Miskatonic University Press

Anthropocene librarianship

libraries climate.change

Anthropocene librarianship is the active response librarians make to the causes and effects of climate change so severe humans are creating a new geological epoch.

(I’ve been mulling this over this week and wanted to put the idea out there because it’s giving me a good framework for thinking about things. I’m curious to know what you make of it.)


What is the Anthropocene?

The idea was first set out in Crutzen and Stoermer (2000):

Considering these and many other major and still growing impacts of human activities on earth and atmosphere, and at all, including global, scales, it seems to us more than appropriate to emphasize the central role of mankind in geology and ecology by proposing to use the term “anthropocene” for the current geological epoch. The impacts of current human activities will continue over long periods.

They end with:

Without major catastrophes like an enormous volcanic eruption, an unexpected epidemic, a large-scale nuclear war, an asteroid impact, a new ice age, or continued plundering of Earth’s resources by partially still primitive technology (the last four dangers can, however, be prevented in a real functioning noösphere) mankind will remain a major geological force for many millennia, maybe millions of years, to come. To develop a world-wide accepted strategy leading to sustainability of ecosystems against human induced stresses will be one of the great future tasks of mankind, requiring intensive research efforts and wise application of the knowledge thus acquired in the noösphere, better known as knowledge or information society. An exciting, but also difficult and daunting task lies ahead of the global research and engineering community to guide mankind towards global, sustainable, environmental management.

For more, Wikipedia has a good overview. The Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’ (which sits inside the International Union of Geological Sciences) defines it so (with odd punctuation):

The ‘Anthropocene’ is a term widely used since its coining by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to denote the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities. These include changes in: erosion and sediment transport associated with a variety of anthropogenic processes, including colonisation, agriculture, urbanisation and global warming. the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans and soils, with significant anthropogenic perturbations of the cycles of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and various metals. environmental conditions generated by these perturbations; these include global warming, ocean acidification and spreading oceanic ‘dead zones’. the biosphere both on land and in the sea, as a result of habitat loss, predation, species invasions and the physical and chemical changes noted above.

Moss and lichen

What does Anthropocene librarianship do?

Some examples, but you will be able to think of more:

  • Collections: building collections that serve our users’ needs regarding everything about climate change; sharing resources; keeping users informed about what we have and how it’s useful; providing reader’s advisory about climate fiction.
  • Preservation: preserving materials in all forms and carriers, including knowledge, culture, the web, data, code and research; collaborating with others on preserving languages, seeds, etc.; guaranteeing long-term stability of online sources; saving libraries and special collections at risk to disasters; storing original documents and special collections about climate-related research (e.g. Harvard Library’s Papers of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
  • Sustainability: of our buildings and architecture (the green libraries work currently underway); of our practices, processes and platforms.
  • Greenhouse gas reductions: in buildings; power usage overall; from paper and power in printers and photocopiers; purchasing; book delivery between branches; conference arrangements.
  • Preparation: preparing for droughts, storms, floods, heat waves, higher sea levels, temperature increases, changes in agriculture, extinctions, climate migrations, conflict, regulations enforcing reduced carbon emissions, etc.
  • Disaster response: providing reference services; providing telephone and internet access; lending technology; supporting crisis mapping.
  • Climate migrations: providing services for incoming migrants; preserving what they leave behind.
  • Collaborations: with libraries, associations and communities in areas under pressure or at risk; with researchers; with climate change groups.
  • Communities: hosting shelter in cool air during heat waves; making meeting spaces available to community groups.
  • Advocacy: about the science and politics; about responses and remedies; about what libraries, archives and our local communities need and can do.
  • Information literacy and climate literacy: about the science and how is done; about the politics and how it is made; about resources to help understand and respond to climate change; dealing with climate change deniers; using climate change as an example subject in instruction; providing subject guides, workshops, classes, reference service at climate change events.
  • Research: applying library and information science methods to climate change-related disciplines, their methods, scholars, publications, practices, discourse, etc.; collaborating on and supporting work by researchers in those fields.
  • Free and open: access, data, software, research; making all work in this area freely available to everyone under the best license (Creative Commons, GPL, etc.).
  • Social justice: understanding and explaining how climate change is connected to issues about economics, law, social policy, etc.
  • Values: recognizing values shared with environmental and other groups, such as preservation, conservation, stewardship and long time frames.
  • Prefiguration: “making one’s means as far as possible identical with one’s ends” as Graeber (2014) puts it; putting into practice today what we want our work, profession, institutions and organizations to be like in the future.


