Every Library is Autobiographical

Can large-form public institutions that are becoming ever more consolidated reflect the processes adopted by Warburg’s or the Prelinger’s libraries?

Warburg’s library did not divide domains by just subject or chronologically, but by subjective association. His library stood as a physical representation of ideas and symbols. I believe libraries function best in this serendipitous nature, as an institution that not only provides access to knowledge but inspires it. A seemingly insignificant idea from one context can permeate and lead to an acute association, drawing a mental roadmap of tangential domains. Traditional library indexing systems don’t serve browsers in quite the same way—it is at best community oriented.

The invisible inner workings of library systems is an integral part of these browsing affordances. The interface is a derivative of the interplay of this hidden network and patron browsing habits. For instance, “floating” practices allow for a tailored local library collection, one that is informed by the needs of its community.

I ponder how library science in the age of digitization and artificial intelligence intermingle. How might libraries be more personalized? Can a constantly evolving neural network trained on personalized data learned from browsing habits produce a digital library completely organized by thought patterns? And if so, what are the ethical implications?

The many facets of libraries

I was particularly pleased with this week’s readings, specially since we don’t have a strong link with public libraries in Mexico.

In Battles’s text, one of the things that caught my attention was how Panizzi, through the design of the library catalog, aimed to develop a more independent reader. I was wondering how that spirit has changed throughout the years, specially since we are used to receive information that is tailored to us depending on our online behavior. In that sense, it was no surprise to see this initiative by the Brooklyn Public Library.

After reading the strategic plan of the library and the expansion of the capabilities public libraries have across the country (Mattern), I started wondering about labor, budgets and what it means to be a librarian nowadays.

It seems to me that the role of libraries is to work as bastions of Democracy and truth, at the same time, they are being challenged with limited budgets in a time were they need to incorporate new technologies and people who know how to work with them.

  • Are academic programs tackling the needs of public libraries?
  • Has the role of library foundations and group of trustees become more important?
  • Is the collecting of data going to affect the distribution of books and activities that are available for the public?

Considering the Brooklyn Public Library’s Publics

The BPL’s 2018 Strategic Plan lays out a comprehensive “epistemological framework” (Mattern), detailing its current and future plans for promoting learning (by providing communities with necessary resources and opportunities) and for stewarding knowledge (by fostering connections and communication between patrons, communities, librarians, branches, and other boroughs). However, BPL’s professed intention to serve “all Brooklyn residents” does not seem to square with its plans (Strategic Plan, 41-42) to construct new facilities in two of Brooklyn’s wealthiest neighborhoods (according to this map visualizing census data) nor the already completed renovation of existing facilities in wealthier neighborhoods (Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Kensington). Recognizing that there are other renovations planned, I wonder whether the temporal prioritization of certain neighborhoods or branches over others can be attributed to the BPL’s interest in cultivating a community-specific approach (Strategic Plan, 65) – or if there is a hierarchy of publics nested within the greater public of Brooklyn as a whole. Is “public” here merely “a vehicle for publicity” (Battles, 68)? To what extent are BPL’s branches (including their updates) “contextually-designed” (Mattern), and where do the boundaries of its contexts lie? 

Processing: Library Lineages

Matthew Battles’ sweeping history of the library, which in turn is also the history of the organization and consumption of knowledge, provides a fascinating survey of the roles libraries had served as custodians of wisdom, status symbols, objects of conspicuous consumption, and, more recently, a space of gathering for purposes of community, literacy, and access to information.

As public libraries today become more and more what Mattern calls “a network of integrated, mutually reinforcing, evolving infrastructures — in particular, architectural, technological, social, epistemological and ethical infrastructures,” the university libraries seem to retain the elite, research-oriented quality that had characterized most libraries before the proliferation of mass-produced books. Big cities like NYC aside, most public libraries nowadays do not have very much scholarly literature at all, let alone access to academic databases. I can’t help but think that this university/public divide is very problematic as it makes independent scholarship without university affiliation much more difficult (and expensive), while the public libraries are being stretched thin to serve the community’s needs for baseline English as well as digital literacy.

The Library of Babel

The story of the library is the story of arranging knowledge: what becomes visible and accessible, and what is not. Information was always a key part in gaining and retaining political power and libraries exercised the control of the hegemonic narrative throughout history. The modern library, the public library, switched its role from knowledge custodial to a social hub, being the librarian a key figure in the public relationship with personalized content, and the catalogue, an instrument of its discovery.

