Refereed Presentations

Refereed Presentations

Wondering which presentation you should attend? Check out the abstracts below!

Let’s Talk About E-Waste: How Can LIS Pedagogy Engage This Difficult Problem?
Jimi Jones
The Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Karin Hodgin Jones
Department of Urban and Regional Planning
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

For the past decade, LIS education has given considerable attention to the problems associated with the stewardship of digital materials. LIS pedagogy tends to focus on the digitization of analog materials, migration and retrieval of digital objects, digital format sustainability, metadata extraction and so on. While these topics are, of course, critical to the provision of access to digital materials over time, discussions of digital hardware are comparatively minimal. It is easy to overlook the materiality of digital objects but nonetheless these ones and zeroes do have to reside somewhere, on some physical medium. As more digital content producers and repositories choose cloud-based storage solutions, this conversation about the physical artifacts associated with digital preservation becomes even harder to have. One timely and critical conversation that is needed in the cultural heritage realm relates to what happens to the digital objects – hard drives, monitors, computer peripherals, storage media – when it’s time to upgrade our digital preservation environments and workflows. The flow of these objects out of our digital repositories contributes to a rapidly growing global environmental problem known as “electronic waste” or e-waste.

Electronic objects are complex and may contain multiple toxic materials that pose special challenges for recycling and disposal. The materials are difficult to safely extract, costly to recapture for reuse and extremely difficult to remediate if they contaminate ecosystems. Though the U.S. EPA, the World Bank and the United Nations have cited the increasing volume of e-waste as a growing global crisis in urgent need of long-term management strategies, there are still few regulations governing the stewardship of e-waste. In the past 15 years, 25 U.S. states have passed laws governing e-waste disposal and recycling, yet facilities to manage the waste are inadequate. It will take time to build adequate capacity to manage the existing waste awaiting disposal and longer to match the trend of device production.

Our presentation will fit into the “Gaps in LIS Curriculum” topic. This presentation will treat several issues related to the e-waste problem as it relates to LIS pedagogy and practice. We will first discuss the dearth of publications and conversation regarding e-waste in our field. Next we will talk about how the choice of encodings and formats in digitization workflows can be an effective strategy for minimizing digital storage needs and, by extension, the amount of electronic waste produced by memory institutions. We will discuss relevant parallel issues like holding institutions accountable for the e-waste they produce, avoiding duplication of digitization efforts and anticipating storage needs at the outset of digitization initiatives so as to increase efficiency and minimize waste. How to draw students’ attention to these issues is an integral part of the conversation we hope to spur in this presentation. To this end we will conclude with a discussion of what we are doing as instructors to bring the topic of e-waste into LIS pedagogy here at GSLIS.

Recontextualizing humanities skills for coding
Elizabeth Wickes
The Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

With the rise of technical methodologies within the non-STEM research domains, such as digital humanities and computational social sciences, library science students are increasingly required to acquire programming skills to be competitive within the job market. These skills are becoming vital for those of us working in data services and also provide a bridge of understanding when discussing research methods or working with research programmers.

Many LIS programs offer introductory programming coursework, but these classes can fall short for students when they do not speak to the situations we will be facing as information professionals. These programming courses often mark the first time some students have ventured seriously into STEM coursework. Many of the existing instruction approaches for programming have valuable applications to STEM skills, but are not always applicable for the use cases within libraries. Instructors of these courses need to critically appraise their teaching materials to determine if the content is of appropriate difficulty and useful for library students.

Students can feel lost and overwhelmed when these courses are not presented in a way that fits their existing educational experiences and frameworks. The instruction process should be designed to build on the skills that students have already mastered, but students also need to be better prepared to begin learning these materials. This is of particular importance when teaching students who have already completed undergraduate or graduate level degrees and have specialized their learning skills to a non-technical domain.

Students, particularly those from the humanities and social sciences, also face the challenge of recontextualizing their existing scholarly skills into the programming domain. This talk will focus on exploring those skills and provide a framework for students to evaluate and reflect on how they can be prepared for success in programming or other highly technical coursework within their LIS programs.

