Library Fines: Yea, Nay, or Pay it Forward?

By Micaela Walker

Why does the public library system lend out materials for free but charge people for lateness and loss?  There are two basic reasons, but their effectiveness is largely debated. First, libraries want their stuff back so they can lend it out to other people. Fining people is meant to incentivize them to be prompt and responsible with their loans. Second, libraries need to increase funds to pay for replacement material, among many other fiscal needs. However, neither of these goals seems to be ideally met by traditional fining systems which charge between 10¢ and $3 per day depending on the loan item. Libraries across the country have responded with 2 opposing policies; eliminate fines entirely or send the fines to collection agencies.

A Brooklyn Library card allows you to reserve and check out books as well as pay outstanding fines at a library kiosk and online from home.

A Brooklyn Public Library card allows you to reserve and check out books as well as pay outstanding fines at a library kiosk and online from home.

According to Slate from February 2017, many librarians have concluded that the fines are more effective at deterring people from using the library altogether than encouraging them to return materials. The long term effects of this kind of alienation from a public institution are addressed in this article on libraries and social exclusion:

“Right now, as libraries face limited or diminishing public funding, fees and fines represent alternative revenue. This is a burden, created by citizen voters, public administrators, and librarians, that demonstrably bars low- income users from library access, particularly when applied as a stop on in-house services like computer use. In each of these examples, deliberate decisions are made by those in power—decisions that perpetuate disadvantage for low-income families and blue-collar workers.”

For the bottom line, then, the amount collected in fines may effectively cancel out the amount spent on outreach while instilling in people a sense of shame rather than a love of the library.  This thinking is what motivated Salt Lake City to do away with late fees entirely.

However, the state of Wisconsin in 2016 voted to send fines over $50 to collection agencies, in part to recover the $3.5 million in costs the state racked up due to lost materials. Plumer Lovelace, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Library Association argues that the state needs to have some leverage, particularly when loaning out big ticket items such as iPads which are expensive to replace and in high demand.  The New York Public Library has the same policy. This year the NYPL started a program called Library Hotspot, where any family with a child in the NYC public school system without home internet access is eligible to borrow a wifi hotspot for the entire school year. The borrower has to be an adult and have less than $15 in outstanding fines on their account.  The fine for not returning the hotspot is $100 and having your library account frozen. It’s hard to imagine having a program like this with no penalties in place.

The modern public library system has always functioned on the simple premise that most people will be responsible with borrowed materials and believe in the value of shared public resources.  In the Slate article mentioned above, the Columbus library system reported that 95% of materials are returned on time, and eliminating fines had no real effect on the rate of return.  So, putting aside the most egregious offenders, most people probably incur library fines due to the same human fallacies – disorganization and forgetfulness rather than premeditated theft.

The penalties, however, have vastly different impacts on people in different economic circumstances.  While a person of means may see $10 in fines as a small donation to the library they are happy to give, a person with low income may see it as an impossible barrier to using the library at all.  There are parallels to parking violations that are incurred on public roads where even the most responsible driver among us gets the occasional ticket or violation eventually.  For some a $50 ticket might be annoying but quickly paid online with a credit card, while for others who simply can’t pay the ticket it can lead to a string of consequences that can result in loss of their driver’s license, their ability to get to work, and even jail time. The disparate impacts of fines are similar in the public libraries, whose mission is in part to serve those populations with the least access to information elsewhere.

A possible middle ground may be to hit up those that are already paying their own fines for a bit more cash to cover those that can’t. The method for doing so is already in action in stores across the country. “Checkout Charity” is by now ubiquitous in nearly every large scale retail chain and it is highly effective for fundraising. The most effortless “ask” is when a customer is prompted to add a donation amount on to their purchase total just at the moment they have their credit card in hand.  Options are either to round up (from, say $8.75 to $10) or to select an amount to add ($1, $5, $10 etc.) According to Marketing Magazine, the more in-line the store is with the charity, the more likely people are to donate.

I ask you: Who’s more likely to support the library than someone who is already in the library to pay their fine?? 

Left, the BPL kiosk screen. Right, screen at the drugstore with an ad for the supported charity.

Left, the BPL kiosk screen. Right, screen at the drugstore with an ad for a supported charity.


I spoke with Kenes Bowling, a manager at Unique Management, the “leading material-recovery service for libraries”.  He agreed that it would be a good idea although it would likely need to be implemented locally between library systems and the specific software they use.  Libraries that already have automated kiosks to track accounts and pay fines with credit cards could add a prompt to donate just as a person goes to pay their fine. Librarians could try different angles to see which ask was most effective, such as “would you like to help cover fines incurred by low income children at this branch?” or “x% of people say they can’t return to the library because they can’t pay their overdue fines. Would you like to make an added donation to help cover the costs?”, or even something unrelated to fines such as “would you like to contribute to our after school tutoring program?” You could even use matching grants or fundraising goal charts to further incentivise people to give.

