I had an excellent time at BCLC 2013. A lot of that had to do with hanging out with colleagues and doing the whole “think about library issues” in person thing, rather than reading blog posts. Obviously I love blog posts and keeping up with people online is what I do, but it is nice to hang out (for example) at a table full of library techs with a drink and hear what kinds of things they’re dealing with. Or to sit in the sun on a Friday afternoon and discuss the horrors of capitalism and the challenges of optimism. I mean, this is something I just don’t get to do too often.
On the BCLA Info Policy Committee blog I’ve got a post talking about some of the IPC related things that went on. Even though Tara did a great job on the Hot Topics panel, watching it I really really wished I could have been up there participating (though I did get one question asked if not answered) and I think things might have gone a little bit more along these lines if I had.
Beyond that, I went to a very interesting session about how we advertise our early literacy programs on our websites. One of the things I’m bringing back to work is the idea to stop using stock photos and get real people involved doing real storytimish things (as opposed to the baby einstein motifs that you get a lot of in advertising).
I also went to the session on Fraser Valley Regional Library’s Service Mobile, which is an electronics-packed Nissan Cube thing that goes to homeless shelters to involve more people in the digital conversation. This is something I thought was pretty awesome and I think something we could at least put a proposal for in our library system.
The way I’d like to do it though is actually more like the MakerMobile (which was also at the conference on Saturday). On Thursday I got into Vancouver and instead of trying to catch the conference keynote speaker, I went to a Maker Education Meetup, where I met a whole bunch of people involved with 3D printers, education and MakerFaire. They were awesome (and thanks to Frank for getting a bunch of librarians out to the event). The Makers are less about buying fancy gadgets and more about being a mobile workshop to teach people how to use tools and make things themselves. It was actually kind of funny to see the two vehicles out in the conference parking lot. One all shiny and custom-electronicked up, and the other an old cargo truck with tools and clever benches in the back. I get that flashy is flashy, but man, the maker education folks really have my heart.
Last thing I did at the conference was do a few booktalks at the Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestseller List panel. I did that panel last year and had a great time. This year I talked about To Be Or Not To Be: That is the Adventure by Ryan North (& Shakespeare & YOU), and a little bit about Pirate Boxes and Unglued books and a great “craft of RPGs” book called Nightmares of Mine by Ken Hite. All of which was super fun, and I got a bottle of wine as a speaker present! For like four minutes of booktalking! So good.
Anyway, that was my conference. I like BCLA and it’s an organization I’m happy to be a part of. Our strategic plan includes advocacy as one of its first objectives and that sounds about right to me.
I can’t imagine working for an organization that would put out a code of conduct that prohibits its employees from engaging in teaching, conference attendance or other “personal engagements” on their own time. I mean, I can imagine it; I just imagine it would suck. And for the librarians at Library and Archives Canada who are in charge of keeping the country’s information organized and accessible for all Canadians to be muzzled in such a way is complete bullshit.
An employee may accept such invitations as personal activities if all of the following conditions are met:
- The subject matter of the activity is not related to the mandate or activities of LAC;
- The employee is not presented as speaking for or being an expert of LAC or the Government of Canada;
- The third party is not a potential or current supplier to/collaborator with LAC;
- The third party does not lobby or advocate with LAC;
- The third party does not receive grants, contributions or other types of funding or payments from LAC;
- The employee has discussed it with his or her manager, who has documented confirmation that the activity does not conflict with the employee’s duties at LAC or present other risks to LAC.
Personally, the idea of having to have off-work-time speech needing to be okayed by a manager gets up my nose in terms of chilling effects. Who’s going to ask interesting questions if they must check with risk-averse superiors first? Other people who are more in tune with how organizations work than me point out that the other clauses mean LAC employees couldn’t feel at ease going to talk at their kids’ school about being an archivist, let alone work with academics who might get some funding from LAC. One would think you’d want interesting thinkers at a country’s flagship library instead of mere functionaries. I would think so, anyway.
Because I was interested I looked at the social media segments of this code of conduct. They say that if an employee said something within a limited group of people that was shared to a wider audience, the employee could be subject to disciplinary measures, because of her “duty of loyalty.” Now my reading of that section seems to indicate that as long as the individual employee isn’t representing LAC’s position, but her own, things would be fine. Of course, I don’t take anything said by a person to be representative of their employer’s views, because that is crazy. Oh wait. If someone could find out where you worked and that you had an opinion then it would count as you trying to represent LAC’s opinion and smack goes the hammer.
I’m sorry, LAC employees. I think we, as librarians and as humans, should be asking interesting questions. The photographer Clayton Cubitt recently wrote a blogpost about labelling which of the pictures he posts on Tumblr are NSFW (not safe for work) after an explanation of how to get a feed of just his SFW pictures he went on to talk a little bit about alignment of your philosophy with your workplace. And there he says: “So the only real solution is in your hands: don’t work at a job that doesn’t share your personal philosophy.”
