Author: @ijclark

Ian is a librarian and co-founder of a leading national library advocacy campaign. He's written articles for The Guardian and the Open Rights Group on information issues.

Radical Librarian Collective in London – What Now?

RLC in London

We would like to thank you all for a most fantastic day at LARC last Saturday. Thank you for your participation, your ideas and conversations. We feel very optimistic that good things will come from this.

If you have blogged about the day, please send/tweet us the link (Lauren Smith is writing some excellent pieces about the day here). If you would like to write something for this blog, just let us know and we’ll put it up. We’ll also put up photos and anything else from the day so send them in if you’d like to share.

With many thanks to Sara, the various mind-maps and notes from the day have been digitised and are available as follows:

Tweets and discussion from the day can also be found on the Storify we created here.

Local RLC Groups

There was a will in the plenary session to look at the creation of localised groups (LOCALISM FTW!) that would meet up, arrange similar events locally and help to establish networks of like-minded radical librarian folk across the country. Some preliminary discussions and organisation are beginning emerge, with local networks beginning to organise themselves in the north east, south west and south east. We want to facilitate this as much as possible, so if you are interested in either beginning to organise a group or wish to be involved in one, get in touch and we will do our best to connect you with others. The key to all these groups is to stay true to the ethos of the ethos of the first Radical Librarians Collective gathering in Bradford (and subsequently in London). In other words, they must be radical, open and horizontalist; they just reflect a rejection of the marketisation of libraries and the profession; must adhere to a safe space policy and must avoid any form of sponsorship (no “This event is brought to you courtesy of [insert name of faceless corporate entity or professional body here]” please!).

Aside from putting you in contact with emerging local groups, please do feel free to contact us if you require any advice/support/guidance etc and we will do our best to help out.


The Wiki

Related to the above, if you wish to build on some of the things discussed at the gathering, create projects collectively etc, don’t forget to make use of our Projects wiki (see here for information). There are already some interesting ideas being developed there so do request membership and get involved.

Obligatory non-capitalist financial information section

We paid for the venue with the remainder of the donations from the Bradford RLC: £80 (£40 venue hire + £40 donation – LARC are always struggling financially so we wanted to contribute more to the frankly low venue cost).

Donations on the day totalled £175 which covered lunch from Shambhu‘s plus a small extra donation to LARC (£15).


If not now, when? If not you, who?


Research at the Radical Librarians Collective in London

We received the following request via one of the delegates for the gathering on Saturday. If you are uncomfortable with being observed for research on the day, please approach one of the organisers or Katherine in person so that we are aware of your concerns. The priority is to ensure that everyone is able to attend whichever session they wish without being made to feel uncomfortable. To that end, Katherine has agreed not to conduct any observations in sessions where people have made it clear they are uncomfortable with her doing so. We will reinforce this once more on the day.

The Radical Librarians Collective

Hi! I’m an MA student studying Librarianship at the University of Sheffield doing research on the effects of marketisation in UK HE libraries. I’m really interested in engaging in the attempts that are being made to counter these trends by groups such as RLC.

My working title is “Resisting Neo-Liberalism: The challenge of activist librarianship in the UK HE context.”

As well as carrying out semi-structured interviews with a variety of library workers and academics in the future, I would also like to carry out some unintrustive observations at RLC on Saturday, and therefore would like to let you all know of my plans, so that you opt out if you aren’t comfortable!

–          In accordance with the University’s Research Ethics Policies, these observations would not encroach on the privacy of any individuals and no individuals would be identifiable from my observations. I will not use anyone’s names or place of work (unless anyone would really like to be named!) but rather will be anonymising names to categories when it comes to interpreting the data. Rather than using individual pseudonyms, by anonymising to categories (eg. subject librarian, library assistant etc) there is no risk of it being possible for readers to link up quotations to ascertain who might have said what. With categories, several individuals’ quotes will be scrambled up together, so your confidentiality is guaranteed.

–          I am happy to make myself known as a student researcher (as well as aspiring radical librarian!) at the start of the camp, and to give people the opportunity to refuse consenting to being included in any observations. If anyone has any problems with my presence at any of the workshops, I’ll go to a different one so as not to inconvenience their enjoyment of the day.

–          Observations will be mainly noting down the events of the day, workshops/speeches delivered, and pertinent contributions and discussions.

–          Data may be collected via voice recording on a Dictaphone, (if I can get hold of one/a smart phone before Saturday…) or through observations noted by hand.

–          Following collection, all paper copies will be kept in a secure locked room and data held digitally will be saved on a password protected university drive, password protected laptop hard drive, and backed up on a usb which will also be kept in a secure locked room.

–          Data will not be shared with third parties and any reuse will only be by me for future research.

