Roxanne Shirazi (CUNY Graduate Center) has written up a talk delivered as part of a panel sponsored by the Women and Gender Studies Section of the ACRL on “Digital Humanities and Libraries: Power and Privilege, Practice and Theory.” The panel, at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 30, 2014, also featured Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez (Center for the Study of Political Graphics), Jane Nichols (Oregon State University), and Megan Wacha (Barnard College); Heather Tompkins (Carleton College) organized the session.
In her talk, “Reproducing the Academy: Librarians and the Question of Service in the Digital Humanities,” Shirazi (a founding editor of dh+lib) focuses on the relationship between digital humanities and librarians, addressing how “the question of service in the context of the history of librarianship as a feminized profession” impacts questions of “service, scholarship, work, and power.” Can all librarians transcend the call to service?
So when we call for librarians to approach collaborative digital work as partners and not service providers, I would like to see some acknowledgement of the fact that there are different power relations at play in these collaborative relationships. Power relations that are embedded in the hierarchies that make up academia, in both the social stratification of varying job ranks and the hierarchical classification of service and scholarship. Let’s have a more nuanced conversation about how librarians position ourselves as collaborators in the digital humanities and accede that some of us might need to embrace the label of service—or, perhaps, might not be able to escape it.
In a post rich with references to concepts of the “feminized profession,” “affective labor,” and “reproductive labor,” Shirazi observes that librarians “perform labor that reproduces the academy… This work is vital and it is intellectual labor, but because it does not conform to the publish or perish model at the top of the academic hierarchy, it is reduced to (and devalued as) ‘service.'”
Shirazi calls for librarians to integrate “working conditions (dedicated research time) and structure (status shield)” into conversations about “librarians as true collaborators in the production of digital humanities scholarship. We need to talk about the library profession and its ‘underlying system of recompense’: money, authority, status, honor, and well-being.”