Making Queer Space in Library School, and How I Got This Far…

As an MLIS student engaged in research on the information-seeking practices of queer youth, I would like to briefly share what I have done over my two years as a graduate student at SLAIS in an attempt to further the already great work targeted at this population. I’ll also briefly reflect upon how one could also do this more realistically in their professional or scholastic practices.

When I began my MLIS, I had just finished a degree in First Nations Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia. I became mindful of issues associated with social justice, decolonization, and race/gender amongst Aboriginal and other underserved communities. It was challenging to find these topics within the breadth of helpful information being taught during my first semester of graduate school. During orientation and throughout the first semester of the MLIS program, several classmates and I voiced concern about the lack of social justice and critical discourse (i.e., critical theory), which many of us took for granted during our undergraduate or other graduate degrees. As a colleague and I said to each other, we never dreamed of a day that we would miss being confused by Foucault’s History of Sexuality or Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. Yes, we appreciated the many professional skills and information theories that were beneficial for our career trajectory in librarianship, however, some of us wanted more…

Near the mid-point of my first semester, I decided to choose the thesis route, instead of doing solely coursework. This was my solution to the challenges I had encountered regarding the lack of social justice and critical scholarship in my coursework as a student at SLAIS. The thesis option would provide an opportunity to engage in scholarship that is typically not possible in a SLAIS course due to its specificity, and potentially advance an aspect of librarianship practice – as this is the idealist goal of every research/community-based graduate student.

Over the following nine months I began fleshing out ideas and crafting a thesis proposal for my supervisory committee. Finally, in early September I was given the go-ahead by my committee to complete my work titled: Let’s Map it Out: The Everyday LGBTQ Health Information Seeking Behaviors in Prince George, BC. That fall, I moved back to Prince George to engage with queer youth and start my fieldwork. Fortunately, I was able to gain the support of the Northern Pride Centre and had 11 participants in my study. The participants completed a participatory mapping and focus group activity in 45-60 minutes in groups of 2-4 students.

I am currently in the process of completing my data analysis and writing my final results – so nothing too exciting at this point in time to share. However, I think that what could be learned from this post as either a student or librarian is to try to find ways to incorporate your passion into your schooling, professional development or librarianship practices. It might be a bit of work up front , and for me it has been a 17 month process at this point, but it has been an enjoyable time. Instead of just grieving about issues with the LIS literature, I chose to help create new scholarship on an issue that inspires me. However, I am also quite fortunate to have supportive mentors at SLAIS and the larger UBC community that have made it possible to complete this cutting edge scholarship. Instead of something so ambitious, maybe ask your workplace if it would be possible to create a reading list of queer literature or creating a small project. Anything you do will improve your practices and the larger LGBTQ librarianship community, as it is a time for further growth and awareness!

– Blake Hawkins is an MLIS student at the University of British Columbia School of Library, Archival and Information Studies (iSchool). You can reach him at: blake.hawkins@alumni.ubc.ca

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