Wednesday, July 26, 2017

This is a story about control

One thing that the Unified Library Scene has always been about is understand the needs of your user community and responding to them. When reading the most recent Ithaka S+R issue brief, Rethinking liaison programs for the humanities, I was once again reminded of how central listening should be to the work we do in libraries.

I was fascinated by the idea that their projects are "scholar centered." The authors describe their centering of researchers by saying:
we do not ask scholars how they engage with library services, collections, or employees but rather in a more open-ended way what their experiences and practices are like as researchers. Our intention is not to evaluate the "efficacy" of liaison services as they are currently organized but rather to determine what services if any may be needed.
This idea of asking scholars about their processes really resonates with me because it centers the user and decenters the library. Instead of asking "how good are we at meeting your needs?" this process asks "what are your needs?" Instead of asking scholars to do the work of figuring out how to structure the services the library should be providing, the work of mapping the efficacy of services happens when trying to reconcile scholar needs with current service offerings.

This methodology is perhaps easier for Ithaka to undertake than many individual academic libraries because one imagines that they don't tie the answer that a respondent gives to the work being done in the organization those respondents represent. If you talked to the libraries that serve those respondents, they may not feel as comfortable with the scholar centered approach because they are invested in making sure that they are doing the best possible job of meeting the needs of the faculty they serve. And in the end, scholar centered approach requires a flexibility of thinking and a willingness to give legacy services up in order to take on new, more useful services.

Later in the issue brief, the authors talk about how because humanists are often working in sub-disciplines, they don't see their liaison librarian as an expert they can include as a collaborator in their research process. The authors explain:
Even if, as appears to be increasingly the case, subject specialists have advanced degrees in the relevant subject area, subject expertise at a discipline level is not what is being sought. Rather, for research support humanists are looking for engagement at the level of their own sub-discipline, which is rarely available through the library.
That was really hard for me to read, and I don't liaise with scholars.

It's dangerous to think of any user community as a monolith, so what happens at any given academic library might not scale. But I still think this is really valuable insight. I think that academic libraries and the workers who staff them spend a lot of time trying to foist services upon scholars who may not need them and then internalizing the failure they feel when they aren't able to build the kind of relationships they wish to have with the scholars in the academic community. It isn't that those scholars don't see the library as valuable--the authors of this issue brief are very clear that they do--it's that they don't see us in the way that we may want to be seen.

We spend a lot of time in academic libraries evaluating the services we provide our users. And I do think it's valuable to measure the efficacy of the work that we're already doing. But I think what this issue brief points out to us, separate from its findings, is how important it is to have a user centered orientation that comes from truly engaging with your user communities, knowing how they work, and identifying ways in which your work intersects with theirs in an authentic way.

Stay positive,
Erin

Friday, July 21, 2017

These are the days it never rains but it pours

I was happy to learn that the ALCTS Board approved the ALCTS Diversity Statement as part of its agenda at ALA Annual 2017. This statement addresses the Division's position of equity, diversity, and inclusion as they relate to acquisition, description, management, and preservation of library materials but it also addresses those issues as they relate to the recruitment and retention of library workers with marginalized identities. This statement is thoughtfully crafted and I sincerely hope that the member organizations within the Division both live up to and promote the values codified in the statement.

