Engaging Fatigue: Re-envisioning and Renewing Your Advocacy by Rebecca Martin

by Rebecca Y. Martin

APALA member Rebecca Martin brings us the fourth essay on our advocacy fatigue mini-series. Advocacy is a significant part of our continuing development in the field of librarianship, a helping profession. It follows that self-care and renewal is also a significant part of our professional growth. However, finding renewal by stepping away temporarily isn’t always easy or feasible. Rebecca’s reflective piece raises some questions, and solutions, concerning such situations.

In anticipation of APALA’s 35th Anniversary & Symposium,  we take a closer look at the very human aspect of advocacy work—fatigue. 

~ Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow, APALA Web Content Sub-committee Chair, 2012-Present


Image of Rebecca Y. MartinFor those of us engaged in social justice work that is intimately tied to our own identities, taking a break to avoid advocacy fatigue isn’t always easy — or at times even possible.

My own experience working at Community Change, Inc. tells me that anti-racism work follows us home: it can fuel our dinner table conversations; it can disrupt our sleep; and it can wear us down. Anti-racism work is an ongoing process that continually deals with oppression on personal, interpersonal, cultural and institutional levels. It is not the type of work that has easy “wins.” It has daily, sometimes hourly, roadblocks. And for those of us who identify or are perceived as individuals of color, we do not have the privilege of easily taking a break from feeling, facing and experiencing racism.

In light of this reality, taking a break might mean stepping back to gain new perspective. Maybe it means taking stock of what experiences brought us to this work in the first place, and which books, writers, and organizations initially influenced us to take action. Perhaps it means reflection on the future as a means of revitalization.

My own approach is to imagine what an anti-racist society looks like and how we can work toward that goal collectively. I try to imagine how I want to contribute to that future: what role do I want to play? What skills and tools do I need to fulfill that role? Over the years, as my interests, skills and relationships have evolved, so has that vision.

As I’ve advanced in my experience as an anti-racist activist, I’ve undertaken continuing education opportunities just as I’ve done in my career as an academic librarian. In both cases, clarifying goals, acquiring new skills and learning about new tools has revitalized my approach and my interest in moving forward. The same approach can apply to any advocacy, activist or social justice work.

Some of the personal/professional/disciplinary goals I am working on during my current phase of fatigue include:

Fatigued or not, I always seek guidance and inspiration from my peers, colleagues and community members. I keep an eye on the What’s Your Normal series from APALA and seek new avenues for influencing diversity in academic libraries. I have also participated in local discussions about critical librarianship and what it means to be a “whole-self” librarian.

I think if we can view fatigue as part of our cycle of renewal, we can emerge revitalized and better poised to serve ourselves and our communities.

I’ll end by asking you to share what approaches to renewal you use in the comments below, and to consider the following quote from fellow librarian Audre Lorde from 1982:

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives… Our struggles are particular, but we are not alone. We are not perfect, but we are stronger and wiser than the sum of our errors.”


Image of Community Change, Inc.Rebecca Martin is an academic law librarian at Boston University and a volunteer librarian at the Yvonne Pappenheim Library on Racism at Community Change, Inc. She is interested in the role of anti-racism education in LIS curricula and on the Internet and the role of law libraries in access to justice and information initiatives.


Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera and Melissa Cardenas-Dow.


Celebrating 35 Years of APALA — Interview With Eileen K. Bosch

Empowering APALA’s Future: Interview with Eileen K. Bosch, APALA President (2014-2015)

by Melissa Cardenas-Dow

APALA 35th Anniversary & Symposium. Building Bridges: Connecting Communities Through Librarianship & Advocacy, June 25, 2015, San Francisco, Calif.

APALA 35th Anniversary & Symposium. Building Bridges: Connecting Communities Through Librarianship & Advocacy, June 25, 2015, San Francisco, Calif.

In February 2015, APALA Web Content Sub-committee member Melissa Cardenas-Dow corresponded with current APALA President Eileen K. Bosch. We spoke about APALA’s upcoming 35th Anniversary & Symposium, the current state of APALA, and the aspirations of APALA leaders and members for the organization. The following article is the third of a three-part mini-series highlighting APALA’s 35th Anniversary. It also provides an edited version of our conversation.

