The ‘i’s’ have it

This week I attended an iconference organized by the ischools caucus and hosted at the University of Toronto’s i-school.  As a new scholar to this field, as a first time participant at an i-conference and as a natural introvert, I circulated on the peripheries during my 2 days of participation.  I found myself assuming my familiar stance as ethnographic researcher-observer at the same time as I was taking in the debates, questions, answers, and provocative presentations around a wide swath of  i-topics: materiality and phenomenology, propositional and socially folded informations, surveillance, data and ideologies, democracies and participation, tweets and the homeless, material-cultural value/s and more.  The thread was clearly information – such a potent i-word, traced historically by Geoffrey Nunberg in one of the plenary sessions.  I found the formal and informal conversation both affirming and demanding – an intellectual workout that sears a little and, at the same time, exposes muscle – my own i-embodiment among a vibrant field of i-peoples.

In catch-up chats over great food and drink with new and older colleagues, therefore, I was a little taken aback (and disheartened) to hear articulations of a familiar and (I thought) historical, protectionist, binary tension – the ‘l/i’ identity conflict – otherwise framed as “are you in an L or an i-school” debate.  At its best, membership and groupness encourage identity thinking – who am I and where do I belong? Who are my associates? What ideas do I stand for? How do I circulate in the world? At its less inspiring, belonging can manifest dogma, prejudice, and aversions to meta-theoretical and/or heteregeneous complexities, positioned comfortably from the balcony of its often crowded glass house.

One part of my identity as a newer i-scholar and academic remains strongly associated with “l” –  with library and librarian – these are among my immaterialities which tell my intellectual (and personal) life story.  They are also among my materiality in my DNA; I embody these ideas. But I am also everything that I understand to be ‘i’ – I embrace and nourish my i-ness.  Thus I firmly reject this tension of belonging, notwithstanding how any organizing structures and resources are rationed.  A library is but one of the more established information spaces, a librarian is one hologram among the republic of i-peoples. I steward librarianship. I follow all  informations.

Today I see a wonderful ‘public’ of academic and professional information peoples circulating in my day-to-day world, a public with ‘members’ who carry the information proposition in their DNA and who fold information/informing ideas into their social and intellectual lives every day. Information-informing-instantiating-identity – I am … I belong  – yes, the “i’s” have it!

[Mary Cavanagh is a member of an i-department startup at the University of Ottawa]

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