Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Little Libraries, Big Ideas


It's something that's been apparent to me almost my entire career: little libraries have just as many - if not more - big ideas as do big libraries, but our budgets and personnel constraints make it so that we have a hard time getting the word out. I remember distinctly attending ALA Annual in DC back in 2010, walking over to have a conversation with someone at the Dark Horse Comics booth (we'd emailed before, and I wanted to say hi in person, and then later overhearing a remark about how cool it was that librarians were adding comics and graphic novels to their collections. I was flabbergasted. I'd been in charge of a graphic novel collection for most of my career - probably about 6 years - at that point. How was it that people thought libraries didn't do that thing?

And that's not the only instance I've seen in the 14 years since I started my first job in a library. Necessity sometimes truly is the mother of invention, so when your choice is between some fancy new expensive thing and keeping the lights on... you get creative. Small libraries - particularly small public libraries from whom I've shamelessly stolen ideas for years - are hot beds of creativity. Gaming in libraries. Maker spaces that go beyond a 3D printer. Outreach at places you'd never expect it, like a book club that meets in a brew pub. Art shows. The list goes on and on.

Now I need you to bear with me as I try to make this next point, because I'm not exactly sure where this will end up. I know a few things, though. I know that the cost of attending conferences, even smallish local ones, is cost prohibitive for too many people. Further, there are only so many slots for online presentations. I know that a lot of you are going to talk about the amazing connections you can make and enhance when you go to conferences in person, and you're not wrong. I've spent literally thousands of dollars out of my own pocket over the last 5 years to attend conferences, so I know. But I also know that my situation isn't common and not everyone can afford to do what I did.

Further, what about publications? I've tried to make LtaYL a bit of a platform for sharing ideas and innovation. There are plenty of other publications that do the same - The Journal of Creative Library Practice and In the Library with the Lead Pipe come immediately to mind. But what about the people who are so busy keeping their libraries open and running that they have no time to write?

It's hard to think about the kinds of things we're missing because of the disparity in finances between different kinds of libraries. And let's be clear: this isn't just a problem of academic and public libraries. Think about the teeny museum libraries that are run by curators who are also the librarians. Think about the small corporate libraries that have one librarian splitting their time between multiple locations. Think about librarians who work solo in the libraries of small city hospitals. What innovations have they dreamed up that could solve major problems at bigger libraries?

This isn't the first nor will it be the last time I discuss this problem, but it's gotten so much more frustrating lately. Admittedly, part of it is because I see big name/big school libraries getting lauded for doing things those of us at smaller libraries have been doing for years, and it stings. It really stings. Beyond the selfish aspect of this, though, is the fact that we really are missing out on some amazing ideas.

So, how can we solve this problem? Scholarships are good, but don't go far. Can we get more committees - particularly committees that are part of national organizations - to go digital? I'm not sure how to answer this issue, since my own solution was to dig into my own bank account. So, really, what ideas do you have?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Stepping Back: Creating Space for Equity in Librarianship, by Violet Fox



As a (relatively) new librarian—I got my MLIS in 2013—I’ve been doing some soul searching lately on my place within the future of libraries, inspired by articles and blog posts on the whiteness of librarianship (e.g., Max Macias on “Whiteness in Libraries,” April Hathcock on “White Librarianship in Blackface”) and innumerable Twitter conversations, especially critlib chats.


It’s apparent that bringing people from marginalized groups into library work, by rethinking hiring practices (see Angela Galvan on “Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias”), and more importantly by creating workplaces that ensure librarians from a variety of backgrounds feel valued and secure, benefits us all. For those of us who are just starting out, how do we contribute to diversifying the profession?


I’d like to start a dialogue with fellow white people on what it means to divest ourselves from the power that comes from being a white person in librarianship. Many of us might agree that it’s a necessary step, but what does it look like in practice?


For some, it might look like financial support of new librarians. Giving funds for attending conferences (ranging from comping registration fees to funding a new scholarship) helps address the well-documented racial wealth and/or wage gap. Alternatively, people can use their positions of authority (managerial positions or tenure status) to bring issues of race to the forefront or to support coworkers from marginalized communities.


Unfortunately, newer librarians and library school students likely don’t have expendable cash or built-up authority with which to support black or indigenous librarians or librarians of color. But we do have access to a variety of opportunities, including funding, networking, presentations, internships, and library leadership programs. I’m suggesting that, as individuals, we take a moment to evaluate, frankly, our advantages and reconsider opportunities that come our way.


