Editorial: Occupy Librarianship: 5 Variations on a Theme
by Kim Leeder and Editorial Board
Over the past few months, several of us at Lead Pipe have been watching the Occupy Wall Street movement with interest. How does one protest something that seems to be part of the foundation of a culture? And when a foundational institution benefits only a small subset of its members, how does one not protest? None of us at In the Library with the Lead Pipe have ever seen, in the course of our lifetimes, such an amorphous yet focused, long-term, geographically distributed picket line in our own country. It is an inspiration to all those who feel that “business as usual” isn’t working for them. (Not to mention the movement’s endlessly clever picket signs.)
In the spirit of Occupy Wall Street, we at Lead Pipe have been reflecting on some occupations of our own. We each asked ourselves, what should we be occupying to make a statement about a social, cultural, or economic problem in our field? What should cause librarians to strap on our walking shoes, raise picket signs, and craft pithy slogans? What would our occupation do, look like, and chant (literally or metaphorically)? What, in short, should we as librarians be protesting in our own culture?
Occupy the Research and Practice Divide
As a member of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), I get print copies of both College and Research Libraries, the association’s research journal, and College and Research Libraries News, its monthly magazine. Usually, the research journal is tossed into a growing pile of to-reads and I take the magazine with me on the bus. I’ve found that the most useful articles that impact my day-to-day work come from C&RL News (see this gem on lending textbooks at UT San Antonio – an important project, cost considerations, and results – and something I could see replicating on our campus).
There’s a running joke with my colleagues at work that resurfaces with each new issue of College and Research Libraries; upon its arrival, we snort, “I won’t read anything by or for librarians!” We get a laugh out of it, but there’s truth there. Most stuff written in LIS research journals is difficult to read in the context of a busy work day, and as I become more familiar with the research process through my Ph.D. program, I’m coming to realize that a lot of it lacks credibility. The first assignment I was given (along with the rest of my Ph.D. cohort) was to identify a “good” research study and bring it to class – at which point, each of our selections was torn to shreds from a research perspective.
On one hand, I have practitioner colleagues complaining about the irrelevance of LIS research literature; on the other, I have LIS faculty members lamenting the poor quality of the bulk of it.
I’m occupying LIS research literature. I’m indignant that its impact on practice is minimal, and I don’t believe it is only practitioners’ lack of application or researchers’ lack of skill – it’s a gap that both sides need to help fill. For practitioners, this may come in the form of a shift from relying on anecdotal information in making decisions about services and collections; for researchers, it could be a focus on how the results of a study are communicated.
For example, the website for Project Information Literacy (PIL) has research findings, but also presents short video clips summarizing the project and its implications. Already the results of the study are shaping decisions at my library as we design our physical spaces and services.
This philosophy – of producing actionable writing – is at the core of the editorial decisions of this blog. To that end, please share your experiences translating research into practice at your library in the comments below.
Occupy Yourself: How to Be A Change Agent All By Your Lonesome (At First)
During my library school graduation ceremony one of my professors handed me a coffee mug, gave me a hug, and declared “You’re a real change agent! Good luck to you!” Despite having taken both management and marketing classes, I had no idea what on earth she was talking about. Ergo, I simply smiled and nodded. Nine years, and many struggles and sea changes in the landscape of library science later, I get what she was going for: being a change agent, troublemaker, or dissident in the library–pick the jargon with which you are most comfortable–can be both exhilarating and lonely. Sometimes simultaneously.
It’s the nature of a public service career. At some point, even if you don’t interact much with library patrons , you are going to get discouraged. Very discouraged. Quite possibly it’s already happened. Maybe the thought of Amazon going into publishing has pushed you over the edge, or perhaps Library Journal’s 2011 Placements and Salaries Survey was the final straw. Or maybe you’ve just finally reached the end of your patience with the glacial pace of library change compared to the faster-than-light speed of social and technological changes. Whatever the cause may be, you know you have to do something. But what? What can you, one library worker, do to transform your institution?
Change always begins with you, and not just because Ghandi ostensibly said so.1 Unless you hold an official leadership position within your organization, you probably don’t have much formal power, and even if you do have a measure of influence, its upper limit ends where the next level of management begins.2 Therefore, the only thing you have 100% complete control of during your workday is how you choose to conduct yourself. And while this may seem unfair at times, it is also an opportunity to distinguish yourself as a librarian by modeling a different standard.3
No matter what type of library you work in, there are things you can do and ways you can conduct yourself so as to be a force for positive change. If you’re committed to your institution for the long haul, here are some suggestions for staying mentally strong and healthy while you fight the good fight.
