Thursday, December 15, 2016

Librarians in the Age of Trump, Media Bias Edition

This infographic has been making the rounds in my social media bubble(s). Friends, librarians, and friends who are librarians have all shared it.

Via Vanessa Otero
I am uncomfortable with this infographic for two reasons. The first concerns political culture in the United States. The second is more library and information science (LIS) -centric.

First, the political economy, and as a result the political culture, of journalism in the United States is rife with false equivalence, which the above image reflects. Take the center gray circle, for example, helpfully labeled "Great sources of news." The Washington Post and National Public Radio have, in the past month, featured soft-focus articles on Richard Spencer, a neo-Nazi white supremacist. Meanwhile, CNN, "Better than not reading news at all," routinely hosts debates that feature neo-Nazis and/or climate change deniers.

This infographic neatly shows how abhorrent and wrong views make it into mainstream discourse, often under the guise of hearing from "both sides," as if denying climate change is a valid opinion, based in the scientific method. As if racist, bigoted hate speech deserves these platforms. The above image, in showing a level playing field between left and right, normalizes the normalizers.

Yet there is something more insidious about it. The idea that Hillary Clinton is a liar comes from the late New York Times op-ed columnist William Safire, who labeled her a "congenital liar" in a 1996 opinion article.* That same paper employed Judith Miller, who for years wrote uncritically about the non-existent weapons of mass destruction the George W. Bush Administration asserted Iraq possessed as a pretext for war. And yet as presented here, it is a great source of news, well within the mainstream.** All three of the news sources discussed above, as well as the television networks within that gray bubble of great news sources, devoted countless hours to Clinton's email scandal at the expense of actual policy issues, and breathlessly shared a Russian disinformation campaign designed to do lasting damage to our country. Meanwhile, The Nation, which on occasion will challenge the corporate-owned and venture capital-backed media organizations that sit to the slight right of it, is shown as barely credible. Per Stephen Colbert, reality has a liberal bias, yet the level playing field shown here distorts as much as it illuminates. Predictably, the best critique of mainstream media, liberalism, and facts I've read comes from Jacobin, taking square aim at the center and center-left of this infographic.
In fact, liberals’ nostalgia for factual politics seems designed to mask their own fraught relationship with the truth. The supposedly honest technocrats and managers — who enacted neoliberal measures with the same ferocity as their right-wing counterparts — relied on a certain set of facts to displace the material truths they refused to acknowledge.
One pictures Jacobin, like The Nation, placed somewhere near that hyperpartisan liberal line, with little journalistic value. Make of that what you will.

The United States, writ large, is not the only entity with a culture that would make this infographic so popular. Librarians, of which I am one, fancy themselves as defenders of facts, of truth, and of access to information. And on our best days, we are. But the same tendencies that lead librarians to create LibGuides for all sorts of issues, and that lead us to "one-shot" hour-long information literacy sessions as solutions to problems is behind the sharing of this very flawed image. Were this infographic to be the start of a conversation — and judging by the replies to Otero and discussion elsewhere, maybe we will get there — it would be one thing. However, it's far more likely that this image will be deployed as a bandage, covering a wound, allowing us to move on. Did something happen? Here's a LibGuide. Need to impart critical thinking skills in an hour? We can do that.*** Or, at least we say we can, rather than do what needs to be done, which is a far more thorough and deep embedding into our communities. Please do not uncritically share this image. There's much more work to be done. Thank you.

* That Clinton would refuse to release transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs and obfuscate about using a private email server did her no favors here.
** I have subscriptions to both the Times and the Post, and routinely donate to WAMU, Washington, DC's local National Public Radio station.
*** Librarians and library staff along should not bear the entirety of blame for the propagation of the one-shot, which is often all the time we are granted by teachers and administration.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Googling Google: Search Engines as Market Actors in Library Instruction

I wrote a lesson plan for Nicole Pagowsky and Kelly McElroy's Critical Pedagogy for Libraries Handbook, Volume 2.

The two-volume set is available for purchase at the ALA store. If you don't mind waiting, both volumes will go open access at some point in 2017 (this is very cool!), and many chapters are already available via institutional repositories and self-archiving, among other means.

My chapter (pdf) focuses on thinking critically about Google's search engine and how librarians can help foster a sense of critical inquiry around searching.
Google searches return sexist, racist, and homophobic results, which both create and reinforce dominant narratives of white supremacy and heteronormativity. That is bad; faculty, students, and librarians alike should know about it and attempt to mitigate the deleterious effects of search results.  
Did that read like a tumblr post to you? Good, because I think libraries should be about social justice (they are not neutral, never have been, nor should they be), and I try to hit that x-axis of practicing what I preach, otherwise known as praxis.
If you're interested in the topic, I encourage you to read the work of Dr. Safiya Noble, who teaches at UCLA, and note that library discovery systems are not free of bias. Not by a longshot.

