Sunday Speculation: The Case for Retirement

While one cannot make the case for librarians to retire simply because they have reached the age of retirement (as would almost be implied solution in various previous positions towards the libraryland unemployment problem), I think there is a better argument for the retirement of older librarians.

The basis? Negligence.

My reasoning is as follows: the librarians who have reached the age of retirement (for the purposes of this argument I will say that this age is 65) are well established in the field. They have accumulated institutional knowledge, the benefit of experience, and a vision that only comes to those who have stayed with a profession for a long period of time. And yet, they have not positioned the profession or the institution to handle the societal, technological, or community trends and changes that currently face libraries. In other cases, they have not built the necessary relationships with those who support the library whether it is the taxpayer or town council. But here we are, deep into a rapidly changing communication and computer age that has revolutionized information sharing around the globe, and rather than be positioned to capitalize on it, libraries around the country are simply fighting to retain funding or even stay open. It represents a failure to lead, a failure to recognize emerging trends, and a failure to act accordingly. That is negligence.

And for those who may balk at this argument, why? Corporations change their executive staff when those people fail to respond to the challenges and problems of the company. Governments changes administrative staff either through elections or appointments. When the senior staff fails, should they not be held accountable for their actions (or in this case, inaction)? This might not be the golden parachute of the former or the nature of politics of the latter, but retirement is certainly not the worst option in the world.

Shouldn’t there be some accountability from library leadership in general on this neglect? Why would the profession continue under people who have failed in such a spectacular manner? During an era of the largest information paradigm shift in the recorded history of mankind, libraries are not at the forefront of these issues. It’s a shame, really.

Before anyone sharpens their pitchfork or wraps another kerosene soaked rag around their torch (for me or the premise of this post), I am just putting forth an argument for the sake of a lively discussion and not suggesting a course of action. It is not meant as a litmus test for anyone to retire. This is also not meant as a blanket indictment of older librarians despite its tone. I just thought it was a better argument for librarians to retire than making it age based. I’m curious for people’s reactions, especially any counterarguments.

So, do you think there is negligence? Why or why not?

Update: Before you hit the reply button, please re-read that last full paragraph. I’d also like to highlight part of my reply to Stephen Abram:

The purpose of the Sunday Speculation posts are to throw out topics for people to toss around and debate. Perhaps it is a vestige of my brief time at law school, but I enjoy the arguments. I’ll argue a counter or unpopular viewpoint for the sake of furthering a conversation (as I am doing in this case). It’s a lab, an experiment, something to ruminate over, and tickle the mind. Edison said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

Is this my best piece of work? Certainly not. Do I believe in the point of view I’m touting in the post? No. But I do believe that the argument expressed was compelling enough to share and if I’m going to suggest it, I’m not going to toss it casually out there. I might as well make it a good show. This is not disingenuous, this is good debate. Perhaps it is not the best phrasing, but I think I would have gotten hit with ageism no matter how I framed it since I was asking about library leadership from pre-internet days to now.

I don’t have a problem admitting that it is a clumsy, ham-fisted premise that I have put forth. Is it ageism? Sure. Is it illegal? Yes, both here and in Canada. Does it still happen despite being illegal? Yes. Should those people be prosecuted and/or sued? Yes.

Would it have been better to ask, “Should librarians who have held leadership or administrative decisions since pre-internet days be asked to leave the profession?” Or “Was the action or inaction of library leadership of the last twenty years negligent?” Or even “Are the lack of community and political relationships the result of negligent action by library leadership?”

If you want to judge me for making a hypothetical argument even with the caveats I have attached in the post and afterwards, then I find that a bit unsettling. I find that to be a chilling effect on someone posing a question, albeit a distasteful one, and something that is at odds with the principles of intellectual freedom that are so highly regarded within the profession.

Update 2: Mea Culpa. But I will still continue the discussion below. I’m just opening up a new one from the replies that I have received.

Sunday Speculation: Uncomfortable Literature

In writing the recap on the Bitch Magazine YA feminist literature list situation, I couldn’t help but think about how librarians are by default put into defensive positions about materials in their collections. Each added item has a potential for igniting some sort of objection; even if that chance is miniscule, someone can find something objectionable in it (and if they go hunting for it and have some creativity, they will find it). Often times, this sheds the light on the profession that librarians are smut peddlers, pornographers, politically and/or emotionally insensitive, and otherwise defenders of society’s deviance.

