The People You Meet

Librarians seem to love conferences.  I don’t know of any other profession that has quite as many conferences (though my digital humanist colleagues say their profession has more).  I could probably go to a conference every day, if I tried hard enough.  There are just that many of them.

Last week, I was at the Digital Library Federation in Las Vegas, to talk about Oral Histories.  And sure, I got a presentation to list on my CV.  And yes, I learned a little about GIS projects in libraries, how to support each other in times of violence, teaching primary sources, etc.

But that really wasn’t the highlight.  Conference presentations (mine or others’) are never the most important part of the conference.  So, what is the most import part of the conference?

The people I meet.

And it might not be the best thing to say, but it’s often not the people I meet at the conference that are the most memorable.  (Though, I have made at least one friend at a conference/training.)  There are so many people “on the peripherals” of the conference that I come into contact with – from the shuttle driver to the food service personnel.  And often, those are the people who who I find most important in my conferencing.

At DLF 2018, the most important person I spoke to was a man from Afghanistan, who had served as a translator for the US Military for about 3 years.  For his safety, he and his family were moved by the US Military to the United States.  (He didn’t know anything about the geography in the US, so he let the military decide where he would live – and they put him in Las Vegas.)

We talked about libraries.  He mentioned how the public library’s English-as-a-second language programs were at no cost; and that they were incredibly useful.  His wife had come to the US only speaking Farsi, and through the program at the public library was able to learn English and then begin taking classes at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.  Then, I told him about my work with library acquisitions, including my work with Middle Eastern and South Asian acquisitions.  That included bringing in Hebrew, Arabic, and Farsi (and Urdu, Hindi, and Tamil) materials.  I even tried to plant the idea that he could join an R1 library as either a cataloger or acquisitions specialist for Farsi materials.  (I don’t think he was sold.)

I was thrilled to meet him.  To learn a bit about his history (and how libraries affected his and his family’s lives) was wonderful.  And he is the most memorable person I met while at a conference.

So, my recommendation for conference goers: consider the people you meet when you go to these conferences, no matter if they’re a librarian or a taxi driver.  You’ll have a more positive experience if you meet people and discuss your work and expand your idea of “what you learned” from the conference.


Digital Monuments

I’m not sure if this topic is completely relevant to libraries/librarianship/library science, but it is interesting enough that I’m including it.  Maybe I can say it’s “digital humanities” and call it a day.

I’m not sure quite why this has fascinated me so, but it does.  Digital monuments.

In our day-to-day life, we pass by statues, plaques, hedges, benches, etc. that serve as monuments to events, people, and places.  And primarily, we ignore these.  But they’re everywhere, reminding us of our history.  The good and the bad.

But with augmented and virtual reality growing in popularity, we also start to see, pass, and probably ignore digital monuments.  Yet when we go out on a tour of a new city, we don’t google digital landmarks or monuments.  And in our digital age, these monuments can be more illustrative and meaningful than a statue of a man on a horse.

My first awareness of digital monuments came during grad school, when one professor was talking about another professor’s class.  The class included a discussion about using AR to tell a story (digital story telling).  One could do a walking tour of a certain area, led by AR, and be told a certain narrative.

Then, my good friend and historian Rebekkah Rubin wrote about a digital monument to Tamir Rice, a black child who was killed by a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio.  There is a physical gazebo, but it is the description of the gazebo in the AR game Pokemon Go that helps players understand the significance of the place.  What I find most interesting about the digital monument is that the gaming world would “erect” a monument for Tamir Rice, whereas the “real world” (the government, the city) would likely not erect a monument.  A discussion of why communities erect monuments, why for certain events/people/etc. and not others, and how institutional power shapes land- and digital-scapes would follow.

Then there are monuments in virtual reality.  In 2015, a developer and former reporter Patrick Hagen took a tour of abandoned universities in Second Life.  It’s a somewhat silly romp around what universities and colleges thought Universities-in-a-Digital-Space should look like.  A monument to a certain idea of education, just waiting for scholarly interpretation.

