I’ve had a hard time bringing fingers to the keyboard in any sort of blog entry lately. It’s not that I haven’t had any thoughts or things I’ve wanted to write about, but I feel like I’m stuck in a manner of speaking. Since I don’t get it out and onto the screen, they just start to pile up like the old McDonald styrofoam food packaging: discarded but not going to degrade on any short time scale.

On one hand, my thoughts towards libraryland feel like they are building a callus of cynicism. It’s hard to get terribly excited about anything, even the pet issues that I’ve come to champion over time. While it would be convenient to blame it on a social media culture that foments persistent outrage, I take some of the blame for basic naivety as a person who is still relatively new to the profession (new being less than ten years in). It’s hard not to think that there will be more rapid action, but the library innovation cycle doesn’t follow the much more highly visible technology version that has brought us so many within the last decade. It’s only so glaring because our fortunes seem to be linked so closely with this technology as part of our information access and education mission.

On a similar train of thought, I’m not sure what library disruption looks like. One of my first blog posts on LISNews was about finding the next big thing in libraries; now, about five years later, I feel like I’d have a hard time identifying it. eBooks are hardly disruptive given how much we have to treat them identically like their print counterparts. Makerspaces are just the arts and crafts programs that libraries have had for years but for adults and more costly equipment. Social media profiles are just the heir apparent to email and the grandchild of telephone reference. What does truly disruptive library innovation look like? Because I’m guessing we haven’t really seen it if one simply takes existing offerings and just adds expensive tech to it.

On the other hand, I feel my cynicism melt away every time I look at the sonogram printout of my in utero son. It’s so very cliche, but I simply can’t help it. I now have new facet of understanding to some of the feelings and emotions that I have heard from new parents, something that is impossible to quantify outside of experience. I feel young again, alive in the moment, and full of curiosity and hope and wonder. I want to hold onto that moment for when I’m up in the middle of the night with a sick kid or changing a diaper that qualifies for Superfund designation or a pain in the ass teenager. I know I have a lot to learn and that there will be moments of frustration, but I want that kernel to always be with me in my journey into parenthood. I don’t know if it will or how it will change, but I’m just hopeful in ways that I haven’t been in a very long time.

That could be some of the tension I am feeling as I turn away from some library interests and towards this new step in life that is parenthood. It’s not that I don’t think I could do both at the same time (a choice that is certainly easier as a man in society), it’s that I am choosing one over another. In imagining my post-childbirth life, I’d much rather be the best father I can than the next big leader or pundit or consultant in libraryland. The library world has been my life for so long and through great personal and emotional adversity; and now something is coming that will usurp that from the peak of my personal priorities. It may end up being my saving grace, for it really sharpens a lens onto which issues are true concerns and which are just babbling bullshit. Or perhaps, like all things, the relationship between my life and my work will just be… different.

If you were to ask me what the most pressing issue has been in the last month, I’d have to say looking at different stroller models. Seriously, these things are the types of engineering-based punishments that would have made the Greek gods says, “Shit, you are screwed, bro.” I’d have to think about a library issue that has really caught my attention in that same time period. It’s not that I don’t care deep down, but that my focus has changed. I don’t think of this as good or bad, it just is. And it’s where I want to be.

Fatherhood (So Far, So Good)

Last week, we had the anatomy scan for The Wife’s pregnancy. For those unfamiliar with what this entails, it is an assessment that is done about halfway through a pregnancy in which they take a look at the development of the internal organs, measure the limbs, and examine the baby from top to bottom. It’s a milestone in the pregnancy, one that is both exciting and stressful since you see how things are progressing while on edge that a problem (however remote a chance) might appear.

Unlike previous ultrasounds where the sonogram images of The Baby were pretty obvious within moments, this one took some time to figure out what gray blob was what. The previously laid out figure was now scrunched up, legs and arms drawn up into the perfectly literal example of the fetal position. Add in the jerky movement of these body parts and the picture took awhile for a layman like myself to discern what exactly is on the screen.

Eventually, all of the requisite baby parts were observed, recorded, and examined, despite the best effort of our unborn son who can magically sense the position of the ultrasound apparatus in order to avoid it. Seriously, this unborn child has made ultrasound technicians chase him around The WIfe’s belly despite his limited movements options. Even when “cornered”, to use the term loosely, he has drawn up his hands over his face like a boxer covering up. He is just like his mother already: stubborn and not interested in getting his picture taken.

But in that brief moment when the technician got his facial profile on the screen, I could feel my heart leap in my throat. For all the things I couldn’t make out on the computer screen, this was one I recognized immediately. My mind soared at the sight of this little grainy face on the screen. It was an emotional moment, the impossible one to describe, but brought clarity to some of the experiences I have been told by other fathers. I now knew what they meant.

