One of the central questions that arise whenever we talk about digital humanities (DH) and librarianship is the question of service in academic libraries. Do libraries support DH scholarship, or are they producers of it? Is DH just another suite of services to be offered by the library? Recent contributions from Trevor Muñoz, Bethany Nowviskie, Miriam Posner, Dot Porter, and Barbara Rockenbach, among others, have examined the role that libraries play in supporting or partnering with digital humanists. Much of this discussion assumes a great deal of overlap between libraries and the digital humanities, a connection that scholars such as Glen Worthey and Chris Alen Sula are laudably exploring.
But this chapter is about librarians, not libraries.
I will stitch together some of the threads that have informed my thinking about these issues and attempt to contextualize this question of service in the history of librarianship as a feminized profession. I will go over what the term “service” means, and by the end of this chapter I hope to have you questioning assumptions about service, scholarship, work, and power.
The term feminization has made the rounds recently as economists and sociologists talk about the shift from the manufacturing economy to a service-sector economy. As jobs move from an industrial, often unionized factory setting to service provision, we are seeing more low-paid, contingent, part-time positions that may require workers to engage in what has been termed f fective labor. Instead of producing a good that is then sold for profit, affective labor produces satisfied clients and positive brand associations that contribute to a company’s financial value. Thus, feminization can alternately mean an influx of women into the workforce (or a profession) and the ascription of “feminine” characteristics to that work. Discussions of the labor conditions of this “new economy” are frequently centered on the idea that we all do women’s work now.
Ahem. As librarians, we have always been feminized.
What does it mean to be a feminized profession?
It is important to distinguish between professions and occupations. Professions, like law and medicine, generally require specialized knowledge and expertise, which bring along a certain amount of professional autonomy. Such autonomy may require accreditation or certification by professional associations. Professions also generally adhere to a code of ethics, so that the practitioner maintains allegiance to a higher calling than personal gain. The question of whether librarianship is a true profession has been debated for some time now, and it is beyond the scope of this chapter. I will just say that librarianship is often considered a semi-profession by sociologists (Etzioni 1969). Coincidentally or not, the prototypical semi-professions (social work, teaching, and nursing) also happen to be feminized professions. More recently, they have been called empowering professions (Maack 1997).
The idea of a feminized profession is part of the larger idea of a sexual division of labor, an occupational stratification based on one’s gender presentation. Historians have studied how occupations come to be dominated by women by looking at the histories of social workers (Walkowitz 1990), clerical workers (Strom 1989), nurses (Melosh 1982), waitresses (Cobble 1991), flight attendants (Barry 2007), and even librarians (Garrison 1972–73). For example, clerical and secretarial work was once dominated by men, as a sort of apprenticeship for the nineteenth-century business world. Many historians attribute the introduction of the typewriter and its deliberate association with the feminine activity of piano playing (such as in an 1872 Scholes and Glidden typewriter ad) to the feminization of office work.
In 1979, Dee Garrison’s book, Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876–1920, inspired a fair amount of controversy among feminist librarians who felt that the portrayal of negative aspects of this feminized profession neglected the achievements of individual women in library history (Pritchard 2004). Yet the section of the book titled, “The Tender Technicians,” tells a story very similar to other studies of feminized professions and occupations: to gain entry to the workforce, women must emphasize the work’s feminine qualities (real or imagined) to minimize any perceived social transgression in working outside of the home. When women succeed and begin to make up close to 50 percent of the workforce, men no longer pursue the work because it is seen as “women’s work.” The work is then devalued. Put differently:
That is, who is doing the work determines what is valued as work.
Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild coined the term “emotion work” in her 1983 study of flight attendants, The Managed Heart. Hochschild was interested in the personal costs for workers who were paid to provide “service with a smile” and how those costs affected workers’ off-duty emotional lives. Emotion work and related terms (emotional labor, affective labor, and immaterial labor) have resurfaced with the post-manufacturing economy (both feminized and financialized). In the digital sphere, service work is conducted by community facilitators, comment moderators, or social media managers who field the complaints, comments, and harassment that is endemic to online spaces.
Emotion work and, more specifically, affective labor, are often brought into conversation with care work or domestic labor. However, we can associate them with any occupation that not only has few tangible productivity measures but also requires workers to appear as though they love their job. All of these terms are related to digital labor in the sense that they are immaterial and, taken together, convey the many challenges that service work brings for those who must perform it.
Reproductive labor is the domestic work of the home, the labor that reproduces the workforce and therefore contributes to the labor value of the waged worker and indirectly creates financial value for corporations. You might be familiar with the Wages for Housework campaign in the 1970s, led by Marxist feminists such as Selma James and Silvia Federici, among others. It called attention to how unwaged labor is exploited in a capitalist system. Federici’s 2004 book, Caliban and the Witch, further examines how women’s subjugation as well as the devaluation of their reproductive labor are part and parcel of capitalism.
