Deciding What Goes Where And Why: Gender Studies and Librarianship

By Emily Drabinski, Coordinator of Library Instruction, Long Island University, Brooklyn

At its heart, our work in libraries is about finding a place for everything, and putting everything in its place. We usually think of this as work for the greater good, and it is: without ordering mechanisms like the Dewey Decimal System, cutter numbers, Library of Congress call numbers, and linked data, users would have to chance upon relevant materials and build archives anew every time, all by themselves. We need librarians! But the responsibility for organizing collections also reflects the power to determine how materials fit into these schemas. Someone—and that someone is us—gets to decide what goes where, and why.

Around 100 librarians, archivists, and information studies scholars gathered at the University of Toronto this past October to explore these issues. Organized by Library Juice Press/Litwin Books, the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium (#gsisc14) addressed a number of broad themes: queer theory and information organization, affect theory and archives, gender and sexuality in the library classroom and at the reference desk, pornography in library and archival collections, and intersections of gender, race, and class in the profession.

Within these themes, there was plenty to talk about. Marika Cifor, a doctoral student at UCLA’s School of Information described how hatred organized LGBT archives, using affect theory to describe how it feels to touch the hair of Harvey Milk, who was murdered by an anti-gay zealot. Amelia Koford, a librarian at Texas Lutheran University, sat down with author Eli Clare, a trans-disability studies scholar, to discuss the subject headings applied to his work. The cataloged spoke back! Jen LaBarbera, a National Digital Stewardship Resident at Northeastern University asked how the insights of critical race theory might help us re-think how property functions in archives.

Alongside debate and discussion, the colloquium was suffused with the pleasure that comes from finding oneself in like company. For many of us, the work we do on these issues is hidden behind layers of day job and more “legitimate” research programs. The weekend in Toronto gave all of us a chance to connect with people who have been writing about gender and sexuality for years (Grant Campbell, K.R. Roberto, and Melissa Adler were familiar names) and others just beginning new lines of inquiry.

Library Juice Press (LJP)/Litwin Books is already planning for #gsisc15. Watch the LJP blog for information about the 2015 colloquium dates and site. If you missed us in Toronto, you can read selected open access papers and presentations linked from the event’s agenda. Catch up with the backchannel on Twitter at #gsisc14.

The press also publishes a book series on Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, and you can find out more about titles both published and forthcoming. Our most current call for papers is for Queer Library Alliance: Global Reflections and Imaginings, forthcoming from Rae-Anne Montague and Lucas McKeever. Montague and McKeever are seeking contributions addressing gender and sexuality issues from an international perspective.

And if you’ve got a project you’re interested in pursuing, or a contribution you’d like to make to a future colloquium, please do get in touch with me at emily.drabinski [at] gmail [dot] com.