A May Day mashnote

It’s May Day, International Worker’s Day, Labour Day in many places in the world, a time to celebrate workers and the labor movement. I think a lot about labor these days — our new faculty union was certified last summer, and since November I’ve been part of the bargaining team as we negotiate our first contract.

Let me tell you: bargaining a contract is hard work. It is likely going to take us close to a year, or even more. There are tense moments at the table, but also looooong caucuses, and so many meetings to read, review, write, rewrite. There’s a lot of waiting around, and the need to communicate clearly with members about what is taking so damn long. In a workplace where most people haven’t been in a union before, we’re bargaining as we build the union, build the culture of the union. It’s a lot, and it is exciting.

Our bargaining staff often talk about how the ideal situation for bargaining is, you have a chance to collectively help solve the problems of your workplace. As a team, but also reaching across the table. (Um, ideally.) We are starting from the thousands of conversations folks had with faculty over the course of the last few years of organizing, from the listening sessions and surveys we’ve shared. It feels good to build from what we know, as a collective, about the problems — and the possibilities for solutions. (And reading through other locals’ collective bargaining agreements, finding good language to borrow and adapt — lots of sharing, lots of building upon.)

Our team includes folks from different areas of campus, different ranks and categories of faculty within the bargaining unit. I have learned a tonne about my place of work, and about the types of work that happen on campus, and the issues people face in their work. They are a group of incredibly thoughtful, good-humored, creative and engaged people, and I am so glad to work and learn alongside them. It is hard to capture the power of sitting together, reading a draft article proposal for the third time, and someone raising a question we hadn’t considered before. It is a joy to know who will be annoyed at the weird commas, who will think of the one exception, who will help us rally to keep the energy up. I’ve edited with other people before, but doing it as a group, literally reading the text out loud together and discussing it, working through it? Truly a joy. Debriefing with observers after a bargaining session? A joy. Caucusing to talk through options for strategy? A joy. I just started reading Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown, and this passage where she considers her work as a facilitator resonated for me:

Is it a pleasure to be with each other? Does the agenda or space allow for aliveness, connection, and joy? Is there a “yes!” at the center of the work? There are so many things that are violent, offensive, unbearable. An embodied “no” is so justified—but I don’t believe it moves us forward. (23-4)

We’re still relatively early in this process, and I know there are many difficulties yet to come, on top of the frustrations we’ve already experienced. (If you want to hear about the frustrations, let’s get a beer sometime and talk, ha.) But the “yes!” at the center of this work, dang, it’s a big one, and it will move us forward. Today and every day, I am thankful to all my UAOSU colleagues and all my other labor movement cousins, and alllllllll the people who do the work that lets me move through my day with such ease and so much joy.

You can read all our bargaining updates here, if that is your jam.

LIS Mental Health Week 2019

It is LIS Mental Health Week again, a chance for us to recognize that people who work in libraries and archives experience mental illness like literally everyone else does. You can see information about what has been planned for the week here:

This is the fourth year that we’ve organized the week. One criticism that I’ve heard from the beginning is that the stories shared seem to be mostly about relatively mild depression and anxiety. Does that distract from the needs of people who experience more serious forms of mental illness? Is this another case of people with relatively more privilege co-opting the conversation around visibility and liberation?

It’s a good question to consider. In one way, the numbers explain this disparity. NAMI indicates that 18% of of adults in the US have experienced anxiety in the past year, while only 2.6% live with bipolar disorder. (At the same time, they estimate that even more of us have a substance abuse disorder, and we very rarely see LISMH posts about addiction.) I am suspicious of the potential to exotify mental illness in a way that discounts the very real, very grueling effects on so many people — to divide us by saying some of us aren’t crazy enough to count. It seems important to discuss the types of mental illness that most of us will probably experience in our lifetimes.

At the same time, the stakes are way, way higher to disclose about more severe mental illness. I have never experienced psychosis, but based on what I have heard from friends who have, yeah, I see why you might not want to talk about it in public, especially in work environments. Talking about mental illness means talking about things that get in the way of your work, of your life. Things that are a part of you, but also disrupt how you show up in the world. Things that may make you vulnerable to retaliation and to violence. I’m thinking too about Mia Mingus’ work about moving toward the ugly as a form of love and liberation (h/t to Reed Garber-Pearson):

We must shift from a politic of desirability and beauty to a politic of ugly and magnificence.  That moves us closer to bodies and movements that disrupt, dismantle, disturb.  Bodies and movements ready to throw down and create a different way for all of us, not just some of us.

While Mingus is discussing physical disability, the idea of moving toward the ugly resonates as I think about mental illness as well. Mental illness disrupts, dismantles, and disturbs. We called it LIS Mental Health Week, not Mental Illness Week. I sometimes wonder if we have created a space for library and archives folks to share their exceptional stories: I was broken but now I’m fixed; I overcame my mental illness and now I can be a good worker; I can be crazy and still be a great librarian. How do we create a different way for all of us, not just some of us? “Self care” is so frequently fraught and co-opted by consumerism; employers have a vested interest in getting workers just healthy enough to keep working. How do we create space for the ugly of mental illness? How do we center the experiences of people most affected? Those are the questions I’m holding onto this week.

