library mgmt

review: “Resolving Liberal vs. Conservative Conflict in the Workplace” webinar, 1/14/21

In Season 4 of the early 2000s HBO series Six Feet Under, one of the protagonists, David, is carjacked by an unassuming hitchhiker who winds up exploiting David’s generosity and tortures him before covering him with gas and leaving him beaten and bruised in a Long Beach alley. A few episodes later, David, suffering from PTSD, goes to church and watches a sermon encouraging the congregation to forgive and love their enemies. He imagines the reverend being brutally assaulted by the carjacker, thrown to the ground and a gun pointed to his head, and David leaps up to help before things snap back to reality.

I happened to watch that chain of episodes this week right after I saw the astonishingly bad “Resolving Liberal vs. Conservative Conflict in the Workplace: Lessons from the Rwandan Genocide” webinar sponsored by I’d seen the concept of it getting dragged on Twitter some weeks back, and signed up to watch it because I felt it was important to catch what looked like a trainwreck unfolding on a library education platform that has a good deal of influence. Ryan Dowd’s “Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness” has swept the profession in the past few years, mostly with the best of intentions and in some cases with positive results. But there’s also been a significant amount of criticism of Dowd’s approach, including alarmingly sexist language in some of his recommendations. I hope that library leaders take the time to consider the other ideas and advice he’s peddling on his platform, especially after the jaw-droppingly bad session this week.

Dowd wasn’t the main speaker at the talk, but he did share a good amount of the spotlight with the presenter, Carl Wilkens. Wilkens was a missionary working in Rwanda during the genocide and authored a book about being the only American who stayed in the country during it. I don’t want to belittle Wilkens’s pain and trauma, both made very clear in his introduction to the talk, but he should have spent more time interrogating his positionality and privilege before deciding to sell his particular experience as a learning opportunity for others. He kept encouraging us to take a look at what we could learn from Rwandans about forgiveness, but proceeded to talk only about how he leveraged his secure status as a white male American to establish a relationship with some of the most powerful leaders committing genocide. The only Rwandans we heard anything substantial about were the people doing the killing.

Wilkens went whole hog with this idea of reaching out to and forgiving your enemies, presumably even if those people happen to brutally murder your family members. Throughout the talk, he (and Dowd) not only encouraged finding empathy for abusers and murderers, but also telling victims that the onus is on them to re-establish relationships with those that have hurt them (“the victim does well to examine gratitude and cynicism”). Wilkens talked about considering the relationship between God and a man who had murdered multiple people during the genocide, musing about the importance of considering what the murderer was going through. I asked a question that was answered live on air about how safe it is to advise a room full of public servants to “reach across the aisle” or “sit at the table” with violent people, and Dowd informed us that violence is overblown by the media and we shouldn’t be as worried about it as we are. This would have been a tough hang even if it hadn’t happened a week after January 6 and we didn’t currently have National Guard troops sleeping on the floors of the Capitol, but this kind of dismissal coming when it did was shocking.

There were several times when wearing a MAGA hat and having a BLM pin or “being antifa” were equated with one another. There was a lot of “good people on all sides” talk – the whole “there are no good guys and no bad guys” sort of thing. Wilkens and Dowd, two white men, agreed it’s cynical to say someone is a racist, and apparently that all of us who are distancing ourselves from harmful, hateful people (especially if they’ve directly hurt us) are “cynics.” Dowd said the words “it’s not okay if you yell at people; it’s not okay if you commit genocide” while he was describing why we should separate our judgment of a person’s “goodness or badness” from their behavior. At one point, Wilkens suggested we engage in a service project outside the workplace with colleagues we disagree with. As a friend quipped, “oh great, an MLK service day with your racist co-workers.”

Wilkens had a multi-step methodology he was trying to explain during the webinar, but it was exceedingly difficult to pay attention to it given the constant gaslighting, victim blaming, and white privilege. We got “sent home” with a booklet that advises us to stop being so cynical, journal about our emotions, avoid defining people with the one thing we don’t like about them (even if it’s that they murder people or want to destabilize the government), find the good in everyone, focus on shared goals, and “find the deeper why.” This was targeted at resolving workplace conflict among colleagues and some of it is fine within that limited context–considering the most significant workplace conflicts at libraries are often not the ones between coworkers–but why was it wrapped up in the Rwandan genocide? Why was the graphic for this a jacked up blue donkey and a ripped red elephant threatening fisticuffs?

Some of the audience members were eating it up, if the Q&A was any indication. One person quipped that their friends and colleagues “seem to take pleasure in popping people for racist or insensitive remarks.” A handful of participants kept saying we needed to show this training to everyone in the U.S. government. The organizers turned off the chat on Zoom, but people were still using the Q&A function to express this appreciation.

