Today I attended a session called Herstory through Activism: Women, Libraries, and Activism at ALA Virtual Conference. The moderator was Sherre Harrington, and panelists were Emily Drabinski, Dalena Hunter, and Teresa Y. Neely. The occasion is the 50th anniversary of ALA’s Feminist Task Force.
Each panelist spoke separately, then they answered some questions together. They pointed out that workers in the library field are mostly women, but the leadership is mostly men. And libraries are racialized spaces — overwhelmingly white. Women of color who do work in libraries tend to be in the lower-paid positions.
They talked abot the history of activism in libraries, and work of specific librarians to document African American history.
They talked about how Black women experience a doubling of oppressions. And neither feminist organizations nor black liberation movements really saw them. Teresa Neely talked about the Cumbahee River Collective of 1974-1980. They articulated that if you belong to both groups, you don’t belong at all. “Colorblind” attitudes violently remove people from the conversation.
We need to get rid of the idea that libraries are neutral spaces and acknowledge we’re part of a system, acknowledge our privileges.
This was recorded in May, but one of the panelists brought up the problem of black people murdered by the police. She was the only black librarian at her workplace, and when an incident happens, her colleagues didn’t even see it as an issue affecting them, while she was profoundly moved.
We need to be aware that libraries still need to do a lot of work.