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.