Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene Colloquium

Fabulous colloquium in NYU – May 13-14, 2017 – small, everyone attending the same sessions all day, lots of discussions in break and diverse content and perspectives to share.  This first time event was created and planned by:

WATCH THE RECORDINGS + read a great summary on the SustainRT blog
+ read my detailed notes below:


9:00-10:00 Keynote, Roy Scranton, Learning to Die in the Anthropocene
We failed to stop climate change. Period. Hope is a 4 letter word.
To imagine something different in the present and future, to save something of the past for the future is a Utopian presence. Is it really all that bad you think? We are growing our renewable energy for one example… but it would be prudent to act on the evidence – we know that those in power won’t care. things have just gone downhill over the recent decades.  Those in power do not care about the future. Capitalism. Greed. We need a survivalist ethos now.
You want answers?  How might we imagine ourselves in the late Anthropocene dead state?  Look at authors who discuss post-apocalyptic futures. Sci Fi.  Suggested reads :

  • The Collapse of western civilization novel by Oreske and  Conway
  • William Gibson’s  novel Peripheral
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr
  • JG Ballard’s the Drowned World

So what does this mean for the future of our work?
Keep in mind the reality: History will be rewritten again and again by the winners
What do we need to do?  Best option Go Local. Build sustainable communities.

10:00-12:00 – 20-minute papers – Archival Theory and the Crisis

  1. Rick Prelinger: Collecting Strategies for the Anthropocene
    Be careful about our priorities when outside forces are controlling what we can prioritize.
    How are we responding to the effects of the anthropocene in collecting?
    Collections need to be protected but so does the process and the archives themselves. EX: internet archives building a mirror site outside the US
    Communities should own and collect their assets yes but how can/are they being preserved/maintained/accessible? … specially if that community does not survive?
    Twitter share:   “at stake… are not the worlds these collections claim to represent, but… the worlds they invite us to imagine and even realize “#archivesFail (@bspalmieri )
    He suggest we use permaculture principles apply to archival work:

  1. Jen Hoyer and Nora Almeida: Living Archives*
    They are librarians who volunteers at the Interference Archive in Brooklyn! Open stacks, volunteer run, community funded. The local place in the community is important. Collection policy defines the community.
    A living archives – a place for social interaction, a nexus between communities, a bridge between past and future.
    Anthropocene is framed in a narrative – ideological, post political, disconnected from socio political reality, a place that is not quite this place now.
    Problems with this narrative – mainly from wealthy countries, that frame capitalism and tech as neutral, etc. this undermines our agency
    Environmental change as social change – a continuum of events that we are both in and affected by
    Reimagine Anthropocene as discipline, cultural and social
    It might look like – activism, art, scholarship, civic engagement documentation… need to open to other voices so all voices can be heard
    Archives and silence – change cultural expectations and make alternative narratives heard
    Archives can foster dialogue btw time and space.
    Propaganda parties!
    Check out their “anthropo-zine”
  2. Jill Kubit: DearTomorrow
  • Climate change communication has not been effective … need more narrative storytelling, visual imagery and trusted messages
  • She created a digital platform for people to personalize climate change and share message with others to influence the public education on the topic “Dear Tomorrow”  #deartomorrow
  • Stand in the future and talk to someone in the present they care about and will that make it more personal
  • Research shows legacy is a strong driver to people’s actions now for the future. (BUT HOW DO YOU GET THE PEOPLE WHO NEED TO HEAR THIS AND THINK ABOUT LEGACY TO PAY ATTENTION OR CARE???)
  • Scale – distributed model works best
  • Other narratives are weaved into this story (ex blacklivesmatter & climate change in one letter)  Also – they are asking people to make a public commitment in their lives and share it.  They put together a video of the letters (its on FB)
  • Biking to work for political reasons, getting a CSA or going to a farmers market is such white privilege
  • 3 main groups they work with: Mothers out front, Moms  ???,  Climate parents — but she feels its not limited to moms, the narrative can expand to others groups too
  1. Aruna Magier: Water, Land, and Forests: Documenting India’s Environmental Activism
  • overview of the litany of environmental degradation in India. Irresponsible farming, mining, rivers full of plastic.
  • A young girl has filed a law suit against the govt of India about the environmental conditions and she blames them for not taking care of their people. Farmers protesting the management of repeated droughts. Protests against mining.
  • Historical social movements in India are critical to where they are today
  • Magier speaking on documenting these movements
  1. Ben Goldman: Things the Grandchildren Should Know: Archives and the Origin of an Ecocentric Future
  • Grew up in a very different sheltered conservative upbringing – took a while for him to become educated on the reality of climate change.
  • How can his role in archives make a difference he ponders. How do you talk to your kids and grandkids about this? And your irresponsibility?
  • His goal – how can archives make a difference in capturing the environmental issues as stewards
  • Archivist appraisal is critical (there is still no consensus on how to do this) Look to our planetary evidence. Records of environmental activists. Need to become more engaged across disciplines to capture data & stories   – need to listen to key communities!
  • Keep in mind to preserve something in an archives we also add to the problem – aka fossil fuels used to keep these materials : (

