Queering collections: Lessons from Leprechauns, Liverpool and London

Given this month’s GLAM blog club theme of collect, I thought I would take the opportunity to share some lessons I learned for queering collections from the National Leprechaun Museum, Liverpool and London. There is quite a lot of excellent material online which I have linked to below so you won’t have to go all the way to the UK and Ireland to join in. They all very much demonstrate that Museums Are Not Neutral (in case anyone needs reminding)!

National Leprechaun Museum

Whilst not explicitly queer, the National Leprechaun Museum did include a lot of rainbows and really set the scene for my later adventures in queering Museums in London and Liverpool. It’s a great example of a museum-based around intangible heritage – myths and legends- of a particular place. It was a wonderful mix of storytelling, theatre, digital maps, rainbows and play. It was such a joy to enter the world they created with this museum. I accidentally came across it on my way to the Chester Beatty Library and I’m not 100% convinced that it really exists outside of my imagination nor that the free rainbow pencil I got won’t disappear some day in the spirit of leprechaun gold.

Queer and Now at Tate Britain

The main part of Queer and Now at Tate Britain I attended was What Does a Queer Museum Look Like?

A discussion featuring E-J Scott, Curator of the Museum of Transology in an open conversation with queer curators, Dan Vo (Museum Detox), Ju Gosling (Regard), Surat-Shaan Knan (Rainbow Pilgrims), Topher Campbell (rukus!), Damien Arness-Dalton (Queerseum), Joe Galliano (CEO, Queer Britain), Rachael Lennon (Programme Curator, Prejudice and Pride, National Trust), Sean Curran (Community Learning Manager, Sutton House, National Trust) and Zorian Clayton (Curator of Prints and chair of the LGBTQ working group at the V&A).

E-J Scott asked all participants, including panelists, to sit on the floor as a brilliant way to “break down the hierarchy of expertise within the museum that separates the experts from people with lived experience”, to create a “peaceful protest through occupation” and also to indicate that “creating change is uncomfortable”. I loved how they brought together people who had been queering museums and/or history in different ways – queering history from the grassroots and agitating for change within institutions and beyond them, queering history with institutional support and leadership, setting up queer archives, exhibitions and LGBT History Month, and even creating a physical Queer Museum. They made an impressive effort to include LGBTIQ+ People of Colour and disabled people on the panel. I had attended a panel discussion on queer history in Melbourne hosted by the National Trust of Victoria just before I left which was more of a manel with white gay men and it was still fresh in my mind. It was a big step for the National Trust of Victoria to be hosting a panel about queer heritage, and the chair from the National Trust and panelist Nick Henderson did acknowledge that it wasn’t a representative panel and made an effort to talk about more diverse histories, but we still have a very long way to go, and the National Trust in the UK appear to be further ahead. Although we did hear about some challenges they had experienced in their attempts to queer history there in the recent past, so there’s definitely hope for us in Victoria. The discussion mentioned that when an institution relies on the public record as ‘proof’ of queer history, this really limits what kinds of queer histories are told and which ones are further marginalised, so we need to be more imaginative and creative to collect and tell diverse queer histories.

This made me think of the National Leprechaun Museum’s approach to talking about histories – there are not really any objective facts about nor ‘proof’ of leprechauns, but lots of stories, myths and legends to share and ways that the stories, myths, and legends has entered the real world to highlight too – for example: a motorway entered up being built around a faerie tree in County Clare following a public campaign.

Someone at the discussion also mentioned the importance of making an institution’s values really explicit to help you reach out to communities and show them that you care about LGBTIQ+ inclusion. The importance of building trust by ensuring that the institution won’t censor or alter LGBTIQ+ histories also came up.

I took a quite a lot of notes, but wrote them in rainbow pencil, which has made them particularly hard to decipher! Luckily, the discussion was recorded so you can watch it below:

V&A Museum LGBT tour

I had heard quite a lot about the work that the V&A Museum has done with LGBT+ communities via Dan Vo on Twitter and from Dan and Zorian Clayton in real life at the Queer and Now discussion. I also always regretted not having made it to the V&A last time I was in London, so I was very keen to go and attend an LGBT tour this time. There is a lot of material in the V&A that is connected to LGBT+ communities and Dan mentioned that there is enough for each volunteer tour guide to tell different queer histories, so you could attend multiple tours and learn different things each time. I love that volunteers are given ownership and are able to put their own spin on the tour. I also loved that Dan’s tour highlighted a number of objects related to Australian LGBT histories (he is from Melbourne ) as well as many related to LGBT+ People of Colour. I think the V&A’s work in this space seemed to be a good example of both queering collections from below or from the grassroots with volunteers like Dan and queering collections at the institutional level or with institutional support via their LGBT+ working group. Particularly in light of the discussion at the Tate (in the above video), I really think there is a need for both approaches, and it is nice to see them in action in the one place.

