On Talking too Much
It has taken me a little too much time to sit down and write this, but I found myself troubled by the Library Loon’s apology in her (perhaps last?) post on silencing:
The Loon had hoped to be done writing about this by now. It has gone a lot slower than she planned or hoped, and it has deflected other blogging, which leaves the Loon with a terrible feeling of intellectual obstruction. Judging from Twitter, this series and its length annoy elements among her readership as well. She is sorry.
It is perhaps a level of irony too painful to really be believable that anyone would feel annoyed about a person talking too much about the silencing in the library profession.
To a certain extent, I do understand the dismay and discomfort with having this very necessary conversation. It can feel a little despairing because of all the ways that it becomes clear just how deep and how subtle silencing can be, from a seemingly innocuous comment by a library school instructor to the pervasive structural problems that maintain a largely homogeneous workforce.
This isn’t an easy realization to have. Nor is it an easy discussion. Why? Because there simply are no simple easy solutions. Things like the ARL’s Initiative to Recruit a Diverse Workforce (and their other programs) or the ALA’s Spectrum program help but not nearly enough.1 In part because library school is expensive (being yet another degree) and the reward, in terms of salary, make it difficult to justify2. These considerations especially matter when you are the first person in your family to get a university degree.
But what is the solution? It is easy to say, overall, that library wages should go up. And they most certainly should. The amount of education and skill needed to do our jobs isn’t reflected in our salaries. Yet, we can’t suggest this at a time when people are pulling funding from public services like libraries, when people are often – rightly in many cases – more able to see the value of other social services (education, health care, etc.).
The problem, in many cases, isn’t just about librarians or the field. This isn’t about one instructor making a careless remark in class. These problems are also not unique to our field. Again, they are institutional, structural, and pervasive.
I’ve been accused before of advocating for a politics of despair, since I point to all of these problems and suggest very little solutions. While it is most certainly true that I don’t really have many solutions to suggest, I know one thing is true, at least, the solution isn’t to give up because this is hard. To simply throw our hands in the air and say “the problem is too large, so I give up.”3 In many ways, this level of complacency and despair has contributed as much to our current problems and inequities as the willful and purposeful actions of some people/institutions.
Dealing with this stuff sucks, but it is better than not dealing with it at all.
My experience with the IRDW was great and probably far more beneficial than many of the American recipients because the scholarship was enough to cover my entire library school tuition, something I know is untrue of all of the Americans. ↩
Especially if you come from a high achieving Asian family and pretty much all of your cousins went into engineering, which is just a four year degree, and are making money hand over fist. ↩
Note, I’m most certainly not suggesting that the Library Loon as given up. And she is most definitely correct to caution people about following her example. This sort of thing can be (and usually is) stressful, harmful to your health (both mental and physical), and most of the time thankless. Taking care of your health is not giving up. Nor is being judicious in picking which battles/fights you think are winnable. ↩