This is who we are

For the past two (3 as of January!) years since my article on vocational awe came out, I have spoken about the disconnect between our values and our reality. Yet I’m repeatedly struck by how enamored librarians are of their characterization in liberal circles as “the good guys.” Despite the prevailing ideology that libraries not only support but reinforce democracy, there has been instance after instance proving it demonstrably false. And what happens each time? Librarians act shocked. Or, only slightly more offensively, they trip over themselves to justify, “logic,” and “devil’s advocate” themselves into a world in which “free speech” rules and they have no culpability for the atrocious behavior of their colleagues. And then, inevitably, Librarianship buries it, never to be spoken of again. The fact that a large number of libraries shut down rather than integrate? Gone from history. The fact that libraries continue to profile and overpolice POC in their communities? “Well those aren’t really librarians,” people say. “They’re the security guards” or “It’s just policy!” There is rarely any accounting for the harm librarianship has done towards marginalized communities. And when harm is done, we as a field are quick to justify it and/or rationalize it away with convenient concepts like values-neutrality, intellectual freedom, etc. …Anything besides deal with, acknowledge, and sit with the ugliness, and yes, systemic oppression, that inevitably permeates our overwhelmingly white field. Anything besides admitting: This is who we are. 

When Toronto Public Library (along with Vancouver Public Library, Seattle Public Library, and many others) invited known TERF Meghan Murphy to speak hypothetical trans patrons were propped up to demonstrate intellectual freedom while the very real trans workers and community were silenced. When some libraries created reading advisory lists for those who wanted to move away from JK Rowling and Harry Potter, others claimed that was censorship despite the very real patrons who expressed discomfort with her transphobia. There was an actual program at ALA Midwinter in which James LaRue argued for Nazis in libraries. The very fact that discussions happened to consider allowing Nazis in libraries and meeting room spaces show how hollow our espoused values really are! The only people who can be comfortable in spaces where Nazis and other hate groups congregate are those who believe in the ideology, or, and this is what so many “progressive” librarians fail to see, those who are privileged enough not to be harmed by them.  

And now a librarian has been discovered to be a Proud Boy. And people are shocked. Responses I’ve seen so far: “But he seemed so nice! He was so kind to me! Could he really have hated ‘diverse people’ this whole time?” “How can you be a librarian and also a Proud Boy?” 

If only those were the worst reactions. But no, there are actual discussions about whether or not there should be active hate group members as librarians! 

And not only that, but there are people whose answer is YES. 

People that say what librarians do in their own time, out of the library, is their own business. As if white supremacy is something you only do on weekends.  

It is time to stop being shocked. POC have been telling you this forever. Trans people have been telling you this forever. The disabled. The queer. Librarianship is not the last bastion of democracy. It is not inherently good and sacred. It is an institution. And like other institutions it is riddled with white supremacy, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and so on, and on, and on… This is who we are.  

And until you all actually come to accept that fact, we will NEVER move forward as a field. It will always be white, exclusionary. Vocational awe, though always damaging, is comforting. Especially in these times, we crave comfort. But it’s a deceptive comfort. One that hurts. Every justification for a “really nice but misguided” colleague, drives a Black librarian from the field. Or a patron from the desk, who gives up on attaining that “free information” you hold so dearly. Every meeting of a gay conversion therapy group held in our spaces, lends the practice legitimacy, inflicting horrors on the queer youth of the community who will grow up with such abuses normalized. Because of us.  

I propose that the true comfort will come in doing the hard things, the uncomfortable things. Leaving behind vocational awe, to fight for a librarianship that is always fighting to be better. That is never in awe of itself, but always in awe of how far we have to go. It all starts with admitting one thing. Say it with me: This is who we are

p.s. As always thank you to my lovely fiancé and wifey Elena Rosa Maris as the best copy editor ever! Any eloquence is because of her.

Mover And Shaker?

2020 has felt like a millennium, and most of the news cycle has been one horror after another. Which made it all the more exciting to be named one of the Change Agents for Library Journal’s Mover and Shaker award. While in the midst of a pandemic and an awe-inspiring movement for racial justice the award might seem a trifle – I was utterly thrilled at the wider recognition that vocational awe would (and did!) receive from the honor.

And then on June 3rd came the news that soured it all. Library Journal named the Seattle Public Library (SPL) the 2020 Library of the Year, citing their “exceptional commitment to community service, innovation and centering equity in work.”

