July 21, 2016

Interview with Elaine Harger, PLG co-founder

In the past couple of years, social justice issues in librarianship have come to the fore, led by the #critlib conversations on Twitter. I have felt that much of this new discussion could benefit from greater awareness of work that has gone on in the past in relation to social justice and libraries, and continuing efforts of some of these older groups and older generations. Specifically, I think The Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG) and ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) deserve greater recognition in the conversations that are happening now, and I think it is worth discussing their contributions, as well as some of the differences with newer formations. I think this discussion could potentially give food for thought to activist librarians of all generations, in light of changing political priorities, strategies, and social and political contexts. As a way to start this discussion, I am interviewing one of the founders of the Progressive Librarians Guild, Elaine Harger.

Elaine Harger is the librarian at Washington Middle School in Seattle, and is the author of a book recently published by McFarland & Company entitled Which Side Are You On? Seven Social Responsibility Debates in American Librarianship, 1990-2015. She is one of the co-founders of the Progressive Librarians Guild, the managing editor of its journal Progressive Librarian, and had been very active in the American Library Association until 2009, when she gave up air travel to reduce her personal CO2 footprint. As a librarian she has served a wide range of library users, from kindergarten through graduate school. She’s been a union activist, and worked her way into librarianship after a series of library jobs as a student, clerical worker, and paraprofessional.

Elaine, thanks for agreeing to do this interview.

I’m happy to have the invitation Rory. Now more than ever we need librarians concerned about social justice to come together.

I’d like to start by asking you to talk a bit about what was going on when you founded PLG, why you felt it was needed, and why it took the form that it did?

At the 1989 annual American Library Association (ALA) conference in Dallas, Texas, Mark Rosenzweig and I, both recent graduates of Columbia School of Library Services, attended a meeting of the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) where a discussion was held regarding SRRT’s seeming inability to address some of the big issues then confronting the profession. SRRT members Sandy Berman and Elliott Shore presented a statement urging SRRT to consider expanding its focus beyond the work of individual task forces in order to challenge the growing use of business models in library administration, privatization, and concerns that new information technologies threatened to lead to deskilling and deprofessionalization of the work of librarians.

After returning to New York City from the conference, Mark and I continued to think and talk about what we’d learned, and thought it would be a good idea to bring together librarians in the northeast for further conversation. The full story of PLG can be found in Al Kagan’s excellent book Progressive Library Organizations: A Worldwide History (McFarland, 2015), and five years ago I published an article on PLG in issue 34/35 of Progressive Librarian (p.58-71) that readers might find of interest for details about our history.

In a nutshell, however, PLG was needed because no other group in librarianship was taking a critical and activist stance toward “big picture” issues. SRRT task forces were doing excellent work, but they all focused on single issues — human rights, library unions, LGBT, feminism, peace, and others. Members of PLG believed, as Mark stated in a 1997 letter in the SRRT Newsletter that librarianship needed “a global vision of social librarianship and cultural democracy” something SRRT did not provide at the time.

As for the form PLG took, we became an affiliate of SRRT in order to operate both within and outside ALA. This allowed PLG to have a presence at ALA midwinter meetings and annual conferences by holding meetings, sponsoring programs, having a presence on the exhibit floor, but also gave us freedom from ALA’s heavy bureaucracy to issue statements, publish an independent journal, participate in conferences of leftist organizations, march in rallies. This was the best of both worlds — affiliation and independence.

As for organizational structure, it evolved out of the hum-drum of managing memberships and subscriptions and also out of a political sensibility (maybe with anarchist tinges) opposed to the bureaucratic trappings of bylaws, officers, elections, and cumbersome relationships with the Internal Revenue Service. We needed a bank account and a tax ID number, both easily available to small club-like groups. PLG is run solely by volunteers. Membership dues pay for the publication of the journal. We have always operated at a deficit (except for a period in which the Alternatives Library in Ithaca NY printed the journal) with editors of the journal sometimes helping to pay for printing and mailing costs, and various members (most recently David Lesniaski of St. Catherine’s LIS in Minnesota) taking on the tasks of maintaining membership lists, handling finances, and mailing the journal.

The PLG Coordinating Committee was established in 2002 to bring more people into decision-making for the organization. Previously all the work had fallen to editors of the journal, an arrangement that was neither sustainable nor organizationally healthy.

Well, thanks for that outline of PLG and its history. You’ve reminded me of why I got involved in PLG in the late 90s and was so inspired by it. Two things strike me about this in the current context. The first is that the issues that PLG has been concerned with are not prominent issues in the current discussion in the #critlib community, and I think this reflects differences in the younger generation’s politics more broadly. I realize this is oversimplifying, but PLG’s priorities could be described as socialist, and the concerns of #critlib are more related to the politics of identity. There is plenty of overlap; in #critlib there is often reference to neoliberalism, and plenty of reference to Paolo Freire, who was a marxist. But the priorities are different, and the theoretical background that people refer to in the group is different. And #critlib is more concerned with theory in general it seems, as there is often discussion about poststructuralist critical theory. So there is that difference in terms of the priorities and focus. The other thing that strikes me is that at that time, in the early 90s, you felt that the natural thing to do was to start an organization, and it came out of a context of being involved with another organization. I understand what you say about the ethos being anti-bureaucratic. At the time that you founded PLG, the logical way to network with people was to form some kind of organization, but that is no longer true. People participating in #critlib generally don’t feel the need to have a formal organization at all, especially not one that collects dues. I think many younger people today would question what the point is of being involved in an organization at all. Given all of that, I wonder what you would like to say to younger people, to speak to the importance of the work that PLG is doing or has done, and the mode of organization for doing it. I’d also like to ask if in retrospect, PLG could have been more open to being reshaped and redirected by younger people who had different politics?