I felt exhausted and ashamed to be in the field after I watched this. Some folks on Twitter called it “peak male whiteness in the library” and I’ll say it probably was, and I’m only saying probably because there’s enough of this baseline logic, plus rapid reproduction of shitty ideas, in our profession that there may well be something worse out there. If anything comes out of this “training,” I hope it’s what I said before, that libraries look a little harder at what Ryan Dowd is selling before they buy it. Turning the other cheek no matter what seems like a good way to eventually get shot in the face.

navel gazing


I started listening to the Conspirituality podcast today, a show that interrogates the overlap of the spirituality/wellness community and conspiracy theory-driven groups, in particular QAnon. I’ve just gotten through the first episode and part of the second, and I’d recommend it to anyone who has interest in mis/disinformation, critical wellness discourse (e.g., The Dream), conspiracy theories and extremism (from a, y’know, healthy distance), mythology, and/or human psychology. As I was listening to it and walking through the urban wilds of southwest Boston today, I couldn’t help but remember the time I was almost recruited for a cult.

It was in the fall of 2016, when I was going through a bunch of life changes and still healing from some personal challenges in the two years leading up to it. I was volunteering with the Friends of the Somerville Public Library at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, selling used books under a tent and drinking a hot cider on a dreary, wet October day. At some point, two people, a middle-aged woman and a young man closer to my age (28 at the time) approached me. We talked for a long time about books and reading, and at some point once we’d been going on for quite a while, the woman asked me if I wanted to get together with them to talk further. I thought this was just Somervillain friendliness, and didn’t think too much about what their connection to each other was, and I gave her my number.

The three of us got together for a drink at a bar in Union Square maybe a week or two after we met. I can remember a coffee meeting a week after that, another dinner meeting not long after, and a final meeting where I think I ghosted them, but it’s been a few years and I’m not sure on the specifics of what happened when. At some point, it became pretty clear to them (in particular the woman) that I was going through a tough time, and I think a) that’s why I was their mark and b) the older woman/younger man duo was 100% orchestrated with the intention of grabbing the attention of someone like me (a single, lonely young woman who probably had all kinds of vibes of needing to be mothered and loved).

I was experiencing a drawn-out falling out with my roommate that I don’t want to detail explicitly in a public place, but suffice it to say she and I were very close before that and something happened that fundamentally altered my view of our friendship. I was about to change jobs, too (and I think this overlapped with my time at my new job), and I had begun planning to defect to East Boston to live with a couple I’d become close to in the last half a year. It was a very lonely and confusing time of not being sure I’d made the right choices and not knowing which changes I should make (years of precarity didn’t really get me thinking clearly about, like, buying a car or anything). When I started my job, I was immediately overwhelmed, isolated, and in over my head, and the 90+ minute commute I now had vs. my speedy one to the North End was kicking my ass. After those long days, coming home where things were feeling tenuous and awkward was just… not awesome. And of course, a week before I started my new job was November 8, 2016.

Anyway, back to the cult duo. I don’t know what I pegged their relationship to be when I first met them – maybe mother and son? maybe dating? – but it became clear that they were united by something else by the second time we met up. The third time we got together was when the woman pitched the … thing to me. I can’t for the life of me remember what she called it now. The Plan, The Question, The Answer, The Practice, The … something. The fourth and final time we got together, I remember they shared some more details about it with me, including a piece of advice the woman had received from her… cult advisor about being on time, after I mentioned I was chronically late. She said something about how her… cult advisor admonished her for being late because it made her look selfish and like she believed her time was more important than others’ – I’m not pointing this out because it was particularly unique or insightful, I just remember it so clearly. It’s been long enough now that I don’t remember many other specifics about it, but I recall these snippets:
1) “it” was “held” in rotating locations around the Boston area
2) there was some kind of group component as well as some kind of teacher/student or mentor/mentee situation
3) they did seem to have some sort of active recruitment effort
4) they made me swear I wouldn’t mention it to anyone

A couple things happened after this that probably got me out of harm’s way with these people (although my intuition was going AW HELL NO for quite a while before the end), but I think were entirely reflective of my mental state at the time. One is that I did move to East Boston, and that sort of put the nail in the coffin of my friendship with my roommate, though it took a while to actually get to that point. I was exceedingly unhappy there and of course that led to a whole other mess that I don’t have the energy to delve into atm. The other is that I found myself in a relationship with a married father of three, a person who identified me as a mark in much the same way as the cult duo had. I was lonely, overwhelmed, and all kinds of vulnerable. That’s why the fact that this person, who I’ll call Randall Exeten, is still able to find directorships in Massachusetts libraries is especially bothersome to me – he’s a manipulator who preys on the vulnerable, much as a cult tried to in my time of need. Instead of the actual, literal cult, I guess he became a cult-like presence in my life. I didn’t snap out of it until a series of misfortunes and a memory-wiping brain injury finally knocked some fucking sense into me.

