Bethany Nowviskie (Digital Library Federation) has shared the text of a talk given at Columbia University’s Insuetude symposium, which brought together scholars in archaeology and media archaeology to examine how the past is “made present both in and through its traces.”
Among her comments in “Everywhere, Every When,” Nowviskie asks, “What would it mean to create an actively antiracist digital library?”
There’s a pervasive whiteness in librarianship—a profession, by our last, imperfect measure, 88% white—that is unbearable, paralytic, oppressive. And yet we’re working at a moment of great opportunity, when technologies and practices are truly beginning to align for the creation of coherent, interconnected, sustainable digital archives and 21st-century knowledge infrastructure.
What is it that we want to build? What is it that we can build, from that perspective and position—and for whom?
Nowviskie’s talk centers on the idea that “communities that have agency are able to form their own philosophical structures,” and she goes on to ask how digital libraries can build this idea into their very design:
It’s also, I think, the latent digital cultural heritage systems affordance most in need of design experimentation and intellectual and material support right now: how to express the vital presence or historical lack of agency; how to enable or re-enable it on the part of the people whose belongings have become your “collections;” how to design for agency in a way that helps communities use their own digitized and born-digital materials in the creation of autonomous, living and breathing philosophical infrastructure.