Interview with Emily Drabinski, editor of the Litwin Books Series on Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies

Emily Drabinski is the editor of a book series with Litwin Books and Library Juice Press, titled, “Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies.” Originally it was “Gender and Sexuality in Librarianship,” but pretty quickly it was clear from the titles that she was lining up that the emphasis was going to be on theoretical topics that would be of interest to scholars outside the library profession, so we updated the title. It occurred to me that this would be a good time to do an interview with Emily about the series and the books that are coming up in it, and Emily agrees. So, Emily, thanks for doing this interview.

Hi Rory!

I think the way I’d like to do this is really just to get you to talk about the series and describe the upcoming books. I don’t think I have an accurate memory of how it got started, so do you want to start by telling that story? Did it derive from a particular book project?

I’m also not sure how this book series got started! It’s funny how short my memory has gotten. Thank god for google–searching back through my gmail I see that we started talking about the series in 2009, just as I was finishing up the editing work on Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods (with Maria Accardi and Alana Kumbier). At the time I was also circling around questions of intersections of critical work on gender and sexuality and library organization systems in my own work. We first met at the UW-Milwaukee Thinking Critically conference in 2008, where I presented a paper about queer geography and library shelf space, and I’m guessing that’s what put me in your head as someone with some content interest.

I also had editorial and clerical interest in the series. It turns out that I like working with other people on their work more than I like working on my own work, at least some of the time. I love talking to people about their ideas, shaping editorial calls, looking through raw copy for the heart of the story. It’s like an intimate friendship with ideas, and I love it. It also turns out that I’m pretty good at the clerical parts of the job, managing timelines and deadlines, versioning manuscripts, keeping track of contracts, the nuts and bolts of producing books. This is a part of the job I am getting better at. When I was working with Lyz Bly and Kelly Wooten on Make Your Own History, I was new to Dropbox and downloaded all the chapters without realizing that I’d disappeared them from the shared folder. Kelly freaked out a little, and I learned a solid lesson. Now I don’t know what I’d do without that particular cloud.

The first book was Tracy Nectoux’s Out Behind the Desk, a collection of personal stories and critical reflections on being and coming out in libraries. She pitched me the book based on the call for the series, and it felt like a great fit. While other library presses publish work on gender and sexuality studies, I felt like her book would benefit from the context of the series, being part of a set of titles addressing similar questions in a variety of ways.

I think that was a good way to start the series, although the ones you have been working on since are quite different. We published Make Your Own History last year. Do you want to describe that project and how it came about?

Kelly Wooten and Lyz Bly edited the second book in the series. It’s a collection of chapters about the the theory and practice–my favorite mix, and what makes our field so interesting to think and work in–of feminist and queer archives. Their authors are really from all over the place–the academy and activist circles, feminist presses and queer zine collections. It’s a rich set of texts that I think is the first of its kind, and belongs in the hands of theorists, practitioners, and activists. It was also a book that taught me about the importance of contracts and copyright. All of the authors were really aware of copyright issues and made their concerns very known to me–that was helpful! After working together for more than a year on this project, Kelly and I finally got to meet at a reading in Brooklyn at the Feminist Zine Fest, organized by Kate Angell and Elvis Bakaitis. The book gave us a reason to have a public conversation about feminist and queer history. That’s the real power of this series, I think. The titles enable conversations that I think we’re already having, but in a less organized way.

That book has definitely attracted interest and has been a part of conversations, which is very gratifying. That is what I hope to achieve. So we have a number of titles coming up in your series. Would you describe what’s coming up?

It is a busy, busy time for the series, with three books just about to be hot off the presses. First up is the Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader, a collection edited by Patrick Keilty and Becca Dean. I’m thrilled about this project–it does the kind of work that I always wanted to see in the field. They’ve pulled together critical essays from feminist and queer studies and put them against similar work in information studies. So, you’ll have a chapter about the invention of transgender as a legal category next to a chapter about library classifications of identity. The book puts LIS into critical conversation with fields that work as much on classification theory as we do. It’s just fantastic. Then come two monographs. Alana Kumbier is finishing a book about queer archives theory and practice that draws on theoretical work about “the archive” to describe a number of material archives projects as well as their representations. It’s cross-disciplinary in the best way, and will find readers in fields outside of the library. Maria Accardi is completing a primer on feminist pedagogy for teaching librarians. I’m a little in love with this little book. What started as a relatively dry, academic text about feminist theory has morphed into a hybrid memoir/feminist teaching manual. I think it will be the kind of book librarians will turn to again and again–I anticipate many a coffee-stained, dog-eared copy, ripped out lesson plans, . And Rachel Wexelbaum is editing a collection about LGBTQ libraries and archives in the digital world. It’s an exciting and busy time to be involved with this series.

And while all that is going on, you are accepting book proposals and submissions for future projects in the series. How would you define the scope of the series for people who may want to submit something to it? What issues do you hope to address with future titles?

