Reflective Essay

Now is the time for reflection and contemplation over what the last ten years has been all about: who I am as a scholar and who I want to become. This has been a long journey, and I would not be lying if I said that the last three years as a PhD student have been the longest part of this very exhausting path. I don’t regret a single minute but I do wish that the majority of it hadn’t happened in the middle of a pandemic. I feel that there is a certain amount of discussion and academic back-and-forth that got lost, simply because some things can’t be accomplished on a discussion board or even in a Zoom meeting. Having said that, everyone did the best that they could and my experience has been rewarding. The things that I have learned, and the growth that I have made, is something that I will take with me into my work as an academic librarian and library school professor. I now have plans and goals that would not have occurred to me before I started this program and I have the means to make them happen. 

I’m sure I won’t be the first to say this, or the last, but finding the words to adequately explain my scholarly journey is difficult. I have spent ten years engaging with a multitude of courses, readings, and ideas. Do I discount everything that came before PhD school and simply focus on my work after rhetoric abducted me? Because that feels like I’m writing off all of the influences that brought me here. Like any student, I am an amalgamation of everything I have learned since starting school in 2012. My experiences have led me to this place and time and they are all valuable, even if they weren’t always successful. I came back to college with thirty-six years of ingrained beliefs, biases, and prejudices. My experiences and the things that I have learned have made me a better person. I feel that I can’t explain who I am now as a scholar, unless I explain who I was when I began as a scholar. My life changed for the better because of what I have learned over the last ten years and I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Exploring My Scholarly Identity
I can honestly say that the framework for my scholarly identity was already in place when I came back to college in the fall of 2012. I had left my job as an insurance agent in May of 2012 and I spent the summer with catalogs for both NCTC and TWU, plotting my course. At that time, I was an apolitical person who voted as an independent and had a very white, middle-aged, suburban view of the world. This was somewhat tempered by the fact that, while still in Pennsylvania, I was on food stamps and only working part-time during the winter of 2008. That experience taught me some valuable and painful lessons but I still had a long way to go. 

I knew that I wanted to be a librarian and I intended to get my Master’s and then go on to a PhD in library science. At that time, I didn’t have any broader conception of library work except “Libraries! Yeah!” This conception would prove to be WOEFULLY incorrect but, at that time, the course choices that I made were meant to carry me down the path of a public librarian. I also didn’t really consider the fact that a PhD in library science was completely unnecessary for a public librarian. I honestly just wanted to call myself Dr. Elizabeth Headrick. Obviously I still had a lot to learn. 

 One of the most important course choices at the beginning of my journey was to take First-Year Comp with [redacted] at North Central Texas College (NCTC) which paid off well down the line. Dr. [redacted] showed me what was possible when it came to academic writing. She let me know that it was okay to pursue seemingly disparate tracks. In her class I wrote papers about libraries and I wrote papers about steampunk. At that time, these seemed like things that could never be brought together. But the idea was there.

My bachelor’s courses at Texas Woman’s University (TWU) gave me even more room to stretch, allowing me to write about the things that truly interested me. I still wasn’t sure how to bring them all together and at this point I also wasn’t sure what I wanted to do outside of being a public librarian but I was learning and I was growing as a scholar. It was also at this time that I wrote THE PAPER for Dr. [redacted]. This steampunk research paper, about Michael Moorcock and his novel Warlord of the Air, was much favored and would eventually take me all the way to a conference in England

Before that conference, though, I graduated with my Bachelor’s in General Studies and began working on my Master’s in Library Science. When I started library school in 2017 I still believed that I wanted to be a public librarian. Shortly after I started classes I was hired at the TWU Blagg-Huey Library as a graduate research assistant, where I began to learn about academic libraries and concepts like Open Access and open educational resources. It was at this point that I changed my track to academic libraries. I saw what they could be and what they were struggling with and I wanted to be involved. I was especially taken by the idea of Open Access and so, at the end of the first semester, I wrote a contemporary library issues paper on the Open Access debate; both the pros and the cons. It was at this time that I became aware of an academic librarian named Jeffrey Beall who very clearly did not support Open Access and, in fact, opposed it with shocking and absurd levels of vitriol. After reading his work I threw myself completely into Open Access support. I believed then, and I still believe now, that Open Access is a program that has great potential; it has the means to create a more equitable world of scholarly communication and this was something that I wholeheartedly supported. The voices of dissent were very loud but support for Open Access was there. It just needed voices that were louder than the opposition. 

