GLAMorous intersections: objects, ethics, and emotions

I first learnt about object-based learning (OBL) at a CRIG Seminar workshop facilitated by librarians from the University of Melbourne in 2016 and it made me realise I had already been kind of doing it and trying to do more of it, and was great to have a concept (and keyword) to help connect me with research on the topic. Indeed pretty much the first ever class I designed from scratch at MPOW when I was fresh out of library school was almost a textbook example of OBL after getting the brief from a journalism lecturer to basically “do something fun to help students engage with physical collections”. It was such an exciting class to be part of making and I’m slowly bringing it into other classes.

Throughout 2019, I found myself having conversations about it with a lot of academics – from history, art history, English, archaeology, anatomy, legal studies and beyond – many of whom had come from the University of Melbourne where they had experimented with OBL. I decided to seize the day and organise our last lunch time journal club of 2019 on the topic and invite those academics I’d been talking to about it along with colleagues from our university’s records and archives services and art institute – who had been doing some OBL-related work that I’d followed from a far and discovered that they were keen to do more in this space. Shortly after I’d sent out invitations, one of the academics ran into the inaugural coordinator of OBL at the University of Melbourne, mentioned it to them, and put us in touch with each other, so it was shaping up to be a pretty exciting journal club (and more GLAMorous than ever)…. and I was excited to bring people who I’d been talking about with this separately for the past year in one place and introduce them to each other and the discussion we had (with over 20 people) was pretty great. I wish we’d had more than hour as it felt like we were just getting started, but I’m sure the conversation will continue… in the anatomy lab and beyond!


A few objects from the library collection at MPOW

The readings (never essential/required for journal club participation) and discussion intersected nicely, and sometimes unexpectedly, with a lot of different disciplines, GLAM sector workers, and theories and concepts that I and others had been thinking about (like phenomenology, pedagogy, deep and student-centred learning, critical reflection, materiality, and particularly ethics and care in collection management, teaching, research and more), so I thought I’d sneak in a quick GLAM blog club post on the theme of Intersections this month. Like me, it seems many people in the room didn’t know they were already doing and/or trying to do OBL before they’d heard the word, so perhaps you’ve been doing it and/or thinking about it too.

Some of the readings and resources I shared beforehand that you may like to explore as an introduction to OBL include:

Arts West Object Based Learning Lab:

More videos:

Teaching Objects at the University of Melbourne:

Teaching Object-based learning at UCL :

Creative Approaches to Information Literacy for Creative Arts Students:

How inclusive is object-based learning?

Object Lessons: Inter- and Extra-Disciplinary Teaching in the History of Emotions

Drifting through Research: How the Bibliodérive Inspired New Approaches to Information Literacy at Flaxman Library:

The following readings related to GLAM work, radical empathy, and vicarious trauma really resonated with me during and after the discussion as we ended up talking a lot about the emotions connected to objects and how OBL can potentially be used to help people feel more comfortable, but can also be confronting for some (especially since some of the examples we heard about were from anatomy and legal studies), so I thought I would share them too:

Do no harm – a proposal for a harm minimisation approach to library work – partly inspired by a podcast episode about the Incendium Radical Library (IRL)

Hospitals, libraries, PTSD and the importance of being trauma-informed  – Nikki Anderson

cardiCast interview with Michaela Hart on vicarious trauma in archives (and more!)

Presentation on Addressing Separation Loss & Trauma: Emotional Labour and Archival Practice by Michaela Hart & Nicola Laurent. With Cate O’Neil… and some writing on the topic by Nicola and Michaela for those who prefer working with text-based documents.

Radical empathy in archival practice community resources – includes a zine on the topic.

Archivists against history repeating itself collective and readings

I’ve just started reading What’s the Use? On the Uses of Use by Sara Ahmed and it is great and seems very much connected to object-based learning and many of these themes too. You can check out Queer Use – a presentation by Sara Ahmed – similar to the one I was lucky enough to see at the University of Melbourne last year – to give you a taste of the book.

I was also reminded of this piece on Intersubjectivity and ghostly library labour (which I think I have shared previously):

“Library workers at all levels, but especially those who have institutional power, must care for one another and prioritize community wellbeing. Individual actions will not solve structural problems, but they can improve people’s immediate material conditions: that’s something to start with.

Haunting is a complex and rich lens through which we can explore what it might be like to be fearless, or to harness fear in a way that is creatively powerful. If we think like ghosts, we can experience time creatively and less urgently, better positioning ourselves to resist the demands of neoliberalism; to imagine and enact positive futurities.” (Settoducato 2019)

It’s also very relevant to the newly launched Queer Objects book and Nikki Sullivan and Craig Middleton’s Queering the Museum project in South Australia (they’re keen for people to write responses to the objects), but that’s for another blog post.


The Queering the Archives Archive Fever podcast recording with Yves Rees, Clare Wright, Julie Peters and Noah Riseman on Thursday night quite vividly illustrated and affirmed the complex emotional power of objects for me as I teared up just hearing about self-described ‘accidental archivist’ Julie Peters’ personal archive. Noah also mentioned that Julie Peters is not the only trans Australian who has been developing an archive and gave a shout out to a few trans librarians and archivists he interviewed who are working against the grain in mainstream institutions to queery their collections and facilitate access to trans and queer histories.

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