Fall Update/Reckoning (2/2)

2012/09/27

Ok, so having summed up where we’ve been in the last 7 or 8 months on this project, this next post will begin to chart our possible work for the coming year. As ever, this is a drafty, provisional list – a temporary snapshot of current thinking.

When we began over a year ago, we really thought this project would be primarily about drop in workshops organized around political issues and actions which offered some information literacy alongside and/or integrated into the conversation. We wondered how to include cultural programming as well… maybe exhibits, readings, displays. Since then, we’ve decided to expand our understanding to include various kinds of outreach and solidarity building, having recognized that we are slowly assembling networks and building relationships with faculty and students on campus in ways that are new to us and information literacy can happen in a number of venues. So here’s a list of some projects we’re involved in this year. We’re not writing anything this year, or planning conference presentations, wanting to focus on exploratory praxis and building solidarity on campus for awhile.

1)An Event with OPIRG. We reached out to York’s OPIRG this summer and tried to get an event into their annual fall Disorientation slate, but unfortunately didn’t get to them in time. York’s OPIRG is “a student-funded, student-directed organization mandated to do popular education and advocacy around social justice and environmentalism.” Anyway, we had some emails back and forth and discovered that they have a Radical Reading Room run by some awesome sounding folks and we’ve decided to put our heads together and collaborate on something later this fall. Not sure what yet – but I’m hoping it might be an event about student movements, following on the heels of what’s happened in Quebec and what I think is about to happen in Ontario. But we’re open to anything… we want it to be a true collaboration.

Here’s a really interesting article giving some background on the politics and funding struggles surrounding the PIRGs in Canada.

Defunding the Public Interest: Conservative Strategy and the Fight for the PIRGS

2)Radical Archives Consultation Service. Related to the above, having discovered that the PIRG has a library… as professional librarians is there any help/advice we can offer? We were wondering if they also archive material – like ephemera from protests and student groups on campus. If not, could we figure out together how to create a radical archive? If yes, could we offer digitization assistance, cataloguing advice, etc… you get the drift. We have some expertise and know many others who have other useful expertise … if we can bring it usefully to these folks we should. We also have access to certain kinds of tools and infrastructure that might be helpful.

How does this relate to our original goals for the project? I guess for me the answer is that it’s hard to teach people about dissent and political participation without having a good and highly accessible historical record of grassroots dissent. And being able to see examples of local initiatives can be particularly inspiring and engaging to students and faculty. So this sort of cultural stewardship is a necessary precursor for our other work. Also, I’m going to fly my York flag for a minute and just say it … York students are special. How can we expose the amazing things they say and do to the rest of the world?

3)Feminist Community Safety event. Sadly, YorkU is also dealing with a wave of sexual assaults on campus this year (and every year). York also has problems with theft and other forms of violence. There are some serious concerns about what York’s admin is doing to address these problems, and big issues with a lack of campus security, particularly late at night. One of our Associate University Librarians is involved with a taskforce looking at these issues, and we’ve entered into a conversation with her about what the Libraries’ might offer in terms of support and how this project might be a part of that work. We reached out to her in part because when we were pulling together our Violence Against Women guide last year, we realized we were pulling together a page for that guide on actual support services for students in crisis For. The. First. Time. This was, we agreed, pathetic and ridiculous. We are so bound up on in thinking about the academic needs of our students that we sometimes forget that we have responsibilities to them as whole people. we forget that our library often serves as their public library. Don’t we have a responsibility to provide referral to support services and access to information that might help? Also, how might we make our library space itself a safer place?

YorkU is also the birthplace of the SlutWalk movement.

So, with all this context in mind, we’re wondering about a feminist event, maybe with the SlutWalk organizers, a community event that thinks about rape prevention advice differently. We have to think about what the information literacy component is, exactly, but I like the idea of building solidarity with the student groups arguing about campus safety and making the library feel like a safe space for those conversations. Although we should never forget the library is not a safe space. Attacks, theft, and various forms of violence occur regularly. I won’t get into the sorts of epistemological violence that occurs in our collection building practices. Not right now. Anyway, we’ve only just begun the thinking here and it is not at all fleshed out in anyway – but there’s a definite connection in my mind between “the public academic library” and “research for citizenship” and successful student movements like Slutwalk and community support and safety. We just have to figure out how to put it together properly. Suggestions welcome.

4)Transition Year Program. We inherited this project from some other librarians, and we’re trying to figure out what our involvement might be. This project is based inside the curriculum rather than out, but shares some of our goals. It’s a non-traditional avenue to university education – students who have previously experienced financial and/or social barriers to education are accepted into the program and basically take a couple of courses meant to acculturate them into university life and give them the skills they need to succeed academically – and at the end of that first year, if successful, they can then transfer into in a degree program at York, depending on the academic requirements of the program. One of the courses they can take is very much focused on social justice and activism in a university setting – which is why we were approached to take this work up. This year is a planning year for the particular course mentioned and we’re exploring with the coordinators and course director how we might participate next year. It will probably involve straight up IL in the classroom in support of the research assignments, but we wondered also about organizing an RFC event for/by these students in the library, where they can showcase their work, knowledge, and concerns.

Other ideas? We wanted this project to be nimble in relation to emerging current events, so we continue to stay abreast of the news and stay alert especially to those that spark passion and action amongst our student body. On the horizon of course are the sweeping changes to education in Ontario proposed by the McGuinty government, a potential mayoral by-election in Toronto (please, pretty  please?), the astonishing decision of our country’s Minister for the Status of Women to vote in favour of reopening the abortion debate in this country, and the terrifying news about Arctic ice.

In fact, as I write this last sentence, I am suddenly astounded that climate change isn’t higher on this list. Maybe this is what we should talk about instead with the OPIRG folks. Hmm.

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