Radical Librarianship in Daily Practice

It can be taken for granted that individuals involved with Radical Librarians Collective want to implement radical practices into our working lives. However, we may often find it difficult to do so, for example, if employers and colleagues have alternative (maybe even anti-radical) attitudes. In order to help, various radical librarians have made suggestions for ways to introduce radicalism in practice even in potentially hostile environments.

1) Connect with other radicals.
RLC is one radical community but there are many others all over the world. Building relationships with other radically-minded individuals and organisations can be very rewarding. They can be sources of solidarity, collaboration, and inspiration. They can help to give you the courage to make the changes that you want to see in your workplace – if someone else was able to achieve something, then why not you? Trade unions can also be excellent organisations to participate in, both in terms of meeting other radicals and also contributing to a group that can work towards making changes to your working environment.

2) Talk about radical topics.
Help to raise awareness of radicalism within your profession, for example talking with colleagues about an event that you attended, or encouraging those who are sympathetic to join the RLC mailing list. If you work with Open Access, think about how you can promote it as a political/social movement rather than just a bureaucratic procedure and requirement. Digital privacy and security are increasingly important, so raise your users’ (and colleagues’) awareness of the issues and tools that are out there.

3) Contribute to a culture that embraces change.
There are lots of ways you can start to chip away at working environments where the established status quo at first seems unassailable. For example, you can point out entrenched mistakes, oversights, and bad practices – embarrass your employer into making positive changes and thereby improving both the quality of the service. If you are invited to speak at an event, check out who else is speaking and – if you find that they are mostly white/male – then raise this as an issue with the event organisers.

4) Make meaningful changes where you can, no matter how “small”.
There may be some things that are beyond your ability to change, so don’t let these depress you and instead focus on the positive impact that you can effect. You might also be able to implement small changes yourself without needing to go through the chain of command, for example, promoting radical books in displays and website highlights, or organising events to celebrate things like Black History Month and LGBT Month. If you do training sessions, you might also be able to use radical themes as source material – for example, getting users to create letters to an Amnesty prisoner in a Microsoft Word training session. You can certainly foster critical thinking and good information literacy in your users through training sessions, and you can even conduct your training in a radical way through using open discussions rather than conventional lecture-style teaching.

5) Don’t allow your work to dominate your life.
In many organisations, it may be implicitly – or explicitly – expected that you will work longer and harder than the minimum required by your contract, for example, working through breaks, staying late, or taking work home with you. In an environment where this is the norm, then one of the most radical things you can do is to prioritise your non-work commitments. Make sure that you fulfil the minimum required of you, but refuse to do more than this. This requires you to decouple your sense of self-worth from your work, which may be an ongoing struggle. Ultimately, this can help you to focus on more important aspects of your life, like family or community, and to escape the structures of domination and rigid authority that many of us work within.

If you have other ideas, or specific examples that you’d like to share, then please share them with the RLC mailing list at RLC-DISCUSS@jiscmail.ac.uk!

RLC SE group: future meetings

At the RLC SE meeting in October, the main discussion point was the future of RLC SE. This discussion was held in the light of reduced attendence at meetings and limited responses to communications, which has been experienced consistently over the past months.

Following on from this meeting, an email was sent out at the end of October to ask everyone on the RLC SE mailing list whether they still wanted to be involved and whether a move to one-off meetings focused on special events would be better. The responses to this email suggested that people did want to be involved, but that a variety of factors meant that regular meetings were no longer an effective way of doing things.

As a result, we intend to cease regular monthly RLC SE meetings, instead focusing on the organisation of one-off events, like cryptoparties, talks and discussions, perhaps in conjunction with other groups. Dates for these one-off meetings will be determined by polling the RLC SE mailing list, and will be advertised via Twitter and email as usual.

The admin committee remains happy to organise events, but it is not within their remit to decide what events happen – suggestions for event ideas are therefore strongly encouraged from the rest of RLC SE.

Meanwhile, we will continue to improve the library space at LARC, so please let us know if you would like to help with this.

Contact RLC SE via email or Twitter.

/RLC SE admin committee

#radlib16 – The 2016 Gathering in Brighton


The fourth Radical Librarians Collective gathering is on Saturday 9th July at the Cowley Club in Brightonbook here.

Everyone who subscribes to the principles of the Radical Librarians Collective is welcome and encouraged to attend. To ensure that we remain free from sponsorship and any corporate influence, the gathering is free to attend with voluntary donations welcomed to cover the associated costs.

As with all gatherings of the Radical Librarians Collective, #radlib16 will adhere to the agreed safer spaces policy which you can read here. The safety and inclusion of everyone that attends is fundamental to the day. If you have any additional suggestions to ensure that the safer spaces policy reflects this, please do let us know.

