speculative collections

Catherine Nelson, Cala I

[This is the text of a talk I gave last week, as “Speculative Collections and the Emancipatory Library,” to close a symposium honoring Dan Hazen, about the future of academic library collecting. See also #HazenatHarvard tweets as assembled by Merrilee Proffitt, a video of the presentation from Harvard Library, and an excerpt from a prior talk (“Alternate Futures/Usable Pasts“), which introduces the concept and offers some paths in.]

[Edited to add: and please read the wonderful “Liberatory Archives,” by Jarrett M. Drake, which takes up many of the same themes as the talk below, and was apparently delivered on the same day! Maybe it’s time? Hurry up please it’s time.]

[2019 update: an edited version of this talk was published in The Routledge International Handbook of New Digital Practices in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Heritage Sites, with a green OA copy of the author-accepted manuscript immediately available as a PDF file, here. Other OA chapters are available as well.]

Reproducibility. Openness. Transparency. Rationality. Interoperability, and an orientation toward interdisciplinary problem-solving. Mine is a non-exclusive list, to be sure, but you might recognize these as values driving data management in the sciences and social sciences, and underlying the creation of collections, interfaces, and infrastructure in what we call “data-driven” fields. They have their problems of positivism, these values—and it has become the necessary project of many thinkers in the library and information science community to demonstrate how underlying assumptions of neutrality and universality in them—and therefore in our practices of selection and description, our design of search mechanisms, and even in many libraries’ public service policies and stances around them—are in fact decidedly non-neutral expressions of dominant, sometimes oppressive ideologies.

But I’ll risk the ire of friends to say that—taken together—the value-sets of open science represent a quality I find disappointingly, maybe even irresponsibly absent from digital library interface design and collection-building. They represent a forward-looking temporal orientation. And I think we feel the absence of that orientation, particularly, now that we are so decidedly past the era of collecting “on spec”—past, that is, being able to hold an image of libraries un-stuck in time, libraries on the long tail, libraries with a far, far future reach—where we invest in and gather materials that may have no immediate use-value.

While administrative imagination slowly catches up to the logic of the network—and while we work to realize “collective collections” that might mitigate this problem—local pressures move inexorably in, and train our attention on contemporary, not future needs: on meeting needs (as we say) “just in time.” Please don’t misunderstand. I do not propose that we adopt the values of open science wholesale (it will be a cold day in Hell when “reproducibility” takes hold in English departments—and “openness” itself has different valences and dangers across communities and fields). Instead, I suggest that we consider the cumulative effect of underlying value sets like these in terms of their temporal orientation—the degree of forward-lookingness and open-endedness inherent in the concepts we hold dear—and what that means for the systems we build.

It’s awful to go dead last, in a two-day event. Talk about future orientation! You prep the whole talk in the near certainty that everything you mean to say will be redundant by the time you say it. But I’d like us to devote some time at the end of the Hazen Symposium to the liberatory potential of humanistic digital libraries—and specifically to a project I’ll endorse, of freeing up the unrealized, multiple, creative trajectories that mostly rest too latent in them.

My argument today builds on a sense that digital humanities collections—archival and otherwise—are more likely to be taken by their users as memorializing, conservative, limited, and suggestive of a linear view of history than as problem-solving, branching, generative, non-teleological. This is a design problem. We’re building our digital libraries to be received by audiences as lenses for retrospect, rather than as stages to be leapt upon by performers, by co-creators. In other words, they’re not the improv platforms they should be: spaces for projection, planning, performance, speculation. Whether we’re talking about born-digital records or those historical documents and artifacts that have undergone the phase-change of digitization—once they’re online, I don’t want special collections, anymore; I want speculative ones.

Now, if this sense I have holds true—and I’ll pause to say that it may not! (I would be excited to hear negative reactions to my premise that future-orientation is too lacking in digital libraries. Maybe you see existing affordances better than I do, and we can use the Q&A to figure out to make them more evident and available to users. So please speak up!) But if it does hold true, this idea that we foster passive retrospect over active prospect in collection-building and the design of our digital libraries, it presents a serious, practical problem. That is because—if we mean to address the grand challenges of the 21st century—we have a pressing need for humanistic knowledge and patterns of work to interweave more fully with scientific understanding and practice, and for both to be made open to a vastly wider array of people, who can apply their various lived experiences and intellectual perspectives—and their future- and freedom-oriented turns of mind—to the problems we share.

