Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Jams! (6/26/2015)

It's Rachel today, I've been designated to provide you some #alaleftbehind jams.

Did you know that I purchased a house yesterday? yes indeed. I'm excited to chop down a tree this weekend. Thankfully, there is a tree that needs chopped down so it won't be in vain.

This is what ALA attendees don't want to know. Life is great when you're gone at ALA. So much catching up on email and just not being interrupted by colleagues. So much of it.

And now, our jams.

Jam the first:

Jam the second:

Jam the third, generally referred to as the "Bonus" Jam:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Communities of Being Awesome

I came home from ACRL with a huge reading list. I have a huge reading list in my twitter favs. I engage in discussions about all kinds of things knowing I don't have the appropriate technical or theoretical background to have really solid positions. I worry about what to do to address all of this reading. If I just try to tackle it on my own, I know I don't get the fullest measure of learning out of my reading -- I have no one to challenge me. If I try to tackle it on my own, it stacks up in the upper left hand corner of my desks -- at home and at work.

What we go on and on about here at the Unified Library Scene is that (1) everything is about relationships and (2) we're not alone. So the solution to taking knowledge and integrating it into my work life and personal life is... people. together.

Anthropologists who like to study that kind of thing are already on it. The idea of a community of practice introduced by Lave & Wegner in 1991 and has spread broadly because it is such a helpful framework. You know it's our jam because Erin's list of exciting sessions at ALA Annual is a good set of examples of communities of practice. So is your technical services happy hour or your weekly lunch with instruction colleagues. These groups share expertise and provide social and professional support to new professionals. Another type of community of practice that I'm a part of is a recently formed reading group formed by some folks who attended the session Sustainable organizational change: It's about the people at ACRL15, and based on the presenters' reading list provided. We'll read together and apply together within our organization.

A related idea is a Learning Community, which focuses on a more academic setting, setting up a course-like structure but operating in a similar way to a community of practice, with an express goal of praxis. I'm into the idea of reflective practice in all kinds of learning environments, so these ideas really resonate with me.

What happened was that the very excellent and wonderful Derrick mentioned learning about queer theory, race, and identity as it relates to librarianship. You and me both! With that reading list I brought home, with all of the times I feel like I should already know about some theorist a #critlib poster is talking about, with all of that, we need a team to get ourselves up on it! Then the very excellent and wonderful Emily Drabinski mentioned the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium in April 2016, and I thought this is amazing. See, especially with a focus, we can learn together, drive some real ideas for application, and then party together with our awesome ideas. IN VANCOUVER! After the Colloquium, we'll have an opportunity to pick a new focus and new target.

So, I put a little form together to see if folks are interested and I named the group the Librarianship and Critical Theory Learning Community. Fill out the form if you're interested in joining us. There's already a lot of interest and I've got a million thoughts on how to make LCTLC a space that is safe and welcoming and just exactly what each person in it needs at that moment.

We'll build a reading list together, choose focus together, and generally be a Community of Awesome Librarians. A Community of Awesome Librarians is interested in Becoming More Awesome, and Building the Unified Library Scene.

Keep Rockin!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Housekeeping (06/24/2015)

A couple of random things...

Thing #1:
Rachel is organizing a learning community. The Librarianship and Critical Theory Learning Community will organize its learning around various themes, the first one of which is Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies.

If critical theory and learning in community are your jam, indicate your interest via this online form.

I won't write more about this in case Rachel decides to blog about it.

Thing #2:
I'm headed to ALA Annual in San Francisco tomorrow. I am always a bundle of nerves the day before I travel and today is no exception.

If you're San Francisco-bound, I'd love to say hello. The best way to find me is to send me a friendly 'Where are you?' tweet. I'm @erinaleach.

A couple of programs I'm looking forward to:
Telling your story: why technical services matters:

Cataloging and Classification Interest Group (featuring Emily Drabinski and Amber Billey talking about gender and RDA):

And a couple of programs I'm involved in:
ACRL Undergraduate Library Section's Mid-Level Manager Discussion Group (I'm co-presenting with Michelle Millet on strategies to engage disengaged and difficult staff):

Creative Ideas in Technical Services Interest Group (I'm the IG Chair):

If you're ALA Annual-bound, what are you excited about? What programs have I missed?