So, with my odd fascination with digital monuments, I was interested in reading writer and radio producer Cassius Adair’s “Pokémon Go, Before and After August 12.”  Playing Pokemon Go in Charlottesville, Virginia, Adair notices that Charlottesville’s digital landscape reveals “racial devastation.”  One digital monument, Unmarked Slave Graveyard, is to a cemetery – or lackthereof – for slaves owned by a Maury family; he notes the real-world plaque is so small that he cannot find it.  However, the Civil War Confederate Dead Memorial exists in the digital world and is very clearly marked in the physical one.  Adair continues his essay by discussing how Pokemon Go erases histories from the landscape: Pokemon Go displays everything as a greenish expanse, with little blue markers – and this makes all monuments somehow equivalent.  But at the same time, this standardization of monuments means that people see the Unmarked Slave Graveyard as the same size and shape as the Civil War Confederate Dead Memorial; the Memorial is no longer seen as more important due to its size.

So anyway, read the links and have as much fun as I do with digital monuments.

Challenges in Textual Analysis, the Continued Counting

I would have really liked to call this series “Adventures in Textual Analysis” but so many things were 100 times harder than they ought to have been…so I’m calling it “Challenges in Textual Analysis.”

In my last Challenges in Textual Analysis post, I found out where all those horses in the United States were for sale.  And I promised you breeds for this next post.  So, here they come.

But first, it’s not called “Challenges in Textual Analysis” for nothing.  The big challenge this week is that I am memory challenged about Excel, apparently.  I went down the path of finding a function to count up breeds.  I did remember the COUNTIF function and started down a path of using that to count breeds.


And then, somehow, miraculously, I remembered that I was a librarian.  And I never used COUNTIF for electronic resource management; I used pivot tables all the time for that.

And pivot tables work way better.

So, here is a breakdown of some of the more popular breeds.  Quarter Horses and Quarter Horse crosses are (no duh to us equestrians) a quite populous breed; 425 were for sale on (32% of the horses for sale with a breed listed, total 1331).  63 Arabs and Arab Crosses were for sale.  186 Thoroughbreds were for sale, 114 Paints, 45 Warmbloods, 35 Appaloosas, and 1 Akhal-Teke.  (And obviously, this is not the whole list.)

I also pivot tabled the genders: 623 geldings, 611 mares, and 97 stallions.  I did find that interesting because there are 100+ more male (geldings and stallions) horses on the market than female horses.

Breaking News: Libraries Triumph Over Economist

Yesterday, I released a post about a Forbes op-ed by Panos Mourdoukoutas, an economist at Long Island University, arguing that public libraries should be replaced by Amazon bookstores.

Well, library twitter (including myself) dragged the post so hard that Forbes took it down, stating “Libraries play an important role in our society. This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

So, voilà, libraries triumph over economist.

Breaking News: Amazon to Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money

On July 21st 2018, Forbes published an article called “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money” (Panos Mourdoukoutas).  His argument was that Amazon should open their bookstores in all communities.  (In the United States there are approximately 119,487 libraries; that would be quite a boom for Amazon to open that many physical stores.)  Mourdoukoutas argues that libraries used to serve their communities, but they no longer have that same value.

I’m a librarian, so I might be biased.  But I was once not a library-user, in fact I would avoid the library because of my library anxiety.  So I understand why not everyone is keen on libraries.  But let’s break down Mourdoukoutas’s article.

“[L]ocal libraries…would bring books, magazines, and journals to the masses through a borrowing system. Residents could borrow any book they wanted, read it, and return it for someone else to read,” he says.  The libraries also provided comfortable places to either be alone or with collaborators.  He acts like this is all in the past – it’s not.  We still do that.  Later, he mentions that coffee shops provide the comfortable places to collaborate or sit.  Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I don’t like “specialty” beverages: I’d much prefer water from my own bottle.  I don’t want to be beholden to paying $3+ dollars every time I want to relax in an armchair, or chat with my colleagues.