A related concept is Ivan Illich’s (1981) idea of shadow labor, which refers to the unpaid work that accompanies people’s roles as wage workers. Activities such as grocery shopping, maintaining a vehicle or residence, and housework are all examples of uncompensated labor that facilitates participation in the wage system.
Both of these concepts articulate the labor of support that should be very familiar to academic librarians. We perform labor that reproduces the academy, from teaching information literacy, research skills, and citation formats to students to selecting, cataloging, and preserving materials for current and future use. This work is vital, and it is intellectual labor. But, because it does not conform to the “publish or perish” model at the top of the academic hierarchy, it is reduced to (and devalued as) “service.”
Service versus Scholarship
Perhaps what we resent when we discuss service in libraries is — as Hochschild discovered in her study of flight attendants — “the appearance of working at a low level of skills” (84). As William Goode (1961) explains in his study of the library profession, the domain expertise of academic librarians is often rendered invisible to our academic colleagues:
The academic expert will usually know much better than the librarian how to find the material in his own field, and he is also likely to evaluate the additional knowledge possessed by the librarian in other areas as somewhat irrelevant or unimportant. The academic expert does not see the basic library skills in action, in part because he rarely has the experience of working with the librarian to find out what help he might obtain. (314)
This invisibility can lead to a lack of respect in the shared space of scholarship: “If the library is the laboratory of the humanist, the librarian is all too often the bottle-washer in that lab” (Hildenbrand 6). Following Goode, do librarians work in service of scholarship, or are they servile to scholars?I want to explore further the idea of service in the academy writ large and connect it to the work that librarians are doing. So I am going to tell a story about Zotero.
Zotero is an open-source citation manager developed at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Recently, Sean Takats (the Rosenzweig Center’s Director of Research Projects) shared publicly some comments from his tenure case, which included substantial sections devoted to his digital work. One of the members of the review committee commented:
Some on the committee questioned to what degree Dr. Takats’ [sic] involvement in these activities constitutes actual research (as opposed to project management). Hence, some determined that projects like Zotero et al., while highly valuable, should be considered as major service activity instead. (in Takats)
Dr. Takats crafted his portfolio with a carefully balanced mix of traditional scholarship (his monograph on French history) and digital work, knowing that he might face pushback despite having broad guidelines at his university. Still, he was perturbed.
To recap: Conceive projects? Service. Develop prototype software? Service. Write successful grant proposals? Service. Write code? Service. Lead developers and designers? Service. Disseminate the results of the project? Service. (Takats)
Sound familiar? We might ask, as Mark Sample (2013) does, “When does service become scholarship?” We might also ask to what extent Zotero’s resemblance to library work affected perceptions of Takats’s work as a service activity. Regardless, there is a clear need for skilled project managers in digital humanities, and librarians have embraced these roles in part because we already have experience with them. But what does that embrace mean for collaborative scholarship between librarians and faculty when project management and other “major service activity” is so clearly secondary to “actual research”?
Jennifer Guiliano, former Assistant Director of the Maryland Institute of Technology in the Humanities (MITH), followed Takats’s tale with a blog post (2013) explaining that this perception of service is why she prefers the term Project Developer over Project Manager. She shared her experience in meetings with “people looking for labor to get them to where they want to go; not collaborators who are seeking true partnerships where all members of the team are elevated to be better researchers, teachers, and scholars.” She writes, “They want someone to make their website, schedule their meetings, and write their grant applications; not argue about the meaning, scope, scale, and conclusions that get included in the project.” She then reminds them that she is Dr. Guiliano: “I shouldn’t need a degree to be recognized for my thoughts. But let’s be real, it definitely eases the way.”
The Status Shield
Hochschild refers to the “status shield” that marginalized service workers lack in relation to their white, male counterparts engaged in similar work. That is, customers (or clients, users, patrons, and even colleagues) are more likely to unload criticisms and rudeness to women and people of color because women and people of color lack the social status that affords respect. Librarians, then — and by this I mean MLS-holding librarians without a PhD — face the dual hurdle of breaking through these gendered and racialized assumptions and dealing with the deep credentialism found within the academy. And this is a profession that remains 88 percent white. The discrimination gets worse as we move through the matrix of oppression. So when we call for librarians to approach collaborative digital work as partners and not service providers, I would like to see some acknowledgment of the fact that there are different power relations at play in these collaborative relationships — power relations that are embedded in the hierarchies that make up academia, in both the social stratification of varying job ranks and the hierarchical classification of service and scholarship. Let us have a more nuanced conversation about how librarians position ourselves as collaborators in the digital humanities and accede that some of us might need to embrace the label of service or might not be able to escape it.
