What I’m Reading This Summer: Bobby Smiley

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 Bobby Smiley, Interim Director of the Divinity Library and the Religion & Theology Librarian at Vanderbilt University.

Mixing theoretical and professional, this summer’s reading has traversed everything from Stranger Things and white nostalgia to mathematics and critical theory, with stops on the history and state of librarianship and digital humanities in between. Months away from starting my research for a Ph.D. in digital humanities at University of London (School of Advanced Study) and just over a week into a new position (Interim Director of the Divinity Library at Vanderbilt starting July 1), I’ve been concentrating on ways to nuance theoretically my ideas about data, while also casting a critical eye on my profession’s own complicity in histories and current practices of exclusion and marginalization.

Greenhall, M (2019). Digital Scholarship and the Role of the Research Library. Research Libraries UK (RLUK) Report.

When I was first “on the market” in 2013, I looked to the Research Libraries UK (RLUK) report Re-skilling for Research as a resource to help me identify and cultivate skills useful for digital scholarship. And while I’m no longer involved departmentally with digital scholarship, I’m still engaged in library efforts to promote digital scholarship (specifically in the humanities), whether through pedagogy, workshops, boot-camps, or guest lectures, as well as project consultation or collaboration. So when one of my future thesis advisors, Jane Winters, sent me a link to this latest report, I was keen to get a comparative perspective. As it turns out, there are few, if any, areas of marked divergence, and the report’s findings reminded me in many ways of the 2014 Ithaka S+R report, Sustaining the Digital Humanities, despite being sourced from surveys and interviews conducted from January to April of this year. Based on I conversations I’ve had with colleagues in the U.S., many of the new RLUK’s report key takeaways echo similar features we’ve observed here as well: the growing import of digital collections and curation, the ambiguity and elasticity of “digital scholarship,” project driven scholarship complicating sustainability, consolidation of library resources, infrastructure, or professional staff working in digital scholarship, or what the report terms “the mixed economy of support,” with various stakeholders across campus and different departments within the library. Of that mixed economy, one point of departure between ARL libraries and those surveyed by RLUK is the greater role played by non-librarian library staff in collaborations on digital projects. Among librarians, however, digital scholarship remained firmly within the ambit of “digital” staff in similarly branded departments. (As a shameless plug, I write about this in my chapter for Debates in Digital Humanities 2019.)

Zeffiro, A. (2019). “Towards A Queer Futurity of Data,” Journal of Cultural Analytics. doi: 10.31235/osf.io/3kfs5 [PDF]

Currently, all my friends seem to be posting digitally enhanced, artificially aged pictures of their future faces, and I’m wondering what Andrea Zeffiro might think of this latest trend. Zeffiro’s article offers a critique of current data cultures, as well as an alternative framework for reconsideration. Looking to the work of Lee Edelman,  Zeffiro argues that the logic undergirding data culture can be read through “reproductive data futurism”; that is,

[a] [f]uture in reproductive data futurism is outlined by a technosocial order that must be preserved and defended because it is the space in which data will be anchored to reaffirm [or reproduce] the logic of the present. Data, much like the figure of the child evoked by Edelman, is a political trope through which we are coerced into the promise that more data collected now will lead to a better and brighter future.

Zeffiro examines Facebook apps, Mark Zuckerburg’s 2017 post on corporate responsibility and his initiatives for wider internet access, as well as Google’s smart cities efforts and suite of educational tools to unpack this logic, tracking how these tools and networks have been transformed into infrastructure. For Zeffiro, the constructive counternarrative project wold involve “working through” and “working toward” reading reproductive data futurism by embracing a “queer politic that begins with a rejection of ‘straight time’, what José Estebon Muñoz describes as … ‘the only futurity promised is that of reproductive majoritarian heterosexuality’”—which, Zeffiro contends, “inscribes contemporary data cultures.” In turning to queer theory, Zeffiro helps make manifest the heteronormative reproductive futurity that animates popularly received ideas about data and its uses, and offers us a way to trouble and reconceive that logic.

Hernandez Linares, R., & Cunningham, S.J. (2018). “Small Brown Faces in Large White Spaces.” In Chou, R. & Pho, A. (Eds.), Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS (pp. 253-271). Sacramento: Library Juice Press.

I was recently researching academic library diversity residency programs when I came across Rosalinda Hernandez Linares’s and Sojourna J. Cunningham’s “Small Brown Faces in Large White Spaces,” which is a chapter in Rose L. Chou’s and Annie Pho’s truly excellent and trenchantly powerful edited collection, Pushing the Margins. Linares’s and Cunningham’s chapter should be mandatory reading for any library administrator already overseeing or exploring diversity residency programs. Using grounded theory and interviews with women of color librarians, Linares and Cunningham illustrate how the rhetoric of multiculturalism has silenced and constrained librarians of color even as it was designed to empower. By muting or ignoring the voices of librarians of color, pipeline residency programs have gestured at diversity without furnishing a supportive environment or a sustainable way to foster diversity in the profession. As someone who has worked with library administration on efforts for greater diversity and inclusion, “Small Brown Faces in Large White Spaces” enjoins all librarians to pause, and take seriously what libraries are really trying to accomplish through these initiatives, and begin the process of revaluation and critical reflection. “If we consider our current bodily presence in the field in light of these failed projects,” Linares and Cunningham write in their conclusion, “turning towards the lived, intersectional experiences of women of color librarians can help us work through the ways in which our present is informed by our past.”

Bobby Smiley

Bobby Smiley is the Interim Director of the Divinity Library and Religion & Theology Librarian at Vanderbilt University. His research interests include tracking historiographical trends in American religious history, disciplinary information literacy, and historicizing the relationship between digital humanities and academic librarianship. His recent publications include chapters in Debates in Digital Humanities 2019 and The Grounded Instruction Librarian, and he is currently editing a volume on information literacy and religious studies librarianship for Atla Press.