Early bird registration for APALA 35th Anniversary & Symposium is currently underway until April 3, 2015. 

Melissa Cardenas-Dow (MICD): Please briefly tell us about yourself and your position(s) in APALA, especially your role in planning APALA’s 35th Anniversary celebration. How long have you been a part of APALA?

Eileen K. Bosch (EKB): I am the current President of APALA, Chair of the APALA 35th Fundraising Committee and a member of the Steering Committee for the APALA 35th Anniversary & Symposium. I have also served APALA as Vice President (2013-2014), Executive Board Member-at-Large (2010-2012), Chair of the Finance & Fundraising Committee (2011-2014), Public Relations Committee (2011), Literary Award Adult Fiction Committee (2011), Mentoring Committee (2010/11), JCLC/APALA Fundraising (2011-12), and APALA representative for the Spectrum Leadership Institute (2011-2012). I am also responsible for overseeing and coordinating all APALA activities, including dividing direct responsibility among the Executive Director, Vice President, and all Executive Board officers, as well as acting as the spokesperson for APALA within and outside ALA. Since APALA is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, I have also been overseeing the overall planning and coordination of all of APALA’s programs and events throughout the APALA 35th Anniversary & Symposium and 2015 ALA Annual Conference. As such, I have been working closely with APALA 35th Co-Chairs, Jade Alburo, Gary Colmenar, and Florante Ibanez, as well as Ven Basco, Executive Director, Janet Clarke, Vice-President, and Dora Ho, Treasurer.

MICD: Let’s think about the future of APALA. What do you think APALA aspires to accomplish in the future, both in the short-term and long-term?

EKB: I think that one of APALA’s aspirations is to increase our visibility and recognition within the ALA community, specifically when it comes to issues related to API communities and librarians. To this end, we have been working in cultivating leaders from within APALA who value and practice coalition-building with ALA and the other ethnic caucuses to benefit the API community at large.

MICD: What are some of the efforts we are currently performing, so APALA can achieve these future aspirations?

EKB: We have been prioritizing our work and focusing on addressing some of the goals delineated on the APALA’s Visionary Framework for the Future: APALA’s Strategic Plan. Many of these goals needed to be placed on the fast track to help our association move forward. For example, we have been targeting the completion of an electronic policies and procedures handbook to be distributed to incoming officers and committee chairs at the annual conference. This handbook will not only facilitate the transition process between previous and new leadership, but it would also allow opportunities for aspiring and seasoned leaders to experience a variety of job assignments, projects and development processes. As a small association, we need to focus our efforts on growing and developing leadership to build a network intent on practicing and realizing our core values and vision.

Image of Eileen K Bosch

Eileen K. Bosch, APALA President, 2014-2015

MICD: In the previous article, Ven Basco, APALA’s current Executive Director talked in great length about the need for APALA and its members to be much more visible. What do you think about this? How does more outreach, more communication, more visibility play a role in the future aspirations and empowerment of APALA and its members?

EKB: I think that true leadership involves more than day-to-day operational work. It includes being true and enthusiastic about creating visibility for your group, getting your message across, and sharing your accomplishments. Personally, I think this is the way we can create a leadership support network that builds on itself, make our organization stronger. If the leaders of our association are excited and enthusiastic about creating a better tomorrow for APALA and its members, other members will want to join their leaders to move our association forward. Furthermore, by increasing our visibility, we can recruit new members and attract more sponsors to fund our scholarships and programs. However, in order to do this, we need to have a good communication and outreach plan to be able to put our message out there and let our members know what is going on and how they can help. For example, I don’t know any other APALA members in Ohio. So for me, being able to connect to other APALA members and be able to communicate during committee meetings allows me an opportunity to learn what’s going on and feel connected with other members across the nation.

 MICD: What about in terms of specifically promoting and advocating on behalf of API library communities and patrons?

