Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Building the Unified Library Scene: The ALA 2017 Guide

Hello, friends of the Unified Library Scene. ALA Annual is nearly upon us and very soon many of us will be headed to Chicago for a few days. Maybe you need some ideas of things to put on your schedule? Here are some things that may be relevant to you if you're interested in building the Unified Library Scene.

Friday (June 23):
1-2:30pm
McCormick Place W184d
CaMMS Competencies and Education for a Career in Cataloging IG

This session is about what it would mean to put the recently approved Core Competencies for Cataloging and Metadata Professional Librarians into action. I'm co-presenting about behavioral competencies, specifically Professional Curiosity.

1-4pm
McCormick Place W193a
ALCTS Board of Directors Meeting I

The ALCTS Board of Directors meetings are open unless they go into closed session. They're supposed to go into closed session at some point on Friday, but probably you'll be fine whenever you decide to attend. Worst case, you wait in the hall with me. I'll be headed that direction after I give my presentation.

7-9pm
Hyatt Regency Chicago, Columbus A-D
ALCTS 101

ALCTS 101 is a fun way to learn more about ALA's Library Collections and Technical Services division. You can circulate around the room and meet people affiliated with almost every aspect of the division.

Saturday (June 24):
8:30-10am
McCormick Place, W184d
Intellectual Freedom and Open Access: Working Toward a Common Goal

A panel of speakers (including the always awesome April Hathcock) will explore the intersection of intellectual freedom and open access.

8:30-10am
McCormick Place, W187b
Students Lead the Library: A Showcase of Student Contributions to the Academic Library

A panel of academic librarians features projects that featured significant participation from students.

1-2:30pm
McCormick Place. W184bc
How to be an Influential Librarian: Leading and Mentoring from Wherever You Are

An early-career, mid-career, and later-career librarian talk about their experiences in mentoring and leadership. Spoiler alert: Rachel is going to be on the panel.

1-2:30pm
Blackstone Hotel, The English Room
The Conversation: Leadership and Librarians of Color

Sponsored by LLAMA's New Professionals Section, this program features an academic librarian and a public librarian talking about their experiences as librarians of color.

3-4pm
McCormick Place, W184bc
Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice in Technical Services

A panel of speakers from various parts of collections and technical services will speak about initiatives that promote inclusion and social justice.

3-4pm
McCormick Place, W187b
Integrating Diversity Initiatives and Community Engagement: The Human Library at Penn State University

This program talks about the development of Penn State's Human Library.

4:30-5:30pm
McCormick Place, W184bc
From Middle Manager to Administrator: Leadership Lessons in Action

A panel of speakers from public libraries will talk about their experiences transitioning from middle managers to administrators.

Sunday (June 25):
8:30-9:30am
McCormick Place, W375b
Auditorium Speaker Series, featuring Brene Brown

Social work professor and author of a lot of awesome books about vulnerability.

8:30-10am
McCormick Place, W184bc
Libraries Are Not Neutral Spaces: Social Justice Advocacy in Librarianship

A discussion about youth services and social justice work.

1-2:30pm
McCormick Place, S101
Power That is Moral: Creating a Cataloging Code of Ethics

The annual ALCTS Cataloging and Metadata Management Section forum. If The Power to Name has had an impact on your professional practice, this session is not to be missed. Dr. Hope Olson is going to be speaking as part of this event.

3-4pm
McCormick Place, W176a
Where There is Thunder, There is Lightning: EDI and Change in Libraries

A series of lightning talks sponsored by ALA's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Implementation Working Group about EDI initiatives in libraries.

Monday (June 26):
10:30-11:30am
McCormick Place, W175c
The New Normal: Libraries Navigate Uncertain Times

A conversation about how libraries are existing in these current political and economic times.

10:30-Noon
McCormick Place, W192
The Business of Social Impact: Creating a World Where Everyone Has Value

A joint President's Program between LLAMA and ALCTS, this event features the CEO of the YWCA of Metro Chicago.

1-2:30pm
McCormick Place, W192
Asking for a Friend: Tough Questions (and Honest Answers) About Organizational Culture

A panel of public library administrators vow to "tell it like it is" regarding organizational culture.

1-5:30pm
McCormick Place, W471a
ALCTS Board of Directors II

This is when the transition from outgoing ALCTS Board of Directos and incoming ALCTS Board of Directors happens. Lots of good feelings and a few tears.

ALA Council Sessions:
ALA Council I
Sunday, June 25 from 8:30-11:30am
McCormick Place, W375e

ALA Council II
Monday, June 26 from 8:30-11am
McCormick Place, W375e

ALA Council III
Tuesday, June 27 from 7:30-9:30am
McCormick Place, W375e



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It's not comforting, cheery, or kind

ALA Annual 2017 is nearly upon us and one of the things I am most looking forward to is Dr. Hope Olson's talk at the ALCTS Cataloging and Metadata Management Section's forum. Like most people who concern themselves with the myth of neutral and unbiased description of resources, I read Dr. Olson's book, The Power to Name, and found in it some arguments that have helped to orient my thinking on this topic.

CaMMS leadership posted some questions over on twitter in the hopes of generating discussion around the topic of a code of ethics for cataloging and one of the questions was about what a code of ethics might cover.
So let's do this. Let's talk about ethics in technical services librarianship.

The first thing to acknowledge is that The Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the ALA Code of Ethics was adopted by the ALCTS Board in 1994 at the most recent revision of the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association happened in 2008.

For a lot of us, the world today is incredibly different than the world we lived in 23, or even 9, years ago. But for a lot of us, for a lot of reasons, many things are the same as they ever were.

It's a fairly tepid take, but I think the values codified in both the Code of Ethics of the American Library Association and The Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the ALA Code of Ethics reflect the fact that our profession is almost 90% white. Yes, our identities are intersectional so some of the white librarians in that oft-quoted statistic, exist in both privileged and marginalized spaces. But the idea inherent in both of these documents that the professional is not also somehow personal comes from the privileged place of believing that people can simply turn off their personal beliefs and ignore their lived experiences when it comes time to staff a service point or catalog a book.

Let's be clear: the illusion of neutrality in libraries is a luxury afforded to those with privilege enough to believe that libraries somehow exist outside of systems of oppression. Libraries have always been biased and those of us with privileged identities have been part of systems that have oppressed our colleagues and our user communities whose identities are more marginalized than our own.

A catalog code of ethics that comes anything short of addressing both the ways in which libraries have served as an oppressive force and the ways in which our lived experiences impact our work is not worth the paper it's written on. And those of us with privileged identities need to ignore our impulse to engage in vocational awe (a term coined by Fobazi Ettarh in this wonderful post).

Libraries are not neutral spaces. The acquisition, description, and preservation of the materials in libraries is not a neutral act. Librarianship is not an inherently noble profession.

We build the systems and structures in our own image.

Stay positive,
Erin

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

#libleadgender chat (06/07/2017) questions

As you may recall, I'm leading a #libleadgender chat on Wednesday (6/7) at 8pm EDT about making the choice to take on significant growth opportunities. Last week, I wrote a little about my journey to getting accepted into the PhD program that I'll be starting in the fall.

In this chat, the phrase "significant growth opportunity" can mean a lot of things: starting a degree program, volunteering in a professional association, joining a structured mentoring or leadership program, or even something not mentioned here. Basically, if it's something that will help you grow and it will disrupt your life in some way, it's a significant growth opportunity!

The questions for tomorrow evening's chat:
Q1.) As you weighed whether to take on a significant growth opportunity, what factors did you consider?

Q2.) How did your identities (e.g., race, gender identity & expression, socioeconomic status, ability) affect your decision?

Q3.) How did the gendered expectations put upon you impact your decision? Would you have chosen differently if they hadn't?