Talk outline:

* How do information professionals use their programming skills?
* Exploration of the essential skills:
– Writing a program like a research paper
– Syntax errors as critical feedback
– Iteration and poetry
– Debugging as spell checking
* LIS specific resources and groups

Don’t Fear the Technology…Completely: A Call to Action for Youth Librarians
Kim Naples
The Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

While pursuing my Master’s in Library and Information Science I have noticed a disconnect between the “book librarians” and the “tech librarians.” Admittedly, when I first got to GSLIS I did not see myself as a tech person. However, my attitude since then has changed. I have realized that all librarians are or have the potential to be “tech people.” In fact, I think anyone at all is a tech person because it is so entrenched in our daily lives. I think the idea that only certain people are tech people is alienating girls, people of color, and other marginalized groups from careers in science and technology. And this trend is creating a highly stratified and unjust social system. Our perception of tech people is usually white, upper middle-class, heterosexual men. This group has historically been in power and will continue to be if they are the only ones designing the technologies that everyone uses.

The goal of my presentation is to call librarians to challenge how they view themselves and technology in order to change the gender and minority disparities in the technology field. I want to empower the attendees of the presentation to believe that they do indeed have the skills to approach new technology with confidence. Therefore, they can be role models for their patrons (and spread the word that EVERYONE is a tech expert). I work in the Teen Open Lab at the Urbana Free Library, so I will specifically talk about MakerSpace and Fab Lab tools like 3D printers, digital drawing tablets, and vinyl cutters that are becoming more and more popular in libraries. Therefore, my talk will be targeted at youth librarians, with applications for adult public and academic librarians.
I added “Completely” to my title because I will also talk about how librarians should be very thoughtful about the implementation of new technologies.

Attempting To Critically Engage: Researching GBTQ Youth Information-Seeking-Behaviors
Blake Hawkins
University of British-Columbia

It has become apparent that many students in my Master’s in Library and Information Studies program wish that theory was more prevelant. This is likely a challenge for faculty due to the nature of varying program outcomes amongst students. For many people in my cohort, they do not anticipate being researchers and/or research librarians. Hence, they do not understand the significance to include more than the already present amount of theory. I am going to talk about my personal experience and how I have used the challenge as a chance to grow, and hopefully expand certain aspects of the information discipline. In my paper, I will discuss my intended thesis research related to GBTQ youth men information seeking behavior (ISB). My research will track connections between health and place, access to resources, and ISB. Then use autoethnographic methods to collect reflective work from them detailing their everyday health ISB. I will embed their stories within broader evidence bases and correlate the more personal data with broader metrics derived from tracking ISB activities of young men at key sites of knowledge gathering, including public libraries, school libraries, etc. Research in the field of ISB has a tradition of gender-focused studies, but has only recently begun to critically review the role of place in interaction with information. An initial review of the literature suggests that there are few studies of this topic in the context of GBTQ men in Canada or elsewhere (see Fikar & Keith, 2004; Morris & Roberto, 2013). Findings to-date acknowledge that nuances exist regarding GBTQ ISB. The fields of GBTQ young men’s health, ISB, and autoethnography are all experiencing a period of change. Recent examples connecting young men and differing aspects of health demonstrate problematic patterns (Gahagan et al. 2007; Knight et al. 2012; Shoveller et al., 2010). This literature demonstrates that many determinants are impacting health outcomes for young men (both GBTQ and hetero). Furthermore, young GBTQ men are left out of the “Where are the men?” document. Through my research, I intend to shed light on issues which have not been thoroughly researched in Northern BC. In the 2010s, gender and health research has been increasing in ISB literature. This includes attempts to better understand men’s and GBTQ ISB regarding health information (Mehra & Braquet 2011; Wellstead 2014).

I also want to share some less ambitious methods which grad students can take to further engage in critical topics and then integrate them into their research. Hopefully, my current attempts to engage in non-normative information topics might help fellow and future graduate students.

Diversity in Young Adult Services
Christina Matekel
San Jose State University School of Information

Diversity and inclusion of all are becoming increasingly important in the book world. This is evident in the creation of campaigns like “We Need Diverse Books” and in the success of authors like Jacqueline Woodson. Librarians, as guides of information, knowledge, and books, are primarily responsible for promoting inclusion and equal access within their institutions in order to successfully cater to and educate all types of patrons. This research paper analyzes the problems inherent in libraries in regards to diversity and accessibility, as well as solutions based on the examples of successful libraries. It focuses primarily on the San Mateo Public Library district, although it contains statistics and examples from libraries nationwide. With the proposed program evaluation, this paper promises to successfully encourage racial diversity in all libraries.

