Radical Librarianship at the Allied Media Conference
by Veronica Leigh Milliner, Senior Editor
While there are many options for professional and personal development in the library and information field, one upcoming opportunity that deserves to be highlighted is the Allied Media Conference (AMC). The AMC “brings together a vibrant and diverse community of people using media to incite change,” as described on the conference website. The conference features a variety of themed tracks with corresponding sessions under each theme. This year the AMC will also feature a Radical Librarianship track, which will challenge participants to reexamine their beliefs about the role of libraries and the services they provide to their communities.
Two of the organizers of the Radical Librarianship track, Andrea Perez and Katie Dover-Taylor, were kind enough to provide some insight about the Allied Media Conference and what to expect from Radical Librarianship sessions.
What is Radical Librarianship? How do you define Radical Librarianship?
ANDREA PEREZ: The basic socialist root of libraries has always been pretty radical – giving all people free and equal access to information and resources. I see Radical Librarianship going beyond treating library users as consumers, transforming them into producers and collaborators. I also see it in nontraditional types of libraries and archives that don’t exist in a concrete building and may not even have walls. It is something that is inherently political, aimed more to serve the marginalized.
KATIE DOVER-TAYLOR: Radical Librarianship is a lot of things at once. I think a big part of my personal definition is letting go of this idea that it’s possible for librarians and libraries to be politically neutral, beginning to accept that we have the same biases as the rest of society, and working actively against systems that reinforce structural inequality. I also think radical librarianship requires us to think outside the boundaries of our institutions, and work in partnership with and in support of other folks who are engaged in radical work. That’s one reason I’m so excited for the Allied Media Conference.
ANDREA: I’m expecting librarians will have a totally different experience than what they get at ALA, PLA, or ACRL. There definitely won’t be a huge exhibition hall with vendors hounding you. Many of the sessions will be presented by people of color or queer people. There will be a pop-up zine library hosted by the Trumbullplex, a Detroit anarchist collective. The sessions in the Radical Librarianship track will make the connection between libraries and social justice movements so that this track will appeal to others besides librarians.
What sort of skills, lessons, ideas, etc., do you hope participants will take away from the Radical Librarianship sessions?
KATIE: I hope that our track can serve as a bridge between what we currently conceive of as “library work” and a future world where librarians are more engaged in the creative processes that empower communities. I think there’s an incredible overlap between the skills intrinsic to library work and media-based organizing strategies being developed at AMC. It’s possible that some of the coolest library work being done right now is being done outside of libraries by folks who don’t identify as librarians. We want to be a part of that.
What major challenges do you feel libraries face in terms of serving their communities?
ANDREA: Budget constraints, lack of imagination, librarian burnout, compassion fatigue, arrogance in not actually listening to the community, a disconnect between library workers reflecting the makeup of the community. There seems to be a line, an us and them.
KATIE: I agree with the issues Andrea brings up. I think a lot of these challenges grow out of a common structural reality of library funding and accountability: our work is usually evaluated not by the community we serve, but by decision-makers who are situated much farther than we are from that community. I don’t think there’s a simple answer to this but I’d like to believe there’s a better way to organize ourselves. I also think it’s crucial that library workers begin to better reflect the diversity of the communities we serve and the diversity of humanity as a whole.
Can you give us an example of a program or service that you have participated in (or witnessed) that you feel embodies the nature of radical librarianship?
KATIE: I’m a fan of programs that bring social workers, nurses, and other human services workers into the public library to provide direct help to patrons. I think that kind of assistance, which considers the needs of patrons holistically and seeks to address a lack of access to basic services within a community is truly radical in our profession, even if the librarians making it happen don’t consider themselves radical. Our third track coordinator, Rachel Thompson, is a social worker and it has been really valuable to have her perspective as we’ve worked to organize the track.
ANDREA: I really like what the Nashville Public Library is doing with seed libraries and food justice. That’s one of my current faves.
Anything else you would like people to know?
ANDREA: The entire AMC is so, so inspiring and informative. Please check out other tracks, practice spaces, and network gatherings like Research Justice that might not seem as relevant to libraries at first glance. It’s the best way to see how to connect with other community activists and to get new views and new ideas. It’s a great opportunity to be exposed to people and groups outside of libraries who share the same goals and values and can help us rethink how we’ve been doing things.
KATIE: We’ve set up an Indiegogo campaign for anyone interested in supporting the Radical Librarianship track at AMC. We’re so excited for the conference and hope that if the idea of radical librarianship resonates with you, you’ll come join us at the Allied Media Conference this summer, June 18-21.
Andrea Perez is an outreach librarian working in public libraries for 12 years. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in Art History and English and received her MLIS from Wayne State University in 2005. As a member of ALA, Andrea is currently on the Over the Rainbow Committee. This is her first year coordinating a track at AMC.
Katie Dover-Taylor is an adult services librarian with a focus on technology training. She believes that we often ignore the role that emotions play in learning new technology skills, and presents at conferences on the importance of empathy in developing public libraries’ digital literacy programs. Katie holds a BA in Psychology from Oberlin College and an MSI from the University Of Michigan School Of Information. This is her first year coordinating a track at AMC.