June 3, 2018

New: Little Gardens of Words: Bookseed’s Stories of Travel and Service

Author: Tim Deppe
Price: $28.00
Published: June 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63400-019-2
Printed on acid-free paper
436 pages

Since 1994, Tim Deppe has been working through his small 501(c)(3) non-profit, Bookseed, to bring children’s books and seeds to hundreds of marginalized communities in Latin America and around the world. Bookseed helps establish children’s libraries in neglected primary schools and supplies organic seeds to subsistence farmers, co-ops, and school gardens. The stories in Little Gardens of Words reflect Deppe’s experiences living and working in some of these remote and forgotten communities, among dozens of different indigenous tribes. Part travelogue and part social commentary, these stories provide insight into the historical and cultural roots of these communities, as well as their current struggles. These inspiring tales show children’s eagerness to read and learn despite poorly equipped schools with few resources, and adults’ perseverance in face of hardships and oppression. These stories also show the damaging effects of militarism, racism, and poverty that threaten these communities’ survival, and readers will be challenged by seeing our own complicity in the international political and economic policies that help create these situations.

The more than twenty stories in this volume recount one man’s efforts to plant “little gardens,” promoting literacy and self-sufficiency, where they are needed most.

This book is available from Amazon.com.

May 15, 2018

New book: Love Activism

Love Activism
Author: Stacy Shotsberger Russo
Price: $15.00
Published: May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63400-055-0
Printed on acid-free paper
136 pages

Love Activism presents a daily, radical activism of kindness and a positive way to live against cruelty, violence, and injustice. This is realized through how we perform our work, what we do in our communities, and decisions we make each day. This form of activism is a holistic practice with eight beautiful elements: service, empathy, non-violence, self-care, hope, creativity, feminism, and mindfulness. Even when the dismantling of large and unjust structures, corporations, and institutions can seem daunting and disheartening, we can all make real impact in our daily lives. We can choose to live our lives as political statements. This is a profound and inspiring form of activism for ourselves, our communities, all living beings, and the earth.

Love Activism is a book for those who seek a more kind and peaceful world. It provides inspiration and support for activists. Through stories, examples, and lists of practices, readers discover the different elements of Love Activism and how they can bring these practices into their lives. The book also includes interviews with ten activists throughout the United States who are involved in various types of activism in their communities. These individuals include the founder of a community garden organization; an art therapist; the founder of a food justice organization; and an individual involved with educating his community on printmaking as a form of activism. Because this book is meant to build community and foster discussion, it concludes with questions for self-reflection and reading groups. Now is the time to be brave and love powerfully.

Stacy Russo, a librarian and professor at Santa Ana College in Santa Ana, California, is a poet, writer, and artist. She believes in libraries as community spaces; lifelong learning; public education; peaceful living; feminism; and the power of personal story. Stacy is the editor of Life as Activism: June Jordan’s Writings from The Progressive (Litwin Books, 2014) and the author of We Were Going to Change the World: Interviews with Women from the 1970s and 1980s Southern California Punk Rock Scene (Santa Monica Press, 2017) and The Library as Place in California (McFarland, 2007). Her articles, poetry, and reviews have appeared in Feminist Teacher, Feminist Collections, American Libraries, Library Journal, Counterpoise, Chaffey Review, and Serials Review. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley; Chapman University; and San Jose State University. Stacy always takes her coffee black; eats chocolate every day; and loves to nap at the ocean.

This book is available from Amazon.com.

May 1, 2018

New book: Human Operators: A Critical Oral History on Technology in Libraries and Archives

Human Operators: A Critical Oral History on Technology in Libraries and Archives

Editor: Melissa Morrone
Price: $35.00
Published: May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63400-032-1
394 pages

Human Operators: A Critical Oral History of Technology in Libraries is 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 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 aims to 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 is less about the technology per se and more about critical thinking around technology and how it actually works in people’s lives.

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.

This book is Available on Amazon.

April 12, 2018

New book: Poet-Librarians in the Library of Babel: Innovative Meditations on Librarianship

Poet-Librarians in the Library of Babel: Innovative Meditations on Librarianship

Editors: Shannon Tharp and Sommer Browning
Price: $22.00
Published: April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63400-028-4
204 pages

Poet-Librarians in the Library of Babel is a compendium of experimental essays, creative meditations, non-fiction accounts, and lyrical explorations that challenge, redefine, and/or widen perspectives on subjects related to libraries and librarianship. These subjects encompass abstractions such as silence, knowledge, questioning, solitude, information, access, truth, organization, preservation, alphabetical order, digitization, and memory to such concretenesses as bookshelves, archives, mildew, the Patriot Act, scholars, pencils, catalogs, and the list goes on.

21st century librarianship employs a wide array of languages, from the language of scholarly communication to the vocabulary and syntax of computer science, from customer service at the circulation desk to the rhetoric one exercises when asking donors for funds, from the language of government in which state-funded institutions must participate to the very modern language of branding. Libraries are well known for providing services that blur and cut across social layers such as class, ethnicity, and religion. The ways in which libraries use, experiment, and translate the various languages of the profession support the aforementioned blurring and strengthen “core library values.” This anthology adds another language to the mix-—a language of hybridity, exploration, creativity, and experimentation; a language that is missing from today’s critical librarianship landscape.

The audience for this book includes creative writers, librarians and other information professionals, artists who have chosen careers besides that of the traditional professor, and library scholars.

