netspeed 2017 and professional development

This week I went to Netspeed, an Alberta library technology conference. I enjoyed myself and it was excellent to see Jessamyn West talk in person. Slidedecks from presentations are supposed to be going up at the librarytoolshed.ca if you’re interested in things more generally.

I think the biggest thing I took away from the experience was actually attending sessions with one of the people I work directly with. Our library is pretty good about not having a rigid distinction between what library assistants do and what librarians do, so having one of our main tech trainers attend was really helpful. After a session on constructivist approaches to maker education we brainstormed a bit about how to use some of those approaches in our much less makery “Getting Started with Android” (or whatever) classes. Doing it right then felt so much more useful than waiting to bring back “news from conference land.” That said, we had too many people from our library in the session on gamifying staff technology training, so I don’t think anyone attended anything else.

I went to the code4libYEG talk about the history of how they’ve set up the leaderless organization. This group was pitched as one of the good things happening in Edmonton before we came here, and now that I’ve been here a year I guess it’s time for me to start helping more instead of being a lurking leech on their good work. (Of course I say that a week before our baby is due when I’ll have tonnes of time to volunteer.)

So yes. Still here and doing things. I’m hoping that when I return to work in January after my parental leave that things will be different somehow. That I’ll be able to try things differently instead of being in the 1st year ropes course learning stage.

 

transmitting in cleartext #accessyfc

tic

This is the text of a short Ignite talk I gave at the Access Conference in 2016. Ignite format is 5 minutes with auto-advancing slides every 15 seconds, so that’s why it’s got the lack of detail it does. I might link to a video version of this talk at some point too, ’cause otherwise the mad prophet aspect might get a little lost. In the meantime, please enjoy.

Hi everyone. I’m J Jack Unrau.

I don’t code much but I spend loads of my time on a public library info desk doing community tech support and talking about digital privacy, which is what I’m here for today.

just a bunch of hilarious stuff

Having been a children’s librarian and radio-based reading advisor, I feel well-equipped to tell you a story about what it means to me to teach people how to deal with the cyberpunk dystopia we have the fortune to be living in.

libr*folk get people hacked

Do you remember 2013 when a huge list of IDs and passwords were stolen from Adobe, including all the accounts librarians had made people get so they could read Overdrive ebooks?

It was terrible explaining to people what happened, & not just because it was our fault.

inigo montoya line (not that bit, the other one)

Adobe was storing passwords in poorly encrypted fashion and transmitting them in cleartext.

Or plaintext.

Plaintext?

Shoot, which is for vim and which is about encryption again?

Anyway.

The words cleartext and plaintext got bandied about a bunch.

escape from efrafa

In the wake of this breach, our library’s agitated techy public services librarians, like Emily Orr, got a notification posted and warned people to change their passwords.

And then we fell down the rabbithole of translating what cleartext means to plainspoken people.

clarity

Because it’s kind of counter-intuitive.

We usually want people who aren’t making some artistic statement to be clear communicators.

We want to get to the point in 300 seconds.

We want to communicate plainly and simply.

We want to tell our stories so we’re understood.

the opposite of clarity

When we’re teaching encryption and security, though, we’re promoting the value of obfuscation and complication.

No matter how much we say “You don’t do this because you have something to hide! It’s not just for pornographers” it’s still weird.

library freedom project

Some smart public-oriented folk have been working on this education project: teaching people what it means to encrypt for your security and liberty.

Alison Macrina‘s founding work on the Library Freedom Project is hugely important and useful.

They are showing us a path to teach these skills to our users.

So what are we doing with those resources?

we do what we must because we can

I teach monthly classes on electronic privacy (that are sparsely attended).

In these sessions we talk about governments and corporations and other thieves, what they want with people’s data, things they will do to get it, and what people can do to try and protect themselves.

using tech better will save us!

I explain digital rights management to our senior citizens.

For Freedom to Read Week a teen and his mom and I built a Tor router from a Raspberry Pi.

I’m doing my part to inch people along the path to looking after their security, to knowing why transmitting in cleartext is so bad.

but it won’t

However, this is not a “we done good” story.

This is a story set in 2016, after all.

This is ending in an apocalyptic trash fire.

normalizing technocracy

The world we inhabit is one where you can have all sorts of digital freedom if you know how to code, navigate pirated media repositories, blocklist the cesspools of Twitter, or run a VPN around Netflix / a repressive regime.

everyone loves setec astronomy

This world is made for people like me.

Doing what I do makes me feel good about “fixing” our users.

