So I wasn’t sure if I was going to do write something because my feelings are amorphous and ever changing. And also because something about the questions rubbed me….not the wrong necessarily…but it definitely made me pause. And it’s the same sort of disquiet that I feel whenever anyone asks that type of why activist question. Because for me it feels like I journeyed backwards. I became interested in critical theory and intersectionality because it directly affected my life. Being queer and black and disabled meant that any given moment one aspect of my identity was being marginalized or called into question. So really I learned the words that correctly identified the phenomena that had been occurring (and still are) in my life. Is that to say I wouldn’t be a critical librarian without that personal connection? No I have a degree in sociology I have always been interested in how concepts such as gender, class, race, ability, etc affect the macro and micro interactions within society.
But I guess the reason I am a critical librarian to assuage this feeling of heartbreak. Libraries were safe spaces for me* growing up and so to enter librarianship and see that the same things I felt in education was present in libraries was saddening/maddening. In fact, library school was so much worse than undergrad. I think I wrote my article out of sheer desperation to express how terrible my experience was. Since then I’ve written more things and spoken on panels to try and do my part and make it better for others.
So that’s partly why I participate in the chats. The other reason is because of the current perception of #critlib. People have said that it is very academic library/librarian focused, heavily focused on theory, at a bad time, and also sort of pretentious/exclusionary. And frankly, I think all of those things are true to varying degrees. It’s definitely academia focused due to the large amounts of academic librarians who participate and I think that ties into both the focus on theory and the vibe of pretentiousness at times. I was talking to Ana about how an example of how it plays out without noticing is saying something like,
“oh such and such praxis is influenced by Freire and bell hooks” which makes it necessary to understand both what praxis is and have working knowledge of Freire and/or bell hooks and her response was,
“It’s not that hard to get a working knowledge of Freire though.”
Which is kind of the problem, right? Sure she didn’t mean anything by it, but if you multiply that by 10 or 20 comments by multiple people and you get an environment which can come off as not so great. Because I know when I was a school librarian I definitely did not have the time or mental energy to study critical theorists and how it applies to the field of librarianship. And frankly, there is an argument to be made that there should not be a working knowledge of theory inherent in understanding ways to combat oppression.
And I’m not saying I don’t contribute to that. Expectations and language are informed by experiences and background knowledge and I have a fair amount of education. But I think working with such young kids really helped kick that habit. Middle schoolers are only starting to learn higher order concepts. When you’re talking about something like information literacy using theory and all of that will blow past most of them. It’s all about how can I take this higher order concept and make it accessible in the most concrete and language appropriate way. And not only that, but to contextualize the information into schemas and scenarios that make sense to them. Constantly having to bring things down is hard trust me. I was definitely not good at it for a while. But I’ve gotten a lot better. And I try and bring that into the chats. Because I still don’t know Freire. I do have to look up words like prescriptivism and other jargony words that float around the chats.
So hopefully someone will see me in the chat and be like…oh she’s using words less than 5 syllables! And she’s relating everything back to her own personal life and other sort of more real life type situations. Because again it’s not theory to me. Theory helps name the phenomena (and I’m not discounting how powerful naming can be), but in the end it’s worthless without someone being like….this is how it plays out in your job and/or your life.
*There were definitely moments where I experienced racism, but I was also young and hadn’t put a name to the phenomena yet, and they were few and far between.