Diversity in LIS Education: Continuing the Conversation
Twanna Hodge and Beth Lytle
University of Washington

Our project is an investigation into the present state of diversity content in LIS curricula. This investigation is a reflection of our interest in engaging with the field and how we and future graduates of MLIS programs have been shaped by both our educations and the world around us. We wish to engage in this conversation because LIS professionals are embedded in their communities at a level that requires a working knowledge of how to work comfortably and competently with diverse populations. While LIS programs do an excellent job of ensuring that their graduates have the technical skills and educational background necessary to cope with the changing technologies in their chosen profession, the interpersonal side of the curriculum often falls by the wayside due to the time constraints inherent in graduate degree programs, lack of funding, and number of core courses required to complete the MLIS degree.

We have chosen to limit the scope of our project to a survey and interviews at the top five schools with LIS programs in the United States, according to the 2013 US News and World Report. We intend to interview at least one relevant person at each of the schools which we have selected for our study. We will consolidate this data to produce a comprehensive overview of the gaps in coverage of diversity, as we see it, with reference to the University of Oregon’s diversity definition:

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies ( ).

We plan to present a poster discussing our goals, research methodology, study questions, and preliminary results of our information gathering.

The curriculum II.3.4 responds to the needs of a diverse society including the needs of underserved groups (This is from the ALA accreditation standards for LIS programs).

Accessible Options: Putting Learning Disabilities into Library School
Caitlin Archer-Helke
The Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Many Library and Information Science courses maintain a relative silence about services to people with learning disabilities, a silence which carries over into Library and Information Science’s professional literature. Accessibility, while occasionally discussed, is rarely present in the classroom—yet it is not only ethical to provide accommodations but, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), also a matter of compliance with the law. A level of alienation often accompanies learning disabilities, not just for those who live with these differences but for their families as well. People with learning disabilities do come to our libraries, school, public, and academic alike, and in order to provide them the same high levels of service as we provide other patrons, we must make sure that we are educated in serving them as well as their families.

Luckily, it is not so difficult to incorporate information about services to people with learning disabilities into our coursework. In many cases, it’s also not that difficult to improve the accessibility of services we already offer, including signage and websites, for people with disabilities. While this poster will make use primarily of dyslexia due to experience with this learning disability, adjustments to improve library accessibility for dyslexics are closely linked to the ADA’s website suggestions, meaning that by making our libraries more dyslexic-friendly, we are also making them more ADA-compliant. (It’s worth noting that, in many cases, we will also make our websites and signage easier for people without learning disabilities as well—clear signage helps everyone, including library staff.) Resources, including the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ guidelines for services to people with dyslexia and other learning differences and selected studies from the fields of education and library and information science, will be mentioned. The importance of understanding learning disabilities and of offering service to those with learning disabilities will be stressed, as will the importance of training tomorrow’s librarians to better understand, and thus better serve, those with learning disabilities.

NOTE: The “Looking Back and Looking Forward” Panel has been cancelled
Carol Tilley, David Dubin and Kathryn LaBarre
The Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2015 is the the sesquicentennial anniversary of the birth of Katharine L. Sharp, the first director of the Illinois State Library School. During the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, Sharp and other program directors such as Alice Kroeger at Drexel and Mary Wright Plummer at Pratt Institute led and oversaw key developments in library education curricula. Much of this pioneering work was undertaken by faculty who served at more than one program (e.g., Margaret Mann at Illinois and Michigan and Isadore Mudge at Illinois, Simmons, and Columbia).

A century later much has changed in the relationships among LIS programs, universities, libraries, industry, government, and citizens. But parallels in the character of past and current challenges may have more to offer us than one might expect. Early LIS educators considered how best to integrate training in the classroom and on the job. They incorporated cutting edge developments in office automation technology. Students participated in community outreach and education programs that were progressive not only socially and politically, but also in their impact on the conception of libraries, collections, and the service mission of our professions.

This panel will situate current issues of LIS education in a changing society with respect to analogous problems during the past 125 years, and the ways our founding mothers (and fathers) rose to meet those challenges. The panelists will each contribute five to ten minutes of remarks that culminate in a question for further discussion. The remaining time will be allocated between panelist and audience responses.

Filling in the Spaces
Anna Chovanec, Carl C. Haynes and Katrina Maust
Syracuse University

This presentation will introduce the ongoing student-led program “Filling in the Spaces” (FiTS) at Syracuse University. This program treats the library school environment and experience as a human library in itself, responding to the immediate educational and informational needs of students in an “all-hands-on-deck” way. Organized and supported by the Library and Information Science Student Assembly at SU (LISSA), FiTS maintains a living document of student interests, informational needs, and gaps in the curriculum, matching them with other students who are able to provide instruction or support in each area. LISSA then facilitates an informal presentation or instruction session (live-streamed and recorded) for distribution to the rest of the student body and alumni.