It makes me think of what I heard Harsha Walia say about the need for community care, not self care. Thanks as always to Cecily Walker for the idea that started all of this. I am grateful to Violet Fox, Kate Deibel, Abigail Phillips, Annie Pho, Nicole Gustavsen, Marisol Moreno Ortiz, and Katie Whitney, all of whom have helped with this year’s activities, including the Twitter chat and issue two of the comp zine Reserve and Renew (which you can order here!). I am also grateful to the individual folks sharing their stories, either online or face-to-face, and the ways that folks are building community. I am grateful for the work of folks like Amanda Leftwich, who created @mindfulinlis, and Miranda Dube and Carrie Wade as they put together a collection focused on mental illness in libraries and archives (the CFP is up through March 31, get in your submissions!). I am still reading The Body Keeps the Score, and I put some other books on hold. Looking forward to more thinking, talking, and community.

You can also see my LIS Mental Health posts from 2018, 2017, and 2016.

Library Freedom Institute -- view from the other side

I have been meaning for a while to write a pitch for why all y’all library folks should consider applying to the Library Freedom Institute. The deadline to apply for the second cohort is February 15, and the application is up now. I was part of the first cohort of LFI, which ran from June through November of this year. It is an intensive training program, with an hourlong lecture/conversation, readings, and homework each week, all aimed to expose librarians to privacy issues and to build skills in teaching that material, and making changes, within libraries.

I have said before that LFI has fundamentally shifted my work as a librarian. By this I mean two things, really. First, it gave me the time and enough expertise to see more clearly the depth and breadth of digital privacy issues, absolutely within the domain of libraries. Talking to people in my community about privacy has also shown that there is genuine and urgent concern, and that library expertise is welcome. Given my own ambivalence about the sometimes moralizing and unwelcome approach to information literacy as it is practiced in libraries, it has been rejuvenating to see a place where folks are calling for help that we can offer. We can stand in our values and do this work along with our communities. Thrilling!

Second, the pedagogy of LFI has shifted my teaching more broadly. I have written before about the role of harm reduction in privacy pedagogy. The idea here is that we are imperfect creatures navigating a complicated environment, and it is unrealistic to expect adherence to some idealized best practice. Instead, harm reduction invites us to consider how to lessen the damage, whatever that looks like. It was a gift to me to experience this as a learner — I came into LFI with a lot of fear about my own inadequacies around technology, but also feeling guilty about my own spotty privacy practices. I was met with acceptance and new information, and low-barrier activities to shift my habits and open my thinking. Always learning, never shame. It may sound small, but it felt radical. And this gift I experienced, I am looking to share now as I teach — and not just with privacy topics. I teach a 1 credit research skills class for English majors each term, and citation is another realm where shame and frustration seem to take over. LFI has helped me reshape my approach to teaching MLA 8th edition — emphasizing student autonomy, creating space to talk about the values behind citation, and removing any potentially shaming or punitive elements. Revise and resubmit your citation as many times as you need to to learn the material.

And LFI also gave me the space to actually begin changing my work. I have begun teaching one-off workshops and giving presentations related to privacy topics, but also building partnerships across my campus and more broadly. With Madison Sullivan at UW, we got funding to hold trainings for members of the Orbis-Cascade Alliance both of our libraries belong to. Privacy is just part of my work now, and LFI helped me carve out the time and space for that.

I want to thank the people who made this experience so rad! Alison Macrina is the face of the Library Freedom Project, and her ferocity, kindness, and smarts shaped this program so it could be transformational. Her commitment both to privacy and to meeting people where they are at remains my ultimate model of public engagement. Thanks also to Howard Besser at NYU, and to all of the fantastic speakers who shared their knowledge with us. And thanks to my folks at OSU Libraries who helped me create the space to participate. Finally, so, so many thanks to all the members of the cohort. I don’t get to jam with a lot of public librarians — what a delight and an ongoing gift.

If you know more, you can do differently

Hey there! I just got back from a bit of traveling. First, actual vacation, mostly unplugged from the internet, absolutely excellent. I swam in cold salty water, I was with family, I ate food that we caught and picked ourselves. I read a lot. It was great. 

Then I was in New York for the IRL weekend intensive for the Library Freedom Institute. A lot of our time was focused on a sort of crash course on Tor and Tails, and I learned a tonne. I wrote earlier about the use of harm reduction pedagogy in privacy and security education, and that certainly carried through to this weekend. We actually started out our time together with a couple hours led by Mallory Hanora of Families for Justice as Healing. Mallory worked with us about facilitation and teaching community-engaged workshops, and I learned so, so much. But perhaps most of all, I have been marveling at how LFI invites us to root our education in anti-oppression and social justice. It seems pretty unusual to root a library technology curriculum in anti-oppression, but wow, it feels good. Among the things that Mallory noted are at the heart of justice-focused workshops, two really stood out to me. 