All that said, it’s not like speculation is nowhere in the digital library enterprise. Uncertainty is basically the pre-existing condition of 21st-century librarianship. We re-shape our inherited ontologies, platforms, and patterns of information access and control at a moment of extreme unpredictability and rapid technological, social, and environmental change. We’ve begun to pay an overdue extinction debt, a toll for carbon use in this, our 200-year tech boom, which is being taken in the alarming disappearance of plant and animal species. (“Extinction debt” is a technical term in the environmental sciences as well as a transactional promise: all evidence suggests that the 6th great mass extinction of life on this planet is well underway—though uncertainties as to its impact on our own species remain.) We face political instabilities, which will only increase with environmentally driven human migration. Refugee crises and famine will intensify under climate change, along with genocide, war, and domestic extremism and strife. And libraries and museums grapple with the destruction of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage that attends globalization.

All this suggests one line of opposition to my appeal for more speculative collections already. Perhaps, given such a level of disruption and shock, you are prompted to wonder—with media archaeologist Wolfgang Ernst—whether “archival resistance against change is indeed a virtue.” This, from an essay in a collection on Decolonising Archives: “What used to be sacred space, secluded from public insight… is now directly wired to the communications circuit of the present. The archive loses its temporal exclusivity as a place remote from the immediate present.”

“With increasing mobility and acceleration,” Ernst asks, “should we rather value the immobile archive for its time-resisting virtue?” But even if we wanted our archives only to sit still and look back, we would have to prepare the digital knowledge infrastructures that surround them to operate under uncertain and fast-changing conditions. I mean this most straightforward and practical way. Are our collections sufficiently accessible, data-minable, documented, linked? Are they resilient, redundant, well-stewarded, robust? Are we adequately imagining far-future conditions as we put them together, including conditions of resource-scarcity and decline?

This is not the kind of pragmatic future-orientation I’m going to talk about today, but it’s the one that has rightly consumed most of the energy and imagination my communities, the DLF and NDSA communities, have for their work. Instead, it’s that word—imagination—that leads me to the conceptual and emotional issues at the heart of my talk: to design problems, to problems of mission and affect and agency. I’ll get back to some pragmatism at the end, but I need to start with ideas that are squishier.

Are we designing libraries that activate imaginations—both their users’ imaginations and those of the expert practitioners who craft and maintain them? Are we designing libraries emancipated from what I’ll shortly demonstrate is often experienced as an externally-imposed, linear and fatalistic conception of time? Are we at least designing libraries that dare to try, despite the fundamental paradox of the Anthropocene era we live in—which asks us to hold unpredictability and planetary-scale inevitability simultaneously in mind? How can we design digital libraries that admit alternate futures—that recognize that people require the freedom to construct their own, independent philosophical infrastructure, to escape time’s arrow and subvert, if they wish, the unidirectional and neoliberal temporal constructs that have so often been tools of injustice?

All of these are concepts stemming from theory and practice in Afrofuturism and other forms of speculative art and design, from the concepts of kairos and temporal modeling, the Caribbean “otherwise,” a striving toward “impossible archival imaginaries” and “usable pasts,” and from emancipatory research, a notion of “archival liveness,” and the ethics of care: ideas and fields I will draw from—even if time only permits telegraphic references today—as I offer preconditions for humanistic digital libraries that just might (as C.P. Snow once wrote of the community of scientists) hold the future in their bones.

My favorite line from our symposium readings comes partway through Dan Hazen’s “Rethinking Research Library Collections.” He’s discussing what he calls the “exuberantly expressive” new modes of both authorship & authority that are emerging in the digital age. “Libraries,” Hazen writes, “are on uncertain ground as they engage with this fractious, seductive, alien, and essential universe.” It’s a line that resonates beautifully with concepts from Afrofuturism—the fractious, seductive, alien, and essential cultural and aesthetic movement that first set me on this line of inquiry. Some of you have heard me speak about Afrofuturism before, or maybe have read a thing I wrote, but I believe it’s worth my pausing to repeat a bit and share—and to start, again, with a 90-second clip from a 20-year-old documentary by filmmaker John Akomfrah.

