Public Knowledge

Emily Drabinski


At the time of this writing, like many of you I’m sure, I am largely consumed with planning for a safe return to our physical buildings this fall. Information changes daily if not hourly. Budgets swing wildly as infusions of cash from federal sources do and don’t trickle down to the library’s bottom line. Vaccine mandates come with asterisks and exceptions. In between going round and round about safe ventilation when I don’t know more than I can google about HVAC and thinking through how much sanitizer, plexiglass, and vaccines we’ll need on hand to check out books in the coming academic year, I am reading Hester Blum’s masterful history of polar print culture, The News at the Ends of the Earth. As the climate warms in response to human industrialization, dead letters floated by balloon, buried in cairns, and stuffed into frozen tundra by European and American men seeking a northwest passage and a science of the southern hemisphere emerge from the ice. Drawing from these bits and pieces of arctic and Antarctic communication and the newspapers, playbills, and other print culture explorers made for each other, Blum describes how knowledge is constructed and shared under extreme conditions. As editor of the book reviews section of College & Research Libraries here in the Anthropocene, I have been working through such questions myself.

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