My initial thoughts about this were formed by hearing Hannah Buckland, Director of Library Services at Leech Lake Tribal College, speak about how her library users would be better served if their librarian was a Native American (specifically, in the case of her library, Ojibwe). She candidly made the case that white people will have to step down to make space for Native peoples to learn from and build each other up. I very much appreciate her self-awareness and efforts to invest in those she works with to take over her job in the future.


Her words came to mind again recently when I was asked to speak on a panel. I accepted the invitation but, to be honest, I'm feeling uncomfortable about it. The panel is part of a presentation on self-publishing sponsored by the library at a community/technical college (with approximately 62% students of color), and I was asked to represent the zinester perspective. I am reconsidering my role on the panel because I wonder if my words, talking about how zines can empower people, won’t be as effective as giving that spot to a zinester of color. It’s my responsibility to bring these concerns up with the moderator of the panel, and, if necessary, withdraw my acceptance.


For new librarians, especially those who are unemployed, underemployed, or just not yet at their dream job, it can be easy to slip into competitiveness. As we know from recent politics, very real fears of economic insecurity can lead to resentment and acting without thought for the collective good. In the effort to make a name for oneself, it’s difficult to consider giving up opportunities.


It’s important not to phrase this as “giving up privilege,” which can lead to a sense of benevolent generosity or, worse, white savior complex, but instead to frame these ideas as correcting inequity. As decolonial historian Sandrew Hira writes, “racist oppression, exploitation and injustice of people of color” is not a privilege, it is an injustice. The fruits given to white people based on that brutal tradition are tainted. Of course it is difficult if not impossible for white people to know how much of their status or “good fortune” is related to their whiteness, versus the amount that can be attributed to their hard work. The only moral choice is to assume that at least some of our success has originated in the rotten heritage of white supremacy.


As white people we have what I think is an important privilege: the privilege to act conscientiously in order to benefit the future of librarianship as a whole. Leftist British politician Tony Barr, who understood that social change came from the collective action of ordinary people, once said “[h]ope is the fuel of progress and fear is the prison in which you put yourself.” A compassionate, equitable future for libraries can only be reached if we choose to act not out of fear but with a clear understanding of our place in the profession. By stepping back, we create space for unlimited possibilities.

For more thoughts on the necessity of redistributing power to address inequality, see “Diversity Isn’t “Being in the Room”: It’s Whites Giving Up Their Seats” by journalist Ernest Owens. What does “giving up your seat” mean to you in the context of our profession?



Violet Fox is the Metadata Librarian at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University (Minnesota) and a 2013 graduate of the University of Washington iSchool. She helps out with scheduling critlib chats and co-organizing the Twin Cities Zine Fest, and thinks entirely too much about the ethics of classification. Find her on Twitter at @violetbfox.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why I Fight

My Grandfather
So many things I could write about this week. I've been thinking about how small libraries have big ideas that are ignored until a big library follows suit. I've also been thinking about the world of difference between my last job and my current one. I've spent some time thinking about mental health. But I can't stop thinking about the events this past weekend in Charlottesville, and similar events that have been happening again and again in the United States - not just in recent times, but for decades and beyond. That seems more important.

I'm a long time fighter. Here are some examples: Boycotting Coke in the 80s because they were still in South Africa - also posted signs around my high school, even on the Coke machines. Marching for women's rights, and regularly skipping classes to campaign for the same, in the 90s. Embraced and pushed size acceptance in the 00s. As I (and my knees) have aged, I've started fighting with money by donating money to civil rights organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.

And now? What am I fighting for now? I'm fighting so I can be the person my grandfather expected me to be. That means there is no one issue that gets my sole attention. Instead, I work for respect for people's humanity, religious differences, race, and beyond. But it also means that I won't back down from defending people who have been disenfranchised and had their voices taken from them. The United States have a long and bloody history of racism, sexism, religious intolerance, discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. We need to respect and appreciate differences, not suppress and destroy them. We need to do this in our professional as well as our personal lives.

Norman Olin never stopped learning and growing and doing what he could to make things better. He was a traveling salesman who joined the Army Air Corps then ran his own business in NYC before finally becoming a high school teacher and college professor. And there was never any doubt that he loved me for who I am. I hope you all have someone in your life or your past who makes you want to be a better person the way my grandfather does for me. If you don't, feel free to adopt my grandfather for your own posthumously. He'd be happy to meet you.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Handling Microaggressions in the Library, by Amanda M. Leftwich


As a young librarian in the field, no one told me about the microaggressions that I might face in the field. In fact, no other librarian of color mentioned it either. Seemingly, it’s something that you just deal with or something you talk about with your friends AFTER you leave librarianship all together. However dealing with microaggressions as either a young, person of color, gay/lesbian/trans, religious, disabled, or otherwise marginalized person cannot be ignored. Instead of being a passive recipient as I was in the past, here are some ways you can change the conversation.


