Striking out to find my way home: Catholicism and information

This world is filled with persons, places, and things, interrelated with other persons, places, and things and given meaning by the context surrounding them. In thinking through this essay, considering what person, place, and thing are relevant to the themes of this course, to the field of information, and my future career within it, what thoughts and memories kept recurring surprised me. Though memories of library visits, of librarians, of all the things I have accessed because of libraries, I recognize that these all pertain to my experiences as an information seeker and user, less to my future in the information field. In reading pieces like Ravi’s (2019) “Miss Manhattan” and studying the ever-shifting sands of the information field, its constant convolution, I shifted with this these ideas. In pushing beyond where my mind has gone before, I found myself coming right back home – Catholicism.

I am a Catholic. I go to mass. I receive the body of Christ. Person. Place. Thing.

Take away a single part of this and Catholicism falls apart. Ravi’s essay inspired me to critically consider their alternative approach to thinking about the relationship of persons to places to things, its delicate identification of these three concepts as congruently existing in modeled sculptures across New York (2019). If one is able to consider persons, places, and things in a way understanding of layers of interconnection, even congruence, between them, then Catholicism must be relevant here, at least in a personal context. As a religion, it is, in theory, intangible and unembodied, thus ineligible for consideration as a person, place, or thing. But as hours of lecture and class readings have taught me this semester, practice, not theory, defines purpose and nature. As such, Catholicism is practiced and becomes known to us, becomes something we live, touch, and exist in. Because of this, I believe it appropriate for discussion in this post.

As person, Catholicism clearly exemplifies Bates’ (1999) concept of the metafield, as defined in identifying the information field as one that encompasses others in its theory and practice. Catholicism, extant on every continent, represented in some form in every country, is a breathing example of person in that its presence is facilitated by bodies, proxied for by every baptized baby, every confirmed adult. Temporally and geographically, the Catholic Church and her followers epitomize the metafield brought to life, an overarching structure alive with billions of beating hearts. Considering Catholicism as person reminds us that metafield structures are not cold, dead things, and that information absent a human vessel is impossible.

As place, Catholicism complicates, not theoretically but narratively. As a religious practice, Catholicism has entrenched itself in landscapes around the world, from far-flung towns to the largest of urban centers. Close examination of how Catholicism reached so many places quickly reveals its “difficult heritage,” a concept meant to describe the marking of “atrocities perpetrated and abhorred by” the entity that committed them as “significant history” (Macdonald 2016). The complication lies in the idea of the institution of Catholicism “abhorring” its historical policies and actions. Schools, rectories, religious camps, and sacristies where priest abuse occurred for decades still stand, the reality of what happened in these places still largely unacknowledged and unrectified by the Catholic Church. Physical Catholic structures, like churches, monasteries, convents, were used to extend the power of the Church and those that supported her into populations that did not want them, to colonize entire continents. Again, the Catholic Church again relegates the reality of their actions to darkness. As so much historiography and truth-telling has demonstrated, the physical manifestation of Catholicism as geography engenders a difficult heritage almost everywhere it has gone – understanding Catholicism as place opens this heritage up to being worked upon, to being brought into its own salvation through the use of information.

As thing, Catholicism explodes in relevance. At the heart of this faith is the scripture housed in our Bible, which, even if it is literally believed to be authored through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is a just a book. Bolstering this text are pamphlets laid out in Church vestibules, ready for hungry eyes on Sunday mornings, Catechisms awaiting new students every fall, textbooks on theological morality, apologetics, and other Catholic philosophies. Catholicism’s entire existence is supported by its own production of information, cultivated over thousands of years. To invoke the language of Elfreda Chatman (1999), Catholicism as thing has been used to build a very large round in which every Catholic is expected to live forever. If there is anything to learn from considering Catholicism as thing, it is that the hard to reach and the information impoverished are not always those who are unaware or afraid of how information can be generated, accessed, and used, but also those are adept at these practices within their life in the round. Understanding this means we can address the invisible walls separating things like Catholicism from the rest of the world of information.

As centerpiece or backdrop, the persons, places, and things that make up Catholicism support or exemplify course themes of understanding the breadth of information science as a metafield, of understanding the use, misuse, or disuse of information surrounding history, and reaching information users who are hard to reach. On a personal level, the persons, places, and things that make up Catholicism represent who I am and why I want to work as an information professional.

I am a practicing Catholic, my journey within the Church pocked by the pitfalls that come with the rigors and rigidity of organized religion. Still, I do not walk away because I believe leaning in, listening, and filling gaps is part of my path as a Catholic. As I continue to study information science and understand this field, I have found that this belief in these things lends itself greatly to information work and filling gaps for those in the world we share. Considering Catholicism as person, place, and thing has demonstrated to me that entering the information field as a profession does not feel foreign – in many ways, it feels like coming home.


Bates, M. J. (1999). The invisible substrate of information science. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(12), 1043-1050.

Chatman, E. A. (1999). A theory of life in the round. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 50(3), 207-217.

Macdonald, Sharon. (2016). “Is ‘difficult heritage’ still difficult?” Museum International 67: 6–22.

Ravi, A. (2019, September 23). Miss Manhattan [blog post]. Retrieved from

Schwartz, Joan M. & Terry Cook. (2002). “Archives, records, and power: the making of modern memory,” Archival Science 2: 1–19.

Airplane Entertainment System Observation

In this blog post, I will present my observation of the interaction between seven airplane passengers and the in-flight entertainment system of a Eurowings A340-300 aircraft. The observation was performed during a daytime flight from Dusseldorf to New York, on Sunday the 17th of March, 2019. In addition to the observation, I evaluated my own experience of interacting with the system.

