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The AALL Spectrum® Blog is published by the American Association of Law Libraries. Submissions from AALL members and other members of the legal community are highly encouraged. Opinions and editorial views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of AALL. AALL does not assume any responsibility for statements advanced by contributors. Previously, the AALL Spectrum Blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
5/4/2015 6:54:39 PM

How to talk about race in the library? 1/3

Photo shows, Blog Author and Panelist Justin Hua at 2015 Dr. MLK Commemoration on Vanderbilt Campus.
Photo issued under creative commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike CC BY-NC-SA 

In my last blog post  I explained why you might want to foster a work environment where you can and do talk about race. We need to talk about race, to overcome our biases, and become actively anti-racist so that we can create library environments that are positive and welcoming to diverse patrons and library employees.

“White people often believe that multicultural / anti-racist education is only necessary for those who interact with “minorities” or in “diverse” environments. However, the dynamics discussed here suggest that it is critical that all white people build the stamina to sustain conscious and explicit engagement with race. When whites posit race as non-operative because there are few, if any, people of color in their immediate environments, Whiteness is reinscribed ever more deeply”  (White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo 2014, p. 66).

I was recently invited to speak on a panel discussion at the 2015 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration at Vanderbilt University. This post is an adaptation of that eight minute talk.

I’d like to share with you the skills that I have developed for talking about race in the workplace. Here are my suggestions, based on my own struggles and filtered through the lens of a decade of college courses in the social sciences. I have 10 suggestions for People of Color (but others might find it helpful also) to help them talk about race in a way that suits their goals. In the interest of clarity, I am dividing up these 10 suggestions across 3 blog posts so that I can explain each one adequately.  I’ll post them all at once so you can read the whole thing if you wish.

1. Pay attention to your needs.

Racist words and deeds, whether they are intentional or unintentional, egregious or just mildly annoying, tend to be tiring to deal with and can cause “sleep difficulty” and “Daytime Fatigue”. It can also trigger an elevation in C-reactive protein levels, which correlates to increased rates of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. My suggestion is that you take really good care of yourself. If you know you are going to have a conversation about race, you want to be physically, emotionally and spiritually prepared, but sometimes you may get taken by surprise by a racial microaggression and that is when it helps to be in a good mood. I use the smile test, if I can't crack a genuine smile, then I have no business talking about race.

2. Be knowledgeable.

Learn as much as you can about the current state of the United States with regard to institutional racism and the history of the people in America who exhibit non-Caucasian phenotypes. I say it this way to remind you that we are united by our experiences of systemic racism regardless of our separate cultures and as a reminder that race is culturally constructed. Also, give yourself a break, you can’t know everything.

3. Be impeccable with your word. 

Be precise when describing racist situations to others. This will preserve your credibility and make your arguments stronger. (It is some protection against others claiming that you are “playing the race card”, but ultimately, others will view you the way they want to regardless of what you do or say.) Focus on the facts of the situation. What exactly happened and avoid telling a story about what happened. For instance, “Someone came into my office and wrote the word Jigaboo on my whiteboard.” That is a factual statement and is different from, “Some racist jerk entered the sanctuary of my office and violated my personal space and sense of wellbeing by writing a racial slur on my whiteboard.” That is a story about what happened.

Also, lay the foundation for your argument by making sure that everyone is defining key terms in the same way. Often when white people talk about racism they are talking about overt racist acts of discrimination by individuals and hatred of another group because of the color of their skin and they do not realize how many actions, without specific intent, contribute to systemic racism or to our everyday experiences of racial microaggressions.

Part 2

Posted By Catherine Deane at 5/4/2015 6:54:39 PM  0 Comments
5/1/2015 2:33:21 PM

Book Review - Love's Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families

Love’s Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families, by Martha M. Ertman, 2015.  Paperback, 239 pages, $26.95.  ISBN: 987-0-8070-3366-1.

In Love’s Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families, Professor Martha Ertman examines how families are affected by the application of law to family issues from both the perspective of an individual whose personal life has been directly shaped by the law, and as a legal scholar analyzing the law.  Professor Ertman’s use of an easy to understand, plain language explanation of the law, which is supported with numerous citations to legal sources, makes this book a wonderful resource for a wide audience of readers and an enjoyable read.  

Organized into two parts, the first part of the book covers reproductive technology and adoption while the second part deals with cohabitation agreements and marital agreements.  In addition to the main topics covered in the book, it also includes a detailed introduction, an appendix with sample agreements, a bibliography, a notes section and an index.

The format of the book is slightly unconventional for a legal text in that it covers each topic from several different viewpoints.  The topics are covered first as a memoir, describing Professor Ertman’s own experiences.  Then for each topic there is a discussion of the basic facts of the law and finally there is an explanation of the law as it is currently applied and an analysis of the law as Professor Ertman argues it should be applied.
It should also be noted that Professor Ertman adopts very specific language to describe some of the central ideas in the book.  For example, throughout the book Professor Ertman describes the various contracts and deals used in many family relationships.  The term ‘contract’ is used in its normal sense to describe legally binding and enforceable agreements, like a prenuptial agreement.  The term ‘deals’ is used to describe agreements that are not legally binding but would govern various bargains that family members make with one another in order to move forward with necessary day to day activities, like an arrangement where one partner agrees to wash the dishes while the other partner agrees to mow the lawn.  During the course of the book Professor Ertman uses the concepts of ‘contracts’ and ‘deals’ to demonstrate how both devices benefit families and allow them the needed flexibility to structure agreements that work for their own unique situations.

