Calling in Librarianship: A Manifesto

What is calling in? To state it simply, it’s a much nicer way of calling people out:

Much like calling out, calling in aims to get the person to change their problematic behaviorThe primary difference between calling in and calling out is that calling in is done with a little more compassion and patience.

EveryDay Feminism

I’m not here to make friends–yet I desperately want all of you to like me–but more importantly, I want to share with you some things I believe to be true, and sharing these truths is much more important to me than being liked. I feel the need to call some of ya’ll in. So–here we go.

cool, real cool

I have some bad news:

Libraries are not cool.*

Libraries will never be cool.

Libraries are for freaks and geeks, nerds and know it alls; the voracious reader and the most vulnerable people in our communities. The elite and privileged do not need us, so let’s stop chasing them the way I chased emotionally unavailable alcoholic men in my early twenties.

Of course libraries are more than books (there’s often brick and ugly carpeting and a vending machine that’s always broken), but when it comes down to it, people come to us for books. Add other amazing things if you want (but wow can we cool it with the “MORE THAN BOOKS” screaming?), but remember, people still want books from us!

do more with less needs to die

The phrase “ nimble staff” is dangerous. Should staff be flexible and pitch in when needed? Sure! Should you have a computer specialist from your IT department helping kids find books? No. Let people be experts and do what they are good at. Getting to do what you’re good at is essential for happy staff, and happy staff lead to happy patrons!!!

Our job is not to be belittled, abused, or harassed. Our job is not to replace city hall, mental health care, or adequate social services for our communities. Libraries are information hubs, a center of a wheel, and it’s our job to set people on their courses path armed with accurate information.

Also, if you want people to use libraries, you need to invest in libraries, not cut them:

We found that as investments, such as revenue, staffing, and programs, increased, so did critical use measures, such as visitation and circulation. In the same way, as investments were reduced, mostly in reaction to post-recessionary budgetary reductions, we saw decreases in library use. Another important finding is that even though investments might have declined, any decreases in use did not drop by the same magnitude. People continue to use their local public libraries—for access to books and information and for gathering as a community.

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/americans-like-their-libraries-but-they-use-them-less-and-less-pew/477336/

children’s librarians, we need to talk

I’ve seen a lot more Kindergarten readiness programs coming out of libraries lately, and while that in and of itself is ok, I guess (we’re not school, you know), some of the promises y’all have been making to parents are out of bounds, and the way you’re acting is insulting to our colleagues, the early childhood educators.

“While I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, I do not have an advanced degree in early childhood literacy.  What I do have is the passion and ability to research information and share it with others.”

from the ALSC blog I refuse to link to it you know how to google

Think of the blazing hot rage you feel when some random person wants to come “read to the kids”? Now think of how that above statement must feel to preschool teachers? Early childhood educators are underpaid, disrespected, and instead of demeaning another profession that is primarily female (and the lowest paid in this low-paying profession are overwhelmingly women of color), children’s librarians should be advocating for quality early childhood education opportunities in their communities instead of insisting that librarians can replace them. Support, not supplant.

Just because you love Jason Reynolds doesn’t mean you don’t have work to do

Melvil Dewey is trash and so is the Dewey Decimal System and it’s high time we had a different/better/more inclusive/anti-racist classification system.

If you’re a white librarian, you can and must do better when it comes to being inclusive and anti-racist. If that sentence makes you feel defensive then that’s how you know I’m right. As a white librarian myself I know I have work to do, too.

At every conference you attend, talk to publishers about diverse books. Ask specifically about Black and Native American characters. It will be uncomfortable. But again: you can’t always want to be liked. The truth is more important than being nice.

I’ll say it

If your definition of intellectual freedom causes your trans workers to feel unsafe in both your library and the profession, then that definition damn well needs to evolve.

For library directors and other high level folx with POWER:

  • If you’re not actively working on ways to diversify the profession, you need to start immediately.
  • If you’re not working to make your workplace better for mothers/families, you need to start immediately. The profession is majority female and we should be leading the charge for excellent maternity leave and flexible work environments for families.
  • Speaking of flexibility: Covid-19 has proven library staff can work from home in many instances. Use it as a launching point for improving work/life balance for your staff.
  • If you don’t consider library employees to be part of the community the library serves, you’re wrong. You should treat your employees just as well as you treat your patrons. If your community is happy with the library but your library staff are miserable, your library is failing.
  • Edited to add after I took a rage nap: If you’re unwilling or incapable of saying Black Lives Matter and you let hate speech flourish in your library in the name of “intellectual freedom”, you have some serious soul searching to do, as does our national organization, ALA, which LOVES to permit atrocities under the banner of intellectual freedom. If your definition of intellectual freedom causes your trans workers to feel unsafe in both your library and the profession, then that definition damn well needs to evolve.

Library directors: if you’re not actively working on ways to diversify the profession, you need to start immediately.

the time for silence has passed

If you’re suffering in your job, talk to someone. Your coworkers, hr, staff from other libraries, use employee assistance programs, put your feelings on Twitter, whatever you’re capable of doing. Because silence is complicity, and those who can speak need to speak up for those who cannot. Whether it’s micro-aggressions against a co-worker or a lack of support for vulnerable patrons, band together and speak up–one voice might struggle to be heard, but a chorus is impossible to ignore.

*I think libraries would be better served striving for the urban dictionary definition of cool (read at your own risk, there is a swear word!)

A cool person to me is being real. Being themselves and not caring how other people view what they say or do. When I say you’re cool, that’s what I mean. Today too many people are concerned how others view them. 