Did you catch the clue? It was “Mothership Connection.” But—besides a burning desire to seek out the rest of the documentary—what I would like you to take away from this clip is Akomfrah’s notion of a “black secret technology.” I want you to notice that both the evolving music that’s evoked (“the blues begat jazz, the blues begat soul”) and the fragments of the past that are there to be discovered by the Data Thief are all figured not as “pop culture” or “the arts,” but as an active technology. In other words, cultural heritage—this cultural heritage (like “this crossroads”), even when dug up, archaeologically, in the far future—will never be something we passively encounter. We don’t just play it back, like a phonograph record. It becomes… scratchadelia. This is vinyl for the scratch-artist, the DJ at the club. We’re talking about playable archives, simple records, that themselves become instruments—a truly usable past. (I draw this idea from music critic Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant than the Sun, the book that blew my tiny mind—soon to be reprinted; highly recommended.) So the archive becomes the instrument. Pause to let this sink in! Inherent in Aftrofuturism is an orientation toward past culture as future-oriented tech: codes to crack, tools to use, collections to transform.

Now—like Akomfrah—let’s skip forward in time a bit, before we back up and fill in the middle. Rasheedah Phillips, a brilliant young lawyer and community organizer, is the artist and thinker behind projects called Black Quantum Futurism and The Afrofuturist Affair. She’s also a science-fiction writer, frequent collaborator with musician Camae Ayewa, Moor Mother, and the author of an important entry on the word “Future” in a new edited collection of Keywords for Radicals, a book about “the contested vocabulary of late-capitalist struggle.” Just a few weeks ago, Phillips offered a workshop out of the Philadelphia storefront that has become her group’s experimental “Community Futures Lab.” The Lab is a place blending grassroots, activist community archiving with science fiction imaginings toward the design of alternate futures. It specifically works to document and resist forces of gentrification and displacement in North Philadelphia, to create counter-imaginings.

“Join us,” the workshop flyer said, “as we consider what technologies are practically and readily available to us to help shift / adjust / manipulate / augment / enhance our experiences of space-time at will. Black Quantum Futurism is exploring and developing temporal technologies that are more beneficial to marginalized peoples’ survival in a “high-tech” world currently dominated by oppressive, fatalistic, linear time constructs.”

You won’t find a clearer statement of a problem and a need. But Penn scholar Deborah Thomas reinforces the necessity for temporal re-conception in a recent article in Anthropological Theory, called “Time and the Otherwise: Plantations, Garrisons, and Being Human in the Caribbean.” Thomas catalogs the ways in which “blackness is foundational to modern temporality,” and how what she calls “moments of exceptional violence” in the Black Atlantic (past and present, emergent from cyclical patterns of violence) make more legible those subjective experiences of time that can challenge dominant narratives of causality. This explains why, as she points out, Caribbean philosophers have long been drawn to insights about nonlinearity and temporal entanglement from theoretical quantum physics. An “erasure of foundational violences,” Thomas writes, “becomes the tool through which inequalities are reproduced and made to seem inevitable in the contemporary period.” This is “generated, in large part, through a constant insistence upon the supremacy of a concept of time rooted in linearity, progressive teleology, and a tendency toward perpetual improvement.” Yet it’s an ideology that’s not “seamless” or easy to maintain in the face of trauma, and which, particularly in the “prophetic redemptive tradition… [of] radical black politics in Jamaica and the Americas… opens the possibility of unforeseeable and unpredictable futures.” Thomas concludes by asking: “how do we mobilize a transformed apprehension of temporality… toward the project of repair?”

In other words, what would we change if we took people at their word when they tell us there’s something wrong with the temporal dimension of this world of records and histories we’ve designed for them? That we need to work against the implicit sense our Enlightenment interfaces give, that the situation of the present is the only possible conclusion of the accumulated evidentiary data of the past?

Maybe the best way for the digital library community, in particular, to help break the sense of fatalism, inevitability, and disaffection from the historical archive that dominant narratives can provoke is to take seriously the Afrofuturist notion of cultural heritage not as content to be received but technology to be used. How do you position digital collections and digital scholarly projects more plainly not as statements about what was, but as toolsets and resources for what could be?

This is British Jazz saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings: “Since we did the album,” he shares in an interview, “a lot has been said about Afrofuturism… I think I first heard [the word in] John Akomfrah’s documentary The Last Angel of History… I watched it and I thought, ‘What does it mean to me?’ I went to a lecture by Kodwo Eshun… [who] was talking about Afrofuturism as… poeticising the past. That you recontextualise it, and mould it in a way that gives you a power over history.”

