embodied library work

I’m coming down from the Gender and Sexuality in Library and Information Studies colloquium that Emily Drabinski, Baharak Yousefi and I organized. For me one of the big themes was bodies and embodiment.

Vanessa Richards‘ keynote was amazing. She spoke a bit and facilitated us in singing together. It was powerful, transformative and extremely emotional for me. Some of the instruction she gave us was to pay attention to our bodies, “what do you feel and where in your body do you feel it when I tell you we are going to sing together?” Both my body and my mind are very uncomfortable with singing. At some point in my life someone told me I was a bad singer and ridiculed me and I think I believed them. Vanessa Richards said something like: “Your body is the source code. Your body knows how to sing. All the people who told you that you can’t sing, kick them to the curb. This is your human right.”

For me this was deeply transformative and created magic in the room. We sang 3 songs together, and by the last one there was a beautiful transformation. I observed people’s bodies. People’s shoulders had dropped and their weight was sinking their weight down into their feet. People were taking up more space and looking less self conscious. Also, our voices were much louder and they were beautiful. This was an unconventional and magical way to start the day together.

There were so many excellent presentations. I was so excited to learn about GynePunk, the cyborg witches of DIY gynecology in Spain. James Cheng, Lauren Di Monte, and Madison Sullivan completely blew my mind in their talk titled Makerspace Meets Medicine: Politics, Gender, and Embodiment in Critical Information Practice. This is the most exciting talk I’ve heard about makerspaces, though they argued that because it’s gendered and political we’re unlikely to see this in a library makerspace. GynePunk reminds me of the zine Hot Pantz that starts with:

Patriarchy sucks. It’s robbed us of our autonomy and much of our history. We believe it’s integral for women to be aware and in control of our own bodies.

I also loved Stacy Wood’s talk on Mourning and Melancholia in Archives. She told the story of working in an archive and having cremated ashes fall out of a poorly sealed bag that was in a poorly sealed envelope. I hope I have a chance to read her paper as she had many smart things to say about institutional practice, as well as melancholia.

Marika Cifor presented Blood, Sweat, and Hair: The Archival Potential of Queer and Trans Bodies in three acts: blood, sweat and hair. She used examples of these parts of our bodies that were part of archival objects:

  • blood – blood on a menstrual sponge, blood during the AIDS crisis, blood on Harvey Milk’s clothing from when he was shot and killed
  • sweat – sweat stains on a tshirt from a gay leather bar
  • hair – hair on a lipstick of Victoria Schneider a trans woman, sex worker and activist, and hair samples (both pubic hair and regular hair from your head) in Samuel Steward’s stud file, where he documented his lovers, that is in the Yale Archives

It was so exciting and nourishing to talk about bodies in relation to libraries, archives and information work. I didn’t realize that I was so hungry to have these conversations. I realized that when I’m doing my daily work I’m fairly unembodied dissociated. I bike to work, hang up my body on the back of my office door, and then let my brain run around for the day. I put on my body and go about the rest of my life. I’ve been working to try and be my whole self at work, and have realized that the brain/body binary needs to be dismantled.

I’m not really sure what this is going to look like. I fear it might be messy, as bodies often are. I also fear that there will be failure, as is common with trying new things. To start, I think I’m going to go join the Woodward’s Community Singers this Thursday and sing again.

Woodward’s Community Singers – An Invitation to Sing Together from Woodward’s Community Singers on Vimeo.