Bloggy

Poco a poco

So here I am on the tail end of our first full day in Ferrara, Italy as part of year two of Information and Global Social Justice, the short-term study abroad course I developed (and wrote about here) with Laurie Bridges. I can't overstate how great this experience is: sharing this kind of transformative learning with students, getting to build close relationships with students as a prof, advocate, and mentor, getting to see information literacy skills building and being used in enthusiastic and natural ways? It's all pretty dreamy.

But I want to talk about what this class means to me as a teacher. This evening, before dinner, my co-instructor, Natalia Fernández, and I were working on our lesson plans for tomorrow, and beginning to estimate how the rest of the pieces of the course fit into the spaces between the activities, meetings, and excursions planned for our students. (We have about two hours of class time in addition to other activities each day.) Some of this we had planned out long before, but the serendipity of study abroad require slesson plans to be flexible, as we respond to the unexpected elements that have unfolded. Laurie and I developed the course to be adaptable to multiple locations, and although this year has many similarities to last summer's course in Barcelona, today I looked at the rough outline that Natalia and I had made and I marveled at the purposeful reorganization and subtle changes we had made. It is *awesome* to be able to teach like this. Being able to focus entirely on one course -- like, all day long, for two-three weeks straight -- means that I can bring my entire attention to the class and my students. We can continue our discussion of content, of student rapport, of how to structure activities, and nudge our students in their critical reflections as we eat dinner, or in the morning as we walk to meet our class. It is like team-teaching summer camp, a time of intense focus and the ability to improvise and build on what comes up.

There are obviously lots of reasons that I can't teach like this all year long, and I obviously don't want to always spend my dinnertime thinking about my teaching. Still, it is a gift to have this dedicated time. I am still thinking about what I take with me from this into the rest of the year, and I'm sure I'll write more about this, but right now, it's time for bed.

Identity, Agency, and Culture in Academic Libraries

This is a belated report on the excellent Identity, Agency, and Culture in Academic Libraries conference, where I was grateful to be part of a panel with Fobazi Ettarh, Sveta Stoytcheva, James Castrillo, and Charissa Powell. There were other excellent presentations, including standout panels The Art of the Introduction: Encapsulating Identity, Agency, and Culture in Library Outreach & Engagement, and Invisible barriers and subversive practice: Critical librarianship in higher education. So many smart people sharing perspectives on how to do the work, and challenging us all to do better. 

As a fitting coincidence, the very location of the conference got me thinking about the roots of my own identity/career as a librarian. See, it was on the USC campus, where I was an undergraduate over a decade ago. When I was a student at USC, I got a job at the Southern California Library for Social Studies Research, a badass community archives/library in South LA. My wages were paid for through the USC Libraries – and in fact, they made an exception to pay me even though, because of my scholarship, I didn’t have work-study. During this same time, I also volunteered at the ONE Archives, the national gay and lesbian archives. I had taken a course with Dr. Joseph Hawkins, and I think I started going to ONE for a class project, but I kept going back weekly to sort news clippings with a lovely older gentleman who had been volunteering for ages. (He would often have to explain why he’d included certain articles with no over queer or trans content – often about supposedly gay-but-closeted celebrities. I wonder now what researchers make of some of those files.) The reception for IACAL was held at ONE, and Dr. Hawkins was even there giving tours! ONE has processed an unbelievable portion of their collections since my volunteer days, and I got kind of giddy strolling around inside. Hearing the overview of their collections and realize how much my own knowledge of queer and trans history has grown. (And hoooooly cats, apparently some of the early homophile activists were sci fi zinesters? CanNOT wait for the book to come out about that, but in the meantime, one more reason Lisa Ben is a forever hero.) During Pride Month TM, ONE is a place collecting the history of unapologetic queerdos who have been doing their own thing.

After the conference, I stuck around for an extra day in Los Angeles. I went to the Japanese American National Museum, which I highly recommend. There is currently an exhibit up about Executive Order 6066, which Franklin Roosevelt signed to enact the incarceration of Japanese-Americans. The exhibit opens with clips from the hearings from the early 1980s from survivors and their families, speaking out about their experiences. After the conversations at IACAL pushing white folks to change our behavior and our institutions, my eye was caught by a panel about Clara Breed, a children’s librarian in San Diego during the period of Japanese internment. Because many of her young patrons were interned, she wrote letters and sent gifts to many children in the camps and also speaking out publicly in protest of internment. At the risk of pulling the kind of vocational awe that our panel warned folks about, it strikes me that that this is one model for the kind of hybrid work-work/personal work that white librarians can do to combat oppression: maintain relationships with the people being wronged, while using your position and power to speak/act out against it. Robin DiAngelo has written about how white fragility can be an excuse white folks use to avoid speaking up – heaven forbid someone call me a racist for pointing out racism! – but this is an example of what that can look like.

