Pedagogical encounters that matter: Library databases as apparatus

Year: 2018

Author: Melles, Anne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Library databases, large online indexes and sources of full-text research material, are a central feature of academic work and scholarly communication in the university.  They are also an important aspect of the work of librarians.  Staff in university libraries assess, negotiate the purchase of, and provide formal and informal instruction in the use of these databases.  While there has been some critical discussion about the power relations around databases, they are either absent or appear as neutral tools, created and used by people, in much of the literature on teaching in academic libraries.  However, a growing body of theorists argue that the dichotomy of human and material is untenable and propose a relational ontology in which bodies, human and non-human are viewed as entangled. 
This paper applies Karen Barad’s (2007) theory of agential realism, thinking with her notion of agential cuts enacted by apparatuses, in order to investigate the role of the database in pedagogical encounters between librarians, students and academics.  Barad’s agential realism conceives the world as an ongoing state of becoming, that is, not composed of fixed entities with pre-determined qualities interacting but rather as phenomena emerging in multiple iterative intra-actions.  In this paper I focus on library databases as apparatuses: material-discursive practices and boundary-making devices.  As measuring devices, apparatuses enact agential cuts within the intra-activity of the pedagogical encounters.  In this conceptualisation, agency is not distinct, nor the property of a particular body, but emerges in intra-activity.   
In this presentation, I firstly discuss current conceptions of librarians teaching and conceptions of databases.  Then I present an agential realist view of databases as material-discursive practices.  Finally, I draw on data from observations of pedagogic encounters, and interviews with librarians, academics and students from my research, to examine ways the database emerges as an apparatus in these intra-actions.  I show how the database enacts agential cuts in which certain things come to matter and others are excluded, and, in particular, how the phenomena of librarian expertise, academic research, and the measured academic emerge from this intra-activity.