 EKB: Currently, APALA collaborates with the American Indian Library Association (AILA) on a joint project, “Talk Story: Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture.” This is a literacy program that reaches out to Asian Pacific American (APA) and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) children and their families. The program celebrates and explores Asian Pacific American (APA) and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) stories through books, oral traditions, and art to provide an interactive, enriching experience. Children and their families can connect to rich cultural activities through Talk Story in their homes, libraries, and communities. Personally, it would be great if we team up with other ethnic associations or organizations to create library programs that could bring APALA closer to API communities.

MICD: What do you see as APALA’s future collaborative endeavors with ALA and other ethnic affiliates and groups? At the moment, we continue to hear a lot about Talk Story. Are there other collaborative efforts that we are cultivating?

EKB: This past year, I have been very happy to see strong camaraderie and partnership emerge between the new leaders of APALA, AILA, BCALA (Black Caucus of the American Library Association), CALA (Chinese American Librarians Association), and REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking). Some examples of the collaborative work that I can think of at the moment are: our joint efforts in creating an initial Board of Directors for the Joint Council of Librarians of Color (JCLC). This group will work together on the bylaws to be able to incorporate JCLC as a non-profit organization. Another example is participating in CALA’s President Program at ALA Annual 2015. The program “Partnership beyond CALA: Training Leaders of Color for Action” will address how we can work together on training our leaders. This year APALA President’s Program, “Global Roots, Local Identities: Asian International Adoption and Advocacy” will be co-sponsored by ALA’s Video Round Table (VRT).  APALA Program Committee Co-Chairs, Janet Clarke (Vice President) and Peter Spyers-Duran, are organizing a great panel featuring the new film “Geographies of Kinship: International Asian Adoption” by award-winning filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem. The panelists are: Dr. Cathy Choy, a historian working on Asian international adoption, and Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter, a Korean adoptee librarian-activist and APALA member, who has done extensive work at several Korean adoption centers in the Boston and L.A. areas. In addition, we have also teamed up with APA writer and social justice activist, Paul Ocampo, who has received a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Arts to develop a collaborative program at the Manilatown Heritage Foundation during the APALA 35th Anniversary & Symposium. The program will include panelists from APALA, poets, and artists to address how they are invested in incorporating history into their work.

MICD: A great deal of effort and planning is being done to ensure that APALA 35th Anniversary & Symposium will be a great success. How do you see it serving APALA’s future goals and aspirations?

EKB: I think that the fact that we are planning and organizing APALA’s 35th Anniversary & Symposium can only help us in our efforts to raise APALA’s visibility and bring more exposure for our association, our members, and our advocacy work in serving API communities. Another good thing to account for is that the challenges associated with the planning, coordinating, and organizing of the symposium in addition to our regular programs and events for 2015 ALA Annual have only helped our association become stronger. As an example, several of our EB officers, Committee Chairs, and APALA members have accepted the call to wear multiple hats either by chairing or serving on several committees to make APALA’s 35th Anniversary a great celebration! As APALA President, I couldn’t be any more humbled and honored with the work of our volunteers, the support of our partners and sponsors, and the achievements of our association! The commitment of our members and partners to go the extra mile for our association just simply warms my heart! This is a pure testament that no matter what, we are growing new leaders and building a network to establish our core values and vision. 

MICD: What idea or impression do you hope attendees will get out of the APALA 35th Anniversary & Symposium?

EKB: To get started, attendees will have a great opportunity to see and listen to Valarie Kaur, our keynote speaker. She is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, civil rights lawyer, and interfaith leader who centers her work on storytelling for social change. She has led campaigns on hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, marriage equality, solitary confinement, and the open Internet. Attendees will also have the chance to learn new ideas from a diverse pool of programs, panels, and posters related to libraries, librarians, advocacy, and API communities. In addition, folks will be able to network during the community fair and learn from the many local organizations in San Francisco serving API communities. Since the theme for the symposium reflects the work we have accomplished during our 35 years of existence and continue to do, it is safe to say that attendees will have a great symposium to attend!

MICD: Any closing remarks for our readers?

EKB: As a librarian of mixed race heritage, I have never felt so welcomed, embraced, and enthusiastic like I am in APALA. Our association is not big compared to others, but there’s something about our smallness that promotes a sense of camaraderie, kindness, togetherness, good-fellowship, unselfishness, high-mindedness, industriousness, and forward-thinking in our members and those around us – APALA is awesome!