I would be happy to provide additional information on my research if you would like, as well as the results of my research once it’s completed.

I also just want to reiterate that I have chosen this to be my topic of research because it’s something that concerns and excites me, and I don’t consider myself an outsider observing RLC proceedings, but rather as a contributor. With that in mind I really hope nobody feels uncomfortable by my observations, and would be happy to chat to anyone who might have concerns!

Cheers, and see you Saturday!



Two days until the Radical Librarian Collective hits London

With just two days to go until RLC at LARC, here’s some last minute information.

The day starts at 10am with the first half hour for pitches and general information. If you can, aim to arrive before 10am so you’ve got time to get a cup of tea or coffee before we get going. The sessions start at 10.30am sharp.

Preliminary itinerary

We’re expecting people to pitch sessions at 10am but there’s still time to pitch in advance.

The after event social will be a donations bar at LARC where we’ll mingle, carry forward exciting discussions from the day, and have fun! This starts pretty much as soon as the sessions finish, but you’ll have a chance to pop for some fresh air and to get some food. There are plenty of food options in the local area and we’ll have information about this on the day.

The social will be open for non-RLC attendees as well, so feel free to invite your library friends.

If you have any questions at all, please get in touch, and also take a look at:





See you on Saturday!

Radical Librarian Collective in London…two weeks to go

The clock is ticking down to the next Radical Librarian gathering, we’re looking forward to some interesting and stimulating discussion on the day and hope you are too. There are a few things we thought it would be worth reminding you of as the day gets ever nearer:

  • Most importantly, if you either know now that you cannot make it, or you find out between now and the day, please release your ticket as soon as possible. You can do this by contacting us via email or by following the instructions on Eventbrite. The waiting list has been building up and we want to ensure as many people as possible can make it so, if you can’t, it would  be great if you could make your ticket available to the next person in the queue.
  • Although you can pitch your sessions on the day (there is no obligation to do so beforehand!), it would be great if you could pitch your session in advance to get people interested and to help with the running of the day. Head to the pitches page and throw in your ideas (no matter how half-formed – it only need be a nugget of an idea, not something fully formed!).
  • If you have difficulties with travel and accommodation, please feel free to use the space on the wiki to make arrangements!
  • Aside from the above, if you are interested in writing something of a radical nature for this blog, regardless of whether you are coming to the gathering in London or not, please do get in touch.

No doubt there will be more communiqués between now and the day itself so stay tuned!

On the need for librarians to speak out…

“People are powerless precisely in proportion to their willingness to sit quietly and think positive thoughts. Librarians are powerless to the extent to which they silently read the memos saying that there are cuts coming, they are powerless to the extent that they hold read-ins at the library instead of sit-ins at the mayor’s office, they are powerless to the extent that they allow a mayor to make cuts and then allow that same individual to attend a gala at that same library. A common organizing cry amongst librarians is “we will not be shushed,” but then we are shushed. It is past time to get loud. And if we wish to keep our reading rooms quiet and civil, then perhaps we need to take this noise to those who are trying to shush us.

“Unless librarians are willing to stand up and genuinely fight, there is a chance that the only libraries around will be the renegade ones set up in public parks.”

LibrarianShipwreck, Librarian is my occupation: a history of the People’s Library of Occupy Wall Street.

Radicalising the library professional route…

The following is a guest post by Ian Clark fleshing out the motivations behind his pitch and setting out the areas he is interested in discussing. If you would like to expand on your pitch or if you would like to contribute a more general guest post, please contact radicallibs[at]

For some time now, I’ve been interested in the more political aspects of the profession and how they can be brought to the fore a bit more. From my perspective, the profession in which we work is inherently political. Everything about what we do is political, particularly when we live in an era where information is repackaged as a ‘commodity’ that has a price. Under such conditions, how can we consider ourselves anything other than political?

To my mind, however, there are many aspects of the profession that do not reflect this central political element. The degree, the professional body, the institution of the library. We are rapidly, in my opinion, undergoing a process of depoliticisation. This, for me, is a dangerous proposition. As the belief that information is a commodity continues to grow, our rapid depoliticisation removes any obstacle in the way of a very neoliberal conceit. I would argue that in the face of the neoliberal assault, a process of radical politicisation is not only desirable, it is essential.

This process of radical politicisation must begin in our universities. As has been repeatedly argued, there is something missing from our library qualifications. There is not, I think, enough emphasis placed on the political aspects of our profession. We are not schooled to understand the political environment in which we exist. We are not appropriately equipped to comprehend the political and cultural battles that are being waged around us, let alone how to respond. The result is that, as a profession, we find ourselves acquiescing to the destructive ideologies that run counter to our own ethical beliefs. But how do we tackle this? How can we engender the changes we desire when universities themselves have capitulated in the face of the ideological assault? What actions should we, as professionals, take to ensure that future LIS graduates are properly equipped to deal with the political challenges we face?

