Friday, December 16, 2016

Friday jams (12/16/2016)

Let's be real here. For a variety of reasons, this year has been a real mess for nearly everyone I know. Over here at Unified Library Scene headquarters, we've been holding it together the best way we know how. And in some ways, it feels like we're all just throwing ourselves toward the end zone, hoping that the ball crosses the pylon as we face plant into the astroturf.

Anyway, I hope that you have the opportunity to end the year with the opportunity to rest and reflect in whatever way seems most helpful and restorative to you.

Please enjoy this jam that comes from the newly release A Tribe Called Quest album as the last Friday Jam of 2016.

Stay positive,

ps--When I mentioned Friday Jams yesterday on Twitter, Rachel posted this. So let's all take a moment to allow Luscious Jackson to fill us with holiday cheer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

You're all alone and so peaceful

So, I want to talk about our tendency as librarians to over-market our services as a substitute for listening to what our users really need from us.

An opinion piece on Forbes' site discusses the how a combination of Big Data and information literacy can create a more informed citizenry--one that can identify fake news when it sees it. It's not an objectively terrible take on the idea of fake news and what can be done about it. There is a part that gave me pause, though. The author begins the closing paragraph of his article by stating "...we see that fake news exists because as a society we have failed to teach our citizens data and information literacy."

I feel like Michael Bluth speaks for all of us here...

Okay, but also yes.

I should start by saying that I believe that librarians have thought a lot about what it takes to create information literate people. I should also say that I believe that those among us who have taken on reference and instruction roles go about the business of creating information literate people in really thoughtful ways. If you want a thoughtful take on information literacy in an age where people believe that truth is relative, I highly recommend that you take a look at what Kevin Seeber has to say about how creating information literate people is more complicated than just teaching people that this source is good and that one is bad. I think that Kevin makes a well-reasoned, thoughtful argument. You should read it.

As a metadata creator, I spend relatively little time thinking about information literacy and about creating information literate people. But I do spend a lot of time thinking about whether (and how) our collections and services resonate with our user communities. I feel like one of the things that librarians do when confronted with a message like the one in the Forbes article I linked to is freak out and double down on their outreach and marketing efforts. If people can't see how hard we're working on [insert a topic here], that's a failure on our part to market our services well. We must not be doing a great job of making people aware of our tools and services, librarians think. so we need to work harder to connect with people. But sometimes the answer isn't another research guide or more table tents. Sometimes people don't notice the work being done by librarians on [insert a topic here] because we believe we know better than our users what they need to be successful.

Librarians talk a lot about The Future of Libraries: how can we invent our collections, services, and tools to maintain our relevance? I would argue that the best way for us to meet the future is to stop acting like gatekeepers of information in both a literal and figurative sense and to start spending more tine in conversation with our user communities learning more about their needs and thinking critically about how we can meet them. Having those conversations means having conversations with the people who are your most regular customers and those that you feel most comfortable around. But having those conversations also means talking to people who never set foot in your doors and those who make you feel the most uncomfortable. And most importantly, listening to your user communities likely means that the decisions you make will go against what you believe as a self-appointed gatekeeper.

I get why it's easier to choose yelling louder and louder over listening. It's easier and more comfortable and it allows us to remain comfortably in this notion that librarians know best. But the louder we yell, the more we become background noise. So let's stop yelling and start listening.

Stay positive,

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It's gonna have to get a little bit heavy

I didn't submit this anonymous tweet to the LIS Grievances bot, but I could have.
There is an oft-quoted aphorism about metadata: Metadata is a love note to the future. It's a great idea, right, that the metadata you create will help future generations access information? But I think that we do ourselves a great disservice when we don't acknowledge that well-formed metadata is really the best kind of love note to the future.

I think the problem with not being able to see the future is that it can lead us to make choices that make sense in the moment. It's easy to say that the feelings that catalogers have about poorly-formed metadata spring from a misguided place filled with artisanally created catalog records. It's easy to say that catalogers are perfectionists who have trouble accepting "good enough" records that get the job of discovery done. It's easy to say that the catalog is a place where we can cut corners because the catalog has less to do with the library user's experience than, say, the physical space. But saying all of those things can be problematic in the long run.

When decide that metadata creation isn't a task worth doing well, we're not writing a love note to the future. We're writing it a passive-aggressive note.

When we place value on quantity over quality or bottom-line over long term investment, we're making it more difficult for those future generations to access information in our libraries.  When we accept poorly-formed metadata into our systems, we are creating a future where people we will likely never meet will have to remediate our metadata in order to make it usable. We are suggesting that it's fine to kick the can down the road, as the saying goes, to let someone else deal with it rather than taking the time to do things right the first time.

I should be clear about one thing. Vendors aren't inherently the villains in this story. Sometimes because of lack of staffing or money or expertise, a library has to outsource some of its cataloging to someone else. And whether we like to acknowledge it or not, those records we download from our bibliographic utility of choice are technically from a vendor. So whether you're downloading records from a bibliographic utility, sending pockets of your collection to be cataloged, or receiving MARC record with your newly purchased material, the fact that you're getting your metadata from a vendor isn't the problem. The problem comes when the records we receive have poorly-formed metadata and we either don't remediate it or don't demand that vendors create metadata that is up to our standards.

So it's time to acknowledge that simply creating metadata to describe a resource alone isn't a love note to the future. If we truly want to write a love note to the future, we should decide in the present that well-formed metadata is something to which we're willing to dedicate sufficient staff and financial resources.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The personal is political is personal

I'm currently reading a book by Frances E. Kendall called Understanding white privilege: creating pathways to authentic relationships across race. In the chapter titled "Understanding white privilege," Kendall tells an anecdote about something that happened in conjunction with one of the diversity-related training sessions she facilitated. During a break on the second day of the workshop, a white woman and a Latina from the class ended up at the same store. The white woman watched how the Latina was treated by the sales clerk from which she was trying to make a purchase--being asked for additional identification when she presented her credit card, being told that the security guard would want to see her receipt when she left--and contrasted that with her own experience. The white woman came back to the training session and told Kendall that she wouldn't have believed how her Latina colleague was treated if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes. Kendall writes:
even though Debbie had been listening to employees of color talk about their painful experiences for a day and a half, she had essentially chosen not to believe what they said; she had continued to say that she thought the different experiences were individual, not race based. She used her own privilege of expecting to be educated about race by the people who were most affected--those of color--and then chose not to believe them (61).
I read this passage right around the time that people were starting to express their outrage over the press releases that ALA sent out regarding its desire to work with the newly elected administration and which highlighted a trio of initiatives that it felt aligned with the newly elected administration's stated goals for its administration. People have addressed this situation in smarter, and more nuanced ways that I have. If you're interested in reading other people's points of view, I would suggest checking out #notmyALA on Twitter. A lot of opinions and posts are aggregated there.

