Eira Tansey

Catch me on WMKV talking about hiking

I’m super excited that I am going to be a guest on WMKV (89.3 FM in Cincinnati, and 89.9 FM in Warren/Butler counties), a local Cincinnati community radio station, this Friday, September 23 from 1-1:30pm Eastern. Good news out of town friends — you can stream WMKV through the website. Scroll down on the homepage or this link will hopefully work.

I will be interviewed by Carol Mundy, who is an amazing local naturalist (and full disclosure, my bff’s mom). We’re going to talk about hiking, getting outdoors, and about my section hike of the Sheltowee Trace. But I’ve also been told that Carol’s hosting style can be full of surprises, so you’ll just have to tune in to listen!

A human impulse

Tonight I went to see Emily St. John Mandel speak at Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library. Mandel is the author of Station Eleven, a novel I have been so wholly obsessed with since reading it last year that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve recommended it. It’s the only post-apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read that has filled me with awe and hope for our beautiful world, instead of wanting to crawl into bed and hide. The novel imagines a massive pandemic that kills the majority of the world’s population, and follows several characters back and forth through time. One of the main narrative threads involves a Shakespearean troupe (that has a caravan with a quote from Star Trek on the side) that travels around northern Michigan and Canada. In fact, Mandel said that this traveling Shakespeare troupe was the initial seed of the idea for the novel. She noted that when she began writing this part, she originally had the troupe performing a variety of plays and even television shows from the late 20th century, but realized that in a post-apocalyptic world without electricity, the idea of performing “New York real estate situation comedy” (I hope I got the quote right) rang hollow. As she researched both Shakespeare and pandemics, she realized that having a troupe performing exclusively Shakespeare held a particular resonance for the post-pandemic world in Station Eleven; Shakespeare was born during the bubonic plagues that were devastating England, and there was a certain transcendence in the idea of returning to a canon of work that pre-dated electricity in a post-electricity world.

Mandel has wonderfully dry Canadian wit, and talked at length about her research process (my favorite was when she discussed going down Google rabbit holes and reading “unsettling” survivalist message boards – having been down those same rabbit holes myself, “unsettling” is a very charitable way to put it!) as well as why she thinks post-apocalyptic stories are such a frequent part of contemporary culture. Towards the end of her lecture, she ended with a brief anecdote about visiting an exhibit of illuminated manuscripts. Mandel recalled seeing a book over 400 years old, noting that that book comes from a world that has effectively ended, even though human existence has continued – and so the world as we conceive it is continually ending over and over, but we don’t quite realize it because of scale.

There was a brief Q&A at the end, and I attempted to get my fan girl nervous shaky vapors under control (seriously y’all, the only other time I have ever been so overpowered by awe to be in another writer’s presence that I had to take a deep breath and remember to BE COOL was the time I briefly met my archivist writer hero Rand Jimerson) so that I could ask a question about the role of memory in Station Eleven. I managed to snag the last question-asker spot. Here’s a far (FAR!) more eloquent version of what I asked Mandel:

“Hi, I’m an archivist, and I want you to know that a lot of archivists really love your book. Archives often pop up in novels, and when we’ve talked about your book, we’ve talked about the Museum of Civilization, or the historical newspapers that pop up in it. Can you tell us a little bit about how you saw the role of artifacts or written traces of the past in your book’s apocalyptic future?”

She talked a little bit about how the Museum of Civilization came about in the story – she figured that at the end of the world, some folks would probably be stuck in an airport. And while today a 5″ stiletto or an iPad may not seem fascinating, in a world where life changes so dramatically, you could at least show a non-glowing iPad to your child and say “we used to be able to see someone on the other side of the world and talk to them through this.” But then Mandel said something that is very familiar to archivists working in fragile and vulnerable spaces: that after the dust begins to settle from a chaotic and devastating event, people have a “human impulse” to recall the past and to tell their stories.

