why I #critlib

This post is my #critlib homework assignment as part of the chat moderated by Kevin Seeber on feelings and why we do what we do. He had us reflect on three questions:

  • Why are you a critical librarian?
  • Why do you identify with these ideas?
  • Why do you participate in these chats?

While I find writing to be really, really hard, I’m really grateful for this opportunity to really think about why I do what I do. My thoughts are below.

When I was in library school, I thought I was supposed to separate my own personal opinions/personality from my professional presence. That seemed to be the overwhelming advice that I got; but after some time in the profession I realized how ridiculous that is, considering there are plenty of things that I can’t hide or change about myself. As others have articulated in their homework, some aspects of our personal identities (race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability, etc.) impact how we approach our work as librarians and as people. This is definitely true for me, a woman of color, a first generation American, and a feminist. This informs my approach and my interests, and is why I #critlib. For me, #critlib is more than just the Twitter chats. It’s the reason why I help out with the LIS Microaggressions project, and why I am researching intersectional feminism in LIS for the upcoming Feminist Reference Desk book edited by Maria Accardi. I love being a librarian, and I want to work towards making this profession better. 

My first professional position was at a community college located in an urban setting and my job was to help students from an incredibly diverse array of backgrounds. That helped show me the important work that a librarian can do, to help people get to where they want to be. But really, I learned more about critical/radical librarianship and what it meant to be a #critlib-er once I moved to Chicago to work at UIC. Chicago is a wonderful city, it’s diverse, it’s dynamic, but it is not without its flaws. This city has plenty of problems related to inequality, but there are a lot of people who are working to make it better. Social justice activists, organizers. People who are doers, not just complainers.  I also see the university as a place to educate people, and as a place for them to try and come up with solutions to societal problems. At my university, social justice is a core aspect curriculum in many of the disciplines here and it’s great to see critical pedagogy in action. UIC is also an incredibly diverse campus. When I see where the priorities lie for students here, I feel like I also don’t have a choice not to be #critlib, it’s part of my job. Students here have rallied behind the #BlackLivesMatter movement, organized and protested faculty cuts to the ethnic studies program, and they stood in solidarity with the faculty union when we went on strike. If they stand with us, then I want to stand with them and support them. These are just some of the reasons why I am a critical librarian.

I don’t see #critlib as a unified ideology, but rather a gathering place for people with similar goals to meet and talk. We really do not all come from the same educational backgrounds and it’s totally cool that we don’t all agree on everything. My hope is that through dialogue, we can at least learn and grow from each other. That’s what is so awesome about the #critlib chats, the unconferences, the meetups, and relationships that develop through this community.

I was really honored when Nicole came up with the idea to have a Twitter chat centered around critical pedagogy. I thought, this is an awesome idea and something I want to learn more about. How can we make this happen? And from there, I’ve seen #critlib grow and become so much more than that. I’m not an expert in critical theory, but as Nicole says in her post, the connection between theory and practice is why I find #critlib to be valuable. This is why I do a little extra work behind the scenes and sometimes even email pics of my cats to Nicole, Jenna, Kelly, Emily, and Violet.

Moving forward, I want to see more new faces in #critlib. I know there is this idea that one needs to be an academic or an “expert” in theory in order to participate and I want to stress that this isn’t true. I’m open to any suggestions that people have to make #critlib more inclusive. I want to see more people of color on here, I want to see more projects happen that grow out of the #critlib community, and I want to hopefully meet more #critlib community members IRL in 2016.

Major thanks to Kevin for moderating tonight’s chat!


Why I Bike

ImageRiding your bike is fun, slightly dangerous sometimes, and good for the environment. In about a month, I’m going to take my first trip abroad to Amsterdam. From there, I’ll be participating in Cycling for Libraries where we’ll be riding bikes from Amsterdam to Brussels, stopping at libraries along the way. I am beyond stoked. We’ll also be stopping in Brugge for a day!


Ha! I couldn’t resist.

