WSS Annual Conference 2000 Program
Taking the Temperature of Women's Studies in the Year 2000
At the WSS 2000 Annual Conference Program, participants shared insights, ideas
and experiences of women's studies scholarship and librarianship at the
turn of the millennium by joining one of four group discussions on the following
Groups were facilitated by WSS members. Facilitators' introductory remarks and discussion notes follow below, as available.
Changes in the Disciplines: Ellen Broidy
Impact of Electronic Resources and Access: Sandy River
Changing Modes of Instruction: Dolores Fidishun
Institutional Location of Women's Studies: Sarah M. Pritchard
I have interpreted my role this mornings as framing questions in order to set a context for our discussion about how the changes in some traditional disciplines have affected Womens Studies scholarship and librarianship. For the sake of argument (and because Marlenes instructions mentioned something about being provocative), I want to play with that a bit. I propose that, in addition to examining Women's Studies from the vantage point of other disciplines, we also interrogate changes within Womens Studies itself. In particular, I suggest examining those changes that continue to shake (and reinvigorate) Womens Studies from within its very own (fluid and elastic) borders.
Let me start by posing (and of course not answering) a very basic question about the core nature of Womens Studies. Is it a discipline? Does it have a set of pedagogical and intellectual practices that set it apart from (or, conversely, make it similar to) other disciplines? What, if anything, differentiates the content of Womens Studies from, say, womens history or womens literature or the sociology of gender. Can we identify with certainty the elements (title, subject matter, faculty member, etc.) that bring a book, electronic resource, or for that matter, a library instruction session to the attention of the Womens Studies specialist and not some other subject librarian? And what are the shifting parameters that define (or confine) the scope of the Womens Studies librarians purview?
Even if we all agree that Womens Studies does, indeed, fulfill the basic requirements of discipline, whatever they may be, we are still left with some intriguing questions. For example, how might a wide acceptance of disciplinary status alter the deeply (and dearly) held view that Womens Studies is/can/should be both transformative (personally as well as academically) and proudly transgressive? Can you foment revolution or even challenge traditional hierarchical structures of knowledge while embedded in (and deeply dependent upon) the "system?" Is it possible for an academic endeavor to be both a discipline and an interdiscipline? How well do librarians, library admnistrators, publishers, vendors, website developers, distributors, approval plan profiles, etc. handle interdisciplinarity? Or does interdisciplinarity continue to fall outside an LC-structured bibliographic net, perhaps by conscious design? Bibliographically and economically, do Womens Studies librarians have a stake in claiming a disciplinary base for Women's Studies? Even as a discipline, can Womens Studies continue to challenge the notion of a canon or has canonical orthodoxy found a home within Womens Studies? As librarians, we need to questions the assumptions upon which we ground our selection and organization of materials. Is this acquisition and organization based on some agreed-upon definition of Womens Studies or is it our responsibility to challenge disciplinary borders, risking the appearance of trespassing in order to expand the universe of information central to the feminist intellectual enterprise.
Since I have the luxury of tossing out questions without the responsibility of providing answers, here is another one that popped into my head as I pondered this mornings exercise. What about naming? What happens to Womens Studies and Womens Studies librarianship when the program is suddenly recast as gender studies? How do we then negotiate both the intellectual and bibliographic terrain of a discipline whose scope now arguably encompasses all human experience and most other fields of study? Where (and to whom) do we go when and if Womens Studies takes the linguistic turn and we find ourselves (and our collections budgets) struggling to reach a reasonable accommodation with emerging interdisciplines such as cultural studies or visual studies?
At the risk of stating the obvious, we are toiling (or roiling) in the fields of theory. Theory, whether poststructural, postmodern, or postcolonial, has altered the academic/intellectual landscape, perhaps nowhere as profoundly as in Womens Studies. Theory informs much of the most exciting feminist scholarship; regrettably, much of the most highly theoretical is also the most deeply inaccessible. Two questions immediately come to my mind when pondering Women's Studies romance with theory. First, the increasingly pervasive use of feminist theory by scholars who identify most closely with other disciplines further continues to blur the lines between Women's Studies and other sectors of the academy. What sort of impact does this have on how Women's Studies librarians build collections and/or communicate with colleagues across disciplinary borders? The second question is even more practical and speaks to the issue of the librarian's role as "trail guide." In a research library setting, how do we define our responsibilities for insuring that our collections include "elementary" texts in feminist (and other) theories so that even if the syllabus assumes that everyone is equally comfortable with Judith Butler or Donna Haraway, our collections continue to provide a safe haven for the theory challenged?
