Last week, the Internet Archive announced that it had sneakernetted some dank content onto an Israeli rocket headed for the Moon, placing some 30 million pages of text out of the reach of the meddling toddler landlords of this pale blue sphere, making them Lords of the Archival Empyrean.

Presumably they’re talking about good stuff like this 1606 pulpit Bible held at Princeton , imaged at 400 ppi, which is 1300 odd pages, and whose master jp2 version is 1.1GB.

Carnegie Mellon once pegged the transfer and storage cost for putting and keeping 1GB in cloud storage at 7kWh per year. So 30,000 GB, for 30,000 of those Bibles ends up being 210 MWh. Just for kicks, let’s assume a very high cost per MWh, like $180 per MWh for a peak mix of nuclear and natural gas.

Making the meanest, most-expensive possible assumptions, that is $37,800 that the IA pays every year, to preserve 30TB of stuff. So how many years of terrestrial online storage, or fuck, shorty goats, or cream cheese, or other stuff, could we get for the cost of a rocket launch to the Moon?

I don’t trust Melon Husk to get any of his shit right, so let’s not talk about the Falcon Heavy. And so the rocket the NRO uses to get satellites into geosynchronous orbit, so that we can spy on John Cougar Mellencamp’s house, lmao,


is the Delta IV Heavy.

She is a thing of beauty, 277,000 lbs all in, she’s a fraction of the Saturn V, and in theory, can deliver 10,000 pounds of payload to translunar insertion. Fuck that is a sexy rocket. Anyway, something way smaller could get some hard drives onto the Moon, but since you can’t monetize small cargo — same reason trains are long and UPS flies C-130s, right? — big baby Delta is what we got. She has a perfect track record, and so depending on how you do the math, costs $350 to $600 million dollars per launch. And so to answer this guy’s question

It’s like 10000 years worth of storage, give or take. Or, right in the middle of the range, ten thousand full-time middle-class jobs.

Now, it’s not like a rocket to the Moon has to cost $350 mil, possibly ArchMission has found a cheaper carrier. [Editor’s note, long after I wrote this, I learned that they went with Melon Husk’s company, and also it turns out that you can buy a shorty goat for like $70, but please consult this guide from the National Pygmy Goat Association for more information, so that’s like what 130 million 1.42 million goats per moon launch?] SpaceX claimed it can launch a LEO satellite for like $100 mil, and if you’re okay with your cargo blowing up on the pad, cool I guess. So maybe shooting archives onto the Moon is only the equivalent of 3000 years of Earth storage. Fine.

Ah, but it’s not like IA is paying the full ride on whatever Space Israel flies, the rocket was gonna go up anyway, somebody just jammed some dank nasheeds in a tarball on some drives, and declared mission accomplished, right? So why is it in Space Israel’s interest to let some nerds put a backpack of hard drives onto their research vessel?

My ummati, let me illustrate their intentions by way of a related endeavor, for I am among those extremely online voices

calling in recent days for Immediately Blowing Up The Moon. Now this fellow on Reddit says we need something like three trillion megatons of bombage to do it, but I think we can find those megatons. After all, we do not Blow Up The Moon because it is easy, but because it is hard, right? And anyway, the most high and most merciful (pbuh), who makes all things according to the correct path surely smiles on our endeavor. And only a people which adhered to the Law could be capable of Blowing Up The Moon.

You see where I’m going with this. Soft lads who fled from the ANC bearing only the emeralds on their backs want to use space as a parking lot for their Camaros. Good shaheeds like us want to Blow Up The Moon because Allah wills it. And Space Israel wants to help everyone listen to Fugazi on the Moon because,, something memey about Teodor Herzl

We shoot shit into space, or onto the Moon, or we Blow Up The Moon to make the claim that our politics, our worldview is correct. In the case of IA, that worldview is a kind of overgrown child’s faith in technological progress (mixed with the same child’s nostalgia for the obsolete machinery he grew up on) unmoored from adult concerns about the bills for that progress coming due.

As for Space Israel, no doubt they’re happy to bring some fraction of the archives community along in the ongoing normalization of an apartheid state as it refines its intercontinental ballistic missile capacity.


Mobile Hospital Assembly

Volunteers assemble a mobile hospital unit in Mississippi, 2014. NARA ARC ID 24484111.

Consider this a desperate appeal to you, Dear Reader, to direct me to the contemporary resources which must exist already describing how actually-existing archives run their HVAC systems, and what that means for our carbon footprint, and thus whether — when we install newer, more efficient systems — we’re kind of just fiddling with marginal fixes in the face of imminent global catastrophe. Because by Allah (pbuh) I cannot find those resources.

