In the past ten years, Escape Rooms have emerged from obscurity into the mainstream. Largely inspired by video games and interactive theater, this new form of live, participatory entertainment has been growing in popularity and revenue since its inception. Like the Human Library events discussed previously on Unbound, Escape Rooms have great potential to cross over into library programming.
Players of an Escape Room typically begin the game locked in an enclosed environment, and must solve puzzles as a team in order to make their way out, usually within a set time limit. These puzzles can take many forms and many difficulty levels. For example, players might have to decode a secret message from a poem, or use a blacklight to reveal a hidden key code for a lock.
Cory Arcangel’s 2002 piece Super Mario Clouds is one of the artist’s most well-known works. It has taken several different forms by now, but its core concept is simple: A hacked version of the popular 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video game Super Mario Brothers has had all elements removed except for the sky and the clouds, which slowly scroll across the screen forever. The game’s ROM was hacked digitally to create this effect, and then physically instantiated by modifying a copy of its NES cartridge. Arcangel removed the cartridge’s original program chip and soldered in a new chip containing his altered program. The cartridge could then be inserted into an NES console, which would then display the artwork on a connected television.
The piece was first released as web art oriented toward the hacker community. It took the form of a web page containing an animated .gif of the game, photos of the modified cartridge, the complete source code of the hack, the .nes ROM file itself, and a tutorial explaining how the reader could make their own copy of the hacked cartridge (Arcangel 2002). Years later, Arcangel was asked to exhibit Super Mario Clouds as an installation in a gallery setting. He set the piece up as a multi-channel projection, with the projectors hooked up to an NES console, displaying the output from the actual cartridge. The console was intentionally made visible to visitors in order to emphasize the technology behind the installation. As part of the showing, he sold an edition of five physical cartridges of the work, providing the option of purchasing a functional NES console along with it.
Issues of race, diversity, and inclusion have been important to the field of LIS for some time, as LIS educators and faculty struggle to identify ways to attract and retain more people of color to the field, and to determine how a field that is overwhelmingly white and middle-class can learn to engage, collaborate with, and serve an increasingly diverse population. Of course, questions of racism and diversity are not unique to LIS, and in fact the Black Lives Matter movement and the nation-wide protests of deaths of people of color—mostly black men—by police officers highlight how these issues are being grappled with across the country. In the cities of Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, among others, communities have gathered to protest the deaths as well as the apparent lack of response and action by the police department and local government. There have been similar movements within higher education, often student-led. Perhaps most notable are the University of Missouri, where student protests prompted the resignation of Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and President Tim Wolfe, but many other campuses across the country have seen similar action, including here at Simmons College where a campus conversation led by Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Lisa Smith-McQueenie was followed by a campus-wide student protest which led to a meeting between leaders of the Black Student Organization, President Helen Drinan, and Provost Katie Conboy.
Engaging with questions of diversity, inclusion, racism, and oppression is extremely important for the field of LIS. Libraries, particularly public libraries, have always had a mission to reach out to and serve everyone, especially marginalized populations. As the population becomes increasingly diverse, it is incumbent on information professionals and LIS educators to consider how best to fulfill this mission. The importance of these issues is reflected in the fact that the last two Association of Library and Information Science Educators (ALISE) conferences had themes focused on inclusion and social justice. Similarly, ALA’s new Libraries Transform awareness campaign focuses on facilitation of “individual opportunity and community progress,” and “advancing [the library’s] legacy of reading and developing a digitally inclusive society,” as two of its key messages. As we consider how to engage with these issues, we should remember that leadership can come from any position, as demonstrated by the students in Simmons College’s School of Library and Information Science, who have been actively engaged in promoting diversity and inclusion and raising awareness of issues of racism, microaggressions, and oppression on campus. One group of students, referring to themselves as an anti-oppression group, has been particularly active, initiating meetings with the Dean, faculty members, and fellow students to promote more open conversation. These students have taken a leadership role within the school on these issues, and their work has resulted in some tangible outcomes. I recently sat down with two of these students—Joyce Gabiola and Jehan Sinclair—to talk about their work, and how it could inspire continued change both within Simmons SLIS, and on other campuses.
