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.