Posts Tagged 'leadership'

Mentors, gender, reluctance: Notes from Taiga panel on leadership at ER&L

As part of Taiga’s efforts to engage in broader conversations with a wide variety of librarians and library communities, I agreed to be on a panel about Leadership at the recent ER&L conference in Austin TX (YeeHaw!). I had a great time with colleagues Damon Jaggars from Columbia University and Kristin Antelman for North Carolina State University both in planning for the panel and on the day of.

Below are my edited notes from my portion, where I talked about mentors, gender, and reluctance/skepticism about moving into formal library leadership positions.

When the 3 of us first starting planning this panel, part of what I volunteered to do is talk about talking about leadership … which sounds really meta, but is really just about how and when and why and with whom you might want to talk to about your interest in library leadership.

Everyone knows good mentors are important – and I want to put a plug in for informal mentors. Some organizations have formal mentorship programs and that’s great, but many successful leaders talk about the important role of informal mentors on their success.

How do you find an informal mentor or mentors?

My colleagues may suggest different strategies, but I’ve found that being active on social media and reading library blogs makes it easier for you to “meet” people whose work and/or career you want to emulate or at least who you might want to learn from. Interact, comment, RT, ask questions. Talk to speakers after talks, even if you don’t have a question – tell them what you liked about their talk, why it resonated. Then later, ask to have coffee w/ them.

You don’t have to formally ask them to be your mentor, but you can tell them what your career aspirations are and ask for some advice. Honestly, most of us are egotistical enough that we are flattered when someone asks for our advice.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret – it isn’t really any advice you get from formal or informal mentors that will pay off.  It is the connection you have made. The adage about it not being what you know but who you know has an element of truth in it. One of the most influential articles in sociology is all about the strength of weak ties. In that research Mark Granovetter shows how it is our weak ties, our acquaintances, not our closest friends or family members, who are most likely to help us get the best jobs. The connections we make at conferences and on social media are exactly the kinds of weak ties that will pay off in helping us find and get the next job.

(Insert abrupt transition here)

And now I want to talk about gender.

Women are less likely to express career ambitions than men, and whatever you think of the advice in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, the research she cites makes it clear that women are (in general, and mostly white women) less likely to engage in the kinds of behaviors and activities that promote their own career advancement, and no wonder …

There is ample research showing that ambition and/or engaging in a range of leadership behaviors (speaking first, speaking confidently, taking charge in leaderless groups) is more likely to be viewed harshly for women, but positively for men.

Sociologist Joan Williams has distilled a huge amount of the research on women and work into a summary of some basic patterns of biases that women face, along with some suggested strategies:

  • “Prove it again”: This pattern refers to the fact that women encounter harsher standards than men, and that women’s success is more likely to be attributed to luck than to competence. Some suggested strategies are for women (and male allies) to vouch for each other and to publicly praise and celebrate each other’s success. Williams suggests that women “form a posse”. Another recommendation is to engage in “gender judo” – that is to adopt a mixture of feminine and masculine behavioral styles. Gender judo is also the recommended strategy for mitigating the effects of “The Tightrope”.
  • “The Tightrope” refers to the fact that women are rarely seen as both competent and nice, so they are forced to walk a tightrope between the two, trying to hit just the right balance to ensure they succeed at work. An additional strategy suggested for this challenge is that women strategically say “no” to some of the “housework” tasks women are typically and disproportionately asked/expected to do (bring the snacks, remember the birthdays, etc.).
  • Another well-documented pattern of discrimination women face is “The Motherhood penalty” – women who are mothers are judged as less committed AND less competent than childless women & than fathers. Williams suggests that an effective strategy to counteract the assumptions behind The Motherhood Penalty is for individual women to be explicit about their own goals & family decisions – whatever they are — and when people question your commitment to either work or family or both, to respond that the choices you are making are working for you (assuming that they are).

Now, to be honest, – Despite the fact that there is apparently some research showing that these strategies are effective (I’m guessing especially for white, straight, cis-gendered women in professional jobs), I’m not super comfortable with the focus on individual rather than organizational or institutional responses to gender bias and other forms of inequity in our organizations.

But … institutional change is slow and hard. And I suspect some combination of individual, organizational, institutional, and societal level strategies is required. And, one potential strategy for making our organizations more inclusive is for more men of color, more women, more people from underrepresented groups of all kinds, to assume leadership. Especially if those people are committed to a more diverse and equitable profession and organization.

And that brings me to my final point – I want to finish this up by talking to those of you who don’t want to be in library administration – especially those of you from underrepresented groups – and people of color and even white women are underrepresented in leadership in libraries relative to their numbers in the profession.

How many of you want to be a “leader” in the library world but can’t picture yourself as an AUL/AD or other high-level administrative leader in libraries? How many have mixed or negative feelings about being a library administrator, and have no desire to ever be a UL? (Note: LOTS of hands shot up).

