Student Delegate Report, ARLIS UK & Ireland Conference 2019, Glasgow

Student Delegate Report, ARLIS UK & Ireland Conference 2019, Glasgow

Bridget McCall,  Glasgow School of Art


This year’s ARLIS conference was held on the 15-17th July at the University of Glasgow and comprised talks and workshops creatively expressing themes of digitisation, accessibility and the promotion of effective information skills training. Some of the most emotive speakers at this year’s conference addressed the conference’s third theme, which was how libraries can assist in the decolonisation of the curriculum in higher and further education. These speakers discussed the difficulties of supporting these efforts while remaining neutral as a University employee, empowering and enabling students to interrogate their institutions and curriculum themselves. As an MSc Information and Library Studies student at the University of Strathclyde I have focused much of my research around radical librarianship, and methods by which librarians can give a voice to their library users and the marginalised groups in their collections, with a particular focus on zines and collaborative tagging.  I also work as a Library Assistant, managing the Glasgow School of Art’s Resource List service, and I believe that this service has the potential to be employed as a useful tool for advocacy, and effectively express radical values as they relate to decolonisation. This conference was a valuable experience for developing ideas in this capacity, and relating to creative digitisation.


Presentation: Eleanore Widger, University of Dundee
Special Collections Digitisation in the Scottish Poetry Library

Eleanore Widger is a PHD student working to digitise the Scottish Poetry Library’s concrete poetry and artists’ book collection. Widger studied English Literature prior to this project, so in creatively digitising these objects she saw a movement from on-the-page analysis to analysis of the poetic object. This analysis was necessary in order to better understand how to digitise something in the way it would ‘want’ to be digitised: to either mimic the sensory experience of handling the object in person, or to somehow express the poetic intent of the object. She completed this digitisation project using simple digitisation techniques and technology, demonstrating it to be a very attainable possible future project for libraries and galleries with similar collections. This project saw her using photography, text, video, gifs and 3D scanning to capture the objects’ poetic intent where she deemed appropriate. An example of this creative digitisation was a badge which read ‘at a glance’, filmed briefly flashing into view on the lapel of a jacket. Digitisation is integral to the provision of an accessible resource list service, but digitisation as it appears in lists at GSA is limited largely to book and journal articles for use as teaching tools. Providing exciting visual resources of this kind could be a good means of broadening the definition and function of a more traditional reading list in the field of visual arts, creating a new means of experiencing an object digitally. Integrating digital galleries of this kind into resource lists can also help to showcase under-used and potentially valuable specialist collections to students who may not know about them, or have time to see them in person.


Presentation: Bec Wonders, Glasgow School of Art
Behind the veil: mapping feminist periodicals, 1970-1990

Bec Wonders described the process of her PHD project which made for an engaging talk that drew parallels with modern feminist dialogue as it occurs through social media usage. The end goal of Wonders’ project was to create a descriptive digital database of feminist theory. This database would create a profile of each feminist publication, including the history and readership of each, as many of these periodicals adopted separate branches of feminist theory which were in opposition to the views of other readerships.These periodicals would be organised in a comprehensive list of feminist publishing. This sense of ownership is something that Wonders drew particular attention to through her analysis of the letters sections of these periodicals, as women would shape the nature of each issue, critique other periodicals and have discussions with each other over the course of multiple issues.

Drawing parallels with Widger’s talk, Wonders discusses the material consciousness of an item. Where Widger’s work seeks to capture the artist’s intent, and create a more complex world for the object to inhabit than a photograph alone, Wonders’ work emphasises the consciousness of these works through showing how their readers, and the broader network of feminist publications, shape the work, and dynamically engage with it. Wonders’ work is an exciting future resource for an art community wherein feminist discussion more often occurs through the immediacy of social media, in contrast to the delayed responses of issue-to-issue letter sections. I would be interested to see how this change in information exchange effects the nature of dynamic material consciousness in current and digital feminist periodicals.


Keynote: Dr David Dibosa, Chelsea College of Arts
Re-worlding our knowledge
Presentation: Laura Elliott & Alice Harvey, Goldsmiths
Liberate Our Library: embedding social justice work in everyday practice

David Dibosa’s talk was useful in providing a basis for talking and thinking about decolonisation and race in an institution, and approaching activism as a professional and employee in that institution. Indeed, he asked whether it was possible to be both an activist and an institutional practitioner, and to what extent you have independence to support activism and direct action in an apparently ‘neutral’ space. Dibosa highlighted the importance of knowing and addressing the political legacy of an institution and using this knowledge to address a skewed understanding of how Western knowledge is presented as complete, while often silencing or disregarding the voices of the marginalised. Ways in which he suggested librarians could help to highlight Black presence, and create dialogue around potentially problematic collections included being conscious of these items in our collections and ‘calling them out’, deaccessioning items, or rewriting their catalogue records to include trigger warnings. He also detailed a project where curating students were urged to look again at works by black artists, in an attempt to break up the generic language used when speaking about works made by these artists.


Laura Elliott and Alice Harvey, in their talk ‘Liberate Our Library: embedding social justice work in everyday practice’ also raised an interesting means of creating dialogue around specific digitised works using Talis Player as part of a course curriculum. Talis Player allows a pdf to be examined and annotated by a group. From the perspective of decolonising resource lists this could be a potential tool for group analysis and discussion of a problematic text, or for students to hold academics to account for the lack of diverse material used in support of their learning. Dibosa’s talk provoked passionate responses from the audience: many discussed their difficulty in remaining professionally neutral in the face of the political legacy of their institution, displaying collections which triggered personal racial trauma, or supporting students in direct action. Reflecting upon this experience, it is clear that there is much for librarians to do in support of students in a professional capacity, but we must think carefully about how to reconcile our professionalism with our individual beliefs, and when it is appropriate to intervene in an increasingly hostile political environment.