Landing : Athabascau University

Library Morlocks and Other Little Labour Monsters

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By sarah beth April 17, 2011 - 4:49pm

Some months ago, I blogged a "reading" of the Hamilton Public Library's recent renovation: an update the intersects with pressures within the city towards a "creative" economy and open data. Among the many and varying creepnesses of the library reno, the invisibility of labour in the library stood out. Self checkouts were prominent at the entry (right next to the security desk!!), and the thingum for returning books is a huge machine attached to a conveyor belt that descends into.. where? the basement? hell? to be sorted by unknown, invisible workers. With more automation, massive surveillance systems, and no visible workers, fewer salaried librarians are needed, and more minimum-waged, part-time pages can be used. The use of online databases, e-books and links to Amazon in academic libraries marks a similar shift in labour practices (though, of course, with a slightly different function from Public Libraries.. e-books = more reading, less time spent wearing pants and talking to humans). Specific to AU, "modernized" library labour overlaps with "modernized" postal labour: the possible postal strike could affect AU's capacity to deliver library books and course packages. Where postal workers can't be replaced by robots, they've been asked to act like them; entire routes planned to the last second by timing how long it takes one person to walk up one driveway, and applying that to however many houses are on the route. (Human factors, like how a letter carrier might move a little more slowly after carrying 50lbs of mail around for 8 hours, from what I understand, were not accounted for when the "modernized" planning system demanded fewer carriers delivering to more houses in less time.)

Automation and modernization aren't anything new, of course, but I'm starting to notice how different service industries look and function from when I first started earning an independent income and became a real, dedicated consumer. I could, if I wanted, use self check outs at grocery stores, Home Depot, the movies, Union Station. (I don't, partly because I want my presence to justify someone's job, but mostly because I don't know how to use them, they never work right, and I am a grumpy, impatient shopper to begin with. )



The People's Gaga?*



So this is where this post gets weird. What's a worker to do when she's being economically, functionally and aesthetically squeezed out of the public's eye? Um, cover Lady Gaga, apparently? I posted links earlier this year to "Bad Hotel," a musical prank in support of San Fancisco's hotel workers, and "Bad Rehab," a creepy video about the abuses perpetrated by anti-sex worker "raid and rescue" campaigns. Here's another (fantastically femme-nerdy) one. The library Morlocks haven't risen to eat us just yet... but it seems the little monsters are down there**:








I don't have even the beginning of a theory of why Lady Gaga is the go-to gal for talking about invisible labour. Well, there's the catchy tunes, and made-to-go-viral Gaganess of it all... So I guess that's a beginning, but it's hardly an explanation. 



*I'd credit the image if I could read the pages it came from, but will have to settle for linking out instead. I've been getting my LG images from the Creative Commons Search Engine lately... All the pretty, but with no guilt.


**I have no idea why they actually made the video... I'm interested in how it makes librarians visible as workers, but the Youtube video does have a number of links in its description that might reveal more about the creators' intent. Or be really boring. I didn't risk the spontaneous napping.