But technology is never neutral and I’m starting to see pause and critique as part of my charge, too.
This opening quote is from Robin Camille Davis, Emerging Technologies & Distance Services Librarian at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY. An “Emerging Technologies Librarian” is one of several digital librarian positions that have come into existence over the last decade or so in academic libraries, including Digital Services Librarian, Digital Humanities Librarian, Digital Scholarship Librarian, and others. All of these positions, more or less, are tasked with confronting a vast ecosystem of digital tools and methods for a variety of purposes from doing library outreach via popular social media platforms to collaborating with scholars working with obscure digital research tools. It’s a drastically difficult task, especially for positions that rarely have much further support outside of their own singular job description. And, yet, it’s an eminently vital task, as digital technologies proliferate and penetrate, privacy concerns are obscured and eroded, tech discourse dominates everything from our daily lives to popular politics, and as disciplines in the humanities struggle to discuss, engage, use, and critique digital tools.
Davis was responding to a post published on the radical librarian blog LibrarianShipwreck, titled “Will Technological Critique Emerge with Emerging Technology Librarians?” The author of this post—who goes by name Luddbrarian, derived from Ned Ludd, whose actions inspired the Luddites—wonders if as these digital librarian positions evolve, will those in them embrace critical thinking about digital technology in addition to their research, selection, curation and implementation of various digital technologies, platforms, and tools. This is an anxiety we’ve also seen in digital humanities, elaborated, to some extent, in collections such as Matthew Gold’s Debates in the Digital Humanities and, increasingly and more to the point, in online conversations and conference panels, and in blog posts like Michael Widner’s “The Digital Humanists’ (Lack of) Response to the Surveillance State.” This question that’s been put to librarians—will technological critique emerge with the emergence of digital librarianship—is important for us to also ask of the humanities more broadly. But why, one might wonder, is this important?