Nowadays, even if someone is lucky enough to be born in a city with a substantial public library, the convenience makes the Internet the de facto world public library and search engines the librarians. Although almost all recorded knowledge rests on its library shelves, or datacenters, the search engines interfaces are less than perfect. The most used one, Google, monetizes on information access and conceals the logic by which the “digital librarian” suggest content to its users.

More than the new Alexandria I see Google as Borges’ “Library of Babel”. A universe that contains all the possible iterations of knowledge, but whose access is mediated by the prevailing gibberish.

Propose a Five-Minute Talk, Performance, or Reading for the Queens Museum’s “Convening on the Commons,” Oct 13

Held bi-annually since 2002, the Queens International highlights the artistic production of Queens in a major group exhibition. Now in its eighth iteration, Queens International 2018: Volumes, which opens on October 7th, includes 43 Queens-connected artists and collectives representing 15 neighborhoods and several generations, and for the first time, a partnership with the Queens Library. Participating artists’ works respond to sites throughout the entire museum and select Queens Library branches to question and expand systems of knowledge production.

On October 13th, the QI 2018 presents Convening on the Commons in the museum’s skylight and atrium galleries, two architectural spaces that house works responding to the notion of the agora, understood as a public space used variably as a site for assembly and as a marketplace.

Within this context, the QM welcomes proposals for SESSIONS participants. SESSIONS are broken down into thematically-organized discussion groups. Participants give 5-minute talks, performances, and/or readings focusing on the relationships and contradictions between the commons, publicness, and knowledge production. Discussion groups might include sessions on relationships between: the body and the natural or the built environment; technology and visions of collective memory; information and surveillance; property and resource dispersal.

Following SESSIONS, three guest speakers will offer brief lectures, followed by an open discussion between all participants and the audience.

This interdisciplinary event will engage thinkers from the fields of: art, critical theory, architecture & urbanism, performance studies, public policy, municipal law, literature, poetry, technology, education, and beyond.

Open Call: Past, present and future in the net art archive, Sept 17

via Rhizome

Building on the survey with ArtBase archive users we conducted earlier this year, we are organizing a follow-up hands-on workshop session for Rhizome community members based in/around NYC. This practical research session, led by our PhD researcher Lozana Rossenova, continues the commitment of our digital preservation program to consider the needs and requirements of our users and to factor them into the on-going process of re-developing our archive of net art.

This 3-hour workshop session will feature presentations on the current state of the archive, as well as demos of work-in-progress new interface prototypes. Through practical exercises, participants will be encouraged to think together through issues around the context, description and presentation of artworks in the archive. Participants will be able to learn more about how Rhizome is exploring the potential of linked data to support digital preservation for complex digital artworks, and will be able to test some of the archival interface tools we’re currently developing.

GIF by Ben Fino-Radin, source: http://rhizome.org/editorial/2011/sep/20/artbase-update/

The workshop will take place on Monday, Sept. 24th from 10am-1pm. Breakfast and tea/coffee will be provided. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer compensation for travel expenses.

This workshop is aimed at anyone familiar with Rhizome’s archive and preservation programme, but anyone interested in digital art preservation in general, particularly artists, preservation professionals, or students are all welcome to attend. Places are limited, so if you’d like to attend please fill in this short form and we’ll get back to you to confirm your attendance.

This workshop is part of an ongoing joint research project between Rhizome and London South Bank University. Feel free to contact Lozana at lozana.rossenova@rhizome.org with any questions or concerns regarding user studies in the archive.

Field/Fair/Museum: A February Symposium on Anthropology, Media and Archives

Yes, this is well after our semester ends, but it looks fabulous:

Friday, February 15, 1:30 to 5:30pm
Bard Graduate Center, 38 West 86th St
Website / RSVP 

This symposium marks the opening of The Story Box, a BGC Focus Exhibition that examines the hidden histories and complex legacies of one of the most influential books in the field of anthropology: Franz Boas’s The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians (1897). The collaborative product of Boas’s own observations and extensive materials authored by his long-time Indigenous co-worker George Hunt, the text was the first systematic attempt to document all sociocultural, spiritual, and aesthetic aspects of a spectacular Native North American ceremonial structure. A pioneering achievement on many levels—not least in its use of “new” media for ethnographic representation—it was the immediate inspiration for subsequent books, images, and museum displays, and has been the subject of an ever-lengthening list of secondary literature.