Sommer Browning is Associate Director of Technical and Financial Services at Auraria Library in Denver, Colorado. Her most recent books include the poetry collection, Backup Singers (Birds, LLC; 2014), and The Circle Book (Cuneiform, 2015). She holds an MSLIS from Long Island University and an MFA from the University of Arizona.

Shannon Tharp is the Collections & Content Management Librarian the University of Denver Libraries. She is also the author of the poetry collections The Cost of Walking (Skysill Press, 2011) and Vertigo in Spring (The Cultural Society, 2013). She holds a MLIS and a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington.

Available from Amazon.com.

April 2, 2018

New book: Open Divide: Critical Studies on Open Access

Editors: Ulrich Herb and Joachim Schöpfel
Price: $35.00
Published: April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63400-029-1
Printed on acid-free paper

Open access has transformed the traditional way of scientific communication. Open repositories and open access journals provide large and free access to articles, theses and dissertations, reports, working papers, proceedings and books but also to other unpublished items, multimedia files and raw data. Fifteen years after the landmark Budapest Declaration, this book invites the reader to a critical assessment of the concept and the reality of open access, with a special attention to its impact in the countries of the Global South.

The success of open access for the dissemination of scientific information cannot be denied. Yet, the growing numbers of OA journals, articles and books should not keep the scientists and librarians from a critical posture towards the reality beyond figures and statistics. Most publications on open access give the impression that there are only benefits and no alternatives to open access. It is time to abandon this blend of marketing, politics and technology-driven ideology and to return to a more scientific and critical stance.

This book brings together seventeen short critical studies of scientists and librarians from different continents, all interested in open access, most of them supporting and accompanying the open access projects and initiatives since many years, each one with the motivation to better understand (and make understood) the ongoing transformation of scientific communication. Some topics: the discursive staging of open access, mis/trusting open access, the promise of reducing digital divide, open access and the Global South, business models of open access, predatory publishing, open access as a symbolic gift.

ULRICH HERB is project manager and scientific publishing expert at Saarland University and State Library (Germany). His focus areas are electronic publishing, science communication & infrastructure, scientific publishing, scientometrics and science research. He is publishing regularly in a variety of professional bodies in the fields of Information Science and Science Research.

JOACHIM SCHÖPFEL is lecture of Library and Information Sciences at the University of Lille 3 (France), director of the French Digitization Centre for PhD theses (ANRT) and member of the GERiiCO research laboratory. He was manager of the INIST (CNRS) scientific library from 1999 to 2008. He teaches library marketing, auditing, intellectual property and information science. His research interests are scientific information and communication, especially open access, grey literature and research data.

This book is available on Amazon and through your favorite library vendors.

March 1, 2018

New Book: The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship

The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship

Editors: Karen P. Nicholson and Maura Seale
Price: $35.00
Published: March 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63400-030-7

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. “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/).

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.

This book features original research, reflective essays and conversations, and dialogues that consider the relationships between theory, practice, and critical librarianship through the lenses of the histories of librarianship and critical librarianship, intellectual and activist communities, professional practices, information literacy, library technologies, library education, specific theoretical approaches, and underexplored epistemologies and ways of knowing.

Karen Nicholson is Manager, Information Literacy, at the University of Guelph, and a PhD candidate (LIS) at Western University, both in Ontario. Her research interests include information literacy and critical university studies.

Maura Seale is History Librarian at the University of Michigan and was previously Collections, Research, and Instruction Librarian at Georgetown University. She received an MA in American Studies from the University of Minnesota and an MSI from the University of Michigan. She welcomes comments and can be found on Twitter at @mauraseale.

This book is available from Amazon.

October 13, 2017

NEW: Feminists Among Us: Resistance and Advocacy in Library Leadership

Feminists Among Us: Resistance and Advocacy in Library Leadership

Editors: Shirley Lew and Baharak Yousefi
Price: $22.00
Published: October 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63400-027-7

Number nine in the Litwin Books Series on Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, Emily Drabinski, Series Editor

Feminists Among Us: Resistance and Advocacy in Library Leadership makes explicit the ways in which a grounding in feminist theory and practice impacts the work of library administrators who identify as feminists.

Recent scholarship by LIS researchers and practitioners on the intersections of gender with sexuality, race, class, and other social categories within libraries and other information environments have highlighted the need and desire of this community to engage with these concepts both in theory and praxis.

Feminists Among Us adds to this conversation by focusing on a subset of feminist LIS professionals and researchers in leadership roles who engage critically with both management work and librarianship. By collecting these often implicit professional acts, interactions, and dynamics and naming them as explicitly feminist, these accounts both document aspects of an existing community of practice as well as invite fellow feminists, advocates, and resisters to consider library leadership as a career path.

About the Editors

Shirley Lew is Dean, Library, Teaching & Learning Services at Vancouver Community College. She is Past-President of the BC Book Prizes, Director on the Vancouver Writers Fest Board, and an active member in professional and literary arts communities for fifteen years. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Human Geography and Master of Library and Information Studies.

Baharak Yousefi is Head of Library Communications at Simon Fraser University and a Director on the Board of the BC Libraries Cooperative. She received a Master of Arts in Women’s Studies in 2003 and a Master of Library and Information Studies in 2007. She lives on the unceded traditional lands of the Musqueam, Skwxwu7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh people in Vancouver, BC.

This book is now available on Amazon.

