Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bias is Everywhere

One of my favorite jokes from when I was a kid is about a cat applying for a job:
After posting an advertisement looking for a new secretary, a business owner was surprised to see a cat in her waiting room with a completed job application and resume. Not wanting to be rude, the woman sat down and interviewed the cat. At every step, the cat was a stand out applicant. The cat could file, type, handle Excel spreadsheets, and so on.
The business owner was still skeptical, so she said to the cat, "Okay, you've got all the other qualifications, but the advertisement says you have to be bilingual."
The cat clear his throat and responded, "Woof." 
Or, if you prefer a meme:


Why am I sharing these with you? Other than being a crazy cat lady, I do have a point to make... a point about bias and culture in libraries and education. I had a quick conversation about cultural bias with Meredith Farkas in response to a tweet she sent from a session she was attending at Library Instruction West. Language is only one example, albeit an obvious one, of the ways in which bias and cultural differences can play out. As an industry, libraries and librarians work so hard to be accessible to our communities, employing user experience professionals and even customer experience specialists to help us smooth the way, but so many of us are guilty of forgetting the cultural aspects of the library and/or educational experience. Even though we do forget, it's still an important consideration, because

Here are some ways in which I've had culture and bias problems in professional settings:
  • Trying to teach a group of international students in a freshmen writing class about picking databases by talking about picking stores at a mall, only to realize a significant portion of the class had never been to a shopping mall.
  • Saying things like "outcome" and "goal" and "Bloom's Taxonomy" while talking to a group of professors and getting blank stares in return.
  • Being told, "oh, that's in the bowling alley," when I asked where something was and being completely stumped about where to go (until later when I learned "bowling alley" is the nickname for a weirdly shaped storage room we have).
  • Sitting in a lecture about how to create student centered courses and seeing people visibly shocked by the idea that this is possible. (Happily shocked, but still shocked.)
Yes, I've been on both sides of confusion arising from cultural beliefs, biases, etc. I know about shopping malls since I grew up in the U.S. I use pedagogical lingo because I have an MAEd. I like to think of myself as mindful, but really, there's no way to get away from these little and big confusions. Even things that I think of as basic - such as which side of the stairs to use when you're passing someone who is walking in the opposite direction - are not actually basic. Heck, not even all Americans have identical cultures and biases (regional slang used to give me fits when I was in undergrad).

So how do you deal with it? Especially since there's no way to avoid expressing these beliefs, you need to be mindful and aware of your audience and yourself. If I hadn't been paying attention to the body language and expressions of my audiences, I never would have noticed that the class was confused about shopping malls or that the committee didn't speak pedagogy. Dealing with "bowling alley" took a different skill - being willing to ask questions when I'm confused. As for that last one, all I can advise is patience.

Really, patience and mindfulness are the key in all of this - be patient with yourself as you learn and be patient with those around you. Just don't expect everyone to be dog-speaking cats. That's a one in a million.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About Technical Services, by Erin Leach

"New Friends"

I’m a cataloger. It’s okay, though. I’m not that kind of cataloger.

I know that you know what I mean by that. But just to prove the point, I did an experiment and asked my Twitter pals to tell me the stereotypes about people who work in Technical Services.  I was told that people who work in technical services are social inept/socially awkward, change averse, unfriendly, rigid, detail-oriented to a fault, bad communicators, uncompromising, rule-bound, and territorial.

If you work in public services, I’m sure you know the technical services librarian: that person who sighs heavily when you bring her some donations to catalog or who won’t budge on acquiring books shelf-ready.
This stereotype isn’t helped by relegating technical services departments to basements or off-site buildings. When we do this, we tell technical services staff a story about themselves: you don’t like people and people don’t like you. You aren’t good with people. You should stay out of sight and away from the people who visit service points in the library.

PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF RANGANATHAN, STAY AWAY FROM THE PEOPLE!

I think that there’s a more insidious message inherent in this, too:  you don’t have anything to offer the people who visit service points. You matter, but not as much as the people we put front-and-center. Is it any wonder, then, that the technical services librarian is territorial? She was told that she could “listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.” (Yes, I am saying that tech services is the Milton of the library world.)

