Libraries and archives are increasingly devaluing the labor of digitization through the use of unpaid, underpaid labor and outsourced labour, argues Yoonhee Lee, Archives and Record management graduate from the Class of 2019, in an essay that won this year’s Miriam Braverman prize.
The Braverman Memorial Prize is awarded annually to a student in Library Science or Archival Studies for an essay submitted on the theme of progressive or activist librarianship.The award honors Miriam Ruth Gutman Braverman (1920-2002), who was a socialist, writer, activist librarian, and longstanding member of the Progressive Librarians Guild, a founder of the ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table.
Lee’s essay is titled “Towards universal access to knowledge: the invisible labor of digitizing.”
In it, she examines “who does digitization labor and the context in which this labor takes place,
[situates] the labor of digitizing books and archival material within larger discussions of the growth of invisible work and knowledge work and its exploitation under neoliberal capitalism.”
As winner of the prize, Lee receives a $500 stipend toward expenses at ALA Annual (June 20-25, 2019) and her essay will be published in an upcoming issue of Progressive Librarian, the PLG Journal. She will also present her paper at the ALA Annual.
Lee’s essay is a slightly trimmed version of a paper she wrote for INF3010H: Power, Media and Technology taught byAssistant Professor Nicole Cohen. She says the course’s thought-provoking discussions about “hidden forms of labour” got her thinking about “how much time and effort goes into digitization” in libraries and archives, and how, for example, contract workers who digitize older books for companies like Google are often poorly paid and “treated like machines.”
To improve the situation, Lee recommends, as a first step, paying more attention to what goes into creating the digital products we use including reflecting on the ethics of using prison labour for digitization and ensuring that outsourced work is collaborative. In the digital humanities field, where much of the digitization work is done by students, she favours a student worker bill of rights.
Past Braverman-prize-winning essays can be found on PLG’s website. Lee’s essay will become available when it’s published.