For those who do not know, in December of 2019, Seattle Public made a decision to host a TERF event that would take place on February 1st. And despite mounting pressure from the community and SPL’s own queer and trans library workers, SPL decided to continue on with the event. On top of that, they increased security to protect the transphobic speakers.

I have already written about why libraries hosting TERFS and Nazis is antithetical to the mission of librarianship, but the main point is this: by hosting hate groups in the library you send a message to your workers and community that the only people that should feel safe in the library are those who support hate groups and/or those whose lives are unaffected by them.

So, to have Seattle Public Library awarded Library of the Year and given $10,000 is not only a slap in the face to the queer and trans people who work(ed) at SPL and the community that rallied against the event, it is also violent to all queer and trans library workers. Lifting up a library that denies the personhood of queer and trans people sets a dangerous precedent. It says bigotry is not only acceptable, it is praiseworthy. And the timing of the award – June, aka LGBTQ pride month – is just salt in the wound.

As I said, being awarded this was a shining light in what has been a hard year. From Breonna Taylor to George Floyd, police brutality has felt even closer to home. And while I am supporting the movement in other ways, I’m immunocompromised and it has been killing me not to participate in the protests for personhood and freedom currently happening. This award felt like a validation of the hard work that I have put in to try and make librarianship a more equitable field – my own shout for freedom and personhood.

But, I cannot ethically accept an award from an organization that would name me a Change Agent while also naming such a bigoted, hateful space Library of the Year. So, I have decided to sign the petition demanding that Library Journal revoke Seattle Public Library’s award and that the $10,000 prize be donated to Gender Justice League WA. I have also signed the part of the petition for past and present Mover and Shaker awardees to demand that if Library Journal does not revoke SPL’s award, they revoke ours. I will not let Library Journal claim me, or my work – especially vocational awe – in any way if they cannot align themselves with the values of social justice the concept articulates.

However, after much thought, I’ve decided I will NOT be removing the award from my CV. As a disabled queer librarian of color, there are already a number of institutional barriers in my path toward reappointment and tenure. I will not add barriers to it, and I won’t pressure early-career/minority librarians to add barriers to their already significantly arduous professional journeys. It is a privilege to be able to completely remove such an award from one’s professional record. I feel very fortunate that my work has been found useful by so many these last few years, and know that with or without that CV line, I will probably be fine professionally. However, activism must come in many forms to protect the most vulnerable among us, and I hope my decision might model a path forward for those winners who wish to participate in calling out Library Journal, but worry this particular action might harm them professionally. So, I will put an asterisk by the award on my CV with the statement:  “voluntarily revoked due to irreconcilable differences in values.” This brings attention to the value of the award as well as the extraordinary circumstances, and I hope, will bear written witness years into the future on all winners’ CVs, websites, etc. to the bigoted decision made by Library Journal in 2020.

I believe that this aligns with the recent  practice of keeping asterisked conference acceptances on CVs for events canceled due to COVID-19, similarly honoring the work done while explaining the extraordinary mitigating circumstances. So, for librarians of color, queer and trans librarians, and any other marginalized librarian who may worry about the professional impact but want to take a stand, perhaps think of this as an acceptable path forward.

I was a Library Journal 2020 Mover and Shaker – Change-Agent. I am no longer one. Perhaps, if the situation is resolved, I will be again. Either way I will always keep fighting to protest the injustices around me in any way I can.

A chronic lack of nuance & a love of the hypothetical: a library story

Author’s note: Content warning  – this post contains discussions of transphobia and TERF rhetoric.

I’ve been doing my best not to engage with the Toronto Public Library situation, because I’m exhausted by it and all the other similar examples out there. But these situations demonstrate how so many libraries seem determined to drive out their marginalized library workers and patrons  – and so I felt like I should say something rather than potentially be complicit in my silence. And, to be fair, it is not like libraries are the only places doing this. For instance, Facebook is currently under fire for including Breitbart under its tab dedicated to quality news, a decision Zuckerberg defended as a need for a “diversity of views.” There has been a steady increase in providing space and amplification for the “views” of bigoted outlets, individuals, and groups -like Nazis- in the interest of “hearing both sides.” But it seems especially isolating and sad when institutions like libraries, that pride themselves so much on the values of inclusion, are so determined to exclude the ones who need support the most.

