Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Looking at life through the eyes of a tired hub

Like many libraries these days, my library is planning a migration to a new integrated library system/library management system. And, like many libraries these days, the software we're migrating to moves us from a module-based system that puts an emphasis on functional areas to a system where functionality is more process-based.

This movement toward process-based functionality has me thinking more and more about systems thinking and how libraries are, generally speaking, not great at it.

When I think of systems thinking in libraries, it is helpful to me to think of a system as a set of component parts that interact in a dynamic way. There are a lot of projects and ongoing processes in my library whose component processes "live" in different functional areas. A systems thinking approach would suggest I should look at the whole of a process or project, rather than only looking at the processes that make up the components of the system I'm responsible for. By looking at the system as a whole, I can work more flexibly and collegially with the people who are responsible for other component parts of the system.

I think that moving toward seeing the whole of a process or project rather than just the component parts that make them up is not always a natural inclination for people who work in libraries. We often tend to see the world as processes that are our job and those that aren't. It feels so unnatural, I would argue, that libraries are starting to hire project managers to help coordinate the component parts of a project or are designating someone to serve as project manager. Having someone serve as the hub of a project or process from which all of the component parts flow in and out is helpful when it comes to time sensitive, deadline-based projects. But I would argue that adopting a systems thinking mindset should be the responsibility of everyone in the organization.

One of the goals of the Unified Library Scene is to build better relationships--especially between functional areas within libraries. It's hard to do that, though, when you have a 'this is my job and everything else isn't' mentality. Having that mindset makes establishing areas of mutual concern really difficult and it makes having a shared understanding about the relationship between component parts of a process. Yes, cross-departmental projects and processes can run smoothly and efficiently without a commitment to a systems thinking approach. But there's only so far those projects and processes can go if those responsible for the component parts aren't interested in the work happening in other component parts.

As I've been thinking about how my work will change as a result of my library's adoption of software based around processes, I've been thinking more about how I can move out of a "component parts" mindset. One thing I've found valuable as a starting point is looking at a process that I'm involved in that crosses into multiple departments and talking to people about their component part tasks. Who is responsible for the process before it gets to me and what are the choices they make that impact my work? Who picks up the process where I left off and how do the choices I make impact their work? I don't need to be the center hub of the wheel from the very start, but a good place to start is understanding the spokes closest to me.

The ways that our libraries work best is when we aren't ruled by the silos that our functional areas create for us. Instead, we work best when we think of not only our place as component parts in the system, but when we think of the system as a whole.

Stay positive,

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'm sick of all this waiting

A thing I think about a lot is the next generation of technical services leaders. I have met a lot of wonderful early career librarians who are choosing to make technical services their career. And I return home from each ALA Midwinter and Annual feeling energized by their interest in, and enthusiasm for, moving technical services librarianship forward. But when I think about the future of technical services librarianship, I worry that collectively, we're not doing a great job of recruiting and retaining the kinds of people we need to propel acquisitions, collection development and management, cataloging, and preservation into the future.

I feel like the first year as a librarian is full of challenges for all kinds of librarian, especially for people without previous library experience. Not only are you figuring out how to succeed in your job, but you're also thinking about how (and whether) you want to make an impact in your organization and in the larger library world. This can be compounded if your first position is in an academic library and you suddenly find yourself on the tenure track with the directive to publish and present. If you're moving into a technical services position, your challenges may be compounded by the fact that your coursework did not prepare you for the kind of work you do as a technical services librarian.

Helping early career librarians of all kinds grow in their first year requires intentionality on the part of those who supervise them. For those who supervise technical services librarians, there is an added layer of helping early career librarians who may also require an additional level of support in understanding the specific culture of technical services librarianship and work. When I think about my own experience and about what changes technical services librarians could make to better recruit and retain early career technical services librarians, a couple of ideas come to mind:

1. Library administrators should provide newly hired technical services librarians with mentors from other parts of the organization. 

