Silvia Vong is Head of Public Services at the John M. Kelly Library and oversees the Access and Information Services department. Her research interests include critical reflective practice in academic librarianship. Currently, Silvia is a doctoral student at OISE in the University of Toronto working on research related to equity, diversity, and inclusion issues in higher education.
A Critical Reflection on Virtual Libraries
In my first year of the library and information science program at Western University, we were introduced to the idea of a code of ethics in librarianship. A code of ethics guides the values of a library professional and can manifest into actions such as advocating for open access or teaching critical thinking skills. Currently, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) outlines six codes, and the one that holds the most weight for me is responsibilities towards individuals and society. This has led me to practice critical reflection in the classroom, and with our online library services.
While the coronavirus does not discriminate, people experiencing income inequalities, the digital divide, racism, and domestic violence have particularly suffered during this exceptional time. As the pandemic began, librarians began to critically reflect on access and service. Brookfield (1995) and Tripp (1993) offer insight into ways of critically reflecting, first by reviewing incidents and interactions, and then asking the following: What is the dominant view? How does this view silence other views? How does this dominant view ignore or serve dominant groups? How does it impact disadvantaged groups and what can we do to create a socially just structure to address this oppression?
In the first three weeks of the shutdown, I thought about how online access and research may inadvertently exclude some of our community members. Patrons may face financial stress during a pandemic and, in turn, not own laptops in good condition with proper software. Some patrons may not be home due to domestic violence, or be in places without Internet access. In addition, some of our patrons may not have the ability to access mental health services and other resources in the community that allow them to focus and succeed at learning. While e-books and online journals in some ways increase access, they can also create barriers to some of our community members. With social distancing restrictions in place, I struggled to find solutions that could help our marginalized community members.
As I continued to look for ways to be more inclusive, the University of Toronto was offering a session on COVID-19 through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens. Income inequality and mental health were major themes of the presentation. However, the main takeaway was that under all the stress and anxiety that we all feel during this time, we need to remind ourselves to approach every decision-making process with empathy so that we can make socially just choices for our community.
My very inquisitive 4-year old daughter, Isabella, had overheard the webcast and peppered me with why, where, and how questions related to inequity and inequality in the university and the world. One evening, while munching away at her green beans with a furrowed brow, she paused suddenly, and her little face lit up. Isabella turned to me and said, “Mama, I know how we can make the world better. If we, and anyone with a little extra, could give it away…people with nothing would be safe from bad things.” Oh my heart! My enlightened little one was absorbing my conversations and reflections on the ethical responsibility that we, as members of society, all have during this pandemic.
To put her idea to practice, Isabella and I identified a way to safely help others. We decided to donate to the Daily Bread Food Bank to give our “little extra” to someone in need. Isabella’s reflective thoughts on the pandemic reminded me that while I could not make one big change to help others, I could still find several small ways to reach out and help our community.
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