#precarityis what happens to the best minds of my generation

My fellow librarian (and Tolkien nerd-king) Myron (of Bibliocracy fame) is tweeting about precarious work under the #precarityis hashtag. It’s an important issue that goes far beyond libraryland, but that’s what I know because that’s the kind of job I’ve looked for recently, so that’s where this post pretty much mucks about.

One of the basic precarity issues, and this is something that people who aren’t lower mainland librarians sometimes don’t get, is the prevalence of no-guaranteed-hours librarian jobs in and around Vancouver. These jobs aren’t things you can count on to actually pay your rent. You might be able to cobble together enough shifts to do it, especially if you’re working for multiple library systems. Maybe you can snag a maternity leave term position to cover for a year, but then you get kicked right back to picking up shifts where you can.

Those on-call jobs are a terrible thing to do to workers and it’s bullshit that library systems are built on exploiting them. In my library system (which is not perfect by any means) we have three (I think) such positions, but the vast majority of librarians are full-time unionized workers with benefits and pensions and all that. Part of that is because we aren’t as desirable a workplace as Vancouver et al. And this is why I no longer live in Vancouver, though I like it more than any other city I’ve called home.

I hate that argument so much. When I tell people “Well, I went where the job was” that makes it sound so easy, like there’s no cost for these benefits. That everyone else could do it too, and if they don’t they’re dumb. Fuck that.

I am one of the absolutely fucking lucky ones.

Like any job some things suck and some are pretty good about mine, but I don’t think everyone could or should have to do move to a small town where they don’t know anyone in order to make a living doing meaningful work. I do not like the town where I live, but I don’t have to worry about my bike being stolen and losing shifts because without it I can’t afford to get to work. I have to travel five hours to hang out with my friends, but I have health benefits.

I’m adaptable enough to have an internet social life and not be totally depressed. I think of this job in this town like being in China. I did that for two years and didn’t even have any English books to read. But I’m weird like that, and that’s not how everyone else is. I also have no dependents and I’m one of those assholes who isn’t burdened with student loan debt. Like I said, absolutely fucking lucky.

Which isn’t to say it doesn’t suck. I wish I lived in a place where I had friends, or at least people who shared my interests (which aren’t hunting and fishing). Avoiding that whole on-call librarian bullshit is a good economic strategy, but it’s not like I want a life lived by the most self-involved economic strategy. (Which, yes, boohoo. Privileged dude isn’t feeling socially fulfilled. Let’s all stop and pay attention.) The way this insidious system sneaks in is to make me feel like one of the lucky ones now, so how could I ever leave? I should be damned grateful. If I lose this job what happens next?

This is how you make a timid workforce that won’t challenge any sort of status quo. I had my run-in with my place of work last year and you’d better believe I backed down from fighting my intellectual freedom battle because I did not want to be fired. (I maintain that the most impressive thing about Myron’s rabble-rousing library activism is that he does it without any professional security at all.) Public librarians don’t get tenure. We tend to have unions, but for some reason changing the way this workforce is structured isn’t a priority. Around Vancouver most librarians I know and graduated with, get to work as much as they can today to get through the drought tomorrow. Catie writes very well about what the precarious life does to a person’s psyche even once they’ve got a good job.

So yeah. It’s a terrible time to be a lot of things. You should read Sarah Kendzior‘s Al Jazeera stuff on how this plays out in academia. Some people can get by, but secure employment is a thing of the past for most everyone who hasn’t pulled up the ladders behind them. It hasn’t always been this way and it shouldn’t be now.

Broken Hard Drive? by purplemattfish on Flickr https://secure.flickr.com/photos/29601732@N06/3188379971/ - Licensed under a CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 license

snowden and miranda and the guardian’s destroyed hard drives

As I’m sure others here have been doing, I’ve been keeping up with Glenn Greenwald’s coverage of Snowden’s leaks about the NSA. I’ve been kind of disgusted by the fact that this stuff appears to be legal even though it’s terrible. And that so many politicians have lied about the procedures, though that surprises me not a huge amount. I’m also not fool enough to believe this kind of surveillance doesn’t affect those of us north of the 49th.

But it seems like this weekend the progression of that story got much worse. It seems to me that holding the partner of a journalist under anti-terror laws for his role in supporting journalism is pretty heinous to those of us who believe in intellectual freedom.

It also seems that the UK government going to a news organization’s headquarters and making them destroy hard drives containing information they disapprove of is also fucking terrible.

These are laws created in a democracy designed for one thing being used to attempt to intimidate people who want to get information about our various democracies out there. This is legal but abusive. Gah. Fuck. More cussing.

To me this is clearly an intellectual freedom issue. This is the government telling someone what they are and are not allowed to talk about. This is bullshit.

As a librarian it might not be hitting where I live… yet. I mean, our government isn’t telling librarians what we are and aren’t allowed to have in our libraries, so maybe this isn’t our fight? But the fact that journalists are being disallowed from publishing certain stories is a big problem, and one that will spread. As librarians we can celebrate how we deal with cook challenges in various Bible Belts, but I think we should be doing more.

I would like to suggest that this year when Banned Books Week comes around, us librarians reach a bit further. I’d like to see us celebrating wikileaks cables and articles about Snowden in our libraries instead of merely pointing at the challenged books we have in our collections in a collective fit of smugness.

Books are fine. I love books, but I think celebrating our victories over past challenges is just another way to celebrate the status quo when there’s more we can do. Although, as a friend of mine said today, the baseline in libraries is a bit better:

If the status quo still includes intellectual freedom, mitigating income inequality, etc…sign me up.

Consider this a co-sign.

mukurtu – content management with cultural protocols

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.