Taking Inventory

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I am currently reading a book by Danzy Senna, entitled New People. The book follows a woman’s love triangle (of sorts), but is mainly focused on the complexities of personal identity. I feel as if I have not read about or spoken with someone in such a mental constrictor knot of identity seeking as this book’s protagonist. Allow me to also mention that the protagonist is a biracial woman, adopted as a baby and who’s skin tone does not necessary reflect her mixed parentage. She is light-toned and her adopted mother a woman of dark skin tone.

This is not an experience I can relate to nor fully understand, being a white woman with a ‘euro-mutt’ background. I am also not adopted. However, I recently watched an old recording of the LA Public Library series, LA Made, featuring RuPaul Andre Charles and was struck with things I could relate to. RuPaul was there to talk about moving forward. Throughout his talk, he touches multiple times on the idea of personal identity. At one point, he mentions how he has never really found himself fitting into any of the categories/groupings of people others may possibly place him in; he has never felt he “fits in” within our social labelling system. Not a bad thing, as it has made navigating in, through and/or around various different groups and evaluating his own sense of identity (or lack thereof) easier.

This is a sentiment I can fully relate as I, too, have never felt I “fit in” with one specific area/group. An aunt once labelled me a “loner” when I was younger – which, at the time, I was hurt by since our society applies such negative connotations to the word – but, really, I am just able to float from one group of people to another without feeling the need to identify myself with any group. As RuPaul says during his talk, this lack of need to be labelled can made other people feel uncomfortable as it challenges their own sense of identity. He talks about moving forward as ‘taking inventory’. In reference to his own identity journey – or ‘taking stuff off the shelf’ - he says, “One by one, I had to recalibrate my belief system. And that is why most people won’t do it, because it is really difficult, because you get to really know who you are, what you are made of, where your limitations are. Who wants to do that? Usually no one wants to do that.”

This got me thinking about the library’s process of ‘weeding’ (a yearly or so inventory that practically every library engages). ‘Weeding’, or the deselection of material, is critical to collection maintenance and, yes, it does involve the removal of books and resources from the collection, and this can make some people quite upset. Similar to RuPaul ‘taking things off the shelf’, weeding materials is based on accuracy, currency, and relevancy. ‘Weeding’, much like gardening, is clearing space so that new ideas, voices, belief systems, histories, technologies and stories can begin to flourish. Without taking stuff off our shelves and examining them and - yes, de-cataloging them and letting them go - a library will become suffocated by old ideas, voices, belief systems, histories and technology – it will die. Libraries are not museums, they are institutions whose core values are to evolve with time and their shape-shifting communities. We want our grass to grow.

“The people who die a thousand deaths and become reborn a thousand times are the real shot callers in this life,” says RuPaul in his talk. The protagonist in New People is definitely one of those people, taking things off her shelf during a time during the early 90’s when “hybridity was in”. In a way, librarians who examine their collections on a yearly basis are also some of those people. Though, I think it is a bit more challenging as those librarians have to take into consideration that though some ideas, voices, belief systems, histories and technologies may be irrelevant or outdated to them, not everyone in their communities, institutions and or even their own selves agree and are ready to recalibrate. However, if we want to continue growing we are going to have to accept the difficulties and complexities of taking inventory – of seating under that unforgiving sun pulling those weeds. And really, there is never going to be a time righter than now.

-Samantha Hanchett, Marketing + Outreach Coordinator

*Please note that the opinions of “Thoughts” are just that and do not necessarily represent the views of the Thomas County Public Library.


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