Conversation with Land in Libraries: Toward a Materialist Conception of Education editor, Lydia Zvyagintseva, with Lauren Ip

This is the next installment of our Author Interview Series with Library Students where prospective information professionals meet with authors to discuss the research process and engage in a deep dive on important topics of the field from concept to publication.

Conversation with Land in Libraries: Toward a Materialist Conception of Education editor, Lydia Zvyagintseva, with Lauren Ip

This interview was conducted by Lauren Ip, a dual degree student in Food Studies at New York University, and Library & Information Science at Long Island University.

For Land in Libraries, this edited volume is a contribution to the growing body of work on libraries and the Anthropocene, decolonization, and climate change through writing in theory and practice. This book seeks to center land as a foundational category underpinning social relations, and as a place where people work and learn together. With these edited pieces, there is an emphasis on how people live with the land and how they must understand themselves as individuals and as a society.

Land in Libraries: Toward a Materialist Conception of Education was edited by Lydia Zvyagintseva and Mary Greenshields

Lauren Ip: Where did you get inspiration to work on this book, Land in Libraries?

Lydia Zvyagintseva: Honestly, I was browsing through the Library Juice Press website and noticed that there wasn’t much content on the environment and climate change. I thought about how we don’t have conversations about climate change in libraries, and I wanted to begin a conversation about that. Land and colonialism are fundamental things that need to exist to make society run. Canada’s whole project exists because of land and resources, and all the historical and ongoing processes to displace and dispossess the peoples who are here to make this happen. I thought it would be good to talk about that in libraries and academia in general. Each chapter required its approach, so it was rewarding and challenging to treat each one individually rather than how we wanted it to be.

Lauren: Since we are on the topic of land, what about land acknowledgments? Do you think they are impactful or is there anything more that can make them effective?

Lydia: This is a challenging topic for librarianship, as so much of our work is discursive. We don’t have a lot of power over budgets and human resources. Land acknowledgments are a tool seen in the profession as one way to redress the impacts of settler colonialism. However, we have to be critical of what we mean by impactful and for whom. Do the land acknowledgments serve a purpose? Whom do they impact? I do struggle with land acknowledgments because we see so many of them in libraries, universities, and public institutions. I don’t think there’s much more we can do to make them effective except to give the land back and distribute power, which is a different question. In terms of education and awareness, they are helpful and impactful for people who need to know where they are, such as at conferences or events. There is a chapter in the book that talks about land acknowledgments and how to use them better in a specific context of working with Indigenous communities as a way to build relationships. If you’re interested in this topic, I encourage you to read about it.

Lauren: Besides your editing work for this book, you have other published written work. Is this experience any different?

Lydia: Your question is great because, in many ways, yes, working on an edited volume is different from working on an article or even a book chapter. I am currently working on a book and wanted to start with an edited volume for a reason.

The process of creating an edited volume involves a lot more responsibility and a clearer vision. We did not accept every chapter, and there were some that we had to say no to, which was difficult. The authors may have been disappointed, but it was necessary to maintain the quality and coherence of the work. You have to trust your sense of self and your judgments when creating the vision for the work.

Lauren: Do you have any advice on getting published? Did you keep pitching your book idea to multiple places until it was accepted?

Lydia: I don’t believe in the advice “just apply broadly and for everything” when it comes to publishing. This takes a lot of energy, and I prefer to be strategic. My advice is to learn how to write proposals and abstracts. Think about what you want to contribute, and start with a more accessible or less strict journal. It’s better to work with a journal that can provide advice and feedback on your work. I made the mistake of approaching a journal that was more geared toward academics in digital humanities, and it was a bad experience.

To sum it up, creating an edited volume is different from working on an article or book chapter. You have to have a clear vision, be responsible, and make difficult decisions. To publish, it’s better to learn how to write proposals and abstracts and start with a more accessible or inclusive journal that can provide feedback and advice.

Lauren: That’s really helpful. Is there anything else you want to add or share with Litwin readers regarding the book?

Lydia: It’s funny. I wonder how many librarians think of themselves as writers. At this point in my career, I only know one or two that think of themselves as one. I have to give props to Sam Popowich, who is kind of my mentor in this regard. He has talked about the power of when you start putting things out there and when you start building on your thought collection by putting out blog posts, and then articles, and then books. People listen and they respond to the content, and they start building on it. I don’t think we talked about that in library school, but it’s a really fascinating area of work that is both a privilege and a responsibility.

Now one thought I have regarding this edited collection is that I’m aware that maybe we could have had more archives and museum chapters. I find that American co-authors have more work on archives. In Canada, we don’t have that many, so I’m not making excuses. I’m just saying I’m aware that in this iteration, there are some voices that we don’t have.

Lauren: It’s hard to include everything in one collection, so I totally understand that you can’t cover all the topics you’d want.

Lydia: I appreciate you noting that. Our friend Sarah Polkinghorne, who is another mentor and has helped us with this project, also said the same thing. And I wonder if it relates to what I’m seeing in the second part of my advice. In libraries, we feel like we have to be comprehensive, but in many ways, we can’t be. All projects are a reflection of a particular moment in time and your knowledge and experience, including all of our authors. There will be others. So for me, this is just the beginning, and there’s hopefully more to come, not all by me, Mary, the authors, and maybe others who contributed.

Lauren: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Lydia: My advice to those interested in writing is to throw away the desire to be comprehensive. You don’t have to read every book and article on a particular topic, have your writing techniques perfect, have your research process ironed out, or be a Zotero expert with all your citations organized. That’s not the reality, and it’s also not how scholars work. The whole point of this is that you learn. So there’s no right or wrong way, but you have to begin and trust your voice, your sense of self. Trust that there’s a driving force and keep focusing on that, especially on a larger project. But even if it’s an article, and you get discouraged or you’re wondering if you should keep going with it, you have

to hang on to that. If you’re interested, accept the fact that it will be painful or discomforting. That’s the process, and that’s the learning. So just keep grinding, if that makes sense.

Lauren: Definitely. I think in any job I’ve had, you just have to get through it until it makes sense.

Lydia: Exactly. What you’re describing is sort of the growing zone, the discomfort of learning a new thing. But that’s the whole point. That’s why we do it. If it were comfortable, everyone would be doing it.

Lydia Zvyagintseva is currently a librarian at the University of Alberta Library, where she is responsible for the operations and service design of the Digital Scholarship Centre. Her other works include studies on the design and usability of large-scale interactive displays and open data in learning environments. Lydia’s interests include digital pedagogy, critical making, land-based learning, and community engagement.