August 6, 2013
Librarians and Archivists to Palestine has just published a post-delegation statement (reproduced in full below). The statement has also been posted on the widely-read Middle East website Mondoweiss, where there is some additional discussion and context in the comments (one commenter even wrote, “Once again, it is librarians who step up where others fear to tread,” which may not be totally accurate but is still nice to hear). If you want to join LAP’s (low-traffic!) email announcement list, send a blank message to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow @Librarians2Pal and like our Facebook page, and stay tuned for a full report and events, possibly in a town near you!
Update, 8/6/13: There is one edit and one addition to the statement. See asterisks below.
We are an independent group of librarians and archivists who traveled to Palestine from June 23 – July 4, 2013. We come from the US, Canada, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, and Palestine. We bore witness to the destruction and appropriation of information, and the myriad ways access is denied. We were inspired by the many organizations and individuals we visited who resist settler-colonialism in their daily lives. We connected with colleagues in libraries, archives, and related projects and institutions, in the hopes of gaining mutual benefit through information exchange and skill-sharing. We learned about the common and unique challenges we face—both in different parts of Palestine and in our home contexts. In all our travels and work, we respected the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and did not partner with any organization that violates this call. As librarians and archivists, as people who believe in access to information, we affirm that institutional academic and cultural boycotts are appropriate responses to curtailed freedoms and are effective tools for change.
Our group was small, our scope limited. We traveled only to Palestine, and only to parts of Palestine. We were not able to visit Palestinian communities in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, or elsewhere, and our trip was only the first step in creating a network of information workers. We were privileged to visit cities, villages, and refugee camps, and to meet with grassroots activists and institutional representatives. In the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and 1948 Palestine (Israel), we engaged with librarians and archivists about their projects and their struggles.
As we travelled we saw barriers to movement everywhere: walls, checkpoints, turnstiles, metal detectors, segregated roads, surveillance watchtowers, military patrols, security cameras, and settler militias. We saw communities devastated by criminalization and incarceration. We visited the rubble of villages that were destroyed in 1948, and we witnessed the ongoing Judaization of Palestinian communities through new housing developments, unequal provision of municipal services, and the Hebraization of place names. We saw new Israeli settlements hovering on hilltops above Palestinian villages, evidence of the forcible land grabs and displacement that Palestinians have been facing for decades. We met families that have struggled and suffered through egregious violence and yet work every day to secure education, opportunities, safety and a more just world for their children.
The erasure of Palestinian culture and history is a tactic of war and occupation, a means to further limit the self-determination of the Palestinian people. Yet the richness, beauty, and complexity of Palestinian existence was everywhere evident, in the historical and contemporary cultural material produced by writers, poets, journalists, artists, archivists and librarians, and in the histories passed down through stories and from person to person. We bore witness to a culture of resistance, which in all its myriad forms resoundingly refutes the notion that Palestine does not exist.
Our experiences in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and 1948 Palestine (Israel) were complex, challenging, beautiful and deeply meaningful. We met creative, committed, and courageous activists, visionaries, cultural workers, artists, librarians and archivists. Everywhere we went we witnessed the daily lived realities of occupation and colonialism, as well as ongoing resistance and the persistent quest for justice:*
At Aida Refugee Camp located in Bethlehem, we saw how the Apartheid Wall prevented the community from accessing nearby olive groves which had been used for relaxation, studying, animal grazing and agriculture. We also heard about the Lajee Center’s project to map the people’s histories of the camp.
In Nabi Saleh weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the confiscation of the community’s land and water are met with extreme violence from the Israeli military. The villagers are using video to document the violence they experience, as well as collecting the empty tear gas canisters and shell casings which are used against them. This documentation is used by the community to honor their resistance, to communicate their struggle with the wider world, and to dispute false accusations in the courts.
School librarians described the difficulty in obtaining Arabic language children’s literature, especially in 1948 Palestine (Israel). Many of the available books are low-quality translations from Hebrew, and Palestinian children have little access to their own literary heritage.
We visited the destroyed town of Saffourieh and heard from former resident Abu Arab about his experiences fleeing the town as a child during the Nakba. Abu Arab has a museum of Palestinian material culture, which he developed out of his work as an antiques collector. The museum challenges the process of ethnic cleansing and the erasure of cultural memory. Abu Arab is the brother of poet Taha Muhammed Ali.
