Stop and ask why

In 2018 I pushed myself to learn more about critical librarianship by reading more and listening. At ALIA Sydney’s Saturday School of Critical Librarianship a few key voices in the room constantly reminded us that as library people, we see a problem, and more often than not, immediately jump to finding a solution. You know what I’m talking about. It’s like an automatic library reflex, solutions are comfortable.

As a profession, we need to STOP looking for solutions (e.g. programs, events, displays) when we talk about decolonisation, racism, homophobia, the fact that library people still make the grand claim that “libraries are neutral” . . . but instead look at WHY.

BUT there are issues within the library profession that need more than immediate solutions.

Power structures, racism, recognising Indigenous knowledge, classification . . . this is the uncomfortable part of librarianship, because we have to admit that the profession has made and is still making mistakes. That there are library people who don’t want Drag Queen Storytime and LGBTQI+ collections, that we don’t want to admit that collections are heavily weighted towards white privilege and white history. That libraries are NOT safe spaces for all and that includes library staff. That being a community hub means being welcoming  to everyone that comes in, and that many members of the community don’t visit libraries because they don’t feel welcome, included and seen.

In a world that is fundamentally unequal, neutrality upholds inequality and represents indifference to the marginalization of members of our community. If the majority of what is published represents a white, male, Christian, heteronormative worldview, then we are not supporting the interests of other members of our communities by primarily buying those works.

Meredith Farkas

Conversations I’ve had and articles I’ve read about this topic show me that we have a long way to go. I have a long way to go in understanding critical librarianship.

Some library folk don’t like to hear these statements, it makes them uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. Of course it does. No-one likes to hear that they aren’t the all knowing, kind, benevolent sharers of knowledge the the memes say we are.

Where do we begin? I’ll say it again. By stopping before reaching for a solution, a program, a class, an experience. Stop and think about what stops or discourages people from using libraries in the first place. About power, racism and colonisation. Stop and think what diversity in the library workforce actually means (I agree with Archival Decolonist – diversity means disruption). Think about the language we use and the books and resources we add to collections. Think critically.

We need to stop and have the difficult conversations otherwise, we will never change, learn or be “a place for everyone”. The critical librarianship (and radical librarianship) movements are growing, but we cannot rely on one group of library people to change it all. We all need to listen. Really listen and then find solutions.

We can’t do it all. I really liked a point Kirsty Thorpe made about gaining power through focus—as library workers, choosing an area to focus on and directing energies towards making that area better, focusing on a couple of select things we can do, rather than spreading ourselves too thinly on things we can’t.

Alissa McCulloch aka Lissertations

Read more. Be ok with discomfort and criticism. Listen without adding your two cents.

P.S. This shared doc created for the #SydCritLib event is absolutely BURSTING with articles, blog posts and books about critical librarianship. If you don’t know where to start, start with this.

Never Neutral. (2018, June 04). Retrieved from

Alissa. (2018, November 11). Five things I learned from #SydCritLib, the Saturday School of Critical Librarianship. Retrieved from

The post conference thud

APLIC finished a few weeks ago but I’m just coming out of the other side of “post conference thud”. That feeling of spending several days absorbing new ideas and trying to connect them to your work as well as save them for future reference, talking until you lose your voice, meeting new people, re-connecting with friends and colleagues, not sleeping very well due to being totally wired and awake until the wee hours of the morning and the exhaustion that goes with being “on” for a week.


And then you return home and go back to work and spend the first week post-conference picking up all the threads, restarting conversations and projects, finding where all the socks went at home and who is enrolling in what electives for next year and finding your “non-conference life” groove again.


A couple of weeks after APLIC I was more exhausted and mentally wrung out. The thud became complete overwhelm and I was full of doubt – did I really do a “good job” at the conference? Was I useful as a state manager? Did I connect with enough people? Did people who complimented on the podcast really mean it? Did I go to the right sessions? Yes. I spiralled. Exhaustion rolls out the welcome mat for these thoughts – every single time.