There is a piece of this conversation that relates to the passage from Kendall's book that I want to highlight. In its most recent communication on this issue, the ALA President stated "the ALA executive board will discuss these issues and our processes and will use your comments to help guide us in our discussion and planning as we work to earn back the trust of our members and prepare for the work ahead during this new administration."

So, let's talk about trust.

ALA has identified diversity as one of its key action areas, charging a task force and then a subsequent implementation working group with considering how equity, diversity and inclusion could be built both within ALA and in wider library community. You can read the task force's final report here. By charging people at the Association-level to do the work  of identifying and proposing ways to further DEI-related initiatives, the Association has both implicitly and explicitly asked the margainalized people throughout ALA what can be done to make ALA a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive place. The Association has asked people to entrust us with their stories and told people that it is part of our value system that we will hold those stories and respond in an appropriate way. And then we have chosen not to believe them when they tell us that they are afraid that they will be the targets of state-sponsored violence.

In the same week, ALA's President released a statement affirming ALA's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and two statements affirming ALA's commitment to working with the incoming administration. And, yes, one of those statements was taken down and an apology issued. But one can see how people within the Association's membership would be outraged that such an affirmation was issued in the first place. ALA asked people what they needed to trust the Association as a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization and then didn't listen to them as they expressed their loudest fears and their deepest concerns.

In the days following the election, Hugh Acheson posted to Instagram a letter he sent to the staff at each of the restaurants he owns. In the letter he writes "The customer is always right, until they are wrong. And when they are wrong with epithets or cruelty they will be asked to leave. This is not me giving you an aggressive power to wield, but rather making sure you understand the ethos I have in protecting what I believe in, and what I do not have the patience for."

I understand that ALA has a dual responsibility to serve both libraries and the people who staff them. To that end, I believe that our goal in libraries should be to serve the communities in which we find ourselves, even when their beliefs don't align with ours. Libraries should be places that foster conversation and an exchange of ideas, but I believe that in libraries, as in Acheson's restaurants, there is a point past which the patron isn't always right--especially when a member of our user community is wrong with cruelty.

So how does the Association go about the work of rebuilding trust?

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.

Second, I think it is incumbent upon the membership to make even more space for people who are traditionally underrepresented in librarianship to take on leadership roles. The includes not only providing increased support for programs like the Spectrum Scholarship Program but also the development of a pipeline for leadership both at the Division-level and Association-level.

Finally, I think it is incumbent upon both Association-level leadership and Association membership to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable members through both our words and our actions.

I'm sure that the path toward a restored relationship between the Association and its membership will not be without bumps and will probably look different than what I've suggested here. But I do hope that it happens. And I'll continue to attend ALA Council meetings and ALA Midwinter and ALA Annual in the hopes of seeing signs of the Association working toward that restoration.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mountains grow from just one stone

One of the things that I talk about over and over (and over and over) again on the blog is the idea of imagining what it would be like to center the lived experiences of our user communities when it comes to creating metadata to describe our collections. I was thrilled when a friend, Anna-Sophia, sent me a link to the transcript for a 2015 talk by Sara Wachter-Boettcher called "Everybody hurts: content for kindness."

The talk centers around this idea:
And what I've come to is there's an opportunity that we have to make every decision an act of kindness. Make sure everything we write, everything that we build, come from a place of kindness at its core.
Wachter-Boettcher goes on to talk about how this mission of centering kindness can be lived in when it comes to better understanding both the needs and the triggers of our user communities. While the audience of this talk wasn't those engaged in the work of libraries or librarianship, I can get behind this premise for librarianship in general and metadata creation more specifically. I spend a lot of time wondering how metadata creation would be different if those of us who create metadata saw it as not just an act of service, but also as an act of care for the user communities that we serve and support. And then I wonder why we don't.

I was struck by something that Wachter-Boettcher referenced early in her talk. She made mention of an address given by Paul Ford, in which he states:
If we are going to ask people in the form of our products, in the form of the things we make, to spend their heartbeats--if we are going to ask them to spend their heartbeats on us, on our ideas, how can we be sure, far more sure than we are now, that they spend those heartbeats wisely?
And I think that this quote is at the center of why we don't always see metadata creation as an act of care, and why we should.

I worry that we take for granted that users will spend their  heartbeats using the collections and services that we offer. I especially worry about this in academic libraries where students and faculty require access to scholarly resources in order to conduct research and create scholarly works. As this applies specifically to metadata creation, I worry that we take for granted that user communities will have to use the library catalog in order to access our collections. As many people wiser than I have pointed out to me when I try to reckon with this mindset, it's a direct holdover from the time when our collections were kept in closed stacks and library workers were the gatekeepers to these collections. It's also a significant conflation of the catalog as both the content and the carrier--a thing that I do all the time and which my wise friend, Kyle, regularly holds me accountable for.

So what would it look like for those of us who create metadata to describe collections to choose to put kindness at the center of our work? First and foremost, I think that we should stop taking our user communities for granted and create software systems and rules for description and encoding that respect the lived experiences of our users. While I don't agree with the idea that people in Technical Services are change averse, I do think our public services colleagues have been quicker to see the ways in which the needs of our user communities are changing and then responding. Second, I think it means evaluating our local policies for metadata creation and remediation and amending them in ways that have the biggest impact on our user communities.

I don't think that evaluating our metadata reuse policies means we have to stop reusing metadata. For some materials, records don't need a significant amount of customization. And for smaller libraries, metadata reuse is the only way that their cataloging operations stay afloat. But I do think it's worth considering which types of material and which subjects are important enough to your users to provide the extra care of customization. Especially if the library for which you are describing collections has made diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority.

I think that many people who create metadata would tell you that the work they do is a public services. I think what is important for us to be explicit about is that we have the choice to treat our work as an act of care for the user communities we serve. I think it's time for us to think more about what it would mean for metadata creators if we thought about making sure that our user communities were using our heartbeats wisely when they accessed the metadata we create.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

No firm ground, but we ain't sliding

The Policy and Standards Division of the Library of Congress decided for a second time to reject white privilege as a subject heading. You can read their decision here. The part of their argument that is most salient to this blog post is: Numerous works about white privilege have been assigned the headings Race discrimination and Whites--Race identity, and the meeting wishes to continue that practise.

