2022 Modern Language Association Convention Report

ESS Newsletter

2022, Vol 2

In my role as the ACRL LES/ESS liaison to the Modern Language Association, I attended the 2022 MLA Convention in January. This year’s theme was “Multilingual US.” If you have time, I recommend watching the video recording of the 2022 Presidential Address. This year the conference was hybrid, with some sessions taking place in person in Washington, D.C. and some taking place virtually. With the rise of the Omicron variant during that time, many sessions ended up shifting to virtual at the last minute. One nice feature was that many sessions were recorded, so I was able to watch some that I missed after the conference ended. 

I felt like some of the major themes this year were public humanities, anti-racism efforts in the classroom, how Covid-19 is changing how people teach and do their work, black archives, and digital pedagogy. I was especially happy to see that the MLA Committee on Information Technology held two sessions about OER. I attended a variety of sessions, including 102V Fan Fiction, Fan Studies, and Literary Studies, 11V Teaching with Data Feminism, 217V Who Owns Shakespeare?, 464V Victorian Play, Delight, and Joy, and 565V Inaugural Poetry.

Though I attended many sessions, I want to highlight two that I found valuable to my work as a librarian. The first was 121V Meeting the Challenges of Online Searching in a Multilingual and Multicultural Environment. This session was a particular highlight to me because it gave me a lot to think about in terms of how challenging it can be to index and locate materials in other languages, particularly the challenges around how to represent character-based languages in systems that mostly favor romanized languages. I appreciated hearing perspectives from both users and creators of these resources. Also, I learned about the concept of “equitable search”, which was new to me. Here’s a nice video that explains this concept: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25FMiYR8lCo (created by Ashleigh Faith, the Director of Semantic Search at EBSCO). I hope to investigate this concept further in the future.

The other session was 176V – Opening Up: Exploring Alternative Access in Academia. There were two librarians on the panel, C. Camille Cooper and Susannah Kopecky, who did outstanding jobs discussing the challenges of making library resources available remotely during the pandemic and giving an overview of the publishing environment, particularly in relation to e-book pricing and open access. I was intrigued by the other two speakers who gave a presentation called “Audiobooks, Ability, and Experiential Translation: In Conversation.” They discussed in very frank terms the challenges of doing research while dealing with circumstances like having a concussion and having a chronic immune disease. Both discussed how they actually had to adapt the topics of their research, so that they could focus on resources that were more accessible, like digitized resources that could be recognized by screen readers. They also described experiences like struggling to use primary sources in a physical library when frequent breaks are needed and what it was like to do research from a hospital bed. They both expressed a wish that academic libraries would purchase more audiobooks, especially for scholarly books. I had never thought about audiobooks being easier for these kinds of circumstances. Though I’m not sure if the scale of scholarly monograph publishing will make audiobook versions feasible to produce, it is something I want to explore more.

This year was my final year on the Advisory Committee on the MLA International Bibliography. This year I continued my five-year term on the executive committee of the TM Libraries and Research forum. I helped organize this year’s panel 689V – Library Actions in Support of Anti-Racism and Indigenous Peoples. We had sixteen people attend this session on Zoom, which I thought was very good, considering we had the final time slot on Sunday. I presented on my institution’s work around creating a Harmful Language Statement for our libraries’ resources. The other two excellent presentations were given by Canadian librarians working on several projects related to Indigenous culture and decolonization efforts. One was a presentation about Critical Indigenous Literacy, and the other was about a project to digitize historical textbooks to trace how settler children have been taught about Indigenous cultures.

I would definitely recommend to both LES/ESS members that they consider getting involved with an MLA committee or forum. As always, I would love to hear from you if you have suggestions on topics related to MLA that you would like me to address in the future!

Arianne Hartsell-Gundy
Librarian for Literature and Theater Studies
Duke University