Yes, a lot of professional organizations have mentoring programs, and that's great. Those kinds of programs are wonderful for helping early career librarians learn more about what it means to serve in a professional capacity. But you also need to pair your new hires with people in your organization to help mentor them through issues specific to your organizational culture. A formalized mentoring program that starts during onboarding need only last a year--time enough for a new hire to feel comfortable in the organization. But I can say from firsthand experience that those conversations over coffee will help your new hires feel more confident and comfortable in their jobs and in your organization.

2. Technical services supervisors should meet regularly with newly hired technical services librarians to ensure that growth goals are established and progress toward meeting them is made.

I think that growth requires intentionality. And setting aside the time and space to talk about where a person is, where they want to go, and how they plan to get there is so important. These conversations are especially important in an academic library where a new hire is on the tenure track and expected to meet certain benchmarks. A component of these conversations should also be what kind of training and tools an early career technical services librarian might need to meet established growth goals, because directives become so much more difficult to meet without material support.

3. Technical services supervisors should identify areas within an organization for cross-training and cross-departmental collaboration and support newly hired technical services librarians in taking advantage of those opportunities.

Sometimes the hardest thing about working in a "back room" position is understanding what opportunities exist for collaboration with departments outside of your own. Supervisors of newly hired technical services librarians should identify and facilitate this kind of cooperative work. One idea that immediately comes to mind is setting up short rotations through each department within technical services so that a new hire can learn how the work of those departments intersects with their own. Additionally, technical services supervisors should identify important cross-departmental committee work where a new hire's expertise might be needed and ensure that the new hire is invited to join in the work.

I think that recruitment and retention of early career technical services librarians is so vital to the future success of technical services both on a large scale and within individual libraries. As librarians at individual libraries, we owe it to our future leaders to intentionally develop plans to help them grow rather than tossing them into the position and hoping that they find their way. What other ways do you think libraries and their administrators could support early career technical services librarians? Drop your ideas in the comments!

Stay positive,

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It's getting kind of hectic

I spent the better part of January trying to get my paper for ACRL 2017 into shape for submission and I am only now returning to the things I was doing before that. One of those things is working my way through Frances E. Kendall's Understanding White Privilege. This book has really helped me think about the privilege I have and how it has helped me advance in ways I am not always aware of.

In one of the chapters, Kendall talks about our natural inclination to see the places where we don't have privilege instead of the places where we do. She writes:
Because we measure our own privilege by looking at what other have received that we haven't, rather than at what we have that others don't, frequently it is hard to believe that we have access to power and influence because we belong to one identity group when we are so clear that we don't have power and influence because of our membership to another (108).
I immediately put this quote into conversation with the fact that as of 2009/2010, 87% of female librarians are white, according to some number crunching I did from this table off the ALA Diversity Counts 2012 report. There are certain intersections that this table hides, of course. But think about what kind of access to power and influence white librarians have, and then recognize how this statistic reflects what many of our marginalized colleagues already understand to be true about librarianship.

Because we measure our privilege against what others have that we don't, I have often looked at what I lack as a female librarian. My male colleagues have access to leadership opportunities and opportunities for advancement that I don't. And surfacing the difference in expectations for male and female leaders is absolutely a valuable conversation to have--and one that the LibLeadGender community has coalesced around. But what reading this passage in Kendall's book reminded me of is that when I think about this, I also have to consider the ways in which my whiteness and position in the middle class give me access to power and opportunities.

Memberships in professional organizations are expensive and yet they are often a requirement for volunteer service. I am able to pay those dues, so I have access to those volunteer opportunities. And as I look around at in-person meetings, I see a lot of people who look like me. Traveling to conferences is often costly--between registration fees, flight costs, and meals. I am fortunate that my library pays a portion of the amount that it costs me to attend multiple conferences in a year, but I am also able to pay the amount that isn't covered out-of-pocket. When I look at who is in the room with me at conferences, I see a lot of people who look like me.

It is worth acknowledging that certain parts of library professional associations shape policy and practice within librarianship. One such body that comes to mind is CC:DA, the Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access. Housed within the Cataloging and Metadata Management Section of ALCTS, this committee serves as ALA's voice in the international conversation about cataloging policy. Being able to serve on that committee is contingent upon one's ability to afford to be a member of both ALA and ALCTS. Those who cannot afford to pay association dues or travel to conferences are excluded from important conversations about the future of librarianship.

