Well, well… just when it seemed this blog was utterly dormant…

We have been quite busy since our last post in, er, February, too busy to post it seems. I thought I’d write a longish update on where we’ve been and in my next post, talk about where we’re going with this project.

Since the last post on building solidarity in academic librarianship, we have not held any further teach-ins or workshops. We got pulled into a whirlwind of writing about this project and decided to go with it. This work helped clarify our principles and goals, and the new research we were doing helped to productively complicate the project as well. And of course simultaneously we’ve been watching the ongoing mayoral drama in our city, the education problems in our province and also in Quebec, the ongoing devastation at Library and Archives Canada, and various efforts to resist austerity across the world. We live in interesting times.

Anyway, in the last seven months or so in regards to this particular project we:

1) Wrote a book chapter for a new Library Juice Press book called Information Literacy for Social Justice:Radical Professional Praxis (eds Shana Higgins and Lua Gregory). The book will be out in Spring 2013 and we’ll share a link to the book chapter at that time. We’re really pleased with how this thing turned out… we did a bunch of reading and thinking about neoliberalism and how it impacts our work as librarians, as well as trying to describe the Occupy your Mind event as the exact sort of IL activity that might disrupt our otherwise techno-managerial positions within the academy and open the possibility of meaningful dialogue and community building in and out of our ivory towers. The chapter is called “The Public Academic Library: Creating Friction in the Teflon Funnel.” Subsequently, we’ve been thinking and talking amongst ourselves about how to bring the public-ness back into the academic library, both in terms of opening access to our collections, but also in terms of being a community reference and referral resource for student/faculty needs beyond the academic. And while thinking about the public library and the academic library, we also found ourselves out walking the line with our striking colleagues at the Toronto Public Library, and writing frustrated letters to the mayor.

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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.

From Douglas Kellner’s Marcuse and the Quest for Radical Subjectivity:

A central dilemma in Marcuse’s theory — sharply formulated in One- Dimensional Man — that continued to haunt him: “How can the administered individuals — who have made their mutilation into their own liberties and satisfactions… liberate themselves from themselves as well as from their masters? How is it even thinkable that the vicious circle be broken?” (ODM 250-251).

In order to break through this vicious circle, individuals must transform their present needs, sensibility, consciousness, values, and behavior while developing a new radical subjectivity, so as to create the necessary conditions for social transformation (5L 67). Radical subjectivity for Marcuse practices the “great refusal” valorized in both E&C and ODM. In E&C (149f), the “Great Refusal is the protest against unnecessary repression, the struggle for the ultimate form of freedom — ‘to live without anxiety.'” In ODM (256f), however, the Great Refusal is fundamentally political, a refusal of repression and injustice, a saying no, an elemental oppositional to a system of oppression, a noncompliance with the rules of a rigged game, a form of radical resistance and struggle. In both cases, the Great Refusal is based on a subjectivity that is not able to tolerate injustice and that engages in resistance and opposition to all forms of domination, instinctual and political.

The Idea


We propose a series of workshops, panels, debates and cultural programs designed to foster civic, social and cultural engagement through the Scott Collections and Research Department’s Information Literacy program.

Aside from the overarching goal, this series will:

  • help us to infuse the democratic values of our profession into our teaching methods and content (radical pedagogical and professional praxis)
  • remind us of the role of libraries in bearing witness to history, as spaces of memory
  • consider the research and information gathering needs of our academic community beyond their academic work – i.e. their information needs as citizens, as humans
  • value programming which is timely and relevant to important current events – in part because we need to connect the learning which occurs in their subject-based classrooms with what’s happening right now, to help students/faculty translate their growing knowledge and skills to praxis, to assist them in developing a language of resistance

In offering this series of programming we would also like to acknowledge and value the unique freedom and autonomy that librarians have from curricular and disciplinary demands and drive ourselves to make use of that freedom and our academic freedom as well. For as we know well, those who do not use their freedom tend to lose it.