Progressive Librarian Review- JA
The Progressive Librarian: A Journal for Critical Studies and Progressive Politics in Librarianship is a biannual publication of the Progressive Librarians Guild.
At its founding in 1990, the Progressive Librarians Guild noted that library services were complacently drifting to a place where service was geared toward political and cultural status quo. The guild acknowledges that a common view of libraries is that they are neutral institutions. Over time this has meant that libraries are expected to complacently provide services that do not upset political or cultural expectations. The Progressive Librarian is meant to bring to light the ways in which libraries have and are continuing to carry out the mission of providing resources to an enlightened citizenry, making a democratic society achievable. [i]
It’s not hard to guess the political leanings of the editorial board of the Progressive Librarian, however the articles in the publication often explore how libraries have and can remain neutral while taking an active role in facilitation conversations and providing resources that engage and educate. The term neutral appeared in many of the articles, describing the role or proposed role of the library, making it clear that neutral and complacent are very different modes of operation.
The articles of the last two year span a wide variety of topics but a few areas of conversation do emerge: events and political issues past and present, stereotypes and periods of oppression and, technology as a tool for greater service. Woven through these articles are a few reoccurring questions: How does the library relate to power? And, how are the marginalized and vulnerable served and represented? These questions are not limited to a type of organization but span across public, academic, special libraries and archival institutions. The Progressive Librarian also commits a fair amount of space to book reviews, often on topics shared by the articles and generally positive.
Political issues and events. Not surprisingly, the stripping of Wisconsin public employee bargaining rights and the Occupy Wall Street movement took center stage. A detailed account of Wisconsin’s 2011 budget repair bill, biennial budget, and the political maneuverings and public protest that surrounded them is given. While this movement has consequence throughout the entire public sector, both in the effect on the individual public and academic librarians and the services they provide their communities.[ii] We also read first-hand accounts of a group of individuals that served as librarians in New York’s financial district. Their collection grew through donations and their storage and cataloguing system was rudimentary but bolstered the local conversation. Following the destruction of the occupy camp, protesters (with specific mention of the libraries) where were named to two lists: the most powerful of 2011 by one publication (Time Magazine) and the most powerless (Village Voice). If the goal of the library was to stop the police attack on the occupy settlement, perhaps the Village Voice was right. But that was not the aim of this grassroots organization (or the mission of the ALA), what they were able to do was to enrich the conversation, unearth issues and present comprehensive materials, creating an engaged and educated public.[iii] Beyond running articles and book reviews on these topics, the Progressive Librarian also published editorial statements supporting each of these movements. [iv], [v]
Stereotypes and periods of oppression. Collection management is the primary way that these issues are discussed and two examples of stigmas and oppressions being perpetuated by children’s collections stand out. While the segregated branches of the south were providing resources that encouraged literacy, the materials provided (for lack of better options) were also perpetuating stereotypes and stigmas through text and illustrations.[vi] The same can be said for children’s literature available depicting the culture of native Hawaiian people. The traditional solutions of the diversification of published materials is offered along side the more modern option of developing programs that connect with native people through digital storytelling and online portals, honoring the tradition of oral culture in Hawaii. [vii]
Technology. The relationship between digital and analogue services was also examined. In a time of budget constrains technology is seen as a tool that increases the libraries survival capacity. The majority of social and political organizing is happening online and the library has the opportunity to strengthen the digital conversation by hosting town meetings, presenting comprehensive background information, and daring to “raise controversial questions, tender subjects and sensitive issues for discussion.” By asking questions that unearth conflicts and concerns that exist in their communities, libraries can bridge the divide between digital and analogous interactions while engaging members of the community that lack access to digital resources. All of this is not to say that the library should disregard its stance of neutrality, only that it should function as an accessible repository of public knowledge, staying relevant by engaging in social programs and issues.[viii]
The digitization and connection of materials is another way that technology was discussed. Similar to collections developed during the occupy movement, the political unrest during the Vietnam war produced a wide variety of grassroots resources. The low cost of printing broke down barriers that silenced radical voices and allowed for mass publication and distribution of underground magazines. Oddly, today the easiest way of accessing this collection is through microfilm, creating a new barrier of accessibility at a time when instant digital access is quickly becoming the expectation. Work is underway to publicize and digitize the collection to increase access. [ix]
The Progressive Librarian is service oriented and clearly concerned with putting valuable resources into the hands of those who would otherwise not have access. As a professional, if you are in a position of having to present to the city council to defend the existence of and services provided your library, justify to your staff or patrons why changes are being made to services, respond when someone says, “Libraries are dying,” this journal can be a great resource.
[i] Progressive Librarians Guild, “Progressive Librarians Guild | Statement of Purpose,” accessed September 22, 2013, http://www.progressivelibrariansguild.org/content/purpose.shtml.
[ii] Joyce M. Latham, “Walkerville, New Democrats & ‘Wishes in the Wind’: Rolling Back the 20th Century in Wisconsin,” Progressive Librarian no. 36/37 (Summer/Fall ///Summer/Fall2011 2011): 3–14.
[iii] Daniel Norton et al., “Occupy Wall Street Librarians Speak Out,” Progressive Librarian (Spring 2012): 3–16.
[iv] “PLG Statement on Occupy Wall Street 10/06/11,” Progressive Librarian no. 36/37 (Summer/Fall ///Summer/Fall2011 2011): 108–108.
[v] “Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG) Stands in Solidarity with Public Employees,” Progressive Librarian no. 36/37 (Summer/Fall ///Summer/Fall2011 2011): 105–105.
[vi] Shane1 Hand, “TRANSMITTING WHITENESS: LIBRARIANS, CHILDREN, AND RACE, 1900-1930s,” Progressive Librarian (Spring 2012): 34–63.
[vii] Sara1 Zettervall, “Through a Distant Lens,” Progressive Librarian no. 40 (Fall/Winter ///Fall/Winter2012 2012): 109–124.
[viii] Leif Kajberg, “Revisiting the Concept of the Political Library in the World of Web 2.0 Technologies,” Progressive Librarian no. 36/37 (Summer/Fall ///Summer/Fall2011 2011): 30–41.
[ix] Laurie1 Charnigo, “Prisoners of Microfilm,” Progressive Librarian no. 40 (Fall/Winter ///Fall/Winter2012 2012): 41–90.