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Nicely illustrating how excellent Dan is and how many queer objects there are in the V&A, Dan recently finished showcasing one object for every day of the year – check out the #QueerVAM moment

Pride and Prejudice: Bringing stories out of the closet

The  Pride and Prejudice research project led to an online collection of LGBT+ objects from across different National Museums Liverpool art and social history collections, an LGBT+ trail of items on display, resources and toolkits, and a number of physical exhibitions across the museums and galleries – a few of which I was lucky to see. I had heard about National Museums Liverpool in the MuseoPunks interview with David Fleming, their former director, on ‘Institutional bravery’, or “about the social impact of museum work, advocacy as a strategic objective, and what it means for a museum service to be openly political”, so I expected great things. In fact, it is one of the reasons I decided to go to Liverpool. They very much lived up to my expectations.

Liverpool Museums LGBT+ Trail

This LGBT+ trail was created as part of the Liverpool Museums Pride and Prejudice research project to highlight LGBT+ collection items on display at the Museum of Liverpool, the Walker Art Gallery, Lady Lever Art Gallery, and Sudley House. I only managed to make it to the Walker Art Gallery and Museum of Liverpool which had the most items on the display and they were both excellent.

Zines, colouring in, picture books, fashion and community at Walker Art Gallery

This was the first place I went in Liverpool and not only did it have a small exhibition on Fashion Icons: Celebrating gay designers , it also had an excellent queer exhibition and chill out space with colouring in, LGBT+ zines from their collection, and picture books on display.

The LGBT+ trail items were clearly labelled with the Pride and Prejudice research project logo and an often quite detailed description of their connection to LGBT+ communities, which was really helpful. Often I’ve noticed LGBT+ content is more hidden in the physical museum space and more evident online.

Although not LGBT+, I was also impressed by the way in which the gallery acknowledged Liverpool’s history of slavery throughout the space, and it is further evidence of institutional bravery and the social justice work that museum workers can do.

Tales from the city at the Museum of Liverpool

The Museum of Liverpool was one of the most inclusive and accessible museums I have entered and their LGBT+ ‘Tales from the City’ exhibition made it even more inclusive and accessible. There was an accessible single stall toilet near the exhibition with a sign saying ‘This toilet can be used by everyone” (one of my favourite toilet signs!). Many of the labels I noticed had brail, many videos had British Sign Language, and a lot of audio-visual content (particularly for the LGBT+ exhibition) also had transcripts in fairly large print. The Tales of the City exhibition was quite small but it was more representative across LGBT+ communities than other larger exhibitions I have seen. In particular, I feel like it had more trans representation than I’ve seen. They also used memory maps which I loved and hadn’t really come across before. It seemed like a great way to capture and display peoples’ relationships to a particular place and a way for communities to engage with content creation for an exhibition and/or contribute to the collection. I helped capture and showcase intangible queer heritage which complemented the more tangible objects on display.

Hello Sailor! at the Merseyside Maritime Museum

Above the Merseyside Maritime Museum, you will find the International Museum of Slavery, below it you will find the Seized: The Border and Customs uncovered gallery, and in between their was an exhibition about Liverpool’s connection to the Titanic, so it was very moving and quite grim… But then I came across the Hello Sailor! Gay life on the ocean wave exhibition tucked away in a corner like a little queer oasis. It was actually about how life at sea was something like an oasis for gay sailors in “a sea of hostility”. They could learn and play in foreign ports (and access literature that wasn’t available in England) and were more free to be themselves at sea, but experienced homophobia upon their return home. They also used memory maps and one of them had a connection to Sydney, Australia.

Shelf help and prescription books at Liverpool Central Library

This wasn’t explicitly queer, but I really loved the Liverpool Central library. I particularly liked that they had a ‘Shelf Help’/prescription books display near the entrance connected to other bibliotherapy initiatives. There is a lot of potential for this to include LGBTIQ+ related recommended reading for people who are struggling with coming out, people who are transitioning, people who are struggling to reconcile their faith and sexuality, parents who want to better understand and help their child, and so on. In fact, I tried to advocate for something similar on campus at MPOW last year, but haven’t had the energy to advocate for it as strongly as I would like to do.

Queer(y)ing the Science Museum

Back in London, I enjoyed a sneak peek of the Queering the Science Museum tour at the Science Museum Lates pride edition. It was unaffiliated with the Science Museum and therefore quite different from my other experiences queering museums. I feel like this tour did a lot more queerying of the museum than others did, which I loved as it resonated with some of my feelings expressed earlier this year. I imagine there is also probably more freedom to queery a museum when you’re doing a tour that is unaffiliated with said museum. It turned out there was quite a lot to queery and critique (biases, gender binaries, representations, silences, biological determinism and more) and tour guide Ellie did it well. It was a little like a GLAMorous LGBTIQ+ inclusive practice workshop that I’ve done but even more fun! I had queeried the Pioneer plaque in this workshop and knew about Alan Turing, but quite a lot was new to me and it was the perfect gaytway to the Science Museum. I liked that they very consciously did not want to make it just about celebrating scientists who were gay or trans or rumoured to be gay or trans, and also tried to find diverse stories to tell and queeries to ask. I recommend checking out the podcast Ellie co-hosts with Claire Mead – Transit Spectra : “a digital repository exploring the interaction of science and art in uncovering new visions around gender, sexuality, ecologies and affect”.