Professor Ertman also distinguishes between different types of families and discusses how they are impacted by ‘contracts’ and ‘deals’.  ‘Plan A’ is the term used to describe the traditional idea of a family, generally a married husband and wife with children.  ‘Plan B’ is the term used to represent what is often described in other literature as a non-traditional family, such as cohabitation between unmarried partners or a single parent household.  While there is some discussion of ‘Plan A’ families, the main focus in this book is on ‘Plan B’ families and how they are affected by the use of ‘contracts’ and ‘deals’.

This book is appropriate for public, county, academic, and firm library collections.  In particular this book would help members of the public interested in learning about alternative arrangements for non-traditional families, law students and faculty studying or researching topics related to family law, gender, and contracts, and family law practitioners who are interested in exploring how contract law can benefit families.  For anyone still unsure of whether this book is suitable for their collection, I highly recommend reviewing the author’s very thorough introduction, which includes a detailed description of what is covered in the book, how to use the book, and a note on the language used in the book.

Shannon Kemen, 2015.  Reference Librarian, Robert S. Marx Law Library, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio. shannon.kemen@uc.edu 

Posted By Shannon Kemen at 5/1/2015 2:33:21 PM  0 Comments
4/24/2015 4:45:00 PM

Law Library Interns: How to Make Them Work for You

For aspiring law librarians, the most useful aspects of library school are often those that afford the opportunity for practical experience. In most instances, these opportunities take the form of internships. Sometimes done for pay, sometimes done for academic credit, and sometimes done just for the experience itself, internship opportunities allow aspiring law librarians to get a better sense of what sort of work they hope to do post-graduation. They also act as an excellent means of differentiating themselves from their job-seeking peers.

Those same internships create new opportunities for the law libraries themselves. Interns can benefit law libraries in a number of ways - they can bring a fresh perspective to a project that has stalled; they may be more familiar with new and developing technologies; they may have a skillset that is helpful but not duplicated on the full-time staff (e.g., foreign-language skills, a background in a particular legal practice area).

Done properly, both intern and law library can benefit greatly from these opportunities, either as a one-time occurrence, or as the beginning of an established intern program.  But doing it properly and avoiding common problems does take some planning, effort, and foresight.

This summer at AALL, this topic will be explored in far more depth as part of the Law Library Interns: How to Make Them Work for You program. Representatives from academic (Kelly Leong), government (Peter Roudik), and court (Daniel Cordova) law libraries will discuss their own successful internship programs and the growing pains they experienced making those programs succeed – including the identification of the most-common pitfalls of such programs.

I’ll be moderating and offering my own perspective as someone who had the chance to complete invaluable internships at the Peking University School of Transnational Law, Legal Research Center and the National Indian Law Library.

As a bit of a preview, here are some issues worth considering:

  • Do you have projects or assignments to work on that are suitable for your intern? 
If, for example, the intern knows that she only wants to work in technical services and has a background to support that, having her sit reference is less likely to result in a worthwhile experience for anyone involved. If she has a substantive expertise in an area of law, working on a cataloging project in that area or preparing a research guide would allow her to showcase that expertise while also resulting in high quality work that benefits the law library.

  • Can your existing staff provide guidance and the required supervision to the intern?
As tempting as it can be to think of interns as “warm bodies” to fill existing gaps in coverage, you should still keep in mind that the legal guidelines regarding internships and work, both at the federal and state levels. The U.S. Department of Labor has created a useful Fact Sheet with good basic information – Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act – including the six criteria that apply.

  • Have you had the opportunity to have a nuts-and-bolts talk with your intern before the internship begins?
Making sure the institution clearly communicates about things like deadlines, attire, and scheduling/punctuality are very important: good communication can go a long way to eliminating issues before they become problems. In some cases, established internship programs have competitive selection processes, but even less formal opportunities should use a phone call and email documentation to make sure the institution and the intern are on the same page.

These issues and others will be discussed in more depth, with examples from the speakers on how their own programs deal with them.

What issues have you come across, either from the perspective of the institution or as an intern yourself? Please share and discuss in the comments below!

Finally, if your institution is at all interested in possibly hosting an international internship or exchange, I encourage you to complete the Internships & International Exchanges Survey. It can be a very useful way to facilitate internships and exchanges across borders. International internships and exchanges can bring with them an additional layer of logistical challenges (e.g., passports, visas, international flights) but they can also be the most rewarding. Also, if you’ve actually completed an international internship or exchange and would be willing to write it up briefly for our website or a newsletter, the FCIL-SIS Internships & International Exchanges program would love to hear from you!

Posted By R. Martin Witt at 4/24/2015 4:45:00 PM  0 Comments