Archivists who’ve worked around traumatic events know this well – that chaos is often a turning point in human history, but that in the midst of the chaos, preservation of our stories, records, and traces are generally the furthest things from the minds of those who are just trying to hold it together to survive another day. In addition, archivists must be extraordinarily sensitive to how memory can function as a prolonging of trauma. I lived and worked in New Orleans from 2008-2013 (in other words, 3 years after Katrina), and the trauma of the hurricane and federal levee failure was visible on a daily basis. I moved down just in time to evacuate for Hurricane Gustav, the first mandatory evacuation since Katrina. My roommate at the time had survived Katrina as a freshman college student, and her PTSD became fully evident as she got the hell out of town almost a whole day before I managed to evacuate. Towards the end of my time living there, many archivists I knew who had survived Katrina were quite resentful of others who did not experience the same trauma demanding them to tell their stories over, and over, and over to fit a particular narrative of resilience. More recently, my friend and fellow archivist Jarrett Drake, who helped create A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland, has noted that creating documentation around traumatic events has the very real potential to effect significant harm:

To that end, it matters how we create more archives for black lives, and it’s important that we don’t re-traumatize communities or expose them for more white gaze, exploitation, and plunder.

We archivists have an understandable tendency to panic that if we don’t do something RIGHT! THIS! MINUTE! about archiving contemporary events or dealing with the unceasing volumes of records growing daily, that we may lose everything that matters to the world we live in now, and the world we hope will survive in the future. This was particularly evident to me today, since I spent the whole day in a workshop on managing digital archives. Archivists who care for what we call “born-digital” materials are prone to a weird combination of rampant anxiety and cautious optimism. I would call for another strong measure of something else – humility and grace. We need to recognize that the continuance of culture and memory does not depend on us alone. Even if every professional archivist on the planet disappeared tomorrow (and what a sad and sorry state of affairs this would be), I trust that our fellow human beings would find a way to create archives to continue the memory and the culture we champion as our daily reason for going to work, even if we might not recognize them as archives according to the practices and standards we’ve spent centuries formulating. As Mandel made clear, it is the human impulse to remember. When we archivists are doing our jobs right, we cannot and should not claim that we have the one true answer on what it means to remember. Rather, I hope we add to the multitude of ways in which memory persists through a world that ends over and over again, even as we humans somehow seem to keep muddling through it all.

Hot IRB news!

So today a story caught on fire around archivist and historian social media that the Department of Health and Human Services is now officially excluding oral histories from what’s known as the Common Rule, a shorthand for the federal regulations that govern Institutional Review Boards, which are found in hospitals and universities that conduct research with human subjects. I got as excited as anyone else and retweeted the story as well without looking too deeply into it. However, when I started looking into the story posted by Oxford University Press, I couldn’t find any reliable non-historian sources backing the story up, particularly the claim that HHS approved the exclusion on September 8.


Before I go on, here’s my disclaimer: I am not a federal employee, nor an IRB expert. I have read up on some IRB rules in the past for my records management work, but that’s the extent of my knowledge. So if you have information which refutes my understanding below, by all means, please share it.


It turns out that what actually happened on September 8 is that HHS posted to the Federal Register what’s known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) — you can read it in all of its dense glory here. The proposal creates a new elevated category called “exclusions” which are a step liberated from “exemptions.” With the latter, you typically submit your research proposal to an IRB, and then the IRB approves the proposal as exempt from further IRB monitoring and oversight. If my understanding is correct, research now falling into the “exclusions” category would be totally free from even a preliminary IRB administrative review.


There is an excellent official HHS webinar which explains the difference between exclusions and exemptions. And here is what I gleaned from the NPRM page on the new exclusions category:
These activities will therefore not have to satisfy any regulatory requirements, nor is it expected (unlike exempt research) that they will undergo any type of review process to determine this status. (https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/09/08/2015-21756/federal-policy-for-the-protection-of-human-subjects#p-404)


From my perspective as an archivist, this is a REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY good thing to have “Oral history, journalism, biography, and historical scholarship activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected” under the exclusions category. I have gone through the IRB process before, and let me tell you, it is a real pain in the ass that you do not want to go through unless you absolutely have to and the ethics of your discipline require it. In addition, many IRB applications are wholly unsuitable for describing any type of archival/oral history activities or research.


Here’s the takeaway: This is still in proposal status, and we are in a 90 day comment period that ends December 7. Most of the comments thus far appear to be from medical schools asking that the comment period be extended. If you want to contribute your own comments, you should definitely do so!


Also, a very hearty thank you to Maarja Krusten who found an IMMENSELY helpful link for me when I started raising my eyebrow on Twitter. She noted the Federal Register had an announcement re: an open hearing that is coming up in Washington DC on October 20. Unfortunately it appears that the deadline to register has passed, but according to the announcement, the session should be live streamed.


