Book Reviews

Practicing Social Justice in Libraries. Alyssa Brissett and Diana Moronta, eds. New York: Routledge, 2022. 155 p. Paper, $39.95 (978-0-367-76490-6).

Book cover for Practicing Social Justice in Libraries

The editors articulate the following guiding questions for this collection: What does diversity work look like in librarianship? How are librarians implementing social justice elements into their daily work? How are librarians protesting and resisting in their everyday work? While in some chapters I may have longed for a little more theoretical grounding or a clearer awareness of how these chapters connect with existing literature, these guiding questions provide a clear through-line for the collection as a whole. This book is made for those seeking practical yet challenging approaches to incorporating social justice into library work.

I am a white, settler-descendent, disabled, queer/trans/non-binary librarian working in the ancestral homelands of the Dakota people. I want to acknowledge that these identities shaped my perspective as I read these chapters.

The collection opens with three Black librarians who work in predominantly white institutions sharing their observations about institutional responses to anti-Black racism and their survival strategies as they advocate for social change at their institutions (“Black Librarianship in the Times of Racial Unrest”). One of the themes from that chapter carries over to chapter 2: the importance of having BIPOC1-centered programs and networks to support those doing much of the heavy lifting to move conversations about social justice forward. A standout observation from this chapter references one of the presentations from the conference the librarians organized, in which archivist Joyce Gabiola argues that diversity research is “a panopticon to surveil POC, and diversity initiatives were institutional devices to control POC and protect whiteness” (22). Observations like this challenge dominant narratives about social justice research and practice, and exemplify the important work contained in this collection.

Other authors discuss how to incorporate social justice into library programming (“Information Is a Two-Way Street” and “Bringing Diverse Library Exhibitions and Events to Life”), and how to incorporate sustainability into building design and student learning (“Environmental Equity for Students in the Library and LEED2 Buildings”). This last chapter would have benefited from more focus on sustainability conversations happening in the library profession. I truly could not tell if the authors were unaware of library sustainability movements and scholarship, or if they were deliberately not discussing them. (Is library sustainability culture a social justice nightmare and better left unmentioned? I don’t know! But now I’m very curious.)

Some standout chapters that I’ve already brought to the attention of colleagues include “LibGuides for Social Justice” and “Weaving the Longhouse ‘Four Rs’ in LibGuides.” Both chapters are beautifully contextualized in relation to their respective community needs and the responsibilities that come with sharing information—including knowing what cultural information is appropriate to make public.

Another standout chapter is the brilliantly titled “Adhocking It: Overcoming the Overwhelm to Start Creating Equitable and Inclusive Collections Now.” The authors discuss their process: identifying the need to change collection practices to better incorporate “voices traditionally marginalized, or altogether excluded, from academic scholarship” (100); articulating why it matters; and acknowledging how overwhelming it can feel to try to fix something with hundreds of years of historical momentum, especially when libraries’ data management tools were not designed for this purpose. Reading about how they worked through the challenges to develop more inclusive collections, and how by doing this work they were able to build more humanizing relationships with students, was very motivating.

I was also moved by the critical reflections contained in “Creating EDI Internships within the Academic Library.” The internships in question served as paid opportunities for undergraduate students to learn skills that would support their own personal or professional goals while doing library EDI3 work under the supervision of a librarian. However, such a position has potential pitfalls. As intern Atmaza Chattopadhyay notes, students who are passionate about social justice but who have had prior negative experiences with this sort of position when they were “framed around EDI [but] only served to further the capitalist interests of the organization,” may be hesitant to apply for fear that they and their work will be mere tokens (125).

Due to my personal and professional interest in disability studies, I was very excited to read “Creating More Possibilities,” which uses adrienne maree brown’s work on emergent strategy to critique individualistic rhetoric around self-care. As several authors in this collection note, including those in the final chapter on “Diversity Fatigue,” social justice work can be traumatizing and exhausting for those who undertake it. This is due not only to being marginalized persons trying to survive in a racist, cis-sexist, ableist working environment but also to being repeatedly called onto participate in or even lead emotionally heavy diversity committees because of those identities.4 Emergent strategy helps us envision possibilities grounded in interdependence and decentralization of responsibility. By approaching diversity fatigue from a systemic lens, we can better see the possibilities that come from a community of care. This sentiment is echoed in the concluding chapter: “It is in a shared accountability that the emotional labor that is often affiliated with DEI efforts may move beyond the diversity fatigue experienced by a minority population to that of a collective, equally divided experience” (151). — Jessica Schomberg, Minnesota State University-Mankato


1. The expanded form of this abbreviation provided by the authors is Black, Indigenous, People of Color

2. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design

3. This acronym and its expanded version are inconsistent across chapters but mean essentially the same thing: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

4. The combination of chapter two and the final two chapters helped me to see connections between the fatigue and trauma caused by doing disability work and Jasbir Puar’s writing on debility (creating endemic disability through a process of slowly wearing out targeted populations). It was a very exciting spark of realization!

Copyright Jessica Schomberg

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