An open letter to my community

Libraryland colleagues,

I walked past the campus lunchtime protesters today, twice — once on my way to lunch, and once on my way back. The first time, they were shouting “FUCK THE WALL”. The second time, they had a great dance-line chant of “Hey ho, hey ho, Donald Trump has got to go.” I smiled and gave them a thumbs up both times, but didn’t join in.

Truth be told, I was far more interested in stopping and joining in the first chant than the second, despite the social inadvisability of the Director of Libraries and Applied Learning yelling “FUCK THE WALL” across our academic quad. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a personal fan of President-Elect Trump. I voted for Clinton. I’m actually deeply fearful of what the next two or four or eight years will bring, but the unavoidable fact is that he won the election. Our system upheld its own rules, and assuming we don’t get a bunch of Faithless Electors, the deed is done. Yelling about it won’t change it. The Director of Libraries and Applied Learning won’t be standing on the statue of Minerva and shouting profanities across the quad, but I will be taking action this next year in my own way.

Because those protesters have the right to yell. So do the citizens in this community who are pleased that Trump won.

And that’s the source of my action point number one. The librarians have agreed that we will be doing an informational and educational campaign on campus about the first amendment, the rights and responsibilities of free speech, freedom of information rights and principles, and the power and consequence of social media in a speech and protest environment. Online resources, browsing collections, workshops, seminars in campus Days of Reflection, guest lectures. Whatever we can do.

I’m committed to this course of action for a lot of reasons.

First up, as a librarian, it’s something I believe in. I’m an adherent of the Hall/Voltaire “I will protect your right to say vile things” philosophy, because who defines “vile” is a point of privilege and power, and if we start stripping away the right to say vile things by our definition, we’re offering others the power to strip away our own right to say what they deem to be vile by their definition. Protecting one protects all.

Second, also speaking in my role as librarian, freedom of information is a tenet of my profession that drives my commitment to what we do. It’s all in the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights:

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use

But further, as an educator I have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable in my community, ensuring that they have a safe space to pursue their education. So that means preventing and addressing bias, discrimination, and harassment. By my read, librarianship’s professional Code of Ethics also lays this one out, in numbers 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7.

  1. We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.
  2. We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
  3. We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.
  4. We respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.
  5. We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.
  6. We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.
  7. We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.
  8. We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.

And there’s the final reason why I won’t stand up and should “Donald Trump has got to go” while on work time: numbers 6 and 7 above. I have an obligation, as a professional and as a representative of the State, to distinguish between my personal convictions and my professional duties. I must not advance my private interests at the expense of the comfort and safety of my library users. I must not alienate my community — regardless of which 50% of the electorate best represented their views this political season.

So we’ll be focusing on ensuring our libraries are safe and welcoming to all members of our community, and educating our students about freedom of speech, freedom of information, the role of the State vs the role of the individual, and the powers and pitfalls of all of the above. That is my job. That is my purview. And I will fight for it, red in tooth and claw.

And while that probably won’t change the rhetoric about the wall President-Elect Trump insisted he would build, or change the outcome of the presidential election, or even make my students of color feel any better about the world they live in, I hope that it does one very important thing. I hope it helps to create an empowered, educated, critical electorate in 2018, 2020, and 2024. That is the most important contribution I can make, if I can make it.

And I hope you will consider a similar path in your libraries.

Valar Dohaeris.

Jenica

The poison of elections

The refrain I hear throughout my social media feeds is that the system is broken. Our electoral college system is rigged. Our two-party system is a joke. Trump’s candidacy makes a mockery of our democratic ideals. Having the spouse of a former president run for president makes a mockery of our democratic ideals. Why bother voting, the whole thing’s broken.

I’ve spent 36 hours at the SUNY Council of Library Directors meeting in Albany, and our main order of business is to evaluate the results of a consultation we hired Ithaka S+R to do for us, assessing our current structure, our needs, our goals, and our challenges, because we recognized that we had a leadership challenge. We didn’t have any consistency, we didn’t have a model for raising up our best and supporting them to lead, and we haven’t had a contested election in my memory — we just appoint somebody because we twisted their arm into volunteering. And so we hired Ithaka to study our challenges, and propose solutions. The main proposed solution is a radical restructuring of our current model. And the hesitation, fear, and pushback are intense.

