ALA Annual Conference: The Rants and the Raves

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0And now for the obligatory end of conference wrap-up post, as I have just returned from the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago, IL.  I was very excited to attend this year’s conference, as a family obligation (my niece’s first birthday party) prevented me from going to Annual the last time it was in the Windy City (2009).

This was a different conference for me as I did not spend so much time in sessions as I did actually running sessions and other administrativa.  It was still a productive and fun conference, nonetheless.

And so, with apologies to one of my favorite columns in the Sunday Seattle Times, here are my Rants and Raves, ALA Annual Edition

RANT.  The shuttle buses.  There were too few shuttle buses for too many librarians, more of whom were depending on the buses than in past conferences due to location of McCormick Place Convention Center vis-a-vis the conference hotels.   They never seemed to run fast or frequent enough, and being stuck on the end of a route made it tough sometimes to get a bus – since they showed up at your door already full!  I do realize that this infrequency was a cost-cutting move, and can respect that in tough economic times for the Association.  I do wish more creative ways of making sure we all get to where we need to go, safely and on time, with little cost, could be found for the next Chicago meeting.

RAVE. ALA Conference Services.  The week of the conference, these hardworking folk were thrown a curveball of amazing proportions – the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and the victory parade was scheduled for the first day of conference right in the heart of the city.  As a sports fan and someone who experienced a victory parade in her backyard not too long ago (Giants 2012 Super Bowl win), I could have cared less about the parade – but for some librarians, 2 million Blackhawks fans + 20k librarians = fate worse than death.  Conference Services did a wonderful job keeping us updated as to contingency plans and taking an active role to make sure that we were all able to get where we needed to go.

RANT. Getting home from Chicago.   My travel companion and I had a bit of a late night adventure getting home from the city, which you can read about here. I’m taking it as a sign that maybe I should not have left the city….

RAVE. ALA CraftCon.  This was our fourth ALA CraftCon gathering, and my favorite thus far.   I added three sessions to allow for more people to attend, and even did drop in “getting started with crafting online” sessions for people that wanted to craft but didn’t know where to start.   I had great turnout all three days, even my “experiment” day (Saturday morning).   There’s still some work that needs to be done – I have to emphasize the BYO Craft part, or possibly add some make and take crafts. (I got lucky on the last day when my friend Steve Teeri, who runs the Detroit Public Library HYPE Teen Center, left some paper crafts on Maker Monday!)

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Getting our craft on Sunday Afternoon

RANT.  My hotel.  I know that I got what I paid for (which wasn’t much), but my hotel room was in a older building with an odd layout.  The bed felt too large for the room, there wasn’t enough counter space, one elevator was out of service on the last two days of the conference, and the wifi had a very bad habit of not working.  Spending less on the hotel meant I could stay in the city longer, but perhaps next time I will splurge more on the hotel and spend less time in the city.   I shouldn’t have to mooch wifi off of the Hyatt across the street when I have it in my own hotel.

RAVE.  The EveryLibrary Advocacy 101 session.  EveryLibrary is the first, and only, library super Political Action Committee (Super PAC) in the nation.   They provide tools for libraries to work most effectively with voters and elected officials to bring light to library issues – to build “financial and tactical support to ensure that local library initiatives pass at the ballot box.”  Rather than fight our elected officials and the system, we can work with the system and our elected officials to make our voice heard – and EveryLibrary can help you do that. I don’t know why more people attended, because the advice John presented is extremely important.

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EveryLibrary Executive Director John Chrastka

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Some factors that motivate voters – including the weather! 

And a final, but most important, RAVE.  The people.  The week of ALA, I was bullied by several librarians in an online Facebook group (the ALA Think Tank) all because I stepped in to say “hey, I don’t think this is appropriate” (this was on a post about hooking up in the Craigslist sense at conferences).  My words were twisted and taken out of context, and I was forced to apologize – for what, I still do not know.  As a result, I left the Think Tank – which made me sad because some people in there do great work, but I just couldn’t take the junior high, cool kids lunchtable, frat house attitude anymore.   This bullying left me scared to go to ALA.  I was willing to take a financial hit and cancel my entire trip, out of fear of the reception I would receive.  Obviously, I didn’t go through with that plan – and I’m glad I did.  The love I received from my fellow librarians made me feel so much better about my colleagues.  From those who came up to me to say they were sorry to see what happened to me, to express support for taking the action that I did, even just to say hi and compliment me on my plethora of tiny hats – you don’t know how happy you made me feel.  And for that, thank you – from the bottom of my heart.

See you at Midwinter in Philadelphia!

 

The Value of the MLS: Time To Do Something About It.

My friend Matthew Ciszek posted this on Facebook recently:

Instead of bitching about how horrible our experiences in library school were and how the MLS or MLIS degree did nothing to prepare us for the “real world” of librarianship, I would love to see my colleagues in the field do some work to change this paradigm. 