I’m writing about this because I think it’s important for folks to realize that we’re all vulnerable to manipulation, even people like me who have been cynical and agnostic-if-not-outright-atheist since adolescence, and there’s a lot of shit we go through that we might not call a cult or a conspiracy mindset, but it’s not so very different after all. This is part of why the whole info lit/fake news/media literacy convo going on right now feels so inadequate to me. We’re all somebody’s marks at some point, and QAnon and the like are, at the very least, trying to cast a wide enough net to appeal to everyone’s vulnerabilities. And sometimes we really want to believe, or we just do believe, and we’re sure as hell not going to check the credibility of our sources.

That said, I was remarking to CS last night that I can’t imagine a reality in which I ever would have subscribed to the QAnon bullshit, but that’s probably because I am 1) not a white supremacist, 2) not a disenfranchised man, and 3) generally have empathy for my fellow human beings. Unfortunately, I have relatives who have bought the whole QAnon farm, and I’ve seen other people I used to follow on social media slowly delve deeper in it; maybe most surprising of all is a certain guy who used to be a central figure in Boston’s electronic music scene. This post is not suggesting empathy for these people, just positing that responding to or trying to push back on this is tied so thoroughly up in beliefs borne of vulnerabilities we may never be able to see or understand, and that’s what’s scary as hell about it; I’m not sure I buy that more/better information can cure it.

tl;dr: Don’t join a cult.

navel gazing

cmrb 2020 annual report

(Note: I’m stealing this idea from Ashley Blewer because it’s a good one, and because I think it’ll be a useful exercise in a year that was especially tough to wrap anyone’s head around.)

We’re down to the last 48 hours of 2020, and I’m not joining in the chorus of people saying we’re sure to have a better 2021. I’m not sure we will, frankly, and I’m not sure which spheres of existence (personal, social, political, economic) folks are expecting to have that better year in. And better in the eyes of what beholder? I’m at least aspiring to spend my time and energy differently, but I’ll get to that. I remember thinking 2019 was a pretty tough one, too, between a shitty living situation and some, let’s say, occupational ups and downs.

For some context, in February 2019, one of my colleagues was killed in a fatal bike accident about a mile away from the branch I’d just spent the last 6-8 months helping renovate. At the time, I was riding my bike just about every day, and we’d often lock up next to each other outside the building when I was working over there. Less than a year before, while riding my bike about two miles away from the scene of my coworker’s accident, I had been knocked unconscious and woke up in the ER with a severe concussion and a broken arm after a motorist slammed me into a fence before driving off. In the months following her death, a series of disappointments at work got me thinking it was time to leave, and opportunity presented itself, and I took it. I regret how that went down, but we managed to get that water under the bridge for the most part.

Within half a year of changing jobs, though, it was clear I’d done the whole “frying pan into the fire” thing, which I can describe no further in a public blog post at this time, but suffice to say it was incredibly stressful and disheartening. Meanwhile, Chris and I were still living in an apartment in Jamaica Plain that had been a nonstop nightmare since we moved in. After contending with a broken oven for a month, clogged plumbing, broken laundry machines, and general fuckery from our landlord, we discovered we were also paying over ten times as much for heat in our apartment as the units on the lower levels because of a faulty boiler that the owner had neglected for 3+ years. The heat intermittently stopped working throughout November and December and we had to call Boston ISD on New Year’s Eve (which we spent at home, because we were both so worn out by 2019).

We moved out of that place in mid-January and I posted something on Twitter at the time along the lines of “Goodbye, terrible apartment. I hope getting out of this cursed place brings us better luck for 2020.” And we all know how that worked out!

So, that said, 2020 wasn’t the worst year for me personally by a long shot. 2019 may have been worse. 2016 and 2014 certainly were. 2020 was strangely a lot like 2009 for me, which had its ups and downs, a world in the throes of another type of societal crisis that did have a much more dire impact on my economic prospects. But in the spring, I spent a good amount of time watching Chris play Halo and chat with his friends, which was how many evenings went down when I first moved to Boston and had zero dollars and no one to hang out with. I also spent hours upon hours wandering around my neighborhood, just as I did back in the Great Recession days.