Q4.) What was helpful about how your support system assisted you in the decision making process? What wasn't so helpful?

Q5.) What advice would you give someone about deciding to take on a significant growth opportunity?

You'll notice that all of the questions are phrased in the past tense. That doesn't mean that you have to be past the decision-making process. Wherever you are in the process, you're welcome to join us!

Stay positive,
Erin

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

You can see I'm single-minded

I'm going to lead a #libleadgender Twitter chat next Wednesday (6/7) at 8pm EDT on making the choice to take on a significant growth opportunity. I know that "significant growth opportunity" is pretty vague but that's intentional since I imagine that it means different things for different people. It might mean joining a leadership or mentoring program. It might mean stepping up to take on a significant volunteer leadership role. Or, if you're like me, it might mean going back to school.

I graduated from library school in December 2004. I had always dreamed of going back to get my PhD, but the time was never right. Three cities and 13 years later, the time is finally right.

At some point during 2016, I decided that it really was time to start taking seriously the idea of going back to graduate school. I spend most of the summer of 2016 studying for the GRE, which I took in November. I pulled together what I thought was a quality application packet and submitted it in December 2016. And then I waited. And worried.

I was afraid that I was too old to be taken seriously as a good candidate for a PhD program. I worried that it had been too long since I'd last been in school and that it would be a red flag for those who reviewed my application. I worried that my GRE scores weren't good enough.

In February 2017, I learned that I'd been accepted to the PhD program I applied to and in the fall I'll begin my course work. I'll continue to work full-time, so I'll be a part-time student and all signs point to the fact that it will likely take me 3 years to complete my course work and 2 years to complete my thesis.

I had to weigh a lot of factors when deciding to put in my application: how would my being in school impact my work? would I be able to be as active as I want to be in ALCTS? what will I have to give up to take this on?

These are the questions I am excited to explore as part of the #libleadgender conversation. How do you know when the time is right to take on something new that feels really enormous? How do you do that really enormous thing while also nurturing the parts of you that already exist and already important to you? And how do gendered expectations for library leaders change how we answer those questions?

Next week, I'll post the questions I intend to use as a conversation starter for our chat. If you are contemplating taking on a significant growth opportunity or if you are already there, I'd love for you to join us!

Stay positive,
Erin

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Listen close you hear what I'm about

So, let's talk about strategic planning.


If you work in a library or you belong to a professional association, you may have been caught up in the tidal wave of strategic planning. And from the outside, it may look like all talk and no action. Or it may look like a bunch of talk that impedes action. At least, that's the sense that I get from the unhappy rumblings about the idea of strategic plannings that I've heard from within librarianship. There is a sense, I think that engaging in a strategic planning process has the capacity to take us away from the ever-changing circumstances that we encounter as library workers.

And I suppose, I can appreciate the idea that underlies this sentiment. As library workers, we don't want to lose sight of the communities we serve and the circumstances that can change rapidly within those communities. We should aspire to respond quickly and thoughtfully to those circumstances and the needs they surface for the community. And we should not reduce our communities, those circumstances, or those needs to talking points in a written strategic plan.

But having said that, I think that strategic plans are unbelievably important for libraries and our professional associations because they give leaders at every level the opportunity to define what they organization is going to be about for a given period of time. The strategic planning process allows organizations to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It gives organizations the opportunity to reassess their values. And when all of that is done, organizations decide on a direction for a given period of time and decide how resources will be allocated in service of that vision. What I think is so important about strategic planning in libraries and in our professional associations is that it gives us a compass for individual library workers and association volunteers to orient our work. Each individual project and program can be evaluated using the strategic plan as a lens. And projects and programs carried out within different parts of an organization that are in service of the same strategic plan seem more alike than different. An organization's strategic plan is something that unifies all parts of an organization that seem disparate.

But as much as I can appreciate the desire to be responsive and nimble, this feeling that we need to eschew strategic planning is short sighted. First, I think that not having a strategic plan means that your organization isn't all rowing in the same direction. Sure, if you have a solid organization culture you may be operating with the same values. But the programs and projects carried out within different parts of the organization may be in service of the mission of those parts and carried out to serve their own ends rather than to serve the strategic direction of the organization as a whole. Second, I don't think that operating under a strategic plan makes an organization inherently less nimble. Library workers can still respond to the changing circumstances within their communities and reflect the changing needs of the community back to its members. That doesn't change because you have a certain strategic direction. It just means that the projects and programs library workers choose to implement to meet a community's needs will work within a certain framework or construct. I also think it's worth stating explicitly that your organization's strategic plan should be community-centered at the outset as to avoid this false tension between working within a strategic direction framework and serving your community.

In the end, I think it's more important than ever that libraries and our professional associations take the time to figure out what we're about. We need to be clear about our strengths weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. We need to be clear about the values that drive our work. And we need to be intentional about how the resources needed to meet our established strategic directions are allocated. Doing all of this work doesn't mutually exclude the capacity for libraries and our professional associations to be nimble and responsive. In fact, I would (and hopefully have) argued that one is directly related, and intrinsically linked, to the other.

Stay positive,
Erin

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The question that says everything

I got into a conversation yesterday about the ALCTS Strategic Plan. Adopted in 2015, the Plan is set to be updated during the 2017/2018 year. There is much about this Plan that I wouldn't change, but I want to point out a couple of points in the plan that I think reflect the tension, broadly, between professional associations for library workers and the members they are seeking to recruit and retain.

So let's start with the points:
IIC: Reach out to under-represented and under-involved groups (support staff and students) to encourage their participation in webinars and online meetings.
IIIC: Recruit new members, particularly students and faculty in iSchools and library programs, and public and special librarians.
IIID: Identify and address requirements for the financial sustainability of ALCTS, particularly fundraising.

So, here's the tension: ALCTS, like many professional organizations for library workers, wants to recruit and retain new members, presumably in order to help grow the next generation of Collections and Technical Services leaders. But it also needs be sustainable, financially speaking.

So let's crunch some numbers. All of this comes form ALA's personal membership page, by the way, if you want to see how this translates for the ALA division with which you affiliate yourself most closely.

For a student, membership in ALA and ALCTS is $51.
ALA membership: $36
ALCTS membership: $15
It is worth noting that ALA limits student membership fee rates to 5 years.

When you transition out of that student pricing tier, your pricing increases to one of two price points at the Association level.
Regular membership: $137
Non-salaried/Unemployed/Underemployed/Making less than $30k annually: $49

At the division-level, ALCTS charges a "regular" rate of $65 and doesn't offer a lower price tier for people who receive the lower rate at the association level.

So you could pay either $114 or $202 to be a member of both ALA and ALCTS, depending on what rate you pay at the Association level.

I should stop here and say that I don't mean to pick on ALCTS. I just used them for this exercise because they're my home within ALA.

Now that we've crunched those numbers, let's think honestly about how wanting to recruit and retain new members and how wanting to remain financially sustainable are in tension with one another.

Students and early career librarians often struggle financially because of student debt, unpaid internships, and low wages for library workers. Finding the extra room in one's budget to pay the fees to be active in professional association work simply isn't an option for a lot of our future library leaders. Our professional associations have so much to offer students and early career librarians by way of volunteer opportunities, programming, and mentorship. And while the restrictions for in-person attendance at ALA Midwinter and Annual have been loosened quite significantly, you still have to pay both an Association-level and Division-level membership fee in order to be active in committee work.

Professional associations for library workers have bills to pay, so it is a challenge to consider changing a fee structure because of its potential impact on financial sustainability. But our professional association leaders have to think about the lived experiences of the people we intend to recruit and retain as members. Without both consideration for how the current environment impacts the capacity for students and early career librarians to pay to belong to any given association and an intention to respond, professional associations won't remain financially sustainable in the long run because they'll lose a generation of members.

