Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dudley decries ossified Strats in Canadian library journal

Michael Dudley, Indigenous and Urban Services Librarian
University of Winnipeg

In his complex and comprehensive, nine-page opinion piece in the current issue of Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, University of Winnipeg librarian Michael Dudley exhorts his fellow librarians to embrace the Shakespeare authorship question:
. . . the potential benefits of engaging in this issue are many. This subject has engendered an enduring and high level of fascination which is certain to arouse the interest of our campus communities, as it represents a novel approach to locating Shakespeare and provides professional and amateur scholars alike with new perspective. The historical, multicultural and, most importantly, interdisciplinary interest in Shakespeare—be it through a conventional or skeptical approach to the author—implies that an open-minded approach to the question of authorship would appeal to the widest audience.

This engagement can take a variety of forms depending on a given library's diverse strengths and audiences. There are a number of creative ways a university library could use the Shakespeare authorship question to further its own mission, chief among which would be to develop the capacity for critical engagement with scholarship and sources. Collections can be used to highlight important context-setting, such as literary and performance history of the canon, as well as illustrating the contemporary and historic uses of anonymity and pseudonymity in literature. For the purposes of information literacy, instructional librarians could also use the topic to introduce primary and secondary source research, digital humanities, the use of special archival collections and repositories and—significantly—the role of critical thinking in assessing the quality and veracity of information sources.
. . . Through thoughtful engagement with our campus communities—and enough time—perhaps our libraries can be "dukedoms large enough" to help open expansive new vistas of research possibilities in the humanities that are otherwise currently constrained by an increasingly ossified and controversial mythology. 

Dudley will carry this message to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences conference at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario on May 25, 2014 where he will speak on the topic "Academic Libraries and the Shakespeare Authorship Debate".

Dudley is an anti-Strat of the Oxfordian variety, having arrived at this position in a humorously unorthodox manner. He told Oberon:
I've been interested in the topic [of the Shakespeare authorship question] since probably 1990, when I was working at the Edmonton Public Library. I'd graduated a few years previously from a theatre degree in which the third year was wall-to-wall Shakespeare, and we were never told anything about the authorship controversy, although I remember hearing something about Bacon and cryptograms. I realized that for all my study of Shakespeare I'd never read a biography, so I found Ogburn's Mysterious William Shakespeare, thinking it a bio of the Man from Stratford. I was completely stunned at what the book actually was and felt positively betrayed by my professors, who had only repeated the [Stratfordian] myths to us in class without any hint that was what they were.
Since Oberon is such a fan of librarians, we wondered if Dudley felt librarians will have knowingly limited access to authorship information, or if silence on the topic is an issue of benign neglect. He replied:
I'm not sure about self-censorship on the part of librarians; it may be more out of -- as you say -- benign neglect. Certainly none of my colleagues have had any objections to my research and interests in this area. However, with collections management becoming more automated and outsourced to vendors according to profiles and “approval plans”, it may be that the recent literature is being missed because it falls outside conventional reviewing tools. The other major issue for academic libraries is that if the English professors don’t want anti-Strat or Oxfordian books purchased with their budgets, then those titles don’t end up in the collection.
We were curious to know if Dudley believes that librarians are the keepers of the keys to the academic kingdom. He said: 
I think framing the issue as a matter of academic freedom is one way to gain interest on the part of librarians -- who, I would agree, are not the primary gatekeepers on campus nor the major source of anti-Strat discrimination. However, I think that as a neutral ground libraries can at least help familiarize students with the issue through collections, programming and information literacy tools. For example, at the University of Winnipeg, our subject guide on Shakespeare is author-neutral and treats authorship as a genuine research area: http://libguides.uwinnipeg.ca/ShakespeareStudies.
Do not miss Michael Dudley's persuasive and well-written "My Library Was Dukedom Large Enough"* in Partnership.

*Title quote from The Tempest, Act I, scene 2

Update March 5, 2014:
In a letter to the editor in the March 1, 2014 issue of Library Journal, Dudley addresses the issue of the "conventional review sources" mentioned in the quote from his Partnership article above. His letter was written in response to a previously published Library Journal article, "The Bard at 450," Collection Development, LJ 1/14, p. 48–51. We will post a link to the letter when it becomes available online.

1 comment:

William Ray said...

This was as brave, articulate, and far sighted a policy statement as I have read in the authorship field.

I would add that, beside the police, fire fighters, and EMT's who assisted during September 11, 2001, the most courageous profession in that dark era of our national history was the Librarian wing of American culture. As a group they refused upon danger of imprisonment to fink for the FBI on their patrons' reading habits. You can mess with the armed forces and good luck, but mess with the Librarians and you are in serious trouble.