Have you ever sought out teaching opportunities at a library school? Volunteered for the ALA Committee on Accreditation? Even *know* anyone on the committee? Have you joined ALISE and tried to network with LIS educators on how to improve the profession and the study of librarianship and information science? Been involved in your library school or ischool alumni association? Written a letter to key faculty or the dean of the school? Stormed campus and demanded change?

I know all too well how easy it is to be an “armchair quarterback” but the only way our profession will reinvent itself and thrive is when we professional librarians take an active and strong interest in making this happen. Lets all “make this happen” together.

A few thoughts (with a lot of questions) come to mind:

First, I did not know the ALA’s Committee on Accreditation (COA) took volunteers.   If I was not so busy as I am already, I would probably volunteer to be on it.  And piggybacking on that, I remember when COA came to visit Pratt when I was a student there.  The committee members took the time to speak with students and they truly loved our feedback.   I wonder – do they speak with alumni as well?  Should that be part of the accreditation process?

(I also was an ALISE member a few years ago, back when I was a student and my philosophy was JOIN ALL THE ORGS BECAUSE STUDENT RATES ARE CHEAP.)

There are schools that are truly looking to evolve and change, so the picture doesn’t look totally bleak.   The first that comes to mind is the University of Washington’s iSchool.  I am often jealous of the opportunities that my friend that were students had there.  I have also noticed a change in Pratt’s offerings and attitudes towards LIS education in the past six years. When I was a student, you can tell clearly from course offerings that they were a pure L-school.  We did not have to prepare a theis or capstone project since our dean did not feel that the work was worth it until we (librarians) were paid better.   Since I left, our dean worked hard to offer more in digital humanities and cultural heritage – hiring faculty in these key areas and changing course offerings. I was sad to see some instructors go, but understood why – the profession had changed, but their syllabi didn’t.

I’m also lucky enough to still live close by to my library school that I can remain involved, but what about those students that do not – or who did a purely online degree?  My school did not offer any online courses (both the library school and the institute as a whole – very hard to offer online classes in a school based in studio art and architecture!) so I always felt more connected to the community, since I had a physical representation of my education.  What about students at Drexel, or Rutgers, or San Jose – any school whose classroom amounts to pixels on a screen?

Is it also time for profession-wide licensing, as this response to Matthew’s post hints? 

 It shouldn’t be so difficult for new grads to find employment, but I don’t think that it’s entirely fair to lay blame at the feet of library schools when every job at every institution comes with a different set of requirements and expectations, and employers are in the position to be unbending on what they want from applicants. It’s hard to prepare students for a job market that has no clear or stable direction.

And more from another commenter on the identity crisis on the MLS:

I have to say that although a lot of the threads on ALATT [ALA Think Tank] are helpful and interesting, the latest thread about job titles was really disappointing. I was appalled by the number of colleagues who believe that you are a librarian if you simply “feel” or “think” you are, regardless of education.

Is the solution for a profession that has different requirements at different schools a national licensing exam?   Of course, this is the role the COA plays now, but does it need to be more stringent?  A solution may lie across the pond.

The United Kingdom equivalent of the ALA, CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), publishes the Professional Knowledge and Skills Base.  This document places ethics at the center of the skill set, and then breaks down skills into two groups – one of profession-specific, and one more generic skill set.   Some of the skills that are covered include:

  • Literacies and Learning
  • IT and Communication
  • Knowledge and Information Management
  • Research Skills
  • Leadership and Advocacy

There is a similar document, the Standards of Accreditation, on the COA’s website, but my research found that this has not been updated since 2008(If there is an updated Standards somewhere, please do point me to it.)

The question about the licensure exam may find an answer in CILIP’s Chartership process.  Participants in the Chartership process are required to find a mentor and build a portfolio to show continued coursework, speaking engagements, writings, and membership in the profession.  (My friend Jo Alcock went through the chartership process last year and details the process on her blog.)  Many library schools use a similar process as part of their degree requirements but it’s patchwork at best.  My friends at the UW iSchool and at Southern Connecticut State University had to do a portfolio for graduation, but my sister at Rutgers did not appear to, and my library school did not require a portfolio until this year.  I remember bringing it up to students when I was graduating and I was told it was “too much work” and that the Practicum course that was required for some, but not all, students filled that need!

Clearly, we know there is a problem with our skill sets and figuring out who is, and is not, a librarian.  What role can the COA play in figuring this out?  What role can we play in finding a solution?

(More to come – I just discovered that the Circulating Ideas podcast did a “state of the MLS” episode!)

Hey Libraries: It’s Not Me, It’s You Part 2: Who Gets to Keep the Couch?

Every breakup features that moment where the recently split couple figures out who gets what – the couch, the dog, the mutual friends. The reason I got to host a radio show my senior year of college?  I broke up with the guy who had it first, and I got it in the breakup because he didn’t want it anymore.*

Now, what do you do when you break up with a library?  Do you get to keep the generic “librarian” title as a way to identify yourself for future endeavors in and outside library land?