Q/A summary:  Tension between fighting the capitalistic society but we need a space/place and to pay for it and make sure we don’t take money from those we disagree with but …its complex.

Less is more.


1:15-2:50 – 20-minute papers – Crisis and Survival

  1. John Burgess: Adaptability and Resilience: A Core LIS Value
    A report from the field – a case for resilience and adaptability as lis core values (LIS grad school in Alabama) – aka how he slips in sustainability to his students on the down low.
  2. Personal stake  – Never mention the word ethics or people think you are judging them. But really its whatever you find a way to growth toward what is most meaningful to you. some days you are down and loose hope but you recover and keep at it to give passion to others.
  3. Moral imperatives of Anthropocene /4 moral obligations– awareness and memory (L Floridi) – moral imperative to fight entropy and what is your mission on earth?; rational agency and continuance (I. Kant) – cant bend humans to your will ;fairness (j. Rawls, D. Parfit, G. Wolf) – social responsibility is Rawls; authentic otherness (A. Naess) – diversity of ways of thinking, cognitive justice
  4. Are the core values of LIS sufficient to address those imperatives?  Core values such as Access, confidentiality/privacy, democracy, diversity, education, lifelong learning, IF, preservation, the Public good, professionalism, service, social responsibility… whats lacking?  If you disuses these as LIS core values and label them “from ALA” students will follow along.
  5. Are  (personal, community, country) resilience and adaptability LIS values?  Do these core values +resilience + adaptability sufficiently address those imperatives? Or is it just my personal stake (we think both) Maps the core values  3 to moral imperatives 2 and rational agency included adaptability and resilience.  Collective Action with all our policies and process in the library, cross dept. with many different ways to do this. Changing habits.
  6. Billy Templeton: School Libraries and the Anthropocene: A Curricular Hail Mary to the Future   Teaches in a public school.  Married to a librarian 🙂
  • Terrible story about a school, science teaches climate change but the english teacher does not and makes then debate their belief (these are adults, people of power over kids and poisons then kids open minded school culture)
  • Incompetence in our federal school system for teaching about climate change. Though we are supposed to “teach kids how to succeed in global economy” how can we when we are not allowed or have to be careful in taking about climate change ?!
  • Heartland institute is trying to get a copy of its book – why scientist do not believe in climate change –  into every science teaching and is succeeding in some states – scary
  • his idea – place based learning for students to do service learning, hands on, library innovation lab, etc. Teaching children problem solving skills is our moral imperative.
  1. Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco: Next Epoch Seed Library: An Archive of Weedy Species (*love*)
  •   – lend seeds, collect seeds – the gaps between what most seed banks do (Most seed banks are mainly agricultural). They collect weed seeds in the city!  Are there really a bad thing – but a weed can be a positive (imagine them coming up in cracks in the cement) and useful.  But these weeds are becoming endangered.  What they do:
  • They look for “junk spaces” to collect them
  • Have installation at various places of their finds.
  • Have a seed walks too
  • Did a seed viability test. Grew many of them!
  • Want to work with children more  – share, grow, educate
  • Creating better documentation
  • Did you know …. Ceramic is a great material in which to store seeds!!! (800 year old squash seeds were found in a ceramic container and grew)
  • Reminds me of
  • Chalking to promote weeds around town!!!!  (they wrote with chalk around “weeds” around town to tell people what these things were good for  … an act of Resistance)
  1. Fred Stoss: Preparedness Matters: Library Roles in Planning for Disaster

How do you become and stay prepared for upcoming disasters in your library?  The role of public libraries. Good science, good data. Lots of info on slides  – LOOK FOR HIS RECORDING OR SLIDES! I missed some of this session….