Before lockdown began, I managed to squeeze in two trips – one to Brooklyn with Chris for my birthday weekend, one to Nashville for the Public Library Association Conference. I spoke at PLA to more people than I ever had before, and I spent a good chunk of time not far from where the Christmas Day bombs went off…ugh, that poor city. I think the last live show I caught was Opeth at the stunning Ryman Auditorium, flanked by library pals. When I left Boston for that trip, covid was an increasing rumbling; by the time I got back, the Biogen thing had happened and the mood and response was noticeably changing, at least at the local level.

I had been selected to speak at the 2020 SXSW Interactive, but then it was cancelled for the first time in the festival’s history. Then other conferences, a few months off, started to cancel. Then we sent all of our students home in the week leading up to spring break. Then the grocery shopping with masks and gloves and the going-absolutely-nowhere-else-for-any-reason began. And then it became clear that not everyone was working at a library or for a town, city, or college that took this as seriously as my employer thankfully did. So I did what I could to try to help people fight to stay home or at the very least negotiate safer work conditions.

The first major effort I helped with was insisting that the Boston Public Library close all of its locations and allow its employees to work from home with no docked wages or furloughs. A group of area library workers in the New England Radical Reference Collective Slack channel worked together on advocacy with the assistance of other community supporters and the stalwart efforts of the BPLPSA union. We were successful. From there, a loose collective of activists from that group as well as the broader “Library Twitter” world joined in the fight. We targeted institutions and municipalities, imploring them to #closethelibraries. We wrote and called governors, mayors, college administrators, directors, and trustees. We put the pressure on our professional organizations to take a stronger, pro-worker stance. As time went on and restrictions started to be reversed, we adapted the advocacy and campaigned to #ProtectLibraryWorkers. I believe we saved lives. I also believe we challenged our organizations to make an effort to speak in more transparent language about workers and the importance of their health, safety, and livelihood; I’m not sure what difference that has made or will make yet, but if it gets even one fewer person to assume there are invisible elves stocking the shelves and not, y’know, humans with immune systems, I guess that’s something.

In May, I co-hosted and co-organized a conference called #LibRev(olution), a day-long series of presentations aimed at exploring “collective resistance & communal resilience” among library workers. It would not have been possible without an amazing team of speakers, moderators, and co-organizers. We tried to keep the conversation going via Discourse but have since moved to Slack. A bunch of us also contributed to, a resource site for people looking for help with their own advocacy and campaigns. When I was personally targeted by the board of trustees of one Boston-area library, I admit I did dial back my outward-facing efforts. But through #LibRev, the Library Freedom Project, and the state and regional associations I’m part of, I still will fight for library workers.

I also finished co-writing a book for ALA Editions that was released this fall, Responding to Rapid Change in Libraries: A User Experience Approach. I hope it isn’t bullshit.

Meanwhile, at work, I tried my best to take advantage of the situation and soldier on. We converted to a new ILS at the beginning of summer, replacing a horrendous excuse for one that was making the simplest tasks (like placing holds!) impossible. This meant we joined an area library network and now have our cataloging outsourced (we are a team of 3) and access to Overdrive. This was not nearly as painful as it could have been, and the fact that we weren’t physically open was a blessing. I believe I weeded around 11,000 books from the collection (14,000 of our total had never circed in 20 years) and the majority made their way to Better World Books – praise be to student workers. I reconfigured the downstairs layout of the library, moving 3D printers out of our space and over to the shops and expanding our sewing area setup. More furniture changes are coming once the shelves cleared by weeding are removed; all of these decisions were made based on results from last year’s strategic planning survey. The student workers and I did an aggressive deep-clean of the workroom and we began organizing and cleaning the archives, a room left to fester for several years.

When I was at home, I worked on improving our website and moving us over to the college’s Linux server. I spent an untold amount of time gathering stats and putting stat site logins into a Pinboard list. I cleaned up our record of current subscriptions, negotiated with just about every vendor, rolled with budgetary punches, and got us up and running with OCLC’s hosted Ezproxy. We also had a huge amount of scanning and digital book buying to do as physical reserves weren’t available this past semester. I’d say the big problems at the library that are within a certain range of fixable have been fixed.

On a more personal level, the apartment we now live in is such a vast improvement over the last place, I can’t even tell you. My cats have been lovely and hilarious, and Avey’s brush with death in October was devastating but has me so grateful for every day I wake up with him half-smothering my face. We were fortunate to visit our families and a select group of friends a few times over the summer, and we had two vacations to Maine that involved lots of kayaking and bike riding. A few days spent at Drakes Island Beach and in Denmark (the Maine one!) were especially perfect. The summer was gorgeous and I’m missing it dearly. We squeezed in one last trip before we got too freaked out, to a three-season cabin in New Hampshire for Chris’s birthday. As I mentioned yesterday, I got to read a ton of books this year (a ton for me, at least). Many of those happened in front of a fire with WMBR streaming on our crappy Bluetooth speaker. And I started a new weekly radio show, Outback Witch House, broadcasting live on from 9-11 PM EST most Fridays.