I began by asking Joyce and Jehan to tell me a little bit about the work they and their cohort have been engaged in.
Even before the group formally came together, some members worked with the Simmons chapter of the Progressive Librarians’ Guild (PLG) to set up lectures and guest speakers to discuss issues of anti-racism in LIS. For instance, over the 2013/2014 academic year, cohort member Katie Seitz worked with PLG to curate a series of anti-racism lectures featuring SLIS professors Lisa Hussey’s “Why Talk about Race and Racism in LIS?” and Joel Blanco-Rivera (who now teaches at the University of Puerto Rico) speaking about “Race and Racism in the Archives.” They also brought in outside speakers, such as Robin Brenner, Teen Librarian at the Boston Public Library, who discussed issues of racism in young adult literature. All of these lectures are available to view on the PLG Blog.
The cohort, and Joyce and Jehan in particular, is also interested in facilitating conversations about race and racism on campus, and trying to engage students outside of the cohort. These students have been initiating conversations with students to determine what issues need to be addressed, and then finding ways to bring these issues to the attention of faculty and administrators. For instance, the cohort initiated a series of meetings with Simmons SLIS Dean Eileen Abels, and have been active in SLIS town hall meetings, which are held periodically throughout the school year. While these discussions have been useful in raising awareness of student concerns with racism, microaggressions, inclusion, etc., Joyce and Jehan acknowledge that it is not always easy to communicate these issues to the administration.
In order to bring more student voices to the conversation, Joyce is spearheading an LIS education forum entitled DERAIL, (Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility, and Identity in LIS), which is a “student-led event initiated to address the need for critical discussions of the intersections between social justice issues and our roles as students and information professionals.” This forum, to be held on March 26th, 2016, will feature student projects and ideas, including poster presentations, panels, and round table discussions. It will offer Simmons SLIS students an opportunity to present their work and communicate with each other on topics of concern. As Joyce explains, the main goal is “to provide the opportunity to have explicit, meaningful conversations surrounding diversity, racism and oppression because these opportunities do not exist in LIS classrooms. Also, because we intend to live-stream the forum, non-students (practitioners, faculty, etc.) will also have the opportunity to learn about what we understand to be imperative to professional standards and pedagogy from the student perspective.” In addition, the forum will give students a chance to employ public speaking and presentation skills, something with which many students want more practice.
Joyce also admits, however, that while they are using the word diversity, it is one with which they are somewhat uncomfortable. They are uncomfortable using words like “diversity” and “inclusion” because they believe those words do not really reflect what they are trying to accomplish. As Joyce asks, “what does diversity even mean?” They note that what they really want to do is to work against oppression, and as such words like race, racism, white privilege, and even oppression more accurately describe the focus. Nevertheless, the profession tends to use more neutral or politically correct terms like diversity and inclusion. Joyce and Jehan point out that the word diversity has become cultural shorthand for political correctness, but it is not always clear what people are talking about when they use the words diversity and inclusion. They note that it could just mean trying to recruit more people of color and more people of different backgrounds (both faculty and students), but that is not enough. It is really about working against oppression.
I asked Joyce and Jehan what got them and their cohort started on these actions.
While there wasn’t a single event or incident that triggered them, the students were definitely spurred by the results of a graduate retention survey that was completed on campus in 2014. In the summary results that were shared with students, they noted that some of the comments and statistics seemed to reflect dissatisfaction with the climate on campus. These results resonated with some of the cohort students, and reinforced questions and concerns that they already had. The report was sent out by Dean Abels, and at the end she invited students to contact her with any questions. The cohort decided to reach out to Dean Abels to ask what was being done in response to the concerns raised by the survey and, more specifically, what was being done to address concerns of racial oppression on campus. These efforts led to a series of meetings between the cohort and Dean Abels during which the students were able to raise some of the questions and concerns they had, and push for action.
I then asked them what are the goals of the cohort as they engage in these activities and discussions?