I’m quite interested in how you’ve described the differences between these two generations of social justice-minded librarians. Not being a theoretician, rather a practicing librarian who uses theory to inform my practice and my activism, I don’t feel I can say too much except in a general fashion. You mention a few differences between the thinking and politics of librarians who identify with either PLG or #critlib. I’ve been meeting with several #critlib-identified librarians here in Seattle this past year and find that there aren’t many substantial philosophical or political differences, but I do think there is something accurate in your assessment. Let me take one point at a time and then add what I believe is a very important difference that PLG has been missing, and which addresses your final question.

First, I’d like to share a quote from a document considered foundational to the concepts of identity politics and intersectionality — the Combahee River Collective Statement of April 1977. The Combahee River Collective was a group of radical, black, lesbian feminists.

We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses. Material resources must be equally distributed among those who create these resources. We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation…. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that his analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as Black women.

…In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving “correct” political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process and a nonhierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society.

Although this document played no role in the establishment of PLG, I believe it describes what I consider the political spirit of PLG. Yes, PLG is (loosely speaking) socialist, and we also from the very beginning recognized that the goal of socialism could never be reached without being informed by the knowledge and experience of people who had often been “invisible” to earlier socialist theorists. Because of our place on the timeline of history and our identification with various strands of leftist politics, we knew that efforts toward liberation had to be informed by women, people of color, LGBT members, and others who were oppressed on several fronts. That was a given.

We chose to call our group of radical, leftist, anti-establishment librarians “progressive” because the term embraced a broad spectrum of political strands. We weren’t Maoist or Trotskyist or anarchist or communist or liberation theologists, and although members might identify personally as such none of those groupings could describe all of us. The word “progressive” also hearkened back in history to the progressive movement of the early 20th century (not to say that the Progressive Era was free of oppressive elements).

As far as theoretical differences are concerned, it’s important to point out that theories evolve and have roots in the work of earlier thinkers. The term intersectionality, for instance, was coined in 1989 when PLG was first getting started. I know I had never heard, much less used, that term back then, but the underlying concept was quite familiar as noted above. Another example, in Progressive Librarian we’ve published several articles critical of post-modernism. I don’t know what #critlib librarians think of post-modernism, perhaps it is so “old school” as to receive no attention from the younger generation, but we saw that post-modern theory was very negatively impacting thinking in the profession and so felt critiques must be made.

Regarding the politics of PLG and #critlib, I’d say that the main difference might be in what constitutes the ultimate goal of those politics. Is the goal primarily to develop one’s practice as a librarian or to change unjust social structures, or both? Developing one’s practice might not require organization, but the task of changing social structures cannot happen without organization. Yes, protest might be triggered via Twitter, but as we’ve seen with the various outcomes of Arab Spring, lasting change requires a level of organization and action well beyond street activism.

The social, political, economic, cultural structures that maintain oppression are powerfully organized. And all successful movements for social change have been powerfully organized. So I don’t see how social justice-minded librarians can impact our profession and communities without also being organized.

As for dues, while it is true that no one has to pay dues to participate in #critlib, there are costs involved — either individuals or institutions pay for access to the internet, and if workshops or un/conferences are held either donations or volunteer time or in-kind contributions are solicited. PLG requires membership dues to pay for the printing and mailing of Progressive Librarian. Some have argued that the journal should just be published electronically in order to do away with the necessity of dues. Editors of the journal have discussed this several times, always deciding that we want to maintain a print publication. The payment of membership dues is an act of solidarity whether tithing to one’s spiritual community, joining a political party, club, union, professional association. Paying $25 per year to PLG is a message that says, “I value what PLG is and does and want to make a contribution to the cause from my hard earned income.” Many people who don’t pay dues benefit from the work of an organization, but those who do pay are actual contributors — and that act of solidarity is powerful in many ways.

You state that PLG’s concerns are not “prominent issues” within #critlib. Because PLG’s journal covers such a wide variety of issues, I’m not sure which are not of interest to #critlib, but my guess if that you might be referring to our ongoing critiques of information technologies — the ubiquitous gadgets of 21st century existence. For the moment, I’d encourage readers to consider the following:

1. Take a look at this 8-minute video and ask “What does this mean in terms of librarianship today?”
2. Consider that wars are fought over who controls the coltan mines in the Congo, and ask what sort of privilege benefits from the misery of that region.
3. Are there any negative impacts of technology in the library workplace? In your own job? In the job you wish you had? Ever experience “speed up”? Doing the work of two or three people?
4. What is your personal relationship with technological devices? Does digital addiction enter into that relationship?
5. Are 3-D printers really important in libraries, or have they just been successfully marketed by an industry that, having saturated the market with regular printers, simply needs something new to produce and sell and profit from?

There is so much critical work librarians could be doing regarding information technologies.