Just to be crystal clear: there’s a reason this is just one panel in a whole museum. Resistance to internment was centered in the Japanese-American community, which as was the movement for reparations. But, for white librarians grappling with how to resist white supremacy -- and maybe processing the article out this month about desegregation of public libraries in the American South -- this is an example of how to be an accomplice, rather than an ally.

And to wrap up my trip, I went out to the UCLA iSchool to speak with a class taught by Dr. Safiya Noble and Dr. Sarah Roberts. It was flattering to be asked to speak about my work as a critical librarian, and also super heartening to see these new librarians and archivists being incredibly thoughtful about how they want to do this work.

Thriving together

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel at the Oregon Library Association annual conference, Information Literacy: Across the Academic Divide. The panel was organized by Elaine Watzek, from Lewis and Clark College, and included two public high school librarians (Liz Beazizo and Julie Morris), a community college librarian (Pam Kessinger), and me. It's worth noting that all of us are from the Willamette Valley, the most urban and highly populated area of Oregon. I note that because children and young people in Salem, Corvallis, and Portland have access to pretty solid public libraries, while rural counties often have very limited service, or, as in Douglas County, may face total closure of their libraries.

I point this out because Julie and Liz both said that incoming 9th graders in their high schools have never had a school librarian before. I think it was Liz who noted that, perversely, they don't have to work against negative stereotypes of librarians, because students just have never met one before. (FWIW, my mom was a teacher librarian in an elementary school in East county, on the outskirts of Portland, at a Title 1 school that was moving toward majority English Language Learners. Shortly after she retired, her district got rid of librarians at elementary and middle schools. This is a pattern across Oregon, and I wouldn't be surprised if it is a pattern wherever you are reading from as well.) It was interesting to hear about the Oregon School Library Standards, particularly in connection with the work that Pam and her colleagues at PCC have done with the framework. There are obviously connections and overlap, but also some serious gaps. How often do students come to college with an appreciation of reading? How do we either continue to foster that, or take it for granted?*

At academic library conferences, I often find myself gaping at the kinds of things that small private schools can afford to do, but here I was being asked about the ways that I have to justify my existence to administration. Of course austerity and budget conversations happen in higher education, butthese lone librarians at a school (or even within a school district) are constantly forced to justify their positions. I heard stories of districts totally cutting all teacher librarians, then adding a few back, then cutting them all again. Obviously, you can't build a program that way. One of the major themes in our panel was the power of relationships: you have to get teachers, professors, and students to see how you can help them, and that takes time. But you can't build those relationships without structural support, either.

As far as what librarians can actually do to ease the transition for students entering college, we barely scratched the surface. We talked about the importance of sharing concepts like classification and skills like browsing, even when the specifics will change in an academic library. Similarly, I often find that students who have used something like EasyBib are willing to try a more robust citation management tool, because they have an early familiarity with it. Many high schools and community colleges in our state aim to help students achieve the college level writing requirement. I work with probably 5 or 6 high school classes each year, but now I plan to identify our top feeder schools, and reach out to the librarians (if there are librarians). The conference theme, Thriving Together, seems particularly apt to describe the kind of solidarity we need across the profession -- and the kind being facilitated by OLA and OASL through legislative advocacy and partnerships. 

You can download Pam's and Julie's slides here.

* Maybe this is a particular bugaboo for me because of some of the reading promotion we've been doing at OSU. After our panel, I went to an excellent, totally at-capacity session by Taylor Worley about creating displays, and I was the only academic librarian there. Admittedly, there weren't a tonne of us at OLA that day, but still.

High five buddies, collaboration, and CCCCs

April Hathcock tweeted the other day that the Critlib Unconference started out with an icebreaker that I used at the uncon in Portland a few years back: find someone you don't know yet, introduce yourself, and then high five them. Voila, high-five buddy for life! Then, every time throughout the day when the organizers ask you to find your high five buddy, you've got an instant partnering-up system. And hey, you now have someone throughout the rest of the conference -- and perhaps life -- to high five, which can be a real boost when you're dragging. I learned this icebreaker from some of my student colleagues at the University of Iowa, either Paul Mintner or Megan Watt, both of whom taught me so much about getting folks connected and starting conversation.

Thinking about this lineage of icebreakers is timely, as I recently attended the CCCCs conference (known as Cs or 4Cs). It's a conference for college and university writing instructors, compositionists, and rhetoric folks. I was asked to join in on a preconference workshop about DIY rhetorics and making, and then I stuck around to peep in on other conversations. I mostly went to sessions about information literacy, less out of a commitment to the Framework than out of curiosity for how non-librarians were talking about it. There were some interesting bits -- for example, Carolyn Caffrey Gardner noted that non-librarians seemed *glad* that the Framework wasn't a policy document. 

