Theorizing Libraries and the State: a start?

2011/10/18

In our book chapter proposal, we argue that these workshops are one way for academic librarians “to counter the hegemonic practices of knowledge production in higher education.”   I think it will be useful as we progress to interrogate this concept more deeply, and spell out more clearly what we mean by this.  In her piece on theorizing the impact of IT on library-state relations, Braham reminds us of the dimensions of library-state relations, and how the relationship runs in both directions.  She writes that “the legal environment created by states creates the context within which libraries must operate, while the informational and communicative functions of libraries in turn shape, contribute to the sustenance of and in some cases enable [my emphasis] the state and political practice (105).”  For this reason, she urges those in information science to develop a theory of library-state relations, which could provide a conceptual ground from which to approach specific policy issues, “as well as support for arguments in this face of what may be political or legal opposition.”  Braman is on to something.   How can we begin to develop this conceptual ground to counter, or at least re-enliven dialogue among ourselves, about current impulses in academic librarianship which are very often pitched as “rational” responses to a particular political-economic climate?  Immediate examples abound:  the current preoccupation with (largely quantitative, output-driven) assessment measures, the growing emphasis on quality assurance frameworks, the closer alignment of our collection development practices with corporate interests, and observable changes in the nature of our collegial governance models and decision making processes.  What might this conceptual ground look like?  And what else could be gained in the attempt to work collaboratively to develop it?

Reference:  Braman, Sandra.  “Theorizing the Impact of IT on Library-State Relations.”  Information Technology in Librarianship:  New Critical Approaches. Ed by Gloria J. Leckie and John E. Buschman.  Westport:  Libraries Unlimited, 2009. 104-125.

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