Introducing uncomfortable conversations at ARL/CARL 2016

I had the great privilege of introducing Darren Lund at the 2016 joint meeting of ARL and CARL this morning. Dennis Clark encouraged me to post my introduction, so here it is:

Hi, my name is Chris Bourg and I am the Director of Libraries at MIT. I also serve as the chair of the ARL Diversity and Inclusion Committee. It is my pleasure to introduce this program titled, Opening an Uncomfortable Conversation on Social Justice and Privilege and our speaker, Darren Lund.

Following Brian’s lead from yesterday, I think its important to admit that inviting Darren to speak on this topic is part of an agenda – and not even a hidden one.

One of the key priorities of the Diversity & Inclusion committee has been to execute a pivot of sorts – to pivot from focusing primarily on programs designed to recruit members of underrepresented groups into libraries and archives; and then train “them” on how to succeed in “our” institutions and “our” cultures; to a deliberate focus on preparing and equipping leaders – us – to create and sustain diverse, inclusive, and welcoming cultures and practices.

Maybe on some of our campuses, and in our libraries, issues of social justice and of privilege have long been topics of productive discussions and progress. Maybe. But lets be honest, on many of our campuses and across the country, we have engaged in conversations about privilege, about social justice, and about whiteness only when tensions boil over and when those who have long been marginalized gave voice to their impatience via actions at places like Yale, and Missouri, and even my own alma mater – dear old Duke. These conversations are uncomfortable and hard, but they are necessary – and I think they will happen and are happening whether or not we as libraries and library leaders are engaging in them.

But of course, we must engage in these conversations, we must do the work, individually and collectively, to be able to engage productively in these conversations; not just so that we might make some progress within our own organizations and within libraries and archives more generally; but also because libraries could and should be the ideal spaces where members of our communities can engage freely in difficult dialogues about inequality, privilege, and social justice.

Told ya I have an agenda … or more accurately, the Diversity & Inclusion Committee has an agenda …

And having Dr. Lund talk to us this morning is all part of advancing that agenda — While you have a brief bio of Dr. Lund in the program, I want to highlight a few things.

Darren is a professor in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary where his research examines social justice activism. When he was a high school teacher in Red Deer, Alberta, he help found a student action project called Students and Teachers Opposing Prejudice, which lasted for 20 years. He also created the award-winning Diversity Toolkit at the University of Calgary. To translate for us, think of the toolkit as the best Libguide on diversity you’ve ever seen (during his talk, Darren says his kids call it the most boring website ever – which still might make it the best LibGuide ever). He has published more than 300 articles, chapters, and books (I’ll talk to him later to make sure they are openly available in his universities IR). He is a scholar-activist, and I am delighted that he is here to talk to us this morning.

Please join me in welcoming Darren Lund to the podium.

diversity, inclusion, social justice and libraries: proposing a framework

Text from an invited talk at Simmons School of Library and Information Science, 4/14/16

(Updated 4/17/16 to add footnotes to give credit where due)
(Updated 4/18/16 to add another footnote for clarity)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Dr. Em Claire Knowles asked me to speak here tonight, I knew I had to talk about diversity, inclusion and social justice. It is because we share a commitment to engaging those topics that I even know Dr. Knowles – and if you will indulge me, I’d like to ease into this talk by telling a short version of how I came to know Dr. Knowles because I think it illustrates one small way we can try to resist the structures and pressures in our profession that work against diversity, inclusion & social justice.

About 3 years ago, while I was an Associate Director at Stanford Libraries, a colleague at another elite big research library asked me to contribute an article on diversity to a special journal issue on the future of libraries.

I had just met Myrna Morales, who was then here at Simmons, and is now working on a PhD in Library & Information Sciences at UIUC, at a Leadership, Technology, and Gender conference, so I asked her if she wanted to co-author the article with me. I knew that Myrna had experiences, insights, knowledge, perspectives, and a voice that was different than mine; and that together we could write something better than I could write on my own.

To my delight, Myrna immediately said “sure, but can we ask Dr. Em Claire Knowles to write with us too?” The result is a really terrific piece – much fuller and richer and more inclusive than I could have imagined.

(It really is a great article, OA version available.)

A lesson for me in this story is that I got asked to contribute that article because I am part of this really exclusive social network of leaders in big research libraries. I get to go the meetings where I meet the kinds of people who are editing journals and books and are offering opportunities like this to each other. And that’s how lots of professional opportunities happen – not just publishing opportunities but job and service opportunities too. Networks are really important ways people become aware of and are able to take advantage of such opportunities. And our networks are usually not very diverse or inclusive. Widening those circles and those opportunities doesn’t happen without some intentionality.

So I want to talk about issues of diversity, inclusion and social justice – and I use that rather wieldy 3 part phrase on purpose, because I’m trying to be clear that I’m not talking about the kind of watered down diversity talk that includes every possible kind of difference – from personality traits to what sports team you root for.
I’m also not talking about the kind of “respect for diversity” where well-intentioned people claim they treat everyone the same – they say things like “I don’t care if you are white, black, brown or purple. I treat everyone the same.” I guess people mean well when they say things like that, but it trivializes the experiences of actual people of color by lumping them in with imaginary purple people.

Slide1

This is what purple people look like.

So when I’m talking about diversity and inclusion, I’m talking about groups of people with histories of oppression and current experiences of discrimination – non-white people, poor people, LGBTQI people, immigrants. I’m talking about diversity along axes of power and privilege – race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social class, ability.1 I’m talking about differences that carry with them patterns of real social, economic, health, and life expectancy  consequences.

In terms of what I mean by social justice, I’ll use the same definition that Myrna, Em Claire, and I use in our article – “social justice refers to the ability of all people to fully benefit from social and economic progress and to participate equally in democratic societies.”

And a final piece of context — I am one of those people who truly believes that libraries and those of us who work in them are forces for social good. I believe libraries and archives are key cultural institutions, crucial to democracy and critical to the health of our local communities, our nation, and frankly to a sustainable global community.

There are many reasons I think this is an exciting and important time for libraries and archives; and why I think having a focus on diversity, inclusion & social justice in our work is critical. The media remind us constantly that we are in a time of increasing political polarization.  We are also seeing increased attention to issues of racial injustice and inequity, including the very recent task force report out of Chicago that validates allegations of racist policing there. But attention and progress inevitably brings backlash – not just on racial issues, but on LGBTQ rights as well.

And all of this is happening at a time where we have seen an exponential increase in the amount of information available to any individual and the ease of getting to that information. To my mind that means those of us who work in libraries and archives have this opportunity, really a responsibility, to provide access to information; as well as the tools and skills to critically evaluate that information in ways that promote diversity, equity, and social justice. I think we also have a responsibility to be active about insuring that we are collecting, preserving and providing access to information and materials about, by, and for members of marginalized communities.

So socially, it is a critical moment in time for those of us in libraries to talk about issues of diversity and social justice. In fact, I would urge us to center diversity, inclusion, and social justice in our work.

Also, selfishly, it is a really great time for me to be talking about this topic because we are actively trying to figure out what it means to say we value diversity, inclusion and social justice at the MIT Libraries.

I came in to this job at MIT, about a year ago, as someone who has been very public about having a social justice agenda for libraries, and as someone who cares about and wants to do the work to increase the diversity & inclusion of our libraries and archives.

I’ve blogged lots on these topics, but usually either in a theoretical kind of way or – in the case of the my most viewed blog post ever – in a very factual, statistical, this is how not diverse we are as a profession kind of way.

How not diverse are we, you ask? We are 88% white as a profession. In context that means we would need to double the number of Latino/Latina librarians to reflect the US population, and more than triple the number of African American librarians. Note that those estimates are based on current demographics. But since the US population is actually becoming more not less diverse, while LIS is holding steady …. well, let’s just say we have some work to do.

But as a library director and as newly appointed chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee of ARL, it is time for me to move from just talking or just naming the problem into action plans. It is time to start to articulate how a diversity, inclusion, & social justice agenda might actually be manifest in and through a library.

So I want to share with you all a proposed framework for enacting diversity, inclusion and social justice in libraries and library work. This is very much a work in progress, so put your thinking caps on – I want your best feedback!

Slide2

I can’t think without my whiteboard.

(Yes – this is a photo of my whiteboard. I like to think that makes it artisanal.)

What I’m trying to do with this model is to suggest that it might be useful to think about a social justice agenda in libraries as being manifest within and through different communities; and I am thinking about these communities as concentric circles.2 The arrows are supposed to indicate lots of bi-directional influence between communities; and the dashed parts of the circles are meant to indicate that the boundaries between communities are blurry and porous. This is meant to be a model, and models always oversimplify the realities they represent.

My hope is that by offering a framework like this, individuals leaders, and organizations can find examples and ideas for action that will promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice within and through these concentric (and overlapping) communities. Here I just want to riff on this theme and jot down some examples for each circle. This model needs lots of refinement, and the examples need fleshing out – but I figure sharing it in this state means I can get feedback.