Do any of these reasons resonate? (Note: Lots of head nodding during this roll call of reasons librarians are reluctant about moving up into formal administrative leadership positions).

  • I don’t want to deal with all “the politics”
  • I don’t want to be “the man”
  • I don’t want to have to compromise my values
  • I could never handle all the bureaucracy and I don’t want to deal w/ budgets
  • I want to have a balanced life

And what I want to say is that I get that … I really do… and I’m not going to tell anyone to Lean In when they want to Lean Out. I say Lean whatever way you want … AND I want to leave you with this thought:

If all of you who don’t want to play politics, who don’t want power & influence to change your values, and who want to have a healthy work life balance shy away from leadership positions; it might mean that you are leaving the leadership of our profession in the hands of those who aren’t concerned about those things …

 

Some research on gender, technology, stereotypes and culture

Leading up to the Leadership, Technology, and Gender Summit, my colleague-friend Jennifer Vinopal and I have been collecting sets of recommended readings to help frame the conversations. We tried to find readings that address most of the topics outlined in What are we talking about when we talk about Leadership, Technology and Gender, while also keeping the list to a reasonable length and making sure the readings were accessible to all. It is a great list.

Here are some additional recommended readings that did not make the list for LTG, but which I think are critical to understanding the scope of the challenges involved in tackling the problems of gender and technology. Most of them are paywall, which sucks.*

“Do Female and Male Role Models Who Embody STEM Stereotypes Hinder Women’s Anticipated Success in STEM?” Sapna Cheryan, John Oliver Siy, Marissa Vichayapai, Benjamin J. Drury and Saenam Kim Social Psychological and Personality Science 2011 2: 656 originally published online 15 April 2011 DOI: 10.1177/1948550611405218

Abstract
Women who have not yet entered science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields underestimate how well they
will perform in those fields (e.g., Correll, 2001; Meece, Parsons, Kaczala, & Goff, 1982). It is commonly assumed that female role models improve women’s beliefs that they can be successful in STEM. The current work tests this assumption. Two experiments varied role model gender and whether role models embody computer science stereotypes. Role model gender had no effect on success beliefs. However, women who interacted with nonstereotypical role models believed they would be more successful in computer science than those who interacted with stereotypical role models. Differences in women’s success beliefs were mediated by their perceived dissimilarity from stereotypical role models. When attempting to convey to women that they can be successful in STEM fields, role model gender may be less important than the extent to which role models embody current STEM stereotypes.

“STEMing the tide: Using ingroup experts to inoculate women’s self-concept in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).” Stout, Jane G.; Dasgupta, Nilanjana; Hunsinger, Matthew; McManus, Melissa A.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 100(2), Feb 2011, 255-270. doi: 10.1037/a0021385

Abstract
Three studies tested a stereotype inoculation model, which proposed that contact with same-sex experts (advanced peers, professionals, professors) in academic environments involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) enhances women’s self-concept in STEM, attitudes toward STEM, and motivation to pursue STEM careers. Two cross-sectional controlled experiments and 1 longitudinal naturalistic study in a calculus class revealed that exposure to female STEM experts promoted positive implicit attitudes and stronger implicit identification with STEM (Studies 1–3), greater self-efficacy in STEM (Study 3), and more effort on STEM tests (Study 1). Studies 2 and 3 suggested that the benefit of seeing same-sex experts is driven by greater subjective identification and connected- ness with these individuals, which in turn predicts enhanced self-efficacy, domain identification, and commitment to pursue STEM careers. Importantly, women’s own self-concept benefited from contact with female experts even though negative stereotypes about their gender and STEM remained active.

“Math–Gender Stereotypes in Elementary School Children” Dario Cvencek, Andrew N. Meltzoff, Anthony G. Greenwald Article first published online: 9 MAR 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01529.x

A total of 247 American children between 6 and 10 years of age (126 girls and 121 boys) completed Implicit Association Tests and explicit self-report measures assessing the association of (a) me with male (gender identity), (b) male with math (math–gender stereotype), and (c) me with math (math self-concept). Two findings emerged. First, as early as second grade, the children demonstrated the American cultural stereotype that math is for boys on both implicit and explicit measures. Second, elementary school boys identified with math more strongly than did girls on both implicit and self-report measures. The findings suggest that the math–gender stereotype is acquired early and influences emerging math self-concepts prior to ages at which there are actual differences in math achievement.

“Ambient Belonging: How Stereotypical Cues Impact Gender Participation in Computer Science” Sapna Cheryan,Paul G. Davies, Victoria C. Plaut and Claude M. Steele. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 97, No. 6, 1045–1060 DOI: 10.1037/a0016239

People can make decisions to join a group based solely on exposure to that group’s physical environment. Four studies demonstrate that the gender difference in interest in computer science is influenced by exposure to environments associated with computer scientists. In Study 1, simply changing the objects in a computer science classroom from those considered stereotypical of computer science (e.g., Star Trek poster, video games) to objects not considered stereotypical of computer science (e.g., nature poster, phone books) was sufficient to boost female undergraduates’ interest in computer science to the level of their male peers. Further investigation revealed that the stereotypical broadcast a masculine stereotype that discouraged women’s sense of ambient belonging and subsequent interest in the environment (Studies 2, 3, and 4) but had no similar effect on men (Studies 3, 4). This masculine stereotype prevented women’s interest from developing even in environments entirely populated by other women (Study 2). Objects can thus come to broadcast stereotypes of a group, which in turn can deter people who do not identify with these stereotypes from joining that group.

