Fobazi Ettarh’s research is concerned with the relationships and tensions between the espoused values of librarianship and the realities present in the experiences of marginalized librarians and library users. In 2018, she coined the term and defined the concept of “vocational awe,” which describe, “the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in beliefs that libraries as institutions are inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique.” In her article “Vocational Awe: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” she describes how vocational awe can lead to burnout and a sense that one’s own self-care is less important than the work being done.
Although written before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ettarh’s words have resonated with many library workers throughout the nation in the current moment, as we strive to serve our patrons and our profession as best we can amidst the competing demands of home, work, and health. Her remarks on equity and inclusion in libraries are just as timely and important. In a 2019 interview with Cathy Hannabach, she spoke of the resistance that marginalized library workers can face when advocating for better working conditions and talked about what a changing world might offer in the way of alliances and social progress. When describing what a better world would look like to her, Ettarh said, in part, “a place where change is embraced, where people work as a collective rather than working in opposition to each other –and to one’s own interest — …a place where conflict isn’t seen as a four-letter word but as a fulcrum to a better time, a better organization, a healthier world and place.”
Ettarh’s critical work on libraries, labor, and identity has been published in In the Library With the Lead Pipe and edited collections, including the Critical Library Pedagogy Handbook and Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory. She has given invited talks at numerous professional and scholarly conferences and events, including the Library as Place Symposium, and keynotes at the Association of College and Research Libraries and Library Journal Directors’ Summit. Her research has been covered in numerous outlets and she consults in library and corporate contexts on labor, identity, and diversity. She is also the creator of the open-access video game Killing Me Softly: A Game About Microaggressions.