Editorial: These Are A Few Of Our Favorite Things
In our last editorial of the year, the In the Library with the Lead Pipe Editorial Board is looking back at 2014. As we did in early January, we’re sharing some of our favorite non-Lead Pipe articles, essays, speeches, or posts from the previous twelve months.
In honor of Lead Pipe’s new status as a CC-BY journal, I’m only considering works published in journals that have adopted CC-BY licensing.
Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, Trey Terrell, Susan McEvoy, Eva Kaplan, Ariel Schwartz, and Esther Ajambo. Using Open Source Tools to Create a Mobile Optimized, Crowdsourced Translation Tool. Code4Lib Journal, 24.
How badass is this project? Too badass to format its citation correctly. It would be a crime to et al anyone associated with this article or even obscure their names by Lastname, Firstnaming them, because what they’ve done and how they’ve written it up fills me with hope for libraries, library journals, and open source technology, and even an extra jolt of hope for the world. A team of 2.5 FTEs and 4 student employees at Oregon State University Libraries & Press teamed with Maria’s Libraries, a nonprofit that works in rural Kenya to, well, do what the paper says. One challenge, other than the ones related to technological infrastructure and money: 40 spoken languages. When people ask if libraries are still relevant, tell them this story. And it’s not like the library and press at Oregon State isn’t busy serving its own students, too. Among other things, they’re publishing open textbooks, and writing up that project beautifully as well (see below).
Also, be sure to read Kristina Spurgin’s, “Getting What We Paid for: a Script to Verify Full Access to E-Resources,” and Kelley McGrath’s superb editorial introduction to Issue 26, “On Being on The Code4Lib Journal Editorial Committee.”
Browning, R. Creating an Online Television Archive, 1987–2013. International Journal of Digital Curation, 9(1), 1-11. http://dx.doi.org/10.2218/ijdc.v9i1.288
Lagoze, C. eBird: Curating Citizen Science Data for Use by Diverse Communities. International Journal of Digital Curation, 9(1), 71-82. http://dx.doi.org/10.2218/ijdc.v9i1.302
Robinson, A. From Princess to Punk: Digitisation in the Fashion Studio. International Journal of Digital Curation, 9(1), 292-312. http://dx.doi.org/10.2218/ijdc.v9i1.269
The International Journal of Digital Curation is a great journal! I don’t know why I hadn’t encountered it before researching this year-end write-up, though now I’m going to make it a point to read through its archives. The journal’s papers and articles are all so interesting and well written that I refuse to limit myself to just one. Do yourself a favor. Read all three.
Maxwell, J., & Armen, H. Dreams Reoccurring: The Craft of the Book in the Age of the Web. Journal of Electronic Publishing, 17(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0017.125
The money quote: “A big part of what makes books and book culture loveable and compelling is the craft of the book. Publishing is of course an industrial activity—it is perhaps the very prototype for industrial activity. And in literature there is, of course, art. But craft is a third category in between. Beyond storytelling, beyond reaching an audience, beyond filtering and curating and marketing, there is also the business of making things. And especially: making things that last.”
Even without the Hüsker Dü allusion in the title or the Frank Chimero quote in the text itself, I would have found myself nodding appreciatively throughout this essay. I think we can take it as given that there is more good stuff to read now than at any time in history, almost certainly by multiple orders of magnitude. But I’m not convinced there’s more great stuff, perhaps because the mechanisms that encourage “more good” simultaneously discourage, and possibly even punish, great.
Royster, P. Foxes Propose New Guidelines for Henhouse Design: Comments on NISO’s Proposed Open Access Metadata Standards. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 2(3). http://dx.doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.1170
And I quote, “Frankly, the publishers need to put their house in order before presuming to prescribe new metadata standards that will perpetuate their uneven and self-serving administration of the rights they have wrested from the academic laboring class.” Hallelujah!
Also, be sure to read Micah Vandegrift and Josh Bolick, “‘Free to All’: Library Publishing and the Challenge of Open Access,” and (as I alluded to above) Shan Sutton and Faye Chadwell, “Open Textbooks at Oregon State University: A Case Study of New Opportunities for Academic Libraries and University Presses.”
