The Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI) Advisory Board advises CCDI staff on program administration, supports initiative outreach activities, and helps the Library imagine ways that it can deepen connections with Black, Indigenous, Hispanic or Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color. Its members include nine professionals ranging from senior scholars to leading librarians, archivists, and early-career professionals in Libraries, Archives, and Museums.
Dr. André Brock is an associate professor of media studies at Georgia Tech. His award-winning book, titled Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures, theorizes Black everyday lives mediated by networked technologies.
In this interview post, Dr. Brock unpacks Black understandings of self, shares his thoughts on the significance of ‘Black Joy’ and its intersection with Maya Cade’s concept of tenderness, and discusses the value of libraries.
You’re a member of our first Advisory Board for the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI), part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program. What made you want to get involved in this effort?
I was raised by libraries and librarians; so much so that I have a doctorate in Library and Information Science! My research draws from Library Science’s emphasis on the cultural value of information in multiple forms – books, periodicals, and now the digital – so being asked to participate in the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative is an enormous honor. The LOC’s mission to house, disseminate, curate, and collect Americana is massively important, and I’m proud to be part of CCDI’s mission to do the same for digital materials in-house and out in the world.
CCDI’s Scholar in Residence Maya Cade is currently conducting research on “tenderness” in Black film. How do you think that concept may intersect with your own analysis of Black Joy?
“Black Joy” as a concept of Black life has taken on an outsized significance for me as we continue to navigate the pandemic, another war, and economic insecurity. While “joy” connotes a “feeling of great pleasure and happiness,” I’ve gotten a lot of resistance from Black folk for suggesting that we be joyful given everything going on – which is understandable! In my own work, I translated joy from Francois Lyotard’s original French word “jouissance” which roughly means “physical or intellectual pleasure, delight, or ecstasy”, but I meant it to mark a spectrum of positive affect, or emotion, without which life would be unbearable.
So, the brilliant Ms. Cade’s emphasis on ‘tenderness’ is more than an intersection with my conception of Black joy – it’s an undeniable necessity. My version of joy marks a recognition of the resources we generate to vivify connection and enhance sociality, of which tenderness is one of the most important ways to demonstrate our care for intimates and even for others. Through tenderness, we create space for gentleness, calm, and respite – all of which are needed to maintain a sense of self and community as we navigate the contentious, fractious, demanding worlds we must pass through every day.
You hold a doctoral degree in library science and have spoken about the changing landscape of librarianship. What do you think libraries can do to bring more value or meaning to people in the age of the internet?
Libraries serve a function above and beyond the boundless capacity of the internet to serve us all the information being published every second of the day by every user. Libraries are a space for information acquisition, sharing, and enjoyment – but also of curation and a continued emphasis on the joys of engaging with literary, multimedia, and educational resources beyond the needs of profit or productivity. While there are certain spaces on the internet that offer a facsimile of this experience, the organization of the library as an institutional space within which to learn about the world is not so easily replaced by a search engine or even a community of dedicated fans.
Which collection or service at the Library of Congress really resonates with you? Is there anything you’d like to explore more?
I love, love, love, the American Folklife Center, run by Nicole Saylor. We were colleagues at the University of Iowa a million years ago and I have the highest respect for her knowledge of digital humanities and digital collections. It’s my hope that we can collaborate on developing a mundane Black Twitter corpus (everyday tweets, rather than tweets by famous people or significant events) as an illustration of how digital folklife happens in social media spaces.
CCDI is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program with support from the Mellon Foundation. This four-year program provides financial and technical support to individuals, institutions and organizations to create imaginative projects using the Library’s digital collections and centering one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color from any of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and its territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands). Learn more about CCDI here.