This month has been a bit of a struggle for me and while I have had many ideas for this month's theme getting the spoons together to write it has taken a while. So here we are on the last day of the month with lots of ideas but not much energy or motivation to write them. If you will permit me, I will walk you through the variations on the theme of 'silence' and hopefully by the end I can wrap it all up with a nice .gif or something. Because, in the end isn't life just a series of .gifs?
The idea of silence in GLAM isn't new. We have the classic, and some would say detrimental, trope of the quiet library. I myself have been shushed while chatting quite excitedly with a colleague at the State Library during a conference. It was by a client who came across half the library to shush loudly in our faces, the irony was not lost on me. I do acknowledge that quiet areas are important in libraries but they are now in the minority, allowing people to talk, collaborate, and meet first and foremost while providing smaller, specialised quiet areas for those who want it. This is a much needed reversal of the old trend, and reminds me of the whispers of 'quiet carriages' my NSW friends tweet about, mostly complaining someone is talking loudly in the designated quiet zone. It still breaks my heart when I see parents shushing their children in libraries, despite no pressure from library staff. So strong is this trope it's perpetuated for us, despite all the work we have done to reverse it.
"'Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."
Being silent in GLAM has its place, and as a cis, white male knowing when to be silent is just as important as speaking up, especially when your voice drowns out those who need to be heard. When I find myself in a meeting I take great pains to shut up and listen, and when needed use my privilege to allow others to speak. Sadly, not all men have this much awareness, and app like Woman Interrupted are needed to highlight the inequality. I have over the past few years slowly changed my tweeting habits to, looking to retweet minority voices rather than adding my own to it. An interesting exercise to do is look over your timeline and see how many women and POC voices you have coming through. It doesn't take much to change a behaviour like that, just a little effort.
There is a flip side to this though, and something that annoys me a great deal in GLAM is silence when there should be noise. This usually takes the form of large meetings when a clear decision or stand needs to be taken and all there is is silence. The one that causes me the most despair is when issues of privacy come up and in a room full of librarians nobody asks questions like 'where is that data stored?', 'who owns the data?', 'what do you mean you don't support Stunnel?'. There is a time to be silent and a time to yell, GLAM sectors need to get better at knowing the difference. Then again, there are times when saying something is worse than saying nothing at all...
Once you know when to be silent and when to speak up, you start to see all the voices around you that are silenced. I am not qualified to speak about this, being in the majority so instead I encourage you to listen to those who are, like Nathan, Clare, Clare, Elizabeth, and Mike. If you know someone who's voice is missing from the GLAM discourse talk to them and encourage them. Be aware though, some people choose to remain silent because the world can be a terrible place.
Quid Pro Quo
There you have it, silence served three ways. I do have a fourth but I will post that separately as I feel these three needed their own space. As you close your browser tab and go back to day I ask you to think of three things. The first being who's voices are you not hearing? Look at your daily readings, your colleagues, and your clients/members. Is there someone who doesn't speak up in meetings, or you don't talk to?
The second thought is why are you not hearing their voice? Are there barriers in the way? Is it social, political, or even cultural? Do you work in a environment that is hostile and unsafe for minorities to speak out in? Look around you, listen to what people say and empathise.
The third and final thought is how can you use what privilege you have to make their voice heard? It can be as simple as talking up in a meeting and saying 'We haven't heard Jenny's view on this' (the big caveat being that some people may not want to speak up due to valid fears or trauma. Make sure to read the room first and don't put someone at risk because you think you're helping, ask before doing!).
I promised a .gif to round things out and I won't disappoint. Remember in GLAM we're not neutral, and we certainly shouldn't be silent!