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Reviewed by:
  • The Self as Subject: Autoethnographic Research into Identity, Culture, and Academic Librarianship ed. by Anne-Marie Deitering, Robert Schroeder, and Richard Stoddart
  • John Henry Adams, PhD
The Self as Subject: Autoethnographic Research into Identity, Culture, and Academic Librarianship, ed. Anne-Marie Deitering, Robert Schroeder, and Richard Stoddart. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), 2017. 375 pages. $70.00 (ISBN 978-0-8389-8892-3)

Anne-Marie Deitering, Robert Schroeder, and Richard Stoddart's The Self as Subject: Autoethnographic Research into Identity, Culture, and Academic Librarianship showcases a new approach to research, autoethnography, which explores the researcher's personal experiences and connects this autobiographical story to wider cultural and social meanings. The book's chapters range from the traditional, such as academic essays, to the wildly experimental, including a short story. The collection focuses on self-reflection as a tool to promote social activism and increased diversity. The book may serve as a useful starting point for discussions about the role of librarians and the library within the university and outside it.

As laid out in Deitering's introduction, autoethnography is a form of critical selfreflection that serves as a remedy for the weaknesses inherent in positivist attitudes toward social research, which hold that the only authentic knowledge comes from what we can observe and measure and that proper research must be objective. This approach runs into trouble, however, since all researchers (and therefore all research) are inherently subjective. Autoethnography turns this apparent weakness of social research into a strength, offering a means to probe that subjectivity in productive ways by examining the context, history, and background of the researcher. The approach carries its fair share of challenges; the editors comment on the difficulty of identifying useful criteria for effective autoethnography that do not themselves revert to a kind of positivism where externally imposed criteria threaten to become another attempt at the same objectivity that autoethnography rejects as impossible. But this perspective also offers a space to experiment and to recognize insights that might otherwise be brushed aside.

The collection consists of an introduction and 16 chapters. The chapters vary in their structure, demonstrating throughout that, as Deitering notes in her introduction, "There is no right way to do autoethnography" (p. 11), and so no wrong way to do it either. The authors try radically different approaches, ranging from critical essays to a short story to a script for a comic book. Despite this variety, the collection functions cohesively as a whole. Throughout, there is active and thoughtful engagement with the [End Page 237] concept of autoethnography as a critical approach as well as an emphasis on narrative and how narrative shapes the work done by the authors in their positions as librarians and administrators.

The collection addresses five major areas: (1) how autoethnography can best be defined and understood as a critical tool, (2) the role played by digital media and resources in library science, (3) the role of the librarian as an instructor, (4) self-reflection as a means to gain insight into the library as an institution, and (5) social activism. Most of the chapters engage with several of these themes at once; self-reflection, in particular, recurs throughout the book. The main emphasis lies on self-reflection and social activism and on how, by reflecting on our own subjectivity as librarians, we can more clearly see where and how we can best work toward more diverse libraries and collections.

Because of the variety in style, the chapters could function well either individually or in small clusters to stimulate conversation within a library department or reading group. The three editors' contributions (the introduction and chapters 15 and 16) bookend the collection and lay out the principles of autoethnography as a research methodology, making a natural cluster of readings. Similarly, the three chapters about digital resources (chapters 3, 9, and 14) work well together, particularly since they approach their topic from radically different angles and make for an interesting contrast of ideas. The collection is most powerful when it addresses questions of race and how race featured in our library collections, the physical spaces of our libraries, and our profession, particularly in chapters 3, 4...


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pp. 237-238
Launched on MUSE
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