Why Secular?

It seems appropriate that I’m writing my inaugural post here in San Francisco at the 2015 American Library Association conference! I had every intent of starting sooner, but from classes to travel to the general running-aroundness of life… well, that just didn’t happen.

So, to the big question—why secular librarian?

To answer this, I’d start by relating an anecdote from this past January at MLIS orientation at St. Catherine University. We were playing a get-to-know-you game of collecting interesting facts and details about each other, and one of the questions was if you had a website. I shared with one of my cohorts that I was starting this blog, The Secular Librarian, and she asked what “secular” meant.

“It means that I’m not religious,” I said, in the same voice that I use to describe my vegetarianism.

She krinkled her nose for a second and cocked her head slightly, and said, “Oh.” I wasn’t sure what kind of an “Oh” this was, because I hear many variations—an “Oh (that’s interesting)” or an “(Oh (so you worship Satan)”.

In any case, when it came time to relay some of the interesting tidbits we’d learned, she mentioned the name of my website. I instinctively tense up whenever being outed about my non-belief (either by myself or others) in a group setting, but it passed with no comment and we moved on.

But another student sitting next to me leaned over and whispered, “Wow, I thought I was the only one!”

It was that comment that helped cement my resolve to start this site. Because even though we live in a supposedly pluralistic society, it’s still a risky move to come out as atheist/agnostic in the United States, where studies and polls have found that atheists and rapists occupy about the same level of trustworthiness to a majority of the American people.

But secularism is not a synonym for atheism, although both terms are perceived that way, and many secularists are atheist. It’s unfortunate because secularism is one of the most democratic forms of society there is. In short, secularism is committed to the separation of church and state; to the setting aside of public spaces as either religion-free zones or zones where all beliefs are given equal treatment and access; and to the dismantling of religious privilege in society, institutions, and government.

You know… in a nutshell.

And in terms of librarianship, this is right in line with the LBR—number two in particular:

Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

So just as some librarians bring their own unique cultural or minority perspectives to their practice of librarianship (e.g., LGBTQ, Chicano, Asian-American, etc), secular librarians can also add value and benefit to their libraries and their collections.

This is the theme I plan to continue exploring over the next few months, and throughout the life of this blog.