Bloggy

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 https://tinyurl.com/lismentalhealth18 for resources for this year's activities, and see https://tinyurl.com/reserveandrenew 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 them...it 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?

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.