Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Undermine the underground

I'm taking a qualitative methods class this semester and while I am by no means a qualitative researcher at this point, there is a particular method in qualitative research that has captured my interest: bracketing.

This article (maybe paywalled?) by Tufford and Newman has an useful definition of bracketing:
Bracketing is a method used in qualitative research to mitigate the potentially deleterious effects of preconceptions that may taint the research process (80).
The authors go on to suggest that what researchers may choose to bracket includes, but need not be limited to "beliefs and values (Beech, 1999); thoughts and hypotheses (Starks and Trinidad, 2007); biases, (Creswell and Miller, 2000); emotions (Drew, 2004); preconceptions (Glaser, 1992); presuppositions (Crotty, 1998); and assumptions (Charmaz, 2006) about the phenomenon under study" (84).

My sense is that the idea is that when a researcher brackets, they acknowledge the role that their lived experience plays in the work that they do. So while there isn't such a thing as neutrality in qualitative research, the researcher can expose their positionality and attempt to separate lived experience from their observations.

I think a lot about how lived experiences inform our work as catalogers and I appreciate the space that bracketing gives qualitative researchers to both acknowledge their lived experiences and to separate those experiences--to the extent it is possible--from the work that they do. In much the same way that lived experience informs qualitative research in some way, lived experience informs how we catalog. And, in much the same way as there is no such thing as neutrality in qualitative research, there is no such thing as neutrality in cataloging.

While it may be easier for us to make immediate connections between our lived experiences and the work we do when we are tasked with cataloging materials which challenge our worldview, those connections are always with us. As Emily Drabinski said in her talk at the ALA Midwinter President's Program regarding neutrality in libraries:
The principle of neutrality is one that asks me to leave my political opinions somewhere other than that reference desk. But the truth is, I don't even think of my opinion as political, or, even, as an opinion. I can't get rid of it. It's mine.
I think we focus on the wrong thing when we suggest that catalogers should put aside their opinions or beliefs in favor of a mythical state of neutral being. I think what is more useful is for catalogers to engage in self-reflection about their values, beliefs, emotions, and biases. Bracketing doesn't say that qualitative researchers should ignore their lived experiences. In fact, it suggests the opposite--that qualitative researchers should reflect on them so that they can be separated--to the extent that it is possible--from the work being done.

Who are you and what do you believe in? Which of your identities is privileged and which is marginalized? What do you value? What do you assume about the subject matter of the item you are cataloging?

I feel like there is real value in embracing the whole self and in identifying posititionality when it comes to the work we do. If we can't separate ourselves from the things that make us us, we should acknowledge those things and the ways they inform our work.

Stay positive,

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday jams (02/23/18)

R.E.M.'s album, Monster, came out in 1994 when I was a sophomore in high school. In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe said "'in terms of the whole queer-straight-bi thing, my feeling is that labels are for canned food,' he [Stipe] says. 'People are much too binary in their thinking--I think sexuality is a much more slippery thing than that. I've always liked the idea that I could publicly play with that and not pronounce myself anything and let people...not wonder...let people take me for what I am.'" As a teenager with what I imagined to be a complicated relationship with sexuality, Stipe's quote resonated with me. I could be who I wanted to be, who I needed to be, without having to try to find a place in the binary. I mean, it turns out that Stipe embraced his queer identity. But what he said in 1995 meant a lot to teenage, queer me.

Janelle Monae dropped two tracks yesterday. They're wildly divergent in feel, but equally awesome. Make Me Feel is a fun Prince-esque jam, but the consensus seems to be that it's more than that. In a different way than Stipe, and (presumably) for different reasons, Monae has always been publicly vague about her sexuality. And the consensus seems to be that Make Me Feel is the bisexual anthem that everyone was sure Monae could make. Yesterday, Brittani Daniels said on Twitter that "Janelle Monae continues to have the most iconic non-coming out coming outs."

Anyway, enough about me. This this song is great. Put it in your ears.

word is that 2018 will bless us with both an album from janelle monae, who I am not entirely sure isn't the goddess athena, AND robyn. I feel like, we're gonna need it, and we're gonna get through.

Robyn's three-part album Bodytalk literally changed my life in a lot of ways I'm not even sure I can explain.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

And these doors all have locks on them

While we're all still thinking at least a little bit about professional association governance, I wanted to focus on something that surfaced at ALA Midwinter and which I suspect will be on our minds for a while to come: the working document put out by the Presidents and President-Elects of LLAMA, LITA, and ALCTS about future opportunities for growth and realignment. 