I’m certainly not the first to say or think this, but fatherhood in utero still remains a state of mind. Aside from these sonogram images, it can feel like a pretty remote experience at times. I can observe The Wife and how things change for her as the baby develops. I can talk to her about how she is feeling and what sensations she can feel going on now that we are solidly into the second trimester. But it’s still a very much mental, a contrast of knowing what is going on but not being able to see it which traditionally doesn’t always jibe well for my brain.

To the outside world, the only thing I can do when it comes to the baby is talk about him. As an expectant father, it’s hard not to sound like a North Korean press release when talking about the baby. (“Baby Woodworth, under the superior guidance of The Wife supported by The Father, continues along the fabled path of his remarkable genetic destiny!”) Furthermore, there really isn’t much to go on either. I found myself proudly relating how much fetal weight estimate to coworkers (in addition to the aforementioned ultrasound story). There is going to be a healthy dose of irony for being excited that my kid has a bladder which I will shortly become very familiar with in the next three years (give or take). I’m excited for everything going on at the moment, but it’s hard to make anything resembling a conversation for a stage of human development that is basically eating, sleeping, and kicking the crap out of The Wife’s immediate internal organs. And yet, I look at the sonogram prints and smile like a goofy idiot. I just can’t help it.

For my part, I’ve done my best to support The Wife through a very tiring first trimester and a getting better second. Perhaps I am going back to my days of living with my grandmother when I went into caretaker mode. Even before the pregnancy, we both did the housework; I’d like to think we are a modern couple that way. With her energy levels low, for now whatever housework that needs to be done, I do it. I love her and I want to do these things for her so that she has time to rest and relax.

I’m writing that last part here not because I want to toot my own horn (ok, maybe a little ego in there), but that I’m was shocked to find that I was in a minority of husbands who do this for their wives. I felt naive when this was related to me; I would have thought that because you love your partner that you would want to do these kinds of things for them. But the old gender roles still hang on, perhaps diminished in the last fifty years but nowhere near destroyed. I feel stupid writing out a truth that one gender knows pretty damn well, but if this post can be shown to the husbands to the world to shame motivate them into action, then I hope it helps.

It’s hard to think that we have arrived at the halfway mark for the pregnancy, but the time continues shrink towards the due date. We are now faced with, well, everything left to do. Pediatricians to interview, nursery to ready, birthing classes to take, and what can only feel like a million little details to handle between now and mid-May. I really don’t know what to expect; it is both exciting and terrifying all at once. Furthermore, the idea that Baby Woodworth may read this as a remembrance of his dear old dad pushes the surreal factor through the roof. I don’t have much to say to that except a few heartfelt things:

I hope I did well. I love you. And fatherhood is the best thing in my life right now, even though it remains abstract waiting on reality. So far, so good.

In Transition

In going through various boxes to find things to hang in my office walls, I found the picture of myself that hung at the Mover & Shaker luncheon reception back in 2010. My friend Mo had saved it and mailed it to me since I had split before the end of that social event for some reason or another. Looking at it on the eve of the New Year, I had to take time to pause and reflect on that moment and everything afterward.

Even though the passage of time has been only half a decade, it felt like a lifetime ago. I’ve been divorced, moved, remarried, moved again, found a new job, bought a house (and, of course, moved again), and am now an expectant father. It’s not that the Andy of 2010 wouldn’t have predicted some of those events, but back then I was very much focused on my librarian career. I wanted to speak at conferences, meet my peers across the country, and put my mark on the profession. I can readily admit that I was naïve; I hadn’t really done much at that point so I really didn’t have much to say. But if it worked as a ticket to travel and meet people, then I was going to use it.

At the time, it was also an escape. Back then, the library administration wasn’t interested in professional development, staff morale, or properly managing any of the talent individuals (and there were many) who worked at the library system. Promotions were put on hold for years and there were little to no advancement opportunities. Moving for a position isn’t just for the new graduates; it’s very true when it comes to career options down the line. At least I loved the people I worked with at my branch, even if the work lacked challenge I really wanted. Later that same year, my involvement in the public embarrassment of the Revolutionary Voices book removals netted me the somewhat deserved blame for the embarrassment to the administration and the library system, which turned me into persona non grata. I wouldn’t get out of that dog house until they retired two years later; needless to say, it was a very long time to be in exile.