What is still mysterious to me is what the timeline would be following the comment period — I’m not sure if there is one. If you know, please leave a comment!


Here’s the tl;dr: There is a proposal to exclude oral histories from IRB oversight. This is not official yet. The comment period is ongoing until December 7.



Concerns about SAA’s FY17-19 proposed dues increase

I just got back from an incredible week in Cleveland — I have begun thinking of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual meeting as my archivist booster shot, and lord did I need it by the time I drove up I-71. So great to see old friends and make new ones, listen to others discuss their work, and share some of my own. SAA’s staff, the Program committee, and the Local Arrangements committee did a marvelous job of bringing so many of us to one of the Midwest’s crown jewels for fellowship and learning.

If anyone was at the business meeting yesterday, you may have heard me raise concerns about the SAA dues structure, and what appears to be a flat increase on arguably an already regressive* structure of membership dues. The business meeting had a discussion period regarding the proposed dues increase for FY (fiscal year) 2017-2019. The dues increase will be voted on by the membership later this year.

The problems with distribution of dues is obscured at first glance because SAA commendably breaks out dues into categories by income, something that I hope they will continue to do. My concern is that as a percentage of income, those on the lower-income bands pay a higher rate proportional to their income compared to those who are on the higher-income bands. The proposed increases appear to entrench the existing regressive structure, rather than shifting it to a progressive structure.

If you look at the lower bands of each income bracket, here’s what you see (e.g., if you fall within the 30-39k income membership level, this example assumes you make $30,000):

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 10.15.03 AM

So in the example shown above, if you currently make $20,000, you pay 0.53% of your gross income for SAA dues. If you make $40,000, you pay 0.4%. If you make $60,000 you pay 0.38%, and if you make over $75,000, you pay 0.33%.

If the proposal is approved by the membership, by FY19, those making $20,000 pay 0.58%, those making $40,000 pay 0.44%, those making $60,000 pay 0.41%, and those making over $75,000 pay 0.37%.

All my figures, including what the same numbers look like from the top and mid-point of each income range, can be found in this spreadsheet. It’s an Excel spreadsheet so you are welcome to plug in your own numbers and play around with it.

A few points I want to make:

  1. I believe it is inherently unfair to make our lower-income members of the profession pay a larger proportion of their income for membership dues. These are already the members less likely to afford attendance at SAA’s annual meeting and workshops due to the costs. In addition, because workshop and annual meeting registrations make no allowance for income-based registrations, they arguably pay a greater share of their incomes to be professionally involved at an active level than those making higher incomes.
  2. I believe that SAA’s elected leaders and staff should immediately consider how to shift the dues structure to a progressive structure, in which the proportion of dues you pay relative to your gross income increases as your income increases. Currently it appears that in all hypothetical membership scenarios (based on lower, mid, and high ranges of each band), lower-income members pay a larger share of their income as compared to those with higher-incomes. The current dues increase appears to entrench the currently regressive* structure.
  3. Although I am generally supportive of a dues increase and believe SAA is a good steward of our membership dues, I would like to see SAA address these points before I make my final decision on how to vote. I stated yesterday I would vote for this, but after running the numbers I really need to hear SAA’s position on this before I make my final decision. In my ideal world, the proposed schedule of increases would be re-structured to be more progressive over the next three years. Current dues for those at the lower-income bands would be frozen, while those with higher-incomes would pay a higher share than they currently do. According to the brief (distributed at yesterday’s meeting), there may be time to revise the current proposed schedule of increases (see bottom of page 2).
  4. I plan to write a letter to SAA’s leadership in a few weeks to obtain more information and more formally express my concerns stated above. I really want other archivists, from all ends of the income spectrum, to co-sign the letter with me as a statement of solidarity on behalf of our lower-income colleagues. If you would like to co-sign it with me, please send me an email to eira.tansey@uc.edu so I can include you on a draft. You may also leave any questions or comments on this page about things I should include in the letter.

*I am not an economist (though if time and money were no object, I’d probably go back and get my degree in it), so please forgive me if I’m not using some of this language the way economists would.