NEW: The Feminist Reference Desk: Concepts, Critiques, and Conversations

The Feminist Reference Desk: Concepts, Critiques, and Conversations

Editor: Maria T. Accardi
Price: $35.00
Published: October 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63400-018-5

Number eight in the Litwin Books Series on Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, Emily Drabinski, Series Editor

Feminist pedagogy employs strategies such as collaborative learning, valuing experiential knowledge, employing consciousness-raising about sexism and other forms of oppression, and destabilizing the power hierarchies of the traditional classroom. Ultimately, feminist library instruction seeks to empower learners to be both critical thinkers and critical actors who are motivated and prepared to bring about social change. The concept of feminist pedagogy has recently energized current conversations on library instruction, so it is fitting and timely to consider how feminism might intersect with another vital student-centered service the academic library provides: the reference desk. Inspired by the ideas, possibilities, and discussions set in motion by Maria T. Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction (2013), this edited collection continues these conversations by considering how feminist strategies and philosophies might reshape, invigorate, and critique approaches to reference services. In short, this collection will provide critical and thought-provoking explorations of how academic librarians might rethink central reference concepts and services, from the reference interview, to the reference collection, to the staffing of the reference desk itself, from a feminist perspective.

About the Editor: Maria T. Accardi is the author of Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction (2013), for which she received the 2014 ACRL WGSS Significant Achievement Award, and a co-editor of Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods (2010). She is Associate Librarian and Coordinator of Instruction and Reference at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana.

This book is now Available on Amazon.

September 14, 2017

New book: Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science

Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (cover)

Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science

Editor: Gina Schlesselman-Tarango
Price: $35.00
Published: September 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63400-022-2
350 Pages

Exploring the diverse terrain that makes up library and information science (LIS), this collection features the work of scholars, practitioners, and others who draw from a variety of theoretical approaches to name, problematize, and ultimately fissure whiteness at work. Contributors not only provide critical accounts of the histories of whiteness – particularly as they have shaped libraries and archives in higher education – but also interrogate current formations, from the policing of people of color in library spaces to imagined LIS futures. This volume also considers possibilities for challenging oppressive legacies and charting a new course towards anti-racist librarianship, whether in the classroom, at the reference desk, or elsewhere.

Gina Schlesselman-Tarango is an Instructional Services and Initiatives Librarian at California State University, San Bernardino. She facilitates critical information literacy opportunities for students and faculty, teaches a first-year seminar course, provides reference services, and is a collection development liaison to sociology, criminal justice, and gender and sexuality studies programs. She holds a BA in sociology/anthropology, a master’s of social sciences, and an MLIS. Her research interests include gender and race in LIS, critical information literacy, and feminist navigations of infertility.

This book is number two in the Litwin Books/Library Juice Press Series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS, Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho, series editors.

Available from Amazon.

July 9, 2017

New book: Queer Library Alliance: Global Reflections and Imaginings

Queer Library Alliance: Global Reflections and Imaginings

Editors: Rae-Anne Montague and Lucas McKeever
Price: $35.00
Published: July 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63400-031-4
282 pages

Available on Amazon.

Queer identities are complex. They are embedded in a web of intersectionality and often challenging to fully define. Sometimes queerness shines like a beacon and this radiance is captured in media. Sometimes it is more subtle. Often it is invisible. Promoting understanding and visibility are primary goals of this anthology. As library professionals that create, utilize, and make accessible systems of organization and classification for information, intersectionality must remain a clear objective in addressing these historical absences. These topics represent some of our efforts to respond to challenges, address critical needs, and serve as essential forces against systematic oppression across service areas, library types, and borders. The first section of this collection of essays looks at how we are developing understanding and library services that reflect and are responsive to LGBTQ user needs. The second emphasizes opportunities and approaches for augmenting queer professional practice, which ultimately benefits our diverse library users. Contributors hail from, reside in, and study issues from several countries around the world including Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, England, India, Japan, Sweden, and the U.S.A. With many areas of the world not represented in this text, we recognize biases inherent in our perspectives. As librarians, archivists, and other information professionals committed to facilitating access and high-quality services for LGBTQ- and other marginalized users, it is important to stress that this is just one step in a larger process. There is still much more to consider and do as we continue to advocate for equity in library services to all.

Rae-Anne Montague is Director of Outreach Programs at Hawai’i Pacific University and affiliate faculty at the University of Hawai’i at M?noa Library and Information Science Program. Her interests include community engagement, inquiry, and social justice. She has developed and provided leadership for several LIS initiatives including WISE (Web-based Information Science Education) and LAMP (LIS Access Midwest Program). She is currently working with E Noelo I Ka ‘Ike (To Search for Knowledge), a project designed to increase awareness and understanding of Hawaiian resource materials.

Lucas McKeever is the Head of Technical Services at Elmwood Park Public Library near Chicago, Illinois. Since 2013, he has been an active coordinator of the LGBTQ Users Special Interest Group of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). Additionally, he has served on the Rainbow Book List Committee of the GLBT Round Table of the American Library Association and has been named an American Library Association Emerging Leader. Previously, Lucas was the director of the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, an organization committed to documenting and preserving facets of LGBTQ life in the Midwestern United States.

February 2, 2017

Teaching for Justice: Implementing Social Justice in the LIS Classroom (new book)

Teaching for Justice
Implementing Social Justice in the LIS Classroom

Editors: Nicole A. Cooke and Miriam E. Sweeney
Price: $35.00
Published: February 2017
ISBN: 978-1-63400-017-8
Printed on acid-free paper

This book is number one in the Litwin Books/Library Juice Press Series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS, Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho, series editors.