I feel very different about the librarian part of the social media world these days. It feels more contentious, jaded, and trivial. In the last few years, I was more reluctant to interact for fear of being labeled the ‘worst person in the world’ on the basis of a single tweet that might offend someone. It directly conflicted with my passionate beliefs in the freedom of speech and expression, even in the ugly, awful, and distasteful. I got a few slaps on the wrist in that time period, a strange and sick paradox of a profession that professes to defend the vulgar and profane.

I have no interest in re-fighting those battles for even the thought of them makes me emotionally exhausted. I am just left with a heavy heart, sad and disappointed. It would be easy to be mean, to deliver a comeuppance to those I find intolerable. I have the energy for it, but I lack the will and interest to do so. Maybe this is what maturity looks like, but I try to remember that there are human beings on the other end of the screen. Move on, I think, just move on.

But for all these negatives, I can still find energy in those principles and issues that I hold close to my heart. I’ve taken steps into shifting that energy towards other, less conspicuous projects. As the Reference and Adult Services Supervisor at my new place of work, I’ve got ideas and plans that I will finally be able to try out. I am happy to have joined the editorial board of the Journal of Creative Library Practice, working with people I admire as well as important principles such as the use of Creative Commons and open access journal publications. I’m very happy to have been selected for the Intellectual Freedom Subcommittee for NJLA; we have some projects underway that will resonate further than our state boundaries. These are the kinds of things that put a smile on my face.

While a good number of New Year’s posts offer a vision of the future, my sight is cloudy these days. My brain just sees too many variables in play; as I acquire more experience, the filtering for these factors seems to go a bit wonky. I just wish that for all the talk about understaffing and underfunding we wouldn’t take those limited budgets and spend them on materials, products, and services that further undermine our principles. A lack of financial security should not translate into throwing money at vendors who collect and sell patron information, or crush us under intrusive licensing agreements, or impose digital scarcity as a business plan.

All the worry about the destruction and deprofessonalization of librarianship revolves around the size of the staff and the paycheck, but we do it to ourselves when we turn away on our principles and beliefs. Any knucklehead can sign a contract, but librarians should be the ones saying no to those that have privacy intrusion, burdensome restrictions on information access, and other onerous gatekeeping clauses. Our budgets are our power; if enough of the library world demands certain changes, we can change the market to fit our needs. But unity within the field is our Achilles heel; the belief that we need to give patrons everything or else they will bail is the hole in our armor. Libraries enjoy unprecedented public support and we squander it every damn day with the fear that the moment we stop hugging our patrons tightly is the moment they slip away and never return.

That is the anxiety that will wear us down to dust with nothing to show for it. (I happen to know a few things about anxiety, so you can take my word on that.) I can’t tell you what the next big trend in libraries will be, but I feel confident enough to say that what will matter just as much is how we do those things as it reflects our principles and beliefs. We are fiercely admired when we take a stand on those principles whether it is a material challenge or a National Security Letter or using Tor browsers to protect patron privacy. Librarians will remain not because we have advanced into the future, but because we retreated back to who we are and what we represent in the world of knowledge and information.

Happy New Year. Let’s go do this.

I Stand With Bridget (And So Should You)

All I wanted to do was post a link on Twitter to Bridget Bittman’s GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help with legal fees arising from her defamation lawsuit against Megan Fox (no, not the actress), Kevin DuJan, and Dan “SafeLibraries” Kleinman. (Story here, complaint here) GoFundMe has a Twitter button on the page so you can share it easily. Simple, right?

Oh, if it were, that would be the end of the story.


“That’s odd, I thought.” I didn’t think much of it till I waited for that nubulous “later” and tried again. Nope. I related my observations on my Twitter feed where my friend Andrea suggested a bit.ly link and see if that worked. It accepted the tweet, but when I clicked on the link to make certain that it worked, I got this message.


“Huh? What the hell is that?”

Whether you click on the original GoFundMe link shortener or the bit.ly address, you get the same ominous message as above. Hell, if you try to tweet or click on any of the links on the GoFundMe account, it gives the same error messages in both instances. (Thanks again to Andrea for discovering that.) I guess there are some ongoing fraud concerns for some of the campaigns, but I can honestly say that it’s not the case when it comes to this particular GoFundMe campaign.

That frustration has lead me to write this post.

I’ve been following the ongoing harassment of the Orland Park Public Library and its employees since it started in October 2013. Harassment is the best term for this ongoing campaign against the library because of the manner in which the rhetoric has been carried out. For myself, I am happy to protect the rights of individuals and groups who want to speak, leaflet, and protest for their cause; free speech is a great cornerstone of society and a principle of the library world. I’ll even stand up for mockery of public officials, even though unkind words and names were something they told us not to use back in kindergarten. Personally, I’m pretty liberal when it comes to putting limits of speech, even in some of the more dubious gray areas.