My talk at Personal Digital Archiving 2015

I’ve been meaning to put the text of this up since I spoke at Personal Digital Archiving back in the spring on the ethics of web archiving. A 5-minute talk was probably not the best vehicle to knit together both the ethics of web archiving and the huge-o topic of the right to be forgotten, but I gave it my best shot. You can see me blast through it somewhere in one of the Friday lightning talk videos. There is also an annotated bibliography I released shortly before the talk.

Side note: The work Ed Summers and Bergis Jules have done on web archiving with Ferguson and the terrorism in Charleston has made me massively re-assess my thoughts on the balance issue when it comes to work in the public interest and elevating voices too often missing from the archival landscape. With that in mind, I still think as a profession we need an ethical framework for determining what’s okay for us to accession into our repositories when we are working with materials for which we have no donor agreement.

The text below is what I prepared for my talk in New York, though I tend to ad-lib quite a bit once I’m at the lectern.


Large-scale archiving and the right to be forgotten

Public is not universal

People often say, “Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t want to be seen or shared by the whole world,” which I suspect is an easy thing to say if your personal online content has never been used in ways you didn’t anticipate. Last year, news spread that a team of university researchers at the University of Southern California were studying the phenomenon of black Twitter. Many users initial reaction to the research study likened it to forms of historical surveillance activity against black Americans, and questioned the research ethics since there was no informed consent from those being studied {Kim, 2014, Kim, 2014, Newitz, 2014}.

The idea that if self-published personal content is publicly findable on the web, it’s fair game for journalistic, academic, or archival re-use is so common that few question it or consider the downstream effects. This deeply concerns me, particularly with large-scale archiving of personal content when we have not worked to secure permission from individual users. I realize this provocative position flies in the face of how archivists must race to save the ephemeral digital record before it’s lost.

I am not advocating to stop archiving others’ self-published personal content. Indeed, as many have pointed out, harvesting and archiving online content before it disappears is critical to preserving the voices that are often missing from traditional archival custody. However, I am asking us archivists to consider how we balance openness and privacy from the point of accession to access. For example, consider if we archive and publish content around a political disruption that has long-term ramifications. How should we respond if authorities subpoena the archives? Would our response be different if we learn that the subpoena came after activists removed their content offline, fearing for their safety? What are our responsibilities to either party?

Public vs. Private

While US courts have generally assumed that if you put something on the web, you’ve surrendered your right to privacy, user’s online privacy expectations are dramatically different from the court’s usual treatment of the public/private dichotomy.

Few users who engage in social media or other forms of online self-publishing view their output as fitting a definition of public consistent with the courts’ interpretation. Researchers have shown that users have different degrees of privacy expectations depending on their intended audience for disclosure {McNealy, 2011-2012}, and that they often rely on obscurity to stand in for privacy {Hartzog and Stutzman, 2013}.

If you sit outside and have a conversation with your friend about your horrible sister, it’s understood that the context, not the setting, means that it’s a private conversation. Saying public things online are fair use misunderstands that our understandings of privacy are not easily muted in an online environment.

Right to be Forgotten

Many research communities are beginning to formulate ethical best practices when working with self-published online content. It’s time for archivists to work through ensuring privacy in an environment where large-scale archiving of online user-content does not include a donor agreement, and where archivists don’t always seek user consent. We need to have this conversation now, because if the right to be forgotten gains traction, the legal landscape may force our hand before archival ethics have caught up.

The right to be forgotten is an idea gaining ground and is intended to give users the right to request removal of their content in many situations. The right to be forgotten was recently tested in court, when a Spanish citizen unsuccessfully attempted to get a newspaper to remove digitized back issues documenting his previously foreclosed home. The man felt that the Google search results linking to the digitized back issue arguably damaged his reputation, despite having cleared his debts. The European Court of Justice ultimately ruled against Google, requiring it to remove search result links to the Spanish newspaper story.

Even in the current EU proposal, a significant revision recently watered down the right to be forgotten to a right to erasure, and explicitly allows archives to process personal data in the public interest with a recommendation for further work on issues of archival confidentiality {European Parliament, 2014}.

Archivists are very familiar with how records over history have been abused to hurt those not cognizant of how their public statements could be captured and used out of context against them. It is imperative upon us to ensure that however we archive other people’s online public lives, we do it in a way that protects their right to privacy.



European Parliament. “European Parliament Legislative Resolution of 12 March 2014 on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Protection of Individuals with Regard to the Processing of Personal Data and on the Free Movement of Such Data (General Data Protection Regulation),” October 14, 2014. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=P7-TA-2014-0212&language=EN.