Stay positive,

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday jams (06/19/2015)

Every time I hear this song, I wonder when The xx is going to put out a new album. It's pretty dance-y for being a really sad song.

Wow I am 1000% behind on many things. Lots of summer stuff happening at the shop, and lots of things on the home front. I can't believe I've skipped two weeks of posts, and I feel terrible about it. But that is something for the future. Now is time for jams.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I'm bad, I'm nationwide

After holding the title for 24 years, James Billington, the Librarian of Congress is retiring effective January 1, 2016. Billington's announcement has sparked a conversation in LibraryLand about the future of the Library of Congress, specifically who should be the next Librarian of Congress. The Librarian of Congress is nominated by the President and is confirmed by the Senate. There have been 13 Librarians of Congress that have come from varied backgrounds. And as we wait to learn who will take over Billington's post, I would like to pose that we should also turn our attention to the Library of Congress as a whole.

You may not know this, but the Library of Congress is not the U.S. National Library. In fact, the U.S. doesn't have a national library. Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is an agency of the legislative branch. The Library of Congress encompasses several units, including: Office of the Librarian, Congressional Research Services, Copyright Office, Law Library, Library Services, Office of Strategic Initiatives, and Office of Support Operations. If you want to see how the Library of Congress is organized, you can view the organizational chart here.

It's clear that one of the responsibilities of the Library of Congress is providing research services to the members of Congress. It states on the Library of Congress general information page that in 2014, the Library responded to more than 593,000 reference requests by members of Congress. But let's talk about some other things that the Library of Congress does.

If you look at that organizational chart I linked to earlier, you'll notice that under the Acquisitions and Bibliographic Directorate lives the Policies and Standards Division. What you may not know about the Policy and Standards Division is that it is the keeper of the Library of Congress Classification System and of Library of Congress Subject Headings. Proposals for additions to and changes of both are reviewed at weekly meetings and the outcomes are posted online. In addition to this work, the Policy and Standards Division works on projects like the Library of Congress Demographic Group Terms that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

The Acquisitions and Bibliographic Directorate is also home to the Program for Cooperative Cataloging and the Catalogers Learning Workshop. The Program for Cooperative Cataloging is described on its website as:
an international cooperative effort aimed at expanding access to library collections by providing useful, timely, and cost-effective cataloging that meets mutually-accepted standards of libraries around the world.
The members of the PCC not only create bibliographic and authority records, but they set policy and create training materials.

While none of this work directly benefits the Congressional constituency that the Library of Congress is meant to serve, the work of the Acquisitions and Bibliographic Directorate does serve the Library's mission. From its website:
The Library's mission is to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.
But because it isn't the U.S. National Library, its staff ultimately has its patrons and its workload to consider. And, like many of our own libraries, its staff has to figure out how to manage its workload under the strain of tight financial times. Unlike many of our own libraries, though, when the Library of Congress discontinues a portion of its work, it leaves a gap in the library community that has to be addressed by stakeholders.

Take, for example, the 2006 decision that the Library of Congress made to discontinue the creation and update of series authority records and to discontinue providing controlled access points for series in bibliographic records for resources that are part of a series. The Program for Cooperative Cataloging eventually took over responsibility for creating policy and training in this area, but this decision caused significant disruption for U.S. libraries.

While the Library of Congress has long served as the de facto U.S. National Library, I think the change in leadership at the Library provides a timely backdrop for a conversation about whether or not the Library of Congress should be given the official title of U.S. National Library. I think it is especially timely, given that in early 2015 the Program for Cooperative Cataloging unveiled a document relating to the strategic vision of the Program for 2015-2017.

Admittedly, it's more interesting to think about who the next Librarian of Congress should be and what qualifications they should have. Admittedly, the conversation regarding the establishment of a U.S. National Library has the potential to be boring. But as we grapple with the adoption of RDA and the move toward a post-MARC future, it's a conversation we need to have.

Stay positive,

ps--The title of the post is a reference to a ZZ Top song and shouldn't be taken as some kind of indication of my feelings regarding this topic.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Friday jams (06/12/2015)

Metric is one of my favorite bands and I squealed with delight when I heard some new music from this this morning.