This isn’t an anti-public services screed.  Some of my best friends are public services librarians.

In the interest of fairness, I wanted to see if there is a public services librarian stereotype, too.  So I did another experiment and asked my Twitter pals to tell me the stereotypes about people who work in public services. I was told that people who work in public services are flighty, aggressively friendly, loud, know-it-alls who hate math and pay no attention to detail. If you work in technical services, you know the public services librarian: that person who doesn’t know how the catalog works and doesn’t care to or who just drops a bunch of rush orders on you and assumes you’ll drop everything to get them done.

These stereotypes? They don’t move us any closer to creating better libraries for our users. Do you want to work with the person who thinks you’re flighty? Or the person who thinks you’re socially inept?

To steal a line from my beloved The Hold Steady, I believe in a Unified Library Scene.  I believe that public and technical services librarians should work together to build a better library, each complimenting the work of the other. I believe that technical services and public services skills should be treated with equal importance in LIS programs. I believe we should encourage (maybe even require?) LIS students to take practicums in both public and technical services. And I believe we should recruit new LIS grads to technical services, bringing new life and new ideas when they do.

In the interest of moving toward this Unified Library Science, I have made it a habit of getting involved in activities that are seen as traditionally public services. I worked with my university’s freshman writing program, doing one-off instruction sessions and one-on-one meetings with students. I taught classes to students and faculty about using Twitter. I facilitated focus groups and usability studies with library users.
 
All of these experiences made me a better cataloger. I learned how users search for information and what they do with that information after they’ve found it. I also gained insight into the challenges that my colleagues in public services face as they try to gain support and generate enthusiasm in the higher education landscape. But as much as I have learned from my public services colleagues, I have a lot to teach them as well. I understand the quirky things the catalog does and can teach you how to build search queries that yield better results. I can make material more accessible by working with you to create better bibliographic records. And, in the case of serials, I can help untangle the knots of holdings and title changes for you.

I can’t create the Unified Library Scene on my own. I need public services colleagues who value my work and who will get involved in activities that are seen as traditional technical services activities.

Again, to steal a line from The Hold Steady: We can all be something bigger.


Erin Leach just started as Head of Serials Cataloging at University of Georgia and is still trying to figure everything out. She is Chair-Elect of the Continuing Resources Section of ALCTS. She tweets about music, running, beer, and libraries at @erinaleach.  Despite her seemingly cynical exterior, Erin embraces Jessica's theory on brutal optimism and loves librarianship for better and worse.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Library Addiction Can Be a Good Thing

"The Reader"

The thing is, I've got this weird habit. Well, at least I think it's weird. What is it? Well, even though I work in a library that is part of a consortium with a lot of public libraries and I could have pretty much any book delivered to me here at work, I still go to the public library in person three or four times every month.

Admittedly, this habit started back at my last job when some student workers were nosy about and would comment upon what I was reading, but that's not a concern anymore. It's not even like I can excuse it by saying the public library is on my way home, because it's not. It's actually downtown in one of the very few places in this city that has bad traffic semi-regularly. It might seem even weirder when I admit that I have books delivered to the public library but return them at the library where I work. (Isn't that a lovely thing, by the way? So convenient.) I don't have an excuse for this behavior.

Nevertheless, as weird and sometimes inconvenient as it might be, I recommend every librarian do the same. You see, I get a lot out of it:
  • Browsing & Serendipity. Since we have a much smaller budget than the public library, we can't order the breadth of materials that they can. I get to look around and browse and stumble upon things in a way I could never do in my own. And I'm not just talking fluffy happy abstractions here... This is how I found the "Hildafolk" graphic novel series, and how I learned that there are Torchwood audio books.
  • Ideas. I've never been quiet about how I co-opt/lift/remix ideas I get from other libraries. For example, I especially like the positively worded signs at my local public library and plan to use some of their phrasing. There is so much to be gained from cross-pollination.
  • Perspective. My current library is at a college that recruits students heavily from the local area, so looking at what our public library does gives me an idea of what incoming freshmen have experienced. It helps me tailor our programs and outreach. (As a friend of mine put it, "it all comes back to libraries and communities and the interaction between them.")