I know that the people engaged in leadership of professional association for library workers care deeply about the future of librarianship and about recruiting and retaining the next generation of professional association leadership. But until we take seriously the financial burden that association membership places upon students and early career librarians, we can't move forward.

Stay positive,
Erin

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

And you were only joking

I did not think I would be writing a blog post about Annoyed Librarian in 2017. On the one hand, I feel like it's a funny conceit whose time has come and gone--a librarian who has contrary takes on literally every subject in libraryland. You would think that Twitter has rendered this particular conceit obsolete, especially with the anonymous garbage fire Hot Take Machine that is LIS Grievances. Normally I would offer you a permalink, but that particular account is such hot burning garbage that you're on your own. But, much to basically everyone's chagrin, the Annoyed Librarian is still a thing.

Much like Drake, Annoyed Librarian started at the bottom. By which I mean that she (and I am using "she" instead of "they" because she identifies that way on her About page) published her blog on a Blogspot platform. And, much like Drake, now she's here. And by here, I mean she's publishing fairly prolifically on the Library Journal platform. There's something truly admirable, I suppose, about a blog that started in Aught Six still producing content all of these years later. I mean, the Unified Library Scene started in 2014 and some weeks a blog post never makes it to being published. So, props for her tenacity I guess.

Because we're still torturing this comparison: much like Drake, the Annoyed Librarian has kept it real from the jump. I mean, when hasn't she said what we were all thinking about how we, the Special Library Snowflakes, are just always going on about something dumb? It's her capacity to keep it real from the jump that makes Annoyed Librarian the hero we really all need right now. And does it really matter that her attempt at satire fall flat and come across as angry rants that remind us of Grandpa Simpson yelling at a cloud?

Old man yells at cloud

I mean, look, satire is hard to do well. It requires that the person writing the satiric piece have just the right tone. You have to write so skillfully that you can hold that contrary point of view and also let the audience know you're winking at them, that you're in on the joke. And sometimes when you're writing as much as Annoyed Librarian writes, you have to write quickly. And when you write quickly, you don't always have the the capacity to be that skillful.

You know the expression about good, cheap, and fast don't you?

Look, much like how boys tell stories about Drake, we like to tell stories about Annoyed Librarian. We like to say that she's toxic and not funny and that she's everything wrong with librarianship. Well, most of the time we forget she's a thing until we're forced to acknowledge her. And then we say she's toxic. And most of us are able to recognize poorly written satire when we see it (ahem) but some people aren't. I know you're not supposed to read the comments, but if you look at the comments of her most recent gem, a lovingly crafted satirical masterpiece about the Little Free Library movement, you can see that at least some people take her seriously.

I would like to say that Annoyed Librarian's time has come and gone but as long as Library Journal gives her space on their site, it hasn't. And probably we'll all go back to forgetting her until we remember her and yet another person will write yet another hot take about how damaging her brand of writing is for librarianship.

But until this time, maybe the Annoyed Librarian is the hero we all need. Probably not, but maybe.

Stay positive,
Erin

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

You see, there are two kinda people in the world today

(a guest post by the smart, thoughtful, wonderful Anna-Sophia--friend of the Unified Library Scene!)

Last week, my library’s ILS vendor hosted a webinar about their subscription linked data services. While my institution isn’t currently in the market for these services, it seemed like a good opportunity for me to learn more about how the linked data transition is being marketed to stakeholders. While the majority of the webinar focused on how easy the vendor made it to transform MARC into LOD and how important it LOD is to raising the library’s profile online, a few other features slipped quietly into the discussion.

One feature that the representative touted would use the patron’s location data to show them library resources and services nearby, and caused me to do a bit of a double take. What surprised me was not that vendors might choose to borrow this idea from ecommerce, but that they might be so nonchalant about the exchange of privacy for convenience in the library sphere, and without even a passing nod to protecting user privacy.

I was gratified that one participant did ask a question about this use of location services; although the question was framed specifically about whether location data was being shared with Google, it seemed clear to me that the question’s genesis was a concern for patron privacy and the collection of sensitive data. Instead of addressing this latent concern, though, the vendor representative sidestepped privacy altogether; everyone already has location services enabled anyway, they say, and it will offer a desirable and marketable convenience, end of story.

Concerns about patron privacy and the data collected -- and potentially broadcast -- by ILSes are nothing new, and have been written about in prominent venues by folks such as Eric Hellman and Marshall Breeding. The ALA’s Privacy Toolkit explicitly mentions geolocation as a “concern” with “emerging technologies,” warning that we shouldn’t assume that patrons no longer care about their privacy just because they have adopted technologies with privacy issues. Instead, the toolkit’s authors say, “we owe them the truth and some options.” I haven’t, honestly, seen that concern and commitment applied to our evaluation of linked data services. I worry that we’re too caught up in the glamor of the shiny new technology, the weight of its inevitability, or our anxiety about the required financial, infrastructural, and human resources to ask ourselves whether we should be collecting and using all of the data now available to us. Our calculations in deciding when and how to adopt these technologies, however, must include the policies, practices, and outreach needed to continue to uphold patrons’ rights. The New York Public Library, for example, recently went through an exhaustive process to create a new privacy policy and educate its users.

As linked data collection management systems become a less theoretical and more concrete part of our library future, we have a huge opportunity to work together, on both the front and the back ends, to continue to protect user data, push vendors for options for our users, and educate our users ever more thoroughly on privacy threats both inside and outside the library. Let’s not give in to the pressure to provide convenient consumer services without stopping to hold ourselves accountable to the values that define us.

Warmly,

Anna-Sophia

Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday jams (04/28/2017)

It's Friday! There are jams! Time for Friday jams, friends!

So, Gorillaz released a new album for the first time since 2012's Escape to Plastic Beach. Several tracks from We are Still Humanz, out today, got some radio play in the weeks prior to the album's release and this morning I heard "Let Me Out" which features Pusha T and Mavis Staples. Having heard a lot of Gorillaz's previous material, I was surprised at how immediate and relevant "Let Me Out" felt. And I'm even more excited to dig into the new album than I already was.

Please enjoy a live version of "Let Me Out," which features Damian Albarn playing a keytar.


Stay positive,
Erin

Thursday, April 27, 2017

There's gonna come a time when the scene will seem less sunny

Yesterday, American Libraries tweeted a link to a release with the headline "ALA, ACRL oppose FCC plans to roll back net neutrality." I went on a rant about this on Twitter last night, but I wanted to take some time after I'd cooled off to write more about why this release upsets me so much.

I am glad that ALA took the time to go on the record about how damaging the decision to roll back net neutrality will be. Julie Todaro, ALA President, is quoted as saying
"Now that the Internet has become one of the primary mechanisms for delivering information, services and applications to the general public, and the primary means for doing business, it is especially important that commercial Internet Service Providers not be able to unilaterally control or manipulate the content of these communications. Those with information needs should not have to have their search delayed while companies with deeper pockets pay to have their content delivered first."
And she's right. The rollback of net neutrality has far reaching implications for the work that librarians do.

What is baffling to me--and frankly extremely upsetting--is why ACRL is the only division named in this release. Why was it named at all? Or if it was to be named, why were other divisions and roundtables excluded from being named in the release?

Net neutrality is not just an issue for academic librarianship. It's an issue for public libraries, too. And it's not just an issue for people in research and instruction. It's an issue for people involved in the building, describing, and preservation of digital content. And it's certainly an issue for the library technologists among us.

Let me be clear on my position: net neutrality is an issue that touches each and every division and roundtable within the American Library Association.