The Unified Library Scene is about building relationships within libraries. As part of that work, I am committed to learning how to be an ally. One of the places where I have started in this process is honest self-reflection about the places where I benefit from my power and privilege. Anything I do before an acknowledgement of how I have benefited from my whiteness, my able-bodied status, and my middle-class status make my actions both inauthentic and oppressive of those I wish to be allied with. I would invite you, friend of the Unified Library Scene, to also engaged in honest self-reflection. If the idea of power and privilege is new to you, there is a body of work that exists on this topic and reading more about this should definitely be part of your self-reflection process If you're interested in understanding more about the intersection of privilege and librarianship, I would offer two articles as a starting point: April Hathcock's piece in Library Lead Pipe on diversity initiatives in librarianship. I would also recommend Angela Galvan's piece in Library Lead Pipe on the perpetuation of white, middle-class values in librarianship. If you have additional recommendations, drop them in the comments!

Stay positive,

Friday, February 3, 2017

Friday jams (02/03/2017)

It's Friday! Time for some Friday jams, friends of the Unified Library Scene!

In 2016, Drive-By Truckers put out a really great album with political and social themes that are more...overt than on previous records. The political and social themes have always been there, but DBT usually weaves them into stories instead of confronting you with them directly. My favorite part about this jam is the way all four of the singers harmonize on the chorus in a way that feels both hopefully unified and angrily defiant.

Actually, it's Erin again--posting on Rachel's behalf. I have no commentary for this jam except to say that it's a great song to put in your ears on a Friday.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Not a question of if, but a question of when

Back in the fall, I wrote about how ALA could rebuild trust with its membership after the Great Press Release Debacle of Aught Sixteen. In that post I laid out a three-point plan for how I believed that the association could restore the relationship with its members. There is one point that I want to use as a framework for this post:
First, I think it is incumbent upon Association-level leadership to restore the relationship between the Association and its members by centering the voices and taking seriously the concerns the people among its membership who will be most vulnerable in the coming years.
Much of the conversation around the conflict within the Association membership seemed to center around conflating personal opinions with professional ethics. And the thing I was most disappointed about at the ALA Town Hall was that the first speaker read this part of the ALA Code of Ethics, "we distinguish between our personal convictions and our professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources." I could find no other way to interpret that action than as a way to silence dissent from those who wanted ALA to stand up more forcefully for the values it holds at its core and more forcefully against an administration who seems to be poised to dismantle everything our core values stand for.

I was glad to see ALA come out in opposition of recent policies enacted by the new Administration to silence, intimidate, and ban. Even more so, I was glad to see the Association say, "we encourage our members to continue to speak out and show their support for and work on behalf of our core values, in their communities as well as with their local, state, and national elected and appointed officials." Given the ways in which its membership had been holding the Association responsible, the statement was the first thing that made me believe that the Association heard what its members were saying. And while this is the beginning of a conversation and not the end, it does seem to be a promising beginning.

Let us be absolutely clear in this moment: our marginalized colleagues and user community members are at actual, literal risk right now.

And given that almost 90% of librarianship is white, those of us in positions of privilege have a decision to make. Will we stand up for our colleagues and community members as the tactics used to silence and oppress them grow more bold? Or will we stand idly by behind the "professional duties" of the clause of the ALA Code of Ethics while the rights and lives of our colleagues and community members are destroyed?

As the co-author of this blog, I get to make choices about what kind of content ends up here--the issues that get addressed and the voices that get amplified. The Unified Library Scene will always be about bringing together people from disparate groups within librarianship to build a better future for our users, and right now that means standing alongside our marginalized colleagues and user community members, not just in words but in deeds. I invite you to join me in listening to the voices of our marginalized colleagues and community members and in interrogating how we can each better use our voices, our time, our talents, and our money to support those around us who need us to show up.

Stay positive,

Friday, January 27, 2017

Friday jams! (01/27/17)

During ALA Midwinter, I saw Run the Jewels play a hometown show (Killer Mike is from Atlanta) and it was really great. There's new music out today, but I'm going to share a track from RTJ3.

