Handcrafted Rhetorics at #4C20 in Milwaukee

2:00 – 5:00pm, Saturday, 3/28, at TBA off-site location

HASHTAGS: #4C20 & #SW03

We are thrilled to announce that Handcrafted Rhetorics will be run as a Saturday workshop this year! While we are still working to secure our offsite meeting location (which means that the details of the workshop will change depending on where we meet), here’s our proposal:

On July 21, 2018, Forbes magazine published an opinion piece by economist Panos Mourdoukoutas arguing that “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money.” Pushback from the public — particularly public librarians — was so strong, swift, and well-grounded in economic and democratic realities that Forbes pulled the article down within two days. (It is, of course, archived online by the American Library Association.) The same day the article was deleted, Crystle Martin (2018) explained on the Young Adult Library Services Association’s blog what Mourdoukoutas missed: that libraries play vital roles in “defending free speech, protecting the privacy of users, supporting lifelong learning, and creating an informed citizenry who can participate in the democratic process. But perhaps what is most disturbing about his suggestion is that he completely ignores the fact that there are millions of Americans living in poverty who cannot afford to purchase books and other materials, and who do not have access in their homes to current digital tools or high speed Internet.” As part of our commons, libraries are vital to our collective life — important even for those who don’t use them.

Since American communities began establishing and advocating for public libraries in the 18th century, we have understood them as more than repositories of books, and today public libraries are a common place for adult education, English language instruction, re-entry and job training programs for people newly out of prison, after-school and summer activities for children and teenagers, and year-round community events (Klinenberg 2018). Andrew Carnegie referred to libraries as “palaces for the people,” an important part of what sociologist Eric Klineberg (2018) calls “social infrastructure,” or “the physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact” and build social stability and resilience in communities (p. 5). It is no surprise, then, that public libraries and librarians have been at the forefront of what our group has been calling “handcrafted rhetorics,” pursuing the democratic promises that the maker movement itself has frequently fallen short on (Sivek 2011; Morozov 2014; Willett 2016).

This half-day hands-on workshop proposes to bring attendees into the Milwaukee Public Library’s Mitchell Street location, where its makerspace, Studio M, opened in 2017. Participants will learn about the work librarians and patrons do together, and do some making of our own. Having run workshops at CCCC in 2015 (Tampa) and 2017 (Portland) that brought local zine makers and DIYers to the conference, we moved our workshop out of the conference center in 2018 (Kansas City) and into Print League, a community print shop. Our 2019 (Pittsburgh) workshop partnered with the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse (PCCR) and was held at Contemporary Craft. After successfully navigating the logistics of an off-site workshop for two years—and seeing how important the change of venue was for participants’ experience of the workshop—we propose to again take participants into our host city to learn more about public library makerspaces as scenes of publicly-engaged rhetorical action. (Knowing that a community-engaged workshop like this may need to shift plans, however, we encourage workshop attendees to visit https://handcraftedrhetorics.org/ for the most current information about the location and plans for this workshop.)

Scholars and practitioners in Rhetoric & Composition have turned to the histories, theories, and practices of craft, DIY, multimodal rhetoric, cultural rhetorics, (post)process-oriented pedagogies, and makerspaces to reimagine composition classrooms and better understand public rhetorical action (Farmer 2013; Howard 2018; Koupf 2017; Melo 2016; Palmeri 2012; Prins 2012; Sheridan, Ridolfo, & Michel, 2012; Shipka 2011; Stenberg 2015; Wynn 2017). Librarians and scholars and practitioners of Rhetoric and Composition share a stake in developing information literacy as a value among our communities (Baer 2016), and both groups create space for and draw attention to practices at all points in the information lifecycle. As public and school library makerspaces become increasingly common, we as a field have much to learn from the librarians who structure productive making and learning spaces for patrons every day. By bringing people from these two sites of public education together, we will be well-positioned to reflect on our commonplaces about information literacy, multimodal composing, and maker education, such as that:

  • labor conditions, materiality, location, and personal relationships matter to rhetorical practice,
  • meaningful public rhetorical practice can be undertaken both inside and outside academia,
  • multimodal composing classrooms can — or should — be structured as makerspaces,
  • our work in the classroom should engage public rhetorics outside of it, or
  • archives and libraries can highlight essential relationships between invention, research and multimodal composing.


1:30pm – Meet at space; introductions; tour the library/makerspace

2:15pm – Making

3:45pm Break

4-5:00pm Discuss the issues outlined above, and how to take these conversations back to our institutions and communities


  • developing a better understanding of libraries and their relationship to multimodal composing,
  • articulating some of the ways in which libraries and makerspace practices might help us to rethink multimodal composing and public rhetorical practice in university classrooms,
  • exploring opportunities for educators, librarians, and makers to collaborate in supporting students and communities, and
  • fostering local, participatory maker activism and political dialogue through hands-on activities that engage Milwaukee’s built environment and physical spaces.