The Maintainers has been changing a lot over the past few years. We (Andy Russell and Lee Vinsel) got The Maintainers going first by making jokes online. Soon thereafter, and with the help of many others, we organized two conferences and helped foster a network of managers, workers, scholars, artists and designers, civil servants, activists, and others interested in studying and discussing maintenance, repair, infrastructure, and the ordinary work of keeping the world going.
As time has passed, and the network has grown, we’ve been focusing more on a deceptively simple question: how do we translate these ideas into actions that can improve both maintenance and the lives of maintainers? And, how will we know if we’re successful? Frankly, the two of us had few answers to this question. Nothing in our academic training in the fields of history and science and technology studies prepared us for such work.
The cosmos blessed us when a woman named Jessica Meyerson came up to us at Maintainers II and asked if we had time to chat. At that time, Jess was the Digital Preservation Manager at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin and the Community Cultivation Manager at the Software Preservation Network. She shared some of her work at Maintainers II in a memorable, tag-team presentation with Chuck McClenon. Everyone enjoyed the presentation, which was equal parts insightful and fun.
Soon after the first conversation, Jess began pulling together a motley crew of archivists, librarians, digital preservationists, and others interested in the maintenance of information, a group that became known as the Information Maintainers. Over time, the group came to focus increasingly on the ethics of care around information maintenance. InfoMaintainers matured into one of our first Maintenance Communities and recently released its first white paper, “Information Maintenance as a Practice of Care.” At our meetings we sometimes ask what drew people to get involved, and the most frequent answer we hear is “Jessica Meyerson.”
Jess was doing a lot more, too, not just with us but with others. During 2017, she moved into a new job as a Research Program Officer at the Educopia Institute, an organization with the mission to “empower collaborative communities to create, share, and preserve knowledge.” Jess is a natural leader and community builder. And she is a feral facilitator, someone who has an innate knack for pulling people together, getting them thinking, talking, and working through problems, and frankly . . . PUMPING THEM UP!!!
Last fall, the three of us—Jess, Andy, and Lee—decided that the best way to accomplish our goals was to seek funding to support some of our ideas for outreach and community building. Eventually we were very grateful to receive an award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This grant centers on translating ideas into action by creating Maintenance Communities to focus attention on specific issues. Certainly, Andy and Lee contributed many thoughts to the proposal, but it was Jess’s leadership, vision, and facilitation that pulled it all together into a coherent plan. It wouldn’t have happened without her experience in building communities, and her close understanding about how to nurture—and measure!—change at the community level.
Over the past year, it has become crystal clear that Jess was doing as much or more than the two of us to grow The Maintainers. In April, the three of us decided that we three would share equal roles as co-directors. It was a fitting testament to all of her work and guidance, as well as her willingness to take on the challenge of steering the Maintainers from a joke to a network. She leads us, and we happily follow her. We hope she’ll be directing us for a long time to come.
Please join us in thanking Jess for all of her contributions, and welcoming her into this new role.