Most importantly, according to Joyce and Jehan, the cohort would like to see an institutional commitment to addressing issues of racism and oppression so that things will not go back to the way they were before students started raising awareness. They fear that without such a commitment, and if other students do not engage, the conversation and any progress that has been made will fade as the cohort graduates and moves on.
Both Joyce and Jehan also admitted that the work they have been doing has been exhausting. As Jehan explained, they really just want to go to school and be students like everyone else. But they also recognize the importance of these issues and they have made the decision to engage with them.
I was also interested to know what faculty and students—either at Simmons SLIS or on other campuses—could do to support these students’ efforts.
Joyce and Jehan suggested that faculty could take steps to inform themselves about some of these issues. As they point out, there is some great information about race and racism, microaggressions, and oppression online, including some very informative YouTube videos. They note that finding resources does not necessarily take a lot of time, but faculty do need to take a step back and reflect on the issues. They also need to understand and acknowledge that there are things they don’t know, experiences they aren’t familiar with, but that they can learn. Without taking steps to inform themselves, they are depending on students, especially students of color, to shoulder the burden of educating the faculty on these issues. Joyce explains that this self-education is a process and requires time and effort, but acknowledges that everyone will have to start somewhere and proceed at their own pace. They suggest “starting with Jay Smooth and his discussions on racism. In fact, check out the anti-racism libguide originally created by Catherine Dixon (SLIS student and Library Assistant at Beatley), which includes Jay Smooth’s Tedx Talk.”
They also encourage faculty to listen to student concerns. If students bring up these issues, it is important for faculty not to dismiss them but to validate their perspectives. They fear that there is a tendency to disregard or dismiss topics that are uncomfortable, and while they acknowledge that everyone does it and it is natural to some extent, the impact is greater when it is a faculty member who is dismissing the issue. So they encourage faculty to step back from themselves and try to engage with these uncomfortable topics.
Joyce and Jehan suggested that the work for students is very much the same as for faculty: to educate themselves about the topic and to try not to shy away from difficult discussions. They shared an example of a student, Nicole Cunha, DERAIL’s Web Coordinator and Accessibility Consultant, who posted a video on race and technology on Facebook that spurred some online discussion. In the discussion, someone suggested that this would be a good topic for the American Society of Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T) to take up. Following this, Julia Caffrey, a co-chair of the ASIS&T student chapter, invited student leaders last semester to engage in a discussion about diversity, race and technology at an ASIS&T meeting.
Finally, I asked Joyce and Jehan what they are excited about.
They said there is still a lot of work to be done—conversations to be had, articles to be written. But they are looking forward to sharing the work with their professional colleagues.
I really enjoyed talking with Jehan and Joyce, and I want to thank them for taking the time to meet with me. I also want to say that I think they were somewhat modest in discussing the impact of their cohort’s work, so I wanted to wrap up this article by highlighting some of the projects and initiatives that have been spurred by these students:
Dean Abels has instituted training for faculty. Beginning with a presentation at the August 2015 faculty retreat, SLIS faculty are engaging in required training on diversity and inclusion, including facilitating discussions and recognizing and responding to microaggressions.
A presentation on inclusion has been integrated into the SLIS student orientation. Beginning with the fall 2015 orientation, Lisa Smith-McQueenie runs a session at each orientation to discuss issues of race, inclusion, and respect and to encourage students to engage with these topics.
Joyce and Jehan created and facilitated a breakout session on diversity and social justice as part of orientation.
Faculty are working to integrate more attention to these issues into the LIS curriculum. In particular, the course LIS 401 Foundations of Library and Information Science was revised for fall 2015 to include more readings and assignments related to issues of racism, oppression, and diversity. For example, student now read Todd Honma’s article “Trippin’ Over the Color Line” and use that as a lens to interrogate some of the traditional paradigms of LIS. Further review and revisions of that course are underway. In summer 2015, Lisa Hussey taught the course Race and Racism in LIS, and in spring 2016 I am launching a special topics course, Radical Librarianship: Critical Theory and Praxis. Faculty are also reviewing core courses to determine how to integrate these issues into courses such as LIS 407 Information Sources & Services and LIS 415 Organization of Information.
Dean Abels is in the process of convening a task force on Diversity and Inclusion.
The assessment committee is in the process of reviewing and revising the course evaluation form, in part to integrate questions relating to classroom climate and attention to issues of diversity, oppression, and microaggressions in the classroom.
As Jehan and Joyce pointed out, the work is far from done. But I think their cohort should feel proud of the changes they’ve helped to initiate. I hope that their work will continue to inspire change at Simmons SLIS and within the larger profession. It’s also important for other students and professionals to recognize that their voices really can initiate change. It can feel daunting at times to speak up on these issues, especially if you feel like you’re the only person talking, but the work of these students demonstrates that even a single voice can have a great impact. On topics as important as these, we cannot stay silent. I have every hope that real change will occur in the field, knowing that these talented and engaged students will soon be entering the profession.
Over the past few months, Unbound has investigated artist residency programs in academic libraries, public libraries, and archives. Today we’ll be capping off this series with a visit to the world of special libraries.
G39 is an artist run non-profit located in Cardiff, Wales. They host a gallery space and provide resources and services for local artists through their Wales Artist Resource Programme, also known as Warp. Warp has an on-site library that collects books, periodicals, and other materials that can be of use to their artist patrons. The library also functions as a quiet workspace and a setting for events and workshops.
After a major move allowed g39 to establish a dedicated space for their library, they decided to use it as a platform for a new artist-in-residence program. This program would “develop the library as a resource and enliven its use.” G39 would provide the artist with a working space, full access to the library’s resources, an exhibition space, and the guidance and support of the staff. In return, the artist would create works and events that highlight the collection, generate library activity, and promote the use of its resources. G39 does not employ a librarian, but does recruit volunteers to assist with cataloging, labeling, and shelving the collection. Their library artist residents are able to direct higher-level operations and initiatives for the library that would be outside the scope of regular volunteer work.
G39’s residencies are twenty days long, with a £1000 stipend provided. The artists are given leeway to come up with their own initiatives and spend their time in the ways they feel are most productive, while staff provides feedback and assistance. At the end of the residency, the artist presents the outcomes of their projects. Past artists in residence have presented work that helps the library to “see the shelf content in new ways,” and “examine how it works with and presents its collection.”
Their first library resident, Laura Jane Reeves, collaborated with g39’s writer-in-residence at the time, poet Rhian Edwards. Together they hosted a series of talks and seminars related to themes like art writing and self-publishing. Their residencies culminated with an exhibition called There Will Be Words, which “took the library as its locus by inviting artists whose practices engage with aspects of publishing, writing and archives.” Reeves’ most significant creation from her residency was an artist book titled How to Start a Collection, inspired by items in the Warp Library collection and including two poems by Rhian Edwards.
For their second residency a year later, they brought on local Cardiff artist Louise Hobson. She made the central theme of her residency the idea of trade routes:
Libraries universally exist as spaces for exchange between human beings; most obviously between the reader and the writer/artist. As this project is an exploration of the idea of exchange, the Warp library is the perfect space to research, explore and initiate these ideas. (Louise Hobson)
As part of this exploration, she put out a call for publications, requesting donations to the library’s collection from around the world. Donations had to be of some value to the donor, connected to a known place in some way, and include an enclosed note with the donor’s reason for sending it. All donated publications were added to a new, dedicated section in the library, “a people’s library, within a library.” Selected donations were shared online, and then added to the library’s permanent collection.
Hobson also started a series of weekly events she called the Breakfast Club. On Saturday mornings, Warp would open their doors to the public for a breakfast. This allowed staff, artists, and other visitors the opportunity to meet, catch up, and have informal conversations. As Hobson put it, “these types of conversations are usually snatched at an opening or an event and often don’t have the space or time to go beyond mere formalities. Ideas are being discussed, projects are being shared and plans are being made.” These events were a great success, and Warp is still hosting them today:
We're back @g39cardiff this week for Breakfast Club, joined by Assemble. Come down and join the conversation.
During her residency, Hobson organized an art walk, tracing the path of Cardiff’s town wall and comparing its current state to a 1610 map depicting it in its prime. The event inspired her publication for g39, The Wall, a reader. The book reflects on the wall’s place in history, and the gulf between Cardiff as it existed then and as it is now.
G39’s third and most recent resident, Helen Clifford, came on board in January 2015. Her residency focused primarily on bringing a new cataloging methodology to the Warp library. She’d had prior experience working as a library assistant at the Cardiff School of Art & Design, and she used the knowledge she’d developed there to really delve into the organization of the Warp library’s collection. G39’s announcement of her appointment put it well:
For her residency in the Warp library Helen Clifford is examining new and alternative ways of classifying books. The standard classification systems (Dewey, Library of Congress Classification and The Dublin Core) are historical, political and entrenched. With reference to these systems, Helen will identify a personal perspective within their confines. She will explore book definition and interconnections within the Warp library, generating an individual set of procedures that define and examining links of themes, approaches, concepts, places and people. (Warp Bulletin 01/2015)
As part of her project “Threads and Strands,” Clifford held participatory readings and discussion groups, allowing the community to provide ideas and feedback on how the library’s collection could be both catalogued and weeded to best serve them. She also organized research trips to other Cardiff-based libraries and archives to explore their methods of classification.
After her residency ended, Clifford stayed on as a volunteer, continuing her project of organizing the Warp library. During this phase of the project, she held an event called “Take all the Books Out,” during which the library’s collection was taken off the shelves and into g39’s gallery space, where visitors could discuss and decide which categories they belonged in. In a library serving the unique, tightly-focused demographic of local artists, she worked with them to develop uniquely suited methodology. She has had a major impact on the ways that the library thinks about and works with its collection.
G39 is currently preparing for their fourth library residency. They recently put out a call for applications that listed the following goals they’d like their next resident to pursue:
-Make the Library more visible to visitors to the gallery and Warp users.
-Building a relationship between the specialist interior world of the Library and the outside world.
– Making use of the Library as a platform for events and activity.
Their next residency begins in January 2016 and will run through to March. To keep track of their progress and the work that will result, check out Warp’s website!
This marks the end of Unbound‘s series on Artist Residencies in Libraries and Archives. Stay tuned for our next exploration of new and developing phenomena in the library world!
So far, Unbound’s InfoFuture-inspired series on library-based artist residency programs has looked at academic libraries and public libraries. Today, we’ll be considering a less common venue for such programs, the archives. When a public archives in Portland, Oregon brought artists in to interact with their collections, they discovered just how effective an artist-archives partnership can be.
The city of Portland’s main budgetary allowance for public art comes from their Percent for Art program, which dictates that 2% of most publicly funded construction projects must be spent on public art. When the City of Portland Archives & Record Center (PARC) moved to a new location on the Portland State University campus in 2010,they collaborated with Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) to dedicate a part of their Percent for Art allowance to the creation of an artist in residence program.
In 2013, PARC began their first artist residency, welcoming visual artist Garrick Imatani and poet Kaia Sand. “Imatani and Sand, who share a connection in their approaches to documentary research–based work, their interest in politics and history, and their long histories of working in archives as part of their creative processes, applied for the residency as collaborators.” (Carbone, 2015, p. 30)
The pair were fascinated by one of PARC’s most unusual collections: The Watcher Files. From the 1960’s through the 1980’s the Portland Police Bureau conducted extensive surveillance on non-criminal civic and activist groups. Once a 1981 law made such practices illegal, the police’s records of it were ordered to be liquidated. One of the detectives involved in conducting the surveillance stole 36 boxes of the records and hid them away before they could be destroyed. Decades later, an anonymous source donated them to the archives, where they were accessioned.