I wrote multiple essays about Open Access during library school but I hadn’t forgotten my love of steampunk. I utilized this love for several projects but at that time I still hadn’t found a connection between them and I still didn’t know exactly where I would go after library school. The library science PhD program was deactivated the year I started at TWU, in 2015, so that was no longer an option. However, during a chance meeting with Dr. [redacted] in 2018 I spoke about my interests and how disappointed I was that I couldn’t do my PhD in library science in Denton, Dr. [redacted] suggested TWU’s rhetoric PhD program instead and spoke about how I had the potential to do a third-area focus in steampunk and libraries, in some way. We weren’t sure how yet but we worked on it. There was a path; we just had to find it.

At the same time, I was heavily invested in several speculative fiction book series that focused on worlds where libraries and archives were the overriding voices of authority. These included Rachel Caine’s The Great Library series, Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series, and Rod Duncan’s The Fall of the Gaslit Empire series. What became overwhelmingly apparent the more I studied Open Access was that the very voices that spoke out against this concept often unwittingly repeated the same arguments and rhetorical turns that were used by villains in speculative fiction when explaining why only certain people should have access to certain information. The idea of connecting these seemingly disparate concepts was there but, unfortunately, steampunk as a vehicle was too narrow a focus and wouldn’t provide the necessary scholarly support. To that end, the focus was widened to the rhetoric of knowledge control and dissemination in speculative fiction.

To back up, just a bit: when I first started my library science program, I was also creating a podcast based on critical analysis of steampunk literature called The Steampunk Dollhouse. While the show was active I was able to cover both The Great Library series and The Fall of the Gaslit Empire series and discussed the political nature of these books.This was also shortly after the 2016 election and American libraries were already being attacked and facing the prospect of funding cuts, which made this examination feel even more important. I was called out many times by steampunk fans for ruining steampunk literature by “making it political.” I was always kind to the people who came to me about this but I always wondered how they didn’t see the inherently-political nature of these books. These were certainly fun steampunk romps but there was a more sinister tone to the concepts discussed. Whether the authors intended this or not, the implications were there. As a burgeoning academic librarian and Open Access advocate, there was no way that I couldn’t make the connection between the ideas in these books and the rhetoric being used by Open Access opponents. 

Dissecting My Justification
When I first created my reading list and justification in spring 2021 I chose to divide it into three sections–narrative studies, rhetorical theory, and library science–based on Dr. [redacted]’s suggestion. Initially, I chose book chapters and articles that I had used in previous courses. These courses–in narrative, rhetoric, history, and library science–gave me a solid foundation from which to begin. Once I had chosen all of the familiar texts that I believed would be helpful, I began to data-mine those texts for their sources. This wasn’t always successful and so I had to look outward and begin searching for additional texts in the three sections that I had created.

In truth, many of the sources that I chose were based on Google searches and advice from colleagues and professors. I looked for works that covered the rhetorics of protest and activism, as well as those that critiqued political discourse and articles on rhetoric and narrative. I also looked for sources that dissected the concepts of unnatural narratives, possible and impossible worlds, alternate history, and speculative fiction. For library science, I looked for works that talked about the open access debate–both for and against–but I also wanted sources that talked about the history of American libraries and those that spoke to the image of the librarian in pop culture. I needed a well-rounded look at all of these threads of information so that I could tie them together in a way that made the most sense.

If anything, this deeper reading and engagement has only increased my interest in pursuing my third area. The readings that I have been working with have given me a greater understanding of what I want to do and too, I feel that I have a better grasp on the immense size of the project that I’ve chosen. There are three different areas of study flowing into one unified field and it is often overwhelming. Even just trying to describe what I want to do in one cohesive narrative is a difficult task. There is no elevator speech for this project. 

Now, logic says that I should have begun reading and notating my sources far ahead of January 2022 but I was too caught up in worrying over so many other things. Obviously, at this point, that ship has sailed and lamenting it will do no good. But I do believe that I have gained a well-rounded knowledge of the many subjects that I am attempting to integrate into my Unified Field Theory of Archive Anxiety in Speculative Fiction with Much Foucault

I first came across the concept of “archive anxiety narratives” in Joseph Hurtgen’s 2018 book The Archive Incarnate: the Embodiment and Transmission of Knowledge in Science Fiction. I had not read this book before this semester (Spring 2022). I chose it because it was a book that covered archives in fiction and it seemed as if it would be a good fit. Reading it felt like a revelation because it described, in perfect detail, exactly what I was trying to do with my 3rd area. I spoke about Hurtgen in my annotated bibliography as well as my literature review but his book was a light bulb moment for me. It gave a very succinct name to the type of speculative fiction that I would be working with, which also makes it easier to explain my 3rd area to people.