Lastly, I have noticed an element in #critlib gatherings that has largely been missing from PLG — a manner of relating to one another that is more open, more welcoming, and more respectful of differences. It seems to me to be a sensitivity to the establishment of relationships and a communication style that is informed by an understanding of white (and other) privilege. The #critlib guys actually listen attentively when others speak, they are not the experts who suck all the airtime (and spirit) out of the room. There seems to be a level of humility and recognition that other voices are needed and must be considered, and that differences in communication styles require different needs. Time is given to everyone, a quiet moment is allowed to give a speaker time to gather their thoughts, speakers are not “pounced on” by those with louder voices, sarcasm is understood to be NOT universal and so not used, conscious efforts are made to make everyone comfortable in gatherings and conversations. No one voice is prominent. That is something PLG has learned from the younger generation, and this is no small matter. It must be said, however, that ardent, confrontational, critically informed communication styles have their place too. To quote Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand” and demands usually require forcefulness. The important thing is to know when a particular style is useful and when it isn’t.

Elaine, thanks for that explanation of what PLG is about. I think it is very enlightening, and it shows a seriousness about political action that many perhaps do not realize is a part of PLG. I have a follow-up question. The first is to elaborate on an earlier question. You talked about something that I observed at PLG meetings as well, which was a certain macho attitude and lack of openness to younger people or people who came in with a different set of assumptions about what PLG should be doing, resulting in people being “shut down.” I think that explains how PLG could have been more open to new people at an affective level. But I want to ask about that issue in terms of the structure of PLG as well, and the way PLG decided, at least from the start, to be a structureless organization, and the structure it chose to have once the guidelines were created. I want to ask this in reference to Jo Freeman’s famous piece, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” I always felt that the reason new people were not replacing the original founders of PLG and taking it in new directions was as much because the structure prevented it as it was because people were less welcoming than they might have been. For the first twelve years, as an organization it was equivalent to a small, informal group doing the work and making the decisions, and dues paying members existing to offer their tacit support. When the guidelines were created, a structure was introduced that allowed for people to be voted onto the coordinating committee. But a near majority of the possible seats on the coordinating committee would be held by the members of the editorial board of the journal, which was roughly equivalent to the original small informal group, which all but guaranteed that they would stay in control. My question about this is, first, is any of that incorrect in your view, and secondly do you think it prevented PLG from being open to new people coming in to take it in new directions?

Before answering these questions, I want to clarify something. PLG has never made, or even attempted, a statement describing an organizational political ideology, and we’ve never affiliated with any political groups. The most overtly political thing we ever did was invite native activist Winona LaDuke to speak at ALA when she was vice presidential candidate for the Green Party. PLG’s politics are expressed via the work we do within librarianship, within the contexts in which individual PLG members are active, and in the statements and actions taken under the banner of PLG. Again, readers are referred to Al Kagan’s book for details.

In regard to your two questions concerning the affective environment of PLG meetings and our structure, and the impact of both in attracting the new generation of librarians, I think this discussion can be made constructive by recognizing that the dynamic is not so simple as you describe it.

First, PLG meetings on a national level take place at the midwinter and annual ALA conferences. I have only attended 3 of these meetings in the last five years, so can’t speak to the dynamics of meetings in recent years. That said, my observations, concerns, and attempts to change those dynamics in the past has led me to conclude that interpersonal behavior was only one component of the problem. Limitations of time, plus an agenda that usually covered both PLG business and ALA activities (program planning and resolutions mainly), and the nature of ALA conferences with many attendees on tight schedules, did not foster an environment that was welcoming to anyone new to either PLG or ALA. There was a period of time, however, when two PLG members (Georgie Donovan and Lauren Ray) had the idea to facilitate a discussion about an issue of interest for the first half of the meetings as a means to get everyone who attended involved in conversation. Those were my favorite meetings and the practice was used for a couple years.

Second, I hesitate to use the term “macho” to characterize the behavior that “shut down” any (and certainly not all) newcomers. Rather, an unbridled sense that one’s expertise is paramount, which is a culturally engrained attitude, often not subject to reflection, and a manifestation of white privilege. It pops up all the time even where one might least expect it. Recently, someone demanded on the SRRT listserv to know what qualified a published librarian to edit a book on gender studies and praxis. This is an example of behavior that can have a “chilling” effect on others. It has been present at PLG meetings, I imagine it’s made an occasional appearance at #critlib gatherings also. But, as I mentioned above, I have noticed an attentiveness to the problem among the new generation of librarians that hasn’t been as fully attended to within my own generation. That said, awareness can always be developed, behaviors can change — at any age!

As for the question of PLG’s structure, readers can take a look at the guidelines, adopted in 2002 and revised a couple times. They need further revision to reflect the fact that over the past several years, some of the editors of the journal have chosen not to also serve on the Coordinating Committee, so the determination of the size of the CC is no longer correct.

I’d not read Jo Freeman’s “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” until you brought it to my attention, and have found it quite interesting and an accurate reflection of what I’ve experienced and observed about group dynamics over the years. Reading it brought to mind the recent vote by PLG members in Edmonton, Alberta, to disaffiliate with PLG. We’ve no idea if the decision was made by a small number (an elite?) who drafted the statement and voted, or if the vote represented the thinking of a large number of members (although I’ve no idea how many members the chapter had, could have been 5, 15, 50…). I use this example to make what I think is an important point, one that Freeman also makes when describing challenges to one informal structure/group/elite by another. She states, “[the group in charge] would have to become ‘public,’ and this possibility is fraught with many dangerous implications.” The “dangerous implications” being the revelation of exactly who is in charge — knowledge that threatens the power of informal elites.

