Kapihan with ALA President-elect Emily Drabinski

Unionism, through the decades, has been crucial in protecting and establishing the rights of workers across all industries. Such labor action was brought by dismissive and abusive employers that only had the sole intention to capitalize on their workforce, disregarding their discomforts and appeal for a better and pleasant workplace. Countless laws, statutes and court decisions were passed and gazetted in favor of the working class to guarantee their safety. However, there are those that cannot come together or advance their desire for a green pasture due to a repressive regime, poor judicial system, unfavorable labor practices, and other factors. In this premise, if we are to take into account libraries and information centers, it begs the question how can librarians lobby for their rights and welfare within the workplace.

To shed light on the union activities in libraries and advocating for the rights and welfare of librarians and library staff, a brown bag session was held on February 10, 2023 entitled Kapihan with Emily Drabinski. Emily Drabinski is currently the president-elect of the American Library Association (ALA) for 2023-2024 and Critical Pedagogy Librarian at the City University of New York (CUNY). The session was led and facilitated by Eimee Rhea C. Lagrama, Deputy University Librarian and Head of the University Archives Division as Elvira B. Lapuz, University Librarian, was on an official trip to Germany at the time.

Eimee Rhea C. Lagarama, Deputy University Librarian, as she facilitated the Kapihan with Emily Drabinski, president-elect of the American Library Association (ALA) for 2023-24.

To kick-start the discussion, Lagrama asked Drabinski, through her experiences, how can librarians of the University advocate for their rights among the officials of the University given that they are categorized alongside other non-teaching academic staff. As she ran for ALA President, Emily included the rights, wages and working conditions of librarians as a part of her platform. This goes to show that the importance of occupational well-being among librarians should come alongside the indispensable role they play, not only within their respective institutions and main responsibilities, but in communities as well. Beyond this, as librarians and other information professionals are veering towards other endeavors from their conventional roles in cataloging, collection management, library instruction and the like, it is crucial to ensure their welfare as they take on larger roles in societies and industries. In recent years, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) gathered stories and experiences of libraries and librarians from different parts of the globe such as agricultural libraries providing data on crops, medical libraries providing access to research and health information, designing and implementing policies on environmental sustainability, ensuring a safe space and environment for all genders and providing access to ICT infrastructures, among others. However daunting these tasks may be, it is vital that a favorable work environment must be attained to make certain the pursuit of future innovations, projects and programs for communities that are in need of support.

Drabinski also discussed how important it is to hold people in higher authorities accountable. Equally enough, as librarians, archivists and information professionals, it is an obligation to assert the right to fair compensation, equal opportunities, and better working conditions. Harry Bridges, an influential labor and union leader in the United States during the 20th Century, stressed the importance of collective action to achieve the goals and best interest of the workers by stating that “the most important word in the language of the working class is solidarity.”

The participants were very keen to understand the importance of union activities and collective action to advance their rights and welfare as library employees.

To draw similarities between academic libraries, Drabinski described what it is like to work for an academic state university library in the U.S. She started by sharing her status as a faculty member at CUNY due to teaching and research agendas while performing as a librarian. More so, she stressed the importance of publishing research, providing academic service, and several ideas that librarians can pursue in order to establish and be seen as co-equals with the faculty members of the University. “To be treated as academics, we need to act like academics,” she said. In hindsight, the design and implementation of a rigorous research agenda for UP Libraries could be seen as a leverage and evidence to advance the agenda of library personnel among its university officials. By doing so, equal pay with regular faculty members, official leave time to do research and other academic work will not be far off the table. Needless to say, she also emphasized relationship building and one-on-one conversations with faculty members is essential to gain appreciation. 

Eimee Rhea C. Lagrama presented a Certificate of Appreciation and a token of gratitude to Emily Drabinski.

Drabinski shared the censorship and free speech issues that are currently happening in the U.S. which became a point of concern for library and information professionals. In addition, Lagrama pointed out that there is a similar scenario occurring in the Philippines, albeit in the form of red-tagging. In recent months, libraries and library staff are in danger of being labeled as communist sympathizers for the possession of books and resources that aren’t aligned with the current public administration. This in turn was used by people in high authority as a justification to confiscate and prohibit such materials. “That is like the primary challenge I think for all of us right now, maintaining our commitments to freedom of expression, freedom of inquiry, making sure that any ideas [are] able to be pursued by students and that’s a big part of what we’re dealing with in the U.S.,” Drabinski says.

Librarians and library staff pose for a photo with Emily Drabinski at the conclusion of the brown bag session.

Apart from the library personnel of the University Library, the event was also attended by several personalities who greatly contributed to librarianship in the Philippines such as former University Librarian Salvacion M. Arlante, former College of Law Library Head Librarian Lilia F. Echiverri, former Director of the National Library of the Philippines Prudenciana C. Cruz and former Philippine Librarians Association President Michael A. Pinto, to name a few.

Amidst the turmoil and confusion that ensue in every corner, librarians and information professionals should take collective action to counter the increasing threat of misinformation, fake news, harassment, and all other forms of injustice in contemporary society.