The lesson plan is CC - BY - SA, which means you can use it, make it better, and then share it. Please do all these things. Feedback welcome, and thanks much to the editors above (buy the books!), and to the hundreds of students and handful of librarians and library staff who helped me refine the lesson.

Elsewhere on this site in me sneaking things through peer review, my ACRL 2015 paper: Faculty Perceptions of a Library: Paneling for Assessment

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hey, it's me. I just got off the train.

<Extremely Remi Malek voice> Hey, it's been a while. Here's what's new.

My good friend and colleague Jessica Olin had been asking me to contribute an interview post to her blog, Letters to a Young Librarian. I was concerned that it was too similar to a "This is How I Work" meme post (in the Dawkinsian sense, not the cats who can or cannot haz cheezburgers sense) that I wrote in late 2014, also because Jessica asked me to. I got settled, I think, at the new job, and tried to be self-aware enough to focus on what I do now as opposed to how I worked in 2014 at a previous job. So in that vein, here's a similar post. Compare and contrast.

Building on those posts, I'm making a conscious effort to do a few things differently at this job, with varying degrees of success.
  • Not eating at my desk: I know there are and will be days when I'll have to hunker down and get stuff done at my desk. Eating anywhere other than there is good. It gets me out of the library. It puts me in contact with other people I work with, and with people who either use or may use the library. 
  • Leaving the library more often: even if it's just to crash an event and get free food, and for the reasons mentioned above. 
  • Much more outreach: I'm just a boy, leaning into my discomfort, with talking to people about the library. 
  • Going for more walks: easier when your workplace has paths and trails that look like this 
Sour oranges. I may pick a couple for masitas de puerco.

Not sure if that's a Little Yellow or Sleepy Orange butterfly.

Earlier in the year, Dr. Sarah Clark and I discussed critical librarianship, or "critlib," on Steve Thomas' podcast, Circulating Ideas. I abhor the sound of my voice, but maybe you don't. She wrote about it, too.

Topics included diversity versus inclusion, information literacy, and cataloging critically, among other things.


Coming up, more blogging! Really. Because I have a book chapter to plug. And maybe I'll expound upon those bullet points.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Computers in Libraries 2016: The BeerBrarian Map

Since I live in DC, I thought an insider's perspective might be useful for the upcoming Computers in Libraries 2016 conference, which meets at the Hilton just north of Dupont Circle from Tuesday, March 8th, to Thursday, March 10th.

I'm attending on Tuesday, focusing on sessions about recent developments in discovery platforms and integrated library systems (ILS). Come say hi.

A brief word about the guide:
With a few exceptions, anything posted below have been vetted by me. These are places I frequent, or at least have been in. Not mentioned is that west of the conference there are many embassies, which would be a nice walk during breaks, or after the sessions have ended for the day.

The Washington Post's Going Out Guide is a bit unwieldy and probably needs to be updated, but remains useful.

I write for on the side. Here's their guide to beer in the area, which also needs some updates.

Though it's a bit of a hike for lunch, 14th St NW has blown up in terms of dining and bars; there's something for everyone at multiple price points that would be worth the walk for dinner.

If you're familiar with Dupont Circle and think I missed anything, please let me know.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Music and Beer, Beer and Music in 2015

My new job makes it harder to listen to music (note: do not interpret this as a complaint, yet), so we're going to do things a bit differently this year. Rather than ranking, here are twenty albums I liked in 2015, and continue to like, in alphabetical order by artist. Not interested in music? Beer here.

A few trends, if one can call it that:

Two Australian artists, Courtney Barnett and Royal Headache.
Heterodox black metal, or if you want to be snide about it, "hipster metal." The orthodoxy around genres sure was fun to argue about in the 90s. Now I reap the musical benefits of bands that sit slightly outside a scene.


Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color: Not sure I’d ever find myself in the position of praising a soul revival group for their use of negative space and minimalism in arrangements, but here we are.

Algiers - s/t: An incendiary, politically and otherwise, mix of post-punk, and no-wave. Picture James Baldwin fronting early TV on the Radio with Liquid Liquid and ESG producing and you're close.

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Sit: Wry, ramshackle alt-country reminiscent of both Uncle Tupelo and Pavement. One of the smartest lyricists around.

Cheatahs - Mythologies: These year-end lists usually contain a nu-gaze group, so here you go. (In all seriousness their first album sounded like a 90s tribute and they’ve done a good job breaking out of that mould here, incorporating post-punk rhythms, synths, and nifty production tricks.)

Beach House - Depression Cherry: Some subtle tweaks to their formula (louder guitars, organ loops, and even EDM) result in their best album yet. Throw a second 2015 release, Thank Your Lucky Stars, too.

