#hurrayoftheday: 70

Last month I participated in a webinar with colleagues Jenn Carson, Fobazi Ettarh,  Amanda Leftwich, Eamon Tewell, and Madeleine Tierney, which was hosted by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. Our panel discussed best practices for centering mental and physical health for library employees dealing with the workplace impacts of COVID-19.

I received the following note (partial):

I wanted to reach out and tell you: thank you for your words…you named the things that I’ve been unable to, things that I haven’t had the strength to voice…The things you said about self-preservation, empathetic leadership, boundaries, burnout, low morale, advocating for people… it spoke to me and I learned a lot from you.
You are so encouraging and inspiring, and you helped heal some of the disconnect and discouragement that I’ve felt during the last few months. Thank you for sharing your words.

#hurrayoftheday: 33

I spent the last two days in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia. Yesterday I led a seminar (more on that later), and this morning I offered the keynote for the UGA Libraries‘ annual In-House Conference. Before I got on the road to head back home, I checked Twitter and saw this:

This was in addition to the wonderful words of support that I received right after my talk. I’m so thankful that my keynote address resonated with my colleagues. 

Oh, the name of my keynote is(Doing) All the Things: Notes on Library Value.” It’s a sort of working document canvassing my ideas linking the definitions of library value to my daily and long-term practice of librarianship and how these definitions also relate to vocational awe, resilience narratives, precarity in LIS, and of course, low morale.



#hurrayoftheday: 32

It’s been a challenging week. Today, I came across this blogpost from the Nocturnal Librarian (Deb Baker), which includes a recounting of our meeting at the ACRL Conference earlier this month:

[I met Kaetrena at ACRL and I asked her] how she does it. She works in a library with 2 librarians, like I do. I wanted to know her secret to doing more with less. Her advice? Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others. Take your lunch. Go home on time. So as we enter the last few weeks of the semester I will be working hard to work less hard — to come home to my family in the evenings close to when they are expecting me. To take a real break every day. To keep myself physically and mentally rested, hydrated, and happy. I’m going to try to give myself permission to be more like my favorite Zen master, a grey tabby called Gwen: [photo of cat chillin]

This is my mission: to help others dismantle the subversion of LIS values, enjoy their whole selves and lives, and reclaim their health. Deb’s statement is both affirming and a reminder to me to maintain perspective. I’m really thankful to Deb for sharing her point-of-view. 

Read the full blogpost.

Hateration, Holleration…


This is a long one, so I totally understand  – and am completely cool with it – if you jump to the end and sign the petition.

Last year I began working with J. Brenton Stewart and Boryung Ju on a research paper on Black students’ perceived welcomeness in libraries at Historically White Colleges  and Universities  (HWCUs, also known as Predominantly White Institutions – PWIs).  In that study, we tested factors of welcomeness (defined as the feeling of being ‘gladly received’) and learned:

“Library as place” is the most influential factor for Black students’ perceptions of welcomeness. Specifically, other students/users’ behaviors and actions are most likely to affect how Black students perceive the library space/climate. (Kendrick 2018)

Seems Legit…

While writing an essay about the welcomeness study, I came across an American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) blogpost written by Jamie LaRue – the ALA OIF Director. The piece, titled “Documenting Hate Crimes in Libraries,” discusses and justifies the OIF’s work in documenting “hate crimes that take place on library property.” 

Why? Graffiti on library property isn’t new. Nor is it altogether strange that, sometimes, graffiti include what might be called “hate speech,” or derogatory comments that target specific populations. But we began to get reports about an upsurge of these incidents immediately following the 2016 presidential election. In several of these cases, such as the one in Kansas City, the report comes with the observation that “this is the first time this has ever happened here.” (LaRue 2016)

LaRue continues his discussion, making a distinction between “hate speech” and “hate crime.”

An uncomfortable truth is that hate speech is also free speech. It’s not illegal for people to say stupid, ignorant, or even deliberately hurtful things. When an anti-immigrant group, for instance, books a room at the library according to usual policies, and the speakers make some overtly bigoted remarks about Mexicans, that’s the price we pay for democracy. We acknowledge, however, that such speech has real world consequences, sometimes causing great pain, suffering, and even trauma. A hate crime, however, is about more than speech. It is about specific criminal behavior.