At the center of the communities is the workplace – which for us is the individual library/archive. Here I’m thinking about actions that promote diversity, inclusion and social justice within the library. Examples of actions and things to focus on at this level might include:

  • Workshops on unconscious bias, micro-agressions, inclusive interpersonal communication styles, and bystander interventions
  • Developing policies and practices to reduce bias in hiring
  • Commitment to hiring and retaining staff from underrepresented minority groups in numbers that reflect local and national demographics
  • Leader actions, policies, and structures that contribute to an inclusive organizational culture
  • Inclusive and equitable treatment of peers, supervisors, subordinates, and student employees

In terms of the next circle – local communities – I think this circle could include the local geographic area (city, county, state), the parent institution, the local government context, and of course – patrons. Some of the ways we might manifest a commitment to diversity, inclusion and social justice in our local context might include:

  • services, programs, and resources that reflect the diversity of our communities; especially those groups in our communities that might be most marginalized
  • policies and practices that show respect for and understanding of the needs of ALL our patrons and potential patrons
  • outreach and advocacy specifically developed for and with marginalized populations within our local communities
  • working with community members to collect local literatures and to archive distinctive local histories (see digital library matters by Cecily Walker for a great description about how to do this with respect and responsibility)

Looking at LIS communities, I think this is where we can try to influence the profession and can work to increase the diversity of our workforce. LIS education fits in to this circle too, but I’m hoping people smarter about that than I am will fill in some examples and ideas for that arena. Ideas here might include:

  • sharing of best practices and lessons learned (this is a practice we are trying to start with ARL)
  • mentoring and networking outside your own workplace
  • working for inclusive conferences (speakers, organizers, topics, atttendees), publications, service opportunities and other LIS opportunities and activities
  • advocating for codes of conduct at conferences
  • advocating for social justice topics at conferences and in publications
  • developing action plans for recruiting underrepresented minorities into library and archives work
  • pushing for focus on diversity, inclusion, and social justice topics throughout LIS curriculum and for diversity in LIS faculty

The outer circle represents the ways in which libraries can be forces for the promotion of diversity, inclusion, and social justice at the level of the global community. I truly believe that because of the nature of our work, libraries and archives can be forces for social justice in the world. Below are just a few examples of ways we can do this:

  • promoting and supporting open access publishing
  • working collaboratively to collect and promote books, articles, music, videos, etc. by and about people from marginalized groups
  • working collaboratively to preserve and document social justice movements and the histories of underrepresented minority populations
  • supporting, promoting, and/or developing tools and resources that reflect the values of diversity, inclusion, and social justice
  • speaking out on issues where the rights of marginalized people are restricted
  • advocating for policies that increase access to information for all (an example here is the joint support of library associations for ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty)

There are loads more examples that might fit into each circle, and there may be additional circles (for example, I’m not sure where community of vendors who serve libraries and archives fit in this model). Like I said, this is a very rough first stab at a framework that I hope is helpful for others.

In addition, I’m really hoping that this way of organizing conversations and strategic planning within my library will provide a common framework and some clarity about how we might move from talking to action. I also hope that a framework like this might give individuals a way to think about how and where they can insert themselves into diversity and inclusion work in their daily work, in their communities, and in the profession. I think sometimes we think about all the many ways we might do social justice work and it can be overwhelming and paralyzing. Maybe this framework can help us be deliberate about where we want to or can focus our individual and/or organizational efforts at any given time; because I don’t think any of us can do it all.

Which brings me to how I want to wrap this up.

I know it is common at these kinds of talks to end with some advice – especially since there are so many MLIS students in the audience. But I’m not a big fan of advice-giving (and I really suck at advice-taking), so instead I’ll just share with you some things that are true for me.  I also want to note that these are themes that others who are working to promote diversity, inclusion and social justice in and through libraries have also said are true for them.3

  • I need allies and I need friends and I need safe places/groups where I can vent and refuel and take a break.
  • I need to make time and space for self-care and for healthy work-life balance.
  • I need to remain teachable, non-defensive, and open to feedback.

And on that note – I would love to hear from you all.

Notes:
1. I don’t mean this to be an exhaustive list of the various identities and attributes along which real, consequential discrimination and oppression can and do occur. For example – religion, gender expression/identity, and age also constitute axes of historical and contemporary power and privilege. There are likely others — I apologize that my lack of clarity made it seem like these other categories of discrimination did not matter to me.
2. Thanks to Ethan Zuckerman for the concentric circles idea. Ethan has been pushing us to think about the MIT Libraries’ communities in this way through his service on the Future of Libraries Task Force.
3. Thanks to Rachel Fleming for the nudge to include important of self-care, etc. in my talk.

Intersectionality and bathroom panic

This is a true story.

The scene: Public park in Mountain View CA, circa 2013. Lots of families, adult and kid soccer games, some weekly medieval cosplay gathering, and a middle-aged dyke (me) who needs to pee.

I head for the women’s restroom and a nice white lady with a stroller yells to me: “Don’t go in there! There’s a MAN in there!”

I shrug and head on in. The “man” must be in the other stall. Whatever. I do my thing.

But when I exit the stall, I find myself washing my hands next to a tall, gangly, young black kid in a soccer uniform. He was tall, probably 5’10 or so; but his babyface, his goofiness, his slender build — all of it told me he was probably about 12. He looks at me and gets super embarrassed, almost says something but is totally flustered. I say – “yeah, this is the women’s room; but no worries.”

I make sure I walk out with him. Luckily the scared white lady has wandered off by now. The kid jogs off to his soccer game, I wish him luck. He is, I am certain, hoping I will shut up because the last thing he wants is to be teased by his friends for going into the women’s restroom by accident. And I am absolutely certain that is what happened here – a goofy, tall, distracted boy walked into the wrong restroom. He used the stall, he even washed his hands. No harm done.

Lately, I’m haunted by nightmares of a different outcome. What if instead of me being the next person to head to the bathroom, the nervous lady had warned someone who got equally worked up about the prospect of a MAN in the restroom? What if they gathered some of the men in the park to “protect them”? What if the nice white lady had decided to call the police to report on a MAN in the women’s restroom? We all know what happens when black or brown boys are confronted by angry (white) men “protecting” their women.

Gender policing restrooms won’t keep anyone safe from actual predators intent on doing harm to others; but it will put already vulnerable people (transgender people, non-white people, gender nonconforming people) at higher risk of violence just for trying to pee.

 

whiteness, social justice and the future of libraries

The wonderful Mark Puente of ARL invited me to join Miguel Figueroa of the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries, and Elliott Shore, executive director of ARL on a panel about the future of libraries at the ARL Leadership Symposium (#ARLDivLead16). We were each asked to talk for just a few minutes about important trends, and/or our vision for the future of libraries.

Essentially, I said that I hope we will create the future we want for libraries, and that the future I want is one where we confront our whiteness problem and where libraries fulfill their promise of being forces for social justice and equity in their communities.

I also tried to be clear that while programs like the ARL diversity recruitment and retention programs are SUPER important, it is not up to librarians of color to solve the whiteness problem in librarianship – that’s on us white folk.

Below are my notes, but I didn’t really use them. Note also that there are precious few specifics in these notes, because 5-7 minutes doesn’t leave room for too many definitions and examples.

My notes:

My take on the future of libraries and archives boils down to two things that I think are imperative and intertwined:

  1. We need to actively create the future we want, rather than passively respond to trends, expectations, and neoliberal pressures to act more like a business
  2. We need to be forces for social justice and equity in local, national, and global context

And then there is a 3rd thing — which is really the 1st thing and the fundamental thing. And that is that if libraries have any hope of remaining relevant and of fulfilling our original radical mission of providing unfettered access to knowledge for everyone, then I think we need to deal with our whiteness problem.

So, in term of actively creating our future –

I am less interested in how libraries can respond to changes in higher education and much more interested in how libraries and those of us who work in them can create the change we believe in.  I think it is a mistake for libraries and librarians and archivists to continually look externally for trends and signals and signposts. I want libraries to be trend-setters, not followers.

We have a particular expertise, a perspective, and a set of values that goes well beyond merely supporting and advising faculty and students – we need to lean in and claim our seat at the table when the future of higher education is debated and decided.

I think open access advocacy is an area where libraries have led and can continue to lead. I think we have the opportunity to lead in terms of not just data management planning, but in developing best practices around open data and data privacy.

I think that in any local context there will be opportunities for the libraries to lead on issues of particular importance to their communities.

In terms of being forces for social justice and equity, I think librarians’ single most important contribution to the future will be to equip our communities with the history, the context, and the data to understand and solve the big problems of our times – which include persistent racial and ethnic injustice, climate change, global poverty, refugee crises, and a rise in religious and ethnic intolerance nationally and globally.

I also think librarians and archivists are uniquely equipped to help students and our communities understand that the issues we are grappling with as a society have histories.

A big part of my vision for the future of libraries is of libraries as inclusive spaces  — physical, virtual, and metaphorical spaces — where our communities and our students are equipped, inspired, and supported in having difficult dialogues about hard social issues.