He next claims that while libraries provide services like internet access, these services cost money – in the form of taxes.  (I guess he would like to think Amazon’s bookstores offer “free” wifi that has nothing to do with the books they sell.)  Now, our schools, our roads, our fire and police departments all cost money – in the form of taxes.  And very few of us want to do away with all of those just because they cost money.

Then, Mourdoukoutas starts discussing things that yes, libraries and librarians should be considering.  (And some of us are.)  Video rentals are becoming less and less due to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.  However, libraries offer similar streaming services like Overdrive and Kanopy.

Then, there are ebooks – which libraries have in the millions.  In fact, most ebooks you cannot individually buy; they’re part of packages that cost thousands of dollars.  And to say that “[t]echnology has turned physical books into collector’s items” is absurd.  I love loading up my tablet with ebooks as much as anyone, when I’m going to be traveling and need entertainment.  (And I can get most of those ebooks through the library anyway.)  But I also very much prefer reading on paper – much less eye strain.

His final argument is that Amazon’s bookstores combine coffee shops with an online search – and thus these bookstores are an improvement over libraries.  Having been to an Amazon Books store (in San Jose, California), I remember it being small and sparse (pushing only the newest, big-name titles), without all that many terminals for online searching, and without all that many seating options.  Honestly, it looked more like a fad or a tourist destination than a library-café.

At the end of Mourdoukoutas’s article is where I think the real motivation for this (ignorant?) article: removing public libraries and installing Amazon bookstores would “enhance the stockholder value of Amazon all in one fell swoop.”  Culling libraries and adding bookstores wouldn’t help the community but rather the bottom line for Amazon.  (Unless that necessary massive expansion ended up costing too much with not enough revenue.  Which I think would be the case, but that’s another blog post.)

It’s my sincere hope that no one takes this rather dumb idea – replacing libraries with Amazon bookstores – to heart.  But the board of trustees are still harping on a stupid statement (in the same vein) from Steve Jobs back in the 1980s.  So, I’m not optimistic.  But I hope that at least some people stumble on this blog post and consider my points.

Money (That’s What I Want)

In a previous post, I mentioned that so many people say they didn’t become a librarian for the money.  And I said that I did.  Because if the institution I’m working at wasn’t paying me, I wouldn’t be working there any more.   And librarianship is more steady and realistic and lucrative than my “dream jobs.”

That post was almost two years ago, when I had just started off as a professional librarian.  At that point, I didn’t want people to keep saying that I wasn’t working “for the money” because I very certainly was and am.

Now, it’s been two years.  I have more years as a working professional “under my belt,” more years as an administrator, and more years as a supervisor.  And I’ve come to realize that yes, librarians themselves tone down the financial aspects of their jobs.  Their institutions, however, seem completely incapable of understanding what library labor looks like – and how such labor should be compensated.

Let’s start with myself.  When looking at early career librarian salaries, many would say I have little to complain about.  And I do complain very little about my salary.  But if one looks at my job duties…well…I’m not making what other people in similar positions are making.  I am the systems librarian, which means I am in charge of the integrated library system (ILS).  The ILS is an enterprise system.  As the manager of the ILS, I am doing work similar to that of an Enterprise Systems Manager.  According to Glassdoor, the average salary of an Enterprise Systems Manager is $94,668 annually (as of October 2017).  I am making nowhere near that salary, more than $25,000 less.

Then, I have staff members who do IT support as well as significant data analysis.  Their duties fall less neatly into a single category, but here are similar positions.  The lowest-paid equivalent position would be IT Support, which Glassdoor notes has a salary of $52,369 annually.  For the data analysis pieces of their jobs, they could either be considered equivalent to a Data Analyst, which on average makes $65,470 annually, or a Business Intelligence Analyst, which makes a whopping $79,613 annually.  Just as I am making significantly less than my IT equivalent, my staff are not making the same as their IT and corporate counterparts.

