Gender, Librarian Commentary, and Organic Chemistry II

When I was an undergraduate, I majored in biology. I wrote a ton of lab reports in my time that all followed a basic outline: abstract (sometimes), introduction, hypothesis, method/procedure, results (a.k.a. raw data), discussion, and conclusion. The first sections are rather rote in their formulation as it is merely a restatement of the experiment’s grounding. The last section (conclusion) was just a summary of the previous sections, carefully remixed so as to avoid looking like a complete copy/paste job. The critical thinking skills, the actual learning process, came into play when you were writing the discussion section. This was where you talked about what went right and wrong with the experiment and offered suggestions on what could be changed the next time around.

For my stint in Organic Chemistry II, my lab reports were spent more on what went wrong than what went right, perhaps a foreshadowing to the existence of this blog. Very few of my lab sessions ended with the experiment landing in the correct range, color, or whatever proper measurement I was (in theory) supposed to attain. So, invariably, I would be sitting at a computer and faced with a data section that had to make sense of. I had results, but I wasn’t sure what to make of them.

I felt that way today when I did my own little observational inquiry. On the heels of the flurry of activity around #LibTechGender panel and discussions (oversimplified and probably unfair short version: discussions of gender, race, sexual orientation, and other attributes within the library world) at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, I did a simple census of the bloggers and columnists at the leading professional trade magazines, Library Journal and American Libraries. Here are my results:

  • American Libraries: 7 columnists. 2 women, 5 men.
  • Library Journal: 13 columnists. 3 women, 10 men.
  • Overall: 30 columnists. 5 women (25%), 15 men (75%).

I would have also stated that all of them were white, but that’s an inference based solely from their profile pictures. As a friend pointed out on Friendfeed, it’s not strictly proven but I’m comfortable making an educated guess. If I’m proven wrong later, so be it.

Based on what I have gathered, I’m not exactly sure what to make of the data. There are loads of other pertinent information (e.g. sexual orientation) that would slide people into categories that have been discriminated against (or more discriminated against, if you prefer). It’s a vastly incomplete picture as it relates to having a meaningful discussion on the broader LibTechGender kinds of issues.

However, based on prima facie (thank you, one year of law school), the basic gender math doesn’t jibe. Using the ALA self reporting demographic survey (yes, I concede there are data collection issues with this), it turns the 80% female-20% male statistic on its head. It’s a female dominant profession in which the paid professional commentary is based mainly out of male viewpoints.  While I can’t conclude a lot of other things from my tiny data set, I can make that statement comfortably. These are the two main sources of professional information with in the librarian world. This reminds me of a very old discussion thread I remember in the Library Society of the World forums in which the question was raised about why so many men are given keynote or other prominent speaking slots. I wouldn’t imagine that the columnists and bloggers for those two publications would strictly follow the gender breakdown percentages, but to be completely inverted? Why is that?

That last question is mostly rhetorical; I am aware of the prevailing obstacles that keep women from participating in professional forums and activities. In limiting it to the data and discussion that I have here, I’m left with a few non-rhetorical questions: where does this data lead us? What else needs to discovered, considered, or otherwise measured? What’s the next level of inquiry that needs to take place? Personally, I don’t know. I really just don’t. I need to think on it for a long while.

I’ll close with this quote from a blog post by Chris Bourg that I made me think when I first read it:

We are a painfully homogenous profession – librarianship is overwhelmingly white and female, and library technology is overwhelmingly white and male. Gender bias and imbalance is a problem; but so too is racial underrepresentation. Librarianship didn’t just end up so white by accident, and it won’t change without radical and active interventions.  And I think we need to stop throwing our hands up and declaring it a “pipe-line” problem, and we need to throw our collective professional weight and expertise behind addressing those structural pipe-line problems.

And no, I don’t have specifics right now; but I know that there are people who have been working on this and who have experience and expertise to share, but whose voices we have not prioritized or amplified.  We need to do our research and we need to listen and learn.  And I trust that if we made social justice a true priority of librarianship – and not just one of our core values that we trot out from time to time – we could make some headway on creating & sustaining a more diverse workforce across libraries and library technology. But honestly, at some point we probably need to stop talking about it, and start listening and then start doing.

ALA Midwinter 2014 After Action Report

I should start off with a confession: I have been bored with library issues for awhile.

