World-Changing Potential and Privilege

Note: This post is at least twice as long as I usually do, but it was something that really stuck with me after class. It also connected with articles I’ve read and discussions I’ve had recently, so it was kind of swirling around in my brain. I really just wanted to get all of this out of my head and onto the screen. If you care to read it, please stick with me. I think it’s worth it.

I’ve talked to a couple of people about this week’s class, and none of use really expected the conversation on gaming and the potential for world change to go this way. We went from the likelihood of gamers changing the world to the idea that who says something matters (especially if he/she has gorgeous hair) to the “I Will Change the World” shirts that all first-years get at UMSI orientation.

The T-shirt thing was the most surprising to me. I always saw it as 1) “i” as in information and its effect on the world, and 2) gaining the skills to navigate the increasingly vast information landscape to help others do the same. However, some people had the valid point that this could be seen as arrogance. Kirsten brought up that all of us at UMSI are privileged to have this opportunity to go to a prestigious institution. Even if it’s taking us loans and/or scholarships and/or a job or two or more to get us here, we all have the luxury of being able to pursue further education. I can definitely see this. There are people who can’t take this opportunity, who can’t stop working to go to school even part-time, who simply can’t afford the time, money, or effort that grad school entails.

The idea of privilege takes me in a couple of different directions that overlap in some ways. First is the concern about a lack of diversity in librarianship. This was something that was discussed during one of the un-conference sessions I attended at Quasi-Con last weekend. I didn’t take notes (dang it!), but a few things stuck out. At first, we defined the lack of diversity: most librarians are white women, and most library administrators are white men (often without any sort of library degree). We tried to come up with why this might be or how we might fix it. Several people bought up the fact that paraprofessionals are generally more diverse than librarians. A parapro doesn’t need the same level of education, so people from a lower socioeconomic status, minorities, and other underprivileged groups who can’t go to college can fill these positions. There aren’t many opportunities for these people to move up unless they get themselves into a library school, which they don’t necessarily have the resources to do. So it perpetuates the idea of the white middle-class lady in the library, since she has the means to get this kind of education.

The intersections of privilege and diversity bring me around to me next thought, which is why people go to library school. It certainly isn’t cheap at a place like U of M. Though it is an expensive opportunity, I’m at UMSI so that I can become a librarian and do a job that I love the more I learn about it and think about it and get experience with patrons and with other librarians. It got me thinking about something I saw on YA author and Vlogbrother John Green’s Tumblr yesterday, which was a quote from an article in Slate by Miya Tokumitsu republished from a different magazine. The idea is that the phrase “do what you love” and its variations hurt our society and its workers. Here’s the quote that first caught my attention on Tumblr and that gets to the heart of this matter:

If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves, what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.

It really does call to our privilege if we say we are doing something only because we love it. Workers stuck in menial labor are devalued, despite the fact that they can’t get out of their situation. And, as Tokumitsu says in the article, these higher-class jobs that people love take a lot of work from people on the lower levels, work that is necessary but often thankless. The author also sees the Do What You Love movement as one of the things that makes unpaid internships and adjunct lecture positions so prevalent: people get taken advantage of and work for nothing or work way too much because of their love of the job. To wrap up, Tokumitisu writes:

If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

And if we did that, more of us could get around to doing what it is we really love.

I think this is the takeaway from this whole issue. It’s about making sure everyone gets paid for what they do and gets time to do what they want as well as what they have to in order to survive. John Green mentioned that there’s a line from Tim O’Reilly that he likes that says: “Do things that need doing.” This validates pretty much all workers in a way that Do What You Love can’t. We need janitors and postal workers and cashiers; we need librarians and teachers; we need writers and doctors and caretakers. These jobs get done by millions of people so that society can function.

Okay, time to bring this back around to libraries. I thought about it in the context of unpaid internships in the Tokumitsu article, but I think it’s different than the internships they describe in fashion and media. Those fields are some place where someone is profiting immensely on the uncompensated work of another. However, in libraries, there isn’t much money to go around since they are publicly funded. I’m not saying people should work for nothing; I’m just saying that I can understand why there are unpaid internships in libraries in ways I don’t get it in lucrative fields. And though I want to be a librarian and I feel that I will love this job, that’s not the only reason I’m here. I’ve always been interested in serving my community in whatever way I can, and librarianship is one way I can do that. I know that I’m privileged in being able to go to school to do a job that doesn’t have great pay but that I want to do, but it is also a job that, as John Green and Tim O’Reilly say, “needs doing” so that people can find the resources they need when they need them. This brings things nicely back around nicely back to class, where Meagan ended the discussion of the “I will change the world” shirts by giving her understanding of the motto: it’s about changing the life of one person. Librarians have the ability to empower others so that they can then change their own lives and the lives of others, in an ongoing chain that will make the world a better place.

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3 thoughts on “World-Changing Potential and Privilege

  1. Pingback: Why is collaboration so difficult? | Mollie Blogs SI 638

  2. I think you bring up a lot of great points in this thoughtful reflection, Mollie. Another common saying that I thought of when reading this post was “is the glass half full or half empty?” You discussion of doing what you love really made me think about this.

    It’s about making sure everyone gets paid for what they do and gets time to do what they want as well as what they have to in order to survive.

    I agree that people should get paid/compensated for the work that they do. However, in the case of jobs situated in libraries, not even necessarily just librarian positions, the expectation is that you need to have a library degree (MLS, MSI, MSLS, etc.) in order to even be considered. We want librarians to get paid for what they do but FIRST, they have to pay for the accreditation. It’s like a negative pay it forward model: Pay the academy for the right to apply for the jobs that you love and then we’ll consider you for these positions, with no guarantee of success and ever diminishing budgets and funds. Thanks for supporting the academy! You have to have the ability to pay for the privilege of membership, or even the potential for membership, in the library field. And if you don’t have the funds, you’ll be paying for the privilege regardless of whether you actually become a member of the fold or not.

  3. “The T-shirt thing was the most surprising to me. I always saw it as 1) “i” as in information and its effect on the world, and 2) gaining the skills to navigate the increasingly vast information landscape to help others do the same.”

    I really like your reflection of the class conversation and I love your analysis of the tshirt, because I ever really saw the ‘i’ as information. Its brings up a different set of thoughts and emotions when you view the ‘i’ as information and rather than yourself.

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