Perhaps the problem is not service itself, but exploitation:
In any system, exploitation depends on the actual distribution of many kinds of profits — money, authority, status, honor, well-being. It is not emotional labor itself, therefore, but the underlying system of recompense that raises the question of what the cost of it is. (Hochschild 12, my emphasis)
We Are Not Alone
While I welcome calls, such as the one issued recently by Trevor Muñoz (2014) at the Data Driven conference, to make visible the intellectual labor of librarians, I do not want to further isolate and denigrate the important yet often intangible support work that needs to be done and is done by librarians. Let us focus instead on expanding our conception of what work is valued in the academy: “So much real intellectual work is considered ‘service’ and you can’t get tenure for ‘service’ . . . Support diversity of work” (Mandell in Walker). Let us join our colleagues who are struggling with the narrow system of rewards that favors individual research over (collaborative) service work — the same system in which women, people of color, and queer scholars disproportionately shoulder the burden of committee work, community building, and service work that reproduces the academy.
We are not alone. Teaching faculty may encounter the “ivory ceiling of service work,” in which gendered service duties edge out other tenure requirements. Joya Misra et al. (2011) conducted research demonstrating that:
Women associate professors taught an hour more each week than men, mentored an additional two hours a week, and spent nearly five hours more a week on service. This translates to women spending roughly 220 more hours on teaching, mentoring, and service over two semesters than men at that rank.
We need to account for the ways in which institutions benefit from our labor while devaluing our contributions and recognize, again, that we are not alone. Sekile Nzinga-Johnson (2013) observes that:
Institutions can no longer ignore the invisible abundance of care labor that black, women of color and queer faculty perform on behalf of institutions. That work often takes the form of engaged pedagogy and teaching, diversity initiatives, student recruitment and retention, community engagement and intellectual contributions and financially benefits institutions. These marginalized faculty are often the standard bearers of their institutions’ mission and vision statements. (interviewed by Gumbs, my emphasis)
The question of service in librarianship and the digital humanities raises concerns that go beyond our small corner of academia. How can we bring an ethic of care and collaboration to our scholarly work when the academic system of rewards is structured to devalue our labor?
Reproducing the Academy?
In sum, librarians perform “shadow labor” that may be considered the reproductive labor of the academy. We need a “status shield” to enable fruitful partnerships that bring mutual respect to collaborative digital work. We need to talk about working conditions (e.g., dedicated research time) and structures (e.g., status shields) when we talk about librarians as true collaborators in the production of digital humanities scholarship. We need to talk about the library profession and its “underlying system of recompense”: money, authority, status, honor, and well-being.
This chapter is a revised version of the talk I gave as part of a panel at the 2014 American Library Association conference, sponsored by the Women and Gender Studies Section of the Association of College & Research Libraries and organized by Heather Tompkins (Carleton College). The title of the panel was “Digital Humanities and Libraries: Power and Privilege, Practice and Theory” and also included Jane Nichols, Elvia Arroyo-Ramirez, and Megan Wacha.
1. See Muñoz, “In Service?”
2. See Nowviskie, “Skunks in the Library.”
3. See Posner, “No Half Measures.”
4. See Porter, “What If We Do, in Fact, Know Best?”
5. See Rockenbach, “Digital Humanities in Libraries.”
6. See Worthy, “Literary Texts and the Library in the Digital Age, or, How Library DH Is Made.”
7. See Sula, “Digital Humanities and Libraries: A Conceptual Model.”
8. There are varying sociological theories of what makes a profession, and this discussion will necessarily paint broad strokes.
10. See the Digital Labor Reference Library, part of the Digital Labor Working Group at CUNY Graduate Center.
11. See Federici, “Wages against Housework.”
13. See Bourg, “Lack of Diversity by the Numbers in Librarianship and in Book Stuff. ”
14. See Nowviskie, “Skunks in the Library.”
Barry, Kathleen M. Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007.
Bourg, Chris. “Lack of Diversity by the Numbers in Librarianship and in Book Stuff. ” Feral Librarian. February 22, 2014. https://chrisbourg.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/lack-of-diversity-by-the-numbers-in-librarianship-and-in-book-stuff.
Cobble, Dorothy Sue. Dishing It Out: Waitresses and Their Unions in the Twentieth Century. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1991.
Digital Labor Reference Library. Digital Labor Working Group. CUNY Graduate Center. https://digitallabor.commons.gc.cuny.edu/digital-labor-reference-library/.
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———. “Wages against Housework.” Bristol, Eng.: Power of Women Collective and Falling Wall Press, 1975.
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Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. “Laboring Positions: Black Women, Mothering, and the Academy (A conversation with editor Sekile Nzinga-Johnson).” The Feminist Wire. October 15, 2013. http://thefeministwire.com/2013/10/laboring-positions-black-women-mothering-and-the-academy-a-conversation-with-editor-sekile-nzinga-johnson.
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———. “In Service? A Further Provocation on Digital Humanities Research in Libraries.” dh + lib. June 19, 2013. http://acrl.ala.org/dh/2013/06/19/in-service-a-further-provocation-on-digital-humanities-research-in-libraries.
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