Gavia Libraria

Silencing, librarianship, and gender: links, apologies, and suggestions

Two pieces that well deserve a read from anyone who has found the silencing conversation of interest:

The Loon also wishes to draw attention to Taiga’s choices of topic for its next meeting, which include an option that will itself include a discussion of silencing and its effects. Honestly, the Loon isn’t sure Taiga as a whole is ready for that discussion, though obviously some of its members are. We’ll see.

So much for links. Now, apologies.

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. This was not supposed to happen. It’s happening because writing about this is viciously stressful for the Loon, who (perhaps surprisingly) has a rather avoidant personality to begin with. The Loon is feeling the stress damaging her body and her behavior, and has slowed her posting pace to try to manage it.

One side-effect of the prolongation (again, judging from Twitter) has been a quite justified sense that all the Loon can do is complain about this, with no solutions in mind. The Loon asks her readers to remember that this conversation started at an “is silencing real?” place. The Loon judged that getting past that would take some meticulous and unfortunately longwinded rhetoric.

To be clearer, then: nothing about silencing is inevitable, in the Loon’s mind. Though it is well-established in the profession generally and in individual workplaces, it can be stopped. Our professional culture can be changed to prevent it, to hold more honest and fruitful discussions, to embrace critique even when it is harsh. The Loon wants this very badly, not for herself (it’s far too late to salvage the Loon) but for her students. She is so very weary of thinking “no, that one will never make it in libraries” of those whose only fault (is it even a fault?) is a no-nonsense, analytical, reformist gleam in the eye. She will, she promises, close this series with what she hopes are actionable suggestions for improvement. The second link opening this post could be considered a partial preview of what she has in mind.

An apology is certainly due to Abraham de Jesus and his classmates. The Loon is so sorry for what that instructor said about diversity in librarianship. It was flatly wrong, factually as well as ethically. The Loon is ashamed that anyone in the library-instruction business would say it. She can offer no defense. (Rationalizations, many—the Loon, being human—er, avian—er, mortal, has certainly been guilty of cringingly bad spur-of-the-moment classroom responses—but rationalizations are not defenses.) The Loon tries to be conscious of ally-phobia and appropriation, so she hasn’t been addressing intersectionality in her silencing critique anywhere near as much as its importance deserves. She just could not let that anecdote go without an apology, however.

Now, a suggestion. On Twitter (again), a few people have been proclaiming themselves Rules-breakers. This is fine; for those interested in research, it’s a start toward an evidence base (assuming one accepts the Loon’s formulation of The Rules, which one is of course not obliged to do). What the Loon has seen that strikes her as less acceptable is (the Loon’s paraphrase) “I break The Rules, and I’m just fine!” One problem with this rhetoric is that it implies that those who have been punished for Rules-breaking must have flubbed it somehow. It also implies that anyone can flout the Rules with impunity if they just do it right. That leads to Rules epicycles (metaRules?) that make the Loon’s head hurt to contemplate… but more to the point, it’s target-blaming, and that’s not all right.

Like other kinds of oppression, The Rules are entwined in an entire system of people and their beliefs and behaviors, as well as interacting dysfunctionally with other societal oppressions. Asking a potential or actual target to buck the system—not to mention assuming it’s their fault if they don’t, or if they do and are punished for it—piles responsibility in entirely the wrong place.

(The Loon struggles with responsibility-allocation around her own professional history like a wild muskrat in a steel-toothed trap. If anything has delayed writing this series, it’s relevant events in that history that are complicated and guilt-ridden to analyze, much less fairly allocate responsibility for. To be quite clear, the Loon knows full well she fucked up and roughly how; she just is never sure exactly how much, nor who else did and how much, nor who should rightfully own what out of the trainwreck her career became. If that weren’t enough, the Loon is finding it difficult to decide whether it is ethical and appropriate to open those wounds here. Yes, that’s ironic! A post that addresses “airing dirty laundry” may well result. Whether the central anecdote the Loon is avoiding discussing makes it into that post… remains to be seen.)

The Loon would be glad to have more Rules-breaking allies, especially conscious and purposeful ones. She admits to having wearied long since of those who egg on her own Rules-breaking without putting their own feathers in the game. That’s different from exhorting individuals to defy the Rules, though. The Loon stops short of that; she feels she must.

Rules-breaking comes with consequences; if the Loon’s own example hasn’t shown that, what possibly could? Every now and then, even since her disgrace, the Loon has had people tell her they want to be like her. She fears her smile at such times, when she can manage to smile at all, is strained at best. The truth is, it costs effort not to scream “No! No, you utter fool! Do you even begin to understand the price? No professional anywhere should want to be like the Loon!” The Loon does her best to be sure her students (a few of whom can be unsettlingly emulatory) understand the price, too.

So the Loon’s final suggestion: don’t. Don’t be like the Loon. For pity’s sake. The Loon’s professional psyche is an algae-choked, weedy, stinking backwater. Don’t swim there.

3 thoughts on “Silencing, librarianship, and gender: links, apologies, and suggestions

  1. Chris Bourg

    Just a note to emphasize that the Taiga Forum at this year’s DLF (whichever topic is selected) is OPEN to ALL interested attendees. Taiga membership not required, AUL/AD status not required.

    Whether Taiga as a whole is ready for the conversation is an open question … although I fear if we wait for a group that is uniformly ready for the conversation, we may be waiting a very, very long time.

    1. Library Loon Post author

      Progress can sometimes be measured in conversations that some participants aren’t ready for, it seems.

      It’s good to know that meeting will be open. Is Taiga planning open meetings in other contexts? (The Loon has nothing whatever against DLF, which she has attended in the past; she’s just uncomfortably aware that it is not representative of academic librarianship as a whole, while Taiga ideally should heed everyone.)

  2. Chris Bourg

    Yes, yes, yes.
    Taiga is planning both more open meetings, and meetings and programs in a broader variety of contexts. We are working with ER&L about a possible program there; and we expect to do some programs at ALA MidWinter & Annual. We are looking for more ideas.
    Seems like making this new direction for Taiga more explicit in a blog post would be a good idea … I’ll try to get to that this weekend.