Here is the thing. The world agrees™ that in order to arrest the slow decline through absorption of water vapor of (still mostly paper) archives, storage environments should approach 60°F and between 35% and 50% RH. The shield between the collections and the steadily warming external air is our HVAC systems. Anecdotally, I’ve watched some routine failures of HVAC over the past five years in particular, and it seems obvious that the next few years are going to put these systems in chronic distress.

I’ll tell a story: while 2018 wasn’t a notably hot summer where I’m from, it was extremely wet all year, and in order to get humidity down in the building, we ran a savage burn on our air-chilling systems, which responded by breaking. Since, like a lot of mid-century buildings, ours has no way of getting outside ventilation, i.e. opening a window, when our chillers failed we got to 90° indoors in a hurry. Water vapor condensed on the floor. This happened twice.

What does baseline operation for an archives HVAC look like? How do systems contort themselves to confront a rapidly-changing external climate in order to maintain an entirely uniform internal climate? Do you know? I have no idea. Our partners in the industry insist that every institution is unique and requires bespoke designs, which sure, okay, we probably did that to ourselves, and I’ll save a bespoke rant against archives smallholders for another time. But there have to be common qualities. Let’s just by way of randomly plucking an example from thin air, try and learn something about easily my favorite building, oh lawd he comin


Yale’s Beinecke Library, the absolute unit, has a square footage of  88,347.  According to this 2012 Energy Information Administration survey of buildings’ energy use, the average American building consumed 82,000 btu of  energy per square foot. Take a look at the breakout by building use, and you’ll see the average is a little tamped down by warehouses and other mostly-vacant buildings, like churches.

And so you’ll also note that archives and libraries probably don’t have the energy usage of a normal office space (77,000 btu/sq.ft). Given our needs — 60 degrees, low humidity — and the fact that we can’t just shut the units down when there aren’t people in the building, we’re somewhere between malls (100,000 btus/sq.ft) and grocery stores (200,000 btus/sq.ft). Now there aren’t a lot of us with large frozen foods sections, except for you guys who keep your general circulating library collections at 40 degrees, which is a story I heard about a place. So let’s take the high end.

88,000 feet by 200,000 btus is 17,600,000,000 or to sound it out, Seventeen billion six hundred million British thermal units used in a year.  So what are we burning to get those tasty btus, and how much carbon does it give off? Coal gives us 200 pounds of CO2 per million btus; natural gas, half that; sweet propane, 139. Not all energy mixtures are the same, of course. Connecticut gets about 2/3s of its electricity from nuclear plants, and the other 1/3 from natural gas. So electricity for the Beinecke HVAC and lights and stuff has a carbon cost of probably 66 pounds per million btus. 66 times 17,600 gives us 1,161,600 pounds of CO2 per year. To help visualize that, it’s emissions equivalent to 1.2 million miles driven by the average car, or 21 thousand canisters of propane, sweet propane.


Yet another way to visualize this footprint is that for the same amount of carbon you could send about 1000 people from Yale to SAA2019 in Austin.


Having a building that emits about 120 cars’, or 63 houses’ worth of carbon seems like not a terrible exchange for maintaining access to the cool shit in the Beinecke. But New Haven’s number of cooling-hours per year is going to start to resemble Charlotte’s real soon, it’s not like the required energy to run the building is going to shrink. The share of energy we get from fossils might change. Just as over the past decade, electricity producers have pivoted from coal to natural gas, we’ll see a pivot from gas to atoms, probably not nearly fast enough to keep us under 2 degrees C.

I want to know more about the maintenance of archives HVAC systems, I want to hear the horror stories, but more than that I want to sit for a while with the thought that we’re trying to create environments where materials in storage degrade only over a 500-year time frame, which is madness and vanity, given that the society we’ve come to know and love barely has 30 years left of its own.