Questions written and interview conducted by Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow. Editing and writing support provided by Manlia Xiong.




Renewal Through Community Affinity by Cynthia Mari Orozco

by Cynthia Mari Orozco

This third essay continues APALA’s advocacy fatigue mini-series. Written by APALA member Cynthia Mari Orozco, who is also the 2015 APALA-sponsored ALA Emerging Leader, this reflective piece is about seeking inspiration and support beyond the library world. Librarianship, as a helping profession, exacts high emotional costs. Because of this, renewal is a crucial aspect of self-care and, therefore, professional development. Library advocacy is one area in which we can strongly see the professional and the personal working and developing each other.

In anticipation of APALA’s 35th Anniversary & Symposium,  we take a closer look at the very human aspect of advocacy work—fatigue. 

~ Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow, APALA Web Content Sub-committee Chair, 2012-Present


Cynthia Mari OrozcoPhil Yu, a.k.a. Angry Asian Man, says it best: “Stay angry.” For me as a librarian, this translates as “Stay angry… at inequity in access to information, surveillance in ebooks or censorship.” In relation to library and information activism, this could extend to “Stay passionate… about user-centered services, diverse books and open access.” These examples barely scratch the surface of the many issues for which librarians advocate or combat against.

But being angry, or passionate, requires an incredible amount of effort, time, and strength. It can be extremely taxing to sustain one’s energy. While we still care, a number of factors can beat down on us and cause us fatigue. Maybe an innovative library program you propose isn’t supported by your colleagues or administration. Maybe you hear a colleague oppose the idea of user-centered services. In my professional life, I have come to rely on a number of networks to sustain and invigorate my passion and energy, both in non-library circles and within the greater library community.

Storytime with Traci Kato-Kiriyama at a Tuesday Night Cafe session. July 15, 2014. Photo credit: Cynthia Mari Orozco

Storytime with TNP founder Traci Kato-Kiriyama at a Tuesday Night Cafe session. July 15, 2014. Photo credit: Cynthia Mari Orozco

Shortly after I started working at my current institution, I also became involved with a local group called Tuesday Night Project (TNP), which describes itself as “an Asian American grassroots and volunteer-based organization fiercely devoted to bridging communities by providing programming and interactive spaces for people to connect through artistic expression and strong, creative, community partnerships.” Its main program is Tuesday Night Cafe, which hosts a free, twice a month (April through October) curated program of multidisciplinary visual and performing art, as well as an open mic. I’m usually tired at the end of my work day, but on these particular Tuesdays, I make an effort to go up to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles and dedicate some of my time to this incredible space. Despite often coming into the space tired, preoccupied with projects I’m working on, and maybe sometimes a little demoralized, I’m instantly reenergized by the passion and love that emanate from this space. I surround myself with artists and art lovers, community organizers, educators, students, friends, and everything, everyone, in-between. I talk to people from a wide range of backgrounds, about what they’re doing in their lives, and I become inspired by  amazing people, projects and collaborations. I also have the opportunity to talk about my library ideas without resistance. My ideas are not met with discouraging  comments like, “It won’t work,” or “There’s no money for that” or any other obstacles. Instead, I consistently get positive energy and genuine “That’s incredible!” or “You got this!” For me, the Tuesday Night Cafe space provides an additional forum outside of my institution to ask faculty and students from other universities about their insights on library services. This brings me non-libraryland perspectives into conversations, which can be extremely valuable.

TNPEveryone needs a cheerleader. Surround yourself with positivity and people devoted to making incredible things happen, even if they’re not in libraries. Through my experience with TNP, I’ve gained emotional sustenance, perspective, and friends. Determine what communities, spaces, and individuals complement your professional and personal self to support you now and into the next phase of your life. Ideas and innovation flourish with support. Break out and build a network of support that works for you.


Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera and Melissa Cardenas-Dow.

35 Never Looked So Good: APALA Celebrates Anniversary with Symposium

(San Francisco, CA) In celebration of its 35th anniversary, the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) will hold a one-day symposium entitled “Building Bridges: Connecting Communities through Librarianship & Advocacy” at the University of San Francisco’s McLaren Conference Center on Thursday, June 25th, 2015.