But it crosses a line (many, in fact) to engage in the level of character assassination that has been endured by staff at the Orland Park Public Library. I’ve seen some of the behavior listed in the lawsuit for myself as it unfolded; I’ve read the insinuations about the personal lives of the Orland Park Public Library staff. It’s simply grotesque and wholly outrageous in content and character.

Furthermore, in what can only be called “attrition via FOIA”, Fox and DuJan have cost the library over $125,000 in legal fees fulfilling their requests. I went through the Village of Orland Park’s online FOIA records and found twenty six requests that were readily identifiable as being related to this ongoing debacle starting in October 2013. Here’s a link to a Google Drive folder containing screencaps of all the requests so you can read through them yourself. There are two worth highlighting.


It’s the scenic route to a main theme: that the library is operating as a adult business by charging a fee to use the internet which in turn allows men to view pornographic material. It’s just a masterpiece of the ironic phrase, “short story long”. I can’t help but admire the longform trolling here.

This second picture is the request that interested me the most.


The term “SassyPlants” (top paragraph) caught my eye; it appears in the complaint filed by Bittman.


It’s not ironclad, but it’s really hard to ignore the timing of the Facebook page and the request, the email associated with the FOIA request being one of the defendants, the use of the term “SassyPlants” in the request, and the juvenile use of Bittman’s pictures on the page’s profile and photos. I mean, REALLY HARD to ignore.

As for Fox and DuJan, I don’t what else to say but I will let them speak for themselves. Fox believes that what people described as dragons were actually dinosaurs. DuJan believes that Obama is secretly gay. I really can’t compete with that.

As for Dan Kleinman, well, that’s another story for another blog post. All I’ll say for now is that his attempts to connect his lawsuit plight with that of #teamharpy have been disgraceful and utterly contemptible.

However, this blog post is not about them; it’s about helping Bridget.

The most important thing and the entire purpose for this blog post is to encourage everyone to assist Bridget Bittman with her legal costs. I’ve donated because no library staff member deserves to be bullied and harassed, especially to the extreme lengths taken to violate her personal privacy. Please do consider giving what you can. Let’s raise the remaining $6,500 and send a message that the library community stands together in the face of this petty and vile conduct.

Let’s do this.

Rock Star Librarian Redux

The latest round of the cyclical discussion regarding the concept of the ‘rock star librarian’ has been sticking in my blogging craw for awhile. Yes, I can read a calendar and notice that the publication of this post is about a month late (or roughly two Annoyed Librarian blogging cycles, based on the timeliness of their posts regarding current events). The term itself has shifted towards an ironic pejorative in which, unlike the many years of work, time, and effort typically spent by musicians to rise in their craft, the library version has slowly shifted to a second definition as a person who has name recognition in the field but no discernable or useful talent, content, or point. It now sits between a compliment and a slur, discernable only through the accompanying context.

There were certainly plenty of strongly worded opinions about how terrible a term it was, how terrible the people who are called it are, and how terrible its terribleness is. As much as I’d like to jump into that pit of rhetoric quicksand, it’s not what was keeping the topic on my brain’s backburner. What I noticed is what was missing out of the topic: what a role model in librarianship should embody.

Perhaps I’ve traded one quagmire for another, but there was much column space dedicated to saying what it was not without indicating what it should entail. Granted, some of the ideals could be inferred from the inverse of the discussed undesirable traits, actions, and other characteristics on display. But if the question was posed, “What should a role model (aka rock star librarian) be?”, there wouldn’t be enough words or terms discerned to satisfy a game of Mad Libs.

It’s a loaded question as well, threaded with all of the nuance that comes with human beings and their personality. Should a role model librarian be assertive, but not overbearing? Be outspoken, but not self-aggrandizing? Be confident, but not arrogant? And so forth and so on, a never-ending recitation of positive traits and their malignant cousins.

For myself, this intermittent topic seems like the symptoms of a deeper professional issue: the identification, nurturing, and enabling of librarian leadership. To oversimplify what I have observed in the last half decade, there is a distinct call for leaders in the profession that is counter balanced by suspicion for those who are put or place themselves in that spotlight. It’s pure cognitive dissonance to believe that a library should be in the heart of the community it serves but the librarians should act purely as background characters to the overall entity. That’s nuts. It’s untenable, undesirable, and now irresponsible when it comes to proving the value of the institution to our constituents.