I love my secret arcane knowledge and I love sharing that secret arcane knowledge to help technophobes understand what I love about these tools.

we don’t need more technologists

But that makes the story about people like us.

Our goal can’t be to make the public more like us.

Doing this education stuff feels more and more like sharing tips from the lucky times the techy scouts weren’t squashed by the giants out ravaging.

earning freedom is bullshit

Teaching special tech tricks to fix our special users – the ones who ask for the knowledge, come to the classes – that isn’t enough.

That lets things get worse and worse for those who have more important things to do than taking a class on Facebook privacy settings (like Facebook chatting with their kid three timezones away).

obliquity

I’m an info-desk librarian.

I love helping people directly.

Communicating clearly about this stuff to a few people at a time feels good, but isn’t efficient.

The **most important** thing I’ve done for our users is harass IT into installing Privacy Badger on our public computers.

can we build it?

Users need tools for a default experience that is better for them than what fresh surveillance machines from BestBuy can do.

Maybe with Calibre and DeDRM plugins and LibraryBoxen and VPNs and adblockers for everyone we could make libraries have people’s backs even if they have no tech skills.

probably not

I get that there are economic concerns and political concerns in libraries and society that have grim answers for “why don’t we just…?” kinds of questions.

They’re the giants trampling the countryside, the 6th and 7th suns, all that apocalyptic stuff we can’t affect while we scurry among the shitty policies.

we’re doomed. now what?

Roy Scranton wrote this essay last year about how we can’t look to technology or politics to save us from climate change and the end of western civilization.

We have to learn how to remember and let go.

For me, sharing stories is the remembering value we’re adding.

uplifting dénouement missing

I guess I’m just saying teaching digital privacy classes gives us and our users practice at sharing the ransomware folktales we’ll someday tell huddled round our trashcan fires.

Which wasn’t what I expected, but I think it still has value.

Thanks. No moral.

winning awards

Around our workplace there’s a joke that we should all be putting “award-winning librarian” in our bios when we show up in the outside world. After all, who is to say that the participation award from your grade 4 track meet isn’t what made you the professional you are today? I’ve totally done it though. I called myself award-winning in the bio for a talk Jason and I gave at the Vancouver Island Library Staff Conference a few weeks ago, because I really did win an award for making radio back in journalism school. It seemed relevant as part of my radio librarian bona fides. But whatever.

I worry about winning awards in librarianship. The things I tend to do are, while not designed to be high profile, a bit different from the standard librarian things. Which isn’t to say I don’t love the nuts & bolts kind of work of figuring out the answer to a tricky question – that’s the reason I librarian at all – but I’ve always always always wanted to do something different from what other people are doing rather than do what they’re doing better. So I see people who are amazeballs at storytime, bringing in huge crowds and getting all that awesome early learning stuff in there and I want to leave that to them and go do something else, like our radio show, or e-privacy workshop type stuff. Which is fine and all. I get to do things I’m good at and let the people who are really good at the core libraryish things do them.

But then I get twitchy about this because I’m basically just taking advantage of the novelty of what I’m doing to get recognition or whatever. It feels like an ego-stroke, a lot like going to the BC library conference is the only place in this world where I “know people” which can be weirdly ego-inflating. And then the people who are doing the really great normal librarian stuff get left out of the recognition party, which sucks. I don’t want my flashy, kind-of-tangential-to-traditional-library-work projects to outshine my colleagues who are awesome in lower profile ways.

Anyway yeah. Which is to say, I’m sorry for self-promoting. I think what we’re doing with Librarians on the Radio is fun and a good use of my talents such as they are. We won a BCLA Merit award for it (well, our library did). It goes on the CV and we’ll try to keep on making shows I hope are deserving of the recognition all my colleagues should be getting.

at the bc library association conference #bclc2015

I’m heading down to Richmond for #BCLC2015 tomorrow. This year I’m going to be on 2 panels and work I did is receiving an award at the AGM on Saturday (though it’ll be people who make far more money than me who’ll be accepting it).

Both of these are panels, so it’s not like you’d have to listen to me gibbering the whole time. Come on out!

