Equality, rights and the hierarchy of oppression

During a session about skills for equality, a discussion began about the ‘hierarchy of oppression’.

I learned that this idea was current in the 1970s, and it held that of any list of persons who may be oppressed in society, they were not all equal in terms of the degree of oppression they experienced, and the moral status of their disadvantage (gay people, for example, could be perceived as having ‘brought it on themselves’, or could choose whether or not to reveal their identity, unlike a person of colour).  Thus, one group’s needs or rights could be seen as ‘trumping’ those of another.

Although it was felt that the concept of the hierarchy of oppression is now out of date, there have been cases reported recently in the press in which a person with a religious belief has refused service or otherwise discriminated against a gay person (here is one example as reported in The Guardian).

Examples from the world of libraries included a library employee who refused to be involved in activities and displays helping to promote the services of a family planning centre because she was a Roman Catholic, and another library employee who would not direct library users to information resources for lesbian, gay and bisexual people because they were Muslim.

I would like to point out, as did many people in the room, that having a religious faith does not necessary mean that you subscribe to a particular set of beliefs about contraception, abortion or sexual orientation, but that was the case in the examples given.

Two ways of approaching such situations were presented: changing the employee’s duties to focus their work elsewhere (a bit of a cop out?), or possible disciplinary action if the employee did not follow customer service guidelines and instruction from their manager about how they should do their job (a bit fierce and unlikely to change the person’s mind?).

It makes me sad to think that some people think their individual beliefs can be used as an excuse to infringe the rights of others, and provide them with poor service.  This discussion carried on long after the end of the official session, and I was cheered up by a woman who described herself as a Christian and did not see any justification for such prejudices in her chosen religion.

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Librarians as researchers: that’s a good IDEA

I really enjoyed this session, led by Miggie Pickton (University of Northampton) and Carolynn Rankin (Leeds Metropolitan University).

What does research look like?  Everyday research skills include: reading, watching, questioning, summarising, presenting, listening, choosing, organising, writing up, reflecting.  Many of us are already doing research, but maybe we just don’t realise that it is research!

Research is the professionalisation of everyday skills (Blaxter, 2008)

Library practitioners are often highly innovative in their practice and undertake research-related activity as a normal part of their working lives.

This new knowledge and understanding is often not recognised as research nor is it shared with the wider professional community.

We did an icebreaker exercise to meet each other and learn about the types of research activity we had each been involved in:

Name

Library service

What did they do?

Has had to provide evidence of service value
Has engaged with an external quality benchmark
Has and to collect statistics for annual reviews
Has run a focus group
Has written and/or presented a report to their organisation
Has helped a service user find resources for their research
Has contributed to a publication
Has explored ways of improving their service

Miggie and Carolynn introduced the framework for developing your research:

I=interest, issue, idea
D=develop, discuss, define
E=engage, elaborate, enact
A=advocate, advertise, apply

I=interest, issue, idea

  • Identify a project or research opportunity that interests you or meets a need
  • What do I want to know?
  • How could this help my practice or benefit my organisation?
  • What’s in it for me?

D=develop, discuss, define

  • Define the research question
  • What has been done on this before? Where is the evidence base? Where are the gaps?
  • Develop the project proposal – SMART objectives, appropriate methods

E=engage, elaborate, enact

  • Partnership and connections
  • Look for common goals
  • Win-win agenda
  • Who will you engage with and how?
  • This might be partners, colleagues, management, funders, policymakers

A=advocate, advertise, apply

  • Who needs to know about your work? Service users, managers, funders, policymakers
  • Where will your research make a different?
  • Effecting change within and beyond the library

S=Skills

Finally, the multiplier effect comes in when you add skills.

This session was practical and energising, and it started me thinking about the many ways I could apply these ideas to my work.