It seems to me that what is most important in an organization is transparency. For whatever structural and governance problems PLG has, at least anyone who wants can easily find out who is on the Coordinating Committee. We are not anonymous. If someone wishes to complain about something done in the name of PLG, they know who to contact, and our guidelines do contain a process for rank-and-file member input. Can the guidelines be better? Probably, but at least we have a known structure and process.

While it is very easy to find fault in the details of any given organizational structure, what interests me most about the question is how, at this point in time, does the progressive, radical, critical, leftist library community work together to assist one another and our communities at a time of increasing political and climate crisis (which I personally think needs to be moved to the front of our agenda, along with racism). A couple days ago I received an email from Fred Stoss, a longtime PLG member who wrote:

It is hard to believe that the very first ALA program on climate change was at the 1995 Annual Meeting in Chicago at the very beginning of a massive heat wave that would go on to kill more than 1500 people in Chicago and Milwaukee (most old, respiratory-compromised, over weight poor people). Hundreds were buried in a mass grave, never having been identified, claimed or reported missing. Many died on Chicago’s South Side when the power went off due to voltage drains and they had no means to get out of their upper floor apartments (elevators were inoperable and they physically could not use the stairs), had no water and no means to keep themselves cool. Chicago passed an ordinance shortly after that require stores to remain open as harbors of refuge from the extreme heat.

Twenty-one years ago PLG and SRRT activists were working to bring climate change to the attention of ALA members. But knowledge, information, and education are no longer enough. Librarians need to be thinking of and working within our communities on action in regard to climate change. What Fred describes above is the future, plus floods, storms, fires, social tension.

Tomorrow night (July 21st) I’m joining other librarians for a Black Lives Matter demo here in Seattle. Temperatures and tempers are getting hotter, and there is work for librarians everywhere to provide harbors of refuge, spaces for dialogue. Librarians who recognize the political nature of our profession, who reject the notion of neutrality, are needed now more than ever — as individuals and as organizations. So, my question is: How can we unite in order to be strong with those we serve, as well as with one another?

Elaine, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about PLG. I think what you’ve said is very helpful in clarifying what PLG is about. I hope that it will attract new people into the organization.

I appreciate the opportunity, Rory. Your contributions to librarianship and to PLG have been considerable and I’ve no doubt will continue to be. Readers of your blog might not be aware that you and I have a longstanding, sometimes contentious, relationship. You put up PLG’s first website, got San Jose to sponsor the PLG listserv, you’ve been an editor of Progressive Librarian, a member of the Coordinating Committee, and we’ve spent countless hours at ALA dealing with all kinds of issues. Trust was broken, but now we are taking steps toward healing that break. Neither of us is perfect, neither of us has all the answers, both of us have the capacity to change. You keep an eye on my progress, and I’ll keep an eye on yours, okay? Let’s see where we are a year from now.

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July 19, 2016

New: Critical Information Literacy: Foundations, Inspiration, and Ideas

Author: Annie Downey
Price: $28.00
Published: July 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63400-024-6
Printed on acid-free paper
204 pages

Academic librarians are exploring critical information literacy (CIL) in ever increasing numbers. While a smattering of journal articles and a small number of books have been published on the topic, the conversation around CIL has mostly taken place online, at conferences, in individual libraries, and in personal dialogues. This book explores that conversation and provides a snapshot of the current state of CIL as it is enacted and understood by academic librarians. It introduces the ideas and concepts behind CIL and helps librarians make more informed decisions about how to design, teach, and implement programs. It also informs library science scholars and policy makers in terms of knowing how CIL is being taught and supported at the institutional level.

This book grew out of the author’s dissertation research, which was a qualitative study investigating the institutional support, nonsupport, and barriers to CIL programs and the effectiveness of experiential critical pedagogy for information literacy learning as taught and studied by 19 CIL librarians and scholars. Experiential education served as the broad theoretical framework for the study, which stems from the tradition of critical theory, and used the work of two major experiential learning theorists and theories specifically: Paulo Freire and critical pedagogy and Jack Mezirow and transformative learning. Mezirow and Freire focused their work on adult education and grounded their approaches in critical theory and focused on power relationships, reflection, and the emancipatory potential of education.

Each chapter expands on the themes discussed or illustrated by the study participants, to include how and where librarians learn about CIL; the three major critical teaching methods critical librarians employ, including student-centered approaches, discussion and dialogue, and problem-posing methods; the struggle between using critical teaching methods and incorporating critical content; the argument for teaching within the broader context of academic disciplines and the crucial importance of strong relationships with faculty; support for CIL at the institutional level; and the role of professional identity and the culture of librarians and librarianship in CIL teaching and thought.

Annie Downey has written and presented on user studies, information literacy, K-20 library instruction, assessment, and academic library administration. Her current research interests include critical information literacy, service design in libraries, women in librarianship, and the student research process. She has an MLS and a PhD in Higher Education from the University of North Texas and is currently the Director of Research Services at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

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July 14, 2016

Beta Phi Mu Announces 2016 Scholarship Winners

Beta Phi Mu, the International Library and Information Studies Honor Society, announced the 2016 scholarship and award winners at their annual business meeting and member reception. This event was held on Saturday, June 24th, in conjunction with the American Libraries Association Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL.

