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Book Reviews

Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis. Kate Adler, Ian Beilin, and Eamon Tewell, eds. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2018. 322p. Paper, $35.00 (ISBN: 978-1-63400-051-2).

Book cover for Reference Librarianship & Justice: History, Practice & Praxis

Social justice and critical information literacy have become a recognized part of academic librarianship; so far, much of the scholarship has focused on instruction services. This text extends these same practices and pedagogies to reference services. The preface begins to look at how social justice factors into reference work and makes an argument for supporting our most vulnerable patrons through reference work. The author of the preface sees reference as being able to support vulnerable people through positive affirming experiences with librarians. In the introduction, the editors recognize reference as a valuable service and the role that it can play in social justice and critical practice while preparing the reader for the chapters that follow. The editors of this text have collected chapters from a diverse group of librarians and academics that fit into three themes: history, practice, and praxis. Each section leads into the next with a short introduction from one of the editors, who links the chapters in the section together and explains what the reader should expect from the next section of the text.

The first section is centered on the history of social justice in reference librarianship both in the United States and overseas. The histories come from the U.S. as well as the Philippines and the Ukraine, and all demonstrate the role that libraries and librarians have had in assisting oppressed peoples and gathering the history of vulnerable populations or unbiased information to save for future generations. This section provides history and background on the value of social justice within libraries, which the next sections build upon to discuss practice and praxis.

The next section, on practice, describes the current work of librarians to assist oppressed and vulnerable people and focuses heavily on services for prisoners and other detained people such as children held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Librarians in this section, especially those working with prisoners, discuss reference and access to information as a basic component of life. Those working to provide information to prisoners describe how they provide reference services in many different ways, detailing the challenges they face in getting information to the prison population. Many of the challenges involve knowing what prisoner can and cannot receive or access and using highly regulated systems to get information to prisoners. This section on practice also includes chapters on how reference in archives and data reference aid critical information literacy and reference services in allowing people who might not know how to navigate an archive, access data, or how to use these types of information.

The final section, on praxis, focuses on theory and putting that theory into practice to build upon existing theory. Overall, this section is the most challenging to navigate and the most philosophical, but there is value here for those who are looking to implement some form of critical reference in their own work environment. The content in this section can also be applied to many different environments. The authors in this section are thinking about how to foster reference that is empathetic, egalitarian, and feminist with empathy and vulnerability at the core. This section also considers the vulnerable role of minorities within librarianship and that of librarians, especially librarians with faculty status, who exist in a forgotten or marginalized space in comparison to other faculty members. Like critical information literacy, critical reference uses teaching philosophy to address the whole person in reference and consultations, acknowledges the privilege that exists for many librarians, and adopts social justice theories from education and social work.

Anyone who is curious about the role of social justice in reference or libraries should read this book; it does not focus solely on one type of library or archive, so it can be useful to all librarians. The authors and editors expose some practices and theories that can assist libraries and archives in social justice work, as well as some surprising areas where the library or the archive is the place where disenfranchised people find support. Personally, I could relate some part of each section of this text to my work within libraries and the type of service I hope to provide as a reference librarian. I was especially moved by the stories of human connection both in the preface by Maria T. Accardi and throughout the book: libraries playing a role in helping people feel whole by shining a light on struggles and the way they are supported.—Elise Ferer, Drexel University

Copyright Elise Ferer


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