Own Your Power
You are far more powerful than you think you are.
If that sentence prompted eye-rolling, derisive snorting, or helpless wailing, you may have already given away your personal power without realizing it.4 According to life coach Shann Vander Leek, people give away their power when they engage in the following behaviors:
- doubting themselves
- trying to make everyone happy
- excessively seeking approval / validation
- forgetting that they know what they’re doing
- having poor boundaries
- allowing other people’s emotional chaos to control them
- failing to honor and share their truth
Be honest with yourself. Are you truly powerless at work? Or are you unwittingly contributing to the probIem?
In his two–part examination of personal power at Lifehacker, Craig Harper suggests that the desire for safety and comfort frequently trumps the desire to make positive, constructive change:
All too often our desire to live a comfortable, painless, easy and safe existence (all things driven by fear) is the very thing that kills our potential, our productivity, our ability to develop and ultimately, our spirit. It is no coincidence that we (the society) have both (1) a widespread aversion to anything that makes us uncomfortable and (2) a high percentage of people who regularly feel frustrated, unfulfilled, lost and miserable. Ironically, it is our aversion to working against resistance that stops us from growing, learning, evolving and adapting. Sometimes (in the moment) we believe it’s simply easier to just “fit in”, to compromise and to bite our tongue. While this is understandable on occasion, over the long term this kind of behaviour and thinking will set us up for unhealthy relationships, stagnation, disconnection, frustration, desperation and misery. In order to take back your power you will need to be courageous (that’s a choice by the way), you will need to be prepared to get uncomfortable (that’s where you learn, grow and adapt) and you will need to do things that may piss other people off – perhaps the ones who previously pulled your strings for their own gain.
Are you prepared to experience discomfort for the sake of positive library change? In what ways have you given away your power? Can you list one positive action you can take today to get it back?
Become a Rhetorical Ninja
Want to win hearts and minds for your grand plan to transform librarianship? Brush up on your rhetoric. You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t articulate them in a way that will appeal to your opponents, you’ll accomplish nothing.
If that sounds too “nice” to be effective, you’ve probably never seen the principles of non-violent communication in action. Non-violent communication5, or NVC, is a way of speaking and interacting with others based on respect and compassion. Its four components–observations, feelings, needs and requests–provide a rhetorical framework for conversations that honestly air grievances without making your opponent feel attacked or disrespected.
Let’s say, for example, you feel your library’s food and drink policy is hopelessly behind the times. Framing your complaint in the NVC model makes you sound professional and rational.6 Observe:
- Observation: “Chief, I’ve noticed that the new food/drink policy restricts coffee to the ground floor of the library.” (clear statement of what you want to change)
- Feelings: “I feel frustrated about this because it puts staff in the role of substitute parents rather than librarians.” (emotional honesty with clear reasoning)
- Needs: “We need to concentrate on helping people find good information, not changing their food habits.” (stating your requirements for a successful outcome)
- Requests: “Can we look into modifying the policy to permit beverages with lids?” (statement of what you want / solution to the problem)7
Using NVC doesn’t guarantee you will always get what you want, but if your current communication strategies aren’t working, what do you have to lose? Experiment with the framework, and, as much as you can, preserve your own natural speech patterns. To learn more, click here to read the first chapter of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion.
Pick Your Battles
I’m thinking about stitching this phrase in comic sans and hanging it over my desk, just to remind myself that not everything in librarianship is a life-or-death issue. In fact, you could argue that–for most of us, at any rate–hardly anything in librarianship is a true life-or-death issue. Unless your workday routinely involves blood or fire, you are in a relatively privileged position, salary under-performance notwithstanding.
This is not the same thing, however, as saying that nothing in librarianship is worth fighting for. There is much work to be done, and it needs done passionately, with fierce conviction. Alas, being human, you have a finite amount of fierce conviction to spend at work. Ergo, the ability to prioritize your campaigns becomes crucial to your professional success, to say nothing of your overall health and well-being. If your library has a strategic plan, half your work is done for you: examining the document carefully should give you an idea what your institution’s priorities are. If you see challenges or opportunities in those priorities, you’ve got fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of change and/or dissent. If your library does not have a plan, or is between plans, try to focus on bigger-picture issues that affect all patrons, as opposed to one-shot issues with minimal impact.
