Welcome to Archive/Counterarchive

Working Papers Series: Lisa Sloniowski | Theorizing the Library

Free Times Cafe
320 College St
Toronto ON M5T 1S3


Theorizing the Library: Feminist Special Collections and Counter-librarianship

with special guest Lisa Sloniowski (PhD Candidate, Social and Political Thought, York University)

Facebook Event


The Working Papers Series:

Join us for the second iteration of the Archive/Counter-Archive Working Papers Series, which brings together PhD students from different Universities to hear about exciting doctoral research in the area of archival studies. Our second speaker is York librarian and PhD Candidate in York’s Social and Political Thought program, Lisa Sloniowski. Her talk will be followed by a Q&A moderated by the event’s curators, Michael Marlatt and Axelle Demus. 

Libraries and archives are not the same, despite often being conflated as such in the literature of the archival turn. Indeed libraries, as distinct from archives, are under theorized in the literature on public memory in general. Critical librarianship, as an emerging field, has begun to address this lack of theorization by examining the discourse, history, context, people, and practices of contemporary librarianship. Lisa Sloniowski’s work seeks to bring together research on “the archive,” archival theory, and the literature of critical librarianship in order to illuminate the Library not as a sort of Paradise (as Borges would have it) but as a heavily contested space of knowledge production rife with both peril and possibility for feminist praxis. The archival function of librarianship is curiously under-recognized in conversations about historiographic knowledge production, and librarianship is also a kind of affective labour which needs more definition and visibility if we hope to unsettle the hegemonic forces at work in the Library and in knowledge production more broadly.

Lisa Sloniowski’s talk will provide an overview of the conceptual history of libraries as distinct from archives, introduce the (arguably) core concepts of critical librarianship, consider the possibility of a counter “feminist library” and examine two vexing special collections acquired at York University Libraries in recent years. The first, the library of feminist literary scholar and book collector Barbara Godard, will be placed in conversation with Benjamin’s thoughts on book collecting as a historical materialist practice. The second case study, an archival collection of feminist pornography donated by gender studies scholar Bobby Noble, allows us to test the limits of democratic, liberal discourse in libraries against Derrida’s archival fevers, particularly in relation to new technologies of archivization such as linked open data and artificial intelligence. In historicizing and theorizing these collections, and describing their material challenges in academic libraries, Lisa Sloniowski hopes to illuminate a feminist praxis of counter-librarianship attentive to affective responsibilities and ethics of care.

Lisa Sloniowski works at York University in the Scott Library as an associate librarian involved in student and learning and academic success, and as an associate faculty member in the Graduate Program in English where she teaches literary research methods. She is also a doctoral candidate in Social and Political Thought. Her research focuses on the archival function of academic libraries, affective labour, and the role of librarians in knowledge production.

Archive/Counter-Archive is a SSHRC project dedicated to researching and remediating audiovisual archives created by women, Indigenous Peoples, the LGBTQ2+ community, and immigrant communities. With 65+ researchers and 25+ partners, Archive/Counter-Archive looks to address how political, resistant, and community-based, counter-archives disrupt conventional narratives and enrich our histories. www.counterarchive.ca 

Venue Accessibility Info:

There is at least one step at the entrance of Free Times Café. Everything is located on the ground floor, but the aisles and the bathroom are narrow.


Our third Working Paper Series will be held in January 2020. Stay tuned for updates!