Real, B., Bertot, J. C., Jaeger, P. T. Rural public libraries and digital inclusion: Issues and challenges. Information Technology and Libraries, 33(1), 6-24.
Rock solid scholarship on an important, overlooked topic. The kind of article ITAL does well.
The pieces I’ve chosen aren’t academic in nature, but each resonated deeply for a variety of reasons.
Joy, Erica. The Other Side of Diversity. Medium, 4 Nov 2014.
Diversity in tech workforces was a hot issue this year, what with the rise of #Gamergate and the continued efforts of Blacks and other People of Colour to draw attention to the lack of ethnic diversity in tech companies. Erica Joy’s article grabbed my attention because she wrote poignantly about how it feels to be “the only” minority in the room, and the bargains we must make with ourselves and others to exist in these spaces. Making your way never comes without a price, and Joy writes about this clearly and unflinchingly.
West, Jessamyn. Things That Make The Librarian Angry. Medium, 12 Dec 2014.
When a piece begins with the quote “Enforcing artificial scarcity is a bad role for a public institution,” public librarians can’t help but take notice. Jessamyn West argues that the deals that libraries make with publishers to provide ebooks to patrons results in cognitive dissonance for professionals who talk reverently of easy access to information and intellectual freedom. West admits that being a librarian who provides access to DRM-protected materials places her in a personal moral quandary. She suggests that the solution to this problem may rest with intellectual workers daring to step forward and challenging these restrictions.
Not especially relating to libraries in any way, but I have been absolutely loving the rise of makeup tutorials as social commentary. See Megan MacKay’s Ray Rice Inspired Makeup Tutorial and Jian Ghomeshi Inspired Makeup Tutorial and tadelesmith’s GamerGate Makeup Tutorial. I would love to read more on this phenomenon.
Sarah Wanenchak, Apple’s Health App: Where’s the Power?
In line with recent discussions about whether libraries/librarians are capable of being neutral, and whether neutral is even a desirable goal, this article discussed how design cannot be neutral because it will always reflect the designers’ assumptions.
“The design of things – pretty much all things – reflects assumptions about what kind of people are going to be using the things, and how those people are going to use them. That means that design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power and domination both subtle and not. Apple didn’t consider what people with eating disorders might be dealing with; that’s ableism. Apple didn’t consider what menstruating women might need to do with a health app; that’s sexism.”
See also, Astra Taylor and Joanne McNeil, The Dads of Tech
I reactivated my Twitter account just to follow/participate in these. Fantastic librarians having really important conversations “about critical perspectives on library practice.”
Nashville Library, All About the Books, No Trouble
Ending on a cute note:
“Our Nashville Public Library team celebrates library cards in this adaptation of Meghan Trainor’s performance of “All About That Bass,” as seen on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. We had a little bit of fun showcasing how easily Nashvillians can borrow, download and stream books, music and movies with a free library card.”
It seems like my picks are always about the big picture. I blame it on my reaction to the “in the weeds” nature of librarians, and my need to step back, reflect, and think beyond the walls of what I know and with which I am comfortable.
Critical Journeys: How 14 librarians came to embrace critical practice by Robert Schroder. Library Juice Press, 2014
Through 14 interviews, Bob Schroeder1 captures current thinking and reflection about critical theory from a diversity of librarians. What I love so much about this book is that an interview with a relatively new-to-the-profession librarian, Dave Ellenwood, exists side-by-side with established career librarians and theorists such as John Buschman. (I stumbled upon Buschman’s Dismantling the Public Sphere while researching a paper in library school, and have since been trying to remain tied to theory in my practice.) Throughout the interviews many themes emerge: the woefully poor job library schools do in incorporating critical theory into their curricula; the reflective balance needed to put theory into practice; and a commitment on behalf of these librarians to improve their communities through engagement with critical ideas. Additionally, I am impressed that Bob has taken traditional scholarship (as defined by traditional promotion and tenure committees) and morphed it into a series of stories and relationships. As librarians I don’t think we take enough time to learn from one another in the way that Bob has presented his work. It is evident that his approach to learn from these individuals is very much indebted to his engagement with and immersion in indigenous research methods. This book and the librarians featured in it ask us to reflect on our own practice, and hopefully will inspire future readers as the individuals featured in it have inspired me as I read.