It’s not that there isn’t anything interesting going on in the library world, just it’s not interesting to me. Or it involves the act of dragging old bones in new graves on topics that I feel have been talked to death (eBooks and libraries, for example). Or, most recently, if I can succinctly add my input to a conversation on something like Twitter or Tumblr, I do it there. When others have better insight or commentary on topics, it’s much more satisfying to share their posts or articles.

And, let’s face it: there are far fewer librarians writing these days online, most conspicuously in blogs. I remember the leading advice of 2006 being to start a blog to get noticed online; now, if I heard a professor say that to their students, I would tell the students to flee. Even the Annoyed Librarian has been relegated to writing about last week’s news that was sent (I guess they can’t be bothered to find it) to them or “interesting” comments in previous entries. For myself, it’s slim picking for content or commentary without sounding like I’m recycling previous entries.

In attending ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, I was hoping for rebirth, rejuvenation, and other “re” words that signify the rekindling of interest.

I was not disappointed.

Granted, since I’m not a member of ALA and therefore not on any committees, roundtables, or interest groups, that makes my schedule completely free for lunches and dinner with drinks anytime. My only “official” obligation was attending the EveryLibrary board meeting which was in full compliance of the “drinks anytime” portion. (More on that later.) In spending time with friends, both old and new, and sharing a meal or a drink, I found (for lack of a better phrase) my mojo again.

You see, the aspect that brought me back from my ennui to put fingers to my keyboard was the people. The best conversations I had during my time came from conversations either one-on-one or in small groups that lasted longer than a half hour. These were the times when people (myself included) let loose, spoke frankly, shared ourselves, and had meaningful and thoughtful discussions. The online librarian world is rich in many ways, but it is but a simple façade for the living, breathing people behind the internet avatars and nom de plumes. 

My takeaway from ALA Midwinter was not a million ideas, but a handful of good ones. Really good ones. The reasonable, totally possible worthy of attention kind. (I can’t help it, I’m a bit of an idea snob.) Also, as an ongoing advisor to EveryLibrary on their social media strategy, it renewed my commitment to the organization in attending the annual board meeting. It gave me the insight into what I see as their big picture: that they are an organization that nimble enough to work at the local level for library ballot matters as well as on issues of national library importance. I won’t mince my words that as a political action committee (a dread PAC) they need our financial help to accomplish that. (You can donate here.) I hope I can count on your support for this worthy cause.

For the naysayers, the few words I have for you right now is that denying the reality of the impact of the ballot box on public and school library funding is ‘the earth is flat’ madness. The political reality demands a breed of librarians who are willing to step into the issue based forums and persuade others to vote in favor of library issues. To act otherwise is just plain folly.

But, as I fondly reflect on the events of the last few days, it came down to a matter time. There was never enough time. I didn’t even catch a glimpse of people I’ve grown to know over the years. Even at some of the social events I attended, for the most part I didn’t spend more than five minutes with anyone. It was “hello, how are you, what are you up to” before the flow of socializing carried us away from each other. Perhaps this is a sign of my shifting social priorities as I grow older, but what I really wanted was the chance to sit, visit, and have those longer and more in depth conversations.

Over the course of three days, I drove into Philadelphia in the hopes of finding my passion for the profession again. I am happily renewed in my faith, in the direction and the people who make up libraryland. I don’t know if this will translate into more posts on here, but there are certainly things afoot behind the scenes here.

It’s good to be back.

That ALA Code of Conduct

While ALA has many strengths as an institution, rolling out new organizational policy changes is not one of them. Since the announcement of the Statement of Appropriate Conduct at Conferences (hereafter Code of Conduct), there has been much in the way of hand wringing. How does this reflect on the organization’s commitment to freedom of ideas and expression? What kinds of speech are expressly allowed, contextually allowed, and outright prohibited? What is the procedural structure for people accused of violating the code? In the current framing of the debate, it’s as if people are seeing institutional regulation of speech and behavior for the first time when they are not.

I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that every nearly library has a policy in place about patron/customer conduct that outlines what is acceptable and unacceptable. They set the boundaries for behavior and conduct within the library. Like the Code of Conduct, these policies contain instances and situations in which there will be several possible staff action outcomes: no action, intervention, ejection. We don’t always act on patron activities nor do we accept when people are being disruptive or harassing to other patrons or staff in our libraries, so why should our professional conferences any different? The presence of a policy and procedure provides a structure to address those issues, regardless of the outcome.