So, for those who may not know, there is a conversation surrounding Toronto Public Library (TPL) and the hosting of the conservative writer/journalist, Meghan Murphy, who is regarded by many as a trans-exclusionary radical feminist or TERF. For those who are unaware of the rhetoric of TERFs, here are some of the main arguments/beliefs:

  • only those born with vaginas are women
  • trans women, therefore, are not women
  • trans women are men pretending to be women to encroach into women’s spaces and rape them
  • and many other, awful, and bigoted beliefs.

The issue of meeting room spaces and hate groups have been a growing conversation in libraries. The main argument for proponents of letting hate groups use the library is “neutrality.” Jennifer Ferretti has done an amazing job at demonstrating how neutrality is hostility and polite oppression. In fact, she, Anastasia Chiu, and I will be releasing a book chapter about how vocational awe and neutrality intertwine to uphold white supremacy in librarianship. But, the long and short of it is this:

Libraries were, aren’t, and can NEVER be neutral because they are an institution situated in a white supremacist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic society and therefore reflect those hegemonic, bigoted views. It is only through ACTIVE work against those values that libraries can push back against the “natural” and therefore “neutral” state of things. And thus, “neutrality” in most all cases upholds white supremacy and further marginalizes communities in need. Subsequently, upholding “neutrality” goes directly against the “safe and welcome spaces” that libraries purport themselves to be. Because the only people who can be safe in a space with Nazis (or in this case TERFS) are those who are either or both:

  • comfortable with the ideology
  • privileged enough to not be harmed by those with said ideology


That’s it. No one else.

And the thing is, bigotry is the norm. I’ll say it again. White supremacy is the norm. Transphobia is the norm and enforced by state power. And we all have access to it, all of the time. It’s policy. We’re swimming in it. It isn’t a radical act to create a space where bigoted voices are “heard” and people are marginalized. And libraries, like other institutions, have demonstrated with these instances that it isn’t marginal speech that is being protected, but that of the bigoted powerful. Library workers told the Nashville chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) that they weren’t allowed to host meetings in the library because the BLM meetings were only open to people of color and therefore excluded white people. Yet, wouldn’t a Nazi meeting by its very ideology exclude people of color? Jewish people? Why is the outrage suddenly present when the marginalized want to protect themselves? The Nazis or TERFS might not explicitly put “no Black/trans people” can come, but the sentiment is there. The very ideology driving the groups’ need to speak and meet, explicitly says to the marginalized person: “You should not exist, and we are meeting with the goal of figuring out how to make sure you don’t.” But because they don’t fill out meeting space paperwork that says the marginalized groups are not invited, they, or anyone with an interest in propping them up, can lean on the hypothetical Black or trans person who technically can attend the meeting (as well as the extremely rare case in which such things do happen).

But – let’s be honest, if a large group that was all-white had a meeting in most libraries, would it be pegged as exclusionary? No, like most whiteness, its power lies in its invisibility, the extreme normality of its exclusionary existence. Another example was the outcry by some librarians when they learned of a Black Lives Matter book display a librarian created in the library’s teen space. She received pushback stating that “all sides” should be heard and therefore All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter displays should be created as well. But when library displays have all white and/or all straight authors/characters, how often is it noticed as exclusionary? Are these same “champions of neutrality” raising their voices at every YA book display with only white authors? If so, those voices would be very hoarse by now. Again, why is it only when the marginalized come together as a collective that it is suddenly important to include the “other side?”

Toronto Public Library’s statement shows that they privilege some hypothetical LGBTQ group that isn’t harmed by homophobia and transphobia rather than the very real people of their community who are protesting the event, explaining how TERF ideology harms them and their ability to safely exist in the same space. TPL argued that protestors are asking them “…to censor someone because of the beliefs they hold and to restrict a group’s right to equitably access public space and we cannot do either.” Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. TPL cannot purport to be a safe space for LGBTQ people and also invite someone who does not believe in their humanity and personhood. There is no such thing as “civil discourse” between someone who doesn’t believe in your very existence and someone who does. Not only does the onus then fall on the marginalized group to “prove they should exist,” but – as hatred and bigotry are based on ideology and not facts – there’s no way for the marginalized to “win” in what, is again, a hypothetical “dialogue” TPL claims it must “champion.” In fact, TPL is most honest when it explains what it means when it says it welcomes the LGBTQ community: “Libraries have always been committed to supporting vulnerable communities by welcoming and creating space for different perspectives…” Indeed, TPL “welcomes” the vulnerable by creating space for entrenched “perspectives”  like that those vulnerable people should not exist. They don’t at all claim they’ll value marginalized perspectives like those expressed by community protestors: we’d like to be welcomed into a library free from those who would harm us.