Throughout Palestine we encountered cultural production by youth to preserve traditions, by the Yaffa Youth Movement in Jaffa, the Yafa Cultural Center in Balata Refugee Camp, and the Lajee Center in Aida Refugee Camp.
We witnessed the documentation of prisoners’ lives, a central experience in the Palestinian struggle against occupation. At the Nablus Public Library we saw the marginalia and creative book repairs in a former prison library collection, and at the Abu Jihad Museum for the Prisoners Movement Affairs we learned about a project to collect and digitize prisoners’ notebooks from across the West Bank.
We learned from the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association that the Israeli military is currently detaining 4,900 Palestinians, including 236 children and 8 members of Palestinian legislature.
In East Jerusalem we visited the Nashashibi Center for Culture and Literature, a rebuilt family library from which all the books were stolen during the Nakba in 1948. We also visited the Orient House, which was closed by the Israeli government in 2001 and had significant portions of its archival collections confiscated.
Librarians at Birzeit University told us of their success in petitioning the Library of Congress to adopt a call number for the First Intifada, recognizing it as a unique historical period even as it was still happening: DS128.4.**
During a meeting with the organization alQaws for Sexual & Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, we learned about the process of organizing across the West Bank / 1948 Palestine border, the articulation of Palestinian-specific understandings of sexual identity, and the Singing Sexuality project, which discusses sexuality through music.
In Lyd, not far from Tel Aviv, we saw where the library of the local school was removed and replaced with a police station.
We visited the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan, where residents of the neighborhood create grassroots media about the settler violence they experience on a daily basis.
At the El Bireh Municipal Library we learned about the Tamer Institute, which produces and publishes Arabic language children’s books that are distributed to libraries and community centers throughout Palestine.
Recognizing the barriers to movement and access that often keep the aforementioned organizations and projects from connecting with each other, and appreciating the importance of accountability to the communities that hosted us in Palestine, our delegation organized a public forum in Ramallah on our last evening together. We shared our initial ideas and asked for feedback about our observations.
While the delegation has ended, our work will continue: we will seek out and convene events in our home communities where we can share our knowledge about the effects of occupation and colonialism on libraries, archives, and Palestinian society; we will publish reports, articles, and zines that document the challenges faced—and the amazing work being done—by Palestinian information workers; we will develop an international network of information workers to facilitate skill-sharing, solidarity work, and community among librarians and archivists in Palestine and abroad; we will lobby national and international library and archival organizations to take tangible steps against the occupation and in support of Palestinian perspectives in information work; we will join Palestinians, Israelis, and international activists in campaigns for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid and colonialism. We will continue to learn and adapt our strategies to changing realities and will engage in critical examinations of our own positions of privilege. Through these activities we will work to support access to information in and about Palestine and Palestinian self-determination.
Librarians and Archivists to Palestine 2013 Delegation:
Bronwen Densmore – New York City College of Technology
Molly Fair – Interference Archive; Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative; CUNY TV
Che Gossett – Independent Archivist, Philadelphia
Amy Greer – Doctoral Candidate, Simmons College
Blair Kuntz – Near and Middle East Studies Librarian, University of Toronto
Grace Lile – WITNESS
Josh MacPhee – Interference Archive; Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative
Rachel Mattson – University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana; Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Hannah Mermelstein – Saint Ann’s School Library; Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
Andrea Miller-Nesbitt – Liaison Librarian, McGill University
Bekezela Mguni – Independent Librarian; New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice
Melissa Morrone – Public Librarian
Vani Natarajan – Barnard College Library
Elisabet Risberg- Librarian, The International Library in Stockholm
Maggie Schreiner – Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive; Rude Mechanical Orchestra
All organizational affiliations are listed for identification purposes only and in no way indicate a position taken by such organizations on the issues raised in this statement.
*For a more complete list of projects and organizations we visited, please see this handout we distributed at our public forum in Ramallah at the end of our delegation.
**An earlier version of this statement listed the call number as DS119.75. Birzeit University librarians have clarified that DS128.4 was the number assigned during the First Intifada, whereas it appears that the Library of Congress assigned a new number (DS119.75) after the Intifada ended. Birzeit University continues to use DS128.4. We apologize for the error.