I believe that most practicing librarians recognize the difference between the two. Until recently, I thought we also knew there’s a line between recognition and privilege. The latter is what has occurred with ALA’s recent Library Bill of Rights Meeting Room interpretative update, which was approved at this year’s ALA Annual Conference. It includes this extremely questionable language:

If a library allows charities, non-profits, and sports organizations to discuss their activities in library meeting rooms, then the library cannot exclude religious, social, civic, partisan political, or hate groups from discussing their activities in the same facilities. (ALA 2018)


Who In The Hell Left the Gate Open?

Since then, there has been significant fallout* concerning this language. Many ALA members are trying to figure out how this particular iteration of the document was approved. April Hathcock, an ALA Councilor, discusses how this language slipped by:

The statement I read and commented on, all the way up until ALA Annual in late June, had no specific mention of hate speech or hate groups. It just reiterated that generally people can’t be turned away from public library spaces for their beliefs. And there was at least one line about none of this having anything to do with regulating behavior to maintain safety. I figured it was the best we could do. And I trusted that the document with the final resolved comments and edits would be the document I’d vote on during the hectic frenzy that is ALA Annual…I was wrong. (2018)

The hilariously broad ALA Code of Ethics (which is also practically useless) has been used to justify the change. Here, I introduce Dr. Amelia N. Gibson’s cogent Twitter thread:

Ok, So…

The ALA re-intepretation is another glaring example of the organization’s inability to align its mission with how conscious library professionals approach their daily service practices. Additionally, it significantly undercuts the EDI work that the organization claims to support and promote (just who do we think will be traumatized the most as this mess gets “implemented?”) Summarily, it is a dangerous missive that continues to posit the abstract notion of libraries (buildings, collections, etc – all things) as more important than the concrete people working in them and the greater number of people who visit them  – who are now deemed – by proxy of ALA BEING SURE TO SAY “Welcome, haters” –  unwelcome.

Historically, ALA been complicit in upholding laws and emulating practices denying the Greater Good – not so long ago, the organization actively marginalized African-American library users and librarians via segregation laws of the day (ironically, at this year’s ALA Annual Conference, the very same group that approved the meeting room document honored African-Americans who resisted library segregation).

But ALA’s same history shows ALA can do better. It has before, as Charles Duhigg recounts in his discussion of the impact of “small wins” in his book The Power of Habit:

In the early 1970s, the American Library Association’s Task Force on Gay Liberation decided to focus on one modest goal: convincing the Library of Congress to reclassify books about the gay liberation movement from HQ 71-471 (“Abnormal Sexual Relations, Including Sexual Crimes”) to another, less pejorative category….In 1972…the Library of Congress agreed to make the shift, reclassifying books into a newly created category, HQ 76.5 (“Homosexuality, Lesbianism – Gay Liberation Movement, Homophile Movement”). It was a minor tweak…but the effect was electrifying…In 1973, the American Psychological Association…rewrote the definition of homosexuality so it was no longer a mental illness – paving the way for the passage of state laws that made it illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. (p. 113).

Lisa gets it: 

There is a better way for ALA to state its protection of free speech and equitable service to users, and really, the original document was serviceable since it already supported that groups can’t be turned away from space usage. The current document privileges the (extremely) “Lesser Good,” and most importantly, it invokes the most dangerous nexus of vocational awe and resilience narratives: 1) privileging inconsistent professional ethics and values, 2) devaluing the most vulnerable people in the LIS field, while 3) specifically expecting that library workers should *also* – with effort – aid in undermining the work towards a Greater Good and 4) blaming them for the resultant workplace trauma and associated system failures (because conflict-avoidance, low morale, and librarians, anyone?).

When it comes to our users, we know that other users’ behavior impacts welcomeness – so imagine the impact of regular – or even occasional – meetings of any of these groups in a library, compounded by the implication of privilege to such groups given by the library profession.

Casey gets it:

Until ALA’s crafts new language (I really like Dr. Gibson’s suggestion, btw), the current document should be removed from ALA’s website.

Let’s Get it Percolatin’…

Sign the petition to Revise ALA’s Statement on Hate Speech & Hate Crime, crafted by the We Here community. 

Read blogs/items considering the other angles of ALA’s action (on Twitter, you can search #NoHateALA to see dialogue and more resources on this topic):

*at least, in social justice/PoC/EDI communities of LIS practice. On Twitter, @beastlibrarian has noticed “majority of the folks defending ’s meeting room amendment are white 🧐  what does this imply re ? important to pay attention to whose bodies are on the line and whose bodies are not when making decisions in this field.”