Cycling, seeing libraries, talking about libraries, and hanging out with 99 other library people sounds like a great vacation to me. In order to prepare, I’ve been riding my bike to work. I find it’s a lot easier to incorporate physical activity into my everyday life because I am lazy and wouldn’t do it otherwise.

As I commute to work on my bike, I’ve been reflecting on what I really enjoy about it. First, I value the quiet time that I get on the way to work. It’s just me and the road (and a bunch of cars), I get to think my thoughts and just be outside for awhile. The fresh air is nice before sitting in a freezing cold library all day. Is it the golden rule of all libraries to be freezing? Seems that way. Second, I get to work a lot faster on bike than on bus. Hard to beat that. Third, it’s just good for me physically and mentally. I feel a lot better by the end of the day. I’m sure the endorphins help.

It took me a while to acclimate to cycling in Chicago. I grew up in a mid-sized town in CA, where people really like cycling a lot. There are lots of bike lanes and not so many buses and cars. Chicago is a big city, I never saw myself as an urban cyclist, still don’t really. I rode my bike downtown once and was terrified of being run over by a double-decker tour bus. However, I just had to practice being on the road and remember that the same road rules apply here as they did in that mid-sized town. I’m doing okay! Now to practice riding with a large group…

I hope to have more updates as I venture on my trip. If anyone has tips on touring, riding in large groups, or places to check out in Amsterdam, I’m all ears.

Funny Library Love Notes

Post-It Notes

Just a note can brighten your day!

Last February, my library had a great campaign called I ❤ the UL (university library). They had set up a poster board with a prompt that asked students and other patrons to write on post-it notes about what they loved about the UL and what changes they wanted to see. The latest project that I have been working on is cleaning up some of those post it notes. Some are totally hilarious and crack me up and some are genuinely very nice. I think this campaign did a good job of reaching out to the students and getting a good understanding of what they want and what they love about the library.

Here’s a sampling of what some people said they loved about the UL:

  • Single and ready to mingle (phone number)
  • Itchy eyes? Itchy eyes.
  • Library, I think you are sexy.
  • I ❤ the UL
  • Free Stuff!
  • Any type of book of course! Yay intellectual freedom. ←(probably a SLIS student)
  • It’s cozy in there and it looks like there are enough comps. I love couches? <3<3<3
  • I come to you when I have no one else.
  • It’s my part-time house (UL)
  • The library is awesome! More people should use it.
  • Library, I am continually impressed with your generous helping attitude. I do wish to continue our mutual relationship. -Student

I hope that they do this campaign again next year, because I am getting a kick out of reading all these notes. I also want to add that many people wrote that they LOVE BOOKS (the paper kind!). Old habits die hard.

What do you love about your library? Anyone else have a similar marketing campaign?


New Cards!

So in my preparation for going to the ALA conference in New Orleans, I decided it was time for me to get some business cards. I’m not really a “business person”, but I know it’s important to network at conferences. I really had no clue what to put on my card, so I tried to keep it simple. Here it is:

Annie's Business CardI ordered them from Moo but I’m sure there are a ton of places to order cards.

Hug A Librarian Day!

In light of Hug a Librarian Day, I thought I’d take a moment to appreciate the role of the public library in my life. In recent years, I haven’t spent as much time in public libraries as I have in academic, but that isn’t to say that I don’t have a special spot in my heart for them. The public library is going through a shift in its role to the public. Some say that Google threatens the existence of the public library, others say it’s going to be a “third space”. I see it as a place to serve its community, for people to come and access whatever information they need.

I for one, am very grateful that my mom took me and my siblings to the library every week as kids. I developed a real love for reading because of those weekly trips. She’d just let me loose in the children’s section (probably to the chagrin of the librarians) and I would find a pile of books to take home that week. Seriously, she would leave me and my sister there sometimes while she went to the grocery store, but I guess she thought it was a safe enough place for us. In the public library setting, I can only imagine the many different hats librarians must wear. I appreciate the patience that the librarians had in helping me find information for my homework assignments, the awesome summer reading programs that rewarded us for filling our reading logs with mini-pizzas, and the safe, comfortable atmosphere in which I could roam the stacks and find new reading material.