Hartzog, Woodrow, and Frederic Stutzman. “The Case for Online Obscurity.” California Law Review 101 (2013): 1.

Kim, Dorothy. “Social Media and Academic Surveillance: The Ethics of Digital Bodies.” Model View Culture, October 7, 2014. https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/social-media-and-academic-surveillance-the-ethics-of-digital-bodies.

Kim, Dorothy. “The Rules of Twitter.” Hybrid Pedagogy, December 4, 2014. http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/rules-twitter/.

McNealy, Jasmine. “Privacy Implications of Digital Preservation: Social Media Archives and the Social Networks Theory of Privacy, The.” Elon Law Review 3 (2012 2011): 133.

Newitz, Annalee. “What Happens When Scientists Study ‘Black Twitter’?.” io9. Accessed April 21, 2015. http://io9.com/what-happens-when-scientists-study-black-twitter-1630540515.



Lord make me an instrument of thy peace

Before going to bed last night I hopped on Twitter, and Twitter was doing what it does best: providing breaking news and commentary about a heart-rending story hours before mainstream news outlet picked it up. It was the mass shooting (which, I hope and pray will be investigated and classed as an act of domestic terrorism) at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect is a young white man, and 9 people have died as I write this.

This story is gutting on many levels. It breaks my heart to see a house of worship, often safe harbors for people sheltering from many of life’s storms, to be the site of such tragedy.

Many people on Twitter were saying many of the hard truths that this country — and specifically white Americans — need to wrap our heads around.

And here we are, repeating everything that much of America would like to think it solved decades ago. In particular, that an attack on a black church is terrifying precisely because it cannot be alienated from its historical context; black churches were routinely targeted during the civil rights movement, with the most horrifying act of white violence against black church-goers culminating in the deaths of four little girls.

It’s worth remembering that what’s happened since Trayvon Martin was killed is a sliver of the staggering amount of contemporary state-sanctioned and societal violence against black Americans since the passage of federal civil rights legislation. In my hometown of Cincinnati, you might know that fatal shootings by police officers happened a lot in the 1990s/early 2000s. But what’s happened in the past year is, without a doubt, a magnifying glass on how insidious and well-established structural and cultural racism continues to embed itself within America, and how saying Black Lives Matter is still heard by many white Americans as a statement, as opposed to a truth.

I think what marks the terrorism in Charleston as a particular zenith of horror is for many people, houses of worship are a bedrock of one’s community and an avenue for renewal. It’s bad enough that black Americans cannot walk down the street, spend time in their community, or be at home without being harassed, abused, and targeted by white and state-sanctioned violence. Targeting a church, a space that people rightfully expect to be safe in, and an important place in the history of black America’s struggle for justice, takes it to a whole new level of evil.


And yet, as many people point out, if you know your history, a shooting attack on a house of worship is par for the course when hate-fueled people are looking for convenient scapegoats. This is not new, and indeed it’s happened several times in the last 10 years alone.

To recap:

In 2008, a Unitarian Universalist congregation was targeted during a children’s musical performance by a white man with “hatred of Democrats, liberals, African Americans and homosexuals.” Two people died, including “an usher who deliberately stood in front of the gunman to protect others.”

In 2010, abortion provider George Tiller was killed while he was ushering at his church, by a white man who had harassed and intimidated abortion providers since the 1990s. The gunman threatened “two others who tried to prevent his departure.”

In 2012, a Sikh gurdwara was targeted during services, by a noted white supremacist. Six people died, and the government treated the attack as an act of domestic terrorism. The president of the congregation died while trying to prevent the attacker from inflicting any further harm, and his actions helped many of the children get out of harm’s way.

In 2015, as the news develops about the Emanuel AME massacre in Charleston, we are seeing indications that the young man who perpetrated this act of terrorism also identified with white supremacy.

…and this short list doesn’t even begin to include the many acts of vandalism and intimidation against houses of worship, in particular black churches, mosques and synagogues, that are fueled by racism and bigotry.