Bobbi Newman, aka the Librarian by Day, argues yes - even in a culture that says no.

Like Bobbi, I hold an MLS, but don’t work in a traditional library setting. (Again, if you know me, or know how to find me online, you know where I work.)  But, I remain active in ALA, blogging, writing, serving on committees, attending conferences, and speaking. I do this mostly on my own time and my own finances, though I do get some support from where I work.

For the most part, it seems to have worked very well. Except when I encounter situations like Bobbi mentions – surveys that seem to have no place for me in my little non-library job.  Checking the “other” box not only marginalizes my contributions to the profession, but also prevents the organization from collection valuable detailed data about its members.

And then there’s people who don’t seem to take the MLS’s who don’t work in libraries seriously.  I am fully convinced that the reason I have run for ALA Council three times and lost each time – by ridiculously small margins too – is because of the perception from some members that because I do not work in a library, I do not “know” about library issues and would not represent them effectively. 

I put that in bold because it makes me angry.  It’s an ugly truth that I am sure people will deny until the cows come home.  But it’s a truth that needs to be said.  I have a CV that shows a laundry list of professional accomplishments. (It’s right over here, in fact.)  I have been asked by notables within RUSA to serve on committees and edit Reference and User Services Quarterly.  I’ve presented/spoken at conferences large and small, from THATCamp Libraries to ACRL – and now Internet Librarian this fall.  I have people who walk up to me at conference wanting to meet me because they follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn, or who find me later on Facebook and remember that they talked to me in the airport a couple of years ago.  (Sometimes I don’t remember their names, and if you’re one of those people, I deeply apologize.  I love you just the same, I’m just getting up there in age. :) )

And for some people, that just isn’t enough.  Because I do not have that magic word of Librarian in my title, I am clearly Not A Librarian And Don’t Know a Bloody Thing About Libraries.  Which, if you look at everything in that previous paragraph, is farthest from the truth.

I have struggled with the question of “if I change my job and go work in a library, and do nothing else with my professional life after that, will it be my golden ticket into ALA leadership?”  If that is all it takes to ascend the higher ranks of ALA – to be elected to Council or even ALA president – I’m not sure I want to be a part of ALA, or libraries, anymore.

We talk about diversity in libraries, focusing on gender and race.  That diversity should extend to employment.   Don’t believe me? Take a look at the I Need a Library Job website and the keywords they use for job searching.  There’s around 50, and only two of them – “librarian” and “library” – are the words which we hold dear.

Bobbi puts it perfectly – “I believe it is important for libraries and librarians to have supporters outside of librarianship. The diversity of librarians is important just as diversity of supports is important.” Those supporters won’t come if the playing field makes them feel like outcasts the moment they set their foot on the field.  Which is my challenge to ALA and all our other professional organizations – to think long and hard about how people who have the library degree are working in professions that aren’t in the standard library boxes, and how to make them feel welcome, in ways both large and small.  (No more “other” boxes on surveys asking what kind of library you work in would be a nice start, as Bobbi indicates.)

I know several of you are considering breaking up with libraries, or have done so already, based on my earlier post.  Make sure this profession lets you hold on to that title, because you worked hard for it, and still will work for it, no matter where your career path takes you.  They can keep the couch.

* Nobody listened. Because I had really bad taste in music back then.

Hey Libraries: It’s Not Me, It’s You

So Librarian Drupalvangelist Nina McHale announced that she is leaving her current library job as of 10 June to work outside the field for a Drupal developer.  Coupled with a co-worker announcing his departure this week (it’s an internal move, and a good one for him, and a good one for our team in that his presence will allow for better inter-department relations), and even the host of my favorite web series (The Brain Scoop) announcing her new job at the Field Museum in Chicago, I start thinking: Is it time for me to make the leap? Hey Libraries, do we need to break up – and it’s not me – it’s you?

I have many of the same grievances that Nina has with libraries:  low pay, poor (but improving) library-publisher-vendor relations, lack of self-marketing skills, etc.  As an MLS working in a non-traditional career (library resource provider, if you know me you know the place), I’ve tried to work on reform from within on that second one.  But after running for ALA Council three times and and losing each time, do I have any more fight within me to run again, at least while in my current job?

But then there’s libraries.  And more questions.  Do I want to work somewhere where I have to fight for the existence of my job each year?  Where my master’s degree results in compensation of $32,000 a year? (By the way, that was the posted salary for a library director in Tinton Falls, NJ.  No kidding.)  Now I know that one does not simply walk into the library profession with expectations of a six figure salary, but a livable wage (of which $32k a year is not, at least in my part of the United States) should be a bare minimum and certainly not something our profession has to fight for on a near-daily basis.