It is the price that is paid for a near absolutist stance. Only the most morally deplorable items (such as child pornography) gain no refuge. But when literature covers incest, suicide, bullying, homosexuality, cutting, eating disorders, racism, blasphemy, and rape, the profession defends the choices of inclusion of unpopular, controversial, and/or otherwise socially abhorrent topics. It is never a matter as to judging whether the topic is acceptable or not; it is a matter of allowing individuals to make their own decisions whether to read it or not. Generally, like the comments to the original YA list post revealed to me, there is a divided opinion. A divided opinion is not a rationale for exclusion, but an impetus for insuring that it remains. As Ricky Gervais said recently after the row over his jokes at the Golden Globes,

“I’m not sorry for anything I said… Nobody has the right not to be offended. And don’t forget: Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re in the right.”

Such is the model and cornerstone for free speech guarantees in countries like the United States.

In noting that the three books that were removed from the Bitch list all involved the topic of rape, I remembered the George Carlin bit, “Rape can be Funny” (very NSFW, as if you needed a warning). Some will find it funny, some will find it offensive, but it has a kernel of truth to it: just because the topic is uncomfortable to others should not preclude any discussion of it. One cannot have ask rape victims to speak out against their abusers and about their ordeals as a means of educating people on the topic while simultaneously demanding that any other discussion outside of this scope cease. It is when we as a society stop talking about a subject for fear of offense that the issue will continue to linger on in the shadowlands of conversation, present yet unresolved.

Sunday Recollection: Snow Days

This particular winter has been consistent in offering snow to the southern New Jersey area where I live. While this is not an unusual winter occurance, it does not match my recollection of the area when I was a kid, staring out the window and hoping for a snow day. In fact, I can remember only a few years where snow days were declared including one particularly heinous ice storm that froze the entire area. Otherwise, it was rare to have a white Christmas and even rarer to have a day off from school due to the snow.

My new great memories from some of those snow days was when my dad took my brother and I over to the next town to sled down a huge hill. You have to take into consideration how flat southern New Jersey is; it’s the kind of flatness you see when you are west of the Appalachians. Any sudden change in elevation to make a sledding hill is quite remarkable and therefore highly desirable. I can only describe the length of the hill in kid terms which would make it ‘oh my god it goes on forever!’ with a wide toothy grin and mad gleam in the eyes. (I won’t sully it with actual measurements either.) As it was one of the few sledding hills in the area, it would be jammed with people as well. The part of the ride down I remember is that it had some (for lack of a better term) moguls where the hill slope met the flat runoff area. After accelerating down the hill, the resultant bouncing could be called ‘tailbone crushing’ or ‘fun’ depending on which mental age bracket you were in. After the runoff, you’d trudge off to the side and march back up the hill. Repeat until you had to use the bathroom or couldn’t move your legs anymore.

I realize that this is less speculation (as my previous posts) and more of a recollection, so I have changed the title of this entry to reflect that. I’m wondering what your favorite snow day memories are as a kid. I have a feeling I would have seen you out on that hill with me, hanging on for dear life as the sled hit maximum acceleration right before the bumps that could sending you flying.

Sunday Speculation: For the Love of the Game

Photo by Erik Mallinson/Flickr

There is no denying it: I am a gamer.

I adventure in World of Warcraft. I take capture points and blow up people in Team Fortress 2. My iPad is full of games from World of Goo (SO. GOOD.) to Scrabble to Warpgate to- well, you get the point. Lots of games.

I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons at a pretty young age. My mother’s family was big into card games and my friends would play lots of a board games. With the advent of Atari and then later Nintendo, the console game system started to feature into my play activities. A family Commodore 64 was where my brother and I would play even more games. College had a combination of console (Playstation), computer (the first Command & Conquer blew my mind and lots of Quake), and some other games (Hearts and a violent card game known simply as “Egyptian Ratscrew”. Don’t ask.) Post college saw involvement in live action roleplaying games (also known as LARPs) in addition to the other platforms (console, computer, board, card) listed above.

Gaming has been a part of my professional life as well. I worked to co-create a video game collection in my library system. The circulation for the games has been tremendously successful. I’ve been pretty proud of that and work towards giving people a new way to look at the library as well as a chance to see what else we have to offer.

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of articles that talk about the importance of play in development (both human and other animals) and the benefits it has on mental acuity. Personally, I’ve never understood while people give up on play so easily. Or maybe it’s just that the concept of play changes over time for some people.

So, I have a simple question: how do you play? What do you consider to be play? And how has play changed for you?

Sunday Speculation: Cell Phones & Constant Connections

CC Pic by Nemo's Great Uncle/Flickr One of the things that the week off has given me is the knowledge that my current cell phone plan contract has expired. Being an individual that is acutely aware such details, it’s been expired from September. Perhaps it is a sign as to how much care and concern I give my cell phone (which sounds something akin to “Oops, I dropped it again. Oh good, it survived! Again!”), or perhaps it is a sign of the love/hate relationship I’ve had with this particular cell phone and provider. I don’t have a smartphone; I have what I can only term as a developmentally disadvantaged phone. It was born in an era slightly before the web interface really took off but they were smart enough to put a slide out keyboard so that I would not use it as a projectile having hit 3 a bunch of times in order to get a letter E for a text message. It’s been a nice run but, really, the limitations are such that it makes it more of a pain at times when a web enabled browser or just the perfect application would be quite delightful.