Less fun to report is the amount of injuries I sustained this year. I broke my foot in August (it was dumb and involved a shopping cart), I fell off my bike and got pretty banged up in October, and I threw my back out at least three times, most likely because of the physicality of weeding, scanning, boxing, and shifting books. I haven’t been able to see a chiropractor since we moved, but I got a bunch of back exercises and stretches from the latest doctor I saw that are saving my shit.

So, from all of this, what did I learn, what did I take away? Well, I’m enormously privileged to have been able to take as many vacations as I did, to stay healthy and keep away from dangerous circumstances as much as possible, and to have the time to read, walk, and focus. I learned that management is a two-way street, and if people aren’t receptive to being managed, that’s not necessarily an indictment of the person doing the managing. I learned that you can never be too careful with separating your personal and professional identities as much as possible online. It was reinforced for me that you have to find ways of celebrating your own victories and congratulating yourself in the absence of external appreciation (not gonna lie, this post was a little bit that for me).

In terms of allocating my energy differently in 2021: I apologize for the vagueness, but I’m going to stop bringing horses to water they won’t drink, or at the very least I’m not going to try to get them to drink it as often as I have been. In non-work-but-professional matters, I’m going to try to listen, follow, and assist more than to lead–except in matters where white female gatekeepers desperately need to be redirected. I’d like to publish something in an academic journal. I’m going to keep myself open to changes, possibly big ones. I want to keep reading, walking, and writing as much as I have in 2020. I’m going to keep trying to figure out how to get better at sewing, and I’m going to get better at all the other maker-y tech we have lying around the library.

Above all, I’m thinking back to how in the days after the aforementioned library renovation was finished but before the death of my co-worker, my boss and I fantasized about having a “quiet year” – not trying to do anything amazing or new or special, just managing things as best we could. It was no one’s fault that we didn’t get that in 2019, but I’m hoping I might try for one in 2021. 2020 wasn’t personally that bad in many respects, but I know I worked harder than I should have, and took things out on myself more than I deserved. No matter what happens at the levels I can’t control, I hope I can be a little nicer to myself next year.


year-end reading recap

I read 80 books this year. That makes it an above-average year for me. I’m not posting this to brag. I know people who have read many more books; I know people who have read far fewer books. I’m putting it here because it feels worth recording in some way.

Most of these books were great. Some of them were incredible. Some of them sucked. Most of them were written before 2020, some well before 2020; I am usually lagging behind a bit for my dependence on the trusty ol’ library ebooks.

Giving this a handful of brain cells before I go off to bed, it looks like fiction beat out nonfiction by 58 to 32. Most of the nonfiction was about technology, race, or both. It’s kind of tough to isolate top genres for fiction, though I’d say I picked up more sci-fi than usual for me. Women, nonbinary people, and people of color definitely beat out the cis white males, which was somewhat intentional but, let’s be honest, pretty easy to do when you’re looking for something good to read. (I briefly picked up Joshua Cohen’s 2015 Book of Numbers this year which had me recoiling in horror with its pretentious MFA bro-iness by page 30 or so.)

If I had to pick a number one book that was actually written in 2020, I’d go with Such a Fun Age, which I think actually came out on December 31, 2019 but let’s just let it slide, lol. Darkly witty, deeply awkward, and unflinchingly accurate, it was a perfect tale for our times, even moreso as I gobbled up its clever soapyness in a lonely quarantined world.

I’m not sure what my 81st book read in 2020 will be, but I’m feeling pretty drawn to Wendy Liu’s Abolish Silicon Valley, awaiting me in print form (my library’s copy, no less). As shitty as this year was, I’m grateful I had the time and stability to read as much as I did, and for the fact that my brain still finds so much solace in the written word. Books got me through, folks. Whatever got you through was the right thing for you.

