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

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