social justice librarianship


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Barbara Fister’s latest Library Babel Fish essay is on point for me in so many ways.

It’s not easy to write this well, to combine edge-of-your-seat narrative momentum with scholarly rigor. Not only is it not easy, but we’re schooled to write in an inaccessible style, as if our ideas are somehow better if written in a hard-to-decipher script that only the elite can decode because if people who haven’t been schooled that way can understand it, it’s somehow base and common, not valuable enough.

Yes. So much this. I think it’s possibly one of the reasons why librar* blogs burned so brightly and fiercely before other social media sites took on that space. It gave us a platform to share our thoughts and work in ways that were not stifling like the journals that normally published librar* scholarship. Bloggers who could write eloquently and pointedly about the issues of the day and what they thought of them gained quite a bit of attention (and still do, for those that have continued to write in this type of forum). I certainly read them more consistently and thoroughly than any professional publication filled with strict form and complex sentence structures.

…it’s immoral to study poor people and publish the results of that study in journal run by a for-profit company that charges more for your article than what the household you studied has to buy food this week. I cannot think of any valid excuse for publishing social research this way.

Many of the economic arguments for open access have grown stale, but this one is fresh and new to me, and it hits hard. Much like when those of us in library acquisitions roles submit articles to closed publications, we are choosing the expectations of our peers for tenure requirements over our professional ethics. If we want the contents of scholarly journals to be accessible to all who need them, then we need to make sure our own house is in order before we go out and ask faculty to do the same.

You can reserve the right to share your work, and we’re finding sustainable ways to fund public knowledge. Will it take a little more of your time? Yeah, it’s a cultural shift, which is obviously complex, and you’re so busy.

But if you actually think your research matters, if you think research could make people’s lives better, if you use the phrase “social justice” when you describe your work, you should take that time. It’s unethical not to.