ViMLoC committee members have written annotations on powerful pieces they have read. If you’re looking for something to read, check here for some recommendations! Annotations are organized by reverse chronological order (most recent at the top).

Click the title to read the annotations:

Not a token! A discussion on racial capitalism and its impact on academic librarians and libraries

Published: 2021
By Silvia Vong
Annotation by Allan Cho, April 25, 2022

Sylvia Vong’s Not a token! A discussion on racial capitalism and its impact on academic librarians and libraries is such an important piece in the LIS and CRT literature. This piece hits home for me what is racial capitalism: the commodification of the performance of one’s racialized identity in specific settings identified by the dominant group. Racial capitalism places value on racialized librarians or staff members’ cultural knowledge when there is some capitalistic benefit (e.g. appearing multicultural). Vong’s piece is important, and identifies key themes of racial capitalism within the context of libraries:

  • Fractured identities – The alienation of racial identity in the sense that identity may be bought and sold like in a marketplace. Racialized persons can never be themselves in the workplace simply due to the schizophrenic identities they need to assume.
  • Racialized tasks – This is the work minorities do that is associated with their position in the organizational hierarchy and reinforces Whites’ position of power within the workplace. The UL’s assistant once came to me asking to translate a passage into Chinese. While I didn’t say I couldn’t do it (I refused in the end), it was a reminder that regardless of my position or my CV, I’d forever be the other librarian.
  • Identity Performance demands – The identity performances of racialized people that stem from pressures to perform their non-whiteness and to perform it in a way palatable to the white majority. I’ve seen so many racialized colleagues anxious and nervous to change the way they behave or whom they associate within group settings (sometimes even avoiding sitting with other racialized colleagues) as a way to fit in and “feel” included.
  • Consuming trauma stories – This happens when the majority revels in listening (sometimes with empathy) to the difficult experiences of their racialized colleagues. This group consumption of racial trauma stories, unfortunately, results in further damage to racialized staff who must re-visit traumatic experiences in the presence of those who may have perpetrated acts of racism and discrimination.
  • Cultural performance demands – Outreach programming and events aimed at racialized groups for holidays or educating the larger community through awareness campaigns are often delegated or assigned to racialized librarians, adding more work and pressures to perform identity work. When racialized librarians are asked to perform identity work, they are tasked with cultural education or anti-racism and EDI.
  • Cultural Taxation – The added time and workload of taking on anti-racism and EDI work are typically not financially compensated, meaning that most racialized people take on research, practice, and/or service along with EDI and anti-racism responsibilities in institutions where there are few racialized staff. They are added to various committees, positions, and expected to mentor in addition to meeting the goals and objectives in their annual work plans, all without acknowledgment of the extra work.
  • “Conditional hospitality” – It’s the invisible workload that racialized people are expected to do, to give something back in return, on condition of being welcomed to the group. A lot of extra time and emotional labour goes into performing identity work, which adds to workloads that are typically uncompensated and expected from racialized library employees with the assumption that they are all willing and able to work on EDI and anti-racism initiatives and committees. We often hear the phrase by racialized pioneers, “I knew I had to work twice as hard to succeed.” That’s what is meant by being conditional.
  • Pay inequity – Racial minorities are particularly vulnerable to broad fluctuations in market conditions, whether it’s the economy or the workplace. When there’s someone who is let go or comes second in a hiring decision, it’s often the racialized person. A disturbing study found that visible minority librarians in Canada earn substantially less than their non-visible counterparts.

Is the Meritocratic System Meritocratic?

It’s dangerous to assume neutrality in society, which is reflected in the workplace. In promotion and tenure/permanent status evaluations, procedures and policies may appear impartial, but decisions are often made by small groups of library administrators or elected colleagues. These evaluative processes are prime for bias and, although it can be argued that rubrics of evaluation help to restrict hidden prejudice, “they are typically constructed and draw on institutional and organizational goals and objectives that mould librarians into the image or vision of the organization.” (Vong, p. 136). Vong offers words of encouragement as a way out: we need to introduce CRT in leadership and training as well as properly fund EDI work. This needs continued emphasis from leadership in organizations. Whether it’s a 400-person library or a three-person hospital library, change and inclusion require work that goes beyond tweaking tokenistic gestures.

Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves

Published: 2018
By Fobazi Ettarh
Annotation by Mike Chee, January 18, 2022

In this seminal piece on vocational awe, Fobazi Ettarh frames current issues in libraries as mediated by their Christian-based history of values. Tracing a development premised on devout dedication to the greater good, Ettarh emphasizes that libraries and librarians are held up as inherently good and sacred, with the corollary that anything not aligned with this standard is immediately seen and felt as a failing. This view of libraries is in direct conflict with their actual positionality as social institutions, subject to use as a tool by and for the dominant culture, and potential exacerbator of inequity.

While Ettarh touches on real and persistent issues impacting the profession, such as burnout, under-compensation, and job creep, one of the most valuable discussions centers around the lack of diversity within the ranks of librarians. Historically complicit in the production and maintenance of white privilege, the institution of library in North America has and continues to be dominated by white women. In ongoing conceptions of the library as a cornerstone of democracy, the question of “democracy for who” is often implicitly answered as “for the dominant, White culture”.

As we work towards improving equity, diversity, and inclusion in libraries, Ettarh’s piece is a reminder and acceptance that we have been set up for feelings of failure. An important question worth posing emerges: being asked to exercise privilege to dismantle a system that inherently privileges the status quo, while inherently being a part of the problem- is such action possible? It is this uncomfortable yet required simultaneous positionality that feels somehow worse when also holding the embedded sense that librarianship is supposed to be glorious and good. This is taxing work. But Ettarh’s article helps these feelings to be named, understood, and perhaps, offers a reprieve for our profession by helping us unpack feelings of failure as we work to do better.

Knowledge justice: Disrupting library and information studies through critical race theory.

Published: 2021
Edited by Sofia Y. Leung & Jorge R. López-McKnight
Annotation by Allan Cho, October 26, 2021

Knowledge Justice features some of the strongest voices of BIPOC writers who are both academic scholars and library practitioners, composed of fourteen chapters that each draw from critical race theory (CRT) in countering foundational principles, values, and assumptions of objectivity and neutrality, long-cherished in Library and Information Science and Studies (LIS) teaching and practices. While it’s no surprise to anyone that LIS is a predominantly white profession, the systemic inequities that historically marginalized groups face are often concealed behind colour-blind policies. For instance, the book reminds us that naming the problem in diversity statements or policies is important – whether it’s antiracism, harassment, etc. – rather than using boilerplate language and genericizing “diversity.”

With a focus on the counterstory, the book deconstructs the comfortable and clean history of the library and archival collections, scholarly communication, hierarchies of power, epistemic supremacy, children’s librarianship, teaching and learning, digital humanities, and the education system; Knowledge Justice challenges LIS to reimagine itself by throwing off the weight and legacy of white supremacy and reaching for racial justice. The authors propel CRT to center stage in LIS, to push the profession to understand and reckon with how white supremacy affects practices, services, curriculum, spaces, and policies. I’m deeply moved by the counter-stories shared, an approach that disrupts the long-held hegemonic narrative of libraries as scientific, rational, and neutral discipline and profession. The voices from this book are poignant, emotional, and at times, impassioned. In Kafi Kumasi’s chapter, “‘Getting InFLOmation’: A Critical Race Theory Tale from the School Library,” the narrator uses an approach from CRT, the counter-story, to explore stories, experiences, narratives, and truths of a black student entering Harvard University. Although it is a fictionalized account highlighting the struggles of race, power, and privilege encountered by this student, the chapter resonates with the themes and messages of the book, one which should be a key reference source for librarians, LIS students, and white allies.