Like I said, I recommend this. I recommend it to everybody who works in libraries, even if you're not a fellow (or aspiring) academic librarian. I'm not sure how I'd go about having this same experience if I worked in a public library, but I know lots of special and college/university libraries are open to the public. However, for the rest of you, if you can find the time to visit the public library where you live, I do recommend it. Maybe you won't be going in to pick up a new audio book for your commute every other week the way I am, but I'm sure you can find a reason to go.

Anybody else out there have this same habit? What do you get out of it? Why do you go to the public library instead of having things delivered to you at work?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

So, You Want to be an Academic Military Librarian?, by Lauren Dodd Hall

Source

When I started my MLIS, I imagined myself as a public services/reference librarian in a community college setting (where I had already experienced as a student worker) or at a traditional university library. I was open to other options, of course, but I didn’t have the full scope of what that could be yet.

Thanks to a great professor, I discovered the world of special libraries. I became comfortable with the idea of working outside a typical library setting, but I admit that I especially loved the idea of working in an academic special library--it seemed like the perfect hybrid of my interests. Thus, I sought varying experiences during grad school - I held simultaneous assistantships/student jobs at the main campus library and the science and engineering library, and pursued an internship at an academic health science library.

Near the end of my program, I learned of a paid internship opportunity in an academic military library that had the potential to turn into a full time job after graduation. I had never considered working in military libraries before, but only because I hadn’t realized they existed. When I questioned whether or not I should apply, since I had no experience with the subject matter, I got some all-around great advice from my special libraries instructor/mentor (who had witnessed others getting hired through this internship program over the years): “It’s an entry-level position. They’re not hiring for your military resource knowledge; they want someone with a good attitude and a willingness to learn. You’re intelligent, you’re capable, and you should absolutely go for it.” Long story short, I interviewed and was offered the internship, which did convert to a full time position after graduation. This was the start of what has become, so far, my academic military librarian career.

So how does working in this type of atmosphere differ from your typical university library? Well, like any library, it depends on the mission of your organization/community. Here are two differing examples from my work history.

The academic library for Air University on Maxwell Air Force Base (which is known as “the educational center of the Air Force”) is geared toward students who are already airmen. These airmen pursue various levels of professional military education (PME)--ranging from an 8 week course for captains to master’s and PhD level degrees in military/airpower subjects for higher ranking officers. These programs are very specialized, and the resources and databases reflect that. I had to obtain a security clearance to work in the library, since we housed classified materials onsite. No information literacy classes are taught; students receive “library briefings” and library tours from their program liaisons at the beginning of their coursework, and continue to work with their assigned liaisons throughout their respective programs. There is a continuously staffed reference desk where all patrons can seek help, but most in-depth reference questions are referred to the student’s library liaison, with that librarian working one-on-one with the student.

At my new organization, the United States Military Academy (West Point), the student population consists solely of undergraduates, or cadets, who are commissioned as 2nd lieutenants in the U.S. Army after graduation. While the resources the library provides are much closer to a typical academic library (less military specialization than Air University), the cadets maintain a much different college life than a typical undergraduate. Almost every hour of their day is regimented and accounted for (down to eating breakfast and lunch with the other 4,000 cadets--yes, at the same time), so we have to squeeze in instruction and outreach wherever/however we can. Another difference is that students can’t even enter the library in civilian clothes. We have a reference desk that is continuously staffed with reference librarians who are on-call in the morning and at the desk in the evening--for now. We have liaison librarians for each academic department--mine is Physics and Nuclear Engineering, thanks to my experience at the science and engineering library--and we attempt to embed ourselves with department office hours and in courses, while collaborating with faculty on collection development. We’re constantly brainstorming new approaches to take within our framework of cadet time limitations, faculty buy-in (or lack thereof), and other obstacles, so... fairly standard academic librarianship, with some caveats.

