Reflecting on the 2023 Critical Pedagogy Symposium: A Focus on Critical Race Theory
Hafeezah Hussein, Instruction Assessment Associate
New York University Libraries
Lia Warner, Reference and Instruction Associate
New York University Libraries
Conference organizers Hafeezah Hussein and Lia Warner reflect on the 2023 Critical Pedagogy Symposium, from planning to execution.
“What is the political project of libraries?” This question was posed to me during a recent meeting with David J. Hudson, and then again with Baharak Yousefi, two librarians and thought leaders, based outside of the US context, who agreed to hold a closing keynote conversation with Emily Drabinski, ALA President-elect. This question, “What is the political project of libraries?” sits at the intersection of anti-racist practice and EDI work. It is our charge to consider the tools of radicalism, of deconstruction, and that of the magnitude of repair – an undoing of white supremacy, that we as arbiters of information are bound up in and accountable. This work feels quite urgent to me. It is care work. It is somatic. It is ancestral. It is inside of every move I make in this profession.”
– Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, from the introduction to the Critical Pedagogy Symposium closing keynote conversation.
The 2023 Critical Pedagogy Symposium was the second of two symposia on critical pedagogies in libraries and archives. As members of its planning team, we aim to describe highlights and give a summative overview and reflection to those who attended and anyone wanting to reference the work going forward. The first Critical Pedagogy Symposium occurred online in 2021 and focused generally on criticality in libraries. Organizers wanted the 2023 symposium to be a “working symposium” and focus explicitly on race, particularly considering applications of the Critical Race Theory framework in libraries.
The Symposium organizing committee, which brought together library professionals from New York University Libraries (NYU), City University of New York (CUNY), and Barnard College, felt that we needed to specifically center this year’s event on race, as right-wing attacks on libraries and learning institutions have made the defense of CRT more necessary than ever. In addition to the labor of the organizers, the Symposium was financially supported with generous gifts from NYU Libraries, Barnard Library, Library Juice Press and Library Juice Academy, METRO Reference & Instruction Special Interest Group (SIG), with additional in-kind support from CUNY’s Library and Information Literacy Committee (LILAC).
In the beginning stages of planning, we acknowledged that our aim for this working event was not necessarily centered around answering topical questions, but rather about creating a safe space for the facilitation of meaningful conversations surrounding Critical Race Theory in librarianship. We believe that this new format and focus resonated with library workers across the globe, as over 1200 library professionals, students, archivists, and more registered for the event. An event of this scale would not have been possible without volunteers from the community who stewarded Zoom rooms, collected questions from the chat, and provided crucial behind-the-scenes support. A heartfelt thank you to all of the participants and volunteers who helped create this space for dialogue.
The symposium included a total of 21 presentations and 42 presenters who engaged participants across a variety of formats including lightning talks, paper presentations, facilitated discussions, and peer review workshops. Topics spanned across issues pertaining to design justice, book bans, legal research to the intersections of CRT through queer and disability justice work. We felt it was imperative for us to define how we understood the objectives of critical pedagogy, and our discussions led us to include aspects of CRT that interrogate and explore structures of power, teach frameworks of anti-oppression, provide a vision of justice that can help us to do better work, and encourage self-reflection by examining indigenous and decolonial perspectives. We also wanted to foreground race and racism as the connecting and determinant structure for which issues (including labor, class, and gender) intersect. Below, we have provided a small sample of these presentations:
- Is Metadata Also Ignorance? Agnotology, Race, and Description by Jose Guerrero
- The Library as Carceral Geography: How LIS Professionals Can Engage in the Work of Liberatory Place-Making by lawrence maminta & Jeremy Abbott
- Ua lawa mākou i ka pōhaku: Native Hawaiian Experiences in Librarianship by Kawena Komeiji and Shavonn Matsuda
- Intersectional Methods: Conversations on Archives and Practice with a Queer and CRT Lens by Nancy Liliana Godoy, Steven Fullwood, Lizeth Zepeda, Liliana C. González, Sara Howard, and Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz. Moderated by Valencia L. Johnson
- Lightning Talks by Anders Tobiason, Brandy Whitlock, Mondo Vaden, and Tierney Gleason
The sessions were grounded by three keynote sessions: an opening session with David James Hudson, a mid-symposium plenary with Critical Pedagogy Librarians Jamillah Gabriel, Robin Gee, Symphony Bruce, and Tova Johnson, and a closing keynote with David James Hudson, Emily Drabinski, and Baharak Yousefi. Recordings for the opening session may be found here, and recordings for the mid-symposium session may be found here. The closing keynote was not recorded.
The sessions were united by several core themes: the possibility of anti-racism work (from CRT to DEI) within the neoliberal university, either as individuals or as an institution; the labor that is involved in this type of work and the need to assess for equity, responsibility, and care; and the crucial recognition of the community-embedded nature of information work and pedagogy at the foundation of any critical practice. David James Hudson’s powerful keynote got us geared up for our three-day symposium. Titled “On the Work of Critical Race Theory in the Library World,” Hudson focused his presentation on anti-CRT attacks in libraries and how CRT work addresses the failures of ineffective DEI initiatives. At the heart of his talk, he notes that this work is not complete until we dismantle capitalistic structures and the influence of the ruling class.
In the end, Hudson gave us all more to ponder in our practice, including considering our own political project(s) within CRT, our visions of racial justice, and how we confront our own assumptions about racism and its persistence. See the accompanying blog post on Hudson’s website for additional reading and resources.