LISSA recognizes that, as library students, many of us have extensive backgrounds and personal passions in very diverse fields. We also recognize that library school is short and, sometimes, we need to divide and conquer. We converse with one another both across the classroom and across the world while maintaining full-time jobs and even starting from the ground up in a new profession. This makes taking advantage of the here-and-now particularly challenging. Working to establish each member of our student community as a resource, the FiTS program has helped us forge more meaningful, expertise-driven relationships with classmates, our de-facto professional network. We see the potential for this program to knit the fabric of our community a little more tightly, as well as help us engage with and mine the wealth of knowledge and experience among our online classmates. Given the limited opportunities for pre-professional opportunities, FiTS also provides a platform for students to acquire valuable presentation and instruction experience in a self-directed and impactful way.

The value of a program like FiTS is in its unique ability to help bridge the gap between being classmates and becoming colleagues, while driving student inquiry, boosting engagement, and enhancing the LIS community at SU. Perhaps most importantly, FiTS provides us with an avenue for immediate educational enhancement on our terms, while faculty wrestle with making long-term changes to curricula to meet the transforming requirements of the LIS field.

LEEP, WISE, CPLA, MOOC: Expanding Access to Library and Information Science Education
Linda Smith
The Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The conclusion of the GSLIS Program Presentation prepared in 2011 for review by the American Library Association Committee on Accreditation notes that GSLIS has embraced the University of Illinois’s ideals of Excellence, Innovation, and Access ( Since the online option of the MS program was launched in summer 1996, LEEP has been a key part of achieving those ideals. Focusing on access, as of 2011, 1067 students had earned their degrees online. These students would not otherwise have been able to earn a degree from Illinois. Focusing on one example of innovation, GSLIS co-founded the WISE (Web-based Information Science Education) consortium ( in 2004 to increase access to specialized courses across institutional boundaries. WISE+ was initiated in 2006 to expand the consortium to include professional library organizations. From the beginning research has been a part of our efforts to investigate online teaching and learning in order to ensure a level of excellence online comparable to what our on-campus students expect in their face-to-face courses and residential experience.

This presentation will present highlights of completed research and reflections on trends in online education for the first professional degree as well as for continuing professional development. The author has been an LIS educator for almost 38 years—the first 20 years in face-to-face classrooms and the next 18 years online. Examples of research and publications that will be drawn on include:
1) Smith, Linda C.; Lastra, Sarai; Robins, Jennifer. (2001). Teaching Online: Changing Models of Teaching and Learning in LEEP. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 42(4): 348-363
2) Haythornthwaite, Caroline; Kazmer, Michelle M., eds. (2004). Learning, Culture and Community in Online Education: Research and Practice. New York: Peter Lang.
3) Montague, Rae-Anne; Pluzhenskaia, Marina. (2007). Web-Based Information Science Education (WISE): Collaboration to Explore and Expand Quality in LIS Online Education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 48(1): 36-51.
4) Kingma, B.; Nicholson, S.; Schisa, K.; Smith, L.C. (2010). WISE+ Course Development Partnerships: Collaboration, Innovation, & Sustainability. IFLA Satellite Meeting, 8-9 August, Swedish School of Library and Information Science.
5) Smith, Linda. C. (2011). President’s Page [discussing online education in ASIS&T]. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science & Technology 37(4).

While schools of library and information science pioneered online education, it is becoming a much more widely available format for continuing professional development, from WebJunction Webinars (, to ALA’s wide range of online learning offerings (, to MOOCs such as the course on Metadata: Organizing and Discovering Information offered on the Coursera platform (, GSLIS has partnered with ALA-APA to offer short courses as part of the Certified Public Library Administrator (CPLA) program (

It is hoped that this presentation will stimulate discussion among participants: where do we go from here in online education for the master’s degree and beyond?

