Useful Divides

Games of Truth in Library and Information Studies Research and Practice



For much of its history, the work of knowing the library has been said to be riven with divides—between academics and practitioners; between theory and practice; between thinking and doing. There is now a sizable literature in library and information studies that seeks to measure, diagnose, and mend these gaps. This paper interrogates this discourse of division in LIS research and practice. We explore its history, the uses to which it is put, by whom, and to what ends. Rather than seek to bridge the divide, we occupy it, as a space of friction, discomfort, and possibility. Drawing on a vast corpus of academic and industry texts that engage with the gap discourse, we approach these as “games of truth,” as systems of knowledge that produce and reinforce certain ways of being. Using this approach, we highlight how the divide sustains power relations between different groups and constitutes specific forms of knowledge (and not others) as useful and relevant. Seeking to challenge the underlying logic of the divide and its effects in the world, we approach these descriptors in a relational, rather than absolute, sense. Through this excavation, we invite a critical praxis that sees usefulness and relevance as not that which is inextricably aligned to instrumentalism, nor the domain of specific social groups. Rather, we suggest that adopting a critical praxis means reorienting use, using knowledge to advance a mode of living differently, of changing the shape of the world, and of asking what can be done in the face of inequality and indifference. With this in mind, we put forward an alternative mode of understanding use in LIS: as a collective resource that we draw upon to challenge inequalities, to understand and repair past wrongs and continued silences, and to challenge the role of libraries and other institutions in constructing and legitimizing broader power divides in society. These, we suggest, are gaps worth challenging.

Pre-print first published online 12/15/2023

Author Biographies

Kieran Hegarty, RMIT University

Kieran Hegarty is a librarian and sociologist interested in the changing relationship between public infrastructures, institutions, and values and digital technologies and cultures. At RMIT University, he is a PhD candidate in the School of Global, Urban & Social Studies and a Research Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making & Society.

Jodie Boyd, RMIT University

Dr. Jodie Boyd was a Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University. She was a member of the Representing Multicultural Australia in National and State Libraries project. She holds a PhD in history and is a former law librarian. Jodie researches and publishes in cultural policy, library studies, legal and trade history, and in oral history.