But How Do We Do Critical Librarianship?
Critical librarianship asks us to look more closely at the sociopolitical world both inside and out of our libraries. Indeed, a lot has happened in the world since I first saw the call for this special issue of OLA Quarterly. First, there was the exposure of an internal memo from a Google employee that denied that women were capable tech workers. Last week, there were escalating threats between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un about possible nuclear detonations. I finished writing in the wake of white supremacist demonstrations and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and as an unprecedented storm geared up to hit Houston. On Twitter and Facebook, I’m seeing fierce debate about whether to let Nazis use library space … and how you would even be able to identify Nazis to kick them out.
In short, this is an urgent time to reflect on what critical librarianship is and what its aims are. As the #critlib chats on Twitter have gained interest over the past few years, I have seen the “critical” of critical librarianship interpreted in several overlapping and competing ways. First, critical librarianship is associated, for good reason, with critical theory, or what Kenny Garcia calls a “critical theorist framework that is epistemological, self-reflective, and activist in nature” (2016). Critical theory encompasses the work of many scholars who reflect on and critique social structures. The call for this issue noted that critical librarianship has been criticized for being overly philosophical or theory-heavy. In the case of the #critlib chats, we wanted a place for librarians to talk about how they use critical pedagogy in particular, inspired by the work of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, and other scholars, as well as our own experiences as learners and teachers. Our emphasis, however, was on doing and how practice informed thinking, and in turn, how this new mode of thinking could influence new forms of practice. This spiraling transformative dialog between theory and practice can be described as praxis, and it requires an openness both to learning about new ideas and to try new things.