Category Archives: Libraries

borrowing energy

Late November and early December is always a hard time in the academic cycle — the semester is almost over, and everyone’s wearing down, but we haven’t hit the frenetic energy of finals week yet. The pile of things you planned to get to “during the fall semester” or “before the break” or “after Thanksgiving” is staring at you balefully and you’re staring back thinking, “I have to kill it before it develops language skills.” It’s also registration time for students, when they choose classes and projects for next semester — and set up internships.

Next semester I will be acting as site supervisor for between 3 and 7 interns, supporting the college’s Bicentennial. These are project-based internships, in that each of the interns will be working on one or more discrete projects, on their own schedule, with weekly check-in and collaboration meetings with me and the other interns. The projects are things like “use the digitized college newspaper to find facts, events, and people we can showcase in a This Week In SUNY Potsdam History series” and “find photos that are suited to doing Then And Now recreations with current students” and “help me make sure we’ve hit all of these Big Themes in our online timeline of the College’s history.” We’ll do some scaffolding work early in the semester, meeting with various Bicentennial stakeholders (the Organizing Committee, our Public Affairs staff, the Archives team), discussing themes and communication throughlines for the Bicentennial, teaching them to use our online historical resources, discussing how the research they do will be used in social and traditional media, and giving them a crash course in the history of the College. And then I plan to set them free, to sink, swim, or fly, as they can. (I also plan to be waiting by the side of the pool with inflatable floaties, as necessary…)

And up until this week, I was thinking about this project with a mix of resignation and duty. It needs to get done, and this is the best way to do it while meeting all of my varied priorities — I have limited time to ask of my full-time staff, the Archives cannot handle a huge influx of volunteer alumni workers (another option I had), we have been offering very limited internship opportunities and there are always a few Museum Studies students who want to work with us, we’re on a tight timeframe, we want to appeal to a student audience with this information, etc — but it really just seemed like more work.

Right up until I started talking to the students interested in the internship itself. Their energy, and their interest, is an amazing and powerful thing. One student, who wants to be an archivist, was so excited when the internship coordinator told him I’d take him on that he gleefully asked if he could have a hug. Another, a creative writing major, just lit up when I started describing the social media aspects of publicizing something like a celebration of 200 years of history, and wanted to talk about hashtags as a cultural phenomenon. A third has emailed me several times, clearly eager and just waiting for me to take the next steps.

How can you be resigned, or apathetic, or simply dutiful in the face of that? I can’t. Now I’m excited. This is going to be fun. It’s going to be hard work on my part, but that’s my  job, to work hard on behalf of this institution. And our institution exists to work for our students. It’s rare that the Director of Libraries gets the chance to work directly and meaningfully with students, but if this goes half as well as I suspect it will, I’m going to make sure I have more opportunities to make those connections and foster that excitement.

Because that’s the point of this gig, really: the students.

Driveby observation on acronyms and initialisms

Three SUNY groups came up in a meeting this morning:

  1. The SUNY Council of Library Directors
  2. The SUNY Moodle Users Group
  3. The SUNY Chief Academic Officers

When you treat them as initialisms, they become, respectively in our communal awareness, SCLD, SMUG, and “the CAOs”.

If you read them aloud as acronyms, instead, they become “scold”, “smug”, and “chaos”.

Man, we are just not doing ourselves any favors! We complain, as a profession, about library-specific vocabulary, and the acronym soup that plagues us, but I’m realizing that it’s not just libraries — it’s academia. I think it’s time to come up with some initialisms and acronyms — or simply names — that say something intelligent and otherwise indicative of success and positive impact. Because I just flatly refuse to refer to the group of which I am Chair as “Scold”. (I would also note that there are two more SUNY groups whose acronym-ed names are, verbally, “Wiggle” and “Doodle”, and I feel no better about sounding like I’m talking about preschoolers!) So saying “SUNY Council of Library Directors” every time I refer to us is a mouthful, but Scold… that’s just not happening, people. Not. Happening.

But the whole thing does make me smile. Like, why did no one NOTICE?

Yours in Cheerful Bafflement,

Jenica.

on apologies

At CLA’s Great Debate last week, library conference and blogosphere fixture Stephen Abram addressed panelist Jane Schmidt with “Jane, you ignorant slut!”

