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Antiracist Praxis

Critical Library Studies by Symphony Bruce

Critical Library Studies, or Critical Librarianship, is a relatively new designation for a long-practiced examination and criticism of the field. Also referred to as radical or progressive, Critical Librarianship calls on library workers to acknowledge the systems of power and privilege that underpin the profession in an effort to challenge and change those systems. Critical librarians represent the wide range of library and information workers, allowing for a critical lens to be applied to: cataloging and classification, access and technical services, instruction and outreach, and management and administration. Although built on the writings and ideas from theorists like Paulo Friere, Henry Giroux, and bell hooks, it is possible that many critical librarians were working from this mindset without ever having read the theory itself. Because of this, the practice, praxis, and theory of librarianship have evolved rather simultaneously. 

While critical librarianship continues to evolve and define itself, Drabinski notes that she sees “a persistent longing for a librarianship that looks and acts in ways that disrupt the status quo, that center a commitment to social justice and social change, that elevate and amplify the voices of a diverse group of librarians, and that grapple directly with the problems of power concentrated in the hands of only a few” (51). She goes on to outline what she sees as the main tenets of critical librarianship: 

  • Critical librarianship interrogates the work of power in structures and systems
  • Critical librarianship acknowledges the social, economic, and political context of library policies and processes
  • Critical librarianship surfaces hidden labor
  • Critical librarianship articulates the infrastructures that enable some lines of inquiry and not others
  • Critical librarianship knows that the world could be different

(Drabinski 51-54)

While Critical Librarianship has recently made space for the critique of the overwhelming whiteness of the field, it has a long way to go before it can be considered inherently antiracist. Emerging analysis of critical library studies from scholars like Leung and López-McKnight center Critical Race Theory (CRT) and propose evolving methods “in a particular race-radical direction that confronts racism, white domination, and is focused on abolishing White Supremacy” (22). 

Suggested Edited Volumes

Adler, Kate, et. al. Reference Librarianship and Justice: History, Practice, and Praxis. Library Juice Press, 2018.

Leckie, Gloria J. et. al., editors. Critical Theory for Library and Information Science: Exploring the Social from Across the Discipline. Libraries Unlimited, 2010.

Leung, Sofia Y. and  Jorge R. López-McKnight, editors. Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies Through Critical Race Theory. MIT Press, 2021.

Nicholson, Karen P. and Maura Seale, editors. The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship. Library Juice Press, 2018.

Schlesselman-Tarango, Gina, editor. Topographies of Whiteness : Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science. Library Juice Press. 2017.

Suggested Articles

Accardi, Maria T., et. al. "Beginning and Extending the Conversation." Communications in Information Literacy, vol.14, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1-11.

Cooke, Nicole A. "Critical Library Instruction as a Pedagogical Tool." Communications in Information Literacy, vol. 14, no. 1, 2020, pp. 86-96.

Crissinger, Sarah. "A Critical Take on OER Practices: Interrogating Commercialization, Colonialism, and Content." In the Library with the Lead Pipe, 21 Oct. 2015.

Drabinski, Emily. "What is Critical about Critical Librarianship?" Art Libraries Journal, vol. 44, no. 2, April 2019, pp. 49-57.

Ettah, Fobazi. "Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves." In the Library with the Lead Pipe, 10 Jan. 2018.

Ferretti, Jennifer A. "Building a Critical Culture: How Critical Librarianship Falls Short in the Workplace." Communications in Information Literacy, vol.14, no. 1, 2020, pp. 134-152.

Gage, Ryan A. "Henry Giroux's Abandoned Generation & Critical Librarianship: A Review Article." Progressive Librarian, vol. 23, no. 65, 2004.

Hathcock, April. "White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS." In the Library with the Lead Pipe. 7 Oct. 2015.

Hathcock, April. "Racing to the Crossroads of Scholarly Communication and Democracy: But Who are We Leaving Behind?" In the Library with the Lead Pipe. 22 Aug. 2018.

Lamdan, Sarah. "Librarianship at the Crossroads of ICE Surveillance." In the Library with the Lead Pipe. 13 Nov. 2019.

Leung, Sophia and Jorge R. Lopez-McKnight. "Dreaming Revolutionary Futures: Critical Race’s Centrality to Ending White Supremacy." Communications in Information Literacy, vol. 14 , no. 1, 2020, pp. 12-26.