The Eugene Garfield Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships are $3,000 awards intended to support doctoral students who are working on their dissertations in library and information science and related fields. The 2016 winners are:

• Sarah Buchanan, University of Texas, “A Provenance Research Study of Archaeological Curation”
• Rachel Clarke, University of Washington, “It’s Not Rocket Library Science: Design Epistemology and American Librarianship”
• Wei Jeng, University of Pittsburgh, “Factors Influencing Qualitative Data-Sharing Practices in Social Sciences”
• Jinseok Kim, University of Illinois, “The Impact of Author Name Disambiguation on Knowledge Discovery from Big Scholarly Data”
• Robert Montoya, University of California, Los Angeles, “Articulating Composite Taxonomies: Epistemology and the Global Unification of Biodiversity Databases”
• Min Sook Park, Florida State University, “Exploring Social Semantic Relationships in Knowledge Representation in Health through Mining Unstructured Textual Data on Social Media”

Winners of the Sarah Rebecca Reed Scholarship for beginning library and information science students are Jennifer Dixon, studying at Pratt Institute, and Ayoola White, studying at Simmons College. The winner of the Blanche E. Woolls Scholarship for School Library Media Service, for a beginning library and information science student with an interest in school media librarianship, is Emily Fischer, studying at the University of Iowa. Each scholarship provides $2,250 of support to its recipients.

The $1,750 Harold Lancour Scholarship for Foreign Study was awarded to Natalie Baur, to help underwrite her work with a digital cultural heritage archive in Ecuador. The Archivo Cultural de Cañar is a digital archive intended to help preserve and provide access to the rich cultural heritage of the town of Cañar and the Cañari indigenous nation. Natalie holds an M.L.S. degree from the University of Maryland, with a concentration in Archives, Records, and Information Management.

The winner of the Frank B. Sessa Scholarship for the Continuing Professional Education of a Beta Phi Mu Member is Alyson Gamble, a member of Beta Zeta chapter at Louisiana State University. Currently working as a science librarian at the New College of Florida, she plans to obtain a Council of Science Editors (CSE) Publication Certificate. This certificate program requires CSE members to attend two conferences, three webinars, and two short courses before creating and presenting a research project in the form of a poster or published article. This scholarship provides $1,500 worth of support.

Beta Phi Mu was established in 1948 to recognize and encourage scholastic achievement among library and information studies students. It seeks to support the values of scholarship, leadership, and service within the library and information science profession. Beta Phi Mu is an affiliate organization of the American Library Association and is a certified member of the Association of College Honor Societies.

For more information, contact Alison Lewis, alewis@drexel.edu or 215-895-5959.

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July 5, 2016

CFP for a new journal: Libraries: Culture, History, and Society

From Bernadette Lear and Eric Novotny:


Libraries: Culture, History, and Society

We are delighted to announce that Libraries: Culture, History, and Society is now accepting submissions for our premiere issue to be published in Spring 2017.

A semiannual peer-reviewed publication from the Library History Round Table of the American Library Association and the Penn State University Press, LCHS will be available in print and online via JSTOR and Project Muse.

The only journal in the United States devoted to library history, LCHS positions library history as its own field of scholarship, while promoting innovative cross-disciplinary research on libraries’ relationships with their unique environments. LCHS brings together scholars from many disciplines to examine the history of libraries as institutions, collections, and services, as well as the experiences of library workers and users. There are no limits of time and space, and libraries of every type are included (private, public, corporate, and academic libraries, special collections and manuscripts). In addition to Library Science, the journal welcomes contributors from History, English, Literary Studies, Sociology, Education, Gender/Women’s Studies, Race/Ethnic Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Architecture, Anthropology, Geography, Economics, and other disciplines.

Submissions for volume 1, issue 1, are due August 29, 2016.

Manuscripts may be submitted electronically through LCHS’s Editorial Manager system at http://www.editorialmanager.com/LCHS/default.aspx. They must also conform to the instructions for authors at http://bit.ly/LCHScfp1.

We are excited to see this journal become a reality and welcome your thoughts (and submissions!) as we create a new platform for studying libraries within their broader humanistic and social contexts.

For further questions, please contact the editors:
Bernadette Lear, BAL19@psu.edu
Eric Novotny, ECN1@psu.edu

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July 1, 2016

Robert Montoya wins the 2016 Litwin Books Award for Ongoing Dissertation Research in the Philosophy of Information

We are pleased to announce the winner of the 2016 Litwin Books Award for Ongoing Dissertation Research in the Philosophy of Information. We are granting this year’s award to Robert Montoya of the UCLA Department of Information Studies, based on his dissertation project, tentatively titled, “Articulating Composite Taxonomies: Epistemology and the Global Unification of Biodiversity Databases.” Montoya’s nominating faculty member wrote:

“Our field, information studies, is often misunderstood as a field in which technocrats and managers impose standards on data or records for the purpose of implementing tasks that make it easier for people to find and use information or cultural legacy materials. This misapprehension ignores the complex and profound inquiry into the nature of knowledge models, epistemological discourse, and the historicity of these models and discourses across fields, disciplines and professions. Robert Montoya’s work on classification and nomenclature is relevant to scholars and scientists working with the identification and assessment of species viability. Perhaps more importantly for the Information Studies community, his work on classification used in the natural sciences is going to offer insights into the ways classification systems and knowledge organization meet a specific set of conditions in application and use. His dissertation should also be of interest to those working in the history of science, cultural history, bibliographical study, and discourse analysis from a philosophy of knowledge perspective.”