Other great resources include:
Women in Computer Sciences: Closing the Gender Gap in Higher Education from Carnegie Mellon University

Starting in 1995, we have engaged in an interdisciplinary program of research and action in response to this situation. The research effort has been to understand male and female students’ engagement — attachment, persistence, and detachment — with computer science, with a special focus on the gender imbalance in the field. Students in the study have been interviewed once per semester about their family and schooling history, experiences with computing, feelings and attitudes about studying computer science. The goal of the action component has been to devise and effect changes in curriculum, pedagogy and culture that will encourage the broadest possible participation in the computing enterprise.

In part as a result of our efforts, the entering enrollment of women in the undergraduate Computer Science program at Carnegie Mellon has risen from 8% in 1995 to 42% in 2000

Reading list for MIT Open CourseWare course “Gender and Technology”:

Course Description
This course considers a wide range of issues related to the contemporary and historical use of technology, the development of new technologies, and the cultural representation of technology, including the role women have played in the development of technology and the effect of technological change on the roles of women and ideas of gender. It discusses the social implications of technology and its understanding and deployment in different cultural contexts. It investigates the relationships between technology and identity categories, such as gender, race, class, and sexuality, and examines how technology offers possibilities for new social relations and how to evaluate them.

* If you need access to any of these articles for your personal non-profit, educational use, contact a librarian near you ;-)

Gender issues panel

So I agreed to be on this panel about Challenges of gender issues in library technology that is happening in an hour or so. To be honest, I’m more than a little nervous about it. In between the time I said yes to the panel and now, ALA issued a Code of Conduct (Yay!), and there were some reactions. I really hope the panel doesn’t end up being just a big debate about the Code of Conduct. The challenges facing libraries in terms of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and a whole host of other problems that are cause and consequence of a profession that is nearly 90% white and over 80% female are complex and go way beyond codes of conduct. I hope the conversation is as complex and wide-ranging as the issues are. The structure of the panel is such that each of the panel members gets 3-5 minutes to say something about the issues, then we open up for questions. Since I have been known to ad-lib a bit, here’s what I intend to say:

I come at this topic from a slightly different angle – I’ve never worked directly in library technology (or technology at all for that matter); but I did spend 10 years in the Army before my library career, so I do know something about working in a male dominated profession with a distinct kind of masculine culture. In addition, much of my PhD work in sociology centered on gender and sexuality, and I’ve done a bit of research on leadership and organizational diversity. Finally, I’m a senior leader at a pretty big research library – where we consider ourselves leaders in digital library innovation and where we aspire to leadership in terms of promoting gender equity in library technology.  I’m proud to say that we are working towards creating an organizational environment where everyone can thrive both personally and professionally. We aren’t there yet, I doubt we or anyone else will ever get there, but we have done some effective things that I’m rather proud of.

As many of you know, the Stanford University Libraries issued a statement last year encouraging our staff to attend only those professional conferences that had anti-harassment policies or codes of conduct. More importantly, we encouraged our staff to exercise leadership in their professional organizations by advocating for and helping create codes of conduct for conferences that did not yet have one. The story of our stance is a deceptively simple one – it started when I asked some of the women who work in library technology jobs at Stanford what the leadership team at Stanford could do to support them. One of the first and most consistent things these folks suggested leaders could do was to support codes of conduct so that all people might feel safer and more welcome when attending important professional development events. So that’s what we did.

And again, I’m incredibly proud of the stance we took, and of the fact that Stanford librarians have indeed been instrumental in promoting codes of conduct for several library & library-related conferences.

But as important as codes of conduct are, they are only one piece of what needs to be a persistent, multi-faceted approach to ensuring that not only white women and women of color, but also all people of color, trans people, queer people and other marginalized and under-represented people are recruited, mentored, retained, and supported in our profession.

We are a painfully homogenous profession – librarianship is overwhelmingly white and female, and library technology is overwhelmingly white and male. Gender bias and imbalance is a problem; but so too is racial underrepresentation. Librarianship didn’t just end up so white by accident, and it won’t change without radical and active interventions.  And I think we need to stop throwing our hands up and declaring it a “pipe-line” problem, and we need to throw our collective professional weight and expertise behind addressing those structural pipe-line problems.

