Intersections is an occasional series where community members reflect on what they are seeing in other parts of their professional world and what library publishers can learn from it.
By Stephen Krueger, Scholarly Publishing Librarian, Dartmouth College
When I do workshops on trans and gender diverse inclusion for libraries, I often wrap up with a slide listing every type of library work I can think of. This is to remind people that the issue is part of every single role in the profession, from instruction to cataloging to HR (plus adjacent work like cleaning and security). Library publishing and scholarly communications are no exception. Why would they be? Without active, sweeping change and accountability, we continue the inequities that have been built into this profession (whether or not this was intentional). The specifics simply depend on what those inequities happen to be in our particular area of work. But that change is not impossible; it is only that individuals and organizations must go out of their way to enact it. This takes work—significant amounts of it, committed to in the long-term.
In discussing a topic like this, it can be easy to devolve into positive-sounding buzzwords like diversity, equity, and inclusion (or acronyms that lump all the concepts together), but that evades the scale and impact of the problem. Naming the things that libraries are not implies some sort of neutral in-between space, letting us sit stagnant and complacent in the status quo. But these words have antonyms: Library workers aren’t not diverse; they are homogenous. They are inequitable. We don’t not include; we exclude, passively and actively. Libraries are not for everyone and never have been–because, historically speaking, they weren’t intended to be, and the complete overhaul needed to get rid of the practices developed throughout that history has not happened. That is not to say that we shouldn’t try to develop our libraries so that they do support patrons and workers of all identities, but it is wilfully obtuse to pretend this is the case at present; denying and ignoring the problems perpetuates harm.
So what does that work look like? Well, the first step regardless of your role is basic self-education. (I do not offer workshops that don’t start with an hour of Trans 101, since I have found that the lack of knowledge about trans and gender diverse people is so pervasive that there isn’t much point in trying to move on without first establishing a baseline; this applies to self-education as well.) For individuals, this might mean watching a webinar (Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Inclusion in Libraries and Reimagining Transgender ‘Inclusion’ for Libraries are both good beginning options for library workers) or doing some reading about trans and gender diverse people. Organizations can bring in speakers; some may be found on the Trans Inclusion in LIS Presenter List, and many academic institutions have an LGBTQIA+ Center or equivalent that might be able to suggest local options.
The reason you need to start with basic self-education is that the next step is something like “make all of your work/processes/services gender inclusive.” What that actually means in practice varies enormously, depending on what you and/or your organization actually do. This is why you must educate yourself about trans and gender diverse people first: You need to know enough about the common needs of the people you are trying to include to meet those needs, and you can’t put the labor on people of those identities when it’s actually your job to do it. Very broadly speaking, what you should do is assume that people of all different gender identities are using and working in your library and your department specifically, or will do so at some point. Think through what their experiences will be like with your current systems, spaces, and services, identify potential problems, and resolve them. (I would say “preemptively,” but I actually think it’s likely that trans and gender diverse people have already been harmed by whatever issues exist in any given situation—you just may not know about it.) If you like, borrow the persona technique from UX: create a handful of fictional trans and gender diverse people of various experiences and identities, and then take each of them on a hypothetical journey through your processes to identify concerns. This method helps you avoid the harmful myth of the One Monolithic Trans Experience. For example, a persona who has undergone a legal name change may have no problems filling out an author contract, while one who has not is forced to out themself.
In general, the approach above applies to library publishing work as much as to anything else, so I could stop here. However, it may help to identify some of the common issues that end up excluding some trans and gender diverse people in this area, along with actions you can take to get started. Note that these things are not a replacement for the education and in-depth work outlined above.
Inasmuch as the scholarly publishing world has made active steps towards trans inclusion, these primarily involve the increasing number of publishers that have adopted policies to support and protect authors who have changed their names (everyone involved in publishing needs to read Tenenbaum et al.’s iconic article on this issue). This is far from the only name-related issue that comes up in publishing, so review your internal processes for handling author names at all steps of the process (including after publication). Questions to ask include the following:
- Does the type of publishing you do require the author’s legal name on a contract? Have you really checked, or are you just assuming so?
- If it does, how are you asking for that information, and are you asking for it from everyone? Are you assuming that you need to check only with authors who you know are trans or who are using an obvious pseudonym? All sorts of people use different names in different situations, many of them for reasons that have nothing to do with gender.
- What happens when an author changes their name after they have published with you? The Tenenbaum et al. article linked above has excellent guidance for creating an inclusive author name change policy. This question applies to anything where you are keeping a record of authorship; I adapted the recommendations in the linked article to make an author name change policy for our institutional repository (and then did a lighting talk about it, with slides available in that same IR).
- Are your forms specific about what you are asking for? Name of use, name on publication, and legal name are three different things, so specify rather than having an ambiguous “name” field. Ask for only what you absolutely need, at the point when you need it—if you do require a legal name for the contract or payment paperwork, don’t ask for it prior to the relevant step in the publishing process.
- Are authors’ legal names shared, internally or externally, in a way that risks outing them? Ensure that their legal name, if you do indeed need to collect it, will not be shared any more than absolutely necessary, and let them know who sees it so they can protect themselves accordingly. And of course, what you tell them must be true, so ensure that your systems and staff training reflect that policy.
- Are your processes transparent? Since there are a lot of people for whom sharing their legal name is equivalent to outing themself, they should be able to plan ahead if they will be required to do so in order to publish with you. This way they can make an informed decision on whether or not to do so. Create a publicly viewable document outlining the steps in the process, including what information is needed when. Share this with potential authors without waiting for them ask for it.
In library publishing, author names are probably the most prominent specific issue, but not the only one. Some other actions include the following:
- Update all of your materials to use singular “they” rather than “he or she.” This goes for internal handbooks, author guidelines, public language, everything. If you need a justification to cite, it’s in keeping with current APA standards.
- If you have guidelines for authors, recommend the use of singular “they” in these as well. If you provide editing services, train staff to watch and correct for this.
- Push back. Does your institution have transphobic policies like refusing to respect authors’ name changes, or insisting on keeping a public record of those changes? Do you use a platform that is unclear about what information it asks for? Do your coworkers fail to use gender-inclusive language in written materials? Even if enacting change seems unlikely, don’t take that as a reason not to try; use whatever power you have to raise issues, and keep doing so until they improve.
Other things you can do include…well, everything. This post is centered on library publishing, but it’s likely that your workplace needs attention in many areas to be inclusive to employees and users of all genders.
A closing thought: You may note that most of the people cited in this piece fall somewhere under the trans and gender diverse umbrella (as do I). As you reflect—and, I hope, act—on incorporating gender inclusion into your library publishing and other work, be aware of what that means. The vast majority of the progress that has been made so far comes from self-defense by those of us who are fighting to make space for ourselves, usually in systems that erase our existence or out us when we try to participate. That harm isn’t necessarily the intent; I think that most often, trans-exclusionary situations are the result of people who didn’t realize that trans and gender diverse people existed. Regardless of whether it stems from ignorance or bigotry, the impact is the same, and it will not change without active work. That labor is what I am asking you to do.
And finally, to the trans and gender diverse people reading this: I’m not going to say none of this is your job because it literally might be, as it is mine. But the same personal experiences that may make you more likely to notice the problems also can make attempting to solve them far more stressful and exhausting than the same work is for cisgender people. So please take care of yourself first; while you do need to pay attention to the issues described above if they fall under your area of professional responsibility, it is not your job to try to fix a broken system just because you’re one of the people harmed by it.