Now, I am in no way happy that my staff is making so much less than their labor is worth.  But I am in a particular funk about what our institution expects our circulation staff to do, and for how much money.  When I worked circulation at a public library, my $12.00 an hour made sense: I was one of the least trained, with the least amount of responsibility, and I was seasonal (spending the rest of my time out of state at college).  The circulation staff at my current institution are expected to manage the institution’s electronic course reserves (and perhaps to a standard higher than most of our peer institutions do not hold).  The work they do is very much equivalent to what an Electronic Resources Librarian ($63,506/yr) does, with a healthy smattering of legal understanding (a paralegal gets on average $52,351 per year).  Now, our institution keeps salaries locked down, but we all talk – and I am quite sure that they aren’t close to the paralegal salary.

So, what does this rant mean?

  1. Academia’s administrations and HR Departments do not know what library workers do, and use their ignorance to press down wages and salaries.
  2. Academia as a whole does not pay market rate for their employees.  I understand fully that they aren’t (necessarily) money-makers, but academia needs to understand what can be expected of their workforce (and therefore the whole institution) on the money they have.
  3. Librarians and library staff are in the business of information.  Find and share salary information and job descriptions; and then go to your administration and show the equivalencies between your jobs and corporate jobs: “This is the work I’m doing, and this is what it’s worth in the market.”

Amber by Kevin Seeber

First-year Teaching and Learning Librarian at Auraria University in Denver, Colorado (jealous!), Kevin Seeber wrote a blog post on his own professional site about researchers who seem suspended in time – they think their preferred way of researching is the best, and this never seems to change even as libraries and technologies do.  It’s called “Amber” and you should read it.

I am currently implementing a new ILS, as well as sit on committees concerning the potential for a new library.  And I have to say, for both researchers and workflows, that people truly seem suspended in time when all of a sudden you say “Everything is new.”  (I’m sure this is completely normal, but I’m just so involved with the implementation that I kind of blink and them and go “It’s easy.”)  Hopefully, we can Jurassic Park this thing and bring everyone into the present day and how our library technologies work.

Wish me luck!

A Certain Omission, Part I

I was mentioning the 5 Laws of Library Science, stipulated by S.R. Ranganathan, for something (I can’t remember what any more) – when I realized I didn’t really know much at all about a theory I was mentioning.  So, I did a quick Wikipedia search of the Laws and their creator.  I ended up reading the entire of Ranganathan’s Wikipedia page and was excited by the idea of faceted classification schema.

Interlibrary loan to the rescue!

srranganathanAnyway, I started delving a bit deeper into Ranganathan, learning a bit more about his theories and biography.  And I began to think about my first exposure to him.  It was in the two 500-level introductory classes in my LIS program.  Both times, the 5 Laws and Ranganathan’s name were projected on a slide and something to the effect of “These are the 5 Laws of Library Science and they were written by Ranganathan – who’s a big deal – and you should know about them” was said.  And nothing more was said of Ranganathan in the rest of my LIS program.

With the help of inter-library loan and other library searching, I came to find out that the 5 Laws weren’t some short blurb thrown out into the world.  There is an entire monograph on them, The Five Laws of Library Science, with explanation, discussion, and theory.  He had “sequels” (of a sort): Colon Classification and Prolegomena to Library Classification.  And Ranganathan wrote other books about library science, dealing with selection, cataloging, communication, and reference service.

If Ranganathan is such a “big deal” – and I’m agreeing that he is – why did none of my LIS courses delve deeper into it?  My program was much more theoretical than many other LIS programs. (Many programs are more practical.)  Uh…so why wasn’t Ranganathan a bigger highlight?

The first thing that comes to mind would be that in a 2-year program, you can’t get to everything.  (Agreed.)  But classes had the time to read and discuss Foucault at length.  The second thing that comes to mind is that Ranganathan’s Colon Classification ystem was never adopted in North America (where I obtained my MLIS degree).  But one of my classes spent 2 weeks on Paul Otlet whose Universal Decimal Classification system; and U.S. libraries never adopted the UDC.