Business consultant Pat Lynch, president of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., offers some sage advice about setting priorities for picking your battles:
Particularly in times of chaos or emergency, people seem to want ‘the’ answer to setting priorities in the form of a tool or method that they can apply to whatever situation they have to address at the moment. However, setting priorities is not something that is best done ‘in the moment,’ nor does it lend itself to a single or optimal method. While there are tools that can be used to assist, the fact remains that setting priorities requires you to develop a process that enables you to deploy your time and energy most effectively. Such a process can be planned ahead of time and followed as the need arises.
In other words, the time to figure out what you value, and will champion, in your library is now, before you’re aflame with outrage. There are a variety of worksheets and matrices you can use for goal-setting, so put your information professional skills to work and find one that suits your individual temperament. Treat yourself to a tasty beverage in a quiet spot and spend some time thinking about, as my own supervisor puts it, “which hills you want to fight and die on.”8 The next time something happens at work that makes you see red, you’ll have rational, objective standards for helping you decide how to spend your energy effectively.
There are other ways to occupy yourself that involve anger management, good self-care, and a host of strategies that extend beyond the scope of one short Lead Pipe protest. Nor are they prescriptive: I have offered my view of where self-occupation might start, and I invite you to offer your own strategies, theories and practical tips in the comments section below. The only thing of which I am sure is that the more we can raise our own levels of self-awareness, the better equipped we will be to make the changes we long to see in our profession.
(back to text) 1. There’s no proof that he did, which makes the sentiment no less lovely – just factually inaccurate, despite its internet popularity. A librarian’s’ self-occupation almost always involves a little myth-busting.
(back to text) 2. Even directors report to a board.
(back to text) 3. Notice that I do not say “higher” or “better.” Everyone has a different vision of librarianship. One sure way to earn respect–if not consensus– for your own vision is to extend the same courtesy to others.
(back to text) 4. Sad to say, many issues with personal power and self-esteem still affect more women than men. As a woman in a predominately female profession, I find this troubling.
(back to text) 5.While I am normally hesitant to link to Wikipedia, the essay on NVC gives an excellent explanation of the technique’s strengths and weaknesses, which compensates for my personal bias toward its use.
(back to text) 6. As opposed to, say, a whiny newbie upstart.
(back to text) 7. Bosses love solutions. If your request contains a solution, your chances of getting what you want increase. If your solution contains a flowchart or bullet points, even better.
(back to text) 8. Richard Kaplan, frequent utterance. Best boss ever. Try not to be too jealous.
How little do you need to run a library? Wait, don’t answer that. Yet.
Librarians as a group pride ourselves on our creative resourcefulness, particularly in the current economic environment. We are experts in making do with less. Less funding, less staffing, less support from city councils, college administrations, or whoever makes budgetary decisions. Libraries lose one, three, or a dozen positions and we still cobble together a facade that hides our pains from the patrons we serve. We reallocate resources madly, juggling all of our community’s varied needs, and work overtime, stretching ourselves to the breaking point. We are so passionate about serving our patrons that we just grit our teeth and smile through it. We pat ourselves on the back for how well we can continue to provide superior services when we feel like we’re being cut off at the knees. We believe that we have succeeded when no one notices (or complains) about the changes we’ve had to make.
This is admirable, but profoundly unwise. Why would anyone give us more money when we can make do with less?
I’m not the first to suggest that there is a problem here. Last week as I was working on this post, I discovered that Andy Woodworth was thinking along the very same lines, and that his post was sparked by another kindred post by Superstarchivist Laura Botts. Botts’ post attributes the problem to “Good Librarian Syndrome” (or GLS, to give it a nice medical acronym), an aptly diagnosed condition in which “[w]e can’t help helping. And we will help you until it kills us….we will ‘do more with less’ until we have nothing left to give to anyone.”
This is truly a disease. If one of my family members was showing symptoms of GLS, I would stage an intervention immediately. Imagine if your sister were putting everyone else’s needs before her own. Would you let her no-good husband run off with her life savings? Would you let her kids walk all over her until she was a run-down, quivering wreck? Heck, no! So why should we allow our sister (and brother) librarians to act this way? We shouldn’t.
The truth is, doing more with less doesn’t help anyone. Woodworth uses a pizza metaphor to visualize the situation: when others steal slices from the library’s pizza, all our patrons get smaller pieces, and everybody leaves hungry. So the question, then, is (in his words):
…if you can do more with less, how much less do you need to maintain what you have now? And what were you doing with the “more” you had before? What would a budget restoration mean under this “doing more with less” concept?
To answer Woodworth’s last question, it means that there would be no budget restoration. None. Zero. Zip. There’s simply no reason to allocate more resources to an organization that is doing fine without. The better we make do, the more we justify the budget cuts and reductions in staff that were made by others despite our protests. We’re basically saying, “Please take more of my money away. I don’t need much.” This is not the message we intend to communicate, but it’s coming through loud and clear all across the country as library budgets are being mercilessly reduced.
