This month I almost forgot to renew my BC Library Association (BCLA) membership. I originally got membership as a student for free but now that I’m a totally legitimate professional, it costs money, so it’s something I can easily let slip through the cracks. But letting my membership lapse would be kind of awkward and weird at this point since I’m now officially a co-chair of BCLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) with David Waddell. Woo!
In his “passing the baton” email to the BCLA and IFC lists the outgoing chair, Jon Scop, commented on how it’s kind of interesting to have an intellectual freedom leadership position going from one male children’s librarian to two male children’s librarians. To me it seems obvious that children’s librarians would be big intellectual freedom advocates.
This was banned books week in the states, and it’s totally commonplace at this point to note how many challenged books are kids’ books like Captain Underpants. Minors are a chunk of our society with very little power and there’s a huge swathe of society that wants to protect kids from ideas adults don’t want them to have. I see my role as a children’s librarian as serving kids, not their parents or teachers, which is quite fundamentally anti-elitist and subversive (one of the things I love about librarianship).
Saying “I can’t let you see that” to a segment of community members just because they don’t have a bunch of legal rights (to vote or drink or go to war or whatever) is kind of anathema to the librarian ideal. While teens are fierce defenders of their own intellectual freedom, librarians are natural adult allies, especially since we don’t have any real power over them (I suppose we can kick them out of the library), just expertise to offer. As a children’s librarian, part of my job is to take seriously what kids are interested in pursuing when they are looking for help, and not saying “Ugh, more Fairies/Pokemon/Sparkly Vampires?”
One of my formative kidbrarian experiences happened on my first day working a refdesk (which I blogged at the time). I’m still proud of my instincts to bring the 12-year-old kid over to the shelf where we kept Mein Kampf. In one of my post-MLIS job interviews I was asked what I’d do with an 11-year-old girl asking about Fifty Shades of Grey. In that interview I fucked up. I tried to make myself more hireable by waffling a bit and adding some more questions to my reference interview to make sure the kid knew it wasn’t a book for kids. Seriously, I hate that I did that and I totally blame the whole job-search process for making me less than confident in my ideals and whether someone would actually hire a kids librarian who wouldn’t blink at giving an 11-year-old steamy fanfic. That’s the kidbrarian I want and try to be.
Yesterday I was in a middle school talking to a bunch of 8th graders about the library and why we’re relevant to them. This was one of the things I stressed to them. In the eyes of our library, once they’re 13 they have adult cards and we won’t tell anyone what they’re borrowing. I told them that we don’t care if they want to read Pokemon comics (or other materials “below their level”) or Anais Nin. If we find something for them and it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. That’s the whole point.
Anyway, all that is to say that youth librarians make total sense as intellectual freedom defenders (but I won’t subject you to my theories of why it makes sense there’d be a confluence of male children’s librarians doing this stuff, because I wouldn’t want to paint any other librarians with my weird gender-role identity issues). I’m looking forward to working with BCLA’s IFC on these issues, but as always whatever I say is just me talking, not official views on anything unless I clearly mark it as such. You can read our blog and follow us on Twitter.
Today I started my new job. I’m now a professional youth librarian who does things like works full-time and performs storytimes and will be getting a Teen Advisory Group together and all the other cool things librarians get to do if they’re lucky. I’m excited about the possibilities (and am exceedingly aware of how lucky I am to have gotten full-time work straight out of finishing my MLIS).
One thing that’s a bit different from the last time I worked in a library is that I’m not going to be blogging specifically about where I work. It’s not a secret or anything. You can easily discover it for yourself. My name is Justin Unrau and I’m out there on the internet (usually with the same avatar). But I won’t be talking about the specifics of my day to day work the way I used to back at the cheese factory. (And yes, this means no stories of awesome encounters with library members or coworkers.)