I’ve been writing websites since the days of Geocities (RIP), and managed to get some Drupal (and self-hosted WordPress site) skills under my belt, mostly on nights, weekends, and lunch hours.  I still have much to learn, but I have learned enough to know that maybe a career in web design and content strategy – where I can use principles from my library education in a career where self-marketing is welcomed and where I am properly compensated for my skills – is the next step.

And then there’s a training career, which I would have not discovered a passion for if it wasn’t for the T is for Training podcast folk.  (My mom was a teacher – maybe I inherited the gene from her and it just stayed dormant?)  And what about a research-based job?  I have friends in research professions, like my library school friend Jessica Speer who is a researcher for DePaul University, or my friend Melody Clark who works at University of Washington’s Technology and Social Change Group (TASCHA).   And I don’t count out that dream of getting another degree, which depending on day has varied from resurrecting the LIS Ph.D. dream to a Master’s in Public Administration, to a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership to the MBA.

As Nina indicates, “Maybe after immersing myself in a non-library web development for a good long, I’ll have the skills and experience to come back and help solve some of these issues.”   Perhaps I need that kind of break as well.  Much to think about this summer, for sure.

Show Me the Awesome: The No Library Whining Zone Experiment

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This blog post is part of the Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion blog series, started by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, and Kelly Jensen.  Artwork by the (extremely talented) John Lemasney.

We all complain. It’s a fact of life.  Yesterday, I complained about my work computer being slow, “signal problems”* on the uptown 4/5 at afternoon rush hour, the rain, chintzy costume jewelry, and the fact that Helen Fielding is reviving Bridget Jones for one more book**.

Us librarians also complain about our libraries. That’s also a fact of life – and it’s hard not to complain when the news is not always in our favor. Budget cuts, lack of jobs for talented new grads, e-books, conference costs, awards and the deserving (or sometimes undeserving) – even our day-to-day struggles.  People complaint to vent, or to motivate themselves to get things done.

Right after I returned from the ACRL conference and holiday with my family in Florida, I noticed that complaining reached critical mass.  It had moved from constructive discussion to whining – which is good for stress relief but not good in the long term when one kvetches about the same problems over and over with no productive solution in sight. That kind of environment makes it hard for those of us who want to have constructive dialogue difficult.

With all this in mind (along with a refreshed and revived belief in my profession), I proposed the No Library Whining Zone, a social experiment to see if we could just shut out the negativity about libraries and librarianship for a mere 24 hours in social media.  To add some fun to the proceedings, I even offered prizes for those who formally signed up to participate.

The rules were simple:

  • You must not whine about libraries in social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) for a total of 24 hours – from noon EST on 2 May, to 12:01 PM EST on 3 May. 
  • Private IM conversations or meetings were exempt from the ban – I wanted to make sure people who needed to vent about stress had an outlet to do so.
  • Prescheduled blog posts that may be in violation of the ban were allowed as long as I had the heads up first. (Personal blogs, though, were not exempt.)
  • People were on the honor system – if you broke the pledge, you had to self-report it (a la That Infamous Seinfeld Episode, The Contest)

We had 62 people formally take the pledge to go whine-free (via a Google form), and only one broke the pledge.  Many others who did not sign up formally took the pledge just for personal challenge.   People embraced the idea and shared library love all over Twitter with the hashtag #nolibrarywhining – which, in the spirit of being positive, was changed on suggestion of several to #goodlibrarykarma!

As for the prizes, thanks to some generous donations from fellow librarians, I was able to award several prizes – two top prizes to two librarians who went above and beyond what was required of the pledge, and then fifteen smaller prizes (honorable mention) based on Random Number Generator.  And everyone will receive a #goodlibrarykarma ribbon for participation.  (In fact, now is a good time to remind you that if you did participate, check this post about prizes to see if you have won, and get in touch with me if you did!)

The idea was not without its critics – the largest being that I was forcing people to be “Nice” – faking joy when joy was not present, or taking away what can motivate people to make change.  That’s why I added a few outs – if you needed to vent, you could do so in a private context.  If you had something written months ago that was due to go live, I didn’t want to take away that credit from you.

Would I do it again? Yes.  There’s talk of a “No Whining Wednesday” that we can hopefully get off the ground.  At the same time, I’m hesitant to make this some sort of Special Day Thing – shouldn’t being more positive and watching how we present our ideas in public circles be just an everyday thing, like breathing or eating?

I would be remiss if I did not mention, and pay proper credit to, my friend Heather Monroe Kinne, who came up with this idea in our knitting community months ago in response to a very serious spate of bullying.   It was her idea of #MoreLove that got the idea started in the back of my head earlier this year.  Sometimes we need to look outside our libraries to find the inspiration we need.

I leave you with a song from the most recent Eurovision Song Contest (no, not that one or that one) that I feel sums up the ideas of #goodlibrarykarma and making our world a better place.

