Libraries, Archives & Databases

Lori Nix, Library, 2007

Libraries, Archives & Databases is a new graduate seminar I’m teaching in the spring. I posted the course description last week, but here it is again:

“There has been more information produced in the last 30 years than during the previous 5000.” We’ve all heard some variation on this maxim. As U.S. publishers add 250,000 printed books and close to 300,000 print-on-demand books to our libraries each year; as we find ourselves wading through over 200 million websites; as we continue to add new media – from Tweets to Apps to geo-tagged maps – to our everyday media repertoires, we continually search for new ways to navigate this ever more treacherous sea of information. Throughout human history we have relied on various institutions and politico-intellectual architectures to organize, index, preserve, make sense of, and facilitate or control access to our stores of knowledge, our assemblages of media, our collections of information. This seminar looks at the past, present, and future of the library, the archive, and the database, and considers what logics, priorities, politics, audiences, contents, aesthetics, physical forms, etc., ally and differentiate these institutions. We will examine what roles the library, archive, and the database play in democracy, in education, in everyday life, and in art. Throughout the semester we’ll examine myriad analog and digital artworks that make use of library/archival material, or take the library, archive, or database as their subject. Some classes will involve field trips and guest speakers. Students will have the option of completing at least one theoretically-informed creative/production project for the class.

I think it’s important to point out that this is not a research skills class. I’m not going to teach people how to use a library or build a database. Instead, we’re going to talk about the politics and aesthetics and ethics of organizing information…or media…or data…or knowledge — these four terms are not interchangeable, and we’re going to talk about that, too — through these different intellectual architectures. And given my interests, we’ll of course talk about some physical architectures.

As usual, I’ll be working on the syllabus through the winter break, but I thought I’d share some of my initial plans, for students who might be considering the class and for people who might want to offer recommendations.

Thomas Harrison’s Ark of Studies, from

The tentative reading list includes: Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (WW Norton 2004); Roy Boyne, “Classification” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Joke Brouwer & Arjen Mulder, Information Is Alive (V2_NAi 2003); John Seely Brown & Paul Duguid, The Social Life of Information (Harvard Business Press, 2000); Vannevar Bush, “As We May ThinkThe Atlantic (July 1945); Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (Yale 2001); Roger Chartier, “Libraries Without Walls” Representations 42 (Spring 1993); Sean Cubitt, “Library” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Robert Darnton, “The Library in the New Age” New York Review of Books (June 2008); Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (University of Chicago 1996); Okwui Enwezor, Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art (Steidl/ICP, 2008); Mike Featherstone, “Archive” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse” October 110 (Fall 2004); Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge, Trans. Smith (Harper & Row [1969]1972); Daniel Heller-Roazen, “Tradition’s Destruction: On the Library of Alexandria” October 100 (Spring 2002); Gideon Lewis-Kraus, “A World in Three Aisles” [on the Prelinger Library] Harper’s (May 2007); Library Bureau, A Handbook of Library and Office Fittings and Supplies (Library Bureau 1891); Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night (Knopf, 2006); Lev Manovich, “Database as a Genre of New Media” AI & Society 14:2 (May 2000): 176-83; D. T. Max, “Final Destination” New Yorker (June 2007); Charles Merewether, Ed., The Archive: Documents in Contemporary Art (MIT Press 2006); Henry Petroski, The Book on the Bookshelf (Vintage 2000); Daniel Punday, “Ebooks, Libraries, and Feelies” Electronic Book Review (February 2010); Ingrid Schaffner & Matthias Winzen, Eds., Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art (Prestel 1998); Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (MIT Press 2009); Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Duke 2003); Eugene Thacker, “Database/Body: Bioinformatics, Biopolitics, and Totally Connected Media SystemsSwitch 5:3; Couze Venn, “The Collection” Theory, Culture & Society 23:2-3 (2006); Victoria Vesna, Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow (University of Minnesota Press, 2007); Anthony Vidler, “Books in Space: Tradition and Transparency in the Bibliotheque de France” Representations 42 (Spring 1993); and maybe some of my own stuff. I’ll have to sort through these library links, archive links, and classification links, too.

I really wanted to like Geoffrey Bowker & Susan Leigh Star’s Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (MIT Press, 1999), but I just don’t think it’s going to work out.

We’ll also look at work by Cory Arcangel, Erica Baum, Dexter Sinister, Mark Dion, Angela Grauerholz, Ann Hamilton, Candida Hofer, Primary Information, The Atlas Group, Raqs Media Collective, Gerhard Richter, Martha Rosler, Danny Snelson, Molly Springfield, Tris Vonna Michell, Aby Warburg, Peter Wegner, and many others.

Danny Snelson, Testimony — From
From Welcome to the Machine:

I’d like to arrange field trips to the newly renovated Morgan Library, the Reanimation Library, and perhaps a crazily unorthodox archive of some sort. I’d also like to invite Rick or Megan Prelinger to visit us; Rick told me at that conference this past weekend that they’d stop by if they’re in town in the spring.

Other suggestions?

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