The term

There is debate about whether the term “Anthropocene” is valid and if so when the interval began. Boswell (1892) quotes Dr. Johnson: “Depend upon it, Sir, when any man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Climate change isn’t two weeks away, it’s last year, now, and decades and centuries ahead. “Anthropocene librarianship” is meant to help concentrate our minds.


The current literature

A search in Library and Information Science Abstracts (one of the major subscription article databases in LIS; it’s run by ProQuest) turns up nothing for the word “anthropocene:”

Anthropocene in LISA

“Climate change” is one of its subject terms, however, and that shows 17 results today:

Climate change in LISA

Here they are:

  • Adamich, Tom et al. “The Gov Doc Kids Group and Free Government Information.” IFLA Journal 38.1 (2012): 68–77.
  • Dutt, Bharvi, K. C. Garg, and Archita Bhatta. “A Quantitative Assessment of the Articles on Environmental Issues Published in English-Language Indian Dailies.” Annals of Library and Information Studies 60.3 (2013): 219–226.
  • Elia, Emmanuel F., Stephen Mutula, and Christine Stilwell. “Indigenous Knowledge Use in Seasonal Weather Forecasting in Tanzania: The Case of Semi-Arid Central Tanzania.” South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science 80.1 (2014): 18–27.
  • Etti, Susanne et al. “Growing the ERM Energy and Climate Change Practice Through Knowledge Sharing.” Journal of Information & Knowledge Management 9.3 (2010): 241–250.
  • Gordon-Clark, Matthew. “Paradise Lost? Pacific Island Archives Threatened by Climate Change.” Archival Science 12.1 (2012): 51–67.
  • Hall, Richard. “Towards a Resilient Strategy for Technology-Enhanced Learning.” Campus-Wide Information Systems 28.4 (2011): 234–249.
  • Hiroshi, Hirano. “Usage details of the Earth Simulator and sustained performance of actual applications.” Journal of Information Processing and Management 48.5 (2005): 268–275.
  • Holgate, Becky. “Global Climate Change.” The School Librarian 63.2 (2015): 84.
  • Islam, Md. Shariful. “The Community Development Library in Bangladesh.” Information Development 25.2 (2009): 99–111.
  • Johansen, Bruce E. “Media Literacy and ‘Weather Wars:’ Hard Science and Hardball Politics at NASA.” SIMILE: Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education 6.3 (2006): np.
  • Luz, Saturnino, Masood Masoodian, and Manuel Cesario. “Disease Surveillance and Patient Care in Remote Regions: An Exploratory Study of Collaboration among Health-Care Professionals in Amazonia.” Behaviour & Information Technology 34.6 (1507): 548–565.
  • Murgatroyd, Peter, and Philip Calvert. “Information-Seeking and Information-Sharing Behavior in the Climate Change Community of Practice in the Pacific.” Science & Technology Libraries 32.4 (2013): 379–401.
  • Mwalukasa, Nicholaus. “Agricultural Information Sources Used for Climate Change Adaptation in Tanzania.” Library Review 62.4-5 (2013): 266–292.
  • Sabou, Marta, Arno Scharl, and Michael Fols. “Crowdsourced Knowledge Acquisition: Towards Hybrid-Genre Workflows.” International Journal on Semantic Web and Information Systems 9.3 (2013): 14–41.
  • Stoss, F. W. “The Heat Is on! U.S. Global Climate Change Research and Policy.” EContent 23.4 (2000): 36–38.
  • Vaughan, K. T. L. “Science and Technology Sources on the Internet. Global Warming and Climate Change Science.” Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 32 (2001): n. pag.
  • Veefkind, V. et al. “A New EPO Classification Scheme for Climate Change Mitigation Technologies.” World Patent Information 34.2 (2012): 106–111.

Quite a mix, from around the world, and representative of the wide range of subject matter LIS has in its scope.

But only 17? Since 2000? This certainly isn’t a full literature review, but 17 is far too few for even a quick search. We need a lot more work done.


