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.