Celebrating Black History and Black Futures

This February, KU Libraries celebrated Black history by inviting patrons to participate in an interactive display that asked them to contribute to a conversation about their favorite Black educators, authors, artists, and characters. We placed big sheets of paper on a couple of tables at Watson and Anschutz Libraries with prompts for patrons to respond to.

After about two weeks, every inch of these papers was filled with names of beloved and inspiring examples of Black excellence. We did our best to transcribe all of the names, and the full list is attached to this post. There were many names that appeared multiple times in multiple places. There were plenty of names that were unfamiliar to me, and it was fun to learn more about these people. I challenge you to do the same. Look for the name of one person or character you’ve never heard of before and see what you can learn about them. You can also search the KU Libraries catalog for resources by and about many of the people who appear on this list.

I love how full these papers became after such a short time. How many more names would we get if we left this list out all year long?

How can we celebrate Black history and Black futures every day?


Considering Whiteness in Libraries

At a recent conference on “The Past Present and Future of Libraries,” one of the speakers offered an interesting challenge about how we might think about our collections. He asked us to image that a space alien landed in the U.S. in 2050, a time by which the Census Bureau has said we will be a predominantly non-white society. Yet, even though our citizens will be predominantly of African-American and Hispanic descent when that visitor enters our libraries, the collections will represent a heavily white, Anglo-Saxon perspective, unreflective of the larger society the space traveler sees outside the library walls.

I thought about this challenge as I was reading Ian Beilin’s essay on “The Academic Research Library’s White Past and Present,” from Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (edited by Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, Library Juice Press, 2017). Members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working group have been discussing this book. Beilin’s essay examines the multiplicity of ways in which libraries and librarianship are embedded in white society and in whiteness as a sociological concept, representing power, exclusion, and an assumption of normativity. Interestingly, Beilin focuses not only on the demographics of our profession and the focus in our collections on the European Enlightenment tradition, which necessarily carries with it “racist and colonialist legacies;” he also looks at the architecture and physical spaces of our library environments. Many of our library structures, he observes, are designed to intimidate and to evoke an idealized white historical tradition. Writ large, this is a problem that many colleges have been struggling with, related especially to building names and monuments on campus, but Beilin powerfully shows us that libraries are neither neutral nor immune from these issues.

The third reminder about these problems of whiteness, libraries, and exclusion that I experienced recently was a discussion about the vast collection of digital books that the HathiTrust holds and makes available to the public. At our last board of governors meeting, we were reminded that the HathiTrust collection was mostly built by large-scale, unselective scanning of books from our largest academic libraries, and so reflects the same myopia, prejudice, and exclusion – the same violence directed to those who do not conform to the expectations of whiteness – as do our libraries themselves. We were reminded of a reflection from the article on “Rescuing Lost History: Using Big Data to Recover Black Women’s Lived Experience,” by Ruby Mendenhall and a group of her colleagues from the University of Illinois (available here), that writing was and remains itself an act of privilege. So much of our basic practice in libraries, including not just our collection decisions but also the way we create metadata and think about the users who will discover our materials, are infested with assumptions rooted in whiteness. The board considered how we might be intentional about beginning the never-ending task of balancing the HathiTrust digital materials and making this online space a little more reflective of our communities. We agreed on several steps that the organization could take – forming intentional partnerships with institutions that hold distinctive collections that could diversify the HathiTrust corpus, directing funding for strategic priorities to support the digitization of such collections, and reviewing our metadata practices to discover and reduce implicit biases.

These are relatively small steps, but they offer us a start. Perhaps the most important place to begin is simply with the awareness that whiteness is real, it is constructed, and it is a problem. Beginning to have the conversation about what that means for our libraries is a prerequisite to any efforts toward being the kind of diverse and inclusive library that we aspire to be. Perhaps there’s still time to change the impression our libraries will make on that space visitor.

Kevin L. Smith
Dean of Libraries, University of Kansas

Welcome

Happy New Year! Or Happy School New Year, that is. Just like January 1st brings in new resolutions, people, and opportunities, this new school year is bringing in new faces, initiatives, and events to KU Libraries DEI committee. Sadly, we bring in the year saying farewell to the two powerhouse co-chairs of the committee Jeromy Horkman and Tami Albin, who have accomplished great things for the Libraries and campus, all while providing great leadership to the committee during their terms. We’re sad to see them go, but excited for the opportunity to continue their good work.

This 2018-2019 school year, we want to be the leaders of change in the libraries and across campus to promote critical thinking and advance the libraries’ mission to prioritize a diverse workforce across campus and encourage all ideas and perspectives. Our committee is passionate and eager to continue libraries-wide educational efforts and develop active social justice initiatives to reduce inequalities and inequities. We’ve done a lot of good things in the past to uphold our mission like the common book discussion for Citizen, and bringing in Adrianne Nuñez, Human Trafficking Program Coordinator at The Willow Domestic Violence Center, but we could do more, and we WANT to do more. This year we’re focusing on being more proactive than reactive in the current social climate. Something bad and discriminatory shouldn’t have to happen in order for us to raise awareness about it.  We want to address these issues head on, so that we can do our part in preventing these types of aggressions.