One issue that is increasingly hard to avoid for anyone involved in/with Women's Studies concerns diminishing enrollments (and the concomitant loss of prestige) in humanities and the soft social sciences. As we take the temperature of Women's Studies in the year 2000 we need to examine the strategies underway to stem (or buck) this tide and to keep Women's Studies vital and viable. As we look at the possibilities for redefining or redirecting Women's Studies scholarship and teaching, we need to identify (and understand) ways in which fundamental changes in this field and other, related fields, translate into our daily activities building, processing, and making accessible Women's Studies materials. Understanding the often-shifting place of Womens Studies in a dynamic, contentious, and increasingly interdisciplinary landscape is a challenge that faces us on a daily basis. Making enough sense of it to carry on an animated conversation is the challenge we face this morning.
Surely all aspects of librarianship have been touched by the Internet and the many electronic resources available free or by subscription on the Web and on CD-ROM. To get an accurate read on womens studies in 2000 we must consider the impact of electronic resources on what we do as womens studies librarians. I hope that some of you will join me in that discussion.
Theres no mystery what were talking about. Everyone seems to have a Web page: libraries, companies, and organizations: big and small, U.S. and international, private and governmental. There are wonderful comprehensive web sites on various topics. There are old stand-by reference sources available on CD-Rom or the Web. Even womenss studies has four databases available. The number of full-text resources is increasing. What has this meant for womens studies and ethnic studies librarianship?
It has certainly affected our selecting. Do we buy resources in print or electronic formats? There may be sources that were no longer buying because the information is now available on the Web. In other cases, there are materials that we would never have bought before that are now attractive because of new formats. And, of course, were having to decide what to put on our own web sites.
The advent of electronic resources has changed the nature of our reference and consultation work. Most of us have noticed that our undergraduate students would rather die than use a print resource. But have the research methods/practices of our faculty and graduate students also changed? The topics that researchers are pursuing may be changing. At Texas Tech we havent purchased international materials to any great extent. But now databases bring us international newspapers and statistics, and foreign governments and other organizations have sophisticated web sites providing us with information we may never have had access to before.
I suspect that there are also new frustrations associated with these electronic products. What do we think of them? Do the full-text products provide the material our patrons need? Does Womens Studies get its share of the dollars set aside for electronic resources so we can provide these products, or is this money as hard to come by as has been money for our books and journals? Have users expectations become unreasonable? Isnt everything on the Internet? Finally, this may be another case of More Work for Mother, referring to the book that pointed out that labor saving devices for the home actually raised cleanliness expectations and resulted in more housework. Has the pervasiveness of electronic resources made more work for us? making web pages, learning ever-changing interfaces, having to explain new tools along with the old.
There are lots of questions that we can discuss, and I hope that some of you will join me in that discussion.
This Discussion Group will examine issues in Education and Instruction. Obviously I am not hear to give you answers but to put forth some basic questions to start our discussion. I would like to propose that we start with four essential questions:
1. What are we teaching?
2. How are we teaching?
3. How has additional access to resources in the 24 x 7, anytime, anywhere environment effected our teaching?
4. Finally, what new issues are out on the horizon? How do we scan our environment and keep abreast of not only new technology, but new teaching methods and other issues that will affect the way we teach tomorrow?
Issues surrounding the institutional location of womens studies are a direct application of the questions surrounding disciplinarity that were outlined by Ellen Broidy. The place of womens studies in the academy -- and thus the library -- has been a long-time source of conflict, controversy, and creative energy.
Womens studies may be a department, a program, a campus center, an informal network; highly academic or highly political, separate from other programs (or from the local public community) or integrated with them, and everything in between. It can be analyzed as being its own mini-series of feminist phase theory: from a separate program focusing just on womens studies; to a broader department that includes womens, mens, and queer studies and all the other isms; to a perspective that is integrated across the traditional departments (an old structure overlaid with a new awareness); to a variety of combinations that strive for the kinds of integration that will bring productive change together with a special focus so as not to lose unique ideas and issues. And these different institutional forms do not necessarily develop in a predictable order or with enduring institutional commitment. Each of us has seen how hard it is to establish a structure in the first place, and how easily vulnerable that structure is to later political or financial pressure.