The discussion of the sticky wicket of freedom of expression and speech hinges on a few ideas. First, that this policy will act as a chilling effect on it. To me, there is always a chill on freedom of expression no matter whether a policy exists or not. People will be intimidated to speak up under either model for a number of reasons. It’s the lesser of two evils to accept some form of regulation in order to get more speech out of a greater number of people. Also, it’s not unheard of that a library would have a customer conduct policy in a library that aims to be inclusive by regulating behavior. We are a community resource, not the executive clubhouse for assholes.

Second, that presenters and speakers must adhere to (for lack of a better term) political correctness. Beyond the fact that the policy asks (not demands, not requires) presenters to be inclusive, speakers are given an additional degree of latitude since they act to provoke critical thinking and discussion. This section is more of a reflection of our professional collection development policies. The library may have something that will offend patron; we advise them to don’t read, listen, or watch it and move along.  Standards in modern construction are required to make exits highly visible and since no sessions prevent people from leaving, egress from a talk that offends someone is encouraged by the Code of Conduct (the law of two feet). You might not like what the speaker is saying, but you don’t have to subject yourself to it either.

My only remaining concern is how the definition of “conference social events” will be interpreted. Does this include unofficial events like tweetups? Parties at the ALA Think Tank house? How far does the Code of Conduct reach into the unofficial outlying social events around the conference? And before anyone jumps on it, I’m not talking about harassment behaviors which can arise to criminal offenses but to civil (and possibly uncivil) discourse. There are some grey areas here that need to be explored.

Overall, I think the Code of Conduct is a good policy, one that will be altered over time as issues and situations arise. Unfortunately, it needs some test cases in order to see how it would work in the field. I hope people can be patient while the policy matures. In the long run, it will change to reflect the needs of the attendees and the organization. It’s just a matter of getting there.

Year End, 2013

I don’t know what quite to make of it when the first thing that comes to mind about 2013 is that Facebook started allowing photo replies. For most, this is the little photo icon they ignore on the comment box but for me it’s a whole new world. Pictures (in particular ones with captions or memes) are my best reaction to what other people post. I don’t know if it’s the visual aspect or if just speaks better for me than words can, but it’s been the something I’ve enjoyed since they started allowing it. It’s one highlight of the year for me.

Some might think that my engagement and marriage would be the first thing to come to mind, but it’s only the best thing that happened in 2013. Besides, after you spend months prepping for the wedding, the experience of the wedding day, and the aftermath (married people, you know what I mean) that you live with it so much that the topic becomes background noise. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed wedding planning and preparation and I’m quite happy with The Wife. It’s just the way my brain works: “Ooo, Facebook photo replies! Yay wedding!” It doesn’t always order things in terms of level of importance as my school teachers would attest.

Professionally, it was on the quiet side this year. I wrote a column piece for American Libraries, co-unorganized for the Programming Unconference Northeast with the wonderful and talented Erin Shea, and did advisory work for EveryLibrary. Glancing over my writing output, I had some good blog posts over the course of the year. Next year, I’m excited for a keynote opportunity with the details to be announced once things are settled. That will be a great thing for me to focus on and I’ve been jotting down notes and ideas as they come to me. It’s going to be fun!

Part of me wants to make a few comments about some subjects (I’m sure regular readers can probably guess) before the year draws to a close, but for once I’m just going to not poke those sleeping bears. Not that I couldn’t or shouldn’t, but my own internal calculations tell me that the effort is not worth the result. Even as someone with the inclination to name names, I’m just going to simply leave this vague lest the partisans appear once more in the comments and social media doorstep.

I’ve offered predictions in the past, but not this time around; it’s not that I don’t have any, but I just am not inclined to share any. Perhaps if someone plied me with liquor at ALA Midwinter I might divulge, but nothing is otherwise compelling me to share at this time.

I realize that this is a recap post that has been played close to the vest. The year end has caught me at an introspective and peaceful moment which drags blog production to a low. I’ve started a personal blog on Tumblr which will get less professional stuff and more personal (read: stream of thought) stuff so you can read me there as well.

I hope you find your peace this year ends and carry it with you to the next one.

A Libraryland Festivus: Miracle Edition

There was a lot of interest in my Festivus post, mainly because no librarian can resist a good complaint. Or that I said things that struck home with the greater library community. As a result, I am pleased to say that there are some Festivus miracles to report.