In going back to the question as to what a role model librarian should look like, I don’t have an answer either. What I do know is that we eliminate any individual who isn’t a paragon of professional ideals and personal virtue, then the answer will be “no one”. I’m not saying this to advocate for anyone, but to encourage you the reader to consider what it means to be a role model to other librarians. Rather than just treating it as simply something we know when we see, take a moment to articulate it.

Say Yes No Maybe So To Privacy

I honestly don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just let the apathy take over me when it comes to libraries and their relations to vendor that collect usage information. It must be active cognitive dissonance in which we tout the confidential nature of patron records, the freedom to read anonymously, and the actions we will take (up to and including jail and legal proceedings) but let such data slip through our fingers first with database providers, then with social media, and finally now with the landscape of apps. It’s either that librarians aren’t serious about principles of privacy protection or we have to accept that the cultural norm has shifted to the point of passive acceptance where the less work it takes to do something, the better.

The Digital Reader reported late yesterday that Adobe was collecting user information about people’s eBook library through the latest edition of their program, Adobe Digital Editions. Among the many problems here, two are chief in this librarian’s eyes: first, that the data is sent unencrypted and insecure to the point where anyone can just tap in; second, that Adobe is provider of digital authentication to Overdrive, the leading supplier of library eBooks in the United States. The first is somewhat laughable (a digital security company that cannot encrypt) but the second is absolutely enraging. The two come together as one with Adobe’s statement about their data collection that I will (unfairly) sum up as “It’s totally in line with our privacy policy to take that data to make sure that you aren’t stealing.” It’s like checking for identify theft by screaming out the person’s social security number to a person across a crowded room checking it against their records. It’s digital security at its Super Troopers best.

But I save my fiery gaze of fury for the entity that I can do something about: Overdrive. As of the moment I am writing this, they are currently “aware” of the situation and I await their comment with deservedly given suspicion. While I struggle with giving them the benefit of the doubt with Adobe (but seriously, COME ON MAN), I did make it a point to look up the privacy policy of their app which they are pushing people (aka our library members) to sign up. I encourage you to read the whole thing since you are serving it up to your community, but I’ll highlight some passages for you.

What is “Personal Information”

“Personal Information” describes information that can be associated with a specific user and used to identify that person, such as your name, email address, birthday, gender, location information, etc. Personal Information, specifically your name and email address, will be submitted by you when you create, access, and use your OverDrive account. Other information, that is not personally identifiable, may be collected automatically by creating, accessing, or otherwise using your OverDrive account.

What information does OverDrive collect?

We may collect certain information about your interactions with us and information related to you and your use of your OverDrive account, including but not limited to, Personal Information, your online activity, digital content selections, reviews, ratings, your library card account number and/or Adobe® ID as well as Internet Protocol addresses, device types, unique device data, such as device identifiers, and operating systems.

By creating and using an OverDrive account with OverDrive and/or otherwise consenting to the sharing of information with us, you authorize OverDrive to collect and retain your Personal Information and, at your option, you library card account number and/or Adobe ID, and other information. Please be aware that your OverDrive account cannot be used unless you identify yourself to us.

How does OverDrive use information?


OverDrive may also use and share non-personally identifiable information, such as general demographic or location information, or information about the computer or device from which you access your OverDrive account. Additionally, we may anonymize Personal Information and share it in an aggregated form with third parties, advertisers and/or business partners in order to analyze service usage, improve the OverDrive service and your experience, or for other similar purposes. The use and disclosure of such information is not subject to any restrictions under this Privacy Policy.

Even as I copied and pasted these passages, I felt the swell of apathy rise within me. How much can I care about this when people (including myself) are giving away their personal information everyday in exchange for free web stuff or customization or personalized deals? It’s hard to reconcile that at times, especially since I know I will copy this link into my social media accounts.

But, for me, this is an instance where action is called for. The freedom to read anonymously is simply that important. In a world that seeks to find, track, and record our mundane moments, our principles should not be flexible on this invasion of privacy. There is a reason and a damned good one that library records enjoy a higher level of protection: uninhibited curiosity and the intellectual pursuits are the hallmarks of thought, discovery, and being. We must act if not from these ideals but from our legal duty to protect our member’s privacy.

What happens next? I’m not entirely sure. For myself and my library, it’s a hard look at the expenditures and price (legal, moral, and financial) we pay for them. I will be taking a hard look at 3M and their privacy policy and consider what options are available. I don’t know about any other companies at this point, but I’m willing to consider more options. Honestly, even for the delight it brings my members in getting books online it poses an ugly question: at what cost? Can libraries back away from eBooks now or have the claws sunk in too deep? At what point is “giving them what they want” to we allow to give ourselves away?

