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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!