Borne of a professional development workshop, Teaching for Justice highlights the commitment and efforts of LIS faculty and instructors who feature social justice theory and strategies in their courses and classroom practices. This book is geared towards LIS instructors who have begun to incorporate social justice into their course content, as well as those who are interested in learning more about how to address social justice in their classrooms.

Chapters provide a pedagogical foundation and motivation for teaching social justice in LIS as a stand alone course or as a theme integrated within topical courses that seemingly “have no relationship” to such issues. The experiences and reflections of chapter contributors will prepare readers with strong arguments for the inclusion of social justice in their LIS classroom, curriculum, and school policies, provide an array of practical techniques intended to secure such inclusion, and a instill a sense of confidence for advocating for the incorporation of social justice as a mainstay of LIS education.

This book is available on Amazon.

December 11, 2016

New Book: Information Literacy and Writing Studies in Conversation

Information Literacy and Writing Studies in Conversation: Reenvisioning Library-Writing Program Connections

Author: Andrea Baer
Price: $28.00
Published: December 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63400-021-5
Printed on acid-free paper
202 pages

Available from Amazon

Since library instruction’s very beginnings librarians and writing instructors have been natural partners. Library-writing program connections illustrate that both writing and information seeking and use (information literacy) share powerful links: both are central to posing and exploring problems and questions and to seeking informed and creative approaches to them. Thus, at the heart of writing and information literacy are inquiry and critical thinking, which many college educators across disciplines view to be at the center of learning. But despite these intersections, there is still a strong tendency for English composition and library instruction to be taught in relative separation, with the latter frequently being viewed as a course “add-on.” Similarly, conversations about writing and information literacy pedagogy have tended to exist in professional silos. Fortunately, dialogue across our professions has begun to expand at what appears an unprecedented pace, as librarians become increasingly vocal about the need for information literacy to be an integral part of college education and as librarians expand their engagement with learning theories and conceptual frameworks for information literacy.

This book is intended to help widen and deepen the conversations between librarians and compositionists. How can we further build and strengthen teaching partnerships that invite students to engage in writing and information seeking and use as processes of inquiry, critical reflection, and meaning making? And what sometimes stands in the way of doing do? Written for both librarians and writing instructors, this publication considers these questions from multiple angles, including through explorations of:

  • empirical research on student writing and information literacy development;
  • intersections between and pedagogical implications of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education and the WPA Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing;
  • interviews with librarian-compositionists partners about their collaborative experiences;
  • historical, social, cultural, and structural contexts that influence librarians and writing instructors’ work environments and cultures, and ultimately the potential for partnership; and
  • the power of reflective pedagogical praxis.

While considering the possibilities for and challenges to library-writing partnerships from these different vantage points, the author invites readers to continue exploring this area of inquiry in conversations and teaching at and beyond their local institutions.

Andrea Baer is an Instructional Services Librarian at the University of West Georgia. She holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Washington and a Masters in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee. Andrea’s work in libraries and education is deeply informed by her teaching background in writing and literature and by her interests in critical pedagogy and critical inquiry.

October 11, 2016

Some supplemental readings on #critlib history

Tonight’s #critlib discussion is about the “history of critical librarianship.” The moderators give some suggested readings and additional ones for further exploration, a couple of which I would not have thought of. There is a lot out there that relates to the history of critical librarianship. I’ve just gone over to my collection and pulled out a few things I want to add to the list of books for “further exploration.” First I’ll copy the ones the moderators suggest, so that they will be stick with my suggestions here:

Suggested readings:

Morrone, M., & Friedman, L. (2009). Radical reference : socially responsible librarianship collaborating with community. The Reference Librarian, 50(4).

Harger, E. (2016). Which Side Are You On? : Seven Social Responsibility Debates in American Librarianship, 1990–2015. (especially the Introduction and chapter 1)

For further exploration:

Pettigrew, K., Fidel, R., & Bruce, H. (2001). Conceptual frameworks in information behaviour. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 35, 43–78.

Pettigrew, K., & McKechnie, L. (2001). The use of theory in information science research. Journal of the Association of Information Science and Technology, 52(1), 62–73.

Kagan, A. (2015). Progressive Library Organizations: A Worldwide History.

Samek, T. (2001). Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility in American Librarianship, 1967-1974.

Here are the readings I suggest in addition. These include studies of critical librarianship historically and memoirs and biographies of people involved in it, but mostly classic examples of critical writing in librarianship from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. They are in no particular order. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, just a short list I compiled by going over to my bookshelves.

Bundy, M. L, & Stielow, F. J. (1987). Activism in American Librarianship, 1962-1973.

Schuman, P. G. (1976). Social Responsibilities and Libraries: A Library Journal/School Library Journal Selection.

Peattie, N. (1989). A Passage for Dissent: The Best of Sipapu, 1970-1988.

West, C. & Katz, E. (1972). Revolting Librarians.

Berman, S. (1971, 1993). Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract of LC Subject Headings Concerning People.

Berman, S. & Danky, J. (1982/1983-2000/2001). Alternative Library Literature: A Biennial Anthology.

Horn, Z. (1995). Zoia! Memoirs of Zoia Horn, Battler for the People’s Right to Know.

Kister, K. F. (2002). Eric Moon: The Life and Library Times.

Progressive Librarian (1990-present).

September 16, 2016

Call for book reviewers for Progressive Librarian

Message from Michael Matthews, Progressive Librarian Book Review Editor:

Dear Progressive Library Workers:

Do you like balmy summer late afternoons, listening to the crickets chirp as you paddle a canoe along a mountain stream while watching a mother moose and her adorable calf drink clear, unpolluted water as an eagle swoops down, clutching a PCB-free trout in in its talons?

