What do we mean by radical?

‘Radical’ thinking is generally that which challenges the status quo or dominant ideology of a culture, society or practice. It is often associated with militancy and often negatively so, but at it’s most basic level it is about questioning existing systems and authorities and thinking critically.

I’m not sure I consider myself to be ‘radical’.

That’s okay, we welcome debate over how we all define ‘radical’ as part of our continuing dialogue. ‘Radical’ can mean different things for different people. For some it’s subversive just to verbally critique their profession, for others, they feel the need for action. There is no right or wrong way to be part of this – the idea is that everyone feels comfortable and safe. If you think you might agree with the kinds of things we discuss, come along and see for yourself.

What is a ‘radical librarian’?

The majority of people who identify as ‘radical librarians’ do so because they are critical of the way the profession has been influenced by neoliberal values. They see information becoming a commodity, which is an unnerving concept to many, and libraries becoming marketised, which threatens the core ethics of which underpin the profession regarding free and easy access to information. In essence we want to make sure information stays free and accessible to all. We also don’t want information to be overly affected by corporate agenda or bias based on capital value.

What exactly are ‘neoliberal’ values?

Wikipedia defines it as “a term used primarily by critics in reference to the resurgence of ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, whose advocates support extensive economic liberalization policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.”

Neoliberalism is often associated with the ‘trickle down’ politics advocated by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The ideology behind this is that protecting the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals will strengthen the economy and eventually indirectly benefit the needy. Those advocating this type of economic policy are often in favour of cutting funding to public services in favour of privatisation.

Why is this an issue?

The Radical Librarians Collective are critical of this kind of policy for a multitude of reasons. This can include

  • Cuts to public spending adversely affecting public library services
  • Reduced public library services adversely affects those who need them most
  • Protecting private interests has consequences for freedom of information
  • If information becomes a commodity, there will be no free, unbiased information
  • Marketization of libraries devalues skills of librarians in favour of promoting a ‘the customer is always right’ type of attitude amongst information professionals
  • Accepting the dominant capitalist ideology is directly in opposition with the basic professional ethics of librarianship – free access to information

I don’t necessarily agree that these things are bad, would I be unwelcome?

We do exist as a form of resistance to a specific ideology. If you happen to actively espouse that ideology you may find this group is not to your tastes or interests, but that does not mean you wouldn’t be welcome to speak to us or come to an event. Whilst the majority of people who come along to the events do so because they identify with our values, our safe space policy means that ALL views must be listened to and respected. If you wished to put forth the opposite side of the debate, you’d be welcome to do so – as long as you also respect the safe space policy and remain aware that people may disagree with your opinions.

Do I have to be a qualified ‘librarian’ to be part of this?

Absolutely not. We welcome anyone who works in libraries regardless of what capacity this is done in. Many people working as ‘librarians’ do not have a postgraduate qualification, and many people without the qualification still identify as a ‘librarian’ regardless of their specific job title. We are an inclusive group and what it even means to be ‘a librarian’ is something we have discussed. Even those working in other sectors but who are keen to advocate for libraries may wish to come along.


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