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Whiteness—an ideological practice that can extend beyond notions of racial supremacy to other areas of dominance—has permeated every aspect of librarianship, extending even to the initiatives we claim are committed to increasing diversity.
This state of affairs, however, need not remain. This article examines the ways in which whiteness controls diversity initiatives in LIS, particularly in light of the application requirements set upon candidates.
I then suggest ways to correct for whiteness in LIS diversity programs by providing mentorship to diverse applicants struggling to navigate the whiteness of the profession and concurrently working in solidarity to dismantle whiteness from within. Strait Minority Scholarship to help fund library school for college graduates interested in law librarianship; the American Library Association ALA runs its Spectrum Scholars Program to provide scholarships to diverse LIS students and a corresponding Spectrum Leadership Institute to help prepare these students for successful careers in the library field.
Nevertheless, these efforts are not making any meaningful difference. As one of my colleagues has so accurately put it: With minority librarians leaving the profession as soon as they are recruited, what can be done to render our abundance of diversity initiatives truly effective? Why are these ambitious and numerous initiatives failing to have the desired effect?
Shortly after discussing this very issue with a colleague over lunch, I received an email regarding the approaching deadline for the ARL Career Enhancement Programwhich is aimed at placing diverse, early career librarians in internships with member libraries.
Reading through the onerous application process, the realization hit me: Our diversity programs do not work because they are themselves coded to promote whiteness as the norm in the profession and unduly burden those individuals they are most intended to help. Whiteness in LIS Studying whiteness in LIS has yet to hit the mainstream of library scholarship, but there have been a number of critical and radical library scholars who have taken up the challenge of interrogating and troubling the whiteness of the profession Bourg, ; Espinal,; Galvan, ; Hall, ; Honma, These critical examinations highlight the many dimensions of any accurate definition of whiteness as an ideological practice.
For these writers, whiteness refers not only to racial and ethnic categorizations but a complete system of exclusion based on hegemony. This system of exclusion functions primarily through the normativity of whiteness within librarian and larger societal culture. The normativity of whiteness works insidiously, invisibly, to create binary categorizations of people as either acceptable to whiteness and therefore normal or different and therefore other.
The invisible nature of whiteness is key to its power; when it is not named or interrogated, it can persist in creating a culture of exclusion behind the scenes of LIS practice Espinal,; Galvan, ; Honma, Likewise, whiteness is at work when genderqueer librarians are forced to choose between binary gender groupings, neither of which apply to their identities, when using the restroom at work.
This working of white normativity occurs without thought and intention but is still powerfully exclusionary and damaging to the profession.
A major contributor to the invisible normativity of whiteness in librarianship has been the fact that whiteness has played such a fundamental role in the profession from the start. Public libraries in the U.
Given the historical context, white normativity continues to be a hallmark of modern librarianship. White normativity in LIS extends to the ways in which we discuss and address diversity in the profession. Rather than being framed as a shared goal for the common good, diversity is approached as a problem that must be solved, with diverse librarians becoming the objectified pawns deployed to attack the problem.
She identifies culture, conspicuous leisure, and access to wealth as barriers to entry for members from diverse backgrounds Galvan, My research extends that framework to examine ways in which similar barriers come into play even before the hiring process—in diversity initiatives supposedly aimed at encouraging members of marginalized groups to pursue the education and training necessary for a career in librarianship.
When we recruit for whiteness, we will perpetuate whiteness in the profession, even when it comes in the form of a librarian with a diverse background. A look at the application requirements for a typical LIS diversity initiative demonstrates this point.
In order to qualify for an internship through the ARL Career Enhancement Programfor example, applicants must submit: Each of these requirements assumes that applicants are situated in positions of white, middle-class, cisgender normativity that allow for the temporal, financial, and educational privilege that fulfilling these criteria would require.Testimonials Becky Anderson, Little Rock, AR.
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