As a cataloger, the statement in the ALCTS Diversity Statement that is most applicable to my daily metadata creation and remediation work is "ALCTS practices include resisting bias in resource description while recognizing that the act of description is never neutral." As someone whose belief that the lived experiences of catalogers have a direct impact upon the work they produce, I was glad to see the professional organization I align myself most closely with acknowledge this truth. This idea was expressed also in the Core Competencies for Cataloging and Metadata Professional Librarians which was approved by the ALCTS Board in January 2017. That document states:
Human beings unavoidably assign value judgments when making assertions about a resource and in defining (via metadata standards and vocabularies) the assertions that can be made about a resource. Metadata creators must possess awareness of their own historical, cultural, racial, gendered, and religious worldviews, and work at identifying where those views exclude other human experiences. Understanding inherent bias in metadata standards is considered a core competency for all metadata work.
Even as we can rejoice over the steps that ALCTS is taking to acknowledge the impact that lived experience has on metadata creation, we should also recognize that the statements in these documents exist in tension with the Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the American Library Association Code of Ethics, 1994 which states "an ALCTS member strives to provide broad and unbiased access to information." I believe this statement reflects the attitudes that catalogers had at the time the document is created and the attitude that many people who do metadata creation and remediation work continue to have. A story metadata creators have told ourselves is that creation of unbiased metadata is both a worthy and an achievable goal. And that story has become such a part of who we are that we teach that story to each generation of catalogers who comes after us. In some ways, the tension between the statements in these documents reflects the tension happening in the cataloging world and even in the wider world of librarianship where people are testing where the ideals of a professional code of ethics intersect with the realities of the world in which we currently find ourselves.

Since the ALCTS Diversity Statement was published, I have been thinking about what it means that our Division says both that our lived experiences play a role in how we create metadata and that we are obligated to set those lived experiences aside. I think it would be easy to dismiss the disconnect between that ALCTS Diversity Statement and the Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the American Library Association Code of Ethics, 1994 as just an oversight. But I think it's more useful (and interesting) to see it as a microcosm of a larger tension happening in librarianship. ALA has a code of ethics which, among other things states that:
we distinguish between our personal convictions and 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.
And there are a lot of people for whom this is the bottom line, who believe that we should shrug off our personal convictions when we arrive at work. And as I've written before, that kind of thinking works great for people with privilege. But for many of our colleagues with marginalized identities, the personal and the professional are inextricably linked.

I hope that ALCTS leadership brings the ALCTS Diversity Statement and the Guidelines for ALCTS Members to Supplement the American Library Association Code of Ethics, 1994 more closely into alignment. But more than that, I hope that ALCTS members engage with the tension that exists when our lived experiences and our perceived professional obligations conflict. This tension is where many of our hardest choices exist.

Stay positive,
Erin

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

No time to think of consequence

By now I'm sure you've heard people talking about the article in The Chronicle called "What the 21st-Century library looks like." The article is paywalled, so you may not be able to read it. I don't want to write a reaction piece to the whole article, but there is one quote from the article that I do want to engage with. The middle of the article, the author writes "While traditional skills won't go away altogether, he [Mr. Wilder] says, new hires can help their employers 'figure out what the 21st-century research library looks like.'"

To give you some context, prior to this quote the author references the fact that there is a theoretical impending generational turnover that coincides with the fact that the shift to an almost entirely digital environment requires academic library workers to identify emerging needs of academic library users and develop services to meet those needs. The quote implies that because the newest hires among us are younger than us, they can help those they report to better understand how to navigate this new world and what it requires of us.

I have three things I want to say about this.


First, that's a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of someone who just got hired into an academic library. Imagine that you're an early career librarian. You're in your first job out of graduate school, mostly likely with a lot of student debt. Depending on how much you learned in school or through internships, you may feel out of your depth in this academic environment. If you're a person with marginalized identities, you may already feel like you were hired as the token person to teach everyone about diversity and inclusion. Now imagine that your supervisor, or someone higher up on the library's administrative team would like for you to help them understand younger library users and what they need. Or maybe they don't ask you to be part of the conversation--maybe they just add to your job description that you'll be charged with developing new and innovative services to reach younger user groups. That's a lot of pressure, right? The best outcome in this situation is that your early career colleagues will feel overwhelmed with all of this responsibility. The worst is that they burn out because you're set them up to fail.

