Critical Librarianship: Volume 41

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(12 chapters)


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Discourses on critical librarianship have been mainly theoretical. However, discourses with a practical application of Critical Theory in librarianship, critical librarianship, or library management and operations are limited. Yet, librarianship underscores efficiency and practicality in service provision with the dominant ideology in librarianship being practicality. Based on Critical Theory and emerging power dynamics in e-services, this chapter presents a discussion on the practical application of Critical Theory in academic libraries. The Web 2.0 technologies have triggered a shift in information seeking and use by empowering the academic library users to seek and use information from nontraditional sources. This shift in information seeking behavior and the resultant power dynamics has an impact on strengthening of the academic library as a public sphere; a public virtual space where people can meet and exchange ideas with the eventual outcome of democratization of knowledge. This chapter analyses the practical implications of power dynamics in academic libraries and the need for realignment of academic library functions to key Critical Success Factors (CSFs) including the role of library management, a focus on librarian power, a focus on user empowerment, creating awareness of the Web 2.0 services, and maximizing the use of Web 2.0 technologies. A proper realignment of the shifting power is necessary and must be pursued as a deliberate strategy by academic libraries to facilitate generation and sharing of information. It concludes by presenting the practical implications of power dynamics in academic libraries and recommendations on dealing with the emerging paradigm shifts.


This chapter theorizes academic libraries and library workers as partners in social justice work in higher education, linking the core concerns of critical librarianship (or Critlib) to library leadership practices that can enable and facilitate widening participation as a political project. 1 Widening participation, as a policy imperative and higher education practice, attempts to improve access to higher education among underrepresented groups. However, rooted in the logic of marketized, neoliberal higher education, liberal approaches to widening participation are instrumentalist and contribute to a cultural discourse which reproduces inequity and unequal educational outcomes.

Drawing on Nancy Fraser's model of social justice and critical sociology of education, particularly the work of Penny Jane Burke and Diane Reay, this chapter develops a critical theory of library leadership which radically reframes widening participation practice as a project of recognition and inclusion. In connecting the rich scholarship of Critlib movement, particularly critical information literacy and library pedagogies, to shared commitments to social justice between library and other education workers, this chapter deepens our theoretical understanding of libraries' contributions to widening participation.


Feminist leadership in libraries is an emerging area of interest. Distinct from traditional leadership or female leadership, it includes such values as critiquing systems of oppression, valuing whole people, empowering individuals, and sharing information. Here we ask, what do feminist academic library leaders do? And can academic libraries operate as sites of resistance to systems of oppression? We surveyed 55 people and conducted 23 semi-structured interviews with library leaders focusing on how they enact feminist values in the workplace. In this chapter, we explore several key themes that emerged through our research: how library leaders specifically advocate for their staff and users, how organizational structures support or resist feminist leadership, and how decision-making functions in their organizations. While there is no single way to be a feminist leader, we discuss the varied ways our participants enact their feminism, from day-to-day words and actions to larger initiatives and programs. As to whether these libraries are functioning as feminist organizations and able to resist or even change dominant oppressive systems of power, the results are unclear. The culture of the parent institutions seems to be a decisive factor in how academic libraries operate, and none of our participants report success at fully breaking away from those norms. Yet our participants also demonstrate how they have sidestepped or even changed official policies to be more inclusive and flexible. In this chapter we present clear examples of feminist values enacted in academic libraries as well as direction for further research.


Librarians have been urged to emphasize social justice and human rights issues in their library mission, but they may find themselves challenged to provide additional services, such as access to legal information for those who cannot afford an attorney. Social justice services in libraries are seldom adequately funded and providing services in this area is labor intensive. In addition, there is an emotional intensity in library services for social justice that is often not considered in the initial enthusiasm of providing services in this area. Yet there seems to be no limit to the need. An interesting and useful perspective on how a public agency such as a library responds in circumstances of limited resources and unlimited demand can be found in the book Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Service, by Michael Lipsky. In this perspective, lower level civil servants who interact directly with members of the general public exercise a level of discretion in the amount of services provided and how those services are administered. This chapter explores how this can generate tensions between more traditional library bureaucracy and social justice services, such as providing public access to justice resources in law libraries. However, the “street-level” response is evolving into a sustainability perspective as librarians embrace a more social justice–oriented outlook in library service planning.


