Jennifer Ferretti – she/her pronouns – is the Digital Initiatives Librarian at the Maryland Institute College of Art on Piscataway Land (Baltimore, Maryland). She is a first-generation American Latina/Mestiza whose librarianship is guided by critical perspectives, not neutrality.
With a firm belief that art is information, she is interested in the research methodologies of artists, particularly those highlighting social justice issues. Recognizing the impact of the overwhelming whiteness of the library and information science profession, in 2016 she started the online space We Here specifically for people of color working in libraries and archives. Jennifer is a Library Journal 2018 Mover & Shaker.
How would you describe your research agenda as a librarian and an artist? How do those research interests intersect or differ across your varying roles?
A lot of my personal research is actually based on race and racism within LIS. As far as how that’s brought into my work as an art librarian is race isn’t a topic I shy away from with our students. I ask our students to think about sources, issues, etc. and critically analyze what is available and what isn’t. We discuss the information cycle, and why artists of color and women artists may be less likely to be found in books, etc.
You titled your Medium piece, “Art is Information.” How do you see researchers incorporating art as information into their work, either at MICA or in other professional circles?
I came up with “Art is Information” as a phrase that describes why and how my two interests – art and library and information science – intersect. It’s my way of breaking down the idea that while you might be making work in a studio, your work translates and has information embedded within it. Our studio work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are things that influence you and those things are and should be considered information. Any time I go to an artist talk at MICA, the artists describe their research process, what led them to make the work they’re showing us.
So, Beyoncé’s film, Lemonade, was aired April 23rd, 2016. You published your extensive Lemonade Research Guide on April 28 and your Medium piece on April 29. That is an incredible turnaround time! How did you pull all of these resources together so quickly? How does the organization of this guide speak to the research needs of artists?
This kind of work is where I shine. I didn’t set out to make a LibGuide, even right after watching Lemonade. After I watched the film, I started looking for more information about what I had just watched. I found tons of articles and I wanted to put them all in one place. At the time, LibGuides was the best platform for something like this. I also wanted a place to explain why I created this resource, so I turned to Medium and wrote “Art is Information.”
I organized it topically because as I was reading these articles, I noticed certain themes kept coming up. I wanted to note cultural references within the work. For example, there is an excerpt from one of Malcolm X’s speeches in Lemonade. While many people will recognize his voice, I included a link to the video with his full speech, because some may not know that she was sampling Malcolm X or why that is significant. In the Forgiveness chapter, there are images of young black men killed by police. There may be students who do not know who these men are, so I wanted to highlight the resources we had about the Black Lives Matter movement here at MICA to provide additional context. I also included a section on collaborators. I tell students, “You might not be Beyoncé, but you may work with her or someone like her.” Showing how many people worked together on this film illustrates to students how truly collaborative a project like this is. I want them to see how they could fit into a work like this as artists and contributors.
As an information professional and an artist, what is challenging about this type of research?
Copyright is huge. I talk to students a lot about how they want their work to be used and how they can protect their work, like the different Creative Commons licenses. Sometimes students will create their work for class using copyrighted information, and then they won’t be able to put it out anywhere because of copyright. Having these conversations throughout the artistic process, students can reflect on the artistic choices they make and how that will affect the use of the end product. I also talk with students about appropriation. For example, in Lemonade, there are dancers wearing Black Panther inspired costumes. If this work was by a white artist, how does that change the symbolic meaning?
Working with students, I want them to realize that they do research every day, we just might not call it research. We have a lot of students who browse the stacks for books to flip through and I will often have students ask me, for example, to point them to the photography section. I’ll tell them, “well technically these are in TR, but let’s talk about that.” Even the organization and discovery of art information can be challenging.
What is next for you? What projects are you working on now?
Right now, I’m filing for an LLC for We Here as a non-profit. The goal is to provide more opportunities for our members. We’re looking into providing webinars and meetups. I am also filing for a personal LLC to do consulting work. I joined a new collective with other MICA alums called Shades of Consciousness.
I am also presenting at the 2019 ACRL Biennial Conference. I’ll also be leading another round of my Researching Community History workshop on April 7th. This workshop is open to the public and we explore various resources available to community members through the public library, community archives, and other sources. A Curatorial Practice student at MICA is working with a group of artists who are developing site-specific works and installations based on the history of the building (235 Park Ave) that the venue gallery, Resort, is housed in.
Can you talk a little about your upcoming chapter and article?
Right now, I am also working with Fobazi Ettarh and Anastasia Chiu on a chapter, “How Neutrality and Vocational Awe Intertwine to Uphold White Supremacy,” [working title] in an upcoming book edited by Sofia Leung and Jorge R. López-McKnight on critical race theory and librarianship. with. We’re looking at how neutrality and vocational awe within librarianship and examining how those reinforce whiteness within the profession. Manuscripts will be submitted in 2020.
I am also writing an article with the working title, “Critical Library Instruction for Anti-Racist Work,” on how the principles of critical library instruction can be applied within the workplace as part of a retrospective on Critical Library Instruction. The editors of Critical Library Instruction and the journal Communications in Information Literacy are collaborating to examine how the principles of critical information literacy have been applied over the past 10 years and questions what is next. Publication for that is set for 2020.
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