In the latest of our In-Depth Interviews with Library Journal Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, we caught up with Long Island University (LIU) Brooklyn Instruction Coordinator Emily Drabinski. Drabinski presents regularly on the intersections between information studies and gender studies, and is also involved in the publishing end of library work, editing a series of titles on gender and information studies and sitting on the board of the journal Radical Teacher, which she helped in moving to an open access format earlier this year.
What attracted you to library work in the first place?
I had wanted to be a writer all my life, so I moved to New York and worked in magazines during and after college, until it became clear that I was never going to make it. I was fact checking at Lucky magazine, a magazine about shopping, and I printed the number for Bloomingdale’s in a story about Saks, and my life became a week of hell. So in 2001, I became a trainee at New York Public Library and started library school at Syracuse. Immediately, it felt like coming home.
If you could, talk a little about the book series you edit with Library Juice Press. Does being involved in publishing affect your work as a librarian and teacher?
I think of instruction as helping students access and begin to participate in conversations in their field. I think of publishing work as making space for different kinds of conversations. Litwin has done incredible work in that way, and I’m happy to be part of helping to make sure a lot of voices get heard.
In this interview series, sponsored by SAGE, LJ goes in depth with this year’s Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, delving into just how and why they pulled off the projects that brought them recognition as innovators, change agents, and more.
You helped move the journal Radical Teacher, where you’re a board member, to open access. Talk about why you did that and what the process helped you learn?
Radical Teacher had never had a librarian on the board before. I think that new perspective was helpful to them, having someone who understood the economics of publishing to help them make decisions about their future and survive as a publication. It reminded me that librarians know things. We’re a fundamentally helpful and self-effacing field, and that means it can be easy to forget what we know. Radical Teacher didn’t know why they were losing institutional subscriptions. As a librarian, I knew because I had cancelled them two or three times in the course of my career at that point.
How did that move affect your views on publishing, and how has that in turn colored your work at LIU?
The partnership between Radical Teacher and The University of Pittsburgh has made me a real believer in the worth of the libraries-as-publisher model. That doesn’t mean all libraries. Small libraries like the one I work in at LIU aren’t very well placed to be publishing partners, but where we can be helpful is as evangelists for the idea of libraries as publishing partners.
Talk about your approach to diversifying collections, and why that’s important in your work?
It’s just natural to me—when I took classification series of classes in library school, I realized that library classification addressed a lot of the same issue of categories and naming that I was dealing with as a queer person in my twenties. The same principles are at play, just with people instead of books. Much of my work in that field has been in trying to think through classifications and what sort of work they do in libraries. It’s one of the big questions in my life, so it’s hard to keep it out of my work.
Where do you see the intersection between gender studies and library studies?
To me they’re about where things sit on the shelf, about adjacency and categories. It’s a matter of how we think about gender. Is it a biological definition that’s in that section, or a socially constructed thing in social sciences, or is it more of a matter of psychology? We have a lot to learn about what the society thinks about gender, and how people occupy gender and sexuality, and I’m not alone in thinking that. I’m helping to put together a colloquium on gender and sexuality in library studies this fall in October. We expected to get ten or so papers, and ended up with 50 submissions. It’s pretty clear there’s a thirst for people to be able to talk about these issues in a library setting.
You’ve said before that bringing your radical politics into the library is pretty important to you. Have you experienced pushback in your career because of that?
No, I haven’t. I like to think of myself as having a critical perspective, rather than radical, and that helps open up different questions about the nature of instruction, which is my job. When I started in libraries, I would go to present just in political groups, but now I’m just a librarian. I go to panels about assessment, instruction, that sort of thing. Basically, I show up for work on time, and if you show up for work on time, you can do pretty much anything else you want.