I remember attending the Public Library Association annual conference when it was in Philadelphia a couple years back. Overdrive threw a bash at the Constitution Center complete with food, drinks, and entertainment by a wide ranging cover band. As the revelry played out in front of me, one of my thoughts was how libraries had paid for the extravagance. It really was a good party, though the attention to detail there could have been used on the app at the time.

It’s not any different now. If you think about it, nothing is new here, just unfortunate. Privacy intrusions abound these days, but there should be lines. There needs to be lines or else the concept erodes away under the constant drip of internet cookies, app permissions, and other forms of tracking software. We as a profession have to draw that line. Or just go home as glorified content caregivers who will do or say anything to keep the general public coming to an inadequate building with funding commitments based on whether cutting or adding is the favored community political position.

So, get on the phone or send an email to your eContent providers. Find out what they are doing to comply with state laws and the ideals of the library. It’s up to you to do it.

Draw your line.

Banned Books Beast 2014

Once again, Banned Books Week is upon the library world and this year I find myself disappointed. This is my sixth annual entry on the event, the only consistent thing I’ve written about throughout my blogging years. I’ve been thinking about writing this blog entry for a week, a constant companion in my quiet moments traveling between home and work, doing chores around the apartment, and in that short span of consciousness laying in bed before sleep. Unlike other things that would have developed in blog posts in the past, this one pestered me to finally put fingers to the keyboard.

My disappointment with the event comes from the notion that is an excellent case study in how public librarians fail to articulate their values to the general public. Our ideals as related to this event revolve around intellectual freedom, personal liberty in reading materials, and the public library as a platform for individual expression and ideas. Our output is “I Read Banned Books” stickers and shirts, a collection of current and historically challenged/banned books on a shelf or table, and the liberal use of “CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS” police tape. In presenting Banned Books Week to the public, it misses the meaning in favor of the cheap shock and most superficial of library/patron interaction, materials with signage.

I can sense the itchy fingers that are waiting to spring into action once the indignant eyes race down to the bottom of this post so as to leave a comment as to how it might be true but not at their library. I know I’m being unfair to a good number of librarians who take the time and effort to provide more than what I have outlined above, but I would be willing to bet dollars to donuts that my examples are more of the norm. To those peers, I salute them for providing the context that makes the week more than a recitation of book names from a list.

In my reckoning, the materials are a vehicle to introduce and educate people about the librarian ideals on these important topics. To be honest, I don’t have anything specific in mind (as public libraries are inherently local so your best communication practices with the community may vary) but I would urge my fellow librarians to consider how these challenged materials are the beginning of a conversation with the community, not the sum total of the Banned Books Week event.

Another thing that stems out of my thoughts is how the collection development process remains an enigma to the general public. Here is a document (or policy or guidelines or whatever you want to call it) that outlines what the library will and will not consider for inclusion in the collection and yet it remains lost in the preening terminology of the library world. For all the time devoted to presenting the image of the library as welcome to all ideas and opinions, the reality is more pragmatic and nuanced so as to keep the library efficient, relevant, and functional.

A typical criticism of the public library during this time of year is that it won’t collect a certain type of book or topic. “How can they talk about banned books when they won’t carry X subject?” asks the commentator )where X is their pet subject and part of an agenda that they want to push). “That is so hypocritical!” they exclaim, faux shock coursing through their ham-fisted screed. (Some of this is done without an ounce of irony since they can’t get some book or subject removed from the library that they will try to put their propaganda next to it.) Then they pat themselves on the back as if they have discovered fire or antibiotics or solved a great mystery of our time.

What is lost in this thin skinned moral outrage is that there is difference between speech and collection material. The library should be welcoming of all kinds of speech and expression, no matter how odious or vile the librarians might find it. This support is paramount since it strikes at the heart of our support for intellectual freedom; if we are as enlightened as we pretend to be, we can welcome such opinions without accepting or endorsing them as our own. Our comfort with these individuals, groups, or organizations is secondary to the freedom that is being expressed for we cannot support one form of speech and disregard another. 

While freedom of speech should be near-universally supported within the library, the collection is a different matter. It is a finite resource in so many definitions of the term: physical space, limited budget, and usability/relevance. The “why doesn’t the library carry this subject that I care about?” tends to be a self-interested argument that doesn’t care for everything that is potentially behind it. It doesn’t care for the quality of the scholarship (if there is any) nor for the relevance in the broader collection nor any cost/benefit (read: usefulness) consideration. I want it, therefore the library should have it.