We know in this country that one of the largest threats of domestic terrorism comes from right-wing extremists. These extremists are overwhelmingly disaffected white men who direct their anger at people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and non-Christian faiths. But what we talk about when we talk about terrorism and community violence does not seem to indicate that we take threats of domestic terrorism carried out by white men seriously. We perpetuate white privilege by treating white gunmen as lone wolves, or people who had “mental issues,” while we hold entire communities responsible to higher standards. The point is, white privilege gives white people the permission to be judged as individuals while it does not afford the same to others:


I did not quite appreciate the reality of violence at houses of worship until I began dating my now-fiance, who is Jewish. The first time I attended services with his family was during Rosh Hashanah, and law enforcement was very visible walking up to the synagogue. Having grown up attending suburban Episcopal churches, this sight was pretty jarring the first time I saw it (and if I’m being honest, I still haven’t gotten used to it). I have a pretty small sample size, but visible security measures and/or armed law enforcement have appeared at every Jewish congregation I’ve had the privilege to visit so far.

What does it do to people’s spiritual health to have to contemplate their own physical safety while spending time at their congregation?


I drifted away from any semblance of spiritual practice for most of my late teens and twenties. My parents  married in a UU church, and I grew up Episcopalian. My father  attends a notably progressive Presbyterian church. For years he has been involved with  anti-death penalty activism as an expression of his faith in action. I was involved with anti-war activism when the US invaded Iraq, and many of those I worked with came from a Catholic and mainline Christian social justice background.

For much of my adult life I’ve been a “devout agnostic” — contemplating the existence of God and spiritual matters seemed like a luxury, an unknowable question that distracted from working towards the “real” questions of poverty, war, bigotry, and environmental destruction. Even as I didn’t attend church or cultivate a sense of spirituality, I still silently prayed when ambulances went by, on behalf of whoever they were heading to. I’m guessing that when an ambulance is heading your way, it might be one of the worst days of your life. I have no clue if anyone’s listening, but doing it felt like the right thing to do.

I’m not sure what flipped to inspire a search for spiritual nourishment, but it happened at some point last fall. I think it was in the aftermath of Ferguson and a feeling of growing helpless rage at the trajectory of our country. I was angry so many friends of color were terrified for their own and their children’s futures. I was angry that my fundamental human right to control my own reproductive decisions remain under serious threat. I was angry that the rich were getting richer, that destruction of the planet was a key indicator of economic growth, and how very helpless I felt.

I’m still angry about these things. I show up and do the work of activism when I can, but it still doesn’t address my inner fatigue. I knew I needed to find a way to channel my anger constructively, or else it would consume me and prevent me from being the advocate and compassionate human being I want to be. I knew I needed a community, and something led me to a Quaker meeting. The Quakers were always on my radar because of my college-era anti-war activism. I’ve been attending a meeting for several months now. While I’m not sure yet if it’s a way station or a permanent home, I  recognize it’s filling a vital spiritual need for me, in a way that I never would have anticipated had fury and rage not flung me towards something bigger than my own helplessness.


So where does this leave us? For those of us who incorporate aspects of faith in our lives, it seems that a universal value is challenging ourselves to bear witness to the suffering of others. The golden rule doesn’t mean shit if you’re willfully blind to the pain and agony of people who don’t look like you or live your life’s circumstances.

One of the most insidious responses you see whenever a national tragedy occurs is a rush to tell people not to politicize it. The problem is that bearing witness — acknowledging other people’s pain and agony — cannot be separated from “politics.” If a central article of faith is to do unto others, you have to square that with recognizing how privilege, systemic bigotry, and structural violence is used over and over to hurt communities who have asked you to recognize injustice time and time again. You cannot do unto others unless you recognize what is being done to others. You cannot bear witness until you learn how to listen as much as you learn how to speak.



Annotated bibliography for my talk at Personal Digital Archiving 2015

I am super excited to speak at Personal Digital Archiving this week in New York. My lightning talk is titled “Large-scale archiving and the right to be forgotten,” but as I dove into the literature, and wrote and re-wrote it many times, I realized what I’m really interested in is a larger discussion on archival ethics, online privacy, and the future of individual control over how data is used by corporations and the state (and also, those who claim to use it in the public interest, i.e. journalists, academic researchers, and cultural heritage professionals). To be specific, when we’re thinking about large-scale web archiving projects which may involve collecting personal online content for which we do not have a donor agreement, we need to think about privacy a whole lot more.

