Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Jams (1/12/2018)

Erin loves to give me shit about not listening to new music, and it's true, I hardly ever go out and find the freshest newest music, even when it is music that I know for a fact that I will love. But sometimes I do, and that's why I can say I have a best new album of 2017. It is Darius Rucker's When Was the Last Time, in which he continues to get annoyingly better at country music which he was already really good at admit it. It's also annoyingly old people music about like grown up people shit and I am grown up people and I have grown up shit and sometimes I like to listen to music about it, so,

In 2017, I got to see Japandroids twice. And both times I was shocked by how two dudes could make that much noise and fill up so much space. This song is on my running playlist and it almost always comes on when I need something to help keep my feet moving.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Days of swim or sink

Two things happened this past week that got me thinking about technical services workflows--a scintillating topic to be sure.

The first thing that I noticed this past week is the program for the ALA Midwinter meeting of the ALCTS Technical Services Workflow Efficiency Interest Group. Three of the four presentations address how members of technical services units in academic libraries evaluated workflows and redesigned them in order to improve efficiency within their units.

The second thing was more a thing that happened to me than a thing that I noticed. When I was cataloging something this past week, I happened upon a record in Ye Olde Bibliographic Utility that seemed to have been created by a vendor. Stop me if you've heard this one before: it had many obvious errors, incomplete description, and sub-par subject analysis. I spent a lot of time working on this record in order to make it worth importing into my local bibliographic database. Though many people have griped about the issue of incomplete vendor records in public venues and listservs, I didn't necessarily mind doing the work because improving upon the work of others is at least one the purposes of a universal bibliographic utility. It did, however, get me thinking.

As the resources (both financial and personnel) of technical services units have dwindled, those who staff them have had to make choices about how to accomplish the nearly impossible task of doing more with less. And one obvious way that libraries can do more with less is to outsource the creation of metadata either to a metadata creation vendor or by using records provided by vendors. But, maybe now is a good time to ask ourselves that question that Rachel often poses to us: What is it we're trying to do here?

It isn't so much that I think that vendor-created metadata is universally bad. I don't. But I do think that the leaders of libraries who have chosen to move large portions of their collections off-site in an attempt to transform their spaces have to consider the fact that without the ability to browse, catalog records become the only means of discover for a large portion of a collection. And yes, while some disciplines have moved from monographs being the main way information is disseminated to serials being the information vehicle of choice, there are still those who find books a meaningful component of their research.

I can imagine it feels daunting to have the kinds of conversations that lead to the kind of workflow changes that the three libraries featured in the ALCTS Technical Services Workflow Efficiency IG program. People can be territorial about the processes that they manage and it's hard to give up the workflows that have become worn into our institutional memories over time. But it's the hard conversations and difficult introspection that comes with workflow evaluation that leads to real, lasting, and meaningful changes within organizations.

Technical services units and those who lead them are not doing their patrons any favors by choosing to pick off the low hanging fruit of metadata creation when it comes to reducing cost and increasing efficiency. The myth of the catalog as a useless and outdated relic of years past is perpetuated when the newly created metadata added to it is not useful or meaningful within the context of a user community. Sure, library leaders, you've save money buy accepting metadata of a lower quality that those who are trained in cataloging would have created. But you've also made more work for your public services staff and your users.

I propose that 2018 be the year that we in technical services librarianship stop choosing the lowest handing fruit. Instead, I propose that we embrace hard conversations, workflow evaluation, and identifying what we can let go of to take on the tasks that matter.

Stay positive,

Friday, January 5, 2018

Friday jams (01/05/2018)

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

In case you missed it, I posted earlier in the week about my hopes for libraries and those who staff them in this new year.

In December, The Hold Steady (from whose song, "Constructive Summer," this blog takes its name) played a series of shows in Brooklyn to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their album Boys and Girls in America. I had tickets for two of those shows but, in what I fear is the first of many times where school got in the way, I didn't end up going.