Let’s heed Botts’ warning and stop the spread of this disease before it kills us all. The medication I’m prescribing is an active occupation: Occupy “Make-Do.” So I call on all those who are doing more with less to cease and desist in your feverish struggles, and expose your shortcomings to the world! I call on you to do those things that librarians never, ever want to do, the things that make our patrons angry. Have you lost staff? Then it’s time to cut hours, cancel storytimes, and end book clubs. Is collection funding down? Then cancel valued database subscriptions and sell off materials to reveal our empty shelves. Let them yell. Let them get mad. Let everyone see what “making do with less” really means.
Toss all that surplus goodness aside and get a little mean. Carry a picket sign, even if it’s only in your mind. Chant some clever slogans. Something like:
I’m in a battle for literacy; where’s my military funding? Or…
A librarian’s sanity is not worth your budget savings! Or…
You’ve pushed libraries to the edge of extinction, and now we’re pushing back. Or…
(insert slogan here)
You get the idea. If we want those in power to allocate more resources to libraries, we should make it clear how much we’re hurting, and how much cuts are hurting our patrons. We should be transparent in our suffering so that everyone can see it.
So let me rephrase my original question (it was a trick question anyway). What I really want to ask is: How much do you need to run a library? The correct answer is: as much as I can get.
Occupy the Faculty
Washington, DC — June 18, 2012 — The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), following its Annual Conference on the State of Higher Education, has made a formal request that articles published in non-open access journals after January 1, 2015 receive no consideration in promotion and tenure decisions…
Several librarians have recently called for an occupation of scholarly communication, including Barbara Fister, John Dupuis, Andy Woodworth, and Steve Lawson. We’ve also recently seen strongly worded posts from non-librarians on this issue, including one from Peter Murray-Rust, at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry (“Closed access means people die”), and one from University of Bristol paleontologist Mike Taylor providing perspective on the profitability of Elsevier and Springer.
Personally, I don’t blame Elsevier or the American Chemical Society or any other publisher for increasing the price of their publications. This is what suppliers do: they try to maximize profits. And, though I expect better of us, I don’t blame libraries (all that much) for paying ever increasing prices, or even for agreeing to keep their vendor contracts private. Well, mostly. I realize there is a lot of pressure on libraries to provide access to the highest impact literature in every relevant field, and that conducting vendor negotiations in public is likely to lead to reduced access or higher prices, at least in the short term. Longer term, if every library conducted its negotiations in public, we would almost certainly see downward pressure on prices.
Which leads me back to AAUP. For most faculty, research is the largest consideration in promotion and tenure decisions. Teaching and service matter, but there is a reason that “publish or perish” has become a cliche. So faculty do everything they can to place their work in high impact, “A-list” journals: they volunteer as reviewers and editors, and not only provide articles for free (and sign over copyright), but they often pay to have their work considered. Then they put pressure on the library to buy the publication, regardless of the price the publisher names for it, in order to ensure the health of the journal and its accessibility to colleagues.
How do we break the cycle? I think the economics of scholarly publishing resembles the situation in the National Hokey League when wearing helmets was optional. Here is New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki’s description of the conflict and its resolution:
Back in the nineteen-seventies, an economist named Thomas Schelling, who later won the Nobel Prize, noticed something peculiar about the N.H.L. At the time, players were allowed, but not required, to wear helmets, and most players chose to go helmet-less, despite the risk of severe head trauma. But when they were asked in secret ballots most players also said that the league should require them to wear helmets. The reason for this conflict, Schelling explained, was that not wearing a helmet conferred a slight advantage on the ice; crucially, it gave the player better peripheral vision, and it also made him look fearless. The players wanted to have their heads protected, but as individuals they couldn’t afford to jeopardize their effectiveness on the ice. Making helmets compulsory eliminated the dilemma: the players could protect their heads without suffering a competitive disadvantage. Without the rule, the players’ individually rational decisions added up to a collectively irrational result. With the rule, the outcome was closer to what players really wanted.
(The original Schelling studies are available in “Hockey Helmets, Concealed Weapons, and Daylight Savings: A Study of Binary Choices with Externalitie,” and Micromotives and Macrobehavior.)
