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#NYLA2020 : Author! Author! – Lester Spence

Event Description:

Lester Spence is a Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He specializes in the study of Black, racial, and urban politics in the wake of the neoliberal turn. An award-winning scholar (in 2013, he received the W.E.B. DuBois Distinguished Book Award for his book, Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics) and teacher (in 2009, he received an Excellence in Teaching Award). He can regularly be heard on National Public Radio and the Marc Steiner Show.

Brief Notes:

I could not take notes fast enough! Wow...I will definitely need to listen to this again, since it was recorded.
  • Spence started by asking that we stop and breathe to calm our anxiety.  We need to be prepared for the work that is coming.
  • There are higher levels of inequality than there were in the Great Depression.
  • The New Deal and programs in the 1950s-1960s lessened in inequality for a while. 
  • inequality increased in the 1970s due to inflation and unemployment.  That created a challenge for society and the theories used to problem solve the economy.
  • During neoliberalism (free-market capitalism) efforts worked against lessening inequality.
  • It used to be that wages rose as productivity rose. Thar ended in the 1970s when productivity continued to rise, but wages did not. Wages flat-lined.
  • It used to be that you did not need a high education to provide for yourself and your family.  Now the sectors that are growing which require more education.
  • Unions have been important, but union membership continues to decrease.
  • Welfare benefits have decreased over time.
  • The number of incarcerated have increased, beginning in the 1970s. 
  • Inequality is increasing within racial groups.
  • What does this mean for cities? An increase within cities of privatization, gentrification, etc.
  • What does this mean for libraries? 
  • Some libraries are being asked to function more like businesses. More "profit" focused or being assessed on a cost-benefit analysis.  More space or programming taken up for business like use. Decreased support by municipal spending.  More need for private donations.
  • The function of libraries has changed.
  • Social justice movement - Examples:
    • Occupy Wall Street - people were articulating the wealth gap. He believes this movement had a lasting impression.  
    • Black Lives Matter - There is an interracial aspect. Who is and who isn't worthy of political care. Also a reaction to the rise of the police state. While BLM hasn't generated policy shifts, he believes it is ongoing and that it is helping us think about our racial policies more broadly.
  • What roles do libraries play?
  • These movements were an ideological move. The 1970s was an ideological crisis. Institutions built on those old ideas cannot function.  In an ideological crisis, you need new ideas.  This is where schools and libraries step in. Libraries help us find old ideas and repurpose them.  It is libraries that have space for these discussions.
  • Libraries have been victimized by the neoliberalism era.
  • These movements represent what libraries are fighting for.
  • Whatever happens with the election, we are in the middle of a cultural war about truth. Libraries are not just a byproduct of social movements, they can support them.

Responses to questions:

  • Once you individualize taxpaying and create a taxpayer identity, that means they are more aware of if they are benefitting from their tax payments. Libraries need to be aware of what taxpayers want, but taxpayers cannot allow taxpayers to arbitrate what the library does. We are in a political movement, which means that people do need to take a stance for science and truth.
  • The increased used of algorithms on the Internet - creates personalized social networks and reproduces certain times of disinformation. We need to make a push to re-democratize the Internet, which will mean pushing against several large companies.
  • Are public intellectual spaces in jeopardy? Yes. We need to fight for the rest of our lives for these spaces.
  • Taxpaying isn't about me paying you.  Taxes are paid to provide for public services and the public good. 
  • How should we instruct our patrons to research the truth using the internet or books in print/online when all they have to do is google information which may or may not be factual? Libraries should begin to have programs on how to sift out the truth. Use music, movies, lectures.  Bring people together and not just individual conversations.

Comments on ALA:

Everything ALA is doing is important. Diversifying is important. We don't do that just for the people who are discriminated again, but you are also doing for the people who are in power.  For example, the people who really need to read about Black folk are White folk.

We need to articulate about the resources that Libraries have. If you distinguish them by their communities, you will see that some communities have more resources that others.  Structural racism needs to be connected to this community dynamic.

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#NYLA2020 : Author! Author! – Lester Spence


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