Librarians learn to create 'safe spaces,' fight 'privilege'

Binghamton University will host a “Social Justice Summit” later this month designed to teach librarians how to create “safe spaces” and fight “power and privilege.”

The “Social Justice Summit: The Power of Active and Engaged Librarianship” is a collaboration between Binghamton University and the South Central Regional Library Council, and will serve as a “call to action for library workers” to “positively impact diversity and inclusion” within libraries.

Designed for librarians who work in variety of settings, the summit offers participants a number of workshops on topics such as “microaggressions and their impact on our workplaces” and “getting the word out to diverse populations.”

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Workshops will also be offered on other topics, too, including “privilege and power structures as barriers to equity and inclusion,” “how to be an ally,” and “the danger of social media and information filtering.”

Mary-Carol Lindbloom, the Executive Director of the South Central Regional Library Council, told Campus Reform in an interview that the goal of the summit is to help teach librarians how to make libraries better for patrons.

“We want [to promote] more diverse programming; we want space that's safe for everyone; we want book collections that reflect the diversity around us,” Lindbloom said.

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Lindbloom explained that there are many ways that a social justice perspective could be used to improve libraries, saying libraries should “reflect the needs of their communities” and thus offer books on diverse topics. Libraries in neighborhoods with a large Spanish-speaking population, for example, could offer books in Spanish.

“There's a long tradition of wanting to stand up for patrons and to create welcoming and diverse spaces,” said Lindbloom.

While she insisted that “we are not training librarians to be activists,” Lindbloom asserted that all participants will leave the summit with an “action plan” to promote diversity at their respective libraries. Roughly six months after the Social Justice Summit, participants will reconvene at Binghamton to follow up on their action plans.

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Lindbloom concluded by noting that the overall goal of the conference is to make libraries better places.

“The overarching goal is to have a conversation that leads to positive change,” she said. “I think that that's really it, and I hope that the folks who attend feel more comfortable and more aware.”

University of Texas at Austin professor Loriene Roy, one of the keynote speakers at the summit, offered a similar assessment.

"Libraries and librarians have long been involved in equity issues," she told Campus Reform. "This goes back to the 18th century public library movement and the early 20th century progressive era response with public libraries providing services for immigrants, the homeless, and other disenfranchised communities.

"Now, in the 21st century, I see a strong resurgence of the libraries' role(s) in social justice and advocacy," she continued. "This relates to the professional experience of our library workers of color, how to recruit more people from diverse backgrounds into our profession, along with staying mindful and well within ourselves (workplace wellness)."

Binghamton University did not respond to multiple requests for comment on how the conference is funded and their role in organizing the conference.

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