What I’m Thinking About in November

Long time no see! I want to pop in here and share some things I have been reading/watching along with my election thoughts.

Both the Parts and the Whole: Leadership and Systems Thinking
I read this in preparation for a meeting with my supervisor. I mentioned that I was interested in learning more about systems thinking so this was her suggestion. I thought this was a really helpful introduction into systems thinking and I found it easy to frame examples from my own life with a systems thinking approach.

  • Takeaway 1: Today’s solutions can become tomorrows problems if they are not well thought out (i.e. we look at the whole system and not just the problem in front of us). We must balance quick fixes with long term solutions so that we minimize the problems we run into later. Shooting the alligator vs draining the swamp.
  • Key Takeaway 2: Goal Displacement is what happens when we focus more on the “how” (i.e. bureaucratic processes) instead of the “why” (our organizational goals and values). I think many of us can find examples of this in our organizations.
  • Key Takeaway 3: We do not want systems with a lot of friction. Friction leads to exhaustion, cynicism and apathy.

Thinking in Systems (Chapter 1)
In this introductory chapter, I got a more in-depth overview of systems thinking.

  • When we are looking at systems (which are made up of elements, interconnections, and functions), pay less attention to the elements, and more attention to those interconnections or relationships.
  • If you want to know what the function/purpose of a system is, just look at what it does. Stated goals and aspirations are not the same as a systems function/purpose. This can be seen when we talk about anti-racism work. We can say we are doing the work, but if we aren’t ACTUALLY doing the work, it will be obvious.

Are white women going to fuck it up again in 2020
In this video, Kimberly Foster interviews Jenna Arnold, author of Raising Our Hands: How White Women Can Stop Avoiding Hard Conversations, Start Accepting Responsibility, and Find Our Place on the New Frontlines. 

  • This video really reinforced meeting people where they are. It makes no sense for me to give my Tr*mp-voting aunt a James Baldwin book and to expect her to read it AND to understand it. We must work hard to talk to the communities we are accepted into. I am trying to navigate how to have these conversations within my own family.
  • White progressive women need to practice more humility and stop performing wokeness for each other. This point comes from an observation Jenna made during her research. She talked about how progressive white women could never really get to the meat of conversations with each other. There was very little curiosity and a lot of one-upping each other on the fine details and nuances of social justice issues which obviously isn’t very conducive to action or progress.
  • Somewhat relatedly, this video reminded me of White Supremacy Cultures’ role in reinforcing this behavior from white women (and people in general). Off the top of my head, I think about defensiveness and perfectionism as characteristics of White Supremacy Culture and how this overlapped with what Jenna saw in her research.

From Being to Doing: AntiRacism as Action at Work
This was a an ALAO conference session by Ione Damasco that I watched asynchronously. I am always interested in how we can go beyond talking about issues to putting in some actual work.

  • Ione’s presentation went through some of the characteristics of White Supremacy Culture and offered liberating actions we could take against those characteristics.
  • My biggest takeaway from this  presentation was the mention of generous accountability coined by McKensie Mack.

Shifting the Center: Transforming Academic Libraries through Generous Accountability
I wanted to see the context in which the term generous accountability was used, so I watched this presentation by McKensie Mack (they/them/theirs).

  • McKensie also discusses how White Supremacy Culture and how libraries continue to perpetuate the characteristics. They also touched on how White Supremacy Culture makes accountability feel punitive, bad and scary due to the focus on defensiveness, perfectionism, etc.
  • McKensie reminds us that accountability should not be seen as punishment! This made me think about previous conversations I’ve had with people about cultural humility (or just humility) and being able to accept being wrong, learning from mistakes, and moving forward. Can you even imagine accountability that does not feel like punishment? This is something I will have to work hard to unlearn.

Challenging the Good Fit Narrative: Creating Inclusive Recruitment Practices in Academic Libraries
I read this article for a workplace discussion on EDI and this was pretty eye-opening. It talks about this notion of a candidate being a “good fit” and how this can be coded language to exclude people of color (or anyone outside the white supremacy culture norm) from the organization. I thought this was super interesting, especially how the research shows that most people can’t even articulate what a “good fit” is, but use it as a way to exclude people. Obviously there was a conversation about how this takes so many diverse candidates out out of the pool. This then leaves the impression that there aren’t enough people of color out there and is the reason why our organizations diversity percentages are pathetic. The authors talk about “extending fit” vs. “good fit” and how we should consider the former. We might actually want people who will come in and challenge the ways we see and do things. This is how our organizations can evolve.

So those are some of the things that have been percolating in my brain the last couple of weeks! Let me know if you read/watch any of them and have any thoughts.

As of writing this, Joe Biden won the Presidential Election and this has drudged up a lot of things to think about. I am relieved, but has shown me how the systems we are part of at a micro level are mirrored at a micro level. Let me explain.

We talk a lot about anti-racism work in libraries and how it should not be the responsibility of BIPOC to educate folks or to do the work on their own (and without compensation!) Everyone has a part to play, not just BIPOC. And most of the time, BIPOC are already doing the work with no credit or compensation OR with very tokenized acts of acknowledgement.

Now look at the voting demographics of this election, where we see Black people showing up for our democracy, leading many grass-roots organizations, and building communities despite the obstacle placed in front of them while the white vote continues to be split (weighed on the Tr*mp side). People on social media are thanking black voters and Georgia and I get that sentiment. But instead of thanking them, how about we actually listen to Black people? organize with Black organizers? pay Black organizers for their work? rebuild the systems that systematically oppresses Black people? listen to Black folks?