First is to keep in mind that "if you know more, you can do differently." Instead of shamey-blamey "know better, do better," Mallory suggested this as a way to both honor the existing knowledge that people bring, as well as their autonomy as they decide what to do later. As I have learned repeatedly throughout LFI, even when I know "better," it doesn't necessarily change my behavior. This connects with the goals of harm reduction, and meeting folks where they're at. Mallory pointed out the importance of validating the reasons people use tools that might endanger their privacy. For example, the impulse to use Facebook is about staying connected to people and community -- in fact, a totally natural and positive impulse. What's nasty is to route that impulse into a massive advertising and surveillance machine, right? 

Mallory also focused on the importance of using the workshop space to create the kind of community you hope to build. This idea wasn't new to me, but considering it specifically with technology training was a bit of a shift. In my teaching, I am rarely teaching specific tech tools in great depth, but a lot of what we're learning in LFI is more technical. The default of the all-knowing expert up at the front, and everyone watching them click through certainly isn't the change I want to see in the world, so what are other options? 

And, LFI really engages in this. I've been gradually overcoming my own sense of inadequacy as a technologist, and the curriculum has really supported this. We're not aspiring to become absolute experts, but rather to scrap together the knowledge we need to best help our communities. It's actually part of why libraries make a lot of sense for this work: we often help folks with things that are new to us, that we haven't mastered. If I understand the principles of how search tools are built and functioned, even if I haven't used a specific database, I can pitch in and we can navigate it together. I don't have to understand all of the specifics of the technology in order to advocate for privacy -- instead, solid understanding of concepts like data minimization and threat modeling can help me figure out what I really need to order to help others with what they need to know. And yeah, knowing more gives you the opportunity to do differently. 

Harm reduction as pedagogy

Last month, I started the Library Freedom Institute. This is a new initiative of the Library Freedom Project, training cohorts of library workers as privacy advocates who can then train colleagues and community members in their own regions. We have weekly lectures, discussions, and assignments, mostly all of which is publicly viewable here and here, if you're interested.

In my own library, we have talked for several years about the need for privacy and security education in our community, but really struggled to find the right audiences, at the right time, and even to break down content to the right amount and level. For me, LFI is a place to both really force myself to learn more of the specifics (technology, policies, and so on) but maybe more importantly to dig into how to actually teach this material to actual people. I myself experience a lot of resistance to changing my behavior around how I handle my digital data and devices, even though I absolutely know better. How do I move through my own resistance, and help others move through theirs?

One of our early required readings for LFI was the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Security Education Companion, a collection of lesson plans, visuals, and other materials for teaching digital security and privacy. Today, I found myself reading this page, which describes their Harm Reduction Approach to teaching this content. This isn't the first time I've thought about using harm reduction within my pedagogy, but it did strike me that you could probably adapt each of their four pillars to other areas of library teaching:

  • Everyone deserves information literacy.
  • Remove the stigma of bad research practices.
  • Increasing your information literacy is a process.
  • Information literacy is collective.

In our lecture from Eva Galperin of EFF, she talked about privacy vegans (folks who aim to abstain from anything that might compromise their security) and privacy nihilists (folks who say that privacy doesn't matter at all, they're an open book, the government already has all their data, etc).* The harm reduction approach aims to make the choices less stark: even if you just make a small change, that is still making you and your community more safe.

Similarly, who are the information vegans and nihilists? Maybe a stretch, but I'm thinking of folks who insist that, say, only information from peer-reviewed journal articles is good enough for any use. (Just yesterday, two separate people insisted that all students at our university need to come to the library to get print books at some point...which is, just, categorically not true!) And on the other side, perhaps the folks who shrug that everything is available online, all you have to do is Google it? Maybe the analogy is falling apart, but harm reduction as a model does remind me to open up the middle ground, and to always, always avoid shame as a motivator.

* No offense meant to either vegans or nihilists with this -- as a former vegan myself, I know that it can be alienating to be labeled as an extremist. But I also remember how isolating it felt to have to bring my own food to parties -- not unlike trying to get all your friends to use Signal for texting, eh?

Supporting student wellness

I missed last night's excellent #critlib chat about student wellness, so I wanted to write a little bit, and hopefully tie together some other things I've wanted to write a little about. We'll see how it goes.