You may recognize that as a famous Dan Aykroyd line from Saturday Night Live, from the 1977-78 era. And you may, additionally, be wincing at the thought that someone said that on stage. To a female panelist. At a conference. About libraries. If you are not wincing, please consider this: “slut” is a sexual slur that nearly always contains misogynistic and oppressive over- and undertones, and feels like a shaming attack when it is addressed at you. Even when it’s a “joke”.

Abram has apologized. I read his apology and just… shook my head. And I commented on Friendfeed that there are so many things wrong with that apology… “my tl;dr on the wrong: an apology is not a defense, nor should it be petulant. Go ahead and do those things if you must, but do them separately.”

On Twitter, I wrote,

when you repeat a 35 year old joke that offends people, don’t “apologize” by saying “younger” people don’t get your humor…
Instead, try to understand why what you think is funny is no longer considered appropriate, and reflect on how the world is changing.

Because, really? Blaming the audience and the profession for being offended en masse by a 35 year old joke? That’s poor form, dude. And it’s worth noting that in context, in the late 70’s, Jane Curtin often replied to Aykroyd on the air with “Dan, you pompous ass.” She also has talked openly in interviews about sexism, misogyny, and her male colleagues (Belushi in particular). So if we’re all going to follow the playbook that Abram would presumably prefer, we’re all, in fact, well within the terms of the engagement to call him an pompous ass. (We just took to Twitter to do it.)

Or, in short, it’s not that we didn’t get the joke: We just don’t think it’s funny. So blaming us for not thinking it’s funny, in an apology? Well. That’s not how one apologizes, I think.

But good apologies are not something I’m always successful at, myself. Apologizing well is hard work. It’s very, very hard work. Reading your words, and erasing all the justifications, the explanations, the shifting of blame… that’s hard. Reading your words and carefully taking out the pity and the petulance and the frustration… that’s hard. Reading your words and removing anything but the heart of the apology? That’s really, really hard.

We all have to try anyway, if we want to live in a civil society. On Friendfeed, several librarians — Laura Carscaddon, Martha Hardy, and Catherine Pellegrino among them — crowdsourced a script for what a smart apology looks like. Here are a few options. We could all learn from  them the next time we, inevitably, screw something up.

“I totally messed up. I should not have said that. I apologize. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry. That was wrong because __. In the future I will __. Will you forgive me?”

and, from Laura,

“I’m sorry. That was wrong because __. In the future I will __. I hope I can eventually regain your trust” rather than “will you forgive me” because that last phrase, to me, places a burden back on the person being apologized to. (Situations absolutely vary and there are times where the “forgive me” language in that template is absolutely appropriate).

on confidentiality and FOI laws

For the past few weeks now I’ve been emailing back and forth with a vendor, debating terms of a license agreement. I struck several terms, both of my own volition and on recommendation from purchasing officials on my campus, and added additional SUNY-specific terms that need to be included. I’ve done this many times before, and usually, the vendor suggests changes to bring us to agreement, or simply agrees, and we move on. (The notable exception is that Lexis-Nexis will never ever ever ever agree to allowing walk-in users, which is an incredible pain in the ass in re: our public access computers.)

Except this time, I’m getting pushback.

The clause in question requires, in regard to legal requests for disclosure under applicable Freedom of Information requests, that “the party required to make such disclosure promptly provides written notice to the other party of such required disclosure and reasonably cooperates with such other party’s efforts to minimize the extent of such disclosure.”

Italics mine. I say no. I have two strong beliefs that inform that choice.

1. I think it’s deplorable to ask anyone to minimize their compliance with the law. Period. Requiring that I “minimize the extent” of disclosure asks me to look at a FOI request and say “how much can I get away with hiding?” rather than honestly asking “What data will satisfy this request?” As an information professional committed to providing access to as much information as possible to as many as possible, that’s just abhorrent. As a State employee, I’m also subject to additional sunshine clauses contained in State policy, so this not only requires that I twist my legal obligations to best suit a corporation, it requires that I skirt the requirements of my employment as closely as possible — under the direction of an outside party.