Considering that online functions of phones and other devices are unavailable on most flights, the entertainment system becomes a passenger’s main source for information and entertainment. Like most modern in-flight entertainment systems, the Eurowings interface is touch screen based. The physical design shows no buttons or indications on how to turn the system on. Despite the lack of visual signifiers on how to wake the screen up, all passengers in my observation managed to start the system without any issues. Because of cultural conventions (Norman, 2013), people nowadays assume that screens without physical buttons will respond to touching, hence making this minimalist design work.

Most in-flight entertainment systems that I have come across as a passenger provide a rather user-friendly interface. Considering that most of these systems have similar standard content and functions, such as movies, food and beverage menu, and flight information, returning flyers will generally have a good idea of how to use the systems. The Eurowings entertainment system consists of a main menu with the following content; home, movies, audio, TV, games, shop, bistro, wi-fi, and “about us” (see picture below).

The positioning of the screen and the interface design appears to be inviting to users, as all passengers in my observation, including myself, started using it immediately following getting seated. Upon entering the system, four out of the seven passengers began to browse for movies, a function which was discovered without any apparent difficulties. Though once at cruising altitude, I observed how a passenger appeared to be struggling with ordering food. The menu was presented in a PDF format, instead of a built-in menu (see picture below).

The small proportions of the screen made it difficult to read the menu, which led to the passenger picking up a physical copy of the Eurowings magazine, which luckily also contained the menu. I would suggest implementing a function to browse the food and beverage menu directly in the entertainment system to enhance the user experience. Once the passenger had decided what to order, she tapped the call-crew symbol on the screen (see picture below).

A slight moment later, a flight attendant and arrived to take the order. The call-crew button was also used on another occasion, where I observed how a passenger had a question for one of the flight attendants. These two events show how the entertainment system act as a link between a digital source of information and a human information source, i.e. an intersection of digital and physical. The fact that you can retrieve human information in addition to the recorded information within the interface implies encountering Goonatilake’s neural cultural and exosmotic flow lines (Bates, 2006).

Features on the screen further allow controlling the surrounding environment of passengers. By tapping the light bulb button on the screen, a passenger can switch the personal reading light on or off. Once again, showing how the digital interacts with the physical through the system. However, I noticed how some of the passengers got up from their seat and stretched to adjust the airflow from the ventilation above them. I would suggest making airflow adjustment a digital function placed within the interface, in order to further improve user and passenger experience.

Following the observation, I reflected on the importance of in-flight entertainment systems. In today’s society, people are used to having access to information at practically all times. I performed a minor, informal, in-flight experiment involving myself and a fellow passenger, where I decided we could not use the entertainment system for one hour. Being a daytime flight, none of us felt the need to sleep, neither did we have any books available. The prohibited use of the entertainment system resulted in reading all available papers provided in the back of the seat in front of us, and following that, a slight feeling of distress. This, somewhat disturbing observation, show how dissatisfaction can be generated when not having access to information. Conclusively, the in-flight system does not only function as a source for keeping passengers entertained and informed, but it also pleases our demand for constant information accessibility.

Another finding upon my observation was that all three information principals in Buckland’s article (1999) were encountered as passengers interacted with the entertainment system. Information as process was encountered as the flight attendant was called through the system, consequently providing information to the passenger. Information as knowledge was encountered e.g. when a passenger received insight from the flight information provided by the system. Information as thing was encountered as the screen presented informative visuals and audio through headphones to the passenger.


Bates, M. J. (2006). Fundamental forms of information. Journal of the American Society for Information and Technology. 57(8), 1033-1045. Available at

Buckland, M. (1999). Information as Thing. Journal of the American Society for Information Science. June 1991, Vol. 42 Issue 5, p. 351-360.

Norman, D. (2013). The Design of Everyday Things. New York, New York: Basic Books.

Symposium Review: “The Uncomfortable Archive”



I attended a New York Archives Week Symposium at the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street on Friday October 16th entitled “The Uncomfortable Archive.” The symposium, co-sponsored by the CJH and the MetLife Foundation, was open to the general public and aimed at bringing together archivists, librarians, museum professionals, scholars, and researchers around the subject of difficult and “dangerous” information in the digital age. Of particular interest to me was the early afternoon program entitled “Uncomfortable Powers: Archiving Dangerous Knowledge,” which promised talks ranging from cloistered Soviet-era archives, presidential records, and Wikileaks.  

Omission and Obfuscation in the Private Soviet Archive

Katherine Tsan presented the first talk, “Omission and Obfuscation in the Private Soviet Archive.”  It was structured around her research into the coded messaging that survived this highly-censored historical epoch.  Tsan outlined the difficulty facing the contemporary archivists responsible for interpreting these incomplete records, which were obfuscated in order to circumvent the draconian provisions of Soviet-era oversight. Archives were state-controlled this way until 1991, meaning abbreviations, incomplete names, and code words were the norm in information files.

Tsan discussed the dual concerns when focusing on Soviet-era projects.  She highlighted the ethical conundrum involved in archiving writings and information that were purposefully celf-sensored. Tsan also discussed the dilemma posed by Putin’s current-day deep-freeze of national archives, which show strong evidence of private citizens blotting out images and cultural memory. Tsan questioned if historical preservation should probe beyond these intentions or approach them from an ostensibly globalist, progressivist slant? Putin’s unwillingness to fund archival activities is in line with Soviet effacement, indicated by the complete lack of KGB archives and the concealment of Russian presidential archives.

