Conference presentation post-mortem

I finally did a presentation as part of a conference panel.1 I kind of feel like I am too old to be hitting this very modest professional milestone, but I also feel like I ought to mark it because it is a Thing I did, and it’s not like I’m the only career-changer out there.2 So I have my little speaker ribbon, I did a Thing, and now I never again have to do that Thing for the first time.

This was a very short presentation and a good way to finally do the Thing. I felt uncomfortable, I think the results were mixed, and I have a useful punch list of things to work on in the future.3

Continue reading “Conference presentation post-mortem”

A quick and incomplete explainer

Some folks in my social media network have expressed surprise or dismay at the force of negative reactions on display this week. For those of you who legitimately (as opposed to rhetorically) don’t get it, let me do a bit to address one piece of the puzzle: the immediate and personal fear expressed following the presidential election.

Are you familiar with Schrödinger’s Rapist? In brief, it refers to some of the risk assessments women perform: an unknown man may be a perfectly decent guy, but he may also be a rapist, and it’s tough to tell one from the other. I’m going to steal that concept to talk about Schrödinger’s Deplorable.

Continue reading “A quick and incomplete explainer”

Comment on proposed standards for public service metrics

Earlier this summer, the SAA-ACRL/RBMS Joint Task Force on the Development of Standardized Statistical Measures for Public Services in Archival Repositories and Special Collections Libraries drafted proposed standards for public service metrics. If you’re an archivist, librarian, or other interested party, please do take a look and offer feedback.

The document and directions for submitting comments are posted on the SAA and RBMS websites. The comment period closes on August 22.

Something else about Pokémon and something about Ingress

I play Ingress casually. I know people who play it somewhat obsessively, who spend a fair bit of time, energy, and money on strategizing and building community and traveling to anomalies. I’m not in that category. It’s worth noting that it’s possible for me to play casually due to geography (for all that can fall under the umbrella of “geography,” not just actual latitude and longitude).

I live in the suburbs. Some park portals are within walking distance (and I submitted one of those portals; it’s one of several submissions Niantic accepted, back when they were taking player submissions), but my residential subdivision is portal-free. If I had to drive to get to portals, I probably wouldn’t have bothered playing, because it would sort of defeat the purpose. But when I started playing, I was working at the American Philosophical Society. In the Library, a building which is a portal and has another portal screwed into it, with another portal in the garden, and one across the street, and…well, you can’t walk around that part of Philadelphia without tripping over something of historical significance. There are a lot of portals, which became the basis for Pokéstops and Gyms.

Continue reading “Something else about Pokémon and something about Ingress”

Something about Pokémon

I do feel a little silly writing about Pokémon today, on the heels of a coup in Turkey, mass murder in Nice, sniping in Dallas, videos of police killings, bombings in Iraq, and things that happened before July. But when reading about issues of greater weight, I at least am much more interested in reading things by people who actually know what they’re talking about—those with experience in the practical or academic field of international relations, say, or African Americans who can contextualize the phenomenon of Driving While Black, or folks on the ground who can provide live information about a developing situation—but when it comes to popular culture, my bar is set lower. (This? Not necessarily a good thing. Popular culture is a thing that is also studied and commented upon with no small degree of rigor.) And it is certainly possible to read Pokémon GO as public history—and hey, that’s my wheelhouse.1 (Note that I don’t really mind when not-terribly credentialed folks whitter about things that are, to one degree or another, in my wheelhouse. I like to think it’s because when the word “public” is part of the name, and the question of audience definition consistently examined, a certain big tent attitude is baked in. But realistically, privilege/access/silence is still consistently examined because of feelings that the tent isn’t big enough, or maybe shouldn’t even be a tent. And so I suspect unpacking my impulses will reveal a certain degree of personal anxiety, quite probably informed by things like the way gender—balance, critique, etc.—interacts with my work/background and adjacent fields.)

I also wonder if, when we look back on 2016, we’ll decide the ledes were buried. Will the adaptation of a bomb disposal robot as a device to kill a suspect in an active shooting prove more significant than the particular details of the shootings in Dallas? Will the mass popularity of an augmented reality game signal a significant shift in how we interact with our environment?2

Personally, I’m inclined to think those things are significant, though part of their significance derives from the context in which they’re embedded. Nobody violated the First Law of Robotics to build a T-001.3 But the increasingly militarized police, in a country that has increasingly made use of drone technology abroad, did deploy a deadly mechanized device and—even if Dallas in general, and that protest in specific, is doing all right on the race relations front—in 2016 it’s impossible to avoid the question of racialized responses to mass shooting suspects. So this probably isn’t the first step toward RoboCop, but it’s likely a precursor to the domestic deployment of drones designed to kill. Similarly, augmented reality isn’t new, and Pokémon certainly isn’t new. But quick, massive adoption, in a public manner, and occasioning public comment (without requiring think pieces to provide excessive background, because readers are assumed to have passing familiarity with mobile devices, games, and Nintendo)—that makes for a conversation that moves quickly from rolling eyes about kids today and into meatier critiques. We have a lot of conversations in 2016—some are necessary, and some are debatably harmful rehashing of issues that really should’ve been put to bed long since—but the existence of conversation is, itself, a thing. Our words create a record of this time, shape our memories as well as the histories that will be written, and part of that is happening in talking about everything from games to murders. Perhaps there’s more of an evolutionary significance than a revolutionary one in Dallas’s robot and Pokémon Go.4 But there’s still significance.