Right now, the rational decision is for faculty members to publish their work in closed source journals. The universities pay the publication fees and libraries buy the journals; there is no line on faculty members’ paychecks reflecting the costs associated with the current model. And even if there were, the financial benefits of promotion and tenure more than offset these costs. But what if you ask faculty members if they like giving up copyright control over their own research? What if you ask them if they would like to have more complete access to relevant material through simpler interfaces? If appropriate incentives were in place, there is little doubt that faculty members would overwhelmingly choose to publish their work in open access publications.
The AAUP cannot make a unilateral decision to make this happen. It is not structured that way, it does not represent enough faculty members to change things immediately, and faculty members would still have to negotiate with their individual institutions. But an AAUP endorsement, along with some model contracts and discussion points, could serve as a tipping point. As more and more universities are demonstrating, making their lectures and curricula available for free to the general public is good business. It seems unlikely that many administrations would object to their faculty members’ research assuming a more public place in scholarly discourse, nor to the likelihood of paying less to scholarly publishers. Plus it would make it easier to comply with federal mandates requiring government funded research to be publicly accessible.
When the NHL adopted rules that few players advocated publicly but the great majority privately desired, it made an important concession: it grandfathered in those players who were already in the NHL. Any player could choose to wear a helmet, but only players who played their first game after the rule change were required to do so. The transition to considering only open access articles in promotion and tenure decisions could work much the same way. It would not prohibit any faculty members from publishing their work wherever they like; for the highest ranking faculty members, for whom promotion and tenure mean nothing, their incentive structure would be largely unaffected. Nor would it affect monograph-length publications, at least for now. What it would do is level the playing field for faculty who are working toward promotion and tenure, and for journals that are competing for these scholars’ articles.
Occupy In the Library with the Lead Pipe
Like Brett and the individuals he cites, I want to occupy scholarly communication, publishing paradigms, and “interest groups” like the American Association of Publishers, the Authors Guild, and others. But others have already argued so eloquently, that I dare not join in. Instead, I‘d like to occupy an open access, peer-reviewed, creative-commons-licensed library blog: In the Library with the Lead Pipe.
The first post at In the Library with the Lead Pipe was posted three years ago this month. In our three years we’ve had eight regular bloggers, thirty-two guest authors, and ten group posts. We started building a group vision after ALA Annual 2008 and have been what I would consider a regular and successful contributor to professional library discourse. We were nominated for the Salem Press Library Blog Awards, were named in the Librarian’s Book of Lists as one of the Top Ten Library blogs, one of LISNews’s 10 Librarian Blogs to Read in 2009 and are frequently cited in AL Direct and other professional publications. We’re grateful to our colleagues for this recognition, but we don’t measure our success by awards and citations.
Instead, we consider ourselves successful because we have occupied this space, this idea, this thing; and we’ve occupied it daily. We have occupied it actively and without bounds since it was merely a notion. The passion and energy that has gone into In the Library with the Lead Pipe is plentiful and rich. As I have said many times over: this group of colleagues is the closest, most dynamic, most functional, and one of the most fulfilling professional groups to which I’ve had the pleasure of belonging.
There have been disagreements. Strong ones and plenty of them. But they have been professional and thoughtful.
We are honest with one another and decisions are made by consensus. Each individual’s voice is heard and considered. When someone has an idea, we say “make it so!” and “how can I help with that?”
At three years old this is no time for us to get lazy or quit occupying this space. We have more growing to do, ideas to consider, and venues to occupy as In the Library with the Lead Pipe. But we can’t accomplish any of this without readers, guest authors, new ideas, new takes.
Would you like to join us in this occupation? Send us your ideas, feedback, submissions, questions. Anything. Tell us how we can involve you in our occupation. In solidarity.
Lately in the library sessions I’m teaching I’ve been advocating for students to “OCCUPY RESEARCH!” I know it’s flashy but, at least for now, it gets their attention.
Where I’m coming from is my (cursory) reading of critical theorists like Paolo Freire – students should occupy their research – make it truly THEIR research. When it is their research then questions of motivation and engagement and attention will melt away – they’ll be hungry to learn.
I tremendously appreciate this thread and found Leigh Anne’s portion germane to my present workplace environment. A NextGen librarian (in the broadest sense), I want to share Dell’s report, “The Evolving Workforce,” which addresses staff polarization, particularly with respect to change and innovation. I’d welcome feedback on it (here in the Comments section). Please see: http://slidesha.re/uUwVUX
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Occupy “world networks” supporting “world catalogs” that disenfranchise 80% of the world’s libraries through a pricing structure that is fit for a king (large university and urban public libraries) but not for the peasants (special, rural, 3rd world, small and medium-sized libraries) who cannot pay to play. To the barricades and off with their heads!
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