The first six months that I lived in NYC were a weird time for me. I didn't have a job for most of it, and I had a hard time adjusting to life in a city that is significantly larger than any other I'd lived in. Metric's album Synthetica came out during that time and became a soundtrack to my NYC life. Especially this track--Breathing Underwater.


Yesterday I was reflecting on how Sad Canadians is my favorite genre, but Sad Canadians singing sad songs isn't very jammy, so here is a sad Canadian singing an angry song.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On praxis and practice

There is this funny thing that happens in the cataloging world sometimes. When someone dies or a person has a significant change to their identity, it is not long before that person's name authority record has been updated. When Caitlyn Jenner made her debut on the cover of Vanity Fair, her name authority record was updated pretty quickly.

What followed was a debate about how (and whether) her gender should be reflected in the record. The record currently has three 375 fields: one with "transgender woman," one with "female" and the dates associated with that identity, and one with "male" and the dates associated with that identity. This debate has lead to people asking larger questions about the appropriateness of recording gender at all and about whether catalogers should be the ones to assign attributes to people that they might not necessarily assign to themselves.

In some ways, I think this 'should we or shouldn't we code gender' debate is a conflict between practice and praxis. Our practice as catalogers is to use the rules outlined for us in the descriptive standard we've chosen in order to describe an item. Praxis, I think, would be describing an item using both the descriptive standard we've chosen and the critical theory through which we see the world.

In the article "What's gender got to do with it: a critique of RDA Rule 9.7," Amber Billey, Emily Drabinski, and K.R. Roberto look at recording gender in name authority records through the lens of queer theory. In this article, they write:
 For queer theorists, gender and sex are always negotiated and socially constituted; fixing them as RDA asks catalogers to do denies the shifting and contextual nature of gender identities.
The authors make a series of well-considered arguments against recording gender in name authority records that all have queer theory as their foundation. And in the end, the application of queer theory and RDA as a descriptive standard leads them to recommend that gender not be coded in name authority records.

I think catalogers do the best we can to describe the resources we're tasked with describing. Sometimes, though, the work we're given to is beyond the scope of what we can understand by the nature of the language the resource is written in or the subject matter the resource covers. And while it's valuable for us, as a profession, to consider the implications of our decisions, I think we should also acknowledge that for some people, our thought exercises are their lives.

The thing is, while critical cataloging starts with examining the practice of considering why we record gender as an attribute of a person. But it doesn't stop there. We also need to think critically about why we assign subject headings and classification in the ways that we do. Catalogers are not neutral, and to act like we are does a disservice to everyone.

If we want to move toward a more critical theory-based model of cataloging, we have to stop prioritizing cost and quantity over quality when it comes to metadata creation. We have to give catalogers the space to think critically about the work they do and create quality metadata that respects the lived experiences of the people it describes. But we can't do that if we're not given the space and the resources to do this kind of work.

I think a good first step in moving toward critical cataloging would be to think about why you do what you do the next time you create a record. And think about how your bias and your privilege impact the decisions that you make. Knowing what's there, under the surface, is the best first step to changing it.

Stay positive,

Friday, June 5, 2015

Friday Jams (06/05/2015)

I was going to go and check to see if I'd posted this before and then I realized that I do not care.

I'm posting two jams today. I do what I want.

Jam the first:
One of my favorite of Erin McKeown's songs.

Jam the second:
The older I get, the more this song resonates with me. Woah-oh-oh-oh, you gotta stay positive.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Building the Introverted Library Scene?

So, I recently took one of those short online Myers/Briggs based personality assessments because, you know, the internet. I came out just about how I always do, INTJ, with strong I & J, weaker N & T. I don't think this would be a surprise to anyone who knows me or the MB. I also think that the rarer types like INTJ tend to be over-represented in library and academic work for obvious reasons. Anyhow, as we come to the point, in its descriptions about "work habits" I read the following:

Above all else, INTJs want to be able to tackle intellectually interesting work with minimal outside interference, no more, no less. Time-consuming management techniques like trust-building getaways, progress meetings, and drawn-out, sandwiched criticisms are only going to annoy INTJs – all they need, be they subordinate, colleague, or manager, is to meet their goals with the highest standard of technical excellence and to be surrounded by, if anyone at all, people who share those values.
 Note that as I am reading this, I am involved in supporting and planning "time-consuming management techniques." What I'm interested in doing is high level intellectual stuff and making the library the very very best it can be. What I've found is essential in making that happen is... people. In fact, PEOPLE are the most intellectually interesting problem I've found in my life. I can put a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle together in less than a day, I learned how to do a Rubik's Cube and now find them relaxing. Planning scenarios for how people will react to proposals and options? Figuring out if the people (who make the organization) are on the right track? that never gets solved, never gets finished, is mind-bendingly complex. It's the best puzzle there is.