And no, I don’t have specifics right now; but I know that there are people who have been working on this and who have experience and expertise to share, but whose voices we have not prioritized or amplified.  We need to do our research and we need to listen and learn.  And I trust that if we made social justice a true priority of librarianship – and not just one of our core values that we trot out from time to time – we could make some headway on creating & sustaining a more diverse workforce across libraries and library technology. But honestly, at some point we probably need to stop talking about it, and start listening and then start doing.

Initial thoughts and feels from #taiga9

Well, that was intense; and I am exhausted.

I’m actually writing this on the plane on the way home to my wife, my kid, and my dog; and I may well decide to publish without editing as a way of capturing my own immediate, raw thoughts and feels about the Taiga Forum we just had. These are going to be my personal opinions, and I have no idea whether others on the Taiga Steering Committee share them — which is why I’m posting them here and not at Gentle Disturbances. We will be posting the notes and speaker slides and stuff over at Gentle Disturbances in the coming days.

In many ways, I’m feeling pretty proud of the work my colleagues and I did in planning and hosting the Taiga 9 Forum on Diversity in Academic Libraries. Our speakers were fantastic – I have nothing but love for Christine Williams, Courtney Young, and Mark Puente.  Ditto for Dale Askey and Jenn Riley for joining me on our morning panel; and for Amy Kautzman for kicking things off and Susan Parker for being our facilitator.

The overall discussions throughout the day were good, and I was especially impressed with the honesty and humility displayed by many who spoke up. I am especially happy and deeply grateful for the fact that the event brought people together in a room for a day who might not otherwise have connected. I have personally already reaped many benefits from new connections with some incredible people – many of whom have restored shored up my faith in the future of libraries & librarianship as radical forces for social justice.

All of the above is true; and at the same time, there are plenty of things I’ll want to do differently next time:

  • I think calling the forum Diversity in Academic Libraries contributed to a struggle I had (and many shared) with the fact that our conversations tended to stay at the personal level and we had a very hard time acknowledging and talking about systemic, structural inequalities. I’m thinking a title like “Social Justice & Libraries” would be better. Suggestions welcome. Note that I don’t think the title of the forum was the only thing that kept us from tackling structural inequality and privilege, but it didn’t help.
  • The physical set-up of the room was not good for group discussion. We had rows of chairs and a packed room. Next time, we need more space, probably tables for small groups, and structured opportunities for people to talk in smaller groups.
  • I really wish I had come to the event much more solidly prepared with some ideas for concrete action that might come out of the event. I wanted to be open-minded about that part; but truthfully that is no excuse for not having done some hard thinking ahead of time on tangible outcomes.
  • We had a keynote speaker and two panels. While we had decent diversity amongst those on the stage (a few too many of us white women, IMO), what I didn’t realize (but should have) until someone pointed it out, was that the keynote speaker and the morning panel were all white, and our only speakers of color constituted the afternoon panel. Yep – I put together an agenda on diversity that had segregated speaker panels. WTF was I thinking? That damn sure won’t happen again.
  • I’m still wrestling with the frustration voiced in Eternally at the Starting Line #taiga9. I think the gist of the frustration is captured by the question “How effective or useful is a forum on diversity if most/many participants do not have a basic grounding on the relevant topics?” I actually have no idea how many of our participants have a basic grounding in the topics, but I didn’t think that the conversations we had were dominated by the kind of counter-productive “stopping so privileged people can get educated on racism, sexism, ableism, classism, etc.” dynamic that often accompanies these topics. That crept in, but I don’t think it was pervasive.  But of course, that’s just my perspective; and it is a biased and privileged one. Others may well have experienced it differently and that’s valid.
  • It is no surprise that people came to the discussion with different levels of prior engagement with the issues, and that makes these conversations difficult and understandably frustrating for many. There absolutely are people who are still at the starting line, but/and I truly believe they want to move forward.  And I think it is important to provide spaces for them to do so (we’re librarians – we want to encourage learning, right?).  But no forum or event can simultaneously be a “Privilege & Inequality 101” classroom, and a space for organizing and acting. In hindsight, a clearer articulation of the goals of the forum might have helped with this. I wanted to do ALL THE THINGS, I guess.
  • I think I’m going to want to send out a list of readings ahead of time if/when I plan another event on these (or maybe any) topics. Better yet, start a list and ask those who are coming to the event (and others) to help build it (turns out I don’t know all the answers – or all the research).
  • Finally, next time I’ll stop saying “I’m not a hugger” every damn time I hug someone. I think if you hug more than 5 people in a day, you might be a hugger. I blame @tressiemcphd.

There’s probably lots more, but these are the thoughts and feels that are on this plane with me right now.

(Note: If anyone thinks this is me beating myself up, don’t. This is just me trying, ever so imperfectly, to learn out loud.)

