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Since October of 2018 I’ve been pursuing a distance PhD in political science from the University of Birmingham. My research project was on Italian Theory (e.g. autonomist Marxism), AI, and jobs in Canada. While I was engaged with the political theory part, it was hard to really dig into the empirical work because, fundamentally, I don’t have a handle on the details of AI and jobs - that’s not part of my educational or professional background. I was trying to dig into it, but it was a slog and wasn’t coming particularly easily.

Looking back at the blog posts I’ve written on Intellectual Freedom, I discover that the [first one I wrote] was in August of 2019, at the beginning of the TPL events, in response to Alvin Schrader’s post on the Ryerson Centre for Free Expression blog. I remember writing that blog post waiting for the 2019 installment of the local Politics of Library (on Labour) conference to get started. One of the problems with being a distance student working on a research project in an unfamiliar area is the lack of a cohort, of contacts, of colleagues and friends operating in the same area. The Politics of Libraries organizing committee and attendees are one example of a cohort like that, and so are all the people I know in the profession in Canada working at the intersection of #critlib, labour, politics, and social justice.

Since last August I’ve been more and more involved in the struggle to change the conception of intellectual freedom that sits at the top of the (mutually exclusive) pyramid of library values. I haven’t been alone in this of course - Jane Schmidt has spearheaded the #timeToTalkAboutIF campaign, and it’s become clear to me over the last six months or so that here is an area where I can contribute and in which I am intellectually engaged and committed. After talking it over with my advisor, I’ve decided to change the focus of my research project to work instead on a critique of hegemonic intellectual freedom and the ways in which constituent power might offer an alternative perspective more adequate to the current socio-political context (e.g. the resurgence of the right, populism, misinformation, etc).

I was a little worried about this, as it feels like the last 18 months or so of work on AI and labour might have been wasted, but I recognize that as the sunk-cost fallacy it is. It’s better to work on something I think is important and which I can really sink my teeth into. This blog may, as a result, focus less on technology issues than it has in the past, and more on issues surrounding intellectual freedom, social responsibility, and equity/diversity/inclusion initiatives (and their critiques).

Anyway, I just wanted to mark this place in the life of the blog.


Sam Popowich

Discovery and Web Services Librarian, University of Alberta

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