Collection development policies exist for a reason: to provide guidelines to staff as well as the general public as to what the library collects and why. It’s a tightrope act in which an individual can raise hell as to why X isn’t in the collection while another can wave around a book they found in stacks asking why their tax money was spent purchasing it. At my library, the policy outlines material that the library will not purchase such as college textbooks and technical scientific literature. Does that mean we hate higher education and professionals such as engineers, doctors, and psychiatrists? Not at all, but the time, space, and financial outlay to establishing and maintaining such collections doesn’t mesh well with our service to the public. There is a level of quality (albeit flexible) that material needs to meet for purchase. It’s part of our fiduciary duty to the library funders to make the best use of their money; it may not always sit well with them, but it is important to present this as our area of expertise with clear cut directives that explain and justify it.

(Note: I do want to mention access in passing because it’s a tough librarian issue. Our discretion in purchasing can make a difference when it comes to our community members and the materials they want. Access is vital in some communities, often the only way that people can reach out to the world via the internet or lack of other services. I don’t really want to go further on this avenue, but I did want to acknowledge it.) 

One final thought: the profession really needs to define the conversation about Banned Books Week instead of our critics. It’s not that books have not been banned by the government therefore this week is moot, it needs to be about infringement of the freedom to read at a local level. It’s not about the books themselves, it’s about the ideas and notions they represent. Too often we meet these arguments and fight them at their level; we are better than that and the ideals we represent are as well.

So, go on, celebrate Banned Books Week. But be ready to say why the week exists and continues to be important in the first place.

Rocket Ship to the Moon

I didn’t make it through the entire Cosmos series when it was on television, but there was something in the first coupe of episodes I watched that stuck with me. The concept of the observable universe is something I’ve known, but the thought that there could be things beyond that had never crossed my mind. To imagine that the universe could be older than the oldest light we have measured simply because that light has not yet arrived was a mind blower. It’s a simple yet powerful thought that reminds me of the limits of human observation.

The concept of radical librarianship has come up in the online world recently, started off by a post by David Lankes and a reply by Melissa Powell. David says:

Too many see the idea of a radical librarianship as a sort of extreme political partisanship. That is wrong. Radical librarians see librarianship as a chance to make a positive difference in their community. They see their mission to not simply promote reading, or to inform a community. Instead radical librarians, the kind we need, see their mission as the improvement of society. They see their role and the instruments of their institutions as engaging a community and addressing the issues that have exploded in Ferguson. Addressing these issues not with tear gas and rubber bullets, but through pizza, magic shows, and learning.

A quote from Melissa:

Radical is NOT pink hair, crazy clothes, over the top programming.  Yes, some of the best radical librarians do have different hair styles, dress differently, and have the most amazing abilities to create the most incredible programs, however that is not “Radical” in and of itself.  Radical is the library staff member who comes up with the idea that is “outside of the library”, in that it is outside the norms we call the library paradigm.  Makes the partnership, creates a service, opens their eyes to what the community needs.  They are aware, awake, and in tune with the role of the library as organization can play in their community, beyond books, beyond programs.

In reading both concepts, I find myself leaning more towards David’s take.  I’m not trying to slight the idea of making a positive difference in a community, but I feel like he’s aiming too low. Like the edges of the observable universe, I wonder at how much further it could go beyond that.

I can appreciate the idea that small changes lay the groundwork to larger ones, the core of the common mantra of “think globally, act locally”. But I can’t help but wonder how many of my peers take the first part to heart. I wonder how many define success as getting people to think “wow, I didn’t know the library did that” versus “wow, the way I see the world around me is different”. The attitude about the library should be a byproduct, not part of the goal.

To my mind, radical librarianship is not about using the role and tools of the institution to make a positive change so much as it is using all of the resources possible. Like the booster rockets in our forsaken space program, the library is the means to push individuals, groups, people, businesses, communities, etc. beyond the bounds of our Earthly atmosphere. The fuel is a well known but little understood combination of “whatever it takes”: books, music, movies, downloadable content, community partnerships, grants, sponsorships, meeting groups, networking, politicians, and everything including the kitchen sink.

If you define issues and situations with the library as a constant factor, then all of your solutions will be constrained by the limitations of the library. It is not about what the library can or cannot do, but what the library chooses or not chooses to do.  There is always a choice and context provides the factors for any decision point. The library as an institution is a tool, not the entire toolbox.

As for those rockets, they don’t make it to space; they fall back to Earth, recovered, and re-used in the next mission. They also don’t make it to the moon, but they’ve sent a lot of people there. Perhaps the metaphor should have ended further up the page, but I wanted to point out that they were not discarded (at least as part of the Space Shuttle program).

