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:

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


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.


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.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

On saying no


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

Poirot says "Non."

Poirot says "Non."

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

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

The cost of college is too damn high

From imarksm on  Pixabay

From imarksm on Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

Hidden in plain sight

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

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

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

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

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

On the Vaporsource

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

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

Google Scholar pulls up this citation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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