2:50-3:30 – Five minute lightning talks with 15 minutes for discussion

  1. Jennifer Bonnet: Engaging with the Human Dimensions of Climate Change – films, books with a professor to create a series/program and discussion. virtual displays of materials in the library; included twitter posts of their discussions.
  2. Monica Berger and John Carey: Open Scholarship and Climate Change: The Imperative for a New Information Ecosystem for the Anthropocene – our scholarly com system is broken – neoliberalism, a commodity. Global south has lots of scholarly lit but they will also be the ones most effective. Open Science!
  3. Robert Chen: Enabling Interdisciplinary Use of Scientific Data on Human Interactions in the Environment – manages a NASA data center on social and natural sciences at Columbia (need both these disciplines of social + natural sciences to study climate change); some barriers of two disciplines – focus on people vs pixels
  4. Hannah Hamalainen: Humanitarian Crisis Mapping in the Library – earthquake in Haiti. Live tweets and asking for help. They mapped the tweets of people’s needs. And it was overlaid on satelight maps then used by gov’t and military. Crisis mapping! map-a-thon for humanitarian crisis mapping – librarians can teach these skills, connect people, host event

Q/A  Listen to this   Storytelling is key but does depend on the audience – public might want stories but economist might need facts.  Also look at archival evidence too – make your own narrative.

3:40-5:00 – Plenary and end of day discussion: Howard Besser, Eira Tansey, Jill Kubit, and John Burgess *

  • What are we going to do for new fuels? no  what’s  really wrong? That we need so many fuels to begin with. Capitalism.
  • Mitigation or adaption side? Adaptation ?  Doesn’t get to the root cause and masks the real issue. To find a solution.  The root cause is really that we are a consumption based society, a disempowered society, not just “climate change” .  It’s a continuum not are we going to fix it or not
  • Reject the narrative –  “We fucked it all up and now we are fucked”  – this dissolves us of responsibility.
  • Several disagree with the keynote – we need to keep up with HOPE.  Read the Hope in the Dark book  “hope is an ax that you use to knock down doors with” – rebecca solint
  • Record whats happening or play a role in shaping whats happening. Teaching more than info lit,  teach political rhetoric.
  • Reclaiming the language of climate change, use other words or use the words….
  • IMLS grant transforming communities – training libraries to be facilitators of dialogues in their communities
  • Think about end of something and beginning something new era –  Should be called the Capitalisocene not Anthropocene
  • Look to the tribal infrastructure –  knowing your neighbors and communities.
  • Physically living off the land is hard but spiritually being a part of capitalistic society is really harh
  • “patriarchal theocracy”
  • Collapse of the world as we know it, has been happening to many already.
  • What is the tipping point to get people to realize this issue? Insurance underwriting might be it? really until the water is at their door, people will not wake up to it!


9:00-10:30 – 20-minute papers – Rethinking Libraries

  1. Amy Brunvand: Re-Localizing the Library: An Environmental Humanities Model
      • The end of nature 1989 by bill mckibben . The age of missing information bill mckibben – idea of placelessness; people are losing the sense of place,
      •  the university is sort of like this; but Amy says the library can help create a local sense of place
      • Environmental humanities grad program stated by terry tempest williams of U of U.  Field course to engage in the community and create a sense of place
      • Libraries are mainly about licensing electronic publications etc, that everyone else is buying. Yes it should be a portal to information but it should also represent the local, unique collections. Libraries should aim to be the local node in a global information system representing their local.
      • Environmental humanities model— “ecology of residency
      • Tell stories that can make change. Share books that made a difference
      • Movie “Wrenched” – people inspired by The Monkey Wrench Gang  with Tim Dechristopher
      • Geographic distribution of libraries  if perfect to create many nodes representing their local.
      • Poetry reflects the local landscape too:

