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Lauren Smith: Critical Theory in Librarianship


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A talk delivered by Lauren Smith at the Anybook Oxford Libraries Conference 2015 - Adapting for the Future: Developing Our Professions and Services, 21st July 2015

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Lauren Smith: Critical Theory in Librarianship

  1. 1. Critical Theory in Librarianship Lauren Smith Researcher, University of Strathclyde @walkyouhome
  2. 2. Today’s session • What is critical librarianship? • Where does critical theory come in? • What are the aims of critical librarianship? • How are people doing being critical? • What if I want to apply critical approaches?
  3. 3. What is critical librarianship? Social justice: “a normative concept concerning the ways in which 190 resources and power should be shared across society”. (Ross and Rosati 2006, p.437) “The ethos of critical librarianship is inextricably linked to the ethos of intellectual freedom, and by extension then the concept of human rights.” (Samek 2007)
  4. 4. Values Freedom of inquiry Equality Freedom of expression Equity PrivacyDemocracy The public good Social justice Diversity Political agency “LIS is…very interested in the betterment of society, from the development of national information policies, to the provision of user-friendly and equitable access to information, the inclusion of diverse and /or marginalized clienteles, the support of citizen lifelong learning, the nurturing of the library in the community, and many other proactive areas of research and practice.” (Leckie et al. 2010, p.xiii)
  5. 5. Aims • Understanding systems of power and control • Challenging assumptions about library neutrality • Acknowledging political nature of libraries • Changing what we do and/or how we do it
  6. 6. Benefits of critical theory in LIS “Our discourse… tends to favo[u]r technical and managerial language use, which in turn prevents librarians from critically examining and evaluating information resources and systems” (Leckie et al. 2010, p.xi) • Engaging with the ‘rudiments and theory’ behind values and aims • Supporting our arguments • Getting listened to (?)
  7. 7. Limitations of critical theory Image via librarianbyday on Tumblr
  8. 8. #critlib Twitter chats are an opportunity for synchronous bursts of conversation on current topics. We started the #critlib chat to build a conversation about issues of critical pedagogy in academic libraries, but topics have grown to include library assessment, gender in RDA, and library responses to social justice actions in our communities. Publicly exploring our assumptions about our profession is sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes fiery, and always an opportunity for growth and action. (Pho et al. 2015)
  9. 9. Radical Librarians Collective Under the loose umbrella of RLC, moves began to create a public space in which people could build a network of support and solidarity, offering an alternative to the dominant discourse.
  10. 10. Radical Librarians Collective • • Twitter: @RadicalLibs • National gatherings: #radlib15 • Regional meetings: @RadLibsOx @RLC_SE • Online discussion: #radlibs • First ever #radlibchat! Tonight, 8pm – Althusser’s concept of ISAs • Journal of Radical Librarianship
  11. 11. History of critical librarianship • Progressive Librarians Guild • Library Juice Press • Radical Reference • Individuals getting on with stuff!
  12. 12. What kinds of critical theory? • Critical pedagogy • Feminist theory • Queer theory • Critical race theory • Post-colonialism • Marxian theory • Popular culture studies • Practice theory • Critical realism • Psychoanalysis
  13. 13. How can critical theory be used? Critically evaluating: • Education systems • Librarianships’ position in education systems • Library spaces • What libraries do • What librarians do • How information is organised • How information is shared • How authority is established
  14. 14. Banking theory of education • The media inform and the audience is being informed. • The media know everything and the audience knows nothing. • The media talk and the audience listens - meekly. • The media choose and enforce their choice and the audience complies. • The media act and the audience has the illusion of acting through the action of the media. • The media choose content and the audience adapts to it. • The media are the subject of the informational process, while the
  15. 15. Praxis Combining "reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed" (Freire 2005, p.126) Changing how we think about our work, not always changing how we do it (Drabinski 2015)
  16. 16. Liberatory Syllabuses “It is easy for academic subjects to become abstract and meaningless to students. I resent this practice and so I strive to share with you a practical and personally meaningful education. At the same time, I am responsible for balancing the desires of the University, the influences of economic forces, and the mandates of the government with my personal teaching style. This is not easy. Each collective member of the classroom must advocate for his or her own needs. With your help, I hope to never lose track of what’s truly important: our mutual learning.” (Heidebrink-Bruno 2014)
  17. 17. Exercise: Elmborg (2006) Uses critical literacy theory to explore information literacy In groups, consider: • Do you consider librarians to be ‘educators’, or ‘teachers’? • What do you think might be the implications of this? • What do you think about the Evolving Definitions of Literacy? (p.195)
  18. 18. Exercise: Critical information literacy • How do you provide information literacy instruction? • In what ways do ‘traditional’ approaches to IL reproduce ideas about information as a commodity, problematic ways of establishing the authority of sources etc? • In what ways does the classroom set-up reinforce hierarchical relationships between learner and librarian? • How might you approach things differently?
  19. 19. If there’s time… • How do you feel about referring to people using library services as “customers”? • What aspects of cataloguing and classification do you think could be challenged from critical perspectives? • How do you think library spaces could be improved through critical approaches? • How do you think the discourses of ‘professionalism’ may be problematic from a critical perspective?
  20. 20. Recommended Reading
  21. 21. References Alvesson, M., & Spicer, a. (2012). Critical leadership studies: The case for critical performativity. Human Relations, 65(3), 367–390. doi:10.1177/0018726711430555 Drabinski, E. (2015). ACRL Instruction Section Ilene F. Rockman Publication of the Year Award – Emily Drabinski. t=3#sthash.QMZUWDBt.dpuf Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed (3rd ed.). London: Continuum. Heidebrink-Bruno, A. (2014). Syllabus as Manifesto: A Critical Approach to Classroom Culture. Hybrid Pedagogy. manifesto-critical-approach-classroom-culture/ Pho, A., Drabinski, E., Ettarh, F., McElroy, K., Pagowsky, N. (2015). "But We're Neutral!" And Other Librarian Fictions Confronted by #critlib, ALA San Francisco. Samek, T. (2007). Critical Librarianship: an interview with Toni Samek. BCLA Intellectual Freedom Committee blog. librarianship-an-interview-with-toni-samek/ Schroeder, R., & Hollister, C. V. (2014). Librarians’ Views on Critical Theories and Critical Practices. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 33(2), 91–119. doi:10.1080/01639269.2014.912104
  22. 22. Thank you @walkyouhome Please fill in the questionnaire! Background image CC Ellen van Deelen on Flickr