Thing called Love: Further thoughts on #lovegate

I wasn’t planning on writing anything else about #lovegate, but then others chimed in (publicly and privately) with their concerns about Ithaka writer Rick Anderson’s proposal in Can’t Buy Us Love.  Some voiced reluctance to engage publicly due to the tone of some of the comments on both James Jacobs’ blog post and on Barbara Fister’s column.  Since Rick’s paper offers a proposal for a radical shift in focus for academic libraries, I think it deserves wide and open discussion. I think it is particularly important that librarians who are not (perhaps yet) in positions of senior leadership feel free to chime in on the issues addressed. As one more junior librarian expressed to me: “questions about the ‘future of libraries’ directly impact us–we’re just starting. We are the future.” I think it is important that many visions of the future of libraries are publicly discussed, in open and respectful ways.

First, I encourage everyone to read Can’t Buy Us Love for themselves. As Rick has taken pains to point out, it is quite possible that those of us who aren’t persuaded by Rick’s proposal simply don’t understand the nuances of his argument. Please read the whole paper (several times, if you need to), and don’t rely on mine or anyone else’s summary.  Note especially that although Rick uses the term “radical shift” to describe his proposal that libraries “shift our focus from the collection of what we might call ‘commodity’ documents (especially in physical formats) to … the gathering and curating of rare and unique documents, including primary-source materials”, he includes plenty of caveats at the end of his paper, including the admonition that libraries must strike the right balance for their own institution, and that for many libraries the radical shift ought to be done gradually.

Here are my thoughts on some of the issues Rick raises.

On the impact of a more efficient marketplace for “commodity” books, and how libraries ought to respond:

I agree with Rick that the market for “commodity” books has become much more efficient. The likelihood that many people can now easily find a relatively cheap copy of any given book may indeed be quite high. I don’t think, however, that this trend means “that the library’s patrons simply no longer depend on the library for access to that book in the way they once did.” I suspect our disagreement lies with who we consider “the library’s patrons”, and with just how much more efficient (and for how many people) the commodity market needs to be before libraries ought to cut back on their role in providing free access to commodity books.

James describes well  one of my primary concerns here:

“Yes, I can get “East of Eden” on amazon for a few dollars, but can I also afford to get East of Eden PLUS the various critical analyses of Steinbeck shelved (or cataloged) nearby PLUS the journal literature about Steinbeck? Can the vast majority of readers?”

 There are plenty of people for whom even a buck a book is a prohibitive enough price to discourage broad, eclectic reading.  The fact that circulation statistics are declining does not mean that there aren’t sill people who depend on the library for access to books  – and I consider those people “my library’s patrons” too. For the record, all the circulating copies of East of Eden available from Stanford Libraries are currently checked out, so apparently some patrons still rely on libraries for access to that book.

Even those of us who might theoretically have the means to purchase our own copies of all the books we might want to read are still likely to exercise considerably more frugality in what we read if less material is available via the library, and if we therefore have to base our reading decisions on financial considerations.  The fact that libraries collect, preserve, and provide access to commodity books means that the ideal of equal access to information still exists. The degree to which libraries divert resources from commodity collections is the degree to which they contribute to increasing educational inequality, as individual access to information will become more dependent on individual financial means.

Even for those of us who seemingly have the means to obtain the commodity books we might want to consult, we would likely read less broadly were fewer of those items available from libraries. I currently have 19 books checked out of Stanford Libraries. Of those 19, there are only a few that I would have purchased (even for a few bucks) if they had not been available to me through a library. I am absolutely convinced that the thinking and writing I am trying to do on a queer & feminist agenda for libraries is better because I am reading more broadly on the topic than I would if I had to pay for every book and article I have looked at.

I don’t want anyone’s research agenda or learning to be restricted because libraries prematurely decided that the market for commodity documents has become efficient enough that we can all fend for ourselves.

On opting out (or sidestepping) the scholarly communication wars:

In a section of the paper titled “Opting out of the scholarly communication wars”, Rick asserts that “A library that shifts a portion of its budget and staff time in the direction of making noncommercial documents more findable and accessible is neither undermining the existing scholarly communication system (except to the extent that it pulls collection money away from commercial purchases) nor supporting it”. For those us who had trouble understanding this argument, Rick helpfully clarified a bit in his comments at IHE:

“when I say that my proposed “shift in focus… allows us to sidestep the whole Open-Access-versus-toll-access controversy,” I’m saying that we are able to sidestep it (or “opt out” of it) to the degree that our focus shifts.”

While the resources we put towards noncommercial collections might be orthogonal to our involvement in the scholarly communication wars, I don’t really see this issue as a zero-sum game. To my mind, libraries are by definition involved in the scholarly communication debates, and attempts to quantify the degree to which a library is involved strike me as pointless. And even if the degree to which a library is involved in these debates were a meaningful measure of something, I’m not clear on how exactly that would be measured. Is it by total budget dedicated to commercial collecting, or by proportion? Is a library with a very large budget that devotes only 50% of that budget to commercial documents more or less involved in the scholarly communication wars than a small library that devotes 100% of its budget to commodity collecting? And what exactly would that tell us?

