Secret Feminist Agenda & Masters of Text
I am an academic librarian who has earned permanence – which is the word we use at the University of Windsor to describe the librarian-version of tenure. When I was hired, there was no explicit requirement for librarians to publish in peer-reviewed journals. Nowadays, newly hired librarians at my place of work have an expectation to create peer-reviewed scholarship, although the understanding of how much and what kinds of scholarship count has not been strictly defined.
While I have written a few peer reviewed articles, most of my writing for librarians has been on this particular blog (since 2016) and for ten years prior to that at New Jack Librarian (with one article, in between blogs, hosted on Medium).
On my official CV that I update and submit to my institution every year, these peer-reviewed articles are listed individually. Under, “Non-referred publications”, I have a single line for each of my blogs. And yet, I have done so much more writing on blogging platforms compared to my peer reviewed work (over 194K words from 2006-2016, alone). And my public writing has been shared, saved, and read many, many times over my peer-reviewed scholarship.
Now, as I have previously stated, I already have permanence. So why should I care if my blog writing counts in my work as an academic librarian?
That was my thinking, so I didn’t care. That is, until a couple of weeks ago when a podcast changed my mind.
That podcast was Hannah McGregor’s Secret Feminist Agenda.
Secret Feminist Agenda is a weekly podcast about the insidious, nefarious, insurgent, and mundane ways we enact our feminism in our daily lives.About, Secret Feminist Agenda
McGregor’s podcast is part of a larger SSHRC-funded partnership called Spoken Web that “aims to develop a coordinated and collaborative approach to literary historical study, digital development, and critical and pedagogical engagement with diverse collections of spoken recordings from across Canada and beyond”.
The episode that changed my mind was 3-26 which is dedicated largely a conversation of McGregor with another academic and podcaster, Ames Hawkins. In it, there were two particular moments that reconfigured my thinking.
The value of creative practice
The first was when their conversation turned to scholarly creative practice (around the 16 minute mark):
What did we learn about scholarly podcasting… How and when and where we create new knowledge, that’s what we call scholarship, generally, right?Secret Feminist Agenda, 3.26
Their conversation about what counts as scholarship and how it can be valued is a great listen. And it opened the possibility in my mind to consider this writing a form of creative, critical work.
While most of my public writing is explanatory or persuasive in nature, there is definitely a subset of my work that I would consider a form of creative practice. I know that these works are creative because when I sit down to write them, I don’t have an idea of the final form of the text until it is finished. I am compelled to work through ideas that I feel might have something to them, but the only way to tell is to get closer.
These more creative writings tend to be my least-popular works that are never shared by others on social media. Examples include How Should Reality Be (my own version of Reality Hunger) and G H O S T S T O R I E S.
And yet, those writings were necessary precursors to later works that were built from those first iterations and have ended up being well-received: Libraries are for use. And by use, I mean copying and Haunted libraries, invisible labour, and the librarian as an instrument of surveillance. These second iterations are more formal but not works of formal scholarship. I still think they fall under the category of creative, critical work.
Both writing and conversation can act as a practice to discover and uncover ideas in a way that feels very different than the staking of intellectual territory and making claims, like so much scholarship.
Using tenure to break space open
The second passage that struck me comes in at the 52:26 mark, when Hannah tells this story:
Hannah: I met a prof at the Modernist Studies Association Conference a few years ago who was telling me that he does a comic book podcast with a friend of his and they’ve been doing it for years and it has quite a popular following, and I was like, “Oh, awesome! Do you count that as your scholarly output?” and he said “No, I don’t need to. I have tenure.” And I was like, “Well, but, couldn’t you use tenure as a way to break space open for those who don’t but want to be doing that kind of work? Isn’t there another way to think about what it means to have security as a position from which you can radicalize?”, but that so often doesn’t seem to prove to be the case.Secret Feminist Agenda, 3.26
Ames: “Well, and now we’re back to that’s feminist thinking -what you said there and what that person is illustrating is not feminist thinking…”
Oof. Hearing that bit was a bit of a gut-punch.
I can and will do better.
That being said, I’m not entirely sure how my corpus of public writing should be accounted for. Obviously, the volume of words produced is not an appropriate measure. Citation counts from scholarly works might be deemed a valuable measure as but many scholars deliberately exclude public writing from their bibliographies, I feel this metric systematically undervalues this type of writing. And while page views and social media counts should stand for something, I don’t think you can make the case that popularity is an equivalent of quality.
Secret Feminist Agenda goes through its own form of peer review.
I would love to see something similar for library blogs such as my own. There is work that needs to be done.