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Guest Lecture E. E. Lawrence: 'Diverse Books & Oppressive Tastes: A Social Justice Critique of Readers’ Advisory'

E.E. LawrenceContemporary adult readers’ advisory—the library service that guides patrons’ selection of leisure reading materials—is underpinned by (what I term) a pure preference satisfaction model in which librarians provide nonjudgmental book recommendations intended to satisfy the readers’ tastes rather than improve upon them. Here, I ask whether readers’ advisors really ought to treat all tastes as essentially benign, even when doing so may conflict with core values of librarianship like diversity and social responsibility. Importing theoretical insights from feminist aesthetics, I show how our reading tastes can in fact be oppressive—that is, how they are in some cases constitutive of, e.g., racism or disablism—and thus work to maintain unjust power relations. On my view, oppressive tastes function as real obstacles to collective self-governance; our obligation to protect and promote democracy thus provides librarians with a crucial justification for recommending diverse books to all readers. Further, my critique suggests that there is a need to consider alternative ideals for readers’ advisory that will capitalize on the service’s educative and emancipatory potential.


E.E. Lawrence is a doctoral candidate in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Lawrence conducts research in the philosophy of LIS, within which they focus on normative problems related to library and information ethics, readers and reading, and values in information retrieval and recommender systems. Lawrence received an MLS with a specialization in information and diverse populations from the University of Maryland.

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Tue, 02/12/2019 - 9:30am to 10:30am
Scripps Lab Theatre