Top 8 2020 releases (that I’ve read so far):
Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid
My Dark Vanessa, Kate Elizabeth Russell
Memorial Drive, Natasha Trethewey
Lakewood, Megan Giddings
A Black Women’s History of the United States, Daina Ramey Berry and Kali N. Gross
Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas
Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey
Pretty Things, Janelle Brown

Top 6 fiction:
Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid
My Dark Vanessa, Kate Elizabeth Russell
The Girl in the Road, Monica Byrne
Caucasia, Danzy Senna
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
The Pisces, Melissa Broder

Top 5 nonfiction:
Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks
Dark Matters: On the Blackness of Surveillance, Simone Browne
Memorial Drive, Natasha Trethewey
Race After Technology, Ruha Benjamin
Superior, Angela Saini

Top 5 that taught me the most:
The Charisma Machine, Morgan Ames
The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
This Land is Their Land, David J. Silverman
A Black Women’s History of the United States, Daina Ramey Berry and Kali N. Gross
The End of Policing, Alex S. Vitale

Top 5 that will probably have the most significant and/or lasting impact on me:
Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss
Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber
How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell

5 best audiobooks:
Catch & Kill, Ronan Farrow
Invisible Women, Caroline Criado-Perez
Infinite Detail, Tim Maughan
Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil

The complete list:

  1. Invisible Women, Caroline Criado-Perez
  2. Ghost Work, Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri
  3. Artifical Unintelligence, Meredith Broussard
  4. Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil
  5. Sorry I’m Late (I Didn’t Want to Come), Jessica Pan
  6. Permanent Record, Edward Snowden
  7. Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks
  8. The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Kate Morton
  9. How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell
  10. How to Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi
  11. The Charisma Machine, Morgan Ames
  12. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
  13. A Woman is No Man, Etaf Rum
  14. Hunger, Roxane Gay
  15. Race After Technology, Ruha Benjamin
  16. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Jaron Lanier
  17. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
  18. Pretty Things, Janelle Brown
  19. Dark Matters: On the Blackness of Surveillance, Simone Browne
  20. The Story of Arthur Truluv, Elizabeth Berg
  21. Confession Club, Elizabeth Berg
  22. Pull of the Moon, Elizabeth Berg
  23. Night of Miracles, Elizabeth Berg
  24. Caucasia, Danzy Senna
  25. The Giver, Lois Lowry (reread)
  26. Are Prisons Obsolete?, Angela Davis
  27. The End of Policing, Alex S. Vitale
  28. The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides
  29. The Chain, Adrian McKinty
  30. Emergent Strategy, adrenne maree brown
  31. Superior, Angela Saini
  32. Infinite Detail, Tim Maughan
  33. Hollow Kingdom, Kira Jane Buxton
  34. Algorithms of Oppression, Safiya Umoja Noble
  35. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (reread)
  36. Memorial Drive, Natasha Trethewey
  37. The Murmur of Bees, Sofia Segovia
  38. The Butterfly Lampshade, Aimee Bender
  39. Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener
  40. The Yellow House, Sarah Broom
  41. My Dark Vanessa, Kate Elizabeth Russell
  42. A Place For Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza
  43. Britt-Marie Was Here, Fredrik Backman
  44. The Pisces, Melissa Broder
  45. Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (re-read)
  46. Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler (re-read)
  47. Redefining Realness, Janet Mock
  48. The Dearly Beloved, Cara Wall
  49. Get a Life Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert
  50. Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey
  51. The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
  52. Today We Go Home, Kelli Estes
  53. Lakewood, Megan Giddings
  54. The Whale & the Reactor, Langdon Winner
  55. Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid
  56. A Black Women’s History of the United States, Daina Ramey Berry and Kali N. Gross
  57. So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  58. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika Sanchez
  59. Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
  60. The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez
  61. The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
  62. The Color of Water, James McBride
  63. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  64. The Dark Reign of Gothic Rock, Dave Thompson
  65. Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss
  66. Her Body & Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
  67. Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas
  68. Catch & Kill, Ronan Farrow
  69. Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi
  70. Pet, Akwaeke Emezi
  71. Luster, Raven Leilani
  72. Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey
  73. The Girl in the Road, Monica Byrne
  74. Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi
  75. Wow, No Thank You, Samantha Irby
  76. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (reread)
  77. This Land is Their Land, David J. Silverman
  78. Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber
  79. Shuggie Bain, Douglas Stuart
  80. On Bullshit, Harry G. Frankfurt
  81. Ring Shout, P. Djeli Clark


library heterotopias vs. library bullshit

I gave my five-minute talk about rapid change and strategic-planning-that-isn’t-really-strategic-planning this week, and there were two big takeaways: 1) that people who aren’t librarians actually kind of want to just talk about library stuff, so I didn’t need to try to reframe the narrative for them and it may have been more accessible if I hadn’t and 2) the premise probably sounds like bullshit because there is a huge leadership crisis in general right now, and libraries for suuuuure in particular. Let’s unpack why I’m saying that.