Because if you do, I would stop reading this message now and book your vacation plans for Never-Never Land. I’m looking for book reviewers for Progressive Librarian #46 as well as for recently published titles in the following fields of interest:

LGBT, queer, and feminist perspectives on library work
Late (neoliberal) capitalism and the politics of information
Libraries, neoliberal ideology, and social reproduction
Poverty, homelessness, and the role of libraries (in either mitigating the circumstances of poverty or exacerbating them)
Libraries, information technology, and the proletarianization of library workers
Climate change, the Anthropocene, and the challenge for libraries in the Age of the (not-so-immediate) Sixth Extinction
Library management discourse, the future of libraries, and performativity
Scholarly communication and the role of libraries in supporting the supremacy of publishers—or their possible role in subverting them

And…as Ron Popeil would say, “much, much more!” If you can find a book that fits these criteria or might even share a shaded portion of the circle within a Venn diagram, then please forward it to my attention. And if you would like to review such a book (or another book, which I may forward to your attention) then so much the better!

We will also entertain reviews of books (or other works) that cleverly torpedo the pretensions of our profession’s self-appointed “thought leaders”, and pitilessly reduce their arguments to a burning pile of wreckage—with eloquence, wit, and substantive scholarship, of course.

Your friendly neighborhood book editor, social raconteur, and mad gadabout,
Michael Matthews
_________________________________
Michael Matthews
Head of Serials & Media/
Associate Professor of Library Science
Northwestern State University Libraries
Natchitoches, Louisiana 71497
matthewsm@nsula.edu
318-357-4419

August 8, 2016

Interview with Annie Downey about her new book, Critical Information Literacy

Annie Downey has agreed to do an interview with me about her new book with Library Juice Press.

Dr. Downey is Associate College Librarian and Director of Research Services at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Annie’s professional aspiration is to occupy a constant state of praxis in her daily work. Her research interests help her do that and include critical information literacy, women in librarianship and the status of women’s professions, service design and user-centered research methodologies in libraries, and library administration. She published two books in the summer of 2016: Critical Information Literacy: Foundations, Inspiration, and Ideas from Library Juice Press and Library Service Design: A LITA Guide to Holistic Assessment, Insight, and Improvement with Joe Marquez from Rowman and Littlefield.

Annie, thanks for agreeing to do this interview.

Thanks for inviting me! I am always excited to talk about critical information literacy.

Critical information literacy, or critical pedagogy in library instruction, is a hot topic in the library world right now, especially among Twitter’s #critlib participants. The discussion goes back a few years. I’d like to start by asking you first to summarize what critical information literacy is, and then to talk about how you first learned about it and got interested in it.

My favorite definition of critical information literacy is from Accardi, Drabinski, and Kumbier’s 2010 book Critical Library Instruction. They define it as “a library instruction praxis that promotes critical engagement with information sources, considers students collaborators in knowledge production practices (and creators in their own right), recognizes the affective dimensions of research, and (in some cases) has liberatory aims.”[1] I am drawn to this definition in particular because the authors use plain language to attend to both the student and teacher roles, praxis, and empowerment, all of which are important components of CIL theory and practice.

As our definitions of information literacy have expanded – which we see reflected in the ACRL Framework – it has become harder to define critical information literacy as a distinct type of information literacy. But a primary signifier is that CIL is inspired and informed by critical educational theories and theorists, especially Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy.

Like many CIL converts, I first became interested in critical education and the emancipatory potential of education, and then found my way to CIL when I was looking for ways to connect my burgeoning interest in that set of theories with my work as a librarian. As I was working on my PhD coursework, I had an opportunity to study education theory in depth for the first time. I was inspired by Freire’s work, but also by Myles Horton and Jack Mezirow. Freire, Horton, and Mezirow all worked on critical literacy with adults. The connections between critical literacy and information literacy jumped out at me right away so I began looking for other librarians who were doing work in that space. This was just a few years ago, but there was not a lot out there. I immediately found the work of James Elmborg, Troy Swanson, Kushla Capitzke, and Heidi Jacobs compelling. Of course, since then many others have come forward and a lot of great work is being done on CIL right now.

Regarding Freire, many readers caught that the cover of your book is a riff on the cover of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I think it’s fun to make that reference, but I have to admit to feeling like it might be false advertising to an extent, because the book is not that directly tied to his educational philosophy. He was strongly marxist for one thing, and your book is not. I wonder if you have any comments about expectations people might form of a more radical book, looking at the cover.

First, let me just say that I love the cover and was so thrilled when I saw it. It’s true that the book is not tied strictly to Freire’s theory, nor is it Marxist. But I would argue that it is fairly radical and heavily influenced by Freire.

The majority of the librarians I interviewed were influenced by Freire either directly through reading his work or reading work inspired by it so the ideas and practices presented in the book provide examples of what librarians have done with his theory so far. In that sense, the cover is more than appropriate as a reflection of the contents providing a Freirian interpretaton of information literacy. However, I also tried to make it as authentic to the academic librarian experience as possible, and in many ways that resulted in me finding ties to critical education generally rather than Freire’s work specifically. I also wanted it to be an authentic reflection of my own interpretation of CIL, which is influenced Frieire, but also by other theorists.