So again there is, and never was, a dialogue or debate to win. The only people “winning” here are the bigots and the complicit. And a place where the bigoted feel safe cannot also be a place where the marginalized feel safe. In fact, let’s break that down a little bit. What has TPL “won” by showing that they privilege hypothetical people and ideals over the reality?

  • the alienation of real LGBTQ patrons and community
  • the alienation of real LGBTQ library workers
  • the alienation of LGBTQ allies (e.g. Toronto literary community)
  • the approval of hate groups

It seems to me then that the only thing Toronto Public Library has shown is that it does not actually want to represent the community, but instead represent “ideals” and hypothetical patrons and debates. They are not the first library to make these decisions, nor, unfortunately will they be the last, but I believe that change can occur. And, in fact, I believe that libraries are situated in a place where they can truly begin to counter these larger misunderstandings of neutrality and other instances of “both sides” rhetoric.

Currently, the sociopolitical climate is such that marginalized voices are being even more repressed and hatred and bigotry are increasingly endorsed outright by those in power. As such, wouldn’t “the other side” we need to hear be that of the marginalized? Having all Black or all queer displays are seen as political, because the identities of the authors who get published and the stories that are told, are so entrenched their identity politics are not recognized as such. Yet these “mainstream” authors and stories don’t accurately reflect the demographics of America and the world. So, there is a “side” that truly needs to be lifted up and heard, it is that of marginalized people. Where there is an inherent imbalance of narratives, giving equal weight to the privileged and the marginalized does not create balance, it gives more weight to the privileged. So, when libraries use “welcoming all” to give equal weight to hate groups and activists, they are not in fact being neutral, but instead giving more support to hate groups and bigotry.

Libraries, as repositories of information, hold the keys to understanding the nuances of marginalization and power. If anyone should be able to replace hypotheticals with realities, it is the library.


5 Years: A Reflection

As I prepare for my presentation at ACRL, I realize that it’s almost 5 years to the date that I did my very first presentation. It was for MARAC (Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference) and I was terrified. I was weeks away from graduation, and had no idea where I was going or what was coming next. The reason I was on this panel despite no archival experience was because Anna-Sophia Zingarelli-Sweet heard me bumble my way through a lightning talk about intersectionality at Midwinter, and thought my perspective might be worth hearing. I’ll forever be grateful to her for asking. And to God for putting the right people in my path at the right time.

So much has changed since then. I first started speaking about intersectionality because of my experience at Rutgers during library school. I had been so excited about going to Rutgers for my MLIS, not only because it was one of the best school library programs, but also because the campus itself was so diverse. After spending four years at a PWI (primarily white institution) I was excited to be surrounded by people who actually looked like me. And Rutgers, the campus lived up to that reputation! As I wandered campus and walked through the student centers, I saw people from all walks of life…which made it all the more heartbreaking when I realized I was the the ONLY women of color on the school library track in my cohort. And that the people of color in the entire program could be counted using one hand. I felt isolated and alone. It seemed like no aspect of my identity was considered valid let alone valuable to the profession.

Although the profession hasn’t become more diverse in these past 5 years, I do not feel quite so alone. I have found a community of amazing and radical women of color through programs such as MIECL (Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians) as well as at conferences. Oftentimes those conversations had over dinner and in hallways have been more vital to my professional development than the actual conference! And as I’ve grown in the field my research has changed and grown with me.  I would never have been able to coin the concept vocational awe without understanding white supremacy and how it intersects with librarianship and institutional culture, power, and labor.

From writing articles, speaking, at conferences, to making a microaggressions game, and  coining a concept are all things I never would have guessed I could do back when I was doing a 5 minute lightning talk or speaking in a small room in Rochester. I’m still learning and growing, and I’m excited to see where the next 5 years takes me.

