Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday jams (09/23/2016)

Two jams-related things.

1.It's Friday, so enjoy this jam--Chance the Rapper on the Ellen DeGeneres show performing "No problem."

2. American Band, the new Drive-By Truckers album, is on NPR First Listen for a limited time. It's a really lovely album and I heartily recommend it.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Stop! Take some time to think, figure out what's important to you.

Yesterday, I had mentally prepared a blog post for today about assessment and building a culture of assessment. I'll probably still write that blog post, but something else surfaced between the time I'd decided on assessment as a blog topic and the time I put fingers to keys to write this post that made me decide to change up my topic.

Yesterday, author Tessa Dare tweeted:
I totally agree with Ms. Dare and I retweeted her tweet. I added another tweet after hers:
For whatever else librarianship is, I believe it's customer service work. Our job as librarians is to help connect our users with the resources they need. Whether you work the front lines of the library or the back rooms, we all have a role to play in serving our library's users. And like most kinds of customer service work, helping library patrons can be frustrating. I think we librarians would be living in a perfect world if we weren't honest about the fact that every library has problem patrons and difficult situations. But despite what everyone has told you about how library work is reading books all the time and telling people to "shhhh!," this kind of customer service work is what we signed up for when we decided we want to work in libraries.

Knowing what we signed up for, I think it's ill advised for us as librarians to mock, ridicule, look down on our users for the services they use, the material they check out, or how they conduct themselves while they're in our libraries. It teaches people that libraries aren't a welcoming place and that librarians aren't welcoming people. It teaches people that they have to look a certain way, act a certain way, or read a certain type of materials in order to be invited into the library community. If librarians truly believe that libraries are for everyone in the communities they serve, we shouldn't ask our users to pass a test--implicit or explicit--to be welcome in our spaces. Furthermore, when we choose to mock a particular user group for the choices they're making, I would challenge us (myself included) to think about who we're choosing to mock. I could be wrong, but I would venture to guess that most of the time the users who get our ridicule are not the white, cisgender, middle-class, able-bodied among us. Instead, I would guess that more often than not it's users from marginalized communities--the people who may not have the tools to code switch and become the kind of people think is worthy of using your library's collections and service.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't set expectations for how our users should behave in our library spaces or to develop collection policies to cover what we will and won't purchase for our users. But even when we make those choices, I think we should agree that we should treat our library users with respect--even when we're holding them accountable for the ways in which they've broken the rules we've established for library use.

But Erin, you're thinking, what about those times when I need to blow off steam or vent about a situation? What about those stories that are too good not to tell?

Look, I get it. It's totally normal to need to have a release valve for those problem patrons or difficult situations. I'm not advocating that you have to be perfect all the time. If you need to talk something through, find a trusted colleague or network of colleagues and talk about those situations in private--in person or by email. If you want to tell a story, tell it in your break room or your staff-only areas where you are certain that a library user can't hear you. The point is: if you air your library's dirty laundry in public, you risk losing the trust and support of your community.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone else, I'll admit. So let's all decide together that this is too important not to work through.

Stay positive,

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Jams (9/16/2016)

without comment, I give you 

Hi, friends of the Unified Library Scene. I'm sorry that it's been so long since a new blog post has gone up. Maybe next week? Definitely next week.

Dwight Yoakam covered "Purple Rain" for his new album. I wanted to not like it, but I do.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Jams! (09/09/2016)

It has been nearly three weeks since my vacation ended and TODAY is the first day that I have had a chance to sit down with my email so all I got to say is

I was going to post a really long story about Prophets of Rage. Instead, I'll just leave this El-P produced song by Zack de la Rocha.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Always climbing, to fall down again

I just got back from a week's vacation and I'm slowly but surely digging out from all of the things that accumulated in my absence. It was with great interest that I saw that the ALA Midwinter pre-conferences had been rolled out. I was especially interested to learn that the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) is having a pre-conference at 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting called "Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Creating a new future for library collections."

A couple of things:
1. I don't speak for ALCTS. At all. So nothing in my post should be taken as any kind of anything on behalf of that organization.
2. I don't make a cut of the profit if you sign up from that link, and this is not a sponsored post.

