As I wrestle with applying ideas from feminist and queer theory to the work and missions of libraries, I’ve alternated between talking about “A queer feminist theory of libraries” and “A queer feminist agenda for libraries.” The more I think and write about it, the more I realize that I’m really talking about an agenda, and that I need to just own and embrace that.
One of the hallmarks of both feminist theory and queer theory is that they are not pure theory – they are, by definition, also agendas. Feminism and queer theory propose agendas for equality; for a global democracy that recognizes intersections of race, ethnicity, gender & gender expression, class, religion, and nationality; and for disruptions of patriarchy and heteronormativity (for more, see A New Queer Agenda).
But feminist and queer theory aren’t the only agenda driven theories. One of the key contributions of feminist theory (especially feminist epistemology) has been to debunk the myth of scientific objectivity and value-neutrality.
Feminist theory and queer theory provide the tools to critically examine the practices and norms of librarianship by encouraging us to look for the silences, the failures, and the taken-for-granted definitions of our work as a way to expose exclusions, marginalizations and biases. Taking up these tools is a political act. Of course, not taking up these tools, and deciding not to critically examine collection development policies, cataloging practices, digitization and preservation priorities, and the whole slew of services libraries offer is also a political act.
It occurs to me that it may well be professionally risky to admit to having an agenda – especially a radical one rooted in feminist and queer values. But every vision of the future of libraries is value-laden and agenda-driven. There are those who prefer to think of libraries as neutral repositories of information, evolving in form and function in reaction to changes in higher education, in our patrons’ expectations, and in technology. In some ways, this vision of libraries seems value-free and agenda-less. But make no mistake about it – passivity, delusions of neutrality, and abdication of social responsibility are also agendas.
A feminist and queer agenda for libraries is a unapologeticly activist agenda, rooted in values of democracy, inclusion, and equality. It is an agenda that starts with a critical examination of current practices and offers new visions for a future of libraries as nodes of resistance and disruption to heteronormative, patriarchal, racist, classist, anti-egalitartian structures. Stay tuned for a more detailed articulation of these ideas.
So, yes, I have an agenda. We all do.