Though I understand the value of membership organizations like the American Library Association and the division I belong to, the Association of College and Research Libraries, my heart belongs to the grassroots and ad hoc groups of librarians like the Library Society of the World, a tongue-in-cheek (dis)organization that requires no dues, hosts no journals, hires no lobbyists, and holds no national conferences, but has enriched my professional life beyond measure. It’s hard to point to the LSW these days since our FriendFeed hangout was unplugged by its evil overlords, but we’re trying out Discourse and Slack as places to get together. Another group of librarians who I connect with wave at one another using the hashtag #critlib. The thing that ties this group together is an interest in bringing critical perspectives to bear on librarianship, including big questions about race, gender, and social justice and how these things are connected to what we do in libraries.
We’re gearing up to hold one of our regular Twitter chats as I write this. It will be our 48th chat. That’s kind of amazing. Someone suggests a topic, someone volunteer to lead the discussion, some advance readings are posted, and for a scheduled hour we share our thoughts, which a volunteer later assembles using Storify. Having access to a variety of social media tools makes these ad hoc social-professional gatherings possible without requiring lots of expensive overhead, though they do take lots of volunteered time and willingness of a variety of people to initiate and sustain a community of practitioners who want to spend time together discussing ideas.
As is my habit, I’m behind on my homework. Usually, there are pre-chat readings which I typically glance at when I realize it’s Tuesday and a chat has already started. (I really should get these events on my calendar; that said, it’s not on the test and nobody is shamed for being underprepared! You can see why I like this group.) This time, however, we have some recommended writing: why do we participate in #critlib? Why do we seek out a community of librarians who are interested in turning a critical eye on the profession? You'll find other responses to this prompt by searching the Twitter hashtag #whyIcritlib. Though I'm a little late, here's mine.
Well . . . first of all, call me shallow, but it’s fun. I like the burst of energy that these chats provide, watching tweets fly past and occasionally throwing my own into the mix. It’s like playing ping pong with dozens of people at once with nobody trying to win. That said, there are opportunities to connect and do more than chat – to share research ideas, to meet up at conferences, to dig deeper. And that’s fun, too.
I enjoy meeting librarians from a variety of institutions at different stages in their careers, even if only online. It makes me hopeful for my profession to encounter so many new-to-the-field people who are so smart, so thoughtful, and so engaged in ethical questions.
I am enriched by getting to know librarians who care about how our work ties into the wider world and who care enough about their work (and about the world) to explore those connections. It’s refreshing to be among librarians who see how the challenges we face as librarians are part of larger economic, social, and cultural forces that influence libraries. It’s a relief to be among librarians who don’t assume that the work we do is all about (customer) service and fast and convenient (though members-only) access to intellectual property but who think critically about what we mean by access and service as well as the whole gamut of library values, including lifelong learning, social responsibility, and the public good. These are values the world needs badly right now. They are too often forgotten in our day-to-day work and in a culture that assumes market forces drive everything we do, a belief so embedded it's both pervasive and nearly invisible.
I appreciate that I can participate on my own terms, late homework and all, and that there isn’t any handbook of rules and procedures to navigate or expensive conferences to travel to in order to be as involved as I care to be. I have never been much of a joiner when it comes to big organizations with divisions and committees and manuals. My hat's off to those who are, but it’s not me. I appreciate that nobody faults me for not being up on critical theory. I’m glad to know better-read people who use it to think about concrete ways to make libraries and the world they are part of better. I love hearing what people are working on and thinking about because it gives me ideas and energy.
Finally, though I’m a bit of a lurker and #critlib slacker, I’m just happy to know that there are librarians out there who care enough about the profession to think about how to host these conversations and keep them going and can do it in ways that are open to those who may not have enough money to pay membership dues or travel to conferences or for whatever reason feel alienated from more traditional (and often unintentionally exclusive) professional gatherings.
By the time this posts, our last chat of 2015 will likely be over because I'm habitually late to this party, but there are more scheduled. If it feels like it's up your alley, feel free to join in.
Did I mention it's fun?
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