First, there is overwhelming agreement that people need to not overreact to online “journalism” that says things like libraries/librarians/things librarians care about are dead/in trouble/otherwise not important. There were some subsequent vows not to speak or share such things in the future because it’s a waste of our time. It’s a Festivus miracle!

Second, my talk about professionalism has led to better and deeper conversations about identity within the profession. (Read Cecily Walker first, then Andromeda Yelton.) By my own admission, I was talking about the superficial kinds of appearance issues that Cecily has summed up as “the purple hair and tattooed” category. These are the kinds of things that annoy me and as such fall under the definition of grievance. It’s important to note that there are librarians who are confronting with deeper and more profound professional identity issues because they are non-white and non-cisgendered. I consider this to be a two-for-one miracle: I learned something important from my grievance and people who are better equipped and more knowledgeable about this issue are talking about it. Another miracle, I say!

Third, the reference to the graduate school enrollment chart has gotten the notice of people who can do stuff about it. Elizabeth Lieutenant, who wrote the research paper that included the graph, has gotten inquiries from ALA folks wanting to know more about the data. (Yes!) Granted, thus begins a new cycle of what-do-we-do-about-library-science-graduate-programs kinds of conversations but this time we have the cousin of anecdotal data, actual data. So, I hope this means it will result in actual progress. Yep, another Festivus miracle!

Fourth, well, there is no corresponding miracle that goes with the Declaration of the Right to Libraries. However, there is a great and thought provoking post by Sarah Houghton about the wrong kind of love between libraries and their communities. Money quote:

I don’t think we focus on “library/librarian love” for the sake of our communities, to remind them of what we do so they’ll use us more, as an outreach or advocacy tool, or as a political move to solidify our value in the minds of stakeholders.

We do it to make ourselves feel better.

Take the time to read it. I think it sets advocacy thinking in a new direction and gets to what marketing people have known for years: being able to connect the product (libraries) to what it means to the individual (our communities). This, if it came to pass, would be yet another Festivus miracle.

Last, but certainly not least, I experienced a very divided reaction to the inclusion of the ALA Think Tank on the list. The public comments on the blog were in defense of the group while the private messages I received were all in agreement with me. This is troubling in a couple of different ways. Why don’t the people who have issues with the group feel comfortable commenting publicly? Why are the group supporters dismissive of past problematic topics and social interactions within the Think Tank? Neither question sits with me very well.

Some people on Twitter seemed incredulous that an association with the group could be a detriment. As a Mover & Shaker, I’ve heard tales from other award winners about how this award has been used against them. This comment from a Will Manley column has always stuck with me.

If I see the Mover and Shaker Award on a résumé, that application ends up in the circular file. I want workhorses, not show horses.

As much as we try to be enlightened logical creatures, “guilt by association” is alive and well in the librarian profession. I’m not going to rehash the arguments concerning the award itself (God knows they are numerous), but I hope this serves as one illustration that the connection to the library group or award has the ability to limit the candidate. It’s not reasonable or fair, but we don’t live in such an objective world yet.

I wouldn’t think I would need to remind my peers that what you say online can be found and used when making decisions regarding them. The Think Tank is such a public forum; your words matter so choose them wisely. If you have an issue with that, then there are closed, secret, and otherwise private librarian groups out there. Find those forums and join them.

And, really, you shouldn’t surprised when the antics and words of others within the group put you in the same light. For if you stand by while someone is spewing venom and do not speak up to admonish them, how much culpability do you share in letting them act that way?

 

These are the Festivus miracles that I have experienced. Feel free to share yours in comments or blog posts.

A Libraryland Festivus

In the words of Frank Constanza, “The tradition of Festivus begins with the Airing of Grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people. Now, you’re going to hear about it.

Since the world now operates on lists (see also Buzzfeed), I’ve condensed my grievances into bite sized pieces. Like all holiday meals, please chew on it a bit before you report back your opinions of the meal to this chef.

  • Every article that puts librarianship in a negative light

Can the thin skinned reactions over three or four line internet scat masquerading around as  “journalism” stop, please? People are going to say that librarians/libraries/books/tax funded public good are dead because it’s what makes people click on their links. This paragraph is now longer than the majority of the hit-and-run “articles” that pass for online discourse these days but the sheer volume of response energy spent hyperventilating over these things is, well, stupid and pointless. I concede that I have gotten caught up in it in the past, but I’ve moved on and so should you.

