Last week, Stacie, whom I know on Twitter and through her (excellent!) writing as @wribrarian, responded to a tweet asking for critical thinkers in librarianship, and mentioned me. I was flattered, and in the ensuing discussion, I had the unexpected pleasure of being part of a circle of mostly women, many women of color. We’re colleagues of sorts: librarians and archivists working inside and outside of libraries, scholars working inside and outside of universities and all of us in various labor capacities at work, at home, and in the world.
Twitter isn’t the best medium for thoughtful conversation of this sort, but it is what we have! Scrolling back, I wish I had responded to the “theoretical wasteland” comment. Just as we tell children, “only boring people are bored”, only uncurious people can declare an entire field of inquiry a “theoretical wasteland”.
I could only respond that practitioners were leaders in this regard, by far, and that so many of my peers had left. Left the realm of libraries and archives and left academic work.
Of course, my next thought was to all of the folks I know who are still doing these things. I am continually impressed by the work of my friends and colleagues like Amelia Acker, Marisa Duarte, Sarah Fox, Michelle Caswell, Alison Macrina, Melanie Feinberg, Sarah T. Roberts and countless others. The work that they are doing looks broadly at libraries and cultural organizations as institutions and the role that data and knowledge plays in our society now and in the longer term. “Citations can be feminist bricks”, Sarah Ahmed says. Read their work, support their research, and cite it, build on it. Then, you can tell me that this is a theoretical wasteland.
But to come back to practice, I still think that practice will always be at the forefront of work in libraries, just as practice is at the forefront of work in user experience. Reflective practice begets useful theory. And as Hannah Arendt argues, praxis should be the goal in any theoretical inquiry.
Thus, perhaps a too-painful illustration. Despite having been employed as an archivist and having written a lot about archives, digital and otherwise, I am rather terrible at tending to my own digital record. I have abandoned, password protected and willfully dismantled a number of websites, blogs, social media accounts, photo sharing sites, and lord knows what else since the late 90s.
Do I count as a “library thinker” anymore, I asked myself? I thought about it, then turned to Google, and then realized that a blog post I wrote in 2015 on not being a librarian anymore (but hadn’t migrated from Wordpress) was only available online as a PDF archived by PSU.
Maybe that’s why I keep on hanging out with librarians and archivists - There’s hope in remembering and being remembered.
And here's that post, re-posted. And if I can get around to it, I’ll reassemble some more of my writing on libraries, archives and collections. Because memory is both long and short. And because I've found that how we think and talk about it and how we put it into practice, is still the most complex problem I've ever encountered.