Evolution of programme design and curricula on master level in leading Nordic information Science Schools – Influence of the iSchool movement in curricula
Marton Nemeth
Monguz Ltd (Hungary)

I would like to take a short overview about the evolution of the iSchool movement and its implications to the education and research profile of respective Nordic library schools that just have become members to the iSchool community in the recent years. The presentation based on mainly some sub-topic of my master thesis submitted to the Digital Library Learning International Master Programme in Oslo and Akershus University College for Applied Sciences in 2013. The iSchool movement is active primarily in the LIS education field. Moreover, by following an interdisciplinary approach for the definition of information, not only LIS schools (around 75% of all members) but also schools of Computer Science and Management are also members of the iSchool community. That mixture of institutions with different profiles (but with LIS school dominance) refers back to the traditional debate on the definition of information in different disciplines. This community can create a broader partnership in research by the different disciplinary considerations in partnership than before. This seems to be the major positive impact of this cooperation model. The major community aim is to define a new brand. This brand broadens the focus of the education from training librarians in order to work in library to a more general direction. The aim is to educate people to all kinds of professional position in broad professional fields where managing, handling and retrieving information is an important issue. I would like to present that the evolution of iSchools and respective Nordic library school has developed in a paralell way to reach these similar aims. I would like to discuss in which points the iSchool movement (including the new Nordic members from Oslo, Copenhagen Boras and Tampere) represents a new holistic, interdisciplinary set of education approaches or just an important re-branding effort of the most representative research-based LIS schools together with some collaborator partners from other fields. Why iSchools are different from other library schools in the US and beyond? What are the main relevant points of iSchool membership in a Scandinavian sense? What are the main challenges behind brand new curricula programme designs in the Nordic countries? What are the challenges of paralell ways of on-site and distance education forms in English and in native languages? What kind of new collaboration forms can these Nordic schools establish in order to offer curses in new areas? How their goals are reflecting to the general iSchool aims?

Political economy in the LIS professions: acknowledging, naming, and closing the gaps in LIS education
Adam Paradis
Fr. Michael L. Pfleger Archives

How are we to approach the gaps in LIS curriculum, to discover that there are any gaps at all in the midst of our education and training? So often we encounter (and ignore) these absences only once we are embedded in the professions, as archivists, librarians, records and data managers. When our training always comes with the caveats “it depends” and “in practice, though” we need to be able to anticipate and be prepared to encounter glaring problems in our education illuminated by our practices. The only way to make them obvious, to prepare us for the our imminent future, is to critically engage the profession by theorizing practice and bringing practice to bear on theory.

My talk will offer some examples of how to begin spotting–and articulating–the gaps. Through the lens of critical theories that articulate the political economy and production of information work, the relations between power and our profession, and the values and institutions we tacitly reproduce, we can become engaged information professionals who can effectively shift and work within the constraints left silent in our training. By introducing with such critical lenses, we will bolster our roles in and for society while contributing to glaring gaps both in our training and education and in the literature that theorizes our work.

In this presentation, we will offer a critical appraisal of the profession, a realistic articulation of the work and production of information professionals, and the types of institutions, organizations, and ideologies we support–whether tacitly or explicitly–in information work. In lumping together these professions we have to acknowledge, too, that there are incongruences among them: the service profession elements, the quickness of response, the direct hand in general education so crucially a part of library work is absent in archives, for example. And yet if we take critical theory lenses to both professions we can ask the same question: whom do we serve, what is produced and reproduced, and what is compromised in the always already embeddedness of our professions?

The failure of theoretical work to adequately address our professions in practice means that we need to work to fill in those gaps as well. This can be done on the one hand, with a realistic understanding of information work and, on the other, a shrewd understanding of the problems of theory. On the one hand we have the practice of the profession, on the other, a theorization of the profession without the practice. This talk will be a speculative talk: we look at the profession, then the theory, and then how each must inform the other. This will not only bolster both theory and practice, but it will, in turn, re-callibrate the professions.

Through symposia like this, resource sharing, discussion and criticism on the many media available–even our forays into professional societies–we can engage our profession, grow the profession, and enhance the profession by becoming aware of their limits and the problems inherent to the work that we do.

Intellectual Freedom is Not Social Justice: ALA Accreditation, Symbolic Capital, and LIS Curricula
Kyle Shockey
Indiana University

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Libraries and Graduate School in Library and Information Science (GSLIS) faculties have remained puzzlingly silent on the academic and speech freedoms issue of Steven Salaita’s revoked tenure position last summer. The American Library Association (ALA), accrediting body for the GSLIS Master of Science degree and similar degrees required for tenure-track librarianship at UIUC, has long been a strident supporter of intellectual freedom and academic freedom as expressed by the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. A GSLIS student-run discussion, “Salaita and the Information Professions,” shed light on the many tensions involved for LIS students, faculty, and professionals in supporting Salaita and opposing the University. A late comment from Dr. Emily Knox highlighted an underexplored tension of supporting Salaita’s position that concerns LIS education: “Intellectual freedom and social justice are not the same thing.”

