No matter how exhausted I am, every other Tuesday night I do something that helps reinforce and nuance what I’m learning in library school: I spend an hour or so on Twitter! You’re probably aware of the panoply of library and information science Twitter chats, especially if you’ve already read Nicole’s Twitter in Library School post or Michael’s post on some Top Twitter Hashtags for Librarians. Of these, #critlib has been the one I look forward to the most as a library student, for it helps me reframe what I learn in classes. It gives me a forum for questioning the purposes and procedures of what we do in libraries and archives.
The #critlib chat focuses on critical librarianship, an approach that brings critical perspectives to the work we perform through libraries and archives. Some of the past chats have discussed labor solidarity and libraries, neutrality and activism in higher education, and conference codes of conduct. The chats are organized through a handy Google Doc (available at tinyurl.com/critlibx), which lists the discussion questions and the moderator to follow for each particular chat. The same page has relevant details for upcoming chats and also keeps notes on past chats, most of which have been collected into Storify summaries. It also contains a link to a shared Zotero library of resources for critical librarianship. If you’re new to Twitter chats, I can’t recommend Twitter’s own Tweet Deck application highly enough. It gives you multiple columns, which can be set to show only messages with a certain string (i.e. “#critlib” or whatever tag you want to follow).
Beyond the subject matter, I’m particularly fond of these chats because they act as a sort of unofficial interest group outside of student chapters like ALA, ASIS&T, or PLG. Many of my friends who have pursued graduate studies, whether in library science or other fields, have at some point participated in a reading group, dissertation/writing group, or something similar. These groups give you spaces to discuss the processes and obstacles that you encounter as you learn, something pedagogical theorists often call “metacognition.” (The nice interactive graph here helps explain metacognition through examples, and this page details more of the history of that term and its relationship to Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognition.) The #critlib chats share the supportive, somewhat exploratory sensibility of this type of interest group. Unlike purely peer-led student interest groups, #critlib is organized by a number of prominent librarians and archivists—including HLS alumna Annie Pho. They bring a host of hard-won insights as well as a desire to improve LIS education. If you’ve had a hard time finding like-minded people in your program, or particularly if you’re in a distance learning program and would appreciate real-time explorations of LIS principles with other library folks, try listening in on a #critlib conversation. Or better yet, just jump in!
Outside of the #critlib chats, it’s worth becoming familiar with the critical librarianship approach more generally. I personally tend to find “why?” questions more stimulating than “how?” questions. Don’t get me wrong: “how” is crucially important. But answers to “how?” often are informed by the answers to “why?”: you’d design a library
scavenger treasure hunt very differently if you’re trying to familiarize people with your layout than if you’re trying to teach them how to conduct research.* Critical librarianship approaches our field through lots of “why?” questions, both of the “what are our aims in doing this?” and “why does this seem to work better than that?” varieties. It responds to the age-old “should library school have more theory or practice?” conundrum by saying “let’s use theory to improve our practice, and learn from our practice to improve our theory” (an approach sometimes called “praxis”).
Here’s a few anthologies that would be great starting places for learning more about critical librarianship:
- Questioning Library Neutrality : Essays from Progressive Librarian These essays from the journal of the Progressive Librarians Guild discuss whether librarianship can ever be neutral, as well as what we should aim for if neutrality is merely a myth.
- Critical Theory for Library and Information Science : Exploring the Social from Across the Disciplines These essays skew towards scholarly and academic depth while providing excellent introductions to important thinkers you might have heard of like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
- Critical Journeys : How 14 Librarians Came to Embrace Critical Practice Have you ever wished you could ask a bunch of intelligent and motivated librarians for informational interviews? This is a great, accessible read that feels a lot like that.
What other Twitter chats do you enjoy participating in? Do you have questions about critical librarianship? Are there other resources—blog posts, books, whatever—on critical librarianship you think other library school students should know about?
* Edited on December 12th, 2014 after reading Jessica Olin’s “Pedantic Semantics: Why Word Choice Matters.”