Contributing Editor

Listen in: Discussions from the field

For this Listen In post, contributing editor, Symphony Bruce, celebrates thought provoking research conducted by LIS researchers in 2018.

The role of the “Listen in: Discussions from/in the field” column is to highlight interesting, exceptional, or provocative research published in LIS literature. This year we hope to emphasize a variety of research methods and the experiences of those often ignored in LIS literature.

A Year in Review: 2018

For our first Listen In post of the year, we want to highlight several thought-provoking and well-read pieces of scholarship from library workers in 2018. At approximately one post each month from this team, there is no way we could bring attention to all of the important work produced in our field. Furthermore, we understand that scholarship is about more than qualitative or quantitative research methods, empirical research, and data. Some of the most important pieces written by librarians last year also took the form of essays, narratives, systemic reviews, and synthesis pieces.

The articles in this list were chosen due to a variety of factors, including the popularity suggested by view counts and other metrics and the goal of this column is to highlight “interesting, exceptional, or provocative” pieces. While some of the articles have been widely circulated, others deserve additional attention.

Navigating the Profession

Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies we tell Ourselves

Author: Fobazi Ettarh

Journal: In the Library with the Lead Pipe


Summary: Published early in 2018, Ettarh’s Vocational Awe piece made waves through LIS conversation spaces as readers identified with her critique of the sense of awe that is encapsulated by library worker and thrust upon us from the outside. In her rebuttal to library vocational awe, Ettarh traces the mythologies surrounding librarians as do-gooders while reminding readers of the ways in which libraries have participated in oppression. Even as the positive stigma around the profession continues, this stigma does not help librarians do the work they must do in order to support the marginalized and oppressed. Ettarh explains:

“Libraries are just buildings. It is the people who do the work. And we need to treat these people well. You can’t eat on passion. You can’t pay rent on passion. Passion, devotion, and awe are not sustainable sources of income.”


We Here: Speaking Our Truth

Authors: Jennifer Brown, Jennifer A. Ferretti, Sofia Leung, Marisa Méndez-Brady

Journal: Library Trends


Summary: In this article written by Brown, Ferretti, Leung, and Méndez-Brady of the We Here digital spaces, the authors explain the importance of creating “counterspaces” for sharing experiences and for peer mentorship in the retention of librarians of color. The piece provides background into the creation of We Here, while providing evidence and support through the LIS literature that such spaces need to exist. The authors explain:

“The tangible output from these counterspaces works to create counternarratives. Counternarratives affirm the reality of POC’s experiences of racism and provide evidence for discrimination and microaggressions. . . We Here has a Medium channel to capture our stories. The more we raise our voices together, the more our experiences cannot be dismissed as outliers within the profession.”

An Academic Librarian-Mother in Six Stories

Author: Alexandra Gallin-Parisi

Journal: In the Library with the Lead Pipe


Summary: In one of the most personal, narrative pieces of scholarship from this year, Gallin-Parisi shares her experience as a “librarian-mother.” By the end of the piece, she leads readers to grapple with which stories are allowed to be reflected in scholarship – an important question considering the sheer amount of those who identify as women are represented in the profession and the amount of men who still seem to hold titles in the very high reaches of management. Gallin-Parisi shares:

“I have spent the last seven years in this faculty position believing that a lot of the work I do is not the kind of work anyone will take seriously. It is motherwork. It is the paid motherwork I do with students that is difficult to fit into my tenure evaluation categories and the unpaid motherwork I do with my children that has no place in my tenure file.”

Public Libraries

Reinventing the Value of Public Libraries

Authors: Nick Field and Rosie Tran

Journal: Public Library Quarterly


Summary:  Authors Field and Tran build upon the growing literature regarding the changing purpose of the public library for our society with this piece. They consider the the ways in which libraries have changed and thus, the ways in which their value to their respective communities have also changed. No longer are they simply holders of books or beacons of literacy, but social hubs that can work to infiltrate the many social ills of poverty, unequal access to healthcare, and the like. Instead, public libraries must work to demonstrate and persuade others of their value. The authors believe:

“Libraries have enormous public value potential. Libraries can be a part of a public value system that tackles complex social problems, breaks the cycle of entrenched disadvantage, and connects people to important education and social resources.”