This week, I have been meeting candidates for a caseworker position at the Human Services Resource Center, which is our totally badass, student-created and -funded unit that offers support to students experiencing homelessness and poverty. Their services include a food bank, emergency housing assistance, help navigating external systems (e.g. filling out paperwork to receive SNAP benefits), cooking classes, a kitchen that students can use, showers and laundry machines. Our library collaborated with them on their textbook lending program, which fills a glaring gap* in our collection policies -- namely, that we will only purchase course materials if a professor requests them, not if students do. The library shared our infrastructure (our ILS) and expertise (how do you keep track of books?), but the textbooks live at the HSRC, in part to enable students to access additional services when they come in to pick up a book. (We wrote this project up, if you're interested.)

Anyway, meeting candidates for this new position at the HSRC, I've been prompted to consider how exactly the library fits into their work. While other campus units may refer individual struggling students, that isn't the type of relationship we generally have with our users. Because the library is one of the only spaces open 24 hours, it is a relatively safe space for students dealing with housing insecurity. But our privacy practices, as a profession, can keep us from checking in actively with students about their holistic needs in the way that other folks on campus might. With a few exceptions, I don't have the kind of relationship with students when I might make a referral -- so, it becomes important to make sure we signal help in other ways, whether that means leaving cards about the food bank by the snacks we provide for our student workers, or figuring out something to put up in the bathrooms to remind students of the free shower at the HSRC. Part of why I was excited to work at my library is that we have long had childcare available for students in the library -- my understanding is that this started in part because library workers noticed that student parents were using study rooms to do their work and keep an eye on their children. The library as a space means we have an opportunity to observe patterns as well as do individual direct outreach. It doesn't mean we need to offer all the things -- we don't run the childcare, we just provide the space -- but we need to make the connections to the folks who have that expertise. At my previous job, I worked a lot with student health because alllll the behaviors they focus on (eating, sleeping, sex) happen in the library...whether library staff want to believe it or not.

Also. I recently read Michael Bennett's new memoir, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable, which is a super readable and funny overview of his experiences, including as a college football player. The chapter about NCAA sports should be mandatory reading for anyone who works at a sportsball institution. Bennett's description of the exhausting and restrictive day-to-day living as an athlete trying to also be a student, as well as his analysis of the financial trap, is a grim reminder of the dehumanizing potential of higher education. The perception that student athletes are pampered can keep staff (and other students) from seeing the pain and compromises they are in. What other categories of students go unnoticed when we think about their care and wellbeing?

Also. I missed the chat last night because I was at a union meeting. The faculty at my institution is in the process of organizing, and maybe I'll talk more about that another time, but I want to mention it here for two reasons. One, going to these meetings always gets me charged up and grounds me in the reasons we do our work at the university. Organizing is community care, and I'm excited for what comes next. Two, on Monday I went to hear a talk from David Hughes, an anthropology professor at Rutgers and a leader in their local. He spoke both about specific benefits and actions of their local union -- one of the oldest faculty unions in the US -- and more generally about why faculty unions matter in this particular historical moment. I was particularly struck by the fact that the faculty union always advocates for the freeze, if not the reduction, of student tuition. This is a direct impact on students, of course, on top of the indirect benefits of being able to recruit and retain better teaching faculty thanks to their improved salaries and opportunities for career growth.

This community care, the need to build power and advocate not just for yourself but for others in your community, extends elsewhere, of course. How do you demonstrate to your student workers that they *must* take breaks when everyone in your office eats lunch at their desks? We started #lismentalhealth because we have a problem, generally in society, but *also* in libraries. The reservations expressed last night about remind me of my own ambivalence about corporate-rooted mental health initiatives. If all we do for students is to bring therapy dogs once a term, but we don't question the educational model that requires debilitating anxiety before final exams...we're missing the structural problems. When I was dating someone in an MSW program, I heard it said a few times that "Social workers are the custodians of late capitalism." I continue to think about that, more and more.

So what? I guess the threads of this ramble might be authentic connection with students, systemic analysis and change, and meaningful collaboration. My own work seems to be getting further from traditional library tasks, in some ways, but more embedded in my communities and hopefully doing what needs doing. Hey, the library is a growing organism, right?


*imo, obvs

LIS Mental Health Week 2018

This is the third year of LIS Mental Health Week, and I'm not sure quite what to say any more. Mental illness is being scapegoated for the latest mass shooting in the US, despite the fact that people with mental illness are much, much more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. A teacher librarian at the school took action that saved student lives, saying she knew what to do because a librarian friend at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, had told her how she had saved people during that mass shooting.

So, I guess I am thinking about trauma. When library workers are stocking and administering Narcan (and learning about it from former cops at ALA Midwinter), I wonder about how we are also trained to recognize addictions, treat users with respect, rather than just as a security problem. In a Trauma Stewardship training I went to recently, social worker Laura van Dernoot Lipsky described the ways that secondary trauma can manifest as desensitization, as anxiety, as callousness to our clients. How do librarians who work with trauma, or traumatized people, carry that, on top of whatever our own lives have served us? How are we trained to do that? How are we supported in that? If at all?

