Monday, September 29, 2014

Rockstars as Red Herrings: On Librarianship and Safe Spaces

Two librarians are being sued in a Canadian court for making statements in public that were already made in private, via informal "whisper networks."
The ‘whisper network’ – if you’ve worked in an office, you probably know it. There are two sides to that network. One is destructive and full of gossip, one is empathetic and fiercely protective. I’ll focus on the latter side and its importance in supporting those undermined in a working environment. The ‘whisper network’ creates a safe haven to discuss problems and prejudices experienced, warn others of harassers, and bolster camaraderie. (Source)
Across multiple media, Lisa Rabey and nina de jesus wrote that Joe Murphy has made women feel unsafe at library and information science conferences. Murphy's response was not to reflect and reevaluate his behavior, but to serve the two other librarians with a lawsuit, presumably in an attempt to silence them and receive compensation for reputational damages, never mind that informal networks were discussing his behavior as far back as 2010. The details on the lawsuit are here.

Murphy is a frequent presenter and sits on at least one conference selection committee. Within the last week, at least three librarians have written on the topic of "library rockstars" that, one assumes, are at least partially directed at him. These posts are well-written and thought-provoking. Please read them. Later. Much later. As the title of this blog post states, focusing on rockstars, American Library Association Emerging Leaders, Library Journal Movers & Shakers, trendspotting conference presenters, serial keynoters, and the like, is a red herring, a distraction, a derail, and a smoke screen.

The implicit argument made by these librarian authors is that upon becoming rockstars, librarians' sense of entitlement grows, which may lead to sexual harassment. One author notes that rockstars are made, a cultural construct that implicates library and information science professionals, and that we can and should unmake them. This thesis ignores the many of acts of sexual harassment, microaggressions, and other behaviors by librarians that take place every day that make our colleagues feel unsafe and unwelcome. Getting rid of rockstars will not end sexual harassment, and will not create safe spaces for our colleagues. But that argument, placing blame on rockstars, does make librarianship, writ large, feel better about itself, and make librarians feel better about themselves. It is not us, not our fellow LIS professionals that create, propagate, and reinforce these norms. No, it is rockstars that are the problem. 

It is hard to look in the mirror in general, and harder still for many librarians. We make things accessible. We serve the public. We want information to be free. And we do this among budget cuts, hiring freezes, and salaries that do not always reflect our work and our value to the communities we serve. As such, there is a tendency to think that libraries are not oppressive spaces, and that librarians are free of bias when compared to other professions. Focusing on rockstars allows us to continue to think this way.
The library is an institution, which has policies to define who is and is not a member, channels to resolve disputes, as well as feedback mechanisms. These structures intentionally legitimate some behaviors, and just as purposefully discriminate against others. 
Many libraries deliberately practice social exclusion. Exclusion may also be an unintentional consequence, along with the illusion of community expertise where there is none.* The library is not unique or alone in this. Every institution has ways to include and exclude. Whether these actions and practices are intentional or unintentional is in many ways besides the point. Libraries, and librarianship, are implicated and often strengthen them. (Source)
Joe Murphy has Lisa and nina on trial. But they're on trial every day as women, and as women in technology. One is often an outspoken advocate for mental health and overcoming the stigmas that publicly discussing mental illness brings. The other is a trans woman of color who cannot use the bathroom at her place of work without suffering some sort of aggression, micro- or otherwise. In this sense, they are not the "perfect" people to speak out against Joe Murphy's behavior because their marginalized statuses make them easier to discount and dismiss. Librarians and librarianship have created and reinforced an environment, couched in cis white heteronormativity and suppression of dialogue on mental health, that enables people like Lisa and nina to be sued for speaking up. And writing about rockstars, blaming them, rather than interrogating ourselves and supporting Lisa and nina furthers these discourses.

There are worthy and important conversations to be had about how we as librarians place people on pedestals, how we create LIS rockstars, their demographics, and how they behave. Reflect on that, yes, after we reflect on the transphobic and ableist reactions to the defendants and what we as librarians and information professionals have done to bring us to this point.

Lisa and nina are looking for people who have witnessed or experienced the behavior they write about. If you fall into either of these categories, please consider coming forward. I understand that doing so may be triggering. Please take care of yourselves if this is the case.