It is both completely understandable and completely perplexing that the PSD would reject this heading despite the fact that literary warrant exists. On the one hand, if the PSD believes that a combination of existing subject headings is sufficiently describes a concept they can make the argument against adding another subject heading to the thesaurus. On the other, it seems like the combination of subject headings that the PSD points to in their decision misses the mark.

When reading this decision, it seems like the PSD fundamentally misunderstands the concept of white privilege by deferring to the headings already being used. The idea of white privilege implicitly touches on discrimination and race identity to the extent that the privileges extended to white people as a result of their identity further margainalizes people who aren't white. But white privilege is not explicitly about either of those things. April Hathcock wrote a really great blog post about this which I think it well worth your time. In her post she writes " Privilege isn't about discrimination; it's about the automatic benefits and advantages that come from living in a system set up to value the lives, ideas, and expressions of one group over all others. You may be a staunch antiracist, but if you are white, you are steeped in WHITE PRIVILEGE. It is a reality of living in the systemic bias of our society."

Thematically related to this discussion of white privilege and systemic bias is Jarrett Drake's keynote address at the Digital Library Federation Liberal Arts Pre-Conference titled "Documenting Dissent in the Contemporary College Archive: Finding our Function within the Liberal Arts." In this address, Drake states
I doubt many of you here know about this history of black college and universities in this country, and I have that doubt for many reasons. The first is that most of you are white and can afford to be ignorant of blackness. The second is that many of our library and archive consortia--this one included--excludes our librarians, libraries, archivists, and archives at black colleges and universities, so even when you think you are immersing yourself within the field of librarianship, you remain blissfully unaware that there is a whole different world out there to which you are functionally illiterate. This unawareness is both a product and a reification of systemic racism, and it doesn't require racists whatsoever.
Both Drake and Hathcock point out that even those of us who believe that we are antiracist still benefit from our whiteness and that white privilege affords us the luxury of being able to be ignorant about aspects of blackness. Further, Hathcock argues that the decision not to name white privilege explicitly and add it to the thesaurus perpetuates systemic racism both in libraries that utilize the thesaurus and in the larger arena of subject cataloging.

Working both inside and outside of a system is important when thinking about how to create a more equitable and inclusive library catalog. While asking the Library of Congress to both change its most problematic subject headings and to add new headings to address issues of importance to our users is a key component of pushing back against the systemic racism inherent in our metadata creation standards, I would also argue that we can work outside of/around the system to add subject headings to records which both reflect the lived experiences of our users and the values to which we claim to adhere.  There are a lot of existing subject thesauri and the MARC standards allows you add a term from a thesaurus other than LCSH in field 650. Library of Congress publishes a list of source codes and has at the bottom of the document an example of how to construct a 650 field using one of these alternative thesauri. Additionally, the MARC standard allows you to utilize fields 69x for locally constructed thesauri that aren't on the source code list. So while LCSH is the (seemingly) most widely used thesaurus for published material, it doesn't have to be the only thesaurus a library uses to describe the about-ness of a resource. A particular community of practise could create its own thesaurus and use that to provide access to headings that the Library of Congress has chosen not to address.

I should note that this isn't a new idea. There's a reason that cataloger's love Sanford Berman.

I know I write a lot about how I think we should think about how much we rely on repurposed metadata and on how we should localize our cataloging practises to better meet the needs of our users. And I think that the use of alternative thesauri is a good place for us to do some thinking. As luck would have it, there are a lot of people in technical services librarianship already thinking hard about these issues. As April notes, Jenna Freedman and Netanel Ganin stand out as people whose efforts in this arena should be acknowledged. I am so, so grateful all of the people who speak so bravely and so boldly about the lived experiences of our users and who hold us accountable for the ways in which we fall short of doing right by them.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Don't look to me for answers

So, let's talk about content standards. More specifically, let's talk about cataloging codes.

Yesterday I read an article from 1991 titled "The pragmatic basis of cataloging codes: has the user been ignored" that surfaced for me the tension I feel about the work that I do as a cataloger. In this article, Jon R. Hufford argues that while modern cataloging codes (those codes created since 1841) have had at their theoretical center the needs of catalog end users, none of those codes appear to have taken into account actual user needs in the creation or revision of those codes. In the article, Hufford cites Panizzi and his Rules for Compiling the Catalogue of Printed Books, Maps, and Music in the British Museum (aka, the 91 Rules) as the person associated with the beginnings of modern cataloging. The article predates the development and publication of Resources Description and Access (RDA) as it discusses various cataloging codes created from 1841 to the revised printing of the 2nd edition of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2r) in 1988.

The argument that undergirds Hufford's article is that while many of the codes he discusses state (either implicitly or explicitly) that they are attempting to develop rules which facilitate ease of use for library users, their creation excludes actual experiences for users. Instead, Hufford argues that the codes are based either on the experiences of the single person who uses them or, when the codes are created by a committee of people, the collective wisdom of the cataloging crowd.

Hufford suggests that librarians have agreed (generally speaking) that "the catalog's main function should be to enable a user to determine whether the library has a certain item, which works of a particular author are in the collection, which editions of a particular work the library has, and what materials the library has on a particular subject" (35). If you're playing along at home, those functions share a lot in common with the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) tasks: find, identify, select, and obtain.

The author ends his article by stating "The accumulated data derived from catalog use surveys which employ valid and appropriate research techniques should be consulted whenever professional librarians consider revising cataloging codes, public catalog arrangements, and/or the content of bibliographic records" (36).

Historically, library catalogs were not meant to aid the user in finding, identifying, selecting, and obtaining library materials. But it seems like as libraries moved over time from being closed-stacks in need of a gatekeeper to open-stacks where users can browse freely, our ideas of how a cataloging code should be constructed stayed the same. And in a world where access to information is increasingly unmediated, the seeming unwillingness to change how we create our cataloging codes mean that our library catalogs are not in danger of becoming relics of a time--but have already gone their. After all, how many times have you heard, anecdotally, that users don't start their search in the catalog? And yes, our content standards are forever enmeshed with our encoding standards and our local integrated library systems. But it's still worth considering how we've shut our users and their behavior out of all of these things.

