Bethany Nowviskie (CLIR, DLF, University of Virginia -> James Madison University) recently spoke at Research Libraries UK, a conference held at the Wellcome Collection in London, and she has posted her talk, “from the grass roots.” Confessing that she’s “not a believer in dispassionate and disinterested neutrality,” Nowviskie problematizes neutrality in libraries and academia generally, and she articulates the existing models by which Digital Humanities serves as a conduit of grass roots practices, allowing us to “move constructively from independent points of view to shared understandings and collective action” without neutrality.
In the brief time I have with you, I’ll walk through some grassroots practices I see as guiding us to new organizational modes: ways of working and building collective strength, knowledge, and—dare I say—institutional and professional compassion that are coming to the academy not from academic DH, but increasingly through it, as a conduit, from various communities of inspiration that function outside of or alongside the research library. The collectives I look to with deepest admiration in this sphere are focused on liberation, resilience, shared history, and restorative justice for marginalized people, and they are organized so that participants can bolster and support each other through frameworks of mutual aid—a philosophy I’ll define later on.
Nowviskie points to authenticity, mutual aid, transparency, shared governance, solidarity, consensus, and dignity as governing principles for navigating community organizing, leadership, and support in libraries. With this DH-inflected ethos in mind, she encourages us to reflect on “whose voices may be heard least in decision-making and whose material conditions may be most affected by the way in which our libraries presently do their business,” “what constitutes authenticity and equity, both with and within your own staff and among the communities they represent and serve,” and “what’s possible now in communication and investigation that our digital tools and methods did not support even a decade ago, and how libraries can work to protect those who want to use DH platforms to make meaningful change.” Finally, she asks us to “reflect on what your own identity and experience well equips you to understand, and what it obscures from you. Reflect on what you as a library leader might be willing to lose.”