Information professionals should be using social media if they care about the rest of the world. I mean, I’m a fan of cataloguing in a cave, but engaging with your community is important. Even if you’re the most locally focused librarian ever in a community where none of your users give a shit about Twitter it’s important to be using it to pull in information and to show off the knowledge being created in your community.
One thing we learned in our Community-Led libraries course with Beth Davies and Annette de Faveri was the importance of not coming into a space with an agenda. Not showing up and saying “Here are some awesome things the library can do for you!” but hanging out and asking what is happening with them, letting the community lead the library. That takes a long time. I think participating online requires a bit more push than that, because if you’re just hanging out as a library, not talking on Twitter, you’re invisible (in a way you aren’t when you’re sitting in a halfway house with a box of donuts).
I also think the idea of a limit to our participation in social media is stupid. I mean, sure, posting pictures of patrons on Facebook without their permission is a bit sketchy. But stopping information professionals from being part of the world just because of who their employers are is bullshit.
A story from work: A library in Northern Australia was making use of some of Koha’s features to integrate a blog onto the front page of the OPAC. The library staff were creating this information to participate in the wider world and were really proud of it. And then their Communications Department found out and shut it down. Not because of something bad that happened but because of stupid bureaucratic power disputes that said librarians aren’t authorized to create publications. That story makes me incredibly angry. To have participation curtailed by the communications department who wanted more control over messaging is kind of terrible.
Part of my visceral reaction to that story has to do with my personal history working at a public library that had a regressive attitude towards people talking about things online. I was disciplined for blogging about work on my personal time. The disciplinary hearing involved the director of our library telling me I was not fit to be a librarian and shouldn’t go to library school because of my disrespectful attitude. This experience led to my disclaimer/explanation page you can see linked to on my library blog’s on Opinions page, and you can read some of my other ruminations about privacy and the like when that former library actually created a social media policy because of me. That link includes a response to a danah boyd article.
I’m no longer a library employee, just a librarian wannabe. Going by actual qualifications I mean. Beginning of September I’ll be off to school and be a student, but for now I’m in a fun kind of limbo. Off travelling for a while, earning that librarianaut title.
My last shift today was very low key. There was cake and well-wishing. A couple of Circ coworkers weren’t aware I was leaving, but that’s to be expected at our branch. It used to be that Circulation and Reference barely spoke to each other at all. When other people came in to work shifts they commented on it. When I came back after the reorganization everyone had a bit more camaraderie. Thanks to the administration’s condescension throughout the reorganization process, making us band together against the powers that be who didn’t display an ounce of giving a shit about their workers? Possibly.
Anyway. A fine last day.
Though Thursday would have been a good one too, just for the fact that Beard Lady came in that afternoon. “So this is where they’re keeping you!” she cackled. Someone downtown had phoned earlier looking for the DVD Highlander: Endgame. This is one of Beard Lady’s favourites as it plays into her immortality fixations, so I was not surprised to be putting it aside under her name. Then she came down, wandered, photocopied some of the Yellow Pages and got me to send the DVD downtown so she could watch it there (she doesn’t have a library card you see).
The other person who was in on Thursday? A small boy who remains a little wild! He was running around all excited (he wasn’t yelling at the top of his lungs, so that’s cool) and skidded to a top at the desk. He tilted his whole torso back to look up at me, grinning. “What can I do for you?” I asked, and he ran off laughing.
Now that I’m thinking of it, that’s how I should have left tonight, with a mad cackle in the rain.
Last night after my shift was done excitement occurred at the branch. Two boys, who’d been on the computers suddenly got into a fight. Not a fight, a beating. My coworkers tried to hold the beating one back but a rage filled 12 year old can often shake off us bookish folk. So they were kicked out. Evidently they’re cousins and the beatee had “stolen” the beater’s PIN for the computers. So there was that.
And then one of the 11 year olds who’s banned from the branch till October came in and wouldn’t leave when my coworkers told her to. And then she was running and yelling and throwing books on the floor and hanging up the phone as our branch head phoned the cops.
As us staff understand it, we can’t physically remove a person from the premises. We can’t even touch a kid. I’m not sure if that’s actual policy or just our individual fears of assault charges. I know there’s no policy saying I should leave the door open for Teen Book Club; it’s my awareness of the power of allegations that make me leave that door open, and the rest of the patrons can fuck off if we’re too loud. It seems like the employees could use some sort of guidance instead of ad-hoc word of mouth ideas. But that’s not how our library system works. Selah.