        Poem from

        Poem from

      1. Jodi Shaw: Climate Change, Libraries, and Survival Literacy: A Practical Guide *
      • Get away from centralize infrastructure (the grid) and go uber local, libraries can help be a force to achieve this transition. Focus on cities. More than half global population lives in cities.
      • Grid – for water, energy waste, sewage, transport people and commodities, transmit communications.  It’s all getting old, but we all depend on it and are vulnerable because a of it.
      • Local infrastructures are more resilient  – have the local create them so they support them.
      • Our current high tech is using the old grid (one power line down it all goes out)
      • Even renewables depend on minerals harvested from the earth and live on the grid
      • How can we create and build the infrastructure locally?  Libraries! We can teach and offer resources:
      • Air – no good answer
      • Water – humans need 5 liters a day, need for growing food (animals), basic hygiene, sanitation (?)  – when cities flood then we are walking around in our own feces. Waterless sanitation!
      • Going off the pipe – rainwater harvesting, stormwater collection (italians are using coffee filters and other things to figure out how to get rid of heavy metals) – see her slides for other ideas. Maybe libraries can have examples of these for people to see – maerkspace-ish.
      • Food – rooftop gardens,  ( vertical farming (not a viable solution right now – still uses the grid and only for lettuce and herbs –  but ideas here that we can apply and learn from), hunting/gathering (picking local, what you can pick and how to eat it – libraries can offer resources and classes on this!)
      • Shelter – learn from slum dwellers who live very local – maybe we can learn from them?
      • Sanitation – we need to start composting our feces instead of putting it in the water.  Joe Jenkinds “humanure Handbook” been composting his feces for 30 years!
      • Energy –  going off grid but on the grid house.
      • Information – find it in the library
      • Teach Survival literacy 


      1. Jennifer Gunter King: A Changing Library for Rising Tides
      • Adapting to change – Designing off site collection spaces for materials for libraries that are in critical places
      • Start first with what is a library, question what we are and what we do
      • Hampshire college 1970 to prepared students for changing world; the library was also
      • “The library and information transfer center” a good read from 1969 that predicted trends of today
      • Library – knowledge commons – libraries teaching exposition skills, along with writing etc
      • Fastest rate of sea level rise in the world is from Cape Hatteress to Maine.
      • Are archives primary repositories?  Then how are we dealing with various local collections everywhere around the world. Can we share print regional repositories and get over the ego of ownership and come together, save energy in high density, shared space.
    1. Jacob Berg, Angela Galvan, and Eamon Tewell: Academic Libraries and the False Promises of Resiliency 
    • Libraries need to learn to say NO . We are professional martyrs.
    • It should be libraries save not save libraries
    • Angela Galvan: Resilience offers an individual response to a structural problem
    • We should pay more for salaries PEOPLE over things MATERIALS since those costs go up 5% each year our salaries do not.
    • Center for the future of libraries  – resilience theme. Does not like this.  Libraries have been resilient over the years  but  now it’s turned into librarians and archivists not the library as an institution
    • What we need is to Give people space to fail. (uh yea that is behind the maker movement)
    • Collection dev can offer counter narratives
    • Neoliberal  fight for resilient resources
    • “Think like a marxist” – who benefits from these narratives about resilience?
    • Supervisors: Encourage risk taking, give space to fail, staff time to be melancholy 
  2. Q/A I really connected to sense of place  (placelessness) theme in the talks today!
    Adaptation? Or not? Words. Nuances. Hidden meanings. Narratives. Discussion  ensued on the 2 ideas of resilience  – and its connection to what we came here today to solve. Conflation of resilience term.  The term is used here in terms of resiliency of communities (and their libraries)  facing environmental change not people.  Are libraries now pushed in competition for funding and existence –  which in turns is pushes the burden on the staff/the people after collections?————————————————————————————————————————————-10:30-12:00 – 20-minute papers – Maintaining Access, Digital Resilience
  3. 1.Heather Christenson: The Large-scale Digital Library and Response to the Anthropocene
    • Research library at large scale Hathi Trust, 128 libraries (north america) mission is preservation and access.
    • Digitizing resources even though they are from the past, the ideas/concepts can be used again, learned from. Such as solar power or electric cars – might give us ideas we can apply now.
    • Bethany Nowviskie   – digital humanities in the anthropocene 
    • Check out the “Other lab” in san fran

