Between a Wall and a Bookshelf

I occupy ancestral ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (East Cherokee), Chikashsha I̠yaakni’ (Chickasaw), S’atsoyaha (Yuchi), and Shawandasse Tula (Shawanwaki/Shawnee) land — land now known as Alabama. I’m usually white, except when I’m not. I’m queer, trans, and use they/them pronouns. I’m probably disabled and neurodivergent, but I’ve given up on pursuing medical diagnoses in favor of simply listening to my body and brain and giving them what they need.

And, on top of all that, I am a librarian.

Specifically, I work in a public library that is not government-owned, per se, but is nonetheless beholden to it as a non-profit that receives much of its funding from municipal sources. I started as a clerk in May 2019, then became the circulation librarian in January 2020, three months before the library system closed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant I had three months of on-the-job training, with no mentorship from my predecessor, before rebuilding our entire service model to curbside-only — and all while earning a measly $13.25 USD an hour. (We’ve all gotten pay raises since then, but we’re still hovering below the national median for public library salaries as of this writing.) I made it work, though, and had already proven myself a capable capital-l Librarian when I obtained my Master’s in Library and Information Studies from the University of Alabama in December 2022; however, the same week I received my degree, the Human Resources Director offered my a Technician I position, which would have included a $6 USD/hour pay cut and a relocation to another branch.

If you don’t work in a library, that might not mean much to you. If you do, you probably recognize how thankless working in a public library, and especially in circulation and access services, can be.

But despite the poor pay, the bureaucratic red tape that comes from being in bed with capitalist government, and the so-called “culture war” rising to a fever pitch across Turtle Island, I know I am where I am mean to be. I am a public librarian because I believe in open and equitable access, in fighting mis/disinformation and disseminating truth, in teaching and advocating for information literacy — and, above all, in justice. And I don’t have to be on the clock to espouse these values; indeed, these values steer me through the course of my life, including what I do to make a paycheck.

So I am here, now, treading water in a sea of vitriol and lies, to try and make accessible to anyone who will listen how public libraries actually work, what values public libraries are actually meant to uphold, and why the current attacks on public and school libraries are fundamentally misguided and unjust. Of course, information access and literacy aren’t relegated only to public libraries, and I will likely venture into other discussions about liberation across intersections and around the world.

And just so it’s here in writing: I do not represent the library I work for, the schools I attended, the organizations I’m involved with, or any other library staff of any other library system. This is my life’s work as I’m living it, and everything I have to say here are my thoughts and opinions alone.

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