MLIS student wins the PLG's Braverman Memorial Prize

Headshot of Daniel Clarkson Fisher wearing glasses and in a beige jacketMay 2022

Only weeks away from graduating from the MLIS program at Western University, graduate student Daniel Clarkson Fisher has an additional accolade he can celebrate after he was named winner of the Progressive Librarians Guild’s Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize.

The PLG announced Fisher as the winner on May 15, selecting his paper titled “A Promised (but Ultimately Unreachable) Land” as the top entry. The prize is awarded annually to a Library Science or Archival Studies student writing on the theme of progressive or activist librarianship. Fisher’s paper is a critique of the idea of political neutrality in librarianship, using the American Library Association’s invitation to former U.S. President Barack Obama to speak at their 2021 Annual Conference as an illustrative example.

“I agree with those who have argued that there's really no such thing [as political neutrality in librarianship]. I further agree that what is really happening when organizations and others use this term is that they are attempting to launder their own very specific politics,” Fisher explains.

“What is deemed ‘politically neutral’ usually looks a lot like liberal centrism -- which is a very political position whether you like it or not!”

Fisher argues in his paper that claiming librarianship as capable of political neutrality prevents honest debate within the field about how politics impacts practice. The ALA’s decision to invite Barack Obama to speak at their annual conference provides a convenient entry point into the discussion.

“Because this episode represents such an obvious failure of the organization to be politically neutral in the way that they seem to understand the term, I think that gives us a crucial opening to talk about the fallacy of the concept,” says Fisher.

“As I say in the paper, if our largest professional organization can't even practice what it preaches, then where does that leave us?”

Fisher originally wrote the paper for the Master of Library and Information Science required course LIS 9001 - Perspectives on Library and Information Science, taught by Professor Roger Chabot. He says the course content provided through lectures, readings and discussion gave him fresh ideas with which he could hone his argument against political neutrality. After submitting the paper for an assignment, Fisher continued to revise it to prepare it for entry into the Braverman competition.

As a member of the PLG himself, Fisher had a good sense of the quality of the previous award-winning submissions, and he put in the necessary work. Still, he was surprised to see his own work recognized.

“Honestly, though, I never expected to receive the award -- that was a lovely shock.”

Fisher will have the opportunity to travel to the ALA’s 2022 Annual Conference in June to accept his award in person at the yearly PLG dinner. COVID-19 pandemic conditions pending, he hopes to be able to attend – if not in person, then virtually.

The Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize was created in 2003 to celebrate late PLG member Miriam Ruth Gutman Braverman’s inspirational work in activism, collaboration, and social justice efforts within the field of librarianship. Past winning essays can be found on PLG’s website.