The award consists of a certificate suitable for framing and $1000 check.

Since this award is for ongoing research, other applicants who are still working on their dissertations will be eligible to enter their work next year, and we strongly encourage them to do so.

For more information about the award, please visit http://litwinbooks.com/award.php.

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June 29, 2016

CFP: Human Operators: A Critical Oral History of Technology in Libraries

About the book

Human Operators: A Critical Oral History of Technology in Libraries will be a collective oral history covering many of the issues in technology in librarianship in the early 21st century. Via edited and compiled interview transcripts, readers will get to “hear” the voices of librarians and archivists discussing tech topics from perspectives that are critical, social justice-oriented, feminist, anti-racist, and ecologically-minded.


This readable, conversational book will bring out specific critiques of technology as well as more inspiring aspects of what’s going on in the instructional, open source, free culture, and maker worlds in the field. The book will be less about the technology per se and more about critical thinking around technology and how it actually works in people’s lives.

The stories that this book intends to capture may have been documented in blog posts, Twitter conversations, and academic articles, but this “oral history” will be an opportunity for them to live on in printed book form.

Target audiences

– Librarians and archivists who want to hear about use cases, organizational impacts, and generally how people (staff and library users alike) are affected by technology in libraries.
– Technologists who want to better understand how ideas are sparked, decisions are made, and hardware and software are deployed in libraries.
– Other readers who think about technology and society.

About the editor

Melissa Morrone is a librarian at Brooklyn Public Library and manages the Shelby White and Leon Levy Information Commons there. She is a non-technologist who has long been involved in technology (writing CMS documentation; developing and conducting training on her organization’s ILS, Internet filters, and digital privacy; giving online research workshops for activists; doing everyday public library reference and computer support) at work and elsewhere.

How to participate

Email informed.agitation@gmail.com by July 31, 2016, if you’re interested in setting up an online interview to discuss your work around one or more of the following topics:

– open source ILSs and other FOSS software
– library cataloging and automation
– ebooks, DRM, and related issues
– makerspaces and digital media labs
– privacy, security, and surveillance
– technology instruction and digital literacy
– digital humanities
– digital archives
– digital reader’s advisory
– continuing education, conference codes of conduct, and other professional activities

Bring your stories, your critical librarianship, and your sociopolitical analysis to technology in libraries, and let’s talk.

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2016 Library Juice + DLF Forum Fellowship

This year, Library Juice and Digital Library Federation (DLF) will sponsor a fellowship and travel award meant to support mid-career professionals in digital libraries and related fields.

The Library Juice + DLF Forum Fellowship is designed to offset or completely cover up to $1,250 in travel, registration, and lodging expenses associated with attending the annual DLF Forum, which will be held November 7-9, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Library Juice + DLF Forum Fellow will additionally receive an invitation to special networking events. Fellows will be required to write a blog post about their experiences at the Forum, to be published by the DLF and shared in Library Juice news venues.

[More information]

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June 27, 2016

Images from our presence at ALA in Orlando

Some pics from our booth at ALA…

Our booth, with Michelle Montalbano


Our booth, with Lacey Torge


Caroline Gardner and Liz Lieutenant

Aliqae Geraci, holding one of her favorites, In Solidarity: Academic Librarian Labour Activism and Union Participation in Canada

Kyle Shockey, future LJP author, and friend (who is perhaps also a future LJP author)

Laura-Edythe Coleman, holding a book she has a chapter in: Progressive Community Action: Critical Theory and Social Justice in Library and Information Science

Mark Alfino and Laura Koltutsky, accepting the 2016 Eli M. Oboler Award for their book, The Library Juice Press Handbook of Intellectual Freedom

Shaundra Walker, holding a copy of Where are All the Librarians of Color?, which she has a chapter in. Shaundra is also the instructor for a Library Juice Academy course: Cultural Competence for the Academic Librarian

Madeleine Charney, instructor for the LJA course running next month, The Sustainability Movement on Campus: Forming a Library Action Plan for Engagement, and contributor to the book she is holding up, Focus on Educating for Sustainability: Toolkit for Academic Libraries

Packing up to go home, saying “See you next time!” to Jen Hoyer.

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June 8, 2016

Celebrating GLBT Book Month – A few of our titles

We want to recognize and celebrate that June is GLBT Book Month, and draw attention to a few of our titles:

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New from ALA: Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy

ALA’s OIF has begun publication of a new journal, the Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy (JIFP). It replaces and expands the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom (NIF).

The table of contents is here.

You will notice an article by yours truly, which is about SRRT’s Alternatives in Print Task Force, the attention to media monopoly issues in the 80s and 90s, and a related 2007 report from the IFC “Subcommittee on the Impact of Media Concentration on Libraries.”

Additionally, in the review section there is a review of the recent Library Juice Press publication, Where are all the Librarians of Color? The Experiences of People of Color in Academia.

We’re proud to be a part of this first issue of JIFP, and we look forward to seeing future issues.

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May 20, 2016

IFLA-FAIFE statement on the continuing detention of the Director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature

Message from Martyn Wade, IFLA-FAIFE chair. (IFLA is the International Federation of Library Organizations, and FAIFE is its Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression.)

Dear Colleagues,

In November IFLA issued a statement expressing strong concern over the targeting of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow by the police, and the arrest and house detention of its Director Natalya Sharina. Natalya was charged on suspicion of inciting hatred or animosity toward a social group. IFLA believed that this action was disproportionate and unnecessary, and called for the issue to be resolved in a calm manner without further escalation.