New music? Do you know what happened? Guess. No, wrong. What happened was that I had heard about and heard new music before Erin. I KNOW! It's magical, this new music, because it comes from a certified, Prince Rogers Nelson level genius. HOW DOES SHE DO IT. MISSY ELLIOTT.

Wait, Don't go. Don't stop being excited yet. Watch this:

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Pretty soon now you're going to get older

The dust is finally settling on ALA Midwinter 2017 and I left Atlanta on Tuesday feeling like this conference was different than other ones. I know that some of it had to do with the ways in which the world changed around us during the conference, but the shift in my feelings wasn't only driven by external forces.

As I've moved into my mid-career years, I care more about ALA-level governance. In some ways, I think this deepened interest stems from my volunteer work within ALCTS. But I also think it comes from the recognition that at both the macro-level and micro-level, the Association reflects the values of the member volunteers who act as its leadership. Beginning in November, there has been a lot of chatter about whether and how ALA represents the values of its members. And while there are some people among its leaders who are paid staffers, many people in positions of power are members.

It would be foolish not to acknowledge a significant number of systems and structures that are meant to further white supremacy and oppress marginalized communities within ALA. At two different times, in two public venues, a black woman was either not given the opportunity to speak or was cut off when she was speaking. During Council II, ALA Council resolved to continue to have the MLS as a required qualification for the ALA Executive Director position. And while ALA Council resolved at Council II to protect caregiver and parent volunteers from punishment if those duties kept them from attending in-person ALA commitments, there is still no protection for people who are unable to attend for other reasons--financial or otherwise.

I have made it a priority to attend at least a little bit of ALA Council meetings at ever ALA Midwinter and Annual conference I attend. But this time I devoted significantly more time to attending these events. I attended both ALA Council I and II and felt like I got a good sense of how these meetings function. I also saw the ways in which ALA Council is (and isn't) a representative body. Many of the same councilors got up to speak at every opportunity, and many of the councilors seemed...disengaged from the process entirely. While the resolution on the MLS requirement for the ALA Executive Director position had a good bit of discussion, I wished that there had been lively conversation around every topic. I didn't attend Council III, so I can't speak to what happened there. I also didn't attend any of the Council Forums, so maybe discussion and discourse happens there instead of in the actual Council sessions? I also wondered to what extent politic-ing happens around Council resolutions. Do councilors form voting blocks?

I also attended the ALA Presidential Candidates' Forum. It was interesting to hear three candidates give platforms that both overlap and diverge wildly. I left that event not feeling sure about who I think should lead our association, and feeling like I have much more work to do before I make that decision. It was valuable to hear not only the prepared statements that the candidates made, but also to hear questions from the audience about the things that mattered to them. I look forward to reading more about and from the candidates in the weeks between now and the ALA election.

Finally, I attended the ALA Town Hall which gave members an opportunity to state their frustrations, hopes, and dreams for the association. As I stood at the microphone to make a comment, I recognized how brave you have to be to stand in an enormous room and speak your truth in front of a room of people who don't all share your views. Many, many people had much more impassioned and eloquent things to say than I did. But I felt an obligation to state publicly that I am holding ALA leadership at all levels accountable for the ways in which their actions support (or don't support) our association's emerging commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

My sense from all of these experiences is that if we truly want our Association to reflect our values, we have to find candidates for ALA-level leadership positions who are willing to advance those values and them hold them accountable for the work they do (and don't do) on our behalf. I think this means fielding and voting for candidates whose values align with our own and then holding them accountable by attending Council meetings and publicizing what happens there. I livetweeted council, as did many other people in the room, in the hopes of boosting a signal about what is emerging as important work of the Association.

I keep tweeting about this, but it's worth saying again: Association governance work is boring, but it's also valuable. There are a million other things you could be doing other than reading the ALA Council listserv and attending Council meetings and forums at conference. But if we want ALA to reflect our values in an increasingly divisive and challenging world, we need to do this work. I don't think that the change that people want to happen within ALA is impossible. But I do think it requires being intentional. I'll be watching, reading, listening, and voting. If you're an ALA member, I invite you to join me.

Stay positive,