Katie Punia, Susie Wilson, and Sajni Lacey
Building relationships with the library and information community and profession is integral to the work of the British Columbia Academic Library Section [BCALS]. This is concretely acknowledged through the development and implementation of the BCALS Anti-Racism Action Plan, published in 2022. This process, which began in 2020, was grounded in an intention to establish an ongoing reciprocal relationship with our members to develop a reflective and tangible anti-racism plan which seeks to continue education and knowledge sharing through “support[ing] spaces, conversations, and resources specifically for BIPOC library workers, whether originating from BCALS or from other places” and “continue[d] partnering with and promoting other organizations doing related work” (BCALS, 2022). Below, three members of the current executive team outline how this work originated, its current status, and its future directions. Readers are encouraged to connect with the current or incoming chairs to discuss ideas or thoughts on any of the areas outlined below.
Like many organizations, BCALS had conversations about how to acknowledge and take action in support of Black Lives Matter in the summer of 2020. In an expression of solidarity, in June of that year, the BCALS executive drafted and passed a statement and call to action that affirmed:
- Black lives matter.
- Police violence is not just the work of a few “bad actors” and is part of the systemic, pervasive, and ongoing culture of white supremacy.
- Anti-Black racism is a problem in both British Columbia and academic libraries.
- Academic libraries and post-secondary institutions, including those in Canada, are embedded and complicit in the ideologies, structures, and actions of white supremacy and settler Colonialism (BCALS, 2020).
In conjunction with these, BCALS called for explicit commitments and action to change. In the fall of 2020, BCALS hosted a panel discussion focusing on racial injustice in the library and information profession in Canada. It was rightly called to attention by one of the panelists that BCALS had made a statement in solidarity with BLM, but had not publicly presented a plan for taking action. This led to the development of an anti-racism plan by the BCALS executive to take steps in line with our goals and purpose.
The BCALS Anti-Racism action plan was developed throughout 2021. One particular focus was sections of the BCALS Constitution and Bylaws, including communications, continuing education, knowledge sharing, and materials support to develop tangible steps that would inform the ongoing work of anti-racism within the executive. In addition to identifying what BCALS would do, a formalized implementation plan was developed to outline the exact steps BCALS would take over the next eighteen months to meet the goals of the anti-racism plan. In this document, the executive outlined the step from the plan, the action to be taken, and the status of that action. The intent for this is not only to be clear on what BCALS is doing in regards to each action but to be accountable for its progress as it is being done.
The two policy-based actions were an organizational document review and the development of a diverse speaker policy. The goal of the document review was to ensure that documentation of BCALS was reviewed annually. This would ensure that any language, terminology, or components of these documents that needed to be updated or revised based on our ongoing learning, and unlearning in regards to social justice, anti-racism, and decolonization was being done intentionally and mindfully every year. This review is currently occurring with changes to any documentation, including terms of reference, bylaws, constitution, and awards criteria to be updated within the next year. BCALS also developed a Diverse Speaker Policy. This policy aims to intentionally use the platform of our events, such as the Winter Event, to ensure that there is a diverse representation of speakers. This was completed and will be used to inform events in an ongoing fashion.
BCALS hosts two main continuing education events annually, a Winter Event with invited speakers and lightning talks, and a spring CV Clinic for graduating students looking to begin work in academic libraries. In addition to putting our diverse speaker policy into practice, BCALS strives more broadly to create accessible spaces for our events. In the case of the Winter Event, this meant partnering with Keeping it ReAL to create broader awareness of both events in BC Academic Libraries and to promote the use of live captioning in the online session. The CV Clinic was hosted online again this year, and will continue to be in the future to ensure equitable access to students, recent graduates, and volunteers outside of the Lower Mainland. Finally, there are plans to mindfully implement IBPOC student and volunteer matching in the CV Clinic in the future. It is important to recognize that, while beneficial to connect new IBPOC Library professionals, this initiative has the potential to create a system where IBPOC volunteers are then expected to take on a heavier load to facilitate IBPOC to IBPOC matches.
BCALS’s commitment to anti-racism action is facilitated not only through physical and virtual in-person and online events, but by curating a meaningful social media presence. Building our social media presence in relation to our commitment to EDI aims to support representation, inclusion, and accountability by highlighting anti-oppressive, anti-racist, and decolonial work being done in the field, specifically by IBPOC authors. Most active is our Twitter, @BC_ALS, which is maintained by student volunteers who sit on the BCALS committee.
Critical to upholding these commitments in the social media space is, in part, acknowledging the work of Safiya Noble (2018), who continues to argue against the overwhelmingly accepted assumption that digital platforms have the technological capacity to be neutral (p. 6). Working actively against algorithms that function to devalue the contributions of IBPOC professionals and creators, BCALS has begun outreach to create informal partnerships with IBPOC twitter communities, such as Visible Minority Librarians of Canada (@ViMLoC_CA) and the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) School of Information IDEAS program for racialized students (@ideasatubc). Acknowledging that the social media space intersects with digital inequalities, which can result in the erasure of IBPOC voices, BCALS has also developed a Social Media Posting Submission Form. The form invites both the Twitter and larger information professional community to “submit IBPOC-focused events, groups, individuals, or resources for us to share on our Twitter page” (BCALS, 2022). Building partnerships through the use of social media has enabled BCALS to connect individual users, community organizations, and academic libraries with one another to highlight spaces for IBPOC librarians and information professionals to share their experiences, their labour, and knowledge of resources.
At a time when “information capitalism and politics of austerity have both commodified digital knowledge and dismantled public spaces,” highlighting and promoting open educational resources and community events that support IBPOC librarians on social media aims to facilitate people’s abilities to learn practices that are both theoretically and practically based on anti-racism and EDI work (Soudias, 2021, p. 41). Sharing events from such pages has been recognized as having a positive impact so far for our community partners, including increased participation by BCALS members in events after sharing on social media, such as ViMloC’s panel discussion titled “The Lies We Tell Ourselves: The Role of Libraries in Creating Hegemonic Value.” Such actions demonstrate not only our commitment to enhance the visibility of IBPOC information professionals, but also enables individuals who are also seeking to meaningfully commit to learning about the experiences and labour of IBPOC information professionals to connect with the highlighted resources. The student volunteers who maintain BCALS Twitter, alongside the support of the BCALS committee, seek to continue relationship-building practices through social media to encourage and enact anti-racism and decolonial work.
BCALS acknowledges that the work of being an anti-racist organization must be ongoing and intentional. The action plan is designed to ensure this work continues as membership changes. It was developed to hold the executive accountable to bring action to this and future calls to action. By sharing the experience of turning an initial call to action into achievable concrete actions the BCALS executive hopes to support other organizations in developing their own actionable plans.
Author’s Note* This piece was written on the work done prior to a provisionally accepted proposal to make Twitter a privately-held company, acknowledging that we can not predict what this will mean for information sharing through social media, especially in regards to information by and about IBPOC histories, work, and thoughts.
British Columbia Academic Libraries Section. (2022). Anti-Racism Action Plan. https://bclaconnect.ca/perspectives/files/2023/01/BCALS-Anti-Racism-Action-Plan.pdf.
Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism. New York University Press.
Soudias, Dimitris. (2021). “Imagining the Commoning Library: Alter-Neoliberal Pedagogy in Informational Capitalism.” Journal of Digital Social Research, 3(1), 39–59. http://dx.doi.org/10.33621/jdsr.v3i1.