While this would not change the behavior of those who aren’t paying their fines, it could help to support a loss forgiveness program where latecomers don’t have to pay their fines as long as they bring their items back. It could also improve the experience for the fine payer by transforming them from a ne’r-do-well into a philanthropist with the click of a button. They have their credit cards out anyway and maybe they will feel a little better about their own tardiness if they are helping others.

As for establishing good lending/returning behavior as early as possible, research has shown that kids are largely more responsive to incentives rather than penalties. This has been seen with everything from potty training to homework. What if a kid received a small reward, such as a bookmark or a pencil topper for returning all of their books on time?  It may give them just enough motivation to remind their parents that they need to find that stray copy of “Elephant and Piggie” and return it.

NB – I asked my son Roan (age 7)  what the most effective way would be to get him to return his library books on time, a punishment or a reward. He said I should buy him a motorcycle so he can be sure to get his books to the library on time (not happening, but I’m putting that in the “incentive” column).


Graham, Ruth “Long Overdue”. Slate. February 6, 2017.

Gehner, John. “Libraries, Low Income People, and Social Exclusion”. Public Library Quarterly. March 15, 2010.

Piper, Matthew. “Salt Lake City Libraries do away with late fees”. Salt Lake Tribune.  May 25, 2017.

Warburton, Bob. “Wisconsin Law Validates Library Use of Collection Agencies”. Library Journal.  March 1, 2016

“Library Hotspot”.  New York Public Library.

Sanders, Sam. “Study Finds the Poor Subject to Unfair Fines, Driver’s License Suspensions”. National Public Radio (NPR). April 9, 2015.

Powell, Chris. “Checkout Charity: The Art of Asking for In-store Donations. Marketing Magazine.  December 7, 2015.

Belsky, Jay, Ph.D.  “Rewards are Better Than Punishment: Here’s Why”. Psychology Today. September 25, 2018.

Overcoming Difficult Heritage Through Mutual Acknowledgement

By Kcalnan

Many nations fail to acknowledge difficult heritage, often intentionally, out of fear of damaging their national identity. In the article “Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still ‘Difficult,’” Sharon Macdonald defines difficult heritage as “times of evil wrong-doing that did no evident credit to a positive national identity” (2015, 6). The Holocaust, the Native American genocide, slavery, and the Nanking Massacre are examples of difficult heritage that nations most likely wish could be obscured from their history. Acknowledging previous atrocities might remind the world of a nation’s dark past, in turn damaging their national identity. Despite a nation’s concern for acknowledging its difficult heritage, Macdonald suggests that “self-disclosure and self-reprimanding have…come to be widely regarded as a positive development by those inside as well as outside the societies that are perpetrating them” (19). Honesty is as important among nations as it is between friends. Macdonald’s examples of positive development include the opening of Germany’s educational exhibits surrounding National Socialism and the payment of reparations by France to Holocaust survivors as a result of the national rail company’s participation in the Holocaust (12-17). Occasionally, victimized groups pressured nations into addressing their difficult heritage, such as victim organizations in post-WWII Germany. When victim nations desire an apology, it pressures guilty nations to acknowledge their difficult heritage. But, what if a victimized nation does not seek an apology?

Macdonald’s article does not discuss instances where victimized nations do not seek an apology. A clear example is the atrocities committed by the United States during World War II: bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1945, the United States government justified bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a way to end the war in the Pacific and prevent further American casualties. Unfortunately, the bombing instantaneously cost Japan approximately 120,000 military and civilian lives, and tens of thousands later lost their lives which has been attributed to exposure to radiation from the bombs (2017). Although the bombings occurred 72 years ago, one can assume that the citizens of Japan await an apology from the United States. With this in mind, according to the Los Angeles Times, a Russian news agency conducted an opinion poll in 2015 and found that 60% of the Japanese public would welcome an apology (Adelstein 2016). Despite the results of the Russian poll in Japan, the United States has not apologized. Why not? Research indicates that the United States’ apology track record after committing atrocities is lacking at best. However, there is another reason that the United States refrains from apologizing to Japan. An apology might create difficulties rather than solve issues for Japan’s government. Macdonald argues that, “apologizing for past wrongs also requires a bringing of those wrongs into view” (16). If the United States was to apologize for its wrongdoings during World War II, logic would indicate that society would then look to Japan’s government officials to apologize for the atrocities committed by Japan throughout its history. According to Adelstein, Japanese officials are concerned that an apology from the United Stated would “only serve to energize anti-nuclear activists” in Japan (2016). Concerned about the issues that could arise from receiving an apology, Japanese officials prefer to move forward rather than dwell on their painful past.

Is it feasible for one nation to absolve itself of an atrocity if the victimized nation prefers no apology? It can be possible through cooperative understanding and mutual hope for a better future. Macdonald calls for “public acknowledgement” of difficult heritage, which does not necessarily require an apology (6). Nations such as the United States and Japan can acknowledge their difficult heritages without formally apologizing for committing the atrocities. In May of 2016 United States President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima. Likewise, in December of 2016 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor. During their visits, both leaders offered condolences for lives lost, however neither leader apologized for their nations’ atrocities (Sisk 2016). Although no formal apologies were exchanged, both leaders publicly acknowledged their nation’s difficult heritage. Mutual understanding of the cost of war, particularly the loss of human life, has enabled the United States and Japan to move forward and become powerful allies. Since both Japan and the United States understand the devastation that nuclear weapons can cause, their alliance provides hope for a better future where other nations are deterred from utilizing nuclear weaponry.

