Intersections with Power: Critical Teaching and the Library Catalogue

Many thanks to the team at UBC libraries and WILU 2016 for inviting me to present the keynote address at this spring’s conference. The theme of the conference was “intersections,” which resonates on many levels including the politics of identity and the politics of space. I chose to talk about the ways that librarians intersect with catalogs as texts and tools, and the work we all do to connect people to resources through networks of organization and control that are as inevitable (I think) as they are problematic.

I’m posting this talk on a morning that includes news of the murder of Philando Castile on the heels of the murder of Alton Sterling on the heels of the murders of so many black people, many of whom have not even been named. These are intersections of certain bodies with violent state power, people just living their ordinary lives inside an insidious network that can, at will, remove them from those lives altogether. Thinking about power, who wields it and how and where and in what ways it concentrates and can be resisted is one form of work that can help us some of us begin to understand that the problem does not lie with Sterling or Castile, but with the racist systems and structures that consistently produce black death in this country, and have since its origins. I don’t know how anyone can hear these stories and think otherwise, but my white America is often incomprehensible to me. To the extent that this talk can be at all useful in the world, I think it’s to help make the point that there are structures and systems of power that are often invisible to those of us whose intersections with them are smooth and easy. If you’re a person with the kinds of privileges that mean the state works for you, helps to produce your life rather than your death, if you are, like me, white, comparatively wealthy, cisgendered, English speaking, with a normative body, etc.–the violence of those systems might not be legible. It’s important to begin to see them so that we can take responsibility for changing them.


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