Tsan’s talk echoed concepts of power and the archive that we read in Schwartz and Cook’s article Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory. They write: “The point is for archivists to (re)search thoroughly for the missing voices, for the complexity of the human or organizational functional activities under study during appraisal, description, or outreach activities, so that archives can acquire and reflect multiple voices, and not, by default, only the voices of the powerful.”1 The near-totalitarian aspects of Soviet rule should be examined in the archival renegotiation of history. However, the key challenge here is how archivists can locate missing voices in a historical period in which they were silenced and redacted? 

Tsan’s talk also recalled Drabinski’s article Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. Drabinski notes that Queer theory also found roots in a postmodernism that challenged the idea that truth could be final.”2 Is there a possibility for a more thoroughly accurate and truthful picture of Soviet Russia given the degree of suppression and censorship prevalent in that era? Or is the fact that so much of Soviet history was censored the truest depiction of its archival history? Would further excavation create a muddled history? These are intriguing questions posed by Tsan’s presentation. 

Watergate, Covfefe, and presidential records

Katherine M. Wisser followed with her presentation, “Watergate, Covfefe, and presidential records.”  Wisser, an Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Archives/History Dual Degree Program at Simmons College in Boston, conducted an entertaining talk which contemplated the implications of presidential records. Presidents Nixon and Trump were Wisser’s primary examples as she grappled with the debate over whether or not presidential records constitute the private personal property of those individuals in office.

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 served as Wisser’s primary  point of orientation. She chronicled the various ways in which the executive branch has handled this Congressional decision, which mandates the preservation of Presidential and Vice Presidential records and states public ownership of said records. Various Executive Orders have been issued since the Act’s inception that have variously limited and broadened the scope of the PRA.

Wisser was quick to point out the Trump administration’s valuing of  secrecy over transparency. She highlighted this by discussing Trump’s proclivity for tearing papers to shreds, which has resulted in government officials taping said documents together to avoid egregious violations of the PRA.

SID Today and SID Tomorrow: Releasing an Archive of Leaked Government Documents

The final talk was given by Tayla Cooper, Digital Archivist at The Intercept.  The Intercept is home to the Snowden Archive, which archives the internal newsletter of the NSA’s Signal Intelligence Directive (SID).

According to The Intercept’s website: “SIDtoday is the internal newsletter for the NSA’s most important division, the Signals Intelligence Directorate. After editorial review, The Intercept is releasing nine years’ worth of newsletters in batches, starting with 2003. The agency’s spies explain a surprising amount about what they were doing, how they were doing it, and why.”3 In August 2018 alone, The Intercept published 328 separate documents from a source inside the NSA . These documents covered a range of topics, and summarized “how corporate the agency had become and rallied other frustrated spies to his cause; about the NSA’s environmentally-driven spying; and about some of the virtual private networks the agency cracked into, and why. Other highlights from this release, which covers the first half of 2006, touch on Iranian influence in Iraq, the attitudes of NSA staff toward the countries where they are stationed, and much more.”4

Cooper discussed the labor involved in redacting elements from these documents when sent to the NSA for review. Cooper also talked about  how organizations like The Intercept work to counteract what she described as “surveillant anxiety,” in which no amount of data is ever seen as offering a complete picture of governmental activity. She concluded by stating that this anxiety is something that can not be quelled, a dispiriting endnote that also served as a rallying cry.



  1. Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory,” 4.
  2. Emily Drabinski, “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 83, no. 2 (2013): 94-111. doi:10.1086/669547.

Queer Zine Fair Observation For Dr. Rabina’s Class

Queer Zine Fair Observation 

By Taylor Norton

For my 3-hour observation, I decided to go to the NYC LGBT Center for its New York Queer Zine Fair. While this easily could have been applied to my event attendance, I decided to take this a bit further and not only attend the fair, but observe and assess the information and information users that were being shared in this temporal setting.

Upon entering the fair, I could see that the way the 50+ artists were set up allowed for a very specific traffic pattern for attendees.  With booths lining the outer four walls and two rows of booths in the middle, people could walk in a circle in one direction while looking at the outside booths and then in another direction for the booths set up in the middle. While there was one large room with all the booths set up, there was also another room for programs and shows. The event happening while I was there was a queer collage party that allowed attendees to make their own collage that would later be scanned and made in to a zine with others’ work.

With each new booth visited, I could see a variety of identities, sexualities, and genders represented and the ways that each person decided to present themselves and their zines were distinctly different. There were tables that shared information on that person’s experience, such as a queer femme who made zines based off of the poet, Sappho, or a gay man’s zine informing people about the different meanings of colored bandanas in the pants pocket of one’s jeans. Besides zines, I also saw t-shirts, buttons, pins, and patches that were obvious to some and not so obvious to others of the wearer’s identity. Semiology, rhetoric, and double meanings could be inferred everywhere, from cat pins to patches of fingers touching flowers to crowns and collars. There were hand-drawn zines, screen-printed t-shirts, and photography zines, among other forms of ephemera. It was fascinating for me to see all of the different expressions and to learn more about a community that I am actively involved in. Two of our class readings stuck out greatly in my mind while going through this fair.

Emily Drabinksi’s 2013 article, “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction,” was strong in my mind as I watched people walk by booths and engage with others because not only was this an information setting that allowed people to learn more about the community that they identified with, but they were also able to buy (or sometimes trade) items that expressed their identity; an opportunity that is not always presented to them in mainstream information settings. I saw this an opportunity for people to not only queer the hypothetical catalog by learning more vocabulary and ways of expression, but also by engaging with items and eventual artifacts that have the potential to go beyond this fair and make their way in to more mainstream cultural institutions. The more people create and share, the further their messages can go beyond such information settings.

