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Scholarship winners reflect on RDAP22 - Laura Carpenter

April 06, 2022 3:10 PM | Elena Azadbakht (Administrator)

Representation, Equity, and Speaking Up in the World of Research and Data: What a disabled, queer, librarian took delight in at the 2022 RDAP Summit

Laura Carpenter, MLIS (She/They)

I’ve worked everywhere. That’s the simplest way to answer that deceptively easy question. Airlines, hospitals, restaurants, bars, group homes, the YMCA, park systems, chain bookstores, independent bookshops, coffee shops, libraries, sociology labs, anthropology labs…I could go on.

But what’s relevant now is my background as a librarian in public libraries, as well as having just graduated with my Master of Library and Information Science degree this past December. Currently, I’m working as a writer for an early-childhood-literacy start up, a caretaker for a disabled adult, and an independent visual artist, as well as a volunteer story time performer, though I am also actively pursuing full-time librarian positions with universities. I’ve spent the past two years of graduate school focusing my work and research on how the information professions can help to dismantle systems of oppression. Which brings me to my favorite session of RDAP’s 2022 summit, “Presentations Session 4.”

As I dive into this delicious content, and start speaking on issues of accessibility and equity, it is relevant to know that I am also a disabled or differently-abled person, with autoimmune issues, gastrointestinal disorders, PTSD, and depression and anxiety. I also belong to the LGBTQ+ and genderqueer communities, and am a survivor of sexual violence. I have also definitely experienced privilege in my life: I identify as and am perceived as white in a culture built for whiteness. I do not require a mobility device to physically navigate my surroundings. My vision and hearing are fully functional.

Excellent points were made during the presentation in Session 4 about how practices designed to provide equitable access to information for those with disabilities are also frequently helpful to non-disabled people. Making information easy to access and digest helps everyone.

Berenica Vejvoda’s (Research Data Librarian at the University of Windsor) presentation, Applying a Critical Lens across the Research Data Life Cycle to Foster Greater Data Inclusivity: An LGBTQ+ Case Study, was amazing and I was very emotional about it. Their intentional perspective of enabling growth mindsets was incredibly affirming and appreciated. I also appreciated the focus given to intersectionality, and encouraging a wider perspective on identity. These are timely and relevant points that I’m always thrilled to see obtain recognition and discussion.

Negeen Aghassibake’s (Data Visualization Librarian at the University of Washington) wonderful presentation, “From “Best” Practices to Inclusive Practices: Critical Approaches to Data Structures, had me glad I was automatically muted in the Zoom meeting because I was enthusiastically yelling “YES!” “YESSSSSSSS!” and thumping my hands down onto my desk in delight at every other sentence she said. Truly putting her presentation’s content into practice, she opened with an acknowledgement of the Indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands she and the university operated on, as well as a very on-point discussion of that topic, then branching into the decolonization of data. Her discussion flowed seamlessly into then examining systems of oppression. Negeen’s discussion on Indigenous ways of knowing and inclusive data practices was incredibly on-point and relevant. I loved it. 

She made excellent points about census data and the politicization of race, artificial inflation, erasure, and Middle Eastern and North African peoples being made invisible in the data under the Trump administration. She also mentioned the same forced-invisibility or lack of accurate choices in relation to gender and queerness. This is something I've dealt with, as a person who uses “She/They” pronouns. I’m often presented with a list and told to select one of the following: She/Her, He/Him, or They/Them.” Negeen ended her presentation with a helpful slide focused on solutions. The solutions listed were, “Use other practices, such as Indigenous and participatory methods, that create a substantive relationship in research and participant ownership of information. Focus on local contexts. Other fields to explore, such as critical algorithm studies” (Aghassibake, 2022).

I was so excited to hear Berenica and Negeen’s presentations, as much of my own work has tackled similar concepts, striving to provide resources to further the cause of inclusive data (and links to several of the following deliverables were also provided in the ‘Resources/Shared Notes’ section of the conference) such as:

Hearing others talk openly about topics that are so centrally integrated into who I am as a person, into my life experiences, my academic work, and my future professional goals was a rejuvenating experience. I often feel as if I am walking around banging on a pot with a spoon, making noise, trying to help people understand issues of accessibility and equity. But frequently, it feels as if no one can hear me. Or that any sound I make that is miraculously heard by someone, nevertheless still gets sucked into a vacuum of Not Creating Change. Of disappearing right back into The Sameness that existed before. So I want to say to the presenters and attendees at the RDAP 2022 Summit: I hear you. And I appreciate the valuable, beautiful, work that you’re doing. Thank you.

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