 

* Every good New Yorker knows that “signal problems can often be a euphemism for something else.

** Seriously. Let it end. (This footnote is an ironic way of ending a post about promoting positive attitudes, isn’t it? :) )

In Which I Break WordPress, and Then Fix It. All In the Course of 48 Hours.

Oh the drama of web development….

After building two sites in Drupal in the course of three months (here’s a sneak peek of the other one – it’s still in beta so please be kind!), I got rather confident that I could move my blog, The Librarian Kate, from wordpress.com to a self-hosted site on wordpress.org

Perhaps I was a little too confident.

 The first migration (of librariankate7578.com) went smoothly…until I had to clear my web cache for some reason (not related to WordPress), and got logged out of the site.  When I attempted to log back in, I received this error message:

broken_wp

Yep. I went and broke WordPress on my own site.  I’m all about breaking things, mind you, but intentionally.

Attempts at the various WordPress solutions, along with scrapping the existing database for a fresh new database and new WordPress installation proved fruitless.  I couldn’t even post on the WordPress forum with the problem – although I registered with the WordPress forums, I have yet to receive any sort of login confirmation.

The possible reason for this is something that is so simple and completely my fault: using the default “admin” for the administrator login for my blog.   WordPress has been the target of brute force attacks – the simplest kind of hack that goes after simple usernames and passwords.  Since I left the default username on admin, that’s the first possibility.  It’s also possible that the wp-login.php file is just plain corrupted, though installing a new file via FTP didn’t solve the problem.

Fortunately, my old wordpress.com account still exists and I was able to import a backup of my posts into a subdomain of my portfolio site – blog.katekosturski.info – using Drupal.  This was a good blog in exile, but it had limitations – I wasn’t able to receive notifications of new users and comments, nor was the importer able to import comments to earlier blog posts. I loves me some Drupal, but Drupal has limitations as a blog platform.

By 6 AM this morning, I was able to reinstall WordPress (that is not a typo – I do my best work while waiting for my hair to dry, it seems. :), and by lunchtime, re-import the old post and get things back the way I want them to be.

I decided to keep the new sub-domain as a means of keeping all my professional content in one place.  The old blog URL (librariankate7578.com) redirects here, which saves me time and money (don’t have to get business cards reprinted).   (If you subscribe via RSS, you’ll need to get the new feed.)

Whew.  At least I learned something along the way.  And that’s not a bad thing, really.

The No Library Whining Zone: The End…or The Beginning? (and Prizes!)

First, a quick update on my anxiety inducer, the ALA Elections.  I ran for – believe it or not – three offices: 

I was kind of hoping to have an ALA Triple Crown election season – it would have been the first Triple Crown of any kind since the year I was born (in horse racing, but still).  

We had 64 people openly pledge via my Google Form to go 24 hours – one day – without complaining, whining or just being plain snarky about libraries – be it their library or the general state of the profession.  Nearly everyone kept the pledge for all 24 hours!  We also had folk who did not fill out the form for whatever reason (found out about it after I closed the form, wanted to do it on their own without incentive) also participate.   So wonderful!   People spread the love on Twitter with our two hashtags, #nolibrarywhining and #goodlibrarykarma. (The latter, and what we will use going forward, is courtesy of Andy Woodworth, Man Who is So Good With Hashtags He Will Have One For His Upcoming Wedding.*)

We’ll get to the reflections and Jerry Springer-esque final thoughts in a moment, but first the important stuff: PRIZES!

First, everyone who participated and was listed on the Google Form will receive a #goodlibrarykarma ribbon, to proudly wear at ALA Annual or your next conference and show that you support spreading the positive love about our profession, even when things don’t always look great.   The ribbons will be blue with yellow text to promote the sunshine we should bring to our colleagues’ lives.   If you took the pledge and are listed on this spreadsheet, you need to go to Column E (highlighted in yellow) and let me know if you are coming to ALA or not.  If you are, you can come find me and I will give you your ribbon.  If not, I will send it to your home or office.  If you did this independent of filling out my form and want a ribbon, let me know!  We’ll work something out.

Second, thanks to some generous donations, we have Fabulous! Prizes!  I wish I could award all of you a Fabulous Prize but, um, I have rent and student loans to pay. :)

First, I want to award two first prizes to two folk who took the pledge, and then went above and beyond that pledge.  They encouraged others on Twitter and spread word about it on their own blogs.  For their efforts, I am awarding Matt Kirschner and J. Shore each a $15 gift certificate to a store of their choosing.   Matt and J. Shore, get in touch with me via Facebook/Twitter DM/email (librariankate7578 at gmail dot com) for your addresses and where you would like some found money.  Their posts on the subject are linked above, so go read them!

(Although she did not fill in the form, I did find another great post from Bonnie Powers on topic when my post got a pingback.  You should go read her post as well!)