To be honest, a 5 minute talk is probably not the best format, but it’s somewhere to start. The talk will go up shortly after the conference, but in the meantime I wanted to make an annotated bibliography available. I haven’t read all of the resources listed in their entirety, but they’re important, and the structure of the bibliography reflects some of the things I’m bringing up in my talk.

How to keep up with all the archivist/academic librarian literature

With apologies for the click-baity title, I’ve been cobbling together a calendar that I think a lot of other archivists might appreciate, and it’s time to roll it out.

I’m not really sure how I came up with this idea, but several months ago I decided I wanted to become a lot more …thorough? in my approach to keeping up with archivist/academic library literature. So I made a Google calendar that would tell me when to read certain journals, based on the publication schedule. For example, if a journal is published 4 times a year, it should appear 4 times on the Google calendar (with a few exceptions). Rather than assigning journals to a calendar day, they are assigned to a day of the month (so, the first Tuesday of February as opposed to February 3).

I didn’t try to sync up a journal’s new issue release date with a closely matched day, because that way lies madness (so in other words, if the new issue of a journal comes out in May, you might not get around to reading it until July). This whole thing started pretty organically. Right now it’s up to 50 titles. I wanted to share this with y’all because I find that although librarians and archivists are good at organizing stuff for lots of people, we’re pretty bad at organizing it for ourselves.

So you might be thinking “I don’t have time to read that many journals!” Neither do I. That’s why I started this calendar. I rarely do a deep read of more than 1-2 articles a week. I set aside a few minutes every day to check the calendar and pull up the journal. Most days, I just skim the table of contents. If an article title doesn’t REALLY call out to me, I don’t bother reading it. Life is too short.

I keep a large spreadsheet for brief notes on what I’m skimming/very occasionally actually reading. A lot of the notes look like this:

Journal of Library Innovation 1/7/15 Skimmed TOC. One article I glanced at re: integrating an archival collection into classroom instruction

I’m applying the three strikes rule to journals. If a journal racks up three continuous notes of “Skimmed TOC” with nothing else of interest, it’ll get axed from future iterations of the calendar. This is pretty likely to happen because I don’t really vet the quality of several issues of a journal before I add it to the calendar.

I hope folks find this helpful, and please leave me any feedback. I’ve seen a few things out there that say archivists/academic librarians tend to read from a pretty small body of professional literature. This calendar can help broaden everyone’s reading habits.

There are two versions of the calendar: one at GitHub (basically a visual representation in a CSV file, and additional documentation/FAQ on what journals are included and their scheduled frequency) and a Google calendar. You can add this to your own Gcal account if you want. Here is what the Google calendar looks like:

What I learned from a year of reading women

Do you need a 2015 resolution? Let me offer you the one I took on in 2014 — to only read books written by women. I’m not sure if there was any real reason I took this on, besides that I have a penchant for taking on year-long or culture-based projects (I once took a picture every day for a year, and I’m in the middle of winding down a blog in which I watch and review every James Bond movie) and I’ve identified as a feminist for as long as I can remember. Regardless of why I chose to take on this project, I was far from alone in this pursuit.

Because any resolution worth keeping needs some ground rules, these were mine: I was allowed to read books authored by men if it was chosen by a book club I was participating in, and I was allowed to read books written by anyone if it was closely related to my professional work as an archivist. I allowed myself to finish any male-authored books I had started in 2013. This is what I ended up reading.

What I learned is that if one is conscientious and deliberate about their reading habits, this isn’t anything remotely resembling what I’d call a challenge. To call something a challenge indicates that one must resist their ingrained impulses, that one must learn how to love something that doesn’t come naturally.

In looking at my previous lists of what I read each year, my women vs. man ratio has been all over the place. These have been my rates over the last several years (‘Multiple’ is indicative of works authored by at least one man and one woman, or of an edited work of chapters authored by a number of different individuals).

Women Men Multiple
2008 50% 33% 17%
2009 25% 75% 0
2010 0 90% 10%
2011 25% 62.5% 12.5%
2012 83% 17% 0
2013 56% 44% 0


It’s worth noting that I only ran these numbers as part of writing this blog post, and sitting here and looking at them, I have no idea what to make of them. The only thing that really stands out to me is that I never went below 17% of my reading choices in the last several years for men authors, while in 2010 I did not read anything exclusively written by a woman. For only 3 of the past 6 years did my reading list approach actual population parity.

