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.”
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship
Call for Papers
Editors: Karen P. Nicholson and Maura Seale
Publisher: Library Juice Press
Over the past fifteen years, librarians have increasingly looked to theory as a means to destabilize normative discourses and practices within LIS, to engage in inclusive and non-authoritarian pedagogies, and to organize for social justice (Accardi, Drabinski, & Kumbier, 2010; Birdsall, 2001; Doherty, 2005; Elmborg, 2006; Gage, 2004; Gregory & Higgins, 2013; Jacobs, 2008; Swanson, 2004). “Critlib,” short for “critical librarianship,” is variously used to refer to a growing body of scholarship, an intellectual or activist movement within librarianship, an online community that occasionally organizes in-person meetings, and an informal Twitter discussion space active since 2014, identified by the #critlib hashtag. Critlib “aims to engage in discussion about critical perspectives on library practice” but it also seeks to bring “social justice principles into our work in libraries” (http://critlib.org/about/).
In recent months, the role of theory within librarianship in general, and critical librarianship more specifically, has emerged as a site of tension within the profession. In spite of an avowedly activist and social justice-oriented agenda, critlib–as an online discussion space at least–has come under fire from some for being inaccessible, exclusionary, elitist, and disconnected from the practice of librarianship, empirical scholarship, and on-the-ground organizing for socioeconomic and political change. At the same time, critical librarianship may be becoming institutionalized, as seen in the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, the January 2015 editorial in College and Research Libraries that specifically solicited articles using critical theory or humanistic approaches, and the publication of several critical librarianship monographs by the Association of College and Research Libraries.
The present volume provides an opportunity for librarians, archivists, LIS educators and students, information workers, and others with a stake and interest in these issues to engage in a critical and thoughtful reflection on the role of theory within the practice of librarianship. We welcome submissions representing a range of perspectives and opinions in order to inspire discussion and reflection within the profession at large. Possible themes include, but are not limited to:
Is (Critical) Librarianship (Im)Practical?
– The origins, history and implications of philosophical, theoretical, and practical approaches and imperatives within and to librarianship.
– How do they relate to the gendering or racialization of librarianship? To the often marginal role of librarians within the academy? To the service-orientation of librarianship?
– How do they relate to librarianship as a profession? To library scholarship? To everyday work and practices?
– What roles do/can/should difficult texts and the space/place for reading, reflection, and scholarship play within librarianship?
Sites of Tension
– Theory and practice; scholarship and activism.
– Professional/disciplinary/activist communities as spaces of inclusion/exclusion.
– Explorations of the ways that these issues and tensions have been discussed in other fields (both emerging and established). How might these inform discussion and reflection within librarianship?
– The performative nature of disciplinary methods, theories, vocabularies, and boundaries. How might these be productive or counterproductive or both?
– Cultural and social capital and other forms of dominance or power.
– In/accessibility: language, communities, status, time.
– The ways in which all of these topics are inflected by race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and other forms of difference.
Critical Librarianship in a Broader Context
– Is critical librarianship becoming institutionalized? What might that mean for the broader field of librarianship? What might that mean for everyday work practices and politics?
– Moving beyond critical theory: What other kinds of theory or theorizing could be useful? What kinds of practices could be productive?
– Critical librarianship in relation to other activist, critical, or radical movements.
Proposals are to include: title, description (no more than 500 words), and a brief biography of the author(s). Remit the proposal as a Word document in an email to email@example.com with the subject line: Proposal Theory and Practice Last Name(s). Given the subject matter, we seek to include original texts in a variety of formats, including scholarly research articles (5000-8000 words), reflective/personal narratives, editorials (1000-2000 words) that engage thoughtfully with these themes.