My next ideas are: 1) our department didn’t think the students “capable” or “interested” in such theory (where Foucault and all sorts of other theories were…), OR 2) a certain racism that exists in LIS reared its head.  I do think some of our professors did not want to teach, and probably then decided we weren’t interested enough to engage with Ranganathan.

And I also strongly suspect that my program decided to name drop but not examine Ranganathan in more depth because he was Indian.

There is a certain understanding that one needs to have when reading a theoretician.  Ranganathan came from a non-Western country, and therefore his influences were not all Western.  (He spent enough time in the UK and reading American and British library scientists to have a plenty of Western influence.)  He was a brahmin, versed in Indian religion; the Ramayana influenced him greatly.  He also worked during times of strong nationalist sentiment, and anti-brahmin sentiment.  It was a whirlwind for me to learn about – and I’m sure Ranganathan’s context influenced his work.  But for the arguably most recent/modern Library Science Theorist, I think the MLIS students could have been expected to get more familiar with Ranganathan.

Alas, LIS education in North America tries to slide past non-white, non-Western libraries and librarians.  I’ve gone to so many “book history” classes, talks, etc. that only mention book-making in Europe!  I have to go to a qualified “East Asian book history” class, talk, etc. to get to see Japanese, Chinese, or Korean book history.  Vietnam is squarely avoided.  India is avoided.  South America and its book history might as well not exist.  Any sort of text that is not “written” in the most traditional sense (quipu, winter counts, etc.) vanish from library science courses.

In library science and LIS education, we need to stop omitting so much – in order to become a global and modern profession.


I’m reading S.R. Ranganathan: An Intellectual Biography (1992) by Girja Kumar.  That is were I’m getting much of my information about Ranganathan.

What students should know about ethical scholarship

My institution has weekly “lunch-and-learn” type gatherings for the faculty.  Recently, I attended one of these that was on the topic of ethical scholarship.  Much of the preliminary lecture had to do with what sorts of ethical dilemmas faculty have when conducting research.  The second portion of the lunch-and-learn was a discussion.  One of the questions posed was: what should students know about ethical scholarship?

My colleagues had all sorts of interesting responses.  Students should take responsibility for completing the assignments (this implies they aren’t completing the assignments in a satisfactory manner).  Students should discuss and understand the institution’s IRB policies and procedures.  Et cetera.  All these responses were valid and interesting.

But I was starting to form an idea about how this related to what I have seen in the library.  I couldn’t quite articulate it at the lunch-and-learn, but I want to attempt to articulate it here.

In talking to faculty as well as teaching courses on source evaluation, I have begun to notice that students have a hard time articulating why they choose a specific source.  Many just want to fulfill the professor’s expectations; they don’t care why they chose something so long as the professor approves.  Others will cite the title: “the title suggests it’s about the topic I’m researching.”  If my instruction session is going well, they’ll often start talking about the press or journal that put out the resource they found.  This is okay for a 50-minute instruction session; it’s hard to get everything in during that time.  But I started to connect dots.

I have already realized that my trusted sources are not trusted sources in the grander scheme of things: just because I believe the anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists who argue in peer reviewed texts that gender is a spectrum and a construct (not a biological attribute), does not mean that anyone else buys it when I use those texts as evidence.  I realized that people who aren’t in academia don’t necessarily buy that scholarly peer-reviewed articles are reputable or authoritative.  Though I think there are many, many, many factors at play, I think one significant reason for this disregard for academic sources is because people do not know how they are created.  People outside academia don’t realize how a scholar spends 6+ years in graduate school studying what they’re writing about.  Then, once they’re out of grad school, they keep studying it; they focus their writing and teaching on it.  And then they write an article, which gets reviewed by other people who have spent the majority of their lives studying and understanding the topic.  Only when the reviewers okay the article does it get published.  These scholarly articles take a whole lot of work and expertise to craft!