Second, I want to award 15 $5 Starbucks gift cards to 15 people that took and completed the pledge by Ye Olde Random Number Generator, using the row numbers from the original spreadsheet.  Those 15 people are as follows:

  1. Margaret Driscoll
  2. Laura P.
  3. Tomissa Porath
  4. Michelle, aka @winelibrarian on Twitter
  5. Katherine Adelberg
  6. Claire Schmieder
  7. Holly Blosser
  8. Naomi Toftness
  9. Krista Nolan
  10. Carson Block
  11. Elizabeth Moreau
  12. Carrie Cleary
  13. Amelia, aka @litjrzygirl on Twitter
  14. Leigh Milligan
  15. Rosalyn Metz

These 15 folk, plus our two other winners, are highlighted in Orange on the list I linked above. Please get in touch with me via Facebook/Twitter DM/email (librariankate7578 at gmail dot com) for your preferred mailing address.  (You’ll also get your ribbon in the mail with your gift card.)

Everything should be sent out by the end of May/beginning of June, once I get the ribbons ordered.

And now, some final thoughts….

Is this going to be an ongoing thing?  Yes.  J. Shore declares that we should make every Wednesday a “No Whine Wednesday” – and I am completely on board.  Thus, if you would like, every Wednesday, take a pledge as best you can to refrain from being snarky, complaining, or being a Debbie Downer about our great profession in public social media spaces.  If you want to take it further, great – some people were doing it in their offices, others had accountability buddies. I love so much that folk took this and made it their own – and also shared how their lives improved as a result!

I will have plenty of ribbons at ALA (along with what was my ALA election tagline, “ALA is IKEA Furniture”) at Annual Conference, so if you are there and want to either learn more about #goodlibrarykarma or pledge to participate, find me (I’m easy to find since I will be wearing a tiny top hat each day) and I will be more than happy to give you one and talk about ways we can improve library culture, online and offline.  This discussion can, should, and will continue. Liz Burns (you may know her from her blog on School Library Journal) shared some thoughtful questions I want to use as a springboard for discussion on our workplace cultures that I leave you with as final thoughts:

  1. When does someone change from someone who has voiced a complaint to a complainer? How can one do one productively without becoming a chronic complainer who is no longer heard?
  2. How can one voice disagreement in a constructive way? Is it possible to do without being misinterpreted?
  3. Is it possible to have sarcasm or snark or a joke online, especially in a fluid, changing context such as twitter, where an individual tweet may be taken out of a bigger context?
  4. Is silence acceptance? When is it just a lost exercise to voice disagreement, and when does it matter?
  5. What is the best way to deal with the frustrations of getting one’s buttons pushed online, sometimes deliberately, other times not so?

My sincerest thanks to all who participated in any way.   Blessings to all of you!

* I dare you, Woodworth. :D

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The No Library Whining Zone: A Social Experiment

Call it refreshed perspective from the double-team of ACRL and a relaxing holiday in Florida, but I came back to find that library land seems to have gotten their knickers in a knot of late.  If it wasn’t the New York Times attempting to be “on it” with archivists, or another editorial from the Annoyed Librarian that hit every button (and some we didn’t know existed), the ALA election results countdown (that’s mine), or the latest Pew report – something had the collective profession up in knots and on edge – and ready to go Will McAvoy loose cannon.

This, coupled with some self-reflection on my own anxiety and negative attitudes towards my professional life (and a side dish of a Twitter conversation with Andy Woodworth, Liz Burns, and Steve Thomas), leads me to propose a social experiment:  Not publicly complaining or whining about libraries – anything from your crazy patrons to the state of the profession – for 24 hours, starting tomorrow (2 May) at noon EST, and ending at 12:01 PM EST on 3 May.

The full rules are here (and are still under some form of development, so you may see minor changes in the next couple of hours), and if you would like to participate, sign up here.  And yes, there are prizes. :)

No good experiment goes uncriticized….

The beauty of social media is the ability to share an idea quickly and easily.  The other side is that criticism to your idea can be shared just as easily, and just as quickly.  I wanted to add a section here to respond to what I saw, hopefully answering questions and alleviating concerns.

This experiment does not advocate not talking about your problems, forcing joy, hiding stress, or anything related to those ideas.  I’ve been in talk therapy for depression for 3+ years, and I know firsthand the benefits of venting when you have a problem.  Do not let taking this pledge affect your mental health and emotional well-being.  In short: IF YOU NEED TO VENT TO SOMEONE ABOUT A BAD DAY AT WORK, VENT – but do it privately.  Mad about what the Annoyed Librarian said this week? Take it offline, at least for a day.   Upset because your budget got slashed?  Take if offline for a day.   Private conversations are exempt from the #nolibrarywhining pledge (that’s our hashtag on Twitter, use it!), as are posts you may have scheduled weeks ago to go live (for example, an opinion piece in Library Journal or ACRL TechConnect).

