Feminism, queer theory, and the future of library discovery

Last week, I riffed a bit on Bess Sadler’s talk Brain Injuries, Science Fiction, and Library Discovery. Bess and I continued our conversation (on and off-line), and we rode the wave of great feedback and our own naive enthusiasm right into submitting a presentation proposal for the 2013 Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference. Whether our proposal gets accepted or not, we’re going to keep wrestling with these ideas and see what we come up with, so stay tuned.

Feminism and the future of library discovery
Proposal submitted for Feminisms & Rhetorics 2013

Chris Bourg, Stanford University
Bess Sadler, Stanford University

Debates over the roles of technology in higher education frequently include conversations about the effects of technology on the future of reading, books, and libraries.  Rhetoric surrounding physical browsing and print books tends to focus on physical and emotional responses to print, while discussions about ebooks and online discovery tend to emphasize the gains in efficiency afforded by technology.  In this way, debates about the future of books and of libraries tend to reflect the classic gendered differentiation between emotion and reason that feminist epistemology debunks so well (see Jaggar, 2008).

These debates also tend to be incredibly a-theoretical, as few scholars have engaged in any serious theoretical consideration of the effect of new technologies on library-based research.  While Hope Olson’s work on exposing the impact of western patriarchal biases on the organization of knowledge brings a much-needed critical feminist perspective to key library issues (Olson, 2002), little work has been done to expand that perspective to online environments. Queer theory scholars, such as Jack Halberstam, who calls for “counter-intuitive ways of thinking, anti-disciplinary forms of knowledge production, uncanonical archives and queer modes of address”, likewise have much to offer these debates (Halberstam, 2011; Halberstam 2012).

In our presentation, we imagine a future for libraries and their readers – from searching, browsing, and reading, to knowledge organization and relevancy ranking in online discovery environments – that is fully informed by queer theory and a critical feminist perspective.

Works Cited:

Jaggar, Alison M. Just Methods: An Interdisciplinary Feminist Reader. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008. Print.

Halberstam, Jack.  “Bullybloggers on Failure and the Future of Queer Studies.” Weblog entry. Bullybloggers. April 2, 2012. Accessed February 4, 2013.

Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham [NC: Duke University Press, 2011. Print.

Olson, Hope A. The Power to Name: Locating the Limits of Subject Representation in Libraries. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002. Print.

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