A University of Minnesota librarian was ridiculed last week for offering microaggression training where she claimed that telling “a person of color that they are too loud” in the library is potentially harmful because it is “pathologizing cultural values” and demanding minorities “assimilate to a dominant culture.”
The whole University of Minnesota microaggression guide and its accompanying audio training session is full of similar tidbits: For instance, it’s apparently offensive to suggest the most qualified person should get the job. But if a librarian encounters someone who makes that error, “it is also a good idea to stay away from being sarcastic, snide, mocking or arrogant (even though this can be very tempting),” the guide says.
It turns out that the microaggression obsession among librarians isn’t unique to the University of Minnesota.
Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, says librarians have become much more aware of microaggressions and “cultural competency” in general in recent years. “When you need to get at the heart of what someone wants, and when you need to get the item or information you need to make them successful, you need the best communications available. Our profession has a set of values and standards, and to follow those values, we need to learn the most effective and best speech,” she says.
Heat Street discovered there’s an entire Tumblr devoted to the issue of microaggressions in the library. Many of the encounters described probably count as overt aggressions, not microaggressions. For instance, a patron who used a racial slur to describe Asians is openly engaging in racism, not committing a microaggression.
But several of the encounters described wouldn’t be offensive to anyone but the hypersensitive. For instance, one librarian recalls how a colleague described him as an “expert in same-sex marriage” to a student doing research on the topic. “Just because I’m gay, that does not mean I’m an expert in same sex marriage,” he complained.
In another post, a librarian took offense after “an irate patron” asked to speak to someone in charge. “I guess I didn’t ‘look’ the part of ‘someone in charge,’” the poster wrote.
Another librarian complains that a potential supervisor said during a job interview, “If you weren’t wearing a suit I would have thought you were a student.”
There’s also a magazine on the topic distributed at the American Library Association’s conference—or, as the publication advertises itself, “a space for librarians, archivists & info professionals to share their experience with subtle, denigrating microaggressions within the profession.”
Librarians are invited to write down or sketch their experience with microaggressions on a Post-it, no longer than 3×3, using a permanent of felt-tip marker. Here are some excerpts from past issues.