On this day in history, I found myself awake at 7 in the morning after a vicious all-nighter writing a defense of my will-be POLITICAL JUSTICE tattoo as an assignment for my graduate Foundations course. I was trying desperately to not sound like a schmuck, even though only a total douchecanoe would ever get a tattoo based off anything William Godwin ever penned.
The result was a composition completely necessary to share with an outside audience that will probably appreciate my intentions more than my professor who I’m convinced can’t stand me (most probably because of the assignment from the very beginning of the semester where I adamantly derided ‘library science libraries’ for the vestigial elitist boys’ club lodges they are).
In summer 2012 I beheld a unique and unforgettable privilege:
First and foremost, I was studying at Oxford. I, who in all of my youth spent in an island community grimly/affectionately dubbed “The Rock,” never anticipated a college education–let alone an advanced graduate degree at an internationally prestigious university.
Secondly, at said university I was entitled and encouraged to utilize the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest, largest reference facilities in Europe at my whim and necessity. Second-and-a-halfly, I was furthermore entitled and encouraged to seek out and handle original print works and manuscripts at my whim and necessity.
My immediate goal upon arriving in Oxford was to locate and rendezvous with the Frankenstein manuscript, which I knew to also be arriving in England from the American east coast (granted, from the distinct opposite corner of the Mason-Dixon) within the same time-span after its prolonged stay on display at the New York Public Library. Because of this time frame, the manuscript was not yet locatable on-site when I first arrived at the reference desk of the Duke Humfrey’s, though I was permitted to leave my name and email. Two days and apparently-dozens-of-fwd’d emails later, I finally received a much-down-the-line receipt from the head of Special Collections, Dr. Bruce Barker-Benfield (hereafter abbreviated to B^3). Dr. B^3 was not only in possession of the manuscript, but more than willing and gracious to facilitate my encounter with it.
To call my appointment in the attic of the Clarendon building with the pale, powder blue pages nestled in an acid-free shallow “shoebox” containing the manuscript “life-changing” would be a disgusting understatement. Dr. B^3’s modest passion for Shelleyana (excessive knowledge and only with the purest intention to share it) was riveting, inspiring, provoking—all of the above. His humble suggestions of where to grow and how to utilize the existing printed sources to their fullest capability outside of the Bodleian walls, promising that I could take my research back across the pond with me did everything to fulfill my prophecy of Shelley research—and thensome.
The necessity of my librarianship is to do the utmost justice to the persons devoted to the preservation and perseverance of knowledge and artifacts of knowledge within their facility (in being accountable for the objects themselves and responsible for their disclosure to inquiring parties of all backgrounds—even little ol’ metal-faced me) and beyond the walls of the library (by enabling clients with extensive digitized/electronic and commercially affordable print resources, as well as an invitation to continue email correspondence outside of appointment for unique expertise).
My desire is to work within sectors and initiatives dedicated to de-mystifying, even dismantling barred knowledge that serves absolutely no one in being barred. While objects may be best preserved in cool, dark spaces with minimal contact, such measures do absolutely nothing to fulfill the living humanities. Facsimiles and digitizations are more-than-ever necessary for the endurance a learned public.
My librarianship is 110% devoted to total transparency, self-sacrificing public service without discrimination, and dedicated maintenance and accountability. Open-and-extended access, librarianship outside of the library, is fundamental. While I was permitted the privilege of the Bodleian (and will once again be renewing my pink card in summer 2014), not every would-be-patron will, nor will they, by virtue, experience the compassionate outreach of Dr. B^3, or perhaps let-alone even more humbly “accessible” professionals that may be taken for granted.
In my litany of to-be tattoos, my most-oft-daydreamed is my will-be chest piece to brandish POLITICAL JUSTICE in bold, serif lettering at the hem of my clavicle. The placement is somewhat loud and abrasive (especially when considering that the piece will be imprinted on my body after my prospective top surgery, in defiance of heteronormative expectations of my body), as is the intent.
The statement is a shorthand form of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, the anarchist tract outlining Mary Shelley’s radical father’s philosophies in total transparency, direct democracy and the dismantling of privileged institutions, seminally defined as noting how: “Enquiry, and the improvement of the human mind, are now shaking to the center those bulwarks that have so long held mankind in thraldom.”
While Godwin’s radicalism cooled down considerably after settling down, he did very much hold strictly to his core beliefs in unrestricted access to knowledge and self-improvement by enabling and encouraging his young daughters to educate themselves utilizing the Godwin home library and to apply their knowledge in lectures and debates among esteemed contemporary intellectuals who also happened to be family friends.
The immediate result was Mary Shelley nee Godwin’s thoroughly sculpted magnum opus and the object of my passions. The extended heritage is the Halloween 2013 launch of the Shelley-Godwin archive, an immense undertaking in cross-platform collaboration in the quest, in the words of project director Neil Fraistat, to “create, in the archives, a platform for participatory curation and encoding of our manuscripts,” said manuscripts including the original and printed works of all of the principal parties of the Shelley circle which now exist at mouse-click public access totally free.