The scholarly communication wars are about access to scholarly information. Unless libraries completely abandon the brokerage and management of commodity documents — which Rick is very clear he is NOT advocating — they are involved in the scholarly communication debates. I guess I see involvement in the scholarly communication wars as like being pregnant — you can’t be just a little bit involved.

Moreover, where Rick sees decreased attention by libraries to the debates over the future of scholarly communication as a benefit, I would see it as an abdication of a major social responsibility of libraries. Perhaps others are persuaded that side-stepping the scholarly communication debates would be a benefit of shifting focus away from commodity collections, but I am not convinced that it would either have that effect or that the effect would be a positive one if it did. Room for debate, I suppose.

General thoughts on The Library as an ideal:

Shifting resources from commodity documents to special collecting certainly seems like a rational way for libraries to prioritize limited resources in such a way as to enhance their own unique contributions to both local communities and to the public good. After all, maintaining large collections of commodity documents (especially in print) when fewer items are being checked out by fewer patrons is horribly inefficient. But I would argue that the fact that the provision of public goods is rarely efficient renders them no less important. In my opinion, a true radical shift would be for library leaders to focus more on promoting the value of libraries as a public good, essential to a healthy democracy and to promoting equal access to information, and less on seeking efficiencies as a way to save ourselves. It’s a thing called love … love of democracy, equality, community, and the ideal that public goods still matter.

Looking for love in all the wrong places

My colleague James R. Jacobs recently posted a response to the Ithaka S&R issue brief  Can’t Buy us Love, by Rick Anderson.  Barbara Fister then chimed in with What Are Libraries, Anyway?  All 3 pieces cover important ground, and I commend Rick for eventually agreeing to comment on James’ post — although his initial reaction left me scratching my head:

Screen shot 2013-09-06 at 11.31.28 AM

As I see it, Rick put some ideas out in writing. James responded in writing, then Rick challenged him to a public duel debate, saying a written format is too unwieldy. Huh?

But Rick did respond (I’m hoping it was my “pretty please” tweet that persuaded him), and I appreciate that he took the time to continue the debate in public instead of waiting for a live event that would likely have a more limited audience and shelf-life.

One thing that stands out to me in Rick’s original piece and in his comments on James’ post is how much of what libraries are and what libraries do (or could/should do) is “out of scope”.  In a paper that proposes an answer to the question of what significant roles remain for libraries, I find it strange that government documents, patron-driven acquisitions, and the role of subject specialists are explicitly out of scope. The role of libraries in the long-term preservation of what Rick refers to as “commodity documents” (and I call “a big honking part of the scholarly record”) also seems to be out of scope.  Rick also appears to be declaring “the scholarly communication wars” out of scope by noting that his approach “allows us to sidestep the whole Open-Access-versus-toll-access controversy”.

I think Barbara Fister has it exactly right when she notes that Rick’s piece, and James’ rebuttal are really about the existential question of What are Libraries, Anyway?  I am skeptical of any proposal for the future of libraries that insists on focusing on one issue at a time. To my mind, the future of collections and collection development cannot be separated from a discussion of the role of subject specialists (that stuff doesn’t collect itself, last I checked), or of who ought to drive acquisition decisions. Likewise, any discussion of the role of libraries in “enriching the scholarly environment” that explicitly sidesteps the role of libraries in engaging in the “scholarly communication wars” seems to me to be missing a big chunk of the picture.

I’m also concerned that too much of what we talk about and what gets proposed as a way forward for libraries is too focused on saving individual libraries, rather than on defending, promoting, and articulating the value of The Library as a social institution.   Instead of trying to defend our worth on an individual basis, and thus risking dying the death of a thousand cuts, I’d love to see more libraries and library directors talking about the value to scholarship of having a network of great libraries across the nation and across the world. But that issue probably deserves its own post someday, so I leave you with this classic from Urban Cowboy:

▶ JOHNNY LEE ~ LOOKING FOR LOVE [LYRICS] – YouTube.

Getting your boss to endorse org-wide anti-harassment stance

Earlier this week, my boss sent an email and published a news article encouraging all Stanford Libraries’ staff to avoid conferences without anti-harassment policies and to advocate for such policies in our professional communities. I wrote earlier about my role in pushing for this.

All it took for Stanford Libraries to take this stance was a quick email exchange between me and my boss, the University Librarian. In the interest of supporting others who want to advocate for the same in their organizations, here is the text of the first email I sent to my boss, recommending that we do this:

Mike-
In light of some pretty awful and pretty public recent incidents of harassment at sci-tech conferences, many high-profile speakers have taken a public stance pledging not to participate in any conference that does not have a clear anti-harassment policy and/or code of conduct (see My New Convention Harassment Policy).
Plenty of library conferences do have good codes of conduct (DLF and Code4Lib for example), but not all do. ALA does not, but there is movement in that direction. This is not about squashing free speech, or about accusing anyone or any conference of past wrong-doing – it is simply about conferences being clear about behavior that will not be tolerated, and provided a clear method for reporting and resolving any problems.
I would like to recommend that Stanford Libraries take a lead on this issue by publicly encouraging our staff to participate only in those conferences and events with clear anti-harassment polices. I will be making such a pledge for myself, and want to encourage my staff to do the same. But I wanted to run the idea by you first, as I think it would be more effective coming from SUL as a whole.I’m happy to draft something for your endorsement.