One of Drabinksi’s quotes stuck out in my mind, “The materials themselves are linguistically controlled, corralled in classification structures that fix items in place, and they are described using controlled vocabularies that reduce and universalize language, remarkably resistant to change” (Drabinksi 2013). It was obvious at this fair that there was a vast array of different identities represented here and that both written and visual linguistics were in heavy use. However, opposed to the static ways of traditional cataloging, this fair allowed information users to go from one category to the next with each new booth visited. There was absolutely controlled language in this setting; however, the feeling of learning and being open to others’ experiences allowed users to engage with others more freely in order to further their knowledge.

Another quote by Drabinksi, “Where lesbian and gay studies takes gender and sexual identities as its object of study, queer theory is interested in how those identities come discursively and socially into being and the kind of work they do in the world” (Drabinksi 2013), resonated with me during this observation. Everywhere I looked, I could see people engaging within their own identity circles while taking the time to look at information that taught them about other identity circles. It was both a social and information setting in which discourse through artifacts was encouraged to transcend the settings of the fair.

Not only was I reminded of Drabinksi’s article, but also of Marcia J. Bates’ “Fundamental Forms of Information” article written in 2006. In this article, Bates defines the general idea of what is information and the different types of information. After seeing how intentional people were with the zines they made and the booths they set up to display them, I thought of how Bates writes that, “Other than in a few cases, such as a spontaneous cry of pain or fear, all expressed information is intentionally communicative to others in the environment” (Bates 2006).

While observing how people learned about different identities through the zines and other artifacts, I recognized three main types of information at play here: embedded, expressed, and recorded information. It is very clear that there are several different identities within the queer communities, from pansexuals to bears to doms and subs to femmes, and while observing I thought of Bates’ quote: “Because animals act, they leave evidence of their presence” (Bates 2006). Here people were acting on their gender and sexual identities and actively reaching out for shareable informational objects that represented and showcased their identities.

One example of information being produced from humans’ presence is embedded information. Bates writes, “In short, the embedded information is generally not left by its creators to be informative, but rather is informative as an incidental consequence of the activities and skills of the people leaving the artifacts” (Bates 2006). Many of the creators had started with the idea of processing embedded information from their lives and made them into recorded information. Described as “communicatory or memorial information preserved in a durable medium” (Bates 2006), these zines and ephemera were direct representations of expressed information.

While watching people interact with artists and buy zines, pins, patches, and t-shirts, I couldn’t help but consider the impact of this information setting in a wider capacity. People and their experiences were able to feel validated through the readily available and expressed information and could take this validation—in metaphorical and haptic representations—beyond the fair. As Bates writes, “Recorded information is distinguished here from expressed information because the invention of writing and the development of the technologies to produce durable recorded information appear to have had an immeasurable impact on human cultures and on the speed of development of those cultures. No longer do humans have to try to memorize all that their culture knows; now a lot of that information can be kept in durable form outside the body. The durability and storage efficiency of such information have enabled a great leap in human information processing” (Bates 2006). While seeing people use recorded representations of their identity, I could see a world of information being reborn and growing through the exchange of such information.

Help! ––I’m at a symposium and I’m trying to learn!

By Meghan Lyon

Last Friday, October 19th, I had the pleasure of observing two symposiums. I attended the first half of The Uncomfortable Archive: New York 2018 Archives Week Symposium, and the the second half of the first day of theWhitney Independent Study Program 1968-2018 50th Anniversary Symposium. These events marked my first encounter with the conference-style symposium. I have attended numerous lectures, but a presentation in the symposium format has a quality that diverges from a unique lecture; each speaker addresses their own content or area of expertise  as well as the overarching concept of the day.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of symposium includes: “a social gathering at which there is a free interchange of ideas”; “a formal meeting at which several specialists deliver short addresses on a topic”; “a collection of opinions on a subject”; and “discussion.” Additionally, it defines a panel as “a group of persons who discuss before an audience a topic of public interest.” The panel would be the object of attention, the body expected to enlighten the audience; it could also be the platform from which information is distributed. From my observation of the symposium as an information environment, I would define it as a learning-based information environment, where the audience is an information-seeking group whose attendance is predicated on the expectation of a conference of knowledge from the panelists. 

The Uncomfortable Archive Symposium, which I observed from 9:30 am through the lunch break at 1:15 pm, was devised to motivate the audience by revealing uncomfortable histories and truths about archives or loosely-defined archival materials. This goal manifested in multiple presentations about obstacles to record keeping and maintenance from autocrats, fascists, and capitalists. The Keynote Address was given by Anthony Clark, who played up the “uncomfortable” concept. Clark is an expert on presidential libraries and archives and discussed the more insidious aspects of presidential libraries—not just as propaganda machines but as active forces in politics, conservatively oriented towards maintaining the status quo of private interest groups. His address examined the unfortunate history and present mismanagement of the National Archives and Records Administration by the former director of NYPL, David Ferriero.

Clark addressed a room full of concerned professionals who were mostly cis-female, mostly white. The audience lights and stage lights were both on and remained on throughout the day; the AC was on, there was carpeting and plush chairs, there were no outlets throughout the seating area, and  there was no wifi and no data service in the hall at the Center for Jewish History. There was a podium for speakers and a table for panelists; I found that every panelist was an individual speaker and the “panel” discussion was, unfortunately, just an audience Q&A directed at the group of “panelists.”

