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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Libraries: Institutions or assemblages?

By Katherine Howard

Gerolami, N. (2015) The library assemblage: creative institutions in an information society.  Journal of Documentation, 71(1), pp. 165-174. doi 10.1108/JD-09-2013-0120

“Institution or assembl…. What?!”
Assemblage. Or, more specifically, the concept of assemblage as a theoretical foundation in which to view the library as a tool for social justice.

In this conceptual paper, Natasha Gerolami introduces us to Deleuze and Guattari’s assemblage theory, which she uses to “develop a theory of the institution that highlights the library’s potential to resist forces of domination” (p. 165).  While that may seem a little melodramatic for this day and age, Gerolami points to moments in time where libraries have attempted to constrain individuals – the notion of class at the end of the nineteenth century, for example.  She quotes William Kite (1877) in stating that “working class men and women would remain “content with their lowly but honest occupations”” (Kite, p. 278 as cited in Gerolami, p. 170), so long as the library was stocked with literature that was appropriate for their class.  If working class individuals started thinking about new possibilities for themselves, they may very well “disrupt the status quo” (Gerolami, p. 170).

Before looking at the application of assemblage theory, Gerolami first looks at the concept of an institution, and how, through a social contract theory lens, they are seen as suppressive or oppressive.  Libraries as institutions are not exempt from this, as history (and quite likely recent events) has shown us.  Social contract theory portrays society in a negative light; the aim of the ‘contract’ is to suppress the base instincts of society. Libraries perpetuated this view through the provision of “good literature” – that somehow immoral behaviour and society’s ills would be corrected if society were only exposed to the good stuff.  

Gerolami then turns to Deleuze’s theory of institutions as an alternative to social contract theory.  Deleuze is all-encompassing in his conceptual understanding of ‘institution’:  social institutions such as marriage, and government institutions such as schools, hospitals and prisons are included.  In contrast to social contract theory that sees society negatively, Deleuze sees the potential to “conceive of institutions in a positive and inventive manner …” (Gerolami, p. 167).  In theory of institutions terms, the library as an institution “is best understood as a productive space […and …] a creative rather than repressive force [with the potential] to produce new social networks” (p. 168).

Finally, the use of assemblage theory is as a way to ground library services as tools for advocacy discussed.  In short, assemblage theory states that “different components of the assemblage [i.e. the library] are not determined or defined by the whole assemblage of which they are a part.  Parts can […] be detached and removed […] and connected to another one [i.e. another assemblage].  Furthermore, the assemblage is more than merely the sum of its parts” (p. 168).  What this means in practice is that the library (as an institution) “could be assembled with other institutions, forces or people (p. 169).

While the article is perhaps not the easiest to read, Gerolami peppers it with analogies, which helps to make it more realistic rather than merely conceptual.  She questions the continued use of potentially out-dated concepts (e.g. evaluation methods used in collection development), and uses the theoretical concepts discussed to encourage the use of “old concepts in new ways” (p. 170), 

This is pre-print version of the article published in Incite, Jan/Feb 2017

Image: Don Urban, Orrery Steam Punk

Dr Katherine Howard, AALIA 
Lecturer, Information Management, School of Business IT & Logistics | RMIT, Melbourne 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

LARK in 2017

By Suzana Sukovic

Now that New Year resolutions and plans are on the fast track to reality, it is time to tell everyone what LARK has on its collective mind for this, still fresh and promising year. On 30 November last year, a group of LARK’s faithful and some new people celebrated another successful year and made plans for this one, but we waited for your full attention to tell you what we have in store for LARK. 

This year LARK will become 5 years old. In the life of a small, predominantly online group, without a stable institutional home and a big following, this is quite an achievement. On the other hand, research has never been and probably never will be a mass endeavour. In our meeting at the end of last year, we decided we are happy to keep it that way. After all, LARK has thrived this long thanks to the efforts of a small group of committed people. With an online presence and global community, small is a relative thing. Last month’s LARK blog had 7561 views. That is in the month when only one post was published and everyone was frantically busy with end of year work and celebrations. LARK’s face-to-face gatherings easily fit around a cafĂ© or large dining table, but many people across the globe take part in our online activities.

Connections are certainly spreading in Australia. Our exciting news is that this year we will start a LARK chapter in South Australia. Liz Walkley Hall, who has led a research group at the Flinders University Library, will organise LARK face-to-face events in Adelaide and participate in shaping LARK’s online events. We plan to keep the collective spirit by organising simultaneous face-to-face events in Sydney and Adelaide.

LARK will keep the tradition of offering four events a year. A mix of online and face-to-face events worked well last year so we will do the same in 2017.
Week 20 February: Our first meeting will be online. In this meeting we will connect with health professionals to discuss shared interests and learn from each other. Our guests are experienced researchers in rural and remote NSW. It will be an excellent opportunity for professionals from all over Australia, particularly, rural and remote areas, to connect.
Beginning of May: We will kick-start the South Australian LARK chapter by organising simultaneous face-to-face meetings in Adelaide and Sydney.
Week 20 September: Our fifth anniversary will be celebrated with the most ambitious event of the year. Watch this space!
Late November or early December: as always, time to celebrate and network.
#EBLIPRG (Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Reading Group) on Twitter is officially a separate initiative. In reality, with Liz and me involved with both LARK and #EBLIPG, the separation line is pretty blurry. This year #EBLIPRG will meet every second month on the last Thursday of a month. 
26 January: The first #EBLIPRG meeting this year.

I hope you are thinking that you would like to get involved. It would be a great way to kick-start your research project or connect with like-minded people. If you aren’t working in libraries and are thinking whether it is the right group for you, I can assure you that the “library” in “LARK” is just for the sake of a good acronym. People who come to our gatherings are from the broad library and information field. Over the years, we had quite a few teachers who easily found common topics with library and information professionals and academics.

How to connect?
Come to our online and face-to-face events. Everyone is welcome.
Volunteer to present or help out with the organisation of events. LARK events are attended by friendly people. 
Write a blog post and send it to lark.kollektive(at) I read this email a few times a week and will get back to you quickly. Any suggestions can be sent to this email too.
Send research and EBP news to the mailing list (see left hand side of this page for details).
Like us on Facebook.
Tell your colleagues about LARK and our events. Even better, join us together.

Hope to get in touch online or in face-to-face meetings!

Dr Suzana Sukovic, librarian with a meandering career, is now Executive Director, Educational Research and Evidence Based Practice at HETI (Health Education and Training Institute). She is ready for some inspiring interprofessional learning this year.
Twitter @suzanasukovic