“We are celebrating and commemorating this milestone in a city that has a deep history and strong presence of Asian Pacific Islanders,” said Gary Colmenar, one of the co-chairs of the APALA 35th Planning Committee. “We are holding this symposium to reflect the work APALA has done in the past and continues to do so. The theme for the symposium reflects what we have been doing to accomplish the organization’s mission. We serve as a bridge between library, archives and museum professionals with the APA communities.” The APALA Symposium will be held right before the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference and Exhibition, June 26-30, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Additional programs and cultural events are slated during the ALA Annual Conference, June 26-30.

The keynote speaker is Valarie Kaur, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, civil rights lawyer, and interfaith leader who centers her work on storytelling for social change. She has led campaigns on hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, marriage equality, solitary confinement, and the open Internet. Valarie Kaur believes “the way we make change is just as important as the change we make.” She currently serves as Media and Strategy Fellow at Stanford Law School.

Founded in 1980 by librarians of diverse Asian and Pacific ancestries, APALA has long been committed to supporting and providing greater visibility for Asian / Pacific American (APA) professionals in the areas of libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) and advancing services to APA communities.

Early bird registration starts January 27, 2015 and ends April 3, 2015

For more information, updates, and registration, visit http://apala35th.apalaweb.org/

Event Details:

Who:                Asian Pacific American Librarians’ Association (APALA)

What:               35th Anniversary Symposium entitled “Building Bridges: Connecting

Communities through Librarianship & Advocacy”      

When:              Thursday, June 25th, 2015, 8:00 A.M. to 7:30 P.M.

Where:                        University of San Francisco’s McLaren Conference; Registration


Attached:                   Keynote speaker Valarie Kaur – biography

Valarie Kaur

Valarie KaurValarie Kaur is a civil rights lawyer, documentary filmmaker, and faith-rooted organizer who helps communities tell their stories and organize for social change. She has made award-winning films and led multimedia campaigns on a wide range of issues: hate crimes against Sikh and Muslim Americans, racial profiling, gun violence, marriage equality, immigration detention, and solitary confinement. Valarie is a regular television commentator on MSNBC and opinion contributor toCNN, NPR, PBS, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times. She has reported on the military commissions at Guantanamo and clerked on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Valarie founded Groundswell Movement of 100,000 members, the nation’s largest multi-faith online organizing community known for “dynamically strengthening faith-based organizing in the 21st century.”

A Senior Fellow at Auburn Seminary, she serves as a national Sikh voice who teaches on movement-building for students, organizers, and interfaith groups. She also works with the U.S. State Department to bring these tools to activists around the world, most recently traveling and teaching throughout Myanmar. She earned degrees at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School, where she founded the Yale Visual Law Project to train future lawyers to make films for social and policy change. She is currently the Media and Strategy Fellow at Stanford Law School, where she helps build the movement to keep the Internet free and open, especially for under-served communities.

The Center for American Progress lists Valarie among 13 national progressive faith leaders to watch. She has been called “a standout figure in the world of interfaith organizing and activism and one of eight Asian American “Women of Influence.” A prolific public speaker on college and university campuses, she was also the youngest to deliver the Baccalaureate Commencement Address at Stanford University.

Valarie lives with her husband and filmmaking partner Sharat Raju and their baby boy Kavi Singh in Los Angeles. She believes that “the way we make change is just as important as the change we make.”

For more information on Valarie, visit her website at http://valariekaur.com/. You can also follow her on Twitter at @valariekaur.

Attached: APALA35th Press Release [pdf]

But Am I Really an Activist? Dealing with Impostor Syndrome by Annie Pho

by Annie Pho

APALA is an organization invested in librarians and library workers as people. A significant part of librarianship is advocacy, whether it is on behalf of our organizations, our fellow library workers, or the communities we serve through our libraries and other civic organizations. In anticipation of APALA’s 35th Anniversary & Symposium,  we take a closer look at the very human aspect of advocacy work–fatigue. 

This second essay in APALA’s advocacy fatigue mini-series, written by APALA member Annie Pho, is about impostor syndrome. She writes about how impostor syndrome relates to librarianship, advocacy and activism.  

~ Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow, APALA Web Content Sub-committee Chair, 2012-Present


Annie Pho, 2014When I was first asked to write an article about being an activist librarian, I was really surprised that someone asked me to write about activism in libraries at all. I have never called myself an activist. To me, activists are very organized, well-spoken (and outspoken), proactive in spreading the messages of their cause, and inspire others to be better. While I do care about social justice, I often find myself struggling with the right response to those who critique social justice movements. I consider myself someone who is constantly trying to learn how to be a better citizen, not necessarily someone who inspires others. That’s when I realized the depths of impostor syndrome—always feeling like you are impersonating the role that you currently fulfill. Impostor syndrome is an issue in our profession, and something that permeates many spaces in librarianship.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome was first coined by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who studied the feelings of inadequacy of high achieving women. While women are not the only ones who suffer from this syndrome, it’s not surprising that librarians (a profession that is predominantly female) battle this syndrome. The Geek Feminist Wiki defines impostor syndrome as “a situation where someone feels like an impostor or fraud because they think that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as those of the people around them.” The negative effects of impostor syndrome can include “generalized anxiety, lack of self confidence, depression, and frustration related to inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement” (Clance & Imes, 1978). Feeling these effects over a long period of time is exhausting and leads to burnout.

So what does it mean to be an impostor activist? Or more importantly, what does it mean to be an activist? The word activist suggests a sense of authority or knowledge, the ability to organize, and have the right response to naysayers. I constantly feel like I am not doing enough, especially in comparison to those whom I consider to be great activists, those who seem to have a lot of impact in their communities. There’s no way I could do the same. However, thinking like this has a negative impact on your self-esteem and can really hinder your own ability to be the person you want to be. People often express the sentiment that it’s hard to even try to advocate for any social cause because in the end, it doesn’t matter. That change is too hard to create and it’s easier to ignore it (if you have the privilege to do so). It’s extremely difficult to measure any impact that an individual can make on larger societal issues. It’s not always something tangible that you can see. As a result, I think this also adds to the impostor syndrome in seeing yourself as an activist.

Getting Over Impostor Syndrome

It wasn’t until a friend (and someone I look up to as an activist) told me that activism means different things to different people. It was then that I began to understand that there is no one way to be an activist. You can contribute to the cause in many different ways. Organizations might need people to do data entry, or to write, or to design graphics. It’s important for me to remember that even doing a little thing is better than not doing anything at all.

There are a few tactics that you can use to combat impostor syndrome. A recent study published in College & Research Libraries looked at impostor syndrome among librarians and recommended that those who have these feelings should distinguish between feeling incompetent and actually lacking the skills needed to do the job. This is an important distinction, figuring out what is just how you feel versus what you are actually capable of. Asking for feedback and communicating with peers can also help quell these feelings. I participate and sometimes moderate the #critlib Twitter chats, which helps me connect with other librarians who have an interest in critical librarianship. Talking to the #critlib community gives me plenty of things to think about and keeps me connected to the activist librarian community.

I’m not sure if you can ever truly get rid of impostor syndrome, but I think it’s something that you work on over time as you build upon your experiences (and your self-confidence hopefully). For me, building community helps me realize I am not alone and that we are all continually trying to learn and improve ourselves as activists. All we can do is try to be better and do good for the world.


Further Reading

Perceived Inadequacy: A Study of the Imposter Phenomenon among College and Research Librarians by Melanie Clark, Kimberly Vardeman, and Shelley Barba

Low Self-Esteem and the Academic Librarian. Maybe it is just me. It is probably just me. by Erin Miller

The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes


Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera and Melissa Cardenas-Dow.

Advocacy Fatigue: It Should Be a Thing by Melissa Cardenas-Dow

by Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow

In anticipation of APALA’s 35th Anniversary & Symposium celebration in June 25, 2015, APALA Web Content Sub-committee is introducing a mini-series of articles focusing on advocacy. We appreciate the significance of advocacy work, which can come in many different forms and can focus on many different aspects of library and community engagement. Many APALA members engage in advocacy as part of their work.

As APALA is an organization invested in librarians and library workers as people, we wanted to shine light on a very human aspect of advocacy work–fatigue. We had asked several APALA members to think about advocacy, activism, and the toll such work often takes. Four APALA members have consented to reflect on their experiences of advocacy, fatigue and renewal. We will be publishing their work through the rest of the 2014-2015 operational year.

In this first essay of the mini-series, I write about advocacy and activism work, and coming to terms with one’s own limitations and need for renewal.  ~ Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow, APALA Web Content Sub-committee Chair, 2012-Present


Image of Melissa Cardenas-Dow

Recently, I’ve come to embrace the fact that I can do intellectual work much better than physical labor. I like to think about things. I find great meaning in the work of connecting abstract concepts together. That type of work excites and energizes me.

What excites me even more is the prospect of doing intellectual work that makes a difference in people’s lives. For me, it’s not enough to think about ideas, how they often end up written or somehow represented as some tangible thing by scholars and academic experts in different fields, and how these knowledge objects must be made accessible to researchers who would need to access them for their own scholarly work.

I am well aware that I am just one among many who take seriously the charge of advocacy and activism within APALA and ALA. Many of us conduct scholarly activism, not just advocacy. Many of us immerse ourselves into scholarly, academic literature and are guided by theoretical perspectives. But, in the end, we advocate–we speak up, we write, we do–for the library worker community and the community of patrons we serve through our libraries.

As Sara Goldrick-Rab says, “It takes time, energy, emotional labor, and a thick skin. It is usually an unpaid gig.” Even within a supportive environment, surrounded by friends, allies and colleagues who think and say positive things about your activist labor, the tolls of such work on a person can be immense.

I make a conscious effort to infuse my professional work, particularly my involvement with professional library associations and groups, with my own personal strengths and social justice advocacy. I select assignments and positions that, I think, will allow me to contribute, help me build some skills that I am interested in improving, and further my personal, professional, and academic interests in equity, diversity, and inclusion in modern American society. Most of the time, finding these in most tasks aren’t very difficult to do. But, they do take a level of attentiveness that can wear on a person. Mostly because the tasks are so plentiful and vast, but my time, heart, and spirit are limited. This circumstance is an easy recipe for burnout.

How does one know one is experiencing advocacy fatigue? Here are the signs that tell me I am in great need of some down time.

The negative, defeatist voices are getting louder. They say things like, “What’s the point?” or “Do you really think you’re making a difference? Lonesome you? The system is bigger than you.” Advocacy work is the work of heart and spirit. Resilient as heart and spirit are, they are also easily depleted. Maintaining a hopeful heart, mind and spirit can become work, in and of itself. When that happens, my internal critics gain ground. I take that as my cue to re-focus, find more ways to get positivity into my daily intake. 

Misanthropy starts coloring my outlook and attitude. I generally have a very strong appreciation for absurdist humor. Normally, my penchant for inspiration and joy balances this out, preventing me from tumbling down the cynic’s rabbit hole of mental despair. I believe these lenses–optimism and criticism–are important to hold in tension of each other in order to maintain an advocate’s position. For me, it’s enough to focus on which effort I’d like to get behind, rather than focusing on an outcome that is the result of taking a long-view of activist work. When this balance gets disturbed, however, I start disliking the perspectives, and the people associated with them, that I have cultivated for years. 

The desire for an apathetic outlook becomes stronger. When I am so, so tired of advocacy work, I start fantasizing about letting it all go, stopping, and focusing on more immediate concerns, such as my house, my husband, my children, our pets. There are plenty of other, more capable social justice warriors out there, right? 

In many ways, feeling burned out, especially these states-of-mind I had described, is a result of a confluence of modern living and of balancing domestic, professional, and other obligations, all at once. I have just pulled out some aspects of how I experience fatigue, in general, and focused on the ones that are most relevant to the advocacy work I do with ALA and APALA.

 Living a meaningful life isn’t supposed to be easy. The struggle with fatigue is part of the lifestyle. How do you keep your spirits and heart positive? How do you keep your mind focused on the prize? Let us know in the comments!


Editing assistance provided by Jaena Rae Cabrera.

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