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 post is from Anna Kijas, Senior Digital Scholarship Librarian at Boston College.
My current reading list focuses on issues of gender, privilege, and canon building in libraries, archives, and humanities disciplines—in particular, music. As a digital scholarship librarian I am especially interested in how these issues are being explored and addressed in digital humanities by GLAM professionals and scholars. The issue of reifying canon in digital library collections and digital humanities projects, especially those engaged with recovery of texts or music, is one that I have been exploring for a while through my own research and projects, and several of the readings in my list were critical during my preparation for a keynote that I gave at the Music Encoding Conference in May 2018 at the University of Maryland.
Caswell, Michelle (2017). “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives,” The Library Quarterly. https://doi.org/10.1086/692299
In this article, Michelle Caswell reflects on an exercise she developed and used with her students in which they identify examples of embedded white privilege in archives, as well as many ways that they can dismantle this privilege through their professional praxis as future archivists. Caswell argues that faculty (in this case, library and information science faculty) should model behaviors of critique and resistance for their students in order for them to believe that they can disrupt existing oppressive structures. I can see how the actions and outcomes presented by Caswell can also be applied by faculty in disciplines outside of LIS, especially those whose students use archives as part of course projects or dissertation work. Caswell’s call to action—“We get the world we make, we get the classrooms we make, we get the archives we make. Let’s all work to make them more just”—is one that those of us engaged with social justice and critical librarianship have been hearing more loudly and frequently (especially during the past two years!), and it is one that we should all be working towards together.
Earhart, Amy E. (2012). “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon,” Debates in the Digital Humanities. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/16.
Amy E. Earhart’s essay is one that I read when it was first published in the Debates in the Digital Humanities volume, but I recently returned to it when I was preparing my keynote draft on gender and canon in digital musicology. In her essay, Earhart examines canon building and digital texts, taking the reader on a deep-historical-dive to the 1990s and early 2000s when digital recovery was at it most active. She identifies a number of projects from this period that fall into one of two scholarly groups. The first group produced small, generally unfunded projects created mostly by individual scholars or collectives, while the second group—primarily consisting of large centers, libraries, and cultural heritage institutions—produced larger-scale projects. Earhart argues that the small-scale projects often focused on non-canonical texts and works by people of color, whereas the large-scale and institutionally-led projects reinforced canonical bias. Earhart notes that large corpora are generally located at major universities or receive grant funding. I’m struck by the similarity between the musicology and literary studies communities: privilege has determined who has entered the canon and who maintains the canon. It is crucial to ensure that our representation does not continue to exclude works by women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.
Noble, Safiya Umoja (2018). Algorithms of Oppression. How search engines reinforce racism. New York University Press. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/987591529
Safiya Umoja Noble deconstructs the ways in which search engines, social media platforms, and artificial intelligence are driven by algorithms that privilege whiteness and are explicitly racist and sexist against people of color. The entire book is required reading, but chapter 5, with its focus on classification systems, may be specifically of interest to LIS professionals. Noble discusses a well-known 2014 case, where Dartmouth College students who worked with librarians and faculty to ban the use of “illegal aliens” as a subject term in the library catalog. Subsequently, the Library of Congress dropped the term from its subject heading authorities in 2016. She uses this case study to discuss the ways in which people have been classified and represented within the LIS field and how this has led to “continued biased practices in current system designs, especially on the web” (137). Through her research, Noble demonstrates how it is imperative that LIS professionals do not accept classification systems as a given, but rather “examine the beliefs about the neutrality and objectivity of the entire field of LIS and moving toward undoing racist classification and knowledge-management practices” (138). I wish that this text had been available and part of the curriculum when I was an LIS student!
Padua, Sydney (2016). The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. Penguin Books.
I love Sydney Padua’s graphic novel about Ada Lovelace! My “lighter” reading at the moment, the graphic novel cleverly juxtaposes biographical narrative about Ada Lovelace’s contributions to the first computer (Analytical Engine) with a science fiction story based on Charles Babbage’s writings about an alternate universe. Did you know that Charles Babbage designed an error pop-up (an actual plate would appear with the word “wrong”) for his computer?! Padua’s illustrations and text bring Lovelace’s story to life in a creative medium that makes it accessible to a wider audience who may not be interested in reading full-length biographies or be familiar with Ada Lovelace’s contribution to computing. Issues around invisible labor, librarians and service, as well as feminization of labor are important to me, so I make it a priority to seek out narratives that prominently feature women in all aspects of tech, libraries, and academia. In addition to Lovelace, there are many more prominent women in computing that are only now gaining recognition through the recovery work of scholars, writers, historians, and others.