Only reading women never felt like an intrusive imposition — my general response whenever someone recommended a book written by a man, or when I added a book to my massive to-read list was “Maybe I’ll read it in 2015.” Which I said or thought so often that I want to ensure that I don’t tilt in the other direction where I revert to previous habits and 2015 turns into the year of reading only dudes.

Reading only women over a year could be as easy as cueing up the greatest hits of Women Authors — Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Joan Didion, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Alice Munro, and a bunch of other ladies who I’m going to stop listing because I’m realizing how embarrassed I am that I haven’t read something from all of them.

But if you’re a broad (no pun intended) reader committed to reading works authored by women as opposed to All The Famous Women Authors You’ve Heard Of, ensuring you’re only reading women occasionally presents some interesting situations. Especially in areas of writing that are often heavily male-dominated. And it’s in these areas where only reading women brought me into contact with some stories I might not have encountered otherwise.

One day I was pottering about downtown Cincinnati with some free time and was suddenly struck with the desperate need to pull up at Arnold’s (the only bar in Cincinnati that survived prohibition!) for some food and a beer. I needed some reading material, and stopped by the venerable Ohio Bookstore. Now, Ohio Bookstore is awesome y’all. It’s old, it’s rambling, and you never know what weird things you’re going to find since it’s a used bookstore. It was right around the start of baseball season, and I was so happy to be back for my first Reds season since moving back home. I wanted to read something about baseball.

It turns out that finding books authored by women about baseball is hard. REALLY hard, especially in a used bookstore. The only one I managed to find was the colorfully titled You’ve got to have balls to make it in this league : my life as an umpire by Pam Postema, a former professional female umpire who spent years in the minor leagues and was on the verge of making it into the majors. While it had a lot of shortcomings as a memoir, it was fascinating to read about the massive quantities of misogyny she had to deal with on the job. If I didn’t have the requirement of reading women, I likely would have passed over this (I only saw the title at first, but came back to double-check the author when I didn’t have much luck finding anything else on the shelf).

Likewise, when I was struck with a hankering to read some nature/philosophy writing I wanted to reach for Thoreau’s Walden but did my homework on what woman author would scratch the same itch. I found my way to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which was lovely (and much better than The Maytrees which I gave up on).

Every year when I read other folks’ “what they read this year” lists, I get sad because I feel like in comparison I read so little. But this year, I read far more books than I have in previous years. I’m not sure if it’s directly attributable to only reading women, or maybe my love of reading has finally returned after being in hibernation after college & grad school.

I wish I had read from a more diverse group of women — in retrospect my reading choices skewed towards a mostly white, primarily North American demographic. And those words “in retrospect” are key – it’s so easy to realize in hindsight your reading isn’t nearly as varied as you think it is. This is why the Vida counts are so powerful. If you’re not automatically saying “I will read more books from ___ this year” or something similar, then it’s easy to backslide into reading stuff by folks with the most powerful voices in the cultural cannon.  I wish I had started off my year with a better consciousness of reading much more widely beyond simply “women”. I think if I had, this would have led to less flinching when I revisited my final list.

As I’ve concluded this year, a lot of folks have asked what my favorite books were. Luckily that’s an easy question. Here they are:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — I have always loved novels about immigrant’s lives and experiences in adjusting to a new country (see also White Teeth and the Buddha of Suburbia). Americanah does this so well, but also looks at a lot of the manifestations of race in the US. Adichie has so many brilliant things to say, and if you like this book, make sure to check out her Ted talks on feminism and the danger of a single story.

Interpreter of maladies : stories by Jhumpa Lahiri — I first started reading this while adjusting to some pretty intense jet lag during the first part of a trip to Israel, and finished it a few months later (the great thing about a short story collection!). Lahiri’s short stories were perfectly paced for waking up in the middle of the night, and while I usually forget a lot of what I read, the vivid imagery in her stories has stayed with me.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed — Strayed’s memoir of walking the Pacific Crest Trail while processing the grief of her mother’s death and her own spiraling life is bad ass to the max, and also made me sob in several parts. It was the most influential thing I read this year, because thanks to reading it I developed a pretty intense interest in hiking, and recently took my first overnight backpacking trip. This is major, as someone who did not grow up in an outdoorsy family. Thanks, Cheryl. (And in case you’re wondering, I just saw the movie adaptation and endorse it.)