Thanks for considering,
Chris

The boss pushed back a bit at first, essentially wondering if/why such policies are needed. My original email also made it sound like I was advocating for this as a way to protect our staff from hecklers, which the boss rightly doubted was a big problem. I took a deep breath, and plunged back in:

Mike-
Its not so much about speakers handling hecklers, as it is about (to quote from the DLF code): “providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.”
It is about providing conference goers with recourse when confronted with sexist, racist, homophobic remarks (sometimes included in presentations). Most codes of conduct are based on same principles as the Fundamental Standard.
The Ada Initiative cites these as the primary reasons for having a code of conduct:

  • Educate attendees in advance that specific behaviors commonly believed to be okay (like groping, pornography in slides, etc.) are not acceptable at this conference.
  • Tell attendees how to report these behaviors if they see them, and assure them they will be treated respectfully if they do so.
  • Have established, documented procedures for how the conference staff will respond to these reports.

My goal in having SUL make a stand is not so much about protecting our staff from harassment as speakers (although that is a worthwhile goal), but is about using our status to put pressure on the conferences that have yet to adopt such policies.

Thanks,
Chris

His response to the second email was essentially, “Oh, got it. Yes, of course. Do it and put my name on it.”

Note that my emails to the boss are littered with the work and words of others — especially the good people at the Ada Intitiative, Code4Lib, and DLF.

I am releasing the text of these emails into the wild, as public domain materials, to be used (with or without attribution) by anyone who thinks they might be useful. Cut and paste, quote liberally or selectively, rearrange, reword, remix to your heart’s content; but hopefully in the spirit of the original. I have heard through grapevines that our announcement has sparked conversations among leaders at some of our peer institutions, and I hope the details here are helpful to those conversations.

My library supports anti-harassment policies

So, this happened and I’m incredibly proud – SUL supports conference anti-harassment policies:

I encourage all Stanford University Libraries staff members to participate only in those conferences that have clear and public anti-harassment policies and/or codes of conduct. If you are asked to speak at or otherwise contribute to a conference, I encourage you to ask the conference organizers if the conference has an anti-harassment policy, and to decline the invitation if the conference does not have such a policy and/or is unwilling to create one. I also encourage Stanford Library staff to help advocate for, draft, and implement such anti-harassment policies for the conferences they attend, and thus to effect positive change in our professional culture and extended work environments.

-From Michael Keller, University Librarian

Actually, truth be told, it didn’t just magically happen. Last week, I decided that in addition to making a personal pledge, I also wanted to recommend to our University Librarian that he encourage all Stanford Libraries’ staff to participate only in those conferences that have clear and public anti-harassment policies and/or codes of conduct. And he agreed.

Yeah, I’ll say it… I freakin’ Leaned all the way In to advocate for this.

OK library friends, especially those of you in leadership positions, the gauntlet has been thrown. Which libraries are going to join Stanford in advocating for civil discourse and harassment-free professional conferences?

A kinder, gentler Taiga

A few months ago I agreed to join the steering committee of the Taiga Forum. The Taiga Forum is perhaps best known for its (in)famous Provocative Statements, which have not been universally well-received by the library community. In fact, I have been a bit critical of past Provocative Statements myself.

So, why would I agree to join the steering committee? Because I do believe in the potential of a group of AUL/ADs from across types of libraries and across functional areas to make meaningful contributions to the key conversations about libraries. I want there to be a forum for AUL/ADs to engage with one another and with the broader community of folks who care about higher education and the role of libraries. I want to be part of a thriving community of practice, made up of leaders from different types of libraries and spanning every functional area within libraries. And I decided that if I wanted something like that to exist, I ought to be willing to try to make it happen.

I am excited about the launch of the new collaborative Taiga blog, Gentle Disturbances (for an explanation of the title, see my initial post); which I see as a sort of library version of the Scholarly Kitchen (but with better gender balance). While the members of the steering committee have all committed to blogging regularly on topics we hope will spur productive conversations, we also hope to have plenty of guest bloggers from the broader community of library (and library-related) leaders.

I am also pleased that Taiga is looking to engage with the library community in a more diverse set of venues–expanding beyond our current presence at DLF Forums and at ALA meetings to include other relevant major conferences and meetings. My goal is that Taiga will provide programming and conversations that are useful not only to the AUL/AD community, but to the broader community as well. To do that, we need feedback and input from everyone, and we need to be willing to listen and to engage.