If only they were actually about professionalism and not merely screeds about dress codes (or worse) childish temper tantrums over the desire post anything online under the guise of “personal space” without professional consequences. Newsflash: how you look and act around the community you serve matters. How you dress is up to you, but if you step outside of the people’s expectations as to how [insert your kind of librarian] should look it’s going to take work to show them that you are a competent professional. It’s not up to them to expand their definitions, it’s up to you to do the work that will prove those definitions are wrong.

Also, if you post online, it reflects on you. Period. End of discussion. People get disciplined or fired for their words and actions online every day in just about every industry. There is nothing special about librarians that makes them exempt from that reality. And if anyone wants to wave the “freedom of expression” flag at this, then you clearly don’t understand the underlying concept and how it doesn’t protect you from social consequences.

FYI, the total number of working librarians in the United States is around 156,000. The employment forecast for the profession is a growth of 7% from 2010 to 2020 to a whopping 166,000. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the math is not good since the number of graduates will vastly exceed job growth and retirement. But it does take a sufficiently irritated SOB like myself to say that the finger pointing should begin in earnest to fix this issue. So start finding ways of fixing it.

Because as we all know, nothing is more exciting to library advocates than symbolic gestures that carry the emotional gravitas of hitting the Like button on Facebook. The phrase “right to libraries” is so clunky that the Clampetts probably drove it to Beverly Hills. I now know how Lloyd Dobbler felt when “I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.” Thanks for the pen, ALA. Pew revealed recently that libraries have a 95% approval rating. We don’t need a declaration about how everyone should have a library, we need a call to action that explains and justifies funding and support. Get on it.

  • The ALA Think Tank

Honestly, if you can’t control your resident lunatics, please at least keep them within the confines of your posting area. When people in the position of hiring within the library start talking about membership in the group as being a liability on the resume, you might want to work on your image within the library world. (Fine tune your brand. MAKE IT HAPPEN.) Also, saying “sorry, but I’m not going to set boundaries for behavior” clashes with the previously offered idea that the next generation of library leaders will come from that group. If you can’t lead by example or application in there, how do you expect to lead within other organizations? How will brand new librarians know what functional debate and rational discourse look like when all they’ve seen is venomous barbs and bad faith? Show some pride and dignity; get your house in order.

I’ve said my piece for this year’s libraryland Festivus. I’m interested to see what other grievances people write about within libraryland. I am hopeful that the honesty here will provide the proper catalyst for future changes in the right direction.

If it worked, then I’d say it was a Festivus miracle.

Edit: Changed “peace” to “piece” in second-to-last paragraph. Apparently, they are not synonymous with each other in that idiom.

Honeymoon

It’s been over a month since the last post and with good reason. I got married at the end of October in a wedding that I can only describe as perfect. Granted, I am biased on this account. Also, given that I have been married before this is certain to raise questions and/or ire in some people, but since I have no control over that I’m going to move on. It’s just how I saw it.

The event itself was on a gorgeous albeit windy (and therefore chilly) autumn day attended by a small group of family. The Wife and I wanted it to be a cordial and close knit family affair with some drinks, dancing, and the accoutrements that make weddings memorable experiences. Personally, my favorite wedding story comes from the ceremony itself which took place outside. The Wife had a veil over her face which upon entering into the sunlight turned it into a giant white wall through which she couldn’t see. All she could think about was that there were people who could see her so she had to keep smiling and rely on her father to guide over the asphalt and brickwork. She only saw me (and everyone else, for that matter) for the first time once she was right next to me.

These last few weeks have been about learning to live together since we had not before the ceremony and getting into a new rhythm and schedule. I’m both happy and sorry to say that this has been a rather mundane process punctuated with some amusement as we find where our pet peeves cross. In settling down with each other, I’ve also taken the time to put some distance and perspective on the library world. As hindsight tends to be 20/20, I’ve realized how overdue I’ve been for such a break. No one can keep up this kind of pace forever, especially on their own, and as other priorities assert themselves (family, eventual children, friends, hobbies) it puts it in its place.

Overall, I know that my interest in writing in this blog comes and goes, waxing and waning in the topic cycles of the library world. While there are issues that I like to follow, there are only some many times I can hammer on things like eBooks or intellectual freedom without feeling like I’m regurgitating stale points to the same audience. There is a difference between being a cheerleader and a strategic leader; while each has their own value, I’m starting to feel like I can’t tell the difference. Or, more importantly, which role I should be playing.

