Critical Librarianship or #Critlib

Because academic librarians provide services to a wide variety of faculty, many faculty members forget that librarianship is its own profession. Many times librarians get lumped together with other types of support staff (even if tenure track) without getting the deference and support that we need as a niche academic field.

But librarians study important factors that affect the search and retrieval of information. Part of the library profession is to look at librarianship with a critical eye, thus was born critical librarianship. So what is critical librarianship, you ask?

It places librarianship within a critical theorist framework that is epistemological, self-reflective, and activist in nature. According to Elaine Harger, librarians that practice critical librarianship strive to communicate the ways in which libraries and librarians consciously and unconsciously support systems of oppression. Critical librarianship seeks to be transformative, empowering, and a direct challenge to power and privilege.

Critical librarianship in academic libraries can support critical thinking, information literacy, and lifelong learning skills in students. According to Maria T. Accardi, Emily Drabinski, and Alana Kumbier, librarians and scholars that are incorporating a critical information literacy praxis into their teaching and learning practices are reflecting on their pedagogy beyond standards, competencies, and outcomes.This process involves self-reflection on pedagogical theory, teaching practices, and assessment of the student and teacher. It is the process and not the product that we have to be more mindful of. Lua Gregory and Shana Higgins argue that librarians, when applying a critical perspective in their work, consider the historical, cultural, social, economic, and political forces that interact with information in order to critique, disrupt, and interrogate these forces.Information is not neutral, thus the way that information is presented by librarians adds meaning and context for students. There is power and privilege in the ways in which information is presented and processed by instructors and students. The dialectical relationship between students who can access the information and those without access is separated by pay walls, skewed algorithms, and hegemonic authority controlled vocabulary. If we dig a little deeper into the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, we would find that authority, information, information creation, research, and scholarship are constructed and contextual.

Critical librarianship is involved when discussing bias in machine learning, for example.

Critlib has sprung out of this movement. Critlib is an informal gathering—discussion happens wherever interested library workers come together! The primary discussions have taken place on Twitter (using the hashtag #critlib; find our archived discussions here) and at conferences.


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