Anyway...they put out two news songs in honor of the occasion and this is one of them. "Tequila takeoffs and Tecate landings" is a true The Hold Steady lyric if I ever heard one. Put your headphones on, crank it up, and enjoy!


I recently discovered a couple of Martin Zellar albums that I wasn't familiar with. They were released after I'd gone away to college and wasn't keeping up with local legends. Martin Zellar's "Born Under" and the collected works of his band The Geardaddies have been in heavy rotation since my high school days, so stumbling into these new songs was amazing to me. It isn't so much a jam, as Martin writes and sings some extremely sad songs about extremely sad stuff, but it is a comfort to hear these kinds of words in my kind of music, from a voice I've known and trusted for almost my whole life.

So, in a new years way, I present to you this selection from those songs. Moving on and growing can be like this, "I can't pretend that it wouldn't be like killing off a friend," "and I'm scared to let go of the only me I know."

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Don't call it a comeback

I was surprised to find that this blog has been quiet since September. While I had the best of intentions in keeping it up-to-date, the blog suffered as I spent my first semester of graduate school treading water. That first semester was such a humbling, challenging experience as I learned about how to balance my time, how to feel afraid and keep going, and how to make friends as an adult. And while I am glad I won't have to do the part of graduate school where you're just starting out again anytime soon, I wouldn't trade those formative experiences.

While I was busy doing graduate school things, I kept an eye on what was happening in libraryland. And as I stretch my blogging muscles in order to get into the groove of a regular writing practice, I wanted to offer my hopes for libraryland in 2018.

1. I hope that libraries and those who staff them will finally accept that libraries aren't neutral actors and, as such, can choose where they stand. I think that librarianship as a whole has bought into the idea vocational awe to the point that we believe that there is such a thing as neutrality within libraries and that it is our obligation to pursue that neutrality. But if 2017 taught us anything, it's that there isn't time for us to indulge these fantasies about neutrality. Those in our community, especially our most vulnerable, desperately need us to provide access to the information they need to live and they need us to provide spaces where they can exist without fear.

2. I hope that those of us in librarianship with privilege will stop using social media to be unkind about our colleagues and those who use our spaces. Look, I like hot takes as much as the next person and I've been guilty of being a jerk on social media. But I feel like a lot of spaces in social media have become an echo chamber for hot takes. And while there's room for dissent in social media, we should be willing to own our words instead of thinking that social media platforms give us the protection to say really awful things. In 2018, I hope more of us use our platforms to critique the systems and structures around us in a constructive way and to use our platforms to amplify marginalized voices.

3. I hope that all of us can make space for intentionally making space for the things that matter most to us. In my last Higher Ed. in the United States class of the semester, one of my classmates was talking about how much needs to change in higher education and how it feels really hopeless. Unsurprisingly, my comment was something along the lines of 'Okay, sure. But each one of us is passionate about a different aspect of higher education, right? What if we all put our greatest efforts into changing one aspect of higher education? That's how we change things.' Maybe the things you feel most passionate about are closely linked to librarianship and maybe they aren't. Whatever you're passionate about, find a way to talk about it or write about it or in some way give some of your energy to it. I have been had the privilege of being fixed in place from fear during most of 2017, but I want to practice what I preach so I'm going to start making space for the things that matter most and use my words and my work to try to create change.

I have the intention of getting back into posting more regularly in 2018. School starts up again next week, but I feel more confident in my abilities to prioritize and make space for the things that matter most to me.

Stay positive,

Friday, September 29, 2017

For every invention made, how much time did we save?

Hey, hi, hello, Friends of the Unified Library Scene!

The last couple of months have been busy ones. In August, I started graduate school as a part-time, first-year PhD student. I was nervous to start but everything I've done so far has made it clear that following this path was the right one for me. Then in September, I started a new job at my library. I'm now my library's Special Collections Cataloging Librarian. It's been a fun month of learning new things and working with really awesome material. I feel really fortunate to have both of these opportunities, even if they leave me time for little else.

