Event Wrap Up: Saturday School of Critical Librarianship

I attended the Saturday School of Critical Librarianship, held by ALIA Sydney, on Saturday 10th November. 

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The first discussion was lead by Bonnie Wildie, addressing questions of what is social justice, what is neutrality and what is Critical Librarianship – and why does it matter? These questions sparked some engaging conversations about power and how “neutrality” maintains the status quo – a status quo that is white, male, heteronormative and of a Western culture. Wildie also discussed the “White Saviour Complex” our institutions have towards marginalised people. 

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Next we had breakout discussions around social justice policy development, homeless and transient populations and LGBTQIA+ issues. Coming out strongly for me was the power of stories to make people different from yourself feel less “other”.  Engaging discussions continued over lunch (thanks Rob Thomson). We returned to more breakout groups discussing critical cataloging and the issues faced by Indigenous patrons and refugees/asylum seekers. Despite not having covered cataloging yet at uni (next session) I sat with the cataloging group for a double-shift, asking questions, contributing and learning a lot about the issues that face catalogers forced to use systems that didn’t have 21st Century Australians in mind (LCSH, Dewey Decimal System). Thank you to Elizabeth Smith and Alissa McCulloch for guiding that discussion. 

Finally we had a small group-large group discussion about power. Where does power emanate from and what power do librarians have? We were encouraged to acknowledge how  librarians can exercise power in a negative sense – as gatekeepers determining what resources we hold and who can access those resources. The take-away challenge was twofold – to find someway to break the rules and subvert power relationships and to keep the conversations about power and access going. 

As a student, I do feel that I have limited power. I am not in contact with patrons. I’m not employed in a library and therefore not in a position to shape policy. However, I do have a voice. I have a public voice through twitter and I have a voice in my cohort through my student blog and uni forums where I can encourage other prospective librarians and teacher librarians to question the status quo. 

As for breaking the rules, I will have to keep thinking about that. 

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