Giving Thanks

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)


Whether it’s from the song Turn! Turn! Turn! or from the Biblical chapter of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, I’ve always loved the idea that there is a season for everything. And although November is usually the month of giving thanks, technically, you’re supposed to be giving thanks always. And so now, as the last month of 2018 continues marching ever slowly, here are some things I’m thankful for:


  • Getting to go to JCLC and speaking with amazing people (Sofia, Rae, Charlotte, April, and Rebecca!) to a room of amazing and beautiful POC.
  • Getting a new job!
  • Moving back to my homestate of New Jersey
  • Eating delicious tacos and burritos in Cali and delicious bagels and pizza in Jersey
  • My beautiful and amazing partner without whom I’d be lost always
  • Christmas time! I’ve been listening to Christmas music since September, but it’s nice to finally be in a month where even the Grinchiest of Grinches can’t begrudge my joy.
  • And finally, writing my vocational awe article and seeing the amazing reach that it has had in libraryland. Can you believe it came out January of this year? I feel like the language of libraries has changed just slightly because of its naming and its humbling and amazing to be a little part of that.


Happy December everyone! 2018 has been hard, and while it’s so much easier to remember how horrible things can be; it’s much more brave and radical to remember how amazing our lives has/can/will be.


Black Face–White Space

It has been a long while since I’ve been to a smaller state conference. It’s been just over two weeks since I returned from the California Academic and Research Libraries (CARL) conference. It was, for the most part, a great conference. I got to speak about critical pedagogy which I always enjoy. I met some cool and interesting librarians. And I got to reconnect with friends that I don’t normally get to see outside of conferences.

But throughout the conference I couldn’t help but think of the Starbucks boys handcuffed and put in jail for hours just for existing in a gentrified space. They were in the building for only two minutes before the police were called. Two minutes.  During the opening plenary, Miguel Figueroa mentioned that when he posted about Philando Castile, that he lost a lot of followers because “it has nothing to do with libraries.” As if the lives of our communities mean nothing to us. It’s not like one of our espoused values is being open to all or anything. But since ALA and librarians in general have shown time and time again, that caring is dependent on whether the victim was a librarian (like with the Charleston 9 — besides Cynthia Hurd can you actually name any of the other victims?). So, I wasn’t necessarily expecting librarians to say anything about this event. However, the few things I did see from the library world were not what I expected. The response was basically a self-congratulatory pat on the back for being a space where one doesn’t have to pay for anything in order to be present.

And it just broke my heart. Librarianship seems to pride itself on being better than these “commercial” spaces when it comes to equity despite its own history. And sure enough, despite the field’s apparent superiority complex when it comes to being safe spaces for all, a new story broke yesterday about a police officer who broke a teenager’s jaw in the library. The teenager was yelled at for putting her feet on a chair and even though the teen complied, she was pushed into a book cart and onto the floor, dragged toward the exit, and then had her jaw broken.

There have been countless studies showing that Black people are seen as “violent” and “angry.” This phenomenon starts at birth. In Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris-Perry likens the experiences of Black women to that of attempting to stand up straight in a “crooked room,” all while being “bombarded with warped images of their humanity.”

CARL was a nice reprieve in many ways because I spent most of my time surrounded by people of color. From my roommates to lunches and other gatherings, I was enveloped in the comfort of librarians of color. But, despite the shielding, it was hard not to notice the very different conversations that we were having vs our white colleagues. After Charlotte Roh’s amazing discussion about the structures of power and privilege in scholarly publishing, the first question was “how do I add diverse books to my collection?” Now at its face, this question may not seem like a bad one, but this question without fail is asked when any women of color (WOC) discusses the inequitable experiences that people of color (whether it be the librarians or the patrons) undergo. On its face, it implies a desire and willingness to learn. And yet, in no other sessions, have I heard questions on how to do question development. Why is it then when faced with race do the skills and knowledge about how to build a collection evaporate? Currently, there are multiple award winners written by POC. To me it is reminiscent of the questions around hiring people from diverse backgrounds. Choosing people of color does not somehow diminish the quality of the library. And ultimately these questions come off as “help me do my job” and the optics of white people continually asking librarians of color to help them with diversity is not a great one. Especially when the question/comment that inevitably follows is a defensive one that basically boiled down to “not all librarians.” As I sat at my table with only librarians of color, we couldn’t help but look at each other and sigh because it’s not hard to know just what is thought of us. How unwilling some of our colleagues are to see us as people. At conferences, my hair has been groped, I’ve been mistaken for a server or as the help, and experienced plenty of other such fun microaggressions.