Lawrence, Eton. “Strategic thinking: A discussion paper.” Research Directorate, Public Service Commission of Canada (1999).
So what’s a 15-year-old white paper doing on my list? This year, as with every year, the library where I work is trying to plan. The problem is libraries in general seem to approach planning crisis aversion with little forethought. Our roadblocks to progress are seemingly endless, yet if we cannot position ourselves beyond implementing band-aids of temporary staffing, covering the costs of journal inflation, and servilely reacting to the needs and whims of boards, university presidents, other administrative leaders, and the individuals we serve, we are positioning ourselves for obsolescence. Lawrence’s paper outlines how to think strategically: “…strategic thinking involves thinking and acting within a certain set of assumptions and potential action alternatives as well as challenging existing assumptions and action alternatives, potentially leading to new and more appropriate ones” (p. 4). I’d say that as librarians and libraries we’re not good at doing this. This paper proffers food for thought for all of us. Send it it your boss and your boss’s boss today.
Wheelahan, L. (2007). How competency‐based training locks the working class out of powerful knowledge: a modified Bernsteinian analysis. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28(5), 637–651. doi:10.1080/01425690701505540
Because of the work I’ve been doing this year on the internally grant funded Digital Badges for Creativity and Critical Thinking project at my institution, I’ve been thinking a lot about learning outcomes, how to integrate library learning outcomes and content into courses, and generally how to improve students’ critical thinking skills. As such, I’ve spent a portion of the year reading literature in this arena, and yet, I’m bothered by what seems to be an acknowledged theme and concern about competency-based education: the neoliberalization of it. Yet there doesn’t seem to be that much concern by the library profession about this trend as a whole.2 (Maybe we’re too concerned with staffing band-aids and budget cuts to reflect on this dangerous trend affecting education as a whole?)
Leesa Wheelahan’s paper (and further, her 2012 book, Why Knowledge Matters to Curriculum) outlines for me some serious concerns I have about the growing learning outcomes or competency-based approach to education, and yet I remain passionate about learning outcomes. Wheelahan’s analysis has made me reflective and concerned: how can I work with learning outcomes, improve students’ skills and critical thinking, but also empower students at the same time? Wheelahan contends that competency-based educational approaches, rather than liberating students, keeps students locked into the same social and economic power structures in which they currently exist. Competency-based approaches do not liberate and empower students, they merely reinforce existing social and economic standing, and deny students access to critical knowledge, discovery, empowerment, and transformation. As a profession, we are late to engage with these ideas.
I’m on a leave of absence from my position as a librarian this academic year, so I took a step away from library literature. Here are some other things I came across:
Rodenberg, Ryan M. A Law Professor Walks Into a Creative Writing Workshop. Pacific Standard Magazine. 16 Sep 2014.
So much academic writing is awful, awful, awful. Rodenberg nails it with his suggestion:
“First, tenure-track assistant professors in the sciences and professional programs should be actively encouraged to take at least one creative non-fiction writing workshop during their pre-tenure period… If professors are to have any chance of being anything even close to a quasi-public intellectual, this should be mandatory. A poorly written academic article on an already-esoteric topic is destined to have zero impact.”
Cohen-Rottenberg, Rachel. 10 Questions About Why Ableist Language Matters, Answered. Everyday Feminism. 7 Nov 2014.
This article was originally published in 2013, but I didn’t see it until it was crossposted in November of this year. Reading the piece opened my eyes to the different ways language is used as a tool of oppression, and I have been thinking about it ever since.
King, Andrew David. The Weight of What’s Left [Out]: Six Contemporary Erasurists on Their Craft. The Kenyon Review Blog. 6 Nov 2012.
Yes, yes, it was published in 2012… but this is so my jam and I just came across the interview this year. Erasure poems are created by removing words from an existing text and framing the result on the page as a poem. This craft interview between King and six writers has further grounded my own work—I am currently working on a manuscript of erasure poems sourced from Shia LaBeouf media interviews.
House, Naomi. Why I Quit My Library Job and Why I No Longer Want One. INALJ. 29 July 2014.
As always, House is inspiring and level-headed. Her post was one of the things that prompted me to think long and hard about my own career options, encouraging me to take a leap into the unknown.
