Critical health sciences librarianship:
examining our role in social justice

The theme of the 2019 Joint Meeting will focus on critical health sciences librarianship. Critical librarianship, or critlib, is a movement to bring social justice principles into our work in libraries. This theme aims to engage meeting attendees in discussion about critical perspectives on health sciences library practice. Recognizing that we all work under regimes of white supremacy, capitalism, and a range of structural inequalities, how can our work in health sciences libraries intervene in and disrupt those systems?

Potential questions to address: “How do libraries address imbalances of power and privilege?” “What does the patron contribute to the information discovery process?” “How do gatekeepers like publishers, database providers, and libraries themselves hinder diversity?” and “Is neutrality ethical, or even achievable?”

Other topics of interest may include: feminist pedagogy, microaggressions, building diverse collections, patient education for underserved populations, and privilege & marginalization among the library workforce.

For more information on critlib, check out ACRL’s “Five Things You Should Read About Critical Librarianship”.

Incorporating the critlib theme

All papers, posters, and special content sessions should reflect the conference theme of critical librarianship. Critical librarianship, rooted in critical theory, is about applying principles of social justice to our work in libraries.

We challenge everyone to get creative! Critical librarianship isn’t a separate facet of librarianship; it involves ideas and principles we can all take on in our work each day. Many of us may already be practicing critlib and have just never labeled it this way.

You can incorporate the conference theme into your submission by….

1. Presenting on a topic related to critical librarianship

Talk about things you did:

  • A project that focused on providing library services to vulnerable populations
  • The work of a task force committed to addressing diversity & retention in your library’s hiring practices
  • How you use feminist pedagogy in your classes for nursing students
  • An archival collection that prioritizes the voices of marginalized groups

Talk about issues you want to discuss:

  • How existing biases influence our searches
  • White privilege in libraries: how does this affect our interactions, both with patrons and among staff
  • Emotional labor and burnout in library work

More ideas for critlib topics here:

2. Using a critical librarianship lens to present your work and share ideas.

Talk about things you did:

  • A panel sharing the unique paths of women & people of color to library leadership
  • A library internship program that included an initiative to recruit applicants from underserved populations
  • A scholarly resources class that presented open access publishing as a tool for social justice
  • Steps that your library has taken (or plans to take) to protect patron privacy
  • An exploration of shared assumptions about privilege, power, and oppression among teaching librarians and students
  • A collaboration with hospital staff to promote narrative medicine
  • How you’re using pieces of critical pedagogy & radical reference methods in your work

Talk about things you want to discuss:

  • Using reflective practice, mindfulness, and an ethic of care in library work
  • Neutrality and professionalism in libraries
  • Using patient voices to inform library services and collections
  • How can we shape health sciences collections in an anti-racist way?
  • How does trauma-informed care apply to our work in libraries?
  • How do libraries’ relationships with vendors promote and support existing structures of racial & gender inequity in publishing?
  • How does white supremacy culture manifest in our collections, spaces, teaching, archives, and services?
  • How do libraries best serve our patrons based on their intersectional identities?

More ideas for critlib topics/lenses here:

3. Using critical teaching methods in the presentation of your work

  • Critical teaching prioritizes student voices & aims to create social actors rather than passive learners. Some examples of ways to use these methods in your presentation:
  • Asking for attendee feedback in the form of a formal or informal poll
  • Incorporating time for discussion into your presentation
  • Repositioning authority in the classroom (i.e. using a flipped classroom)
  • Posing questions at the outset for attendees to consider during the presentation and organizing a discussion of those questions at the end
  • Sharing your own questions about your work and providing time for attendees to contribute feedback
  • Consciousness-raising by using examples in your talk that relate to social justice issues (i.e. a discussion of the complexities of searching for scholarly work on current events using the White Coats for Black Lives Matter movement as an example)
  • Using participatory assessment tools (i.e. 3-2-1 or minute paper)

More information about critical pedagogy methods here: