The Business of Free: Disruption or Destruction?

By Valerie Saunders

I have worked in the commercial photography industry for twenty years and have witnessed numerous disruptions. Stock photography disrupted assignments. The royalty-free license disrupted the rights-managed license. Digital photography disrupted traditional film photography. Internet marketing disrupted catalog marketing. Each stage and phase has raised questions and stirred angst for professional artists making their living through this creative medium. The digital revolution combined with the growth of internet commerce has created an environment of chaos for commercial content and media business models. Organizing media online so that it is effectively searchable and solving the riddle of how professionally produced content can be funded online have increasingly created obstacles for anyone who makes a living in the space of creative media. (McChesney, Digital Disconnect, p82). At this point, we are witnessing not only radical disruption but potentially destroyed established business models due to a massive shift in what drives revenue in online commerce.

Photo by Coley Christine on Unsplash

Unsplash – The New Reality of Competing with Free
The company Unsplash was founded in 2013 in Montreal, Canada, and is self-identified as a “Beautiful Free Photo Community” with subheading: “Do-whatever-you-wish HD photos. Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers.” ( The CEO and Founder, Mikael Cho, spearheaded the broad adoption of this model of copyright-free photography when he was looking for images for his company Crew’s web site and either did not find something he liked, or found images that were pricier than what he was willing to pay. (Crew’s business model is to link graphic designers with clients though crowd-sourcing: He hired a photographer to shoot a custom photograph for the web site and then provided the outtakes in HD online, via Tumblr, at no cost, with the permission of the photographer, for anyone to use in whatever way they wished. The site received 50,000 visitors on its first day. (

From that beginning, the company has grown to over 250,000 images submitted by 40,000 contributing photographers, and enables over 10 million downloads per month. (Cho, Their downloading clients include Apple, Squarespace, Everlane, Slack, FB Workspace, to name just a few. (

Photographers from around the globe upload their pictures, which are edited by Unsplash curators, for inclusion on the site. All photographs uploaded to Unsplash enter Unsplash’s Creative Commons Zero license, equivalent to a public domain license, or copyright-free license. If a client-user clicks on a contributor’s photo and then onto their Unsplash profile, they will have access to all of the photographer’s uploaded pictures—whether they were selected by the curators for visibility on the platform or not—to download at no cost, and can copy, alter, or distribute them, or use them for products, prints, billboards, commercial advertising, editorial uses, or anything else, even to re-sell the image itself, though the company “discourages” this. They also say it would be nice to include credit for the photographer, but it isn’t necessary. (Boguslawska,

Unsplash identified and exploited an inefficiency in the marketplace for image licensing. First time clients and those unfamiliar with licensing creative content become ensnared in the “hassle” of obtaining a license for a photograph, the cost of paying for the license, and then adhering to the demands of the particular license they have acquired. All of this becomes unnecessary when using pictures under the CC0 license. Their process is entirely friction-free. End users do not even need to register on the Unsplash site to download its High Resolution photos.

So who benefits from this model and in what ways? For any person or company wishing the freedom to use high-resolution pictures at no cost, with no licensing restrictions, the benefits are clear: zero restrictions, zero cost. However, what’s in it for the photographers who are willingly uploading their images to Unsplash? Why do they choose to offer their pictures, no-strings-attached, to be downloaded for free in perpetuity? Cho remarks: “it’s this extreme level of giving that produces the unprecedented level of connection.” (Cho, The theory on the photographers’ benefit is tied to the idea of generating exposure, building an audience and a following, and this attention—this “unprecedented level of connection” that Cho offers—may potentially lead to paid commission assignments for some photographers or collaborative projects that generate revenue by building business relationships. While theoretically possible, every submission makes for a potentially more robust free collection that effectively drains the industry of paid collaboration opportunities.

Cho does not “explain the potential impact that giving images away for free could have on the value of images.” Presumably no one will pay for an image if they can find a comparable one for free. (Risch,

If large companies with substantial budgets, such as those listed in Unsplash’s client list, are using this site to download for free instead of paying for a commercial license, won’t they continue to do so as long as they can find something usable on the platform? As Unsplash grows, more free photos will be available, making it less and less likely that any particular photographer is going to land one of these coveted paid assignments. And all the while the image downloaders are being acculturated to the normalcy and expectation of free. The traditional industry of copyrighted photography will suffer. How do you price your work to cover the cost of professional production, let alone cover living expenses in an environment that creates this level of pricing pressure? Sure – it is disruptive, but it is also destroying a creative industry’s viability.

What is conspicuously missing from interviews with Cho and blog posts about Unsplash, is the business strategy that is most certainly incubating to monetize what they have built. The web site is beautiful. It carries no advertisements. Web hosting, image curating, cloud space, API capabilities, and extensive marketing, are all being paid for by previously raised capital of $3.5 million. Raising capital would necessarily imply that a business plan for eventual capital gain has been shared with investors. Cho explains that Unsplash was originally a loss leader for Crew and that it isn’t currently making any profit. (Calore,

As for Mikael Cho and his team at Unsplash, though he focuses his message on love of community, there may be a significant payday in his sights. Crew was sold in 2016 (amount undisclosed). His priority is now to work on Unsplash. With the volume of traffic coming into Unsplash it is a brand that has value for anyone looking to capture eyeballs or track user data. The end game could likely be a sale to a larger company or an IPO that is perhaps at odds with the community vibe (and the notion that it is all about sharing and being generous). The product (in this case, photography) is not the business. The business is clicks and data. It is an entirely different kind of disruption.

They are peddling free, but the story may hold a twist. As we examine this pattern, is it logical to see this relationship as one more piece in the machine that drives and reinforces income inequality? The creators of the product are complicit in the arrangement, providing their intellectual property at no cost with no copyrights, for a shot at being noticed by “the audience.” Big business does not have to pay and even makes money off the backs of free creative content producers. And as the arrangement proliferates, the likelihood of making real money for photography by the small individual producer diminishes, even as that product has true value to the companies that freely use it. Ultimately the value of customer data and audience-building may eclipse the value of pictures. That trajectory has nothing to do with the quality of the image, or whether the creator is amateur or professional. It simply creates a definite benefit for the commercial users who download free content, and a perceived, but questionable, upside for the generous contributor.

McChesney, Robert W. (2013) Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is turning the Internet Against Democracy, pp 63-95.

Cho, Mikael. (2017), “Hello Unsplash, Inc” retrieved Sept 11, 2017

Cho, Mikael. (2017) “The Future of Unsplash” retrieved Sept 20, 2017

Risch, Conor. (2017), “Unsplash CEO Tries to Justify Copyright Grab” retrieved Sept 23, 2017

Boguslawska, Aleksandra (2015) “Why Unsplash is Hurting Photographers”,, retrieved Sept 13, 2017,, “History” retrieved Sept 11, 2017

Calore, Michael. (2017) “The Web’s Premiere Free Photo Library Opens Up Its Vaults”,,  retrieved Sept 23, 2017,, “About” retrieved Sept 11, 2017

Obscured Heritage: remembering the histories that History forgot

By Lindsay Menachemi

A skeleton in the closet. An elephant in the room. Why do we have so many idioms for hiding the truth?  Sometimes, seeing the truth of things can hurt, or make us feel uncomfortable, and our natural tendency is to shy away from that which reveals some darkness about ourselves. But just because something is unpleasant, doesn’t mean it should remain unexamined. The discipline of Library and Information Science traditionally holds that transparency – representing unfettered history – has inherent value to society. Schwartz and Cook (2002) posited that those who control archives control the historical narrative (p. 17).  Therefore, it’s essential that LIS professionals promote transparency with an eye to the power inherent in their position, and wield it to society’s greater advantage.

As we look at instances where LIS professionals can contribute value, ‘difficult heritage’ is an integral concept. Sharon Macdonald (2016) explains it as “rather than emphasizing times of the nation’s glorious achievement…times of evil wrong-doing that did no evident credit to a positive national identity.” (p. 6) Examples of difficult heritage come painfully but freely — the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the slave trade in the U.S. But what about obscured heritage – histories that were intentionally created to serve a rosier self-image? Do LIS professionals have a responsibility to put on their detective hats and actively uncover and curate these hidden narratives? Furthermore, if they don’t take an active role, are they not furthering the agenda of those who buried the truth, by becoming unconscious participants in its secrecy?

Certainly, uncovering alternative history is not an easy task. Hidden heritage is by definition difficult to find, and the history of Hawaii is no exception.  In 1898, the U.S. attempted to annex the sovereign nation of Hawai’i through a Joint Resolution of Congress.  It is not only a common belief that the joint resolution successfully achieved this annexation, but is the “official view of the U.S. with respect to the status of Hawaii.” (Chang, 2015, p. 71) However, under domestic U.S. law, it was (and still is) illegal to annex a sovereign nation using a joint resolution: “Only a Treaty could annex Hawaii.  The Treaty of 1897 was never ratified by the United States.  Annexation by resolution was unconstitutional.” (Chang, 2015, p. 74) This massive deception is one that many American citizens and native Hawaiians are still fooled by. In February 2015, Supreme Court Justice Scalia, “implied that Hawaii was just another colony of Spain, taken in the Spanish-American War, like the Philippines and Puerto Rico.” (Chang, 2015, p. 77) It therefore may not surprise the reader that no museum in Hawaii has dedicated an exhibit to this difficult heritage, much of which was fueled by financial gain, and geopolitical and military strategy.  Even today the U.S. government has not apologized or admitted its shameful past to the Native Hawaiian people. Williamson Chang, a Harvard Law professor and native Hawaiian, has done much of the legwork in uncovering this century-old lie. He was armed with an education and a hunger for the truth about his nation’s past. Why can’t museums or archives represent this very legal (albeit contentious) truth? Is fear of controversy worth restricting knowledge of this injustice?

Thoughtful, considered representation of a difficult and previously obscured past is possible. At Te Papa museum in New Zealand, a permanent exhibit showcases two versions of The Treaty of Waitangi. Written in English and translated into Māori (the language and people of native New Zealand), the treaty was signed in 1840 by a consortium of Māori chieftains and representatives of the British Empire. The treaty is widely considered to be the founding of the country of New Zealand, and essentially gave the Queen of England sovereignty over New Zealand in exchange for the chieftains’ “exclusive and undistributed possession of their Lands, Estates, Forests…and properties.” (Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2017) However, many believe that the Māori did not fully understand the language of the treaty they were signing, and that the word choices used by the British were not translated accurately. For example, unlike the British, “traditional Māori society did not have a concept of absolute ownership of land.” (McAloon, 2008) There isn’t enough room in this post to discuss the specifics of these troublesome and misleading word choices. However, the Te Papa museum put together a brilliant exhibit to showcase the dichotomy. The main exhibit displays large, dramatic versions of the treaty in both the Māori and English languages for visitors to explore with a critical eye. It also presents both treaties with the concerns that modern Māori people have expressed, and the context of events leading up to the treaty signing. It leaves it to the visitor to analyze both narratives and walk away from Te Papa with their own opinion. By taking a page from Heidi L.M. Jacobs, the museum curators are “teaching the conflicts” (Jacobs, 2010, p. 186), asking themselves, their colleagues and their patrons to examine the exhibits for “evidence of struggle over the right to tell the truth.” (Drabinski, 2013, p. 108)

Treaty of Waitangi


Another great example is from the Idaho Museum of Natural History. Dalbello (2009) shares details about its digital exhibit of Idaho Indians, and explains that through the digitizing (and resulting accessibility) of these records, “families of origin were discovered…individual names were recovered from written records.” (p. 6).  These names and stories would never have come to light without the power of a museum to drive the effort. Through use of crowd-tagging and open access to the public eye, obscured heritage can become visible.

LIS professionals have a responsibility to present the truth of humanity’s collective heritage. History is complex, although very often the groups in power would like to have the public believe that only two sides exist: right and wrong. By curating hidden heritage in a thoughtful and informed way, LIS professionals are uniquely qualified to enlighten the public. Some histories are difficult to stomach but easily seen, as Macdonald explores. Others are still obscured from our view. It is essential that LIS professionals take hold of the proverbial shovel, and unearth the buried shadows that haunt us.


Chang, Williamson. (2015). Darkness over Hawaii: The Annexation Myth is the Greatest Obstacle to Progress. Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal, 16.2, 70-115.

Dalbello, Marija. (2009). Digital Cultural Heritage: Concepts, Projects, and EmergingConstructions of Heritage. Proceedings of the Libraries in the Digital Age (LIDA) conference, 25-30 May, 2009.

Drabinski, Emily. (2013, April). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83.2, 94-111.

Jacobs, Heidi L.M. (2010). Posing the Wikipedia ‘Problem:’ Information Literacy and the Praxis of Problem-Posing in Library Instruction. Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods, edited by Maria T. Accardi, Emily Drabinski,and Alana Kumbier. Duluth, MN: Library Juice.

Macdonald, Sharon. (2015). Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still Difficult? Why Public Acknowledgment of Past Perpetration May No Longer Be So Unsettling to Collective Identities. Museum International, 67, 6-22.

McAloon, Jim. (2008, November 24). ‘Land Ownership – Maori and land ownership.’ Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved from

Ministry for Culture and Heritage. (2017, February 1). ‘Read the Treaty.’ Retrieved from

Schwartz, Joan M., Cook, Terry. (2002). Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory. Archival Science, 2, 1-19.

Observation at Interference Archive

By ktidwell

Over two weekends in March, I volunteered at the Interference Archive in Gowanus, Brooklyn, as part of an ongoing series of accessioning and cataloguing parties kicked off to handle one of the largest donations the archive has seen. In June 2016, the archive received Sean Stewart’s “‘Babylon Falling Collection’ of underground press and related ephemera” and began a long term project to accession Stewart’s donation. I heard about the accessioning parties through an SAA posting to the Pratt email list.

Interference Archive is a volunteer-run archive, gallery, and events space dedicated to the cultural production of social and resistance movements across the world, although the collection has greater representation from American and later 20th century and contemporary movements. I first visited the archive in 2014 for the opening of an exhibit about prison resistance movements. I had not visited since and I was nervous- I have only minor and non-traditional cataloguing experience, and, frankly, Interference Archive seems really cool. I shouldn’t have worried. The gathering was small, and the volunteer running the event, Charlie, was ready to show me everything I needed to know.

My apprehension was also rooted in the general assumption that archives are closed systems, even while I actively pursue an LIS degree. In “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory” (2002), Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook criticize (especially institutional) archives’ “professional myth of impartiality, neutrality, and objectivity.” Even knowing that Interference is an independent nonprofit, I was still cowed by the power and authority ascribed to record keepers. The last archive I worked in was largely closed to the public, though it received taxpayer funding and all of its content was contributed by community members. Interference Archive, however, is a very open system. Not only do they have fully open stacks- as I learned when spontaneous visitors wandered through the space during the accessioning party- but they welcome community volunteers. One of the most knowledgeable volunteers there was a high school-age intern, who worked alongside the more experienced volunteers with confidence and ownership. In addition, a book club was meeting in the gallery space both weekends, with their readings informed by materials from the archive. Interference Archive is a rejection of the phenomenon, described by Schwartz and Cook that, “what goes on in the archives remains remarkably unknown. Users of archives (historians and others) and shapers of archives (records creators, records managers, and archivists) add layers of meaning, layers which become naturalized, internalized, and unquestioned.” The archive also hosts events where anyone can come and produce the kind of protest ephemera- posters, buttons, etc- that they archive.  It lives the principles of information literacy outlined in “Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling” (2003) by Christine Pawley, that “information ‘access’ is not just about information consumerism but also about individuals and groups of people actively shaping their world as knowledge producers in a way that renders the consumer-producer dichotomy irrelevant.” It actively undercuts the secrecy and authority of traditional archives by making its work collaborative and accessible.

I spent about nine hours total slowly paging through back issues of the Industrial Worker, a publication published by the Industrial Workers of the World, labeling each issue and then entering them all into the archive’s CMS. Other publications in the new Babylon Falls collection are from the underground presses of the 1960s and 70s. Underground press is a perfect example of collaborative and volunteer-based cultural production that existed before the internet permitted wide-scale collaboration.

Interference Archive manages their metadata in the open source Collective Access browser platform and keeps an instructional wiki for volunteers. This seems appropriate both for their collaborative structure and their collection theme. For a non-profit archive with an all-volunteer staff, funding may be relatively low, but labor is relatively available, making the free but involved nature of open source a perfect match. Additionally, thanks to the open source movement, institutions like libraries and archives that have a professional democratic focus, and institutions with even more specific collections focus on things like collective action and popular movements, can extend those principles to the tools they use in their daily work. While Yochai Benkler (2006) calls the open-source movement “a new mode of production emerging in the middle of the most advanced economies in the world,” the way that open source supports existing volunteer-run workspaces shows how it also bolsters existing modes of production.  Archives like the Interference Archive or the Lesbian Herstory Archive, can be described as “a flourishing non-market sector of information, knowledge, and cultural production,” some of which existed long before Benkler used those words to describe open-source software. Their market participation in terms of rent and supplies is comparable to the baseline participation of open source coders who have to pay for the physical space and supplies they need to participate in online communities. Of course, as Benkler writes, the scale is significantly different.

Open source software complements existing non-market collaborations. And non-market non-digital collaborations contribute to open source digital projects. At the second session I attended, another volunteer was working in the shared space, preparing materials for a Wikipedia edit-a-thon. She was going through the archives’ materials, preparing them for other volunteers to consume and share on Wikipedia. Technology has changed the meaning of outreach for activism-minded archives from offering themselves as accessible resources to actively defining history and reality in shared digital space. This distinction between their digital catalogue and the edit-a-thon is an illustration of the two stage permeation of computers described by James H. Moor in his 2006 paper, “What is Computer Ethics?”. The former fits the “introduction stage,” where “computers are understood as tools for doing standard jobs.” The latter represents “the permeation stage,” where “computers become an integral part of the activity.” An open source encyclopedia like Wikipedia has changed the reality of contribution to common record for “outsider”, or at least non-governmental, organizations.

I observed one small limitation of Collective Access that is not easily fixed with the limitations of an all volunteer staff. In the field for entering serial issues, each issue had to be entered chronologically- there was no support for sorting by date within the field. If an issue was discovered out of order, you could either delete all the entries up to that date and then enter the new issue and re-enter the others, or enter it at the end, permanently out of order. This also necessitates meticulously ordering all issues before beginning the process of cataloguing them, which, while I enjoyed the chance to look over the Industrial Worker a few times, cumulatively uses time that would not be necessary with a sort function. While this problem seems solvable with available technology, each minor solution takes time and technological know-how from volunteers. This is a minor drawback. Overall, Collective Access is flexible and customizable, and Interference Archive appears to have consistent volunteers.


Since volunteering, I have remained on the email list for volunteers. I have not made it back to the archive yet, but I plan to return soon (probably when this semester is over). Observing and participating in an archive that turns the traditional power structures of archives on its head fundamentally changed the way that I imagine archives can work.


Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press.

Pawley, C. (2003), Information Literacy: A Contradictory Coupling. Library Quarterly, 73(4), 422–52.

Moor, J. H. (1985). What is Computer Ethics? Metaphilosophy, 16(4), 266–275.

Schwartz, J. M., & Cook, T. (2002). Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory. Archival Science, 2(1/2), 1-19.

Protected: A Community Library Visit

By nramauta

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Protected: A Visit to NYPL’s Library for the Performing Arts

By adifigl2

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A Day in Goldieland

By alexvndra.ja

Tucked away in a discreet Brooklyn studio is Goldieland. Goldie is an artist, glass-blower, sculptor, and feminist. Her works have been exhibited in various parts of Europe, Asia and the United States. Born in the Philippines, she moved to the US for her MFA degree in Glass in Rhode Island. Her artistic themes revolve around women, Philippine culture, politics, sensuality, sexuality, ecofeminism and immigration. They are inspired by nature, personal accounts, and more particularly, the Woman. “My work is sensual and erotic, based on intuition and carnal knowledge.” Inspired by the concept of the divine feminine, she uses her art to express the sides of women society has tried to oppress. Schwartz and Cook acknowledge that women have been excluded from society’s memory tools.¹ Casswell also asserts, “I might go further to say that just as patriarchy required women to be subservient, invisible handmaidens to male power, historians and other users of archives require archivists to be neutral, invisible, silent handmaidens of historical research.”² Artists, like archivists, are also historians. Goldie hopes to remedy the exclusion by representing women through her art.


She uses glass, scent, and sound installations as mediums to tell stories of history. She describes glass blowing as “immersive” because it demands traditional and culturally deep-rooted, memory-based movements. The artist must use movements to tune-in with the alchemical transformation of glass into a sculpture. While scent, she claims, awakens the “feeling” body stored in our memories. It is sentimental as well as significant. Goldie is what Dabello would refer to as a heritage practitioner, whose purpose is to “communicate cultural imperatives while allowing for the proves of signification to occur, and social significance to be established.” ³ Significance, claims Dabello, stems from what society deems important that is assimilated into traditions that shape a society’s memory. Maurice Halbwachs confirms this when he wrote that, “No memory is possible outside frameworks used by people living in society to determine and retrieve their recollections.” ¹


Goldie tells me “When we are faced with loss or devastation, the most precious things we have are our memories.” She first discovered the power of smell in 2009 when her village in the Philippines was almost completely destroyed by typhoon Yolanda. During the aftermath, the smells and tastes of the places she loved still remained fresh in her memory. Goldie believes that smells form a significant part of our cultural heritage because they are stored in our collective memory. She references Dr. Devon E. Hinton’s study of the relation between smell and loss. Scent triggers the limbic system which consequently triggers memories that manifest through emotions. He had documented refugees experiencing panic attacks triggered by the smell of smoke. Trying to heal from her own loss from the typhoon, she delved into the idea of using scent as a medium of expression. Goldie, just like an archivist, taps into her memories, extracts stored information, and presents them in a way of “shared cultural understanding.” ¹


Goldie shares her studio with other budding artists. A large shelf displays her glass sculptures, most are representations the feminine figure and the female genitalia. Beside her shelf is an impressive collection of books about smells, emotions, scents, aromatherapy and aromacology.  Above the books are blue bottles filled with her recent scent creations. Each are named after a specific goddess. She let me smell each of them, explaining to me what their individual scents evoke. I gravitated towards one scent named “Helen” because smelling it made me feel incredibly good. Goldie explained that Helen is the goddess of the hunt, and the scent is a mix of Neroli and Cedarwood essences. Laughing at my bewildered face, she whipped out a book to show me what the oils represent. Neroli is derived from the Orange tree flower, and it was a popular scent during the ancient Egyptian times. It is supposed to ease stress, anxiety and fear with its calming aroma. Cedarwood relieves depression by providing comfort and emotional balance. She insisted I  keep Helen as a souvenir.


When asked about her past exhibits, she exclaimed that one of her favorite exhibits is called Sonata-Ambient Scentscapes. It merges glass, scent and color into one unique musical performance. She had six scent “notes” paired with six different colors. The scent and color correlations were based on synesthesia, where scent and colors are closely associated with each other. These “notes,” played simultaneously, created a scent or unique perfume. She then collaborated with two musicians to play live music while her glass sculptures diffused the scents for every chord played. Her inspiration for this exhibit was Septimus Piesse’s book written in the 18th century. He wrote, “Scents, like sounds, appear to influence the olfactory nerve in certain definite degrees.”⁵ His concept is now more popularly referred to as “smound.”


She is currently working on a group exhibit that will feature iterations of her past Flower Dance- an installation piece using glass, flowers and scent. She explained that her glass sculptures will be mounted on walls to hold the flowers, each size representing the flower growth movements. She is in the process of creating the smells that will represent her chosen flower colors, namely red, blue and violet. Her exhibit will be featured together with other artists in the Overhang Gallery of Greenpoint, Brooklyn on the last weekend of April 2017.


When I asked her about her sources of inspiration, she referred again to loss- this time more in detail. She has suffered the loss of her community during the typhoon, loss of friends when they turned into guerillas to fight in the mountains of the Philippines, loss of love, but the most painful was the loss of self. She has actively recalled those painful memories through smells, in order to tell stories through her art. She understands that smell is subjective. She does not impose her scents on her viewers, because each smell gives each person a unique experience. Instead, she tries to represent her work in the most authentic way possible, by speaking her truth, in hopes that her viewers understand her stories.




¹ Schwartz, J. M., & Cook, T. (2002). Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.



² Caswell, “The Archive’ is Not An Archives: Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies.” Reconstruction Vol. 16, No. 1.


³  Dalbello, Marija. (2009). “Digital Cultural Heritage: Concepts, Projects, and Emerging Constructions of Heritage.” Proceedings of the Libraries in the Digital Age (LIDA) conference, 25-30 May, 2009.


4 Goldieland. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from


Graphic Novels in Collection Development: Two Kinds of Equality

– tylerdnns

Webinar Title: “Comics and Libraries: A No-Fear Graphic Novel Reader’s advisory.

This webinar, hosted by Krista King and Cathy Crum, took place in February of this year. King and Crum begin with a brief overview of comic books and their history. This means the format’s trajectory from merely popular and “cheap” to one that is taken seriously. This reminded me of the ways in which technology went from a humble, small subset to something for everyone. Listening to this webinar, I noticed several ways in which technology and graphic novels seem to have direct parallels–one of which is a historical habit of excluding women.

King begins by explaining the difference between comic and graphic novel. This section of the webinar is for an older set of librarians. The hosts explain that they often get asked by librarians if graphic novels are “explicit or taboo” books. This presentation is for people who don’t know what a graphic novel is, but it is also skillfully informative enough to appeal to someone with more knowledge as well. A lot of ground is covered.

“Graphic novels are a natural extension of the comic book,” King defines. “They tell a story using pictures and sequence panels, speech bubbles, and other conventions of the comic book format.”

Much of the webinar is Cook and King discussing the variety of ways in which graphic novels are effective learning tools. They often bolstered this continued theme with lesser-known insider “fan” knowledge (related, in one instance, to the evolution of the paper-thickness). As a fellow comic fan, I appreciated this marriage of “scholarly info” that both hosts threw in with “cool facts.” This webinar allowed the hosts to speak effectively both as educators and fans.

A third into the webinar’s 90 minutes, the speakers went into an age-based break-down of the genre. In the last five years, we are informed, graphic novels have begun to be marketed towards even the earliest readers. The youth coordinators monitoring the talk discuss how educators help publishers make sure language in these books is appropriate for “nurturing minds.” We are recommended ALA-approved titles for readers as young as four to adult readers who read Alan Moore.

Graphic novels are described in depth as being a helpful tool to bridge a literacy gap; for example, someone who is not a strong a reader can be “met halfway” by images in a panel. Following this general idea, the webinar also combines word and text to give listeners a comprehensive overview of their topic. Throughout the talk, numerous slides were devoted to picturing notable graphic novels for each audiences. Other slides linked to relevant book lists and awards for the genre. There really is no excuse for coming away from this webinar without a laundry list of great titles.

Graphic novels, our hosts explain, are a well-established format in their own right. They work well in an adult collection, a teen collection, or a children’s collection. Graphic novels can be gritty with adult themes or they can cater to children making the leap from picture book to chapter book.

A continued thread throughout the webinar is discussion of inequity in the comic industry. Our hosts explain that the genre is historically created by, about, and marketed towards males. Female representations are often sexist–back in the day, they mostly were, I’d surmise.

An interesting paint was made about how modern franchises like Spiderman and Thor re-brand their titles using female characters. The hosts bring up various female comic creators throughout the talk, so there is definite cause to hope for progress in this matter. Also, the recent crop of female superheroes with hopefully get more girls into graphic novels. This, I’m confident, can only lead to the next generation having more female comic creators.

A lot of firsts seem to be happening as far as social issues in comics. Cook and King describe many of these. But there is still a ways to go. The ratio of male-to-female creators or title/main characters is still overwhelmingly male. All the ways in which females are marginalized in the tech world eerily apply to the comic world, both on and behind the pages. The hierarchy of exclusion that exists in both worlds are similar, just short of identical.

Which is why this webinar was so refreshing. Both an overview of comics was given, but also the context of the comic book industry, particulars that reflect where we are socially. Many of our readings have been about the importance of understanding an object, but also it’s social and historical context. This webinar’s creators understand the importance of this as well.

Finally I loved all the ways in which the hosts were inclusive. For example, mangas are treated as something akin to the cheap Harlequin romance novels by the high brow. In this presentation, though, graphic novels are literature. The implication coming away from this webinar is that librarians should have Watchmen just as high on the shelf as David Copperfield. This presentation was all about equalizing all aspects of the genre. How many people, for example, would by thoughtful enough to call a graphic novelization of Twilight a learning tool? I appreciated how inclusive and informed the hosts were in this way. I agree with them.

As long as you’re reading something, isn’t that all that matters?

In Situ: How to Reasonably Believe in God

By kgallag8


The New York Public Library and Creative Time, a “public arts organization that works with artists to contribute to the dialogues, debates and dreams of our times,[i]” are working together on a current site-specific series of conversations “paring leading artists and public intellectuals to address critical topics of our time[ii]” called In Situ.  I attended one of these events on March 16th, 2017 in Manhattan at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the topic being: ‘How to Reasonably Believe in God.’

The conversation paired prominent//provocative “intellectual”, Slavoj Zizek and visual artist, Janine Antoni, with Sister Helen Prejean as moderator.  An unlikely pair, Zizek and Antoni did not seem to be on the same page at all during the one hour conversation—making it feel a lot more like three hours.  Sister Helen tried her best to moderate the discourse into some sort of dialogue of back and forth, but it seemed that confusion from Antoni—in regards to Zizek’s thick Slovenian accent, and a general lack of understanding of his key points and counter arguments—was the downfall of the conversation.

Janine Antoni was not the original scheduled participant for the event; Shirin Neshat, an Iran-born New York City visual artist, was originally scheduled to be in conversation with Slavoj Zizek but had to cancel at last minute.  Because of Janine’s unfulfilling participation in the event, I wondered constantly if it would have been a better time, had Neshat not had to cancel.  I spent a great deal of time frustrated by Antoni’s lack of participation and seeming disinterest of what Sister Helen or Zizek had to say throughout the night.  I do not think this is something to blame the New York Public Library or Creative Time for, as an email was sent out promptly before the event, explaining the sudden change-of-participant—though, I do wish their understudy was someone who ‘fit the bill’ more properly.

‘How to Reasonably Believe in God’ began with a short introduction from Reverend Patrick Malloy, PhD; Paul Holdengraber, Director of Public Programming at NYPL; and Nato Thompson, Artistic Director of Creative Time.  The remarks given by Reverend Malloy were thoughtful, substantial, and relevant; he spoke of inclusiveness in a time of division, giving your neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and learning to listen to those that do not believe/worship in the way that you do.  He held the audience in the palm of his hand upon every word, though delivered just a short enough speech that I’m sure he was overshadowed by the events of the night, for some listeners.  For me: the power of his concise and beautiful words ruminated with me throughout the night and onto many days later.

Paul Holdengraber and Nato Thompson were not as elegant in their speaking as Reverend Malloy.  The couple tripped upon their words and did not speak very elegantly, as if they had forgotten they were in a church and not a college auditorium.  The two repeated the same things, apologized for their under-preparedness, and left me hoping that it was not to be a reflection of the night to come.

Between the opening remarks and the conversation was a performance from Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir.  This was a marvelous act that left me yearning to applaud and participate—which was offered in the call-and-response form of ‘Amen’ and ‘Hallelujah.’  Reverend Billy and his band left a lasting impression on the audience as they finished their final song, slowly walking down the aisle, chanting in whisper “black lives matter” and “standing rock”—in response to the current Black Lives Matter movement that is so prominently erupting throughout the world, and the Standing Rock Native American Reservation where people have been protesting the installation of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline since the Summer of 2016.

Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir are a well-known musical group that have been protesting and addressing key issues through their music and their presence for over 13 years.  The band describes themselves as a “radical performance community” of “wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters and Earth loving urban activists,[iii]” advocating against Militarization and Consumerism in the modern world.  Their performance at In Situ was heartbreakingly short; with only three songs, they most certainly left the audience longing for an encore.  The Stop Shopping Choir and Reverend Billy spoke and sang of: environmental justice, President Trump’s travel ban, Corporate Greed, and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  It was a performance unlike any other, topped with expressiveness, inclusiveness, and many choir members dressed in drag.  This performance was perhaps my favorite part of the event.

The moderator, Sister Helen Prejean, is an inspiration to many.  Through her moderating of the night she made it known that she had a lot more she could’ve said on the subject, but continuously, and graciously, fell victim to the statement, “it’s not my time to talk.”  Sister Helen is most known for her “instrumental sparking [of] a national dialogue on the death penalty, [and for] helping to shape the Catholic Church’s newly vigorous opposition to state executions.ii” She is the author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States and The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.  Sister Helen is a one-of-a-kind human; she spends most of her time counseling death row prisoners and educating citizens about the death penalty and is currently writing her third book.


And so it began, after the opening remarks, the musical performance, and a short introduction from Sister Helen: Janine Antoni, a self-proclaimed Buddhist, and Slavoj Zizek, a self-proclaimed Agnostic, started a discussion on How to Reasonably Believe in God…but not really.  Slavoj Zizek is a very eccentric man, with what seems to be hundreds of ideas flowing from his mouth a mile a minute. Janine, on the other hand, conducts herself in a more slow-talking, thoughtful kind of way.  The two did not mesh well—which was, admittedly, some of the point of the conversation to begin with.

We do not get to a conversation about believing in God, without the anticipation of some ‘stirring of the pot’, yet at times it seemed Antoni was completely ignoring Zizek’s counter-points, and perhaps not understanding what he was speaking about (verbally—because of his thick accent, but also conceptually, as it was clear he was much more intelligent than her).  It is not always important, when in conversation with someone, to have the same brain capacity, or to necessarily share the same beliefs—in fact, this night it was specifically chosen that the two participants came from a different backgrounds of thinking—yet Antoni’s sheer impudence during the conversation began to undermine her credibility as an opposing voice for how Zizek could/should reasonably believe in God.

Throughout the night, Antoni responded to many of Zizek’s accusations and key points by meditating and dancing.  Even Sister Helen seemed to be a bit confused about her actions, as Janine strutted across the stage, banged on the floor with her feet, and swirled her long black hair in the air.  She referenced much of her art throughout the talk, but did not give examples as to how these pieces fit into the discussion.  At times it felt almost as if the NYPL was in a complete bind when Shirin Neshat cancelled and ended up choosing the only artist that would participate on such short notice.  There was definitely an air throughout the audience when she would counter-act Zizek’s thought-out, serious accusations and topics with completely one-sided conversations about how she believes in her God—not trying at the least bit to debate the topic with him.

Though Janine Antoni’s participation was at times strenuous to sit through, her hubris did not overshadow the pure intellect of Slavoj Zizek.  Some of the key points he made, which were chiefly ignored by Antoni—though some were addressed by Sister Helen—had great resonance with me.

He spoke of “faking it till you make it”—in terms of people pretending to believe in God, or believing in God/worshiping only when they need something or it is convenient for them.  He gave the assertion that “When we want something, we also want the obstacle of gaining it”—in regards to devout religious persons dedicating their lives to the possibility of an afterlife and forgetting and/or undermining the importance of a life on earth.  Quoting an international proverb, “an enemy is [someone] whose story you weren’t ready to listen,” Zizek intentionally set up Antoni at this point of the conversation only to have her, once again, ignore the allegation.

I attended this event for a few reasons: 1.) to support the New York Public Library, 2.) out of a deep respect for Slavoj Zizek and Sister Helen Prejean’s work in their respective fields, and 3.) to perhaps gain insight on How to Reasonably Believe in God.  Unfortunately, I did not gain much understanding into the latter.  Though there was not much discussion on the topic, I did not leave the event feeling my attention could’ve been better utilized somewhere else that night.  I made a friend in Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir, was graced with the amazing presence of two people I deeply admire, and—when all else failed—was captivated by the architecture of Saint John the Divine, a structure throughout the night referred to as “this hollowed mountain.”



[i] Creative Time. Creative Time, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <;.

[ii] New York Public Library. 16 Mar. 2017. How to Reasonably Believe in God [Brochure]. Creative Time.

[iii] Mar 16  •  By Reverend Billy Talen  •  Share, and Mar 15  •  By Reverend Billy Talen  •  Share. “Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir.” Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.


Sister Helen Prejean. Ministry Against the Death Penalty, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <;.

“In Situ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine: How to Reasonably Believe in God.” The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library, 16 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <;.

ISP: Insane Surveillance Posse, or, “User-Centered” Madness and Waiting on a Response from ALA about Recent ISP Privacy Rules

By ktidwell

In the midst of executive orders and legislation clamoring for public attention, a recent vote in Congress to permit extensive collection and use of browsing data by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) has drawn a lot of public outcry and media analysis. The ISP legislation faces the wrath of people whose digital privacy has been repeatedly revealed to be already compromised, often illegally- by NSA surveillance, CIA surveillance, and even unauthorized commercial product surveillance. The added insult is that this time the decision to erode privacy happened, well, publicly. It also occurred without any pretense of security or content payoff. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are suddenly casual conversation fodder. Yet as tech savvy as the public is becoming, even a VPN, it turns out, is not the cloak of digital invisibility people want it to be. All Internet data is potentially and legally marketable information. With design becoming increasingly tailored to user profiles, the value of information about users has risen dramatically while the cultural capital of autonomous privacy-decisions is expressed in dialogue but not law. This user-focused approach originated in research initially done by in part libraries and information science researchers, but has grown beyond its initial scope of ethnographic user observation. The discrepancy between public consciousness and government and corporate policy illuminates previously hidden forms of information work, namely playing and existing alongside internet-enabled observant technology. It also highlights that even though public libraries can continue to serve as both information providers and information anonymizers, their reliance on third-party technology jeopardizes their core values.


