The commons has been adopted by LIS as a metaphor for transformational library spaces. However, post-colonial scholarship exposes the material violence and exclusionary practices that coincide(d) with commons-making in Europe and North America. When weighing such assessments against the traditional role of American libraries as mechanisms of colonial values, it becomes necessary for library professionals to critique their continued evocation of commons discourse from a perspective that centers decolonization. Responding to this challenge, I historicize the commons as both an imagined ideology and an actual instrument of power to contextualize Indigenous and post-colonial assessments of commons-making in the settler colonial United States and dismantle taken-for-granted definitions of the commons. I then demonstrate how the history of the US public library has served to naturalize imagined commons-making projects. Finally, I use this discussion as a lens through which to analyze the commons discourse animating a selection of promotional literature published by urban public library commons spaces. Informed by the work of Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, I will argue that LIS literature’s fetishization of the commons to describe modernized urban library spaces reflects an idealized, future-oriented commons produced by the colonial consciousness that obscures the material reality of minority displacement.
Benoff, E. (2022). The Clash of the Commons: An Imagined Library Commons Discourse. Urban Library Journal, 28 (2). Retrieved from https://academicworks.cuny.edu/ulj/vol28/iss2/2