Book Reviews

Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS. Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho, eds. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2018. 508p. $35.00 (ISBN 978-1-63400-052-9).

Book cover for Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS

It should come as no surprise to anyone in library and information science (LIS) that our profession is composed overwhelmingly of white women. In this environment, the stories of people of color, especially women of color, do not receive sufficient attention. Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS brings to the fore the perspectives of those who are often silenced or ignored.

While each chapter asks different questions about the experiences of women of color (WOC) in LIS, they are all connected by a lens of intersectionality, or “the ways in which individuals with multiple marginalized identities experience oppression in more complicated ways” (4). The collection begins with a foreword by Fobazi Ettarh, who lays out three different forms of intersectionality—structural, political, and representational—defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw almost three decades ago. In their introduction, editors Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho establish this book as a space where the voices of WOC will take center stage to share their research and experiences, a space “that allows for conversations to pivot away from the traditional diversity paradigm by applying an explicit feminist and intersectional framework” (8–9).

Readers who are acquainted with the library literature related to diversity and social justice will likely be familiar with the editors, Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho. Chou is a series editor for the Series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS from Litwin Books & Library Juice Press, and Pho is an editorial board member of the open access, peer-reviewed journal, In the Library with the Lead Pipe. In 2017 their chapter, “Intersectionality at the Reference Desk: Lived Experiences of Women of Color Librarians” appeared in The Feminist Reference Desk. Chou and Pho have also presented together and separately at a number of national library conferences, including the Association of College and Research Libraries Conference and the National Diversity in Libraries Conference.

Of the 31 contributors, most are current or former academic librarians, with responsibilities ranging from reference services and information literacy instruction to digital humanities and emerging technology. While several authors are in higher education, as MLIS or PhD students, SLIS faculty members, or professors of other disciplines, a few work in public libraries, archives, or other fields such as psychology. Many of the contributors’ names will be familiar to those who have an interest in diversity and issues of race/racism, gender, power, and oppression in LIS, though newer voices are included as well.

In their attempts to share primary research or theoretical pieces, the contributors employ a variety of methods—some analyze survey or interview results, some take a narrative approach, and others format their contribution as a dialogue. Many chapters directly challenge existing structures of power and oppression while noting that women of color librarians are not a monolith. While the chapters of this collection are not organized by theme, several topics do surface throughout the book.

For instance, Alexsandra Mitchell and LaVerne Gray emphasize the need that women librarians of color have for support and mentorship in their chapters. In two chapters, Kawanna Bright, Alyssa Jocson Porter, Sharon Spence-Wilcox, and Kimberly Tate-Malone focus on the emotional and invisible labor required by WOC librarians, while Tarida Anantachai and Camille Chesley investigate the effects this invisible labor has on promotion and tenure experiences. Jennifer Brown, Sophia Leung, Alanna Aiko Moore, and Jan Estrellado note how WOC are often unable to be their whole, authentic selves when at work. Robin Bradford and Stephanie Sendaula explore how one’s identity informs collection development decisions, which is something JoyEllen Freeman touches on when she looks at the frustrations WOC experience when looking for representations of themselves in the archives.

Several chapters mention the challenges associated with being the only one of a person’s racial and gender group in an organization, including one by Nisha Mody, Lalitha Nataraj, Gayatri Singh, and Aditi Worcester in which they share their experiences of what it means to be South Asian woman librarians. Teresa Neely mentions being a black woman in predominantly white spaces, while Rosalinda Hernandez Linares and Sojourna J. Cunningham note that WOC librarians in diversity residencies and internships sometimes find themselves in a “separate and unequal” category apart from their professional colleagues (265).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the themes of activism and social justice occur throughout the collection. Charlotte Roh shows how the publishing industry and librarianship are similar, asserts that neither is neutral, and encourages us to question whose stories are allowed to be published and thus heard and whose are not. Negeen Aghassibake also argues that libraries are not neutral and advocates for public libraries to take a more active role in battling Islamophobia. Alanna Aiko Moore and Jan Estrallado intentionally sought out WOC librarians who consider themselves activists for their research interviews. M.J. Pollock and Shelley P. Haley highlight the contributions of five black women librarians and discuss how their presence and activism within the profession disrupted the dominant narrative. In Todd Honma’s conversation with Clara Chu, the pair talk about the need for social justice in libraries as well as the profession’s need to engage in and embrace “the inter-connected components of critical reflection, dialogue, and collaborative action” in order to move forward (462).

The most obvious strength of Pushing the Margins is that it adds voices, stories, and experiences of WOC—perspectives that are often overlooked and underrepresented—to the LIS literature. Equally important, the editors and contributors avoid falling into the trap of essentialism and tokenism; they remind the reader throughout that each chapter shows only some of the experiences of some WOC and that none of these experiences should be taken to be representative of the experiences of all women of color.

WOC librarians may see themselves and their experiences reflected in the pages of this book, which can be affirming and create a sense of community with the authors and research participants. Even those of us who are not women of color, however, can benefit from this book by seeing how gender and sexism intersect with race/ethnicity and racism to complicate one’s experiences. For white librarians who are willing to listen, to sit with uncomfortable feelings, and to question our understanding of the systems of power and oppression in which we operate, the chapters in this book, along with their extensive bibliographies, can be a tool for continued development and the kind of growth our profession desperately needs.

As Chou and Pho acknowledge in their introduction, many voices are missing from this collection. In particular, the experiences of indigenous/Native American women librarians, Latinx librarians, and women librarians of color from a broader spectrum of religious backgrounds, as well as women of color who work in school, public, and special libraries, continue to receive insufficient attention in the literature. While several contributions discussed sexuality, additional attention on how this aspect of one’s identity complicates the narrative is also warranted. The voices of transgender librarians of color should be heard as well.

In summary, this collection represents a significant, much-needed contribution to the LIS literature. Chou and Pho have achieved their goal—they have created a space where the voices of women of color can be heard. It is up to us as readers to pick up these stories, hear them, and allow them to shape our understanding of the different ways women of color persist in, contribute to, and advance the LIS field.—Jaena Alabi, Auburn University

Copyright Jaena Alabi

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