The security guard we got today (and who’ll be with us being bored out of his skull for a couple of weeks) has been given express permission to keep the banned girl out “using any means necessary.” It’s true. That’s what the head of security told him, right in front of me. It was kind of action-movie awesome. The guard was kind of “I’ve never really had to do any physical restraining” and his boss was all “She’s 12. You can take her.” I didn’t butt in and tell them she’s actually 11.
Tuesday was the day my workplace paid for me to attend the conference, so I wasn’t working. The keynote speaker was Gerry Meek, CEO of the Calgary Public Library system. His talk was on transformative partnerships and the beginning was filled with management-speak kinds of cliches. “We can’t just be A to B; we’ve got to be B to A,” that kind of thing. I almost panicked. Is this what all the conferences I’ll be going to in my career will be like? Bullet. Skull. Brain. But! When he started getting into the stuff that the CPL does to act out these little turns of phrase, it got really interesting.
He was talking about branding our libraries and how we can shape our communities. The branding that the CPL does would terrify our library as inappropriate. They have ads saying “Spent all your money? Come to the library.” and “Cheap and Easy.” They have partnerships with some grocery stores to advertise on their shelves with their “Everything you’re into” slogan. It was interesting. The other interesting bit was how the CPL “applauds bold failures and frowns on mediocre successes” and encourages mavericks within their system, and looks for what their staff is passionate about. That’s kind of the opposite of how our hidebound, terrified of anything bad happening administration works.
Now, I don’t know how it works in practice at the CPL. If I were to hang out with my equivalent from their system, maybe they’d denounce that as just propaganda to boost their library image that has nothing to do with how their employees experience the library. Meek did make a couple of jokes about being careful what you get your staff into, so who knows how it actually plays out. Noble sentiments though.
My next session was Beyond the Newsletter: Social Media Solutions for Library News presented by Carol Cooke, Tania Gottschalk, Mark Rabnett, a crew from the University of Manitoba Health Sciences Libraries. This was talking about how they integrated a bunch of tools so they wouldn’t have to update everything (facebook, twitter, the U of M website, flickr) individually. It was a little more technical than I expected, talking about how they hook their RSS feeds up through different services to update everything. They were big proponents of Posterous. And they talked about the importance of having a policy for the library’s official presence. I asked if they also had a policy about what individual staff members do with their personal accounts on these networks. They thought that made no sense at all. Just like me!
In the afternoon I went to a Manitoba Book Blitz, which was a dozen publishers pitching books. It was interesting enough, but not having the power to actually buy books for my workplace, not terribly useful to me. I felt bad because one publisher was doing her pitch with the author of the book she was pitching there, and she was by far the worst salesperson. Kind of cringeworthy really. He helped a bit. In general though, it was a fun session, with Charlene Diehl being a great host. She was described in the program as effervescent and I have no problem with that description.
Last session was on Designing Dazzling Displays and it didn’t really go well. There were supposed to be two presenters, Dawn Huck from a local publisher, and someone from McNally Robinson, where they do excellent displays. But the second person didn’t show up till 25 minutes in, so Huck was forced into engaging in dialogue with the attendees and she was showing us some things that she does, which was good stuff (she’s more focused on trade shows and the like). But it seemed like she was supposed to be the sidekick to the presentation and wasn’t really prepared to take this lead role. The audience was sharing their ideas and tips and tricks for library displays with all our limits and Huck was kind of just swept along with it. When the bookseller and her boxes of things showed up, she apologized for her extreme lateness, but I don’t think there was really any way she was going to win that room over.
She talked about the things she does for the bookstore and the presentation careened from very basic (arrange books in pyramids so you can see them all, which seemed sort of patronizing) to beautiful but impractical (a 5’6″ dragon built out of wood foil and papier mache for a Brisingr display). She made a chupacabra joke that might have gone over better in a younger crowd filled with geeks (I smiled), but she was talking fast, trying to make up for lost time and she wasn’t getting that bunch back. Especially not with comments about how often she gives things to her graphic designer. I wonder how it would have been if she’d been there at the beginning. It was kind of funny watching a room just be cold to a speaker. This was the only session I heard disparaging things about the next day. But she brought stuff for people to take, posters and things, and there were a few good DIY ideas for risers. I enjoyed the session and did pick up a few ideas, plus learned about why self-healing cutting mats are cool.
And then I went to work.
I read an excellent post by Danah Boyd on privacy and Facebook, and in it there’s a quote from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.
You have one identity… The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” – Zuckerberg, 2009
Hm. This played really well with the Jenka Gurfinkel article I just read about Iron Man being the first superhero for the Facebook generation.