Given how recently RDA was created and adopted, one might think that this would've provided an opportunity for those responsible for its creation and adoption to think about user needs and behavior. But in her book, FRBR before and after, Karen Coyle writes "For a study that was purported to be user-centric, the user's absence is notable. There is no analysis of users; no mention of how varied the user base is; no mention of children or elders or the disabled. Instead, to my mind, the FRBR Final report reads as a study by catalogers for catalogers" (106). It is worth noting that the FRBR model serves as the basis for RDA.

So, back to the tension that I mentioned early in the post. The description of library materials is meant to be a public service and many people who do this work see themselves as advocates for library users. But I often how can we serve the public when we create records using a standard that seems to advocate for a monolithic user without considering their needs. I don't want my work to go into the ether, never to be used by my library's user communities. And, as I mentioned earlier, the content standards we use to create metadata that describes our collections are forever tied to the encoding standards we use and the local systems into which we place records created using these content and encoding standards.

I feel badly about getting to the end of this post and leaving with more questions than answers, but sometimes an opening to a conversation is a gift. I don't think I'm advocating for scrapping our current cataloging code and starting over. But I do think I'm advocating for looking at our current catalog more critically--about who created it and who it was meant to serve--and thinking about our local user communities in how those cataloging rules get applied in a local context.

Stay positive,

Works cited:
Coyle, Karen. FRBR before and after. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2016.

Hufford, Jon R. "The pragmatic basis of catalog codes: has the user been ignored?" Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 14, no. 1 (1991).

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The spotlight is focused, the audience rapt

I am in the quiet space between a couple of writing projects and I'm thinking about the thread that ties the two together.

In the first writing project, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how my lived experience acts as a lens through which I view the material that I catalog. In the early drafts of this project, I tried to argue that catalogers should both identify biases and work to push against them in their work. I even used the phrase "eradicate bias." As I wrote subsequent drafts, however, I became convinced that our job as catalogers shouldn't be to work against bias to create a neutral catalog. As many people smarter than me have said, the catalog is not neutral ground--nor should it be. Instead, I thought more about how catalogers should consider their lived experiences more to identify who they are and what privilege they do (or don't) possess. In much the same way that understanding how I benefit from whiteness changes how I move in the world, understanding how I benefit from whiteness changes how I approach the material I catalog.

The second writing project is going to turn my attention toward the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. I'm interested in thinking about the six frames can serve as a lens through which catalogers can view what our cataloging priorities should be. I'm interesting in thinking about how cataloging work would change if we brought our practises into closer alignment with what librarians doing information literacy instruction are teaching students. My gut reaction at the outset of this work is that bringing our practises into closer alignment means that we will be less able to reuse records from Ye Olde Bibliographic Utility without making at least some degree of local changes. At the outset of this project, I feel like bringing cataloging practises and information literacy instruction practises into closer alignment will result in more work for catalogers rather than less.

I think the places where these two projects (and the thinking behind them) come together is that we need to spend a lot more time considering our local communities and the values that our local libraries embrace when creating and adapting records for use in our local catalogs. We must consider how we will change every aspect of how we work when we decide that our libraries should be anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-ableist, and anti-classist spaces. We cannot create inclusive physical library spaces without also creating inclusive digital spaces--and that includes are our library catalogs. We cannot address signage without also addressing metadata creation content standards. We cannot address loan policies without also addressing controlled vocabulary.

I don't resent people for thinking first about how to create more inclusive physical spaces since changing physical spaces has a visible return on investment for users. But not every person who uses the library does so by coming into our physical spaces. For some of our user groups, the library's digital presence is the only way they will interact with the library, so we also need to put some thought into how we will reflect in those spaces the values we profess in our physical spaces. This might mean changing our website's design or creating a local thesaurus of terms that reflect our values more than any of the existing thesauri. But whatever it means, we have to do it.

Making the changes in local practise that bring information literacy practise and cataloging practise into closer alignment will be neither easy nor cheap. And creating inclusive digital spaces will require both financial resources and staff time. We'll have to decide what we're willing to give up to take on this new work and we'll have to have administrative support to move forward. But if creating inclusive physical spaces is a priority for us, we have to think about how our digital spaces will change too.

Stay positive,

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,

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday jams (08/05/16)

My friend was talking on Twitter about Goodnight Tender, an album by Amy Ray. Heather McEntire, of Mount Moriah fame, contributes pretty significantly to Ray's album. 

I am like 51% sure I've posted this song by Mount Morah before, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to it. "Lament" is really great. Enjoy.

I am still on a pretty frequent ANTI jam. It's just, so, you know, Rihanna. Plus she was in the news because some silly white people were saying silly white people things. So, today, we're gonna listen to "You Needed Me" again, possibly on repeat, even though we already know it. I don't link the video because it is super intense and we don't need that.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The time to rise had been engaged

I am always a little bit cheered when someone outside of the metadata creation universe champions a metadata or metadata-adjacent cause. A lot of what I write about is about the value of well-formed metadata in the larger library ecosystem--especially as it relates to a user's ability to discover things in a digital environment.

So given my soapbox feelings about well-formed metadata and its role in discovery, I was interested to Chris Bourg's blog post about the role of serendipity in the research process and browsing in the online environment. I was even more interested to know that Chris gave this talk to members of the IviesPlus group as part of IviesPlus Discovery Day, because I feel like those are the people and institutions with the resources to really dig into these issues.

The part of Chris' blog post that really caught my attention was this:
What we are hearing are scholars who want us to build tools, or facilitate the building or deployment of tools, that will allow them to see connections to their work and their teaching and their interests that they cannot see now. They want to discover articles and books and data and images and maps and primary sources and teaching objects and people on the fringes of their own areas of focus, but that are otherwise kind of in their blindspots. They want to make happy & unexpected discoveries; and they want it not to be by accident, but to be because the library has provided the tools, the data, and the metadata to make it so.
What I appreciate about this statement is the acknowledgement of the fact that creating this kind of world, this kind of future, requires well-formed metadata. Researchers want to be able to discover the things they didn't know that they wanted to discover and I believe that library would love to make that experience available to users. But, as Chris points out, that requires a different set of tools than are currently available to users. It also requires a commitment to understanding what metadata those tools require to provide the kind of experience that users want and, once those needs are assessed, the commitment to developing that kind of metadata.