2. What is there in this agreement that needs to be held so confidential? NOTHING. In my assessment, having signed many, many license agreements in the last decade, there are no terms here that are unusual, outside of the industry standard, or in any way harmful to the corporation’s interests — other than the pricing offered us. These terms and terms like them in library contracts exist only, as far as I can tell, to prevent libraries from discussing their pricing agreements amongst ourselves. They are designed to protect the vendors from collective awareness and action, and better-informed decision-making by libraries. Again, as an information professional committed to providing access to information, this is counter to my professional philosophies and goals.

And I won’t accept either of those things.

Experiencing different realities

I’ve been alerted that the December 2013/January 2014 edition of Against The Grain will include a rebuttal of my keynote address at the November 2013 Charleston Conference, and a kind soul who will remain anonymous provided me with a copy of that rebuttal. When it is published online, if you have ATG access, it will be here. The article also provides a link to a video of the speech I gave, which is here. (Note: These links are not currently working, as of 10:20 on 2/6. They are not the official links, so they were bound to be unreliable. There’s nothing I can do about it. If you want to see the official stuff, petition the conference to launch the proceedings soon.)

Against the Grain is the publication most closely linked to the Charleston Conference, so this is an eminently logical place for the article to appear. And I’m not surprised that there are detractors. I was blunt, I was confrontational, and I was aggressive. I made some people angry, and offended others. That happens when you’re blunt and confrontational. I expected pushback. I’m happy to see the debate expand and continue. So please understand that this post does not come from a place of “how dare you disagree with me.”

It does come from a place of “Really? That’s the line you’re going to take?”

There is a big and important conversation going on right now about the ALA Code of Conduct (you can start here, or here, if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and many of the most heated arguments around it have boiled down to one dichotomous understanding of librarians’ experiences: People who have not experienced or witnessed the reality of harassment think the policy will be problematic to their freedom of expression. People who have experienced or witnessed the reality of harassment think the policy is a necessary step toward making their professional world safer and more welcoming. The first group seems deeply challenged to understand the reality of the second group.

This rebuttal presents the same lack of understanding in no uncertain terms.

The problem starts here: “Though Ms. Rogers claims to speak for the library profession, the experiences she described are unlike anything we have witnessed.”

And continues here: “During her presentation, Ms. Rogers read paraphrased comments made to her or other librarians from different vendors. While some of the comments were shocking, we felt the meaning was lost without the full context; they were soundbites from a longer missing narrative, which could have included the vendor’s perspective.”

And ends here: “Yes, you are wrong. Disagreements with publishers over financial transactions or business models are in no way analogous to physical or mental abuse.”

So. When I read that, I see this: The authors state that they haven’t experienced the kind of harassment and negative interactions I’ve described, and they won’t accept my reporting of that harassment as valid without hearing from the aggressors, and in the end I’m just wrong for calling those experiences abusive.

We’re clearly experiencing different realities, here. Very similar worlds, experienced in very dissimilar ways.

The difference between the aggression and confrontation of my talk, and the aggression and confrontation I see in this article, is that my goal was not ever to tell librarians to sit down and shut up because they’re wrong. I deeply hope that isn’t the message anyone took away from my words. I very much do see that message in this piece; it’s a reprimand against speaking bluntly, against truth-telling, and against identifying abusive behavior. It contains a very clear message: I’m doing this wrong, and I should shut up.

I could refute each point, argument by argument. I have opinions on this stuff. (Clearly.) But I just don’t think it’s worth it. To keep things short, sweet, and on topic,  I’ll say this: I’m not ashamed of what I said. Nothing I said was untrue, or embellished. As a result, I’m not overly concerned by reactions to the content. I will let my words speak for themselves, and encourage you, libraryfolks, to take a look or a listen. I am concerned by reactions about tone, and about speech. So if you disagree with me on content, I hope you will do so publicly, and advance our discourse. I just hope that you’ll do it with a little less victim-blaming than I read here, and a little more awareness that we are all experiencing different realities, side by side, in this profession of ours. I hope you can see that just because you don’t recognize my reality as being parallel to yours doesn’t make me wrong.

And I won’t be shutting up.