The need for a secret identity is gone. The entire world knows — and not because some tabloid uncovered the mystery man behind the mask, but because he just straight up told everyone. In the comic books, it took Stark 40 years to make this move. For Superman or Spiderman or Batman or virtually any other superhero from the prior century (save some like the X-Men) their secret identities were their most sacred possessions, the keys to their undoings, and they fought as hard to protect them as to save humanity itself. But in the 21st century, Tony Stark’s approach to privacy reflects how Millennials now think of the concept.
And I bring this up here because last week our library created new Facebook Guidelines for Staff, to go with the library’s new presence on the Book. These policies say that we’re welcome to become a fan of the library page, but we must remember that even if we’re on our own time, people might be able to find out we work for the library, so we aren’t allowed to say anything about patrons or coworkers or our employers, nor talk about anything that isn’t “in the public domain.” (Our library is a public one, run by the city paid for by tax dollars so I believe that anyone has a right to know if they’re paying for incompetents and fuckups along with awesome people. But that’s my journalist talking.)
I was a little unhappy with how these policies erode staff private expression, but after my fiasco with the administration in December/January I’m glad there is a policy to argue with. In my disciplinary hearing I asked for them to point to a rule I had broken. They couldn’t. Now they could point to this. That’s a step up from being disappeared for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Hooray.
The other great thing about there being a policy is I can point to it and show my fellow staffmembers what the administration is trying to do, which is erode the distinction between our work time and our personal time. (I have maintained that if my library wants me to never say anything critical about it, they should not be paying me by the hour.) This erosion is kind of interesting, especially when dealing with people who haven’t tweaked their Facebook privacy settings. On Thursday, just to show my coworkers why I wouldn’t become a fan of the library, we went to the library page without signing into Facebook. On that page you can see some people who are fans of the library. Some of them, if you click on them, nothing comes up because they don’t want to be visible to any Joe Schmoe off the internet. But some people show up. As do their friends lists, and their taste in music, and other things they like (one library person we found is a fan of Jello Shots). My more Luddite coworker was appalled that people would put this information on the internet at all, but I pushed them both to considering another case.
Imagine I’m a fan of something entitled “Our mayor is a fucking douchebag.” If I don’t have my Facebook privacy settings locked down and I am a fan of our library’s page, anyone could read what I thought about my boss. And the administration could deem that disrespectful and I could be disciplined. I want to remain a fan of “Our mayor is a fucking douchebag,” so I decide not to become a fan of our library on Facebook. Problem solved. But wait! In our new Facebook guidelines it states “Please remember that you may be identified as a library staff member even if you are participating on your personal time.” If I don’t have my privacy settings locked down and a Facebook friend of mine is a fan of the library page, then I and my opinions of my douchebag mayor are two clicks away from being identified, and possibly disciplined for being disrespectful. This isn’t just an embarassing situation; it’s a situation that could lose some asshole his job (probably not the asshole who’s mayor, though).
That whole “may be identified as a staff member” gets me paranoid. When I got disciplined for my blog being disrespectful, my blog did not have my full name on it, though I mentioned branches where things happened. I never made any claims that I was speaking officially for the library, though on individual posts I mentioned where I worked. It didn’t take a lot to identify me, and it didn’t need to. My personal life isn’t a secret identity, it’s just the one I use when I’m not at work. It is just different. My administration told me that makes me a liar. They are right on board with Mark Zuckerberg’s radical devaluation of privacy so that they can maintain a nice clean professional image. They want things to be nice and clean and safe always. Which is completely appropriate for their official stuff. I don’t want anything to do with the official site. But these policies encroach on my ability to appear disrespectful on my own time, and I think that’s wrong. Tony Stark can get away with his bad behaviour being public because he’s obscenely rich and talented and has a fucking suit of power armour. These are advantages I do not have. Not being fictional and all.
Obviously, one solution to all of this would be for me to stop being such a jerk. If I didn’t have anything to hide, then keeping my personal and professional lives separate wouldn’t matter. But I am what I am, and I’ll write what I write. I can even change things, admit when I’ve made a mistake and everything. True fact! The Opinions page up at the top there talks a bit about the steps that I’ve taken on this blog. They still don’t put me in line with our official policies, but they’re what appear reasonable to me. That’s about as close as we get to integrity around here.
From the.effing.librarian whose librarianing philosophy and use of profanity is something I can get behind:
Wherever you find a librarian, you’ll find a library. NOT the other way around. That’s why it always sends me into a rage when I see these stories about libraries needing to remain relevant in the digital age. Don’t worry, librarians will figure it out. Doctors don’t need hospitals to do doctoring and lawyers don’t need ambulances to do lawyering.