Creating the descriptive and subject access to library materials that will facilitate the kind of user experience Chris describes is costly. Yes, metadata from other parts of the supply chain can (and should) be used. And yes, linking to authoritative source outside of the current authority ecosystem will help cut down one cost. But at some point, libraries will have to take on the task of creating and remediating metadata in order to make it useable by the tools that are necessary to facilitate true, serendipitous discovery. And that creation and remediation is timely in terms of time and in terms of personpower.

I am grateful that Chris put forth this vision for the future of discovery. And I'm doubly grateful that metadata was mentioned in the same breath with tools and data. It isn't enough for metadata creators to talk ceaselessly about the value of well-formed metadata in the discovery process. We need for administrators to talk about it, too. I am inspired by the ideas that Chris put forth in the talk that lead to the blog post. And I hope that we, as metadata creators, have the resources we need to create the well-formed metadata that will lead to those ideas becoming reality.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I never want to be anyone's enemy

At the end of June, I wrote a post about how I thought that people with reference and instruction duties should spend time working with metadata creators in order to help enhance access to the collections they curate. My thought process is that having a holistic view of the library helps everyone become better at their jobs and that the burden to cross-train shouldn't be placed exclusively upon the shoulders of technical services librarians.

I got a really great comment on this post that made me pause for a moment in self-reflection.

It's a great question, right? How do you actually implement a cross-training program when everyone feels stretched so thin that they can't take the time to work with someone from another department? 

After thinking about it a lot, I identified three things I've seen work at various places that I've worked. 

1. Start small:
I don't think it's necessarily realistic to show up in another department and ask to be cross-trained, especially if it's not the culture at your library. Start by bringing genuine questions about how things work to someone in the department you'd like to learn more about. Are you a public services librarian who wants to learn more about metadata? Start by asking a friendly cataloger about why a search you did in the online catalog produced different results than you thought it would. Are you a metadata creator who wants to know more about how library users access information in the online catalog? Start by asking a friendly public services librarian about what complaint they hear the most during one-on-one transactions or during instruction sessions. They don't have to be long, in-depth conversations. But do enough to start building relationships with people in departments outside your own and showing interest in the work that your colleagues do.

2. Focus on fixed-term projects:
Sometimes the slow season for one department will align with the busy season for another. Or sometimes the workload of a person in a particular department ebbs and flows. These natural changes in the rhythm of the library make space for people to cross-train on projects. Is there a project in your department that nobody has time to do or a project that requires an extra set of hands? This would be a great opportunity to find people in other parts of the library who are looking for skill-building opportunities outside of their own departments. Bonus points if the project you're looking for help with utilizes talents that the person doing the project doesn't get to use in their day-to-day work. You don't have to give a person working on a fixed-term project enough training to be a full-fledged member of the department, which helps if you feel like you don't have time to spare with a programmatic cross-training initiative. 

3. Make the first move:
Not every person in every department is going to be open to cross-training or collaboration. Some people don't want to learn more about metadata creation or information literacy because they'd rather focus on the work they're actually assigned to do.

And that's okay.

But I feel like libraries have to create a culture where people who do want to collaborate or cross-train are supported in doing so. Yes, it takes time to teach people. Yes, it is hard when you're already stretched really thin. But libraries should reward people who want to learn more and do more instead of treating those people like burdens. 

Sometimes, you have to be the change agent in your library and decide that you're going to be the person to make the first move and give up your time in order to change the culture. Ask questions and make it clear you're willing to answer questions. Be friendly and curious--someone that people in other departments want to approach with questions--and use the capital you've earned to ask people questions. If you want to talk to people, try to approach them on their terms. If they prefer emails to a phone call or a drop-in conversation, respect that. If they'd like for you to make an appointment so that they have time to give your question the time and attention it deserves.

Final thoughts:
In my first job out of library school, two things happened around the same time. First, I developed an interest in library instruction because I felt like it would be my best chance (based on the climate and culture of my library) to learn more about how students accessed information. Second, I became the go-to person in the cataloging department for a couple of instruction librarians just by being friendly. Luckily for me, one of those people was the instruction coordinator and she believed in me enough to mentor me in instruction and to allow me to teach a library orientation class each semester. By being curious about what she did and friendly when she asked questions, I was able to help her and to grow my own skills.

Look, I get it. It's possible that you'll try all of these things and people will still be stretched too thin to cross-train you. In which case, you might have to find opportunities to learn more about other parts of librarianship from people you don't work with. If you're a person working in public services who feels like there is no one in metadata creation that you can talk to, feel free to reach out to me. While I can't give you work to do, I'm happy to answer your questions and to serve a sounding board for ideas you might have.

Stay positive,

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Jams! (07/22/2016)

I, for one, defer to Erin's jam whole heartedly.  But rules are rules and I am required to provide my own jam. So.

This week's jam is from the epic Carpool Karaoke featuring Michelle Obama. It is the two minutes of pure perfection where James and Michelle are joined by Missy and the three of them perform "Get Ur Freak On."

Friday, July 15, 2016

I'm doing all right, getting good grades

So, I was accepted into the 2016 cohort of the ALA Leadership Institute. I am very honored to be selected, excited to attend, and just so eager to make connections with the folks in this group. On the application, one of the questions was regarding the Future Of Libraries. I thought I'd share my answer, the Unified Library Scene in a very small nutshell.

The most important thing for libraries to focus on in order to maintain relevancy in the future is to maintain focus on how our core mission of connecting users to resources is unchanging amidst any technological or political changes. Librarians and library management need to address the ways in which librarians continue to accomplish the core goals of libraries in both traditional and new ways. As a profession we tend to get hung up on specific tasks or processes which become reified as “what librarians do,” when the tasks should be continually put in the context of our larger mission. This is true both of more technical aspects such as cataloging and metadata services which remain vital to creating access to resources, and to public facing services such as developing information literacy in all library uses that addresses the varied ways in which library users access and use information. Addressing emerging technologies and societal pressures from a grounded perspective continually focused on an unchanging core mission allows for a greater level of flexibility in the ways which all library staff address their work. Listening closely to our users and our communities with our core mission in mind rather than our daily work in mind allows us to be responsive to deep needs in society rather than simply do what “what librarians/libraries do.” As leaders in the profession, our goal should be to make the connection between what is being accomplished in our field with the core mission both to outside constituents and to other leaders and workers in the field. Together, focused on our mission, we will continue to be a vital driving force in society.

