an optimistic letter to a new marginalized librarian
February 18, 2014
So… my last letter was kinda brutal but it doesn’t represent the whole of my thought.
My advice for marginalized people considering library school…
Go. Please. We need you. Not in a liberal ‘diversity is super nice!’ kinda way and the ‘we’ I’m talking about isn’t the royal We. No. I mean other marginalized librarians. We need you.
I think one of the few things that got me through library school was the other students of colour (to pick but one axis of oppression). It was immensely encouraging to be able to share solidarity looks with other people I knew would get it. It was great to not be alone.
One of the things I dislike about how a lot of ‘we need diversity’ initiatives are framed is the way that it often focuses on how it’ll benefit either the majority or the institution, with little thought for how it actually benefits other marginalized librarians.
Despite the almost (at times) overwhelming homogeniety of the field, there are, in actual fact, librarians of colour, queer librarians, trans librarians, librarians with all kinds of cognitive, social, and physical disabilities, librarians of every kind. We are here, despite the fairly small numbers.
We need you because it is always fantastic to not be the only person of colour in a room. Because I know I want to build community with you. Because we have so much to learn from each other. And, to be honest, we are simply just plain awesome.
For recent grads… it is important to heed the warnings from my cynical letter. Librarianship is a tough field. And it has all the same failings as society in general.
Money isn’t, in fact, everything. And all of this stuff is relative. I almost did a PhD in philosophy. However dismal the job situation is for librarians it is miles better than it is for philosophers. And even though it librarianship, as a whole, doesn’t pay that much – if you were poor like me, an average starting wage of $55k (in Canada) is a whole lot of money to you. I know it is for me.
Even more important…
I sincerely and wholeheartedly love this field. I love what I do. I find it interesting, engaging, and I want to keep doing it. Yes, there are other things I could do (and perhaps should do) but I do enjoy this. I enjoy the fact that, all things considered, my job really isn’t that stressful. I’m not a doctor, people’s lives (thank the ancestors) aren’t hanging in the balance. I’m not a lawyer, who have a toxic work all the time culture. I’m not even in private sector tech, which likewise requires a level of devotion that I just don’t want to give (I plainly refuse to consider working 50 hours a week, or more).
And for all the fact that the same institutional barriers exist, unlike a bunch of other fields I can think of, the average librarian (in my experience) isn’t often oppressive on a personal basis. In other words… the people are, by and large, good. And – this is critical – many of them want to get better. While none of us owe it to the field to be ‘ambassardors’ of diversity or whatever, to become model minorities, that isn’t what I’m suggesting.
What I am suggesting is that, since you already have your MLIS, I’m really happy that you are here. And that, all this stuff aside, if you do get your career off the ground, it’ll probably be awesome and totally worth it.
(Of course, the ‘getting off the ground’ depends on a lot of things. Some you can’t control, some you can. As I said before, if you fail or decide that it isn’t worth the effort, this isn’t about you. The system will have failed you. But I believe in you ‘cause you’ve already made it this far and you can totally do this.)
Last, and of the highest importance, we are here. You will not be alone. And (I know for me) we’ll help in any way we can. There is support out there.
I wish you all the best.