Race and libraries: my Takeaways from “Mapping whiteness at the reference desk”

Over the course of this year, I have not really considered the relationship between race and libraries before reading the book chapter entitled “Mapping Whiteness at the Reference Desk.” From the beginning of the chapter, there was one sentence in particular that really stood out to me: “Perhaps one question that reference librarians of color, including the authors of this chapter, dread more than others is, ‘Can I speak to a real librarian?.’” This statement really caught me off guard not only because I couldn’t believe that someone would actually ask that question, but also because both the authors April Hathcock and Stephanie Sendaula as well as other “librarians of color” have had to confront this question, revealing that it is a quite common question. This led the authors into a discussion about “racial microaggressions,” which were, in essence, questions, comments, or behaviors that questioned the qualifications of librarians of color. It was these microaggressions that caused me to think about past jobs that I have had that involved working with people. While I don’t think I have necessarily treated or approached anyone differently based on race, gender, or any other aspect of someone’s identity, I know that I will be sure to remain conscious of my behavior– and, especially, the messages conveyed by my behavior– when working with anyone because as this chapter very clearly articulates, the smallest gestures or comments do add up and have negative impacts on people, which ultimately shapes their perception of, and deters them from trusting, the library.

Owen Schuster