Many, many thanks to those wonderful FIMS students who created and participated in the joint CLA–SLA conference today, Humans of New Librarianship. I greatly enjoyed presenting my talk, “Human Traces: Searching for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Digital System” to this group of engaged future leaders of the field. In this talk, I encouraged these students/future practitioners to seek out the human traces in the systems and platforms we all use, and to examine their embedded values. Additionally, we discussed the increasing encounters of the humanities with computation and STEM methods and technology, and the ways in which those conversations have, thus far, been largely uni-directional but would greatly benefit from a broadening of the interplay, with an expectation for and a valuing of participants to become as conversant in critical theory, feminism, cultural studies, etc., as in new technology applications for research. As scholars, we must seize and insist upon this.
After a discussion of the ways in which critical LIS has served to unveil and heighten the traces of humans in digital platforms (with discussion of my own work, that of Miriam Sweeney on Anthropomorphized Virtual Agents [AVAs]), Safiya Umoja Noble‘s work on Google search and representation, Andrew Norman Wilson on the Google Books scanners and The Art of Google Books, among that of others), we turned to some notions of how critical engagement might change the playing field of the very systems we use, inspired and guided by provocateur/rabble-rouser Geert Lovink‘s observation and call to action:
“With ‘internet studies’…focusing on social science methods, the absence of a larger humanities project in the field is becoming obvious…what we need are appealing critical concepts that will survive as robust memes and transform into socio-technical protocols.” –Geert Lovink, Networks Without a Cause, 2011
Some of the takeaways I offered for current and future practitioners were the notion of empowering patrons, colleagues, and students to go beyond being passive consumers of digital content and users of digital platforms by becoming critically-engaged participants and/or producers. How we might do this includes:
- Give them tools to both interrogate and create.
- Identify and elucidate the landscape of the contemporary digital and networked world.
- Use new digital tools and platforms to (continue to) examine the cultural and historical aspects of pre-digital worlds.
- Preserve materials for study, analysis and archiving.
- Challenge, critique and apply a critical lens to new sites of inquiry.
- Create new tools, platforms and technologies that respond to our own epistemologies and critiques, that challenge paradigms, inspire and instruct.
Finally, the clever students offer a “Bakerspace” where baked goods brought in by the students could be bedazzled with sprinkles, frosting and other caloric accoutrements. Well done, folks!