  • First, confront the microaggression head on. It’s easier to shake your head and walk away when a harsh statement is thrown your way, but it’s not the best for you. Acknowledge the statement (i.e. “Where are you really from?” or “Your hair looks good that way! You look less confrontational that way!”) and start the conversation. Simply saying “this statement makes me uncomfortable please refrain from this language in the future” can help. Most people, especially in the workplace, do not want to be seen as insensitive. Starting the conversation in a non-defensive way can provide a learning opportunity for your fellow co-workers. If you are uncomfortable speaking with the aggressor directly, involve Human Resources (HR). Although this seems drastic, you must protect your well-being in the workplace. Keep a running tab of the aggressions faced with dates and how you addressed them. This will give the manager an idea of the issues you're facing. HR will be able provide a safe place to voice your concerns, and hopefully, find a solution.


  • On the flipside, you aren’t the “Rosetta Stone for Your Community”! While most people are genuinely curious about different cultures, sometimes the questions come off as intrusive. For example, someone frequently asking where your family is truly from OR how did you learn to speak English so well. Remember, you are a library employee, not the interpreter of your culture. You do not have to constantly explain your culture to anyone in the building! If a fellow employee consistently asks you questions about your culture, feel free to change the topic. Or simply say, “I don’t feel like speaking for my entire culture, I only speak for myself.” 


  • Find something you enjoy outside of work. This seems like an obvious one, but everyone needs an outlet. Whether its reading, knitting, running, etc. find something that makes you happy outside of work. This will not only help lower your stress levels, but remind you that there are enjoyable things in life during stressful times. For example, is there a local chapter of a multicultural association in your area (Black Caucus of the American Library Association, REFORMA, APALA, AJL, etc.)? If so, join them! Most memberships have library school student or first-year librarian rates. Becoming active in one (or several) of these organizations can help remind you that you aren’t alone. Membership can also help you find a mentor that’s been through similar experiences. If you’re more introverted try following some online spaces such as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) Twitter page.  


I’ve learned to handle microaggressions in the workplace, but I’m not made of stone. Looking back now, I wish someone would’ve provided me with a list of this nature. Hopefully, someone will not deal with any of the issues I’ve faced.


How about you? Has anyone else learned any valuable skills when faced with microaggressions?


Amanda M. Leftwich is a circulation supervisor for a small arts college in Philadelphia, PA. When she's not in the library she's watching fantasy/sci-fi t.v. shows, studying aromatherapy practices, travelling, or looking for her next foodie adventure! She tweets @thelibmaven.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Getting Up To Speed: First Month in My New Job



My first month in the new job is over, and I feel really good about my progress. I've had a one-on-one meeting with every single person who works for me (16 people!) at least once, and most of them I've sat down with more than that. If you'll remember from the last post I wrote about my new gig, I'm working to learn the People, Process, and Projects. As a way to get to know my people, I asked everybody the exact same questions to start with. Thought I'd share them along with some of my reason for asking each question.


Personal & Professional Questions (these were mostly about breaking the ice and getting to know each other):
  1. How long have you worked at this school?
  2. How long in your current role? (Lots of promotion from within.)
  3. Are you from the area? If not, where are you from originally?
  4. What’s your favorite local restaurant? (Purely selfish on my part!)
  5. How often do you want to hear from me as a group? (Gave me an opportunity to learn about my predecessor's style while also talking about my communication style. Also talked about meetings vs. emails.)
  6. How often do you want to meet with me?
College & Library Questions (They've worked here a lot longer than I have and know the institution better. Also, this gave me an opportunity to figure out staff fears and hopes):

  1. What are the biggest challenges the organization* is facing (or will face in the near future)
  2. Why is the organization* facing (or going to face) these challenges?
  3. What are the most promising opportunities**?
  4. What would need to happen for us to follow up on these opportunities**?
  5. If you were me, on what would you focus your attention?
*In this context, organization can mean everything from your particular part of the library all the way up to GCC in general, but I’m more interested in at the library level or below.

**Here, “opportunities” means anything that could enhance student, faculty, or staff experiences in and with the library. This could include things that would make your job easier or smoother.


I've also had follow up meetings with a good chunk of the staff about their specific job duties, college policies and procedures, and the my questions from walking around and reading as much as I've been able to read so far.

I still have more questions than answers. I still have so much more to learn. Truth is, though, that my learning will be a never-ending story. I was still learning things about my last job up until the very end. But getting past the steepest part of the learning curve is, and will be for the foreseeable future, my top priority.