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