What do you think? How'd I do?

Keep Rockin',

Friday Jams! (07/15/2016)

last night erin reminded me about jams and then told me not to be tardy with my jams this morning but then I didn't do them first thing but here they are now.

The most powerful thing about this song is that it uses the word "no" more than 50 times, which is what I am feeling. no. no. no. no.

That story that Rachel just told is 100% true. I even used the word "tardy."

New Wave by Against Me! has this lovely little number in the middle that features Tegan Quin. It's not particularly dance-y but it's still an awesome jam.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

There's gonna come a time when the true scene leaders forget where they differ and get big picture

I think you wouldn't have much trouble convincing people that technical services departments are losing positions and having resources reallocated leading to the dreaded "do more with less" directive from administrators. I think you also wouldn't have much trouble convincing people that people working in technical services would do well to partner with their colleagues in technical services as well as their colleagues in other areas of the library  to identify and solve big-picture problems in order to help users more successfully find the resources they need to be successful. In fact, one of the foundational idea of the Unified Library Scene is building relationships between functional areas of the library in order to improve the experience of library users.

In the article "Creating solutions instead of solving problems: emerging roles for technical services departments," Sally Gibson argues technical services staffs should move from being problem-solvers who view their work as transactional to being solution-creators who identify and address the underlying issues that emerge in the course of doing one's work. Gibson describes solution-creators this way:
Solution-creators recognize patterns, anticipate needs, and translate those solutions in a way that can be understood by faculty, students and staff. They focus on skill sets and ability rather than rigid roles and organizational procedures. They ask "why" and "how." Issues are addressed as a whole rather than examined at the individual level (149).
Gibson believes that technical services staff see their work as production-oriented and that this kind of work attracts people because it is detail-oriented and relies on the adherence to local and universal standards. Gibson also points out that work in a production-oriented environment is problematic. "Traditional library services are transactional in nature, which translates into real possibilities of its traditional services becoming automated or experiencing decreased importance" (146). Gibson suggests that a combination of technical ability and soft-skills will help technical services staff make the pivot from problem-solver to solution-creator.

Gibson also addresses the kind of environment needed to foster the development of solution-creators. Gibson addresses the fact that departmental leadership needs to establish a growth mindset which Gibson describes this way: "A growth mindset believes that intelligence can be developed" (151). She also writes that ideas much come from all levels of the department and that technical services staff must have permission to experiment with different ideas and different processes.

I should start by saying that there is a lot about Gibson's various arguments that I agree with. Technical services librarians need to think more holistically about the work that they do and how it aligns with the overall mission and vision of the library. And there definitely needs to be more flexibility in how we apply local and universal practices--especially when what we're doing makes it harder for our users to acquire the information they need to be successful. I agree that identifying and centering the 'how' and the 'why' is important--maybe the most important thing technical services staff can do.

But there are parts of Gibson's arguments that don't work as well for me. I am not on board with the idea that technical services is the safe haven in the library for people who love detail-oriented work and that our technical services departments are full of people who see their jobs as solving a single problem in front of them without regard for identifying emerging patterns and without the desire to solve them. While some us do need to change from problem-solvers to solution-creators, there are already solution-creators among us. The problem is that many of them don't have the resources or the administrative support to solve the problems they've identified. Technical services librarians love identifying and fixing problems and very few of the people I've met in technical services librarianship aren't looking for bigger patterns, aren't looking for emerging themes. While fixed-growth mindset and problem-solving persist among technical services librarianship, they are as much a story we tell ourselves as they are the reality of a situation. If you don't have the resources or support to create solutions, you can't solve the big-picture problems. And if you can't solve the big-picture problems, you're not going to receive administrative support. It's a really vicious cycle and one that persists in technical services librarianship.

It is also not clear to me how a solution-creator oriented technical services department would be run. Even if we work to identify and resolve emerging problems, there are still daily tasks to be done. We need to order materials and make sure they are findable, even as we evaluate and retool our current processes to meet the needs of users. But Gibson believes that we should move beyond rigid roles to focus more on skills, writing "Someone can be defined by their combination of technical and soft skills rather than their job title and description" (149). And while I agree that a combination of technical and soft skills are necessary for a person to succeed in technical services librarianship, there is also some need for people to take ownership of specific processes.

So let's agree to think more critically about the work that we do in technical services librarianship. Let's let go of the things that no longer provide value to make room to take on new tasks that help our users. Let's work more closely with each other and with our colleagues in other areas of libraries to identify and solve problems. And let's stop perpetuating the idea that there is a dearth of people working in technical services librarianship who are either not capable of or not interested in looking at the bigger picture is a big problem. Instead, let's talk about how a lack of resources keeps solution-creators from making the kinds of changes in workflow and practices that will benefit the user.

Stay positive,

Work cited:
Gibson, Sally. "Creating solutions instead of solving problems: emerging roles for technical services departments." Technical Services Quarterly. 33:2 (2016). 145-153.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

I don't have a clue (and neither do you)

During a meeting at the 2016 ALA Annual conference, the ACRL Board decided to rescind the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. To its credit, ACRL has been working on developing infrastructure to help people move forward in the post-Standards world. And from what I can tell, it's going to be a long road in getting from where people in the information literacy world are now to where they need to/want to be.

I've heard a lot of chatter from the information literacy librarians I follow in various online spaces about this move by the ACRL Board. One theme I find kind of...worrysome is the number of people who feel blindsided by this decision. It seems like the consensus has been that at some point ACRL would have to move on this, but a subsection of people in the information literacy community seemed not realize it was happening at this particular moment, at this particular conference, until it was done.

I want to be clear--this is not to suggest that ACRL or its Board did anything wrong. I honestly don't know enough about these issues to know if people's feelings of being caught off guard are reasonable or not. It's possible that the rescinding of the Standards was advertised to people well in advance of the meeting where it was done. It's possible that people in the information literacy community had adequate time to give feedback on this move. And it's likely that ACRL and its Board could've done all the right things and people would still be upset.

While I'm probably not as well-informed on these issues as perhaps I ought to be, I feel like this move by the ACRL Board and the fallout that has followed is a good sneak preview of what the metadata creation community might face when moving into a post-MARC world. About how people are feeling left out during the development phase and how people's feelings will be hurt when the governing bodies of the metadata creation community decide, officially, to transition from one standard to another.

