Feminist Leadership

Earlier this year, I co-wrote an article on technology, silo-ing, and the affordances of intersectional feminist leadership with my husband, Dale. The book in which that article appears is now out and if you are an academic leader of any stripe, you should really take a look at it.

Feminists Among Us: Resistance and Advocacy in Library Leadership. Eds. Shirley Yew & Baharak Yousefi. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-63400-027-7

Dale and I decided to join forces and write something that addresses our individual passions in a collective way. His interest in library leadership, mentoring the next generation of leaders and managers in academic libraries, and the persistent cultural divide around “hard” technical skills and “soft” people skills in the library combined with my commitment to teaching and living and mentoring intersectional feminism in the academy.

Our article takes a close look at what libraries (and, it could be argued, the university at large) treat as “diversity’ in their organizations and how hiring under-represented people and then putting them to work in an organization that has no vested interest in examining its cultural agenda(s) not only often sets POC up for career dissatisfaction, but also sets up the institution to not gain nearly as much as it could from broadening its approach to its own work. The central question of our

essay borrows Audre Lorde’s “master’s house” metaphor and asks:

Rather than parachuting diversity into our institutions via targeted hires or special projects, what if intersectional feminism and inclusion of diverse viewpoints became the mode of operations for academic libraries? Would new tools, deployed on localized and embodied collections, projects, and practices, help create a new house, in which staff and librarians would represent and reflect the communities they serve?

Obviously, we suggest that yes, this new kind of work is important and possible and we provide a few examples of what it looks like in various local projects. We focus in particular on the affordances of technology in libraries and digital humanities in research, because new ways of doing work can and should offer us new paradigms for the organization as a whole. If digital technology is merely deployed to reproduce the status quo of the library as conservative (in the literal sense of the word) institution, then we’ve let a real possibility slide by.

Other essays in the book provide additional valuable insights and critiques of “feminized labour” (Shana Higgins) and “servant leadership” (Lisa Richmond) from a feminist perspective. An interview by Tara Robertson of MIT’s Dean of Libraries, Chris Bourg, gives the reader really clear insight into how one feminist navigates her intersectional identity and political commitments as part of her job as a campus leader.

In an era when the very definition of “free speech” on college and university campuses is up for political debate, it can be very difficult indeed to feel like a faculty or staff job in higher education allows you to show up with your whole self. Feminism, queer advocacy, anti-racism and oppression politics are not universally held values in either the corridors of power or the classrooms of higher education. You need allies, friends, and supporters in your institution and in the wider profession to support your work and to hold you to your high standards.

Because I’m married to an academic librarian, I pay more attention to the possibilities for synergistic activity between faculty and library at the university than most do. This small edited volume provides nine examples of what librarians and libraries are doing right and where they can do better. If you’re in libraries, grab it and see where your allies and where your challenges are. If you’re in the faculty, read it and see how other campus leaders are addressing the challenge of feminist leadership on your campus!

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