Yet few readers realize the conditions under which the book was produced, which include the scramble for Northwest Coast collections, the Canadian prohibition of the potlatch, and the participation of Kwakwaka’wakw in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. This exhibit and symposium contribute to a collaborative project to reassemble globally distributed collections and fragmented archives, illuminate the book’s history, and return long-dormant knowledge to the Indigenous families whose patrimony is represented in it. Speakers include project team members who will discuss the primary media utilized by Boas and Hunt (museum objects, texts, photographs, and wax cylinder recordings), the main sites for their ethnographic recording (fieldwork in British Columbia, the Chicago World’s Fair, and museums in North America and Europe), and the legacy of the book in Kwakwaka’wakw communities.

Speakers include:
Aaron Glass, Bard Graduate Center
Judith Berman, University of Victoria
Ira Jacknis, Hearst Museum, University of California Berkeley
Rainer Hatoum , Goethe University
Andy Everson, Artist and Community Researcher, Comox, BC
Corrine Hunt, Artist and Guest Exhibit Designer, Vancouver, BC
Keynote Discussant (TBD)

Image: Left: Chief making a speech at a potlatch, Fort Rupert, BC, 1894 (detail). Photograph by Oregon C. Hastings, courtesy American Museum of Natural History Library, 336116. Middle: Franz Boas posing as a Hamat’sa dancer, United States National Museum, Washington, DC, 1895 (detail). Courtesy National Anthropological Archives/Smithsonian Institution, 8300. Right: Xwani performing a dance at the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL, 1893 (detail). Photograph by John H. Grabill, courtesy Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, 93-1-10 100266.1.37.

Symposium—Conserving Active Matter: History @ Bard Grad Center, November 1

November 1, 9:15am – 6:15pm
Bard Grad Center, 38 W 86th St
Website / RSVP

This event is part of “Conserving Active Matter: A Cultures of Conservation Research Project,” a collaboration between Bard Graduate Center, the Humboldt University (Berlin), and the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam). This initiative aims to bring new developments in materials science and new ways of thinking about matter to create new ways of thinking about the future of conservation. The project is articulated through semester-themed explorations along four axes: Indigenous ontologies (spring 2018), history (fall 2018), materials science (spring 2019), and philosophy (fall 2019).

The working group on “Active Matter and History” (Peter N. Miller, Ittai Weinryb) aims to contextualize the current interest in active matter lest we become too enamored of the present and too constrained by our own limited horizons. Probing the boundaries of dualistic thought, from Pre-Socratics to plastics, this workshop will help us understand exactly how we got to the point that the activity of organic matter had to be rediscovered at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Beyond genealogy, however, the recognition that conceptual mis-en-scène is one, long, historical artifact raises new possibilities for rethinking activity along the arc of all those other victims of dualization, such as the subject/object, archaic/modern, living/non-living, human/non-human, and West/Eastern dichotomies.

Panels on Magic, Buddhism, Subjectivities, Traditions, Modernism

The personal(ity) within the archive

The readings this week outline the structure and organization of the archives, primarily focusing on what documents might make it to the archive and which one’s fall through the selective non-uniform sieve of the archivist (An Archivist). Unlike a library catalog that categorizes by subject, the archival records are organized first by the source (who wrote it) and second by what details the record contains, including biographical and contextual information about the source and contents of the record. However, as straightforward as the Archives @ PAMA post made archival organization out to be, the other readings point to a practice of archiving that is anything but. Though records tend to follow the descriptive patterns laid out in the PAMA post, there is no universal archival cataloging process used by all archivists in the cultivation of their records.

In the examples given regarding how records reach the archive, I wonder about the how the original source might organize their own records before giving them up. Though some of the fonds might be collected by someone other than the source (am I using the word fonds correctly?), I wonder about sources that deliberately do their own DIY personal archive work before they hand their records over to someone else. For example, I am fond of writing long letters to friends, and have been considering asking them for copies so I can have a record of things I wrote years ago. Not sure what I’ll end up doing with it all, but I consider it the cultivation of my own little archive. How much can archivists account for the source’s own awareness of their documents’ possibility of being archived, and how that awareness shapes the records they produce/create/destroy/decide not to make?

The nature of the archive

The archive invokes oppositional questions. Is it about power, control of narrative, history, access, memory? All entail the question of “who” – whose power, whose control, whose absence from the record. Yet, isn’t it also “under siege” (Manoff, 13)? Should we protect it from fetishization or from quiet elimination? Derrida shows us that the apparent psychological drive to record also involves its own kind of production. Technological advances and corporate interests vie with the material demands of archive-keeping. The Peel Archive pages remind us of archivists’ work to render less obscure even the workings of the archive. We see the physical space required, the impossibility of digitizing everything, that choices have to be made by. Should those choices be automated or remain subject to human biases and error? Even those who wouldn’t describe themselves as post-modernists recognize the lack of certain objectivity of historical record. No wonder the archive is a subject of contention.

