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]gmail.com.

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.

The impact of neoliberalism on libraries

…the fact that the neoliberal turn in education over the last several decades has led to a de-emphasis on education as a public good and an emphasis on education as a private good, to be acquired by individuals to further their own goals is of particular concern to me.

In the neoliberal university, students are individual customers, looking to acquire marketable skills. Universities (and teachers and libraries) are evaluated on clearly defined outcomes, and on how efficiently they achieve those outcomes. Sound familiar?

Interesting article by Chris Bourg on neoliberalism, its influence on education and how libraries can act as a ‘site of resistance’.

The threat of a market-based ideological framework in libraries

Since the global financial crash, public libraries in the UK have come under threat in the face of local government budget cuts. It is the logic of market values and profitability, rather than by a concern for inequalities, community and inclusive access to information and literature, which is the criteria upon which this area of public spending is being judged. Daniel Bailey argues that we should not apply the market logic to public libraries, but instead see them as an essential public good.

Interesting article that might form the basis of a pitch?

Food! And other important things…

(Image c/o Emma Story on Flickr)

The Radical Librarian Collective in London cannot be sustained with fulfilling discussion and collaboration alone! Oh no, we also need to eat. To that end, we will be providing savoury lunch items from London vegan caterers Shambhu‘s, so we will be asking for a small donation of £5 to cover those costs. Any other donations will be gratefully received, and we’d also be happy for people to bring cakes etc to share for dessert.

We’d also like to reinforce that as Radical Librarians Collective sold out amazingly quickly, a waiting list is starting to build for tickets should anyone drop out. As a result, it’s really important to release your ticket as soon as you know you can’t make it so that someone else can take your place. With it being a relatively small gathering it’s important to ensure that we don’t have any tickets going to waste.

As always, if you have any queries, bung us an email (or post your comments below) and we’ll do our best to help!

Radical Librarian Pitches…

Don’t be afraid to pitch ideas for discussion! You never know what your ideas may lead to… (image c/o duncan on Flickr)

With a little under two months to go, most people are probably mulling over what they would like to discuss at the London Radical Librarian Collective gathering. If you are stuck for ideas and need a little inspiration, we’ve archived details of all the sessions that were run at the Bradford gathering in September last year (available here). If you have an idea for a session and you’d like to share it in advance, please feel free to add it to the pitches page on the wiki. You don’t need to sign up for an account or request membership of the wiki to add your session, the page is ‘unlocked’ and free for anyone to edit. And if you want to expand on it by writing a guest post for this blog, please do get in touch and let us know. We’re more than happy to host your thoughts and ideas related to either proposed sessions or radical ideas that are related to the motivations behind the Radical Librarian Collective.

So far, we have two pitches up on the wiki:

An apparent lack of Critical Theory in LIS?: Vocationalisation of a critically reflexive discipline, depoliticised neutrality and the fallacy of “employability”.

(Kevin Sanders – @moananddrone)

Should employers be training employees and academic courses be encouraging those undertaking LIS studies to be producing and developing critically-founded knowledge?

Libraries have a steeped history in social politics and the neutrality that emanates from the contemporary sphere appears to continue a wider narrative of passivity from individuals that have lost agency in the political domain: Is the often assumed objective, neutral position of the profession is a flawed limitation, and is there a lack of critical foundation within the field of LIS? Has this contributed to a depoliticisation (or political apathy) across the field?

Without critically aware staff, how can the library and information professions be said to be informing, enhancing, assisting, teaching or training information skills to their patrons? Can we locate and provide relevant information and sources of information without critically evaluating at subjective and intra-subjective levels?

Disseminating radical ideas

(Dan Grace – @danpgrace)

What outlets are there for communicating radical ideas both in the day-to-day of our working environment and throughout the wider working communities we engage in? How can we work at multiple levels – personal, workplace, “professional” (urgh, sorry…) and scholarly communities – to effectively counter the prevailing capitalist/statist discourses? Should we prioritise any of these levels over others? What potential is there in existing institutions/relationships/structures, i.e. unions, journals/publishers etc., and to what extent do we need new forums and spaces? What form should these spaces take?

Radical Librarian Collective is all about providing a space to challenge neoliberal perspectives and to find ways in which we can facilitate dialogue in order to organise and bring about positive changes for a holistic, collective future. To that end, sessions at Radical Librarian Collective gatherings play an important role in facilitating this discussion and in finding ways to challenge the increasingly dominant neoliberal narrative. So if you have an idea for a session, or a particular topic you would like to discuss in relation to the values we share, then please feel free to add them to the wiki. The radical librarian conversation starts here!