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Desire, love, identity: exploring LGBTQ histories at the British Museum

I queeried the British Museum with the aide of this podcast/audio guide which was very well produced and had excellent and relatively diverse stories about objects that can be found at the British Museum which are connected to LGBTQ histories. I like the idea of being able to listen to podcast about LGBTQ histories without anyone having any idea what you were listening to as it could be particularly great for people who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity and/or anyone who is not yet out. It also seemed like a good option for introverts! However, I did find some of the items a little difficult to find and sometimes got lost given that the museum is so large, so perhaps some sort of digital or physical map to complement the podcast would have helped… (Maybe there was one and I missed it!) Or maybe they could have more prominent labels like the Walker Art Gallery. I also found it quite isolating compared to the tours which had a nice collective buzz and sense of pride. In addition to the podcast, they have an online exhibition on Google Arts & Culture which is great. Their online LGBTQ presence and visibility is strong, but it definitely could be stronger in the physical space. On that note, it is very promising that the British Museum’s physical Desire, Love and Identity exhibition from 2017 will be touring museums around the UK later this year and beyond it.

BMQ

Fish out of water at the Royal Maritime Museum

I was actually sadly back in Melbourne by the time this Fish Out of Water event rolled around but Sacha Coward, the mermaid hunter/museum worker behind it, recently co-wrote an article about it and his work queering the Royal Maritime Museum and discovering queer histories of mermaids, and it sounds like he took the National Leprechaun Museum spirit to queering the museum.

You can also hear from him in this video:

Are leprechauns my mermaids?

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Harry Potter and the Order of Librarianship

I have written previously about how the Harry Potter series was my gateway to discovering the power of reading and the internet, as well as social justice campaigning, which I suspect all eventually played a role in leading me to librarianship. This month’s GLAM blog club theme ‘Collect’  made me realise that the series also led to one of my earliest experiences of collecting, which is further evidence to support that it was my gateway to librarianship, so I thought I would write a little bit about it.

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My collection largely consisted of items that would help me recreate the Harry Potter world, imagine that I was part of it, and make up my own stories to build on the canon – particularly Lego, magical creature soft toys (e.g. Hedwig), Chocolate Frog cards, the books Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Tales of Beedle the Bard (I loved that they all included annotations/marginalia written by some of the characters – making them seem more ‘real’), and Hogwarts-themed clothes and stationery. I didn’t really want to be Harry or any of the other characters so I didn’t buy Harry Potter glasses or things like that, but I did want to want to be part of their world. I also collected newspaper articles about the Harry Potter books and films as evidence of this world entering the muggle world. The collection, like my copies of the books themselves, was not catalogued in any way, nor particularly well preserved, which now makes me shudder a little, but it was very well loved and heavily used.

There were never any Hufflepuff themed items to collect when I was growing up and I wonder if this was partly why I resisted being a Hufflepuff for so long… As many will know, I now very much embrace my Hufflepuff side and I was so excited to see so many Hufflepuff items available from the shop at the Harry Potter studios in London!

A sample of my Harry Potter collection

A sample of items in my Harry Potter collection

One of my favourite parts of the Harry Potter studio, was a very librarian thing to love – the display cabinet dedicated to graphic design and printed media in the film  – all the newspapers, magazines, books, posters, letters, and packaging that was featured in them!

I also loved going to the House of MinaLima in London- three floors dedicated to graphic design exhibitions from Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by graphic design duo Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima.

I recently discovered a book chapter on “Queering Harry Potter” which offers some insights into why I loved the series so much and wanted to be part of this world growing up – more than just due to the fact that Harry Potter looks quite a lot like a lesbian stereotype which the chapter opens with! Harry Potter grows up in a wizardphobic world and is literally forced to live in a closet until he is 11 and receives his letter to Hogwarts – where he finds magic, friendship and a sense of belonging, and begins a quest to fight for justice. He discovers a whole world of people just like him. So much like coming out. It’s also a little bit like how I felt when I started library school and found my people: creative, quirky, nerdy and caring advocates for social justice. While I now know the series was problematic in quite a number of ways (I may do another post on that), it has been a powerful story for many people who felt different from mainstream culture growing up and it was a great, safe place for me to escape to and find comfort in.

Ehnenn J.R. (2011) Queering Harry Potter. In: Peele T. (eds) Queer Popular Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, New York

harrypotterreal

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Happy birthday NewCardigan: Helping GLAM professionals be more awesome since 2016

I’ve come quite a long way from shy, idealistic student looking for work in libraries who often only attended cardi parties for the talk to newish and slightly more cynical academic librarian who is often one of the last to leave drinks. While I have become less shy, I apparently wasn’t quite confident enough to say all I wanted to say about NewCardigan in front of a crowd, so I thought I’d write it instead.