The pervasiveness of data in digital age obscures how easily it can be obliterated from record, information obsolescence is as much a problem as information saturation. It is fitting we are investigating this concept in an interdisciplinary class, these questions invoke the meaning of the boundaries between them.

Sigmund, you’ve got mail!

Reading Derrida, I was surprised reading such a clearly media theoretical approach. Besides that the picture of Freud sitting at a laptop writing an Email to C.G. Jung made me smile, I think (and MacLuhan would be also in line with that) his observations are right that psychoanalysis would have been something completely different if Freud would have written emails.

And with that the archivization would have been different too. He writes, “the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content” (p. 17). Along these lines it is clear, that if the archives infrastructure is laid out for paper, manuscripts and books, it would have to print all the emails out on paper to be able to store them. But what happens to the message then? I think with this development the archive becomes not only a place where records are stored, as mentioned in one text in the readings for today, but also has to maintain technologies to keep them readable in their original form. It soon will become an archive of technical devices, which incorporates not only archivists but technicians, programmers, and restorers of new media. That made me think of the Museum ZKM in Karlsruhe which is in the same building as my university and their problems in showing media art from the 70s or 80s because it is an immense work to get the technical devices on which they were made and shown working again.

True Lies, Deep Fakes: Platforms, Knowledge, and Alternative Communities @ New Museum, November 3

New Museum, 11/3, @ 3pm
$15 GA / $10 members

It goes without saying that corporate platforms increasingly structure our reality and, in turn, our social and political lives. Within these platforms––and in the more remote nooks and crannies of the internet––new regimes of truth are being cemented as the old ones crumble. While this is just the nature of a centuries-old cycle of knowledge production and reification, new questions have arisen about how the internet’s infrastructure itself impacts these processes and how it might be harnessed for something other than “red-pilling,” or the indoctrination of users into the views of the violent alt-right.

In order to address these questions, True Lies, Deep Fakes brings together a group of artists, writers, and practitioners who explore platforms, the social dynamics they engender, and alternative models for community building and artistic production. How do new models for aggregating and distributing information generate new ontologies of truthmaking and community?

Against Forgetting: Archiving Dance, September 12, 6-8pm

SEP. 12 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Gibney, 280 Broadway
Entrance @ 53A Chambers

Website / RSVP 

Known as the most ephemeral art, dance is also intellectual thought, labor and creative achievement. How do we honor the legacy of dance, its pioneers and innovators? How do we tell the deeper stor(ies) of dance? Who does (or does not) get to shape and tell these stories? How do we preserve the record of dance as a touchstone for future artists and communities?

Faciliatator: Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Core Participants: Arlene Yu, Jill Williams, Paloma McGregor and Margit Edwards

Part of Gibney’s Center Line series.

Curated and hosted by Senior Curatorial Director, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Center Line is a series highlighting issues in the dance community through monthly conversations (Long Tables) and experiential gatherings (Circling Back).

IMAGE: Carmen de Lavallade and Alvin Ailey at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 1961. Credit John Lindquist/Harvard Theater Collection

The Human Face of Archival Practice

I am struck by the connection many of this week’s readings point out between archives and humans involved in their conception and maintenance. Derrida invokes the history of the term archive, pointing to their original Greek definition as the residences of “superior magistrates”. This involves both a physical location to house legal documents, and the guardianship of “the law” as signified through those documents by a group of privileged people. This initial conception of the term makes the archivist as equally important as the collected documents; the modern and increasingly digital world of the archive cedes more power to the collection than its human arbiters.

In the Jessa Lingel piece and the Peel Archives piece, the world of the archivist comes across as arcane and esoteric, riddled with untruths partially colored by mis-characterizations of archival science and practice. The Peel Archives piece establishes the quandary of the archivist to create a comprehensive collection with the caveat of not being able to keep “everything”. It is fitting that Lingel uses a reference to Matisse’s The Treachery of Images before critiquing the over-abundance of outdated, gendered, analyses of archival work and the lack of distinct separation between library/archive.

Mal d’Archive – maladroit?

