Radical Librarianship Institute

Instructor(s): Emily Drabinski, Hiram Sims, Lauren Cooper, Susana Marcelo
Dates: July 31 – August 4, 2023
Location(s): University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California, USA
Capacity: 25 participants
Tuition, airfare (if applicable), lodging, and some meals provided through a grant from the Mellon Foundation

inaugural program

With thanks to support from the Mellon Foundation, the California Rare Book School (CalRBS) is pleased to announce the inaugural season of the Radical Librarianship Institute (RLI) with an open application call for participating library professionals. The program is fully funded for participants by the Mellon Foundation.

What is the Radical Librarian Institute (RLI)? 

The Radical Librarian Institute is the most extensive library continuing education program focused on supporting library professionals to push for widespread systemic change that is centered on social and racial equality, collective action, community strengthening, and public participation. 

Why do we need RLI? 

We believe librarianship in this country is at a crossroads: as the social fabric of the nation suffers from numerous systemic failures, it has fallen to librarians to provide a safety net to compensate for the deficiencies within our social support systems. The context is as follows: the world is experiencing a wave of challenges that threaten our social constitution, including global climate change; political unrest throughout the world; a persistent COVID-19 pandemic made worse by a society that has become polarized with misinformation and a general disbelief in evidence; a national opioid epidemic; dwindling literacy rates; systemic racism; white supremacist expression; and a general lack of compassion for the individual and collective at a moment in history when fostering a sense of local and global community is paramount. These social and institutional problems resist remedy in any speedy fashion—remedy requires interventions at multiple social points. Offsetting these problems will take time, investment, and long-view solutions. 

Within this context, librarians, curators, and archivists work tirelessly to meet the demands of a quickly shifting society. They have stepped up to meet needs throughout our diverse communities, often at the expense of their own mental and physical health. Throughout the United States, librarians are supporting voter participation amid voter suppression campaigns; providing basic necessities for the unhoused; planning programs in support of the activist and equality movements; administering naloxone in cases of opioid overdose; collaborating with mental health workers to offer the public access to mental health care; and more. Each of these reactionary responses are required, in part, because the social systems throughout the United States are failing, and librarians are situated in spaces that support those needing more social support. 

The RLI aims to support library professionals by developing the systematized certificate-granting training institute to support the widespread programmatic, pedagogical, and complex requirements of such work with a special focus on fostering community support and activist networks to enable more social participation intended to push for systemic change.  

What is the structure of RLI? 

The RLI is both a summer intensive program and a nearly year-long program that supports the implementation of a community project at each participant’s home institution. The program ends in a certificate offered by CalRBS. 

The program begins July 31-August 4, 2023 when selected participants will congregate on the UCLA campus in Westwood, California, to embark on a 5-day intensive training program, supported by RLI faculty, CalRBS staff, and faculty of the UCLA Department of Information Studies.  

The institute will consist of five days of theoretical and practical training in various topics, including, critical and radical librarianship; race, power, and institutionality; labor and collective organizing; publishing (with an emphasis on community and small-press work); and formal pedagogical and learning theory; lesson and activity planning; and project design. Throughout the week, participants will also workshop their chosen community project with faculty in preparation for implementation at their home institution. 

Participants will then return to their home institution to implement the program. Each of the participant’s institutions will be awarded $10,000 to offset the operational costs of the program and to purchase any supplies that might be needed to host events. Between the months of October 2023 and April 2024, participants will maintain contact with RLI faculty and staff to support their work. This work will be facilitated in two ways: (1) by establishing an online forum where RLI participants can engage directly with one another while they implement their projects; and (2) through monthly office hours where students can engage with RLI faculty and staff, propose ideas and questions, and continue to workshop their projects with expert support and advice.  

What is the Community Press and Why Books? 

The presence of a curriculum, training, and institutional program support is only one part of the solution. RLI believes we also have a responsibility to help amplify underrepresented voices and aid in creating communication networks for community participation and positive identity building. To this end, the project also establishes a Community Publishing Press as a joint venture between UCLA and the California State University, Northridge’s (CSUN) Book Arts Lab, which will provide communities with social communication networks to build solidarity and community during these turbulent social times. 

As stated above, each participant in the RLI will articulate one community-based project at their home institution. The project outcomes will be the production of book or print objects by community partners. The Community Press is the entity that will publish the book or print outcomes of these proposed and established programs, which will be distributed to the community members who created them. Each participating library will also receive a full run of the publications. 

The founding of the Community Publishing Press is based on two, interrelated conditions: first, that printed communication remains vital and, second, that mainstream print publishers generally exclude BIPOC and other underrepresented groups. It is amid these conditions that libraries need to facilitate public, discursive social spaces where communities can assemble their ideas, disseminate information, and facilitate collective action. On its face, this is not a new role for libraries. After all, libraries have always been a social gathering space, serving to promote intellectual exchange and community building and facilitate public activities. What is often overlooked is the extent to which print culture plays a part in facilitating wide-scale changes in society, especially when such change pushes against mainstream ideology. Quite simply, analog print is still very much necessary, even in our digital environment. And in some parts of the world, classic printing techniques are still the preferred medium to circulate activist ideas, even with access to digital mediums.  

