Book Chapter

Read, Write, Sing, and...Mutually Empower: Creating Support Systems and Engaging Inclusive Service

Nataraj, L., & Macalalad, K. (2020). Read, Write, Sing, and...Mutually Empower: Creating Support Systems and Engaging Inclusive Service. In V. Arellano Douglas and J. Gadsby (Eds.), Deconstructing Service in Libraries: Intersections of Identities and Expectations (pp. 159-177). Sacramento, CA: Litwin Books.

For youth services librarians of color (LOC) who present as female, a demanding service ethos experienced at the intersection of race and gender, amplified by a toxic work environment, and layered with a sense of vocational awe, can have significant, if not devastating, consequences. The American Library Association’s Code of Ethics broadly states that library workers ideally provide equitable service, and “distinguish between…personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.”1 Intertwining neutrality with professionalism forces LOC to cease having (and visibly expressing) opinions that diverge from or challenge the hegemonic, white status quo. In our attempts to serve everyone “equally,” we compromise authenticity in programs and services to avoid appearing as though we are serving one group over another. Maintaining false equality is how American libraries have historically served “the interests of a white racial project by aiding in the construction and maintenance of a white American citizenry as well as the perpetuation of white privilege in the field itself.”2 LOC carry out emotional labor in which we perform Whiteness in order to meet the needs of default White library users. Youth services librarianship, with its attendant caring activities is highly feminized and severely undervalued within the LIS profession, making it difficult if not near impossible for female-identified youth ser-vices LOC to feel supported within white supremacist institutions that show little regard for their personhood. The endemic “do more with less” culture fuels a toxic work environment in which our labor is exploited, but we have little recourse.3 In this chapter, we talk about how we created a mutually empowering support system to counteract stress and burnout that resulted from trying to perform “good” service as Asian American women in public librarianship, specifically youth services. We further discuss how collegiality based on relational practice that is connective, interdependent, and fosters mutuality4 can prompt a transformative shift towards more egalitarian and inclusive service in libraries. We applied an autoethnographic approach that allowed us to simultaneously analyze a systemic concern in the LIS profession while reclaiming our narrative. Positioning the self as subject is a vulnerable act that facilitates connection and growth-enhancing relationships.5 Most importantly, scrutinizing the self and then sharing one’s experience is a path towards authentic representation. Autoethnography resists the “positivist ideal of the objective, neutral observer, [where the] researcher’s subjectivities could never be separated from the work.”6 By stating our experiences in a frank, conversational way, we use “creative and evocative expression to show (as opposed to tell) the meanings that are attached to experience.” 7.