Let me also be clear about this: the naming of ACRL in the release replicates the pattern I see happening within ALA. It is a problem to me--and I say this as a librarian working in a university library--that academic librarianship seems to have a larger voice than any other constituency within ALA. Yes, there are divisions that represent the interests of other constituencies, but it seems like while all divisions within ALA are equal, some divisions are more equal than others.

And to some extent, I get why academic librarians have a slightly louder voice. Academic libraries, generally speaking, have larger professional development budgets. And service in professional associations is often required for tenure & promotion.

But I also see places within ACRL where academic librarians are trying to replicate structures that already exist in other places within ALA. For example, ACRL has a Technical Services IG and there have been rumblings at various points in time about turning it into a Section. It seems inefficient at best and problematic at worst to create a home for Technical Services within ACRL when an entire division exists within ALA related to Technical Services work.

I think the unspoken truth--thought not always unspoken--is that ALA members believe that ACRL has a certain amount of prestige that other divisions do not.

Having said all of that, I do believe that ACRL is an important division within ALA. And division-specific releases are both appropriate and necessary in cases where an issue focuses on a single area of librarianship. But this isn't the case with net neutrality.

I would've preferred for the release to made at the ALA-level so that the entirety of the Association could've spoken with one voice on an issue that has the potential to impact our lives and the lives of those we serve so greatly. There is nothing in that statement that was inherent to academic librarianship and no one from ACRL leadership was quoted in the release. So why not make a statement on behalf of the entire Association and call it good? I mean, I don't imagine that the LITA Board is sitting around cheering the rollback of net neutrality.

I hope that other divisions will make statements on their on behalf to also express their opposition to the rollback of net neutrality. And I hope that ALA will think more in the future about how it looks to its membership when one division is elevated over others in cases where it's more appropriate to speak with one voice.

Stay positive,
Erin









Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday jams (04/21/2017)

It's Friday. Time for some Friday Jams, friends of the Unified Library Scene.

Big Boi released a couple of tracks from his upcoming album, which are both awesome and worth a listen. Head over to Brooklyn Vegan if you're interested in hearing them in one place. After hearing "Kill Jill," I headed over to YouTube to listen to some of my favorite Outkast songs. So let's celebrate Friday by enjoying a couple of tracks from Outkast.

This one.





And also this one.



Have a nice weekend!
Erin

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

It's like a dead-end when a road map is useless

One thing I like to talk about over here at Unified Library Scene headquarters is the value of well-formed metadata. Because I'm a cataloger, I'm often looking at the idea of well-formed metadata as it relates to the library catalog. But I think that well-formed metadata has value outside of the cataloging department as well. I was interested to read this post on OCLC's Hanging Together blog about how the changing landscape of metadata creation and remediation requires an emphasis on new skill sets for both early career and incumbent metadata creators.

I was especially interested to think about the Hanging Together blog post in relationship to this post from Ithaka S+R which highlighted aspects of their 2016 US Library Survey. Figure 1 of this post addresses the functional areas of the library to which library directors at baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral academic libraries indicated they would add positions over the next five years. At doctoral institutions, nearly 70% of respondents indicated they would be adding positions related to "specialized faculty research support (digital humanities, GIS, data management, etc.)."  At masters institutions, this functional area was significantly smaller at about 25%. At those institutions, the area that stands to see the greatest amount of growth in the next five years is "instruction, instructional design, and information literacy services" at nearly 40%.

If you go back to the 2016 US Library Survey, you can see a table that corresponds with this one. In this table, library directors at masters and baccalaureate institutions indicated which functional areas they would be reducing employee positions. It will probably not surprise you to learn that technical services, metadata, and cataloging was the highest vote getting functional area at about 25%. In fairness, this was down from close to 30% in 2013.

While it's worth noting that the responses for added and reduced positions aren't exactly one-to-one since there isn't data on which functional areas library directors at doctoral institutions would target for position reduction. But I suspect, anecdotally anyway, that technical services would be what they chose were they to have been queried.

The Hanging Together blog posts indicates that managers are looking for people to work with metadata who understand how information is organized rather than being skilled at working with a specific schema. The post also suggests that those of us who are interested in helping to recruit and retain the next generation of metadata creators "should promote metadata as an exciting career option to new professionals in venues such as library schools and ALA's New Members Roundtable." The author goes on to state that "emphasizing that metadata encompasses much more than library cataloging can increase its appeal, for example: entity identification, descriptive standards used in various academic disciplines, and describing born-digital, archival, and research data that can interact with the semantic Web."

While some of the tasks the author outlines in their post can be directly mapped to the faculty research support described in the Ithaka S+R survey, much of it still maps directly into functional areas of the library that may be cut in the next five years. And while many of the respondents to the Ithaka S+R survey indicated that they have a commitment to reskilling staff and reallocating them to different areas of the library, it's no wonder that people who understand metadata concepts and have technological skills are choosing careers in industries outside of librarianship--a problem that the Hanging Together post points out.

The disconnect between the need to recruit and retain people who can create well-formed metadata and the fact that these positions are some of the first to be targeted for elimination in academic libraries is one that needs to be addressed. After all, some of the emerging faculty support services rely upon well-formed metadata to be successful. I hope that connecting the dots is the first step in facilitating this difficult but necessary conversation.

Stay positive,
Erin


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

All I do is keep the beat and bad company

So, last week I wrote about the Ithaka S+R US Library Survey 2016 and the importance of charting a course for the future that is built upon listening to your library's various constituencies and understanding the needs and values. After reading that report and writing that post, it was interesting to read in Inside Higher Ed that Ithaka S+R is partnering with OCLC to work on a project that looks at the relationship between university success and library success.

As someone who is about to start graduate school to study higher education, I have developed a keen interest in the idea that the library plays an important role within the campus community. So I was interested to read this part of Ithaka S+R's release on the project:
"it [a discussion of the future of libraries] often proceeds without reference to the universities of which they are a part. We contend that the most important long term influence on the library is the requirement placed on it by changing patterns of research and learning. The changing patterns, in turn, are shaped by the focus of the university and the direction it is taking."
I am interested to see higher education and librarianship put into conversation in this way because I think it draws explicit lines where there may only be implicit ones.

What gave me pause is the research question at the center of the project: what happens when libraries differentiate themselves in terms of services, not collection size; are there multiple models of success?

I think this is a fair question to ask, and I am curious to see what Ithaka S+R and OCLC find. How would our libraries be different if we thought more about the services we offer our user communities instead of the number of volumes in our collection. I think that collection size does not necessarily directly correlate with value or relevance to the user community. And while our collections are important to the people who use our libraries, they are not necessarily the first or only concern. So if the decision-makers in libraries only think of their library in terms of the number of volumes it holds, they may be missing out on making important connections with user communities. And, as the release on the project points out, a change in the patterns of research and learning on a campus can significantly alter how a library presents itself in order to response to that change in patterns. That is, in some ways the library of today looks different than the library of tomorrow will.

But what gives me pause about this question is that it surfaces a thing that often happens in libraries. Decision-makers in library seem to frame a conversation that puts collections and services at odds. Because space in a library is finite, short of the funds to undergo a building project, a choice must be made about how space is allocated: collections or services? How many new services and spaces can we offer our user communities, one wonders, if we clear our libraries of the collections they don't seem to want to use? So we clear our our stacks, either moving things offsite or withdrawing them from our collection. And we tell a story to our users about the value of the collections we have to offer them.

The collections in our libraries are not the enemy. And creating a false choice between collections and services is not the best way for a library to become more valuable to its user communities. Decision-makers have to balance the need to have a thoughtfully curated collection and the need to offer services that are relevant to the user communities that their libraries serve. Choosing to focus their efforts mostly on building a large collection is as unhelpful as choosing to focus on building a suite of new, cool services. The strength of a library, it seems to me, is at the intersection of thoughtful services and an intentionally built collection.