You’re So Sensitive! How LIS Professionals Define and Discuss Microaggressions Online

Authors: Miriam E. Sweeney and Nicole A. Cooke

Journal: The Library Quarterly


Summary:  After a panel on microaggressions at the 2016 Public Library Association conference, an attendant started a thread on a social media platform. This started a conversation of over 500 comments from over 100 participants discussing the meaning and prevalence of microaggressions. This public conversation created an opportunity for authors  Sweeney and Cooke to examine the way in which LIS professionals discuss microaggressions. This eye-opening study shares themes which characterize the comments made and analyze what these beliefs share about our collective understanding of microaggressions as a profession. The authors come to the conclusion that:

“Without a shared understanding of power as a foundational component of microaggressions, it is impossible to move the conversation beyond speculations about the individuality of each interaction toward broader social awareness, strategies for engagement, and interventions to disrupt harmful occurrences.”

Racing to the Crossroads of Scholarly Communication and Democracy: But who are we Leaving Behind?

Author: April Hathcock

Journal: In the Library with the Lead Pipe


Summary:  In keeping with the themes of “racing” and “crossroads,” Hathcock explores the intersections that scholarly communications have with the shaping of our continuing democracy. In this piece, she reminds us that more open, wide reaching forms of communication between the academic and nonacademic parts of our communities have the ability to support the most ideal, equal visions of democracy. Before we get ahead of ourselves, we must consider the intersections that scholarly communications has with the values of democracy, access, and diversity. Hathcock explains:

“Scholarly communications has tremendous potential to help build and sustain a democratic society. Nevertheless, in our race to the crossroads of scholarly communication and democracy, it is essential that we engage critically with our professional values—with particular attention to democracy itself, access, and diversity—to ensure that we are building systems that lead to true democracy for all.”


The Practice and Promise of Critical Information Literacy: Academic Librarians’ Involvement in Critical Library Instruction

Author: Eamon C. Tewell

Journal: College and Research Libraries


Summary: Tewell’s article on the practice of critical information literacy instruction is a must read for anyone wanting to tackle critical methods in their own teaching. In a mixed-methods study of academic librarians, Tewell uncovers the many ways in which librarians work to incorporate critical information literacy and critical pedagogies into their instruction. The study not only uncovers the methods used by librarians, but also addresses the barriers, advantages, and critiques of incorporating critical IL. In response to one critique, Tewell writes:

“The question is whether librarians will fight inequalities alongside the rest of the world, or whether we wish to pretend that we can maintain neutrality in the midst of social issues that affect us, our patrons, and our planet, thus maintaining a status quo that we may think does not directly affect us, but does irreparable harm to us and the very people we work with.”

Shame: The Emotional Basis of Library Anxiety

Author: Erin L. McAfee

Journal: College and Research Libraries


Summary:  In order to explore the emotional causes of shame and library anxiety, McAfee coded participant comments from studies across LIS literature and survey work to find evidence of hidden shame. In a piece that is both a comprehensive overview of the literature on library anxiety and shame, and an interesting demonstration of research method, the author has written a piece that well connects theory to real-world examples. McAfee shares the wisdom that:  

“The key to locating destructive shame is to look for institutional behaviors that alienate users. For example, what kind of attitude does an institution communicate to its users? Does the library terminology alienate users or does it bring them closer to the library resources and librarians? Do policies embrace a belief that library users are trying to improve their lives, or do the policies punish users for trying to take advantage of the system?”

Keep the Conversation Going

What were some of your favorite pieces of scholarship from 2018?

About the author

Symphony Bruce is a Resident Librarian at American University in Washington, D.C. After six years as a high school English teacher, she switched to librarianship to be a champion for information literacy and access, with a specific interest in intersectionality and critical pedagogy. She enjoys cooking with vegetables, hanging out with her cats, and drinking her coffee black. Find her on twitter: @curlsinthelib

Featured image by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

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