I see some parallels to the general American state of mind. We look at our national government and observe that public opinion of Congress falls somewhere lower than public opinion on cockroaches and communism. We have an intensely divided presidential race in which neither candidate represents the ideals of the party faithful. Money has more influence over our candidates than our voters’ voices do. The most influential court in our government is missing a bench member because Congress is having a hissy fit. And we’re all bemoaning the state of affairs… but we all agree that there’s just nothing to be done. Besides, Obama’s gotten a lot done. Congress has made some important stands. Blah blah blah partisan blah.

SCLD has faced some major challenges, and we’ve succeeded and we’ve failed. We’ve created a strategic plan and small pieces of it have been followed through on. Other pieces have been abandoned or neglected. We’re literally sitting in a business meeting as I write this, arguing about whether or not we should vote, and if we vote, what percentage of majority is required for a vote to be binding. We’ve pushed through multimillion dollar negotiations, and we … well, we signed a contract, so we call it a success even though it sucks. We’re working hard to lead on OERs and OA for SUNY, but it’s a few people in a subcommittee. Ditto our ILS/LSP migration — a few people are making it happen as a sheer force of will.

There’s also a lot of discussion of trust. How do we build trust in a new organization? How do we trust our elected representatives to the new governing body? How do we guarantee we’ll be represented? Our failure to reform our national government is reflected so clearly in these questions. We don’t trust those we elect. We don’t feel represented by those we elect. We don’t believe our voices will be heard. And we take that general unease and it applies to all our governance structures. Even when those structures are made up of people we’ve known for years. Decades. Who we work side by side with. We assume that elections and power structures require distrust and engender unfair decisionmaking.

I don’t believe that’s true. I don’t believe that everyone who runs for an office does so to gain power. I don’t believe that being elected to an office means that you’ve stopped listening to those you represent. I don’t believe that elections must be a choice between the lesser of two evils.

I do believe that some people who run for offices want to serve. I believe that some people who are elected believe in representing the good of the whole. I believe that some people who are elected want to listen, want to know, want to understand, want to serve the greater good. And I believe that in a functional election, you have a choice between multiple good candidates.

And I believe all of those things about my library colleagues. I believe in us. I believe we can have useful, contested elections for leadership of SUNY libraries. I believe we can have leaders who listen, and serve the system and our strategic goals. I believe we can trust our community.

I don’t think that SCLD’s members are the GOP and DNC. I don’t think we need to be so afraid.

I think we need to acknowledge that we have problems. And that we cannot ignore those problems by searching for incremental changes that are easy to swallow. We need to try something new. Find the courage. Lets do that.

 

Try

Jenica   September 14, 2016   1 Comment on Try

Where there is desire, there is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns, doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try ~
Pink, Try

Last fall I dyed my hair purple in an act of professional defiance, and wore a coordinating lavender dress when I stood with scissors in my hand and cut the ribbon on the campus’s new Center for Applied Learning. That same day we announced that we’d been awarded $750,000 by SUNY to continue and expand our efforts. I was burned out and angry and frustrated and celebrating one of the most amazing accomplishments of my career at the same time.

Today my hair is auburn, with copper highlights and far-less-obvious purple lowlights. I’m no less driven, but definitely less angry. I am, in fact, hopeful and feeling an emotional upsurge about my work. What changed?

Leadership.

That’s it. The budget situation isn’t better. Racism is still a thing. Change aversion continues to be a real challenge. We’re still working through conflicting priorities on lean resources. But our leadership has changed. I have a new boss.

And just like that it feels like the lights turned on in a darkened room. Projects started moving forward. Attitudes began to shift. The Academic Affairs team began to re-form, with smiles and laughter instead of grim uncertainty. And we began working on hard important projects again.

