying something about not doing respectability politics. Even changed my twitter avatar to a picture of the harpy from The Last Unicorn for a while. I’ve been thinking a lot about the harpy from The Last Unicorn. Here is a quotation:

But the unicorn walked on, following the light of her horn, until she stood before Celaeno, the Dark One. For an instant the icy wings hung silent in the air, like clouds, and the harpy’s old yellow eyes sank into the unicorn’s heart and drew her close. “I will kill you if you set me free,” the eyes said. “Set me free.” …

The unicorn heard herself cry out, not in terror but in wonder, “Oh, you are like me!” She reared joyously to meet the harpy’s stoop, and her horn leaped up into the wicked wind. The harpy struck once, missed, and swung away, her wings clanging and her breath warm and stinking. She burned overhead, and the unicorn saw herself reflected on the harpy’s bronze breast and felt the monster shining from her own body. So they circled one another like a double star, and under the shrunken sky there was nothing real but the two of them. The harpy laughed with delight, and her eyes turned the color of honey.

I love this part of the book and the interaction between the harpy and the unicorn. The harpy is clearly portrayed as ‘bad’ but not evil. The harpy simply exists as she is. And the unicorn can’t bear to leave her stuck in a cage, even with the threat in the harpy’s eyes.

In a metaphoric way, the harpy in this situation is actually the issue of sexual harassment at conferences. Or it is the festering feelings that sink deep inside as you try to minimize, ignore, and rationalize your own experiences of harassment. The part that festers deep inside as you keep silent about your experiences because you are too afraid.

The thing a lot of critics don’t seem to realize… we didn’t create this ugly mess. It has been here all along. Lifting a rock to expose all the bugs and dirt doesn’t mean that, prior to lifting or after you drop the rock in disgust, that all of those things cease to exist. This ugliness is and has been here. It exists: “Under the shruken sky there was nothing real but the two of them”.

One of the saddest things, to me, when this all began (and I’m talking about the actual beginning, when I was first served the notice of Mr. Murphy’s intent to sue if I didn’t take my post down, retract, and apologize) was the first chat conversation I had with Lisa. One of the first things I said to her was that I had zero interest in throwing her under the bus. Her relief was palpable. Likewise, I’m not sure I’d have had the confidence or will to do this with anyone other than Lisa, since she has been so resolute since the beginning (I had my moments of wavering, largely because of the anticipated cost of defending myself). This initial discussion was sad because… I know how many times I’ve needed support only for it to be conspicuously absent once shit hits the fan.

But again I ask: who would you want on your side? Because, let me assure you, I’d still stand for those who criticize, if the need ever should arise. We all make the decisions we can live with. Of my many regrets, standing up for myself and standing with Lisa isn’t one of them.

We might be the wrong ones to be doing this… but as far as I can tell, we are the only ones who are.2

  1. Although people are definitely trying to pin the blame on us for the polarization. Something that is a bit silly given that we have been 100% uncompromising about our stance on this since the beginning. I’m not sure why people would think that we’d compromise our stance just to better win ‘public support’ or whatever.

  2. Again, this should not be understood as a indictment against victims and survivors who need to prioritize their own safety, recovery, and healing. There is no shame in survival and taking care of yourself. This statement is meant simply as a factual statement, since we are the defendents of the suit. And, from what I can tell, we are the first do this publicly and not back down.