If you would like to ask Joe Murphy to drop his lawsuit and reflect on his behavior, and I hope you do, please sign this petition.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I Get Letters: On the Library Job Market of the Future

At present, the most popular post I've ever written is about the woeful data both presented and collected on Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS). Every week hundreds of people read it. I received a rather interesting email from one such reader, who has graciously allowed me to post parts of it here, along with a response.
What gets cut off after that screencap is "... support her as an independent adult."

This reader had previously examined an article in a national magazine about the "worst" Masters degrees to obtain, in which the MLIS was the least desirable. I won't link to it here.*

Here is, in part, my reply.
For some time now, the American Library Association and MLIS programs have touted a wave of retirements from baby boomer librarians. This has yet to happen, and many librarians who retire are not replaced with newer librarians. Often, the responsibilities of the retiree get spread out amongst other library staff, or the retiree is replaced by part-time or volunteer staff.

However, your daughter will not obtain an MLIS until around the year 2024. None of us knows what the job market for MLIS holders will look like then. Even now, there are many positions outside of traditional library settings that an MLIS would be useful in. Medical records, corporate archives, information architecture, to name a few.

Your daughter is 13 years old. When I was 13 I wanted to be a marine biologist. I suspect her career plans will change as she continues her intellectual awakening and studies. Anything that you can do to encourage her intellectual development, including pursuing a career in information sciences, is a good thing in my book.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) may be of some help here. Behold the Occupational Handbook Outlook for both librarians

and archivists, curators, and museum staff.

Indeed, the BLS itself parrots the ALA and MLIS program line, writing "Later in the decade, prospects should be better, as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings." (Source)

Based on Library Journal's 2013 data, over 6,100 people graduated from ALA-accredited MLIS programs in 2012 (source is table 3), so the addition of 14,300 jobs in libraries, archives, and museums by 2022 will be dwarfed by just a few years of additional graduations from Library and Information Science Programs. But again, predicting the job market in 2025, or 2022 is tricky. In the meantime get creative; vote for government officials who will support the information professions, try to change the hearts and minds of those who don't or won't; if you have money to spare, give it to EveryLibrary, our profession's political action committee; and always be advocating.

* According to this magazine's ranking one year later, an MLIS is now "only" the third-worst Masters degree to obtain, so progress?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Ada Initiative Needs Your Help

Hi, I'm Jake, a cis het white male librarian. You may remember me from such posts as
Well, I'm back. Why?

Because of this:

Starting today, September 10th, 2014, and for the next five days, a group of librarians and information professionals will match donations to the Ada Initiative, up to $5,120, provided one gives via this link.

This group of LIS professionals is made up of Chris Bourg, Mark Matienzo, Bess Sadler, and Andromeda Yelton. Please thank them, then empty their wallets.

Here's what the Ada Initiative does.
The Ada Initiative supports women in open technology and culture. Stuff we do:
Anti-harassment policies used by hundreds of conferences
Ally skills for men so women don't have to fight sexism alone
Feminist conferences for women to share lessons learned and support each other
Training women to fight Impostor Syndrome and stay involved in open tech/culture (source)
Does the fight against sexism interest you?

If you're like me, you live on the Internet, and probably see a lot of disgusting, bigoted behavior rooted in misogyny. To wit:

and this. And this.

Trolls probably aren't going to go away, but the Ada Intiative helps eliminate and mitigate the effects of that behavior. It's a worthy cause.

You may have also noticed similar behaviors at conferences, necessitating the need for Codes of Conduct, and training. Well, the Ada Initiative does this, too, so please give early, and give often. Conference codes of conduct don't just help women, they protect other marginalized people from harassment. I would very much like to see my friends and colleagues enjoy conferences. I think conferences are improved by representative and substantive diversity and should be safe spaces. More importantly, I would like all of us to not deny each other's humanity.

Open technology and culture are for everybody. Conferences are for everybody. The Internet is for everybody. Video games are for everybody. Humanity is for everybody.

Please thank these information professionals for matching donations, because as one intrepid tweeter puts it:

No cookies, please. I have enough to eat. Just money, time, effort, and behavior.

Donate to the Ada Initiative

That link again: It may get you a sweet sticker, too.

Thank you.