|Dahlia Shevin, 2016, "You belong/ Tú perteneces."|
In the Italian theatrical genre of commedia dell'arte--picture motley characters with names like "Harlequino" and "Punchinello" and broad farce--there is a constant tension between servants and masters, more precisely, the audience is left questioning which is which. As a librarian, I am constantly thinking about how the servant-master dynamic is central to our profession. Since I have chosen a field that is service-oriented, I ask myself: in what ways am I servant? And what is it that I am servant to or to whom? Are there ways that acting like a servant betrays my other core ideals? Are there ways that I can use my status as a "servant" to subvert oppressive power?
At the current political moment, I find these questions particularly inescapable and much more situationally specific: as I ponder whether or not to send a check to renew membership in an organization that "hastily" sent out a statement supporting initiatives of our President-elect, as I ponder the rush to formulate information literacy plans that tackle fake news and filter bubbles, as I ponder safety pin initiatives. Respectively, the questions that are raised for me with each of these examples are the following: Are librarians to be "neutral" servants who curry to power, no matter how much that power repudiates what we claim to be some of our highest ideals? Are we to be servants to the latest way to be on topic, ambulance chasers running after the victims of the fake news story? Are we to be, as one skeptical librarian put it, "Becky with the pin" by remaining silent while displaying our safety pin as a symbol of our goodness while someone with a marginalized identity gets attacked?
At my saddest, darkest, smallest, I am afraid that we might be all of these things already & that the current political and historical moment is just throwing a particularly harsh light on our profession's flaws. I am afraid that no amount of information literacy is going to save us from the powerful and apparently intoxicating draw of fascism. But most of all, I am afraid for our students, the black, the brown, those wearing hijabs, those who go by they/theirs, the disabled, the students whom I protested alongside with fifteen days ago and who reacted so passionately when a Native American staff member told them about the North Dakota Access Pipeline.
When I saw a young black woman wearing a "Black Lives Matter" pin, I thought she might be headed to the student protest. I didn't have full details. I talked to her as he walked towards the Student Center. She had no clue about Steven Bannon. But while the students chanted about their local context, their local struggles, it was clear that the current political moment had prompted this feeling of urgency. It was also clear that they wanted to know what was going on, that they believed in the power of information and communication.
So for now, I'm going to set aside my doubts about safety pins, LibGuides on fake news, and official statements. I'm going super-super local to be there for all the students who were at that protest and all the students who were not there but are also legitimately scared. Post-truth might have been designated the word of the year, and on some level, that terrifies me. On another deeper level, though, I understand that as a librarian I am ultimately a servant to the truth. I suppose other librarians might say "knowledge" or "information." What I care most about is the truth. And one of the most important truths sustaining me right now is that my brown skin and lived experiences tangibly help me to connect with some of these students. The truth is, as one autistic student yelled at the student rally, "I am not broken," though it has felt that way, at times, since the morning of November 9.
And yet, there are moments that give me hope. Last week, a Latina who had come to me during the most stressful point of her spring semester last year, came back with a group. At the end of our appointment, she asked me a question about study abroad and we laughed about how much she trusted what I had to say. And she said that she could tell that I was the sort of person who would tell her the truth, who would just say what they really thought. Truth and trust--I will be a servant to those and I guess also to love though I'm not the kind of person who hugs readily. But to be truly present for these students is one thing I can give and that, I think, is no small gift in a political time that seems hell bent on repudiating human connection along with its "no facts/post truth" significations. Tell it like it is, especially to students. Love them & call the post-truth that endangers all of us, especially the marginalized, by its proper name--call it and denounce it as propaganda.
Michele Santamaria is the Learning Design Librarian at Millersville University. Aside from #alwayslibrarianing, she is a year-round poet and advocate for social justice. She has a chapter forthcoming in an ACRL autoethnography publication and a chapter forthcoming in a Library Juice publication about being a poet-librarian. Apparently, there are a bunch of them. She is happy to interact over social media via Twitter @infolitmaven.