I’ve previously expressed my disappointment in the state of discourse in the columns and blogosphere of libraryland; with notable exceptions, the rest is bland, sterile, and eyerollingly passive aggressive. I don’t share as much as I used to on Twitter because there isn’t that much worthy of sharing. I would bet dollars to donuts that I’m not the only one who has seen the same pattern in the online librarian community.

I’m not certain what awaits in this blog and as downcast as I make this post out to be, this is not an announcement that I’m completely out of the game. I’m enjoying being on the proverbial bench, watching other people try their hand at this game of ours. In resting, I draw on my other major strength of being a catalyst for people and ideas. I’m a very social creature so I’m looking fine tune my extended network and see how I can help out from behind the scenes. That’s the action that interests me now, but I’ll be sure to keep you guys in the loop.

Just like the new life I’m starting with The Wife, I feel a new life coming on in my profession. It’s just a matter of taking it day by day.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

A couple of days ago, there was another attempt to move the minute hand of the Library Doomsday Clocktm towards midnight. I really couldn’t say that I was outraged since it was a basic recycling of “who needs a library when you have the internet lol” argument. What pushed superficial response aside was a contempt at the effort; not that someone would dare utter the words, but more of a “Really? Is that the best you can do?” I mean, come on! Simply supporting the thesis of end of libraries with “isn’t it obvious?” is either lazy trolling or just link bait. Initially, I just made a series of replies on Twitter of which Jacob Berg embedded the highlight reel in his post on the topic. But really, folks, these kinds of posts don’t merit our limited time, effort, or sanity.

Hell, if you want an idea of how old and tired this “heresy” is, it’s old enough to drive, vote, and most likely not get carded at bars. From the journal The Electronic Library back in 1983, this “end of libraries” article has the most wonderful abstract:

In terms of size, arrangement and catalogues, the conventional library has reached an organisational and financial impasse. Coincidentally there has emerged a pre-emptive new technology for the storage, handling and transmission of information, potentially better suited to the convenience of users. Libraries may disappear like the dinosaurs; or they may, by returning to first principles, be able to adapt and successfully survive.

You hear that? Even by 1983 standards, we were in danger of extinction. The Commodore 64 was going to put libraries out to pasture. Now I have word document files that are bigger than the entire memory of those old machines.

“Death by internet” gets some play in this New York Times article from 2002:

And contrary to predictions about the death of libraries in the Internet age, in the last decade local libraries have grown more essential than ever to social life in the county. They have become community centers, the beating heart of Westchester’s towns and villages and cities.

There are probably a ton more examples of this kind of artistic license in which the library is either saved or damned by the internet, but you get my point. It’s overplayed and makes a nice headline, but it really lacks that pesky thing known as evidence.

For myself, my reasons for writing this post are not to show how weak that argument is, but that librarians are made of tougher stuff. In peering through the history of the profession, the profession has been on the forefront of important societal issues such as women’s suffrage, civil rights, and gay rights. The ALA had called for women’s right to vote, the end of racial segregation, and the recognition of homosexuality as a acceptable sexual orientation long before there was popular support. These pursuits are part and parcel to our belief in intellectual freedom and equality of information access. And, even in this grand age of the internet, the challenges of fulfilling these ideals remain.

In my perspective, what has changed is the battleground. Copyright, net neutrality, and intellectual property are the next major societal conflicts which will require different tactics and solutions in order to resolve. For certain these are hard issues, ones that will require great minds and greater efforts to change. But so was a woman’s right to vote. As was ending segregation and enacting civil rights. And supporting gay rights from the early days to present victories.

Librarians were on the right side of those issues and we continue to be on the right side when it comes to the present challenges. We can and will overcome. We are heirs to dedicated women and men who changed the world. Never forget our legacy. And most importantly, never let anyone take it away from you.

Our future depends on it.

20/20 on Libraries in 2020

Recently, I was at a job interview in which the final question from the interviewers was something like this :

“Where do you see libraries in the year 2020?”

At that moment, I gave an answer as to where I thought it would be on the basis of what I knew about the demographics of the area, the funding levels, community support, and the current trends in the public library world. It was a damn good answer (if I might be so self-assured), but in the time since the interview the question itself has been turning over and over in my head.

The more I think about it, the more I really don’t like it.

Granted, the question is a bit of a softball. No one is going to hold me to my answer and it is asked to get a better idea of my thought process as it pertains to the future. But the question feels deceptive, not on the part of the interviewer, but for the multitudes of potential answers. While I gave the one that counted then, the factors and permutations have crept in upon further thought.

