All Labor is Local

Stacy Williams, a self-described librarian, archivist, editor, and essayist, opened the 2016 Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum with a speech titled “All Labor is Local.” The purpose of her talk was to “explore the ways in which we, as employees and employers, apply our local experiences to how we perform the labor in libraries and archives, and what we can do to broaden those perspectives to be more inclusive of the communities we hope to serve.” It wasn’t only her conclusions that sparked my interest; it was one of her fundamental arguments that really drew me in—that local care work, particularly that provided by women, is “the beam underpinning this entire system of labor as we know it… And yet, it remains the most invisible part of what makes our economy run.”

As a new mother, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the role of women in the workforce, particularly how that role changes or is perceived to change as a woman takes on a new role as caregiver. Though perhaps obvious, the relationship between work and care has, up until now, eluded me. Stacy puts this relationship in perspective:  “When you look up the definition of labor, of the three main definitions given in Merriam Webster, it’s the third that’s explicitly related to the act of giving birth, but that third definition is not shown as being related to the first two definitions, which are ‘human activity that provides goods and services in an economy,’ and ‘services performed by workers for wages.’ But essentially, it’s caregiving that makes the first two possible.”

Caregiving, as Stacy describes it later, isn’t limited to parents giving care to their children or even to physical care; she embraces all forms of care in her talk, including the care provided by teachers, coaches, librarians, and others, and the care provided by our communities and local institutions. Now that I’ve been encouraged to look for it, I see that all of my responsibilities—from my role as a mother, a wife, a sister, and a daughter, to my role as a librarian, a supervisor, a volunteer, and a citizen—are grounded in some form of care work. The question now is: So what?

Stacy’s call for action is for all of us to “acknowledge the need for a radical understanding of labor that points to caregiving as the beating heart that has made [local labor] possible from the very beginning,” to reconsider our policies and labor practices to truly value both labor and the care work that makes local labor possible.  Stacy’s 40 minutes talk is well worth a listen, particularly for information professionals who are interested in exploring some concrete examples of how a radical, caregiver-based perspective of labor could apply to libraries and archives, but also for any woman who is looking for a thought-provoking piece on the role of women in the workforce.

The Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum is an annual event that is meant to serve as a meeting place for information professionals, a marketplace for ideas, and congress for the organization and its members. Stacy William’s keynote at the DLF Forum in Milwaukee, WI is available on YouTube (0:27:30-1:08:15).

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