Despite having said that, I will admit there is a relief to not having a smartphone at times. Judging from how often my friends, family, and coworkers will glance at their phones, I do take a secret delight in not being that connected all the time. Some may argue that one doesn’t have to check the phone every time they get a buzz or a beep, but being the curious creatures that humans are (and me being one of the curiouser; yes, I just invented a word), I’d find it hard not to check and see what the message was. I’ve also had the distinct displeasure of sitting next to someone in a post conference meal and being ignored in favor of a smart phone conversation throughout the whole meal. I’m glad there were other people to talk to around me, but it was like sitting next to a wall of silence. A very rude experience, but thankfully it has only happened once.

There is a little joy in being just a tiny bit disconnected. If people really want to reach me, they can text, send me a DM through Twitter, or *gasp* call me. I do like calling people back after they send me text messages. It’s like a fun breach of some unwritten protocol about limiting it to text messages. But, seriously, in the same span of typing out several text messages back to you, we have can have the whole conversation in less than a minute and both go on with our lives. Text is great for dropping a quick note or having small exchanges when the phone isn’t an option, but there are things that are easier with just a quick call.

So, in getting to the actual speculation part of the post, I’m wondering if anyone else likes the idea of being slightly disconnected in this technology day and age. That they are purposefully technology limited so as to limit the amount of contact stimulus they have in their lives. For as much as I may protest being so connected, I have a touch of gadget dorkiness to me that makes me go “must get phone that can run my life”. I will probably give in, but not without an eye towards determining how much notification that I can get at one time.

My question is thus: how much connectedness do you prefer and how does your choice in technology reflect it?

Sunday Speculation: Book Removal Awards

When I was reading about the NCAC “Celebration of Free Speech and Its Defenders” awards in School Library Journal, I got to wondering this question:

Why don’t they have awards for people who have successfully gotten books removed from libraries? 

If a person petitions the library to remove a book out of a legitimate concern for the well being of the children or the community or whatever, why not give out awards for it? If people feel that the removal of a library material is for the best interests of another, why not celebrate it? I mean, if they are doing a good deed, a moral act, a step towards the bettering of their neighbors and families, then why not acknowledge it? There are plenty of recognitions for people who work to improve the lives of others. Take a little pride in the accomplishment!

You might think I’m joking, but I assure you that I am dead serious. If you are someone who believes in their heart that they are doing the right thing by asking for a library to remove a book, that what you are doing is important, that removing this book is the best action for the community as a whole, why not stand proudly and take credit for this success? If anything, you’ve earned it considering the usual ruckus that can be associated with a book challenge. Speak with the same surety and conviction in your voice when you declare, “Yes, I am responsible for the removal of a book at the library because it was unsuitable for [insert your rationale here]!” It really doesn’t matter what other people think if you are being true to yourself, to your beliefs, and to the action that was taken. Isn’t that what is most important in the end?

I realize some people might have a problem with this idea, but my question still remains: why not give out awards for book challenges? And if there was book challenge awards, what should they be called?

Sunday Speculation: WikiLeaks

My question to you right off the bat:

Do you think there is a library that is going add the Wikileaks documents to its collection for future preservation?

Wikileaks_-logoMy gut reaction is that there is and there should be. The documents, while not released on their own accord, do present a historical snapshot of our particular time. I would guess that even right now there are academics looking at the cables and matching them up to the people, times, and events of our recent history. Despite the manner of which they have reached the public, they have now become part of the public domain (more or less) and should be considered an item to acquire and integrate into a collection. It offers a glimpse into the life of a diplomat and (ironically) the kinds of candid and secret communication that are required for agents of the state to inform decision makers as to the best course of action at the time. Whether right or wrong in the end, it provides crucial insight and the data for analysis for future generations of diplomats.

And why not? The Library of Congress has already acquired Twitter’s archive. Although, they are not in a position to collect the cables since they are currently blocking access to them.  While I would guess that over time the LoC would reverse such a decision (yes, it’s a speculative guess), but the same current underlying rationale may not be a bar for upper echelon political science schools. What better way to inform the politicians and diplomats of tomorrow than with the cables of today?

Maybe I’m wrong. What do you think? Would/should a library collect the Wikileaks cables? Why or why not?