Prior to my interviews, I was really into the type of critical pedagogy taught by Myles Horton, which is due at least in part to finding his work a lot more relatable and usable in a personal way. When I was first reading about critical education, I was also involved in a grassroots activism organization that used popular education to move people to action. I loved the curriculum we designed and were teaching, but getting people in the room to learn what we were trying to teach was close to impossible in my small Texas city. I always felt like we were teaching the already converted and the power to change anything in a meaningful way would ultimately reside in our ability to speak to people who weren’t already in the room. Horton, Freire, and other critical pedaogues encouraged teachers to start where their students were and then help them get where they wanted to be. Starting where the students are in order to make learning meaningful is a major rationale behind student-focused pedagogy. A major purpose of this book is to help librarians practice CIL and in order to do that, they have to start where they are and build their practice to include CIL.

All of the librarians I spoke with talked about their inability to do anything too radical in their classrooms – one of my participants was actually leaving the profession for this very reason. I understand that feeling because I am a radical in my own mind, but my at work radicalism has to be moderated because over time, librarians have not managed to position themselves very well institutionally. I believe we can change that, but the change has to be thoughtful and we have to start where we are. I know there are plenty of radical activists that will call this a cop out. But I decided many years ago that I did not want the typical activist life for me or my children. I want to do good meaningful work, but I also want my children to live fairly unstructured lives with one parent at home. I am the breadwinner for my family of five and I work at an institution where it is much easier for faculty and students to take an ideological stance than for staff, including librarians. My work in this area has to be more stealthy and that was definitely what I heard from participants as well. So I think this book is radical in part because we are talking about trying to move a whole lot of disempowerd people to action. When we know that librarians are starting from a fairly disempowered place organizationally and their values have gotten confused over time, big change starts with small steps. Personally, I will just be thrilled if this book convinces more librarians that we are not and should not pretend to be neutral actors in our work.

But I also think the Freirian pedagogy is there, even though the radical politics are largely missing. This is where the practicality and professionalism of librarianship often conflicts with the value structure and political philosophy of librarians, especially teaching librarians. What you’ll find in this book is that many librarians are taking the radical step of trying to adopt Freire’s critical pedagogy for their teaching, but as one participant said it is just really really hard. Feminist critical educators like bell hooks, Jennifer Gore, Carmen Luke, and others speak to this difficulty and I think that is really the next step for CIL – to look at, work with, and respond to the critiques of critical pedagogy. Freire said we have to remake critical pedagogy for our situations and contexts and that is what the librarians in my book are trying to do.

Yes, that makes perfect sense. One thing I have wondered about in relation to that is how Freire translates into the affluent first world context. He was an educator in the third world, and his efforts to empower students had to do with their situation as members of an oppressed class. In what ways are his ideas about student empowerment and student perspectives relevant when you are talking about students who are privileged, like the students at your institution? When they question authority, is it the same thing?

I can’t imagine anything bringing home the importance of questioning authority like the current presidential election. As unfortunate and distasteful as the whole thing is, I’ve definitely thought this book came out at a good time because it points to how important it is for even privileged students to question and challenge authority. It also illustrates how the breakdown of old gatekeepers have really changed what and how issues are talked about. It has turned older notions of information literacy on their head. And that is where the importance of talking about power with privileged and oppressed students alike really comes in. It is no longer acceptable to teach library literacy like it is information literacy or to ignore the power structures behind information access. Students have to be able to understand and use sources outside of our expensive (and privileged) databases and they need to understand the power structures that put that info behind pay walls to begin with.

When I urge students to analyze and question information power structures in my classes, I am also asking students to consider where they are and where others are and have been. A major issue over the last couple of years in higher ed and at my institution involves creating inclusive communities. One of the things that always comes up in trainings and discussions is the importance of identifying and being mindful of your biases. That also happens to be one aspect of CIL. You need to understand where you stand in the discussion. Students have to ask themselves what their privilege is and how that influences their understanding. Half of our student body receives need based financial aid, but the other half have families that can afford to pay around $50,000 per year. When you have classrooms that include students from all places on the financial spectrum, it is really important for everyone in the room to be able to identify and name privilege and power.

In an oppressive system, you obviously end up with people that are born into one side of the equation or the other. It is easier to change the equation if both sides see how it does not add up. My mother has recently been really surprised and upset to discover that so many of the people in her life are racist. What brought that to light for her? Facebook. It has become harder for people to keep their biases to themselves. But the good news is that finding ways to uncover bias and inequities helps us all to get to a place where we can start to analyze and question them. One of the things we can learn from Freire is how to do that in a productive way. One of my favorite pieces of Freire’s work is his explanation of the complexity of dialogue. For him, dialogue is much more than just a discussion where everyone shares their truth. Rather, it is about taking those truths and using them to look deeper, analyze, and make change.

Okay, I appreciate what you are saying, but there is an odd dynamic in current US media and politics, which is that the authoritative voices like objectivity-minded journalists and fact-checkers, as well as establishment politicians, are under attack mainly from the Right. It is Donald Trump and his ilk who claim that Politifact is biased and that scientific claims are politically biased. People on the left, including radicals, tend to be more fact-oriented and science-oriented, and depend for the arguments they make on the possibility of claims to an independent objective reality, facts that everyone must accept and understand for their implications. How does that jibe with ideas in critical information literacy about questioning authoritative information? And how do you deal with right-wing students rejecting Politifact?