Seven years is now a dinosaur-like era in a field that has ties to technology. Back in 2006, there was no Tumblr, Google Street View, Instagram, Dropbox, iPhones, or Kindles. Can we even fathom what kind of technology will exist in seven more years? I’m sure there are people within the field who would clamor to answer that question, but I’d have severe reservations about their response.

For myself, there’s a certain irony at work here. One of my early posts on LISNews that caught people’s attention was about the “Next Big Thing”. And now here I am with a half decade worth of observations and information and I’m reluctant to hazard a guess more than three years out. I have mixed feelings when I read stories and blog posts about the future of libraries, arriving as a skeptic and generally leaving unmoved.

I’d like to believe I’m on the leading edge for these kinds of developments in the field, but I have to wonder at what that really means. Is the information pointing me the right way? Is this what libraries should be doing? Are my peers that far behind? The more I hear, the more skeptical I become.

The only thing I believe about 2020 is that there will be libraries. After all, the solutions that libraries provide to their communities will not be cured in seven years. But what they will look like? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Programming Unconference Northeast 2013 Recap

I have to start this post with an admission: for every unconference I attend, it lowers my patience for most organized conferences. Whether it is a “panel” that is actually a vendor sales pitch or presenters who magically turn the interesting into the mundane, I just don’t have the tolerance anymore. I would not go so far as to declare it to be a complete waste of time, but it is certainly squandering my time. I’m not shy about getting up and leaving, and I can say that I’ve voted with my feet enough times to declare expertise in the subject.

In doing so, I’ve found more useful outlets in meeting and talking with my peers, the conference phenomena commonly known as “hallway conversations”. Chatting, socializing, and otherwise engaged conversations are how I learn best and so I seek out those kinds of settings to create up my own learning experience. This is probably why I gravitate towards unconferences, especially in helping to organize them. I leave wanting to do another with the conversations still fresh and the effort to get to that point pushed aside. I come from a long line of very social people, so this is now just a family tradition.

For me, the unconference was a good reminder that the community and the library are not worlds apart like they seem at times. Community groups, whether they are businesses, non-profits, social clubs or whatnot, are readily approachable by the library. It’s a matter of showing how their interests align with the library interests and providing space for that relationship to grow. The library walls, which can feel so confining at times, can be breached by the telephone and email in order to reach out. While making initial contact face-to-face has merit, those in short staffed situations can still make the first move.

Also within that first move of outreach is one to the community at large in trying to ascertain their interests and needs. It doesn’t take much effort with social media pathways and simply asking people who come to the library what they want. It is a matter of doing it.

The most interesting breakout group conversation to me revolved around the makerspace movement. I’m pivoting towards the belief that there has always been a makerspace sort of entity to the library (most notably in childrens’ storytime crafts). What we are seeing now is the next logical step in scaling the production upwards with 3D printers, digital media labs, and other technology. But, even without those items, the capability for craftsmanship is limited only by your creativity. Simply having the tools and materials to allow people to make things such as jewelry or art can be a rewarding programming experience. It’s about taking the lessons of a thrifty hobbyist to see what can be done with recycled materials, odds and ends from a junk drawer, or other seemingly unrelated items. Don’t let the term ‘makerspace’ fool you into thinking that you need some fancy technology in order to have one; opt for the original version that uses hands, tools, and materials. People want to create with their hands these days as they always have since the tactile experience is still highly desired.

For myself, the best reward was watching and hearing how people got involved in the many different conversations. There was one moment where someone’s face lit up at a realization (the suggestion of someone else) and began to dash down notes as fast as their pen would let them. That, to me, was a moment that will stick with me for a very long time and makes me smile just thinking about it. That really made my day and all the effort completely worth it.

As I finish up this post, I want to thank Erin Shea for agreeing to help me “unorganize” this. (We came up with that term; licensing fees for using it are still quite reasonable.) She did the grunt work that comes with setting up the website and arranging the venue (the always beautiful Darien Public Library) and the million other things that I as the remote person could not handle. She was a thrill to work with and I look forward to collaborating with her again in the future. I’d also like to thank Lisa Carlucci Thomas for doing our keynote; she is a wonderful and thoughtful speaker who really got the day going. My special thanks to Pat Sheary and the rest of the Darien staff for their help at the unconference on that day.