Anyway -- one of the main themes I noticed was the role of collaboration. At one session, a librarian and a writing professor discussed their cross-departmental implementation of information literacy curriculum. It was dreamy, an example of how a strong partnership could lead to structural change. Chatting with Carolyn and a few other librarians, we swapped anecdotes from the conference, hearing presenters lament their unhelpful librarians, or be prompted to say how helpful a librarian had been. Maybe I was also feeling sentimental, as I got to reconnect with a rhetoric instructor who I collaborated with at my old job, or because I don't really work with our writing program at my current institution. But, it was a reminder that it doesn't matter how great your idea is, if you don't have the relationships to make it happen. There's something in here of course, about feminized labor, and the invisibility of the feelings-work that women do, but I, uh, don't have the energy for it right now.

And it isn't just about relationships between staff/faculty. The keynote speaker was journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, who mentioned that his essay coming out as undocumented came in part from a suggestion from his writing instructor, way back in his first year of college. The work of teaching writing (and research) is rooted in supporting an individual through their whole life, and what a spectacular example.

As a sidenote, CCCCs had activities that ALA would do well to learn from: strategy sessions about labor organizing and adjunct dependency, an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on Friday night, childcare. Their statement related to the travel ban is also worth reading.

The possibilities and pedagogy of sex ed

Last week, one of my colleagues told me a hilarious story about his sixth grade sex ed class. It involved: 

  1. separating the class by gender
  2. an overly earnest vice principal stepping in, who had no rapport with the students,
  3. and who set himself up by asking a poorly worded opening question
  4. and one boy that invited a falsely naive and very naughty question...
  5. that the VP then had to answer, undermining the whole rest of his I'm-a-cool-teacher jam sesh

It got me thinking about the pedagogy of sexuality education, and the wild and woolly nature of this kind of teaching and learning. Before I became a librarian, I spent a year as an Americorps VISTA administering a puberty education workshop program for a women's health organization. Volunteer educators would spend an evening with prepubescent kids and their parents, going over the basic physiological and emotional changes of puberty, and creating a space for everyone to talk about their values and ask questions. Perhaps you once got a demonstration of a tampon being dropped into a glass of water? That kind of thing. Basically, the most innocuous and heartwarming sexuality education out there, and still folks had so many anxieties about it. Parents, who recognize puberty as the gateway to adult sexuality, often came in terrified of what their children would ask about sex. Children may have heard whispers on the playground or picked up cues within the family. But I was consistently surprised by how little families had talked about puberty before coming to the class. Because sex ed is often framed as "the talk," parents sometimes think that it can be achieved in a single content dump, very much in line with the banking model as described by Paulo Freire. Educators of all kinds know that repetition is important for pretty much any learning, why would that be different just because this subject matter is sensitive? 

The anonymous question box is an important, and pretty consistent, in my experience, aspect of sexuality education. Most of the educators I've known will read all the questions out loud, even pointedly silly ones. Unlike in my coworker's story, when the educator, rather than the student, says the question out loud, they can control the tone of their voice and purposefully frame their answer. Even patently silly or obnoxious questions demonstrate that the educator values student questions and interests, and can give an opportunity for students to hear a usually forbidden word out loud for the first time. One of the educators I knew during my Americorps days told me about a workshop about menopause she had done for an older crowd. After the workshop, one participant came up and said that she had never heard the word "masturbation" spoken out loud before, and it had been very powerful for her. Sex positivity can start with just saying things out loud, and avoiding euphemism.

Sexuality education makes an interesting test case for some of the approaches proposed by critical pedagogy. We all bring lived experience of our own sexuality, plus tacit cultural knowledge. How is that knowledge honored or dismissed in the classroom? While there is generally clear content to be shared (e.g. the ways HIV can/can't be transmitted), the applied aspect is so crucial to understanding. Statistics presented in a classroom are probably the last thing on your mind when you're getting cozy with a new sweetie. But if you've had opportunities to clarify your values, devise strategies, and really chew over the issues, hey, maybe that makes it easier to get real when things get real. 

Another interesting aspect of sexuality education is that adults freak out about it. This can create opportunities, as in the story my coworker shared, for students to flip the typical classroom power dynamic. I'm going to keep thinking about this, because there's something of the Carnival here, something potentially fruitful or at least interesting.

Do you have a great/awful sex ed story? Leave it in the comments, maybe I'll compile something out of 'em.

--

If you're looking for sexuality information for yourself or for youth, I recommend you check out Scarleteen. They've been doing awesome grassroots education since 1998, and have developed excellent materials.

Creating Abundance

Last night, I went to hear a lecture by immigration rights activist and writer Harsha Walia on my campus. She talked mostly about immigration and the ways that state structural violence creates refugees, but toward the end of the Q&A, someone asked her for advice on how to be a college student and a woman of color, a child of immigrants, someone experiencing the violence of the state and other systems of oppression. Walia's answer in part focused on the competition of academic environments -- for students, for staff, for faculty -- and she encouraged the student to find people who want to create abundance, rather than fixating on scarcity. "I don't need self-care, I need community care."

I am thinking about creating abundance in my personal and professional life in a few different ways right now. I had the alienating experience recently of getting the exciting announcement that the books I co-edited won a major award, and in the same week, being abruptly left by my partner, who had fallen in love with someone else.* How is that for work/life balance? So, I have found myself getting congratulations while also trying to keep from sobbing in the office. This is not what it feels like to, as they say, have it all.