User-centered design has become (or again become) the standard when researching and designing resources for people, and this has morphed into a market for user data. This turn towards user centered design, at least in information seeking behavior, “has been the province not of information systems as a discipline, but of information science and, before that, librarianship” according to Tom Wilson, a human information behavior researcher. The goal of such research was to better serve library users, and the success of the approach has spread it to advertisers, tech companies, and other for-profit corporations. This field of study has been in many ways ethnographic, based on direct observation of consenting users (Wilson 2000; Talja & Hartel, 2007). Wilson writes that the increased study of user habits “has been accompanied by a switch from quantitative methods to qualitative method.” In non-digital contexts, this will continue to be the case (barring implementation of widespread video observation devices on non-consenting people, like those used in London, and in the case of London, barring the use of that data for market research). In digital contexts, much of human information seeking behavior is easily tracked in browsing data, and the study of user behavior becomes again highly quantitative. New methods of collection and their intended purposes also exit the ethical realm of libraries, a problem that would not matter if libraries were opaque information silos with full control over the pathways of their user generated data. As will be discussed later: libraries are not so self-possessed.


Collecting that data is easy, and using and selling it under terms of service agreements has been a common practice by technology companies, to the point that many people are not actively aware that their interactions with the Internet are a form of labor. Free or cheap technology products have been subsidized by the sale of information. Using browsing data collected concurrently with daily information life is for now, the apex of user-centered design, though it may also represent the apex of public/private identity erosion. Gregory Downey wrote in 2014 of his students that “their own amateur media activity—whether uploading photos to their social network profile or downloading the latest cultural content outside of intellectual property paywalls—reinforces the fiction that information circulation is driven simply by ‘play’ and that information content is simply available for ‘free’”. Downey struggled to demonstrate the labor that creates and moves information and content. The transparency of and media attention towards the ISP bill, and the probability that data vending is not likely to be accompanied by a reduction in Internet cost, has revealed to a broad audience the labor of Internet-connected existence. The revelation, however, did not come soon enough. Now, individuals are charged with protecting their privacy with the limited means available to them. While this extends the existing opportunity for libraries to help protect their users’ privacy, it also constrains them in similar inescapable ways.


Libraries’ values present a tension between information access and privacy. As of March 30, 2017, the American Library Association’s web presence is preoccupied with fighting the specter of full funding cuts to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) proposed in a recent Trump Administration budget. This is understandable. The cuts represent an existential threat to libraries and their ability to make information accessible to their users. Simultaneously, the ALA celebrates collaborations with ISPs to bring Internet access, and therefore information access, to poor families. The well of funds and the national reach of corporations permit a broad expansion of information access in line with some of the fundamental principles of Democratic Theory in libraries (Buschman 2007), particularly when other streams of funding are threatened. Yet it also stands to consider how use of and partnerships with ISPs erode other facets of Democratic practice in libraries, particularly in light of the new legislation. While some larger libraries are their own ISPs, and therefore able to maintain near-absolute control over access to user data, most mid sized and smaller libraries use private ISPs that, under this ruling, could begin to selling all library users’ web browsing. While a library IP address obscures the user, any self-identifying information entered into a browsing session would undo this protection. Libraries should and do invest in VPNs to protect their users, but as mentioned above, this solution is not as effective as widely believed. Libraries who use private ISPs are subject to seeing at least some user data sold for profit when that data surfaces on other networks. Additionally, when libraries partner with ISPs who then offer Internet for reduced prices to poor families, they have no control whatsoever over the subsequent use of patrons’ home data that they helped facilitate.


The ALA does actively talk about privacy regarding data exchange, offering suggestions on how to protect patrons, and making privacy a major issue on their website and in their advocacy. Still, the ALA has yet to meaningfully acknowledge the new bill. The news is absent from their twitter feed and the news section of their main website. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has thus far only acknowledged Congress’ vote in a news link roundup. Previously, the ALA has been vocal about other issues relating to ISPs, especially net neutrality. If libraries are to practice information access congruently with user privacy, they could follow Buschman’s suggestion to put Jürgen Habermas’ ideas in to practice, specifically “his concepts of colonization and de-integration of public and private life.” The ISP ruling co-opts a mostly non-market world, and places it in an inescapable arena of profit and observation.





Buschman, J. (2007). Democratic Theory in LIS: Toward an Emendation. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 1483–1496.

Downey, G. J. (2014). “Making media work: time, space, identity, and labor in the analysis of information and communication infrastructures” in Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society, eds. T. Gillespie, P. Boczkowski, and K. Foot. Cambridge: MIT Press, 141–165.

Habermas, J. (1987) . The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures (F. Lawrence, Trans.) . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Talja, S. & Hartel, J. (2007). “Revisiting the user-centered turn in information science research: an intellectual history perspective,” Information Research 12(4).

Wilson, T. D. (2000). Human information behavior. Informing Science, 3(2), 49-55.



admin. (2007, March 29). Privacy and Confidentiality [Text]. Retrieved March 30, 2017, from

Assn, A. L. (2017, March 16). The President’s budget proposal to eliminate @US_IMLS funding is counterproductive and shortsighted. … [microblog]. Retrieved from

New Checklists to Support Library Patron Privacy – LITA Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved from

SHAWNDA.KAY. (2017a, February 24). American Library Association and Cox Communications partner to narrow digital divide for low-income families [Text]. Retrieved March 30, 2017, from

SHAWNDA.KAY. (2017b, March 7). ALA and 170 public interest organizations call on FCC and Congress to protect and enforce strong net neutrality rules and secure the open internet [Text]. Retrieved March 30, 2017, from

Dawkins, A. (2017, March 10). Intellectual Freedom News 3/10/17. Retrieved from

The House just voted to wipe away the FCC’s landmark Internet privacy protections. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2017, from

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