The outline of what happened and is happening to the Digital Public Library of America is understood. On November 8, DPLA sent emails to a couple of co-ordinating councils of its members network (n.b., I have no idea what any of those words means) saying that it had laid off six staff. Word went through the grapevine that these were folks involved with DPLA’s signature achievements — digital collections aggregation, and primary source materials curation. At the LITA conference on November 10, DPLA chief John Bracken outlined an organizational pivot to support ebook delivery to public libraries, perhaps, or something, whatever this shit is:

And on January 9, some chud from an entity called Biblioboard posted whatever this is:

Now, I steadfastly refuse to read whatever “greetings fellow kids”-flavored gibberish the above is, so you’re welcome to peevishly correct me here. But, just to complete the outline, effectively Sloan and Knight and Mellon said “Your five years is up, great work, you don’t exist anymore,” and John Bracken and similar folks felt that they weren’t ready to stop being Directors of Something or Savvy Digital Technology Knowers, and they looked around the room in a flopsweat, searching for ways to make DPLA attractive to some other form of support, all collectively heaved “It’s ebooks,” said “Nobody gives a shit about archives, fuck them,” and reached for the long knives. We’ve seen this shit before, man:

Man, I don’t even remember NetLibrary, dear Wikipedia, please tell me about this noble, doomed endeav-


What does Sloan want? Or, more clearly, what is it that these large information science funders think they want? Never forget, early on, DPLA swamis thought they were going to drive around the country scanning shit, in hand to God, a Scannebago

In this discussion, Palfrey argued that “you could create a DPLA for a town or for a historic society. You could imagine it also taking the form of mobile scanning operations. So you could imagine a project I like the name of—the Scannebago—…driving Winnebagoes across certain areas, going to historical societies, going to local libraries and helping people to scan materials that might be of local interest; having them fold up into the DPLA but also be curated locally as part of a local collection that otherwise might not get put into a digital collection.” The idea might involve library students, active librarians, and retired librarians, as well as those who work in other cultural heritage institutions, driving the Scannebago around the country.

What do Sloan, and the John Palfreys and Carl Malamuds and Brewster Kahles of the world think they want? And what does that mean for the rest of us who keep working in this hopelessly fucked field? Look at what they clearly don’t want: well-curated collections, nor do they want to support the labor-intensive contextualization of primary documentary sources in the cultural production of history, I mean, look at how young people use technology, after all. The most successful recipient of funders’ dough is also the — I have to be fair here, because it used to be worse — most lightly-curated one. Aww baby you know who I’m talking about:


Holy shit guys, you have nine (9) items in your Ferguson collection! I’m proud of you for removing the wack community-contributed content from this set — Jim Hightower podcasts, self-publishing Pakistani polymaths, pr0n — but shit my balls that is not a lot of work there!

Look at Washington University’s Ferguson collection, set up at the same time, but looked after with human resources. Nothing is perfect, but hey 782 items, chiefly community-contributed content, carefully selected, and it’s not just live news footage, there’s creative responses to the murder of Michael Brown, you know, poems and shit. There’s at once an expansive notion of what constitutes the archival record, and a thoroughgoing rootedness in the task at hand, a moral focus. This kind of work is the good shit, and it’s exactly the kind of work DPLA stripped off.

What do funders think they want? Ten years ago, it was mass digitization. Five years ago, for a blink, it was content curation, with skilled human operators. With the human element removed, and deep thinkers like Bracken vaguely waving toward uSes Of tEChNoloGy wE cAN’t fAThOm, it’s clear that funders are back to wanting what they wanted in the 1990s — all the things, digitized and dumped in an online swamp, with robots set loose to crawl the swamp. Get robots sufficiently sophisticated and you can do dumb shit like upload your consciousness to the cloud like every other neckbeard incel with three undescended testicles ever.

Whether you think that our current artificial intelligence is real and not good at what it does, or whether you think that AI is basically a term used by dilettantes and heartless manipulators to siphon cash out of venture funds like something out of the 19th fucking century, and I guess por qué no los dos, in any case the behavior of funders gives off a strong whiff of grief response.

I think that funders recognize that, really soon, the first world, via the increasingly nightmarish present effects of global warming, which incredibly keep manifesting at the disastrous end of scientists’ range of predictions like a fucking swarm of black swans, is going to first of all murder the third world, and then immediately commit suicide, and that this pact is locked in. In their grief, they deny what’s transparently real, and so we get that garbage asshole who killed Gawker drinking teenagers’ plasma and fucking smug apartheid-emerald lad shooting Camaros into space or some shit.

Even something as piddly-shit as how a non-profit markets a new partnership is a symptom. Why punk rock? Most of us immediately saw Ramones and thought NOW I WANNA SNIFF SOME GLUE. And it’s sad. The illusion of individual freedom, peddled in that stupid LinkedIn blog, and whomst the fuccc uses LinkedIn as a platform, is the last one that a culture bent on annihilation has before it pulls the plug.

