There's a very good chance that you have seen the incredible Anti-Oppression LibGuide from Simmons University. It's a significant guide that is shared the world over both by people who aim to teach and who have a desire to learn. It's important and it's affecting change. Springshare has taken notice of the way this LibGuide has become the essential answer to questions of oppression in the communities it addresses. We were fortunate to be able to interview Stacy Collins, Research and Instruction Librarian at Simmons University, and the author of this brilliant guide.
This Q&A is our privilege to share with you at this critical time in history where keeping an open dialogue, asking questions, and being honest about the things we know and don't know is the only way we can move forward together.
A: In November 2015, our undergraduate Black Student Organization along with other student groups delivered Ten Demands to our president and provost. Part of the response included community gatherings at which a number of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students shared not only their experiences of racism, tokenism, etc. at the hands of faculty and peers but also the secondary burden of educating those same people about racism or sometimes “proving” that an incident was racist at all. And despite their exhaustion, these students felt they must provide that education or no one would learn and nothing would improve.
Having attended those gatherings, the information need was starkly clear, so I built the anti-oppression guide ostensibly as a social justice pathfinder for the Simmons community but primarily to provide marginalized students with a resource to which they can point rather than expend labor educating others.
A: The guide is listed among the Library’s community guides. I also share it among the programs I serve as do the other Research & Instruction Librarians. The guide also features regularly in a few courses across the LIS, Social Work, and Social Sciences programs.
A: Currently, the guide’s total views are just over 104,000 and averages 100-150 views/day since it was launched in August 2016.
Significant spikes have happened a few times, usually correlating to a spike in protests and calls for racial justice like we’re seeing right now. People not only view the guide more, but I also get an uptick in reuse requests/notifications. The biggest single-day spike in views to date was about 18 months after the launch when the guide was first discovered by an outraged right-wing media--over 2,000 views in one day. And having my work denounced by the alt-right as ushering the end of society as they know it is still wonderfully flattering.
I certainly like to think that the guide proving useful as a community and academic resource here at Simmons is one reason for its continued popularity. That said, another significant spike in views a couple months after the guide launched was when it began being shared in LIS listservs, and ever since, it has had enormous popularity among librarians to educate themselves as much as their communities—academic librarians in particular love a good LibGuide. It has also found an audience among K-12 educators, social workers, and other fields who know how important anti-oppression is to their work and how far they have to go to actually uphold it.
A: The first time the guide was shared a bunch was when librarians discovered and started talking about it. Along with a jump in guide views and Twitter mentions, I also got my first influx of reuse requests. The guide launched the same month that I started in my first professional position, and to have my work sought and shared three months later was a huge moment of pride for me. It remains one of the ways I challenge imposter syndrome as my work continues.
My favorite comment on the guide came from a first year LIS student of color at Simmons. They emailed me to ask about the guide’s use of “misia” terminology and expand on the explanation on the guide’s first page. It was a lively conversation and really came down to how our field’s (and any field’s) efforts to be anti-racist, anti-ableist, etc. must embody and enact those same principles (e.g. using terms that don’t further marginalize groups).
In their last message the student said, “This guide says that the status quo isn’t benign just because it’s familiar. It tells me that I’m not imagining my experiences—this harm is real—and it gives me tools for telling privileged people that the harm is real too.” And I can’t think of a greater aspiration for the guide’s impact than that.
-- Stacy Collins
Research and Instruction Librarian
A: I’m unabashedly a big fan of LibGuides as a platform for library guides. You can find on Twitter my mildly obsessive tweets at Springshare asking if they’d please, please make a version for individual use. LibGuides are fun to build (and play with source code), their structural options and accessibility tools cover a number of types of guides/topics/audiences especially in an academic library like mine, and the community sharing/reuse features allow for an enormous web of knowledge sharing.
A: I was more or less familiar with WYSIWYG platforms before working with LibGuides, and my learning experience was just to get my hands in and start playing. I’ve found the training resources really great for solving specific problems and accessibility questions. To this day, I have unpublished sandbox guides to try out different features and tools.
For the most part, guides are built by and at the discretion of the Research & Instruction librarians in response to requests or information needs among our programs. Some are specific to courses, some more broadly applicable or how-to focused, and of course our community guides that range from social justice to spotting pyramid schemes.
A: My work for this guide was all structural. The content is from a Faculty Development group whose topic for the year was “emotionally-laden topics in the classroom” in the aftermath of the 2016 elections. The guide is shared with faculty mostly via the Center for Excellence in Teaching during new faculty orientations and professional development events.
It’s great to see faculty engaging with their classrooms as non-neutral spaces and their students’ personhoods as part of their learning experiences.
A: This guide was built by a former colleague to expand our community guides. Students are very active in social justice work and often look for ways to contribute aside from turning up for protests. The guide also has information about students’ rights.
A: This guide was also built by another colleague at the request of the Simmons Violence Prevention and Educational Outreach office. The office doesn’t have the same kind of online space as the Library, and a guide has proved a great way to share information and resources with students and direct them to the office for their programs.
These and all our community guides underscore the role of libraries and librarians as change agents in their communities as platforms, curators, and creators.
Librarians play a huge role in connecting their communities with information—guides are often a great way to do that. Like any information resource during times of uncertainty or learning, guides can be both assuring and empowering, and they push further than some other resources by providing information literacy tools alongside sources.
The Library at Simmons University is doing the kind of work that strives to do more than inform. The very existence of these LibGuides shows that the library is listening and acting. Being an engaged library makes them better able to address even the most challenging topics some might shy away from today. But today is the day to act, to share, and to continue to ask what can we learn? How can we improve? Stacy Collins and her team inspire us all to ask these questions -- and then build upon the answers.