What I’m reading this summer: Joseph Koivisto

Note: As the dh+lib Review editors work behind the scenes this summer, we have invited a few members of our community to step in as guest editors and share with us what they are reading and why the dh+lib audience might want to read it too. This week, we hear from Joseph Koivisto, a systems librarian at the University of Maryland, College Park,  and project team member of Project Andvari, an NEH-supported digital humanities initiative.

Information technology in librarianship

Leckie, G.J. & Buschman, J.E. (Eds.). (2009). Information technology in librarianship: New critical approaches. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

I am, for all intents and purposes, an accidental systems librarian. While my work in digital humanities has been a result of intentional effort, my role at the University of Maryland libraries and my involvement in systems administration and configuration came to me as somewhat of a shock. Finding myself at a theoretical deficit with regards to critical approaches to the technological infrastructure of my day-to-day work, I began to question my critical perspectives on the tools and technologies employed in digital humanities work.

Despite being nearly ten years old, Leckie & Buschman’s volume provides a fantastic entrée into critical technology theory for librarians engaging with digitally-mediated tools, records, and scholarship, placing the now-commonplace infrastructure of librarianship and digital humanities under the critical lens of Marxist and feminist theory. For me, these essays helped to provide critical familiarity on topics such as labor in academic libraries and its intersection with technology systems implemented for automation and scholarship; open source software initiatives; modes of social regulation exercised through digital library systems; and more. This work has helped me to be more conversant in the foundational concepts at work in the scholarship of Safiya Noble and Chris Bourg, as well as many others currently writing on critical approaches to technology in both library and digital humanities settings.

Digital capitalism

Betancourt, Michael. (2015). “The aura of the digital”. In The critique of digital capitalism: An analysis of the political economy of digital culture and technology (pp. 37-60). Brooklyn, NY: punctum books.

In this essay, Betancourt—a cinema and cultural theorist—creates a conceptual link between the seemingly infinite reproducibility of digital objects and the capitalist “fantasy of accumulation without expenditure.” Attributing this fantasy to the titular “aura of the digital”—a willful elision of the means of digital production from the consumption and commodification of digital works—he asserts that this misconception of the digital as ahistorical and immaterial drives the extension of statutory ownership (copyright, DRM, &c.) to a near limitless extent while further disenfranchising those that stand to gain the most from new modes of access.

Despite misrepresenting some of the fundamental aspects of digital object fixity, his critique still provides many interesting critical perspectives that can be brought to bear on the role of librarians in digital humanities contexts. In light of ever-extending license restrictions on digital objects and data sets, what actions must we take to preserve use and generative reuse of vendor-sourced library resources? Furthermore, what in our own practices recapitulate the aura of the digital? Do we allow ourselves—or the researchers we serve—to erase the labor and physicality inherent to DH work in such a way that reinforce coercive and oppressive power structures?

Rather fortuitously, Laura Braunstein’s recent dh+lib essay, “Open stacks: Making DH labor visible,”  hits on many of the theoretical implications of the aura of the digital and may find in Betancourt’s work a complimentary theoretical perspective.


Burton, Finn. (2013). Spam: A shadow history of the internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Inspired by the captivating work of Avery Dame on the history of the term cisgender in Usenet communities (Spotlighting hidden histories: Archiving transgender Usenet, 1994-2013), I picked up Spam to learn more about early internet user communities and their values. While the book represents a glimpse into the history of early networked communities and the operationalized value of network technologies in the form of mass digital correspondence, it raises unanswered questions of the role that libraries and scholars play in the preservation of the voluminous and, at times, distasteful materials that make up early internet history. These records and the traces left upon them by the human users behind them, illustrate the complex nature of early internet community creation (or destruction). Yet, many also present real threats in the form of viruses or other malware. They may even serve as evidence of records created through legally questionable means, as in the case of the Behind Enemy Lines archive produced by the anonymous Man in the Wilderness. To what extent are we obliged to maintain an archive of digital junk mail? Were we to establish a collection of digital detritus, what curatorial practices and preservation workflows could be employed to ensure ongoing access to born-digital records ranging as far back as ARPANET?

Digital humanities in academic libraries

White, J.W. & Gilbert, H. (Eds.). (2016). Laying the foundation: Digital humanities in academic libraries. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.

Published last year, White & Gilbert’s work brings together a fantastic set of essays that span many important discussions on the function of academic libraries as active members in digital humanities knowledge work. Beginning with a call for a humanities-centric librarianship, the book expands into project- and site-specific case studies of successful DH centers and initiatives. For example, we learn about the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative  and its efforts to promote inclusive public history, amplifying voices otherwise silenced in the cultural history tourism industry of the southern American states through the use of digital publishing and digitized archival collections. We also learn about challenges and successes of numerous DH infrastructure initiatives at Emory, Kansas University, and CU-Boulder, highlighting the struggle to situate libraries within the DH framework without reinforcing expectations of library staff and faculty as merely administrative functionaries.

It is also worth noting that this book—while bringing together a fantastic grouping of critical essays—also supports OA publishing practices by being available for online use through the OAPEN Library. Fantastic content and equitable publishing practices make this a must-read.

Advocacy by design

Purdom Lindblad, “Advocacy by Design: Moving Between Theory & Practice” (keynote presented at the Library Research & Innovative Practice Forum, College Park, MD, June 8, 2017)

Each year, the University Libraries at the University of Maryland hold the Libraries Research and Innovative Practice Forum. In addition to offering an opportunity for library staff and faculty to present their work and research, the forum is a chance to invite a keynote speaker to provide an inspiring and—frequently—interdisciplinary address. This year, our keynote speaker was the Purdom Lindblad of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities. In her discussion on “advocacy by design,” she addressed many key factors the underscore the importance of “transparency, poly-vocalism” and an “ethics of care” at all levels of research, platform design, and institutional administration. By beginning our efforts by asking not “how” but rather “why,” we can ensure that library professional values remain at the core of our work. Furthermore, by consciously striving to advocate for these values in our work and system design, we can expose racism and oppression inherent in institutions and digital tools while simultaneously empowering our staff, faculty, and users to become better advocates.

Purdom’s keynote was extremely insightful and very well-received by all in attendance. We are fortunate enough for her to have shared her work through the Digital Repository at the University of Maryland.

Joseph Koivisto

Joseph Koivisto (MSLIS) is a systems librarian with the Consortial Library Applications Support team at the University of Maryland, College Park, specializing in acquisitions systems and workflows. He is also currently working as a project team member on Project Andvari, an NEH-supported digital humanities initiative focusing on the aggregation of museum records related to early medieval pre-Christian art and artifacts of the northern European periphery.