By: Jill Brown
In the weeks leading up to and following the presidential election, media outlets have ran numerous stories about the very utilitarian and humble safety pin being regularly donned as a powerful symbol on the wardrobes of many within our nation. Taking time to read the various articles and blog posts on the topic, it’s immediately apparent that safety pins’ degree of acceptance varies vastly; however, the spirit behind wearing the pin remains generally consistent with sending a message of solidarity and identifying as an ally to the disenfranchised.
At the core of librarianship is the charge to provide inclusive access to free information while allowing the free expression of ideas for all and, of course, resisting efforts to censor or abridge library services and information. While doing all of those amazing tasks, it can be easy to lose focus of why we’re doing what we’ve set out to do: service for the people.
Service for the people.
Service for all.
Our Library Bill of Rights states, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.”
As someone who felt disenfranchised in my youth, I was thankful for the connection I made with a YA librarian. While my librarian did not have a safety pin, or any other noticeable symbol pinned on her clothing (this was nearly 20 years ago), between her outgoing personality and commitment to providing the highest level of service, I felt as though I could talk to her about some of the issues that were happening in my life. For me, the library became a haven — a place where I felt like I could be myself while exploring information and ideas without fear of judgement.
Fast-forward to present day, a librarian donning a safety pin may very well be able to connect with a patron on some level. It may not result in a dialogue, but rather the person feeling welcomed and supported in the environment. Perhaps that person hasn’t felt welcomed or supported in other institutions. It’s the little things that can often make a big difference, especially in rural communities.
Eating lunch and flipping through the December issue of Library Journal, I read an editorial piece by Rebecca T. Miller where she cited statements from the American Library Association (ALA), Public Library Association (PLA), and Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and found myself cheering.
ALA President Julie Todaro:
“As an association representing these libraries, librarians, and library workers, the American Library Association (ALA) believes that the struggle against racism, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination is central to our mission … We will continue to support the efforts to abolish intolerance and cultural invisibility, stand up for all the members of the communities we serve, and promote an understanding and inclusion through our work.”
PLA President Felton Thomas, Jr.:
“The public library has an unparalleled ability to bring people and knowledge together, especially in times of uncertainty and division. We are places of learning, free inquiry and free speech for people of all ages and backgrounds … As such, our nation’s public libraries stand bulwark to intolerance and a beacon of opportunity. We are committed to ensuring a safe place for all that reflects and serves the diversity of our nation in our collections, programs and services.”
ARL Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair Chris Bourg:
“While ARL libraries and archives work hard to be inclusive in their hiring, collections, services, and environments, the Association and its members will not claim neutrality in the face of discrimination, sexism, ableism, racism, homophobia, religious persecution, or other forms of oppression … We support the freedom of speech and the open exchange of ideas and opinions, but we will not tolerate hate speech, silencing, inflammatory rhetoric, or any other speech or action that threatens the safety of dignity of any member of our community.”
As a rural library director, I seek to create and support an environment of safety and inclusivity for all. For me, wearing the pin is part of the larger environment and sends the message, “safe.” After all these years and the positive difference that one librarian made in my life, I hope I can do the same, yet I know our work goes beyond just wearing safety pins on our shirts. We must continue to advocate and speak out against efforts to divide, censor, and silence. We must continue to work together with our governing bodies to review policies and practices — to be proactive rather than reactive. And while we are busy supporting others, we need to show up and support each other.
In the meantime, I’ll be wearing my safety pin.
Jill Brown is the director at Millington (Mich.) Arbela District Library. Originating from a background of fighting for physical freedoms while running a shelter for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, Brown has since turned her efforts to intellectual freedom as she transitioned into the public library world. A graduate of Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science, Brown has continued the good fight during her years as a rural Michigan library director. Her interests include self-censorship, collection development practices in public libraries, and banned books. Brown sees all of life as an adventure, but especially enjoys the kind that gets her into the outdoors: hiking and biking. Evidence of Brown’s passion for intellectual freedom can be seen in the cover of “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury which she has tattooed on her right leg. She can be reached at email@example.com.