So yes, let's stop thinking that our value is tied up in the size of our collections. Let's weed our collections thoughtfully and relocation our collection when we need to make space for something new. But let's also stop think of our collections as the enemy of progress within our libraries and of engagement with our users.

Stay positive,
Erin


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How it feels when we fall, when we fold

The Ithaka S+R US Library Survey for 2016 was published yesterday and if you're a person who works in academic libraries, it is definitely worth a look. What caught my eye was a chart fairly early in the document--Figure 4. Figure 4 compares the responses of library directors and faculty members to the following question: How important to you is it that your college or university library provides each of the functions below or serves in the capacity listed below? 

What emerges when you look at that table is that what library directors see as valuable roles for the library to play don't necessarily converge with what faculty members see as valuable roles for the library to play. I suspect this isn't surprising if you work in an academic library.

I noticed that the categories that received a larger percentage of positive responses from library directors seemed to be centered around they ways in which the library helps develop information literacy skills in undergraduate students how the library supports faculty with teaching and research activities. And the single category that received a larger percentage of positive responses from faculty is centered around the library paying for resources in all formats.

While I am wary of asking charts to do things they are not intended to do, it is interesting to see these different visions of the library juxtaposed.

Academic libraries invest a lot of resources into marketing and outreach in an attempt to sell our campus communities on the library services that I mentioned in the earlier paragraphs. We set up departmental office hours. We print flyers and create digital signage to market the services no one seems to know about no matter how often we remind them. We hold open houses. We have orientation sessions for new students and faculty. We try, through marketing and outreach, to get other people as excited about this version of the academic library as we are.

And we wring out hands when our efforts don't cultivate new relationships or lead to the more widespread adoption of new services.

This is not to suggest that these outreach efforts are misplaced. Teaching faculty aren't a monolith and some of them are as excited about our vision of the academic library as instructor of students and supporter of faculty activities. Some of our teaching faculty colleagues are, indeed, our strongest supporters and our best allies. And it is absolutely true that the best way to establish new relationships with teaching faculty by way of a satisfied faculty customer.

But I do wonder how much of our marketing and outreach efforts could be better spent by listening to our teaching faculty colleagues on our own campus and developing a shared vision of what the library on our campus should be--even when that vision isn't exactly what we think it should be.

Creating conversations between the academic library and its user communities is really challenging because it asks us to stop putting our vision ahead of the needs of our user communities. And when the vision that is reflected back to us by our user communities is not where we think we should be heading, we have to decide whether to chart a new course or not. It's scary, we think, because our user communities don't understand the history of the academic library. It's scary, we imagine, because our user communities couldn't possibly know what they need better than we do.

But in the end, the way to build an academic library that is not only useful on a campus but creates experiences for our user communities that is transformative is to listen far more than we speak.

What is one way that you can listen to your user communities about the library they want and need? Tell me in the comments!

Stay positive,
Erin


Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday Jams (03/31/17)

Much like the Mack returned and Backstreet came back, it's Friday and there are Jams to be shared. So it's time for Friday Jams!

Erin:
Jason Isbell has a new album coming out in the spring, and he released a single from that album. It's called "Hope the High Road" and it's really great. It's loud and it's full of hope. And I love how Amanda Shires' vocals are tucked up inside the chorus to the point that you really have to listen intently to find them. Anyway, it's great and I hope you dig it.




Tuesday, March 28, 2017

With a loose grip on a very tight ship

Like many of you, I went to ACRL in Baltimore last week. I was on a panel about gendered expectations for library leaders and I presented a paper that used the Framework as a lens through which to view cataloging policy and practice. I tried to think of a thread that unifies my feelings about my ACRL experience, but I honestly don't have one. So I'm going to give you a few disjointed, half-formed thoughts.

1.) ACRL is not my home within ALA--that's ALCTS, the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services. I was really happy with the increased number of collections and technical services programs this year. While I haven't been a supporter of ACRL creating a section specifically to address collections and technical services issues, I think that having a venue within the ACRL conference to talk about these issues is really important. Also, I found that having more collections and technical services-related programming helped make me feel like I wasn't a weird outlier for attending ACRL. I hope that the 2019 installment of the conference will continue this trend. If you're a collections or technical services practitioner, I would encourage you to propose a session. If the content isn't there, there isn't much the program planners can do to raise the visibility of this part of academic librarianship.

2.) I was troubled by the number of programs that were social justice-themed or Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)-themed that were proposed and lead by white men. I feel like it requires a significant lack of self-awareness to be a white man and think that you're the person uniquely qualified to speak on issues related to social justice and/or EDI. It's especially shameful when you consider that nearly 90% of librarianship is made up of white people. And it does a lot to perpetuate the gross white savior narrative upon which librarianship seems to be built. I know that social justice and EDI are hot topics right now in librarianship, so everyone wants to be on record as saying something. But if we really want to advance these issues in our profession, those of us in positions of privilege would do well to sit down and make space to amplify the voices from marginalized communities. See also: the Roxanne Gay Q&A debacle of Aught Seventeen.

3.) I grow more and more annoyed at the Q&A periods during conference sessions. By the end of the conference, I was getting up and walking out when people finished their presentations. I feel like these Q&A periods do little to advance the work of the presenters and that questioners rarely ask good questions that are generally applicable to all in attendance. Instead, these questions usually fall along one of two lines:

1. The questioner has no question.
2. The questioner has a question that is so specific to their particular situation that the answer to the question is of little value to anyone other than the questioner.

I started to think that the Q&A period should be done away with and the time given back to the presenters. But the more I think about it, I think maybe that the Q&A period, with  some tweaks, could be useful. So don't approach the microphone unless you have a question that is general enough as to be valuable to all who are in attendance. And also, yes, do use the microphone--even if you think you can project.

4.) I had a real love/hate relationship with the social media back channel at this event. I found myself using the back channel to say some things that weren't very kind about situations and programs in which I found myself. I feel like everybody has to decide for themselves how they use social media, so this is more a self-critique than a hot take on the social media back channel writ large. At some point, in wanting to build a brand and cultivate a following, I lost track of my authentic voice in favor of something snarkier. And I don't like how I feel when I do that. I think I need to spend time thinking critically about how I use my voice in online spaces. As someone who wants to be taken seriously and who wants to have their voice heard, I recognize that my words have power and that I bring energy into a space with what I say. Maybe it's all the weird things happening in my life and in the world but at some point, I started putting snark in front of thoughtfulness in the words I express on social media. As someone who wants to build a Unified Library Scene, I can be truthful and say hard things without being...unkind, and I really need to think about how to strike that balance. That being said, I really appreciated the tweets that a lot of you made during the course of ACRL. I appreciate how thoughtfully and thoroughly you documented sessions and how smartly you held us all accountable for the ways in which we forgot to be our better selves during the course of the conference.

Stay positive,
Erin

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

You're pretty good with words, but words won't save your life

Next week at ACRL, I'm going to be on a panel about gendered expectations for library leaders with a bunch of really wonderful and brilliant people. I wrote a bunch of words that I originally thought I might use on this panel, but which I am not going to use because I am going to use different words. I thought these words were still worth sharing, so here you go.


Stay positive,
Erin

**
An anecdote: in 2015, I attended my first ACRL conference in Portland as a recipient of a mid-career scholarship. While ALCTS, ALA’s technical services division, is my home within ALA, I wanted to attend ACRL to nurture those parts of my interests that are more centered in front-of-the-house academic librarianship. I attended a session and when the convener asked the audience to pair up to discuss a set of prompts, I talked to a very nice library administrator. When we had exhausted the prompts, our conversation turned to the kind of small talk that you make at conferences: where are you from? What do you do?  When my conversation partner learned that I am a cataloger, their response bordered on what I can only describe as incredulity. The conversation concluded quickly after the person said “The catalogers at my library would never attend an event like this.”