In libraries, we need to ask ourselves, how much does the collection development and reference structure have to parallel the academic structure? We see it first in collection development and management: how is the budget allocated, how are large approval plans profiled and charged, what tools (conspectus? shelflist count? other?) are used for evaluation or for preservation decisions? International womens studies faces all these and more -- are language-specific bibliographers including that topic in their selections? Are womens studies and feminist publications from other countries being omitted by vendor or publisher attitudes or because the evolution of the field itself in another country is so different? Issues go beyond the collections to such things such as faculty liaison, space (e.g., separate reference collections or offices), budgeting of large multidisciplinary resources like databases, bibliographic instruction (both its content and who does it), the role of branch libraries, the role of uncataloged informal collections on campus (e.g. in the womens center), and the level of resources needed (e.g., graduate versus undergraduate, scope of faculty research).
There are advantages and disadvantages to be considered for each structural model. For a separate department or program, the library can often better manage and justify a concentrated focus on collection development and reference support, especially in libraries that align their budgets along academic department lines. However, it may be difficult to find a librarian with the right experience or training and the line may get assigned to someone already juggling all the other (and not necessarily related) fields. With a separate focus, a dynamic librarian might leverage that independence to develop a broad awareness of the value and challenges of all forms of interdisciplinarity. Yet, one of the disadvantages of a separate womens studies department is that it may be too easy for the mainstream disciplines to ignore it; that is, to say that we dont need to collect/recommend that item because the womens studies folks will, and this risks letting the traditional disciplines become even more rooted in old-fashioned structures and analyses. In a combined department that supports women/gender/other studies, the risk is that the important political and theoretical contributions articulated by feminist scholars will get lost, or that false analogies will be drawn as to how the diverse programs should be treated. In a combined merged-plus-separate approach, the actual amount of collection dollars allocated may be too small to effectively support the purchases in the separate line but meanwhile the mainstream line is off the hook (or so they think).
The existence of a womens center is an added dimension that is not like other disciplines except in some ethnic studies. This may give womens studies a connection into such areas as student services, staff support, employment and heath services, and community outreach. The librarians will need to consider how to be involved -- is there a library there, is it cataloged, are the records online or at least on a web link, who does the purchasing? Might librarians be involved in providing liaison or direct services at the center? In some institutions the womens studies librarian has even been an adjunct staff member at a center or program. The center may be able to offer information services or resources that cannot be provided through the library, for example, more alternative publications, or women-only sessions. But if the only focus on a campus is the center, there is the risk that the subject itself will be deemed irrelevant or nonacademic and that library materials funds will not be allocated. Academic legitimacy is conferred by a teaching program or department, although sadly it sometimes means a divisiveness with or distancing from community or political issues.
Feminist thinking challenges the boundaries -- of disciplines, political structures, and organizational hierarchies. This is not to say that the structures and disciplines will go away, or that there is any one perfect solution. It is rather that we must carefully parse out the direct and indirect implications of the institutional location of womens studies, in whatever institution we find ourselves, and help our library, faculty and student colleagues analyze what will be most effective to deliver information resources and services. Pragmatically, we will probably need to take pieces of all the structures, use whatever we can justify politically and financially, and be open to shifting arrangements over time. We cant take for granted that the discipline will be solid, whether in the arena of academia or that of information.
The participants of this discussion group introduced themselves and described the institutional location of womens studies in their particular universities or colleges. Several key issues emerged:
Based on this discussion, the participants made three suggestions as to how ACRL/WSS could address some of these issues:
Suggestion 1) Have a dialog with vendor representatives on managing approval plans for WS. This dialog could also include teaching faculty representatives and possibly other ACRL sections, such as the Anthropology and Sociology Section, who deal with similar issues of planning for interdisciplinary collections.
Suggestion 2) Address the outreach needs in WS librarianship: that includes public libraries, womens centers, faculty, students and staff. Provide a collection development bridge to the user communities for these non-academic (personal development) needs. This could be accomplished by creating a core list of notable books in WS for each year for these community-oriented needs.
Suggestion 3) Provide help with developing foreign WS collections by providing lists of resources, approval plans (e.g. for Africa) and other acquisition and professional awareness tools.