But the thing is it’s not that there’s no future, it’s even worse than that. I started writing this blog, my longest-running and least-productive ever, as entertainment, back when I realized that the easiest way to be with an infant on a 45-minute sleep cycle was to just stay up all night. Five of the six years of my kid’s life have been in the all-time top ten warmest, 2012 the aberration iirc. No the worst part isn’t that there’s no future, it’s that there is a future, it’s going to suck shit, people like me are going to feel the least of it mind you, and there’s absolutely no sTRaTeGiC pIvOt off that, and there’s absolutely nothing meaningful about our narrow little intellectual endeavors unless our work is jolted back to life by the fear of these futures, and directed by a desire to atone for setting them in motion.


A specter is haunting the library archives and museums sector, a specter called, The Internship Discourse. We have written about librarianship eating its young, we have promulgated standards for ethical internships, and every half year or so we recommit to screaming about our exploited labor force. We are probably not going to tell students and new archivists not to work for free. Or, here, let Karly Wildenhaus start, and let me echo her: Do not work for free.

Just don’t do it! If someone says, Here, here is labor that you can do for my archives, and in return I will give you a Letter of Recommendation, do not work there! If someone says, Listen, my archives has a robust volunteer program, and we need you to handle collections, write exhibit captions, and do biographical research, and in exchange you can add my name to your list of references, do not work there either!

It is obviously the responsibility of archives’ management not to exploit the contingent position of students and young people by creating or posting unpaid internships or “volunteer experiences” but we just keep doing it, because it’s in our interests and in the interests of our funders, who are searching for the greatest possible return on investment, and we’re never going to learn. So. Dear students and youths, what are we going to do? Not work for free!

Do not work for free! Here, look, 50,000 students in Quebec went on strike over unpaid internships a couple of weeks ago. Check out the Young Communist League of Strasbourg, in a message of solidarity to the strikers in Quebec:

Au lieu d’investir dans de nouvelles infrastructures universitaires et d’embaucher davantage d’enseignants, l’État bourgeois préfère tout mettre en place pour envoyer rapidement les étudiants sur le marché du travail, pour constituer une masse de main d’œuvre potentiellement gratuite, taillable et corvéable à la merci des entreprises

Hell yeah don’t work for free. Internships are designed to “build a mass of workforce potentially cost-free, scalable, and malleable to the will of business.” Refuse to participate in them! Why would you consent to become a massive scalable free workforce? Don’t work for free!

Okay it sounds like I’m putting the entire onus on ending a bad employment practice on the most-oppressed unit of the LAM sector workforce. Okay yes I am doing that. Ever since Dee Garrison, we’ve known that libraries were the first outpost of the educated and underpaid young woman. Any highly feminized labor sector will be underpaid because patriarchy is a motherfucker, and because of the running assumption that women’s jobs are second-incomes. That is, anyone, in the year of our lord 2018, who is attracted to this sector must have some awareness of the idea that her eventual salary is a secondary source, not a main source of income. And if the point of entering a profession is not to get money, but to sacrifice for the greater good, management is fine with that. Your altruistic instincts amount to a wage suppression mechanism, and for every paid position, to say nothing of every unpaid internship, there is a whole generation of affluent Pratt and Simmons grads, waiting to add a chit to their resumes and new names to their rolodexes.

Don’t work for free! Employment in the field thereby becomes social reproduction, instead of cultural production: people with certain experiences — BAs from tiny liberal arts colleges, rich parents, obscene admiration for the musical Hamilton — just somehow get to know younger people with the same life experiences, and absolutely fuck all else ever happens! The advisory body for a grant-funded project recommends the project manager for a spot as a reader for grant proposals! An Oberlin grad meets an Oberlin student at a professional mixer! Meanwhile our HVACs fail and millions of files of the Guatemalan secret police languish in storage, and the world’s stores of broadcast video on open-reel mag and U-Matic all go the way of the fucking dodo. At least Chad got a job though!

Some of us are probably in a position to make free work a thing of the past, and some of us are in a position to contribute to student strike funds, or to contribute to labor organizing efforts in the sector, but I guarantee you all of that goes down the toilet without a radical demand in our back pocket, and widespread intransigence is it. So fam. Don’t work for free!