Whether it’s information on the web or in your phone or piled up on the floor after the undead apocalypse. Librarians will sort it out, organize it and make it available for everyone.
This is why I’m going to school in fall. It’s not for the career-trackiness of it all. I don’t especially want to become the branch head of a library, or have to play politics with administrators all day and all night. I want to know how to turn heaps of information into libraries.
Millennium Library is in the Winnipeg Free Press again, this time for being open too few hours. Here’s the front page story from a few days ago and here’s an editorial. I like how in the first article it says the library “claims to attract 1.5 million visitors a year” (emphasis added) as they just got that number from some administrator. In the editorial it takes that number as fact even though it’s not independently verified.
It’s also funny how the editorial calls the library the “city’s living rooms” and then doesn’t mention how many homeless people use the library because they don’t have living rooms.
At the desk yesterday there were two separate interesting questions. One was a woman who corralled a coworker into helping her at the computers. She’d already helped her find a computer that could do what she wanted, but the woman seemed needy of more help and dragged her away to the far computer bank. I could see them standing and talking and saw the occasional look back at the desk. When a phone call came for her it was perfectly timed so I could go rescue my coworker. I let the woman know I could help her if that wasn’t a problem.
The woman wanted to save a document to her new flash drive. Cool beans. She also wanted to talk about her theories of how the government didn’t like her and was trying to delete her work on applying for EI. I let her talk as she rooted through her belongings. I got scissors to open the flash drive packaging. We navigated to the government of Canada site and found the document she needed to fill out. Then the computer popped up a screen saying you couldn’t fill in the form and save it. You could fill it in and print it though. And thus began the explanation of how she’d filled the form out once and then it had all been wiped out so she came to the library. She was concerned that would happen again, peppering her speaking with “Woe is me” and “Isn’t that just the way it always is” kinds of statements.
So I explained how it would work on the computer she was at. She printed off a blank version of the form. She saved a blank version of the form. Then she started filling it in. I warned her that if she wasn’t done by the time the computer kicked her off to print it, otherwise all her work would disappear again.
I was on break when she came to the desk to get help printing it (which I’d hoped she wouldn’t need, as I’d showed her how to print the document when it was blank and said it would work exactly the same way). But she’d come with only 2 minutes left on her time and by the time they got back to the computer she’d been logged off and lost her data. But she would persevere. She had 30 minutes left of internet use on her card so she’d try again. This time it would be better! It wasn’t. She lost all her data again. But we’d tried our best to help her, and listened to her talk (about how her doctor was trying to kill her), so she thought us library folk were all right.
Later on in the evening a young woman came to the desk looking for videos about WalMart. One of my coworkers was helping her find the videos and said “Why are these in such different places? One’s in the 658s and the other in 382 (or whatever the specific numbers were)!” So I piped in, “The one in the 658s is about the business of WalMart, and the one in the 300s is about the social environmental whatever issues created by WalMart.” And the young woman said, “Wow, you are passionate about your job!”
“Nah, I just know a couple of things about WalMart. It comes from spending my opinion-formative years reading Adbusters.”
And it was really nice, while my coworker went off to find the actual videos this woman and I chatted about WalMart and how this business prof she has talks about the badness, and she’d never heard any of that before and was now up to researching it. Very pleasant interaction and it made me glad I work in a library, not a cheese factory.
It makes me sad how the administration’s bullshit (about what I can and can’t write on my blog on my own time, and whether I’m actually cut out to be a librarian) affects me. It shouldn’t. They’re just suits who want everyone to behave like them. But it gets to me. I hate thinking about them but I do. It saps my writing and my life in general. I wish I didn’t have to feel like shit all the time. I like being passionate about my job. I want to be, but people who’ve never worked with me think I’m a liar who shouldn’t continue in the job I’m pretty fucking good at. It sucks.
Selected points from LIScareer’s Characteristics of Emotionally Unhealthy Libraries
- No meetings (“We don’t have time for meetings” or “Too many meetings waste everyone’s time”)
- Too many meetings, meetings are long, and are not well facilitated
- Imposition of one person’s views on the rest of the library
- Lack of communication between divisions, lack of mechanisms for communication
- Culture is dominated by a few negative personalities that “act out” their own personal agendas or decrease staff morale.
- Complaints are ignored or are used against the staff member who complains.
- Library administration not held responsible by stakeholders
- Lack of respect for the staff by the library administration
Some day when I become a librarian I’ll sure want to avoid a workplace with any of these characteristics. Happily, at the bottom of the list are some questions to ask in interviews that might help determine what kind of work culture you’d be getting into.