CFP: The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship

The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship

Call for Papers

Editors: Karen P. Nicholson and Maura Seale
Publisher: Library Juice Press

Over the past fifteen years, librarians have increasingly looked to theory as a means to destabilize normative discourses and practices within LIS, to engage in inclusive and non-authoritarian pedagogies, and to organize for social justice (Accardi, Drabinski, & Kumbier, 2010; Birdsall, 2001; Doherty, 2005; Elmborg, 2006; Gage, 2004; Gregory & Higgins, 2013; Jacobs, 2008; Swanson, 2004). “Critlib,” short for “critical librarianship,” is variously used to refer to a growing body of scholarship, an intellectual or activist movement within librarianship, an online community that occasionally organizes in-person meetings, and an informal Twitter discussion space active since 2014, identified by the #critlib hashtag. Critlib “aims to engage in discussion about critical perspectives on library practice” but it also seeks to bring “social justice principles into our work in libraries” (

In recent months, the role of theory within librarianship in general, and critical librarianship more specifically, has emerged as a site of tension within the profession. In spite of an avowedly activist and social justice-oriented agenda, critlib–as an online discussion space at least–has come under fire from some for being inaccessible, exclusionary, elitist, and disconnected from the practice of librarianship, empirical scholarship, and on-the-ground organizing for socioeconomic and political change. At the same time, critical librarianship may be becoming institutionalized, as seen in the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, the January 2015 editorial in College and Research Libraries that specifically solicited articles using critical theory or humanistic approaches, and the publication of several critical librarianship monographs by the Association of College and Research Libraries.

The present volume provides an opportunity for librarians, archivists, LIS educators and students, information workers, and others with a stake and interest in these issues to engage in a critical and thoughtful reflection on the role of theory within the practice of librarianship. We welcome submissions representing a range of perspectives and opinions in order to inspire discussion and reflection within the profession at large. Possible themes include, but are not limited to:

Is (Critical) Librarianship (Im)Practical?
– The origins, history and implications of philosophical, theoretical, and practical approaches and imperatives within and to librarianship.
– How do they relate to the gendering or racialization of librarianship? To the often marginal role of librarians within the academy? To the service-orientation of librarianship?
– How do they relate to librarianship as a profession? To library scholarship? To everyday work and practices?
– What roles do/can/should difficult texts and the space/place for reading, reflection, and scholarship play within librarianship?

Sites of Tension
– Theory and practice; scholarship and activism.
– Professional/disciplinary/activist communities as spaces of inclusion/exclusion.
– Explorations of the ways that these issues and tensions have been discussed in other fields (both emerging and established). How might these inform discussion and reflection within librarianship?
– The performative nature of disciplinary methods, theories, vocabularies, and boundaries. How might these be productive or counterproductive or both?
– Cultural and social capital and other forms of dominance or power.
– In/accessibility: language, communities, status, time.
– The ways in which all of these topics are inflected by race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and other forms of difference.

Critical Librarianship in a Broader Context
– Is critical librarianship becoming institutionalized? What might that mean for the broader field of librarianship? What might that mean for everyday work practices and politics?
– Moving beyond critical theory: What other kinds of theory or theorizing could be useful? What kinds of practices could be productive?
– Critical librarianship in relation to other activist, critical, or radical movements.

Submission Guidelines
Proposals are to include: title, description (no more than 500 words), and a brief biography of the author(s). Remit the proposal as a Word document in an email to with the subject line: Proposal Theory and Practice Last Name(s). Given the subject matter, we seek to include original texts in a variety of formats, including scholarly research articles (5000-8000 words), reflective/personal narratives, editorials (1000-2000 words) that engage thoughtfully with these themes.

Submissions (500 words) due July 31, 2016
Notifications sent out by August 31, 2016
Completed manuscripts due December 31, 2016
Manuscript to publisher by end of June 2017
Book to be published Fall 2017

If you have any questions, please email