I think that’s good advice. And actually I think it’s good in its way that LAC sets out its philosophy so starkly so its employees can see how it diverges from their philosophies. They are clearly saying to their librarians “We don’t trust you. You are our enemy.” Having such a clear enemy makes some things easier. You know who you should pull your support from. The problem however is that LAC isn’t just some company making widgets or apps. It’s supposed to be preserving and organizing the citizenry’s information for use, and it’s not like the librarians who have been made enemy of their institution can just start up another one.
Let’s just get this out there: I would hate to work at LAC. But we need a National Library. If this strangulation of its workers means that librarians dedicated to freedom of information and access for the citizens leave or get chilled out of proposing any ideas to talk about that is a huge fucking loss. The librarians shouldn’t have to leave because the government doesn’t understand what the job of a librarian is.
We need people to change this. Part of the job of being a librarian is to stand up for freedom of thought and expression. That has to apply within the National Library as well as in society in general. We have to make the rules at our National Library fit the job and its values. This should be a no-brainer for librarians. We should all be do our best to help people with their information needs, which might involve asking interesting difficult awkward questions. We aren’t supposed to be scared of ideas. That is part of my personal philosophy and something I believe makes me a good librarian.
This is not a very focused blogpost. Organizations I belong to are writing much more eloquent letters outlining the issues for a general public and other librarians. I don’t know what you should do. They probably will. I will link to them as they come up.
This is just a response. My response. (Not that of any employer of mine, past, present or future.)
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.
I spent Friday and Saturday at the BC Library Association conference at a hotel in Richmond, which was kind of a shame because the weather’s been beautiful, but worked out all right since the sessions were interesting.
On Friday I attended a session on Vancouver Public Library’s First Nations Storyteller in Residence program (which won an award on Saturday – the program not the session). This one was interesting as a case-study of how a community-led library program gets developed in collaboration with the communities it’s serving. Originally it was going to be a simple port of the Writer in Residence program but it turned out that what worked for one actually needed significant revamping through lots of question asking and changing behaviour based on the answers.
I also attended a 12 Lightning Talks on Open Access, which was pretty good. The most interesting thing I got out of it was the idea that public libraries could be doing more things with Massive Online Open Courses (like Udacity and others). Then in the afternoon I went to a panel on LGBTQ YA literature which was interesting, especially since it had a couple of authors and an Orca editor on the panel (along with Rob Bittner, organizer of UBC’s Children’s Literature Conference from a couple of weeks ago).
Then I was on the “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestseller List” panel, which had a pile of librarians talking about indie/hard-to-find/frequently-challenged books for 90 seconds a pop. There were books about Dead White Europeans, miniature painting, combining sex & drugs, dropping out of school, butt-plug art, and roleplaying games. Guess which of those was mine.
Saturday I had less freedom in my panels because I was convening a couple of sessions. (Pro tip: if you want to go to BCLA for free, convene rather than volunteer. We got a way sweeter deal than the people working registration desk.) I went to the BCLA AGM, and then convened a session on in-class feedback tools, such as paper-response, clickers and PollEverywhere, which allows for texting in answers that get embedded live into websites. Very cool stuff.
In the afternoon the session I convened was Phil Hall’s talk on Libraries finding a Plan B once the future arrives and the current model of “Libraries are places with information resources” is ruined. He had a lot of interesting things to say about technology trends and the takeaways were that we have to be thinking about this and adapting to it, without being scared that libraries will be gone in our lifetimes.
Finally, Ingrid Parent and Michael Geist gave closing keynotes. Michael Geist talked about copyright and the internet, and how SOPA in the States was stopped and what bill C-11 was like up here in Canada. It was a really good talk.
By the end of the two days my brain was fried and I had to spend the last two days reading X-Men comics to recuperate. I had a good time though. I met some librarians I didn’t know and had a whole bunch more see me booktalk for a crowd (and got some compliments on my performance, which is always nice). Who knows if I’ll be in Vancouver next year, but if I am I’ll go again.
I hadn’t been on an organizing committee before last year, when I joined up to be the Website Coordinator for the Stranger in a Strange Land Children’s Literature Conference. It was kind of a funny situation, since I was in Australia when I signed up, but being the web person meant I could do all my work remotely anyway. I set up the website, found us a Creative Commons licensed graphic to use, got the web registration forms set up to work with the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable PayPal account, and generally made things accessible to the internet. It worked pretty well. I also did some techy stuff at the conference, helping to make sure people’s presentations worked okay.