I very much believe that libraries ought to be the places on campus where community members, students especially, feel the most free to talk about difficult topics, to express and explore the full range of opinions and ideas on the highly charged topics that are part of their social world. For many students, college is a time when they are forming and reforming their identities, and they need spaces where it is safe to try on opinions and ideas and feelings about the world and their place in it.

We can and should provide access to the information and the tools to understand current events and to help students critically evaluate the many increasingly polarized views on issues like climate change, immigration, race relations, police brutality, terrorism, etc. etc. ….

One advantage many of us have as librarians on a college campus is that we are adults with lots of information and expertise and knowledge to share with students, but we are usually not in a position of authority or evaluation over them. That produces a kind of setting, and the possibility of a kind of relationship where students can be intellectually and emotionally vulnerable in front of us and with us.

And that brings us to librarianship’s whiteness problem —which is a demographic and a cultural problem.

Demographically, y’all probably know the statistics:

Librarianship is 88% white, the US population (2013 figures) is 62% white, with a projection for 2060 that white people will make up only 40% of the population.

The college student population likewise far more diverse than librarianship – National Center for Education Statistics says college student population will be 58% white in 5 years time. And even though programs like the various ARL diversity programs represented here are making a difference – only 71% of 2012 MLS students are white compared to 88% of current credentialed librarians – we still have a whiteness problem. What kind of message does it send to our patrons (or potential patrons), to current and future librarians, and to society at large when we claim to value diversity; but we remain so painfully white?

And librarianship and its practices are likewise steeped in and centered on whiteness  – from the persistence of racist and dehumanizing LC subject headings, to the way we let popularity and/or various societal gatekeepers influence our collection development decisions. The NY Times summer reading list for 2015 was all white authors. None of the last 15 pulitzer prize awards for fiction has gone to a book by a woman about women. And the top hit on OCLC WorldCat for the subject of African American Women Fiction is The Help.

So, the future I want for libraries is for us to deal with our whiteness problem. And to end on a slightly upbeat note – I think we tackle that problem on at least two fronts. One is to continue to support and expand on the awesome and beautiful work of programs like these to support people of color and other marginalized and underrepresented people in careers in libraries; and the other is to educate and motivate those us in leadership positions to start to work on the structural and systemic issues. And here I am optimistic about the efforts of the ARL Diversity & Inclusion Committee to keep these issues on the agenda at every ARL directors meeting and to push for increased awareness and sharing of best practices around promoting diversity & inclusion in and through our libraries.

For further reading:
Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias: Whiteness and Librarianship by Angela Galvan
White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS  by April Hathcock
Diversity, Social Justice, and the Future of Libraries by Myrna Morales, Em Claire Knowles and Chris Bourg

Related blog posts of mine:
The Unbearable Whiteness of Librarianship

feminism and the collective collection

Librarianing to Transgress

The radicalism is coming from inside the library

The Radicalism is Coming from Inside the Library

a conversation with Chris Bourg and Lareese Hall

Social Responsibility, Democracy, Education and Professionalism
ACRL/NY 2015 Symposium
December 4, 2015

Abstract

While there has been a rise in (the visibility of) critical and radical librarianship in recent years, much of the work and thinking has been grass-roots in nature, with precious few library directors  explicitly embracing activist agendas for their own organizations and/or for the profession. In this talk, the Director of the MIT Libraries and the Architecture and Art Librarian for the MIT Libraries (both feminists, one radical) will share their perspectives on the challenges and opportunities that arise when the new director of a major research library arrives with an explicit social justice agenda, grounded in queer and feminist theory and politics. Where and how does that agenda become manifest within the library organization? What are the opportunities and limitations of top-down activism in a research library setting? If radicalism flows from top-level administrators, does it cease to be radical? Can a hierarchical organization be radical? Does a heightened emphasis on diversity and social justice creates a new kind of elitism?

Please note that these are the answers we prepared to the questions posed – but that we didn’t follow the script exactly (and didn’t get to all of the questions even). We did, however, fist bump. Twice. There was an impromptu question that neither of us can recall the exact details of and great questions after the talk. So, you are getting a sense of the conversation, but the people in the room absolutely added to the conversation that we started here.

Lareese Hall (LH) Introduction (a.k.a. Why are we sitting at a table?)

Thank you to Gina and Carrie and everyone for all their hard work putting this symposium together and thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. Chris and I had many conversations in preparation for this talk and decided that the conversations we were having were worth sharing. We talked about activist librarianship, the role of social media, inclusion and exclusion, bell hooks and lots of other topics and decided that a good way to focus and to frame a conversation to start the day would be on the idea of having a queer, feminist, and radical agenda from within an academic library. What would that mean, we wondered, from our different vantage points within the organization. So what we are going to do for our talk is start with opening remarks from each of us and then we will ask each other a series of questions. We shared the questions with one another prior to today and will answer as many as we can before we open the floor up to questions from you. All of the questions that we are asking one another (even ones that we don’t get to today) and our answers will be posted online on Chris’ blog.

And with that, I’ll hand it over to Chris for her opening remarks.

Chris Bourg (CB) Opening Remarks

I’m still a little overwhelmed with the new job and a big move, so I’ve actually been pretty disciplined about saying NO to speaking invitations – but the theme of this symposium made it hard to resist. But even with the temptation of a great theme and wonderful slate of presenters, I told the organizers that I would say yes only if I could do something besides the traditional solo keynote. I have to be honest about the fact that I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the whole keynote thing where one chosen person gets on stage and dispenses special wisdom and inspiration to a room full of peers, and then answers questions like some all-knowing oracle. So I have recently made a personal commitment to use the speaking invitations I get as an opportunity to present together with one of the many smart, creative colleagues I know whose ideas I think others should hear. Which means y’all get to hear from Lareese Hall and from me, and I get to use this as an opportunity to reflect in a new way on what it means to try to bring a particular kind of values-based leadership to the job of Director of Libraries at MIT.

Rusty sign with "CON TXT" written on it, spotted near abandoned train tracks

Rusty sign with “CON TXT” written on it, spotted near abandoned train tracks

And that’s the context for this talk, which will really be a conversation. I’ve been talking about librarian values like democracy and social responsibility for a while now; and I definitely tried to bring a social justice perspective to my work as an AUL at Stanford. But – it really is a different ball game to be the director with an activist agenda and a set of values that flow from intersectional feminism and queer theory/politics. On the one hand, “WooHoo power and authority to do things!”; but on the other hand – using traditional organizational power to push an agenda maybe isn’t very feminist.

Another important piece of context for this conversation is a reminder that all library leaders bring an agenda to their work. One of things feminism taught me is that no one is neutral. But I do think there are unique opportunities and challenges to having a director who is transparent about their values. It might be scary for some that the radicalism is coming from inside the library, but I think it is exciting and empowering too. Of course, my view of what we’re trying to do at MIT is necessarily limited, so its great to chat about this with Lareese, who brings her own really smart, creative, and fun perspective to librarianship.

LH Opening Remarks

Thanks Chris.

It is wonderful to be here and to have this conversation that explores core values in academic and research librarianship. When Chris invited me to give this talk with her my first thought was, “no.”

Another old sign, with NO, and a crossed out E.

Another old sign, with NO, and a crossed out E. We both like old signs apparently.

And from there I went back and forth with “how can you say no to your new boss” and “why are you so stubborn?” I was thinking “no” because I tend to not want to engage in conversations on a stage from a position of perceived expertise and even though I have expertise in some things I have no desire to share it this way. I was also thinking about a post on Truth Out titled “Activist Tourism and the Progressive Mainstream” by Dan Falcone which is an interview with Jared Ball where he talks about many things – including what he framed as “self indulgent adventurism” and “activist tourism” (which is a phrase attributed to Dayvon Love – a member of the Baltimore based Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle). I am interested, obviously in the values stated as the framework for this symposium but I am very wary of library social media activism that lives online but doesn’t make its way into libraries and the way we frame and perform our work. It’s too easy, I think, to agree and not do much more than that or to agree or disagree and feel that you are engaged. I am not sitting here and saying that I am the most politically active and engaged person in the world, far from it, but this is the evolution of my thinking, and I wanted to share that. I told Chris at one point that I didn’t want to say anything that was tweetable and that I just wanted people to listen and engage in place. But this is ridiculous, on some level, I realize that. So, why did I say yes? So I could tell you all that. And because I tend not to go to library focused events and try to engage with people outside of the profession to look at librarianship from a new perspective. But since I rarely go to library symposia and conferences, I also realized checking in from time to time is a new perspective.

I recognize the need to hear a variety of voices and to engage in this conversation not just with myself but with people in my library and within the profession.

I hope our conversation on this stage and as a collective group of interested and engaged professionals makes us question and helps to make sense of our own agendas and activism – whatever they may be.

And now I’ll start with a question for you Chris…

LH to CB: How does a queer and feminist agenda become activated within an academic and hierarchical library organization?