And people just don’t know it.

So, I think many of these undergraduates don’t know why they have to use specific types of sources.  Or why these scholarly publications are better than a blog post or a Wikipedia article.

Students knowing and understanding the scholarly communications process might help them understand why their professors want them to use scholarly publications.  If students understood that scholarly communications often requires expertise…and not of just one person.  Scholarly communications has an ethical component: that the articles are backed by expertise and research.

Understanding the scholarly communications process is similar to understanding how an IRB works.  Students can start fitting their research into the ethical frameworks upheld by the institution (e.g. IRB) and the scholarly community at large (e.g. scholarly communication).


So, I’m not sure if I really articulated that well.  But it’s a bit farther along.  Writing helps to test out (essay) thoughts and clarify them.  That’s in part what this blog is for.

Things I Didn’t Go to School For, Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about all the things that people expect me to do that I didn’t go to library school for.  Basically, that post was about things people expect librarians to know about – even when it’s not really all that relevant to library science.  (Like why would a librarian be an expert on copyright law?)  This post is still about the stuff I didn’t learn in grad school.  This time, though, I want to talk about the stuff I really ought to have learned.  I just didn’t, for whatever reason.

So, here comes another list of things I did not go to library school for.

  • Project Management.
    • In all my pre-professional positions, I was doing tasks.  I was inventorying graphic novels, lending DVDs, mending books, making posters (for outreach), cleaning out the defunct card catalog, shelving, running pick lists.  Little did I know that these pre-professional and para-professional tasks aren’t librarianship.
    • In library school, I learned about reference, pedagogy, metadata, digital preservation, architecture, preservation, and advertising.
    • Little did I know, when I started my professional job, that I would be leading projects of every size.  I’m fortunate I’m naturally a planner and am comfortable delegating tasks…because I sure didn’t go to library school for that.  (But I really should have.)
  • Meetings, meetings, meetings.
    • Again, nothing in my pre-professional or library school life quite prepared me for library administration.  Our library staff is so small that all of the faculty librarians are large power players in the administration and decision-making in the library.  And administration requires a ton of meetings.
    • There was a library administration course at grad school…that I didn’t take.  I really wonder if it would have given me some insight into how many meetings and decisions I would have to make.
  • Managing People.
    • Same points as above.
  • Managing Power.
    • Same points as above.
  • Linux, HTML, CSS, PHP, Javascript, Java.
    • If I had gone into grad school knowing I would be a systems librarian, maybe I would have found my way into a few more courses with more web development and more server maintenance.  I didn’t think I would be a systems librarian, however, so I didn’t go to library school for enough of this.
    • Also, though, I doubt that my grad school offered much in the way of Linux system administration, or working with Java or PHP.  (We did have stuff with HTML and CSS as well as Python, instead of Java.  Again, I should have taken those courses…perhaps a bit more seriously.)
  • Cataloging.
    • Thank goodness I took a metadata course because that has helped tremendously.  And thank goodness that I weaseled an hour of training on copy cataloging.
    • Still, I didn’t take the actual cataloging class, focused on MaRC.  I was discouraged from taking it by mentors and by the way the cataloging course was offered.
    • Now that I am always working with knowledgeable and experienced catalogers on all sorts of projects, I wish I had spent more time in grad school learning more about cataloging (and the structure of MaRC records).  I wouldn’t have nearly as steep a learning curve.
  • Original Research-ing.
    • My library school had opportunities for research, but it didn’t make it easily accessible to all students.  And mentorship opportunities for research were few and far between.
    • Now, I am in a faculty position which pushes for me to produce “original research,” I’m finding that’s easier said than done.  My writing (not learned at grad school either) is fine…but finding something no one else has done, all the while doing 40 hours per week of library work, is quite a challenge.  I wish I had gone to library school to help me think up and execute original research.