A familiar scene, just at a national level.

I’m not trying to be a bummer. I just wanted to share how jarring it was to make that connection between those two situations. Anyways. I hope wherever you are, that you are staying safe and that you can breathe a little bit easier tonight. I know I can.

Recently Read: “Intersectionality at the Reference Desk: Lived Experiences of Women of Color Librarians” by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho

My work as a Diversity Resident Librarian has begun to pick up which is really exciting. Part of the increase in workload is the fact that I have committed to some research areas.

The first area that I want to explore involves updating a study done by Jesus Alonso-Regalado. His work “Librarian for Latin American and Caribbean Studies in U.S. Academic and Research Libraries: A Content Analysis of Position Announcements, 1970-2007” provides an image of what your “typical” Latin American Librarian looked like up until 2007 and what kinds of shifts in the job duties, hiring requirements, and other important criteria have happened in the profession. It is now 2019 and I am curious to see if any more formative shifts have taken place since this study was done, especially since the profession has started to welcome some younger librarians and the field of Area Studies continues to shift around.

My second research area is a bit more broad. I want to continue to look at equity, diversity and inclusion as it pertains to librarianship. I want to further explore the role diversity residencies play in solving the professions lack of diversity, and I want to continue to explore my experiences so far as a Puerto Rican Woman in this profession. For idea generation, I have begun to seek out literature that speaks to the lack of diversity in librarianship and came across “Intersectionality at the Reference Desk: Lived Experiences of Women of Color Librarians” by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho and I was shocked by the experiences these Women of Color (WOC) shared with the authors.

Before I go into my thoughts and feelings, I first wanted to comment on the choice to use a feminist interviewing methodology. As I continue to delve into topics of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, etc. really understanding the nuance of different experiences and situations is important to the discussion of these topics. I also appreciated the thoughtfulness in relying heavily on direct quotes from the women interviewed to stress the importance and validity of these women’s experiences. No need to always cite a scholarly publication to validate someones lived experience, right?

Now onto my thoughts:

The experiences these women shared were frightening. As a non-white woman, it is horrifying to think that these kinds of situations could be in my future. Its disheartening to think that I might have to work 2x harder than my white peers to be taken seriously , but that being overly ambitious could be detrimental to my career. The pressure and reality of being the token Black WOC or Latina (or other identity) in the institution must be paralyzing. For me, this would be incredibly paralyzing because I am not the “stereotypical latina”. If people in my institution are wanting me to be representative of this massively diverse group of humans (their first mistake), they are going to be disappointed to find out that I don’t know all that much about most latinx subjects (who really can though, there is so much to know) and I am probably closer to them culturally than their idea of what latinx means! This wasn’t something mentioned in the piece, but for me, this would make me feel invalid. Like I am not really latina because I don’t fit the image these people expect from me.

There are also cultural differences which might be viewed as incompetence. One woman mentioned how she feels judged by her colleagues whenever she helped Latina students. She noted the cultural importance of talking and chatting before getting to the meat of a topic, something my Mexican-American Supervisor has stressed the importance of as well. These kinds of cultural practices are important because they build trust with patrons and can make them feel more comfortable when they see a familiar cultural practice! So why is her competence being questioned for “taking too long”? That is ridiculous. In my personal institution, I don’t think this kind of cultural practice is a problem as things seem to be a bit less structured. But I do find the extra time need to be true.

With that said, this is something I find that my experience is reversed. I find myself feeling incompetent because I can’t do that whole social practice of small talk before getting to the main stuff with latinx students and faculty. Culturally, I have been exposed to this practice through my family, but it just never stuck. Maybe its my anxiety? Who knows. But in my position, I work with many latinx faculty and grad students and find this exchange uncomfortable. I struggle to do it. It is especially noticeable when my supervisor is comfortable with this cultural practice and I witness these interactions first-hand. I will say that watching my supervisor has helped a lot. There isn’t a formula to these types of interactions, but every time I can watch her do it, I feel comfortable knowing that I have an idea of what to do when it is my turn to engage.  On the hard days, it is easy to look at my supervisor and feel incompetent. But I try to remember that this is not a sign of incompetence. It is a skill that I am learning and I am not expected to master it on my first try! I thought this was an interesting divergence of experience.

Lastly, I just wanted to mention the fact the self-care was something mentioned as coping mechanisms to negative experiences. I thought this was such an important contribution to the literature. As someone with anxiety and depression, it is important to discuss mental health in the workplace. While the authors focused on self-care and the ways negative experiences can have a negative impact on the mental health of these women, I want to add how mental health can play a role in exacerbating some of the issues we face. It is a fine line between the microaggressions and negative experiences causing anxiety and depression, and how pre-existing anxiety and depression can make it even more difficult to face these negative experiences.

Ultimately, this article allowed me to do some self-reflection in regards to my place in the library as a non-white, cisgender woman who suffers from anxiety and depression. I read the experiences shared and wondered the likelihood that I would experience similar situations to those listed here. I also wondered how the nuances of my identity would change the likelihood of these experiences happening to me (i.e. very light skin, no accent, straight, culturally pretty “american, etc.”) The only thing I do know for sure is that every single WOC and POC in librarianship will have a different experience, or different feelings about similar experiences, and these are all valid.