I'm interested to hearing how this conversation unfolds and what change might come from it. I wonder what it might mean for us to think about how we might change our acquisitions, collections, metadata, and preservation practices in order to develop collections that support and represent the margainalized voices in our user communities. I hope this symposium gives the people who are in positions to be change agents in their libraries a place to have conversations about the places in collections and in technical services where change can begin.

One thing I think we have to acknowledge at the outset of this kind of conversation is that it's not going to be easy. And people tend to move away from things that cause them discomfort rather than interrogating those feelings. And I really do understand that tendency. Considering how the current practices of acquisitions, collection development, metadata creation, and preservation perpetuate the margainalization of parts of our user communities is difficult work. It requires difficult conversations and a lot of self-reflection. But it's important work, valuable work.

I also think we have to acknowledge that if we want to build collections that support and represent that marganalized voices in our user communities,  we're going to have to lose some practices to which we've become especially attached. I think this starts with decentering the voices of the people in power in favor of making space for those we don't normally hear from. If we're going to imagine where the intersection of collections and equity, diversity, and inclusion live, the people we hear from have to include margainalized voices. And we have to be aware of not asking our speakers to be diversity tokens and we definitely have to be aware of not asking our speakers to do the work of educating we, the privileged, about the things we don't understand.

But it doesn't end there. We have interrogate the language that we use to describe out collections and how they are othering to people in our user community. We have to examine our collection development practices to consider who we are (and aren't) collecting and why. And we have to not only do the work of interrogation and examination--we also have to decide as a community to do things differently.

In short, we have to decide what we're willing to give up to get the future we say that we want to build.

I believe in ALCTS. If I didn't, I wouldn't be a member and a volunteer. I believe that this association has within its membership the people to have the kinds of conversations that lead to real change. And I also believe that the membership is thoughtful enough to do the self-reflection necessary to begin to change structures and systems. I look forward to hearing this conversation and to seeing the future that we build as a result.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Look where all this talking got us

A call for proposals got me thinking about professional identity and about the specialties within librarianship that we choose. This is a genuine 'in my feels' post, so it's short on facts and figures and long on feelings. Your mileage may truly vary and you should just forget about the grain of salt and take this with the whole shaker.

One of the things I've been thinking about is why people choose which area of librarianship to specialize in. When thinking about which area of librarianship to specialize in, our best self wants to find a specialty that aligns with our skills and our values and which has the capacity to challenge us over the course of our career. Our more practical self looks for a specialty that provides long-term stability (to the extent that such a thing is possible) and the opportunity for growth and advancement. Either way, we choose something or it chooses us and we build a community of practise within that specialty.

I chose to become a cataloger because cataloging made sense to me. It didn't at first and I was often reduced to tears when doing homework for my cataloging class. I couldn't make sense of the rules and I couldn't make the connection between the rules and the user's experience of the catalog. At some point, it finally clicked for me. And thirteen or so years ago, when I chose cataloging, I felt like I was choosing a specialty that was both challenging and that could provide long-term stability and an opportunity for growth.

The other thing I've been thinking about is how our specialties are (or aren't) tied to our professional identities. I'm a cataloger, yes, but I wonder how much of my professional identity is tied up in cataloging. I sometimes think not much, especially in comparison to my colleagues who are much more passionate (and knowledgeable!) about the nuts and bolts of cataloging. I don't think it makes me a bad cataloger so much as it makes me a person whose passions lie elsewhere.

I would like to believe that while cataloging informs my professional identity, it doesn't dominate it. I like talking about well-formed metadata, sure, but I also like talking about relationship and skill building. And I like talking about how we should center the user's experience of the library as part of how we choose to do our jobs. My professional identity has its roots in my experience of cataloger, Knowing the value of well-formed metadata on user experience is one thing, but knowing the labor involved in creating that well-formed metadata is another.