On my run last night (oh yeah, I'm also training for a half-marathon), I was thinking about blogging again for the first time in a long time. I was thinking about how I could describe the experiences of the last few months and about what they've taught me about the librarian I want to be. And I was thinking about all of the pain points I've experiences as a student and how it feels to not know what you need to know. So I want to talk about the view from my place as a new student.

In the months preceding the start of school, I learned a lot about pain points for people trying to accomplish things as an incoming student. I spent most of the spring and summer trying to figure out how to get the various holds removed from my account so I could register for classes. The most difficult thing I had to do was to track down my immunization records. This quest culminated in my ending up getting reimmunized in the month that school started. I learned how frustrating it is when you know what you want the end result to be, but you have no idea how to get from where you are to where you need to be. In my case, a very nice receptionist in one of the health center offices was able to tell me who I needed to talk to and what I needed to do, even though she couldn't help me until I'd done about five other things. I was so grateful that she didn't just dismiss me with a 'sorry, but that's not my job' or a 'sorry, I can't help you.' Instead, she went out of her way to help connect me with the resources I needed to get the immunization hold taken off my account.

In recent days, I've learned a lot about the pain points our library users feel. I've started to use databases to gather articles for a paper I'm writing and I've had a heck of a time figuring out the exact combination of search terms to get the kind of research I want. One combination of terms gives me too broad a set of results. If I use a different combination of terms, my results set is too narrow. I am, I fear, the embodiment of "searching is strategic exploration" from the ACRL Framework. One thing I find myself thinking is that I wish that the Framework was most explicit in its conversation about affective dimensions. I am willing to persist because I know how hard this process is. But I wonder how many of my classmates are as stubborn as I am.

In the end, being a student has shown me how it feels to not know the thing that other people know. And that not knowing, and the feelings that accompany it, have made me certain that it is my job as a librarian to be empathetic to the situations in which our users find themselves and to respond in a way that acknowledges how stressful it is not know the answers. As a cataloger, it makes me want to be clear and purposeful in the language that I use to describe the resources I'm tasked with cataloging. As someone who is beginning to work at a service point for the first time in a long time, it makes me want to listen a little more before I speak.

Stay positive,

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

This is a story about control

One thing that the Unified Library Scene has always been about is understand the needs of your user community and responding to them. When reading the most recent Ithaka S+R issue brief, Rethinking liaison programs for the humanities, I was once again reminded of how central listening should be to the work we do in libraries.

I was fascinated by the idea that their projects are "scholar centered." The authors describe their centering of researchers by saying:
we do not ask scholars how they engage with library services, collections, or employees but rather in a more open-ended way what their experiences and practices are like as researchers. Our intention is not to evaluate the "efficacy" of liaison services as they are currently organized but rather to determine what services if any may be needed.
This idea of asking scholars about their processes really resonates with me because it centers the user and decenters the library. Instead of asking "how good are we at meeting your needs?" this process asks "what are your needs?" Instead of asking scholars to do the work of figuring out how to structure the services the library should be providing, the work of mapping the efficacy of services happens when trying to reconcile scholar needs with current service offerings.

This methodology is perhaps easier for Ithaka to undertake than many individual academic libraries because one imagines that they don't tie the answer that a respondent gives to the work being done in the organization those respondents represent. If you talked to the libraries that serve those respondents, they may not feel as comfortable with the scholar centered approach because they are invested in making sure that they are doing the best possible job of meeting the needs of the faculty they serve. And in the end, scholar centered approach requires a flexibility of thinking and a willingness to give legacy services up in order to take on new, more useful services.

Later in the issue brief, the authors talk about how because humanists are often working in sub-disciplines, they don't see their liaison librarian as an expert they can include as a collaborator in their research process. The authors explain:
Even if, as appears to be increasingly the case, subject specialists have advanced degrees in the relevant subject area, subject expertise at a discipline level is not what is being sought. Rather, for research support humanists are looking for engagement at the level of their own sub-discipline, which is rarely available through the library.
That was really hard for me to read, and I don't liaise with scholars.