As practitioners, we put a lot of trust in the governing bodies that we believe have our best interests in mind. It's really hard when we find ourselves on the outside of a decision that we believe we should've been on the inside for--especially when we find ourselves on the side of the argument that didn't win. And there's a compelling case to be made about whether or not we should continue to put our trust in those governing bodies--but that's not the case I want to make. What I do want to say is that I hope that ACRL and its Board take seriously the feelings of those among its membership who feel...betrayed by the way in which this decision played out.

In the absence of a true U.S. National Library, ALA and its divisions make decisions about various parts of the information ecosystem. And as a body with that much perceived power, trust between the association and its members is really important. Whether or not you choose to be a dues-paying member of the association, it speaks for you if you work in the field of librarianship. So when a segment of the membership of a division have real trust issues with how a particular issue played out, that division needs to address the breach of trust and work to repair it quickly and thoughtfully.

I hope that ACRL and its Board take seriously the hurt feelings of the segment of their membership. I hope that the information literacy community finds a way to move forward and work through its feelings. And I hope that the metadata creation community is using this situation as a teachable moment for the storm that I imagine is brewing just off the horizon.

Stay positive,

Friday, July 1, 2016



Y'all. It was so good to see you if I saw you. Double jams. Look don't worry about it. Don't think. Just.... jams.

Do you know about Anderson .Paak? I didn't until Rachel and I were watching the BET Awards and I spent his entire performance with my hand covering my mouth because it's rude to sit with your mouth hanging open. Anyway, here is Anderson .Paak performing at SXSW 2016.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

With love and trust and friends and hammers

One of the sessions I attended was about the different relationships that technical services librarians and public services librarians have with continuing resources. It was a lively conversation, but there was one thing that stuck with me and that I've been turning over for a couple of days. One of the proposed solutions to the problem of technical services librarians not understanding the challenges that users face with continuing resources was for them to work the reference desk.

I got a lot of answers to this question that helped me better understand this, but I'm still not sure I understand. There was a sense in the responses I received that while cataloging requires an understanding of complex ideas, the barriers to being able to work the reference desk were lower. Many people who work in public services expressed a hesitancy about 'screwing up' when it came to working with metadata that seemed to preclude cross-training in technical services.

I agree that nobody should be sent to cross-train in a functional area of the library without proper training. This is as much, I think, for the person's comfort as it is to keep the person from 'screwing up.' But I think that if public services people feel too self-conscious about working with metadata because they won't get it right, metadata creators have to reflect upon why. Are we too rigid? Do we expect too much? Are we too tied to the perfect at the expense of the good?

Don't get me wrong. I think that metadata creators should assume some public-facing duties. Teaching a couple of classes each semester has taught me a lot about pedagogy and about how our users find the resources they need to do their work. And those practises have informed my experiences as a creator of metadata. And I absolutely believe that people who do reference and instruction could benefit from getting their hands dirty with metadata. I think that understanding how records are created and what goes into describing resources would help inform their practice as people who help users access information.

But just like I work with people whose primary focus in librarianship is reference and instruction to hone my teaching skills, I think it would be valuable for people with public-facing duties to work with metadata librarians to hone their metadata creation skills. I don't think it's fair to expect a public services librarian to instantly be a great cataloger in the same way that I don't think it's fair to expect a metadata creator to instantly be a good teacher. But I think if metadata creators work with public services librarians, there is room for cross-training and development for long-term growth and increased understanding.

So let me float an idea past you. If you're a public-facing librarian, consider how you could work with enhancing the metadata that describes the materials in the collection you curate. How could subject access be improved? What information could be added to catalog records to help your users decide if an item is worth their time or not? Pull a few records from your subject area and make some notes. And then instead of telling the metadata creators at your library how they could change the records to make it easier for your user to find information, offer to work with them to do the work.

At its core, I think the Unified Library Scene is about building relationships. I think there is room to welcome public services librarians into technical services in the same way that public services librarians have welcomes technical services librarians into their spaces. I think that having a more holistic view of the library makes it easier for everyone to be successful in their jobs. It's the responsibility of public services libraries to cultivate an interest in metadata creation and it's the responsibility of metadata creators to take that interest seriously. Let's help each other build the library we want to see.

Stay positive,

Thursday, June 16, 2016

We'll leave the figurin' to those we pass on our way out of town

A while ago, Rachel wrote about how the isn't a map for the future. It's one of my favorite posts on our blog, so you should read it. So here's what I'll add to what Rachel wrote: beware the person who is selling you a map for the future of libraries and/or librarianship.

The future is mostly a pretty contextual thing--especially when it comes to identifying the needs of your users and how you might respond with new or evolving systems or services. What works at my library might fail spectacularly at yours because the information needs of my users are different than yours, even as there might be some overlap in our particular contexts.

So if the future is contextual, what are we to make of people who are trying to sell us universal truths about the future of libraries and/or librarianship? Or, to expand on Rachel's metaphor--the people who are selling us maps?

Let's be clear: everyone who has a vision to share about the future of libraries and/or librarianship has something to gain by your buying into that vision. And those people feel very strongly that you need to drop everything and get to work on implementing their version of the future. Libraries need to do this!, they say. Librarians need to behave like that!, they say. It's all very important and it all needs to be done right away.

Because there isn't a map for the future, there are lots of people who have found success in developing the future within their own contexts. While it's good for us to share ideas about what has worked for people, it is our individual responsibilities to take the success stories of other people and think critically about how we might apply them to our own situations.

To use Rachel's metaphor: You could draw your own map, you could rely solely on a single map you purchased from someone, or you could buy a bunch of maps and take something from each of them in order to find your way--discarding what doesn't serve you or your users.

Sticking with this metaphor a little longer: if you do decide to buy maps from other people, I would suggest thinking about the mapmaker and what they stand to gain from your using the map that they drew. Is the person sharing their success story a person who's written a book they want you to buy? Does that person make a substantial living from giving keynote speeches? I would also suggest thinking about whether the mapmaker lives out the mapmaker's values and they way they live them out. What does a particular mapmaker believe about the world and is this person giving you a version of the future that is incompatible with how they seem to live in the world?

There is nothing wrong with needed a little help figuring out how to get from the present to the future. But there's also nothing wrong with making sure you know who you're buying your version of the future from either.