Second, demanding that your newest and youngest library workers help you "figure out" what the future looks like disenfranchises the mid-career and late-career library workers in your organization. It suggests that an administrator feels like those library workers are too out of touch with what younger users need and, as a result, don't have any good ideas. I am not a fan of the but we've always done it this way mentality, but I do think we need to acknowledge that both our new hires and our incumbent staff are capable of coming up with good ideas about how to serve the various user groups in our academic libraries. Early career librarians have the good fortune of being new to your organization and they can see your services with fresh eyes. Mid-career and late-career librarians have the benefit of having seen the context in which your services exist and the context into which you plan to introduce new services. Assuming (and, yes, this is a big assumption) they are open to the adoption of new ideas, they can offer constructive feedback and help you anticipate problems.

Finally, the future is not as knowable as you think it is. Yes, you can use present data to predict future trends. But your user community is not a monolith and its likely that by the time you build the services you think they want that their needs will have already changed. We have this problem in librarianship where we're constantly trying to outrun our obsolescence by trying to predict the future and create services to support it. That's not great because it keeps us from engaging with the present--with identifying the needs of our users as they are right now and expending our resources to meet them. Sure, look at gate count and study how users make use of your space. And use the data you gather to be the best steward of your resources that you can. But never get too attached to the idea of the future that you give away resources your current users need to build a future that your future users may never need.

All of this is not to say that you shouldn't trust the opinion of early career librarians when it come to creating and deploying services to meet the emerging needs of library users. You should. But do it by including early career librarians in conversations in your library about these emerging issues and listening to them when they talk. Placing the burden entirely upon them for helping to create the future of your library is bound to be problematic for everyone.

Stay positive,
Erin

Monday, July 3, 2017

I'm already just a skeleton

Yesterday this question came across my Twitter feed, asking what misconceptions one would share with newcomers to librarianship. Below you can see my answer:


Based on the handful of retweets and likes my answer got, I surmised that I resonated with people.

I was trying to force a blog post into existence, but sometimes the story that you want to tell just won't let itself be told. I wanted to write about these lies we tell early career librarians about how they have to follow X path or do Y thing in order to finally be taken seriously.

As I was trying to force this blog post into existence, I went back and looked at this blog's very first post. I was reminded of how when I started writing here in 2014, I was looking for a place to talk about how technical services and public services library workers could build meaningful relationships that lead to collaborations that bettered the experiences of user communities. There wasn't a space to have those kind of conversations, so Rachel and I made one.

Sometimes, though, the story that you end up telling is the story that needs to be told instead of the story you set out to tell. While Rachel and I started out telling a version of the future of libraries where technical services and public services worked colleagially for the good of the user, it turns out that the story that needed to be told is about how vital it is to the see the humanity in others--whether it's your user communities, your colleagues, those you're closest to, or the stranger. The story doesn't end with seeing the humanity in others, though. The other part of the story is choosing how to respond once you've seen it. How will you work to build a future that's better than the present in which you find yourself?

Of all of the posts on the blog, my favorite has always been one that Rachel wrote in April 2015 called There is no map. It is my favorite because it demands that I stop standing still, even as it tells me that there's no way to know if the way forward I choose is the right one. You can't stand still, this post reasons, because you're already late for whatever future lies beyond the edges of what you think you know.

Wherever you are in your career, your ideas matter. And there is no path for building the kind of career that you deserve. Start where you are, stop standing still, and be willing to deviate from the path when the story that wants to be told isn't the story that you set out to tell.

Stay positive,
Erin










Friday, June 30, 2017

Friday jams (06/30/17)

It's Friday jams time, friends. Time for some jams!

Jason Isbell has a record out in recent weeks which is really awesome and worth a listen. But this gem of a song is from an older Isbell record.


Stay positive,
Erin

Thursday, June 29, 2017

There ain't much traffic on the highway

Before I returned home from ALA Annual 2017 in Chicago, I put my headphones on and walked to a local coffee shop to pick up some coffee beans and then back to my hotel to pick up my luggage. On my walk, I reflected on my conference experience.