We will be posting regular updates leading up to the gathering, on Twitter using the #radlib16 hashtag and here on the website – see the dedicated Brighton page.

If you have any questions, contact RLC via email or Twitter at @RadicalLibs.

#radlibchat – 12th April 2016

For the eighth #radlibchat at 20:00 (GMT+1/15:00 EST*) on Tuesday 12th April, we will be discussing whiteness in library and information science with specific reference to April Hathcock’s White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS.

As always, reading the article isn’t a pre-requisite for joining in, but we would very much encourage you to read April’s article.

The discussion will be hosted by @AprilHathcock in conjunction with @RadicalLibs on Twitter using the #radlibchat hashtag.

Questions for the chat (c/o April).

1. What kind of diversity initiatives do you have at your library? Are they effective? How can you tell?
2. In what ways do you see whiteness at work in your library?
3. Do you perform whiteness at work? Do you expect others to? How?
4. What can we do to dismantle whiteness in our profession?
4.5. What role can white people play in helping to dismantle whiteness?
5. How can we mentor/help others to navigate the whiteness in our profession?
* Please note, this originally stated 14:00EST…but due to poor time conversion skills, it turns out this was wrong. Apologies!

#radlibchat – 8th March 2016

For the seventh #radlibchat at 20.00 (GMT) on Tuesday 8th March, we will be discussing critical information literacy praxis, using Eamon Tewell’s open access article ‘A decade of critical information literacy: a review of the literature‘ as suggested background reading plus April Hathcock’s Decolonizing social justice work‘ blog post to shape questions about decolonizing critical information literacy.

The discussion will be hosted by @RadicalLibs on Twitter using the #radlibchat hashtag.

You can suggest questions or points for discussion, or comment on the questions ahead of time using the #radlibchat etherpad – or comment on this blog post.


Citing the work of educator Paulo Freire, Tewell (p. 26) argues that:

Critical pedagogy is in essence a project that positions education as a catalyst for social justice…

Q1. How far do you consider critical pedagogy in #infolit to be a form of social justice work?

Definitions of ‘information literacy’ are contested and standards, codes and and frameworks abound in our professional organisations. Can we “hate the framework, love the frame” as Kevin Seeber suggests?

Q2. How do you reconcile critical #infolit approaches with standards such as the ACRL ‘Framework…’ or the SCONUL ‘Seven Pillars’?

We talk about praxis as a reciprocal combination of theory and practice, but it is not necessarily obvious how to put theory into practice in #infolit work. Jessimaka recently asked about practical examples of critical pedagogy, which resonated with me:

Q3. What does critical-informed #infolit look like to you, in practice? Practical examples from your work very welcome.

Previous #critlib chats on critical pedagogy and information literacy included discussion of practical problems using a critical approach in the neoliberal academy, especially when information literacy is set up as a “one shot” session.

Q4. Can we reconcile a critical #infolit approach with a ‘student satisfaction’ agenda, and marketized higher education?

Q5. What suggestions can you offer to include critical approaches in “one shot” #infolit, if this is all that is available?

April Hathcock (2016) problematizes the false dichotomy of theory vs. practice in a recent blog post, and calls instead for decolonizing of theory:

We’ve been framing the debate as theory vs practice or lived experience vs theory, but for those of us who critique critical theoretical work from within, we’re talking about something much more nuanced. We’re not saying theory has no place or lived experience can’t be theoretical. What we are saying is that much of the theory we see and hear from our colleagues remains largely colonized, that is, it is largely white, male, Western, cis-het, Judeo-Christian.

Q6. How can we move to decolonize our own critical #infolit practices?

Tewell’s closing paragraph (p. 37) emphasizes the importance of developing critical praxis in librarianship:

It is the writings, words, and work of others that helps us as a profession to achieve praxis via the reciprocity of theory, practice and action, and to thereby provide educational opportunities with emancipatory possibilities for both our students and ourselves.

Q7. How could we frame this approach with respect to the centrality of lived experience emphasized by Hathcock and others?

Q8. Finally, Tewell’s paper is a review. What recommended reading or further suggestions would you add to it about critical #infolit?


Hathcock, A. (2016) ‘Decolonizing social justice work’, At the Intersection, 2 March. Available at: https://aprilhathcock.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/decolonizing-social-justice-work/

Tewell, E. (2015). ‘A decade of critical information literacy: a review of the literature’, Communications in Information Literacy, 9(1) [Online]. Available at: http://www.comminfolit.org/index.php?journal=cil&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=v9i1p24

#radlibchat – 9th February 2016

For the sixth radlibchat at 20.00 (GMT) on Tuesday 9th February to tie in with the libraries lobby, we will be discussing Unions in Public and Academic Libraries by Kathleen de la Peña McCook (OA article available here).

