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Breaking Library Silos for Social Justice

When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began conducting raids to arrest undocumented immigrants in Austin, many citizens were horrified. Librarians, true to their nature, mobilized. Noticing an increased anxiety level in their students, high school librarians in Northeast Austin attempted to provide the ACLU's Know Your Rights pamphlets to their students but were prevented from doing so by the administration. Undeterred, the same high school librarians reached out across their network and found that the Austin Public Library was willing to disseminate this information. This type of cross-institutional collaboration is essential to building stronger communities, especially in current times. Yet, despite Austin’s sizeable librarian population, rarely are there opportunities for meeting and collaborating across institutions.

This one-day conference is focused on understanding how Austin’s librarian community is currently meeting the needs of Austin’s underserved communities and how the greater library community can work together to stand up for social justice.  Hearing from librarians that are currently working with underserved communities is the main focus of this event while leaving space for discussion of intersectionality in librarianship would be an additional area of focus. Careful attention will also be paid to the inclusion of librarians from all professional levels, institutions, abilities, identities, and ethnicities.

While inclusive and open to all, The Breaking Library Silos For Social Justice conference will specifically reach out to social justice communities and organizations across the city:

Austin Public Library (APL) community archivists and how they are working with communities of color in a rapidly gentrifying Austin.

High school librarians at Lanier High School who are serving undocumented students and their families.

Austin Public Library staff (APL) serving people experiencing homelessness

UT iSchool students working with the Inside Books Project and the Texas After Violence Project

Members of the Library Freedom Project, now based in Houston, to provide privacy and security training in a rapidly evolving surveillance environment.

The skillshare and unconference model will allow for participants to be both teacher and student and by enabling the schedule to be created by the participants, it can directly reflect the participant's skills and interests. The #critlib unconference model will also ensure that attendees have collective control over the topics discussed during the day.

What our grantee has to say:

"Currently, librarians in Austin rely on paid professional organizations (Texas Library Association) or institutions (UT Austin’s School of Information) to provide opportunities for networking. These constraints often mean that we cannot be as responsive to our own needs or our community’s needs. Those institutions receiving city, state, or federal funding may be weary of supporting events that could be viewed as left-leaning or politically motivated. Attendees may feel uncomfortable sharing their views while 'on the clock'. By removing any institutional sponsors, we hope to create a space for attendees to share their struggles, insights, and ideas for ways that Austin’s librarian community can work towards a more just city." – Cindy Fisher, Vice Chair of Austin's Library Commission and Chair of the People Experiencing Homelessness Task Force.

What our trustees have to say:

"The grant would support a program among librarians and other Austin-area professionals who are working to support communities of color and other marginalized groups.  I love the idea of seeing "Awesome Foundation: Innovation in Libraries" as the key sponsor of this important event."

"Bringing a variety of education and library organization to solve this issue offers an interesting solution."

"A well-considered proposal to use the unconference model to address a serious problem. I think this event will draw a large crowd."

"This (un)conference comes at a time and place of great interest, and this will have huge potential for future collaboration within Austin and beyond. Anything that brings library folks together to share stories, problems, and solutions is worth investing in. The program could be replicated across the country as needed."

"This project could help enable a more open forum for timely and honest exchange of ideas and concerns amongst librarians supporting underserved communities."

Funded by Innovation in Libraries (June 2017)