Some of the many things we have planned for this year include recognizing celebratory months that are commemorated by different cultures, bringing the libraries together for a potluck to celebrate our cultural differences, bringing the student voice into our discussions, and continuing to donate our time and resources to diversifying efforts around the Lawrence community. The fun part is that this is just the beginning! We are honored to be working with such a great group of individuals this year, and are excited to see what comes out of our efforts.

Although this blog has been updated somewhat regularly in the past, the newest roster of the DEI committee is interested in reviving the blog to serve as a platform for sharing our efforts toward making the libraries more equitable for employees and patrons, and to lift the voices of other groups on campus who are doing similar work. To see the great things we’re up to, and read reflections from our great community, look for updates to the blog each month. Blog posts will be written by KU Libraries DEI committee members with occasional guest posts by other folks on campus. Until next time, CHEERS and Happy New Year!

From your Co-Chairs Natalie Mahan and Tanay Adams

KU Libraries to host lecture on data violence featuring Anna Lauren Hoffmann

KU Libraries will host a presentation by Anna Lauren Hoffmann, assistant professor with the Information School at the University of Washington, titled “Data Violence: Dignity and Vulnerability Beyond Algorithmic Discrimination.” The event, co-sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of Diversity and Equity, will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 15, at Watson Library, third floor West.

In the presentation, Hoffmann will look at the connections between big data, algorithms and automation, and the unjust distributions of rights, opportunities and material wealth. Hoffmann will explore the need to reckon with the symbolic and cultural violences extended and amplified by data-intensive technologies.

“We are excited to host Anna Lauren Hoffmann, as she is a pioneer in the area of data violence,” said Kevin L. Smith, dean of libraries. “This presentation will highlight the issues of fairness and bias in algorithmic systems, an important and ever-present subject for all students, researchers and scholars.”

Hoffmann’s research is situated at the intersections of data, technology, culture and ethics, and in particular, the ways in which the design and use of information technology can promote or hinder the pursuit of important human values like respect and justice. Her work has appeared in various scholarly journals like New Media & Society, The Library Quarterly, First Monday and JASIST, as well as popular outlets including The Guardian, Slate, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

The event will begin with a cocktail reception at 4:30 p.m., followed by the presentation beginning at 5 p.m. This event is free and open to the public; those who plan to attend should RSVP to Leah Hallstrom by March 12 at leahnel@ku.edu.

Stirring the (Honey) Pot and Pouring the (Sweet) Tea

Looking for a way to engage with Black History Month? This is a great opportunity!

The invited speaker for the Hall Center for the Humanities, Oral History Seminar series will be E. Patrick Johnson. Johnson’s talk, “Stirring the (Honey) Pot: Performative Writing as Oral History Method”, will focus on his oral history project with black lesbian women in the South. The talk will be Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 3-4:30pm in the Hall Center Seminar Room. (Click here for more information.)

Later that evening at 7:30pm, E. Patrick Johnson will perform “Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South Tell Their Tales” in Room 240 of Robinson Health & Physical Education Center (ROB). This production is a dramatic reading based on the oral histories in Johnson’s book, Sweet tea: Black gay men of the South – An oral history published in 2008. (Click here for more information.)

E. Patrick Johnson is the chair of African American Studies, Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies at Northwestern University (Johnson 2018). Johnson is both a scholar and an artist who focuses on the intersection between race, class, gender, sexuality and performance (Johnson 2018). In 2001, E. Patrick Johnson filled a significant gap in the literature by introducing “quare” studies. He defines “quare studies as a vernacular rearticulation and deployment of queer theory to accommodate racialized sexual knowledge” (Johnson 2001).

List of works by E. Patrick Johnson in the KU Libraries’ collections:
This is only a small sampling of Johnson’s work consisting almost entirely of books. I encourage you to search E. Patrick Johnson in the KU Libraries’ Quick Search to find more of his work.
Appropriating blackness: Performance and the politics of authenticity (print book)
Blacktino Queer Performance (e-book)
No Tea, No Shade: New writings in black queer studies (e-book)
Sweet Tea: Black gay men of the South (print book)
Sweet Tea: Black gay men of the South (e-book)
Black queer studies: A critical anthology (print book)
“Quare” studies, or (almost) everything I know about queer studies I learned from my grandmother (scholarly article)

References:
Johnson, E. Patrick. (2018). Biography. Retrieved from http://epatrickjohnson.com
Johnson, E. Patrick. (2001). “Quare” studies, or (almost) everything I know about queer studies I learned from my grandmother. Text and Performance Quarterly, 21, 1-25. dio:10.1080/10462930128119

#BlackOut

The Black Law Student Association ask all to join our voices to decry the use of symbols of hatred, intimidation tactics and violence by wearing all black February 6 in solidarity for #BlackOut!