  1. A random collection of Pokémon GO-as-public-history musings: Alexandra Rasic, Glenn Brasher, Trevor Owens
  2. And does the fact that I am a long-time science fiction fan shape the things I find interesting, and the lens through which I view them? Undoubtedly. And it’s also worth noting that the genre skews male and geeky and…well, the history of science fiction literature, creators, fandom, etc., is way too big for even the most discursive of footnotes.s 
  3. A side note on context: culture matters. In the U.S., we leap from robot to Terminator; in Japan, the knee jerks in a more benevolent direction. Genevieve Bell gave a great lecture on this a couple years ago, “Ducks, Dolls and Robots: Toward a Cartography of Fear and Wonder.” Standard disclaimer that I’m a cis het white Gen X woman in the U.S., so apply handicaps accordingly. 
  4. Evolutionary…because you evolve Pokémon. Ha, ha, see what I did? Though I will also point out that, if we’re talking about the Singularity and using Neuromancer as a seminal example (because you can’t talk about cyberpunk and not talk about Neuromancer, and if you talk about the Singularity without talking about cyberpunk it all starts to sound kind of silly), it’s worth noting that while Wintermute was an evolving A.I. there was also a revolutionary aspect to the whole affair. 

International Archives Day: Harmony is overrated

It’s International Archives Day, and the theme is “Archives, Harmony and Friendship.”

I would like to take a moment to point out that archives—the collections and the profession—can benefit from a lack of harmony.

Archives have a tendency to reproduce structural inequalities: your documents, your story, are much more likely to be preserved (and deemed worthy of preservation) if you have power. (That power can take many forms, but there’s a reason so many buildings are named after rich white men.) Proactive collecting policies, thoughtful description, and community archiving can help correct some of these issues, but it’s work, and not necessarily the type of work that will earn enthusiastic institutional support.

The archival profession also reproduces structural inequalities. Archivists are not particularly well-paid or powerful by most objective measures. Despite that lukewarm career payoff, there are significant educational and financial barriers to entering the profession. (That Master’s degree is not cheap, and only having one can limit your options.) And barriers to staying in the profession. (You want money and professional development opportunities? How about an internship?) And the impressive set of barriers that confront archivists of color and other outsider groups.

Harmony is great…except when it’s a fiction inspired by politeness or insecurity. A little less harmony in the archives could help make archives a better place.

International Archives Day: Archives are Magic

It’s International Archives Day, and the theme is “Archives, Harmony and Friendship.”

A blog post seemed appropriate, but on what subject? As the parent of young children, the theme immediately suggested My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Twilight Sparkle’s performance as a librarian has already been analyzed, and she is not herself an archivist—though her use of special collections material is often pivotal to the plot and, on occasion, the fate of Equestria. My Little Pony can therefore be added to the list of fictional works depicting the public good of archives, and rather refreshingly avoids presenting them as universally dusty and boring to all major characters.

But I’d like to step back from the show and instead take a quick look at fandom.1 Bronies (loosely defined as adult male fans of the show) emerged online as a self-identifying community thanks to message board postings, made accessible and retained for future users. Unboxing videos reflect personal opinions and also capture details of material culture, not simply consumer goods but also their ephemeral packaging. Fanfiction online aims to transcend the ephemeral, as indicated in the name and mission of Archive of Our Own, launched in the wake of content and community purges on commercial sites.2 Six pastel Ponies have inspired an awful lot of community archiving.

I find that heartening. Every time I think of Digital Dark Ages, organizations that are careless or malicious with their records management, and the challenges of preservation, I also think of the people who really want other people to hear their opinions about Hasbro properties…and the people who do, in fact, want to hear their opinions…and the people who want to make sure content is classified in an appropriate manner…and the substantial number of people who may not all have the technical skills to design and maintain data repositories, but certainly have the savvy to use and adapt them as needed. People are documenting themselves, in ways trivial and significant, and future historians will have a blast. Material is out there, and if it’s not as permanent as some creators may think, neither is it quite as ephemeral as archivists may fear.


  1. I intended to do some of this in a more extended fashion, once upon a time; we’ll see if I ever get around to assembling the scattered little bits into a presentable whole. 
  2. Admittedly, My Little Pony accounts for a small fraction of the material on that particular site; but it’s a handy intersection of the more feminized realm of fanfiction and the more masculine Brony set. And though my encounters with copyright concerns are primarily filtered through Section 108, I’m also interested in how “transformative” is deployed. 

Conscientious meetings

Jeremy Brett has a post on the Issues & Advocacy blog, “A Case of Conscience,” suggesting that SAA take steps to avoid holding annual meetings in states that pass discriminatory legislation.

I’m in agreement, including with Brett’s anger and idealism and the impulse to be able to pick up balls and go home. I suspect the logistics of picking up balls might be more challenging than a conscience clause; though I haven’t done it, I know hotel negotiations are complicated. But even if an event has to go forward there’s the possibility of pulling future business—and, perhaps, thinking Very Carefully about future business in states that seem likely to introduce discriminatory legislation. Kind of like the Voting Rights Act (1965–2013) for convention planning.

Somewhat queasy-making, from my perspective, is the prospect that chunks of the profession don’t agree with the position that this type of legislation is wrong. (Our reputation might be kind of lefty, but that doesn’t really mean much. I wouldn’t be surprised if some archivists find trans urine as terrifying as North Carolina legislators do. Though really, there are so many more terrifying things in restrooms.) Then there’s also the it’s-political-and-the-organization-isn’t argument, which I associate with folks coming from a place of unexamined privilege and/or hewing to strict process arguments but can also, I suppose, come from other places. But from an organizational policy perspective, I think this is the money quote that answers those arguments and personal bias:

Nor as a professional organization should we be tacitly granting second-class citizenship to our LGBT members, which we would be doing by giving our dollars and our time to a state or municipality that choses to wage war against a minority group.

If you have opinions, there’s an I&A Roundtable Poll open until April 8. Do stop by, whether you’re a member of the organization and profession or not.