NewCardigan (via Cardi Parties, the CardiCardi and GLAM blog club) has been a source of hope and solidarity for the past three years. As a student, they gave me hope to discover there were people out there in my future profession doing many of the things I’d been learning and thinking about. As a new professional, they have given me confidence and new resources and connections to start trying to put ideas into action in my workplace and a support group when bureaucracies and knowledge silos started getting to me. It also became a kind of support group or refuge during challenging times, particularly a certain non-binding, voluntary postal survey period. When many other GLAMorous professional organisations made some fairly terrible public responses to this survey, and quite a few GLAM institutions were largely silent as they tried to be ‘neutral’, NewCardigan’s response was excellent and very much needed. In fact, there have been a few times when I’ve described the inclusive environment of cardi parties and accidentally led people to believe it was a queer GLAM group. It isn’t one but it is an inclusive and safer space with a code of conduct and it has given me the confidence to help start GLAM pride group in Victoria and work on a few GLAMorous queer collaborations. It was great to see that quite a lot of GLAM organisations appeared to have great responses too – I particularly remember the responses from a number of university libraries, Museum Victoria and ACMI – the latter two have both been involved in a number of cardi parties… possibly a sign that the organisations who host and support NewCardigan events tend to be progressive ones.

As a librarian, it has made me more connected to GAM colleagues, issues and ideas as well as Library ones – which has been essential for my role supporting history and archaeology students and academics. It helped me propose and create a popular Australian archival research guide for them and I regularly revise it by adding new things I learn about from NewCardigan and beyond. I started using Victorian Collections in classes and other resources I created in order to help stress the importance of using community archives and looking beyond the public record after learning about it at a Cardi Party. I’ve shared a number of other things I’ve learned about with lecturers and students across a range of disciplines – particularly history, archaeology and screen studies. I also learned a lot from PBS community radio library and archive that was very relevant to my work with another community archive – ALGA! there were a lot of strong parallels.

We’ve discussed GLAM blog club posts and CardiCast episodes at our lunch time journal club at MPOW and actually initiating and facilitating journal club has been partly inspired by Cardi Parties the NewCardigan JFDI ethos and we’ve found we quite often accidentally end up having very similar themes to GLAM blog club.

When I tried to think of my favourite Cardi Party from the past three years, it felt a little bit like choosing a favourite book. Impossible! However, I realised there was a common factor in those that I found most memorable: Museum Victoria. Their odds were quite good as with archivist Nik McGrath being part of the Cardi Core, Museum Victoria hosted or were in some way involved in a lot of Cardi Parties. The first one I remember was about Victorian Collections at the Melbourne Museum after hours. I’ve come across and used Victorian Collections in archivist and librarian adventures  quite a lot since then and it’s been great to see it grow so much over the past few years. I also remember being part of an important discussion on privacy in libraries and archives at Melbourne Museum and on racism in GLAM at the Immigration Museum. Of course, I also loved learning about and seeing some of the rare books in Museum Victoria library too. I also loved curator Bec Carland ‘s fascinating talk on  Blandowski, his penchant for capes, and his role in the history of museum. It kind of reminded of my emerging interest in (okay maybe slight obsession with) finding out as much I can about a few queer librarians of the past… and also in finding out about the history of MPOW’s inaugural university librarian. Two of my favourite CardiCast episodes were related to Museum Victoria too. The interview with Mike Jones made me think even more seriously than before about doing a GLAMorous PhD eventually and the interview with Ana Tiquia (who was working at Museum Victoria at the time of the interview) inspired me to start getting to know the recordkeepers and archivists at MPOW, learn more about their work and collections, and brainstorm areas for more GLAMorous collaboration.

I’ve learned so much from NewCardigan and from connecting with fellow cardies, and I know how much work goes into it, so thank you so much.

Everyone should join now. And get a t-shirt.

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Photo by Nik McGrath. T-shirts and bowties are the new cardigans!

 

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Passion and creativity in librarianship and beyond

It’s been a busy couple of weeks full of passion and creativity, and I’ve been starting to feel more optimistic about librarianship and life, so I thought I’d quickly sneak in another GLAM blog club given the topic this month is passion.

I can’t write about passion and creativity without mentioning my immediate family. My dad is a visual artist and retired social worker and my mum is a very recently retired teacher. They were both extremely passionate about and dedicated to their careers and communities and quite well known for being creative at work and beyond work. I think they have both struggled quite a bit within bureaucracies/systems throughout their careers. They may have retired from their day jobs, but I don’t think they will ever stop helping people and teaching… and in fact, I think they’re starting to find a renewed passion for this outside of the system. I’ve loved seeing the new lease on life my mum has found this year after a combination of selling the family home to move into a smaller apartment and retiring from her job. Her creative pursuits tend to involve food and/or music.