So, as I read the stories about Starbucks and libraries who refuse the personhood of Black people, all I can ask myself is “if I wasn’t a librarian, how would they see me in this room?” And unfortunately, I know the answer to that. Despite the fact that I am in fact a librarian, they still only seem to see my Blackness.


But, I will say this. My Blackness is beautiful. My Blackness is magic. My Blackness is powerful. And while librarianship may try and contain me, I will not be contained.


Equality is Not Pie; Libraries and the Insidiousness of Subtle Racism

It’s funny. I started this blog post over a week ago. The original catalyst for the post was affirmative action, google guy, and personal experiences in my own life. The reason it was taking so long was because I wanted to make sure it had the best mix of personal and professional tone. And primarily, because librarianship is a very white and female field. And a post like this, if not done right, could hurt me professionally in the long run. So, I really wanted to make sure that the information was portrayed in a way most palatable to what would most likely also be the post’s biggest audience — white women.

And then this weekend happened. And now, honestly, I do not care about palatability. This weekend has reinforced what most people of color know to be true—“civil” discourse is only reserved for white people. The differences in response between Charlottesville when the alt-right/Nazis marched and all of the Black Lives Matters protests are telling. The system isn’t broken. The system is doing what it was built for—the suppression and oppression of Black people and other people of color.

But this post isn’t about white male aggression. White male aggression is easily seen and understood. It’s all over Charlottesville (though white women marched as well and have actively supported them). White male aggression manifests as outwardly physical aggression. The goal is to take up as much space as possible whether it be physically (making themselves bigger, crowding your space, etc.) or verbally (the ten page antidiversity screed, the reason “are men talking too much” was created, and why certain library and archive listservs are rendered unusable, etc.).  There are a lot of great articles about how white male aggression is deployed in multiple contexts.

But I’m in librarianship which is a predominantly female field. And so this post is about white female aggression. White female aggression, like its male counterpart, is also born of white resentment. But it manifests in drastically different ways. In fact, while instinctually I knew what it was, it wasn’t until Leslie Mac broke down the exchange with White House Press Secretary Sanders and White House Press Correspondent, April Ryan that it all came together. Similar to my experience with the word microaggression, reading the breakdown suddenly put a name to various experiences I had had in my personal and professional life.

So, what exactly is white female aggression? It is the indirect, and often passive aggressive, ways that white women exert control and establish dominance over people of color, especially Black women. Unlike white male aggression, it is executed in phrasing and tone, and the goal is to damage or destroy one’s social standing. Like other types of relational aggression, it uses psychological manipulation to advance their own interests, while claiming ignorance of its harm to others. A great visual example of this is Kirsten Dunst’s role in Hidden Figures as the head of the computing women’s unit. Throughout the movie she actively builds roadblocks and attempts to stall careers, but maintains that she is not a bad person. Not only does her character maintain that she is not a bad person, but the movie does so as well, by having the scene where she shows a grudging modicum of respect to the Black women, as if the bare minimum is all that is needed to no longer be racist. 

White female aggression often uses the constructed idea of white womanhood (a precious fragile thing that must be protected at all costs) as a weapon and patriarchy as a shield against critique. It’s how we can know that 53% of white women voted for Trump, but still get stuff like this:

picture of prominent white liberal feminist saying that men are better at nazism than women

Many white women will tone police, dominate conversation, and then when challenged follow the following playbook— cry, accuse people of bullying, and/or attempt to excuse their behavior using self-care (check out this thread for numerous examples).

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 3.29.36 PM

If you know me at all, you know I’m all about self care; here I speak to the specific tone policing reaction that occurs when many white women are challenged on their problematic behaviour, and they in turn bow out of the conversation because of their need for self-care.

Like I said in my previous post, “nice white women” will lash out as soon as their allyship no longer maintains their own personal comfort. And this lashing out is often not loud and can be said with a smile as often as a frown. It’s insidiousness lies in its openness to “interpretation.”