“I like that sentiment,” Hutchings says. “It’s essentially this Sun Ra philosophy that I’m really into: the fact that communities that have agency [are] able to form their own philosophical structures.” Communities that have agency are able to form their own philosophical structures. This is the idea that should galvanize digital cultural heritage work today: that traditionally “subaltern” groups must be able—not just to access their own content in archival and library systems, and not just to control access to it (as radical as that idea may be in some circles)—but to set the terms for the infrastructure itself, actively configuring classification systems, search-and-discovery interfaces, and visualization tools in our shared digital libraries to express independent theories of the world—the world as it is for them, and the world as it should be. For examples of work in this direction, I look to content-management tools focused on indigenous intellectual property, like Mukurtu. I also think you see the seeds of it in open-ended, multi-vocal, spatial and geo-temporal platforms, like the emerging Mbira system from Michigan State, or deep inside the theory and rationale for Neatline at the UVa Scholars’ Lab. These are projects led by anthropologists and archaeologists and (now, in the case of Neatline) narratologists, by the way—not archivists or librarians.

So, where are digital library developers in all this? The broader community of practitioners represented and drawn together by my organization, the DLF, is mid-stream in its shift from over-reliance on vendor-provided interface and content management “solutions” to a willingness to invest in open source, community-built platforms and to foster a more complex set of interrelations among developers and their partners and publics. This is a shift I see as the necessary precursor to the thing I’m really arguing for today: that we put both intellectual and material support behind design experimentation to help us better understand, and ultimately increase community agency in our digital libraries.

You have to own your own infrastructure before you can even think about using it to express the vital presence or historical lack of agency embedded in your archives—and before you can take one step toward affording agency to the people whose belongings have become your “collections.” You have to own your own infrastructure before you can give it away—before you can open avenues to communities that wish to use their own digitized and born-digital materials to craft alternate futures and autonomous philosophies of the world.

Afrofuturism, as an artistic and aesthetic practice, dates to the mid-20th century, with much deeper roots in 19th-century Black speculative fiction, including the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Delaney. One of its driving questions was distilled in the mid-1990s, in an essay cyber-culture critic Mark Dery called “Black to the Future.” The question is this: “Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?” Dery got at it by conducting interviews with pioneering sci-fi authors and intellectuals (Tricia Rose, Samuel R. Delaney, Greg Tate), who reflected on a literary landscape in which writers like Octavia Butler loomed large. But they also spoke to the elaborate performances of Afrofuturism’s early musical practitioners—performers like George Clinton, whose glowing flying saucer descended from concert-hall rafters to the significant tune of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” (That’s your “mothership connection,” by the way; the P-Funk Mothership is now on view at the new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture.)

And they talked about the famous Sun Ra and his jazz Arkestra. (Again, a ship, an ark.) Ra’s performance conceit—hardly ever dropped—was that he had returned to Earth from an abduction to Saturn, reborn as what Kodwo Eshun calls an “African-American alien musician.” Sun Ra was a savior figure, on a mission to teleport his people, physically, through the medium of jazz vibrations—and not just spatially but temporally—to an “altered destiny,” the alternate timeline they’d find on a new and better world.

There have been Afrofuturist strains in hip-hop and techno and R&B. You can see traces of it in mainstream artists (even Michael Jackson, or Prince)—but I particularly recommend the work of “electric lady” Janelle Monáe, who leads androids to freedom, and that of a little-known, now defunct Detroit-based techno group called Drexicya. This is a group whose sub-aquatic revisionist history about a futuristic Black Atlantis begins in horror—it begins with “disruptive” mothers in labor, thrown overboard in the Middle Passage: mothers who drowned; babies who mutated, breathed water, and lived. So you see that, even in its exuberance, as it imagines alternate destinies and divergent timelines, turns slave ships into motherships and alienation into salvation—Afrofuturism never loses sight of its origin in trauma and loss. Most especially, it never forgets its archival aporia: gaps and uncertainties that open possibility even as they hurt. Can a community whose past has been rubbed out, imagine alternate futures?

This brings me to the “impossible archival imaginary,” a term from a recent article by Anne Gilliland and Michelle Caswell. The concept builds on earlier work in which Caswell offered grassroots archives as sites where global, diasporic groups, brought together by shared elements of identity and as independently as possible from institutional control, could undertake what she called “the messy business of contesting, renegotiating, and redefining collective memory of the past.” Her focus in that first piece was on actual archives.