Since then Natalya has been charged with gross embezzlement and she remains under house arrest.

IFLA believes that libraries and librarians have a key role in supporting human rights, including freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, and an attack on libraries or librarians is an attack on democracy and culture. It remains of the view that the treatment of the Library of Ukrainian Literature, and its staff – and in particular Natalya Sharina – is completely disproportionate and unnecessary.

Donna Scheeder, President of IFLA, has now written to the Chairman of the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation, and the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation on behalf of IFLA calling for Natalya to be released from house arrest, and for the cessation of all legal action.

IFLA-FAIFE has also issued a further statement on the position of Natalya Sharina which can be found at http://www.ifla.org/node/10488

Amnesty International is also continuing to campaign for Natalya Sharina’s release and has issued an Urgent Action report which can be downloaded in English, French or Spanish from https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur46/3849/2016/en/ The Update includes the addresses of the Chairman of the Investigation Committee and the Prosecutor General.

Martyn Wade
Chair, FAIFE

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May 19, 2016

Progressive Community Action: Critical Theory and Social Justice in Library and Information Science

Progressive Community Action: Critical Theory and Social Justice in Library and Information Science

Editors: Bharat Mehra and Kevin Rioux
Price: $35.00
Published: May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-936117-65-9
Printed on acid-free paper

Title page, Table of Contents, Preface, and Introduction (PDF)

Social justice in library and information science (LIS) seeks to achieve action-oriented, socially relevant impacts through information work. This edited volume includes papers that explore intersections between critical theory and social justice in LIS while focusing on social relevance and community involvement to promote progressive community-wide changes. Contributors include LIS researchers, practitioners, educators, social justice advocates, and community leaders who identify theories, methods, approaches, strategies, and case studies that apply these intersections in mobilizing community action to deliver tangible community building and development outcomes.

Demonstrating and articulating these community outcomes are particularly important today, as stakeholders increasingly require LIS professionals to provide evidence of relevance and accountability. This timely book offers a unique perspective in identifying what LIS professions are doing (or can do) in the contemporary context of the 21st century.
The critical theoretical base of the book frames a proactive, less-traditional concept of the LIS professional. It showcases and markets LIS in new ways that highlight its role in taking progressive social actions, bringing positive community changes, and developing relevant community services.

The frame of study is inclusive of (though not limited to) academic, public, school, and special libraries, museums, archives, and other information-related settings. An international context of analysis is included along with a focus on social impact and community involvement in LIS practice and research, education, policy development, service design, and program implementation.

About the editors:

Dr. Bharat Mehra is Associate Professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee. His research furthers diversity and intercultural communication and addresses social justice and social equity agendas to meet the needs of minority and underserved populations (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people; racial and ethnic minorities; international communities; low-income families; rural residents; amongst others). He has applied conceptual frameworks in LIS (e.g., human information behavior, information seeking and use, social informatics, etc.) in combination with interdisciplinary approaches from critical theory, feminist and cross-cultural studies, postcolonial literature, race and gender research, and community informatics or the use of information and communication technologies to enable and empower disenfranchised communities to bring changes in their socio-cultural, sociopolitical, and socioeconomic circumstances. Drawing on the intersections between the research-teaching-service missions in the American academy, Mehra’s work helps to re-conceptualize institutions of higher learning in an expanded capacity of community engagement to partner with people on the margins of society to bring significant changes in their everyday lives.

Kevin Rioux, PhD, is Associate Professor of Library and Information Science at St. John’s University, New York. In his teaching and research, he uses social justice metatheory, information behavior frameworks, and integrated human development models to explore issues related to information access and information technologies as tools of social and economic development in both local and international contexts. Rioux is also a Senior Vincentian Research Fellow and is on the faculty of St. John’s Center for Global Development, which offers a hybrid Rome-based M.A. program in global development and social justice. His work with the Center involves supporting graduate curricula and research on the causes of poverty and social injustice in urban areas, slave labor practices, human migration, education, gendered health issues, food security, and sustainable development.

Now available on Amazon.

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May 12, 2016

EveryLibrary/Library Juice Academy Donor Challenge

We are renewing our EveryLibrary “Personal Donor Challenge” for 2016. It’s a challenge grant of $1,000, designed to attract 75 new $10 monthly donors to EveryLibrary. EveryLibrary is a great organization that supports public library ballot measures around the country. They depend on donations from you in order to do their work. We are very happy to offer our support, and we hope you will join us.

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May 3, 2016

Emily Drabinski’s Keynote from the Information Literacy Summit

Emily Drabinski’s Keynote from the 15th Annual Information Literacy Summit, hosted by DePaul University Libraries and Moraine Valley Community College Library…

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April 30, 2016

Why we like Amazon and generally don’t work with independent bookstores

In the early 2000s, as Amazon was emerging as a major player in the book world, I understood them as the faceless evil that was killing off the independent bookstore, which by contrast represented (along with libraries) the individuality of human understanding, the knowledge of literature, independence of spirit, and the flickering candle of enlightenment; in short, everything that was good. Publishing was said to need independent bookstores to survive. It was good to be motivated by such a drama.

Considering this context, you can imagine how surprised I was to discover, as a new participant in the world of alternative press publishing in 2006, that Amazon would be our best outlet for books, and independent bookstores, with a few exceptions (most notably Bluestockings in New York) would be almost impossible to work with.