We Live in a World of Bad Text

 Obamacare vs The Affordable Care Act

Fake news versus propaganda . . . (one more)

Altright versus white supremacist

ripped from the womb vs late term abortion

* * *

There is power in names, in language, in how we describe things and what we call them. When female authors  write under male pen names (or just use their gender ambiguous initials); when you call grown women girls; when you describe a medical procedure in sensational and inaccurate language; when you write about people of color using only food-based descriptors you’re doing your audience a disservice and, in the end, damaging our society as a whole.

* * *

Out of all of Strunk and White’s solid words of advice, perhaps none need to be heeded more strongly these days than “[u]se definite, specific, concrete language.” What is more specific and concrete, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act? Alt-right or white supremacy? Fake news or propaganda?

* * *

When I consider the power of specific language, I remember how during an exit interview after leaving a particularly abusive work environment, I had to tell the director of the library about the unethical actions of my immediate supervisor, since those actions were largely the cause of my leaving. I told the director that by not allowing me to order a certain series of books for my teen patrons, my manager was a censor, and practicing censorship. I calmly and deliberately used those words. The director said something to the effect of, oh, don’t you think the word censor is a bit strong?

I agreed. It is a strong word. Moreover, it was–and is–an accurate word.

I was escorted out of the building by the secretary. It was a glorious feeling.

* * *

To support these specific words, we will need specific–and accurate–sources. To defend these specific words, we need to accurately record any misuse or abuse against them.

This is what we’re here for, librarians, by whatever title or name you go by. This, right now, is the call we need to answer.

“Nothing, no one, is too small to matter. What you do is going to make a difference.”
Madeleine L’Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet

re: the title of this post. Years ago, almost ten, I watched a show on PBS about writing, and the only thing I remember from it is the quote “we live in a world of bad text”. I have no idea what the show was or actually about; if anyone can figure it out, let me know. 

Private Lives

Or, Private Eyes Are Watching You.

Everyone (paid or unpaid) who provides governance, administration or service in libraries has a responsibility to maintain an environment respectful and protective of the privacy of all users. Users have the responsibility to respect each others’ privacy. – http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in public facebook groups dedicated to ostensibly professional purposes for librarians. It’s only happened once or twice (that I’ve noticed, and admittedly I can’t read every post in all the groups I peruse) but it’s been often enough and egregious enough to get me back on my blogging soap box.

It goes like this: someone will pose a problem for which they seek advice or an answer, and many people will offer this needed advice. Then, somewhere in the comments, information is leaked–the name of a library. The date or time of the situation. And, recently, a patron’s first name, coupled with many specific, identifying factors. Like this:

Screenshot 2015-12-30 12.54.11

If I knew that library, those librarians, and that person’s information, I know too much. I can’t un-know it, either. The situation I am most distressed by involves a patron who possibly has developmental delays. The tone used in the discussion was pretty disparaging.

I took a screen shot of it, which I won’t post or use. But it’s that easy. Your manager or HR department or the father of that patron could do the same thing just as easily. Most of these groups are public, and what many people don’t realize is that if your settings aren’t quite right, people can see these group posts or your comments in their own feed.

Listen: working in a library is tough. We need advice, support, a place to vent. But we also owe it to ourselves and our patrons to respect their privacy. I was heartbroken when, after initially tweeting about this nagging issue, a twitter friend of mine shyly spoke up, voicing that she sometimes worried about gossip or judgment from librarians or library staff.

Do I want to impede conversation and stop lonely librarians from getting help and support? Of course not. But I do want us to maintain our ethical integrity, and protect what’s worth protecting.

So what do we do? Not talk about these issues? No. I think there’s a way to do it without naming names or giving away too many details.

Here’s my strategy:

  1. Tighten up. Have a small, private, trusted personal learning network that you can complain, grouse, and bitch to. A group that will hold your confidence. Your most trusted inner circle. Everyone should have this. Even here, though, don’t name names. Never name names.
  2. Obfuscate. I get this strategy from Car Talk, when they would change puzzler details to make them more difficult to solve, and therefore more of a challenge. Do this with your library anecdotes and queries.  Change the details to your scenario just enough so that you’ll still get appropriate advice, but no one will be able to figure out exactly when, where, or how this situation happened. Change names-all the kids in my stories are either Billy or Suzie, and those are usually the only details you’ll get about them.
  3. Wait. Is it a pressing, time sensitive issue? Then maybe talk to a colleague in real life instead, or your manager, or your smaller, private network first. After some time has passed, you can get more input from a broader audience (but you still must obfuscate even after waiting).

 

I’m passionate and uncompromising about this subject because I am a beast when it comes to ethical behavior (in libraries and in life), but I also screwed this up very badly in my youth, and know how much damage it can do to all parties involved.

When I was in college, I worked (briefly) in the health center, as assistant to the primary counselor. I was held to utmost privacy standards. I was not to talk about anything I saw or heard in the office. I did not fully understand this, and one night I related a story to my housemates about someone I’d witnessed having a severe mental crisis–he’d been yelling, throwing magazines, crying. I didn’t name names, though, so I thought it was okay. A college staff member happened to be visiting my housing that evening, and heard my story, and reported me to my boss. I was called on the carpet, and severely reprimanded, but I was given another chance, because I was seventeen and didn’t know what the hell I was doing. My boss made it clear to me how hurtful it would be if this student in crisis, pained and vulnerable, later found out that other people were discussing gossiping about his private matters. I considered how much I disliked being talked about behind my back, especially about issues I had no control over, and I told her I now fully understood the policy, and would do better going forward.

I think of that story each time I read another post where patrons are clearly identified in everything but name, and sometimes by name as well. That kind of sharing doesn’t just hurt the person in the story, it hurts the teller, too. It might be satisfying in the moment to vent or cast aspersion, but in the long run–if your boss finds out, or your library board, or the patron–that satisfaction will be cold comfort.