Academic and research libraries have made many efforts to diversify their workforces; however, today the profession remains largely homogenous. We recognize that diversification cannot be achieved without creating inclusive and more equitable workspaces and workplaces. This requires rethinking our assumptions and behaviors as individuals and as a profession, questioning entrenched structures that maintain the status quo, and developing practices that keep these critical questions in the forefront as we do the difficult work of redefining our infrastructure in order to create equitable and socially just workplaces. To inspire a different type of dialogue, we offer actionable information and tools – strategies, ideas, and concepts from outside our profession. In this chapter, the authors present strategies used by corporations, industries, organizations, or fields outside of academia that have contributed to substantially diversifying their workforces and discuss how they could be integrated into our own workplaces. While these efforts are imperfect, incomplete, or have mixed results, we focus on strategies that demonstrate outside-the-box thinking for our profession, practices that will require academic and research libraries to rethink their operations, the behaviors and structures that support them, and thus the way library management and leadership are practiced. We are hoping that providing strategies outside our profession, as well as guidance on applying these strategies, will create reflection, dialogue, and innovative ideas for our own institutions.


Canadian institutions of higher education have long touted their dedication to inclusivity and diversity. The Academy, however, exists in a mix of new managerialism and collegialism, environments that demand conformity and the prioritization of sameness over difference. For employees with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the very nature of their condition means that conforming to a standard is a difficult, if not impossible task. If passed, the proposed Accessible Canada Act means universities in Canada will have a legal responsibility to accommodate employees with disabilities, including ASD.

ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition of varying severity characterized by difficulties with communication, social interactions, and repetitive behaviors. While it is difficult to determine how many adults live with ASD in Canada, current statistics show that 1 out of 66 children are on the autism spectrum (PHAC, 2018). Many have physical and mental comorbidities that complicate their health status.

Though conformity may streamline human resources processes and standardize staffing issues, it is essential for administration to identify areas where they are weak in supporting potential and current employees who veer from the norm. Libraries need human resources policies and procedures that reflect and celebrate uniqueness. Long-held tendencies toward valuing fit and conventionality need to give way to transformational mentoring and empowering in order for a diverse workforce to reach its fullest potential. Embracing inclusivity will result in numerous benefits, not just for the employee but for the library. This chapter shows how personnel with high-functioning autism can be best supported in Canadian academic libraries.


Using a critical librarianship framework, this chapter argues that library administrators ought to advocate for comprehensive family leave policies and support employees more fully as they return from maternity leave. Improved policies support and enhance working conditions for all employees. Drawing on a diverse body of literature to illustrate that the significant life transition of becoming a mother is a unique opportunity for the library profession to improve the professional experience of its employees. Finally, practical action steps for supervisors are provided so they can structure a support plan for mothers transitioning back to work.


The growing use of teams to accomplish work in libraries has brought qualitative changes to the nature of work and leadership in library organizations. Collaborative work in team-based organizations and the rise of distributed leadership require different skills from traditional, hierarchically structured workplaces. The literature on team skills provides insight and direction for library human resources management practices. Growing research on emotional intelligence in the workplace also provides new guidance for selection and personnel practices. The literature in these areas can help library organizations more effectively select those who have the attributes needed to be successful in this new environment. It can also help library organizations shape training and developmental opportunities to enhance these critically needed skills.

Author Biographies

Pages 157-160
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Pages 161-164
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Cover of Critical Librarianship
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Book series
Advances in Library Administration and Organization
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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