My older brother is a musician and super intelligence, but was extremely disengaged in the formal education system and has struggled a lot in his life. He’s quite recently found a new passion in carpentery – which is a way he can be quite creative and also earn money to support other creative endeavours. My younger brother is also a passionate musician by night and a very passionate gardener by day. He has found himself singing his way around Georgia (in Europe –  not the US) and Italy in recent times. I may have struggled with reading until I discovered the Harry Potter books at about 11 and I still have to work really hard at reading and learning, but I think my passion for stories, knowledge and learning has always been quite strong. Perhaps not surprisingly giventhis passion, I think my creative outlet is writing (including but not limited to puns)… like our parents, we are all passionate about helping people and speaking up against discrimination and hate and do so in different, generally creative ways… and, again like our parents, also all quite well known for wearing bright colours or otherwise creative outfits, so I guess compassion and fashion is also an outlet for our creativity.

I’ve been starting to feel a little stifled by bureaucracies in recent times and it has made me realise that most of my creative energy had been going into a bit of a void at work and discover the need to find a new outlet for it…or to revisit my old passion for writing! I think my waning passion and creativity may have partly been because I haven’t really had a proper holiday since before I started studying in mid-2013 and I’d been starting to burn out (I’ve had time off… but I’ve tended to sneak in self-funded conferences to at least part of that time). I reached a point in my pre-library life job where I started writing monologues for the photocopier where which is how I knew I needed a holiday, a break from bureaucracy, and probably also a new direction in my career/life… I will soon be heading off on a holiday to Ireland with my creative and passionate O’Hanlon kin…. and I’ve found my creative energy and passion have started to come back beyond work and at work… before I started writing monologues for photocopiers again! I’ve also been feeling inspired by my creative colleagues in the library (we have a lot of musicians) and by English, creative arts and other humanities lecturers and students (and their reading lists).

In the past few weeks I have: been interviewed by a journalism student who remembered my passion and ideas for copyright reform from a class and was looking for a way to tell a story that would get more people interested in copyright law; been described as bringing a new level of chic to the library; invited to be in a video about librarian fashion (sadly the timing may not work out, but watch this space); brought Reid Moore out again to take National Similutaneous Storytime to a queer time and place (We’re also pretty sure it was 11am somewhere inthe world); started brainstorming ideas and sketching for a comic/zine; attended a meeting for arts librarians; and started and been part of quite a lot of interesting conversations about preserving, curating and celebrating queer histories with quite a diverse range of people… I guess all of these creative things are GLAMorous in some way, but they’re not all completely tied to my current role or workplace. I wonder if I will find a creative outlet that is less connected to GLAM or if I will become a writer in retirement.

This Lit Hub discussion on Librarians who moonlight as artists that went around earlier in the month definitely resonated.

 

 

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‘Shut Up and Wiki’ about your passions and hone your passion for facilitating access to diverse knowledge

I have been meaning to get into Wikipedia editing for awhile, particularly as I have become increasingly aware of the lack of diversity among Wikipedia editors and campaigns to change this. However, I have always been daunted by the prospect, unsure where to start, and fearful that I didn’t know enough about anything to be able to make a meaningful contribution (hello imposter syndrome). Well, I was pretty confident that I did know a lot about Harry Potter, but it turns Harry Potter fans are very thorough Wikipedia editors so there wasn’t much more I could contribute. When monthly Shut Up and Wiki sessions started up at MPOW, I fought imposter syndrome and seized the opportunity to start building my confidence and contribute in small ways during my lunch break. While I still don’t think I really know enough about anything, I know I am pretty good at finding information (#librarylife) and do have a few niche interests that I know a fair bit about (hello Eurovision and LGBTIQA+ archives and special collections pages!)… and I have discovered that editing Wikipedia is pretty addictive. In fact, it’s a lot like a game and I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Given the GLAM blog club topic of passion this month, I thought I would share some resources and projects that have helped me get started. Editing Wikipedia articles is a great outlet for my passion for advocating for social justice and inclusion by facilitating access to knowledge/research and promoting the power of play in libraries.

Some resources and projects that have helped me get started:

GLAM wiki beginner’s guide

1 Lib 1 Ref – the Citation Hunt is particularly fun (or at least fun for librarians)

Wikimedia LGBT+ Project 

Art + Feminism Wikipedia campaign 

Ling Wiki project 
One of the fellow Wikipedians at MPOW is a linguistics academic involved in the Ling Wiki project and some of their suggestions for getting started look great for GLAM folk and could be adapted a little – particularly archive linking!

A few other Wikipedians at MPOW at have been involved in translating Wikipedia articles from English into other languages and there seems to be quite a bit of work to do there.

