eternal september of the digital humanities

Here’s where I am. It’s nearly Hallowe’en, and kids have settled into school routines. I have little ones in my own house and big ones in the Scholars’ Lab — the youngest of whom are newly, this year, exactly half my age. Other kids are dead, and it’s still bothering me a good deal. Mornings in Virginia feel cold now, and acorns are everywhere underfoot. We’re tracking leaves inside.

It’s a melancholy way to begin a post, but it situates us.

It’s October 2010 in the social scene of the digital humanities, and (yes, I’m feeling wry) our gathering swallows Twitter in the skies.

I tweet a lot. It’s a mixture — the writing and the reading — of shallow, smart, and sweet. I answer lots of email, too, lots of messages from strangers asking questions. We’re doing a good job, my team, and people are asking how. I stuck my neck out on a thing or two, and people are asking why, or for more. This fall, I worked with friends to launch a website that I’m proud of — which is for strangers, asking questions. I’ve stopped answering to the phone.

There’s a bit of a joke around the SLab, about the degree to which the boss-lady is not service-oriented. It’s funny (as they say), because it’s true. But it’s only true insofar as I let it be — and most local colleagues realize that I put on this persona consciously, as a useful corrective or (at least) a countering provocation to that strong and puzzling tendency I have noted as a scholar come to work in libraries: the degree to which the most beautiful quality of librarianship — that it is a service vocation — becomes the thing that makes the faculty, on the whole, value us so little. Service as servile. The staffer, the alternate academic, the librarian, the non-tenure-track digital humanist, as intellectual partner? Not so long as we indulge our innate helpfulness too much. And not so long as we are hesitant to assert our own, personal research agendas — the very things that, to some of us once expected to join the professoriate, felt too self-indulgent to be borne.

Continue reading “eternal september of the digital humanities”

fight club soap

There’s a scene, in the filmed version of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, in which Tyler Durden leads our Everyman narrator on an expedition for biomedical waste. They’re raiding the trash bins of a liposuction clinic for lipids that can be rendered into soap. This is expensive soap, boutique soup — value-added soap. It’s the kind of soap probably only bought by the kind of woman who frequents a liposuction clinic.

“It was beautiful,” we hear. “We were selling their own fat asses back to them.”

This week, a powerful letter was distributed to all faculty of the financially-imperiled University of California system — the libraries of which are now faced with a 400% price increase if they would like to continue to provide access to 67 important scientific journals distributed by the Nature Publishing Group. One of these is NPG’s flagship journal, Nature. The price increase would bring the annual cost of a single NPG journal from approximately $4500 to over $17,000. When, in conversation today, I’ve shared this number with my librarian colleagues at home and abroad, I’ve heard a lot of incredulous laughter. But laughter turns to quiet musing (“would that work here?“) when I go on to say that the California letter threatens complete boycott, in clear terms and with the support of a system-wide advisory group on scholarly communication, of all UC faculty involvement in the production machine of the Nature group, if the costs for these journals cannot be brought in line with reality. Continue reading “fight club soap”