The “impossible archival imaginary,” on the other hand, centers in the “absent or unattainable archive”—records which don’t exist. This may be because they’ve gone missing, have been destroyed or spirited away, or because they were never real in the first place, no matter how much we wish they were. “Imagined records” exert a powerful influence over communities and help to define both reality and possibility in an affective landscape of shared imagination, offering important “counterbalances and sometimes resistance to dominant legal, bureaucratic, historical and forensic notions of evidence that so often fall short in explaining the capacity of records and archives” to move us. Gilliland and Caswell want to counter “dominant strands of archival theory and practice [that] maintain an un-reflexive preoccupation with the actual, the instantiated, the accessible and the deployable—that is, with records that have… evidentiary capacity.” Instead, they show how “differing imagined trajectories of the future” can emerge from records both present in and absent from the past.

Just to offer one among their many provocative examples: consider how documentation works in the petition formulated by the grieving parents of Michael Brown after Ferguson, a petition that police officers be fitted with body cameras. This implies “a new category of imagined record,” Gilliland and Caswell write, “the record that need-not-be-created because its very possibility prevents the brutality of its creation.” The what-if of absent documentation—in this instance, the “nonexistent imagined record of Brown’s murder” that might have been captured, had a camera been in place, creates an alternate universe, a temporal paradox, a speculative timeline: it has “an envisioned aspirational trajectory… to bring about a more just future.”

The basic case Gilliland and Caswell make is “that archival theory and practice can no longer afford to ignore… phenomena of the imagination” and that “complicating the link between record and event… opens up archival thinking to non-dominant and pluralist epistemologies.” It’s an argument akin to one made by another pair of archivists more than a dozen years before—Wendy Duff and Verne Harris, who advocated for the development of new standards in a 2002 article on deconstruction, narrative, futurism, and archival description, called “Stories and Names.” “Our dream,” they wrote, “is of a descriptive standard which is liberatory rather than oppressive, one which works as a touchstone for creativity rather than as a straightjacket. What would the attributes of such a standard be?”

To Duff and Harris, a liberatory descriptive standard “would not position archives and records within the numbing strictures of record keeping… which posit ‘the record’ as cocooned in a time-bound layering of meaning, and reduce description to the work of capturing and polishing the cocoon.” In contrast,” they write, “a liberatory standard would… posit the record as always in the process of being made, the record opening out of the future. Such a standard would not seek to affirm the keeping of something already made. It would seek to affirm… open-ended making and re-making.”

There’s a small amount of digital library interface experimentation around these concepts right now. It’s of extremely high quality—but there’s simply not enough! In the interest of time, I’ll just say that I particularly admire projects by my Australian colleagues Tim Sherratt (University of Canberra), who has long worked against the grain of existing digital cultural heritage platforms, and Mitchell Whitelaw (ANU), who both creates and theorizes “generous interfaces.” Whitelaw is also among several authors of a relevant new piece by Tom Schofield et al in Digital Humanities Quarterly, on the concept of “Archival Liveness.” Schofield and his co-authors outline attempts to bring open, broadly participatory, and temporally-aware design and visualization to archival collections—not as something enabled by or resulting from expert metadata creation, but rather happening synchronously with processing by archivists and cataloguers, and in community with end users.

I rush to an end. Grappling—in terms of selection, arrangement, description, and delivery—with the imaginary, with process, with time as situated kairos rather than impersonal chronos, with users as co-creators: all these things would bring us closer to having digital libraries and archives that permit speculation and maybe not only demonstrate, but help to realize greater community agency in the context of shared cultural heritage.  And if it must be our collective argument now, that research libraries can no longer purchase and house truly far-future-oriented collections, collections full of stuff no-one is asking for at present—well, I’ll just point out that imaginary archives likely come cheap and don’t take up a lot of space.

