‘Diversity,’ feminized work, and other truth bombs at ACRL 2017

Our profession is steeped in a murky racial and gendered history. When Roxane Gay came on stage, the first thing she said to us was “man, there’s a lot of white people in this room.” And, she’s right.

Librarianship has been feminized and white ever since Melvil Dewey. You remember, the Dewey decimal system guy? All of us librarians know how you attribute our work to that dude. Except, we know that he believed white women would be perfect for the profession because they “wouldn’t cause trouble,” not because our work would be valuable. Not to mention he liked to sexually assault women on the reg, but that’s a different post for another day.

Emily Drabinski, Nicole Pagowsky, and Roxanne Shirazi spoke to the implications that this has on our work, how it works as a system in reducing the importance of our research and depressing our salaries. Our work hinges on intensification, precarity, and inequality.


In another paper presentation, Veronica Douglas and Joanna Gadsby spoke more specifically to undervaluing library instruction coordinators and other teaching or relational types of positions. They point to “Joyce Fletcher, who, inspired by the relational-cultural theorists that organizations are rooted in a masculine bias that not only favors “doing work” in a particular way, but actively excludes or “disappears” more feminized relational types of work.” Things like teaching, outreach, liaisonship– all very relational and yet invisible ‘women’s work.’


What should a librarian look like? A white cis woman. What do library administrators look like? White cis men. What does this do to WOC in the profession? The problem with answering these questions is that much of the literature is from the 90s– look at Roma Harris, Joan Acker, Arli Russell Hochschild. There’s a gap here–of 30 years–, where the most research is really only looking at white hetero gender-normative women while othering and erasing everyone else.

And to me, it feels like we’ve been trying to compensate for that by increasing “diversity and inclusion efforts” on our campus and in our hiring practices.

“We think by using the word ‘diversity,’ we’re somehow contributing to change. Change takes effort.” -Roxane Gay

Don’t get me wrong, I think having diversity and inclusion events on campus is a good thing. But simply saying ‘we want our campus to be inclusive to everyone’ isn’t actually doing anything. Using words like “diversity” and “inclusion” as Gay points out has already placed a safe distance between us and them. This takes work, it takes resisting, it takes being there in it all.

“I don’t want your shame. I want your fight” -Roxane Gay

“Where I stood on that corner, the library was a beacon not a separator.” -Dr. Carla Hayden

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