I took a breather from booktruck a few weeks ago and ended up missing out in an exciting round of archivists scheming for future gatherings devoted to Web 2.0. Folks floated blogger gatherings, speed geeking, online tutorials, and an ArchivesCamp. Today, Archives Next and Spellbound Blog officially announced the UnOfficial Wiki of the 2007 Society of American Archivists (SAA) Annual Meeting, an awesome stepping stone towards making this next SAA meeting transparent, well-recorded, and coordinated in our efforts. Of course, if you’re headed to Chicago, contribute.
For the past two years, I have lived in a city that is for most intents and purposes Southern, sprawling and constantly booming, with highways and new cars and lots of good jobs. I work at its sprawling, booming, self-serious state university, where kids and grown ups get degrees and get good jobs, as a matter of self-perpetuation, societal paricipation, and in taking advantage of unprecedented opportunities. Asking “What do you do?” isn’t a snobby judgemental thing to do, but a matter of business in the most basic sense.
I went straight through college and graduate school- both of my parents finished college after they had kids. I had lot of the same intentions as the students I work with. I’ve yet to see numbers on this, but my perception is that a lot of women who become librarians also become the most educated people in their families while doing so- that this career, this profession, is often one that people enter into, even when as an afterthought, as a life-changing thing. I think new librarians affirm this quite a lot- they take on “librarian” as part of their identity. The thing I think is so interesting, so magnetic about library blogs, is that they are an excerise in women talking publicly and passionately about their careers.
There’s not a lot of attention in our culture today focused on women in their jobs. In women’s movies, do you ever get much insight on how the Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon characters feel about their careers? To take the pinnacle of genre entertainment as example, how often did we see the Sex and the City ladies actually at work? Their jobs, athough defining in a cursory way, were an afterthought. If movies today show women at work, it’s either in leisurely stylish rich girl jobs, recent past-period pieces, or in fairly disadvanged situations (see North Country, with the excellent line, “Do you want to make as much money as your Dad?”), but never as contemporary professionals. Where is our Network, our Norma Rae, our 9 to 5, even?
I meet other women at parties and bars and barbecues, who are doctors, teachers, lawyers, nurses, engineers, social workers, academics and curators (the real kind, not Charlotte on SATC). I meet women in other cities who work in media or have started their own businesses or who are artists and avoid “real” jobs. And when I think about it, we all put forth quite a bit for our careers, and our jobs, which are all regardlessly, “real”. We must think a lot about what our jobs mean for the other choices they have to make. But it’s hard to even navigate asking those questions. People see their work through the lens of their identity, and explaining what that means is boring for the most part. I also don’t want to be looked down upon by someone who thinks what I do is insignificant, or be percieved as self-important. But these things matter to me, I have a lot of unanswered questions about them, and I do want to talk about this stuff. But instead I talk to other women about their relationships, clothes, and expensive stuff we buy for the kitchen, or at most soul-baring, how we think we could ever afford to and manage to have children. Oh shit, where is feminism in all this?
As an act of feminist assertion and in affirming that I care about what I do, that it is important to me, I want to have more conversations with other women, both in my profession and out of it, about what our careers mean. I want to talk to dudes I know about gender and sex at work, and about what they think their partners careers’ (regardless of respective gender) mean. How do we do this?
Everyone and everyone who blogs about libraries has been talking about Michael Gorman’s blazes on the Britannica blog, and about some weird public blog dissing at NASIG. Okaaay. I think it’s because it’s the same old debate, floated for the millionth time.
Coming from the sphere of archives and special collections (and having an extremely fluid professional identity), I should hope I’ve developed a decent immunity to pretense, snootiness, and off-putting quasi-intellectual b.s.. Residual fear of change, pedestal-putting for “scholarship”, xenophobia, lack of empathy with everyone else, check! I ain’t saying it’s the norm, because I can’t live with that as my reality, but the air gets kinda thick, and you can’t get angry every single time. To put this in terms of relevance, Karen Schneider says, “To millions of people, he represents librarianship”, but I’m not so sure. I lack the reverence to think that someone who in the past had held a widely acknowledged as disastrous term of office in an everything-and-nothing organization has much real weight to throw around.