KU Common Book Exhibit at Spencer Museum of Art

Lonely Chambers (T.O.) by Toyin Ojih Odutola
Lonely Chambers (T.O.), 2011, pen ink and marker drawing on paper drawing by Toyin Odutola

The Spencer Museum of Art has created an exhibit showcasing artworks that are in conversation with this year’s KU Common Book Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. One of the key pieces on display is a lithograph by Nigerian-born artist Toyin Ojih Odutola entitled Birmingham (left, middle, right). Her piece entitled Uncertain, yet Reserved (Adeola. Abuja Airport, Nigeria.) featured in Rankine’s book in the context of a meditation on Hurricane Katrina.

Other artists featured in this exhibit include KU alumnus Joseph S. Lewis, Sophie Calle, Carl Fischer, Art Kane, Gordon Parks, Dan Wynn, Glenn Ligon, and Lesley Dill.

Find more information about visiting Spencer Museum of Art here.

Africa, Haiti, and Latin America

In light of the President’s recent comments about Africa, Haiti, and Latin America, we would like to highlight resources related to those geographical areas. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but it is meant to be a starting point for learning more about these areas of the world.

The African American Intellectual Historical Society has published a syllabus and supplementary reading list related to the current President and his administration.

Latin American and Caribbean Studies

The Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American, and Caribbean Collections at KU Libraries include nearly 500,000 titles; its collection on Central America alone is among the top three in the nation with 106,000 titles. It contains particularly strong holdings on Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Cuba, Haiti, and Mexico. The collection has extensive breadth in literature, language, culture, history, political science, economics, geography, and other fields in the social sciences and the humanities.

Librarians have created several research guides related to Latin American Studies as well as Spanish and Portuguese languages and literatures.

Recent Information on Haiti and El Salvador

The Economic Impact Of Trump’s Decision To End Protected Status For Salvadorans

Scholar Urges Trump to Study Haiti’s History

African Collection

Africana collections at KU Libraries include approximately 80,000 printed volumes. The Libraries receive over 1,000 serial publications, the predominant majority of which are available electronically. In addition to the regular collection of printed holdings, the Africana collections include maps and atlases, U.S. federal and international documents, microforms, videocassettes and DVD’s, digital resources, and several special collections of note.

Librarians have created several research guides related to African Studies.

The following resources are related to social justice issues in African countries:

Crimes against Albinos in Africa 

Albino killings in Africa [electronic resource] / by Camilla Folsach Madsen. [online resource]

White black boy [electronic resource] / [produced by] Fourhands Film ; [a film by] Camilla Magid. [online resource]

LGBTQI in Africa 

Stories of our lives : queer narratives from Kenya : from an archive of stories collected for the ’Stories of our lives’ research project / by the NEST Collective

Out in Africa [electronic resource] : LGBT organizing in Namibia and South Africa / Ashley Currier.

Male homosexuality in South Africa : identity formation, culture, and crisis / Gordon Isaacs and Brian McKendrick. [volume]

Under pressure : the regulation of sexualities in South African secondary schools / Deevia Bhana ; edited by John Marnell. [volume]

Country we want to live in : hate crimes and homophobia in the lives of black lesbian South Africans / Nonhlanhla Mkhize … [et al.]

God loves Uganda / a film by Roger Ross Williams ; a Full Credit Productions and Motto Pictures production ; Ford Foundation, ITVS and Independent Lens present ; directed and produced by Roger Ross Williams ; producer, Julie Goldman ; writers, Roger Ross [other, other]

Civil liberties consideration for conference site selection

As library professionals, we should be considering the importance of the civil liberties of country, province/state/territory, or city when choosing a conference site. This issue was addressed in a recent article on the ARL News website on December 6, 2017. On behalf of the Association for Research Libraries (ARL), Mary Ann Mavrinac, ARL president, Gerald Beasley, chair of the ARL Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and Ed Van Gemert, chair of the ARL Advocacy and Public Policy Committee, issued a letter to the International Federation of Libraries Association (IFLA) via president Glòria Pérez-Salmerón in opposition of the 2018 World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) being held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The ARL letter cites the dangerous and discriminatory laws toward individuals that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, or intersex (LGBTQI) in addition to the government censorship and violation of privacy and confidentiality. The ARL letter states the importance of a safe environment where the freedom of expression is valued for all participants.

For more information please see the following links:
ARL News

US Department of State: Malaysia 2016 Human Rights Report