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Resisting neoliberalism: the challenge of activist librarianship in English Higher Education

Katherine Quinn (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)
Jo Bates (University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 13 March 2017




The purpose of this paper is to examine the political position of academic librarianship in the context of recent changes in English Higher Education. The neoliberalisation of academic librarianship, both as an academic discipline and profession, is considered. The emergence of the Radical Librarians Collective is examined as a potential site through which to counter these developments and foster radical alternatives.


The paper draws upon Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony and praxis, and post-structural critiques of neoliberalism, as a theoretical framework to guide data collection and analysis, and observe developments within academic librarianship vis-à-vis broader processes of neoliberalisation. Empirical data collected through interviews and participant observation are analysed using thematic and critical discourse analysis.


The research finds that academic librarianship as a discipline and practice is undergoing a process of neoliberalisation. An umbrella organisation of activist librarians, Radical Librarians Collective, is found to be resisting these developments and has some potential to become a space through which radical alternatives to neoliberal hegemony can be explored and fostered.

Research limitations/implications

The research demonstrates the utility of a Gramscian theoretical framework as a lens through which to observe developments in the field of library and information studies (LIS). Further empirical work would deepen the authors’ understanding of such developments across a range of institutions and locales.


The research makes an original contribution to critical research on the struggles around the neoliberalisation of academic librarianship in the UK. The theoretically informed analysis provides original insights into these processes, and makes a methodological contribution to LIS research.



Quinn, K. and Bates, J. (2017), "Resisting neoliberalism: the challenge of activist librarianship in English Higher Education", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 73 No. 2, pp. 317-335.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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