Wikipedia editing resources at the University of Melbourne

Wikipedia is pretty open and transparent about its weaknesses and biases and I recommend checking these articles they have prepared to find out more (and work to change them):

A quick summary of tips I have come across from these resources and from the ‘Shut Up and Wiki’ sessions I have been to include:

  • Connect with the ‘Teahouse‘ (log-in required): a safe online community for new editors to ask any questions they may have. No question is stupid.
  • Start small by cleaning up pages (i.e. adding credible sources and citations).
  • Search WikiProject pages to find things that need to be cleaned up and connect with the community of Wikipedians working on the project. Apparently pretty much everything has a project page! There may be a better way to do this, but if you search for something in the Wikipedia search box, you can then refine your search to look only in help and project pages.
  • View the page edit history by checking out the talk section: everything that happens behind the scenes of an article is recorded!

You can read about the ‘Shut Up and Wiki’ origin story in this great Why ‘Shut Up and Wiki’ post by Dr Tseen Khoo. RMIT University have also started Shut Up and Wiki sessions, there’s a Wikipedian community of practice at the University of Melbourne, and Monash University library has recently hosted a few WiKiD Wikipedia editing sessions to encourage Women in Design to contribute.

I encourage you to register for this Wikipedia Editathon for International Museums Day (later this month) hosted by Mike Jones and Sayraphim Lothian at ACMI X.

Speaking of nerdy niche things I know quite a bit about, I think MPOW’s inaugural librarian, Dietrich Borchardt, would have been a Wikipedian and would have encouraged other librarians to contribute too…

There is a great quote from the Australian Parliament Joint Committee on Publications Inquiry into the Purpose, Scope and Distribution of the Parliamentary Papers Series, 1976–77: Official Hansard Transcript of Evidence Canberra sn 1977, p 103:

“Perhaps every librarian is somehow also a bit of an educator, or thinks he ought to be, or he has a social conscience which urges him that he should share his inquisitiveness with the public at large. I have strong feelings about the importance of the demo-cratic process-this has nothing to do with any particular political view, it is just the democratic process itself-and I cannot see how we can overcome the inertia with regard to politics which does abound in so many countries, including Australia, without taking some steps to at least make it possible for people to find out more about what government is about. I understand that this is a philosophical view, but I do think it is an important one which has some bearing on librarianship in general.”

It looks like we shared a penchant for bowties too!

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I realise MPOW is pretty obvious in this particular post!

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Queerying the catalogue: Control, classification, chaos, curiosity, care and communities

Last month I reflected on how my Bachelor of Arts degree has influenced my life and career in librarianship by giving me creative, critical thinking, research and communication skills and the reflections on my undergraduate degree have continued this month. Part of the reason for this is because I have been supporting gender, sexuality and diversity studies students a lot and therefore revisiting old theorists and concepts related to gender and sexuality. It is also because I have been finding solace, solidarity and comfort amongst these students, researchers, theorists and archives where fluidity and the questioning of systems, structures, boundaries and binaries is encouraged whilst continuing to struggle a bit within bureaucratic, institutional structures. This month’s GLAM blog club theme of Control has found me reflecting on the problematic histories of classification in librarianship and in psychology, particularly in relation to LGBTIQA+ communities, my complicated relationship with labels, and the power of play to help librarians become more comfortable with letting go of at least some of our control and authority, find courage in chaos, embrace fluidity, and change the system.

The first thing that came to my mind when thinking about control this month was controlled vocabularies, cataloguing and classification and our profession’s problematic history with classifying LGBTIQA+ material. (Also it’s problematic history with classifying material related to First Nations peoples, People of Colour, women, and religions other than Christianity!) I am not a cataloguer and the more technical aspects of cataloguing are beyond me. The thing I enjoyed most about the one compulsory cataloguing subject I did was discovering radical cataloguing movements to improve and change existing systems and practices and once I had come across them I found it difficult to concentrate on learning how to put inadequate, problematic systems into practice. I was initially very taken with the idea of folksonomies and thought they seemed like they could be a great alternative (at least in theory) to controlled vocabularies that would facilitate the democratisation of knowledge and enable more diverse and inclusive language to be used to describe our collections. Now that I’ve had some experience with folksonomies, I can definitely see that there is a benefit in using mor controlled vocabularies! I still think folksonomies should have a role in complementing controlled vocabularies and they can be one really valuable access point to collections but they shouldn’t replace them entirely.

The second thing that came to mind on the topic of control was the problematic history psychology has had with control and classification of LGBTIQA+ people. I increasingly became aware and critical of it whilst studying sociology and gender studies at the same time, and it was one of many things that made me realise that I didn’t want to be a psychologist. Interestingly, quite a few librarians at MPOW have similarly ‘escaped’ from psychology, one has just finished a PhD in it, and another is a psychoanalyst. I’ve also been finding solidarity on campus with student wellbeing colleagues (a mix of psychologists and social workers) in recent times around LGBTIQA+ inclusion. This has made me think about the similarities and connections between our professions beyond our problematic histories of classification systems. The crucial similarity is that we all care about people and want to help them, but help in different ways. We also tend to be curious about people and want to better understand how they think, learn and/or behave in order to help them. Research skills and asking questions are (or at least should be) crucial to our work and are a pretty strong focus of our training. I am still fairly critical about psychology for being individualistic/often seemingly ignoring the impact of systems on people, but I think psychologists and also social workers are very important allies for librarians in academic, public and school libraries, and believe that we need to collaborate much more. This has led me to read about the Whole Person Librarianship movement which seems to have started to facilitate greater collaboration between social workers and librarians in public libraries and has evolved to advocate for this in academic libraries too.