Works Cited

American Library Association (2018). Meeting rooms: An interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/meetingrooms

Duhigg, C. (2014). The Power of Habit. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Hathcock, A. (2018, July 11). My bought sense, or ALA has done it again. At the Intersection Blog. Retrieved from https://aprilhathcock.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/my-bought-sense-or-ala-has-done-it-again/

Kendrick, K.D. (2018, June 11). Presentation redux: Black students and welcomeness in academic libraries. the Ink On the Page Blog. Retrieved from https://theinkonthepageblog.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/presentation-redux-black-students-and-welcomeness-in-academic-libraries/

LaRue, J. (2016, December 21). Documenting hate crimes in libraries. Intellectual Freedom Blog. Retrieved from http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=8063


Running The Gauntlet: Lives of Practicing Minority Academic Librarians

To run the gauntlet is to take part in a form of corporal punishment in which the party judged guilty is forced to run between two rows of soldiers who strike out and attack them. (Wikipedia, 2018) (Author’s note: check the details of this political illustration. Do you see parallels to academia/librarianship?)

Elizabeth Martinez Smith noted the “balancing act” dilemma Black people face as they run the gauntlet of contradictory pressures. She describes the meaning of “running the gauntlet” as smarting from the pain of prejudice even as white colleagues deny that race has any impact; maintaining excellent performance even when recognition is withheld; being smart but not too smart; being strong but not too strong; being confident but not egotistical to the point of alienation; being the butt of prejudice and not being unpleasant or abrasive; being intelligent but not arrogant; being honest but not paranoid; being confident yet modest.” (Fisher, 1991)

I think I found this quote while working on my second bibliography, which focused on racial and ethnic diversity in librarianship. The quote resonated so deeply that I immediately typed it, printed it, and hung it in my cubicle where I could clearly see it. I’ve been employed at two other libraries since then, and that same piece of paper has traveled with me and been posted in those offices as well.

Despite the sad (but true) content that the statement offers, it gave – and gives – me an ironic sense of relief; of place; of community: I am not the only one who toes these lines. I am not the only one buffeted by real and phantom smacks dealt by those who actively seek to stunt the progress of a career I enjoy immensely. I am not the only one who gets tired; who worries “What will happen if I…?” but also is determined that “I should do X because it is right.” I am not the only one with wide eyes, nose pressed flat, hands pressed open against the outside of a clear window. I am not the only one who has considered walking away. I am not the only one.

More times than I can count, I have run every contest in this gauntlet. I have felt every single blow from each side. Most often, there are non-PoC librarians, teaching faculty members, or staff on one side and (also often, non-PoC) campus administrators on the other side.  Much less times  – but still significant – a colleague who ‘looks like me’ is on one side (yay, colonization mentality!) and library users are on the other side. If I’m really honest with myself, some days it’s me on both sides (effects of the false-competition cycle of academia combined with negative bias and stereotype threat, anyone?)

When I periodically consult Fisher’s gauntlet-running observation, I think about how LIS literature covering the experiences of racial and ethnic minorities validates the idea that PoC librarians continue to encounter pre-emptive abuse or duplicitous proving-grounds in academia. But now, it’s under new or updated labels of negative experiences (or even well-meaning initiatives) like:

  • microaggressions (Alabi, 2015; Vanscoy & Bright, 2017)
  • (with a nod to my upcoming research and exploratory work associated with) low-morale (also, Kendrick, 2017)
  • vocational awe, which Ettarh has posited within the framework of White supremacy (2017); and 
  • equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) (Edwards & Fisher, 2003; Sensoy & Diangelo, 2016)

The push-pull  – and devastating outcomes – of running the gauntlet is mirrored in the general Western workplace, particularly within the experiences of women of color. Check out the following succinct infographic – which came across my social media feed  while I was drafting this post – from the Centre for Community Organizations.

Problem of PoC Women in Workplaces
Credit: Center for Community Organizations and 鄧欣正 (Emily Yee Clare)

It’s more than feasible to map gauntlet-running to the “repetitive inquiry” and “response” portions of this infographic. Moreover, “tokenized hiring” maps to the rhetoric and lip-service of EDI policies and practices; and in the end, “retaliation” links to issues of low-morale (my emerging data show that the most likely abuse PoC academic librarians encounter is systemic) and vocational awe (e.g., academic environments, systems and values are sacred and beyond critique; she is pushed out when she brings attention to the status quo, which is inherently damaging to her health or career trajectory)

On social media, anecdotal responses to this infographic seemed visceral and elicited immediate statements of recognition and resignation (the latter of which seems couched in the desire to prioritize and re-posit health over academic careers – promising).

