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.)

game review: formula d

The previous edition of this F1 racing game was called Formula Dé and we sold it at Campaign Outfitters many years ago. I’d had the coolness explained to me, how the gearshifting worked by using custom dice, but never had the chance to play it. Now that I have, (in its modern incarnation: Formula D) I have to say it was awesome. We had a group of 9 people and it was like playing a boardgame version of Mario Kart, meaning it was great fun indeed.

Everyone has a tiny car on a track with spaces. You roll a die and move your car that many spaces. The first one to the finish line wins. “Well, that sounds about as much fun as Candyland,” you might say, and if that were all, it would be a shitty shitty racing game. But that is not all.

You see, every car has a gear shift, so you have to upshift to go faster. In 1st gear you can only move 1-2 spaces, in 3rd you move 5-8, and if you hit 6th gear you move 21-30 spaces. Each gear has its own colour coded die, ranging from a d4 to a d30.

The next question you might ask is what is to prevent a racer from just jumping up into 6th gear and moving 21-30 spaces every turn? The curves in the track prevent this. Every corner requires you to end your turn in a certain zone a certain number of times, or damage your car. An easy turn has a large number of possible spaces and you only have to end your turn in it once. A nasty pile of hairpins might be a lot fewer spaces and require you to end your turn 3 times within it, forcing you to downshift so you stay inside.

We were playing with the basic rules which just give a certain number of damage points to the cars, but the advanced rules split the damage up between tires, brakes, gears and more, which means you have to work your car a bit differently. We treated it in a much more Mario Kart fashion and had a blast.

There is a lot of luck to the game, as a couple of bad rolls on a straightaway while competitors roll well can really hurt your chances (you have to take more risks in the turns while the leader can negotiate them safely), but in our race there was a lot of position-shifting and even though Kifty ran away with 1st place, the rest of the racers were contesting with each other right to the end.

Excellent game, and one that works with kids and large groups.