1) A little while back, perhaps you heard, Anthony Clark reported that Allen Weinstein, head of NARA in the George W. Bush administration, serially sexually assaulted women employees of NARA. Maryellen Trautman, whose account makes up the bulk of the article, was certain Weinstein had harassed women at NARA other than her; he was “smooth, practiced.” Sam Anthony, who reported directly to Weinstein, later reported on his conversations with Trautman, “Four times she asked me to ‘find the other women.’” Ordinarily, reports of sexual harassment or assault are reported to the NARA Office of the Inspector General. In Trautman’s case, NARA general counsel first spent a week soliciting advice from the Office of Government Ethics, the White House Counsel, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, before finally passing the baton to NARA OIG, which promptly brought in the FBI. Weinstein ultimately resigned, and found a soft landing at the University of Maryland, where he would assault more women. He died in 2015. Our current AOTUS knew why Weinstein resigned, while publicly praising him:

His successor, David Ferriero—who, a National Archives source confirmed, knew the real reason Weinstein had resigned—warmly memorialized him on the Archives’ website, writing, “[We] will forever remember with gratitude his dedication to the mission and employees of the National Archives.”

2) Archivists spend a lot of time writing notes governing access to our holdings, and it’s largely a matter of self-involvement and involution. If a donor agreement stipulates restrictions on access, it’s a garbage agreement. If a contract demands an embargo of digitized content, it’s a garbage contract. If institutional policy creates a blanket time-based embargo on access, it’s a garbage policy. DACS 4.1, “Conditions governing access” becomes the chief bucket we store our garbage actions in, and it’s a required element of our description, which means we are required to be snitches for archives — to reveal aspects of the organizations we work for which are unflattering — with every recondite obstruction to access we create. We’re also required to be finks for archives — our restrictions notes, our rights notes, our security and registration practices, how we treat patrons, our preservation notes, how clean our hands are supposed to be and what we’re supposed to smell like — are all the hinges around which we fink on each other, and on our users.

3) A lot of heat on twitter was generated by the ALA panel on librarians’ neutrality, and there was a lot of good head-busting to be had. I’ve said here before, and nearly constantly since, that the professional compulsion to have archivists respond to social change qua archivists is moot. We’re much worse than neutral actors, neutrality for us would be a positive step toward revolution! We are the means by which our users are interpellated as subjects before our collections, before power. Howard Zinn’s 1970 SAA address is therefore good and forthright and also pitifully naive. We aren’t the lawyer boldly arguing for the Vietnam Moratorium and calling out the humanity shared by the judge, the defendants, and the people of Vietnam — we’re the stenographer, the clerk, and the bailiff. When the lawyer is done with his appeal, we open chambers, we flip to the next item on the docket, we reset our steno machine, and we move the gears.

I’m obviously reading Althusser and barely grasping him, but our real job — opposed to the unreal admonition to make archives liberatory spaces, or to preserve people’s lives using archives, or whatever is on the menu this year — given that any of us fortunate enough to work for an Archives Power always already supports and lends credence to the legitimacy of that Power, is something else. Here, here’s our large wife-murdering boy, also in 1970, from Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses:

Now it is this knowledge that we have to reach, if you will, while speaking in ideology, and from within ideology we have to outline a discourse which tries to break with ideology, in order to dare to be the beginning of a scientific (i.e. subjectless) discourse on ideology.

I think there are two roles or figures we could play in archives if we begin, while speaking in ideology to outline a discourse which gets at the “scientific mechanism” of ideology’s creation, and they are the Snitch and the Fink.

1) The FBI, when it began interviewing NARA staff about Weinstein, found a squealer, may Allah smile upon this person:

An Archives official would reveal to investigators a more disturbing truth: There were other women. Some within the agency had noticed Weinstein’s inappropriate behavior for at least 16 months before he assaulted Trautman.

The official, whose name was redacted, told investigators that she “first became aware of the possibility of inappropriate behavior” by Weinstein in August 2006.

The official told investigators that, while she had no direct knowledge, there were rumors that Weinstein was “hitting on” a National Archives employee and heard “through the grapevine” that he was “acting inappropriately during his trips.”

The employee then recounted an incident from a year earlier when she and Weinstein had dinner across the street from the Archives Building. While at the bar, Weinstein leaned in to talk to her and put his arm around her shoulders and the chair. “[She] thought it was a friendly gesture but also thought this was a ‘stupid’ action on the part of [her] supervisor. [She] broke away from Weinstein by physically moving [her] body around.”

She also told investigators that another woman told her Weinstein had read her poetry behind closed doors and once hugged her, but that “she did not want this information to go anywhere.”

The Snitch reports out content that Power wants held private. In the case of the FBI investigation into Allen Weinstein, all praise and honor goes to the career NARA archivists who reported out. What’s startling to me is that so few archivists reported on Weinstein — not that this stuff is easy, not that anyone talking didn’t see a world of future bureaucratic repercussions and career stumbling-blocks, or targeted harassment for fuck sake, headed their direction. No, I was surprised because functionally it’s our nature to report. We’re born snitches.

