Progressive Librarians Guild Toronto Area Chapter

Posted on by Anna

The PLG-GTA wishes to express its disappointment with the organizers of the 50th Anniversary Bassam Lecture by R. David Lankes on “Radical Librarians”, as well as its concern with the Faculty of Information (iSchool) at University of Toronto for the message it has sent in its handling of the response from the community.

The PLG-GTA believes the event should have been moved off-site from the University of Toronto. By not doing so, the organizers required attendees to cross the CUPE 3902 picket lines. This strike is about precarious labour - an issue that deeply affects libraries and library workers in all sectors. This strike is also about the teaching conditions and wages of the University of Toronto’s teaching assistants and graduate student employees who are important friends and users of Toronto’s many libraries. Solidarity comes in many forms, but a mainstay of solidarity is the choice to not cross a picket line.

It has been pointed out that the iSchool has been operating uninterrupted since the strike began, and that other professional development events have run smoothly without attention being drawn. Clearly, the notoriety of the speaker and the visibility of the Bassam Lecture was a factor in the outcry from the library community. However, it behooves the PLG-GTA to acknowledge that the iSchool has been sending a very concerning message to students and to the community allowing professional development events to continue while there is a strike. The PLG-GTA condemns in no uncertain terms the efforts of the iSchool to silence criticism on Twitter by reporting a parody account.[1]

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Library school needs to be a space for students to explore all sides of issues that affect them now and into the future. To be the “agents of transformative change” that R. David Lankes wishes to encourage, students need to be able to form critique, express dissent and speak freely without fear of reproach.

In terms of the lecture itself, the PLG-GTA is bemused at its use of the phrase “radical librarians.” The definition of “radical” that Lankes offered at the lecture was threefold: fundamental, extreme and wicked cool. We prefer the following definition offered by Merriam-Webster :

“favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions”

To co-opt a powerful word with a caricature is insulting to those who are trying to effect grassroots change in a system that is widely believed to be compromised by a flooded job market made up of increasingly precarious labour conditions. The assertion that we are typically “unbiased agents standing ready to serve,” but should instead be “agents of transformative change” is contradicted by the circumstances surrounding this event.

Finally, the PLG-GTA wishes to explicitly condemn Lankes’ use of the term “riots” to characterize the continuing situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Choosing the word “riots” to describe months of peaceful protests in the face of systemic racism and injustice is precisely a symptom of the issues at hand in Ferguson, and beyond.

The PLG-GTA’s views are not a personal attack or criticism of students who crossed the picket line in order to attend the event. We take primary issue with the decisions made by the iSchool, the event planners, and the speaker who encouraged attendees to cross in the first place and in doing so also demonstrated a complete disregard for the implications of hosting an event on radical librarianship on the wrong side of a picket line.

[1] See exchange here: and

Posted on by Anna | Posted in Statements | Tagged , , , , , ,

About Anna

[resigned from PLG-GTA in 2016]