Does Activism require Power?

One of my most popular blog posts was “Advocacy is not enough we need power” and I still stand by that. Ironically enough in my new role I am teacher librarian slash Edtech integrator, and I like to joke with my colleagues who need anything from data to access to fixing an issue to equipment that “I have the power”. But some stuff fluttering around twitter recently has made me wonder about librarians and power and about power in general.

In particular I think something amazing is happening in university librarian land with the ending of negotiations with Elsevier by UC – and the person in the cape is a librarian! But here is the strange thing – @Jmmason is getting three likes (plus mine) and two retweets on his guide for transitioning journals to open access.

Is this a case of “if a tree falls in a forest”? Where are all the OA activist librarians? Where even are all the “whinging about costs” librarians?

I like to follow a wide variety of people and Chris Bourg is one of my “go to” activist librarians. We need so much more of this ilk. But then I wondered about whether activism could exist in a vacuum of power. At the same time I know that power can both be given or assumed.

Most librarian groups now seem to have migrated to Facebook. Which is ironical because if we were better librarians and better curators we would not base the existence of our professional learning networks on a platform where groups are closed, information gets lost and the same questions are repeated ad-infinitum (see rant here). And judging by the posts we’re pretty good at complaining and most of the complaints (I’m talking the K-12 sector) are about budgets, job loss (or more accurately position loss as in “an unqualified teacher will do the library next year), or lack of acknowledgement. These are not the bleatings of people with real or perceived power.

The question is who can become activists? On the one hand you have people like Bill and Melinda Gates (see their annual letter, and particularly the bit about data can be sexist) who have the power. On the other you have people with next to nothing to lose. And then there are all the rest of us status quo huggers.

I say “us” deliberately, because I’m complicit. I think of a few things that we need to get activist about – some in the cost sphere, some in the service sphere (FollettDestiny are you listening) where we need to get organised, we need to share cost and pricing data but we don’t. Is it time? Is it being contractually bound to silence? Is it not wanting to be the tall poppy? Definitely in the diverse and relevant resource sphere as international school librarians we need to be in a constant state of outrage. And then there is the whole literature / translation thing going on – or not. Thanks to GLLI it’s moving in the right direction – albeit slowly and again why don’t they have tens of thousands of followers?

So we are librarians, a marginalised group within a sector in most countries (and in particular in many parts of the mighty trend setting US or A) that is marginalised economically, is it strange that you don’t encounter many activist librarians?

No use me merely complaining – What would my suggestions be to become an activist librarian?

  • Uncompromising values and standards
  • Unite, collaborate, be present
  • Champion diversity

Uncompromising values and standards

This is both personal and global. If you’re a qualified librarian be amazing at what you do and if you’re mediocre work on becoming better. If you’re amazing become even better and make sure you’re sharing and mentoring other librarians – and not just in your local network – we need more mentoring programs for regions where library science is under-represented.

And let’s not start on the levels above – the funding for library positions in schools and for university library programs. Who gets admitted into the library programs – are they taking the best of the best? Or the ones who want to get out of teaching for an “easy ride”?

It’s a bit the Finland / Singapore argument (to dig up an old trope) – well paid professions attract professionals.

Unite, collaborate, be present

Unite here not just to complain but unite in action. Collaborate and if necessary collude on matters that matter for knowledge, deep education, and investigation. Be present in the discussions and arguments. If you are not the leader be the first or subsequent follower.

If you’re a librarian in an international school join IntlLead a platform run by and for librarians not affiliated to any organisation.

Find examples of activism in other fields / areas that you can learn from or latch onto or use as examples.

Champion Diversity

I’m not just talking about #WeNeedDiverseBooks (see Meting out Diversity?). We also need diverse knowledge. Is that an oxymoron? And we need to personally be critical about what passes as knowledge and pass that critical stance on to our students. AT ALL LEVELS – not just when they’re in High School or doing TOK. Our G5 students need to know the information they consume for their PYP Exhibition is biased and deficient and that they can and should be adding to this from their cultural or geographical or linguistic perspective. We need to help publish. We need to interrogate the authors we invite to our schools on what they are doing to mentor and encourage no-name-brand authors in our locale, theirs, where they are appropriating stories for their books or elsewhere (and not just those who can afford expensive workshops). We need to invite speakers who do not repeat what we think we know but who challenge our assumptions.

Knowledge is biased

Look at this. As librarians are we passing on our outrage to our students? Do we follow sites like @WhoseKnowledge and tell our students to check the origins of what they’re reading? And that they whole darn point of learning and research is to make your own contribution to the world of knowledge and end this microscopic world view?

Here’s another one worth letting your students and fellow librarians know about – @WikiWomeninRed 

I don’t know how to end this. Just keep on being angry or outraged. And do something positive with that anger.

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