This experiment is also not intended to advocate being a “nice” person (you know, that bad connotation the word “nice” can bring, particularly for women) and withholding necessary criticism to make this profession better.  I welcome criticism in all its forms – otherwise, I would not be devoting half a blog post to answering what I have already seen in response to my proposal.  I view this as a palate cleanser*, a chance to regain balance in acting out of emotion (that has the potential to damage your professional reputation) and thoughtfully contributing to conversation.

I hold no illusions about changing the world with this (except for the person who wins because they will have $25 of found money to their favorite shop).  It’s not for everyone.  I emphasize this is an experiment – it could be a complete bust and everyone fails within half hour of the pledge period starting.   Or, it could lead to a larger dialogue about how we support each other and our institutions and how we communicate and present ourselves.   We can go either way.

A co-worker has the following photo in her office:

Photo1

(apologies for poor photo quality – I was taking this on the run).

This “THINK” philosophy is good to live by, and one I want to try to implement in my life.  I don’t see it as inhibiting constructive criticism – in fact, I see it as helping it.   My hope is that by taking a day to abstain from being reactionary in negative ways to our profession, we can step back, THINK, and form something very thoughtful later.  Social media makes it too easy to not THINK.

On a final note, I would be remiss if I did not mention, and pay proper credit to, my friend Heather Monroe Kinne, who came up with this idea in our knitting community months ago in response to a very serious spate of bullying.   It was her idea of #MoreLove that got the idea started in the back of my head months ago, and everyone else mentioned earlier that gave it the time and place to start. (She devotes an episode of her podcast The Fiberista Files to it, but I’m having problems getting on her page right now to link to the episode.)

I hope you will join us in a brief day of celebrating the positive aspects of our profession and our workplaces, putting on hold everything that makes us frustrated about libraries, if only for a day.

* Evidence I watch a lot of cooking shows, though credit goes to Sophie Brookover for using the term first.

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Leaning In Without Falling Out of Your Seat

I just finished Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In – a fascinating work.  While most of her arguments and anecdotes were not new information to me (have heard and read them elsewhere), two particular passages from the book struck me:

From page 132 (emphasis mine):

It’s not only working parents who are looking for more hours in the day; people without children are also overworked, maybe to an even greater extent…After the married women spoke about how hard it was to balance their lives, the single woman interjected that she was tired of people not taking her need to have a life seriously.  She felt that her colleagues were always rushing off to be with their families, leaving her to pick up the slack.  She argued “My coworkers should understand that I need to go to a party tonight – and this is just as legitimate as their kids’ soccer game – because going to a party is the only way I might actually meet someone and start a family so I can have a soccer game to go to one day!”  I often quote this story to make sure single employees know that they, too, have every right to a full life. 

The gut reaction upon reading this passage (since I could not do the Dance of Joy right there on Metro North) was, “YES. THIS.” In my previous life in Lawyer Land, I worked in a firm that prided itself on being a family friendly environment with flexible work arrangements for support staff with families, and (until the policy was abused) a very liberal attitude towards children in the office.  I was never discriminated outright in that job as a single, childless woman and was happy to work in a firm where family was as important as your billable hours. In the legal industry, it is very hard for women to find that career/family balance.  However, I was not without my self-doubt.  Was the fact that I wanted to leave early to pursue graduate education or take a day off to go to a program at the Museum of Modern Art less important than my colleagues who had to take time off because their children were sick or had an unexpected snow day?  What was being said behind my back?  Was it affecting how people perceived my work ethic?

I’m in an office now with much different demographics than that law firm, but when I have those moments of doubt about my right to a full life (even if that life is without children), I know that I deserve that right.

From page 164:

The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves.  Acting like a coalition truly does produce results.  In 2004, four female executives at Merrill Lynch started having lunch together once a month. They shared their accomplishments and frustrations.  They brainstormed about business.  After the lunches, they would all go back to their offices and tout one another’s achievements.  They couldn’t brag about themselves, but they could easily do it for their colleagues. Their careers flourished and each rose up the ranks to reach managing director and executive office level.  The queen bee was banished, and the hive became stronger. (Source)

Search back to my earlier posts on gender in libraries and you’ll be able to keenly sense my despise for the attitude we have in our profession for eating our young, being the Mean Ones (Girls and Guys) – in short, a cutthroat attitude.   Now, this should not be interpreted as “don’t be competitive” – finding a job, and staying good at that job to advance and allow you to take the next steps in your career, require a certain level of drive.  (Remember: THERE IS NO SILVER SPOON.)  But, don’t let that drive take over your life.  You will burn many bridges you can’t afford to lose.