On a more personal note, at the conference I presented my first paper. It’s called Unreliable Instructions and I made the slides for my presentation public. We only had fifteen minutes to present our work, so I had to bail out before I reached the “librarians have to change the world!” bits, but it went okay. I tend to have more passion than clarity when I’m presenting something to people, especially if there’s a time limit and I’m not being asked questions. I need to know what the audience gets and what they’re confused by so I don’t waste words explaining what everyone knows. Nobody asked any questions in the session, since my critical literacy stuff ended up being much less practical or theoretical than the other presenters. I was primarily talking about stories by China Mieville and Terry Pratchett and how they encourage critical literacy.
My favourite part of the conference was actually afterwards talking about YA books with one of the Creative Writing presenters. We talked about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Ship Breaker and man, reader advisory is my favourite thing in the world.
Happily, I get to use that love next week at the BCLA conference, where I’ll be on the “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestseller List” panel. We’ll be talking about books that don’t get much attention from libraries. That’s restricted to 90 seconds per book, which suits my presentation style quite well. I’ll be presenting indie comics and games, because that’s the kind of thing I do. It should be fun and it’s cool that Shirley thought of me for it.
My absolute favourite presentation of the IFLA Indigenous Knowledges Conference came on Saturday afternoon, when Kim Christen talked about Mukurtu an indigenous community-focused open-source content management system they’ve been developing. It’s based on Drupal and has cultural protocols (those issues of who can see what kind of information in a culture that I talked about earlier) baked right into the system. The Plateau People’s Web Portal is a site built with the system, and the
Whereas in many museum and archive settings knowledge is “given,” here we have sought to create a space to open dialogue and allow many perspectives to sit side by side. Instead of “finding” information, the portal seeks to be a space where knowledge is created in constant conversation.
I love this kind of thing, all using the technology to build something to satisfy the community’s requirements instead of fitting the community into the tech. So fucking good. Oh and wait, there’s more.
The Mukurtu project is also developing Traditional Knowledge licenses (and labels for now). These are being designed to apply to knowledge that is out of copyright and in the public domain (which has traditionally been a way for white folks to use traditional knowledge artifacts out of context and in kind of terrible ways) and to give more information about how that knowledge should be used respectfully. Our little corner of library school students in the back was giddy and cheering at this point.
Myron and I talked to Kim Christen after her talk and she talked about how Creative Commons is great for artists and writers working today, but it falls apart with traditional culture (and copyright has never worked). The fact that people are working on this kind of issue, and not just making vague blanket statements is exciting and is the kind of thing that library schools (like UBC’s SLAIS) should be getting involved in.
I got to attend the IFLA Indigenous Knowledges Conference because of the research project I’m working on about IFLA (the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), and there was a lot of good stuff.
One of the big issues I find myself thinking hard about when thinking about aboriginal information issues and especially Traditional Knowledge is the notion that there’s some information that people just shouldn’t see (because it’s sacred stuff, and if you aren’t a priest you don’t have the proper context, to simplify it down a lot). Not being religious and being a Creative Commons/Open Access loving kind of guy, my hackles go up at the idea that communities would obstruct the free flow of information I see librarians as being instrumental in (I commented on this a little bit last year after attending a colloquium on Digital Repatriation). But I’m also a big fan of Community-Led Library issues, learning from the communities you’re serving instead of coming in with solutions in search of problems (the whole “improve society by facilitating knowledge creation in their communities” new librarianship deal works really well in this context). So I came into this conference ready to learn stuff that we don’t talk a lot about in our more traditionally focused courses.
And learn stuff I did.
Val Napoleon talked about the way oral cultures and knowledge representation is gaining legitimacy in the Canadian legal system as law, not just a cultural artifact. She also talked about how lofty principles are kind of meaningless without application and consultation. Community Consultation and Informed Prior Consent were recurrent themes throughout the two days.
Another recurrent theme was the situation of knowledge in place. This is one of those ideas that’s completely foreign to me. I don’t have any deep connection with any place, and for me the digital future is interesting because of its disconnection from a location, that I can go anywhere and bring all my stories with me. But that’s not the only way to think of things. Recordings are a crutch and they separate the stories from the people and without stories you become the walking dead, said Cry Rock, a video that was presented.
On Friday afternoon people were talking about indigenous training methods and indigenous subject heading and knowledge organization which was very interesting, but a bit annoying that the guy on the panel spoke about his (admittedly neat) online dictionary for as long as the three women did combined. On Twitter I referred to him as a white guy, but that was an assumption on my part, since I didn’t hear how he self-identified. The self-identification of where everyone was from and who they were was fascinating throughout the conference. And the thanking of the Musqueam nation for hosting the conference on their unceded land. I can’t remember ever hearing that kind of acknowledgment of land issues back in Winnipeg, but it happens a lot at UBC and did in Sydney too.