The public library has played a special role in my development as a person; I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. This is my virtual hug to all the public librarians who provide wonderful services to their communities!

Be cool, stay in school?

During my application process to different library schools, one of the requirements of an application was to interview a librarian in a position that we were interested in. When I went to interview my librarian, I found out that she was also the head of the faculty department and was in charge of hiring. She told me that when I graduate I would be going up against people with Ph.D’s and years of experience to get jobs. She wasn’t cheerful or overly encouraging of my future endeavors. I walked away from that situation feeling slightly puzzled and discouraged, not understanding her attitude. Reflecting back on that, I realize that she was perhaps trying to dissuade me!

There’s this idea out there that people who don’t know anything about librarianship or technology should be weeded out of the programs. After reading this interesting post on dissuading some students to quit school , it got me thinking about the issues surrounding this. There’s plenty of opinion that some of these schools are guilty of being “degree mills” and are contributing to the flooding of the job market. There are too many graduates (well educated, and undereducated) and not enough jobs, which creates a terrible unemployment cycle for everyone. We’ve all heard it before. The dissuasion perspective suggests that those who don’t seem like library material should drop out, but I’m not sure I agree. I do think that if the course load was more difficult, people would just opt out of the program themselves; but I seriously don’t see how the work could be made more difficult without a complete overhaul of the library education system.

The other issue I have with the dissuasion mentality is that collaboration is such a key part of librarianship. I find it very hard not to help other students who are struggling. I want to help others if I can, it’s part of my nature and what drew me to this field. I’ve heard horror stories about other graduate programs where students deliberately try to sabotage each other because their field is so competitive. Has this field gotten to the point that people are so disheartened about the job market that interested students need to be discouraged?

It’s probably not necessary to talk someone out of the degree; but it could be helpful to at least have a realistic sense of the issues surrounding the library world. This is most likely what the librarian I had initially interviewed was doing, trying to give me a reality check. Instead of leaving students high and dry, a good dose of reality should be encouraged instead. Practical projects where students can observe and see what really happens in the library, might help the misguided by letting them see what skills are needed and what librarians actually do. Also, having provocative conversations in the classroom to allow for this kind of discourse helps open eyes, at least it did for me. For now, I don’t have any real solutions, but by sharing information and helping each other, we can add more value to this degree.

Borders Gone Bankrupt – So what?

Yesterday Borders announced that it was filing for bankruptcy, which seems like a sad day for the plight of the bookstore. If I remember correctly, Borders started out as a little bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan -no wait it has a history of corporate take-over and merges. With the increasing ebook sales  and this giant chain of bookstore suffering so much financially, people are asking themselves about the future of the book.

Oh no, my Borders is closing! What’s going to happen next? I see this as an opportunity for independent, local bookstores to shine. Honestly, people should try and support their local businesses before going to big-box chain stores like Borders or Barnes and Noble. Every time you buy your over-priced book from Borders, that’s money being taken away from your local economy. Every time you buy something from Amazon, that’s money not being reinvested on the local level. The interests of these giants are not really in the issues of the local town. You want to put a flyer for a local event? Maybe it’s against corporate policy to have non-approved items on display. The real concern about the implications of the failure of Borders was summed up in this Washington Post article “The fewer physical bookstores, the fewer physical books, the less real reading we’ll do.” Most likely, the indie bookstores are not going to have the e-readers and e-books and now those things can be conveniently downloaded, why would someone want to go anywhere else? That, I don’t have an answer for except to say “Go to the library!”

I’m not really trying to hate on Borders and sadly, I have to say that the city that I live in has NO independent bookstores that are worth browsing (that I have found). The best one we have is full of Friends of the Library book sale rejects, which is a shame. Many people here probably go to Borders or Barnes and Noble to buy books, or Amazon, so sometimes maybe there’s not much a choice. But if you have a choice and you absolutely have to buy the book, instead of checking it out for free at a library, then why would you not try to support your local bookstore?