Hyperlinked Environments: International Librarianship

As I get closer to concluding my MLIS, I have growing concerns around Competency O. My courses so far have not addressed this competency in more than an offhand manner, providing little to no guidance or opportunities to develop portfolio pieces. That is why I was so excited to see global communities as one of the sections for Module 6: Hyperlinked Communities.

I watched Professor Sellar’s presentation, “What Does it Mean to “Do” International Librarianship” and as she opened with, I too had been interpreting it too broadly, including the very nature of our hyperlinked world and diverse collections as aspects of international librarianship. However, Professor Sellar defines international librarianship (IL) as,

a field of activity (rather than a scientific discipline) which promotes, establishes, develops, and evaluates library and allied services and librarianship globally. The activities are conducted in a relationship between parties at various levels, ranging from individuals to governments. These parties are located in two or more nations (countries). There is reciprocity, exchange, cooperation, and these parties have significant librarian representation. (Sellar, 2017)

“What Does it Mean to “Do” International Librarianship”

This presentation was adapted from Professor Sellar’s article (2016), “Strategies for Engaging in International Librarianship: Misconceptions and Opportunities.” In the article she asserts that responsible IL is paired with critical librarianship. Critical librarianship “help[s] us recognize privilege, redress power inequities, and give voice to our global partners,” (Sellar, 2016, p. 3). Critical librarianship is a practice built on a philosophy (a praxis) that recognizes the harm libraries as institutions have perpetrated and the ways they continue to perpetuate harm. It asserts that libraries and librarianship are not neutral, they are inherently political and have an obligation to recognize their politics and work to “fight attempts at social oppression” (Farkas, 2017). One of the harms libraries have participated in has been colonization. Professor Sellar brings this up both in her talk and her article. What hides within both Professor Sellar’s presentation and article are the terms racism and white supremacy. Professor Sellar says that US MLIS students center the US as the norm in the beginning of their IL work. Peter Lor, an often referenced IL scholar, designed a pyramid of IL practices, with the bottom representing descriptive and early practices of IL, and the top being the goals of reciprocal IL practice (exoticism, philanthropy, national influence, international understanding, internationalism, cooperation, innovation, advancing knowledge, and self-understanding). Exoticism and philanthropy, reinforce whiteness, are often racist and tied to white saviorism. Critical librarianship can hopefully help us learn from these harmful practices and guide us towards restorative practices, both in IL and more broadly in librarianship.

When I think about critical librarianship, decolonization also comes to mind. A few resources that I will be using to learn more about decolonizing are “Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples” by Linda Tuhiwai Smith and “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor” by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang. One of the people I follow on library Twitter shared the abstract for “Decolonizing is Not a Metaphor” with me after I commented on this thread. Also shared on this thread is the chapter “Refusing the University” by Sandy Grande in “Toward What Justice? Describing Diverse Dreams of Justice Education” edited by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang. Decolonizing is relevant to IL both because, as Professor Sellar notes, libraries have a history of participating in colonization, as well as because IL is about nations working together in a reciprocal relationship and learning from each other, and tribes are nations.

As librarians pursue IL, especially within a critical librarianship framework, I hope US libraries seek to learn how to be anti-racist. Yesterday I attended (virtually, streaming on Zoom via Facebook Live) a presentation called “Roundtable Talk: Disability Justice and Abolition.” This talk was hosted by Alternatives to Calling the Police During Mental Health Crises, The Abolition and Disability justice Coalition, NYC Transformative Justice Hub, #LetUsBreathe Collective, The Fireweed Collective, Project LETS, CAT-911, and CripJustice, moderated by Leah Lakshimi Piepzna-Samarasinha (she/her), and the panelists were Elliott Fukiu (he/him), Andrea Ritchie (she/her), and Yolo Akili Robinson (he/him).

During this event, Andrea Richie said that all helping systems police bodies and that abolition cannot just be constrained to the police, it must also include all institutions that practice policing. I believe there is an opportunity in IL to come together across borders to address these practices in libraries (which are common practice in US and Canadian libraries but may not be in other nations). Libraries often partner with police and depending on how behavior is “monitored” and staff are trained, policing may also be done directly by library staff. These are racist practices that need to change.

Works cited:

Farkas, M. (2017). Never neutral: Critical librarianship and technology. American Libraries, 48(1-2), p. 70. Retrieved September 25th, 2020, from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/

Sellar, M. (2016). Strategies for engaging in international librarianship: Misconceptions and opportunities. School of Information Student Research Journal, 6(1). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/slissrj

Seller, M. [SJSU SLA]. (2017, November 28). Melanie Seller – Comp O [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARxmfHl6ILc&list=PLv18c1UbxHQlYN7ZCWOn1F5VrBc3NJ68n&index=3&t=2521s

5 thoughts on “Hyperlinked Environments: International Librarianship

  1. Thank you for helping me take a new perspective on international libraries. I had just been thinking of Comp O in how we can learn from other libraries. I should be thinking of my own internal library bias and how it is informed from an American centric place. As always I am indebted to great thinkers who can point out an entire new framework for thought like the critical librarianship approach.

    • Thank you, @mettlsa! I first heard of critical librarianship during a library conference at the University of Washington. A friend had invited me and I’m so glad I went! The discussion I sat in on was mostly about critical information literacy and most of those chatting were academic librarians, but I found some much of what they were saying was applicable to public libraries and went home to research. If you are on Twitter, it is worth following #critlib as there are some great conversations on this topic. You can see their past chats here: http://critlib.org/. One thing that really appeals to me about critical librarianship is that it has deep connections to other critical theories, such as critical race theory, queer studies, disability studies, etc. I learn so much from the radical thinkers, activists, and practitioners in these fields! This reminds me of what @michael says, we need to pull from outside of librarianship too as we seek to practice participatory service.

  2. This will be a good artifact for Comp O! I appreciate your thoughts join international librarianship.

  3. Nydya says:

    I appreciate your thoughtful post on the importance of having a global perspective on how libraries have perpetuated and aided in the colonization of people in the US and around the world. I think it’s critically important to understand where LIS professions fit in these oppressive systems in order to carve a path forward that acknowledges the harms done and remedies them. In doing research for competency C, I came across a bibliography titled “Disrupting Whiteness in Libraries and Librarianship: A Reading List” with links to articles and resources focused on race, racism, and disrupting whiteness and white supremacy in libraries the might be of interest to you. There are a lot of articles in there I’m excited to read myself! https://www.library.wisc.edu/gwslibrarian/bibliographies/disrupting-whiteness-in-libraries/

    • Thank you, @nydya! I wanted to loop back around to your comment here because I shared an article by one of the authors on the “Disrupting Whiteness in Libraries and Librarianship” list you shared in my post “Reflective Practice: Yes, AND…”. Thank you so much for sharing this gem, I can’t wait to read more!

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