Thursday, February 13, 2020

It's easier to lose and it's hard to face the truth

For the last couple of years, there has been a conversation around the merger of ALCTS, LITA, and LLAMA. And for as long as this conversation has been happening, I have felt a lot of resistance around the idea. ALCTS has been my professional home for almost 15 years and I can't imagine a world in which it doesn't exist. But "the Core question" is going to be on the spring ALA election ballot and there's a pretty good chance it's going to pass.

There are a lot of good reasons for this proposed division to become an actual division, most of them related to leveraging material resources to build a better experience for division members, leadership, and staff. And when I am honest with myself, I can see these good reasons and can believe in what the leadership of each of these divisions is trying to do. But I am often not honest with myself. I am often sad and angry that a thing I loved and worked so hard to build is growing and changing and I am in danger of being left behind.

Neither Rachel nor I have blogged in a while. It's been since April 2019. I know because I checked. But this great blog post by Eira Tansey led me to tweet this tweet, which led me to think that I needed to process my Core Question thoughts in a very public way.

Acknowledging your own professional mortality is really hard. I know because it's a thing I've been struggling with since I started to realize that I probably won't be long for cataloging after the next round of changes to our cataloging code. The combination of the fact that I am in a doctoral program in a field that isn't librarianship and the fact that I just don't really understand what a post-MARC, post original RDA world looks like means that I will probably be finding my way out of cataloging by end of the next decade.

We spend a long time working to build our skills and our reputation in a particular field. We become experts in our craft and set policy and practice around how we want to grow the field in which we work. We write papers and give presentations and build the infrastructure that undergirds the present and the future that we think makes the most sense to us. And then a new generation of practitioners enter our field and they want to space to become experts and set policy and practice and to build the infrastructure that undergirds the present and the future that makes the most sense to them.

If we are gracious, we make space for those "new professionals." We help them find work and we give them opportunities to grow and take on leadership roles. And then we get the hell out of their way so that they can get to work. But most of all, if we are gracious, we trust that those who will replace us in our field will use their sound judgement to not only take care of the field but to make it better than we ever could.

Our challenge is to accept that not only are we mortal, but so are our careers. And that by holding on more tightly to the past--to the world we've created--doesn't lead to professional immortality. Gate keeping doesn't lead to professional immortality. We don't ensure our legacies through gate keeping or by standing in the way of progress.

I am sad that ALCTS will almost certainly be dissolving. But my grief doesn't mean that the decision to move forward with establishing Core is wrong. And my challenge is to accept that the people who are building Core will take care of the field I helped to build.

Stay positive,

Thursday, April 25, 2019

It was charming, the way we danced around the truth

This week there was a post on Ye Olde Cataloging Listserv about how to train student workers to copy catalog. You can imagine the response. And you can also probably imagine the response to the response.

This post is not about any of that, though the thoughts in the post are inspired by the conversation that the thread inspired.

This post is about how our drive for perfection, as catalogers, is the locus of our recruitment and retention problem in cataloging. And if we don't talk openly and honestly about that, we're going to lose an entire generation's worth of catalogers to other areas of library work.

I feel like there's this feeling that permeates the discourse around cataloging that we're not good enough catalogers until we've been in the field long enough, apprenticed with the right places and the right people, and learned not to make mistakes. And until that magical day until you cross the threshold of 'good enough,' you'll constantly be seen as suspect or as in-training.

What does this say to students in the field who have an interest in cataloging, but need the space to learn and grow? How are we to become good at cataloging if we don't have the opportunity to make mistakes? What kind of pressure are we putting on ourselves and our colleagues when perfection is the goal?

Real talk: I've been cataloging for 13-ish years and I am still not perfect. I miss details sometimes. I misapply subject headings. I just flat-out get it wrong sometimes.

And that's okay.

The upside of the metadata creation and reuse paradigm we find ourselves trapped in is that if the mistake is significant enough, someone will come behind me and fix it. And in many cases, a mistake that doesn't affect access never gets fixed.

This isn't to suggest that we shouldn't aim to do quality work and apply the descriptive and subject cataloging standards in an intellectually consistent way. We should.

But holding ourselves--and others--to an unobtainable standard of perfection isn't healthy. It creates anxious catalogers. It slows down our cataloging process. And it puts the perfect description of a resource above the needs of the users we serve.

What is most interesting to me about this theme of perfection and attention to detail that permeates the discourse around cataloging is that we don't seem to ask this of our colleagues who work in reference and instruction. Based on my limited experience in classrooms and at service points, perfection isn't the goal. You do the best you can to help those you serve find what they need or develop the skills that they need, knowing that you're a fallible human.

What could we accomplish, as a cataloging community, if we embraced our fallibility and focusing on intellectually consistent work instead of perfect work? What would it be like to embrace our imperfections, knowing that we can't get it right all of the time and that that's okay?

