Never Neutral

After the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, many of the faculty librarians are struck by the systemic failure of institutions to condemn white supremacist hate speech and fascism. Champions of ‘both sides’ represent a key point of rhetorical failure, as though it were possible to have a productive conversation with someone who believes you shouldn’t exist. Neutrality is dangerous because it is seductive. Neutrality absolves us of discomfort but not responsibility.

Libraries aren’t neutral. We never have been. Libraries by design maintain difficult, challenging collections. Policies, how to organize information, the decisions we make to purchase items, and how we grant access are all inherently biased positions. The algorithms we use to search and the many systems used by both the university and library aren’t neutral. Rather, they are tools created by people which reflect a system of values. These are expressed in a variety of ways: dark patterns on websites, the physical accessibility of campus buildings, and how search results affirm or attenuate our experience. All technologies articulate a set of values regardless of our intentions.

These technologies influence how the university and library go about measuring. Higher education counts the ways students get it wrong and not their growth, a pattern enforced by years of education policy that measures outcomes and not progress. Success is a degree and job placement, not necessarily an experience or honing of critical thinking skills. We don’t measure empathy. We categorize students by risk factors and fail to measure risk taking. This is remarkable as it’s often the most vulnerable students who risk everything to confront ever more vocal, violent ideologies.

The library continues to be a site of inquiry and engagement with uncomfortable materials and concepts, because intellectual growth is often painful. As professionals we remain champions of intellectual freedom and hold space for the development of our community members. We cannot and will not do so at the expense of our students’ safety. Milne is not a mere container of resources, but represents the full and beating heart of Geneseo. We affirm our commitment to passionate, curious, critical thinkers.