F16 – Looking Inwards and Out, New Professionals in Libraries
Friday 11:30am-12:15pm Location: Westminster 2

Fluctuating between idealism and cynicism, those new to library work can be passionate about the profession – for better or for worse. Join a diverse and enthusiastic panel for a discussion of the issues, concerns, and dreams of those who are new to, and just entering the field. What does the profession look like to new professionals? What does “professional” mean to new professionals? How would they like to shape the library world, and how is the library world shaping them? Is it constraining them or allowing them to grow in unexpected ways, or both? What are the issues within librarianship, or that librarianship is concerned with, that are most important to those who have recently entered the field? This session promises a lively discussion covering topics from what advocacy should look like and how we define ourselves as professionals, to what we can do to help with literacies, open access and creativity in our communities and our workplaces.

F22 – Oh Glorious Failures! Lightning Talks on How to Succeed Through Failure
Friday 1:30-2:45pm Location: Elmbridge

Conference sessions are often about putting our best foot forward, about sharing what went well, and about glossing over what didn’t work out. This session aims to turn things around by focusing on those times when we tried something new, or different, or innovative and, well, it didn’t quite work. By talking openly about failures and what we learned from them, we aim to explore ways to encourage innovation among staff, and to demonstrate what it means to build a creative institution that’s responsive to the needs of community members and other stakeholders. If failure is the only certainty in uncertain times, then it’s time to take back the word ʺfailureʺ and make it part of our success. Accepting failure as a tool for growth can be a successful method to give staff a safe way to take risks and innovate. During the session, staff from a variety of libraries (public, academic, special) will give lightning talks on their ʺglorious failuresʺ, how they overcame them (if they did) and share any insights gained. The goal of the session will be to transform this F-word, so attendees can unlearn the fear of failure and explore how to fail successfully. Through others’ stories of failure we will not only learn ways to avoid repeating mistakes, but how to effectively get it wrong the first time.

And then on Saturday VanCAF is happening. Good weekend ahoy. And if you’re interested in listening to the test episodes of my CHLY storytime show Librarianautica they’re on the Internet Archive too.

>hello mobile republic – my #bclc2014 recap

My library conference experience is not vast. Nor is my comic convention experience. Both pools of knowledge are small enough that they kind of slosh together in my mind, and this year for the BC Library Conference it was even worse because Emerald City Comicon was happening the weekend while I was coming in and getting ready for BCLA. I kept having to remind myself that Kate Leth would not be at my conference.

We did get Arundhati Roy though, so that was awesome.

Conferences are weird for me. I am not a social person. I need a bunch of alone time. At BCLA though, I know people. Cool people! I talked to more people at this conference than I have in Campbell River (outside of work) in a year. It’s like I stockpile all my energy for talking to people to use in these big bursts.

I like to sit in the back of conference sessions and not do a whole lot of active participation. There’s part of me that thinks I should be more like Cynthia Ng who does excellent session notes on a lightning turnaround, but I’m not. I like to let things sit and think a while.

Catelynne Sahadath, MJ Suhonos and Mark Jordan did a great talk on open linked data, and the cool stuff we could use it for (including not paying vendors to do stuff the internet already does) at the policy level and the empathy level and it was such a great talk to hear before Myron and I did ours (user privacy chunk ebooks & DRM chunk).

I cussed far too much in our presentation, but most people seemed okay with it. If you were not okay with it, I really do apologize. I do so much work with kids where I have to be very attentive to staying very clean. But when I have an adult audience, I know I can use strong language. Then my performance mode energy kicks in and the “only say ‘fuck’ one time” recommendation kind of gets forgotten. Again. Sorry. Also sorry for the muppet arms.

I am a bad strategist as my solutions to problems tend to be workarounds, not revolutions. But that’s kind of what’s great about speaking at a conference like this, where interested people who are better at the strategic stuff can do something better with it. I realize I do like getting things out there into the world, for someone else to do something with. I do like to write. It is important. I need to do better at it.

And that’s where the Arundhati Roy closing keynote comes in. She’s a badass and a rebellious dissident and is just amazing. She talked politics and her life and how she declared herself a mobile republic. The best line of her talk, the tweet-sized bit from these two days that will stick with me because it matches up with my already extant approach to life was “Subversion is sometimes better than confrontation, no?”

It was a very good trip into the city (though I’m still a little sad I had to use them as vacation days instead of professional development days). I have webmaker things to bring back for my teen programming. I hung out with people I enjoy. And I almost got into a fight with a racist homophobic asshole publisher (though that was at trivia the day before the conference and was actually crappy).

BCLA Conference 2013

my 2013 bcla conference experience

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.

library and archives canada’s fear of librarians

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.

From the recently-leaked LAC Code of Conduct Values and Ethics in regards to an employee participating in a conference or speaking engagement on her own time (p.17):

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.)