The Uncomfortable Archives Symposium was crafted as a learning environment for archivists and professionals within the field of information. Most audience members were taking notes; actively engaged and trying to learn. However, several days after the Uncomfortable Archives, a peer who was also in attendance bemoaned that there was too little discussion of problems or troubleshooting thereof from within archives; in other words, she gained no knowledge that was useful to her as a professional.  Also, most talks were initiated after a precarious disclaimer: “My comments are my own and not my employers,” a common social media and web-based, personal disclaimer which has migrated towards any format that has the potential to wind up on the internet. This attempt by speakers to protect their professional status could relate to Robert Jensen’s paper, The Myth of the Neutral Professional. In order to keep their jobs, librarians and archivists are pressured to appear politically neutral. At the very least, they must attempt to be sure that they cannot be held accountable as a representative of their employer when speaking publicly. I find the disclaimers’ presence to be unsettling, and feel sorry that the speakers need to present defensively on stage.

Midday I walked over to the Whitney Museum of American Art for the ISP 50 Year Anniversary Symposium; This second observation lasted from 2:30pm – 8pm.

The Whitney Independent Study Program 50 year anniversary Symposium was a very different kind of event from the Uncomfortable Archive; It was not technically a professional event. The intended audience was ISP alumni, but the ISP program is so popular that many others were also in the audience. The 2-day event was both open to the public and free, so it drew contemporary art enthusiasts, fans of panelists, social climbers, artists, museum workers, art historians, current university students, and people in some way involved in the art world who are hungry for continued education. Because of the various points of entry, there was also a more diverse demographic. It was so packed in the lecture hall that overflow seating was made available in the Tom and Diane Tuft Trustee Room on the 8th floor, which is where I wound up for the first panel that I witnessed.

Whitney ISP Symposium from the 8th floor Trustee Room

In the trustee room, there was a monitor playing a livestream of the symposium as it occurred downstairs. This room quickly filled up, although it wasn’t totally full and people wandered in and out. There was an odd phenomenon of 8th floor of attendees clapping when speakers concluded, even though the presenters were on tv.

Another unexpected occurrence (unexpected to the Whitney staff, at least) was that people who showed up at the beginning of the symposium did not leave. This created a major occupancy problem, because people who registered beforehand, or who were ISP alum, could not enter. I believe that the organizers thought that people would come for a panel, or a particular speaker, and then leave—grossly underestimating the major interest in this kind of educational experience. After witnessing this symposium, I would conclude that multitudes of people are craving high quality, free, educational experiences. The panelists in this case were key figures in art theory, writing, criticism, contemporary studio practice, and pedagogy, and it is too often an exclusive few who are able to interact with the brilliance associated with the ISP milieu.

Like the Uncomfortable Archives’ attendees, nearly every audience member had a notebook out, although I would say the note-taking at the Whitney was a little more feverish, on both the 8th and 3rd floors. Eventually, a few people from the 8th floor went down in between panels to try and claim a few abandoned seats.

A panel in the lecture hall at the Whitney ISP Symposium

I made it into the lecture hall for the Pedagogy and Critical Practice panel. The structure of the panels were similar to those of the earlier symposium; each member of the panel gave a short presentation with slides, however, instead of a Q&A afterwards, there was a moderated discussion on the overarching theme of the panel, with a short time for  audience questions. The time-ratio weighed heavily on the lectures, clocking in at almost 2 hours of serial lectures per 20 minutes of panel discussion.

A little earlier in the evening, curator Johanna Burton had referenced  “embodied learning”—which she described as something along the lines of “trying out learning through new experiences.”  I thought this would be a good opportunity to explore  Marcia J. Bates’ paper Fundamental Forms of Information.  I could see note-taking as an interaction with recorded information, “communicatory or memorial information preserved in a durable medium,” (Bates 14)  as well as an enactment of student/teacher paradigm, and an attempt to fill a knowledge-seeking need. The symposium could be examined as a place for the expression of recorded information (lectures) to be

Single-Circle Diagram that says "Information Environment / Learners / I feel grateful to be here ----->"
“Information Environment / Learners / I feel grateful to be here ——–>”

embodied by an audience through listening and interpretation, and then enacted by their future selves as more knowledgable beings.  

Nearing the end of the ISP Symposium, Mary Kelly took the stage. Kelly was the only speaker who did not use a slide-show presentation, and she was so soft spoken yet captivating, you could feel the entire audience leaning in and opening up. I drew a small diagram of the environment and how I felt.


Bates, M. (2006). Fundamental Forms of Information. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(8) (2006): 1033-1045

Jensen, R. (2006). The Myth of the Neutral Professional. Lewis, A. (Ed.), Questioning Library Neutrality: Essays from Progressive Librarian. (pp. 89-96). Duluth, MN: Library Juice Press.


Preserving Counter-Narratives and The Racial Imaginary Institute

The Racial Imaginary Institute speaking at the Schomburg Center
The Racial Imaginary Institute speaking at the Schomburg Center

The lights dim in the Langston Hughes Auditorium within the Schomburg Center located on Malcolm X Boulevard. A short video entitled, “What is the Schomburg Center?” begins to roll and the voice of Shola Lynch, curator of the center’s Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division, booms, “it is the place where we come to see who we are. Not just some body’s reflection of who we are.” This is the true theme of center as well as of the evening. We are here to celebrate the launch of The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII) website, a new type of art archive founded by poet and MacArthur fellow Claudia Rankine. Rankine and Dr. LeRonn P. Brooks are moderating a discussion between two artists featured in the archive, Alexandra Bell and Hank Willis Thomas. The website is one of the first steps for the institute, which will collaborate with organizations, collectives and spaces to confront the concept of race through, the activation of interdisciplinary work and a democratized exploration” (The Racial Imaginary Institute).

