i dream of being possible

outline for a paper I probably won't write

note: I decided to make this open source with an Apache 2.0 license (see below). You can also get details about this project on github

#Locating the library within institutional oppression ##1) Introduction

  • Discuss the library as it exists both in the popular/public and the professional imagination. Essentially, library as ideal.
  • Tease out the values expressed within this imaginary library.
  • Relate these values to both a contemporary liberal ideology as well as a larger historical context of being an embodiment of enlightenment’s ideology.

##2) The consensus on libraries

  • Use recent defenses and articles written by non-librarians or information professionals that discuss the library. See Neil Gaiman’s recent defense and refer to other.
    • Fundamentally, what is at issue here is library nostalgia, and it doesn’t escape my notice that many of these nostalgic, fanciful personal narratives about libraries and discovering a love of reading is the often relative privilege of the writers (ie, those who are white/cis/het/etc.)
    • This nostalgia and the way that it emphasizes ‘reading’ as the primary joy and function of libraries, in many ways, sets the current stage for how/why so many middle class/white ppl think that the library is obsolete.
    • But, as many librarians note, this nostalgia is a major motivation for why professionals initially consider it as a career.
    • One wonders if this is partially why the field has largely remained homogenous.
    • Since criticisms of the ways the classifications systems and methods of collection development end up with collections that largely reflect the dominant society instead of the respective communities.
  • Use recent defenses and articles written by librarians and other professionals.
    • Discuss, of course the ALA code of ethics.
    • Look at the idealism of librarians and note how the rhetoric often focuses on what they believe libraries ought to be doing, with very little information about what libraries are actually doing.
    • The above is partially a problem of data (not unknown) but ‘user’ surveys, well, self-select for users of the library and rarely can/do libraries gather data/feedback from those who do not use the library.
  • What does this all mean? What values/expectations are embodied in these imagined and ideal libraries?

##2) Historical context

  • Yup, this is the part where I explore the ideological foundations of libraries via the Enlightenment
    • Enlightenment as ideology vs. philosophy and/or historical movement
    • give a rundown of the basics principles and values of the enlightenment
    • note the connection between the enlightenment, colonialism, white supremacy, and other oppressive social constructions
  • The enlightenment, democracy, liberalism, and libraries
    • It is pretty obvious the ways that E. ideology fundamentally informs democracy as we currently practise it. But what are the implications for the creation of a democratic state embodying E. ideology that is grounded on both Indigenous genocide and the enslavement of Black people?
    • How does the above trickle down through history and inform current liberal values?
    • And how does this impact the ways that libraries function both as institution and as imaginary ideals for furthering ~democracy~ via informed citizenry?

##3) The library as oppressive institution

  • Reframing what libraries do:
    • If libraries are intended to support democracy, then we can actually understand them as sites of ideological indoctrination, rather than sites of ‘accessible, free information.’
  • What evidence do we have for this?
    • First, classification systems. This is pretty much low-hanging fruit because there is a great deal of research and discussion already on the ways that the LCSH and DDC serve to encode and ideological worldview that is misogynist, white supremacist, and so on.
    • Second, collections development. Likewise, this is low-hanging fruit because the lack of diversity in collections is also well-known and studied.
      • But one could argue that libraries aren’t necessarily at fault for this, since they can only stock what is available
      • I actually think this is one of the greatest ways that libraries are complicit in support a general, oppressive environment via their refusal to do much of anything to disrupt/challenge/change the behaviour of publishers. Of course, this is an opportunity likely lost since libraries are no longer one of the major consumers of published materials (at least on the public side). Academic/research libraries, however, still have this opportunity and most are squandering it.
      • This also doesn’t account for what is chose for reviews since many collection development decisions are based on reviews and the like, libraries are definitely responsible for how this impacts collection development.
    • Via the creation of ‘policies’ that specifically target marginalized people (like the homeless or, for academic libraries, making it difficult or confusing for community members to access their collections – or even the fact that many community members don’t even realize that, depending on the institution, they can access the collections).
    • Via the insistence of a costly, and largely unnecessary, ‘professional’ degree for a field that almost requires a certain level of socio-economic privilege to survive in (based on the general market at the moment), which acts as a significant barrier for diversifying the workforce, and very likely preventing meaningful outreach to communities not often served or recognized by libraries.
  • In many ways, libraries are too passive.
    • This means accepting default social values and allowing itself to be used as a site of indoctrination, rather than freedom
    • It means allowing our agendas and actions to be completely rulled by ongoing (fictional and capitalist derived) ‘crisis of libraries,’ which tends to ensure our compliance with state ideology.
    • Not really realizing that, by and large, libraries are part of the state apparatus, rather than distinct (as is often asserted), since many libraries are publicly funded (in some fashion).
    • This pervasive sense of ‘library exceptionalism’ acts as disincentive to critically examine how libraries are oppressive like other institutions of states (like the police, the judicial system, the government itself, the medical system, the education system, etc.).

##4) Conclusions

  • Mainly that libraries, as institutions embodying E./liberal values, and as one facet of the state are, indeed, oppressive.
  • They may not be ‘more or less’ oppressive than other state institutions, but that doesn’t change that the are oppressive.
  • And the account of ‘more or less’ really depends on how you look at it. Obviously, the police are oppressive in a very direct, violent fashion via terrorizing communities and preying on the vulnerable. However, libraries – as sites of indoctrination – target our minds. I was also one of those children who discovered respite within the library and in books. But one of the things I learned is that white people are the only ones with stories. That white men are the only heros, the true agents of our world, and the people who matter most. People like me don’t exist within the shelves of libraries. ‘More or less’ also disguises the fact that people are subjected to all the institutions at the same time: I was able to learn to fear the police and to defer to white men. Which is worse? Hard to tell, tbh.


And that is it! I might slap a CC license on this, in the case that someone else feels inspired to write a paper based on this outline.

Copyright 2014 nina de jesus

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the “License”); you may not use this file except in compliance with the License. You may obtain a copy of the License at