It's dangerous to think of any user community as a monolith, so what happens at any given academic library might not scale. But I still think this is really valuable insight. I think that academic libraries and the workers who staff them spend a lot of time trying to foist services upon scholars who may not need them and then internalizing the failure they feel when they aren't able to build the kind of relationships they wish to have with the scholars in the academic community. It isn't that those scholars don't see the library as valuable--the authors of this issue brief are very clear that they do--it's that they don't see us in the way that we may want to be seen.

We spend a lot of time in academic libraries evaluating the services we provide our users. And I do think it's valuable to measure the efficacy of the work that we're already doing. But I think what this issue brief points out to us, separate from its findings, is how important it is to have a user centered orientation that comes from truly engaging with your user communities, knowing how they work, and identifying ways in which your work intersects with theirs in an authentic way.

Stay positive,

Friday, July 21, 2017

These are the days it never rains but it pours

I was happy to learn that the ALCTS Board approved the ALCTS Diversity Statement as part of its agenda at ALA Annual 2017. This statement addresses the Division's position of equity, diversity, and inclusion as they relate to acquisition, description, management, and preservation of library materials but it also addresses those issues as they relate to the recruitment and retention of library workers with marginalized identities. This statement is thoughtfully crafted and I sincerely hope that the member organizations within the Division both live up to and promote the values codified in the statement.

As a cataloger, the statement in the ALCTS Diversity Statement that is most applicable to my daily metadata creation and remediation work is "ALCTS practices include resisting bias in resource description while recognizing that the act of description is never neutral." As someone whose belief that the lived experiences of catalogers have a direct impact upon the work they produce, I was glad to see the professional organization I align myself most closely with acknowledge this truth. This idea was expressed also in the Core Competencies for Cataloging and Metadata Professional Librarians which was approved by the ALCTS Board in January 2017. That document states:
Human beings unavoidably assign value judgments when making assertions about a resource and in defining (via metadata standards and vocabularies) the assertions that can be made about a resource. Metadata creators must possess awareness of their own historical, cultural, racial, gendered, and religious worldviews, and work at identifying where those views exclude other human experiences. Understanding inherent bias in metadata standards is considered a core competency for all metadata work.
Even as we can rejoice over the steps that ALCTS is taking to acknowledge the impact that lived experience has on metadata creation, we should also recognize that the statements in these documents exist in tension with the Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the American Library Association Code of Ethics, 1994 which states "an ALCTS member strives to provide broad and unbiased access to information." I believe this statement reflects the attitudes that catalogers had at the time the document is created and the attitude that many people who do metadata creation and remediation work continue to have. A story metadata creators have told ourselves is that creation of unbiased metadata is both a worthy and an achievable goal. And that story has become such a part of who we are that we teach that story to each generation of catalogers who comes after us. In some ways, the tension between the statements in these documents reflects the tension happening in the cataloging world and even in the wider world of librarianship where people are testing where the ideals of a professional code of ethics intersect with the realities of the world in which we currently find ourselves.

Since the ALCTS Diversity Statement was published, I have been thinking about what it means that our Division says both that our lived experiences play a role in how we create metadata and that we are obligated to set those lived experiences aside. I think it would be easy to dismiss the disconnect between that ALCTS Diversity Statement and the Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the American Library Association Code of Ethics, 1994 as just an oversight. But I think it's more useful (and interesting) to see it as a microcosm of a larger tension happening in librarianship. ALA has a code of ethics which, among other things states that:
we distinguish between our personal convictions and 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.
And there are a lot of people for whom this is the bottom line, who believe that we should shrug off our personal convictions when we arrive at work. And as I've written before, that kind of thinking works great for people with privilege. But for many of our colleagues with marginalized identities, the personal and the professional are inextricably linked.

I hope that ALCTS leadership brings the ALCTS Diversity Statement and the Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the American Library Association Code of Ethics, 1994 more closely into alignment. But more than that, I hope that ALCTS members engage with the tension that exists when our lived experiences and our perceived professional obligations conflict. This tension is where many of our hardest choices exist.

Stay positive,