But as soon as we treat librarianship as public transit, a means to get people from one end of town to the other, and not a space program for the mind, then there is no longer a need for librarians. The notion of radical librarianship needs to go beyond even what we think it is. It is not about leaving behind current practices, but expanding beyond them. It needs to push boundaries in places we’ve never gone before.

Late Night Pondering

A couple of questions have been rattling around my mind over the last week or so. It’s the kind of stuff that lurks in the background and creeps into your mind in the moments between things like commuting to and from work and trying to go to sleep. As you might tell from the time when this is posted, it has been keeping me up to the point where the bed becomes the sum of all irritations: too warm to lay on, the pillows aren’t right, and the sheets won’t settle just right. But enough about that.

A few days ago, I sent out a tweet asking if libraries are moving towards building moments or monuments. (For clarification, I meant moments as experience based services and programming and monuments as enduring collections of, well, whatever.) The quick and easy answer is “it depends” because contextually it really does matter based on the community needs as influenced by culture, history, demographics, income, and a myriad of other population statistics.

I keep coming back to the phrase “one size fits one”; that there are enough unique factors that make it unwise to generalize aspects of the library when it comes to how it interacts with its service population. The judgment of whether a service, program, or concept is good should not be limited to whether it can be duplicated, but whether it works for the library’s community.

However, the kind of thing that really keeps me up at night is thinking whether I’m working on projects for my library that will be one when it should be the other. To torture the terminology some more, it’s the thought that I am making a monument when it should really be a moment. That’s the kind of healthy self-doubt I have, although whether it is healthy for my sleeping habits is another story.

Also, another question recurs in my thoughts: if we were building libraries today from scratch, would the final product match what we currently have? Granted, it’s invariably a ‘no’ given the hindsight that exists between when the doors are first opened to the present day. But the service models, the collections, hell, even the buildings: would they be the same?

In my mind, it’s still a “no”; but a healthy kind of no since the present form of the library relies so much on history. A history of a government service, the constant struggle for the relatively unregulated expression of ideas, and the establishment of the institution in the culture and community. Yes, there are things we can do better but we aren’t dealing with some of the pressures of the modern information brokers. Personally, I think the library remains a greater cultural touchstone; the people of the future will still be talking about Alexandria hundreds of years from now when campuses of Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Cupertino are long gone. (The nice thing about this prediction is that if I’m proven wrong I’ll be long dead and won’t have to hear about it.)

If “no” is the most sensible answer, it does beg the question as to what we can do to change some of our practices to meet that hypothetical “built from scratch” library. Sometimes I pause at work and think, “if this building was opening today, would I still want this (X)?” It really gives me pause at times to look at things for what they are: are we doing it because it’s ideal or because it’s what we’ve always done? Are we doing it because it’s right or because it’s easy? Are we doing it because it’s what the community wants or what we think they want?

I’m starting to finally fade so this means a few things: first, I’m not going to be able to edit this so I fully anticipate some missing or misspelled words that will drive me nuts later. Second, even in writing to get these things out, it is starting to bring up more questions. Being a librarian who is an agnostic with anxiety is the trifecta of question generation. “What if” and “what about” are inquiry staples around here. Last, I wonder what other people think about these things. Am I onto something? Or am I just a tired person trying to make sense of his professional life while his mind and bedding rebels against him?

Questions, questions, questions.

Shifting Gears

"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing."
– Ben Franklin

My brother used to have this quote hanging on the wall in his room when we were growing up. As he wanted to be a writer (which I’m happy to say that he is), it was a reminder to keep working on his craft and create stories and novels worth reading. It’s a writer’s version of Ranganathan’s law of “save the time of the reader” by working hard to make it worthy of the reader’s attention and effort.

I’d like to think that I have written things worth reading over the last five years I’ve had this blog. I’m appreciative of the compliments I’ve received and reports of post sharing within various workplaces. It’s been crazy look at the WordPress dashboard and see readers from all over the world in addition to pingbacks in different languages. It really speaks volumes about the power of the internet as a platform. 

This isn’t a “so long and thanks for all the fish” post, but a signal in a shift in gears. I picked that Franklin quote for both parts: writing and doing. The writing period is not completely past me, but with the new job I have shifted into the do things portion of the quote. I’m in a place where I can channel my creative energies so as to create, develop, and implement ideas and concepts for the library. When I get home these days, writing is the last thing on my mind (and I have some half finished drafts to prove it).

In closing, I had typed out a rant about the current state of librarian blogosphere in which I went on at great lengths. I took a long look at it before  erasing it; the whole thing just depressed the hell out of me. Since it would eclipse everything above it, I just left it out.

This blog isn’t dead, just dormant. If you need me, I’m still on Twitter.