The Watcher Files include surveillance of 576 organizations, including anti-nuclear activists, feminist groups, a voter registration project, and even a bicycle repair collective. These documents are immensely relevant to today’s concerns about privacy, unchecked surveillance, and police militarization. Inspired, the artists set to work translating the aesthetics and ethical implications of the records into art. The art they produced lent the records an immediacy and emotional resonance that the public does not often see in a civic archive’s collections.
Sand’s poem She had her own reason for participating was a reaction to the disturbing number of surveillance documents on feminist activists she found in the collection. The poem took the form of a card catalogue drawer, with each line imprinted onto a copper card. The drawer was built into a gallery plinth fashioned by Imatani to resemble a cardboard archival storage box, geometrically warped. Every line of the poem is a statement quoted from the records beginning with the word “She”. In the poet’s words, “This poem forms a small populace of women—women who organized dissent; women who labored; women who suffered violence and imprisonment; women engaged in struggles during my girlhood years when I learned to be proud of a legacy of feminism, unaware of just how threatening those with power found feminism.”
She had her own reason for participating was not the residency’s only piece to use archival aesthetics in its presentation. At their gallery showings, the artists employed archival materials to present their art. Imatani constructed several pieces of furniture modeled after what they’d seen at PARC, including desks etched with Sand’s poetry, housing drawers containing framed works. Another of Sand’s poems incorporated redacted lines, to recall the redacted sections of the surveillance files. By fashioning their art after the aesthetics of the archives, the artists invited gallery visitors to “experience and interact with the archive, public art, and Portland history” (Carbone, 2015, p. 45). In this way, the shows familiarized gallery visitors with the archives, its holdings, and its methodology.
The residency at PARC was also noteworthy for radically dissolving the boundary between an archival record and its subject. As they familiarized themselves with the Watcher Files, Sand and Imatani began reaching out to locals who had appeared in the surveillance records decades ago. They soon initiated a working relationship with a former anti-nuclear power activist named Lloyd Marbet. Even though his methods of protest were legal and non-violent, he appeared several times in the Watcher Files. The artists showed Marbet the surveillance records about him, and allowed him the chance to respond, over forty years later. His remarks on the documents were screenprinted onto sheer paper, and placed over the originals, marking them up with his annotations.
In one 1972 document, the police listed the contents of Marbet’s truck, and noted that it contained empty wine bottles, gas cans, and rags, “obviously components of fire bombs.” In his response, pictured below, he explained that the gas was extra fuel for long trips into the woods, the wine bottles were left over from those trips, and the rags were there to help him fix the truck when it broke down. “I had no idea they cooked that stuff up,” he said, “It was not my nature, not where I was coming from”
It is vanishingly rare that an archival document’s subject has a chance to respond to it so directly. Marbet’s mark-ups overcame an extreme power imbalance. He was watched against his will by one state institution (the police), and their unchecked, unflattering observations were then placed into another state institution (the archives) to persist as historical record. Marbet had no input into this process, and for much of the time was purposefully kept unaware of it. By allowing him the chance to respond, PARC and its resident artists shifted this power dynamic in a more fair direction. The marked-up document is not just good art, it’s also a strong meditation on archival ethics, and an example of a potential solution to an ethically dubious situation.
Sand and Imatani created several other excellent works during their PARC residency, including some fascinating poetry performances, a beautiful letterpress printed book, and a handmade bookshelf containing book recommendations by local activists. Their residency ended in February of 2015. I reached out to Diana Banning, Portland’s City Archivist, and she was very positive about the experience: “The first residency with Sand and Imatani was wildly successful, and not just because of the fabulous art and poetry created. They served as excellent ambassadors for our archives, and were able to generate interest and energy within the artist, activist, and archival community.”
PARC has plans to bring in a second artist residency. They currently expect it to begin in January 2016 and run for twelve months. Depending on future funding, they expect to host at least two and potentially up to four more residencies in the future. It will be exciting to see where they take this innovative program!
The Watcher Files Project has its own website where you can find out more about Sand and Imatani’s work from their residency.
For more information about PARC and their upcoming events and programming, check out their website.