A few years ago, I heard a talk by Daniel Martinez HoSang focused on dismantling major narratives around diversity, equality, and equity in education. He shared a classic image demonstrating the difference between equality and equity, where equality is giving everyone the same boost, while equity means giving folks the boost they need to get to the same place. HoSang asked, but what if we don't want to achieve success as it is established, defined, and policed by white supremacy? What does success look like as created and defined by communities of color, trans and queer folks, or other marginalized communities? Connecting this to Walia's vision of co-created abundance and communities of care, I find myself wondering about how I got here to this particular schism of heartbreak and success. What is the abundance I actually want, compared to the success I've been socialized to aspire towards?

I'm gonna be on a panel with some rad folks at the Identity, Agency, and Culture in Academic Libraries conference talking about vocational awe, white supremacy culture, and I guess I'm thinking about how all these things come together with heteropatriarchy and heartbreak. When what is normal is set up within a system of oppression, it can become almost impossible to propose alternatives, even for yourself. This is part of why community care is so crucial, and co-created abundance.

A good part of a breakup, and perhaps a good part of a big achievement, is the pointed opportunity to ask yourself about what comes next. For me? More learning, more loving, more writing. But also, some new intention about how I am creating abundance, and who to create it with.
 

*He left me for one of his coworkers -- perhaps he has his own work/life balance issues, eh?

LIS Mental Health 2017

The top-grossing film this week was Split, about a person "with 24 personalities" who is also a serial killer. This despite some efforts to boycott the film due to the transphobic and offensive portrayal of someone with something like dissociative identity disorder, which is usually caused by severe trauma. In the real world, people with mental illness are much, much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

I say all this to highlight the reasons why we organized LIS Mental Health again this year, January 30-February 3. Cecily Walker initially proposed LIS Mental Health to recognize that library and archives workers experience mental illness, just like everyone else. Once again, folks are encouraged to blog, podcast, and otherwise share their stories and resources, and there will be a synchronous chat on Twitter, and you can see all the details here: http://tinyurl.com/LISmentalhealth17

Of course, there are good reasons why people may be hesitant to share their personal stories. Dominant cultural narratives like Split are only a small slice of the bias facing folks with mental illness. So, my challenge this year for library and archives workers -- especially anyone in a middle management role -- is to bring a conversation about mental health/illness into your workplace, with an eye toward advocacy.

This can look like a lot of things! Almost certainly there is a mental health clinic on your campus or in your community. Invite a social worker, mental health counselor, or other clinician to come talk to your staff at a brownbag session. Mindfulness is so hot right now, or maybe you can ask them to talk about burnout. If that seems like a stretch, maybe you can just book a meeting room and invite your coworkers to come watch this ALA webinar about Mental Health First Aid. (Then maybe your organization could pony up and host a Mental Health First Aid training for staff, or pay for a couple people to go to one already scheduled in your area.) Or maybe your admin would be more inspired by asking your institution's Americans With Disabilities Act compliance officer to come talk generally about seeking accommodations, and just make sure they speak to accommodations for mental health issues. You could even ask for permission to send out an email each day during the week, introducing different resources in your campus. I did that at MPOW last year, and received thanks from at least one person each day.

Or, you could do what we did in my department last year: in a regular staff meeting, I introduced LIS Mental Health Week and posed a general question about how we do/don't support one another. One of the outcomes from that meeting was a recognition that our habitual practice of emailing everyone in the unit when we are out sick could be adjusted. Our norm had been to share some details ("ugh, that flu that is going around"), but someone experiencing mental illness may not want to share the reasons they're out. People still do share some things, but I have noticed more folks just saying they'll be out for the day.

I share this example to say that you don't have to be a supervisor to raise an issue like this and make a concrete -- if small -- change. So I encourage you to consider what you can do in your workplace to bring visibility and support. I'm also happy to help strategize -- hit me up if you're pondering what will work in your environment, or need a pep-talk to feel brave enough to be the one to bring it up.

Creative abrasion and reflective discussions

I spent the past two days in a facilitation training on Leading Reflective Discussions offered by Oregon Humanities, our state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. (Yeah, the one to be eliminated entirely, based on reports of the new president's proposed budget.)

The model of reflective discussion that Oregon Humanities uses in much of its programming involves bringing people together to chew over a big question, something that everyone can help answer but no one can answer definitively or easily. The training aimed to get folks equipped to go home and lead conversations in their communities.

The joy of a training like this lies partly in watching people who are real, real good at facilitating, and learning as they make magic happen. The first day, ED Adam Davis modeled facilitation by leading us in a conversation chewing over the question of when to intervene in the lives of others. Fifteen minutes in, we read a poem together, Okay (pdf) by Lowell Jaeger. We read it out loud, around our circle, and then dug into the poem to connect back to our big question. It's embarrassing to admit this, but I had never thought to use a poem this way. It wasn't literary analysis, we weren't talking about the quality, or even really trying to understand the poem. We used the poem as a shared space for exploration -- a place we all had equal access to. A poem! Amazing! I hadn't felt the power of literature in that particular way in a long time, and it was electrifying.

The meta-conversations about the choices that facilitators make gave me a lot to consider. I'd come to this training with the hope that I'd learn some secret trick for coming up with good questions in open facilitation. Which, I know, it just takes practice. But seeing people who are SO GOOD! and also to see people who are learning but still manage to create space for real conversation -- it gave me heart to go out and try more. I've been thinking lately about the skills involved in organizing, and this was another reminder that those skills can be learned and improved. I can learn to use participant names, I can learn to take sly notes, I can learn to structure a conversation to reduce opportunities for any one person to dominate.

We talked a lot about how, the pain points in a conversation can also be opportunities for real important stuff to happen. A facilitator can be brave and invite people to look more closely at what hurts. At one point, a participant used the phrase "creative abrasion," and it has been rattling around my head since. I'm not sure where to take it, but I feel it. I think I'll be feeling it for a long time now.

We'll take a cup of kindness yet

As many other people have noted, the chaotic, tragic, confounding circumstances of 2016 are at odds with personal achievements and moments of joy. Here were some big ones for me this year, personally and professionally:

  1. With my awesome colleague Laurie Bridges, I led a study abroad course to Barcelona with 8 awesome students.
  2. My sweetie finally moved in with me after two years long distance.
  3. The books I edited with Nicole Pagowsky came out!
  4. I played Dungeons and Dragons for the first time.
  5. We created a new, student-led reading collection in our library, and now I get to work with two fantastic student workers.
  6. I helped organize conversations in my community about white supremacy, racism, and what white people need to do about it.
  7. I bought a last-minute ticket to South America! 
  8. After four (hard, rewarding) years on GLBTRT book committees, I came around to reading for pleasure again.
  9. I got back into daily journaling after a few years out of the habit.

What's next in 2017? More listening, more writing, more reading, more resistance, more loving, more cat-petting.

Traveling Year in Review: Library Edition

There are many ways to reflect on the end of the year. I did way, way more international traveling this year than I usually do, and like the nerd I am, I went to libraries in many of those countries. I thought I'd collect some of the photos from those visits

Barcelona

I was in Barcelona teaching a short-term study abroad course, Information and Global Social Justice. (You can read more about it on the course website.) We went to a couple public libraries, and to the national library of Catalunya. I loved the furniture and book displays in the public library -- maybe it was just novel, but it seemed quite effective and fashionable.

Italy (Roma, Ferrara, Forlí, Bologna)

Then it was off to Italy, for the dreamy, dreamy assignment of . I went to the public library in Bologna, the freakin' Fanzinoteca d'Italia in Forlí, the Ariostea library in Ferrara (where Ludovico Ariosto is buried -- literally inside the library), and the National Library in Rome.

 

Santiago de Chile

Going to Santiago was a last minute, mildly irresponsible, and totally awesome trip. (My partner got a free trip to help out with an art installation he'd worked on years ago, and we splurged so I could come along too.) We went to the public library (they opened for just a few hours during a strike the week we were there), and to the library at the Gabriela Mistral arts center, and missed open hours at the subway station public library kiosk.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The logo for the No campaign for the 1988 plebiscite in Chile, via Wikipedia

The logo for the No campaign for the 1988 plebiscite in Chile, via Wikipedia

What a weird time. I was in Santiago de Chile, hanging out with a bunch of artists, when the US election happened. A few days later, I went to the Museo de la memoria y los derechos humanos, which documents the history of the military coup that assassinated Salvador Allende and placed Augusto Pinochet into a dictatorship that lasted almost twenty years. Listening to Allende's final radio broadcast, when he knew that the end was near, just aches.

The museum also features biographical information and photographs of many of the thousands of people disappeared during the dictatorship, and artifacts from the campaign for the 1988 plebiscite that eventually ended Pinochet's rule. (The 2012 film No dramatized the campaign.) What does it take to say no -- as an individual, as a group, as a society? How do we work together to make change?

When I came back from Chile, I had the absolute pleasure of hosting a visit by Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble at our campus. At one point during the day, someone asked about the responsibility for, essentially, a type of information literacy -- like, whose fault is it, if kids don't know the difference between fake news and real? And she emphasized the danger of neoliberal individualism in assigning blame -- if we have failed, collectively, to support education, it isn't the fault of individual parents that their children haven't learned. Accountability is shared, and in ways that are sometimes obscured.

Anyways, here we are. This has been sitting in my drafts folder since mid-November, and I have opened and closed it at least a dozen times without finishing it. I'm not entirely sure what to say, but I suppose that itself says something.

YALSA16

Alec Baldwin says, Always Be Outreaching. (Coffee is for outreachers?)

Alec Baldwin says, Always Be Outreaching. (Coffee is for outreachers?)