While my job duties throughout my career have been centered squarely in cataloging, I have an interest in instruction. In my first job out of library school, the instruction coordinator invited me to teach a library orientation class for a section of our first-year Composition students because she needed more librarians to help carry the load of teaching a lot of classes in a very short amount of time—a feeling that those of you who schedule these kind of classes can probably identify with. I had been a cataloger for several years and while I feel comfortable with my ability to teach people about the search process, I wasn’t sure how good I would be at teaching. While the initial classes I taught were….rough, to put it kindly, it turns out that teaching is something I enjoy. I am fortunate the instruction coordinator was willing to work with me, helping me design lesson plans and feeling confident in the classroom. Seven years later—give or take—and I feel like I’m finally hitting my stride. And I feel lucky that the instruction coordinator for the first-year Biology students at my current library felt comfortable allowing me into the classroom.

When I talk to librarians who work in public-facing roles about my interest in instruction, I hear some variation on the theme of my being an outlier within the cataloging community. Much like in the anecdote I told earlier, they tell me how the catalogers they know would never want to be in a classroom setting or working with students. And while I think they mean well, I’m not sure that these librarians in public-facing roles know how much it makes me feel like an other in the instruction spaces in which I find myself. In July 2014, I wrote a post for Jessica’s blog—Letters to a Young Librarian—in which I described the stereotype that exists about people who work in cataloging, people like me. I wrote that they are seen as being “socially inept, change averse, unfriendly, rigid, detail-oriented to a fault, bad communicators, uncompromising, rule-bound, and territorial.” What I imagine the librarians in public-facing roles who tell me what an anomaly I am are actually saying is, it’s okay that you’re a cataloging because you’re not that kind of cataloger.

Every time that someone points out that I am an other in the instruction spaces in which I find myself, I feel self-conscious. And my sense of being an other in those spaces definitely impacts how I exist in them. As I prepare to teach classes, I worry that my lessons aren’t pedagogically sound enough or that my activities won’t hold the attention of the students I’m working with. When I talk with the other librarians at my library doing orientation for first-year Biology students, I defer to them because they have far more classroom experience than I do.  I think it’s fair to say that more often than not, in instruction spaces, imposter syndrome gets the best of me.

Add to that the fact that I identify strongly with how Jessica and Michelle described themselves in the article they wrote for In the Library With a Lead Pipe: two women who do not fit the stereotype of overly warm or nice but both consider themselves to be empathic, kind, and effective. I know my strengths—I am empathetic and wonkish, caring deeply about process and about the places where processes and people intersect. And while I am sometimes not the best communicator, I am an engaged listener who loves hearing people’s ideas and finding ways to connect those threads. But when I enter these spaces in which I am an other, I worry about how my not being overly warm translates to those with whom I interact. I worry that I come off as aloof or standoffish, so I go out of my way to be kind.

I want to pause to acknowledge the places where my gender intersects with my more privileged identities. Being white, cisgender, able bodied, and middle class means that I don’t face systemic oppression in the same way as colleagues whose intersecting identities mean that they are members of marginalized communities. In fact, it’s my privileged identities that allow me entry into instruction spaces when those activities when they are not part of my job duties.  And while it’s hurtful to be reminded that I am an other in the instruction spaces in which I find myself, I cannot, and will not, compare the way I’m treated as a cataloger in instruction spaces to the microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations that our colleagues from marginalized communities face for simply existing in LIS spaces.

Honestly, my experience as a cataloger in instruction spaces has been filled as much sunshine as gloom—more, even. The librarians I have met in instruction spaces have been gracious with their time, their knowledge, and their resources. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have talked through a lesson plan with Michelle and incorporated her feedback to improve the class. So here’s what I would say: to the librarians in back-room roles (IT, collection development, technical services) with interests in traditionally public-facing tasks—you belong in those spaces. You have good ideas an work experiences that will be beneficial to your public-facing librarian colleagues, so share them. And to public-facing librarians—welcome your colleagues from back-room roles. Be gracious with your time and your knowledge and offer radical hospitality.  There is room in the conversation for everyone.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trying hard not to get too obsessed with it

At the end of February, a post to the BIBFRAME listserv linked to an essay by Jeff Edmunds that enumerated the reasons why the author believes that the standard will not be widely adopted by the GLAM community. There has been much conversation in various parts of the cataloging community about the merits of the arguments that Edmunds lays out in the essay.

Throughout the essay, Edmunds suggests repeatedly (and in various ways) that those who are engaged in the work of developing BIBFRAME have gotten so in the theoretical weeds that they have lost track of the realities of resource description in the modern age. Toward the end of his essay, Edmunds suggests that the greatest challenges facing metadata creators today are:
"the utterly unwieldy immensity of the bibliographic universe, the ongoing and accelerating decline in the quality of bibliographic metadata, competition for the organization and delivery of information by non-library entities (Wikipedia, Google, Facebook)"
I should say that while I wasn't a fan of this essay, I don't actually disagree with Edmunds' assertions about the challenges facing metadata creators. I think he does a fine job of surveying the current landscape. What was apparent to me when reading this essay was that it points to a growing rift in the cataloging community that will only continue to grow as we move toward a crisis point related to the adoption of BIBFRAME as a standard. And as one side on that growing rift, it's representative of an argument that I've heard being made in the cataloging community.

There seems to be a growing tension between those engaged in the theoretical work of developing BIBFRAME as a standard and those who are still currently working on describing the resources their library owns in MARC. And in some ways, I think his boils down to a tension between those who have the means to innovate and those who don't.

There is a large contingent of the metadata creation community that has invested resources in the development and modeling of BIBFRAME as a standard. This work is ongoing and while I understand very little of it, if we're being honest, it seems like this work is driven by a belief that there is a future for BIBFRAME as a standard within our community. I think it's important work, but I also think it's worth being transparent about the fact that this type of work requires material resources. And those institutions who have stepped into the role of early adopter are often entities with the ability to devote those material resources to standards development.

For other libraries, there are simply not enough material resources to devote resources to standards development. There are too few staff and not enough money to devote to both the quotidian work of resource description and the theoretical work of standards development and modeling. Because choices must be made strategically about how to spend resources, these libraries find themselves on the outside of the theoretical work of standards development and modeling looking in.

There is a very real tension between these two sides, which leads to each one being defensive and suspicious of the other. And it is easy to see the other side and not find value in their work. Those who are invested in BIBFRAME development see people who are suspicious of it as change averse and negative. People who are suspicious of BIBFRAME development see those who champion it as being too caught up in the theoretical and divorced from the practical.

One thing I have grown more certain of as I have seen BIBFRAME development is that I am out of my depth. While I am on the younger end of those who are currently cataloging, my education was based in the AACR2 environment and sometimes I have a hard time pulling myself out of the quotidian work of metadata creation to find the value in the development of future standards. But I make myself do it, because I don't want to be the person who is so stuck in way of thinking that I outlive my professional usefulness.

I think that, as a community, we have to have a conversation about the merits and drawback of making the intellectual shift from a siloed past to an interoperable future. And there's room for people on both sides of this conversation. But the longer we allow this rift to grow, the less likely it will be that such a conversation will be able to happen respectfully and with acknowledgement of the value of both sides of the conversation.