For a long time, I conflated my area of specialization and my professional identity. I felt like being a cataloger is who I am and what I bring to librarianship. And I spent a lot of time feeling badly about the fact that some of my colleagues know a lot more about the nuts and bolts of cataloging than I do. I felt badly that I wanted to think about relationships and user experience and skill building and advocacy. At some point, I realized that people are vast and contain multitudes and the one's professional identity doesn't have to be just about the area of librarianship you choose to specialize in.

I'm known for being a person who cares deeply about relationships and user experience and skill building and advocacy, anyway. Why not embrace that as my professional identity and use my experiences as a cataloger to inform these professional passions?

I feel compelled to leave you with a nugget of truth that you can apply to your own work. So here goes: What is the thing about librarianship that you're most passionate about but that you're afraid to pursue because it isn't in perfect alignment with the specialization of librarianship in which you work? What would life be like if, instead of being afraid to pursue that passion, you embraced it?

Stay positive,

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Oh what a wonder, oh what a waste

Last week, I read an article in the most recent issue of dh+lib that presented the idea that the development of metadata standards for a particular project can, if we let it, be a kind of outreach. Emma Annette Wilson and Mary Alexander write, "DH projects require high-quality metadata in order to thrive, and the bigger the project, the more important that metadata becomes to make data discoverable, navigable, and open to computational analysis." The article goes on to urge that metadata librarians emerge from the back room in order to build relationships with digital humanities scholars. Wilson and Alexander write, "it is time to leave the backroom and partner with faculty and students on the frontiers of DH research, introducing them to metadata best practises and innovations, and sharing with them the creativity required to produce flexible, sustainable, and robust data for their projects."

I like the idea of including metadata librarians in the development of digital humanities projects. As the authors point out, digital projects require well-formed metadata in order to do the things scholars want to do. Inviting metadata creators into the conversation early on in the process will (hopefully) lead to decisions being made that don't end up with a library's metadata creation team remediating a significant amount of metadata later in the project.

I also appreciate the range of projects that Wilson and Alexander discuss in their article, as I think they show the range of digital humanities work and the metadata that supports it. From using a controlled vocabulary to describe fabric swatches in a fashion industry publication to contextualizing marginalia in digitized texts, the authors demonstrate the value of well-formed metadata across a wide variety of digital projects. The projects outlined in this article show what digital scholarship can be when metadata is considered early and often.

One thing that Wilson and Alexander don't explicitly address in their article is how the additional labor of consulting on digital projects from outside the library is accommodated within the existing workload of metadata creators. And, ultimately, this is the part of the situation that I find myself feeling concerned about. I have mixed feelings about asking metadata creators who are already taxed working on homegrown library initiatives to take on the work of instructing digital humanities scholars about well-formed metadata. On one side, I think it it's important to leverage the expertise that librarians have to provide the services that our users need. And if digital humanities scholars need help with metadata in order to create meaningful digital projects, then metadata creators should be in the middle of things helping them. On the other side, I think that we risk having our metadata creators suffer from burnout if we're not providing additional resources to help those metadata creators balance the demands from within, and outside, the library.

When considering how to balance competing interests in the area of metadata creation, two possible solutions come immediately to mind:

1. Allocate positions (or portions of positions) to digital projects that come from outside the library. By including this work in the position description or job duties of a metadata creator, a library acknowledges both the importance of supporting user-created digital projects and the labor necessary to do this work.

2. Embed a metadata creator in the library's digital humanities program. By doing this, you not only address the importance and the labor of supporting user-created digital projects, but you give the metadata creator the space and time necessary to collaborate with both the digital humanities library and the user community. The metadata creator has time to answer question and give their full attention to the project at hand without significantly compromising the progress on in-house digital projects.

In the end, I am not against the idea that metadata creation can be an outreach tool. Digital humanities research provides an opportunity for academic libraries to engage with our users and that opportunity can't be ignored. But I do think that we have to take seriously the question of labor and of workload when we ask metadata creators to add consultation to their already full plates. If well-formed metadata is as important as the authors of this article suggest that it is, we have to ask ourselves at what point the challenge we've placed in front of metadata creators is no longer sustainable. Ultimately, I don't think academic librarianship can support digital humanities work while also applying the 'do less with more' tactic to metadata creation. Our metadata creators, and our users, deserve better.

Stay positive,