Because who doesn't want to think about professional association governance?

The divisions within the American Library Association are organized both the type of library (e.g., ACRL) and by functional units (e.g., ALCTS). Depending on where you're situated within your particular library, you may find your "ALA home" in multiple divisions. Given that money is often too tight to mention, ALA members often have to make choices about which part of the Association they want to support with their time and their money. ALA's functional divisions (LLAMA, LITA, ALCTS, and RUSA) have many of the same goals: recruitment and mentoring of new library workers, continuing education, advocacy, and standards. And given the concern at the Association level about the membership numbers and member engagement, it is noteworthy that the leadership and the Executive Directors of LLAMA, LITA, and ALCTS are talking about the best ways to work together to better realize the goals that are shared among the divisions.

One of the things we try to do over here in the Unified Library Scene is talk about the importance of relationships that lead to better outcomes for users. So, yes, let's talk about how we can realign our missions and our work to make better experiences for members. For example, imagine how valuable it could be to have library technologists and metadata creators working together to develop and implement standards related to the description of library resources and the automation of library technology.

One line in this document stands out to me, though: we have come to realize how much actual overlap in strategic mission, continuing education, and topical interest there is between our divisions, despite the different structural elements and the importance of member identities associated with being part of the division.

As much as we try to talk about relationship building here, we also talk about being clear about what you're doing and why. I'm glad that LLAMA, LITA, and ALCTS are thinking strategically about how to best adapt to a present where member needs are different than in the past and how to best move the Association forward into a future where we will need to prove value to our members as we compete for resources. But I also think that part of the reason that people to choose one functional division over another is because of the identities of each individual group. Just as blurring the lines between functional job duties in libraries has lead to identity crises for library workers, I worry that blurring the lines between divisions will lead to identity crises for the divisions and their members. It seems like the way that we, library workers, choose to respond to existential crises is to become more siloed and more territorial, and that's my fear about any kind of integration or realignment happening between these functional divisions. It's hard to bring groups with different goals and different constituencies to consensus on things, and I worry that while we're making hard choices that a lot of people will lose out.

Although the alternative to figuring out how to work more closely together is to watch all three divisions go extinct, so we definitely need to get to work.

I hope that as LLAMA, LITA, and ALCTS figure out how to navigate this present and this future, its leaders find ways to honor the parts of them that are what draw their members to them while jettisoning off the parts that are not as useful. And I hope that this future is member-driven and member-centric.

Stay positive,

Friday, February 16, 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Post ALA Midwinter Jams

I have a lot of feelings (and work) coming out of this American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. Erin already shared some feelings I resonate with. But I am trying to take a moment to breathe before I dive right back into it. So here are two of my favorite jams which encompass how I feel after a conference or a meeting:

Two jams, eh? I can do that.

Jam the first:
Who can you trust
And who are your friends
Who is impossible
And who is the enemy
These are the halls that we're presently haunting
And these are the people we currently haunt

Jam the second:
I've been pulling on a wire, but it just won't break
I've been turning up the dial, but I hear no sound
I resist what I cannot change
And I wanna find what can't be found

You're pretty good with words, but words won't save your life

Have you even been in a moment and realized that you were witnessing a turning point in the life of a relationship or an organization? I just got back from Denver and, honestly, that's what ALA Midwinter felt like for me this year. It felt like the American Library Association is standing at a crossroads and its members and leaders are going to have to start having some hard conversations and making some tough choices if they want to organization to continue to be relevant in the current day and in a future that seems poised to leave the organization behind.

Attendance at ALA Midwinter has been declining steadily over the past few years and this year, attendance numbers fell just short of 8,000. Attendance at ALA Midwinter suffers from the fact that winter is a hard time to travel by airplane, given the chances of travel problems. But it also suffers from changing organizational norms. While ALA Council and some of the committees at various levels of the organization need to meet in person to do their business, many committees do not need to meet in person two times per year because their business can be conducted online. It was my experience that many committees where in-person attendance was not required had fewer than half of their members present. Add to that the fact that because ALA Midwinter has historically been a business meeting, there are significantly fewer opportunities at ALA Midwinter for engagement and learning. To their credit, it does seems like ALA and its leadership are trying to figure out how to reckon with these challenges. But to my untrained eye, it doesn't seem like the conference will be able to continue in its current form in perpetuity.