Labels can help us make sense of ourselves and the world and to find our communities and information and are therefore very important in the increasingly chaotic and uncertain times we are in. I guess they help us control the chaos, find solidarity, and navigate uncertainty to some extent. However, there are a lot of LGBTIQA+ folkx who reject labels and embrace fluid notions of gender and sexuality and every LGBTIQA+ group I have been part of  has had long and often heated discussions about labels and what to call ourselves (and I am aware of many other groups having similar discussions) and the language we use to talk about ourselves has evolved quite dramatically over time and as controlled vocabularies and classification systems are very slow and complicated to change, I can’t imagine they will ever be able to keep up. I have personally gone through moments of identifying strongly with a particular label because it has helped me connect with a community and moments of wanting to burn all the labels down because everything is fluid and labels are so complex and can be extremely problematic. As mentioned previously on this blog, I tend to use the label queer these days as it feels most fluid and I like it’s radical political and theoretical connotations.

As the histories of classification in libraries and in psychology illustrate quite vividly, labels can be incredibly harmful when assigned to marginalised groups by more privileged people. Labels and these classification systems can also perpetuate stereotypes and myths, medicalise people, and reinforce false binaries. We need to do more to help LGBTIQA+ people find information about themselves and their communities in their own words in our collections and I think adding folksonomy/tagging capabilities to catalogues is one great way to do this. Perhaps we could also host metadata parties to make it more fun to add tags and facilitate engagement with the collections and the process. We could learn from the community of Wikipedia editors and make tagging collections feel like a game too.  The We Are Here exhibition at the State Library of Victoria which invited LGBTIQA+ artists to work with and interpret the library’s collections to find and explore their queer histories is another great example. The State Library of WA exhibition In Plain Sight is another great example that involved bringing people in and encouraging them to interpret the library’s collections with a queer gaze. We need to let go of some of our ‘authority’ and become more comfortable with chaos and fluidity in order to give people opportunities to interpret and describe our collections in their own words (to give them control over how they are described), which I realise is probably very confronting for many librarians who already feel like they’ve already lost a lot of authority in changing and uncertain times. We’ve definitely made progress in democratising access to knowledge (and away from being the authoritative gatekeepers to it) and Nik illustrated some great GLAMorous examples of this in her post this month, but we still have quite a long way to go.

I enjoyed reading ‘Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction by Emily Drabinski which applies queer theory to cataloguing and librarianship to highlight that cataloguing and classification decisions are not neutral but rather ideologically driven and advocates for public services and/or other more front-facing librarians to join cataloguers in changing these systems and structures by helping people critically engage with the histories and ideologies that have shaped them. Drabinski argues that classification structures and controlled vocabularies should be presented as contested and in flux rather than objective and stable – which is similar to how the labels LGBTIQA+ people use to describe themselves are. I’ve started to do this at least a little bit in gender, sexuality and diversity studies (GSDS) and history classes, as there are many examples of how language and labels have changed to critique, and I stress the importance of understanding context, but I definitely need to do more. I mention it and share resources about it quite a bit (possibly too much) to GSDS lecturers and tutors…and one of them mentioned that collections and classification sounded like a great essay topic some day. The examples I have shared above are more co-curricular or extra-curricular ways to engage people with the catalogue.

So how do we become more comfortable with chaos, embrace fluidity, and let go of some of our control in order to bring more people in? I keep coming back to play, which is another theme I reflected on last month. As Phillip Minchin has illustrated, play at its best is messy, fun, explorative, creative and collaborative and it can be used to foster experimentation, innovation, inclusion, courage and resilience. It blurs boundaries, can build empathy, and creates a sense of possibility and hope. LGBTIQA+ communities have a history of playing with and reappropriating language in creative ways. Many librarians also tend to enjoy playing with language, so perhaps we could start there. The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) is coming up on May 17 and was started to commemorate the day homosexuality stopped being classified as a disease, and the theme this year is ‘Alliances for Solidarity’ so I think it is the perfect opportunity to collaborate with our  psychologist, social worker, art therapist and other wellbeing professional allies and host an event and/or start a project to engage LGBTIQA+ communities with your collections and spaces.