I realize that many people would be appalled to hear that I consider them a puzzle to be figured out, but it's just the way I consider everything. Including myself. I suppose the consolation is that I want everything and everyone to be operating at its absolute peak. Which speaks to my management style and my obsession with organizational development and strategic planning. Specifically, doing them right. If I manage people, I want those people to be doing the best things in the best ways being their best selves. That's what is best for the organization, best for the people, and best for me as a manager. Putting in the people-work to make this happen is therefore I can probably say best some more, don't worry.

There's been widespread dismissal of many different kinds of management strategies, specifically about the time and effort they take without "proof" of the results. These strategies are not solutions in the way that the solution to your car not starting is a new battery. They are solutions like meditation. Ones that are difficult to implement well, have many trip-ups at the beginning, take a while to show results, and have dramatically positive benefits in the long term. Taking the time to work with people to get them truly involved in these processes means working through an iterative process to show the value of the various practices that you're trying to implement. The time to sit down with someone and help them work through their feelings about all of the issues, their intellectual, and emotional thoughts about everything that is happening in your organization.

That's a lot of work! But! Librarians! Look at me. Let me tell you the reward for getting these puzzles solved is better than any other puzzle-solving experience. If I can pivot the skills and dispositions of my INTJ personality to working on huge system projects where the system is made of people, there are a lot of people in libraries who might be able to do the same. We have the capacity to make "annoying management practices" into truly effective organizational tools.

And when we do? It's gonna be rockin'

What's your M/B? How do you use the dispositions within that type to push against it's very definition? Let me know in the comments or on twitter.

Keep rockin'

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

You're pretty good with words

Both Rachel and I have written about the power of words. To be fair, Rachel has written about it more than I have, as you can tell from the links. But the point is, it's something we think about here on The Blog.

I read something yesterday that made me think a lot about what I mean when I say "the user."

In Chapter 2 of The Power To Name, Hope A. Olson writes about classification systems as envisioned by both Melvil Dewey and Charles A. Cutter. In the section about Cutter, Olson points out that Cutter believed that different types of libraries have different purposes. That is, one uses a research library in a different way than a public library. It is for this reason, Cutter asserts, that different words may be used to describe the same topic and the type of library governs which words get used. In Olson's (and Cutter's) example, a public library might choose to organize all of it's material on butterflies under the heading of butterflies while a research library might choose to organize that same material under the heading of lepidoptera.

Olson pushes back against this notion, writing:
In reality, libraries do not have homogeneous users, but the conception of a single public presumes that they do (42)
It is easy for me to accept Olson's assertion that library users aren't a homogeneous group. Our users represent different socioeconomic groups, different races, different sexual orientations, different gender identities and expressions. They have differing levels of ability. As a result of this diversity, library users have both different information needs and different levels of information literacy.

In theory, I recognize this. But I am guilty of writing about "the user" as if there is a single type of person who uses the library. I talk about being user-center and "putting the user first." But what (or, rather, who) do I mean when I talk about "the user."

If, after reflection, I am honest with myself, I probably mean a user who is like me: white, able-bodied, cis gender. I probably mean someone who is middle class. I probably mean someone who is college educated.

I think that we bring our privilege and our baggage to work with us. And as a result, I think it isn't exactly fair to suggest that the library is neutral. But part of building the Unified Library Scene is to acknowledge that and figure out how to at least be more inclusive in a way that respects the experiences of the people who come to our libraries looking for information that has the capacity to transform their lives in radical ways.

Maybe instead of talking about being "putting the user first," we (well, I) should talk about "putting users first." It won't solve the problem entirely, but I feel like acknowledging that there is no such thing as a typical user is a good start.

Stay positive,