CB: I sort of wish it was as simple as touching our rings and shouting Wonder Twin Powers activate!, but alas it seems to be a bit more challenging.

I also wish I could tell you what a fully realized feminist agenda would look like in an academic library, but I don’t know if any of us know yet. There are amazing feminist librarians and archivists and support staff and others kinds of feminist workers working in some great progressive libraries all over the country – and all over the world – but all seem to working under the constraints of the bureaucracy and neoliberalism that rule in higher education today.

That said – I think an activated feminist and queer agenda in an academic library would be one where the collections and services are not centered on the experiences of cis-straight, white western men; where the people who work in the library truly do reflect the diversity of the communities they serve; where the staff and patrons are empowered; and where the tools, systems, and policies are transparent and inclusive.

AT MIT so far, I try to convey a feminist and queer agenda in a lot of ways, but maybe primarily, so far, through communication. I’m not super overt about it – I’m not sending emails with the subject line “Chris’ Big Queer Agenda”, but my queer and feminist values impact the kinds of things I chose to talk about, and how I talk about them.

There have been some concrete things that have been activated by a feminist agenda at MIT Libraries already – things that are feminist, but are also just sort of radically inclusive and part of a social justice agenda –  like no unpaid interns, and including support staff in leadership council meetings, retreats, and search committees.  And that is for me a way to try to break down the hierarchy a bit – opening up some of the decision-making venues to more people, and people in different places in the organizational hierarchy. Trying to blur boundaries and make labels and categories less restrictive is resonant with my understanding of queer theory and a queer agenda.

CB to LH: What about you? What kind of agenda do you bring to your work? How much and how does your boss’ agenda and/or your library director’s agenda matter to you?

LH: This is a great question. This entire talk made me go back and do lots of research and pick up texts and ideas I hadn’t looked at for some time. My first thought is to explain what I think an agenda actually is before I tell you what mine is. An agenda, in this context, is simply something you are passionate about and believe. You structure your actions (consciously or not) to support and pursue that belief. You can have more than one agenda and at times they can conflict and they should be questioned by you and by others.

To answer the second part of the question – about how much my boss and/or library director’s agenda matters to me, I’ll say that it depends. It matters that they have an agenda or a passion for something and that it is obvious what it is and that it is genuine (as much as I can know such a thing). I don’t need to agree with it. A healthy organization embraces different ideas and approaches and agendas – but a director’s agenda has to grow and evolve, as does mine. And I want to see that. So if the director’s agenda is inflexible or impossible to understand, unkind, unthinking, racist, classist, sexist, ageist, homophobic, and generally hateful (to paraphrase and borrow loosely from the rules from the AfroPunk festival) then it matters a great deal.

This question made me think about how I don’t fully articulate my agenda (1) because no one asks and (2) because it is not a neatly packaged thing. Simply put, I bring a creative research agenda to my work. This agenda is not purely academic and is intentionally abstract and oriented to exploring ways to make significant social and cultural change. This is influenced by my own personal beliefs and gets filtered through the culture of the organization. My beliefs don’t change based on this organizational hierarchy, but how they work within the structure of the organization is totally dependent on my own analysis of the institution and on the institution and the library’s stated mission and vision. I believe in the potential for libraries (research or otherwise) to be the interdisciplinary heart of their communities and institutions. My agenda is subversive and rebellious and is one that seeks to establish a critical consciousness about the existence and importance of art, design, creative thinking, and idea testing in our work. It is an agenda that is engaged, confused, galvanized, and entirely my own. And I bring part of it to my work but my work, as in my library work, is only a part of my life’s work. My first two higher education experiences – Oberlin College and Goddard College – shaped me as a person – creatively, culturally, intellectually, and politically and they continue to do that. They helped shape my agenda – that I wouldn’t call just an agenda but really my DNA. But to put it simply, my agenda is feminist, humanist, grassroots, non hierarchical, and grounded in the potential of making and art.

LH to CB: Is there a place for grassroots activism from within the library and what if that activism isn’t something you, personally, support?  In other words, what if the folks in the library are equally vocal or active in a community that does not fit into your politics?  How do you as the director manage that and how do you lead?

CB: Interesting question, and I am going to push back a bit by noting that I get asked some version of this whenever I give a talk where I’m explicit about having a feminist agenda; but that I’ve never heard anyone ask that question of the hundreds of library directors who have a more conservative or a neoliberal agenda. Just sayin’.

But to answer you, part of my feminist agenda for libraries is based in pluralism – which does mean that I’m likely to support activism that doesn’t fit my personal politics; as long as it supports the basic values of librarianship and the values of MIT. So I’m having a hard time thinking of an example of grassroots activism that I wouldn’t support purely because of my personal ideological objections.

Much of what I mean by activist librarianship is a call for us to use the tools and expertise and resources we have to provide people in our communities with quality information to navigate the world, and to understand current events. So I would hope that librarians from all across the political spectrum would do that with attention to inclusiveness and rigor.

But there are some core values that aren’t really negotiable —for example, we are coming out soon with an MIT Libraries policy that not only will all conferences we host have a code of conduct, but that we encourage our staff to only attend conferences that also have a code of conduct.

CB to LH: How do you handle situations with colleagues and/or students or faculty where there is conflict based on deeply held values?

LH: Carefully. Carefully and quickly. I like to just get to it, work it out, and then move forward. I worked in non-profits for many years – attending community meetings, working with public and private entities, trying to negotiate development projects with private developers and city officials, at public hearings – basically it was perfect training for figuring out how to deal with and navigate conflict about things that people approach with passion. It also teaches you that conflict is not about you, it’s not always personal (or you can’t think of it that way if you want to or need to work through it). The first thing I always do is make sure to acknowledge the discomfort – my own, my perception of someone else’s discomfort/annoyance/anger – and be sure that we are having the same experience and conversation. Sometimes you feel conflict when there is none – no sense in dwelling in that place if you don’t need to so you acknowledge it and ask. And then see how we can work through it by figuring out what we both want/need to happen and see if we can come to some sort of compromise.

I listen a lot and I find value in listening to the language that people use and to work from where they are – not what I think or where I am. This is how I approach reference and working with students and faculty anyway.

I also try to keep the conversation on the task or question at hand but like any reference encounter, the question/conflict may not be the real issue. And I work to figure out what the issue is. I am not going to change someone’s mind in that moment, probably, just like they won’t change mine. But I think of it as a learning opportunity for everyone involved.

LH to CB: How do you create a feminist radical culture (or change a culture) that is clear enough for those who need and want direction, and broad enough for those who don’t (need or want) direction?

CB: I think in the case of MIT, maybe because of the strong engineering culture, the harder part of that struggle is to get the people who want really clear direction to be comfortable with more freedom and more ambiguity.  I know that is hard for many folks, especially if there has been a culture where the leaders lay out the strategies and goals for everyone, and priorities are set and agreed on in advance; and roles and responsibilities and boundaries are clearly proscribed. But a part of my feminism, and maybe this is where the queer theory agenda sneaks in too, is to insist on flexibility, to push against proscribed roles and encourage experimentation and boundary crossing. And I think we are probably going to need to provide people with some training and support to feel comfortable operating with less direction than they might be used to … and to be honest, still trying to figure out what that might look like.

An interesting and kind of meta – example of this tension is the obvious emphasis we have put on promoting diversity and inclusion – something that pre-dates me, but is getting clear and regular emphasis from leadership now. We have a very active library Committee on the Promotion of Diversity and Inclusion, we always ask job candidates for professional positions how they would promote diversity and inclusion in the job, and we have added a section about promoting diversity and inclusion to our performance evaluations. BUT, there are folks who very reasonably want to know what the standards are and how that will be measured? They want clear directions; but instead of dictating how we will measure it, I think we need to come up with that as an organization – I think it would be much better if individual work groups came up with shared norms within their groups about what it means for them and their coworkers to promote diversity and inclusion. So for example – I would encourage folks to find out from their co-workers what makes them feel included and agree on some group norms.

CB to LH: What does feminist leadership at MIT Libraries look and feel like to you? To your colleagues (to the extent that you know this)? What do you hope it looks like?

LH: First, I would never try to answer for my colleagues but I don’t think I have had that conversation directly with colleagues at MIT before.

I believe leadership comes from every level of the organization, not just from the top. It is leadership that is cultivating a fearless organization of individual and creative thinkers. I would hope this kind of leadership would create genuine opportunities for dissecting, rethinking, and rebuilding the society, profession, and organization.

I would hope there would be room for curiosity and creativity and discomfort and existing outside of the norm.

I would hope staff would be encouraged to develop as individuals as well as professional and that goal setting and measures of success would be personalized and not institutionalized. I would hope that professional development would be encouraged based on strengths and interests – with attendance at conferences and in classes outside of traditional librarianship.

I often think about higher education and how an academic library has an opportunity to model a true progressive agenda, to try things in ways that other departments cannot. It goes back to the idea of being the interdisciplinary heart of their institutions/communities.

