September 16, 2016

TILT #13 - New Librarian of Congress, a librarian for the people



Our work and why we do it

"I think at this time it’s not a detriment to have a librarian be Librarian of Congress"

Along with a bunch of other teary-eyed librarians, I watched Dr. Carla Hayden's swearing-in ceremony online on Wednesday. You can check the #NextLoc hashtag for some fun reading. Of particular note...
  • Many news outlets have discussed how Hayden "gave a history lesson" when she talked about slavery, and in particular slaveowner's power move of not allowing slaves to read. Is this a "lesson" to anyone anymore as opposed to just a useful reminder of our shameful past? People's framing is weird. Appreciate Hayden continuing to raise the issues.
  • Along those lines while it was interesting to see Paul Ryan use the words of James Baldwin, I would have skipped the phrase "Comes from sturdy stock" when referring to a Black woman, or any human being at all really. What was, I think, supposed to be a polite nod to her mother came out sounding bad from a politician with his particular often-racist-sounding viewpoints.
  • The book Hayden referred to, Bright April, is flying off of library shelves everywhere. We have a copy on Open Library--let me know if you'd like to "ILL" it from us.
I hope this is the beginning of something wonderful.

That story from last week about the librarian who left four million dollars to UNH? Apparently it's not without some controversy. The school decided to spend ten times what they spent on the library on en electronic scoreboard. While this is certainly legal, it makes a lot of the earlier reportage just seem like slick PR and less like the honoring of a beloved librarian.

I don't talk too much about work. I love the job I do at Open Library, but I often think the Archive wants to reap the benefits of being a library without staffing their projects at library-levels. I'll be out there for the big shindig in October--say hi if you are in the area. I've just read this article talking about some of the political implications of this "disembodied information" approach.
"All the things we can possibly come to know from our digital archives are determined by neoliberal market ideologies, which give power to profit driven corporations and private companies to organize and distribute the electric impulses hosted in ever-growing data centers. The language that has developed around digital archives and platforms, however, continues to symbolically conceal data’s material and political implications. Information in our era assumes disembodied pseudo-religious connotations such as: oceans of data, clouds of information storage, webs, wireless, etc."
As I've said many times in the past, there's this illusion that we all share all the stuff, but some people have the passwords to the systems and some people do not. It's a different tragedy of a different sort of commons when this stuff falls down. The videos are of my former colleague (as much of a ray of sunshine as she looks) who moved on to do more librarianish stuff elsewhere.

Not like I'm crabby about things--far from it! I just think, in my broken record fashion, that the further we step away from recognizing that humans make these systems work for the other humans, the more we risk shrinking our ideas about what public service really is. Here's a great NPR story about Pura Belpré, New York City's first Puerto Rican librarian, who wrote children's books in Spanish because she couldn't find any on the shelves.There is an ALA award for books for kids that "portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience." If you read some of the acceptance speeches from this year's winners, you will see a lot of similar "history lessons" about difficult circumstances. Here's hoping we can get more people to listen.

TILT-Y MAIL is written irregularly by Jessamyn West who also maintains
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Thanks for reading!