At the President's Program at ALA Midwinter last week, participants suggested that libraries should accept programming or materials from groups like Exodus International. I just...I just cannot. Queer young folks are so much more likely to attempt suicide, to be bullied, to experience depression and anxiety. But, neutrality. Okay. Not okay.

So, I don't know. This year, I don't feel like I have a lot of bandwidth to advocate. You probably already know what I'm going to say, anyway: find ways (that make sense) to talk to your bosses, your colleagues, and even your users. Make sure you have varied and rich stories and information about mental illness and health. Get your institution an EAP program, and use it. As my mom always taught me, if you have access to therapy, go. Encourage other people to, too.

I feel grateful that other people seem interested to keep talking about mental health in libraries. Thank you to Abigail, Annie, Kate, Nicole, and Violet for all their work to keep things going this year. Violet compiled the badass Reserve and Renew zine that she and Annie had the idea for, and all the money raised will go to Mental Health First Aid. I'm also grateful for things like this free webinar ALA is putting on next month about Mental Health Awareness and the Library Profession. And I'm glad as hell that one of my other coworkers sent out an email to all our staff about that, and offered to arrange a room for folks to watch it together. I'll be there.

See for resources for this year's activities, and see to order a copy of the zine.

You can also see what I wrote during LIS Mental Health Week in 2016 and 2017.

Trauma Stewardship

Last week I attended the Trauma Stewardship Institute up in Portland. TSI was founded by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, who has been working with trauma survivors for decades, and has long been exploring the secondary and tertiary effects of trauma. Specifically, this training focused on folks who do direct service, and there were many teachers, social workers, and nurses in the audience. I placed her book on hold, and I look forward to digging more into it. Given the Twitter chatter this week about academic overwork, and the upcoming LIS Mental Health Week (February 19-23), this seems timely.

The central question of the Institute was how do we cultivate our capacity to refrain from harm and to contribute wisely? Van Dernoot Lipsky uses "overwhelm" for what I might think of as burnout, the feeling of irritability, isolation, and fatigue when you are run down. She suggests that this can be the result of being surrounded by trauma, whether it is a self-preservation mechanism in light of trauma or simply the recognition that the problems you work within seem insurmountable.

The specific practices and research-based recommendations aren't surprising: spend time outside; express gratitude; exercise; cultivate life outside your work/activism. But two questions really stood out to me:

  • What is in our collective control?
  • What is in my individual control?

These questions resonated with a book I read recently, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age, where Jane McAlevey describes how organized labor in the United States has largely stepped away from on-the-ground organizing of workers, and toward high-level compromises with employers. She argues that this has undermined the main means of building power. Anyway, van Dernoot Lipsky's two questions above seem crucial to organizing. Rather than seeing problems as insurmountable, you have to consider what you can actually change, both on your own and in community. If you can't change something right now, don't spin your wheels on it -- move your gaze to what is currently in your control.

Another piece from this training that really struck me was the idea of considering your margins. Like, do you have room in the margins? Time management has, uh, never been a strength for me. I usually overpack my calendar, or have an overly optimistic view on how long various tasks will take me. The idea of leaving room in the margins, whether for unexpected tasks *or* for crisis and the cascading feelings that spring from it, is pretty powerful. Van Dernoot Lipsky described sharing news duty with friends -- in order to opt out of the everlasting torrent of disaster, they took turns being responsible for checking the news for a day or two each week. If something absolutely crucial happened, they would share it with the others. But hey, what a form of community care, eh?

On the value of values

Part of my writing plan for this year is to post to this blog at least every two weeks, which doesn't take into account whether I actually have something interesting to say or not. But such is the pleasure of forcing yourself to write! Anyway, today I thought I'd write a little about strategic planning, since both my library and our broader university are in the midst of those processes. I'm on our library's strategic planning team, and it is the first time I've been involved in that at any workplace. I tend to be a little allergic to mission/vision/values kinds of writing, because it can get so floaty and bloaty. So, it has been interesting to be in the room, to actually be a part of doing that work. It can be remarkably hard to succinctly describe what you believe in and why.

I have also been considering the role of professional values statements, like ALA's Core Values of Librarianship. I find myself pointing to those pretty often these days -- both as a reference point in Strategic Planning meetings, but also in other meetings outside of the library to justify my position or my reason for participating in a project.

Yesterday, there was a campus-wide email responding to an article in the student newspaper about a student body representative who is an outspoken white nationalist. I hadn't read the article yet, so of course I tracked it down, but I actually found myself more drawn to the editorial response that they published later. In it, they refer heavily to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists. They outline how their reporting follows the four major principles: seek truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently; and be accountable and transparent. However, they note, "Our role as journalists can only extend so far, however. We have provided you with this information in what we believe to be the best, most ethical way possible. The power to do something with this knowledge rests in your hands."