As you know, I ran for ALA Council for the third consecutive year, this year with an informal ticket of candidates.  I would be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t going through anxiety about election results, and a massive amount of self-doubt about my ability to win an election.  I would also be lying if I said I wouldn’t be upset if I didn’t win – because I worked my keister off (along with my fellow  ticket members) to campaign for the seat. (I now have keen awareness of the mental, physical, and emotional toll that Presidential candidates go through – even for an association office, the campaign work was tiring*.)  What I will not do is let that anger and sadness dictate my life, especially to my fellow candidates – building each other up does so much more than taking each other down.  We all pledged this evening to support whomever from our caucus won, give virtual hugs and pep talks to those that didn’t, and not let jealousy, bitterness, and spite over one election dictate the rest of our professional lives.  (And then go out for shawarma afterwards.**)

Lean In is not without its controversy (see this, this, and this - and that’s just a very small sample set), but it is a fascinating read that affected me in many ways.  I hope to continue expounding on Sandberg’s thoughts.

* True story: Back in December 2008, I happened to be visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art the same day as Bill and Hillary Clinton – and came face to face with the former Secretary of State.  She looked lovely, but she also looked old.  You could tell that the 2008 primary took a toll on her in many ways.   After this ALA election cycle, I have empathy for what she went through. (As for Bill – he looked GREAT. Veganism looks good on him.)

** ALA Election results are posted on 3 May 2013, the same day as the United States release of Iron Man 3.  The shawarma jokes, they write themselves.

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Who Rule the World? Girls – Part 2a: When the Bullied Becomes the Bully

Library-land has had more than its fair share of Internet bullying of late (see this and this) and I thought I had seen it all.   I thought we had reached the darkest portions of the ugly underbelly of the Internet.

And then the Adria Richards story broke.  And that ugly underbelly reached depths I never thought possible.

For those not familiar with the story (now being called “Donglegate”), here’s the basics:

  • SendGrid developer Adria Richards is at PyCon (largest gathering of developers of open source programming language Python), when she overhears two male developers use certain technical terms (“fork” and “dongle”) in a sexual manner.
  • Rather than confront the men about their inappropriate language and violation of the PyCon Code of Conduct, Adria decides to take their photo without their consent and publicly share it on Twitter and the conference Twitter feed.
  • After meeting with all parties involved in the matter, PyCon officials remove the men from the conference.
  • One subsequently gets fired from his job at PlayHaven.
  • The Internet explodes.  And by “explodes” I mean a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack against her company, online petitions calling for her firing, and some other very ugly things I won’t talk about here.
  • SendGrid fires Richards.

The first, and thus far, best, post I read on the matter, from Amanda Blum, sums it up simply and effectively:   Nobody wins.

We now have two talented developers – one with a family to support, another making strides for her gender in a primarily male world – without jobs.

We have two companies who had opportunities to use this horrid incident as a teachable moment – for their employees, for their company, for the tech world.  Instead, they pushed the panic button.  Now they are without two talented people on their staff and have reputations to rebuild.

We have seen the ugliest side of the internet.   No one, no matter how toxic a character, deserves such serious threats.  NO. ONE.  Have we really stooped that low to wish criminal acts and loss of life on someone?

We have done a disservice for women, at a time when we need to thoughtfully and carefully explore and unpack issues of women in the workplace.  I don’t agree with what Richards did – from what I have read, she is a strong personality and rubs many the wrong way – but she could have handled it in a much more professional, measured and classy way – with just the gentlemen directly involved and conference officials.  (That’s a sad lesson I learned in college – the more you involve in a dispute, the bigger the fallout becomes.)  Taking photos without consent and making examples of people is not the right way to do it.  It makes women in tech and women in the workplace look like shrill bitches.  (And with that, this blog now gets a PG-13 rating.) Again, this was a highly teachable moment, and Richards blew it.

The Library Journal Movers and Shakers award brings out the haters (a small but loud group), at a time when we should be honoring and celebrating our peers. It’s easier to hide behind the veil of social media or the veil of criticism when airing very strong views.  I saw people take down some of this year’s winners in all matter of ways, all stemming from a justified personal offense.  However, when the bullied becomes the bully in pursuit of redemption for their wrong, things go too far.

As I did back in February, I call for calm.  I call for measured discussion.  I call to act and behave as the adults and professionals we are.   I saw some very ugly behavior from people I have met at conferences and interact with on Twitter daily, and it makes me very sad. No one wants to watch their friends and colleagues commit professional suicide, and I saw quite a bit of that last week.

To quote VentureBeat’s reporting:

Everyone escalated, instead of taking a half a moment to think, relax, chill, give the benefit of the doubt, be a little easy-going, and realize that everyone is bloody well human and we all make mistakes.

Guys. Seriously.  Let’s stop acting like children.  NOW.

I hope that our own community of plugged in librarians learns (or has learned) from their awful behaviors of the past few weeks.  I also hope things never go as far as they did with Richards this week.   If they do, I’ll be out of this profession faster than you can say “Ranganathan.”

Additional Coverage: 

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