2) Think of the noble Ohioan who snitched, at a long distance, on Warren G. Harding. This guy found Warren’s “Mount Jerry” sexts, set up a clandestine microfilm kit way off in the stacks, filmed them alone after hours, and fed a copy of the film to a friend. (I’m not even re-reading this because it’s so good, correct me if it matters.) What happens next is the friend, a prof at Case Western, retires and deposits his papers with the University, which dutifully describes them, including the mystery roll of microfilm. Up goes the fuckin balloon. People write about the letters using the film, lawyers for the Harding family swoop in, nobody dies or anything, but things get, for our little clerkly profession, somewhat real.

What happened here is that our hero tried to snitch on a president. He made surrogates of records; in the hands of his friend, the surrogates were transmuted into records. Being accessible, the records finked on our hero. Our hero’s friend could easily have stopped this chain of events by destroying the film, or else not depositing his papers with his university. A lesson: records will fink on you. Beware the receipts.

4) A note about screenshots, and the desire to shout “Receipts, biccch” at people on twitter. First of all, it’s a thing I’ve enjoyed:

So what happened is a guy who doesn’t know anything (not me for once!) knee-jerk well-actuallied Safiya Noble online, many people rose up in anger, the dude apologized, and then deleted the offensive tweets and the apology. We then swooped in to point out the ignominious, craven deletion of tweets. I was elling my effing ass off because an archives dedicated to internet stuff didn’t know what to do about Google cache and screenshots.

It’s our nature to report out, to describe the content we encounter, to contextualize it for others. It’s in the nature of records to fink on us, to expose us at our worst.

4) Another, less-conflicted take on receipts. The state archives of Israel encompasses certain records of the British Mandate in Palestine. The blanket embargo on records related to national security in Israel is 75 years. The state archives of Israel has a really assiduous digitization program, and so we can see many administrative records, honestly a lot of receipts, scanned and OCRed and translated. Do a search for almost any Arabic surname, and see what you get. You will mostly get pre-1948 records of property sales and transfers, and extradition orders in the post-1948 period for people accused of “infiltration.” The net effect of paging through the newly-accessible — and make no mistake, Israel has undertaken serious labor on this score — is to read an account of the founding of the Jewish state that consisted of legal transfers of land, from Palestinians to Jewish settlers, for which money was paid, and legal transfers of human beings, from Palestine, where they once lived, to places as far afield as Egypt. For these transfers, Israel has all the receipts.

I keep coming back to Ariella Azoulay’s work on the figure of the infiltrator, and the work done in archives to construct this figure. Receipts in the state archives of Israel, viewed through Azoulay’s lens, do not necessarily prove a truth so much as they support an assertion, namely, that the establishment of the state of Israel proceeded entirely normally, via legal transfers and sales of land; the acquiescence of the people living in Palestine to Jewish settlers’ rule is established by receipts. And the presence of infiltrators — lest anyone forget, people who fled terrorist attacks, who were displaced by force, to return, occasionally, to retrieve furniture, or to attempt to harvest olives and oranges from their families’ groves — is likewise established by receipts.

The receipts do not capture the ordinary experiences of Palestinians dispossessed by the new Jewish state. Of Raja Shehadeh’s family — whose mother inherited a hotel, whose father and grandfather were highly regarded Palestinian lawyers — who fled for Ramallah after the King David Hotel bombing. Of Fawaz Turki’s family, or Ghassan Kanafani’s. Of anyone who was ever presented with the old mafioso pitch, “Lovely olive grove you got there, be a shame if anything happened to it.”

3, 4, 1, 2) The figures of the snitch and the fink are part of the same framework. Structurally, each reports content. One reports out: to lawyers, investigators, researchers, the curious, the seekers. One reports in: to lawyers, investigators, inspectors general, bosses, and spooks. But in archives, we are bound to report. You can serve the devil or you can serve the lord, but you better serve somebody.

Is it possible that our twitter-culture of caches and receipts is bad? Isn’t it worth examining the externalities of our discipline? Should we think carefully about how we reveal content? Should we, as we do all these things, struggle to make sure that we provide receipts to the palaces, and peace to the huts?


Thicc tweets in action

This began as a series of jokes about Clifford Geertz which I would now ask everyone here to take seriously as we consider what thiccness would mean for archival description.

In the interest of supplying you, reader, with sufficient context to understand a human interaction from which you’ve been alienated by distance, technology, or other means, here first is a link, and then screenshots follow.