While I had the flu, I watched, among other things, the film Spotlight and the Korean drama Argon, both of which focus on investigative journalism. In both, these four principles were tested, as journalists face public challenges, financial threats from company backers, and social pressure to back down on a story. (Argon is completely fictional and pretty over the top, tho not so much as my other favorite news-related K-drama, Pinocchio.) Of course, these principles are also deeply, almost inherently compromised according to Noam Chomsky, but I can't help but want to take whatever scraps I can get. As I've been doing my Oregon Humanities conversation around the state, it has been fascinating how often these ethical tensions come up, and how keen folks are to know how and to whom journalists are accountable. I think of that with the ALA core values as well -- how and to whom am I professionally accountable? and my organization? Strategic planning isn't designed to answer those questions, but it is part of what I'm thinking about.

(Shoutout to the excellent issue of Library Trends from last year dedicated to the core values, and edited by Selinda Berg and Heidi Jacobs.)

Let's get it done

I was going to write a proper end-of-year post, but then I was enjoying the end of my vacation, and it didn't make much sense. Instead, this is part of my daily #Write2018, the hashtag Emily Drabinski suggested for daily writing this year.

This past year, I:

  • Traveled a lot. Within Oregon, to Astoria, Beaverton, Dallas, Klamath Falls, Madras, Monmouth, Newport, Pendleton, Portland, and Troutdale. To Chicago, Long Beach, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle. Internationally, to Italy, where I traveled to Bologna, Ferrara, Rome, and Venice. I got to go to Cinecittà, which I have wanted to do since I was like, 18. I got to go back to places I hadn't been to since I was a child. New and old, lots of exploration.
  • Grew my hair out, just let it keep getting longer.
  • Attended a facilitation training with Oregon Humanities, and was so enamored that I proposed a Conversation Project, and have now facilitated 8 so far, with another half-dozen already scheduled for the rest of the year. Facilitation was the skill I focused on professionally this year. It is definitely the kind of thing where the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. I am excited to keep poking at this and learning from dang smart people.
  • Was so mad, about so many things.
  • Didn't read a lot, but I man, there were some doozies. Also, listened to an audio book version of Fingersmith, which was a lovely way to reread a favorite.
  • Wrote a lot, even if I didn't write daily. By my count, I finished 3 book chapters and 3 journal articles, and made progress on other projects. I didn't present as much this year, but I did make my fave-ever conference zine, as well as several personal zines.

And, there goes the timer. I get all kinds of corny when it comes to reflecting on what happened, or what my intentions are for the future, but symbolically, letting this piece of writing be done because I have other good, challenging, interesting stuff to do is an excellent start to the new year. Keep on lovin', keep on fightin'.

On Cat Person, and against easy reading

Over the last week or so, I have watched with interest the discussion on Twitter about the short story Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian, published in the December 11 issue of the New Yorker, as well as online. In commentary, many women noted how the main character's experience of kind of unwanted sex with a cisgender man resonates for them, particularly in this moment as women speak up in greater numbers about harassment and unwanted sexual attention. Others lamented the fatphobic language that the main character used; others lamented that a mediocre story garnered this much support, or questioned how a writer who has never published a book managed to get a story published in the New Yorker.

But perhaps the most interesting, at least from an information literacy perspective, is how many people assumed that the story was non-fiction. This morning, I read this piece by Larissa Pham where she suggests that this reflects a failure as readers, in part because we cannot expect the same things from fiction and non-fiction. She argues that mistaking the one for the other flattens our analysis: rather than see I don't totally agree with Pham's assessment -- I do believe that fiction can provide lessons on how to live our best lives -- but I love this final paragraph:

When we look to our texts to teach us not how to think, but what to think, we suffer for it — as artists and consumers of art, but also as citizens. We further collapse the distinction between truth and lies, fact and fiction, which is something we cannot afford to do at a time when Donald Trump’s cries of “fake news” are being taken up by despots around the world. We cannot give in to easy reading. We simply must be better readers of the texts we encounter — especially now, when so much is at stake, and when so much of our daily lives takes place in the world of words.

As a librarian, I frequently see the kind of mix-up that Pham describes, not in the analysis of texts, but in their citation. I teach an information literacy course where students created an annotated bibliography, and there is a great deal of confusion about format and genre. Students regularly describe novels as monographs and vice versa. I once had a student turn in a review of a New Yorker article for an assignment titled "Review of a Scholarly Book." The article they wrote about was actually a very good fit for their topic, written by a subject expert, and I found myself struggling to both affirm the student and also underline why it mattered to be able to find a specific type of thing when you do research.

Anyway, I have come around to the belief that learning a citation style does kinda matter. I had long felt ambivalent because a) there are powerful tools and guides to help with this, and b) ultimately, what matters is if I can find the thing, not if the commas are in the right place. However, the citation for a book looks pretty different from the one for a New Yorker article. There are little clues for either that would suggest whether you might be looking at a "scholarly" publication -- say, published by a university press -- although of course a meaningful evaluation of that would require more digging.

