Reads of the Week!
- “Undigesting Deleuze” by Brian Massumi, accessible at LA Review of Books
- “The Idea of a Writing Center” by Stephen M. North in College English v46 n5 p433-46 Sep 1984
This has been a week of reading things that help me frame librarianship in new ways. The first regards what image of thought we might recognize in libraries or library work—“library work” here meaning actions of assembling, maintaining, and/or using libraries in multiple, expansive modes. “Speculative pragmatism” as Massumi describes it sounds much more apt to encourage the sort of vibrant, generative, transformative library use I hope for than a librarianship that primarily regards its holdings as objects representative of larger generalities. The second offers a way of thinking about how the educational possibilities libraries & librarians can offer their users—I’m explicitly including public libraries here!—differ from other areas for education.
Massumi has translated, explicated, & extended much of Deleuze’s work for English speakers, which helps explain how he can distill so much into this brief summary of Deleuze’s work and its reception by the Anglophone academy. In addition to encapsulating a lot of what Deleuze’s writing forwards about things as processes of becoming, my reading of this short piece sees it offering excellent provocations for librarianship.
The first provocation would be the championing of singularities over generalities and how this would trouble classification systems—but I’ll just leave that alone for the moment, in part because I’d have a hard time not just asking you to read Emily Drabinski’s “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction” as a starting point. Basically, I think there’s a lot in common between Queer Theory and many of Deleuze’s insights.
For the moment, I’m most interested in another, second potential within the piece, the “speculative pragmatism” Massumi terms Deleuze’s approach. When reading about critical librarianship, information literacy instruction, or reference, I’ve often come across passages that resonate with Massumi’s words in the second-to-last paragraph, the one that conveys what he thinks matters about speculative pragmatism’s ethics of engagement:
To prove equal to the import, to follow the trail of the mattering-on, to honor the potential of the process, it is necessary to participate with great pragmatic and speculative care — and just as much artfulness. There is by the nature of this activity a political element to it. The art of mutual inclusion, with care: that could stand as the very definition of the political.
Librarianship as a profession that is simultaneously caring, pragmatic, and deeply political? One that attends to the tendencies and specifics of people or works, in hopes of witnessing their transformations? An image of information professionals who proceed not by authoritarian detachment or a priori assumptions, but by participation in processes of research & evaluation?
Yes. Let’s recognize this type of library work where it’s already under way & aim to make it so elsewhere. If you’ve got tactics, please share ‘em.
“The Idea of a Writing Center”
North’s piece—certainly offering itself as a corrective, possibly verging on an exasperated intervention—aims to clarify a college writing center’s purpose as well as explain why it’s particularly painful to learn that the calls for student to go there to focus on “fixing errors” are coming from… inside the house!!! More specifically, the focus on sentence and grammar-level errors over higher-order organizational and rhetorical concerns often comes from fellow English and Writing faculty. Why am I so intrigued by a piece on writing centers?1
His discussion addresses how Writing Centers stand as the material investments made by institutions for modes of learning that recognize more agency within students than they often are granted within classrooms. Writing Centers tend to aim at a collaborative pedagogical approach, one that is student-centered in one of the strongest senses possible. Despite offering a one-on-one dialogic approach that harkens back toward Socratic engagement, North attests that Writing Centers too often are seen as “fix-it” services, with instructors seeing them as serving primarily students who need supplemental guidance rather than places that can aid any writer seeking to hone their mental, rhetorical, organizational, grammatical, etc. skills.
You can probably anticipate where this is headed by now. The “guide on the side” approach involves a student-initiated interaction, much as does a Writing Center appointment. Libraries can just as readily be seen as material investments in the capacity for students to integrate and extend what they learn in classrooms, doing so with guidance by experts but in ways lead by the students themselves. Much as Writing Center staff and faculty aim for far more than the “fix-it” center they can be misunderstood to be, library instruction aims to be not just where to click, but opportunities to help patrons think critically about information.
Behind every “Ask a Librarian!” chat interface, there’s the pedagogical potential for something like an incursive “Research Center,” an opportunity for one-on-one instruction that’s initiated by the student when they might be at their most attuned to learning and engaging in depth. I’m intrigued to see what other parallels there might be between Writing Centers and libraries. I’m well aware that this isn’t a new idea—“Learning Commons” and/or Writing Centers located in libraries have become quite a Thing—but I think it’s a notion worth looking at in much more detail.
At my own campus, I started by asking the Writing Center director if the staff there has any shared approach to discussing how research and sources fit into writing, any common rhetoric or key phrases that we could reinforce in our library instruction sessions. He said that they share the phrase “sources support ideas, not supply ideas.” In addition to pointing me to North’s piece—“It’s kind of a rant,” he smiled broadly—he also suggested Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts, which I’m looking forward to reading. I’ll keep posting other readings I find—and I’ll look forward to hearing what other people find as well.
Totally Separate Tech Note
I’m publishing this a few days later than I’d like (it’s Wednesday, not the weekend), which is oddly due to the fact that I have been able to get more into the writing itself. This is the first time I’m using Working Copy and Textastic to edit the Jekyll repository on my phone before pushing it to GitHub.
Somehow, typing on my phone brought out more liveliness in my writing than these weekly things often tend to have. Maybe I’m just getting more comfortable with these write-ups, maybe the platform puts me into a different headspace, or maybe the mobile device means I can write whenever I happen to be in the preferred headspace? I’m not going to claim simple causality here, but I will say that it’s been a nice additional option for working with a Jekyll blog.
Ok, you got me. It is indeed in part because I’ve worked in Writing Centers for years, on-and-off since I was a senior in undergrad. But wait… there’s more! That’s not the main reason at all! So head back out of these footnotes and keep reading the main ideas, Turbo Overachiever McReadsItAll. ↩