Libraries, Archives, Technology, Impending Doom
Hey, remember a couple weeks ago when I posted about the Riot Grrrl Collection at NYU? And how Feminist Press is putting a book out in May?
Turns out I have a college pal at Feminist Press, and she sent me a hundred or so pages of the forthcoming book. For better or worse, it seems that even in radical politics it is sometimes who you know. (Though, in this case I have a lot to say about the somewhat inaccurately titled “old girls’ network” that has risen out of women’s colleges, and how it serves to increase access to opportunities otherwise denied to women… but that’s a lecture for another time. [Which is not even to mention questions of security culture among radicals that sometimes depends on personal connections for safety, which is, again, a topic for another time.])
First let me place myself in relation to the book, the collection, and riot grrrl generally. In 1989, which is the given start date, I turned 5. In 1994, the end date, I was in 4th grade; that’s also the year I first saw the internet, though neither I nor the adults present really found it to be of much use at the time. That all means I am much younger than most of the producers of the Riot Grrrl Collection, and that their culture is not exactly my culture. At the same time, though, I really feel a lot of what they’ve got going on. Because in 1994 the internet was, in fact, pretty useless. Lolcats weren’t even invented until around my senior year of college, and for all that we talked about Web 2.0 when I was in library school, I remember Web 1.0, dial-up modems, pay phones, and life before email, IM, text messages, digital cameras, and printers with scanners built in. On occasion my ass lugged a sheaf of paper down to the public library to copy zines on their photocopiers. I mailed letters to out-of-town friends and occasionally asked my mom if I could make a long-distance phone call. And as a teenager in the late ’90s and early ’00s I went to watch my friends play shows in church basements and VFW halls, and I also wondered why there were hardly any other girls with me in the pit. So, I feel it.
In her introductory essay, Lisa Darms writes that the “book aspires to get some of the collection — in facsimile and without interpretation — to an even wider audience.” I get what she means, that this book is an additional access and discovery point to the collection, along with the archival holdings themselves, whatever finding aids exist in hard copy or digital format, and whatever digitization may have been done. And I approve of access. Brava. I wonder if there are more archival collections out there that would benefit from publication in book form.
But as at least some archivists will recognize, there is no such thing as objectivity — it is not possible to present a collection without interpretation. Especially since in this case were are looking at a book reproducing it rather than the collection itself. If nothing else, the selection of items in the collection to publish in this book reflects an interpretation; the entire collection is not on display, so what is shown is the result of decision making and choices, leading to the parts that are present, and the order they are presented in, to have different internal relations than the collection as a whole. Furthermore, as Darms says herself, the book is meant “to make the content of these smart, radical texts more broadly available,” which is definitely an editorial interpretation. She tells us she’s “tried to choose things that are interesting, beautiful, smart, moving, and well written” as well as “as accurate and objective as [she] can be in representing both the movement and the collection.”
Ultimately, though, archival theory aside, I don’t care very much! I’m just so happy about the existence of book! I, at least, could wander on over to the Fales Downtown Collection and see the whole thing in person, since I live in New York. Like I said above, this is really about access. Hell, even I can’t get into Fales’s stack in the middle of the night (at least, not without trying really hard), which, like any good procrastinating academic, is often when I find myself wanting to look up the one tidbit I need to cite. And our scholars in the homes of riot grrrl, Olympia, Washington, or Washington, DC, don’t have the luxury of wandering down to see the collection without a long roadtrip. So, three cheers for access.
My pal at Feminist Press says they’ve got a limited number of copies signed by Johanna Fateman, Kathleen Hanna, and Lisa Darms for pre-sale. Though maybe not anymore? — see above about procrastination, I’ve been working on this post for nearly a month. It’s neat in anycase, so if you want one, get in touch with them and see what’s available.
In the meantime, while you wait for the book to come out, watch on of my favorite youtube videos — Kathleen Hanna talking about her buddy Kurt Cobain and his best-known song.
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