Submissions (500 words) due July 31, 2016
Notifications sent out by August 31, 2016
Completed manuscripts due December 31, 2016
Manuscript to publisher by end of June 2017
Book to be published Fall 2017
The Kule Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS) and the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) at the University of Alberta are helping bring together a conversation on Libraries, Archives, and Public Life from universities around the world, including speakers from Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Malta, Scotland and the United States:
Paul Arthur, Professor, Digital Humanities, School of Humanities & Comm Arts, Western Sydney University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Guylaine Beaudry, University Librarian, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Michael Carroll, Director, Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, Washington College of Law, American University, Washington DC, USA
Richard J. Cox, Professor, School of Library and Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Alice Crawford, Digital Humanities Research Librarian, University of St. Andrews Library, St. Andrews, Scotland
Mario Hibert, Lecturer, Department of Comparative Literature and Librarianship, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Sarajevo, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Marc Kosciejew, Head of Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, Regional Business Centre University of Malta, Malta
Konstantina Martzoukou, Course Leader, MSc Information & Library Studies, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland
Nigel A Raab, Associate Professor of History, Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California, USA
Seamus Ross, Interim Director, Coach House Institute, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Frank Tough, Associate Dean (Academic) and Professor, Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Sam Trosow, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada
and others, including graduate students from the MLIS program at the University of Alberta.
In the digital age libraries and archives, arguably more vital than ever, are contested entities and commodities. Technologies can be great boons or severe limitations. The world of information is enlarged or shrunk depending on the availability, scope and distribution of services. Just as influential are geo-political location and a funding climate. Not all sectors and, in fact, not all populations enjoy equal influence and benefits. Concerns about access, sustainability and preservation affect and often determine the content, media and technology housed within libraries and archives. The social construction of knowledge and information behaviour emerge as key ways of understanding the changing roles of libraries and archives as meeting, creating and thinking spaces. The internet conference will explore these suggestive themes by attending to a central question: what are the implications for public life?
Background: The Around the World forum, organized for the fourth time this year, is an experiment that brings together scholars from around the globe to talk about digital culture without the environmental cost of traditional conferences. Institutes and researchers are invited to participate either through presenting or by joining in the discussion. The conference is live-streamed world-wide and archived after the event.
As you may know if you read my interview with Mandy Henk a year ago, I am a big fan of hers. She is the author of Ecology, Economy, Equity: The Path to a Carbon-Neutral Library, published by ALA Editions, and an academic librarian now living in Auckland, New Zealand. A few days ago she gave a talk in Auckland, titled, “What is Critical Librarianship?” She gave me permission to publish her talk on this blog. So here it is….
So, I’m here to talk about critical librarianship. It’s going to really be a sort of meta talk about our professional discourse and our professional practice.
But before we get into the details I want to talk for a moment about the whys and whatnots of critical librarianship more generally. There aren’t 50 people sitting in here in this room on a Monday evening because you’re super excited to hear about a new methodological approach to LIS scholarship and practice. That is what we’re going to talk about, but first I think we need to talk frankly about why we’re really here: social justice. I don’t consider myself an LIS scholar; I write stuff, true. But I’m an activist who uses LIS scholarship, both my own and that of others, to inform my professional practice and my activism. My interest in this material, like other critical librarian-scholars, is in using it to influence the practice of this profession and to alter the fundamental relationships we have with our patrons, our vendors, and within our libraries. Critical librarianship–the application of various critical methodologies generally grounded in critical pedagogy to the study and practice of librarianship– gives us a set of tools to do that as a profession, from within our own professional discourse and practice.
Critical librarianship isn’t the first foray our profession has had into social justice issues. I don’t know enough about the history of New Zealand’s librarians to cite examples from here, but in the US we have Juliette Hampton Morgan in the civil rights movement, more recently we have the amazing work of Sanford Berman working to transform LOC subject headings, Jessmyn West in the Battle of Seattle . . . we’re a profession with a proud tradition of fighting for our patrons, all of our patrons. Where I think Critical Librarianship diverges from most of our previous tradition is its inward focus on the scholarship of the profession and its related willingness to critique our practice. I also think that Critical Librarianship is the first genuine intellectual movement from within the profession.
We never really talk about our profession as a discipline, as a site of inquiry, especially not once we finish our degrees. But it is. If we step back and take a look at how we do “research” within LIS, especially as practitioners, there are a few themes that really stick out. One, we want practical solutions. And we define “practical” as implementable–we want people to write stuff and give presentations that will tell us things that we can take back to work and use the very next day. Two, we see ourselves largely as a social science. This has implications for how we train future librarians, how we judge the quality of each others’ work, and, crucially, what kind of research we do in the first place. Finally, and I think most importantly, within mainstream library discourse we emphasize the maintenance of the status quo, we focus on how to work within a Westernized, capitalist, global economy and in doing so define the perspectives of other kinds of librarians, who might operate from within very different paradigms and very different knowledge systems, as unserious and not worthy of genuine consideration. We marginalize them. And in doing so we reduce the range of views within the profession to our great detriment.
At the same time, we also define away work that has the potential to be truly revolutionary. Work that critiques the impact of neoliberalism on our libraries. Work that analyzes the impact of managerialism, of a ruthless focus on the utilitarian, becomes “not serious.” It becomes no longer part of the core discourse of the profession. When we allow this to happen, we abrogate our responsibility, our public trust, instead transforming ourselves into bureaucrats of the books. We squander our own revolutionary potential and the potential of this institution itself.
Critical librarianship, as an intellectual movement within LIS offers a means of critiquing these larger forces that impact upon our libraries and our information system.
So let’s look at the objections to introducing this kind of work into our professional discourse. First, practicality. Practicality is a problematic dictate in research because it serves to limit our scope of inquiry–if we must present a solution each time we define a problem, our ability to articulate the problems in our profession and that our profession faces is greatly curtailed. The mandate of practicality stifles our professional range and scope. In doing so it leaves an enormous range of problems unarticulated. Unarticulated problems can NEVER be addressed. Because they are unrecognized, at least officially in the literature, they get redefined as what the late great Douglas Adams called SEPs–Someone Else’s Problem. You’ll remember the SEP field from Hitchhiker’s Guide? In the Hitchhikers world an SEP can run for years on a single torch battery and, once erected, renders things completely invisible, as Ford tells Arthor, “An SEP is something that we can’t see, or don’t see, because we think it is Somebody Else’s Problem. . . . The brain just edits it out, like a blind spot.”
To give an example of how this plays out, take a look at the scholarship surrounding “greening libraries.” I assume it isn’t going to come as news to anyone here that climate change is the most urgent problem facing humanity today. And yet, the so far half-hearted project to decarbonize the information system is almost entirely absent from our professional literature. Instead we talk about recycling. A lot. And green book mobiles. And sustainability oriented programming. And building collections that support researchers who do climate research. What we don’t talk about, what we don’t question–is why, when we evaluate new electronic resources, we don’t include any criteria about the impact of those resources on the environment. It’s an SEP, and so we don’t talk about it.
I think that part of the reason we don’t talk about it relates back to the second point: our understanding of ourselves as a social science. And by that I mean that we privilege certain methodological approaches that are commonly used within the social sciences. Namely, we have a bias and a tendency to privilege positivist methodologies. Positivist approaches are what we teach in our research methods courses, articles using them comprise the vast majority of our professional literature–it’s even embedded in the name of our discipline: Library Science. And I do think positivism has a place. Positivist methodologies are good tools–but they can only build certain kinds of knowledge. Surveys, case studies, data analysis–these are methodologies that can only tell certain kinds of stories. And those stories often need telling, but in privileging them so greatly within our professional literature, we are walking away from other kinds of stories, ones that are just as, if not more, compelling.
Let’s look at two articles on roughly the same topic, from different authors using different methodologies. I’ve altered the first abstract substantially because I think it would be a jerk move to call out anyone specific and that’s not my goal here. Variations of that article have been published at least a dozen times. The first article I found in LISTA, which is the primary index for scholarship for the LIS discipline in the United States. It’s where library students, LIS researchers, and practitioners go when they want to answer the question “What does the literature say?” The second I heard about in a presentation at a conference. It is not discoverable through LISTA– It’s already been literally excluded from the professional literature. This exclusion has erected an SEP field around it.
Let’s look at the first abstract in more detail. This article was published in a major LIS journal; one that has all kinds of fancy bibliometrics. If I told you the title, you’d recognize it.
So it’s a survey, right?
It tells a story that goes like this:
The demographic make-up of the US is changing and yet the demographic make-up of LIS professionals is not. To best serve our clients in the future, we should bring in more librarians of color. Work-life balance plays an important role in attracting and retaining employees, so understanding what influences the work-life balance of current librarians of color is an important step on the road to attracting more into the profession.
The problem is that in telling this particular story, other stories that we could and should be telling are obscured–the more so when we consider that this story is the one in the prestigious journal. In telling this particular story, a number of important issues are buried behind the facade of the “neutral and objective observer.” The stories that this article can’t tell–and that we should be telling as a profession — require that we step out of our “methodological comfort zone.” They require us to reimagine what it is we are doing when we do “research” and in our practice.
So, the fundamental buried issue in this article, and other articles like it, is that it makes an important assumption–namely that the problem of race in LIS is representational. The argument goes like this–Libraries serve a racially and ethnically diverse range of clients, so librarians themselves should reflect this diversity. The problem is the embedded assumption that by changing one particular variable–the number of librarians from traditionally marginalized groups, you thereby change the profession in such a way as to cause it to better serve that clientele. This might be an accurate assumption, but if you look at this critically, there are more than a few holes. We can turn to the second article to see a critique of this kind of thinking: By focusing on numbers, we deflect attention away from genuinely liberatory struggles. The consequence of the problem has been redefined as the problem. In other words, by examining how to get more librarians from traditionally marginalized groups, we have neglected to ask why there are so few in the first place. This neglect is by no means benign –it absolves us of our obligation as human beings to examine the systems of oppression and domination that we have created and in which we are complicit. Critical methodologies force us to confront these systems and transform them from Someone Else’s Problem back to where they rightfully belong–at the forefront of our analysis about our own profession.
The production of articles of the first sort poses a set of challenges to us as scholars that are fairly easily resolved within the context of the neoliberal university. The problem is one of training. To do this kind of work you need to learn a set of rules, how to use some mathematical software, and then the proper structure to use when writing up your data. It’s the kind of teaching that the contemporary university most prefers: training. Articles of the second sort pose a much more serious pedagogical challenge. To do this kind of analysis requires a deep understanding, a transformation of the consciousness, most especially in those whose relationship with power has been largely obscured by their own place at the top of the hierarchy. It requires education, transformative education– of the sort that university administrators are currently working feverishly to eliminate.
But this also brings us to our third point. Articles of the first sort have an even more basic assumption hidden within them: That the only, or most “appropriate” response to finding ourselves embedded within a mysterious situation where important members of the human community are excluded from practicing our profession–or opts out of it–is not to transform the larger system itself. Instead it is to document this exclusion and then tweak some variable–to alter some portion of this system while leaving the larger structures of domination intact. It removes the structures of oppression from analysis and in doing misplaces the onus of reform on to others–often those victimized in the first place. Or it results in calls for library administrators to eliminate “discrimination” without offering a roadmap that would allow an administrator so inclined to recognize and understand what discrimination looks like and how it is perpetuated within a library environment. In other words, despite claims to practicality, it offers empty solutions, ones destined to fail.
More than that though, by placing this kind of work at the center of our professional literature, we turn away and turn off those who are most likely to see through it, to see its fundamental failures– librarians who themselves come from marginalized backgrounds: indigenous librarians, Black librarians, librarians from places burdened with a history of colonization. By privileging a form of analysis that anyone whose experience with power is not wielding it but rather having it wielded upon them, can see is insufficient, we marginalize their experiences and force them to become complicit in the very structures of their oppression if they want to join our work. By defining “scholarship” so narrowly, so tightly, we put everyone into a methodological straightjacket, one that not only limits the scope of analysis, but also of voice. We place upon those who stay an undue burden–that of explaining to us why our professional literature is inadequate, why we keep grappling with the same problems over and over again without making real progress. Or they are left with the choice to remain silent, which itself comes at a personal price.
As librarians we find ourselves at the front lines of the neoliberal attack on public services and goods. At the front lines of the enclosure of the information commons and the transition of the scholarly record into a commodity to be sold and resold for private profit. Only by bringing critical methodologies to bear on this problem can we hope to develop a counter narrative, one that has the potential embedded within to transform the system. Only by creating this counter narrative can we stand in solidarity with others across public life who are fighting on other front lines. We do a good job at sharing tips and techniques to do our jobs, but our responsibility as professionals goes beyond that: We are also obligated to examine the systems that we work within and to work to bring them into a more just state.
So that’s my perspective on what critical librarianship is and why it’s important–but I want to pull around to practice. I’m a practicing librarian. I teach workshops, build online teaching materials, buy books, answer reference questions . . . and I think critical librarianship should be as much about practicing librarians as about the scholarship side. I don’t actually think that the scholarship side and practice side are separable. This is work that those who practice the profession of librarianship should both do themselves and should incorporate into their daily work. As human beings we are always operating within a power structure of some sort. If we fail to critically examine that structure, if we try to ignore it and go about our lives as though it doesn’t impact us or our work–we are susceptible to becoming subsumed within it. We become complicit. Our humanity requires active resistance. We are not only workers. We are human beings and citizens.
Which brings around to what we can do, how we start to do this work if it isn’t already part of our professional lives. For those who don’t know me, I’m an anarchist and my preferred methods are prefigurative, meaning that I believe that structures that we create to fight injustice should themselves reflect the kind of society we want to build. For me, I want to see us work together–mutual aid– to do the kind of study that we need to do to do this work well. Rigor matters and by working together and building communities of inquiry and practice, communities defined by equality, solidarity, and democracy, we can learn a new methodology and apply it to our work. We can do things like workshop our projects, have reading groups, discussion groups. We can participate in the international conversation surrounding this kind of work–there are regular Twitter meet-ups and discussions. More and more journals are being founded to publish this work. The pace of book publishing is quickening in this area. There are a large number of people coming together across the globe right now to support each other in this work. I’m still very new here, but I have absolute confidence that if we work together to figure out how to support each other, we can create strong communities of practice and inquiry that can do the kind of work that we need to do to transform the information system and our libraries. To help us to realize the liberatory potential of our profession and of the institution each of us has dedicated their working life to building.
Shaundra Walker is the Associate Director for Instruction and Research Services at Georgia College. She holds a B.A. in History from Spelman College, a Masters in Library and Information Studies from Clark Atlanta University and Ph.D. in educational leadership with a concentration in higher education administration from Mercer University. Her work and research in libraries and education is deeply influenced by her experience attending and working in minority serving institutions. Her research interests include the recruitment and retention of diverse librarians and organizational development within the library. Dr. Walker is teaching a class for Library Juice Academy next month, titled, Cultural Competence for the Academic Librarian. She has agreed to be interviewed about this course and her background for teaching it. [Read the interview…]
Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene: A Colloquium
May 13-14, 2017
New York University
As stewards of a culture’s collective knowledge, libraries and archives are facing the realities of cataclysmic environmental change with a dawning awareness of its unique implications for their missions and activities. Some professionals in these fields are focusing new energies on the need for environmentally sustainable practices in their institutions. Some are prioritizing the role of libraries and archives in supporting climate change communication and influencing government policy and public awareness. Others foresee an inevitable unraveling of systems and ponder the role of libraries and archives in a world much different from the one we take for granted. Climate disruption, peak oil, toxic waste, deforestation, soil salinity and agricultural crisis, depletion of groundwater and other natural resources, loss of biodiversity, mass migration, sea level rise, and extreme weather events are all problems that indirectly threaten to overwhelm civilization’s knowledge infrastructures, and present information institutions with unprecedented challenges.
This colloquium will serve as a space to explore these challenges and establish directions for future efforts and investigations. We invite proposals from academics, librarians, archivists, activists, and others.
Some suggested topics and questions:
– How can information institutions operate more sustainably?
– How can information institutions better serve the needs of policy discussions and public awareness in the area of climate change and other threats to the environment?
– How can information institutions support skillsets and technologies that are relevant following systemic unraveling?
– What will information work look like without the infrastructures we take for granted?
– How does information literacy instruction intersect with ecoliteracy?
– How can information professionals support radical environmental activism?
– What are the implications of climate change for disaster preparedness?
– What role do information workers have in addressing issues of environmental justice?
– What are the implications of climate change for preservation practices?
– Should we question the wisdom of preserving access to the technological cultural legacy that has led to the crisis?
– Is there a new responsibility to document, as a mode of bearing witness, the historical event of society’s confrontation with the systemic threat of climate change, peak oil, and other environmental problems?
– Given the ideological foundations of libraries and archives in Enlightenment thought, and given that Enlightenment civilization may be leading to its own environmental endpoint, are these ideological foundations called into question? And with what consequences?
Lightning talk (5 minutes)
Paper (20 minutes)
Proposals are due August 1, 2016.
Notifications of acceptance will be sent by September 16, 2016.
Submit your proposal here: http://goo.gl/forms/rz7uN1mBNM
Casey Davis is Project Manager at the American Archive of Public Broadcasting at WGBH and co-founder of ProjectARCC: Archivists Responding to Climate Change.
Madeleine Charney is Sustainability Studies Librarian at UMass Amherst and co-founder of the Sustainability Round Table of the American Library Association.
Rory Litwin is a former librarian and the founder of Litwin Books, LLC (Colloquium sponsor)
I was just asked on Twitter how Library Juice got its name, from someone who wondered why we don’t state it in our “about” pages. I think a lot of people wonder why a serious business has what some might consider a silly-sounding name, so I think I should address that. The first part of the answer is that at the beginning, it wasn’t a serious business, but something very experimental and playful. So here is the story of how Library Juice got started…
Back in 1997, the World Wide Web was very new and very exciting. It was before social media, before blogs, before Twitter, and before Facebook (or Myspace or Friendster), but it nevertheless presented great new opportunities for networking and communicating with all sorts of people. At that time, I was a student in the MLIS program at San Jose State University (obviously before it was an online program). We were a cohort that was exploring the new potential of the Web for librarianship (although it must be said that the internet had existed for some time in text form, and librarians used Gopher and command-line databases like Dialog and Lexis-Nexis to a great extent already). SJSU was one of the more progressive programs, and a couple of years earlier had started a Listserv for the community of students, alumni, and faculty to communicate.
As library students go, I was particularly inspired by all the potential of libraries and their ethical foundations. I did a ton of outside reading, and found linkages between the curriculum and outside ideas, in philosophy and politics. I also delved into the history of progressive movements and activism in ALA, and was inspired by people who came before me, like Sanford Berman. I joined ALA SRRT and the Progressive Librarians guild in 1997, and became active in those organizations, and found my community there.
I had a burning desire to share what I was finding with the SJSU community that served as my entry point into this inspiring profession, so I began using the Listserv heavily. I reposted discussions and news items that came from other places, and wrote about political and philosophical topics that were of no interest to the majority of list members. I was posting very heavily, to the point that I was the most frequent poster on the list. I wasn’t engaging in arguments, I should add, just sharing what inspired me. But complaints began coming in about the volume of these “irrelevant” posts. At first I ignored them, but in January of 1998 I took heed and found a good solution. I announced to the list that I would be setting up my own email distribution service for people who were interested. (I got the idea from Phil Agre’s Red Rock Eater news service, which had been going for some time.) Very quickly, 80 people signed up, and I began distributing a weekly email.
With the first issue out, I saw that it needed a name. I don’t remember what other names I considered, but Library Juice seemed like it was a good description of what that distribution service was about. It was the “sweet essence” of librarianship as I saw it, with all its inspiring political and philosophical meaning. “Juice” also referred to the electricity behind the WWW as the emerging new medium for librarianship.
Library Juice, the email newsletter, ran until 2005, first as a weekly and then as a biweekly publication. After the first year it had around 2000 subscribers. Issues went out by email and were posted on a website as well. It was plain text, running to about 40K with each issue. It consisted of news items collected from other lists, email discussion threads, press releases, and short essays, often by me. This was the kind of material that would eventually be found on blogs, but before blogs, this email newsletter filled a definite need. (Back issues are all on the web, and can be found here.
Things gradually changed over the 7 or so years that I was publishing Library Juice, the email newsletter. One issue was that it became more complicated to send out an email to 2000 people, with spam blocking measures coming into use especially. With the emergence of blogs as a place where people could find press releases and commentary, the content had to change in order to provide something different. I began writing more essays and publishing essays by other people. I also began dredging up interesting articles from pre-1923 library journals, typing them up and republishing them in the newsletter. But the whole thing began to feel untenable, so in 2005 I discontinued it.
I felt that my avocation needed to continue somehow, and I wanted it to be something more than just another blog. I did turn the email newsletter into a blog (the blog you are reading now) in 2005, but wanted to do more. The possibility of publishing books had come to mind through a number of influences. One was the fact that a professor at SJSU, David Loertscher, had a side business publishing and distributing books himself, with High Willow Press. Another was reading about Ralph Shaw, a LIS professor in the 1950s, and the history of Scarecrow Press, which he started. Another was playing with the booklet product that Cafe Shops offered and seeing that laying out and printing a book was something doable. I learned about Lightning Source, which offered print-on-demand services to publishing companies. I had conversations with Tony Dierckins, a small press publisher in Duluth, MN, where I was living, and phone conversations with Robbie Franklin of McFarland Publishers. In 2006 I started working on the first four books published by Library Juice Press, which were published in December of that year.
As I got more serious, I started the company Litwin Books, LLC and spun off Library Juice Press as an imprint strictly for an audience of librarians. Although Litwin Books publishes a bit more broadly, the majority of new titles are still LJP titles, and most of our book sales are through that imprint. Between those two imprints and the smaller, more trade-publishing oriented Auslander and Fox, we’ve published 62 books all told, with about five to seven new titles coming out each year at the current rate. Publishing books was my avocation through my library career.
Fast forward to 2012… I had left my last library job to enter the PhD program in information studies at ULCA and had finished the first year of coursework. The funding situation for the following school year would be less strong than the first, and I needed to figure out a way to earn money on the side to continue my studies. I devised a plan to offer online classes for librarians’ professional development using Moodle, and began working on the project that summer. It quickly became a full time job, and I dropped out of the program before the second year.
Naming the online course business presented a dilemma. The Library Juice name was well-established, and had the advantage of an existing presence in the library community. Other names might have worked as well, but I decided to call it Library Juice Academy, to attach it to the brand that I had built, despite its sounding a bit silly in the new context. I sometimes wonder if having a silly-sounding name hurts the business, but things have been going well, so I don’t worry about it too much. I also wonder if using the same name as the publishing company was wise given that what we offer in terms of online courses, which are skills based and often technical, is so different from the books that we publish, which are political and philosophical. But again, it doesn’t seem to have hurt the business.
And that brings us to today. I’m happy to answer questions in the comments…
The preliminary program for CAPAL 16 is out and it’s very exciting. Here is Colleen Burgess’ announcement:
On behalf of the conference organizing committee, I am pleased to present the preliminary program for CAPAL16: Beyond the Library: Agency, Practice, and Society, the third annual conference of the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL). The program can be viewed in full online at: http://conference.capalibrarians.org/program/
In keeping with the Congress 2016 theme, Energizing Communities, CAPAL16 seeks to look “Beyond the Library” to rethink how academic librarians engage with their communities within which our institutions are situated or those with whom we share disciplinary concerns or approaches. Such communities may be physical, epistemic, academic, or imagined communities, communities of identity, or those communities around us and to which we contribute.
We are honored to welcome keynote speakers Leroy Little Bear, Ry Moran, and Dr. Bonnie Stewart. Long-time advocate for First Nations education, Leroy Little Bear served as Director of the Harvard University Native American Program, and helped to design the Bachelor of Management in First Nations Governance at the University of Lethbridge. Dr. Bonnie Stewart serves as the Coordinator for Adult Teaching for the University of Prince Edward Island, where she directs and develops professional education and career development initiatives for a suite of adult education programs. Ry Moran is Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at the University of Manitoba, which is tasked with preserving, protecting and providing access to all materials, statements and documents collected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). A Metis and graduate of the University of Victoria where he studied political science and history, Moran worked in traditional language preservation with a focus on Michif. In 2008, he received a National Aboriginal Role-Model Award, which led an invitation to Rideau Hall and his involvement with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as Director of Statement Gathering, and eventually Directorship of the National Research Centre.