Critical Pedagogy Librarians Jamillah Gabriel, Robin Gee, Symphony Bruce, and Tova Johnson centered their mid-symposium plenary on the intersections, explorations, and practice of CRT with critical pedagogy librarianship. Using Leung & López-McKnight’s Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory (2021) as the anchor for their discussion, the group addressed the work of the critical pedagogy librarian. The conversation leaned towards the integration of central themes and applications of CRT in pedagogy, including interest convergence, critique of dominant ideologies, and an emphasis on historical context. In the end, the four panelists left us to question how and if this framework is applicable within the neoliberal institution.
The closing keynote began with a discussion of the three panelists’ contexts and approaches to their work, couched within the larger question of what critical work was possible to achieve within the neoliberal university. Hudson noted that the library as an institution was “an always-already political space,” and that intentional political work looks different for individuals depending on their circumstances and capacity. The question of responsibility and ability to do critical work within larger institutions was a recurring theme. Hudson emphasized that formulaic explanations of who was supposed to “do the work” of anti-racism within libraries was a flawed approach. Rather, it is crucial to understand why the work needs to be done and how this work requires us to address anti-Blackness specifically. Continuing the discussion of personal and institutional responsibility and capacity with regard to anti-racist work, Yousefi and Hudson, at one point in the closing conversation, also discussed Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s concept of “the undercommons,” a political framework for understanding how the university system neutralizes radical actors from within to uphold capitalist social structure.
Yousefi also brought up the importance of solidarity as a way of conceptualizing our relationships and responsibilities to others. Indeed, when the conversation shifted to the role of pedagogy, all speakers converged on the radical potential in relationship building between students, librarians, teachers, and the wider community. Yousefi noted that the one-shot format of library instruction can impede the formation of these crucial bonds and spaces that foreground critical transformations. This underscores the need for engagement within the university and library community when working towards a radical, anti-racist political project in libraries.
In addition to the symposium discussion and recordings, members of the organizing committee from NYU’s Division of Libraries engaged in candid conversation on the Organic Intellectuals podcast regarding CRT. Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, Assistant Curator and Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning, and Engagement; Hebah Emara, Librarian for Open Innovation; and Symphony Bruce, the Critical Pedagogy Librarian, sat down with Dr. Anthony “Tony” Dunbar, co-founding member of the CRT Collective to discuss their experiences with criticality in library spaces, their journeys through librarianship, and their work with the 2023 Critical Pedagogy Symposium.
he two-part episode, which also has video excerpts on the CRT Collective YouTube channel, explores the librarians’ journeys through LIS explores the librarians’ journeys through LIS, insights on the availability of critical content and engagement in LIS programs, as well as issues such as deep coloniality, Black and POC “tax”, safety, and trauma. The librarians also shared reflections on the 2021 Critical Pedagogy Symposium, both from the point of view of an organizer and a participant.
Although learning, building community, and collaboration were at the forefront of this event, we implore attendees to think about and act on “the next steps.” We hope this Symposium has set the stage for ideas we each can take back to our professional and personal communities. We thank all who attended, participated, supported, and were in community with fellow library professionals during our event.
To view symposium recordings and keep up future events, visit our website at: https://mnylc.org/cps/. You can also find updates and chime into our conversation on Twitter by tweeting @crit_pedagogy and following the hashtag, #CPS2023. See you in 2025!
“2023 Critical Pedagogy Symposium.” https://mnylc.org/cps/.
Bruce, Symphony, Jamillah R. Gabriel, Robin Gee, and Tova Johnson. Critical Pedagogy Symposium Mid-Symposium Plenary, 2023. https://nyu.zoom.us/rec/share/QYmjKNOtlwVdEE6TfFNw30wM9klXuwNvIIkltuaf_1dQ8nCmZyIz3vyD_m-6sXVs.FBLMK29RZLm_6PgJ?startTime=1684434659000.
Bruce, Symphony, Jamillah R. Gabriel, Robin Gee, and Tova Johnson. “Critical Pedagogy Symposium Mid-Symposium Plenary Resources & Links.” https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ggVf_FB9RBfkIkL2ZRZ8hvt0XvZhUKD–3NEcH-1BZ0/edit?usp=embed_facebook.
Drabinski, Emily, David James Hudson, and Baharak Yousefi. “Critical Pedagogy Symposium Closing Keynote Resources & Links.” https://docs.google.com/document/u/1/d/17EV9fnyfB2ZVCQrwj5Kgn08GcwYes5t4ErODm0TO384/edit?usp=sharing&usp=embed_facebook.
Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe New York Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2013. https://www.minorcompositions.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/undercommons-web.pdf.
Hudson, David James. Critical Pedagogy Symposium: On the Work of Critical Race Theory in the Library World, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7hKCiD5HhY.
Hudson, David James. “‘On the Work of Critical Race Theory in the Library World’—Additional Notes and Other Resources.” David James Hudson, May 17, 2023. https://www.davidjameshudson.ca/on-the-work-of-critical-race-theory-in-the-library-world-additional-notes-and-other-resources/.
Leung, Sofia Y., and Jorge R. López-McKnight. Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory. The MIT Press, 2021. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/11969.001.0001.
The Organic Intellectuals Podcast: The 2023 Critical Pedagogy Symposium Part 1, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoFay0OmHGA.
The Organic Intellectuals Podcast: The 2023 Critical Pedagogy Symposium Part 2, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKXOEHTkUvU.
About the Authors & Conference Organizers