Stay positive,
Erin

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Waging wars to shape the poet and the beat

In 1994, the Program for Cooperative Cataloging emerged from the work of a group called the Cooperative Cataloging Council. The founding documentation of this movement toward a national-level cooperative cataloging initiative came as the result of the work of a group called the Cooperative Cataloging Council. This group identified potential goals of a cooperative cataloging program and then charged task groups with writing recommendations in each of these areas. A short monograph, Towards a New Beginning in Cooperative Cataloging, includes both background documents and the final reports of each of these tasks groups. The six task groups reported on record creation and reuse, availability and distribution of records, authorities, standards, cataloger training, and foreign MARC. At 76 pages, it's a quick read. And one I would recommend if you're curious about the history of the PCC. It felt especially timely to look at the PCC's original strategic plan in light of the fact that the group will soon be embarking on a new strategic planning cycle.

Task Group 1's final report, titled "More, Better, Faster Cheaper," proposed a new model for the cooperative cataloging of non-serial materials. The group contextualizes its argument by stating "they [current cooperative cataloging efforts/models] fail because they are based on the belief (or hope) that any library can, and will, create a cataloging record that will be fully usable by other libraries. In fact, no single library can create such a cataloging record. Or, perhaps more accurately, it won't-nor should it be expected to" (30). Task Group 1 goes on to argue that the non-serial cataloging community should see the cataloging process as iterative in the way that, at the time, the CONSER program did. "Rather than focusing on cooperative cataloging, CONSER has focused on cataloging cooperatively, if you will: on cooperative creation and maintenance of cataloging records" (30). Task Group 1 then went on to propose that the cataloging community "should be putting its efforts into fostering an environment in which cataloging records are 'vouched for' or 'authenticated' and made part of the national database for subsequent use and emendation as necessary" (30). One can imagine that Task Group 1's report served as the foundation for BIBCO. And it gives us the basis for our current understanding of the record creation and reuse model that we know and love today.

As a serials cataloger, I feel really connected to the idea that cataloging is an iterative process. Because a serial record covers the entire life of the publication, our work on a record representing a serial title is not done as long as the serial continues to be published. And I like that other communities took seriously the idea that it makes more sense to build upon the work done by others rather than continue to duplicate their work. The current record creation and reuse model is a smart one, built on collegiality and on enhancing the work of others.

I'll be honest, though, I bristled a little when I read the title of Task Group 1's report. And it's the same reason that I struggle to accept the current record creation and reuse model. If our motivation for accepting this model is for cost savings and efficiency, how much does the cataloging community truly build upon the work done by others? How often do we accept the records we find as being good enough for our local context when our local context might vary significantly from the one where the record was originally created?

And this, I think, is where I find myself feeling stuck when it comes to thinking about the current catalog record creation and reuse model. I don't think it would be a wise use of our resources to go backwards in time to a place where catalogers at many libraries created records for the same title. I think that thinking of cataloging as an iterative process where one cataloger enhances the record created by another, leveraging each one's strengths makes much more sense. But our motivation for cataloging cooperatively in any format should be to create records that others can not only reuse but can also enhance.

I also think that part of the record creation and reuse model has to incorporate a consideration of the context of users in any given library. Records downloaded from a bibliographic utility or purchased from vendors should be evaluated to ensure that their metadata reflects the needs of a particular user community. This may mean enhancing those records in any number of ways, including additional access points or additional subject analysis. This requires a commitment to well-formed metadata that goes far beyond a more/better/faster/cheaper way of thinking.

I felt grateful to read this book because it helped me understand the ideas that undergird so much of our modern ideas about catalog record creation and reuse. And it helped me better understand and articulate my feelings about that process. I think we should continue to think of the cataloging process for all formats as iterative, and think about how our local processes could change as a result.

Stay positive,
Erin

Works cited:
Towards a New Beginning in Cooperative Cataloging. Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress Cataloging Distribution Service, 1994.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Looking at life through the eyes of a tired hub

Like many libraries these days, my library is planning a migration to a new integrated library system/library management system. And, like many libraries these days, the software we're migrating to moves us from a module-based system that puts an emphasis on functional areas to a system where functionality is more process-based.

This movement toward process-based functionality has me thinking more and more about systems thinking and how libraries are, generally speaking, not great at it.

When I think of systems thinking in libraries, it is helpful to me to think of a system as a set of component parts that interact in a dynamic way. There are a lot of projects and ongoing processes in my library whose component processes "live" in different functional areas. A systems thinking approach would suggest I should look at the whole of a process or project, rather than only looking at the processes that make up the components of the system I'm responsible for. By looking at the system as a whole, I can work more flexibly and collegially with the people who are responsible for other component parts of the system.

I think that moving toward seeing the whole of a process or project rather than just the component parts that make them up is not always a natural inclination for people who work in libraries. We often tend to see the world as processes that are our job and those that aren't. It feels so unnatural, I would argue, that libraries are starting to hire project managers to help coordinate the component parts of a project or are designating someone to serve as project manager. Having someone serve as the hub of a project or process from which all of the component parts flow in and out is helpful when it comes to time sensitive, deadline-based projects. But I would argue that adopting a systems thinking mindset should be the responsibility of everyone in the organization.

One of the goals of the Unified Library Scene is to build better relationships--especially between functional areas within libraries. It's hard to do that, though, when you have a 'this is my job and everything else isn't' mentality. Having that mindset makes establishing areas of mutual concern really difficult and it makes having a shared understanding about the relationship between component parts of a process. Yes, cross-departmental projects and processes can run smoothly and efficiently without a commitment to a systems thinking approach. But there's only so far those projects and processes can go if those responsible for the component parts aren't interested in the work happening in other component parts.

As I've been thinking about how my work will change as a result of my library's adoption of software based around processes, I've been thinking more about how I can move out of a "component parts" mindset. One thing I've found valuable as a starting point is looking at a process that I'm involved in that crosses into multiple departments and talking to people about their component part tasks. Who is responsible for the process before it gets to me and what are the choices they make that impact my work? Who picks up the process where I left off and how do the choices I make impact their work? I don't need to be the center hub of the wheel from the very start, but a good place to start is understanding the spokes closest to me.

The ways that our libraries work best is when we aren't ruled by the silos that our functional areas create for us. Instead, we work best when we think of not only our place as component parts in the system, but when we think of the system as a whole.

Stay positive,
Erin

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'm sick of all this waiting

A thing I think about a lot is the next generation of technical services leaders. I have met a lot of wonderful early career librarians who are choosing to make technical services their career. And I return home from each ALA Midwinter and Annual feeling energized by their interest in, and enthusiasm for, moving technical services librarianship forward. But when I think about the future of technical services librarianship, I worry that collectively, we're not doing a great job of recruiting and retaining the kinds of people we need to propel acquisitions, collection development and management, cataloging, and preservation into the future.

I feel like the first year as a librarian is full of challenges for all kinds of librarian, especially for people without previous library experience. Not only are you figuring out how to succeed in your job, but you're also thinking about how (and whether) you want to make an impact in your organization and in the larger library world. This can be compounded if your first position is in an academic library and you suddenly find yourself on the tenure track with the directive to publish and present. If you're moving into a technical services position, your challenges may be compounded by the fact that your coursework did not prepare you for the kind of work you do as a technical services librarian.

Helping early career librarians of all kinds grow in their first year requires intentionality on the part of those who supervise them. For those who supervise technical services librarians, there is an added layer of helping early career librarians who may also require an additional level of support in understanding the specific culture of technical services librarianship and work. When I think about my own experience and about what changes technical services librarians could make to better recruit and retain early career technical services librarians, a couple of ideas come to mind:

1. Library administrators should provide newly hired technical services librarians with mentors from other parts of the organization. 

