The Theory Behind My Librarianship

As I prepare to graduate this upcoming Sunday, I’ve been thinking a lot about my two years in graduate school. I came into the program at the University of Illinois thinking I was a public librarian, through and through, and now as I handed my diploma, my first job out of the gate is at an academic library.

Things change.

Regardless of the librarianship path I chose, the work I did in graduate school and the work I will continue to do as a reference and instruction librarian is grounded in a unique theoretical foundation. While there are some disagreements in library land about how much of our schooling should be theoretical and how much should be practical (or if we even need theory at all), I firmly believe that the theory I use to ground my ideas of librarianship influence my lived experience and the way I move about in my jobs.

With this in mind, I thought I would share some of my foundational readings. I keep a file folder in my apartment with the tag, “Hailley’s Influential Readings.” I’ve split the rest of the post into two categories – books and articles. As I was writing this post, I realized that this list is probably not totally complete but hopefully I’ve included enough so you are able to see these ideas influence me as a librarian.

A helpful side note, my focus: I would consider myself a community engagement/community informatics librarian. While I’m entering the world of academic libraries, my priority is on the undergraduates and how to build community within an academic library space. I’m also interested in digital and information literacy, along with the rise of makerspace technologies and how that enhances (or hinders) the pursuit of digital literacy. This was a focus that was developed over time in graduate school, mainly through specific opportunities, work experiences, long conversations with professors and mentors, and lots of reflection. I think I was always primed to do engagement work but didn’t really understand that until I got to graduate school.


Book image from Amazon page on this book.

Book image from Amazon page on this book.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. World Cat link.

 I read this book during my first year in graduate school and honestly, I should have read it earlier. Freire takes us into critical pedagogy and makes the reader think about how they might be oppressed or are oppressing others. Freire asks the reader to move towards humanization (a never-ending process).  I found this crucial when I thought about my place as a white female teaching digital literacy in a pre-dominantly African American after school center. Having Freire in my head allowed me to think about my choices and be intentional when teaching digital literacy to these elementary students. This is a tough read, and will require re-reads over the years. Additionally, a great follow-up to Freire’s book is Becoming An Ally by Anne Bishop.

Book image from Amazon page on this book.

Book image from Amazon page on this book.

Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in an Information Age by Virginia Eubanks. World Cat link.

Virginia Eubanks begins this book with talking about how we live in a world today where many think that if everyone simply has access to technology, our lives will instantly become better and equality will be found. Eubanks argues against this sort of magical thinking and uses the experiences of women living at a New Jersey YWCA to frame her ideas about technology. Eubanks promotes popular technology, where digital literacy is focused on digital citizenship, critical thinking, and using resources to learn. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Eubanks breaks down the digital divide and we see it isn’t as simple as the haves and have nots. I read this book early on during my graduate school experience and it was helpful in thinking about digital literacy, access, and equality. This book also helped when I did research and I chose to research in a similar way to Eubanks.

Book cover image from Amazon page on this book.

Book image from Amazon page on this book.

Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction by Maria T Accardi. World Cat link.

As stated in the Introduction, “the primary goal of this book is to provide a theoretical framework and practical guidance for librarians seeing to enrich their pedagogical practices in feminist, progressive ways” (4). Throughout this book, I am reminded about the importance of pushing for social change through examples, raising consciousness, seeking out our students’ lived experiences, utilizing active learning techniques to help strengthen learning, and deeply caring for the students we teach. This book was instrumental in how I think about myself as an instructor, the intentionality I put into the workshops I teach, and the ways in which I supervise students (I believe you can apply many of the points Accardi makes when thinking about supervision). Accardi is a current academic librarian (with a great Twitter feed) and I was even lucky enough to hear her speak in an instruction class I took.  


An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency. Edited by Séverine Deneulin & L. Shahani. (2009). Sterling, VA: Earthscan. World Cat link.

Okay, so this is a whole book, but Chapter One: A Normative Framework for Development by Sabina Alkire & Séverine Denuelin is where the capability approach (inspired by Amartya Sen) is highlighted. This was the first critical reading I ever had in my graduate school work so it’s no surprise it has influenced pretty much everything I do. At its core, the capability approach is based on the premise that if people are able to do the things they value being and doing, then this will lead to human flourishing. Every person has different things they are capable of doing and when they are allowed to do those things they value, then they are able to increase their capabilities allowing them more agency to continue to pursue the things they value. Hopefully that made a little sense. In my day-to-day, especially when I think about teaching digital literacy, I want to create something that fits within what the students I teach have value being and doing. If I can embed skills into those activities, the learning will be strengthened. I could go on for days about the value of using the capability approach as a framework, but I’ll leave it right here for now.

“The Capability Approach and the ‘Medium of Choice’: Steps Towards Conceptualizing Information and Communication Technologies for Development” by Dorothea Kleine (2011). Ethics and Information Technology, 13 (2), 119-130. World Cat link.

The capability approach has influenced a lot of people, not just me. My favorite article that expands on the capability approach is Dorothea Kleine’s article on “medium of choice” (also known as sense of choice). She uses Sen’s work to create the Choice Framework. In the Choice Framework, people’s choices are based on their access to resources (such as educational, informational, financial, cultural, social, material, etc). Essentially Kleine sets the reader up to see that choices exist all around us. However, if we are unable to sense that the choice is available to us, it will be impossible for us to use and achieve that choice. I love this article because it reminds me that when teaching, not everyone I will be teaching will know about some of the choices available to them. It then becomes my job to help make those choices be sense-able. I believe the Choice Framework really enhances the capability approach and so for me, these two go hand-in-hand.

“Situated Evaluation of Socio-Technical Systems” by Bertram C. Bruce, Andee Rubin, & Junghyun An (2009). In Brian Whitworth, & Aldo de Moor (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking Systems (pp. 685-698). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. World Cat link.

This chapter describes a larger project that Bruce and company have worked on. Essentially they talk about how when groups are given pieces of technology they adapt the technology to fit their needs. They believe that innovations come through use and show how students in Alaska used “The Quill” to fit their needs. This article for me reminds me that each community and group of people is unique. While I can help to introduce technology, I have to remember that the group will use it as they need to. Therefore, my teaching should be flexible and adapt to those changes.

What are your foundational readings? Share below in the comments!

10 replies

  1. Great article! Maria Accardi just did the keynote at the Minnesota Library’s Association’s academic library conference, and she really went in-depth into Friere. I haven’t encountered him in my studies before, so it was especially fascinating.


  2. So much yes! I’ve got my own collection of books/essays. I love your point about focus. I think mine would be on critical literacies–how can I empower users to constructively question authority through progressive planning and action?

    The Short List:
    Communication Revolution: Critical Junctures and the Future of Media: Bob McChesney:

    Thinking in Systems: Donella Meadows:

    Readings for Diversity and Social Justice:

    Thank you so much for sharing!


  3. Thank you for sharing your philosophy/foundational influences! I was recently introduced (in my last quarter of library school!) to Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks, who was also influenced by feminist theory and Freire. I’ve just started the book, but am eager to dive in and reflect on my own professional philosophy as graduation approaches.


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