When I imagined myself writing a blog post for schol com, I naturally assumed I’d tackle an issue like the systemic and entrenched poverty affecting CUNY schools such as my own, which has lead to a decimated budget for the library, which in turn means we are unable to keep up with either book purchases or renewing some of our most popular database packages. Naturally, I’d discuss open access efforts, and ways in which those efforts give libraries hope, along with the ways in which those efforts sometimes fail to meet our gaping needs. All of that seems reasonable to address here, but lately I’ve been thinking more about a different kind of communication. There’s another gap in the ways people communicate, namely the ways in which scholars publish and the ways students read.
Since I turned forty, I’ve become a person who listens to talk radio while driving. Even worse: I listen to talk radio at the gym and during long bike rides as a way to feel “pumped” and motivated. As if this dorkiness transition were incomplete, I also recently deleted most of my social media apps and profiles, because I’m increasingly horrified by these systems’ desires to steal and share my personal data. I stand by my abhorrence of social media platforms, but this combination of slowing down and opting out means I’m becoming the kind of person who “discovers” what the kids are doing by hearing columns in the New Yorker– columns read to me by a calm voice while I use my elliptical trainer. So that’s the scene, if you can picture it.
Against this backdrop, I’ve been working with students on my campus who are putting together a new student publication. When I’ve attended their board meetings, I’m struck by the ease with which they navigate identity and gender pronouns, that they’ve all heard of “famous” YouTubers and can recite their massive interpersonal battles held online, that they grab images and files from online to use in their articles without a second thought to who might “own” those materials. In a This American Life episode (#637, “Words You Can’t Say”), Ira interviews a YouTube star, Laci Green, who became famous for her videos about sex ed. Her personal and online life exploded when she posted a video describing herself as a feminist, which got her attention from major traditional publications like Bustle, while also opening her up to significant harassment and death threats from anti-feminist YouTubers. As her story continues, the allegiance of her fan-base shifts, as an ultra progressive contingent harasses her for misusing identity-terms describing sexuality and gender (including her using the term “dyke,” which I’m personally a fan of). As her use of language becomes increasingly scrutinized by leftist activists, she becomes so frustrated that she reaches across the aisle and ends up befriending many of the anti-feminist crusaders who previously sent her death threats. Her former feminist fans don’t know how to forgive her. I don’t know how to even count the ways this story depresses me, but I have a feeling my students can speak about it with ease and fluidity.
A few weeks ago, the writer and activist Darnell L. Moore came to the CSI campus to read from his book, No Ashes in the Fire. He was perhaps the most electrifying speaker I’ve ever heard read on any campus anywhere, so afterwards I checked out his book from the LaGuardia CC Library (thanks, buds!). I was struck by how complicated he allows his narrative to be, how he almost insists on pushing the reader past their comfort zones. He describes dangerous sexual practices during the AIDS epidemic as a response to being told his death was a foregone conclusion (he’s ok); he describes his father’s physical abuse of his mother while also implicating himself in his future thought-patterns during relationships with his partners. He describes giving a fantastic and well-received speech about glbtq rights in Newark, but only after he first interrogates his own internalized misogyny in order to become the open person he needed to be to give that speech. This is what I found striking: Moore relentlessly details his mistakes. He doesn’t cast himself as an anti-hero, either; he describes himself as a well-meaning but imperfect person. These radical admissions in his narrative give me hope for a form of communication that can someday translate to the social media circus, a place where young people are currently able to express themselves freely, but not without extreme repercussions.
Meanwhile, back at my library, I write academic articles I hope other academics can find and read from behind paywalls, and I also teach students to find, download, and cite worthy academic articles to support their schoolwork. Honestly, I struggle to bridge a gap in information literacy in an environment where students are fluent in forms of communication I find disorienting, like YouTube Communities, while I’m tasked with helping them understand why “peer-review” matters. Is there any sensible way to connect these dots? Perhaps those among us who have not fled the social media scene can offer me some insight into ways in which the discourse that happens online can fluidly shift into and inform academic spaces, and vice-versa. A thoughtful colleague of mine suggested to me that social media dialog and academic dialog might not be as disparate as I think they are, and that there are positive opportunities for academics to test out an idea on twitter, spark a conversation with others, and then bring those thoughts back into the academic sphere in the form of a blog post, an academic article, or a book chapter. I’m also aware of the myriad ways in which open pedagogy advocates are using blogs and interactive forms of online dialog as a way to expand conversations that would otherwise be sequestered to a physical classroom. There is room for scholars to explore ways to expand the traditional concepts of “scholarly communication” to include less structured forms of dialog with our academic communities (ah, but how to make non-traditional communication “count” towards tenure!).
Given that this post is a blog post, and inherently open to community feedback, I am open to your thoughts and suggestions! I am unlikely to respond positively to death threats (too soon to make a joke?) but would love to hear ideas about ways to bridge what in my darker moments seem like unbridgeable gaps in communication modalities. THANKS.
-Anne Hays, Asst Professor & Coordinator of Library Instruction, College of Staten Island, CUNY