Neutrality is Hostility: The Impact of (False) Neutrality in Academic Librarianship

Neutrality is Hostility: The Impact of (False) Neutrality in Academic Librarianship

Originally presented as a guest lecture for Rachel Gammons and Lindsay Inge Carpenter’s Seminar in the Academic Library class at University of Maryland’s School of Information on February 6, 2018. This version has been edited for Medium.

“Critical librarianship includes the development of critical thinking, information literacy, and lifelong learning skills in students, as well as engagement with diversity, information ethics, access to information, commodification of information, labor, academic freedom, human rights, engaged citizenry, and neoliberalism. “ — Kenny Garcia

So, in other words, critical librarianship is not neutral.

“If we fear mistakes, doing things wrongly, constantly evaluating ourselves, we will never make the academy a culturally diverse place where scholars and the curricula address every dimension of that difference.” — bell hooks

My teaching philosophy lies in critical pedagogy. I use the term “teaching” loosely because pedagogy is embedded within librarianship as a whole, no matter what area you’re interested in or end up working in. More on that later.

How neutrality impacts information professions and the communities we serve, as well as how the two overlap for me as a woman of color.

“The identification of whiteness and its structuralizing principles is necessary in order to combat its invisibility and normative effects. Hence, the theoretical investigation into histories of whiteness is a crucial intervention within the LIS field.” — Todd Honma

This isn’t happening enough in our field.

The community we serve is MICA.

The academic library is based around the college or university in which it is part of. The community we serve first and foremost includes our students, faculty, and staff. When we teach, we are predominantly teaching students at MICA, although we do see children ages K-12, and I, along with my colleague Siân Evans, have taught instruction sessions elsewhere, like University of Baltimore, Morgan State University, and at community events.

…but we also serve Baltimore.

We are open to the public. And we are located in Baltimore City. When students enroll and come to campus, they aren’t coming to sovereign MICA Land, they are coming to Baltimore City.

So let’s talk about Baltimore.

Shortly before I started at MICA, the Baltimore Uprising of 2015 happened after Freddie Gray, a 25-year old African American man died in police custody. Gray sustained injuries to his neck and spine while in transport in a police van. His death was ruled a homicide.

This image is of a billboard that references the death of Freddie Gray stands on North Avenue, between two MICA buildings. Image: A.M. Wolfe, baltimoremurals.com
Image: Maryland Institute College of Art ((at)marylandinstitutecollegeofart)

If you’re ever front and center, you have power.

If you’re co-teaching, teaching solo, creating a research guide, developing a digital collection, or doing anything that gives you creative power, I implore you to think critically about what you’re focusing on, saying, reviewing, etc.

We Here design by Nina Q. Allen.

Neutrality is ‘polite white supremacy.’

In The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy, Yawo Brown states:

Neutrality is polite misogyny.

Neutrality is polite homophobia.

Neutrality is polite transphobia.

Neutrality is polite classism.

Neutrality is polite xenophobia.

Neutrality is polite oppression.

And therefore, harms both the profession and the communities we serve by perpetuating such oppression.

“The unwillingness to approach teaching from a standpoint that includes awareness of race, sex, and class is often rooted in the fear that classrooms will be uncontrollable, that emotion and passion will not be contained.” — bell hooks

hooks goes on to say that if this happens, there is a possibility of confrontation, forceful expression of ideas, or even conflict. Some might argue the classroom should be a ‘safe’ space, and by that neutral. However, students of color may not feel ‘safe’ in what appears to be a neutral setting.

wehere.space founder/principal 🏀 uproot.space creative director. artist/art librarian. first-gen american 🇸🇻 🇳🇮 critical pedagogy & cumbia. she/her.