And in libraries, many white women will fight together with women of color against the injustices of sexism and male domination in libraries (e.g. the fast-tracking of men to leadership), but are offended when confronted with the many ways they often fulfill their roles as oppressors. The equality white women strive for then, appears to women of color, as not equality but the freedom to oppress, when in fact, equality is not a pie. Uplifting women of color doesn’t mean less equality for white women, just like uplifting women as a whole doesn’t mean less equality for men. (Check out the root word of equality ya’ll, by definition no one is supposed to get more.)

Now that the macro has been covered, here is how white female aggression plays out in the micro. These are a few ways it has impacted me specifically, as well as other people of color I know.

  • The constant undermining of achievements. This is across the board. So it manifests in discussions about:
    • Me winning scholarships and travel grants: (“Well, it was probably one targeted for diversity, right? It’s hard because I’m X, but that isn’t considered diverse.”)
    • Me getting job offers: (“Congrats! Yeah, it must be nice that the field is trying to increase diversity.” This statement is sometimes followed with a “poor so and so” (white person) still hasn’t found a position,” or with a statement of how long it took them to obtain a full-time job with benefits.)
    • Money, negotiating, and salary: Conflation of pay statistics, as if all women are in the 77 cents to a white man’s dollar stat. In reality, Black women make 64 cents and Latinas make even less at 54 cents. Also, the insinuation (or direct accusation) that you are being paid more for adding to the institution’s diversity. It is often suggested, that this is, of course, at a more qualified white person’s expense.
    • Cultural fit. And all of the horror those two words contain.

And finally, vocational awe is most often and most dangerously deployed against POC in libraries. With the loaded history of stereotyping of Black and Latina women as lazy and not team players, as well as the stereotype of Black women as loud and aggressive, many white women use these stereotypes, and their own racist assumptions, to justify the exclusion of women of color from professional fields. And while the exclusion may not be from the field totally, white female aggression created the roadblocks that keep women of color in staff positions and/or those with lower pay. Things POC hear in the workplace time and again:

Statements like these intersect with these racist assumptions about qualifications, and ultimately exclude those who do not fit their standards of success.

Ultimately, white female aggression can be as violent, if not more so, than white male aggression. It operates within the most socially acceptable forms of white supremacy. By using passive aggressive and indirect methods of control and oppression it is hard to parse out, identify, and call out injustice, let alone fight against it. But just like microaggressions, once it is recognized, it can be challenged. Remember, equality is not pie. White women in libraries need not break the glass ceiling on the backs of WOC.



p.s. Many thanks to Elena, partner, and bomb-ass editor of this post.

Post-ALA Fatigue and “Nice White Ladies”

So this post has been brewing for a while. I am not sure if all the recent big changes in my life (new coast, new job, etc) have just made me more sensitive to the toxicity of nice white ladies or the summer months have been making them worse. Probably a bit of both honestly. But it has been exhausting to be in librarianship recently.

Honestly, I wish I could say I could be more eloquent about this. If you want to read that post, go look at April’s. She does an awesome job at describing racial fatigue and how that plays out at ALA. Here are just some examples from my experience.

ALA Microaggressions (a few of many)

  • “I hear what you’re saying about diversity, but it’s all about diversity of thought and experience. Confidence and “leaning in” will cure any and all things when it comes to being a leader in your workplace/libraries.”
  • “Dealing with the book vs ebook debate during my ALA presidency is on the same level as you (Todaro) dealing with the Trump administration.” (Yes, this was said without irony and with complete sincerity)
  • Various one on one interactions with white librarians.
  • The entirety of the Hillary closing keynote.


Not to mention just the environmental microaggression that is just being in a primarily white space. Seriously, there are not a lot of things as uncomfortable as just being in a space where you are so very clearly the minority. The anxiety and unease as you wait for the other shoe to drop (and it always always ALWAYS does) is like what I imagine walking through a minefield is like. The worst. And I know it’s not just me. Aisha Mirza describes that otherhood in her personal essay “White Women Drive Me Crazy.”

We trot out that statistic all the time about libraries being hella white. Yeah…that one. And we talk all the time about the feminization of the profession and how men might be the numerical minority (though some librarians at ALA also wanted to talk about how that too is diversity and that aggression is so big it’s basically a macroaggression) but are disproportionately represented in library leadership.

But what hits me most at these conferences are how often white women act as oppressors. How their “niceness” and “civility” are just weapons used against me and so many other librarians of color I know. How their allyship is so tied to their own comfort. How they will employ their tears over and over again to recenter themselves in the conversation.