The main reason for this is because I kind of feel like my audience here (such as it is) is made up more of fellow librarchivists these days, and these people have their own awesome stories in that vein. These librarchivists haven’t necessarily read the same books that I’ve been reading, and they might have a use for my reviews (such as they are). And they might find it useful to read about libraryboxes and piracy or storytime plans and whatever. The shift in audience means a shift in content, is what I’m saying.
I’m not saying I’ll stop cussing in my book reviews here (even in reviews of kids’ books). I’ll try to keep talking about things in the greater world of information that make fine upstanding librarians squirm. That’s all good. I’m just putting up a bit of separation to make it very very clear that my new employer is not responsible for, nor do they condone, anything I write here. I might write about programs that I create in my job (or for presentations at library conferences or what have you), but the writing here is done on my own time for my own professional/personal development.
I guess the big takeaway here is that if you are here for the book reviews, awesome. Those’ll stay the same. There’ll probably be weeklyish posts about more generally library-related topics interspersed with them. If you’re here for rollicking tales of customer service interactions, this isn’t the source it used to be (and truthfully hasn’t been in years). I suggest The Society for Librarians* Who Say Motherfucker if you are so inclined (though it does seem much more petty than I feel it used to be).
Anyway, now that I’m not jobhunting I hope to make the blog better. I’ve got plans for zine workshops, lego, science fiction and circuit-bending and I’ll share them with you. I’m going to try to make my book reviews a bit more helpful too. Thanks for reading.
From Anil Dash’s post If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault:
But as I reflected back on the wonderful, meaningful conversations I’ve had in the last dozen years of this blog, I realized that one of the reasons people don’t understand how I’ve had such a wonderful response from all of you over the years is because they simply don’t believe great conversations can happen on the web. Fortunately, I have seen so much proof to the contrary.
Why are they so cynical about conversation on the web? Because a company like Google thinks it’s okay to sell video ads on YouTube above conversations that are filled with vile, anonymous comments. Because almost every great newspaper in America believes that it’s more important to get a few more page views on their website than to encourage meaningful discourse about current events within their community, even if many of those page views will be off-putting to the good people who are offended by the content of the comments. And because lots of publishers think that any conversation is good if it boosts traffic stats.
Well, the odds are I’ve been doing this blogging thing longer than you, so let me tell you what I’ve learned: When you engage with a community online in a constructive way, it can be one of the most meaningful experiences of your life. It doesn’t have to be polite, or neat and tidy, or full of everyone agreeing with each other. It just has to not be hateful and destructive.
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 wrote about the use of social media for inforgs on Librarianautica.
I’m a big fan of how the National, State and Territory libraries of Australia and New Zealand ran Libraryhack2011. This is a consortium of governmental libraries promoting the use of (a small selection of) their collections in mashups. They’ve got a blog explaining things, a pretty vibrant Twitter feed (that isn’t solely reposting the blog’s content), and dude, they’re doing the mashup thing. How much more social media can you get? (One of my favourite entries in the contest was this sound recording made from a photograph.)
Interestingly, maybe instructively, this is an event, not something ongoing, and it isn’t very prominent on the NSW State Library website, which I think is a bit odd. Maybe this isn’t a best-practice after all.
But it does work well for that idea of “stepped” approaches for organizations. Focusing a social media outbreak on something that’s happening with the organization would give a good focus, to quickly move beyond the “What would we tweet about?” questions.
Event-type experiments can also be sold as short-term projects especially to more traditional (read: hidebound) organizations, who’re scared of what people might say about them online. If you’re having an event you want people to talk about it so it’s a good demand generator for social media engagement. Starting up accounts related to some big event would be a way to get the kinks worked out, to see what works for your users and your staff.
Now this is all stuff that looks appealing to me as a person. I have no idea how the organizations involved are evaluating the success of the libraryhack project. Would that be based on pageviews or submissions or what? It seems that you can find out how many people love the hell out of hacking library stuff, but that metric might not translate to some mythical general user.
I wrote about libraryhack and engaging the community on Librarianautica.