So, if you’re intrigued by the idea of pursuing a similar path, but wondering what exactly you’d be getting yourself into, here are some of the biggest differences you’ll find:
  • There is no such thing as tenure in the academic sense - faculty status for librarians would mean being hired as contract faculty, with a teaching load and everything that entails. Most military librarians are either GS (general schedule) federal employees, though they can also be NAF (non-appropriated fund) employees or contractors. However, at the libraries where I’ve worked, professional development and travel are both encouraged and supported--when there is funding for it. THAT is a whole other post.
  • There are typically no student workers - only librarians and library technicians. Sometimes interns will be allowed.
  • Along similar lines, there are no “community” users - most military installations do not allow unescorted civilians, and most installations have a separate, community/general purpose library for those with a military affiliation (spouses, children, etc.).
  • Adopting the latest technologies can be very difficult, depending on Department of Defense/your military service’s guidelines, and can take years...by which time the tech is long outdated.
  • Speaking of technology, sometimes websites are arbitrarily blocked. At the Air Force base, I couldn’t read most blogs on my work computer (for some inexplicable reason). Since I read a LOT of blogs for professional development, I’ll admit this was a bit maddening to me.
  • Contracting. In my positions, I haven’t dealt with any kind of purchasing with government contracts--which are basically your most complicated vendor transaction x 1000. I don’t know much about what this entails because everyone always seems to be rendered speechless after those meetings.


In spite of the differences/challenges, I love the unexpected turn my career has taken. Every day I drive up to armed military police, flash my government ID, help undergrads who sometimes parachute out of helicopters next to the library, and brainstorm ways to drop info lit knowledge on them. So, young librarians, if you’re still intrigued: watch for DOD-specific opportunities within the federal government, especially the Pathways Program; check out the SLA Military Libraries Division and its awesome conference stipend for students; and always feel free to reach out to those of us academics who are just a little bit “special.”


Lauren Dodd Hall is an Access Services and Reference Librarian at the United States Military Academy Library, West Point, NY. She graduated from the University of Alabama SLIS program in 2011, and was a proud member of the original Hack Library School team. Reach out to her any time via Twitter – @laurendodd – or through her website, http://laurendhall.com.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wears Heavy Boots, Is Loud: On "Brutal Optimism" in Professional Practice


At ACRL last year, I attended the keynote speech given by Henry Rollins. (Confession: Hank was the reason I even submitted a talk proposal in the first place. I may occasionally attend the bigger conferences, but my preference has always been and will likely always be for smaller conferences.) It was probably one of the best talks in that vein that I've attended in years. The man practically turned into a librarian fanboy on the stage as he talked about his own experiences with archiving early punk paraphernalia and his experiences at the National Archives. He even quoted the 14th amendment to us, word for word. Henry was a fascinating and riveting presence on the stage, and everyone with whom I compared notes afterwards said that the speech had been an energizing experience.

But, as amazing as Henry Rollins was, there was one concept he introduced during his speech that was even more captivating than the man himself: brutal optimism. I have come back to that idea over and over in the intervening time - playing with it, turning it over and over in my mind. To me, brutal optimism means "I believe the best of people, damnit!" It's fiercely advocating and truly believing that things will turn out for the best, that things will get better, and it means planning for that day - even amidst all the crap (*cough*budget cuts*cough*) that happens. A year and a half into my first administrative librarian position, well into my twelfth year as a librarian, I've decided that I'm going to adopt "brutally optimistic" as a professional touchstone, a phrase I'll consciously revisit again and again to remind myself that it's okay to believe things will be well.

Why am I doing this? Well, in order to explain that, I need to make a confession: I really do believe the best of people. Even when someone is being all craptastic to me, my first instinct is to wonder who treated them so badly that they think it's okay to treat others that way. I know I occasionally come off sounding pretty cynical, but my cynicism is more pronounced because I do actually believe things will improve... it's just that I sometimes get impatient. Maybe it's my study and practice of Buddhism, or maybe it's because I've got a stubborn streak, or maybe it's just that the alternative is too depressing. Regardless of the cause, I am an optimist. (Not saying I don't have my down moments. Being a human being is, by its nature, a roller coaster kind of thing. Just saying that, when all is said and done, I expect good things to happen.)