Librarianship is a profession that is persistently Caucasian and female, moreover, it posits itself as a politically progressive field that values racial and ethnic diversity. However, other issues that PoC librarians’ guantlet-running seem to highlight or underscore include:

  • libraries and librarians are *not* neutral;
  • Caucasian women working in LIS continue to be complicit in covertly and overtly upholding and solidifying institutionalized, political, and cultural systems and outcomes of White supremacy; 
  • the continuing one-note rhetoric/one-size-fits-all approach to EDI creates an environment for and ignores the “softer” harmful impacts that, ironically, such language and programs seek to resolve, including tokenism, paternalism, and a focus on entry-level recruitment rather than holistic career promotion and advancement; and 
  • the ongoing denial of the real need for expanded mental health and counseling services for PoC in hostile workplaces (to be clear, for PoC academic librarians, Historically White Colleges and Universities are potentially hostile environments – (Bonilla-Silva, 2012; Bonilla-Silva, 2015)).

Do you recognize the Fisher/Martinez summation of your LIS career challenges as a PoC professional? Do you believe you’ve successfully escaped/exited the gauntlet? Was there a reward? Are you still running? Why? Did you stop? Why?

Works Cited

Alabi, J. (2015). Racial microaggressions in academic libraries: Results of a survey of minority and non-minority librarians. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(1): 47-53.

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2012). The invisible weight of Whiteness: The racial grammar of everyday life in contemporary America. Ethnic & Racial Studies, 35(2): 173-194. doi: 10.80/01419870.2011.613997

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2015, November 12). The White racial innocence game. Racism Review:
Scholarship and Activism Towards Racial Justice [blog]. Retrieved from http://www.racismreview. com/blog/2015/11/12/white-racial-innocence-game/

Edwards, E. & Fisher, W. (2003). Trust, teamwork, and tokenism: Another perspective on diversity in libraries. Library Administration & Management, 17(1): 21-27.

Ettarh, F. (2017). Vocational awe. Presented at the Pushing the Margins Symposium, UCLA, July 14. Retrieved from http://pushingthemargins.com/symposium/symposium-keynote

Fisher, E.M. (1991).  Modern racism in academic librarianship towards Black librarians. A California study. University of Pittsburgh.

Kendrick, K.D. (2017). The low-morale experience of academic librarians: A phenomenological study. Journal of Library Administration, 57(8): 846-848. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01930826.2017.1368325

Sensoy, O. & Diangelo, R. (2017). “We all are for diversity, but…”: How faculty hiring committees reproduce Whiteness and practical suggestions for how they can change. Harvard Educational Review, 87(4): 557-580. Retrieved from http://hepgjournals.org/doi/10.17763/1943-5045-87.4.557?code=hepg-site 

Vanscoy, A. & Bright, K. (2017). Including the voices of librarians of color  in reference and information services research. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 57(2): 104-114.


ShoutOut: Fobazi Ettarh, MLS

Fobazi Ettarh (MLS, Rutgers) is Student Success Librarian at California State University (Dominguez Hills) She is also an ALA 2017 Emerging Leader. and designer of the game Killing Me Softly, which was created to show the physical and mental impacts of microaggressions and acculturative stress. 

As a result of my low morale study’s spread through Twitter,  I came across Ettarh’s conceptual framework of vocational awe and its role in upholding white supremacy in American librarianship. What is vocational awe? Ettarh defines it in her blog discussing the origin of her term:

Well simply put, it is the idea that libraries as institutions are inherently good. It assumes that some or all core aspects of the profession are beyond critique, and it, in turn, underpins many librarians’ sense of identity and emotional investment in the profession.

See also, occupational mythology, coined by Everett C. Hughes as “the social and social-psychological arrangements and devices by which men make their work tolerable or even glorious to themselves and others.”(1958, p. 48) For more reading about myths perpetuated in librarianship, please read this.

Ettarh expounds on the vocational awe/white supremacy link during her 2017 Pushing the Margins Symposium keynote presentation, which you can view below.

As I listened to her presentation, I considered and agreed with the tweet that brought me to it.  Vocational awe can be mapped to the low-morale trajectory. For instance:

-“Beyond reproach”: libraries are traditionally perceived and promoted as havens of quiet and refuge; in fact, many libraries strive to become official “safe spaces” on their campuses or in their communities. Moreover,  while we do celebrate modern librarian images, de facto practices of dress, activities, and even our April Fool’s spoofs show that we derive great comfort from having others believe in traditional stereotypes (even into the far, far, future). How it plays out: an abused library employee belays (or doesn’t) report the abuse because they can’t believe the abuse is happening in “a profession like ours.” In my research, this delay of or decision to not report workplace abuse was contextualized with disbelief that the abuse was happening, whom was meting out the maltreatment, disillusion with the profession, and subsequent self-blame about the abuse and its development. 

