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
274 pages

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” (

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.


Emily Drabinski

Karen P. Nicholson and Maura Seale

Librarianship and the Practicality Imperative

1 In Resistance to a Capitalist Past
Lua Gregory and Shana Higgins

2 Ruthless Criticism of All That Exists
Sam Popowich

Theory at Work: Rethinking our Practice

3 Making the Case for a Sociocultural Perspective on Information Literacy
Alison Hicks

4 Critical Systems Librarianship
Simon Barron and Andrew Preater

5 Disability at Work: Libraries, Built to Exclude
Jessica Schomberg

6 Ordering Things
Sarah Coysh, William Denton, Lisa Sloniowski

7 Indigenous Information Literacy: nêhiyaw Kinship Enabling Self-care in Research
Jessie Loyer

Theory and the iSchool

8 Envisioning a Critical Archival Pedagogy
Michelle Caswell

9 Reflections on Running a CritLIS Reading Group
Sheila Webber, Dan Grace, Emily Nunn, Jessica Elmore, Liz Chapman, and Penny Andrews

10 Reflections On Resistance, Decolonization, and The Historical Trauma Of Libraries and Academia
Nicola Andrews

Critlib and Community

11 Critical Librarianship as an Academic Pursuit
Ian Beilin

12 Each According to Their Ability: Zine Librarians Talking about Their Community
Violet Fox, Kelly McElroy, Jude Vachon, Kelly Wooten

13 Quantitative Researchers, Critical Librarians: Potential Allies in Pursuit of a Socially Just Praxis
Selinda Adelle Berg

14 Interrogating the Collective: Critlib and the Problem of Community
Nora Almeida

Author Biographies


The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship (cover)