Stay positive,

Thursday, June 9, 2016

All these things I've let go

At the end of June, I'll pass along the Chairperson role for an ALCTS section to someone else. And while I'll be sad to not be leading this group of amazing people, I'm here to admit that I will feel the smallest bit of relief at the end of this year's ALA Annual Conference. I have been active in this group since 2008 and I will continue to serve in a leadership capacity through 2017/2018. So while I'll still have a say in the future direction of the group, I won't be ultimately responsible for making sure everything gets done.

My Chairperson role affords me the privilege of serving on the ALCTS Board which, along with the ALCTS Executive Director, helps set the current and future course of the division. I have really enjoyed getting to see how the association runs and to have had a voice in some of the conversations about it's future. My time on the ALCTS Board has really given me clarity about what I hope will be my future involvement in the division and for that I am really and truly grateful.

Maybe it's shameless, but I'll just say it: I want to be ALCTS President some day.

I want to help shape the current activities and future direction of the ALCTS. I want to find ways to better engage with the division's stakeholders. I want to help bring a future generation of leaders into the ALCTS and give them the tools that they need to change technical services librarianship for the better. I believe in technical services work and its impact on library users and I believe in ALCTS. I want to build on the amazing work done by past, current, and future ALCTS Presidents to make the division be a tool for education, empowerment, advocacy, and innovation.

I wrote this short piece for ALCTS news talking about why the division has been such a valuable part of my professional career. It also features me wearing a clown nose, so it's worth checking out if only for that.

But here's why I'm relieved to be handing off the Chairperson role: being a leader is hard and I can feel myself teetering on the edge of burnout.

The thing that everybody tells you about being a leader but you don't understand about it until you experience it firsthand is that engaging people and solving problems is hard work. Because even when I'm not actively doing those things, I'm thinking about those things. And on top of that, there's never a time that I'm not thinking about how to tweak things to make it easier for the people in my section to do the work that is meaningful for our stakeholders.

Don't misunderstand me, I love this work. I believe it is worthwhile and even when it's difficult, it energizes me. But doing this work and doing it well leaves me little time to do the other things in my life that I love because I give it everything I've got--the proverbial 110%. And at the end of the day, I often don't have space in my brain for the other things that I also love and that I also find worthwhile.

But in some ways, I think that's how life works. We constantly are moving toward, and then away from, opportunities that challenge us and cause us to grow. And boy howdy did I grow during this past year! I'll gladly take this time to transition back to being a worker bee, under the direction of someone else, resting and recharging and devoting my energies into the other work that I love. And when the time comes for me to move back into a leadership role, I'll have the energy to devote to that again.

This year as Chair of my ALCTS section has been difficult and wonderful and challenging and messy. It has asked more from me that I thought that I had and when I dug deeper and gave more, I was richly rewarded by the graciousness of the people I worked with. The volunteer leaders in my section have done amazing work during this past year and I am so proud of what we've built. But now it's time for someone else to have a turn to shape the direction of the group. And I can't wait to see what it becomes!

Stay positive,

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The secret to a happy ending is knowing when to roll the credits

I mentioned in my last blog post that I'm writing a book chapter. I'd had "Naming and reframing: a taxonomy of attacks on knowledge organization" by Tina Gross on my to-read list for a while. And this chapter I'm writing provided me a great opportunity to read it.

To say that I have some Capital-F feelings about this article would be a pretty significant understatement.

In the article, Gross identifies 10 types of attacks of knowledge organization and then goes on to define and give examples for each of these attacks. Gross doesn't offer any solutions to the problem of attacks on knowledge organization and states pretty plainly that the point of the article is not to solve the problem, but to establish language through which we can describe it.

There are two attacks that I think have a symbiotic relationship: disregarding quality and distorting user behavior.

When describing disregarding quality, Gross writes:
There is such a thing as metadata being good enough without being comprehensive, and there's also such a thing as declaring hopeless garbage to be good enough without considering the implications for users. Doing the latter is self-defeating--when metadata fails to facilitate the level of searching needed by users, they have a less satisfactory experience. Usage is likely to go down resulting in even less justification to support and pay for the creation or acquisition of quality metadata. (p. 266)


This particular attack leads to the library infrastructure version of chasing one's tail. For whatever reason, the metadata creation standards at a library decline. Because the metadata is incomplete, incorrect, or both, users can't find what they're looking for and usage of key resources that are powered off of the shoddy metadata goes down. Administrators look at the decline of usage of the key resources and decide that the because the usage is going down that the resources devoted to creating metadata that powers those key resources can be reallocated.

While a metadata creator might be able to draw an immediate connection between the change in metadata quality and usage of key resources, an administrator might not necessarily be able to do the same if they don't have an understanding of how metadata informs search results and all they have to go on is the usage data of key resources.

While we're on the subject of what users do or don't use, let's look at distorting user behavior. Gross describes it as "asserting that users don't use certain types of metadata, even though major search functions are powered by them" (p. 267)

This attack has as much to do with the narrative constructed by outside forces as it does with what libraries know to be true of their users based on actual evidence. There are a not-insignificant number of studies which suggest that users don't start their research in the library catalog, so administrators decide that resources used to create metadata can be reallocated to other library services. There are two things that strike me about this:

1. What seems to be missing from these studies, though, is how many library users interact with the catalog at some point during the research process. Just because a user doesn't start their search in the catalog doesn't mean they don't go there at some point in the process.

2. Our users are not a monolith. What is true about the research process of one user group may not be true of all user groups.

So which comes first--disregarding quality or user behavior? And, perhaps more importantly, where do metadata creators go from here?

I don't have the answer, but I have a couple of ideas.

First, metadata creators should be gathering as much information as we can about user behavior and using that information to guide the decisions we make. We should know what our users find most useful in catalog records and be focusing our attention on that. This differs from library to library and user group to user group. So while you can probably use those reports that construct a narrative as a starting point, you're going to have to interact with actual users to understand the context at our own library.

Second, our public services colleagues have to help us gather data about when users can't find what they're looking for because of poorly-formed metadata. This data can help metadata creators make the case for the re-reallocation of resources back to metadata creation. Nothing says 'hey, we need more resources in the cataloging department' like evidence of where users have walked away empty handed. To the extent that it's practical (and legal), I would advocate share reference interview transcripts or notes as well as catalog search logs.

Finally, I want to say that I picked on administrators a lot in this post, but I do so affectionately and with the understanding that our administrators have a lot to think about and decide on any given day. And, ultimately, they work with the information we give them to make the best decisions they can to allocate resources to library services. It's our job to give them the information and tools to make the best decision possible.

Stay positive,