The discussion will be hosted by @RadicalLibs on Twitter using the #radlibchat hashtag.


  1. To what extent should associations focus on the rights of workers?
  2. Are trade unions more of less effective in defending library workers than associations?
  3. Can unions still be an effective mechanism to defend worker rights in a neoliberal, globalised environment?
  4. Are there overarching themes for advocacy or is it still very localized, as noted in the article?
  5. How may we effectively advocate for our professional selves?

#radlibchat – 12th January 2016

For the fifth radlibchat at 20.00 (GMT) on Tuesday 12th January, we thought we’d break from the chat around an Open Access article for a change (break into the new year gently and all that) and have a discussion about filtering in libraries. Following the great work conducted by those engaged with the Collective to reveal the state of filtering in public libraries, it seemed a good time to have a discussion around the implications and ramifications for both society and the profession of internet filtering.

The discussion will be hosted by @RadicalLibs on Twitter using the #radlibchat hashtag.

Potential questions for discussion*

  1. What ethical/professional issues does filtering raise?
  2. Are there good reasons for filtering? How do we balance our responsibilities?
  3. What could be done at policy level?
  4. What could be done in individual libraries?
  5. What can library workers do?
  6. What should next steps be for e.g. CILIP?

* All welcome to suggest alternative Qs for discussion…these are suggestions at this stage!

#radlibchat – 10th November 2015

For the fourth radlibchat at 20.00 (GMT) on Tuesday 10th November, we will be discussing John Buschman (2005) On Libraries and the Public Sphere. This link is to an open access post-print of the article.

The discussion will be hosted by @RadicalLibs on Twitter using the #radlibchat hashtag.

Questions to frame the discussion to come…keep an eye on our Twitter account for updates.

Questions to frame the discussion

1. To what extent is librarianship in 2015 in a more precarious state than previously?

2. Is there a disjunct or “structural contradiction” between our purposes/practices and current environment? Why/why not?

3. Are there changes in our practice/professional values as a community, or as individuals, that have made us more precarious?

4. How do we respond to our current environment?

6. Who/what is sovereign and thus normalizing/determining the current state of librarianship?

“sovereign is he who decides on the state of exception: If there is some person or institution, in a given polity, capable of bringing about a total suspension of the law and then to use extra-legal force to normalize the situation, then that person or institution is the sovereign in that polity” (Carl Schmitt)

#radlibchat – 13th October 2015

For the third radlibchat at 20.00 (BST) on Tuesday 13th October, we will be discussing Gabriella Coleman’s (2009) journal article Code is Speech: Legal Tinkering, Expertise, and Protest among Free and Open Source Software Developers. This link is to an open access post-print of the article.

The discussion will be hosted by @RadicalLibs on Twitter using the #radlibchat hashtag.

Questions to frame the discussion to come…keep an eye on our Twitter account for updates.

Questions for framing discussion

1) Should code be treated as speech? To what extent should LIS workers engage in this issue?

2) To what extent is there a link between libraries and FOSS software? How could libraries engage in this area?

3) What links or differences are there in the approach to politics taken by programmers and LIS workers?

4) Do you think LIS workers would benefit from informal legal expertise? If so, how could LIS workers acquire it?

5) Can piracy of proprietary (non-FOSS) software ever be justified?

6) To what extent should we work within a legal framework if we believe the state making the laws is unjust?

Upcoming chats:

10th November 2015 – On Libraries And The Public Sphere by John Buschman.

An @RLC_SE #CryptoParty: 19/09/2015

The Radical Librarians Collective will be holding a CryptoParty from 1200-1600 on Saturday 19th September, at The London Action Resource Centre (LARC), 62 Fieldgate St, London, E1 1ES.

A CryptoParty aims to introduce practical skills to support the use of some cryptographic tools that can help to promote your online privacy. As is the custom with both CryptoParties and RLC, the session will operate on a non-hierarchical basis, although there will be some members of the group that have experience in using some of these tools. These people will be there to offer advice, understanding, and support to ensure people become more confident in the use of the tools.

We want the day to be fun and interesting, but we also want to try and help to educate one another about the importance of digital security. As librarians, we interact with communities of users that may be unaware of the extent of national and corporate surveillance enabled by web technologies. With some basic skills, we can use cryptographic tools to protect our privacy online and ensure that our digital lives are unmonitored.

The specifics can be decided by the group on the day. Tools which have been suggested include:

Creating and managing secure passwords
Web browser plugins
Encrypting harddrives / phones
TextSecure, RedPhone, Signal
Encrypted instant messaging
PGP emails
Secure operating systems

To anyone planning on attending, where possible, we advise bringing laptops, mobile devices, extension leads, USB drives, external harddrives, and the obligatory RLC samosas, of course.