June 26, 2013
Librarians and Archivists to Palestine is underway! The first of its kind, this delegation is 16 information workers from the West who are spending time in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to meet with archivists and librarians at a wide range of organizations and institutions. We’re discussing issues (some of which we all face, even in our different contexts), exchanging ideas, considering skillshares, and building relationships.
Want to follow LAP’s activities? There’s an email announcement list that you can join by sending a blank message to email@example.com. Most of our delegation’s regular updates during our travels will actually not be on the email list, but through three main venues:
Once we are back, we will also send updates about possible work moving forward based on our conversations on the ground. So far, four days in, there’s a lot of food for thought.
May 28, 2013
Import of the Archive: U.S. Colonial Rule of the Philippines and the Making of American Archival History
Author: Cheryl Beredo
Published: June 2013
Printed on acid-free paper
Published by Litwin Books
This book a part of the Series on Archives, Archivists, and Society, Richard J. Cox, editor.
Import of the Archive examines the role of archives in the United States’ colonization of the Philippines between 1898 and 1916. During this period the archives played a critical part in the United States’ entrenchment of a colonial state, exhibiting the flexibility and authority to enable arguments of the former colonial power’s incompetence and the native population’s incapacity.
Based on extensive research of and in archives in the Philippines and the United States, this book urges readers to consider archival history within the context of America’s imperial history. This book defines the archives broadly, as the accumulation material about a time proclaimed as “historic,” as well as the records of the Bureau of Insular Affairs and the United States’ Philippine Government, and the archives ceded by Spain per the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War.
Taking an historical approach to understanding the political function that archives played in this particular context, this book is intended for classroom use in archival studies curricula. A slim volume, it could be assigned with complementary books or articles on archives in other colonial contexts, critical analyses of libraries and archives, or any number of topics. It will also be of general interest to scholars of archival history and United States-Philippine relations.
May 19, 2013
Recommended to anyone interested in archives and the cultural record: the documentary now streaming on Netflix called The Mexican Suitcase. It’s about the recovery of a cache of photographic negatives made by important photographers who went to fight the fascists with their cameras during the Spanish Civil War. (It’s called The Mexican Suitcase because it ended up hidden in Mexico for 70 years before it was finally discovered.) Robert Capa is the most historically significant of the three. The pictures ended up at the International Center of Photography in NYC. The documentary interviews people who knew the photographers, archivists, survivors of the war, descendents of refugees, and others. It balances attention to the history itself, the significance for photographic history, and a sense of how the lives of people now are connected to these photographs in various ways…
April 24, 2013
Letter from the CILIP International Library and Information Group:
In the interest of international cooperation and experience-sharing, I would like to invite you to join the Hosts Directory and help make it a global resource.
So what is it?
The Hosts Directory is exactly that – a list of international librarians who are willing to host, for a day or two, a fellow library and information worker who is visiting their city or region. Hosts are located across the world – please see the Map of hosts at www.tinyurl.com/CILIPHostsMaps . All information is anonymous and you will not be put in contact with a guest without agreeing beforehand – the idea is that you will be able to stay with a professional colleague when attending a conference, event or just travelling abroad rather than in a hotel.
All you need is a spare bed or room and the desire to meet colleagues from other countries, to share experiences and to contribute, in a small way, to building bridges to international understanding and co-operation within the library and information profession. Guidance for potential Hosts is also available online at www.tinyurl.com/CILIPHostsGuide.
Please help us expand the directory by registering online at www.tinyurl.com/CILIPHostsRegistration.
For the visitor – the guest – it is a chance to get to know, at first hand, something of the life of a fellow professional in a foreign country as well as the opportunity to stay with a colleague for free or at limited cost.
If you would like to use the Hosts Directory as a guest, please first check the Map of hosts at www.tinyurl.com/CILIPHostsMaps to see there are Hosts in the area you are visiting and email the Hosts Directory Administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org with details of who you are, where you want to and how long they want to stay.
Please feel free to pass this information onto colleagues who may also be interested.