Schwartz, Tony, and Porath, Christine. Why You Hate Work. The New York Times Sunday Review. 30 May 2014.
I have… thoughts about the way we work. As I have grappled with these thoughts over the last year, I have sought out different perspectives on why I might be feeling dissatisfied or disengaged. It’s heartening to know that I’m not the only one encountering unsustainable work models—and that there are things we can all do better. A good read for any supervisor or manager.
Thompson, Derek. Quit Your Job. The Atlantic. 5 Nov 2014.
“…young people aren’t any more likely to quit today than they were in the 1970s or 1980s. But once they leave, young people today are more likely to try out an entirely new job.” This article kind of blew my mind.
Edson, Michael Peter. Dark Matter. Medium, 19 May 2014.
In this piece Michael Peter Edson compares online engagement in the GLAM sector to astrophysics when Vera Rubin discovered ‘dark matter’ in the 1960s. Focussing particularly on museums, Edson powerfully argues that whilst we may feel that digitisation, online engagement, and the sharing of data have come a long way in the last two or three decades, in reality we are barely starting:
Despite the best efforts of some of our most visionary and talented colleagues, we’ve been building, investing, and focusing on only a small part of what the Internet can do to help us accomplish our missions. 90% of the universe is made of dark matter—hard to see, but so forceful that it seems to move every star, planet, and galaxy in the cosmos. And 90% of the Internet is made up of dark matter too—hard for institutions to see, but so forceful that it seems to move humanity itself.
What I like about this piece is that Edson is not criticising or sniping. Rather, he argues that there are enormous untapped opportunities for museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions to further our missions by embracing the open and read-write nature of the web. Edson tells the story of Rubin’s discovery as a way of sharing the excitement and wonder she felt, and the advances that became possible once her discovery was confirmed.
Markman, Chris & Zavras, Constantine. BitTorrent and Libraries: Cooperative Data Publishing, Management and Discovery. D-Lib Magazine, March/April 2014.
In this article Markman and Zavras explain how the BitTorrent protocol works, and argue that it provides huge opportunities for libraries to increase both efficiency and openness. Whilst I’m certainly no BitTorrent expert, this article makes it easy to understand the principles. Markman and Zavras point out that BitTorrent is extremely efficient at transferring data (this is one of the reasons it is favoured by people downloading large video files), making it ideal for libraries with slow or poor quality internet connections, or with large data transfer needs. Other opportunities are less obvious, but just as useful. From DIY LOCKSS to better analytics, Markman and Zavras provide plenty of intriguing reasons to take a look at BitTorrent—and none of them involve Game of Thrones.
Song, Steve. The Morality of Openness. Many Possibilities, 19 June 2014.
Language matters. In June, Steve Song highlighted the problems with ‘openness’ as a goal. Song argues that whilst open access to information is important, most of the time what people really want is something slightly different. His post resonated with me, as an open-access advocate who works for local government. Those who argue for completely transparent government are often also the same people who complain that the public service is often inefficient and risk-averse. These are simply two sides of the same coin, however. Song argues that often when people say ‘openness’ they really mean ‘trust’. This is an important discussion for those of us working in libraries of all types.
What’s the best thing you read in 2014?
- Bob is a co-worker and good colleague of mine. He wrote a series of two articles for Lead Pipe this year on indigenous research methods: Exploring Critical and Indigenous Research Methods with a Community: Part 1 – The Leap and Exploring Critical and Indigenous Research Methods with a Research Community: Part II – The Landing. [↩]
- My search for neolibera* AND education in Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts retrieved a mere 15 articles, the most relevant of which was Joshua Beatty’s September 2014 Lead Pipe article, “Locating Information Literacy within Institutional Oppression.” [↩]
The Circle, by Dave Eggers, is the best thing I’ve read in 2014. A cautionary tale of sorts of the potential tyranny of “likes,” 24/7 attachment to social media, and threats to privacy of body-cam/GPS/etc. technologies. Eggers looks at how we use these technologies now and extrapolates a couple years into our future, telling an engaging story all the while. If I were to recommend an all-librarian-read book for 2015, it’d be this one. Now available at your fav indy book store in pbk.
Thanks for the suggestion, Elaine!