In essence, library-as-refuge tropes increase the likelihood that an abused library employee will not be believed – their abuse complaint(s)  a) disrupt users’ (including campus administration) perceptions of the library as a place of retreat, quiet, and serenity and/or b) reduce the stereotype of the librarian as a person who is in control of the quiet and serenity of the library (See Also, shushing). 

-“Work-life balance”: Librarians should always be ready to work (more) lest their commitment to the profession be questioned. Long hours and busy-ness are badges of honor while issues of under-compensation, underemployment, and abuse are glossed over by the overvalued idea that librarianship is a calling. In the low-morale experience, you hear it in statements like “I believe I’m doing good work (often conceptualized broadly as “helping people”), so I will endure [protracted exposure to workplace abuse or negligence] [for the sake of the people I’m helping].” Participants in my study recalled verbal or emotional abuse in the context of being told that they weren’t “committed enough” when they refused overload projects, rejected working longer hours, or tried to take time off for illness or even earned vacation time.  Additionally, participants wrestled with their own notions of professional commitment and sometimes acquiesced to abuse because of guilt  (See Also, Martyrdom).

“Job creep”: being asked or expected to do more with less. This sort of maltreatment (often via administrative negligence or systemic abuse) also manifests in library staff and faculty attrition trends. Often, those left in the gaps may not be trained to do the jobs that are not being filled; however, they are still expected to perform those duties well while maintaining similar or improved levels of service. Participants reported taking on new duties while being assigned to supervisors who didn’t know how to run their new departments. The results of attrition also sparked the beginning of reduced advocacy for library employees, which contributed to the negative emotional, physical, and cognitive impacts of low-morale. Moreover, if the library administrator is not respected by or has a contentious relationship with institutional administration, voiced concerns about attrition/job creep are met with institutional schadenfreude, which underscores…

-“Lack of institutional advocacy and support”: When a library employee reports workplace abuse, they may be met with responses about the library-as-place trope, that they invited the abuse due to (stereotypical or real) personality profiles,  or  because the ombudsman has oversimplified the work of the librarian (e.g., “But it’s always so quiet when I come in there!” or, “Did you shush someone one too many times?” or “How could you all not be getting along? All you all do is check out books and sign people onto computers!”). In other words, the rejection is: do not cancel the dream/ideal that libraries are sacred spaces of retreat and safety or that, outside of that aforementioned strict noise monitoring, librarians are docile people who are incapable of bullying and related acts.

My study reveals that the low-morale experience is in part incubated by negligent institutional administrators who undervalue or misunderstand the role of librarians on their campuses. They often rebuke reports of abuse and send affected employees back into harmful situations, regardless of the status of their relationship with library administrators, but especially if the relationship with the library leader is historically contentious. 

Considering the original context of vocational awe (white supremacy/institutional oppression) – and mapping vocational awe markers to low morale – begs the question of how low morale affects librarians of color (I’m working on it!).

In her work on toxic academic leadership, Ortega mentions: 

Work cannot and should not be everything to librarians, because toxic leaders will abuse their dedication. These dedicated librarians will in due course burn out … Work-focused lives seem to have in some cases unintentionally assisted toxic leaders with their exploitative behaviors (p. 20).

Bringing it back to Ms. Ettarh, she notes in her blog,

Vocational awe is f*cking toxic and we as librarians need to stop spreading this rhetoric that libraries are this beacon of democracy and critical thinking. Libraries are just buildings. It is the people who do the work. And we need to treat these people well.” (emphasis mine)


SHOUT OUT to Ms. Ettarh for her important, applicable, and very relevant work. 

Works Cited

Ettarh, F. (2017, May 30). Vocational awe? Retrieved from https://fobaziettarh.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/vocational-awe/ 

Ettarh, F. (2017). Vocational awe. Presented at the Pushing the Margins Symposium, UCLA, July 14. Retrieved from http://pushingthemargins.com/symposium/symposium-keynote

Hughes, E.C. (1958). Men and their work. Glencoe: The Free Press.

Ortega, A. C. (2017). Academic libraries and toxic leadership. Cambridge, UK: Chandos Publishing.

Recommended Reading

Ettarh, F. (2018). Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves. In The Library With The Lead Pipe. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/