I guess writing this blog post isn't really about a new direction in my life as much as it's about a public declaration of that direction. Kind of a "Do I think things will turn out well? Yes. Do I think I'll have to fight a bit to help everything turn out well. F* yes." thing.  I'm sharing this with you because I'm hoping others will come out of their cynical shells to admit their inner Pollyannas, and to encourage new librarians not to hide theirs. Like I said, I'm pretty sure it is precisely because I know things will eventually turn out well that I get so angry at times. It's that vision of good things in the future that is the reason I publish posts like Jake Berg's think piece about a very flawed aspect of the proposed framework. It's that vision of good things in the future that is the reason why I keep fighting. (Cue one of my favorite bands.)



How about you? Do you think this is something we, as a profession, can get behind? Can we all become a bit more brutally optimistic?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ethics, Copyright, and Information Literacy, by Jacob Berg

[Editor’s Note: I asked Jake Berg to publish this piece on LtaYL after sitting with him in the hearing on the draft Framework at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas. My thoughts on this document are very similar to his, and I knew he’d put my feelings/perceptions into words better than I could.]


For the first time since 2000, the Association of College and Research Libraries will update their Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, replacing it with a more flexible Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. 

The second draft of this Framework, released last month, includes a new definition of information literacy. 
[A] repertoire of understandings, practices, and dispositions focused on flexible engagement with the information ecosystem, underpinned by critical self-reflection. The repertoire involves finding, evaluating, interpreting, managing, and using information to answer questions and develop new ones; and creating new knowledge through ethical participation in communities of learning, scholarship, and practice. (2)
Upon seeing this definition, I wrote (on my own blog)
That "ethical participation" was included here is a huge step forward. It creates a discursive space in which it is possible to turn the library into a site of resistance, a bulwark against government and corporate surveillance, as well as an entree into a discussion of the costs of knowledge that are a part of scholarly communication. I hope this section of the definition is our point of departure to tackle these and related issues
It’s this last part, the “ethical participation,” that I’d like to focus on, because later in the draft Framework the authors devote a frame, a series of related threshold concepts, knowledge practices and abilities, and dispositions, to the value of information.
Experts understand that this value designates information as intellectual property, and therefore, recognizes three important dimensions of value. First, information can act as a commodity, and as such, creators can use their work for financial, reputational, social, or civic gains. These motivations may determine how information sources are shared whether given freely, offered for sale, or leased for temporary access. Information users have responsibilities as both consumers and creators of information based on the work of others. Academic and legal practices such as proper attribution of sources and complying with copyright are a result. (12)
Putting information as a commodity front and center and tying it to various "gains"? Consumers listed before creators? Complying with a copyright regime that every information professional should know is broken, at odds with the common good and encouraging innovation?

In the Knowledge Practices (Abilities) section of this frame, titled “Information has Value,” a threshold concept is to "Understand that intellectual property is a social construct that varies by culture," (12) but the above excerpt reifies much of what is wrong with the North American conception of intellectual property, and may be at odds with "ethical participation" mentioned elsewhere in the document.

Information has Value, yes. Well, we librarians also have values. Here’s a selection of things that have been written on the topic:

And these values happen to conflict with parts of the law. In particular, copyright law which (as I’ve already mentioned) I think most of us agree is broken at the federal level.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution authorizes Congress “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Yet these “limited Times” keep expanding at the expense of the public domain. In 1790 a copyright would last for fourteen years, plus another fourteen for a renewal. Twenty-eight years later, all could benefit from a patent or creation. In 2014, some works can take as many as one-hundred-and twenty years to enter the public domain, and often these are “works for hire,” enriching not the creator of a work, but its distributor, at the expense of a public that could benefit from, build on, or reuse the work. (Source.) When you look at a partial list of works that would have been publicly available on January 1st, 2014 without our current intellectual property regime, it puts things into perspective.

We are at the point where, in 2013, Maria Pallente, United States Register of Copyrights, called for an overhaul of the US intellectual property regime. Indeed, this is the rare issue where bipartisan cooperation may be possible, with Derek Khanna on the right and Lawrence Lessig on the left, among others.

Is it ethical for librarians to teach students to respect a law that few of us respect? We know that members of the communities we serve will create knowledge, and they have rights that come with that creation. We also know that our communities want to participate in and interact with the cultural milieus in which we find ourselves. Using Legos to reenact a scene from a movie and then uploading a video of that to YouTube, for example, or using pop culture items/something else in educational settings without the threat of a lawsuit. We want to participate in what Lessig terms "remix culture," and we want to use culture to reach out to our communities.