I would hope that it looked like utopia and that it was something we never actually achieved but continuously worked towards on a daily basis.

Creative leadership is about being both future thinking and present. About everyone connected to the bigger picture, to the world, but also to themselves.

LH to CB: What does feminist leadership look like? What has it looked like at MIT thus far and what do you anticipate for the future?

CB: For me, it is trying to always ask “Who is missing?” – whether that is at the table where decisions are made, in the collections, in our services, in our marketing swag, etc. I also ask, and want to encourage everyone to ask, who and what is being centered here and how can we re-center this project, this service, this whatever, so that it is more inclusive, and maybe more challenging (but in a good way) for people – including our own people.

It is also about an ethic of care and caring, articulated so well by Bethany Nowviskie. It is about trying to create a space where it is OK to be your whole self at work, as you care to. It is about creating an organization where you don’t have to pretend you don’t have a life outside of work, and where we care about each other as full fellow humans. Perhaps surprisingly I learned that kind of leadership in my years in the Army — in the Army leaders are legally responsible for the health, welfare, and morale of the soldiers under their command; and I try to bring that sense of being responsible to the people in our organization to my work now too – but hopefully in a less paternalistic and more feminist, caring-as-empowerment, way.
[At this point we had a slide on the screen with a modified version of a bell hooks quote that has been a touchstone for me since I first decided to pursue a career in academia. The original quote is from Teaching to Transgress.

Modified bell hooks quote, from Teaching to Transgress

[Modified bell hooks quote = “The academy library is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom library, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education librarianship as the practice of freedom.”]

Feminist leadership for me is very much about continuing to be motivated by that bell hooks quote – because that promise, that the academy (or the library) isn’t paradise, but that there are spaces within our work where we can create a bit of paradise, is why I do this work. That is the sentiment that underlies the way I think about bringing a feminist and queer agenda to libraries. The “queer” part is about rejecting boundaries and classifications and imagining (and insisting on the possibility) of a radical new idealized future where people, and our behaviors, and our desires, and our ways of being, defy categorization.
 It is about embracing the promise of libraries as great forces for social justice and equity, while recognizing the limits of libraries as neoliberal institutions. It is about encouraging a culture of open minds and hearts; where we recognize that the boundaries we labor within (and sometimes create and enforce) are socially constructed and should be questioned and, when necessary, transgressed. It is about seeing our work as contributing to a more free and just and equitable community and world. I choose to believe that librarianship can make those kinds of contributions in the world, and I want to lead in such a way that the folks who work at MIT Libraries believe that too, and have the opportunity to make it real.

 

Digital Library Matters: DLF Liberal Arts College Pre-conference

Text of my part of the DLF Liberal Arts College pre-conference keynote that I gave with the amazing Cecily Walker. Her part is here, and linked in context below.
There are also community notes from our talk, and an active twitter stream (#dlflac).

I am delighted to be here, and to have the chance to talk to you this morning with my colleague from the Vancouver public library, Cecily Walker.

Funny story – I really just met Cecily last night at a sports bar. Seriously – we had never met in person before last night. But lest you think I am in the habit of just meeting people in sports bars and asking them to share a keynote with me, I’ve actually known Cecily online for years. I’ve long admired her work – especially the way she reflects on the work she does and the way she encourages the rest of us to think more critically about the work we do.

On twitter and on her blog, Cecily’s reflections have compelled me to reconsider what it means to be me, doing the work that I do. She has prodded me, perhaps unknowingly, to think more carefully about how my work and my relationship to librarianship is situated in my personal and professional identity and in the complicated intersections of race, gender, sexuality, power, gender identity, ability, and other statuses that continually define and redefine my identity and situational privilege.

Cecily is one of those friend/colleagues who makes me think and makes me laugh — my very favorite kind of colleague — and I’m really happy and honored to be co-presenting with her this morning.

What we plan to talk about this morning is our shared and our individual perspectives on Digital Library Matters – which is a title we use to signify that we will talk about digital library matters, but also about how and why digital libraries matter; and why we are both advocates for doing work that matters and of thinking carefully and critically about why our work matters on multiple levels.

I’m going to talk a bit about why I think libraries, digital libraries, and the librarians, archivists and others who do the work of libraries matter so much now. Then Cecily is going to talk about her experiences doing digital library work at the Vancouver Public Library on projects that matter to her and to her community. Then I hope we can have a conversation on digital library matters, and how y’all think about what matters and why and how in the work you do – or aspire to do.

I have to start with a couple of caveats:

First – I’m actually not a fan of keynote talks.

I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted with the whole concept of one special choosen person spouting wisdom and inspiration to a roomful of peers; then answering questions from the stage like some wise oracle. But I decided to say yes to this invitation on the condition that I could invite a colleague to co-present with me; because I knew that would give me the opportunity to hear more about Cecily’s work and how she approaches that work. And because I want more of us to hear what she has to say. I’m also hoping that doing this together will inspire something more like a conversation than a Q&A at the end.

My second caveat is that this might get personal.

The last several talks I’ve given have been a bit more personal than usual — in March, I gave a talk just days after a beloved bother-in-laws funeral. This June I gave a talk at ALA just days after the Charleston shootings, and an intro to a panel at RBMS on the very morning that the Supreme Court declared my marriage was legal across the country. Those events and my feelings about them definitely ended up in my talks.

As I long-time feminist, I’ve long believed that the personal is political, and as someone who came to librarianship because it is a values-based profession, I also believe the personal is professional and vice-versa. So personal and political events tend to find their way into my work – including and perhaps especially into talks I give. Let me be clear, I offer that as an informational warning only, NOT as an apology.

Probably the most significant thing going on for me personally and professionally is that I recently made a move from being an associate university librarian at Stanford University, where my portfolio was all humanities and social sciences – at a school with large and very strong programs in both – to being the library director at an institute of technology – actually at THE Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

And something very strange is happening — in meetings all over MIT I frequently find myself looking around the room and thinking “oh, I’m the only humanities person here.”

Now the thing that is strange about that is that I’m not actually a humanities person — I’m a sociologist. I haven’t taken a humanities class since my sophomore year in college and that was more than a few years ago. And frankly I didn’t do very well in it, if I recall correctly. My education, my training, my research, all of my degrees are in sociology – and quantitative sociology at that.

But there is something about being situated in a science, engineering and technology school, amongst so many engineers and “real” scientists, that has given me an even deeper appreciation & affinity for the humanities, and for a humanistic perspective that incorporates the skills of engrossment and empathy, as DLF’s own Bethany Nowviskie describes in her recent talk about “capacity and care.”

But the humanities don’t need me to represent them or defend them or save them – although funding cuts have forced many humanities departments and advocates into defensive postures.

I expect many of you have seen the clever defense of the humanities proclaiming that while science can tell you how to clone a T-Rex, humanities can tell you why you might not want to.Science v Humanities

Not to diss too much on the good folks from the school of humanities at the University of Utah who created the poster, but I think we can understand the value of humanities in a more nuanced way than this.

First of all, science can’t actually tell us how to clone a t-rex. I checked with colleagues at MIT, and they assure me that we don’t really know how to do that yet.

But more importantly, it takes science, engineering, social sciences & humanities to tell us the kinds of impacts technology and technology enabled innovations will have on society, on the planet, and on individuals.

I have to take a minute here to brag about both my new and my old schools.

The Times Higher Education World University rankings just named MIT, Stanford, and some other school just up the river from MIT as the top 3 universities worldwide for Arts and Humanities Education.

In some ways, what I loved most about this was not the the ranking itself, but was what MIT’s president Rafael Reif, an engineer, had to say about it —

Humanities and Arts teaching are central to guiding MIT students in their growth as human beings who understand the power of science and technology, are alert to its impacts on society, and are prepared to be bold, thoughtful leaders of constructive change.

And then listen to what Melissa Nobles, the Dean of the School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences at MIT, had to say: “The world’s problems are so complex they’re not only science and technological problems. They are as much human and moral problems.”

Dean Nobles goes on to say that the big challenges facing us today are so complex that our only hope of progress is through collaboration across skills, disciplines, and perspectives.

To me it is clear that this is true of digital library matters as well.

We need all kinds of people contributing to the work we do – people with technical chops, people skilled and trained in the methods and values of librarianship, people with humanities training and insights, and maybe even a few folks like me with social science backgrounds.

And, although I wish I could say it goes without saying, I know that it doesn’t, so I’ll say it – we also need people of all genders, races, abilities, socio-economic statuses, and nationalities. If we want to do work that contributes to a fuller, richer, more varied understanding of our world, then we need inclusive and diverse teams collaborating on that work. Full stop.

And I think this is critical precisely because I do believe that our work matters. I am convinced that libraries, maybe especially digital libraries, matter more than ever in the age of … well, in the age of now.

Some of you may recognize that I am deliberately invoking the subtitle of John Palfrey’s recent book about the future of libraries – Bibliotech: Why Libraries Matter More than Ever in the Age of Google.