CIL and critical education theory do not just demand that we question authority, but also seek social justice. Justice can only be found by seeking evidence and facts. But beyond that, we also have values to guide us. Part of critical pedagogy is naming values. When working with problem-posing methods and dialogue, teachers should always encourage students to name the values that underlie the evidence, in addition to looking at how they mesh with their own values. To question does not necessarily mean to deny or even disprove. When we say to question, we mean to look at the whole picture with authenticity and hope with the goal of getting closer to social justice. I think Freire’s book titles alone display that approach: Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Pedagogy of Hope, Pedagogy of Freedom, Teachers as Cultural Workers, Education for Critical Consciousness,

The Right is doing exactly the opposite of looking at the big picture with authenticity and hope -they are focusing on pieces to obscure the whole and they are twisting the truth or outright lying to drive home political points. They lack important information literacy skills. They claim that the media, educators, and science are biased, but they use logically flawed or untruthful arguments. They bring up conspiracy theories for things like climate science because that works for them when actual facts would not. A student in a CIL class could not get away with this.

If you don’t trust the fact-checkers, you should check the facts. If a student disagrees with Politifact, they should fact check it. I actually did a little of that yesterday for my own enjoyment and would happily lead a student down that path. I might ask them to consider whether it is really the fact-checkers they don’t trust or if they don’t trust or want to believe facts, while also teaching them how to check the facts in question. Through this process, they may find that their favorite politicians often treat facts as though they are inconvenient or don’t mesh with how they have decided to interpret the world. But they could not do that with just a discussion or debate where I have my opinion and you have yours, but rather they would have to actually do some searching for facts. This is what Freire means when he says to structure the dialogue. How are you going to push students to ground themselves in their own experiences and think deeply while also considering others’ experiences, the evidence, and the overarching value structure you are working within? There are many levels of complexity there that go beyond an opinionated Twitter war.

There’s an example in my book of a librarian who had students research a fear that the media had perpetuated to try to find the science behind the fear. Basically, he wanted them to see that fears are often overblown by the media and scientific studies can be sensationalized. Unfortunately, almost all of the students found other newspaper articles on the fear rather than digging deeper to find the real science. This example shows that the layers of understanding are complex. I can see why the Right has such an easy time getting people to mistrust the media and I actually think that is an understandable impulse. But they stop there because it helps them meet their goal of obscuring and confusing in order to meet their political goals. With CIL, we teach students to take the next step and problematize, investigate, and dialogue about the issue, the evidence they’ve found, and the value structures they’ve uncovered.

I get what you’re saying, but I still feel like there is a tension involved in trying to empower students to question authority for themselves, and then at the same time exercising pedagogical authority in telling them the right and the wrong ways of doing that. Reed College, where you work, is a selective school, with students who bring their own intellectual motivation to the classroom. (Full disclosure: I know that because I was one of those students, a “Reedie,” for my first two years of college.) I’ve worked at other types of institutions though, where a lot of the students are just there because their families believe that college is the ticket to a middle class life, which is not their own background. Those students are more likely to feel alienated from the educational system and intellectual authorities in general. They might resent “elites” telling them what to think. This is the social position of typical Trump supporters, or so I have been reading. You probably don’t deal with a lot of them in your classrooms, but I wonder what you think about the difficulty of teaching students CIL when they are resistant to intellectual authority because of class dynamics?

I agree that there are students who resent elites telling them what to think. And they are right to resent that. I was poor when I started college and stayed that way until well into my first years as a librarian. My time in the middle class has been short so far. I personally felt disenfranchised for a very long time and I still have to stop myself from identifying as poor. My habit is always to go there, but doing so is not fair to people who are still in the middle of that struggle. I always think of the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn quote: “How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand a man who’s cold?” I was once cold, but now I’m warm. And so I can and should maintain my empathy, but alienation sets in when those of us who are living a comfortable life tell others that we have the answers for them or tell them they should think about things a certain way because we know best. This includes questioning students’ motivations for being there. Going to college to try to work your way up the economic ladder is a smart thing to do, and I enjoy working with students who are motivated in that way because I understand it and I respect the stake they have in the game. I also enjoy and feel privileged to work with so many students that are intellectually motivated the way Reed students are, in the same way that I felt privileged to work with the many intellectually motivated students at my alma mater, the University of North Texas. But regardless of their intellectual motivations, I definitely believe almost all students hope to be able to support themselves financially when they graduate and they expect their educations to help them do that, even if they come from more privileged backgrounds.

But the alienation issue is very real. Students who’ve attended public education in this country are likely to have seen how the education system is often set up to keep them in their place. They are not wrong to feel that way because that is how our public education system is set up. It is very hierarchical and racist, funding is far from equitable, and teachers are often encouraged to control their classrooms above all else. It is very steeped in maintaining the status quo. One of the most remarkable things I discovered when I moved to Reed was how focused on personal empowerment liberal arts colleges are. Students are encouraged to think they are very special for being there. They are told they can change the world. And they have a lot of resources to help them think of ways to do that, including hands-on and involved faculty and staff, funding for research trips and projects, planned activities meant to engage them in the larger community, volunteer and paid opportunities in schools, labs, and non-profits, and of course a wonderful library. This is great for these students and this type of education benefits all of society because students from liberal arts colleges go on to do amazing things, but what if we told all students from Head Start through college that they were special? And then actually gave them tools to bring their gifts out?

Critical information literacy can actually help with alienation because it helps students of all backgrounds identify and reflect on where they are on the power structure underlying information availability, access, and distribution. I have found in my experience that students are empowered by that discussion alone. Seeing where you are and how you fit in a larger social system is something people crave, but there are few opportunities to discuss and problematize it in a group of people with a variety of backgrounds. The social system underlying information is something they live in, but may have never been asked to really think about. I find that I don’t need to say much to get that type of conversation going, which means I do very little telling students what to think.

