Playlist: The Tiny Digger as Library Meme

4 minute read

There’s a gargantuan ship stuck in the Suez Canal. It’s thought the ship was blown off course a few days ago, and it’s become a meme. I noticed this Wednesday, when the BBC morning reported:

A giant container ship the length of four football pitches has become wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal, blocking one of the world’s busiest trade routes.

Suez Canal Jam as a Meme

At first, it seemed like just another inconvenience that comes up from day to day on the news, but as it became clear that the ship would be stuck for a while and we learned that it was potentially disrupting 10% of global trade, this situation received more and more attention. As photos emerged, the story caught fire and became a social media sensation and a great Internet meme. In an early example of remixing, twitter user @jdgtranen recaptioned the photo with the BBC logo, combining it with the lyrics from WAP:

Memes don’t always attract the attention of library twitter! But this one did as soon as another photo started to get attention. It turns out that the engineers didn’t really have a great hi-tec solution for this problem, in fact they were sending earth-moving machines to remove sand from the bow of the ship. Well, even a giant backhoe, digger, or dump truck is dwarfed by a ship the length of four football fields that can carry 20,000 truck-sized containers! The photo that caught attention is this one, of the lone digger:

(Yes, there’s at least one account tweeting from the perspective of the digger @SuezDiggerGuy.)

Library Twitter Meets the Meme

The tiny digger, working away in its task to remove enough sand to free the freighter’s fifty-foot draft from the mud, become a great metaphor for various aspects of library work… here’s a few notables from the past day.

An image meme from @vwyeth shows the paradigm: huge problems (here it’s the ship denoted with the text “Structural Problem”) confronted by tiny, possibly ineffective or mismatched, solutions (in this case, suggesting that one person making one small change won’t change “the system”):

Or this, shared by @SgWingo, suggesting the hollowness of naive advice in the face of the overwhelming pandemic:

There are a few that suggest library work, perhaps symbolized by the never-ending, often-thankless, and frequently-invisible work of maintenance, might be like the digger. Here @sonicstacey offers this picture as a metaphor for the inadequate budgets that memory institutions often make available for digital preservation:

Or, as @remembrancermx points out, maybe the freighter is the backlog problem. Archives in particular face many challenges in funding all the work to process collections, including weeding irrelevant materials, physical stabilization and preservation, the creation of usable information to describe the materials and for users to find it, and the then the costs to take care of the materials and serve them to users as possible over a long period of time. That takes a lot of time, people, infrastructure, and resources, yet many archives are short on staff and resources. Perhaps the problem is the inadequate staffing?! Have you ever felt like the lone digger if you’re a “lone arranger”?

There’s a second layer of memes embedded here, as many users tweet the image with something like “hope i did this right…” encouraging others to respond with other images, encouragement, or different takes.

For more takes on this meme, check out the “Suez Canal Jam” on Know Your Meme.