Yes, I am absolutely seeking new projects. The series has both practical and theoretical scopes, and proposals are welcome for either. In terms of practical projects, I’m particularly interested in books that provide a how-to for people in our field, like handbooks to feminist or queer cataloging, or a manual for setting up print or digital community archives for feminist collections. I also think we have room in our field for more abstract explorations of feminist and queer perspectives on knowledge production, organization, and access, as well as the politics of all three of those. I’d like the series to address a broad group of readers, those who want to open a book at 9am and then make something happen by noon, and those interested in reading and thinking through more complex arguments about the foundations and futures of our field. I am also really open to just talking with people who have only the germ of an idea. Dialogue has a way of turning a glimmer into a book for sale, so I hope people will get in touch.

That is wonderful. Readers, you can contact Emily at emily.drabinski at gmail dot com. Regarding communications with readers, I wonder if you could share some of the things that have come about as a result of these books – discussions, projects, etc. What have these books generated? I mean books in this series specifically, not your book on critical library instruction, which has had its own life post-publication.

Well, there are the concrete outcomes that are public and that I can articulate: Maria Accardi’s session about feminist pedagogy at ACRL was a direct outgrowth of her book project, and was quite well received this spring. She also just got tenure at the University of Illinois Southeast, an accomplishment I like to think this book played a hand in. Alana Kumbier presented on a chapter of her upcoming book at Barnard College’s Activism and the Academy conference in 2011 along with Jenna Freedman, who wrote an essay for Kelly Wooten and Lyz Bly’s collection. Out Behind the Desk was nominated for a 2011 Over the Rainbow award, and has been well reviewed in print and online. Kelly Wooten and Jenna Freedman spoke with me at the Feminist Zine Fest in Brooklyn. And then there are the outcomes that we’ll only see later, both in traditional ways (I’m following citations like a hawk!) and in ways less amenable to measurement. One of the reviewers of Tracy Nectoux’s book notes that the collection was “comforting.” I think he meant that he could see from reading the stories of these LGBT librarians that he wasn’t alone. I hope the series can be comforting to many readers in many ways, letting us know that we are not alone in our professional and theoretical conversations, and that they have a home on this series and on this press.

That’s right. Thanks for those links, too. I’m very pleased at the way these books have sent out waves. I hope that with future projects we can expand the range of people who will be comforted and feel included. I think that the way a book can help someone at a personal level is an extremely important aspect of publishing that we don’t normally think about when we think about scholarly communication. Which is not to diminish what could be said about your series from other perspectives.

I am wondering about your own intellectual interests, and when there might be a book in this series written by you. Any thoughts on that?

My own intellectual interests are a little bit all over the map right now–my hands are in a lot of pots as I come to the end of my tenure clock. I’ve been working with the journal Radical Teacher to go open access, and that is taking up a lot of my time. I think we’re just a week or so out from going live at I’m hoping to find venues to share what I learned, particularly about the kinds of worries that people who aren’t librarians have about the open access decision. I recently published the culmination of several years of puzzling through my thinking on what to do about the paradox of queer subject headings: how do we fix in place ideas and identities that change so rapidly and depend so entirely on context? That’s out in the April issue of Library Quarterly. You probably can’t tell by reading it, but it took me a very very long time to figure out how to say the pretty small something I said in that piece. We’ll see what I end up focusing on this summer: ideas of time in information literacy instruction, a curriculum analysis project I’m working on with a colleague, queer theory and retrieval systems, I’m in a bit of a reboot moment. I can’t imagine writing a book at all, let alone a book in this series. I have come to appreciate–and hope some of the authors I’ve worked with appreciate–the real pleasures of the author-editor relationship, especially at the small press scale. If I ever write a book, I think I’ll want to do it with an editor who isn’t me.

Congratulations on your article in Library Quarterly. Sounds like an exciting period, wherever things go from here in your own intellectual work. I think you are a very good editor, but I also hope that it doesn’t pull you away from your own writing too much.

To finish up the interview, I would like to ask if you have advice for writers and thinkers in our field who may have an ambition of publishing in your series or elsewhere. What do you think people should understand at various stages of working toward completion of book projects like the ones you have been editing?

Write every day. That is just the only way to write a book. Nobody sits down and writes a book; lots of people spend a little bit of time writing every day and end up with a book at the end. They aren’t exceptional people; they’re just people who decided to write more often than they didn’t. Make deadlines and meet them. When you feel like you want to stop, call your editor on the phone and let her talk you away from the shredder. And every single part of this process will take more time than you think it will, and it will be worth it. We all want to hear what you have to say.

Thanks very much for this interview, Emily. If I may say so, I think it’s a little bit inspiring!

Thanks, Rory. My work on this series feels like pretty invisible labor most of the time, so I’m glad to get a chance to talk about the project.