Inequity is one of the things critical pedagogues hope to confront and challenge. But the change we hope to see will not come from us. It only starts with us. One of the librarians I interviewed said that we just have to hope students take what we’ve presented in our sessions and turn it into real learning later. We don’t have the time or space to make real lasting learning happen in our classrooms as librarians – what we are doing is planting seeds. As a librarian, the truth is I don’t get to deal in-depth with issues like intellectual authority or even motivation for being in college. The best I can do is plant seeds that encourage students to question. If there are students that question the questioning, I am open to them doing that. To take it back to the student who challenges Politifact and authority in general, I would say “good, you should be doing that. If you’re not questioning, you’re being complacent.” But I would also tell them that their arguments will be better and stronger and will be more likely to line up with their own views if they dig deeper and make sure they know the truth. Finally, I would encourage them to be open to what they find and realize they are seeing it through their own filter. If you’re going to mistrust someone you see as an intellectual authority, the best tactic is to know their arguments well and then find the facts that either prove or disprove their position.

Thanks for that explanation. I think you present a good way of thinking about it. I’d like to switch gears a bit. I’m curious about how the interviews you conducted changed the way you think about CIL or surprised you in some way. Could you talk a bit about that?

One of the biggest surprises for me was to hear how hard it was for so many librarians to get to practice CIL. I’ve long struggled with the relatively low status of librarians in education. I see library work as the very center or cornerstone of education and just don’t get why we often have to fight so hard to have a voice or be allowed to use our expertise to improve the educational experience of students. But when you’re struggling with something that is as personal as your own teaching practice, it is easy to think you are just doing something wrong when you feel like you have to work so hard to turn your teaching into what you want it to be. So I guess I thought my own teaching struggles reflected a weakness in my practice and hearing from so many librarians that they were having the same struggle was enlightening and oddly empowering. It made me realize that the status and stereotyping issues really do impact librarians’ ability to develop our own authentic teaching practices. It was not just me feeling this way – it is a real thing!

Another thing that surprised me was how little faculty status seemed to influence this. I asked participants to talk about their thoughts about faculty status and if they believed it helped librarians who teach. I don’t talk about this much in the book because it was not something I felt like I got enough information on to find patterns that I felt comfortable making assertions about, but the conversations I had with participants made me suspect that faculty status is not terribly important when it comes to empowering librarian teaching. Librarians that had worked in both types of institutions (as I have) did not find that their faculty status did much beyond giving them opportunities to build relationships through committee work. While I think relationship building is one of the most important things we can do as librarians, teaching faculty often see early career committee work as a distraction from developing their teaching practices. So why do librarians feel so differently about the interplay of committee work and developing a teaching practice? This would be a great research topic for someone interested in CIL!

Now that the book is complete and out in the world, what do you think remains to be said, by another work perhaps? Is there anything you regret you didn’t have a chance to cover, or would cover differently now?

There are so many aspects of CIL that still need to be covered! We need some actual classroom studies that look at how critical pedagogy works in our classrooms. We also have a lot of theoretical work still to do. Our theory is behind other educators so we need to take the time to consider what other educators and social scientists have been up to over the past couple of decades, while continuing to work on figuring out where librarianship and information literacy fit in that conversation. We also need to seek wider audiences for our information literacy imperative. You really make the case for this in your previous questions. There is a lot of evidence right now that society has to start paying attention to the importance of learning to understand and evaluate information. Information literacy is so much more than an academic skill and it is really very crucial for democracy. I would like to write something on the importance of CIL for a general audience.

Researching and writing this book really got me thinking about the positioning of librarians in education and in what ways our standing is related to being a historically women’s profession and librarianship’s bizarre stance on neutrality. The institutional barriers and professional philosophies that get in the way of librarians being able to teach CIL also lead to librarian disenfranchisement and burnout and limits our potential to positively impact students’ lives. This summer, I’ve returned to some previous research and done some new work to prepare a book proposal for you on these intersections. So much of the work that has been done on this has focused on women in public librarianship, but not as much has been done on women in academic libraries and even less on women librarians in K-12. Libraries were the most important part of building the first American colleges. Colleges with libraries made it and those without did not have a good chance. Likewise, the first academic librarians were often chosen from the best of the lecturers. How did we move from librarians holding a position of importance to becoming so disregarded intellectually? Somehow along the way, our management and clerical skills became what we are known for, rather than our intellectual skills. Everyone who knows several librarians knows this is crazy because the breadth of most librarians’ knowledge along with our capacity to problem solve, adapt to change, understand many disciplines and the publishing industry, and commitment to students should make our importance to education indisputable. Yet, many people don’t see our value and even write long, infuriating, ill-informed pieces stating that our profession is approaching its death. I want to investigate the history that led us to this point with the hopes that librarians will be empowered to reclaim our profession.

That’s an important topic, and it sounds like an ambitious project. I look forward to seeing the proposal. Thanks for doing this interview! I think it was enlightening. Best of luck with the book! I hope everyone reads it.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk a little about the book and CIL. I am excited to see where librarians take information literacy next. We still have work to do, but I have been really delighted to see how much critical engagement and reflection on information literacy has gained traction in recent years. It makes me feel really hopeful about the future of our profession.

[1] Maria T. Accardi, Emily Drabinski, and Alana Kumbier, eds., Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods (Duluth, MN: Library Juice Press, 2010), xiii.