In our current culture, where everything is racist, one thing I thought might be safe from criticism were our libraries.
You remember libraries. Giant warehouses of books you could rent like some 15th Century Blockbuster. Libraries, of course, outlasted the movie-rental store, but let’s be honest, unless you’re a lawyer or a college student, you probably don’t spend too much time in one anymore (or maybe you do and want to fill up the comments with your stories).
But maybe it’s a good thing you don’t go to the library much, if at all, anymore. Because as we have now been reliably informed by the Library Journal (that’s a thing), “Library collections continue to promote and proliferate whiteness with their very existence and the fact that they are physically taking up space in our libraries.”
The official Twitter account of the LJ tweeted the quote, which came from a blog post by academic librarian Sofia Leung, whose Twitter profile says she likes, among other things, “intersectional feminism, social justice, … and [Critical Race Theory.]” Of course.
Leung explains in her post that because libraries are filled with things “written by white dudes,” they “promote and proliferate whiteness”:
If you look at any United States library’s collection, especially those in higher education institutions, most of the collections (books, journals, archival papers, other media, etc.) are written by white dudes writing about white ideas, white things, or ideas, people, and things they stole from POC and then claimed as white property with all of the “rights to use and enjoyment of” that Harris describes in her article. When most of our collections filled with this so-called “knowledge,” it continues to validate only white voices and perspectives and erases the voices of people of color. Collections are representations of what librarians (or faculty) deem to be authoritative knowledge and as we know, this field and educational institutions, historically, and currently, have been sites of whiteness.
She goes on to claim these collections “are paid for using money that was usually ill-gotten and at the cost of black and brown lives via the prison industrial complex, the spoils of war, etc.” She offers no evidence for this assertion.
She claims that because libraries are filled with works by “white dudes,” it means “we don’t care about what [People of Color] think.”
She then points to a recent “incident” at Barnard College where a Black Columbia student was prevented from entering the building. Leung claims the security guards tried to kick him out “for being Black.”
In reality, the student refused to show his ID and became aggressive when questioned. But maybe he wouldn’t have been approached by four officers if he did this while also being white.
One interesting side note to this whole story: The leadership of the Law Journal, which tweeted out Leung’s post, is, as you may have guessed, almost exclusively white. This observation was noted by freelance writer Jeryl Bier on Twitter, who noted that the Library Journal is run by Media Source Inc.