Today has been declared — quite spontaneously, and to the cheers of a great many people — Ada Lovelace Day, a day on which to honor women working in technology by writing blog posts about their often-unsung achievements, and about ways in which they inspire and challenge us.
I want to mention two women with whom I have worked closely in my career as a digital humanist. The first is book artist and media theorist Johanna Drucker, with whom I collaborated on the design of interactive tools for humanities scholarship. But forget the digital. I want to thank Johanna for teaching me letterpress printing — from the minute and retrograde obsession of setting type to the athletic cranking of a Vandercook press — and all the way down to those gentle and girly concerns of a printer’s devil in pink: the best tactics for keeping one’s silken tresses out of the rollers, thus avoiding an unladylike scalping, and the preferred soap for scrubbing toxic lead from beneath one’s decidedly unmanicured nails. It’s true that we made some crazy things online, and thought about some things — but Johanna and I also got inky, and I don’t want a post on women in technology to assume that it’s all bits and bytes, when there are other bites to care about, as well.
And then there’s Bess Sadler, with whom it’s my great pleasure to work at the University of Virginia Library. Ada Lovelace Day comes one day after a little milestone for Bess, the release into its native habitat of a piece of software that just might make library research a bit more joyful. Bess has all the things it takes for a woman to succeed in technology: vision, energy, a highly specific strategy for shrugging off the crap, and a deep understanding of the little tweaks it takes to make a system (any system) sing.
By the way, Bess and Johanna crossed paths here, in the creation of an archive that puts one brand of bite in bytes.