Porn in the library

At the  Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium the program session I was the most excited about was Porn in the library.  There were 3 presentations in this panel exploring this theme.

First,  Joan Beaudoin and Elaine Ménard presented  The P Project: Scope Notes and Literary Warrant Required! Their study looked at 22 websites that are aggregators of free porn clips.  Most of these sites were in English, but a few were in French.  Ménard acknowledged that it is risky and sometimes uncomfortable to study porn in the academy. They looked at the terminology used to describe porn videos, specifically the categories available to access porn  videos. They described their coding manual which outlined    various metadata facets (activity, age, cinematography, company/producers, age, ethnicity, gender, genre, illustration/cartoon, individual/stars, instruction, number of individuals, objects, physical characteristics, role, setting, sexual orientation). I learned that xhamster has scope notes for their various categories (mouseover the lightbulb icon to see).

While I appreciate that Beaudoin and Ménard  are taking a risk to look at porn, I think they made the mistake of using very clinical language to legitimize and sanitize their work. I’m curious why they are so interested in porn, but realize that it might be too risky for them to situate themselves in their research.

It didn’t seem like they understood the difference between production company websites and free aggregator sites. Production company sites  have very robust and high quality metadata and excellent information architecture. Free aggregator sites that have variable quality metadata and likely  have a business model that is based on ads or referring users to the main production company websites. Porn is, after all, a content business, and most porn companies are  invested in making their content findable, and making it easy for the user to find more content with the same performers, same genre, or by the same director.

Beaudoin and Ménard  expressed  disappointment that porn companies didn’t want to participate in their study. As these two researchers don’t seem to understand the porn industry or have relationships with individuals I don’t think it’s surprising at all. For them to successfully build on this line of inquiry I think they need to have some skin in the game and clearly articulate what they offer their research subjects in exchange for building their own academic capital.

It was awesome to have a quick Twitter conversation with Jiz Lee and Chris Lowrance, the web manager  for feminist porn company Pink and White productions,  about how sometimes the terms a consumer might be looking for is prioritized over the  performers’ own gender identity.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.40.34 PMUpdate: @FetishMovieBlog responded to Jiz and Chris to say that this was an unintentional error that had been corrected. Jiz’s performer entry doesn’t have a gender listed and I also noticed that their race is listed as hapa, another non-binary category.

Jiz Lee is genderqueer porn performer and uses the pronouns they/them and is sometimes misgendreed by mainstream porn and by feminist porn. I am a huge fan of their work.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.36.55 PMI think this is the same issue that Amber Billy, Emily Drabinski and K.R. Roberto raise in their paper What’s gender got to do with it? A critique of RDA rule 9.7. They argue that it is regressive for a cataloguer to assign a binary gender value to an author. In both these cases someone (porn company or consumer, or cataloguer) is assigning gender to someone else (porn performer or content creator). This process can be disrespectful, offensive, inaccurate and highlights a power dynamic where the consumer’s (porn viewer or researcher/student/librarian) desires/politics/needs/worldview is put above someone’s own identity.

Next, Lisa Sloniowski and Bobby Noble. presented Fisting the Library: Feminist Porn and Academic Libraries  (which is the best paper title ever).  I’ve been really excited their SSHRC funded porn archive research. This research project has become more of a conceptional project, rather than building a brick and mortar porn archive. Bobby talked about the challenging process of getting his porn studies class going at York University. Lisa talked they initially hoped to start a porn collection as part of York University Library’s main collection, not as a reading room or a marginal collection. Lisa spoke about the challenges of drafting a collection development policy and some of the labour issues, presumably about staff who were uncomfortable with porn having to order, catalogue, process and circulate porn. They also talked about the Feminist Porn Awards and second  feminist porn conference that took place before the Feminist Porn Awards last year.

Finally,  Emily Lawrence and Richard Fry presented  Pornography, Bomb Building and Good Intentions: What would it take for an internet filter to work?  They presented a philosophical argument against internet filters. They argued that for a filter to not overblock and underblock it would need to be mind reading and fortune telling. A filter would need to be able to read an individual’s mind and note factors like the person viewing, their values, their mood, etc and be fortune telling by knowing exactly what information that the user was seeking   before they looked at it. I’ve been thinking about internet filtering a lot lately, because of Vancouver Public Library’s recent policy change that forbids “sexually explicit images”. I was hoping to get a new or deeper understanding on filtering but was disappointed.

This colloquium was really exciting for me. The conversations  that people on the porn in the library panel were having are discussions I haven’t heard elsewhere in librarianship.  I look forward to talking about porn in the library more.

Digesting the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium

Most of the conferences I go to are technology ones that are focused on practical applications and knowledge sharing on how we have solved specific technical problems or figured out new, more efficient ways to do old things. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a conference that’s about broader ideas and a much longer time since I’ve been to an academic conference. This was outside my comfort zone and it was an extremely worthwhile experience.

I was unbelievably excited to see the program for the first Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies colloquium. Also, as Emily Drabinski and Lisa Sloniowski  were involved, so I knew it was going to be great.

There were 100 attendees. I’d estimate that library and information studies professors and PhD students made up 50%, library school  grad students made up 25%, and the other 25% of us were practioners, who work almost exclusively in academic settings. The conference participants had the best selection of glasses, and I was inspired to document some of them.

The program was great and I had a very hard time picking which of the 3 streams I wanted to attend. A few people scampered between rooms to catch papers in different streams. Program highlights for me was the panel on porn in the library and the panel on gender and content. My thoughts on the porn in the library panel became a bit long, so I’ll post those tomorrow.

In my opinion it was a shame that most of the presenters defaulted to a traditional academic style of conference presentation, that is, they stood at the front of the room and read their papers to the audience without making much eye contact. For me the language was sometimes unnecessarily dense and that many of the theoretical concepts discussed would’ve been more successful if expressed in plain English.

I was also disappointed that there wasn’t a plan to post the papers online. Lisa explained to me that for those librarians and scholars in a university environment publications are important to tenure and promotion. Conference presentations count, but not as much as peer reviewed publications, which don’t count as much as book publications. I know there’s a plan in the works for a edition of Library Trends that will be published in 2 years. Also, I know from the interest on Twitter that there are many people who weren’t able to travel to Toronto and attend in person who are very hungry to read these papers. For the technology conferences I go to it is standard to share as much as possible: to livestream the conference, to archive the Twitter stream, and to post presentations online and made code public too. I hope that most of the presenters will figure out a way to share their work openly without it costing them in academic prestige. There’s got to be a way to do this.

There was a really magical feeling at this first colloquium on gender and sexuality in LIS. Everyone brought their smarts, ideas and generous spirits. I think a lot of us have been starved for this kind of environment, engagement and community.

My brain, heart and sinuses are full. I’m exhausted and heading home to Vancouver. This one day of connections and ideas will keep me going for another year. Kudos to the organizers Emily Drabinski, Patrick Keilty and Litwin Books for organizing this. I’m hungry for more.