Oh, thinking of Sydney, on Saturday Alana Garwood-Houng was talking about Traditional Knowledge and copyright issues in regards to WIPO, but while there were some good things happening in that realm, there are also terrible human rights abuses going on in the Northern Territory. It was an emotional issue (check Stand for Freedom for the video she showed us) and she stressed that protecting cultural knowledge is important but protecting people and their human rights needs to come first.
I’m going to give my favourite part of the conference its own post, but in general, that was my experience with it. There were some boring parts, and I think IFLA missed the point of conversation about intellectual property issues in its Guiding Principles document they presented. Grand Chief Ed John called them out on their “respect for human rights so long as… access to information is unimpeded.” I’m all for access to information (remember, I’m a CC-loving info-sharing librarian) but I think serving the community has to come first. Harald von Hielmcrone did say there’s no human right to look through someone’s private papers, but the Guiding Principles bury that sentiment (if it’s there) in bureaucratically hellish clauses and doublespeak. I am not a fan of policy documents, I guess.
I am a fan of this conference and the information I came away with. I didn’t network as much as I should, but I was tweeting and taking notes. Hopefully this response was useful. It was only the first conference of a bunch this summer, so expect more of these writeups. I hope the rest will spark such cool shifts in perspective.
I’m helping out with a SLAIS Children’s Literature conference, mostly on constructing the website. Check out Stranger in a Strange Land: Exploring Texts and Media for Young People Across Cultures and Continents. Maybe you’d like to submit a paper?
The third day of the Manitoba Libraries Conference opened with breakfast (croissants and fruit), which was nice. This was the day I was convening sessions, so I had to stop by the registration desk a few times to pick up the checklists and gifts for the speakers. All very easy stuff.
The first session I convened was presented by Kathleen Williams from the Winnipeg Public Library along with a bunch of EAL teachers. The session was called Reaching Out to Newcomers, and was pretty good. When I worked in Section 22 I did a lot with our ESL collections and helping people find things so Kathleen’s talk was right in my wheelhouse. They were discussing the photo stories they’d created to help people at different English levels learn to use the library. It was informative all around and people asked good questions and went just a touch over time. My introducing even made a couple of people laugh (librarians in general seem to be fine with lame jokes, so something even moderately funny goes over well in my experience).
Then was a session by Michelle Larose-Kuzenko from the Manitoba Ministry of Education. Her talk was on Literacy with ICT. (I learned in my preconference research that ICT is Information and Communication Technology.) The speaker and I got along well when I was getting stuff set up. Her talk was focused on integrating technology and dealing with it appropriately into other lesson plans and things. I was completely out of my element in there, but the attendees asked questions so I didn’t have to. The only thing I could have asked would have been inane. The questions that did get asked had a bit of a hostile edge to them, as Ms. Larose-Kuzenko was a government official who imposes things on these library techs. I didn’t have to break up any fights though. I think that would have been part of my convenor duties.
After lunch I went to a presentation called Not Your Daddy’s Jackdaws, which was presented by a University of Manitoba Archivist. He was talking about Jackdaws and how todays things that are kind of like Jackdaws are different from Jackdaws. What is a Jackdaw? It’s a folder full of reproductions of historical documents about some historical person, place, thing, or time. They were produced by this British company in the 1960s and they made over 400 of them. The thing that made this session kind of weird was that he wanted to talk about how the new things that are sort of similar aren’t really like Jackdaws, but everyone in the room just wanted to talk about Jackdaws themselves (and how proud one school library was to have a bunch). He was approaching this as presenting his paper but people kept interrupting. It was kind of funny. I was glad I wasn’t convening this one.
Finally, I convened a session by Marg and Tom Stimson called How to Talk About Web2.0 Without Making Your Mother Bored. It didn’t quite deliver on that subtitle (my mom would still be bored, though the Stimsons were entertaining) but was interesting. Marg talked about all the cool stuff you could do in the classroom with Google Maps and different free bits of software. Tom Stimson livetweeted his class trip to Oak Hammock Marsh including pictures and the kids’ parents were commenting and stuff. It was all pretty neat. He also uses Spore in the classroom, which is awesome. (I recently got Spore and it is a wonderful game where you create a life form and have it evolve from a little multicellular thing into star-spanning empires. Highly recommended.) They had to talk about the creature they made as a class “growing up” instead of evolving because they had a Jehovah’s Witness kid in the class.
The Stimsons were great “Hey wow isn’t this neat!” kind of evangelists for Web 2.0 technologies, of the kind you’d see doing TED talks. Tom showed us screenshots of the kids’ pictures on their houses on Google Maps after navigating there from school in Google Earth, and I had to ask a question about how they deal with the kids’ privacy issues. They a) get waivers b) don’t use full names and c) use a “this’ll be up on the internet for four hours so parents should go see it now” kind of approach. Which made me feel a bit better.
And then the conference was over. It was a fine first experience. Now when I go to my first one as a student I’ll have something to compare it to.