Social justice and critically-focused librarianship studies are largely absent from ALA-accredited LIS curricula. I will argue that this is partly due to the tensions between intellectual freedom as conceived of by the ALA and the activist focus of social justice. Following Emily Knox (2014), I will address the codification and institutionalization of intellectual freedom as a core value of modern American librarianship through the Library Bill of Rights, the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF), and the Intellectual Freedom Manual, now in its 8th edition as of 2010. This institutionalization reaches LIS education through the ALA’s Office for Accreditation (OA). The OA grants accreditation based on the guidelines of its Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies, last revised in 2008. The Standards state: “I.2 Program objectives are stated in terms of:…I.2.2 the philosophy, principles, and ethics of the field.” The curriculum is to support the program mission and objectives in terms of “student learning outcomes.” Given the prominent role afforded to intellectual freedom as a core value of the accrediting body, ALA-accredited master’s programs must reflect this value in their curricula in order to remain in line with the Standards.

In the Intellectual Freedom Manual, Candace D. Morgan defines intellectual freedom: it “accords to all library users the right to seek and receive information on all subjects from all points of view without restriction and without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others.” This follows the Jeffersonian notion that “[t]he marketplace of ideas must be free and unfettered and, most of all, not restricted by government action” (Morgan 2008). .” LIS education conceived through this classically liberal (and consequently, neoliberal) marketplace framework posits that librarianship is a service profession concerned with ideologically neutral acquisition of, access to, and organization of information that is driven by individual patron inquiry. This framework leaves no space for the professional librarian to interrogate questions of systemic inequality and oppression through librarianship practice. Ideological neutrality in social justice frameworks is a position that supports hegemonic and oppressive practices of state oversight and control. Social justice conceptions of LIS education are at odds with ALA’s conception of intellectual freedom and curriculum creators privilege intellectual freedom-focused rather than social justice-focused conceptions of LIS education to maintain compliance with ALA’s accreditation Standards.

LIS Education and New Conceptions of Democracy
Ryan Randall
Indiana University

Published sixteen years apart, Christine Pawley’s “Hegemony’s Handmaid? The Library and Information Studies Curriculum from a Class Perspective” (1998) and Mark C. E. Peterson’s “Grassroots and Habermas in West Bend: Some Reflections” (2014) offer compelling guidance for necessary correctives to sustained LIS education practices. Despite their differing conceptual frameworks, these articles share a concern for how the dominant LIS curriculum creates practitioners ill-prepared to conceive of and contend with social issues that persist among the communities served by LIS resources. This paper asserts that the notion of “agonistic democracy” common to theorists of radical democracy like Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and Jacques Rancière will assist LIS students in overcoming some of the LIS curriculum’s deficiencies and better anticipate the multiple communities that they will serve.

As Pawley convincingly argues, LIS curriculum tends towards pluralism, which “takes the individual as its unit of analysis [with key concepts of] the individual, behavior, conflict of interests, participation, and consensus,” and managerialism, which “takes as its level of analysis the organization [with key concepts of] bureaucracy, elite, rationality, formal vs informal and simple vs complex” (129-130). Rather than recognizing possibly conflicting user needs and motivations, the managerial perspective misapprehends users as data points. For his part, Peterson concludes his retelling of the recent West Bend, WI censorship case by admitting that the library board members “did not understand that our public spaces had been refeudalized,” by which he means that the grounds for debate pervading our society had altered (757).

Public universities and public libraries share a history of having their associated costs justified for the larger cause of developing an informed, critically engaged democratic citizenry. This notion of a single citizenry promotes a conception of library users as a single community, particularly when combined with the managerial tendency identified by Pawley. This managerial approach tends to flatten diverse communities by representing the actions of these diverse communities through a single set of usage data, thereby turning multiple communities into a singular community. It’s striking that LIS education has largely ignored the ongoing critique of democratic societies that have occurred in disciplines such as political science, cultural studies, and media and communication studies. Amidst those fields it has become increasingly common to understand communities as fractured—not only as multicultural, but with each of these multiple cultures itself containing divisions. Agonistic democracy proposes an understanding of democracy that not only allows for dissent but insists upon the productive value of disagreement.

This paper will outline some of the key aspects of this newer understanding of democracy and how it will help LIS practitioners avoid naive readings of communities such as the one examined in Peterson’s article. If we were taught to conceive of our users as belonging to multiple communities rather than a single one, we would be far more prepared to address diverging perspectives, create appropriate programming, and respond to calls for censorship.

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