• Campers

    Ruth Ann Jones

    I catalog popular culture, political ephemera, artists' books, Africana, and much more for Special Collections in the MSU Libraries. My other positions at MSU have included digital projects manager, reference librarian, development writer, and library PR coordinator.

    My Posts

    Orality and libraries

    Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 | Ruth Ann Jones

    Hi folks. Here’s what I’d like to talk about at THATcamp.

    I’m working on a paper for a (traditional) conference this summer on how folk literature in the oral tradition can be used as a model for describing the contemporary activity of writing fan fiction. Along the way, I’ve been thinking about Robin Lakoff’s observations about modern society’s shift from literacy to orality as the ideal model for communication.

    This trend began decades before the Internet, but is certainly being hastened by it. An unconference is a perfect example of a communicative form morphing from a “written” model to an oral model: even though a traditional conference involves the spoken word, its nature is more like written communication: the presentations are prepared beforehand (“reading a paper”) and often intended to be disseminated in print afterward.

    Poetry slams are another possible example. Poetry readings have traditionally been constructed as events where an author reads from work already published, or perhaps work intended for future publication. That’s not a given at poetry slams, and although there are a few published anthologies of poetry composed for slams, I suspect they’re only a tiny fraction of what has actually been performed. The live performance is what counts.

    How can libraries collect primary source material, like fanfiction and blogosphere discussions, which exist not in a single digital space but in diffuse locations? Is there any meaningful way to preserve forms of scholarly interaction and popular culture, like unconferences and poetry slams, which define themselves through in-person attendance? There are technical challenges, and the copyright questions are also very complex. Substantive material, which scholars might find valuable in the future, is being produced outside of the publication & dissemination arenas where intellectual property issues are at least somewhat settled.

    So the resurgence of orality has significant implications for research libraries, which collectively are responsible for gathering primary source material (while it’s still available!) and building comprehensive collections for current and future scholars. There are several other librarians attending THATcamp, but most of you represent the scholars whose future needs librarians try to anticipate as we develop collections. I look forward to exchanging ideas with you.