I encountered Hurtgen in the first week of my work and it gave me a good bit of energy and more focus than I had had before. When I set up my readings, I gave myself five weeks to read and notate seventy-five sources. I did not do this for the primary sources given that I already had a very good knowledge of them and, in truth, I had been notating them for years. As for the other seventy-five sources, I divided them up into an average of fifteen sources a week, choosing five from each of the three sections. This proved to be rather more than I could handle and so my readings spilled into a sixth week, which I had given myself room for, just in case. 

There was no real rhyme or reason to the division of sources except that I had over a dozen inter-library loans and some of the loans were only good for two weeks so I notated all of those first. This meant that my earliest notes were on books (some very large, all very dense) which took more time. Some of the books that I was notating, such as Ruth Ronen’s Possible Worlds in Literary Theory and A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic by Christine Brooke Rose, were so far over my head that I barely came out of them alive. I was able to utilize some of Rose’s work in my literature review and I believe I managed to do it in an effective and lucid way but it was still a bit of a task. Having said that, while I know that I got something out of everything that I read, some of my sources were more helpful than others.

Looking back on it, I should have divided my sources by theme instead of discipline. In my defense, however, this never occurred to me. I had split my readings between three different disciplines-narrative studies, rhetorical theory, and library science–from the beginning and so this is the track that I followed. Unfortunately, splitting my focus the way that I did caused me to have some trouble maintaining my engagement with the subjects. And too, it would have been better to have sorted everything by level of difficulty. Unfortunately, while I had had my reading list prepped for months, I didn’t bother to actually consider the readings until the semester began. By then it was too late so I jumped in and did my best. 

Part of the problem I faced, and have always faced as a scholar, is the idea that I need to have a complete and total understanding of EVERYTHING before I can do anything. In working through my readings, I realized just how little I actually knew and it did set me back for a hot minute. At the same time, I became aware of just how much I actually did know, which was also disconcerting. I was able to begin putting together names, theories, and ideas about narrative and rhetoric, and even library science. And Foucault ended up being surprisingly important to many of the readings. In assessing my notes, I typed “Foucault” seventy-two times in ninety-nine pages of notes. So, clearly, Foucault bears a heavy load in the work I’m doing, which is interesting given that I didn’t actually read any of his work directly for my comps. It would be greatly understating things to say that his work was, and still is, important. We all know that. Everyone knows that. But I didn’t realize that his work would be applicable to every part of MY work until I began engaging with my reading list. It would also be greatly overstating things to say that I have a full and complete understanding of his work. While I was able to engage with his work in some of my MLS and PhD classes, true understanding will take time. However, I know more than I did when I started. 

When taking a holistic look at my reading list, I do believe that I was able to create a rather well-rounded collection of works on these seemingly disparate subjects. I wanted each section to have equal time, though I often ended up (unintentionally) weighting things in the direction of library science, especially in my review essay. Much of this was due to the fact that I am looking at library science from a number of directions, including Open Access, library history, and librarians in pop culture. 

The other problem with the section on library science is that the largest and most vocal opponent of Open Access is Jeffrey Beall. As such, he is the author of a great number of articles in that section. And even if he isn’t the main author, he’s either a co-author or he’s being referenced by other Open Access opponents. This gives the list a repetitive feel but I believed it was necessary to do this simply because he has continued these attacks for more than a decade, they get more and more vitriolic over time, and he almost always publishes these articles in Open Access journals. He has some articles in paywalled journals but the majority are accessible, for free, through Open Access. I still have not figured out if he does this to be contrary or if it’s because he wants to make sure everyone can read his diatribes and he knows that they can’t if the articles are in a subscription journal. It’s a mystery.

When trying to compile everything I had learned and all of the sources that I read into an effective literature review I discovered that it would be much more difficult than I had originally anticipated. As previously mentioned, my justification reading list was divided into a very rigid structure. Due to my ADHD and the ways that my brain processes information and assignments, I attempted to stick to this rigid structure for my own sanity. Unfortunately, sticking to this structure also meant that I was not creating the desired unified field with which to analyze my area of interest. So I restructured my review essay into themes–The Library as a Place of Infinite space, The Library as a Place of State Authority, and The Library as a Place of Repression and Dissension–which allowed me to create a better conversation about the portrayal of libraries and archives in speculative fiction and how these portrayals are applicable to the larger debate surrounding Open Access. This also allowed me to create a more inclusive and expansive conversation about the many types of rhetoric and narrative that can be found not only in speculative fiction about libraries but also the rhetoric and narratives that real-world libraries, and librarians, spin about themselves. 