Facebook: International Library and Information Group
ILIG YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/CILIPILIG
March 11, 2013
Interesting article from The Moscow News this week about the women behind the great men of Russian literary history. The author claims that creative partnership between writers prior to women’s independence was a uniquely Russian tradition…
December 10, 2012
Call for Papers for Forthcoming Book: In Solidarity: Academic Librarian Labour Activism and Union Participation in Canada
Jennifer Dekker, University of Ottawa (email@example.com)
Mary Kandiuk, York University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PUBLISHER: Library Juice Press
EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE: 2014
With a focus on Canada, this collection will document the labour-related struggles and gains of academic librarians. It will provide historical and current perspectives regarding the unionization of academic librarians, an exploration of the major labour issues affecting academic librarians in both certified and non-certified union contexts, as well as case studies relating to the unionization of academic librarians at selected institutions. The volume will strive to include a broad representation of academic librarian labour activists and those who have rallied to the support of academic librarians in the workplace.
OBJECTIVE OF THE BOOK:
This edited collection will gather the common experiences of Canadian academic librarians and situate them in a national framework with respect to unionization. It will examine the issues that have led to the formal organization of academic librarians, the gains that have been achieved, and the ramifications of those gains. A limited number of chapters exploring relevant issues from a non-Canadian perspective are also being sought in order to provide insight and comparisons in a broader context.
The editors invite chapters that describe activities undertaken by academic librarians, unions, and related associations that further the goals of librarians in the academy from a labour perspective. Examples of topics that would be of particular interest to the editors include:
• Academic freedom cases involving U.S. academic librarians, for the purpose of comparing these to the Canadian setting;
• Librarians and governance on Canadian and / or U.S .campuses;
• Faculty or academic status of librarians in the U.S., including a comparison with Canada;
• Successful mobilization or political strategies for unionization or labour actions of academic librarians;
• Case studies of academic librarians asserting their collective rights in such a way that might provide inspiration or guidance for other groups;
• Labour action or the experience of strike within the academic library environment.
In particular, the editors would like to encourage chapters that explore the experiences of academic librarians from a labour perspective using a methodological framework as appropriate. Proposals that examine the issues from a theoretical framework are also welcome.
The editors believe that this book will be of interest to academic librarians, labour historians, and those interested in academic labour or unionization of library workers.
Authors are invited to submit abstracts and proposals of 300-500 words to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org by January 15, 2013. Notifications will be sent by February 1, 2013. A draft manuscript ranging from 1,500-7,000 words will be due by June 1, 2013. Submitted manuscripts must not have been published previously or simultaneously submitted elsewhere. Following review, articles will be returned via e-mail for revision before final acceptance. All materials will be edited as necessary for clarity. All submissions should include at the beginning an abstract of no more than 150 words, highlighting the scope, methodology, and conclusions of the paper. Authors should follow the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th ed. (2010). We welcome contributions from scholars and practitioners alike. If you wish to discuss your contribution please feel free to contact us.
Submission of proposals should include:
Name of author
300-500 word abstract
As I mentioned at the end of my post about the most recent session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, I’ve been helping plan a delegation of librarians and archivists to Palestine during summer 2013. Word has been going out on email lists and social media, and I wanted to put out the call for applicants here as well:
A delegation of librarians, archivists, and other library workers will travel to Palestine in the summer of 2013. We will connect with our colleagues in library- and archive-related projects and institutions there, applying our experience in the form of skillshares and other types of joint work. We will travel as truth-seekers and information-skeptics, eager to dispense with the superficial and inaccurate portrayals of life in Israel/Palestine that we see in the west and to learn about the realities of life under occupation and apartheid. As library workers, we support access to information, and recognize that this goes in more than one direction. Our trip will shed light on how Palestinian voices and information about Palestine reach us (or do not) and how Palestinian people access (or cannot access) information. We will bear witness to the destruction and appropriation of information, and support efforts to preserve cultural heritage and archival materials in Palestine. Upon return to our communities, we will share what we have seen, apply what we have learned, publicize projects we have visited, and otherwise break down barriers to access in any way we can.
During the delegation, we will spend time in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and inside Israel. In all our travels, we will respect the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and will not partner with any organization that violates this call.
For more information, to apply, or to donate to help make the delegation successful, please visit librarians2palestine.wordpress.com.
Yes, unfortunately, the trip does conflict with ALA Annual, but the dates were chosen based on the organizers’ schedules and the timing of Ramadan and can’t be changed. Even if you’re unable to apply, we’re really excited about people following the delegation’s activities and connecting with the documentation and projects that will come out of our travels. If you’d like to apply or have any ideas for us, write to librarians2palestine AT gmail DOT com.
October 15, 2012
The fourth session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) took place in New York City two weekends ago. According to an info sheet in the program folder, it was an “International People’s Tribunal” that “has no legal status, [but] like other Russell Tribunals on Vietnam, Chile and Iraq, its legitimacy comes from its universality and the strength that it draws from the will of its citizens and the support of international personalities…” If anyone is interested in the actual content, you can go to the RToP’s website (and I would also recommend you take a look at Ethan Heitner’s wonderful renderings, with sketches, of each day). But I bring this up here to talk about the value and limitations of documentation.
“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” an acquaintance said with a laugh when I bumped into her during a coffee break on the first day of the session, and I was happy to hear that because I didn’t really know what I was doing there, either (a future Library Juice post notwithstanding). But then I reminded myself, again, that it was called a “people’s tribunal” for a reason, that our very presence in the audience was necessary and gave the event weight. (There is also something called the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, which formed in 1979 and recently held a session in India about agrochemical transnational corporations.) We were what made it all different from the issuing of another bunch of reports and essays. The jury was stacked, as it were, composed of people whose progressive politics in general and on Israel-Palestine in particular are well known. And the event certainly wasn’t about hearing the voices of those most directly affected by the issue at hand, as there were only two Palestinian speakers the entire weekend (there would have been a couple more, had illness and visa denials not prevented their presence). But there we all were in the Great Hall at Cooper Union, having gotten up early on a Saturday morning for this sold-out tribunal.
The session opened with an introduction (in French, and tant pis to the majority of the audience who didn’t realize they would be needing the translation headphones) by Pierre Galand, who told us how Bertrand Russell had formed the first Tribunal (on Vietnam) in 1966 to combat “the crime of silence.” He also explained that as the audience, we were participants in the tribunal and as such should rise when the jury entered and filed out, refrain from applause, and generally behave as befitting a serious event in which we played a serious role. (Being asshole Americans, most of us had a hard time with even these limited directions and just laughed it off when Galand tried to shame us by comparing New York with all the other world cities where people managed to conduct themselves properly.)
And so the weekend proceeded, with hours of intricate presentations. And we listened. And I formulated questions in my head: Does the proclamation of a foregone conclusion have value? Is having a big event and inviting ordinary people (albeit those who already care deeply about the issue) to hear testimony important if only as an affirmation and inspiration to keep up with their solidarity work? Will the additional documentation and judgment change minds?
Regarding the documentation, the single livestream file is online, but this is not useful if you want to find a particular witness’s presentation. The RToP website has all of the reports, of course, including a draft one for the NYC session, but I don’t know how easy it is to find the multilingual softcover reports that detail each session. A book about the London tribunal came out from a trade publisher and, according to WorldCat, is held widely in academic libraries around the world. I wonder if any public libraries have ever done programming related to these “people’s tribunals”?
And regarding the judgment and the changing of minds – as one commentator put it, “The conclusion was essentially preordained, but its importance lies in the fact that the findings were presented by a jury full of luminaries like Angela Davis and Alice Walker to a United Nations body.” Well, but that depends on whether you consider someone like Angela Davis a “luminary” or a culturally irrelevant ex-Black Panther.
Another commenter wrote afterward, “While the ‘witnesses’ were mainly international law experts at home in the world of inter-governmental bodies and narrowly-defined protocols for advancing an action, the majority of attendees (and indeed, of the local organizers who worked countless hours to make the event a success) were oriented toward grassroots activism operating largely outside of such channels. This particular contradiction resonated throughout the entire event. All through the proceedings, there was a distinct sense that different segments of those assembled were processing all of the same facts, and yet arriving at radically different conclusions.”
I don’t know if the conclusions were quite so radically different, but the sort of disconnect between the witnesses and the attendees pales in comparison to the disconnect between the overall RToP conclusions and many US perceptions of this particular subject. (Consider how the narrative in the [very minimal] mainstream journalistic coverage was unaltered.) Oftentimes facts and legal justifications are just not enough, and it all has to do instead with political will and public opinion shifts and individual reflection and critical thinking.
So, as usual, the upshot is that a rational assemblage of truthful evidence is only part of the surround of information that shapes our thinking, whether we are a US senator or a random librarian. (I also thought of the circle of information and the human role in it when juror Alice Walker spoke up after Jeanne Mirer’s particularly harrowing testimony about life in Gaza, telling her, “Thank you for going, seeing, witnessing, and sharing with us, with such compassion.”) From our personal lives to our political actions, we are usually guided by one narrative or another, and it’s everything from the recorded testimonies of expert witnesses to the stories we tell ourselves that ultimately change the world.
If you are interested in this topic, a delegation of librarians to Palestine is being planned for next summer. Get in touch with me if you’d like more information when it’s available.
September 10, 2012
This is a couple of months old now but has just reached my attention. It is a statement from IFLA, cosigned by some of its member associations, including ALA and ARL, raising alarm about a new multi-lateral trade agreement that establishes new intellectual property rules that bypass essential balancing user rights such as Fair Use. The agreement is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Please read the IFLA statement for a good explanation of what is happening in this area.
August 18, 2012
I won’t comment much on this except to speculate that this may be an example of a state of affairs in journalism where reporters are making sloppy mistakes because the pace of the newsroom, like the pace of everything else in the internet era, is too quick for us to keep tabs on everything as we should. Numerous reputable newspapers and magazines evidently misreported a story based on a reading of the original Saudi headline, without reading the article itself. Al Jazeera English reports: “Saudi Women-Only City? Look Again.”
June 1, 2012
Take note of this outrageous situation at the Canadian Library Association conference yesterday. Librarians opposing cuts to the Canadian National Library and Archives were ejected from the conference by force for passing out leaflets. The Executive Director of CLA claimed that the library conference was “not the right venue” for such activism. Read all about it on the blog of the unionized librarians of the University of Ottawa.
April 14, 2012
Two links to share about what may be a growing trend – travel restrictions as a way to stifle political speech.
A column in Salon by Glen Greenwald a few days ago talks about the Department of Homeland Security’s detention of filmmaker and journalist Laura Poitras at the U.S. border. They detained her and took possession of her camera and laptop, downloading all of the files on both. Pretty scary. Funny how we have become numb to this kind of thing. Greenwald’s column also talks about other, similar instances.
An article in Haaretz today reports that several airlines have canceled the flights of about 60% of the activists who have been planning to fly in for a protest against the building of new settlements in Palestinian territory. The article begins:
Over 60 percent of the 1,500 pro-Palestinian activists due to arrive in Israel on Sunday to take part in a fly-in protest have received notifications from airlines that their flights have been canceled, the spokesman for the “Welcome to Palestine” protest told Haaretz on Saturday.
December 12, 2011
Last month in Varanasi, India, the First International Conference of Lokavidya Jan Andolan, or the Peoples’ Knowledge Movement, was held. The original call for participation talked about the situation of the displacement, environmental destruction, and poverty experienced by people throughout India:
All these people, the displaced, the communities they belong to, have never gone to college and live by the knowledge they posses[s], called lokavidya, which they have acquired from elders, from peers, in the community, at the site of work, through experiments and by their own genius. […] In fact lokavidya, that is people’s knowledge, skills, ways of thinking, values, methods of organization, aesthetic and ethical sensibilities, in short, their world of knowledge as a part of their own world, is the main source of their strength. […] It is important to understand that the emancipatory pathways today traverse through the world of knowledge. The Lokavidya standpoint is the people’s standpoint in the Age of Information.
Looking around online a little, I came across a post from a 2008 gathering, which noted, among other things:
“Most people, peasants, artisans, adivasis [indigenous people], very small shop-keepers and women have never been to a college or a university, but they have their own extensive knowledge.”
“The reason for the very bad condition of their life is that their knowledge, lokavidya, is not organized. Their knowledge gets no recognition in politics, in the big bazar, in leading cultural institutions and in the universities. Actually the power centers of the society refuse to give the status of knowledge to lokavidya.”
“So long as lokavidya is not organized, the lokavidyadhars will not be able to effectively intervene in the public realm. Lokavidyadhar samaj needs to take initiative to organise lokavidya under its own leadership, then only can they command respect and get rid of poverty.”
I don’t know enough about the Indian context, but from the U.S. I can’t see that poverty and other manifestations of inequality could be traced to a lack of “organization” of knowledge. Here, voices on the left celebrate the knowledge, traditions, values, and culture of unprivileged communities (of which they may or may not be part). But I don’t think anyone is suggesting that society would change appreciably if only their “lokavidya” were respected by the centers of power.
This also makes me think of a workshop/discussion I attended at the Critical Resistance conference in 2008, where people were riffing on a variety of facts and ideas about prison and justice. Finally the longtime activist Kai Barrow took the floor and said something like, “Okay, now, what are we going to do when we leave here? We have all the information. We don’t need any more information.”
In other words, information (which leads to knowledge – obviously these are two different things) is not emancipatory in and of itself. But I think Kai’s plea does speak to an aspect of this lokavidya concept, a sort of active quality, coming as it does “from elders, from peers, in the community, at the site of work, through experiments.” It’s not just book-reading that’ll learn you. And given that Kai wasn’t actually suggesting that people take up pickaxes and start hacking away at the nearest prison walls, even in an active activism, the work of a prison abolitionist would involve creating new knowledge as a means to making real change.
Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Siddhartha Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India, and in a chapter about Bangalore and engineers and IT, Deb writes:
There is also something Brahminical in the very way engineers perceive their work around computers, if by Brahminical one means the idea of exclusive access to knowledge that cannot be shared with commoners. There is no glamour in India, for instance, associated with being a civil engineer, and in this it differs remarkably from countries in the West, where, through the nineteenth and a great part of the twentieth century, the civil engineer was celebrated for his rugged masculinity, especially in the way he dominated nature by building dams and bridges.
Today’s Indian middle class, in contrast, celebrates the engineer-entrepreneur who makes money or the engineer-functionary who sits at a workstation. The cubicle is clean, air-conditioned and unpolluted, while the factory is dirty and physical. The cubicle is Brahminical, the factory is Sudra, the realm of the low-caste craftsperson. (p. 99-100)
Anyway, to conclude this sort of stream-of-conscious post – despite my relative unfamiliarity with India, I wanted to write up something here because I haven’t been able to get the idea of this lokavidya conference out of my head.
October 25, 2011
This post dovetails coincidentally with Rory’s 10/22 post about the solidarity library in Bethlehem – looks like it’s Israel/Palestine week at Library Juice.
Hannah Mermelstein, a school librarian in New York City, is also a Palestine solidarity activist (and generally awesome person). She’s reworked her thesis into an article, “Overdue Books: Returning Palestine’s ‘Abandoned Property’ of 1948,” that’s been published in the Autumn 2011 issue of the Jerusalem Quarterly.
The article is about books as physical and symbolic pieces of cultural heritage. During times of war and occupation, they may be seized and, if not destroyed, repurposed for the benefit of the regime in power. However, the continued existence of and, often, detailed record-keeping for these books leaves open the possibility of restoration to the original owners, in the larger context of rights for the victimized peoples.
In 1948, much of the wealthy and formally educated Palestinian population was concentrated in Jerusalem and other urban centers. When Zionist militias swept through these neighborhoods, they physically pushed thousands of people from their homes and caused tens of thousands more to flee in fear. Many Palestinians left in haste, grabbing only what they could carry as they ran. Others thought they would return a few weeks later, once the fighting died down. In many cases, members of the educated class left behind some of their most prized possessions: books.
The soldiers raiding these West Jerusalem neighborhoods were closely followed by teams of librarians from the Jewish National and University Library at Hebrew University (later referred to as National Jewish Library or simply the National Library). They gathered approximately 30,000 books from private Palestinian libraries and, according to testimonies from those involved in the project, began to catalog books by subject and often by owners’ names. In the early 1960s, however, close to 6,000 of the books were revisited and labeled with the letters “AP” for “abandoned property”. […] To this day, the books’ call numbers begin with the letters “AP.” The National Library has thus maintained a likely unintentional collection of looted Palestinian books, easily identifiable to those who understand what “AP” means.
The article that originally inspired Hannah is Gish Amit’s “Ownerless Objects? The Story of the Books Palestinians Left Behind in 1948,” published in the Jerusalem Quarterly as well. There is also a related cultural memory project called The Great Book Robbery.