Then there is the professional body. I have written about this several times before and I continue to believe that it needs to open itself up more to its members, become more transparent, more democratic and be led by its members, not from the centre. As I wrote for InfoToday Europe last year:

“It should ensure all meetings are recorded and publicly accessible, publications should be open access by default and all decision making processes should be transparent and engage with the membership. In an age of rapid communication, organisations should be member led rather than led from the centre. The internet provides an important opportunity for such professional organisations to open themselves up and allow the membership to lead on the direction it is to take. The information profession should be bold and radical in seeking out ways to embrace the new landscape and incorporate it into its structures.”

So what would a radical professional body look like? If we were to create a radical professional body right now, what would it do? How would it be structured? What exactly is the radical alternative? How would it differ from bodies such as CILIP and the SLA? Is an alternative even desirable?

And then there are the libraries themselves. Are they not rather conservative in nature? Aren’t the solutions that are offered to create a “21st century library service” rather conservative? Maybe we could offer something different, something radical, a more co-operative approach to the delivery of library services? Something that is a true partnership between the user and professionals. Is there anything we can learn from, for example, the higher education co-operative of the University of Mondragon? If we can democratise the institution of the library, perhaps it is possible to create a true alternative to the conservative models adopted and advocated. Is it possible, within the hierarchical structures in which libraries reside, to create something where the hierarchy is significantly flattened? And if it is not possible within the overarching hierarchical structure, how can we best tackle and challenge this to create something democratic, co-operative and radical?

Ultimately, I would like to explore the alternatives and see how it would be possible to construct an alternative path for the profession in general and the institution of the library. This may, of course, have overlaps with other sessions attendees may wish to propose, in which case I would happy to cede to others or to find ways to accommodate similar themes into a single session.

Radical Librarians in London – travel and accommodation

Tents and transit at Occupy Vancouver.
(Image via Carol Browne on Flickr.)

As with the Bradford gathering last year, we know there will be a number of people travelling to the Radical Librarians Collective in London from across the country. We appreciate that this can be a bit of a logistical nightmare for those who do not live in The South. So, as with Bradford, we’d like people to use either the wiki or the comments below to make travel arrangements, arranging to either carshare or accompany comrades on public transport. If you are travelling by car and can take passengers, or if you are travelling alone on public transport and want some company, please do use the wiki to facilitate this.

It’s not just travel that can be problematic, accommodation also presents problems. London is not blessed with ample cheap accommodation and for some, an unconference in the capital can mean a very long day if you haven’t got somewhere to crash. So, if you are attending RLC in London and have a spare room that you are willing to let people crash in for one or two nights, please do make this be known on the wiki.

To make travel and accommodation arrangements, please visit the Travel and Accommodation page on the wiki and follow the instructions there. We very much appreciate any assistance you can offer fellow attendees to ensure that their experience of RLC London is as comfortable as possible.

Open Access – creating a commons open to private appropriation?

For-profit providers have no obligations other than the satisfaction of consumers and the creation of profit for their shareholders. Indeed, they are likely to be further advantaged by new policies for open access to academic publications. The latter have been rapidly introduced following the Finch Report.  The report recommends measures to ensure the widest access to publicly funded research, but also that it should be published in a form that allows commercial access through the use of CC BY licence (allowing republication in whole or part, and in any combination, with the sole proviso of author attribution).

The neo-liberal knowledge regime, inequality and social critique by John Holmwood, OpenDemocracy.

Is the modern library designed to be oppressive?

We can’t, in fact, have a productive (or even coherent) conversation about equality or freedom within libraries and/or librarianship without understanding the ways that libraries (in the modern age) are actually designed to be oppressive.

When you peek into the history of public libraries, perhaps starting around the Public Libraries Act of 1850 in Britain and contuing on during the age of Carnegie Libraries, a period spanning about 70 or 80 years (1850-1920s), we can see that Black men were only nominally citizens (and slavery just barely ended) in the US (while they had the ‘right’ to vote, they were usually unable to exercise that right). Women, of any race, weren’t citizens (unable to vote). And, importantly, this was also still within the more violent stages of the (ongoing) genocide of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Locating the Library in Institutionalized Oppression by satifice.

And Still We Rise: On the Violence of Marketisation in Higher Education

The violence of marketised austerity attempts to eradicate spaces and times of possibility and, with this, criminalise and erase forms of being, acting and thinking outside of commodified logics. Yet practices of solidarity, democracy and community appear in the cracks and margins refusing to be eradicated from history.

Article by Sara Motta for Ceasefire.