But could digital libraries emancipated from time’s arrow, geared toward community imagination and control, and looking forward rather than back become systemic instruments of liberty? We know from emancipatory research theory (the best of which I’ve found in nursing and disability studies) that people make themselves free: scholars and technologists don’t do that. So how can we set our digital libraries up for community-driven transformation into the “independent philosophical [infra]structures,” that Afrofuturist thinkers cite as a mark of freedom? In pragmatic terms, what about the trust, and what about the tech?
Search itself (despite acknowledged problems of “ungenerosity”) is a technical paradigm that would seem to work against the hegemony of the pre-fab, linear timeline interface or the time-ordered browse—if only our search engines’ settings could be opened up to end users in ways that are less about filtering shared, least-common-denominator results and more about crafting wholly new avenues for discovery. A popular open source public access catalog (or OPAC) system, Project Blacklight, was designed with this in mind—intended (at least its early days, when I was involved in the work) to allow even non-technical librarians and user communities to tweak relevance ranking and control fields that should and shouldn’t be indexed—effectively, opening up the black box of search. So that’s one possibly arc of inquiry.

However, work by Safiya Noble, Frank Pasquale, Bess Sadler & Chris Bourg—among others—shows us how sharply inflected and downright biased deeply underlying search algorithms can be. Even if a project like Blacklight could be taken forward in its most open, community-configurable direction, there remain boxes within our black boxes, like nesting dolls. And lest I paint too rosy a picture of the future for open, malleable, community-based infrastructure in general: you only have to look at an experiment like “Tay” to see the how hard this work will be. Tay was the Microsoft chat-bot who was released to train herself in conversational understanding through open interaction on Twitter, and who—based on what people taught her to say—went from dumb sweetness to full-blown violent white supremacy in less than 24 hours. They had to take her down.

Safiya Noble, in an important new paper called “A Future for Intersectional Black Feminist Technology Studies,” urges LIS scholars to support counter-narratives and the creation of better tools through continued, rigorous, multivalent analysis of our underlying infrastructure—to help the cause by keeping up “feminist pressure on the development of technologies, in the context of material consequences that diminish any liberatory possibility.” Her advice is that we concentrate especially on intersectional analysis in tech: those areas where overlapping oppressions throw power differentials into sharp relief. As an area ripe for just that kind of Noble analysis, I would highlight technologies of digital surveillance—how watchful analytics permeate all our systems and pose a huge challenge to developing and maintaining the kind of community trust that is a baseline requirement to working, as overwhelmingly white institutions like libraries, in partnership with (or service and productive subordination to) minoritized groups.

I hope you have a sense, from the theorists, artists, and practitioners I’ve cited today, that the issues I’ve raised are worth working on, and that they require an approach from multiple angles. To approach the problem of temporal orientation in our digital cultural heritage interfaces in a humanistic—not to say humane—way, we need archival theory and practice, literary and historical scholarship, the intersectional analysis of built systems; we need community-based activism and the arts; we need experiments in visualization and imaginative representation, including the picturing of absence and wishes. We also need more basic theorizing—coupled with concrete design experimentation—of what liberty, agency, and temporal orientation can mean in complex digital library systems.

Finally, I think we need to begin to articulate a shared list, similar to the non-exclusive set of “open science” values I began with, of touchstone concepts for working in speculative collections—ideas we can hold on to, to keep ourselves focused and honest and capable of collaboration across institutional and disciplinary and town-gown lines. How would we start such a list of values for future-oriented, humanistic digital libraries? I’ll throw out just a few, to see if any stick. I value subjectivity. Permeability. Possibility. Agency. Hope and respect.

I want to return, in my last moments with you, to the question anthropologist Deborah Thomas let linger at the end of “Time and the Otherwise,”— a question that, in our context, presumes a level of success for this enterprise. “How,” she asks, “do we mobilize a transformed apprehension of temporality toward the project of repair?”

Thomas is talking about repair in the social and cultural sense: repair as healing, as reparation. I find it impossible to read this question now, though, without also thinking of library and digital knowledge infrastructure: systems we may need to correct, systems (in Steve Jackson’s sense) that we will need to patch and maintain, content that we want to migrate and preserve. I can’t answer her question, yet. But I know that repair itself is not a backward-looking activity, even if that’s what’s suggested by everything in our Western tech cultures of the new, of planned obsolescence and continual innovation. An argument for future-oriented, humanistic digital libraries is not an argument against maintenance and repair, or against appreciating the past and honoring and protecting what our archives house today. Instead, it’s a suggestion that we might use the active technologies of our digitized cultural heritage better: to transform our shared and disparate “apprehensions of temporality” in a way that links prospects for the future with an ethic of care for the past—and for the people who will always live in the spaces in-between.

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