This is the first post in a new column, “Featured Researcher”. This column will highlight LIS researchers in the field.
Annie Pho is the Inquiry and Instruction Librarian for Peer-to-Peer Services and Public Programming at UCLA Libraries. She received her MLS from Indiana University-Indianapolis and BA in Art History from San Francisco State University. She’s on the editorial board of In the Library with a Lead Pipe, a co-moderator of the #critlib Twitter chat, and a Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians 2014 alumnus. Her research interests are in critical pedagogy, diversity, and student research behavior. Follow Annie at @catladylib on Twitter.
This month’s featured researcher is Annie Pho, whose forthcoming book she co-edited, “Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS,” expected out in June. “Libraries and archives idealistically portray themselves as egalitarian and neutral entities that provide information equally to everyone, yet these institutions often reflect and perpetuate societal racism, sexism, and additional forms of oppression. Women of color who work in LIS are often placed in the position of balancing the ideal of the library and archive providing good customer service and being an unbiased environment with the lived reality of receiving microaggressions and other forms of harassment on a daily basis from both colleagues and patrons. This book examines how lived experiences of social identities affect women of color and their work in LIS.” – Library Juice Press.
You and Rose L. Chou (Budget & Personnel Manager at American University Library, @roselovec) are editors for an upcoming Library Juice Press book, Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS. I am personally so excited for this book to come out as a woman of color working in front-facing spaces of a library where I often wonder how my own visible identity affects my professional interactions with others. What was the process like in putting this book together, especially with a topic so close to your own lived experience?
The process of editing this book has been transformative and really insightful in many ways. Rose and I wrote a book chapter titled “Intersectionality at the Reference Desk: Lived Experiences of Women of Color Librarians” for Maria T. Accardi’s book The Feminist Reference Desk: Concepts, Critiques, and Conversations where we interviewed several women of color (WOC) librarians and talked to them about their experiences working in public services. Upon reflection of our research, we realized that there was really a large gap in the literature with LIS and within the diversity discourse so we thought that perhaps it was time for us to create the space for more WOC voices to be elevated, which is how we ended up coming up with the idea for Pushing the Margins. As we worked with the authors and read through all the chapters, I definitely felt like many of the themes that the authors touch on in the book were things that resonated personally with me. I am extremely grateful to the authors and to Rose for creating a book that I hope will inspire more writing and scholarship within this area of LIS.
As I’m sure many can attest to, my LIS graduate program barely taught how to best serve diverse populations let alone touch on the role libraries play in perpetuating societal racism, sexism, and additional forms of oppression. How do you think reading more about the lived experiences of women and women-identifying librarians of color improves the understanding of LIS professionals in relation to the systems of oppression in our field?
Very similarly, my LIS program was not very diverse at all and we barely discussed working with diverse populations. I felt very isolated in my graduate program and wish I had a professor who would have assigned readings on anything related to power, privilege, and libraries. I think WOC librarians are often not explicitly centered, even in discourse around libraries and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Rose and I have discussed how we see our research and this book project as our way of raising consciousness around the issues that WOC library workers face. Our hope is to spark dialogue and make people more aware of what it’s really like to work every day in a library setting as a WOC. From here, we hope people can see ways to take action.
Has putting this book together changed the way you navigate your job and role as a librarian?
I would say that this book project has helped me to be a better librarian and colleague. I stop to think about decisions and approaches, and about how I want to work with students. I have a better understanding of why I want to do things a certain way. It also serves as a reminder for me to have empathy for my colleagues and friends who might be facing difficult situations and be as supportive as I can. It helps to know that you are not alone and that there is someone who understands and can validate your experience.
How do you view progress in terms of improving equity and inclusivity in libraries for women of color working in LIS? It’s not always about checking boxes or filling assessment initiatives necessarily – what does improvement in this area look like to you?
“…you have to pick your battles and figure out what your priorities are going to be if you want to improve or change something.”
This is a tough question! I think progress is all about the long game and sometimes really hard to see when you’re in the midst of everything. More importantly, I think it’s crucial to remind ourselves why we do this work in the first place – like why write and research WOC and feminist approaches to librarianship? Because eventually, the hope is that things will change for the better and so that other WOC know they aren’t alone. I’m not sure if I can explicitly list out what improvement looks like, but I can relay one of the major takeaways from our project: you have to pick your battles and figure out what your priorities are going to be if you want to improve or change something. We interviewed a black woman librarian who is now a director and she told us about how she saw her role as an administrator to begin to tackle the structures that can actually pose barriers to early career POC librarians, like determining that if a position is actually entry level, then don’t ask for 2 years of experience. That kind of thing. For me, hearing her talk about that was inspirational and made me consider how I can create space for other POC, specifically WOC to also shine since so often, their narratives are not centered or prioritized.
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