How we plan for and develop a more just, sustainable, and healthy future for memory infrastructure

Table of contents

Table of Contents
1. Cultural Memory & the Future
Part One: Three Bankrupt Ideas
2. What Disruption Wants
3. Where Data Drives
4. Why Memory Work Doesn't Work
Part Two: Three Ways Forward
5. The Maintenance Mindset
6. Concentric Circles of Care
7. Repair, Revision, & Return
8. A Future for Cultural Memory


The digital age is burning out our most precious resources and the future of the past is at stake. In After Disruption: A Future for Cultural Memory, Trevor Owens warns that our institutions of cultural memory—libraries, archives, museums, humanities departments, research institutes, and more—have been “disrupted,” and largely not for the better. He calls for memory workers and memory institutions to take back control of envisioning the future of memory from management consultants and tech sector evangelists. 

After Disruption posits that we are no longer planning for a digital future, but instead living in a digital present. In this context, Owens asks how we plan for and develop a more just, sustainable, and healthy future for cultural memory. The first half of the book draws on critical scholarship on the history of technology and business to document and expose the sources of tech startup ideologies and their pernicious results, revealing that we need powerful and compelling counter frameworks and values to replace these ideologies. The second half of the book makes the case for the centrality of maintenance, care, and repair as interrelated frameworks to build a better future in which libraries, archives, and museums can thrive as sites of belonging and connection through collections. 

Trevor Owens is a Public Historian in Residence at American University, a Lecturer for the University of Maryland’s College of Information, and the Director of Digital Services at The Library of Congress.

After Disruption provides a comprehensive analysis of the challenges faced by cultural memory institutions today and suggests how we might get out of the mess we’re in. It critiques modern management theory as applied to libraries to explain how we got ourselves into the mess. And it offers a thoughtful explanation and expansion of the radical futurity/possibility literature on cultural memory to propose ways we might get out of it. This book will be of value to workers in memory institutions, especially libraries and archives, and students interested in working in them.”
—Steven Lubar, Brown University

- Steven Lubar

“Trevor Owens’ After Disruption is a highly compelling look into the rhetorical, educational, managerial, and economic histories of the Silicon Valley ideologies that have come to dominate US organizational life and—in particular—the ways those ideologies about the future imperil cultural memory institutions such as libraries, archives, and museums and render the lives of those who work for them precarious.”
—Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Michigan State University

- Kathleen Fitzpatrick

"The great value of this passionately argued book lies not just in its keen diagnosis of the dominant and problematic frameworks that have engulfed cultural heritage institutions and other sites dedicated to the preservation of our shared memory, but in Owens’ strategies for regaining agency—finding ways that memory workers and organizations can shape their own future, a more just future that reflects and supports the needs of the diverse communities they serve.”
—Dan Cohen, Northeastern University

- Dan Cohen

“Who gets to imagine the future and map our pathways there? Integrating a broadly interdisciplinary web of critical and cultural theory and activism with library and archival practice, Trevor Owens offers a compelling case for memory workers to look beyond the impoverished and risky speculations conjured up by commercial technologists and management consultants, and to instead imagine a future rooted in human and ecological flourishing.”
—Shannon Mattern, University of Pennsylvania

- Shannon Mattern

"This is a hopeful and generative book, synthesizing insights from fields that see maintenance, care, and repair as central to memory work and the creation of better worlds. Owens teaches us to think, feel, labor, and trust our collective way past “bankrupt ideologies,” to a living and sustainable future for cultural memory and those who build it."
--Bethany Nowviskie, James Madison University Libraries

- Bethany Nowviskie