There were a lot of ways in which this ALA Annual Conference was like all of the ones that came before it. I had a lot of meetings and attended some sessions, including the one where Rachel gave a great presentation using the idea of a playlist as the core upon which the talk was built. A talk after my own heart, that one.

Unlike the ALA Annual Conferences that came before it, this was the first time that I felt my mid-career status so strongly. Mid-career is one of those big stretches of professional time between when you are new and when you are at the end of your career, so in some ways it isn't a particularly helpful designation. But I saw very clearly at this particular ALA Annual Conference the ways in which the next generation of cataloging professionals is starting to move from being the "future" or cataloging to the "now" of cataloging. I am really happy to such a thoughtful, engaged, activist cohort of catalogers is coming up behind me to challenge the systems and structures currently in place.

I had this strong sense of feeling unmoored at this ALA Annual 2017 that I attributed to so clearly seeming my mid-careerness. I think that happens to us mid-career types as we move away from our libraryland niches into management or as we come to a moment of reckoning with our burnout. There is a moment, I think, where you realize that you have drifted very far from where you started out and, in some cases, where you mean to be.

As part of my reflection process, I thought about who I wanted to be at the beginning of my career. I wanted to be good at cataloging and to be an influential leader in my library. And I could also see threads, even back then, of wanting to build a Unified Library Scene. In my earliest days as a baby cataloger, I wanted to understand the behavior of library users and what catalogers could to to clear the way for library users to find the information they needed to be successful. In my earliest days as baby cataloger, I was talking and listening to my public services colleagues and trying to cultivate relationships built on areas of mutual concern. But I also didn't recognize the power of my own voice in creating change. I didn't present or write for the first twelve years of my career. In the past three months, I've presented three times at two different conferences. Even though I'd been writing in this space, I didn't feel like I had anything to say that people wanted to come to a session to hear. In the twelve years that I wasn't writing and presenting, I've seen people come up beside and around me to be emerging voices in libraryland. And, real talk, even when those voices had strong messages that need to be shared, I couldn't help having a little bit of FOMO about when it was going to be my turn.

But even after reflecting on who I wanted to be and who I am now, I'm still not sure where I want to go next. I made a joke recently about how I don't have a research agenda because I'm such a dilettante. As a person enamored with thinking about things, my attention often bounces from one idea to another and I rarely stay quiet long enough to dive deeply into a topic. If you ask my mom, I've always been a dilettante. She will regale you with tales of half-finished projects and half-cooked ideas. Even with the things I care deeply about, for example running, I have to work very hard not to get bored and move on to new things. It took me a lot of processing in recent years of therapy to accept that how I am is normal, even if it's annoying to the people around me sometimes. I have learned that I work best when I work closely with a details person who can help temper my big ideas-ness with their follow through.

In some ways, the next act of my career will be directed by my starting graduate school in August. Being a full-time library worker and part-time PhD student will limit how much I will be able to do in ALCTS and how much I can travel to attend conferences. But who I will be as a cataloger and a mid-career library worker seem still very much up in the air.

One of my biggest takeaways from ALA Annual 2017 is that I want to be more intentional about how I live my life and how I do my work. I want to focus less on becoming a person that people believe to be influential and, instead, try being a person who quietly does the work. Someone tweeted in recent weeks about how they wanted to focus more on being the kind of person who does what they say they're going to do. And I sort of feel like that's where I need to be, too. I want to embrace that part of me which dreams big, but I also need to be a person who either follows through on those ideas or lets them go to be realized by people more qualified or passionate than me who can see them through. I need to spend less time talking and more time making space for others to talk and for my own quiet reflection. I need to make space to find a place to drop my anchor in the midst of my mid-career feelings.

Maybe you need to hear that it's okay to feel unmoored and in transition. Maybe you need to know that it's okay to reflect quietly and plan your next move. If you need permission to live intentionally, consider it given.

Stay positive,
Erin

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