The first web issue focuses on “constructions, deconstructions, and visualizations of/around whiteness, white identity, white rage/fragility/violence, and white dominant structures” (The Racial Imaginary Institute). Whiteness as the first theme was ­­­­­deliberate, investigating white dominance and “America’s commitment to whiteness” says Rankine, is the first step in dismantling racism and the concept of race. The website will collect submissions throughout the year and is capable of hosting all types of media. This will allow for a variety of voices to be heard across artistic disciplines to show different manifestations of lived experience within the dominant structures of whiteness.

'Tulsa Man' by Alexandra Bell
‘Tulsa Man’ by Alexandra Bell

“I don’t think I will ever live in a post-racial society,” says Alexandra Bell. A graduate of Columbia’s Journalism school Bell professes that it mostly, “made [her] a very snobby reader.” She critiques the latent racism within journalism through creating counter-narratives by editing articles from The New York Times, enlarging them tenfold and wheat pasting them in public spaces throughout New York City, predominantly Brooklyn. Her most well-known work is “A Teenager with Promise” a commentary of the inept coverage by the paper over Michael Brown’s murder. Her pieces are diptychs with one panel featuring a redacted and edited copy of the original article noting the language choices that sustain the dominant white narrative; the second panel is her visual representation of the more accurate counter-narrative.

'Absolut Power' by Hank Willis Thomas
‘Absolut Power’ by Hank Willis Thomas

“Race is the most successful advertising campaign of all time,” Hank Willis Thomas tells the audience. Thomas is a conceptual artist whose body of work intersects on ideas of identity, commodity, and pop culture. He believes that “black identity” is fabricated, co-opted and capitalized upon by whiteness. Most known for his series B®anded consisting of manipulated photographs to explore themes of the black body as a commodity from the time of slavery to the present day. One of his most striking pieces is Absolut Power, a play on the Absolut vodka ad campaigns, filling the iconic bottle’s silhouette with the diagram of the Brooke’s slave ship.

“Through archives, the past is controlled[,]” Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook remind us, “[c]ertain stories are privileged and others marginalized” (1). The institution of the archive “represents enormous power over memory and identity, over the fundamental ways in which society seeks evidence of what its core values are and have been, where it has come from, and where it is going” (Schwartz and Cook 1). These are the exact issues the institute sets out to tackle. Racism is a social construct, it is built upon privilege and power that is either overt or subconcious. When a police officer shoots a black man his defense most often that he was afraid. But afraid of what? White dominance has controlled the narrative surrounding black bodies since we kidnapped them from their homes and enslaved them here on our soil. We have allowed this narrative to continue unchecked actively and passively in all corners of society. In archives specifically, it can be seen in the collection process. It is not uncommon to search records under the “Black History” heading only to find files filled with solely caricature advertising, gruesome accounts of lynching, or similar narratives that place people of color as the victimized other. These narrow collections focus on “Black History” from a controlled white perspective.

As a writer and scholar of African history and diaspora, Arturo Schomburg, for whom the center is dedicated, came up against many who were quick to say that people of color had no history. He went on to amass the largest collection of artifacts and records of black history to preserve the history and culture which society deemed illegitimate. He strove to preserve the range of black experiences, from excellence to exploitation, rather than focusing on the suffering and stereotypes. That to him was not African history it was the history of white dominance and oppression. Because of his legacy ­­­­we have the records that are the literal actual narrative of black experience and not just what white archivist and society have deemed the acceptable history.

The Racial Imaginary Institute seeks to expound upon the ideas of Shomburg by collecting and creating a “deep memory archive” (Brooks) of artistic manifestations of lived experience. It will serve to capture not just our history past, but also our history current. This is a pointed effort to start the conversation now rather than wait for our future historians to interpret the evidence. This is a new way of collecting and disseminating information through active community participation that will circumvent the power still held in the institution of the archive.

The Racial Imaginary Institute
The Racial Imaginary Institute

Works Referenced:“About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.”, New York Public Library ,

Charlton, Lauretta. “Claudia Rankine’s Home for the Racial Imaginary.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017,

Félix, Doreen St. “The.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 31 July 2017,

“HANK WILLIS THOMAS, BRANDED.” Jack Shainman Gallery, Jack Shainman Gallery, Artist page.

Rankine, Claudia, Dr. LeRonn P. Brooks, Alexandra Bell, and Hank Willis Thomas. “Artist and the Archive: Deconstructing Racial Imagination at the Schomburg” New York Public Library Schomburg Center. 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York. 26 Sept. 2017. Artist Panel Discussion.

Schwartz, Joan M, and Terry Cook. “Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science : International Journal on Recorded Information. (2002). Print.

“The Racial Imaginary Institute.” The Racial Imaginary Institute, The Racial Imaginary Institute,


I Want To Believe: ‘Illegal Alien’ as Dropped Subject Heading?

When the word “alien” is used to classify an individual, it is inaccurate, silly, and downright disrespectful. On one hand, it brings to mind science fiction fodder from the 1950—bulbous heads with tubular arms bearing “We come in peace” banners. It’s disrespectful, obviously, because it reduces a human being, no better than you or I, to this cheap, cartoon visual.

The history of the term begins unexpectedly. This now-offensive term was once used to supplant a much more offensive one.

