Notes from the Chair

by Jeff Garrett

WESS Newsletter

Spring 2001, Vol. 24, no. 2

Association of College & Research Libraries
© American Library Association

Yet Another Exhortation from the Chair

WESS enjoys a reputation as a particularly enterprising and productive section within ACRL. Our publications are solid and useful. Events we plan, both professional and social, take place and are successful. We are a cohesive lot, and we openly enjoy each otherís company. We also enjoy high standing with our parent organization for our activity level and our reliability in managing the sectionís business. This is a collaborative effort, and it shows that we bring the same professionalism that characterizes our work "at home" to our work together, as WESS.

But there is one area where we do fall short, and always have, and that is in the diversity of our membership.

It is clear that, for a variety of reasons, WESSies are more likely to be ethnically Western European. One of these reasons may be West European ancestry; another that "anglos" as students were probably more likely to spend a year in Paris or Florence than, say, the children of Mexican-Americans or Japanese-Americans were. Earlier, the perception was that WESSies also happened to be predominantly male, perhaps reflecting the intact patriarchate of many or most Western European countries. But I think the perception now is that this has definitely changed for the better over the last ten years.

Similarly, Western European studies­unlike other area or ethnic studies fields, e.g., Latin American, African-American, or Asian studies­are very closely aligned with white or even WASP America. Unsurprisingly, the multiculturalist turn in the United States has tended to exclude or even react hostilely to the cultures of Western Europe. The opening of universities to greater cosmopolitanism on a world scale has therefore had a negative impact on those segments of the university curriculum (and on library acquisitions budgets) that support Western European studies. Probably most WESSies have welcomed these developments even as they have had a negative impact on our own funding and the departments we tend to support through our work.

The news, however, is that Western European studies are changing, just as Western Europe is changing. Look at the signs. The French-speaking writer who won the Peace Prize at last yearís Frankfurt Book Fair was Assia Djebar, from Algeria. The newly elected president of the German PEN Club is Said Mirhadi, an Iranian poet living in Munich. From Great Britain, whose leading writers are increasingly of Indian (or even Japanese) ancestry, to Italy, and from Spain to Sweden, the old monocultures are giving way to multicultures, open to suppressed groups both within their borders and from their earlier colonies.

WESSís programming has evolved to take these developments into account. Our Special Topics Discussion Group will be looking at gypsy cultures at ALA in San Francisco. The WESS Program has invited several nationally and internationally known scholars to consider with us the way the canon of Spanish culture, once narrowly Castilian, has "exploded", and is now opening up to regional cultures, to marginalized indigenous social groups, and also to the cultures of immigrants from North and Western Africa. WESSís 2nd European Conference in Paris in 2004 may also choose to regard closely the publishing and bibliographical implications of greater cultural diversity on the continent.

It is clearly desirable that the growing diversity of the United States and in the cultures of Europe should also be reflected in the composition of WESSís membership. To this end, WESS, led by the work of its Research & Planning and Membership committees, has recently applied for special funding from ACRL to advance WESS recruiting efforts aimed at young minority librarians. It is no longer true that speakers of French, Spanish, Italian, and even German must be restricted to the study of lily-white male-dominated cultures. We want to take our message out to library schools and, through special programming at our annual and Midwinter meetings, to other parts of ACRL and ALA that the study of Western European multicultures cannot be ignored, and that much important work is being done in Europe that could provide new perspectives to us here in the United States­if only the bridges can be built between WESS and the other parts of the academic library community to get this message across.

Jeff Garrett, WESS Chair

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