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,