Reacting without Reading about Critical Race Theory

How The Library Community Can Help Educate the Public

Since publishing my previous post on critical race theory (CRT), I have learned of more unfounded hysterics and inaccurate rumors about the essence of this theory. I find this behavior completely shocking. There is simply no reason for shouting, yelling, and crying over the rumor of what CRT represents. The CRT panic seems to be more evidence that the US is grappling with a more significant and untreated mental health crisis.

I digress.

The flames of CRT hysteria are being fanned by politicians who know better than to misquote theories, as they are, by all accounts, highly educated. Therefore, their mischaracterizations of CRT are deliberate. The persistence of these lies about CRT is why the academic library community needs to weigh in on CRT discussions in various venues sooner rather than later. We must be a part of the vanguard to systematically shut down disinformation and misinformation efforts regardless of who perpetuates blatant lies.

The research in library and information science points to examples (paywalled), challenges (paywalled), and opportunities (paywalled) when the library community attempts to address fake news. One of the biggest dilemmas we face as a profession is that we often cannot get out of our own way. We seem determined to heavily apply misaligned scientific practice and philosophy to matters that are relatively easy fixes, like a structured methodology to educate the public about CRT. We appear to love mapping out the information discovery process far more than producing user-friendly end products.

Hence, our love of LibGuides (read: online library guides) as a solution for all things educational. Please understand me. I am a fan of a well-constructed LibGuide, and we have some excellent examples of libraries creating CRT LibGuides including this one. However, it appears that we, as a profession, lean on LibGuide creation as the totality of our contributions to critical discourse. I argue that we have so much more to offer.

The phrase “Reading is Fundamental” is widely embraced within the US library profession, and if you are anything like me, you have leveraged this statement with some snark over the years. American academic library professionals know that scores of people do not read, despite proclamations of loving books and all things library-related. What I have learned over the years is that people are wedded to how libraries represent community and assistance in finding quality information.

Moreover, we represent the “heart of our democracy,” as stated by the late Vartan Gregorian, former president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, in his 2019 essay “Can Libraries Save America?” He argued that libraries are critical in granting individuals “access to an ever-growing compendium of human knowledge.”

To my colleagues: we have the “people power,” energy, resources, and respect of the community to stand in unison with those who desire to have the truth of CRT shared. Beyond LibGuides, let us convene symposiums, make statements to the press, tweet, and blog on this topic. One does not have to be a proponent of this theory to provide accurate information about CRT. You just have to commit to telling the truth about the theory.

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.