Acknowledging difficult heritage offers opportunities in multiple realms of education. It opens the academic door for more in-depth discussions regarding war crimes, the aftermath of atrocities, reconciliation among nations, and the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from difficult heritage. Library and information professions continue to refine their educational platforms which provide insight and understanding regarding a nation’s difficult heritage. Museums and archives presently showcase the atrocities and expose the human necessity to educate current and future generations in regards to the importance of preventing similar atrocities from ever occurring again. The significance of acknowledging difficult heritage is that it inspires mankind to progress towards compassion, forgiveness, and pursuing closure.


Works Cited

Adelstein, Jake. 2016. Los Angeles Times. “Japan doesn’t want the U.S. to apologize for bombing Hiroshima. Here’s why.” Los Angeles Times. Last Modified April 29, 2016. Accessed September 24, 2017. 2009. Accessed September 24, 2017.

Macdonald, Sharon. 2015. “Is ‘difficult heritage’ still difficult?” Museum International 67: 6-22.

Sisk, Richard. 2016. “Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Last Modified December 28, 2016. Accessed September 24, 2017.


Forensic Architecture, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

By Robin Miller


A bomb cloud is the consolidation of architecture, ‘a gaseous representation of both a grave and a building.’ Daily I reflect on the poetry and horror conveyed by Eyal Wiezman’s words as I am bombarded with images of violence and destruction via social media. I hear some say these images desensitize us to the brutality of violence, but what if they could be used for something else, something good? What if they could be used to prosecute those that perpetrate this violence? Earlier this month, I attended a lecture by Eyal Wiezman, founding member of Forensic Architecture research agency, as part of the Cooper Union Intra-Disciplinary Seminar (IDS) public lecture series. I become interested in the work of Forensic Architecture (FA) after reading a Twitter post by one of my LIS 651 colleagues on the Ayotzinapa case FA worked on in Mexico in which 6 people where murdered and 43 students were forcibly disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero.

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I was in awe as the researchers discussed their project. I am new to the world of data visualization and I was astounded by the 3D architectural models and cartographic incident mapping used in this case. As they spoke, I was immediately reminded of Yochai Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, and his hope for “a new information environment… one in which individuals are free to take a more active role than was possible in the industrial information economy” (2006). Consequently, I visited the FA website and was thrilled to discover that Eyal Wiezman, one of the founding members of Forensic Architecture, had been invited to participate in the IDS series and was to speak at Cooper Union less than a week later.

In addition to his role at Forensic Architecture, Wiezman is an architect, professor of spatial and visual cultures, and Director of the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. His lecture introduced the audience at the Rose Auditorium to the incredible work being done by FA, through 2 examples – Rafah: Black Friday, a detailed account of battles on the worst day of fighting in Gaza, and Saydnaya, an architectural recreation of a secret Syrian detention center from the memory of several survivors. He began his lecture by reminding us of the complexity of publicly available data. Citing one of his early projects, a drone mapping of the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territories, he went on to explain that once their data was published, it was used by the Israeli military to facilitate the extension of their border wall causing further disruption and destruction for the Palestinians living in the surrounding areas. This was a strong reminder to all those involved with data collection, that no matter how noble are your intentions, the data can be used against you and the probability of abuse must always be at the forefront of your mind.

So what actually goes into the production of a split-second moment? For the Forensic Architecture agency each case is built by using gathered testimonies of witnesses compiled with data and images obtained through multiple channels such as satellites, ground footage and social media. Additionally, they analyze clouds, explosions, smoke plumes, and shadows to verify and correct the metadata of these gathered images. Wiezman demonstrated the forensic architectural building process through a projected video. The result is a critical narrative that he calls the Image Complex, which allows his team to probe the spatial and temporal relationships between the images and begin to reconstruct a timeline of events in realtime. Watching the build process is stunning and absolutely worth going to the FA website where they have videos available for all their projects.

The mission is simple, Forensic Architecture works with the UN, Amnesty International and other activist groups to help them build cases and bring violators of human rights to justice. The technological and ethical complexities of their work are, well, complex. In a world where anyone with a mobile phone can be an activist and an image is “currency in real-time storytelling” ( we open ourselves up to incredible possibilities, but will we use them to help or to harm, engage or exploit? I left Cooper Union that evening and walked up 3rd Avenue with a feeling of optimism, quite rare for me these days, towards the future of Forensic Architecture and their pursuit of justice for those who violate the human rights of others.


Benkler, Yochai (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press, 1–18.

PERCS: The Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies. “The ethics of fieldwork.” Elon University.










The Ayotzinapa Case

Rafah: Black Friday


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 experienced 20,000 downloads in its first two hours. (Cho,

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

Cho, Mikael. (2017) “I Started Unsplash”, retrieved Sept 18, 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?

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