If the profession is serious about understanding race and racism as they relate specifically to librarianship, we would push [these topics] from the margins and into the center. Race studies would be accorded the respect for intellectual expertise we award to other areas, and not dismissed as a subject area that emanates from personal characteristic and experience. But acknowledging race studies, not as personal experience, but as the domain of scholars, where scholarly inquiry, intellectual rigor, integrity, and authority are assumed as the ability to be an expert, is a threat because this would supplant the white experience as the experience worthy of scholarship.
(Peterson, 1996, 172)
In "Alternative perspectives in library and information science: Issues of race," Lorna Peterson examines the history of librarianship in the United States under the critical lens of conflict theory. Peterson claims that North American librarianship has been characterized by racial conflict and cooperation. That is, American librarianship, like the culture that informs the profession, has been the site of a dominant racial group (whites) that creates and maintains its social, political, and economic status through discriminatory practices and beliefs. However, Peterson also acknowledges that cooperation between dominant racial groups and minorities has influenced the profession.
The above quotes demonstrates the former. Although the library community seems to celebrate racial and ethnic diversity in its educational systems and profession, it tends to remain relatively silent about race and racial privilege. As Todd Honma recently noted, librarianship "[has] a tendency to tiptoe around discussing race and racism, and instead limit the discourse by using words such as 'multiculturalism' and 'diversity'"(2005, 1). Peterson anticipated the answer by suggesting this silence in the library community and in LIS literature may be a reaction to the maintain LIS status quo.
Less year, I conducted an exploratory essay of the relative absence of scholarly studies about African American male librarians. I used critical race theory to raise several research questions about race, gender, and librarianship. Like Peterson, I hypothesized that this absence was the function of a racial ideology that served to maintain whiteness as the unexamined standard of the profession. I collected data from existing data and documents and tested my hypothesis through a close reading of the literature. I am currently investigating how this absence may impact how African American male librarians perceive their professional responsibilities.
For many in the LIS community, this emphasis on race and power threatens the profession and its literature. They believe that because LIS is a social science, its practitioners should engage in positivist research. The deem race and racial discourse to be too subjective for the rigors of LIS research.
As a double minority in librarianship (African American and male), I consider race and gender as two areas of study that may promote LIS education from a training ground to a true professional education that interrogates librarianship against broader social contexts. Yet, I fear that such topics will be forever marginalized unless I and other minority library students and allies create and disseminate this content. I hope that this miracle, like the election of an African American president, will happen in my lifetime.
Honma, T. (2005). Trippin' over the color line: The Invisibility of race in library and information studies. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 1(2). Accessed October 19, 2010 from http://repositories.cdlib.org/gseis/interactions/vol1/iss2/art2
Peterson, L. (1996). Alternative perspectives in library and information science: Issues of race.
Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 37 (2), 163-174. Accessed October 28, 2010 from http://www.jstor.org