‘Resistance Is Its Own Reward’

Library workers hold the line for their communities

March 1, 2023

Lessa Kanani‘opua Pelayo-Lozada

As we continue to face record book challenges and censorship attempts, I feel empowered by the words of Native Hawaiian scholar and activist Haunani Kay-Trask: “Resistance is its own reward.”

When talking about the fight for justice, fairness, and equity, the fruits of our labor are often not seen within a lifetime. We must trust that our efforts will lay the path for those who follow, so that their resistance builds communities of love and strength that we may never be able to witness or imagine.

Traveling the world on behalf of ALA, I have seen library workers stand up against all that runs counter to our professional core values. I have seen them uphold democracy and social responsibility in the face of hatred and attempts to silence voices. I have heard stories about libraries increasing security for storytimes and programs—merely to ensure that attendees can see themselves represented in library programs and have a safe space.

At the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums conference last fall in ­Temecula, California, I heard from Native Hawaiian librarians who are incorporating our traditional practices into library services, spaces, and collections. Alongside educators, cultural practitioners, and other experts in language and culture, librarians Shavonn Matsuda and Annemarie Paikai worked within the University of Hawai‘i library system to create language-controlled vocabularies and authority records that better represent and respect Indigenous worldviews.

At the same conference, in a session about community engagement, library school student Hau‘olihiwahiwa Moniz discussed how tapping into our Hawaiian culture not only teaches students and their families the traditions we’ve lost but also makes the library space feel like home, resisting colonization to create a fuller, more inclusive society.

When I hosted a December 2022 ALA Connect Live about book challenges and censorship attempts, I heard from individuals facing these issues head-on in their school or public library and in their state. Each person has resisted—and continues to resist—the forces working against them. They acknowledged that the task has not always been easy and that it has taken a mental and physical toll, but they noted that they approached their efforts in a way that worked best for their community and their individual style.

How do we resist? By having a network of allies to call upon at a moment’s notice, encouraging students and community members to speak up, and fighting for legislation to ensure that every reader has their book and every book has their reader—regardless of how outside forces want to moralize society. Resist is what library workers do daily. We all do it, no matter our position in the library and on behalf of our communities.

I know that library workers of all types take seriously the fundamental mission to enhance and provide access to information for all. We understand that at our very core, we are an equity-based profession—one that might not exist if someone were to suggest it today.

Libraries are a space where individuals are encouraged to come as they are, tap into and expand their identities, and become full members of our society.

We are resisters at our core. We protect all our patrons, uphold intellectual freedom, and serve our communities. Yes, the wins we see every day are a reward, but knowing that we have resisted for yet another day and continue to provide that safe space is a reward in and of itself for me, and I hope for all of you as well.


Joslyn Dixon (left), executive director of Oak Park (Ill.) Public Library, poses with author Caseen Gaines in the LLX Marketplace.

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