The year of covid was like one of those fluorescent lights you sit under and every single acne pockmark you’ve had since the age of 12 is made visible. The long-standing toxicity and ineffectual leadership present in the field was so thoroughly, utterly exposed for what it is, and instead of trying to cover up the ugliness, there were many people in positions of power that chose to lean into the light, to bask in it. I’ll give you some specific examples without naming specific institutions because lord knows I don’t need anyone else baying for my blood at the moment. We had libraries try to get rid of all of their staff during a pandemic, ignore hundreds of community members, and indicate that automation was making their jobs unnecessary anyway – these efforts were led by librarians. Not McKinsey consultants or their icky ilk. We had libraries open for curbside pickup when everything was closed except grocery stores and hospitals. We had professional organizations and administrations pledging allegiance to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” but not fully understanding what that means and condescending and punishing members for attempting to improve that understanding. In one professional org I’m part of, when I brought up concerns about language in a policy/procedures doc that came off as racist and ableist, my qualifications and experience as a manager were questioned and it was implied that discussing power imbalances in the workplace was merely a new fad.

On the other hand, we saw some incredible organizing, pushback, and reform coming from other places than the usual mouthpieces of the field. Meredith Farkas describes this succinctly in American Libraries mag; the latest issue of The Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship (CJAL) is all fire but particularly focuses on this phenomenon in Danya Leebaw’s piece, “Critical Library Performativity: Toward Progressive Change in Academic Library Management and Organizations.” Leebaw’s description of alternative initiatives and movements in libraries, such as the Library Freedom Project and we here, as “heterotopic,” or occurring in unexpected/non-traditional places, resonated with me. As I was doing a deep dive into the latest CJAL, I discovered Jane Schmidt’s remarks at a 2018 conference, “Innovate This! Bullshit in Academic Libraries and What We Can Do About It.” She rightly points out that one of our defenses against bullshit is to stop always fetishizing our leaders:

We live and work in an era of unprecedented shameless self promotion and absurd reward systems. The proud display of the mundane to the remarkable are often indistinguishable. We reward our students with badges for coming to the library and we offer our explicit approval to colleagues by endorsing them for completely obvious skills on LinkedIn. It is hardly surprising then that we seek ever more accomplishments to enumerate and share. The often derided but always noticed annual ​Library Journal​ Movers and Shakers list is probably the most clear example of rockstar librarian bullshit, with apologies to those have moved and shook here in the room, of course. If I had a fiver for every time I saw announcement of yet another event featuring a panel of Thought Leaders, I could buy Congress a round of beers.

– Jane Schmidt, “Innovate This! Bullshit in Academic Libraries and What We Can Do About It”

I am a library director, but I try really, really hard to not engage in bullshit. I try not to make my colleagues do bullshit tasks. I try not to invent unnecessary work or problems for people. Rather, I listen to and observe the needs of our users instead of defaulting to tried-and-untrue library operations because “that’s just the way we’ve always done it” (shudder). This is what drove me to co-write a book for ALA Editions and give the talk this week. But I know when I speak to fellow directors, I’m probably not preaching to the choir for the most part. Hey, I’m sure most of them think I’m some weirdo manic pixie 25-year-old from Bah-ston (cue that sound from the Sam Adams commercials), so I can rag on them a bit if I want. Let’s be real, though–what I have written in the book and presented about on the topic is better spent on people who aren’t in conventional leadership positions (or in leadership at all), and I want to embrace this heterotopic idea as a defense for how the bullshit and toxicity at the top of (and throughout) many institutions can undermine what I’m suggesting at the outset.

In another stellar turn in that same CJAL issue, Sam Popowich points out something that I feel is at the twisted core of so many of librarianship’s problems:

“…any conception of social justice as a goal of intellectual or academic freedom can only take the form of an affirmative rather than a transformative model of redress (see Fraser and Honneth 2003, 74), in which minor adjustments, like Indigenous intern positions or statements of LGBTQIA+ solidarity, are seen as affirming a commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) while leaving the fundamental structures of marginalization and oppression unchanged. The way to achieve social justice, in this view, is through recognition, statements of solidarity, or rhetorical commitments, rather than through material transformation of the structures of injustice themselves.”

Sam Popowich, “The Antinomies of Academic Freedom: Reason, Trans Rights, and Constituent Power.”

Popowich hits a nerve that comes up in the discussion of the recent Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) panel “Why Did I Leave the Profession? A DEI Perspective,” something I want to force everyone from several committees I serve on to watch. (As I said on Twitter the other day, “Believe it or not, antiracism isn’t just a passing craze your ‘intergenerational workforce’ is into right now.”) We repeatedly see a lack of desire for change, especially within the DEI context; change would mean a massive amount of power shifting, tons of difficult conversations and open interpersonal conflict, and accepting discomfort and forcing ourselves to feel it instead of blaming seen or unseen forces or making it about us (I’m a cisgender white middle class lady).

