A core value of librarianship is that we have the ability and the responsibility to change society for the better. As the American Library Association puts it, librarians are responsible for “ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society.”
When we are faced with a critical problem like the heartbreaking pattern of unarmed young black men dying in altercations with law enforcement, what can librarians do to ameliorate this hurt?
In crisis situations, librarians can create an intentional community refuge. The Ferguson Public Library responded to community chaos in the wake of Michael Brown’s death by creating a safe space for all community members.
In addition to crisis situations, chronic inequality has an insidious effect on communities. Libraries can respond to chronic inequality as while as crisis situations. We can do this by sharing information, but more importantly, by actively speaking up for social justice.
Nicole Pagowsky and Niamh Wallace, librarians from the University of Arizona, shared a powerful message about librarians and social justice in this month’s College and Research Library News. Hundreds of miles away from Ferguson, these two librarians responded in their own library by creating a Ferguson resource LibGuide, which serves as a guide to information resources about Michael Brown’s death.
They express their belief that librarians have a responsibility to act in support of social justice:
“Positioning the library as anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-oppression helps us stay at the heart of the community, particularly in challenging times.”
Pagowsky and Wallace also remind us of Desmond Tutu’s words:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Leadership and librarianship both carry responsibilities for challenging injustice. I often feel unsure about how to address social injustice in my own spheres, both personally and professionally. Pagowsky and Wallace’s article reminded me that it can be as simple as trading neutrality for support, to endorse the message that black lives matter.