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"Making trouble that matters": ALA president Emily Drabinski to speak on campus

Graphic with the UMSI logo, a photo of Emily Drabinski, and the text: Data, Archives and Information in Society (DAIS) Seminar: "What's Critical About Critical Librarianship?": Emily Drabinski: President, American Library Association: Associate Professor, Queens College: Photo: Alisha Jucevic

Wednesday, 01/31/2024

Emily Drabinski, 2023-24 president of the American Library Association and associate professor of library and information studies at Queens College, will speak on the University of Michigan campus on Feb. 6 about the critical need for critical librarianship. 

Drabinski’s visit to the School of Information comes in the midst of escalating pro-censorship attacks on libraries. 

“We need to make trouble — good trouble, the kind of trouble that matters,” she wrote in July when she took office as ALA president, referencing the need for libraries to organize in response to pressing issues like climate change, book bans and budget cuts.

The same month, the Montana State Library Commission voted to leave the ALA in protest of a social media post in which Drabinski had celebrated her election, describing herself as a “Marxist lesbian.” 

While book bans span headlines, it is less common for librarians — even ALA presidents — to make national news. That changed when Drabinski assumed leadership of the oldest and largest library association in the world, attracting criticism from some conservatives for her identity and ideology. 

“My own personal political viewpoint is a target right now,” Drabinski told NBC News, “but my personal agenda doesn’t drive the association. It’s the agenda of all of us together.”

In her seminar, “What’s Critical About Critical Librarianship?”, Drabinski will speak about critical librarianship — which interrogates the power structures that underpin libraries, including racism, patriarchy and capitalism — as a framework for addressing current issues. 

“More people are talking about libraries as vital institutions than they have in my entire career,” Drabinski says. She acknowledges that this attention comes, in part, as a response to attacks on libraries. “But I’d like to think it's also due to a growing recognition that libraries are crucibles of access and equity, both committed to expanding the public good and a part of the public good itself,” she says.

Her talk will explore the potential of libraries to become liberatory spaces. “Organizing is what we are best at,” she writes about librarians, referencing the daily work of putting books in order as well as the broader power to come together and enact change.

Hosted by the Archives, Records and (digital) Curation research group at UMSI, the Data, Archives and Information in Society seminar series brings together a vibrant and diverse community of scholars whose cutting-edge research in information science, archival science, librarianship and the social sciences aims to broaden the understanding of important social and technological issues.

“Emily’s work has drawn a lot of attention to the role of libraries and librarians, and the ways that our work, which sometimes seems behind the scenes, is involved in broader biased and inequitable social systems,” says Jesse Johnston, clinical assistant professor of information. 

“It is our honor to host Emily and use our platform to further amplify her message to our community of Michigan librarians in the public sector and other educators around the region,” says Ricky Punzalan, associate professor of information and director of the Museum Studies program. 

Drabinski’s seminar, which is supported in part by the William W. Bishop Lectureship Fund, is open to the public. It will be held in the Rackham Amphitheatre with a reception to follow, and online via Zoom. RSVP here

Abigail McFee, marketing and communications writer

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Data, Archives and Information in Society Seminar: Emily Drabinski