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Semantics as Praxis: The Challenge of Naming the People Who Use Academic Libraries

By Meggan Press
Undergraduate Education Librarian
Indiana University Bloomington

Introduction

Libraries are not neutral; they never have been. The history of libraries reflects capitalism, racism, and misogyny. The legacy of our racist, biased, and exclusionary practices is built into the fabric of our work. The implications of history continue to play out in our daily practices, often so rote as to remain unnoticed, unexamined, and unquestioned. Consider as an example the words librarians use to refer to the people who use libraries—patron, customer, user, student, and member, among others. The act of choosing which word is used creates systems and behaviors that prioritize some people over others and reveals alignment with ideologies that may have felt progressive at one time but no longer serve us.
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