I am convinced that the members of the steering committee are all committed to a new, more interactive approach to leveraging the perspectives of the Taiga community for the good of libraries.  But we do need your help — if you are going to ALA, please consider dropping by our “happy hour” on Friday, June 28 between 2pm and 4pm at the M/X bar in the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place (next to the McCormick Place. North Building).  Please also follow us on twitter, follow the blog, and leave your comments over there.

This was not Plan B: My #altac story

There are eight million stories in the Naked City, and probably just as many in the academy. There are stories warning you not to go to graduate school, and stories warning you not to pay attention to stories that warn you not to go to graduate school (I like the latter stories better). And there are great stories about people who went to graduate school and chose an alternate career path (dubbed altac).

This is my story.

First things first: This altac career path of mine was not Plan B. Taking a job as a social science librarian as I finished up my dissertation, then staying on for more than 10 years now in various library jobs, was not a fall-back* decision because I didn’t think I could cut it on the tenure-track market. I applied for my original library job because it sounded like interesting work that I might be good at. I have accepted subsequent jobs and promotions within the Stanford Libraries, and am committed to a career in academic libraries, for the same reasons — I think the work is important, interesting, and challenging; and I think I have something to offer.

I came to Stanford to pursue a PhD in Sociology because I didn’t learn everything I wanted to learn in college, or in the 10 years after college. I went to a very good school for my undergraduate education (and paid for it by selling my soul, and many years of my life, to Uncle Sam, but that’s a story for a different blog post), but I was a really crappy student. I needed a B average to keep my scholarship, so I did exactly as much work as I needed to, and not a bit more, to earn that 3.0. Years later I realized that a 3.0 GPA at Duke puts you in the bottom half of your graduating class. Thank god I’m good at standardized tests.

Anyhoo … after doing fairly well at regular Army officer type jobs for 4 years (and helping us win the Cold War), I was fortunate enough to be selected to teach at West Point. The assignment was preceded by an all-expenses paid two-year trip to the University of Maryland for an MA in Sociology. A bit of maturity, a lot of fear, smart and passionate fellow students, and the incredible support and patience of my advisor Mady Segal, combined to ensure that I actually took graduate school seriously. And lo and behold, I liked what I was learning, and I liked the process of learning. It turns out you can learn a whole lot more if you actually go to class and do the reading. Talking to other students and to faculty helps too. I honestly didn’t know that as an undergrad.

Those 2 years at UMd were personally transformative for me. I learned how to think critically, I became a feminist, I started (slooowwwly) questioning my sexuality. And then, just like that, the 2 years were up and off I went to West Point to teach leadership and sociology to future Army officers. Those 3 years at West Point were awesome and awful in approximately equal measure. And when that assignment was done, I knew it was time to get out of the Army and go back to graduate school.

I pursued a PhD in Sociology because I wanted to learn more and grow more and challenge myself intellectually in ways that I had been challenged in my MA program at UMd. I wanted more of that. I had enjoyed the teaching part of the West Point assignment, and thought maybe that’s what I would do when I finished my PhD. Along the way, it became clear that I was actually supposed to want a very serious tenure-track job at a real reasearch university. And while I toyed with that idea from time to time, I never actively pursued it.

Starting in my 2nd year of grad school, I worked part-time in the Stanford Libraries’ Social Science Data and Software (SSDS) group, doing statistical software consulting. I always worked at least 10 hours a week, and when I didn’t have other funding, I worked 20 hours a week, and 40 hours a week during summers. I was a single parent by now, so I was basically working as much as possible, because graduate student stipends are calibrated for very very frugal, single, childless people.

As a grad student in SSDS, my job included individual consulting with students and faculty, teaching workshops, and (as I became more senior), planning and leading our consulting, teaching and outreach services. I had gotten a pretty good taste of leadership as an Army officer, and knew that it was something I liked and was good at. I quickly realized that whatever I did after graduate school, I wanted it to be something that allowed me to leverage my academic training and my leadership skills.

Towards the end of my 4th year of grad school, my dissertation advisor asked me if I wanted her to recommend me for a tenure track job in a top-tier sociology program, at a public university a little south of here.  The fact that I had yet to have a serious conversation with her about my plans for going on the job market was probably a pretty good clue to both of us that I was likely not headed in that direction. But I appreciate that she asked, and I figure she must have thought I would be competitive for such a job.  Around the same time, one of my colleagues at SSDS asked me if I had considered applying for the social science librarian job that was open right here in the Stanford Libraries. As soon as I realized that the only thing making the tenure track faculty job seem at all appealing was what other people would think, while the content of the work and the people I would work with were what made the library job appealing, the decision was easy. The rest, as they say, is history.

That’s my story. It is likely neither particularly unique, nor especially generalizable. But it is true. And I do know that there are plenty of others for whom an altac career path is not plan B. Add my story to the dataset.

* My fall back job is junior high basketball coach. I did it for 1 season as a high school senior and we won the league championship. So I got that going for me.


Enter your email address to follow Feral Librarian by email.

Join 2,619 other followers

Follow me on Twitter


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,619 other followers

%d bloggers like this: