December 15, 2015

Why I #critlib

For the #critlib chat tonight, we are talking #feelings (moderated by Kevin Seeber), and instead of a reading Kevin asked that participants reflect on some questions. A few people have already written great posts. Some from the top of the feed: Kelly McElroy, Emily Drabinski, Andrew Preater, and more if you go to the hash. My attempt is below.

I almost think I was a critical librarian before even realizing it. What got me interested in becoming a librarian was a 2002 article in Punk Planet written by Alana Kumbier interviewing people like Jenna Freedman, Jessamyn West, and other awesome librarians/archivists doing activist and social justice work in the profession. I didn't even realize librarianship could be that as I read the article as an undergrad. I felt pretty blah about college and even dropped out for a year. I had some (now laughable) plans of hopping trains and maybe becoming a professional piercer... who knows. I think I read Days of War Nights of Love too many times as an impressionable 19 year old. But reading that Punk Planet article showed me that you can have a career that's not soul sucking and actually helps people and could make the world a better place. I later finished my degree but wasn't necessarily planning on librarianship as an ultimate goal. It came to me later after working for a couple years, and I decided to go to library school.

I didn't really know anything about critical theory and all of my activism-related activities were based around practice only. I didn't think of myself as much of a reader or theorist before library school, but more of a do-er. I did get interested though in how theory could guide practice (ending up as praxis) and wanted to learn more. I'm still learning. This is why we (Emily, Jenna, Kelly, Annie, and I) started this hashtag so that we could all learn from each other.

Librarianship is over 80% white and has been for a long time. Clearly we need to take other approaches and need to be critical of what has been done already if it's not working. Librarianship is also over 80% women, however men are still fast-tracked to administrator positions, make more money, and are invited to speak and lead in much larger percentages compared to their makeup in the field. Librarians, like other women-dominated, service-oriented fields, are often valued and paid less than fields dominated by men. This is not because work perceived as women's work is less valuable, but because society treats it as less valuable. These are all real things that critical approaches work to dismantle. There are many other hegemonic systems in place that oppress people, I've only touched on a few. But as I learned in my own journey here, we can't just "do," we also need to reflect, discuss, plan, and get to those bigger ideas that bring us to bigger outcomes. We need both theory and practice, and we can't do it alone, we need community. Especially when many of us are in privileged positions, we need to do a lot of listening and can't just take action on what we think might be most effective without working in collaboration with others. Those of us who participate in #critlib don't all agree on everything (as others have stated), but it is a meeting place, somewhere to exchange ideas, debate, and build momentum. That's why I'm here.