Exposing Vocational Awe by Exploring the Reality of White Supremacy in Libraries

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  • The University of British Columbia Okanagan Library has been developing a robust Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee that encompasses representation from librarians, library staff, and student staff. The scope of this committee includes strategic and operational work and multiple smaller working groups who explore, assess, and integrate EDI work into Teaching, Learning, and Engagement, Indigenous Strategic Planning, and Recruitment and Retention. In addition, the work of this group has included developing anti-racism initiatives based on campus directives and strategic documents, and professional development opportunities and collaborations amongst different employee groups within the library and with other campus partners.Through our work, questions have arisen such as, how do we improve access and services for students who may not feel welcomed in the library? How can we incorporate critical concepts into one-shot information literacy instruction? How might we explicitly confront and acknowledge the idea that libraries are inherently good and safe spaces, and the notion of librarians as infallible defenders of democracy as constructed narratives, so we can begin to counter the oppressive and white supremacist aspects of our work?In considering our response to these questions, and in order to effectively and publicly communicate our committee’s purpose and goals, we decided to create a more intentional space to explore the theme of white supremacy in academic libraries, and the culture of whiteness, that consistently enable the structures of colonialism, imperialism, and oppression within the academic library and university context. Through this process we have worked to unpack the ideas around vocational awe, and the roles that we as library workers have in critiquing this system.Recognizing that this exploration would necessarily be messy, and the complicity that a group of folks who are primarily white have in enabling and supporting the structures of white supremacy in the library and the academy, an exploratory working group was struck to start reading, listening, uncovering, recognizing, and moving to identify ways to dismantle white supremacy in our library.Through intentional practice of slow looking and reflection without defined outcomes, we intend to connect the history of white supremacy in libraries, academia and Canada to our committee’s activities, grounding our efforts relating to changing library practices in recruitment, training and retention of staff, and teaching and learning in a deeper understanding of past and present oppression and exclusion.This presentation will discuss our working group’s purpose and processes, our preliminary findings and next steps.

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    Conference/Workshop Presentation
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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International