What I find most baffling (to the point of amusement) reading Derrida is what appears to be a complete refusal of epidemiology in favor of metaphor. Thankfully, Carolyn Steedman notes this oversight, calling attention to the missed opportunity in characterizing (or perhaps more appropriate, in diagnosing) “archive fever.” Notwithstanding Derrida’s critical engagement with psychoanalysis, his ontological framing of the archive fails to take into consideration another obvious archive: Freud’s collection of antiquities.* In her book, Freud’s Jaw and Other Lost Objects, Lana Lin demonstrates the efforts in archival practice are very much like the archives themselves: requiring persistent labor and maintenance.** Both Jessica Lingel’s and Region of Peel Archives blogs acknowledge the very human forces behind the objects, places, and processes we often take for granted when walking into a library or museum – or, similarly, when entering the virtual spaces that allow us to access memories of meaning.

*Maybe he does write about the Freudian archive. I should admit that I haven’t read much Derrida. I would rather read him through someone like Patricia Clough.

**Does this brush against your recent work, Shannon?

Everything is a vector

There is a consensus across all readings that archival collections are not neural historical records, but shaped — both willingly and accidentally — by archivists, technology, infrastructure, culture, and political ideology. This extends beyond what is archived to what is recorded in formats that lend themselves to archiving in the first place.

In the world of machine learning — underwriting its supposed omnipotence — “everything is a vector”, meaning that any information can supposedly be encoded in numerical, tabular form which can be computed with. Work in this field frequently uses, or “mines“ digital archives. Even if everything in those repositories were vectors, they would only point at records, not data itself. The data processing pipeline doesn’t draw from the source, but only connects to the tap. It misses out on the realia, things that hold meaning but were never even archivable in the first place. Data scientists should chat with archivists more.

Archives: Clarity and Construction

The archive can be a site of profound knowledge production, leading one through a maze of the past in hopes of configuring a narrative of clarity. But as one falls into this information rabbit hole, one may realize this monument of “historically just knowledge” is built upon reconstructions through perspectives of subjective interpreters. But what constitutes one importance from another? It’s like the old idiom, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and in the case of the archive, archival holdings begin to unravel through this distinction. I’ve seen this subjective organization first hand in the Special Collections Library at AMNH, sifting through decades of interpreter’s perceptions of hierarchical importance’s. But I am yet another interpreter in the course of blurred histories. Will there ever be a light at the end of this tunnel? And is it the archivist’s contemporary responsibility to bring clarity to these histories?

Fall 2018 Speaker Series @ Columbia: “Oral History and the Future: Archives and Embodied Memory”


Oral history is a conversation about the past that takes place in the present and is oriented towards the future. How is this future orientation made real?

Oral history as a research practice, particularly in the United States, has been defined by a focus on recording and archiving in institutional repositories. But people can be archives too, and oral history-telling practices more broadly often depend on embodied memory, on person-to-person transmission. And because people have been formally recording and archiving oral histories for over seventy years, we are now living in the futures imagined by earlier generations of oral historians. How do these voices from the past function in our present/their future? Looking at examples from digital archiving to indigenous oral history practices, in this series we will examine how the various ways that oral history is projected into the future work, and how they shape our practices as oral historians.

September 13, 2018, 6:10 – 7:30 PM
Pan Dulce: Breaking Bread with the Past
Maria Cotera

October 4, 2018, 6:10 – 7:30 PM
The Uses of Narrative in Organizing for Social Justice
Sujatha Fernandes

October 18, 2018, 6:10 – 7:30 PM
Confessions of an Accidental Oral Historian, Archivist, and Podcaster
Eric Marcus

November 1, 2018, 6:10 – 7:30 PM
Accelerating Change: Oral History, Innovation, and Impact
Doug Boyd

November 29, 2018, 6:10 – 7:30 PM
Words Transmitted; Worlds Apart
Fernanda Espinosa

Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art @ Whitney Museum, 9/28 – 4/14

Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018 establishes connections between works of art based on instructions, spanning over fifty years of conceptual, video, and computational art. The pieces in the exhibition are all “programmed” using instructions, sets of rules, and code, but they also address the use of programming in their creation. The exhibition links two strands of artistic exploration: the first examines the program as instructions, rules, and algorithms with a focus on conceptual art practices and their emphasis on ideas as the driving force behind the art; the second strand engages with the use of instructions and algorithms to manipulate the TV program, its apparatus, and signals or image sequences. Featuring works drawn from the Whitney’s collection, Programmed looks back at predecessors of computational art and shows how the ideas addressed in those earlier works have evolved in contemporary artistic practices. At a time when our world is increasingly driven by automated systems, Programmed traces how rules and instructions in art have both responded to and been shaped by technologies, resulting in profound changes to our image culture.

via Whitney Museum