Jiffy with Bibliotech

the cutest dog on the internet recommends Bibliotech

If you haven’t read it yet, Jiffy and I certainly recommend it. In addition to being the cutest dog on the internet, with his own hashtag #DailyJiffy, he is an exceptionally discriminating and well-read fellow.

Back to the book – in BiblioTech, Palfrey makes the grand argument that communities need public libraries; and colleges and universities need academic libraries now more than ever, because … well, because technology.

If I understand it correctly, his argument is that technologies (google, digital books, mobile computing, MOOCs, etc.) don’t replace traditional libraries and library functions but that they actually create new demands and new manifestations of long-existing library missions and functions.

To be fair, that isn’t his whole argument, and he does us all a solid by making it quite clear that one of the main goals of his book is to make it very clear to those who control library funding, and that libraries serve and will continue to serve crucial social functions, and that therefore libraries need and deserve copious financial support.

AMEN – I am not about to argue with that.

But/and, I think it is important to also proclaim that libraries (and archives) matter now more than even not just because of google and technology; but also because of the very real and urgent social and human problems and challenges facing our nation and our world.

Libraries matter because humanity

Libraries matter because humanity

I’m talking about problems like ridiculously large wealth and income gaps that keep growing, which means we have both crippling poverty and hunger in various parts of the world while in the US we also have an increasingly powerful 1% with growing wealth and growing influence on the economy, on government, and on our shared future.

I’m also talking about problems like the fact that we are witnessing refugee crises so tragic and so massive that many of us can barely comprehend the scale of human suffering we are witnessing.

I’m referring to challenges like the fact that we don’t yet know how we can ensure that there will be enough food and clean water for the estimated 9.6 billion people who will occupy the planet by 2050.

We likewise haven’t figured out yet how to provide quality education to the billions more people who need and want it, people who the next generation will count on to solve the wicked problems we leave them with.

So I am less concerned with what it means to be a librarian in the age of Google — instead the questions that motivate me are:

What does it mean or what could it mean to be a librarian or an archivist or a digital library developer doing the work we do in the age of #BlackLivesMatter?

How do make sure our work matters in a time when the need to confront climate change has never been more urgent nor the science more politicized?

What is the role of digital libraries in this particular moment in time when desperate refugee families risk and lose everything fleeing violence while a leading US presidential candidate says that if elected,he will send them back, while he woos voters with the promise that he will build a big beautiful fall to keep “illegals” (some of whom, he begrudgingly concedes might be decent people) out of our country?
I warned you this might get political.

How do we make sure we are doing work that matters when news of the latest mass shooting in the US comes at us before we have even made sense of the last one – as if we could actually make sense of news like this.

What does it mean – what could it mean – to be doing the work we do at a time like this?

I believe – I chose to believe – that libraries, and yes, even technology – can be forces for social good in this world. Not that they are existentially good – but that they can be. BUT only when intentional, critical, deeply value-laden (NOT neutral) choices are made in how we define, develop, and deliver the set of things we call Digital Libraries.

We are in the process of developing a bold new vision for the MIT Libraries, and it will certainly include the notion that our libraries ought to provide safe, interdisciplinary, inclusive, ecumenical gathering spaces – physical and virtual – where community members have access to scholarly resources and to experts to support their research and learning goals and their personal growth and well-being. My vision is for spaces and environments where community members have access to all kinds of resources – books and journals, or course; but also data, maps, images, newspapers, films, and the tools and expertise that provide the context that might help us make sense of the world around us.

I see libraries, digital and physical, as platforms for equipping all of us to be more informed global citizens, able to participate effectively in the public sphere. And not to be too much of a downer here, but the wicked challenges we face as a global society require all of us to participate at our fullest capacities- together.

This is what I mean when I say digital libraries matter now more than ever. This is also why I couldn’t imagine giving this talk by myself – I don’t really DO digital library work.

But I have had the great privilege to work with many people who do extraordinary work leveraging technology to bring context and meaning to grand challenges & big issues.

And I have had the privilege of getting to know incredibly talented and passionate people via social media – people like Cecily.

I told y’all at the outset why I asked Cecily to join me up here today; so now it is her turn to tell us why she said yes.


Go now and read what Cecily said – it is powerful and important and amazing.

(Did you read it? Told ya it was great, right?)


As we wrap up here, instead of y’all asking us questions, we’d really rather hear your reactions, your comments, and we have some questions to ask you:

    What are examples of work you’ve done, or want to do, that matters?

How should we collaborate across our different kinds and sizes of libraries – with different ideas about what matters, and different resources? How can DLF help?

How can we do work that matters, that we care about, without becoming too enmeshed and running the risk of suffering emotional burn-out at the individual level, and/or contributing to the devaluation of librarianship as a feminized, caring profession? In other words how can we balance capacity, community, and care?

Discussing RBMS 2015

I blog almost all of my talks, but had not planned on blogging my remarks from RBMS 2015 this summer because I was just the discussant; I didn’t give a talk talk. But the organizers told me they like having something to link to, so here’s my best recreation of what I said, based on pretty good notes.

This is my first RBMS, and I have a few confessions to make:

My first confession is that I honestly would rather be with my wife right now than with you all. No offense really, but our marriage just became legal in all 50 states and I want to celebrate with her. It is cool though, that I could drive from here in Oakland back to my wife in our new hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts and our marriage would remain valid the whole way for the first time in history. So, that isn’t the confession I was planning on making today, but it is true and it is heartfelt.

My real first confession is that I’m not an archivist, I’m not a rare books librarian, I’m not a manuscripts librarian. I’m not even a humanities scholar or faculty member or any kind. Heck, I’m not even really a librarian according to some definitions.

I’m just a library director … which means I do none of the actual work that ensures that rare books and manuscripts are collected, preserved and made accessible; but I do control lots of resources that make the work possible; and I care deeply about that work.

My second confession is that I’m actually more comfortable in the audience than on the stage – when I’m in the audience, I can do what I do best – snark on twitter about the presentations. Honestly, that’s kinda my thing – I go to conferences and I get snarky on twitter. My favorite snark topics – and most conference presentations provide plenty of fodder for these – are lack of diversity on speaking panels or in collections, uncritical adherence to neo-liberal thinking in library “innovations”, and a general lack of attention to issues of power, privilege, and positionality. I have to say thus far, RBMS has given me very very little to snark about. It’s a bit disorienting.

In all seriousness, lets give it up for the program committee
Y’all did a tremendous job in putting together a great set of speakers who prodded me, and I hope some of you, to think critically about the work we do and its meanings in and to the communities we serve and represent. And it is no small thing that this program was definitely not the usual cast of white dudes talking about the collections and archives of other white dudes. Well done!

Some of the big themes I’ve heard thus far I think will also be reflected in this plenary. We’ve talked a lot about “amateurism” and volunteer labor — this idea, perhaps we could call it a trend, of people who are not professionally trained archivists or librarians doing the work of building, organizing, and providing access to archives. Our two closing plenary speakers this afternoon are not archivists, but have built and are building archives of real significance to the broader research community. They are also leveraging technology and new ways of collecting and organizing materials in concert with traditional archival materials and methods.

Other themes I’ve heard include the tension between slow, caring work with and for archives; and the need for speed and efficiencies. Themes of passion versus the illusion of neutrality have likewise emerged. I’m sure there are other themes that will come out and that will produce a great final discussion.