Yes, a lot of professional organizations have mentoring programs, and that's great. Those kinds of programs are wonderful for helping early career librarians learn more about what it means to serve in a professional capacity. But you also need to pair your new hires with people in your organization to help mentor them through issues specific to your organizational culture. A formalized mentoring program that starts during onboarding need only last a year--time enough for a new hire to feel comfortable in the organization. But I can say from firsthand experience that those conversations over coffee will help your new hires feel more confident and comfortable in their jobs and in your organization.

2. Technical services supervisors should meet regularly with newly hired technical services librarians to ensure that growth goals are established and progress toward meeting them is made.

I think that growth requires intentionality. And setting aside the time and space to talk about where a person is, where they want to go, and how they plan to get there is so important. These conversations are especially important in an academic library where a new hire is on the tenure track and expected to meet certain benchmarks. A component of these conversations should also be what kind of training and tools an early career technical services librarian might need to meet established growth goals, because directives become so much more difficult to meet without material support.

3. Technical services supervisors should identify areas within an organization for cross-training and cross-departmental collaboration and support newly hired technical services librarians in taking advantage of those opportunities.

Sometimes the hardest thing about working in a "back room" position is understanding what opportunities exist for collaboration with departments outside of your own. Supervisors of newly hired technical services librarians should identify and facilitate this kind of cooperative work. One idea that immediately comes to mind is setting up short rotations through each department within technical services so that a new hire can learn how the work of those departments intersects with their own. Additionally, technical services supervisors should identify important cross-departmental committee work where a new hire's expertise might be needed and ensure that the new hire is invited to join in the work.

I think that recruitment and retention of early career technical services librarians is so vital to the future success of technical services both on a large scale and within individual libraries. As librarians at individual libraries, we owe it to our future leaders to intentionally develop plans to help them grow rather than tossing them into the position and hoping that they find their way. What other ways do you think libraries and their administrators could support early career technical services librarians? Drop your ideas in the comments!

Stay positive,
Erin

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It's getting kind of hectic

I spent the better part of January trying to get my paper for ACRL 2017 into shape for submission and I am only now returning to the things I was doing before that. One of those things is working my way through Frances E. Kendall's Understanding White Privilege. This book has really helped me think about the privilege I have and how it has helped me advance in ways I am not always aware of.

In one of the chapters, Kendall talks about our natural inclination to see the places where we don't have privilege instead of the places where we do. She writes:
Because we measure our own privilege by looking at what other have received that we haven't, rather than at what we have that others don't, frequently it is hard to believe that we have access to power and influence because we belong to one identity group when we are so clear that we don't have power and influence because of our membership to another (108).
I immediately put this quote into conversation with the fact that as of 2009/2010, 87% of female librarians are white, according to some number crunching I did from this table off the ALA Diversity Counts 2012 report. There are certain intersections that this table hides, of course. But think about what kind of access to power and influence white librarians have, and then recognize how this statistic reflects what many of our marginalized colleagues already understand to be true about librarianship.

Because we measure our privilege against what others have that we don't, I have often looked at what I lack as a female librarian. My male colleagues have access to leadership opportunities and opportunities for advancement that I don't. And surfacing the difference in expectations for male and female leaders is absolutely a valuable conversation to have--and one that the LibLeadGender community has coalesced around. But what reading this passage in Kendall's book reminded me of is that when I think about this, I also have to consider the ways in which my whiteness and position in the middle class give me access to power and opportunities.

Memberships in professional organizations are expensive and yet they are often a requirement for volunteer service. I am able to pay those dues, so I have access to those volunteer opportunities. And as I look around at in-person meetings, I see a lot of people who look like me. Traveling to conferences is often costly--between registration fees, flight costs, and meals. I am fortunate that my library pays a portion of the amount that it costs me to attend multiple conferences in a year, but I am also able to pay the amount that isn't covered out-of-pocket. When I look at who is in the room with me at conferences, I see a lot of people who look like me.

It is worth acknowledging that certain parts of library professional associations shape policy and practice within librarianship. One such body that comes to mind is CC:DA, the Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access. Housed within the Cataloging and Metadata Management Section of ALCTS, this committee serves as ALA's voice in the international conversation about cataloging policy. Being able to serve on that committee is contingent upon one's ability to afford to be a member of both ALA and ALCTS. Those who cannot afford to pay association dues or travel to conferences are excluded from important conversations about the future of librarianship.

The Unified Library Scene is about building relationships within libraries. As part of that work, I am committed to learning how to be an ally. One of the places where I have started in this process is honest self-reflection about the places where I benefit from my power and privilege. Anything I do before an acknowledgement of how I have benefited from my whiteness, my able-bodied status, and my middle-class status make my actions both inauthentic and oppressive of those I wish to be allied with. I would invite you, friend of the Unified Library Scene, to also engaged in honest self-reflection. If the idea of power and privilege is new to you, there is a body of work that exists on this topic and reading more about this should definitely be part of your self-reflection process If you're interested in understanding more about the intersection of privilege and librarianship, I would offer two articles as a starting point: April Hathcock's piece in Library Lead Pipe on diversity initiatives in librarianship. I would also recommend Angela Galvan's piece in Library Lead Pipe on the perpetuation of white, middle-class values in librarianship. If you have additional recommendations, drop them in the comments!

Stay positive,
Erin


Friday, February 3, 2017

Friday jams (02/03/2017)

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

Erin:
In 2016, Drive-By Truckers put out a really great album with political and social themes that are more...overt than on previous records. The political and social themes have always been there, but DBT usually weaves them into stories instead of confronting you with them directly. My favorite part about this jam is the way all four of the singers harmonize on the chorus in a way that feels both hopefully unified and angrily defiant.



Rachel:
Actually, it's Erin again--posting on Rachel's behalf. I have no commentary for this jam except to say that it's a great song to put in your ears on a Friday.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Not a question of if, but a question of when

Back in the fall, I wrote about how ALA could rebuild trust with its membership after the Great Press Release Debacle of Aught Sixteen. In that post I laid out a three-point plan for how I believed that the association could restore the relationship with its members. There is one point that I want to use as a framework for this post:
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.
Much of the conversation around the conflict within the Association membership seemed to center around conflating personal opinions with professional ethics. And the thing I was most disappointed about at the ALA Town Hall was that the first speaker read this part of the ALA Code of Ethics, "we distinguish between our personal convictions and our professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources." I could find no other way to interpret that action than as a way to silence dissent from those who wanted ALA to stand up more forcefully for the values it holds at its core and more forcefully against an administration who seems to be poised to dismantle everything our core values stand for.

I was glad to see ALA come out in opposition of recent policies enacted by the new Administration to silence, intimidate, and ban. Even more so, I was glad to see the Association say, "we encourage our members to continue to speak out and show their support for and work on behalf of our core values, in their communities as well as with their local, state, and national elected and appointed officials." Given the ways in which its membership had been holding the Association responsible, the statement was the first thing that made me believe that the Association heard what its members were saying. And while this is the beginning of a conversation and not the end, it does seem to be a promising beginning.

Let us be absolutely clear in this moment: our marginalized colleagues and user community members are at actual, literal risk right now.

And given that almost 90% of librarianship is white, those of us in positions of privilege have a decision to make. Will we stand up for our colleagues and community members as the tactics used to silence and oppress them grow more bold? Or will we stand idly by behind the "professional duties" of the clause of the ALA Code of Ethics while the rights and lives of our colleagues and community members are destroyed?

As the co-author of this blog, I get to make choices about what kind of content ends up here--the issues that get addressed and the voices that get amplified. The Unified Library Scene will always be about bringing together people from disparate groups within librarianship to build a better future for our users, and right now that means standing alongside our marginalized colleagues and user community members, not just in words but in deeds. I invite you to join me in listening to the voices of our marginalized colleagues and community members and in interrogating how we can each better use our voices, our time, our talents, and our money to support those around us who need us to show up.

Stay positive,
Erin