I`ve had several people ask me to expand on my third point from my Why I`m not a children`s librarian post. Here`s a little bit more on the topic of our frequent shortfalls in achieving social justice orientation in youth services, and my personal experiences with librarians shaming me without realising it.
“If their kid is at daycare all day, the daycare provider is really the parent anyway.”
My blood ran cold when she said that.
I thought of my son, in daycare at that very moment so I could be there in that library meeting, and held my breath as well as my tongue.
Not that I hadn’t heard statements like that before. Not that I considered myself especially vulnerable to such judgments.
I just wasn’t expecting it there – from a “friend” and colleague of mine, at a meeting of a team of children’s librarians specifically dedicated to providing culturally appropriate and accessible outreach programming for socially excluded children and families. The topic of discussion was how to extend outreach library services to go past the child to influence the whole family, so that parents might, say, bring their kids to the library.
And what I really didn’t expect, from that group in particular, was the fact that when one member said something outrageous like the above statement, no one else in the room spoke up. To the day I don’t really know if it was the dreaded librarian “niceness” striking again (inhibiting our ability to hold ourselves/each other accountable), or whether no one else thought she was being offensive.
I was a student intern. They were allowing me to sit in on their meeting, so I could learn. I didn’t feel like I could interrupt and intervene at that time. But I certainly did learn.
The dominant library paradigm holds very particular cultural conceptions of the ownership/belonging/responsibility of children. These notions are largely based in euro-colonial and neo-liberal values of the family as isolated, self-sufficient unit.
Even in our progressive and outreach programs, are we really listening to our communities, parents, families, and empowering them to make our services their own?
“The best library users, the ones we love to work with, are the parents who already bring their children to storytime. They are the ideal. I love to work with them.”
A library school instructor, one whom I sincerely like and respect, said this in front of a class I took.
Again, I was floored.
My child has never been to a library storytime. I have been a working parent since he was 2 weeks old, first lugging him on my back to my office, and then, too soon for my liking, sending him to daycare. My local library branch does not hold weekend storytimes for working parents. Even the summer reading club events are during weekday workdays, much to my child’s dismay.
I always garnered compliments from my library supervisors, but they don’t know my dirty secret – that I am The Non-Ideal Parent as a patron.
We are beginning to acknowledge that “the ideal patron” is a problem – that this notion is culturally biased and exclusive; that we should be questioning it. I say this because we as a discipline have published papers to this effect, bestowed honours upon some individuals who have championed this message, and sometimes even committed funding to novel projects that work toward a more just community ownership of libraries.
But trickle down takes a long time, when it works. Will the status quo for plain old regular librarians – ones not leading special programs or “moving and shaking” their institutions – ever change?
Oh, but I didn’t mean you. Your son is wonderful, so smart.
Yes, and I don’t “look Jewish,” right? Let me guess, some of your best friends are black and gay?
Putting down who I am, my history and identity, and then telling me I am better than everyone else like me is not a complement.
I am not an exception.
Or rather, we are all exceptions.
I am a bit uncommon, in that I was a low-income single parent who went back to school and became a librarian. But I was certainly not the only one who met that profile in my library school intake of 40 people.
Really, it is highly likely that I am only unusual in following this path because of my privilege. Coming from a family with higher education and economic privilege, It was relatively easy to make the decision to go to grad school and change my situation. I was able to see that option and take the necessary path to get there, yes. However, the important part of this story is not so much how I got where I am now, but what I know of where I was a few years ago.
I know, I know, I’m different from all the other Black/Jewish/queer/Asian/poor/Latina/whatever people. The other daycare parents. You didn’t mean that slur to apply to me.
Isn’t that line getting old by now? Isn’t it one libraries shouldn’t be using anyway?