But it’s ok! Because despite my pain, my fatigue, my struggle, white women will make posts like this.


I love knowing that my body is seen as diverse. Not as a person. But as a pat on the back. But don’t worry when challenged (can it be a challenge if POC are sharing their experience???), she’ll listen, right? Right?


And the support is always there. I’m sorry we made you uncomfortable. Of course you didn’t mean any harm. Of course your statements can’t cause any harm. Aisha puts in her byline “Innocent until proven innocent.” And so let it be written so let it be done.


After ALA I went to go see my partner in Boston (we’re currently bicoastal which sucks to say the least) and it was so lovely to be in a space with another queer person of color who loves me. Who I could actually recharge with. Who I could be all of myself with.

Part of the reason I hate the rhetoric around vocational awe is because I cannot love a field that doesn’t love me. I cannot love a profession where I cannot thrive due to facets of my identity. And I do not want to. I will continue to do the work I can to make the field better, but I will not put my whole self into a field that does not accept all of me. All of my blackness. All of my radicalness and attempts at decolonization.

Perhaps white women who will inevitably read this–go past the initial defensiveness and really hear what we are saying. Why is it that April and I and so many librarians of color I talked to feel this fatigue at ALA and other library spaces? Why is it that awesome leaders in our field like Jarrett Drake are leaving the profession?

As for me, I’m going to take a step back. I’m going to continue what my vacation week started and rest, recover, and recharge. And maybe soon I’ll have the energy to jump back in.

Vocational Awe?

Aka the humblebrag post in which I discuss how I came up with a term. 

When the call for proposals for the Identity, Agency, and Culture in Academic Libraries conference, I was super excited. It often felt like these topics were mentioned at other conferences, but not thoroughly and in only a select number of sessions. This was the opportunity to speak on how these things affect not only our work, but how we interact with other professionals.

Sveta invited me to be on a panel about being feeling ambivalence experienced while being a librarian, and I was like YES, these are the kinds of conversations that, in my opinion, are not done nearly enough and should be explored. As we were brainstorming, I mentioned that I was interested in deconstructing this idea of vocational awe in librarianship. I saw the concept as the root of a lot of problems within librarianship, especially in creating a work/life balance and in larger critiques of the field. As I worked on this panel, and in facilitating a roundtable with Rachel Fleming, I experienced just how pervasive it was within librarianship.

So it wasn’t until the night before the conference, when Sveta told me that I created the term, that I realized that this language wasn’t already in the discourse. For me, the phrase seemed so apropos that I thought everyone was using it. (ok humblebrag over)

So what exactly is “vocational awe?” 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. The closest that Sveta found to a similar concept was occupational mythology in the journalism world.

Now there are many ways this plays out, but this is something that a librarian in my friend group recently put on Facebook.

vocational awe1

The story is about how a bunch of middle school students refused to participate in a photo op with Paul Ryan in DC due to disagreements over his alignment with Trump and general policies. But look at the comment. The person who shared this uses it as a platform to show how the amazing impact of libraries going as far as to say that since Alexandria, libraries have imparted these freedoms (freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedoms of communication, etc) on its peoples. If libraries are so inherently amazing, then why were so many libraries segregated? If librarians raise such free thinkers, why are there such rampant -isms (racism, sexism, ableism, etc) within librarianship? How can one really critique a field and the people within it, when it is held to such high esteem?

And so what happens when librarianship is seen as a calling rather than a profession? Well, you get articles like the one below:

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 10.12.56 AM

The language becomes about passion (and lack thereof) rather than advocacy and fulfillment. The more one struggles for their work, the “holier” it becomes and the less likely that people will fight for a healthier workspace, and the less likely it will be that people will actually separate themselves from their work. I mean how often have you heard someone say that they work through lunch and on the weekends, because they’re so “passionate” about what they do? Or that they should put a bed in their office? Since when is living at your workplace seen as a badge of honor? Why should working until you literally burnout due to physical and emotional exhaustion be the norm? While this article does go on to talk about emotional labor and some concrete strategies to belay it, the article title and abstract seem to conflate burnout with lack of passion rather than lack of institutional support.

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. You can’t eat on passion. You can’t pay rent on passion. It is not a sustainable source of income, and we need to stop treating vocational awe as the only way to be a librarian.