Let me explain by sharing some facts about the book trade and how our press fits into it.

The book trade has different segments; the ones we’re concerned with here are trade publishing and scholarly and professional publishing. Trade publishing is what most people think of when they think of the book trade. It’s the books that you find in bookstores and the public library, that authors talk about in radio interviews, and that get reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. To make money in trade publishing, publishers do a lot of advertising and marketing to achieve high sales figures, and compete on price. Profit margins are small, and publishers depend on big hits in order to be profitable. Bookstore sales are essential, and books reach bookstores through distributors. In order to make their money in all of this, bookstores expect a certain discount, and the distributors expect a cut as well. Bookstores also expect distributors to accept returns of all unsold copies. Typically, bookstores take a 45% cut of the retail price, with distributors taking an additional 15%. With the competition on price, that leaves just a sliver for the publisher on each copy sold. If that sliver is extended to 200,000 copies sold, it is significant money, making trade publishing a big business.

Scholarly and professional publishers, on the other hand, do not sell in high volumes. The market is mainly academic libraries, and in some cases university bookstores. A typical scholarly book that is sold to research libraries will sell 200 copies. As a rule of thumb, sales of 500 are necessary for a book to be profitable, and that is not always reached. Consequently, cover prices are much higher. Also, since this part of the industry doesn’t need to support brick and mortar outlets, vendors to libraries are willing to take a much smaller cut, generally 20 to 25% of the retail price. University bookstores have a captive audience and are willing to accept these kinds of discounts as well. And although they usually expect to be able to return unsold copies, they accept it when they can’t.

Enter Amazon. You have probably read about Amazon’s battles with major publishing conglomerates over pricing and discounts, and these stories make them appear to be the enemy of the publishing industry, squeezing profits and making things generally difficult (even as they give these publishers much of their sales). But that is a story about the trade segment of the industry. At the same time, Amazon gets a lot of its power though being a place where you can buy just about any book, including books coming from scholarly and professional publishing houses. In that market, Amazon participates according to the prevailing terms, meaning they accept a 25% discount and are okay with not being able to return unsold copies.

Library Juice Press and Litwin Books, being niche publishing imprints in scholarly and professional fields, have a business model that is based on low sales volume, small discounts, and generally a lack of interest from bookstores, which have a more general readership. On those rare occasions when an independent bookstore is interested in our books, usually to meet an individual customer’s request, they are likely unwilling to accept our terms, and there is no sale. “What should I tell the customer?” they sometimes ask. “They can buy it on Amazon.”

The implications of this state of affairs might be a bit sad, because independent bookstores are a unique sort of institution that represents important values. Independent booksellers actually know what they are selling, have read the books, have had the authors visit to read from them. They are knowledgable about books and literature and impart that knowledge to their book-loving clientele. Amazon, of course, is a powerful machine with no heart and no soul and no human understanding. At any rate, that is one way to think about it.

I would like to propose another way of thinking about the ecology of books and reading of which Amazon is a part. What independent bookstores offer, and represent, is connection to the readers in a local community. Communities now, however, can be geographically dispersed and bound together by shared interests, niche interests like library studies. A local community may have only a couple of people with those interests, not enough for the local bookstore to serve them profitably. Librarians who buy our books may find their local communities very important; they may buy locally, they may want their foods to be grown within a 50 mile radius, they may cultivate relationships in their neighborhoods, and they may patronize their local independent bookstores for that reason. But they continue to participate in geographically dispersed communities based on niche interests. Their love of what is local is generally not inspiring them to get rid of their internet connections. And if they want books related to their niche interests, Amazon is the soulless machine that serves them. It is the logistical source for buying books. Part of the function of an independent bookstore in this equation, however, is not logistical but knowledgable. That factor is replaced by another participant, one in which a lot of soul is present – the niche network of knowledgable people linked by social media. Where the independent bookseller helps customers find the right book, niche customers using Amazon already know what they want when they go to the site, because they have found out about it from peers, mentors, and mavens. So, independent bookstores are not being replaced only by Amazon in that context, but by soulful people as well, albeit ones who don’t get to talk face-to-face all that often. We are happy to let Amazon be their source because we exist in a geographically-dispersed niche that local independent bookstores are not a natural part of.

So that is where we stand.

There have been occasions, however, when we have produced a book that has a potential wider interest, like Chris Roth’s fantastic book on secessionist movements around the world. These experiences have been frustrating, because our position as a scholarly and professional publisher makes it impossible to give those books the marketing they deserve. Chris’s book in particular is one that people really want when they get a chance to see and touch it, so not having a good avenue to get it into bookstores has been a real hindrance to sales. Since that book is outside the niche network that we are connected to as a publisher, social media is less effective for us in marketing it. Distributors generally want the exclusive right to sell all the books in a given ISBN range, so we can’t give them just the one book to work with. Consequently, I feel pain over not being able to generate the sales that Chris’s book deserves. I feel good about bringing the book to publication (we developed the idea for it together), but in the future I will probably avoid getting involved in projects that really belong in the trade book marketplace. The idea of entering the cut-throat trade publishing market in earnest is not appealing.

If you have been reluctant to buy our books on Amazon, I hope what I’ve said might change your mind. If not, feel free to hate on Amazon and request our books at your library through inter-library loan. (Although that means one fewer sale, we feel that supporting libraries supports us by extension.)

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