Butler Award for Library Faculty Service

Today I was recognized at Portland State’s Convocation as the recipient of one of the institution’s faculty excellence awards, the Butler Award for Library Faculty Service. In addition to my recognition, I was offered three minutes time to address the faculty. Below are my remarks.

Please forgive me for reading my remarks, but three minutes is very little time and as many of you know I always have a lot to say.

I am grateful for this award acknowledging my contributions to PSU over the past 6 years. I’d particularly like to thank the Butler Family, as well as the government of Qatar for their contribution to this award. It is truly an honor for me to work with inspiring colleagues in the Library, in CUPA, and in the School of Public Health. But it’s really our students who keep me coming back here every day.

I feel barraged by ideas and events around our country and beyond that demonstrate injustices and inequities stemming from deeply rooted -isms that pervade every aspect of society. Being a librarian, I would be remiss if in this social, political, and economic environment I did not consider how these -isms manifest in information.

Information privilege is pervasive and insidious; and when it is expressed, it reinforces the -isms that create injustice. Information privilege affects everyone–especially in higher education. It is coded into the proprietary systems to which we purchase access–course management systems, eportfolio products, library databases, and the library catalog. Any information interface suffers from privileging dominant cultural norms and values.

In an age when Elsevier can patent its ”waterfall” peer review system and strip away agency from authors, deciding for them to which journals their papers are submitted; when the U.S. House of Representatives can bully the Library of Congress in an attempt to keep its subject “illegal alien” despite outcries from activists and librarians petitioning to change the language so it reflects the lived experience of those marginalized by dominant systems; in this age we must better acknowledge, value, and resource those with the power to reject the -isms reflected by information systems. Those with that power and expertise are Library workers.

Library workers–who decide how to describe information in our imperfect systems, who support teaching faculty in accessing and presenting online course materials, who thoughtfully select materials, who do their best to make bad interfaces better, who teach and educate our students to think critically and evaluate the information around them– they make the Library a library. Yet, libraries face constant pressure to remain a warehouse of materials at the sacrifice of the library worker.

We can better serve our community if we can continue to shift our approach to the Library. We can spend our financial resources on more socially responsible materials and reject some of the social, political, and economic environment that contributes to information privilege. We can support open access and open source systems. We can publish research data and textbooks. This shift allows us to elevate the Library worker. In sum, library workers can facilitate our community’s attempts to be liberated from the -isms reinforced by the information privilege by which we inundated every day. I hope that together we can continue in this vein at PSU.

 Thank you.