National Dialogue on the Curriculum of Readiness for the 21 st Century Librarian

ALA Annual Conference - Chicago, Illinois - Tuesday June 28, 2005


Plenary Session III: Don’t Just Talk About It, Be About It: New and Veteran Librarians on Connecting LIS Pedagogy and Readiness to Social Justice and Societal Change

Bharat Mehra:  So on that note, I'm going to have the next speaker come up, Steve Adams, who's the Biology and Life Sciences Librarian at Princeton. He was a university and past participant at the Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians.

Audience:  [applause]

Steve Adams:  Well like he said, I'm the Biology Librarian at Princeton University, but I've had sort of a long, interesting journey to this point. I'm participating in some really great initiatives at Princeton right now, but first I'd like to give you some context toward, about sharing a little bit about, I guess my journey through life and what it's taught me concerning race, class, and gender.

Some of us are privileged because of our race, some because of our class, some because of our gender, some because of our sexual preference, some because of our education status, and some even because of our citizenship.

Conversely, many of us are also disadvantaged because of where we exist within these categories. All of us in this room are privileged in one way or another, by virtue of our ability to attend this conference, and theorize and pontificate about these ideas.

Within this matrix of oppression, all of us have a role in ending discrimination in the library profession and in the world. It may sound trite, but it is true that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

I recognize that's a difficult idea to live out. I'd like to talk a little bit about how I learned about my own privileges, and put that in the context of librarianship. I'll highlight for you in this talk a little bit about how challenging it is to deny the privileges that we are given in this society, and how necessary this is in order to meet the ideal of equal opportunity in whatever profession, whether it's librarianship, or any profession.

As a undergraduate, I was a founding member of a group called, "Black Men for the Eradication of Sexism." For some of us that might sound strange like, "Well, why would a man address the issue of sexism?" I won't go into the complete history of the group, but basically we were coming from the perspective of "Sexism is a form of oppression that men benefit from, and if men don't challenge it, it won't change."

We did all kinds of work. We wrote a grant to have a conference, and we had lots of great scholars come, great conversations. I just wanted to kind of set that as a backdrop. That was a very formative experience for me, and necessary for me to recognize where I live within this matrix or privilege.

Just so I can have a dialogue with you all, how many of us recognize that we're privileged in this society because of our race? How many of us recognize that we're privileged in this society, because of our citizenship status? How many people in this room recognize that we're privileged, because of our gender? How many of us recognize that we're privileged, because of our socio economic class?

This just for clarity, that means if there are people you walk by on the street who you have to give money to? There's a privilege that you possess, that you have the privilege of being able to eat that day, and that's real.

So, we have to recognize these things as we go out and start programs to change, to make the profession more diverse. There are some personal things that we have to handle, in order to really put on programs successfully.

So, anyway after undergrad, I went to grad school at Clark Atlanta library school. As you know, their library school is now closed which is a really unfortunate situation. I might hint on that later on but I tend to run my mouth a lot so I'll probably run out of time.

Being a student and then later on a librarian in the Atlanta University Center. This is a historically black college environment, so in some ways we as African Americans, or people of African descent, had privilege in that environment. It was ours. We could walk with our heads high and feel proud because this was ours.

We didn't have to walk around feeling like minorities. I remember being a student there are hearing the word minority and I'd be like, "I'm not a minority." Because again, my environment didn't speak that to me.

But later on in my journey I ended up getting a position in Princeton University as their Biological and Life Sciences librarian. And entering that environment, of course, was very different. As you might imagine Princeton being the place historically for the ideal white male to get educated. And later on, we'll let some women in. We'll let some people of African descent in, and other people, and the Asians are smart too, so they can come to.

And over time it became this perfect picture of diversity in this country. It's interesting that when I watch television and see these images of a diverse cast, it's like a formula, this formula that we fit into. Princeton campus looks the same way. It's like they're looking, we need exactly 6.2% of this group, and 2.7... So, anyway. I'm going to move on. But basically...


At Princeton I realized that being there, if I walk around, now that I work there, with a Princeton t-shirt on, or if I walk around with, if I'm on the campus... I recognized over time, wow, there are certain privileges I get because I am a member of this organization.

I remember -- I do work with my fiance, which I'll talk a little bit about later if I don't run out of time. In the city of Newark New Jersey, which is mostly African American, mostly working class if not poor, and I went to one of the programs and I had this Princeton sweater on.

I'm just trying to keep warm. I'm not trying to make a statement. But that sweater made a statement to someone that saw it and said, "Oh... Princeton... so you're from Princeton." And there was a class assumption that got made.

I have to be conscious of how I interact with them. I can't, when I reply to him, say, damn right.


I can't say...

I have to be sensitive to how this person is perceiving me as I'm participating in this program in the city of Newark.

Anyway, at Princeton I'm part of a program called Dialog at Princeton which encourages people of all ethnicities to talk about the issues that are hard to talk about. Race, class, gender. I guess being catalysts for societal change.

We're going to have to work on those personal issues. That's one of the main things I wanted to say. I'm young in librarianship, I've got a lot to learn from you all, and I'm definitely not perfect and don't claim to be.

But I am willing to do the hard work necessary to change the problems that we can all see as plain as day, both inside and outside of librarianship. And again, my main point is that self-work is... And again, my example is me as a man challenged notions of sexism and patriarchy.

For me that's a prerequisite to really doing effective work concerning anyone's oppression. In other words I shouldn't raise my voice loudly, saying we need diversity, we need more black people to be represented here at Princeton.

I shouldn't ask someone else to challenge themselves if I'm not willing to challenge the privileges that I'm privy to because of the way society's structured. We have to challenge that structure and do the work necessary to bring change.



Bharat Mehra:  Thank you, Steve.