At least I recognised how being tired + negative had joined forces and that what I really needed to do was give myself a big pat on the back and a large exuberant high five. But how?

Ask Twitter of course…

And as always, the answers were generous and kind:

And this reply from Lyndelle helped me to feel less alone with these thoughts.

So what now? I listened to all this advice and felt really motivated to make the ones that appealed to me actually happen. I made a ta-da list, and an achievement board, scheduled quiet time, spoke to friends who make me feel good, spent time with family doing things we love and took some time away from screens and everything online. I’ve also read a bit more than usual and spent more time outside. These are all things I know I should do, but they end up at the bottom of the list when the THUD happens. It’s a work in progress and each time I hit that low bit, I get a bit better at taking action and recognising the signs.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed? How do you cope with the post-conference thud? I’d love to hear what you do.

Hello 2018.

Edna Mode’s words are guiding me in 2018.


(I wrote a post for Letters to a Young Librarian you might like to read. Tell me what you think. I’ll be over here working on my superhero costume. No capes!)




Choose Your Own Information Adventure Part 1

My post about the “why not?” people included mentioned of why I am more information than library with a promise to write about it. Well here it is.

Reasons I didn’t become a librarian

I love libraries. My childhood involved spending a lot of time in libraries – Woden Library, Moruya Library, Akrotiri army base library in Cyprus where we spent a few months, my primary school library, various libraries at the ANU (sometimes having a parent who is a mature aged student is a good thing!).

I love reading. Reading has been the one constant in my life and I love it. (But I don’t love the smell of books, new or old so please don’t send me cute memes about stinky books or perfume that smells like old books).

These reasons are not why I chose to study the Bachelor of Information Studies.

After completing a course at TAFE in community services, I figured out I’m not stupid and can actually study and finish a course. So, why not try a degree? I promptly enrolled in a Bachelor of Health Science majoring in Recreational Therapy and spent an engaging semester studying Sociology 101 and Leisure Studies 101 which I thoroughly enjoyed and surprised myself by writing essays that received really good marks (which as a terrible school student was the best feeling).

Information mining

Sometime during that first semester, we were given an assignment which involved navigating our way through the library databases to locate journal articles and books. I loved that assignment. Digging deeper into the databases to find information, I found myself trying to understand how the system worked, what happened if I looked for the article from this ‘direction’, what about that one? And a lightbulb moment occurred in my head that went something like “this would be a great job and imagine showing people how to use these systems, this is a part of libraries I’d never realised existed, maybe this is a better fit for me?”.

Honestly, that is what drove me to enquire about switching courses. At the time, I was learning that changing your mind is ok and I was aware that if the library degree didn’t work out, I could go back to health science or try something else. It really didn’t seem like that big a deal, there were plenty of choices and hey! I was going to try some of them out. I can’t emphasise enough what realising that study was achievable and wouldn’t end in humiliating disaster was for me at that time.

A side note about mature aged students

Mature aged students experience study very differently to those who are fresh out of school. Often on a second, third, fourth career, some of these students undergo a deep transformation during their study. I have experienced this myself and seen fellow students and friends go through it too. Many people don’t pursue tertiary study straight out of school for so many reasons – financial, fear of failure, terrible school experiences, timing, lack of opportunity. So if they do get that opportunity, OMG do they throw themselves into it! And if it means conquering demons, finally facing deeply held fears and beliefs about themselves, well let’s do that too.

My uni friends and I often joked that we should be receiving a Bachelor of Life degree as well as a Bachelor of Information Studies – the four of us conquered so much during those four years, much more than assignments and group projects.

Back to the story . . .

So I contacted the School of Information Studies and asked to switch courses. A very nice email advised me I could, so I did.

And just like that I had chosen my own information adventure.

Let’s leave this here. Part 2 tomorrow.

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