Of course, in the case of Cat Person, the citation alone wouldn't be enough to identify fact from fiction. Still, I was initially surprised that people were confused, because the short stories in the New Yorker are generally pretty obviously identified: they show up toward the back of the magazine, and are always preceded by a page with a big lovely illustration. They're also labeled as fiction (there's also a tiny little note on the digital version, but I can see how it would get lost). Still, I appreciate that this makes me think about how learning to write citations is or at least reflects a type of reading. Also, how delightful for a short story to be trending on Twitter? Sometimes, it is the small pleasures.

Legitimate access

A couple weeks ago, I attended a workshop by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond up in Portland. A couple pieces stand out as especially salient for libraryland.

The Institute uses the definition of racism = race prejudice + power, which I had been familiar with. However, their definition of power was pretty specific: power is legitimate access to systems and institutions sanctioned by the state. Throughout the history of the United States, Black folks and other racialized groups have been denied access to everything from personal liberty to voting rights to banking to education. For me, it was a good reminder that even when I feel powerless, I am overlooking the legitimate access I have to many, many resources and institutions. Of course power is not equally shared, but I cannot forget that I have access.

Now, the vast majority of library workers also actually work for the state. So, not only do we have legitimate access, we also control that access for other people. The People's Institute analysis asks us all to consider the ways in which we are gatekeepers, controlling access to information and resources. Honestly, "controlling access to information" could describe the overall work of libraries. While we might aim to expand access, expanding is one form of control: making decisions that shape how people can or can't get to the stuff.

I had an interesting conversation with my group about some of the specific gatekeeping issues in libraries. The facilitators asked us to think about how we can shift accountability in our work towards the marginalized folks we all work with. Given that all the systems we work within were designed to exclude certain people, how do we purposefully center those folks in our work? One of the facilitators gave an example of an Upward Bound program where students in the program were part of all hiring decisions. You know who had the best sense of who could teach them? Those students. When is the last time that a group of students got to vote on hiring in your library? (As I write this, I am reminded of what I learned this summer about the university in Padova, where Galileo taught -- in its early days, students voted on which professors would teach which classes. Now that's running accountability toward the population most affected, eh?) During the workshop, I thought about the student advisory board model, and how it can be either focused on getting what the library wants (student support, feedback on topics driven by the library) or more focused on accountability to students.

The small-scale example of gatekeeping that came to my mind is a classic library one-shot. In my own experience, while I certainly want the best for the students in a class, accountability generally ends with the instructor of record. I may do my own little minute paper to try to gauge how things went, but if I am honest, the relationship that generally matters most with the instructor. Will they ask me back? Will they spread the word to their colleagues? This can e directly at odds with student experiences: once a student literally fell asleep in my one-shot, but afterward the instructor raved about what a great job I had done. Um, okay. Yet, the instructor is the one who generally gets to define most of what happens in the session -- even if I do a pre-survey asking students something, the perimeter has been set by the instructor. In my group at the workshop, we talked about ways to at least acknowledge this: say, "Your professor asked me to cover x, y, and z so you can complete your assignment; based on what other students have told me, it also seems important that we discuss a, b, and c." I can find as many points as possible to solicit student involvement, and create meaningful opportunities for choice.

Of course, libraries do so much work besides the one-shot, and I'm hoping to do this exercise with folks in my department. At the very least, I think it will be helpful for us to consider who it is in our community that we rarely have to answer to...and how we might answer to them.

Conversation Project: Lessons so far

This past January, I attended a facilitation training that Oregon Humanities offers, and was so taken by their approach that I just wanted to get more. When I heard that they were recruiting new topics and leaders for their Conversation Project series, I put in an application; now I am two Conversations deep into a string of nine that I currently have scheduled. (And, the applications to host just reopened! /shameless plug)

Facilitating is a frequently invisible form of labor that requires skill, spontaneity, and endurance. Can you remember the last time you experienced great facilitation? I aspire to hope to get to the level of calm, joyful facilitation as the folks I most to, but in the meantime, I want to reflect on some of the things I am learning, and trying, as I do these Conversations. This is all the more timely, as Rachel Bernstein, who I work with at OH, recently sent me a link to this piece in Library Journal.

My topic, Beyond Fake News:  How We Find Accurate Information About the World, is obviously linked to the kind of information literacy instruction I do as a librarian. However, the premise of the Conversation Project is that, together, a group of people can explore their values, beliefs, and choices regardless of their content expertise. The role of the facilitator is to raise questions, synthesize and create meaning out of what has been said, and to help guide the discussion to places that are interesting, challenging, and rich.

(I get kind of gushy about Oregon Humanities, and even the assessments that OH uses are kind of amazing: one of the questions on their post-Conversation response form asks about the ratio of time that the facilitator spoke compared to the participants – did you feel good about it? Another asks whether there were moments when the conversation changed – deepened, got heated, pivoted. These are excellent questions for teaching, as well.)