I’m really sorry I didn’t manage to make it to any of Phillip Minchin’s GLAMer sessions over the past month. On that note, as much as I think play has a crucial place in GLAM, it probably begins at home, so I am trying to bring more play into my life outside libraries…. And part of this plan is a trip to Ireland in June to connect with the O’Hanlon clan…. although I’m certain that GLAM will be included in this trip too…

Recommended reading on play in GLAM and beyond

Phil Minchin’s work, particularly these talking points:

Talking Points: The powers of play

Dr Matt Finch’s work at Mechanical Dolphin:

https://mechanicaldolphin.com

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart L. Brown and Christopher Vaughan

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

I also encourage you to explore the resources in this Zotero library about Whole Person Librarianship:  https://www.zotero.org/groups/172771/mlismsw/items?

Recommended reading on queerying classification

Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. The Library Quarterly 83(2), 94-111. Retrieved from: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/66954

Naming the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name: A Look at How Gays and Lesbians are Classified in the Dewey Decimal Classification http://drumm.info/naming-the-love/

A brief history of homophobia in Dewey decimal classification by Doreen Sullivan https://overland.org.au/2015/07/a-brief-history-of-homophobia-in-dewey-decimal-classification/

Adler, M.A., 2015. “Let’s Not Homosexualize the Library Stacks”: Liberating Gays in the Library Catalog. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 24(3), pp.478-507.

I thought I would conclude with this picture of me learning to walk on my own that I came across recently, as there’s something about it that I really like. I’m free of labels, looking fairly androgynous, just starting to get a sense of agency and control by walking on my own, and I’ve got a toy in my hand -reminding me of the power and possibilities of play!

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Queerying ‘Walkaway’ by Cory Doctorow and reflecting on Trans Day of Visibility, utopias, and gender euphoria

I finished reading Walkaway by Cory Doctorow at the end of 2017 and I have been reflecting on it ever since. I thought I would share some of these reflections as they relate to the GLAM Blog Club theme of happiness and also to Trans Day of Visibility. Walkaway is a utopian speculative fiction novel released in 2017. I discovered Cory Doctorow through his non-fiction work on copyright reform, online privacy and maker culture, so I have been keen to read his fiction for a while and, after listening to the cardicast in which he read an extract from it, I thought this would be a good one to start with.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book was with all the main walkaway characters being pansexual and this being completely ‘normal’ for want of a better word. In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was very queer given the amount of discussions I’ve had with queer friends about queer utopias or about walking away from mainstream society and starting a commune. There was also a trans character which I initially thought was great, as trans visibility in fiction is even more rare, but there was still only one trans character and I found the representation to be somewhat problematic as it seemed like her body was objectified and othered in a way that cis characters‘ bodies were not. I have read and seen representations that are much worse and while some of the characters initial responses to this trans character weren’t great, I quite liked that they mostly acknowledged this to some degree and critiqued their responses, so I guess this representation is a good start. It would be amazing to read about a utopian world where everyone is both pansexual and gender diverse and this is normal… It is a shame that even our speculative fiction struggles to think beyond binary genders or can’t seem to imagine a gender diverse future. Trans academic and activist, Riki Wilchins, has similarly commented on how sci-fi oddly adheres to strict gender norms. 

I think utopian fiction is very important in the current climate because it can help build much needed hope, and so I still recommend this book, especially after the past year in politics. It was great to see the queer utopias of my conversations at least begin to be represented in fiction. Doctorow has done some fabulous utopian worldbuilding and the book was particularly strong on philosophical, political and tech developments which appealed to my nerdy librarian side and he conveyed a pretty excellent vision and sense of hope for the future (which is perhaps not surprising given his background). I think I particularly l enjoyed the book’s critique of gamification in tech – highlighting that it tends to foster competition which can have disastrous results and advocating instead for a more collaborative culture built on trust. Although, of course, games and play can foster cooperation and collaboration too, and I am very passionate about this side of ‘gamification’. My inner librarian also loved the references Doctorow made to other books. However, I think the character development could have been stronger and this might be at least partly why I found the trans representation a bit problematic. If you’re interested in the philosophical, political and tech world aspects, I highly recommend you have a listen to the aforementioned cardicast episode.

I think the best fictional examples I have come across where gender diversity is considered normal are two Australian YA books: Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward and Ida by Alison Evans. There have also been some great Australian trans memoirs released recently that I cannot recommend highly enough: Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin, Danger Music by Eddie Ayers, and All the beginnings and Rallying by Quinn Eades.

On trans day of visibility, I acknowledge that while increased visibility in fiction and in real life can be empowering, validating & affirming, it is something that many people sadly still respond to with discrimination, prejudice and violence as we saw during the postal survey in Australia and have seen during the bathroom bill debates in the US. I understand that not all trans people feel they can celebrate and that there is still so much work to do on visibility and beyond it. I offer my love to my trans friends who are awesome and inspire me so much. I love this idea of gender euphoria (featured in the shelfie below): “the strong feeling of happiness that trans people experience when they’re treated as their true gender” (coined by tumblr user ph4u57) and I am committed to helping change the cistem so that everyone can safely experience gender euphoria.

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