Concepts and Perspectives
In considering the concepts that I will be using the most as I move forward, critical discourse analysis seems the best rhetorical approach. This is a subject that has understandably been covered quite a bit in my program and fits well with the inherently political nature of the subjects that I will be discussing. And while I did not use Wodak and Meyer’s “Critical Discourse Analysis: History, Agenda, Theory, and Methodology” for my annotated bibliography, I still feel that it is a useful primer on the subject. The debate surrounding Open Access is one that is political because it has been made political by opponents like Jeffrey Beall. Beall ties Open Access into socialism and social justice, and boldly calls it an “anti-corporatist movement.” There is no reason that this should have happened but it has, and so it is necessary to take a critical approach to the rhetoric that is being used. 

Of course, as previously mentioned, the fictional counterparts that I will be analyzing are also of a deeply political nature and so critical discourse analysis will also be a necessary method for breaking down the narrative and how each side views the practice of knowledge control and dissemination within the different book series. This may simply be a case of authors unknowingly tapping into archive anxiety and the general political climate of the last few years but perhaps not. Either way, a discussion is needed. This discussion will be enhanced by speaking with both Duncan and Cogman, both of whom have agreed to be interviewed for my dissertation. Unfortunately, I will not be able to speak with Rachel Caine, as she passed away in 2021.

Another angle that I wasn’t able to cover in my annotated bibliography, but one that I will be utilizing in my work, is the rhetoric of propaganda and activism. This was a subject that I learned about in a class with Dr. [redacted] and it has stayed with me. Each of the series I will be covering involve library/archive propaganda and the activism needed to dismantle systems of power. In most cases the activism is almost accidental. The protagonists don’t start out as activists. They don’t have a burning need to topple the system. They’re just people who realize the truth of the situation. For me, that is an important aspect and one that needs to be considered because I see Open Access supporters in the same light. Despite what Jeffrey Beall and his followers believe, we aren’t necessarily trying to bring down subscription journals and dismantle the system of scholarly publishing. We are simply trying to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has a chance to get their research published and to access the research that they need to further their own work. 

Given that all of the book series I will be using are from alternate historical timelines and contain impossible and unnatural scenarios, these types of narrative studies will also bear a heavy load in my dissertation. I feel like I’ve discussed this ad infinitum in previous essays, presentations, my justification, and my review essay but the use of alternate histories and counterfactuals is truly a valuable tool when it comes to dissecting and analyzing contemporary political issues. 

This manipulation of historic events, places, and people lends itself to a deeper examination of why these events, places, and people are now important and how they came to be so. Often, through speculative fiction and alternative history, it is the disruption or alteration of a single, sometimes minor event that changes everything that follows. Karen Hellekson perhaps states it best in “Toward a Taxonomy of the Alternate History Genre” when she says that “the alternate history is a genre worth addressing because it is a popular literature that deals with the variability of time” (250).  This “variability of time,” these tiny moments, that seem so insignificant and yet can deliver incredibly catastrophic events, can be torn apart and viewed anew through alternate histories. When written with a careful hand they can be “a critique of the metaphors we use to discuss history. And they foreground the ‘constructedness’ of history and the role narrative plays in this construction” (250). We don’t always see contemporary issues for the important conversations that they are but if they are framed in the right light–in a new light–we can begin to make the necessary connections. 

What the Future Holds
When considering my future, and the dissertation that is quickly approaching, the one thing that I am sure of is that I am very heavily invested in my desire to be an academic librarian. As I write this, a potential job at [redacted] is on the line. If this goes through, I will be working in the department that I want, under a supportive and understanding director who is herself invested in Open Access and scholarly communications. I believe that the work that I’ve done as a PhD student in Rhetoric has given me an edge over other librarians, given that I have not been laser-focused on a strict study of library science. My program has forced me to stretch myself and explore a number of angles that I might not have considered before. As such, I have  a better understanding of the rhetoric that is involved in Open Access and I believe that I have gained a better ability to oppose the opponents on their own ground. 

Two of my eventual goals are to teach truly informative Open Access classes in the TWU School of Library and Information Studies and to teach comprehensive information literacy classes through a collaboration between the TWU library and the TWU FYC program. Teaching was not something that had ever occurred to me until I began this Rhetoric program. The required courses intended to set us up as instructors were unwelcome, at first. I absolutely knew that I didn’t want to teach–outside of possible library instruction classes–so I was resentful but I knew I had to take them so I did my best, as I always do. Slowly I began to shift my outlook and I realized that teaching was something that I could do, and I believe I can do it well. 

I gained more interest in library/FYC collaborations after taking Dr. [redacted]’s Rhet/Comp Theory and Practice class. During that class, I conducted a literature review about the efficacy of these kinds of collaborations and the case studies that had been conducted over the last ten years. The results in almost every case were overwhelmingly positive and indicated that a more-intensive, semester long partnership between academic librarians and FYC programs led to not only higher grades but, more importantly, students gained greater confidence in their writing and they learned that they could expand their reach and write about things that truly mattered to them. 

Of course, the first steps in teaching these classes effectively lie in being able to understand the nature of the information that is available on the internet and how to navigate the information that is provided. I speak from experience here in that I did not have an understanding of Open Access and what it meant when I came back to school. Open Access wasn’t a known concept to me until I started working at the Blagg-Huey library in 2017 and I was assigned a project meant to encourage Open Access publishing among faculty. Given the amount of time that I’ve spent over the last five years supporting, promoting, and educating about Open Access, I know that the situation has not improved. Undergraduate, and even graduate students, seem to be largely unaware of this resource, or they are steered away from Open Access publications due to misinformation about the legitimacy of Open Access resources. 

While I don’t have any illusions about my dissertation and the effect that it will have on the conversation, it will give me a starting point from which to begin publishing about Open Access and working to help expand the conversation. Right now, the voices that support Open Access still get drowned out by the opposition, if only because the largest voice in the opposition rides on the recognition of his name and notoriety as the creator of Beall’s List and the term “predatory publishing.” Ironically, while doing research for my reading list and this reflection, I found quite a few articles that refute Beall’s accusations about Open Access but many of them have been published in subscription journals. This makes it obvious to me that more conversations need to be had about Open Access and how best to support it. Publishing support for Open Access in subscription journals where only a privileged few will see it is contradictory to the entire process of Open Access.

One of the most important lessons that I have learned through this process is that flexibility will be incredibly important. I will also need to remain open to the idea that my direction may change or even grow, depending on how my dissertation prospectus plays out. At the time that I compiled my reading list there was a new-ish speculative fiction series about libraries but I didn’t include it on my list because I wasn’t sure yet how it could fit, and too, my list already felt bloated with primary sources. If I have the opportunity, however, I would like to include an analysis of this series because it involves a great deal in the fields of metanarratives, metalepsis, and mimesis, all surrounding Hell’s Library, a place of unwritten works and deep and ancient secrets. This is a library where the characters have the ability to come alive, independent of their authors, though they are often forced “back to sleep” by the unwilling librarians of Hell. I believe it could have a place in my future work but that remains to be seen.

I have also been considering the idea of creating a multi-modal dissertation project of some kind. My first thought was to use my existing podcast feed and create a dissertation podcast but I’m not sure of the logistics of this as yet. It may be easier to simply create a brand new website and domain name. I know it has been done, and quite successfully, but this will take some work between me and my advisory committee in order to see if it’s feasible. I believe I can make it work, however, and I have existing knowledge of how to put together a podcast so the learning curve will be relatively easy.

Doing my dissertation this way also feels as if it would be appropriately on-brand for me. Even though my own Steampunk Dollhouse podcast is currently on indefinite hiatus, I recently began co-hosting the Texas Steampunk Connection podcast after the untimely death of the co-creator, and my friend, Flavio Faz. Podcasting is a place where I feel very comfortable and during the course of my own show, I learned what I was capable of when it came to not only writing and narrating but producing and being solely responsible for the creative aspects like sound and music. Again, this is something that will need to be discussed with my committee but I believe it would be a really incredible opportunity.

As I wrap up this reflection, I’m still not sure that I have adequately described the journey that I have taken over the last ten years or what it has meant to me. I also don’t know if there is a real way to quantitatively describe my progress and how much I have learned. Clearly, the process of taking comprehensive exams would indicate that quantitative measurement is possible but I feel as if I live in a constant in-between of things that I don’t know, things I do know, and things that I didn’t think I knew but that caught me by surprise when I was able to competently use them in scholarly work and in regular conversation. 

What I know for a fact is that real comprehension is something that will only be gained over time. The dissertation process will allow me to engage with these texts, and the ideas contained therein, in a deeper way. I also feel that this process has given me a real head-start on my prospectus and I am grateful for that. I have a very good list of resources to start with and, because of this portfolio, I have been able to construct a framework for how I will proceed. Up to this point, I knew what I wanted to do in a very loose way but I’ve since gained a better perspective of the direction that will be necessary to write not only the prospectus but also the dissertation itself. While I will need to refine the themes for each section I will be creating, I have a place to begin crafting my dissertation and that is very valuable to me. It reduces pressure and helps to ensure that I will enter the process with much less anxiety than I had anticipated and that is worth its weight in gold.