Bjork - Vulnicura: Arca’s not my cup of tea, but the interplay between his beats and the strings are often challenging, and lyrically this is as real as Bjork’s gotten. It’s nice to have her back. Her best since Vespertine.

Chvrches - Open Every Eye: At times harsher, more industrial, and angular than their first. Closer to Depeche Mode. As it should be.

Dead to a Dying World - Litany: At their most beautiful they sound like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor 33 1/3rd LP being played at 45.

Deafheaven - New Bermuda: A bit more black metal, especially in the drumming, this time out, and none the worse for wear.

Holly Herndon - Platform: Out of chaos, order.

Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts - Manhattan: A man with a voice that can be described as “a more nasal Weird Al” does a Jim Carroll Band/Jonathan Richman thing, which reminds me of all that New York has lost.

Myrkur - M: I like the one that opens with haunting, ethereal vocals; Nordic folk instruments; and piano followed by abnormally well-produced, punishing black metal.

Obsequiae - Aria of Vernal Tombs: Putting the “folk” in folk metal.

Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper: An oddly funky psych-pop record, co-produced by a member of Spacemen 3, that still feels grounded, rooted, and homey.

Pinkish Black - Bottom of the Morning: Dungeon synths, metal, krautrock, and that drumming.

Royal Headache - High: The best album to sing along to this year.

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell: Another quiet gem. His most personal album, and maybe his best.

Tall Tales and the Silver Lining - Tightropes: Hook-heavy west coast 70s AM radio goodness.

Viet Cong - s/t: “March of Progress” alone is worth the price of admission.

Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp: Indie rock has taken a beating lately, but Waxahatchee’s last two albums have carried the torch.

Cheers: The triumphant returns of Belle and Sebastian, Bjork, Cannibal Ox, Faith No More, Sleater-Kinney, and The Sonics. Whatever is going on with Ryan Adams and Taylor Swift.

Jeers: I just can’t with a lot of hip hop these days. Sad. So it goes with getting older? The Swift-Adams thinkpieces.

Songs (in no particular order)

March of Progress - Viet Cong
The Blacker the Berry - Kendrick Lamar
Ondine - Lower Dens
Blank Space - Taylor Swift
Should Have Known Better - Sufjan Stevens
Energy - Drake
Need You - Royal Headache
24 Frames - Jason Isbell
Ex’s & Oh’s - Ellie King
Something to Believe In - Tall Tales and the Silver Lining
Signs to Lorelei - Cheatahs

Beer (Either new to the market or a new brewery release in 2015, in no particular order)

The locals:

Home - Ocelot (IPA): An admitted homage to Alpine's famed Nelson rye pale ale, see below, with slightly more cereal and grain in the body.
Nanticoke Nectar - Real Ale Revival (IPA): This brewery is crushing it. Big things. One thing a beer professional can do is introduce people to new things and champion them. Jace Gonnerman did that with RAR and Fairwinds, see below.
Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne - Right Proper (Berliner Weisse): Not too sour that I can't drink three of them. Floral, bone dry, and made within walking distance of my house.
Raspberry Dissonance - 3 Stars (Berliner Weisse): Not sure I can drink three of them, but I can drink two.
Black Twig - Albemarle Ciderworks: Their single-apple varietal ciders continue to impress.
Siren’s Lure - Fairwinds (Saison): Always nice when a brewery opens and immediately medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
Now in cans: Union Old Pro Gose, Port City Optimal Wit, 3 Stars Ghost White IPA.


Oktoberfest - Sierra Nevada-Brauhaus Riegel: Basically liquid perfection.
Left of the Dial - Notch (Session IPA)
Down to Earth - 21st Amendment (Session IPA): These session IPAs are the two best examples of hop-bursting I've encountered so far, moving this style away from what I'd ordinarily call a "bitter" to a category of its own.
Coffee Cinnamon Barrel-Aged Abominable - Fremont (Imperial Stout): This beer was so good that it literally silenced the room at a tasting.
Deux Rouges - Yazoo (Sour/wild ale): My favorite sour from SAVOR, no small feat.
Vinosynth White - Upland (Sour/wild ale): My second favorite, sorry Allagash.

New in the market:

Anything from Tired Hands: Greg Engert's persistence pays off yet again, as NRG bars and restaurants carry this Pennsylvania brewery. Look for more of this kind of arrangement in 2016.
Anything hoppy from Alpine: Not paying the six-pack prices, but it's nice to have these guys on tap.
Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin (IPA): My official beer of the summer.
Avery Liliko'i Kepolo (witbier): White Rascal was already my go-to Belgian in a can. Tropical fruit flavors and tartness take it up a notch.
Firestone Walker Pivo Pils: Yet another stupid good beer from a stupid good brewery.
Boulevard Ginger Lemon Radler: Danner knows what's up.