Libraries: Beyond neutral and pushing to inclusiveness (by Alex Kent, Digital Initiatives Librarian, PALS)
Recently I attended the Lake Superior Libraries Symposium Conference at University of Minnesota-Duluth, to give a lightning talk announcing our Islandora project with Leech Lake Tribal College. The Beyond Neutral theme had me slightly uncomfortable from the start. I’ve always been one to lean more to the side of neutral and focused on providing access to materials – I have a degree in library science with an Archives Management focus. This is my comfort zone. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this conference. Except I knew that I really enjoyed last years – good sessions, and very well organized (with plenty of coffee everywhere!), and so I was ready to enjoy the day.
For me the conference actually started Thursday night first with a walk through Duluth to the lighthouse, where I got to watch a ship come in. There I found a sketch of a medicine wheel at the lighthouse that seemed apt for the conference theme: Push toward beyond neutral and libraries are for everyone. As I understand it, medicine wheels are about showing balance. The themes of the Symposium reflect that, finding balance between traditional neutrality and the need to be inclusive and perhaps more than neutral. Seeing it got me thinking at least.
After my walk – stretching legs felt great after a 4 hour or so drive to Duluth from Mankato – I headed to the Blacklist Brewery for an evening of trivia with conference attendees. For, what else do you get with a bunch of librarians at a brewery? It just kind of happens.
Our team ended up in tied for third, better than expected! But not good enough for one of the prizes.
It was cool near the lake Friday morning but when I got to the library at UMD-Duluth, it was bright and sunny. The library at UMD-Duluth is an impressive building and can’t be missed.
As always there is good signage at the Symposium. Thank you, organizers!
Friday started with an inspiring talk by Dr. Loreine Roy. She has amazing passion for this profession, and wonderful humor that got us started. It felt like it would certainly be hard to follow her presentation! I was starting to feel more energy again, however, passion for my own profession and goals that I may have lost over the years.
This was in the back of my head as I went to the next sessions. It started to grow as I attended more sessions, and I felt refreshed again that there was still such positive energy and goals to move forward in this profession. It’s a bit cliche, but true – I felt I found a little bit of what I’d lost, without really knowing I’d lost it.
Some of those refreshing sessions were:
Entering the Dialog: Responding to Current and Campus Events (Carrie Kruse and Raina Bloom, College Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
For the first session, I ended up in “Entering the Dialog: Responding to Current and Campus Events.” My original thought for attending was to perhaps learn about strategies for online responses or news stories regarding events, and perhaps applying that to my communications on the PALS Islandora community. The presenters discussed a Black Lives Matter protest/march and die-in that occurred in their library. The way they handled it was to just let it happen, and stay out of the way. I thought they did a wonderful job of that. While I perhaps did not learn much that could apply to my original thoughts, it was a great example of what a library can do to just let events happen, and be inclusive to everyone. It was interesting seeing how they handled the online interactions on Twitter, trying to get out a unified statement about the event as it happened.
A Librarian’s Place Is In the Resistance (Katherine Elchert, Rice Lake Public Library; Virginia Roberts, Rhinelander District Library; Dawn Wacek, La Crosse Public Library; and Hollis Helmeci, Rusk County Community Library)
This was a lively discussion on how libraries can navigate pursuing such radical ideas as going fine-free, setting up story times on diversity, and how you could talk about it in your library. There was also discussion on news and fake news, and we got a nice list of sites to check out for news:
All Sides has perspectives from the left, the center, and the right on various news stories. It is worth exploring.
Another site to possible explore is http://www.motherjones.com/. This does appear to be on the “left” more than not.
Adam Brisk introduces the lightning round talks, trying to wake us up after lunch:
As always lightning the talks were good, and one I enjoyed was a look at Library of Congress headings and the idea of “neutral headings”. As the presenter went through them, it became clearer that they were in fact, not at all neutral. She posed the question, can any labels ever be considered neutral? It is something to think about.
I survived the talk I gave announcing our project with Leech Lake Tribal College. To my surprise I finished on time and there was time for questions. There actually seemed to be excitement and interest about the project. I will keep everyone informed as I can with our progress.
Possibly the most valuable aspect of this conference was hearing Dr. Roy’s talk, and connecting with her after my own lightning round. She affirmed that our project is of importance and needed. This was great to hear.
Finding the balance
As I drove back from Duluth, I thought about the role libraries should play. Neutral, or beyond? I came to the conclusion – or at least initial conclusion – that libraries should work on finding the balance of pushing the neutral toward including everyone. It goes back to this, I think. Libraries really should be for everyone. If this means libraries have to move beyond neutral, then I personally think this is absolutely necessary.
Thank you to the Lake Superior Libraries Symposium organizers for being bold enough to put together a great event!