 

So, I'm at the Young Adult Library Services Association Symposium, and having that pleasant feeling of plopping into a new community/conversations that still are super relevant and engaging. I've been introducing myself as sorta kinda a teen librarian -- I work with a lot of traditional aged college students in their first or second year, who are often still teens. But, the teen-i-ness is not the focus of my work, and of course, my relationship with students is very different than it would be for a public librarian or teacher librarian.

Some of the themes that have popped up are as follows:

  • Teen services/programs/collections need to belong to the teens. Over the course of the weekend, I lost count of the number of references to YALSA's 2014 white paper, The Future of Library Services For and With Teens: A Call to Action. It appears that teen librarians have really taken up that call, and I heard about successes, failures, and goals to move towards collaborative efforts. On Friday, I attended a preconference about co-designing library services and programs alongside teens. The framework used comes from the work of Allison Druin (PDF), where children are full partners in developing technology -- rather than just asking students what they want, or observing their use, but actually making prototypes together. Presenter Jason Yip noted at one point that this process isn't about giving up your own expertise, but about also recognizing the expertise of the children (or teens, or students...) you're hoping to serve. Anyway, if you find yourself saying "they" don't come to "my" programs or use "our" collections, maybe you need to find a way to better connect and truly collaborate with those users. I also found it interesting that the Teen Advisory Board/Group (TAB/Group) is apparently the norm, but as Jennifer Velásquez noted, "advisory" really shouldn't be the target.
  • Outreach shouldn't be measured against other library programs. One of the most interesting threads throughout YALSA was about evaluation and justification for teen programs. In one session, the presenter spoke at length about how teen programs sometimes get compared to storytime, which is pretty unfair. She noted that parents come into the library and ask when storytime is, not if it will happen. Storytime is one of the core, forever-and-ever programs at public libraries. Teen programs are usually for 13-17 year-olds, a much smaller age range, people who zip through and get busy, and are experiencing huge growth in development and independence. But focusing on the process of co-developing programs with teens, or mentoring and connecting, the impact can be described in more complex ways. One speaker gave the example of a weekly drop-in program that had low-or-no attendance most weeks, but one conversation led to a teen registering to vote and coming back to ask about current ballot issues. Dreamy! I appreciated the consistently firm belief doing what you know works, but willingness to figure out ways to share that story in a way that muckety-mucks will understand.
  • The good stuff takes time. In one session, we heard about both successes and failures from two librarians whose teen groups have down service projects and other amazing programs. At the end of the session, someone in the audience asked, wow this is amazing...but how long did it take to get started? Both of the presenters said, oh, at least five years to get to this place. Another session, focused on programs with/for LGBTQ teens, mapped out partnerships, noting that sometimes just attending an event that is all for adults will still lead to advocacy for teens. (For example, one librarian attended a training for medical personnel, then a support group for trans folks in that institution, then a nurse ended up coming to their library's GSA, and finally the institution started sharing info about library services for trans youth in their. Again: dreamy.) But again, recognizing that process counts means documenting and reflecting, and learning to gauge when it is time to give up on something, or when to just try another round.
  • There are no easy paths to equity, but every step counts. This morning, I went to a session about explicitly building in equity into programming, and I'll be thinking for a long time about some of the questions: How do you know whose voices you aren't hearing? What does equity look like in library services? How do you measure progress in equity? We talked a lot about incremental change vs transformative change, about relationship-building and time. Daunting, but also -- just starting to build that trust over time is movement. In the session about LGBTQ services, one of the presenters noted that, if you can't get gender-neutral bathrooms, but your bathrooms are locked, don't assume you know which bathroom someone wants to use -- hold out all the keys and let them pick. Simple choice, something you can easily train staff in, that builds in autonomy, choice, and respect for all library users.

And, as an outside observer, I want to say, the passion, care, and enthusiasm that I saw was powerful. Not that academic librarians don't care about students, but I'm pondering what it means when people are so absolutely committed to the population they serve. Many academic librarians have jobs where they serve alllllll the people: faculty, grad students, undergrads. The departmental liaison model doesn't necessarily make for librarians who are jazzed about undergrads, you know?

ANYWAYS. I have more that I'm chewing over, but wanted to get this out while it is fresh. Thanks for having me, teen librarians, you've given me a tonne to think about, for specific projects and general philosophy for the teens+ on my campus.

On saying no

 

I'm in Pittsburgh, for the Young Adult Services Symposium, and for a few days before, to hang out with my good friend J. Last night, we got a beer and pizza and talked about What We Want, real big picture stuff. This kind of discussion is useful for me because I don't generally think/plan in real big picture ways. I don't have a grand vision of what I want my life or my career to be like, for example. Mostly, I just say yes to things I feel good about and no to things I feel bad about, and generally the yeses lead to more yeses, the nos just fizzle out, and things stay more or less in balance. Lately, this has been coming out in terms of tenure stuff -- this December, I need to prepare and turn in my third-year review, essentially the half-way point on the road to tenure. Should I be more freaked out about this? Maybe I'm naive, or just stubborn, but there you go. Would it really feel horrible not to get tenure? Yes. Would I be able to find something else to do with my time? Also yes. Would it be the end of my world? No.