Our professional ethics and values and the current copyright regime are in conflict. While the American Library Association lobbies for change while supporting the current intellectual property regime, how are we information professionals going to proceed? Because I'd rather not support this particular law, set of laws, at the expense of what I believe, and at the expense of professional ethics. There is too much at stake for us to behave in any other way. How will you reconcile "ethical participation" and copyright in the Framework in your communities?


Jacob Berg is library director at a small, academic library in Washington, DC. This is his second contribution to LtaYL, the first was “Doing Research Lets You Justify Why You’re Doing What You’re Doing.” He blogs about libraries and beer, roughly in that order, at http://beerbrarian.blogspot.com/ and is on Twitter, @jacobsberg.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Square Pegs: On "Fit" in the Hiring Process

Source

I responded to a survey for Hiring Librarians recently, and my response was published yesterday. I always learn a lot from Hiring Librarian posts, although it is frequently of the "what not to do" variety, so I recommend clicking through and looking around at what I said and what others have said.

Three notes before I get into what I mean by fit, and how I've learned to test for it:
  1. I know 'fit' is sometimes a way for people to hide their biases. This has been and will continue to be an issue in academia and libraries in general, one of which I am very aware. What I'm talking about is organizational culture and organizational values.
  2. I have experiences with looking for fit from both sides of the interview table, and this post is informed by all of those experiences.
  3. I know it might sound dismissive for me to advocate looking for fit in your job search. After all, here I am comfortably employed, right? But the truth is I have made the mistake of taking a job just to get the experience and been unhappy as a result. I've also turned down an opportunity, at a time in my life when I was feeling a little desperate to find a job, because I didn't think the fit was right. (In both cases they were lovely people, great schools, just a bad fit for me.)

Anyway, in no particular order, here are some of the questions I ask myself/the interviewer(s)/the interviewee and things I look for when interviewing.
  • As I mentioned in my response to the Hiring Librarians survey, I pay attention to what kinds of questions am I being asked? There are lots of ways this can play out, but here are some examples... An interviewee asking "What's your favorite thing about working here?" shows me that they are curious about the culture. Conversely, an interviewer asking something like "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?", and doing so seriously, worries me.
  • Are people smiling? Of course they are going to smile when they face you, but try to see their expressions when they don't notice you looking.
  • How risk averse/risk seeking are they? This can be hard to tease out, but asking questions like, "How do you like to keep up with new developments in the field?" or "How comfortable are you with taking on new projects?" can help. Remember: this is about fit. If you are a risk taker, that's what you want for an employer. If you are risk averse, likewise. You just want to avoid being the person who likes cutting and/or bleeding edge who is working for a long tail organization.
  • Is there joking going on? Personally, I like to be able to laugh at work. I spend way too much of my waking life at my job for it to be constantly serious. I think a lot of people feel the same way, but I know not everyone does. From the interviewer perspective, I look to see if the person laughs at my jokes. Yeah, I get that sometimes people will laugh as a way to kiss up, but I've learned to look at someone's eyes to see whether or not the smile extends there. (It's hard to fake a genuine laugh.)
  • Do our politics match or at least come close? No, I do NOT look for this from the interviewer's perspective. Politics are a DO NOT PASS GO DO NOT COLLECT $200 situation if you are the interviewer. However, if you're the interviewee... it could be a make or break kind of thing. For example, I decided not to apply for a job based on the fact that the school was hosting a Republican Presidential debate series.

Two other pieces of advice: read Joe Hardenbrook's piece, "Interview Red Flags," which has lots more suggestions of how to interview your interviewer; and consult GlassDoor.com, which has reviews by employees and interviewees of employers (I've never looked for a public library in their database, but I've rarely not been able to find at least a couple of reviews of colleges/universities).

How about you? How do you judge for fit? Or, if you've never thought about it before, how do you think you will in the future? If you've never thought about it before, you really should. I've been that proverbial square peg trying to fit in a round hole, and it really never works.