Sunday Speculation: Weeding Your Life

Today, I spent the early afternoon at my grandparent’s house helping my parents move furniture and items around, do some yardwork, and load undesired items into an antique dealer’s truck. Prior to moving out this July, my wife and I had lived at the house for over four years. We had moved there after graduation from Clarion with our Masters in Library Science. My grandmother needed someone at the house to cook dinner and do housework and we needed a place to live while we found work. It was an excellent arrangement in the time after my grandfather’s death a few years before that. 

In staying at the house, I would ultimately bear close witness to the decline of my grandmother through dementia and other health ailments. When she needed more care than we could provide, she went to an assisted living place. On New Year’s Eve of 2008, she passed away. We continued to live in the house as it was rent free and the housing market was particularly lousy in 2009. But, like all things, that time came to an end when my mother and uncles wanted to place the house on the market. So, we moved out this past July.

The house has since sold and so it brings me to today to help move or remove the things that remained after my grandmother’s passing. A good portion of the furniture and furnishings had been removed from the house prior to today; there was a big push to empty the house in order to stage it for the sale. But with the contract in hand and the closing within sight, today was the penultimate preparation day for the last of the objects still left.  

The hardest thing for me to see leave the house was my grandfather’s bed. My grandparents maintained different bedrooms later in life due to their own idiosyncrasies and different sleeping schedules. It was the bed he was born in, of all things, though it was not the bed he would die in. It was also not a standard size, falling somewhere between a double and twin. My grandfather liked his mattress notoriously hard which felt like something slightly short of sleeping on the ground. After he passed, the bed was given more cushion. I would stay there on nights when I had a hard time getting to sleep; something about the bed just knocked me right out after hours of frustrated attempts.

That was one of the items that went with the antique dealer today. Having lived among my grandparent’s personal affects for a time made me relatively unsentimental about a majority of them, save for certain pieces. This was one of those pieces. It was hard to see it go, but I knew it was the right decision to let it go.

Save for that brief moment, I can’t say the same for the rest of the items in the house. My grandmother liked to collect, well, everything. We are not talking Hoarders level amount of crap, but there was certainly a large amount of things that they accumulated in their lives. In moving in the last few months, my wife and I have discovered items in boxes that we had not seen in over six years. They had been stored when we were out in Clarion and later stored again at my grandmother’s house. Since then, we have parted with a good amount of items that we simply don’t use or need anymore. It’s been nice to clean out and unburden ourselves of items that have no place in our lives.

This brings me to the question of the post: how do you ‘weed’ your own life? Do you weed your own life? What is the criteria for donating and/or trashing? For a profession dedicated to a constantly evolving collection, what do you do when it comes to your personal affects?

Sunday Speculation: Games & The Brain

Tim Chatfield–TEDGlobal-July 2010

This TED video is not a continuation of a case for gaming in libraries, but rather a glimpse into the discoveries about human behavior that video games are revealing. The industry, poised to reach triple the size of the recorded music industry by 2014, has been taking lessons from how people act within their virtual words, what motivates them, and what reward systems work. In turn, game designers are crafting their worlds to play on people’s expectations, their thought patterns, and what keeps them engaged. While the “laboratory” for these discoveries is online, the implications of these findings have real world applications.

As Mr. Chatfield notes in the close of his talk, game creators are now constructing virtual worlds to meet (and appease) the neurological biometrics of the brain. He makes a list of the lessons that can be gleaned from it and the real world implementations that can be used. I don’t really have a question other than wondering what other people who have viewed this think about the points it raises. So, take about fifteen minutes to watch the video and please post your thoughts below.

Sunday Speculation: Librarian Workout

Photo by hotelcasavelas2/Flickr

I have never been a huge fan of working out. I like being active in sports and outdoor activity, but the thought of going to a gym to use machines was distasteful for a long time. However, when you are out of breath from climbing only a few set of stairs at work, then the time has come to start paying attention to your body’s conditioning.

I never denied to myself the fact that I am overweight, but I hadn’t done anything about it until recently. In visiting the gym tonight, I was thinking about what to write for today’s Sunday Speculation when the epiphany hit me.

What is the workout that you as a librarian put yourself through? In other words, what are the personal professional development and continuing education activities that you use to keep in the swing of things?

For myself, it’s a little bit of professional publications (Library Journal and Booklist at work) and a healthy dose of library and librarian blogs in my Google Reader. I can’t say how many blogs I subscribe to, but I easily go through a couple hundred library related items a day. I find the inspiration for many posts there as well as ideas to steal take back to work with me. I also find that it is useful for keeping up with the current library issue debates.

At my library, the thing I work on the most which sounds simple but isn’t always is this: I try to greet every patron with a smile and an upbeat greeting. It’s not easy because there are days when you don’t feel it on the inside; on those days, it becomes a bit of theater. However, I will admit that in doing it once, it makes subsequent greetings easier and it does improve my overall mood.

So, the question again I have for you is this: how do you work out your librarian muscles and “keep fit”?