In the post-MPLP age, we archivists spend a lot of time going back and forth about describing collections. We all agree — apart from a few heretics I’ve encountered who think that a biographical note for anyone is a form of hagiography and so we should therefore just not write them, etc. — that baseline contextualization of collections matters, and that the kind of description we’re most familiar with, which I’m going to call ripped description, is the way of the past. But I’m not sure we’ve theorized a good alternative. Something between description as an archivist’s performance of superior knowledge and mastery, and something utterly skimpy and skinflinty.

Geertz, as near as I understand, and I’m not terribly learnèd on this score, conceived of thick description as a narrative practice in anthropology, where close observation of human activity provides the reader with intimate understanding of the context of the activity. Here’s a parody of Geertz watching me ride my bicycle to work:

“The rider accouters himself in gloves, open at the second knuckle, of breathable fiber, with kevlar pads covering the entrance to the carpal tunnel designed to mitigate the shock of bearing his weight on his hands and to prevent breakage in case of planting the hands in an accident; with a rudimentary helmet which would be of no assistance in a dire crash but is required by law and custom, and the absence of which would open to rider to scorn from others in the community; and a backpack of weatherproof buckram, which shields the rider in a backborne skid, but does more to signal to other riders that the rider is expert and an elder in the urban bicyclists’ environment[…]”

And I haven’t gotten on the bicycle yet. You see how this can take a while.

Thickness, as overabundance or superfluity, or the dream of same, has been in style ever since our starving forebears had a crop failure and turned to sculpting stone female figures instead of umm I guess just starving. Thickness is the wish-fulfillment fantasy which overcompensates for mere satisfaction. In the Land of Cockaigne, everything is thick. A real encounter with this imaginary is of course baffling to think about — human appetites cannot contend with whatever thick spirit animates the Venus of Willendorf, with her innumerable beaded blind eye-busses; real appetites can’t handle pigs with knives ported in them, and so on. Thick description, in archives, would exceed simulacral description — even beyond the kind of moot description which replaces the archival item itself with an exact replica, thick description would demand contextualizing every line of the text, or commenting on the composition of every image, and situating those commentaries among other commentaries. Shit gets Biblical, fast.

I haven’t plotted these on an axial chart (YET, MY GOOD >BICHES< NOT YET) like the deranged Claude Levi-Strauss stan that I am, so let's just say elsewhere in our field there lies ripped description. As a reminder, here are the only two genders that there are:

The ripped, like the thick, is a form of excess, but rather than emerging from myth or the imaginary, it is the product of self-flagellating labor in the realm of the real. Getting ripped is a public performance of labor on the body, and ripped description is the same, on the archival corpus. The description that we lament, that which does more to demonstrate an archivist’s having leveled-up or attained mastery of his subject than it does to invite the archive’s reader into its secrets, is hella ripped.

Opposed to the ripped and the thick, I offer thicc description. Thiccness as we seem to be using it right now in the year of our lord 2017 is a diminution or imitation of the truly thick — Trina is not pulling over just any old thiccness — but let’s consider thicc description here as an intermediate practice, somewhere between skinflint description and fully living into the actual experiences of creator-entities. Thicc description should proceed from the idea that users do not profit from master-knowledge of the collections — Geertz-level stuff is automatically alienating, it prompts even from those of us who write this junk an instant “That’s great and no one will ever read it all.” Thicc description must however be about more than providing elementary nourishment to users — thiccness provides unanticipated thrills. Such description should relay the charged moments in a creator-entity’s life, the actions and beliefs that made the creator-entity valuable enough to land in an archives. Thicc description understands that research in archives is about jouissance, rather than need (I mean, okay, this is a claim that needs a citation, but apart from journalists poring over state records, who among our power users is doing research for fact-finding rather than sense-making? How often do our holdings spur more questions than they settle?) and it leads users, it goads them on, from kick to kick.

This is barely half an idea, so I’ll close with a short story. I was in the record store the other day, selling shit, and there was a tween lad who came to the counter after browsing and bravely — and yet, this is not the 1990s, and no one is shitty about scenes and culture anymore, right? — asked the shopkeep:

“Do you have any recommendations in punk?”
“Well, what sort of stuff are you into?”
“Oh, anything.”
“Well, we got the Ramones right there, can’t go wrong with the Ramones. Or wait, here–”

He hands the kid Buzzcocks first LP,

“Listening station is right there my dude.”

I told him he was doing God’s work right there — directing a user from the merely nutritive punk, to the radically enlightening. A thicc reference encounter. I only wish I’d stuck around for when they got to real teenage kicks.