Our communal work in supporting our students and collegues didn’t stop being hard — academia is rarely easy. But I think Pink has it right; desire –> flame –> burn. Because I believe that’s true, I believe that the possibility of danger, of challenge, of struggle should never be enough to stop us from moving forward. But when the lights are off, and you’re walking in the dark, knowing that if you stick your hand in the wrong direction you’ll be burned and forced to snatch back what you put out there lest you be irreparably damaged… it’s a lot harder to push forward. Our new Provost turned the lights on.

And I know there are fires. I know I’m likely to get burned. But it’s worth it, because I believe in it. And now, finally, I can see where I’m going, and why. That’s all I really needed — a direction, some encouragement, and the knowledge that my contribution is valued —  and I’ve been reminded of just how much it does matter.

Today I watched Dr. Carla Hayden be sworn in as the 14th Librarian of Congress. The first woman. The first African-American. The second professionally trained librarian, and the first of those to serve during my lifetime. I saw her new staff, in the balconies, looking down as she was sworn in. Roaring in celebration. Their faces alive with emotion.

And while it’s not the same league as the LoC, I’m in that same kind of leadership position. So as I note how much it means to me to have positive, encouraging leadership, I also have to note that I have an obligation to perform in that role, as well. Frustrated, angry leaders don’t do much for team morale. Library staff come alive when they have hope, and leaders who nurture it. It matters that I do better, too.

oh noes, not “the legal team”!

I feel like this is a periodic post… but it’s time again.

Right now we’re going back and forth with a vendor whose license agreement includes strict language about non-disclosure and confidentiality, and that everything in the agreement is a trade secret. I’ve said this all before, here. The key piece, in my opinion, is this:

“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.”

At the time, I was talking about the Copyright Clearance Center, and we declined to sign, and did not adopt their Get It Now service as a result. This time I’m talking about a more traditional publisher, and I’d hate to have to walk away from their ebooks packages, but as we have indicated to them directly, we adhere to the principles outlined by the SUNY Council of Library Directors and the manifesto of the Empire State Library Network: https://www.esln.org/i2ny/e-resources/

At the  moment, the conversation has ended with the sales guy saying to my CD librarian “Can you forward the comments to your legal team and see if they accept or when they would be available to speak so that I can set that up from my end.” And this is a new problem. We don’t have a legal team. I am our legal team. I read and review and sign all licenses. I am, decidedly, not a legal team. I am the decision-maker, and the responsible party, but I am not a legal team.

That does not frighten me. I can deal with their legal team. But not all of my peers would feel comfortable doing that. Some of my peers would see that statement and feel completely incapable of handling the next steps — it’s outside their skills, it’s outside their confidence, they just want the offending language removed and they’ve said what they have to say and they have no resources to turn to in the face of talking to a “legal team”…

And so I have to wonder. Is this lack of awareness on the part of a corporate salesdude? (“Of course they have a legal team; they’re complaining about a license agreement, legal must be reviewing it.”) Or is it quiet bullying? (“If I tell them I’m going to make them talk to legal, I bet they’ll back down.”)

Given how I feel about vendors these days, I’m 50/50 on that.

Directors and librarians: Don’t back down. Lawyers are just people with a specialized skill set, and you are under no obligation to sign anything just because they say it’s a good idea, particularly when they work for the other guy. Don’t be intimidated into signing anything that makes you feel like you should probably shower afterwards. We’re professionals, we’re capable, we’re well-educated, and we’re often in the right. Don’t be convinced otherwise, and ask for plain language if plain language is what you need.

And please please please don’t sign NDAs without a damn good reason.

Site visits

Jenica   April 15, 2016   No Comments on Site visits

My favorite part of visiting other campuses is wandering through their libraries to see what ideas inspire me. I’m at SUNY Cobleskill today, and here are my favorite bits from my brief visit to the library:

Explanations.   

I think we too often just do things and expect our users to either comply or understand or both… But maybe we could actually explain ourselves. 

Slightly whimsical signs  

This is how the loud/quiet floors are distinguished. I love this. That’s all. I may steal the idea wholesale. 

Engaging students as people

 

Topical displays and popular reading collections aren’t the traditional “job” of academic libraries – but they inspire curiosity and engagement and isn’t that the job of libraries?