Gender, “making,” and archives and libraries

Recently Richard Urban shared a link to the Atlantic article “Why I Am Not A Maker.”  The  author has the perspective of an educator, but as I was reading it I could not help but think how this also applies to many archivists and librarians, many of whom also do not “make” anything. In what regard does this contribute to our fields being undervalued? The relationship of our fields to many digital humanities projects also came to mind–how often are our skills and contributions marginalized or glossed over in favor of those scholars and technologists who “made” the project? And to what extent are many of the projects we ourselves undertake done so with the very real motivation that we have to “make something” in order to prove our value and the value of our holdings?

Some interesting food for thought?

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7 thoughts on “Gender, “making,” and archives and libraries”

  1. I liked the way the article called out the relationship between “makers” and commodification. The archives profession is changing but I still think we focus on the products and forget that “archives” is a process. We don’t make archives anymore than a painter makes art. At our best we create a space where a person can interact with records in a way that produces some (hopefully positive or useful) change.

  2. This also struck me because of my interest in how libraries, archives, and museums are jumping on the Maker bandwagon. I haven’t heard as much from the archives side (public and academic libraries are adding “makerspaces” to serve their communities and museums, especial science centers, are doing the same). In many ways these spaces fit with the experiential learning that already happens and is core to their missions. So, OK, fine, we’re riding the popular wave of makerdom. The question may be how inclusive these spaces are to other kinds of “making” that was already happening. (is the quilt guild/knitting circle included in library makerspaces?). If we look to Make Magazine as the center of all this, it’s interesting to note that they have another publication called “Craft” (, but when do we hear about “Crafters” or “craftspaces?”

    At the same time, more pieces like this that unpack what that really means would be worthwhile (::gears turning::). For example, this is an interesting complementary article on the parallels between the Arts & Craft Movement and Makers.

  3. I offered some thoughts on your questions at my blog. My conclusion is (ha), “it depends.” My perspective admittedly is very idiosyncratic and highly influenced by my experiences in working with the Nixon records at NARA back in the day. What happened to my archival cohort and so forth. Issues I long sought to understand and on which I’ve now found great peace. On the specific questions of value, I’m somewhere in the middle, no surprise. Aware of and highly supportive of the need for demonstrated value of archival work. Yet also embracing a sense of liberation, knowing we “make a difference,” and are makers in a different way without producing traditional products. My musings on that are here:

  4. It’s been a few years since I read Kevin Carson’s Homebrew Industrial Revolution, and it’s been interesting – and sad – in these few years to see the idea of Making turn into a watered-down slogan. There are still some serious ventures like the Factor-e Farm that are engaging absolute questions of economics, but it’s dismaying to see how much fru-fru people are making – excuse me, Making – now. It’s the same thing that’s happened to the idea of crafts: going from an economically relevant and potentially empowering human discipline to a mimetic pastime for the First World middle class. “Craft” stores don’t educate people how to provide for their own material needs, they sell materials crafted in factories overseas to assemble according to instructions. It is no challenge to the mass-production economy. Neither is Making as a trendy hobby. People have been very optimistic about what 3D printers can do, so have I. But I can easily imagine a future where, instead of equipping themselves with small-scale manufacturing equipment to meet more of their needs immediately, middle class households will buy them as toys, to make toys, while they continue to work at their jobs to get the money they need to buy their mass-produced goods.

    Chachra is right that not all valuable work is that which makes something. She is also right in seeing that the roots of the problems with identifying and compensating the value of services go deep.

    For archivists, it’s not only that we don’t make things, it’s that the services we provide aren’t immediately demonstrable as having material benefit either. We don’t wash dishes, mow lawns, we don’t hand out report cards or diplomas that people can use to secure employment either. The finding aids we write and publish might empower someone to make a little money, indirectly, if that person writes a book or makes a movie that becomes very popular. But this is the rarest exception.

  5. Also, the whole maker thing in the original article reminds me of the chef vs. home cook dichotomy — why are (though increasingly less so) famous chefs men while home cooks are coded as women? I’m sure feminist economists have thought about this way more than me but arguably the difference is $_Capitalism and gendered notions of labor visibility (i.e., historically men’s labor is valued, women’s is not).

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