I think our goal, as cataloging practitioners, should be radical hospitality and generosity to those who are new to the field. We should be as transparent as we can about our own fallibility and the ways in which our lived experiences impact our work. Rather than trying to mold people into catalogers who never fall short or make mistakes, we should aim to create catalogers who are intellectually consistent in their work and who think about equity and justice.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

And there's something good waitin' down this road

tl;dr: I'm running for ALCTS Director-at-Large and I would very much love to earn your vote.

I am running for ALCTS Director-at-Large. Serving ALCTS at this level has been a dream of mine for the last few years. I came up in the ranks through the Continuing Resources Section, eventually serving as section chair. I also worked at the division-level on the Leadership Development Committee. So I've seen the division from the top-down and the bottom-up. This division has taught me how to be an effective and empathetic leader. And I am committed to helping it grow and thrive, whether as part of a reimagined new division or on its own.

Having served on the ALCTS Board as a section chair, I know that the Director-at-Large role is largely responsible for advocacy and support. DaL's liaise with division-level committees and vote on issue at the Board level. I'm including my statement of concern/purpose at the end of this message, but I wanted you to know that what I am most committed to, above all, is growing the next generation of technical services leaders regardless of whether they're ALCTS members or not.

Stay positive,

Statement of concern/purpose:

An ALCTS Director-at-Large is responsible for advocacy and support on behalf of members. I am committed to ensuring that ALCTS remains vibrant and relevant for years to come. I believe that our members and our online learning opportunities are the key to making that happen. Members and non-members alike take part in our webinars, web courses, and eForums. The ALCTS Exchange, held in 2017, brought collections and technical services practitioners together to share ideas. As a Director-at-Large, I would advocate for continued growth in online learning opportunities, emphasizing these opportunities as an avenue for recruiting new members. While recruitment of members is important, ALCTS leaders must be intentional about retaining incumbent members. As a Director-at-Large I would support members in finding opportunities to learn, to volunteer, and to present both in-person and virtually. By amplifying voices of current and emerging leaders, the Division will ensure both its relevance and longevity.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

And what I choose is my voice

I am taking a class this summer wherein we are reading newly published books about higher education. For this week's class, we read Taking It to the Streets, which I enjoyed far more than I thought that I would. Even in the places where I didn't agree with an author's ideas, I appreciated the vulnerability it took to write about how they considered their relationship to public scholarship.

While all of the author's seemed to be in favor of some degree of public scholarship, a theme that permeates Taking It to the Streets is the tension between being the kind of scholar who chooses only to write and publish and the kind of scholar who chooses to both write and publish and in some way connect to the communities about which they research and write.

It may be too reductive of an observation, but it felt to me like implicit in the tension I felt in this book is whether the goal of the scholar should be to embody a positivist epistemology or a participatory epistemology. The goal of research conducted using a positivist epistemological lens is to explain some naturally occurring phenomenon. In contrast, the goal of research conducted using a participatory epistemological lens is to create change in the world using research findings as the basis for that change.

While it might be tempting to suggest that one or the other of these epistemological lenses is more appropriate for the time in which we live, it is important for scholars on both sides of the divide to understand that there is not universality in what brings scholars to the academy and what undergirds their work. In a chapter titled "A Road Less Traveled: the Responsibilities of the Intellectual," William G. Tierney (2018) writes:
I do not believe that only one route exists for intellectual engagement, and in that light, I want each of us to be aware that we are choosing a particular path. I am troubled at times that a colleague may assume that only one choice is possible and that if another choice is made, then his or her colleague is gravely mistaken or morally failing. I am equally troubled by those who do not see their choices are choices. By assuming that the choice one has made is the only possibility or not thinking through the array of possibilities that exist appears shortsighted to me, loaded with hubris and devoid of humility. (p. 101)

Reading Taking It to the Streets helped give me words to talk about a similar tension I feel in librarianship. While the divide isn't explicitly drawn along epistemological lines, there are similarities. There are library workers who believe deeply that the work of libraries and those who work in them is to be neutral actors, providing access to all types of information to all types of library users. There are also library workers who believe deeply that the work of libraries and those who work in them is to agents for liberatory change, wherein marginalized voices are privileged and hateful rhetoric is unwelcome.

In much the same way as there is not universality in what brings scholars to the academy, there is not universality in what brings library workers to the library. But there's something in what Tierney writes that sits wrongly with me. While choosing to take a particular path or to use a particular epistemological lens is, in fact, a choice, there are people for whom the stakes are higher. In her remarks at the ALA Midwinter President's Program, Emily Drabinski (2018) suggested that:
those steeped in and rewarded by dominant ways of seeing the world don't have to see how intensely political the ostensibly neutral position is. If the white supremacists booking your meeting space are not after you, you don't have to know how dangerous they are. Books about reparative therapy for gay people can simply be another point of view if yours is not the body and mind those authors seek to destroy. To imagine that neutrality could be something we could choose is an intensely privileged position, one that I have to imagine my way into as I listen to the arguments of those whose worlds are rarely contested. (para. 6)

In his chapter in Taking It to the Streets, Shaun R. Harper (2018) echoes Drabinski's thoughts, writing "Researchers frequently mistreat Black Americans and other minoritized populations as variables in their statistical models. Then they go on to make all sorts of assumptions about my people vis-à-vis Whites and other groups in their analyses. Much about this is dehumanizing" (p. 82).

The point I'm trying to make is this: for those of us in dominant groups, acting out of a particpatory or liberatory epistemology in either the academy or the library is a choice. We can choose to turn away from neutrality or positivism because we have the safety afforded to us by being some combination of white or cisgender or able-bodied or middle-class or male. But our colleagues from marginalized communities are less able to adopt the position of neutrality because it is their identities that the world seeks to destroy.

So yes, let's accept that each of us comes to librarianship with a diversity of experiences and motivation. But let's also accept that for some people, living into a participatory or liberatory epistemology is literally a matter of life or death.

Stay positive,

Drabinski, E. (2018, February 12). Are Libraries Neutral?. Retrieved from

Harper, S. R. My People's Professor. In Perna, L. W. (Ed.) Taking It to the Streets: the Role of Scholarship in Advocacy and Advocacy in Scholarship (p. 79-85). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Tierney, W. G. A Road Less Traveled: the Responsibilities of the Intellectual In Perna, L. W. (Ed.) Taking It to the Streets: the Role of Scholarship in Advocacy and Advocacy in Scholarship (p. 100-105). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Nobody listens, nobody should

Toward the end of a fantastically resonant blog post, Carrie Wade asks "what would it take for our profession to take theory seriously on a systematic level?"

I think the short answer (which Wade, herself, touches on in the post) is: LIS programs need to engage more with theory and teach it to students, even if the profession sees the MLIS as a practitioner degree.

Here is my longer answer:
I am taking a course this semester titled Qualitative Methods in Higher Education. It is a wonderful survey course where we learn the mechanics of qualitative methodology through reading how-to texts as well as articles in which these methods are applied.

What I have learned about qualitative research so far is that unless you are doing grounded theory research in which the theoretical framework emerges from the data, at the outset of a project qualitative researchers choose theoretical framework to guide their research.

It is my sense from reading LIS literature that much of it could be considered qualitative research, by which I mean that this literature often tries to make sense of the behavior of library users in some kind of context. It is also my sense that LIS is an interdisciplinary field, which is to say that people who study LIS come from varied backgrounds and bring their own interdisciplinary frameworks to their work and, as a result, LIS lacks its own set of theoretical frameworks.

(A parenthetical digression: One could correctly state that LIS does have its own theoretical frameworks, especially around organization of information. It would be wrong to overlook this part of the argument, so I'm acknowledging it. But I also think that much of our literature is not strictly about the organization of information, so I'm not sure how useful IO theoretical frames are to the whole of LIS scholarship.)

I think that when people criticize LIS research for not being rigorous enough, what they're actually criticizing is the fact that many LIS researchers do not engage with theoretical frameworks as part of their qualitative research. As a result, a lot of LIS scholarship ends up accidentally being grounded theory research. There are, of course, exceptions to this--notably Maria Accardi and Emily Drabinski--and I think this is why some LIS scholarship seems both more resonant and more rigorous than others.

In fairness to those engaged in LIS scholarship, my background preparation also leaves me as woefully unprepared to apply theoretical frameworks to my work. As I have tried to work through my research question for my Qualitative Methods in Higher Education course, I have struggled to identify an appropriate theoretical lens through which to view my research question. I feel certain that this isn't because a framework doesn't exist but, instead, that I have not been trained to find it.

The problem of LIS practitioners being unprepared to successfully engage in qualitative research is not, in itself, particularly problematic. Where the waters get troubled is that many academic librarians--especially those on the tenure track--are required to produce scholarly work. And while I haven't done any research into how many American LIS programs offer social theory courses, my sense is that the number is pretty low.  And if you're an academic librarian without a background in qualitative research, the scholarship you produce is only as good as your background and/or your capacity to take on learning about theoretical frameworks you can apply to your research question.

I think the answer to the question that Wade posits in her post is that LIS program administrators and accreditors need to consider how well LIS programs prepare librarians for the life of scholarship often required for academic librarians and make adjustments to the curriculum to make space for engagement with social theory. Doing so would improve engagement with theory, both in the creation and consumption of scholarship.

Stay positive,

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.