The underlying assumption here is that print has the unique ability to facilitate public and social communication and physical gathering, and thus serves as a powerful tool of cultural exchange and social change in ways that accessing information in the digital realm does not. Further, print is durable, persistent, and resilient. If any given digital-based activist project were to falter, a website would cease to exist. Printed matter, on the other hand, can continue to circulate even beyond the life of any given movement. Moreover, printed objects are often used to quietly circulate texts to avoid censorship and oversight by large publishers, in addition to being incredibly mobile and important for community organizing and communication. This project acknowledges this reality and highlights its importance to our broader aims of social change and pedagogy. 

Together, the UCLA/CSUN partnership will constitute the full range of publication possibilities for print dissemination. The Community Press will obtain permission from community members and libraries and make their works freely accessible on the press’s online access point. UCLA and CSUN will then print and publish copies of the text in physical form and send them to participating libraries for distribution in their community spaces by the individuals who created them. All publications will also be published on our online website for global distribution under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) creative commons license.   

For the purposes of this grant, print culture is the blanket term for all modes of print, both analog and digital, ranging from broadsides, pamphlets, and zines, to contemporary monographs and all forms of digital publication. Publication can happen formally (as within established presses) or informally (through community grassroots movement, for example).  

What is the cost of the RLI? 

Thanks to the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, most all of the expenses of the program are covered for successful applicants. Covered expenses include: flight to/from the Los Angeles area, lodging in the dorms on the UCLA campus, and most of your meals throughout the week. Meals not provided by the Institute are the responsibility of the participant. Dormitories will be double occupancy with a private bathroom and have air conditioning.  

Recall that each of the participant’s institutions will be awarded $10,000 to offset the operational costs of the program and to purchase any supplies that might be needed to host events. 

Who can apply? 

While the Institute refers to librarians as the target audience, and expects most applicants to align with this position, the Institute is open to any employee of a library or an organization that performs similar social or community functions. This policy acknowledges that many smaller, community, underfunded, or experimental organizations can also benefit from this experience. Public organizations will be prioritized but any organization is welcome to apply (academic, special, museum, private, etc.) so long as public communities are the primary participants of the program. 

At this point, the call for applications is open to individuals within the United States. We understand that there is great interest internationally and plan on opening the Institute up to international participants when it is next offered.

If you have questions about whether or not you qualify, please contact (Enable Javascript to see the email address) with your inquiry. 

What do I need to do to apply? 

There are two rounds of review. For Phase I, all applicants must submit preliminary application information. For Phase II, selected applicants will be invited to submit full proposals. All applications are processed through CalRBS Submittable site.  

  1. Phase I Preliminary Application. The first phase consists of preliminary application materials. Applicants will be preliminarily assessed for project readiness and match with the RLI. Participants will be invited to participate in Phase II: Final Application.  Components for Phase I Preliminary Proposals: 
  • Basic personal, institutional, and demographic information 
  • Statement of interest 
  • Short proposal for program and description of possible partnerships 
  • Curriculum vitae 
  1. Phase II: Final Applications. Invited applications will be asked to submit the following supplementary documents:  
  • Letter of support from institutional manager or supervisor, indicating that the participant can attend the Institute 
  • Statement of community partnerships already fostered or community leaders you have secured partnership with 
  • Statement of potential major activities for funding and a proposed budget 
  • Optional: Letter of support from community organization  
  • Optional: Previous partnerships, intervention plans, outcomes 
  • Optional: What institutional support (in-kind or monetary) will supplement the $10,000 

What is the timeline for application decisions? 

  • Date for application Phase I, Preliminary Application: March 3, 2023 
  • Date for Phase I decisions: March 15, 2023 
  • Date for Phase II, Final Application: April 15, 2023 
  • Date for final decisions: April 30, 2023 

What is the individual commitment? 
Institute participants are expected to attend the RLI in person between July 31-August 4, 2023. Applicants are expected to attend all hosted lectures, receptions, and other programming offered by the RLI and CalRBS.  

After RLI training on the UCLA campus, participants are expected to maintain contact with RLI with periodic updates scheduled throughout the implementation period. In addition, participants should anticipate interacting in online forums with RLI colleagues while project implementation is in progress. Participant host institutions should also expect one or two members of the RLI staff to visit your program at least once to observe your programming and collect program progress and data. These visits are meant to help the RLI staff assess outcomes of the program. A final report by each participant will be required by May 15, 2024.   

What is the institutional commitment? 

Institutions should be willing to allow RLI participants programmatic time to complete the community print projects proposed by applicants. Institutions should also be willing to permit site visits by the RLI organizers to observe community programs, which will include photographing activities and speaking to organizers and participants.  

Since participation with the RLI includes a $10,000 stipend to participants, home institutions should be willing to provide oversight of these funds and, within policy limits, allow for the necessary space and/or purchasing of materials necessary for the proposed projects. 

These commitments should be expressly mentioned in the Letter of Support from institutional manager or supervisor of the applying participant.  

What is the RLI’s commitment to accepted applicants?  

The RLI promises to provide a safe and productive space on the UCLA campus to participate in the program. The RLI believes in supporting an environment of care and support.  

The RLI and CalRBS must adhere to the UCLA campus restrictions related to COVID-19 and will do its best to foster an environment of safety in relation to the pandemic.  

We also assure participants program support (in the guise of faculty office hours) to best assure success all individual programs. We will also provide ample online space for participant collaboration and interaction.  

Who do I contact if I have questions? 

Please contact (Enable Javascript to see the email address) with your inquiries.