The Journal of Anthropocene Librarianship

Perhaps we could start The Journal of Anthropocene Librarianship to focus and grow attention in our discipline, while still engaging in inter- and transdisciplinary work beyond LIS. Of course it would be fully open access.

I found three new journals on the the Anthropocene: Anthropocene (Elsevier, RoMEO green, allows some self-archiving), The Anthropocene Review (Sage), and Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene (BioOne, fully open access, see author guidelines). The introductory editorial in Anthropocene by Chin et al. sets out its aim:

Anthropocene openly seeks research that addresses the scale and extent of human interactions with the atmosphere, cryosphere, ecosystems, oceans, and landscapes. We especially encourage interdisciplinary studies that reveal insight on linkages and feedbacks among subsystems of Earth, including social institutions and the economy. We are concerned with phenomena ranging over time from geologic eras to single isolated events, and with spatial scales varying from grain scale to local, regional, and global scales. Papers that address new theoretical, empirical, and methodological advances are high priority for the Journal. We welcome contributions that elucidate deep history and those that address contemporary processes; we especially invite manuscripts with potential to guide and inform humanity into the future.

A broad approach like this but tailored to LIS could work well.

On the other hand, leaping to a journal is a big step. Maybe it’s best to follow the Code4Lib model: start with a mailing list and a web site, and grow. Or, do it all at once.


What about archives?

Libraries and archives work together closely but serve different purposes, and archivists are very different from librarians, so I won’t venture into describing what Anthropocene archives might be like. However, Matthew Gordon-Clark’s “Paradise Lost? Pacific Island Archives Threatened by Climate Change” (2012; the sea level rise predictions now are worse) is a perfect example of this work. Here’s the abstract:

Over the past 10 years, a clear pattern of increasing sea-level rises has been recorded across the Pacific region. As international work progresses on climate change, it is becoming clear that the expected rise of sea levels will have significant impacts upon low-lying islands and nations. Sea-level rises of less than 0.5 m are generally suggested, although some researchers have made more drastic projections. This paper describes the second stage of research into the impacts of climate change upon the national archival collections in low-lying Pacific islands and nations. This article follows on the argument that archival collection relocation will be necessary and sets the boundaries for further research. It will summarize current research into climate change models and predicted sea-level rises, identify Pacific islands and nations that will be the focus of detailed further research by setting a range of research boundaries based on the known geography of nations within the Pacific, arguing for a specific measurement of “low-elevation”, outlining other risk factors likely to affect the survival of threatened national archival collections and naming those islands and nations that are thus deemed to be at greatest risk of flooding and thus likely to need to relocate their archives. The goal is to demonstrate how archivists might inform the governmental policy in threatened islands and nations as well as what other nations might do to offer assistance.

A web search for anthropocene archives turns up a lot of results. Archives of the Anthropocene at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science is interesting:

Taken seriously, the Anthropocene claims that the cultural has insinuated itself so thoroughly into the natural that any notion of an objective, unhumanized record of the earth will no longer be tenable. The Anthropocene hypothesis implies that the sciences of the archives will need to reorient themselves to a new, participatory sense of macro-duration and confront the possibilities that the unaccessioned “noise” of human artifacts might dwarf any authoritative signal that we believe our archives will communicate to the distant future.

Galleries and museums also have to deal with the problem. As a group we’re called the GLAM sector: galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Together: GLAMthropocene, saving the world.


Works cited

Boswell, James. The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Together with The Journal of a Tour to the Hebdrides. Vol. 3. London: George Bell & Sons, 1892.

Chin, Anne et al. “Anthropocene: Human Interactions with Earth Systems.” Anthropocene 1 (2013): 1–2. DOI: 10.1016/j.ancene.2013.10.001

Crutzen, Paul J. and Eugene F. Stoermer. “The ‘Anthropocene’.” Global Change Newsletter 41 (2000): 17–18. http://www.igbp.net/download/18.316f18321323470177580001401/1376383088452/NL41.pdf

Gordon-Clark, Matthew. “Paradise Lost? Pacific Island Archives Threatened by Climate Change.” Archival Science 12.1 (2012): 51–67. DOI: 10.1007/s10502-011-9144-3

Graeber, David. “Anthropology and the rise of the professional-managerial class.” Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4.3 (2014): 73–88. http://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/article/view/hau4.3.007/1651