QUESTION: Radical-friendly MLS program?

question / pregunta: 

Hey there. I'm looking at MLS/MLIS/etc. programs and would like to know which, if any, library schools are particularly friendly to the aspiring radical librarian. I am interested in rural libraries, so I'm particularly concerned with developing the skills necessary to make radical programming (& collection development) work in conservative communities.

More generally, did your MLIS program help you to develop the practical skills you've needed in your work, rather than just discussing theory?


I can only speak for my own program (Dominican University), which I would not describe as radical, although I had several professors who were sympathetic and knowledgeable when it came to radical history.

A common complaint about almost every library school is that it's all theory, no practice (see, for instance, many of the education articles at, but theory can be useful. You can, for instance, present collection development theory to a library board to explain what you are doing, or trying to do.

I work in a very rural library and have found both conventional education and my Radical Reference colleagues helpful in figuring out how to be radical and rural, and I'd be happy to talk about it more. (I think there's a way to contact me via the site, but I'm also e-mailing this to the questioner.)

I'm going to back off a bit from source citation mode, since this is a collegial sort of question. My impression is that Library Science tends to attract people who are more progressive than average, perhaps because of the field's dedication to the free flow of information and to the facilitation and encouragement of independent thought. So I would suggest looking into other strengths of programs you consider, since you will likely find at least some like-minded people at whatever program you choose.

That being said, perhaps you could consider schools which have student chapters of the Progressive Librarians Guild. Among the PLG's ideals is "providing a forum for the open exchange of radical views on library issues." [For the sake of clarity, I guess I should point out that there is no affiliation between PLG and Radical Reference, though there are certainly shared ideals.]

Madison, Wisconsin, has a rich history of progressive politics, and there is a MLS program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison that specializes in school libraries (and archives). You might also find opportunities to work in rural areas close to that institution during your studies.

I think it is difficult in any field to prepare for real-world situations in a classroom setting, particularly in a field like librarianship where there is so much local politics and interaction with people involved. For this I would encourage internships, and work-study jobs in the library if you are eligible, as a part of your education.