“Bureaucracy’s Playthings” in Reanimation Library’s Word Processor Series

from Mina Johnson and Norman Kallaus's 1967 Records Management textbook
from Mina Johnson and Norman Kallaus’s 1967 Records Management textbook

I wrote about paperwork, play, and the aesthetics of administration — using Mina Johnson and Norman Kallaus’s 1967 Records Management textbook as my launching pad — for the Reanimation Library‘s “Word Processor” series. Here’s my intro:

For more than half a century Jack Wilkinson’s office supply store stood on the corner of Allegheny Street and Cherry Alley in my hometown of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. When I was a little girl, we’d make frequent visits—not to stock up on supplies for my dad’s hardware store or my mom’s classroom and volunteer activities, but at my request. On birthdays and Christmas I’d come in with a list: invoices, restaurant order forms, cash box, label maker, rubber date stamp, accounting book. These were my toys.

The playroom in our basement housed many unlicensed businesses: a restaurant whose menu blended some of my favorites from the Amity House diner (home of the fish-bowl sundae) and McDonald’s; a bank with a drive-through window for bikes; a Matchbox car dealership; a hospital for my Glamour Gals and my brother’s G.I. Joes; and, because this was the era of Miami Vice, a drug-trafficking “shoppe” where we sold generous dime-bags of all-purpose flour. The neighborhood kids were both our staff and patrons. Everybody—even those to whom we sold controlled substances—got a receipt, made out in duplicate. Everybody received exact, if fake, change. Everybody had a color-coded customer or employee file, with a nametag crafted on my hand-held Dymo label maker (which had its own label).

We were weird—delightfully so, I must say. And we were into the “aesthetics of administration” well before art historian Benjamin Buchloh coined the term in the early ’90s. Which explains why the burnt-orange copy of Mina Johnson and Norman Kallaus’s 1967 Records Management textbook sang to me from the shelves of the Reanimation Library during a recent visit. From Johnson and Kallaus we learn immediately that the stuff of my childhood play is actually quite serious business…

You can read the rest of the piece here.

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