In the 70s, “a group of Chicano UCLA students […] suggest[ed] the [LA Times] use the term illegal alien. They were responding to an editorial in the publication whose title referred to people who’d crossed illegally from Mexico as wetbacks.” So for a period, the term was a politically correct answer to what now seems like an archaic and particularly nasty slur (that reputable newspapers would publish without a thought)

So in the 80’s, when politicians like Ronald Reagan were using the term, it didn’t strike people as offensive as it does now. According to NPR, it wasn’t until the 90’s that the phrase started becoming associated with bigotry. Despite this current understanding that the term is outdated, it is prominently linked to political, right-wing rhetoric.

Politicians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump coupling the words “illegal alien” with the word “criminal,” (NPR) as an antecedent or vice-versa. They are essentially labeling a voiceless people in a way that the people themselves don’t determine.

The current political climate in which the term “illegal alien” has an insidious relevancy is interesting when compared to the Peet article. It describes the avenues and roadblocks a Dartmouth student navigated in her quest to remove “illegal alien” as a subject heading with the Library of Congress. While researching, the student noticed that many inflammatory readings about non-citizens were found under the heading “illegal alien.”

The student took her concerns with the heading to a rights group for the undocumented students at Dartmouth. From there, the bipartisan group took the student’s concerns to librarians at Dartmouth. The librarians advised that the group would have to take it up with the Library of Congress directly. What follows was a description that, frankly, painted the Library of Congress as an impenetrable and hierarchical force at best. On the more extreme side, an absolute, perhaps harsher interpretation might cast LC as sometimes-protector of the hegemony.

After six grueling months of waiting, the Library of Congress finally got back to Dartmouth students, denying the change. The LC memo stated that the terms “illegal alien” and “undocumented immigrant” were not interchangeable. In their eyes, the connotation for each phrase was different.

Then, after what seems like relatively small pressure from ALA and civil rights groups, the Library of Congress relented. They changed the heading to “non-citizen”…for three months, at least. After that short span, Republicans (specifically) tried to stop this.

One Republican senator from Tennessee (neighbor to my own home state, Alabama) even went so far as to say the name-change would cost taxpayers frivolously, and therefore would not have been worth pursuing. As if using more thoughtful words wouldn’t lead to a more uniform, thoughtful community benefiting everyone…

The bill was ultimately passed, then denied, and is now currently up in limbo. The end of the Library Journal article is optimistic. It highlights the enterprising Dartmouth student, a former undocumented individual who is now a modern incarnation of civil rights hero. The article champions individuals like her, and as readers we are implicitly encouraged to follow suit.

Despite the bill not passing by the time of the article’s publication, the work done by the students was still necessary. The publicity generated by their efforts makes “illegal alien” seem even more antediluvian and backwards, further discourages thoughtful people (most of us, in my opinion) from using it. Any publicity, if it encourages less usage of this word, will paint researchers who use this tag as insensitive, pressuring everyone to use it less in every capacity, unless trying to incite (like insensitive, topical politicians of the day). In short, I don’t think anyone who matters is going to be using this term.

Both words in the label “illegal alien” are propaganda. “Illegal” implies criminal activity even when none occured. “Alien” is a particularly cartoonish way of saying an object doesn’t belong. It is not just propaganda, but it is immoral propaganda.

This reminded me of the struggles for more apt representation (or representation at all) in the Library of Congress subject headings outlined in the Drabinski readings. “Lesbian” finally got validation from LC as a subject heading in 1976. The dynamics of power, of literally waiting for the hegemony to realize that a disrespect is taking place, and then waiting on them to care enough to change it, is relevant in the Dartmouth case as well. When a dominant class is put in charge of defining a less-influential other, they are only going to approach this task with the limited understanding they bring to the table.

The Drabinski article was about how people are limited by their biases, whether they realize it or not. Even when the defenders of these inaccurate subject headings are in the wrong, they often don’t seem to realize or spend too much time defending instead of just realizing the new for something new and more respectful. If harmful language can exist in libraries, those hallowed places idealized by Madison and Jefferson, then what hope is there for the drastically more-chaotic spaces outside of it?

Above all else, we just have to ask people and understand what they feel comfortable being called. Why is that so hard?

Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83(2), 94-111. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from

Greene, D. (2015, August 19). The Evolution Of The Immigration Term: Alien. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from

Peet, L. (2016). LC Drops “Illegal Alien” Subject Heading. Library Journal, 141(11), 12-13.

“Fancy Pictures” and the Ethics of Documentary Photography

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In Methodology Matters: Doing Research in the Behavioral and Social Sciences, Joseph McGrath regards ‘doing research’ as “…the systematic use of some set of theoretical and empirical tools to try to increase our understanding of some set of phenomena or events.”  Mark Neville’s conversations with David Campany in his new book, Fancy Pictures, are an exemplary case of McGrath’s definition.  The book chronicles Neville’s ‘documentarian’ photography projects from 2004 to 2016 in which he immerses himself in an environment, be it a small working-class town of Scotland in The Port of Glasgow; the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in The Helmand Work; or the Lloyds of London and the London Metal Exchange in Here is London.  For our purposes, I will focus my time on The Port of Glasgow project from 2004.

