I attended the 2017 MLA Conference in Rochester, MN on Oct 5-6. The theme of this year’s conference was “Radical Librarianship.” I work in Pioneerland’s technical services division and therefore I attended a good number of sessions geared toward technical services. I think it is assumed that technical librarianship has little room to push the boundaries of traditional librarianship, as we do not often work directly with patrons. However, the sessions I attended specifically regarding cataloging refute that idea. “Never Forget Who You Really Work For” and “Cataloging for Inclusion” reminds us that the catalog is the primary tool allowing patrons to access materials, and if we neglect or ignore issues in our catalog that keep marginalized populations from accessing those materials, we are not only providing a disservice, we are contributing to the problem.
The former session advocated local adaptation to make one’s catalog of service to the needs of that community. We can wait for the Library of Congress to modernize authority headings, or we can make the decision to engage communities that are marginalized and add our own inclusive headings and treat all our patrons with the respect they deserve.
The latter session reminds us that though catalogs used to have to work with in special constraints, both physically with card sizes, and digitally with electronic storage capacity, that is no longer the case. Therefore, we can make the decision to add and/or keep non-English information in bibliographic records and make is much easier for the non-English speakers in our communities.
I also, of course, attended a number of sessions outside the framework of traditional technical services, and found those sessions equally valuable as a librarian and as a person. I would go so far as to say my “favorite” sessions were both lunchtime keynote speakers, and “When Home Won’t Let You Stay.”
The two keynote speakers were incredible presenters, engaging and thoughtful and charismatic. And they presented great information in a profound and impassioned way. I particularly enjoyed Ms Sojourner’s presentation, and I wish it were possible for her to speak about inclusivity and equity to every agency in the country.
“When Home Won’t Let You Stay” was a moving experience that brought the abstract “problem” of the refugee crisis to the deeply human level. The information was relayed in a way that connected it to actual human experience. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the idea that there are over 65,000,000 people forcibly displaced in the world today; it is a deeper level of understanding to hear about direct experiences of those people as individuals.
The overall message I received from this conference speaks to the reason I fell in love with librarianship as a vocation, that libraries are absolutely essential to every community, and to marginalized communities in particular. I have always thought of libraries as a leveler in our world; they have the capacity to bring free resources to people who are impoverished, bring connections and materials to people who struggle to find acceptance, people who are the minorities in their community –or are simply treated as one–, and people who have no home and are striving to make one in a new country that is not as welcoming as the Statue of Liberty would lead us to believe. Libraries are always short of time, money, and staff. But we can still make the decision to serve the whole community, not just the community we are accustomed to serving.