2. Sarah Lamdan: Improving Access to Environmental Information and Records (Lawyer and librarian)

    • We have no good laws in the US on what environmental info is and parameters on what we collect and save.
    • According to the EU –  What is environmental information?  See slide
    • Decentralized information. On so many location – national and local. Can be really frustrating to find the info needed. Multitude of sources. From researchers to govt to polluters  so …. She wrote a book on it/coming out soon:  Environmental information: research access and decision-making by sarah lamdan
    • Quick review of govt processes:  Legislature branch passes laws and create documentation. Judicial interprets what that documentation means and how it applies.  Executive is where most information is created (NASA, EPA, etc) and executive orders tell those agencies to do it …. Legislative branch = congress –  grants admin authority to the agency to figure out how to carry details out. These agencies can response quickly more so than legislature.
    • Why is it so impt?  3 key reasons: Much of our environmental data is in gov databases.  they use this info to make decisions, and we have a right to know what our government is up to!
    • Data Refuge! FOIA is broken – we need central hubs for this information and experts to help us understand it, advocate for open access of information and quick access.
    • Recommends re read (have in our library) and comment on laws and proposals —  the art of commenting beth mullins 

    1. Robert Montoya: Documenting Biodiversity: Information, Libraries, and Professional Ethics

    The catalog of life: nomenclature and hierarchy  Global database of species

  1. 1:00-2:40 – 20-minute papers – Architectures of Resilience
    1. Paulina Mikiewicz: The Library of 2114

    Not a librarian but studies libraries.


    • Library of water
    • Global seed vault in Norway
    • Baltimore aquarium seeking status to be a living library (?)
    • Liyuan library in china


    1. Charlie Macquarie: Libraries, Landscapes, Stewardship: The Library of Approximate Location
    • Its easier to imagine the end of the world then the end of capitalism!
    • The American West as living Space by Wallace Stegner
    • End of capitalism we could start to organize things much like we do as libraries.


    1. Eira Tansey, Ben Golditman, Tara Mazurczyk, and Nathan Piekielek: Climate Control: Vulnerabilities of American Archives to Rising Seas, Hotter Days and More Powerful Storms
    • Intense session on climate change and climate modeling and how scary it really is!
    • Next Steps – archives need to start collecting data about ourselves (archive local data), open data for public reuse
    • “what if it’s a big hoax and we created a better world for nothing”  cartoon


    1. Mark Wolfe: Efficiency: Friend or Foe of Sustainability? Exploring the Impact of Jevons Paradox on the Archival Profession
    • In economics, the Jevons paradox (or effect) occurs when technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, but the rate of consumption of that resource rises because of increasing demand. EX: More lanes on a highway = more traffic!
    • What would jevons drive a prius or a hummer? (actually the hummer has its own carbon tax built into it aka user has to put more $$ into their commute) Paradox of fuel efficiency. It actually increases use of fuel.
    • Dream of the paperless office – a falsehood.  Rise of the PC gave rise to MORE paper docs
    • Moore’s Law – really an observation – “the number of electronic components which could be crammed into an integrated circuit was doubling every year”
    • Invest in people not things
    • More greener repository means less carbon tax so you can build MORE spaces; growing means more use instead of less. And we end up with more “dirty” activities (like I saved a lot of money so I can take a long hot shower!)
    • Suggested read – Peter Senge Thinking of System


    2:40-3:30 – Five minute lightning talks with 15 minutes for discussion

    1. Carla Leitao: Foundation Landscapes of Massive Oblivion
    2. Wendy Highby: The Tesseract, The Tesla, and the Anti-Reflexivity Thesis: How Librarians Can Save the World
    3. William Denton: GHG.EARTH
    4. Andrea Atkins: Libraries and Sustainability in the Former Soviet Union
    5. Beth Filar Williams: Integrating Sustainability into the Daily Work Practices: Lessons Learned as a Manager
    6. Evi Klett: Supporting Regenerative Practices in Denver: Programming and Networking @DPL
    7. Sarah Burke Cahalan: Libraries and Laudato Si’
    8. Amanda Avery: Our Dark Materials: A Steampunk Future for Libraries?




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