RLC — The Good, The Bad And The Very Bad

Have you ever sat down and started writing a blog post only to have a nagging fear at the back of your head that THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA? That’s kinda how I am feeling now. But, well, I prefer written communication to spoken so this is how I am going to deal with the situation as it stands. So, here I am, standing on the edge of a cliff (bad idea when you are scared of heights but still, metaphor innit)…let’s dive into the watery depths below (I also can’t swim…THE SIGNS ARE THERE, IAN. DO NOT DO THIS).

Let’s start with the good…

I thought the RLC 2016 national gathering in Brighton was good. I felt like it was an enjoyable experience. I felt I gained a lot from it. I think my experience was greatly enhanced by my decision to sit down and listen to others, engaging as little as possible verbally. I was very conscious beforehand that I am fairly visible and I really loathe the idea of being seen as some part of leadership element of RLC. It was also for this reason that, despite offering to help with the organising committee, I kept my involvement fairly minimal. So, I decided I would sit quietly, take notes, inhale Sharpie fumes and learn. I feel I benefited immensely from doing so. Not least because, from my perspective, it was led more by women than previous RLCs (although obviously, as a man, I’m not best placed to judge that).

I basically went home to Canterbury on Saturday night feeling quite positive (and ever so slightly high on Sharpie fumes). More so than I did at Huddersfield. It felt, to me, like a really positive day (again, I accept that my privilege played a big role in having found it positive).

Following RLC Brighton, it was pretty much deemed a good idea to open a discussion around accessibility. It started off pretty well but then descended into some massive great clusterfuck of epic proportions. It made Brexit look like some carefully planned and well organised process. So, that went well.

There are a few comments I want to make and, I cannot emphasise this enough: THESE ARE MY VIEWS ON RLC AND DO NOT REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF ANYONE ELSE, NOR ARE THEY INDICATIVE OF SOME KIND OF OFFICIAL RLC POLICY THING. They are simply my observations and understandings of what RLC has meant to me.

Membership: I see this crop up a lot and, to be frank, I find it bewildering. There is no membership so far as I can see. You don’t become a member of RLC. There are no over-arching rules and regs that you decide you want to sign up to. You either are a radical or you are not. RLC, from my point of view, is merely a mechanism by which fellow radically minded folk can come together and exchange ideas, show solidarity…that sort of thing. There is no formal structure. No set of rules and guidelines that everyone should abide by. You either are, or you are not. I hate the term “member” because it implies exclusivity. If you identify as radical then RLC helps connect you with others. That’s it. That’s the sole function that RLC provides. A means to connect fellow radically minded folk and to provide them with the space in which to take radical actions.

Do all the things: There seems to be a belief in RLC that because a couple of folk affiliated wish to do something, then all must do it. This was never my understanding of RLC (and is perhaps linked to the belief in a membership thing). If, say, Radical A and Radical B have a shared interest in something and wish to act upon it, then Radical A and Radical B should feel free to go ahead and do so. If others wish to collaborate with A and B, then they should also feel free to do so. If others do not wish to collaborate with A and B then they are free not to. But they also should not make attempts to prevent A and B collaborating on whatever it is they wish to collaborate on. That way lies hierarchy.

The key for me from RLC is to take what you want from it, and leave what you don’t. If you are not interested in discussing theory, don’t engage with discussions around theory. There is absolutely no obligation for you to do so. I’ll add here that I hate theory. I can’t engage in it and find it a bit difficult to follow. However, if people wish to engage in discussions around theory, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to make them feel bad about doing so, or attempt in any way to limit their eagerness to engage in this way. I do not have the right to limit how individuals wish to engage in the concept of radical librarianship, nor would I want to. If two individuals wish to read and talk about ideas and put them into practice, then there should be no reason why they can’t do so.

HOWEVER: this does not mean that accessibility is not important. If Radical A and Radical B wish to work on something that Radical C wishes to engage in but cannot because of accessibility issues, than Radical A and Radical B should work with Radical C to address these concerns. So, for example, if A and B wish to engage in direct action and C would also like to but cannot, A and B should collaborate with C to ensure that C is included in the action as much as possible or that C can provide support in some other way.

Labour: A lot of people contribute their labour to getting stuff done within RLC. Setting up the gatherings, for example, requires a lot of work to get the thing organised and delivered. What would concern me is that people may find themselves less inclined to work on things/projects/gatherings if there is a sense that they will be poking their head above the parapet only to be shot down. We must not, as people who all identify as “radical”, diminish the labour of others, in whatever form that labour takes. This is a form of oppression and, again, breeds hierarchies.

Radical: This might be a bit harsh, but if you don’t self-identify as a radical, then you probably should look elsewhere for solidarity and collaboration. If you do not subscribe to radical politics, then I’m not sure why a radical collective is something you would wish to engage with. If you are not coming from the perspective that capitalism is “bad”, that patriarchy and white supremacy need dismantling — and you are keen to play a role in dismantling it — then you probably aren’t a radical. And that’s fine. Not everything needs to be for everyone.

My perspective in summary: you don’t become a member of RLC, you don’t have to engage in everything other radicals do, respect labour of others and if you don’t self-identify as a radical, I’d respectively suggest it is not something for you to engage with.

I do not subscribe to a vision of RLC that allows individuals to limit the activities and engagement of others. I do not subscribe to a vision whereby I am obliged to partake in every activity that individuals wish to take up. I do not subscribe to a vision of RLC that diminishes the labour of others. I do not subscribe to a vision of RLC that has to accommodate individuals who do not subscribe to radical politics.

Again: THIS IS MY PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE ON RLC. It neither reflects the perspectives of other individuals nor does it represent a statement of policy re RLC. It is merely how I view RLC and how I have understood it to operate.

I hope we can recover the spirit of past RLC gatherings. Because solidarity amongst radical minded folk in the current climate is more important than ever.