Our speakers for this closing plenary include a Stanford professor who I know fairly well, and whose project was the inspiration for the Library Concierge Program I started while I was with the Stanford Lbiraries; and a fellow “outside librarian” whose work I have long admired and who I am delighted to finally meet in person.
~~~
Then I introduced Gordon Chang and Rick Prelinger. They both gave great talks. The discussion was also lively and thoughtful, and included what I am told was the first RBMS instance of panelists live-tweeting each other during a session and then expanding on the twitter conversation from the stage. A true multi-modal and multi-media plenary session.

So, that’s it – my first, but I hope not my last, RBMS.

Rivers: a playlist

My daily view of the Charles River

My daily view of the Charles River


I live by a river now, and some dear friends just had a new baby named River, so I made a playlist of songs in my library with “river” in the song title. Not a bad set of tunes:

Big River Johnny Cash
Blood Red River Beth Orton
Bottom of the River Delta Rae
Buffalo River Home John Hiatt
Come To The River The Jayhawks
Crystal River Mudcrutch (Tom Petty’s jam band)
Down By the River Neil Young
Drank Like A River Whiskeytown
Ev’ry Wind (In The River) Taj Mahal
Going To The River Robbie Robertson & Galactic (Fats Domino cover)
Green River Creedence Clearwater Revival
Harlem River Blues Justin Townes Earle
How Deep Is That River Mason Jennings
In The Mississippi River Mavis Staples
Kaskaskia River Sufjan Stevens Sufjan Stevens
Let The River Run Carly Simon
The Lonesome River Bob Dylan Feat. Ralph Stanley
Meeting Across the River Bruce Springsteen
Moody River John Fogerty
Red River Shore Bob Dylan
Ride Across The River Dire Straits
Ride The River J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton
River Indigo Girls (gorgeous cover of Joni Mitchell classic)
River Joni Mitchell
River Man Nick Drake
River Song Tom Rush
River’s Invitation The James Cotton Blues Band
Riverman Andrew Duhon
The Rivers Of Babylon [Live] Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris (magical – trust me)
Two Rivers Jeff Beck

Some notes:

  • Glen Worthey once commented that most of my playlists include some lesser-known Dylan tune. I guess Lonesome River qualifies.
  • If you have never listened to the Steve Earle/Emmylou Harris version of Rivers of Babylon, do it now. Thank me later.
  • I discovered Andrew Duhon in a small club in New Orleans several years ago. If you like singer-songwriters who straddle the folk/country/blues borders, you’ll dig this guy.
  • I was surprised there’s no Lucinda on this list. She sings about rivers, just never put “river” in a song title I guess.

Infrastructure and Culture: A job talk

Below is the text, with some of the slides, from the job talk I gave as part of the interview process for my current job as Director of Libraries at MIT. I have shared it with a few folks who seem to have found it helpful in preparing for similar job talks, so I hope that sharing it here is helpful to others. I also have found it helpful to look back at it myself from time to time – I see it as sort of the “platform I ran on”, and I want to make sure I honor the commitments made herein.

Shaping scholarly communication: Infrastructure and Culture

Shaping scholarly communication: Infrastructure and Culture

Good morning and thank you all for coming out this morning to hear my talk. It is a tremendous honor to be here and to be in consideration for the job of Director of the MIT Libraries.

As I think you know, I have been asked to talk about the future of scholarly communication and generally how I would see myself influencing that future as part of the MIT community. But since this may be the only chance some of you will have to meet me in the day and a half that I am here, I wanted to fill in some of the details about who I am and how and why I ended up here this morning.

You know from my CV (pdf) that I am currently the AUL for Public Services for Stanford Libraries, responsible for the humanities, social science, and area studies libraries, plus special collections, plus direct user support in digital humanities and social science data. Those of you who paid close attention to my CV will have noticed that my path to a career in academic libraries has been a bit unconventional.

Because I paid for college with an ROTC scholarship, my first job after graduation was as an active duty army office. I was stationed in Germany during the tail-end of the Cold War and it was during that time that I gained invaluable experience as a leader, especially during my time as a company commander. At the end of my tour in Germany, I applied for and was accepted into an Army program that sends selected army officers to graduate school in exchange for a commitment to teach at West Point. So I got a master’s degree in Sociology from the University of Maryland, then spent 3 years teaching leadership and sociology to cadets at the US Military Academy. By the time those 3 years were up, it was clear to me that a career in higher education was going to be a better fit for me than an Army career; so I resigned from the military and began a PhD program in Sociology at Stanford. As a graduate student at Stanford, I worked part-time in the library in the Social Science Data center. During that time I came to really see the critical role that the library and librarians played in the research and teaching life of the campus; and I very much enjoyed being a part of that.

While I was in the final stages of writing my dissertation – and therefore spending even more time in the library — several of my librarian colleagues encouraged me to apply for the Social Sciences Librarian position that was open at Stanford at the time. By then I had learned enough about libraries and librarianship, that it was clear to me that a career in academic libraries would be an extraordinarily good fit for my combination of leadership experience and scholarly training. More importantly, I believed that the work I could accomplish within research libraries would likely have a greater impact on the future of scholarship than the work I might have accomplished as an individual scholar.

That has absolutely turned out to be true for me. My career at Stanford has allowed me to assume positions of increasing responsibility since that first library job as well as the opportunity to participate in the profession at a national level. A job as director of libraries at a major research university like MIT is very appealing to me as a next step in my career and as an opportunity to continue to influence the future of libraries and scholarly communication at what I consider a crucially important time for both.

I am convinced that the decisions that are made now, and the directions we take, especially at institutions like MIT, will have profound implications for the future of scholarly communication and therefore on the influence that scholars and scholarship can have on addressing the world’s greatest challenges.
Which brings us to the substantive portion of my talk.

I’ve been asked to talk about the role research institutions like MIT have in shaping the future of scholarly communication, with an emphasis on how I might influence local and national discourse, and how I might lead the libraries and the press to have maximum impact. And, I’ve been asked to do that in 30 minutes.
It is a big topic, or set of topics, and I certainly have more than 30 minutes worth of thoughts on it. Some of what I want to say will necessarily be at a fairly abstract level, but I will try to provide some examples which I am happy to address in more detail during the Q&A time.

Frankly, I’m also hesitant to offer detailed plans for MIT because I believe that a new leader should spend a considerable amount of time learning about a new organization, its culture, its strengths and aspirations before initiating any specific strategies for that organization. There are also a number of topics that I think are crucial to the future of libraries and scholarly communication, but that I won’t address directly in the scope of this talk – I hope you will feel free to ask me about my thoughts on learning spaces, MOOCs, information literacy, big data, shared print collections, the role of social media in marketing the library and the press, and any of the other topics that I don’t directly highlight in the next 30 minutes or so.

What I will talk about is how institutions like MIT, and specifically the MIT Libraries and the MIT Press, play key roles in shaping the future of scholarly communication by providing an infrastructure and a culture that supports the creation, dissemination and preservation of knowledge.

My plan is to explain what I mean by infrastructure and culture, explain where and how I think choices about infrastructure and/or culture, particularly in the context of libraries and university presses, affect scholarship and the future of scholarly publishing, and provide examples of ways I have tried, and would continue to try, to influence discourse and organizational effectiveness via infrastructure and culture.

When I talk about infrastructure, I’m referring to not only physical settings but also to the digital infrastructures that are increasingly important to research and learning. And when I talk about culture, I’m primarily talking about organizational culture – the assumptions, values, and norms that make up an organization’s personality and that guide (or should guide) the decisions an organization makes – not just about what to do, but also how work is accomplished and by whom.

Bikes outside Green Library, Stanford

Bikes outside Green Library, Stanford

As a sociologist I see infrastructure and culture as not separate domains, but as very much interrelated. For example, Stanford is a biking campus, not just because we are in California, with its culture of healthy living and environmental consciousness, but also because we have a very large sprawling campus and we enjoy generally excellent weather all year round.

Infrastructure and culture are mutually reinforcing aspects of a healthy, effective organization. And as a leader, ensuring that infrastructures are reflective of and supportive of a clearly articulated culture is one of my key responsibilities.

I also think it is important to note at the outset that I do not believe that libraries have ever been merely neutral repositories of information; nor do I think they should be. Great libraries are always more than infrastructure, they are more than warehouses they are definitely more than merely a Netflix for books.
Great libraries embody the cultural values of their communities and their parent organizations; and they promote the values of democracy, diversity, openness, and the idea that education is a public and social good.

MIT strikes me as a place that openly strives to create infrastructures that match your particular culture and values; and as a place where the libraries and the press are expected to play leading roles in advocating for change in scholarly publishing practices and higher education consistent with MIT values. That is one of the key factors that makes this opportunity so attractive to me.

For example, it is no coincidence that DSpace – an infrastructure designed to promote the preservation and open dissemination of scholarship, was developed at MIT – an institution with a culture that promotes open access to the scholarly record and that includes preservation as part of its mission. I won’t name names, but many institutions lag behind MIT in providing access to the research they produce. In some cases, it is because they have the cultural will, but lack the infrastructure; at other universities, the infrastructure exists, but the institution lacks a shared cultural imperative. It seems clear to me that the tight coupling of culture and infrastructure has been a key factor in MIT’s unique and early success in disseminating its research and teaching to the world.

DSpace at MIT

DSpace at MIT

MIT established itself as a bold and effective leader in the open access movement when it developed DSpace over a decade ago, and again when faculty passed an Open Access policy in 2009.
(Let me note here that I am aware that within the broad support for open access as a concept there are valid concerns across campus about how to balance openness with current realities of tenure and promotion and the pressure on humanities graduates especially to revise their dissertations into a first book that university presses will be wiling to publish.)

It is clear to me that the MIT Libraries and the MIT Press play a vital role in providing the kinds of physical and digital infrastructures that facilitate world-class scholarship and teaching and that encourage and support innovations in research and pedagogy.

The next leader of the MIT libraries and the MIT press will clearly have a unique opportunity and responsibility to continue the legacy of leadership and excellence, and to influence the discourse on open access – both locally and nationally.

My sense of the open access landscape is that the movement has reached the point where it is time to take stock of the many innovations, experiments, successes, and failures in this space. MIT strikes me as especially well-positioned to lead such a conversation.