This is all hard work. One page I have already dog-eared in my facilitator’s guidebook is a typology of questions from Asking Big Questions. Coming up with questions that are big enough to be interesting, but not so big enough to become meaningless…and that are specific enough that everyone in the group can feel the stake in is tough! Considering how often I talk to students about developing research questions, this is a new type of question that I feel like a real n00b at. 

When I applied to facilitate Conversations on this topic, it wasn’t because I was an expert. I had noticed a pattern of folks asking me questions about fake news, questions dripping with anxiety and a sense of guilt. What should we be doing? What could we even do?

Based on the first two conversations, I’ll say, we haven’t come to any conclusions. But it can be powerful to know that other people are worried; to be challenged to clarify your values and beliefs; and to learn from others in your community. In my conversation, I use a historic newspaper from the community to get participants to think about the conventions of news information within their community over time. (Shoutout to the University of Oregon's Historic Oregon Newspapers site for making this possible.) In Klamath Falls, a participant noted that, this October 1917 issue of their local paper had no news about the anti-war protests likely going on. They did have news about the soldiers, and also about a pro-war speaker on tour. Although the current state of corporate news, and the potential to falsify through Photoshop and other tools, is bleak, misinformation is hardly new.

Finally, one thing I am still amazed by, every time I do any of these OH things, is that: if you bring people together, and give them a place to go, they will talk with each other. It amazes me every time.

Trying out a visual syllabus

I am teaching two courses this term, a first-year seminar and a 1-credit information literacy course required for English majors. Both are classes I've taught before, so naturally I had some changes to make over the summer.

Both classes are structured around one major assignment, and each time I've taught each course, some students have been confused about the projects: about the format, how the pieces fit together, and what the broader takeaways should be. This year, I wanted to address that day one of class, really demonstrate the projects we would be undertaking together. The first day of class can serve many different purposes, but navigating the "let's read the syllabus out loud" piece is always a bit of a challenge. It is incredibly important that students and teachers have a shared set of expectations, and the syllabus is the teacher's way of setting at least some of those. More importantly, in these two classes, I wanted to make sure students understood the big picture arc, the umbrella of what we were doing and why. But it can also drain all the fun out of the first class to fixate on the minutiae, and can also inspire frustration among students who, with good reason, feel they could read the syllabus on their own time.

Of course, in every credit course I've ever taught, I have also had plenty of students who didn't read the syllabus. I've tried syllabus quizzes and an Easter egg asking students to send me a picture of Alf if they get to the end of the syllabus -- the year I did that, I only got one Alf email, sadly. To be fair, though, I myself was a student who didn't read the syllabus, at least not front to tail, and probably mostly only when I had a specific question I thought it might answer. 

Anyway, with this particular problem I thought back to a write-up I had seen about using a visual syllabus to illustrate important course content for students. I ordered a book through ILL about visual syllabi, and I said a blessing to Lynda Barry's Syllabus on the shelf above my desk at work. What surprised me is how unappealing and confusing I found many of the visual syllabi: flowcharts and dense tables that CLEARLY needed a great deal of in-person explanation. What I wanted was essentially a first-day handout to complement the fullllll text syllabus posted in our course Canvas site. So, we didn't try to cram all the information in, but use it more as a poster for the class.

So, I took a crack at it, using my zinester aesthetics and clipart. (You can see the two handouts here.) As an iterative process, it actually helped us clear up some course organization issues. My co-instructor on the FYE course, archivist Tiah Edmunson-Morton, talked through with me some of the messiness. It was actually moving little pieces around on the paper when we realized that we needed to explicitly call out the ungraded modules on Canvas as part of the course-long project. FYE courses tend to highlight Changes You Will Experience In College, and one of those is definitely a shift in time to ungraded studying and work that students will do out of class. That is to say, just because it isn't graded, doesn't mean it is not required or not important. So, creating the visual syllabus gave us an opportunity to explicitly point that out in a way that would likely have been lost in the vast sea of the full-text syllabus. It has also been a reminder to refer back to the syllabus: a visual cue (remember that bright orange or bright blue sheet with the drawings on it?) instead of a purely textual cue. For the English course, I already regret putting on all the learning outcomes -- I had had big ideas about using the information-seeking cycle as the overall visual metaphor for the course, and mapping the assignments and outcomes onto that. However, I teach this course every term, so I will get another opportunity to revise it soon. 

Students responded with smiles and nods when I handed out syllabi in both classes, which is at least a more positive emotional response than a full-text syllabus usually gets. This is consistent with other times I have used craft in teaching -- college students often seem hungry for a change in pace from purely numerical or text-based learning. Of course, the proof will really come as students begin to put together their final projects. Will they have a better sense of how the pieces fit together, or why we are doing these things in the order we are doing them? I hope so, and if not, I am looking forward to getting specific feedback from students on how to make that handout more meaningful. If nothing else, this process has gotten me to examine my expectations about what the syllabus does for students, and what it could or should do.

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?