But beyond numbers, there was a significant dissonance that was hard to shake. Two things struck me. First, that the discussion about whether or not the ALA Executive Director should be a degreed librarian continues apace. In November, ALA Council voted to change the educational requirement for the ED from "required" to "preferred." A petition to overturn the Council's actions got enough votes to make it onto the ballot for ALA's spring elections and so here we are. The search committee will reconvene after the vote and I saw badge ribbons at ALA that read "Vote Librarian!" One of the pro-librarian talking points is that we need an ED with a MLIS because we want to find someone who is familiar with and represents our values. I have a hard time with this conversation, mostly because I feel like that's a slap in the face to the countless numbers of library workers who are not degreed and who keep our libraries running smoothly. I also wondered how those in the "Vote Librarian!" camp felt about having a non-degreed librarian as a featured speaker on the ALA Present's Program panel. Chris Bourg's comments were passionate and as representative of library values but do we discount them because she isn't a degree-holding librarian? I wonder how those in the "Vote Librarian!" camp would be able justify either discounting Bourg's words OR holding her in high esteem while also having a viewpoint that makes her less-than in the eyes of the organization. I wonder what kind of mental gymnastics that takes. Frankly, it seems exhausting.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, we have to talk about ALA's failure to walk its talk when it comes to equity, diversity, and inclusion. ALA has declared that equity, diversity, and inclusion are core values of the organization. But it felt at this conference like the organization and its leaders weren't really walking the talk. It was noted by more than one person (and I experienced it myself) that gender-neutral restrooms were few and far between at this conference. And those restrooms that had been converted were in far off corners of the convention center. Given the size of the convention center, the surfeit of restrooms, and the dearth of gender-neutral restrooms in the convention center, it seemed like a choice to not have converted more of them. And choosing not to convert more of the restrooms to gender neutral is not a great way to live into your values which foreground equity, diversity, and inclusion. Also, let's circle back to the "Are Libraries Neutral?" debate that was the ALA President's Program. Neutrality has definitely been on the minds of many in the library community so I can understand wanting to devote a program to talking about it. But as I was watching this debate I couldn't help but think of the privilege required to have a space devoted to the idea of neutrality. Because nearly 90% of librarians are white, we have the luxury of being able to have theoretical discussions about whose points of view we are required to give space to in our collections and our spaces. But I couldn't help but think about our colleagues in marginalized communities for whom this conversation is not actually theoretical because including certain points of view in our collections and our spaces is dangerous for them. How must it feel for our colleagues from marginalized populations to walk into a ballroom filled with jaunty music and sit through a conversation that argues that the rights of people who do not believe in their right to exist are more important than, well, their rights to exist. How can we, members of the Association, claim walk the talk of equity, diversity, and inclusion when we make spaces hostile for those in marginalized communities?

At ALA Midwinter, Junot Diaz gave an impassioned speech that, among other things, held those working in libraries accountable for how we treat our colleagues of color. The blog post on the American Libraries' website suggests that he "got real" in this conversation. The quote that I saw retweeted was "I wish that libraries would finally have a reckoning and know that [staffs that are] 88% white means 5000% agony for people of color, no matter how liberal and enlightened you think you are. We have to decolonize [libraries]." And I saw a lot of my more privileged colleagues quote tweeting this with some kind of "Yes!" as part of their commentary. But wokeness is performative when we say one thing and then prove with our actions that we're not really committed to it.

I have much respect for the Association and its leaders and members. But I also feel like we are really good at performative wokeness and, as Diaz points out, feeling really liberal and enlightened. I don't know where we go from here, but I also feel like this posturing is not a sustainable long-term solution. Declining Association membership and dwindling attendance numbers should tell us that what we're currently doing isn't working and that reinvisioning how the Association and its meetings are structured won't be enough to save us.

Stay positive,

Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday jams (02/09/2018)

Good morning from Denver, friends of the Unified Library Scene!

We're presenting today about creating compelling stories about the value of metadata. If you're wandering around the conference center, you should come join us at the Hyatt in room Capital Peak B. We are committed to not taking ourselves seriously even as we take this topic super seriously. So you can imagine how much fun we'll be having. Join us!

Our jam for today:

Stay positive and keep rockin'
Erin and Rachel