Open Access: What's next?

Open Access: What’s next?

Developing sustainable models for open access publishing requires an understanding of the complex interactions between the ways scholarship is produced, reviewed, published, rewarded, marketed and disseminated – and the ways all of those things are changing.
Essentially, I see this as a sort of systems engineering puzzle – the exact kind of problem that folks from MIT are especially well qualified to solve.
It is time to pull together all the key players – scholarly associations, librarians, publishers, funding agencies, and scholars – to develop a systematic inventory of what we know about open access efforts to date, and what remains to be learned. I would love to see MIT host a set of productive conversations on open access, with the explicit goal of chronicling what we know so far, and charting a direction for continued development of infrastructures, policies and practices based on documented successes and best practices.

Moving from experimentation to sustainable models for Open Access, especially models that move beyond journals to include monographs as well as new forms of interactive, multimedia narratives, will require steady and coordinated change across all parts of the scholarly communication system.

Change in this space will also require new radically collaborative funding models – such as the model suggested by a recent white paper produced by K|N Consultants that calls for all higher education institutions to contribute to a centrally managed fund that would be used to support partnerships among scholarly societies, research libraries, and other institutional players for the production, access and long-term preservation of new and evolving forms of research output. Full disclosure, I am was a member of the Board of Directors of K|N consultants – in part because I think bold strategies like the one they propose need to be part of the conversation.

Encouraging and hosting a systematic and collaborative meta-analysis of what we currently know about open access is one specific way I would want to leverage the expertise, culture, and reputation of MIT to influence discourse and progress in shaping the future of scholarly communication. In other words, lets gather the available data, from all parts of the ecosystem, and analyze it so we can make smart decisions about how to move forward.

Finding ways to promote and sustain open access to and broad dissemination of scholarly research is not only consistent with the core values of librarianship and with the mission of MIT, but it also conveniently has the potential to offer some relief from the very real budget pressures most academic libraries and their host institutions are all too familiar with. Flat or declining collection budgets, combined with rising serials costs – especially in the sciences – have driven most libraries to look very carefully at the value of their collections and to focus on maximizing the return on investment on the materials we acquire.

Journals, photo by Wayne Vanderkuil

Journals, photo by Wayne Vanderkuil

Now, while I am very much in favor of maximizing the use and impact of our collections, I am also an advocate for explicit efforts to ensure that use and popularity are not the sole determinants of what sorts of materials libraries collect. I believe that libraries need to collect and university presses need to publish diverse literatures, on niche topics and by authors from underrepresented groups not just so that our individual collections reflect a stated commitment to diversity; but also to ensure that diverse voices get published and are therefore available as part of the collective scholarly record we leave to future students and scholars.

I also think it is important to recognize that the books we collected in the past, and kept, preserved, and digitized are now available for innovative new kinds of research – such as this project on the evolution of Brazilian Portuguese.

Graph of evolution of Brazilian Portuguese, courtesy of Cuauhtémoc García-García

Graph of evolution of Brazilian Portuguese, courtesy of Cuauhtémoc García-García

The data for this research – provided to the Stanford research team by Stanford librarians — consists of the digitized texts of Portuguese language books in HathiTrust & Google Books –from our own collections and those of our peers. Here’s the thing — Our pre-colonial Brazilian literature doesn’t really get much use, and it is a good bet that the majority of the tens of thousands of texts that make up the data for this study have less than impressive circulation records. For me this project, and other examples of research that depend on rarely used materials, stand as cautionary tales about relying too heavily on use statistics and narrowly defined return on investment metrics for decision-making and assessment. We have to be cognizant of the fact that current and future scholars will make use of our archives, our collections, and our data in ways we cannot now imagine.

Creating a culture that values diversity and the long-term value of library collections and services requires new and innovative ways of assessing and demonstrating impact. With this in mind, I started a pilot project last year, with one of our digital humanities librarians, to investigate an alternate way of assessing the value of libraries and librarians. In this project, we used text-mining techniques to quantify and analyze mentions of Stanford libraries and librarians in the acknowledgements sections of published monographs. We have dubbed this our “measuring thanks” project, and our early findings are quite encouraging and informative. For example, we have found that the two library services most often mentioned by name in acknowledgements are special collections and interlibrary borrowing. We have also found that the majority of authors who acknowledge a library actually acknowledge more than 1 library or collection—pointing to the importance of creating collaborative collections and discovery environments to make access to dispersed but related collections even easier for future scholars.

Developing new ways of demonstrating the impact of our services and collections is a way of promoting a culture that values assessment, but also recognizes that the true impact of libraries and librarians is often delayed and too idiosyncratic to show up in most of the standard ROI style assessment tools currently in use.
So while I am a fan of assessment and data-driven decision-making, I think it is critically important that we make sure the data we are using captures the full story of our impact. As a social scientist with experience teaching and consulting on statistics and research methods, I’m committed to making sure that the assessment tools we use in libraries are the right ones, that the data we collect measures what really matters, and that we use methods appropriate to the decisions we want to make.

In addition to providing an alternate, potentially more meaningful benchmark for library impact and value, one of the other things I love about the “Measuring thanks” project is that it has provided us with true stories that help us connect the work we do with actual scholarly products.

Ensuring that all members of our staff understand how their own work and the work of their colleagues contributes to the research and teaching missions of the university is one of the main goals of the Library Concierge Program – a project I developed for Stanford Libraries in 2012.

Stanford Libraries Concierge Program, with feedback

Stanford Libraries Concierge Program, with feedback

The Concierge Program ensures that all our library staff have a good understanding of the array of resources and services we have to offer – from print and digital collections across many disciplines, to multi-media training, to digital humanities support, to data management planning and more. The Program consists of structured opportunities for all library staff – from subject liaisons to cataloguers to shelves, even many of our long-term student workers – to learn about what their colleagues in other parts of the organization are doing, so that we could all act as ambassadors – or concierges – for the full range of resources, services and expertise the libraries have to offer. The program is explicitly designed to break down the silos across the library, the university press, and our academic computing services and to promote more open exchange of information and expertise among all members of the libraries.

I’m happy to say that the program has been a huge success – I offer these 2 quotes as partial evidence, supporting by a more quantitative evaluation reported in a case study published in the open access Journal of Creative Library Practice. As the quotes suggest, library staff report that they have a better understanding of the bigger organization and how & where their particular job fits in the big picture. And ultimately, the success of the program is revealed through the impact on scholars, who, as the 2nd quote illustrates, are able to make more productive and efficient use of the resources we make available to them.

The final topic I want to touch on is the work I have done as an advocate for increased diversity and inclusion in the library profession generally, and specifically in library technology.

As some of you know, I am active on social media – I’ve used twitter and my blog, as well as various speaking opportunities to try to raise awareness about the lack of diversity in librarianship and I have played a leading role in two major recent events – a day-long forum on diversity in academic libraries at the Digital Library Federation Fall forum, and a 2-day summit on Leadership, Technology, and Gender in April of this year.

And last summer, I asked our university librarian to issue a public statement in support of anti-harassment policies (or codes of conduct) at library, technology, and higher education conferences. Together, we encouraged our staff to participate only in those conferences that had clear and public anti-harassment policies and to advocate for the adoption of such policies at conferences in which they participate. As a result, Stanford librarians, backed by the strong public stance made by the library leadership, played key roles in the adoption of codes of conduct by several major national and international organizations, including the Association of Digital Humanities Organizations, the Music Library Association, and the Association of Slavic Eastern European & European Studies. I am told that the Coalition of Networked Information is working on such a policy, in response, at least partially, to advocacy from Stanford. I am proud to have played a key role in ensuring that these spaces are safer and more accessible to those who may have otherwise felt less welcome.
OK – to summarize, I was asked to talk about the future of scholarly communication and how I might influence discourse about that future, and how I would lead the MIT Libraries and Press. I hope that what I have shared about the work I have done and the values and passions that motivate me have made it clear what kind of leader I have been thus far and how I would seek to lead if given the opportunity here at MIT.

I believe that scholarship is ultimately a conversation, and my vision of libraries and university presses, is that they are natural hosts for those conversations – creating spaces — virtual, physical, & cultural spaces –where those conversations are facilitated, recorded, published and made available to be used and revised and expanded in ways we can’t yet anticipate; but which we none-the-less must aspire to capture and preserve for future generations.

Infrastructure + Culture = Conversations

Infrastructure + Culture = Conversations

I’m proud of the work my colleagues and I have accomplished at Stanford, and of the influence I have had on broader conversations about issues of importance to the library profession and to the future of scholarly communication.

And … I am ready and eager to assume a more active and a more prominent role in leading and influencing the future of libraries and of scholarly publishing. I am attracted to MIT because of its unique blend of values, scholarly intensity, and commitment to solving real world problems.

By all accounts, the MIT Libraries and the MIT Press are poised to meet the emerging challenges presented by new methods of research, new forms of publication, and changing expectations for access to information. MIT strikes me as a place where people see challenges as opportunities, and where faculty, students and staff alike seek to leverage the full force of MIT’s intellectual resources toward finding solutions to real problems. MIT has already taken a lead in addressing the very real and pressing challenge of finding sustainable models of providing open, equitable & meaningful access to the growing flood of scholarly information, data, and technologies. I would welcome the opportunity to build on MIT’s legacy of strong and principled leadership on these issues as a member of this community and as director of the MIT Libraries.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and I very much welcome your questions.


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