Nixon in a hard hat

Nixon in a hard hat, NARA ID 16916291

This is a long divagation from @meau’s request for comments on the proposed new DACS guiding principles or more specifically, only to part one:

Archival description expresses professional ethics and values.

Professional ethics and values drive archival work, including descriptive practice. Archival description is an iterative, ethical practice that requires  continual engagement with core values. Rooting standards in values helps archivists enact these values consistently and makes them explicit to our user communities.

Ethical description:
produces trust in and between users, archivists, and repositories
encourages a diverse archival record
promotes responsible and responsive descriptive practices
holds archivists accountable to users and to each other
privileges equitable access and accessibility

So I recently moved house and now walk by my kid’s preschool every day. The school has four windows in front, and the teachers have put up four posters TEACH / LOVE / TEACH / RESPECT. My first question for the new principles was, Can virtue be taught? Because the principles clearly attempt what Socrates considered impossible — you will not educate the narcissism out of Donald Trump — kind of by the back door. That is, even if we can’t pour virtue in to systems that are innately unvirtuous, we can develop standards of behavior so vanilla and taken-for-granted that subsequent generations behave virtuously without meaning to. Establishing ethical description as a norm — placing it first in the list — is to elevate description to the level of pure ideology.

Do your Žižek voice if you need to. Okay.

It’s worth noting that TS-DACS has to model this for us because no other American archivists’ entity can or will. We don’t write ethics case studies inside SAA anymore because there’s no capacity among us to take risks for the historic record (in contrast to the learned people of Timbuktu who hid their texts from AQIM  or the Hoover institution’s preservation of Ba’ath Party records, yeah that’s right, don’t @ me )

I suspect TS-DACS is aware of its situation of influence. In the current ethics-power vacuum, of course, all any group need do is grasp power outright, but the power of technical language in our discipline is particularly overwhelming. The mass of professional archivists is exhausted by listening to the exhortations of woke LIS professor after woke LIS professor, but let one technical subcommittee issue rules or one expert lecture on codecs or something and we’re all just brought to orgasm. TS-DACS is leveraging our worship of rules and more significantly our worship of rulesmaking in order to get us to do good. It’s of course mind-bending that we have to resort to this kind of totem-and-taboo to get traction on decolonizing our description, but selah.

The principles therefore subject to bounding an ethical zone of exclusion — the heroic, extralegal, fireable offenses that got us Warren Harding’s love letters, for example, are instances of archivists claiming sovereign power. Under the principles, all description, if ethical, is heroism; and since heroism now comes as standard equipment, the notion dissolves of its own, it withers away…

And so the daring move “Ethical description produces trust,” read appropriately, is an extension of this act of including-exclusion. It’s absurd to think that a technical standard for writing finding aids could inculcate something like love among “users, archivists, and repositories,” but that’s precisely what the principles aim for: a common front of mutual aid and mutual reliability. People become subject to one another.

Insha’Allah they’ll succeed but it perplexes me that in order to get the mass of archivists to really engage with how our work affects the arc of history we have to embed a polemic on archival values inside a technical standard. It’s as if “What Is To Be Done?” or “Murderers Who Have Yet To Be Clubbed To Death” could only reach their audiences via railway schedules or actuarial tables.

And the fault of course lies not in TS-DACS but in ourselves. The ethic of servant-leadership, unstated and still plain as day, contained in the new principles is not typically archivists’ modus. More typically we empanel ourselves as Savvy Knowers Who Deliver The Archival Science — which boxes to buy, mostly — to the unwashed hordes. Our only calls to the barricades occur when NARA’s budget is threatened, as occurs ritually. I hope it turns out that standing on principle portends more effective advocacy than Save Our Jobs or May Day For Conserving Stuff ever could. Certainly it couldn’t be worse….

Imagine any other lobbying organization: AMA, APA, AARP, the National Rifle Association. Any appeal they make is couched in terms of ultimate values — health, life, self-defense — and aimed at a constituency of users — not doctors, psychs, investment bankers, and gun dealers, but their users. To center the principles on service to the user, is in addition to being plainly Christian in a primitive sense — though I have questions about this too; are we ready to lay down our DACS for a friend? — good politics.

I dream of an SAA which takes everyone who drafted the new DACS principles and empanels them as the board of overseers of our new 527, designed to raise funds and distribute them with the aim of gaining political power. I am totally sanguine about receiving dark money from Hollinger and Iron Mountain. We labor under conditions not of our own devising, and the tactics of our party should be as flexible as the end goal is immutable…