open invitations

[These are unedited remarks from the closing plenary of the 2016 DLF Forum, written about 15 minutes before it began, on the morning after Election Day. Video should be available soon.]

I thought I knew on Monday what I needed to say this morning. I was going to give heartfelt thanks to you all for being the community that you are—and for the experience of the past year and a half, for me, as director—and of the past three days for us all, as a tongue-in-cheek little conference village.

Mostly I was just going to be cheerful and chirpy, make a happy announcement about some new advisory board members, and turn things over to our panelists for equally cheerful and brief pitches about their groups and projects. (Panelists, I am so grateful to you for being up here with me.)

This plenary session is called “Open Invitations,” and I think that suits what I’m going to say now, instead, just fine.

What I’m going to say now presumes nothing about your personal politics. I think we saw last night how little we can presume, and how much work is needed on the systems and methods of data collection and analysis that we bear responsibility for and are complicit in as information professionals. How little we understand each other.

And I am especially conscious of how some of you in far less privileged and safe positions than mine must be feeling this morning—far from home, maybe among some friends, surely among many strangers, and perhaps in a lonely minority here, by virtue of the color of your skin or other qualities of the one precious body you’re in, by virtue of the place of your origin or the assumptions people make about that place, or the faiths you hold dear, or the genders of the people you love or want to love one day, or just by virtue of who know yourself to be. Even in what I hope and believe is a DLF village full of allies—clumsy, awkward allies, probably, most of us, but people who honor you and want and need you here—I know you must be feeling very alone.

What I want to say presumes nothing about the politics of anyone in this room, but the newly explicit social justice mission of the DLF is no secret. You may have seen me steer left. And it’s no secret that together, as a collective of individuals, many of us have been working to move this organization along the arc of the moral universe, and to follow where that arc bends—and go where people much more qualified to lead than we are, are leading.

That’s the context in which we make open invitations, today. The people who will take this stage represent just a smattering of DLF and DLF-connected projects. They are working hard, and the work they do bears on the immediate future facing all of us, and on the possible futures facing generations to come. If we have time when they stop, we want you to take the mics and issue invitations of your own.

But before we do that, I want to make the biggest and most open invitation that I can. And that is to use this federation, this DLF. It is yours. Its whole purpose is to be a framework for what you need, for what you want to create—or use to resist.

As soon as I possibly can, I will have our half-finished DLF organizer’s toolkit out and available to you to make that easier—but don’t wait for it to contact me and tell me what you want to do and what you need.

And I also want to say, before we start urging you to act, that it’s also okay to need some time. After all, the libraries and archives and labs and educational and scientific and cultural heritage institutions we’re building together are meant for the long haul. It’s right to move with care, including deep care for yourselves and for each other. I could not be happier or more grateful to Stacie Williams for starting us out with that theme, and I think it’s one we’re right to end on, too.