“I physically go into communities and, over time, I negotiate some kind of performance from the people I’m with.” –Mark Neville

In applying my knowledge from Methodology Matters and The Ethics of Fieldwork (a publication of PERCS) to this photography book, I found Mark Neville to be a mastermind of the game in his The Port of Glasgow project.  He and David Campany discuss the issue of photography commodifying people and ways in which to “interrupt or subvert that commoditization of people and their bodies.3

As a photographer working primarily on grants and residencies—at the time—, Mark Neville applied and was awarded a grant of £106,000 ($132,076) for a public art project in the west coast of Scotland.  Neville had preconceptions of what his project was to become: “[an] expensive coffee-table book of social documentary photography” and it appeared to him that a book like this “[would not be] aimed at the kinds of people who were in the pictures… there was a real contradiction, a hierarchy, exploitation.”  So Neville decided instead to make his final publications available only to those living in the community, and to have an open relationship with the people being photographed in regards to: how they wanted to be portrayed, what they were okay with publicly showing, and what events Mark was allowed to attend (i.e.: parties, church services).

This method of research would most likely be described by Joseph McGrath as a ‘field study’—meaning that “the researcher sets out to make direct observations of ‘natural’, ongoing systems, while disturbing those systems as little as possible.1”—although, the fact that Neville invites his subjects to comment on the way they are portrayed may skew some lines in the exact definition.  I would consider this type of work to be extremely ethical, based on The Ethics of Fieldwork and my own biases of ethical behavior.  In production of this book, Neville was highly open with his subjects, gaining the trust of the community for the two years it took to complete the project.  He answered the question “Are there ways we can gain the information we need without hiding our purposes? 2” with a ‘yes, of course!’ as he laid everything out on the table before and during production, field work, and research.

In going about his project this way, Mark thought he would “avoid stereotypes and assumptions [as well as] alienating [his] participants. 2” , but that was not the case with all of the Glasgow residents.  Although many were proud and excited about the high production value and the solidity of the book—some even going to lengths of emailing Mark about their enthusiasm—others were not as happy.  The residents of ‘Robert Street’ saw the book as too representative of the Catholic pubs and clubs in the town and that there were not enough depictions of the Protestant culture; these people collectively decided to burn their copies of the books in the streets.

“I literally got a call from the fire station telling me a pile of my books was on fire.3” –Mark Neville

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A January 2004 article from The Greenock Telegraph interviews Nursery teacher, Claire Scott on her feelings of the publication and the negative repercussions she believes it may have on how the town sees itself but also how the rest of the world will see them.  Scott believes the publication to have negative stereotypes of what “people expect [Glasgow] to be like… ‘A dirty wee Port’” and regards Neville as “an outsider looking in with a prejudiced view before he started.”

“We have to live here after his lens is gone.” –Claire Scott

So the question arises: ‘Can researchers conduct adequate analysis that serves the initial question(s) of their study, in a way that makes the subject feel comfortable during, and content with the results after?’

The Ethics of Fieldwork brings up similar questions: How do we record (or do we record) the discoveries within a community that the community itself does not know or recognize in a systematic way?; How can we show out participants as whole people while still focusing on key elements of their lives?; How do we establish rapport within the community we are studying?; Is it possible to be seen by your subjects as anything more than an outsider?

Indeed there are ways of getting around these preconceptions: learning local norms of conduct, making the subjects feel that they are in control of the situations—or that ‘you need them more than they need you’, learning local concerns in regards to the project, and above all: being truthful to your subjects.  Neville’s primary mistake may have been sheer hubris—that he did not realize he was alienating his subjects by indirectly defining them as exotic or exemplified of their environment, while forgetting to check if there were any embarrassing revelations from the people being portrayed.  He may have taken the necessary steps to try to conduct an ethical research project, but he must’ve overlooked something, somewhere.

It could also be true that it is inevitable you are always going to offend someone—that no matter how hard an individual tries to report clear, concise, unbiased information, there will always be at least one person that will disagree with the content and message of the work.  McGrath regards the research process as “…at heart, a social enterprise resting on consensus. 1” But can we all ever really be in general agreement?  The answer is quite confidently, ‘no’, as we can see—on a societal level—in cultural reviews of books and movies, trends of fashion, what our taxes should go towards, climate change, etc.  No matter how convincing, accurate, or honest the reporting and information may be, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. 4

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1 Mcgrath, Joseph E. “METHODOLOGY MATTERS: DOING RESEARCH IN THE BEHAVIORAL and SOCIAL SCIENCES.” Readings in Human–Computer Interaction(1994): 152-69. Web.

2 “The Ethics of Fieldwork.” Elon University 34.5 (1993): 2. Http:// PERCS: The Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies, Web. 18 Feb. 2017.

3 Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. Print.

4 Lydgate, John. “A Quote by John Lydgate.” Goodreads. Good Reads, 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.


Neville, Mark.  View from the Ropeworks Building. 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 24. Print.

Neville, Mark.  Betty at Port Glasgow Town Hall Xmas Party. 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 13. Print.

The Greenock Telegraph. January 12 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 13. Print.

“The first email response to Port Glasgow from a Portonian. 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 13. Print.

Neville, Mark.  Boys at Devol. 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 1. Print.

Neville, Mark.  Ancient Order of the Hibernian Social Club (Donna). 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 25. Print.


Kelsey Gallagher, Information Professionals LIS651 Thursdays 3-6, Spring 2017

“Archives, Advocacy, and Change” at the New York Academy of Medicine

“The archival profession is inherently an activist profession.” -Rich Wandel

Last night, the New York Academy of Medicine hosted a panel called “Archives, Advocacy, and Change” as part of their Changemakers series. The panelists were Jenna Freedman, founder of the Barnard Zine Library; Steven Fullwood, founder of In the Life Archive; Timothy Johnson, director of NYU’s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives and co-director of Tamiment’s Cold War Center; and Rich Wandel (quoted above), founder of  The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center National History Archive.  Continue reading