Poirot says "Non."

Poirot says "Non."

ANYWAY. Today, I decided to stop pursuing a project that I'd started recently -- it's a great idea, but I just don't have the time or support that the project needs to be successful. This kind of no is hard for me -- something I believe in, that won't get done without me. But, saying no is often when I feel most secure about my convictions and certain about myself. Sometimes it takes a while to get there, but it totally, totally matters.

So, I've been thinking about the power of saying no, and when I do and don't feel comfortable doing that. When J. asked me about What I Want, I said, I want to be able to say yes to things I feel excited about, and no to things I don't. Being afraid to say no makes for a terrible work environment. I feel lucky that in my current job, I have a lot of flexibility and autonomy -- not total free reign, which honestly can feel a little lonely, but I can generally have thoughtful conversations about what should/shouldn't be my responsibility. At my last job, I remember someone telling me that I had a reputation as someone who would say no. Which honestly, what does it mean about cultural norms if sometimes saying no is noticeable enough to be a distinguishing trait?

The cost of college is too damn high

From imarksm on Pixabay

From imarksm on Pixabay

I'm sorry to say I'll miss the #critlib chat tonight about the student loan crisis, so I wanted to write a little about it beforehand. Moderators Rebecca, James, and Kevin have put together an excellent list of questions and resources to contextualize why so many US students are in so much debt for going to college. The article Kevin added this morning about former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren suggesting that libraries are "vanity projects" and a waste of student money since "full libraries are on our smartphones" is sort of exemplary of the myopia and finger-pointing that happens in discussing the cost of college and the rate of student debt. Universities are big, complex organizations, with big, complex budgets that get spent in weird and mysterious ways. It's like that story about trying to understand an elephant by feeling just one little piece of it -- pretty hard to get a handle on the whole situation, but you know it's a big one. I suspect that most library workers -- let alone other faculty/staff at the university, or students, or the general public -- don't totally understand where funding for their services, collections, and salaries come from.

A few weeks ago, I went to hear Sara Goldrick-Rab, who is a sociologist at Temple University, talk as part of the tour for her new book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the American Dream. She was speaking at the Human Services Resource Center on our campus, which offers a food pantry, emergency housing and food support, free laundry, and other services to students experiencing homelessness or poverty. I haven't read the book yet, but it focuses on a longitudinal study she did looking at low-income students in Wisconsin and the effect of a grant that was given out purely based on need. She talked at length about the bureaucracies that prevent low-income and first-generation students from accessing (hey-o, FAFSA changing its open date), but also about the fact that programs like Pell grants and work study have not grown to meet the higher enrollment and higher costs. (Pell was designed to COVER the cost of college, when it was first implemented. Can you imagine???) Many students feel an obligation to support their families, and many students were either working -- or looking for work, but unable to find it.

At the end, my colleague Brooke asked if Goldrick-Rab had heard of libraries supporting students in poverty. She said no, not really, and then rattled off a list of stories she'd heard of libraries actively punishing students: for taking perfume samples from magazines when they didn't have access to showers; for sleeping in the library; for trying to stay overnight. Sad, eh? Goldrick-Rab is a prominent voice on this issue, and if she hasn't heard about the good things libraries are doing, either that means we're not doing much...or we're not sharing that publicly enough. 

Our profession's core values include access, social responsibility, and the public good, so supporting students experiencing poverty -- especially because of their enrollment in our institutions -- makes perfect sense. The public services staff at my library does an awesome job of focusing on students -- letting them sleep if they're sleeping, offering referrals to campus resources if students seem to be in crisis. Many library staff and faculty bring food to class for students, or leave snacks out for student workers who clearly are not getting enough to eat. We are now working with the HSRC on a new textbook lending program, and connecting with their awesome coordinator and her student workers has led to ideas for other projects, as well. (I'm not sure if they went up yet, but I heard talk about posting stickers promoting HSRC's emergency housing help in some of the places that staff notice students sleeping overnight.) I am super proud that there is childcare available for students in our library -- my understanding is that it came in part from library staff who noticed student parents bringing their kiddos for long hours of studying.

On many campuses, libraries are one of the only places open 24 hours a day, so we see allllll the behaviors that happen on a campus, and we can choose to create a refuge for students, if we don't let misguided policies get in our way. Speaking of which, I'm hoping that some ideas for advocating at a policy/legislative level come out of this chat -- the more we can share ideas and build solidarity, the better.

Hidden in plain sight

Our campus is holding an excellent extracurricular series of discussions on Race in America, Past and Present: Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Burden of History. I've been lucky to work with the facilitators -- a professor and an instructor from the history department, and the director of the Black cultural center -- to make a LibGuide with all the readings/videos and recommended additional sources, and to bring resources from the library to each in-person session, for folks to browse and potentially check out. 

Gov docs for the win -- 1977 HUD report on redlining and disinvestment as a discriminatory practice

Gov docs for the win -- 1977 HUD report on redlining and disinvestment as a discriminatory practice

Yesterday's discussion focused on reparations, building on Ta-Nehisi Coates' 2014 article on the case for reparations. We talked about redlining, about the predatory and unregulated lending that cropped up to take advantage of Black folks who were categorically denied loans. We talked about the 1921 Tulsa race riot, where a mob of White men burned down the (fairly affluent and independent) Black area of town, killing as many as three hundred people. Students, community members, and faculty alike lamented how little is known about these topics. It reminded me of Debby Irving's anecdote in Waking Up White about her shock at learning that the G.I. Bill was not really accessible to Black veterans. How could something so egregious be so unknown? Why are we not taught this history? Similarly, NFL player Colin Kaepernick's protest to kneel during the National Anthem has raised shock at the (well-established) fact that Francis Scott Key was a slaveholder, and that a (rarely sung) verse of the Star-Spangled Banner seems to celebrate the death of enslaved people.

This morning, I'm thinking about what the role the library (or a library worker) plays in not just preserving this type of conveniently hidden-in-plain-sight information, but highlighting it. This seems related to the "discovered in the archives" trope that so annoys archivists -- yeah, we have stuff, and we (kinda) know what we have, but if other people don't, what good is it? As Josh MacPhee has said about the Interference Archive, use is preservation -- by using information, we help keep it for the future. Getting the stuff into folks' hands when they need, that's perhaps the challenge as always.

On the Vaporsource

Reference can get wild and woolly sometimes. Today, I worked with someone who was trying to track down this citation:

Van der Geer, J., J. A. J. Hanraads, and R. A. Lupton. "The art of writing a scientific article." J. Sci. Commun 163, no. 2 (2000): 51-59.

Google Scholar pulls up this citation:

Screenshot from Google Scholar for "The Art of Writing a Scientific Article."

Screenshot from Google Scholar for "The Art of Writing a Scientific Article."

Heavily cited, but just a citation, no trace of how to get to the actual article. I gave a try in our library's discovery tool, toodled around our list of e-journals, looked through Ulrich's to see what I could find -- the Journal of Science Communication (didn't start publishing until 2002) and Science Communication (no trace of these authors) were both strikeouts, and I couldn't find any trace of the actual Journal of Scientific Communications at all.

This is a not uncommon kind of reference question, where some widely cited article is strangely hard to track down. In my experience, it is often because some part of the citation is flawed. I tweeted something asking if we have a term of art for this kind of thing. (Props to Ryan Randall for suggesting vaporsource, riffing on vaporware.)

Several folks jumped in to help me track it down, and we went over the same few paths. HOWEVER, Kelly and Maggie noted that this article might just be made up. And indeed, many of the hits for this article turn out to be instructions for submitting to journals, like this one. I communicated this back to the patron, who then sent me this article (paywalled). It is a peer-reviewed article in an engineering journal. The first three citations are all sources listed in that Elsevier journal submission guidelines page -- our elusive "Art of Writing a Scientific Article" article, Strunk and White, and another apparently made-up (and heavily cited) piece about "How to prepare an electronic version of your article."

Screenshot from Google Scholar for "How to prepare an electronic version of your article."

Screenshot from Google Scholar for "How to prepare an electronic version of your article."

Given the unlikelihood that Strunk and White provide data about the impacts that the lack of electricity can have on different health outcomes, I think it is fair to imagine that these authors dropped in these citations as a reminder to themselves of the required formatting, and then forgot to swap them out for the actual source.

What can we take from this? For one thing, what an example of the fallibility of the process of scholarly publishing. Given the process of peer review and editing, we might expect reviewers oreditors, if not the authors, of this work to have caught this error. If it happened once or twice, okay...but literally, hundreds of times? Of course, this also means that may be gaps in the legitimate citations of these articles, if they left off sources they actually did mean to cite. What a complicated web, eh?

I also find myself thinking back to a workshop I attended by Joseph Bizup, about his BEAM model for helping students navigate different rhetorical strategies for presenting and using evidence. In my reference interaction with this patron, we walked through several of the supposed citations of the original elusive article. In some, as noted above, the error was obvious. Others, like this one (paywalled) seem to be using the source as if it is legitimate -- the citation is one in a string of citations actually about writing, mostly about writing scientific articles. Although I'd like to give the author the benefit of the doubt -- perhaps it is a wry joke? -- it does seem very likely that they just popped the (heavily cited) source in without thinking too hard about tracking it down. Or, since it also uses Strunk and White, this could be another case of what happened above. But, untangling the ways that these authors use (or don't actually use) the information in the cited sources is a way to make meaning out of the texts.

Is it possible that something even weirder is going on here? Like, that Elsevier (unintentionally?) pops these in at some point in the publishing process? I'm also open to other interpretations -- I'm enjoying puzzling over this. Anyway, blessed are the reference rabbit holes and the mysteries just waiting all around us.