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  • Introduction
  • Emily Drabinski (bio), Aliqae Geraci (bio), and Roxanne Shirazi (bio)

Labor in academic libraries has reemerged as an area of critical interest in both academic library and archives communities. Librarians and archivists have long worked to counter the diminishment of their labor within an academy that centers the concerns of disciplinary faculty who may, in turn, see knowledge workers as a footnote to the scholarly enterprise. Recent years have seen a renewed attention to the social and economic conditions of our work, as researchers turned to topics such as affective labor in libraries and archives, attitudes toward labor unions, and information work under capitalism (Sloniowski 2016; Mills and McCullough 2018; Burns 2018). As the landscape of higher education changes dramatically after decades of reduced public investment, rising tuition, and an explosion of student loan debt, colleges and universities have sought to streamline, downgrade, and outsource labor. Workers have in turn fought back by organizing, withholding their labor, and articulating new visions of the academy and the academic workplace.

To that end, we sought to collect new scholarship reflecting the broad range of issues facing information workers in the academic setting. From professional status and credentialing to emotional labor and discrimination, we saw a need for a thorough assessment of the conditions of labor in the contested terrain of libraries and higher education. The editors of this collection come to this topic as academic librarians, labor activists, and educators who have worked as union organizers, officers, staff, and rank-and-file, and as information workers in the labor movement.

Library workers' associations have long been riddled with deep-seated tensions between labor and management, unionism and professionalism, that weaken their potential as vehicles for discourse and coordination. It's something of a cliché, but entirely factual, to state that the American Library Association, ostensibly the primary professional organization for librarians, is an association organized for libraries and not the librarians [End Page 103] or library workers who staff them. As academic librarians involved across the organization, including with the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL) division, we are well aware of the lack of a forum for conversations about the profession. At the 2017 ACRL conference, when Drabinski and Shirazi presented on the feminization of librarianship, they were dismayed to find that among the available session "tags" there was no suitable category to discuss the work of librarianship. Geraci has organized labor-oriented programming at ALA Annual for the AFL-CIO/ALA Labor Committee and the ALA-APA Salaries and Status of Library Workers Committee since 2012, resorting to tagging sessions with "career development," "personnel and staffing," "human resources," and "advocacy" in the hopes of surfacing sessions in the conference Scheduler, and often decentering unions, work, and labor in program proposals in order to win limited session space in the shrinking conference footprint. Year after year, there is plenty of room secured for conversations about library administration, management, and leadership—but few spaces for library workers seeking to critically examine libraries as a site of our own labor.

There have been promising developments in this area as library workers begin to form new structures for facilitating these conversations, such as the Digital Library Federation's Working Group on Labor in Digital Libraries, Archives, and Museums. In the announcement for that group, Ruth Tillman, one of the group's organizers, touches on the ways in which examining the issue of labor in libraries can reach beyond our institutional walls: "Where a digital library might contract with a company which exploits the under-compensated labor of incarcerated persons for lower-cost digitization, a state library may be mandated to use such labor and prohibited from making up a difference to minimum wage" (2017). The ability to connect our own workplaces to the broader struggle for social justice is just one step we hope to take through the contributions in this issue.

In moving beyond topical discussions of the workplace from a personnel management perspective, we seek to advance a shared understanding and analysis of library labor from a worker-centered perspective, with the objective of promoting collective organization and analysis independent from library management.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0682
Print ISSN
0024-2594
Pages
pp. 103-109
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-22
Open Access
No
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