But what bums me out so much about Gorman’s steez isn’t that he’s mean. Cause a good academic feud is a thing to behold! What gets me is that he has an opportunity to fulfill a role as a public intellectual talking about libraries, archives and information topics that are important to the public, and he blows it on a self-referential argument chasing some bygone ideal of what it means to have reasoned discourse (bypassing, like, the last 70 years of western thought!), and in a needlessly puffy and alienating style that would (in a perfect world) never pass muster in a “real” scholarly setting. That Scott Mclemee, danah boyd, and Tom Mann are in the Britannica bullpen for this makes me at least want to stay tuned in. (Does anyone else find the tagline “Where Ideas Matter” nonsensical and grounds for eye-rolling?)
As Jessamyn points out, information retrieval is becoming important in so many more aspects of life, not just in so-called scholarly pursuit. We are living a major social change! This is what I don’t get when folks tell librarians to step up the game, re: discourse. Information issues don’t need to be made important- they already are! The major struggle, I think, is clarifying this, to which knocking down everyone else doesn’t really help.
That’s the snag, it seems, in the “Column People” debacle, wherein a NASIG conference presenter cited a post at Wandering Eyre as an example of frivolity, informality and presumably, the road to ruin for those who should know better. It seems like the argument was that “this doesn’t matter” as well as “too many in our community are engaging in this”. Which is kinda faulty. Let me say outright that I work with and respect Ms. Jane Eyre, and greatly admire the confidence she conveys in her blog.
Anyone who has any stake in this knows that blog informality is a really powerful use of rhetoric. Because dishing out issues of the profession while making cultural references and identifying statements is a form of self-assertion, and the more, the better: being privileged means you don’t need to censor yourself for survival. Obvs, I value informality in discourse, and anyone who thinks this is a free for all, all new due to blogs has yet to drink with academics. It’s a pecking order just like any other.
I still ascribe to the riot grrrl (Valley Girl Intelligensia?) idea that you should talk like who you are as a political statement vis a vis assertion of your experience. I’ve never taken for granted that it’s a risk, and that it carries weight. So what I do worry about is those with audience and prestige making trivial norms of the things they like and their manner of speech, thus negating the long and treacherous feminist discourse that made it possible to draw on our own experiences as something that matters.
One summer c.1987, my dad packed the family into the Suburban and took us on a Ghost-Towns-of-West-Texas themed road trip. In addition to being completely miserable, it was also economical. I got to see the Marfa Lights (free) and got to feed a Lone Star to a goat (price of small-town Lone Star c.1987).
Matt Gross, aka the Frugal Traveler has an equally thrifty, yet million times geekier suggestion in yesterday’s New York Times: the public library. During his road trip to Columbus, Ohio he cruises by I.M. Pei’s Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, which in addition to being one of the town’s architectural gems, also serves as Bartholomew County’s main branch. Might I also suggest any number of the presidential libraries, such as the Clinton Library in Little Rock-the architectural features allow for the spectacle of a beer drinking goat with some history thrown courtesy of the National Archives.
I’m not sure that I can unreservedly recommend the metaphor-heavy film The Convent (1995) by Manoel de Oliveira, but I can recommend its creepy atmosphere and the performances by Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich, who, honestly, I would watch do anything in any movie for any length of time. And most of all, I can recommend its cool monastery archives somewhere in an isolated nook of Portugal. Malkovich is a scholar doing some research there (but is he really who he says he is?) and Deneuve is his wife that may or may not have the hots for the creepy caretaker of the monastery. The archivist is pretty hot too, and Malkovich may or may not have the hots for her.
The archives pops up a few times in this trailer from YouTube. The archivist is the demure looking cutie with the long braided hair.
Here is an interesting (and long) article about Austin’s Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center from the New Yorker. Fun to read for Austinites and library-school types that have been behind the scenes at the HRC. Presumably also fun for fans of Don DeLillo.
There is a nice description of how archives are organized and used, and what sorts of things might turn up in them, although the author gives the impression that patrons are able to just browse the stacks and peak into the boxes. I’m still irritated with the HRC and other fancy collections making the purchase of archives for high-dollar amounts instead of the donation of materials the norm, but hey, this is Texas.
Not every horror movie has the guts to dip into the world of archival research. We have a major exception to that rule with Peter Medak’s 1980 film The Changeling, starring the always fun-to-watch George C. Scott, where the hero and his lovely assistant (played by Scott’s real-life wife Trish Van Devere) delve into microfilm, old atlases, and the “old files” at the local historical society. No one ever really says the “A” word in the film, but we know what they are up to.
And it’s not a bad movie either – you have to make a few leaps of faith, but the pacing is good, the mystery is fun, and it gets pretty creepy by the end.