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!

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