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Internship Diaries #5: The Information Maintainers Strike Back Limits, Hard Knocks

 ·  ☕ 2 min read  ·  ✍️ Brian M. Watson

Foreshadowing Maintenance

The authors had high hopes about the library staff’s ability to continue to maintain it… but maintenance is hard. Difficult. Endless.

As the Information Maintainers note in their trumpet-blast white paper:

The information infrastructure that acts of maintenance support is frequently invisible until it breaks (Bowker and Star, 2000), thus making effective care work hard to study and appreciate. To do so, one must deliberately focus on interfaces, interactions, and information flows…

Failure to address failing systems results in damage to our imaginations—to our capacity for hope and new ideas—as well as to our daily lives and those of the people and things we care about. The consequences of inattention to maintenance are both immediate and generational (Mattern, 2018) and often unevenly distributed along lines of privilege and disenfranchisement..

Unfortunately, in late 1970s the Kinsey Institute Library and Special Collections was about to enter one of its most challenging periods—this is a story for another time—and it became harder to constantly maintain it.

This is not a slight of the KILIB at all, the staff have been heroic in the face of several crises, and its a constant wonder to me that they were able to guide it through all of those challenges. And they have not been idle at all—in 2015 the entirety of the thesaurus was typed up (oof!) and some edits were undertaken—which I’ll turn to in the next post—and I’m glad to be able to contribute to even more maintenance.

It is something that does need to be revisted time and time again, however. There are funny examples of what happens, such as the use this term, under Anal Stimulation:

Anal stimulation
UF Handballing
BT Sex behavior
NOTE: Any stimulation, oral or manual, of the anal and perineal region excluding anal coitus

If you’re not familiar with that term, neither was I! But after some digging I suggested :

USE Fisting

This is a funnier term, but there are also more complicated ones, such as the connotations around the word ‘primitive’ or ‘retarded’ in the 1970s versus the 2000’s (a time when these terms were updated).

So, how am I going to do this after all?

First, we need to understand the history of the vocabulary…and that’s the next entry!

Maintainers, The Information, D. Olson, J. Meyerson, M. A. Parsons, J. Castro, M. Lassere, D. J. Wright, et al. “Information Maintenance as a Practice of Care,” June 17, 2019.

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Brian M. Watson
Brian M. Watson
Archivist, Historian, Digital Humanist