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Transformative conversation(s)

We take to heart the responses from Ontario Library Association (OLA) community members to the Open Shelf column Safe Spaces, and specifically the most recent post on race and privilege. We regret that the content has or may have caused harm and/or distress to any of our readers and contributors, because we are committed to upholding our OLA guiding values and the CFLA-FCBA Statement on intellectual freedom.

Our editorial team is also witnessing the transformative nature of the conversations that our community is having about these important and sensitive issues. It is clear that many of us recognize that library work is racialized, gendered, classed, and reflective of ableism as well as discrimination based on sexual orientation. Transforming work spaces that are white, feminized, economically privileged, heteronormative and able-bodied is an imperative in our sector. We must participate in these inter-related dialogues if we’re to confront and change oppressive practices in our association and, more broadly, in the field of library work.

For us as an editorial team, the interactions we’re having with each other as well as readers and contributors are immediately productive as we reflect upon our everyday practices. We believe that openness must be central to our practices: Open conversations and process. So we are revisiting the principles that govern editorial decision making:

  • Are our editorial practices legal?
  • Are our editorial practices neutral? To what extent is neutrality possible?
  • Who gets to decide if a given topic or story is appropriate for publication?
  • What topics should be addressed in our magazine as community platforms for dialogue?
  • Must all articles provide leadership and direction or can some be exploratory?
  • How can we reach out to OLA members and facilitate greater participation in the publication so that all voices have the opportunity to be heard?

Others are asking similar questions as they engage with the issue of race and privilege. In fact, the level of reader engagement is remarkable. Usually, the number of votes cast in our online poll is less than 10. At last count, 65 people have voiced their opinion by voting. Plus, we have received two letters to the editor. Instead of opting for collective silence, we are talking about these issues openly. And we are civil—an approach that does not always characterize public or private discussions about race, privilege and oppression. However, to date the scope of the conversation has been narrow: Exchanges have been mostly between people who could be said to fall into the same racial and class categories.

So questioning is only one step or form of action. What else needs to happen to change the everyday practices that reinforce prejudice (beliefs) and discrimination (actions)?

Critical race theorist Philomena Essed offers one possible pathway for resistance and activism: The 5 Rs of resistance to racism, which are recognize, register, reject, replace and resilience. In our current dialogue about race and privilege, we have already recognized and registered racism—some of us are talking about it out loud and working to reject racism and replace it with other ways of knowing and being. And by being open and civil, we are contributing to the resilience of our community.

But some voices have yet to be heard on this issue.

Open Shelf is a platform for all members of the OLA community. Over the past eighteen months, our team has honoured the editorial tradition of reaching out to those who work and support libraries across Ontario. Our goal is to encourage full participation in the publication and we’ve moved forward:

  • We have a standing Indigenous territorial acknowledgement (in the top navigation).
  • Contributors have the opportunity to communicate their stories in text and sound.
  • Our authors self-identify as belonging to diverse communities (e.g., LGBTQ+ and Indigenous).
  • The Open Shelf team includes four new positions/members as well as the folks who edit InsideOCULA.

But we know we can do more and hope that OLA members will help—in part by claiming space and contributing directly to the magazine in ways that fit with their lives and experiences.

We appreciate being members of a community that is engaged and vigilant about civil engagement and finding common ground for active social change. We will continue to strive to honour this commitment and ensure that Open Shelf is a catalyst for wide discussions about inclusivity, marginalization, and accountability.

“People are afraid of getting these conversations wrong, but they are still trying, and I deeply appreciate that.”
~ Ijeoma Oluo (2018), So you want to talk about race

Martha Attridge Bufton, Editor-in-Chief, Open Shelf

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