Now, I want to pause here for a moment and point out that change can itself be total bullshit, in the way that word is often thrown around. I talked to a lot of people this year and I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten which lovely soul among them shared the term “weaponized innovation” with me, a great example of that being the aforementioned library that thought it should fire everybody during a pandemic and replace them with Roombas. It is not, however, bullshit to analyze the brokenness and bias of existing structures and to commit to tearing them doing and doing better. It’s not bullshit to be self-aware and honest about what we’re fucking up and to own the responsibility for fixing it.

This is true of things other than just DEI, where we are content to make statements all day long and mention amazing Black speakers we caught who “just have so many things to say that are important right now” in the affirmative fashion Popowich describes but shut down when self-critical analysis or redirection of resources is expected of us. I also can’t remember who said this year that libraries are great at creating problems for themselves, but man, was that any more obvious than in March when people were like, having patrons put their library cards in a basket and then using those trash collecting claw things to pick them up, trigger holds, and bringing stuff out to people’s cars in full hazmat gear while the rest of the goddamn country was in a lockdown and contending with a massive PPE and cleaning supply shortage? That’s what the early days of curbside were like. When I called out the absurdity, they did not like that. Who was this bitch from Massachusetts and why was she haranguing us in northern California? WELL SORRY BUT EVERYONE IN YOUR TOWN HAS LOST THEIR FUCKING MINDS, SO SOMEONE FROM SOMEWHERE HAD TO SAY SOMETHING.

This is all to say ideally we need better leaders who don’t pull bullshit like that, but we also need heterotopic structures that allow leadership throughout the profession instead of hierarchies that place one person unerringly at the top(s). I’m not sure if I’m advocating for flat org charts, at least not at this particular moment, but rather there needs to be a distribution of power that doesn’t tie up the biggest decisions with one person and maybe a board that are pretty disconnected from the day-to-day realities of boots-on-the-ground work. We also probably need to stop expecting sweeping, meaningful change from the traditional sources of power and influence in the field (I’m looking at you, state/regional and national organizations). Anyone who reads anything I’ve written or has seen me rant on a stage for five minutes to an hour (all 2 of you) knows I’m a huge fan of strategic plans, but I need to point out a critical caveat there: I am not a fan of the smoke-filled room approach to them. What you’re going to get out of a plan written with the director and the board, or the director and a dean or whatever, behind a closed door is a ton of people who go “wtf is this” when you try to do anything–not because people are change-hating sticks in the mud, but because you didn’t ask them what they thought and your conclusions probably make no sense with what they’re seeing in the day-to-day.

I want to go back to a point Leebaw makes that is also essential to creating plans that aren’t C-suite bullshit:

“…the principles to which we wish to adhere are not always reflected in our current practices, and in some cases might not be possible to achieve even if we diligently try… This misalignment between principle and practice has created uncomfortable dissonance for our staff… [T]he “growing chasm between our stated values and practices” is “ultimately alienating library workers” (Nicholson, Schmidt, and Slonowski 2019).

– Danya Leebaw, “Critical Library Performativity: Toward Progressive Change in Academic Library Management and Organizations”

How do we get better alignment between principle and practice? We need to stop hogging the decision making for our practices, and stop defaulting to doing the easiest thing because “tbh my calendar is a garbage tornado for the rest of the month and I just want to get this over with.” We also need to stop defending bullshit takes in the field and start walking the fucking walk. It’s 2020 and we still have dinguses on the Trash Tank who can’t see how letting the Nazis use the meeting room is in conflict with our professed value of access and welcome to all. In fact, I think we might have more dinguses saying this shit now than ever before. I don’t have an answer to everything and please ignore anyone who has ever said they did, but y’all, librarianship is deeply screwed up and acknowledging that is a good first step as any. We have such enormous importance and potential, but with ineffectual diversity messages, rampant toxicity in our workplaces, and the vice grip of doing more with less, we must know we aren’t delivering on that promise. These heterotopias give us a chance to step around the baggage and imagine what could be, and they might be our only shot at saving us–not from ourselves, but from our leaders.

library mgmt

building solid ground for constant change

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on condensing the ideas of the book into a 5-minute lightning talk for the Blank consortium. The slides and a pretty-much-final script of my talk are below. It was interesting to target this beyond just libraryland–I hope the ideas resonate with other educators as well.

Btw, if you’re thinking this all sounds an awful lot like strategic planning, that’s because it is. 🙂 On one hand, I’m trying to make the idea sexier for people who roll their eyes at the term; on the other, the process I’m describing will make for a great strategic plan.

You might be asking yourself, “Okay, why is a librarian talking to me about change?” Well, does anyone know where this is?

old boston public library johnson building

That’s the Johnson Building of the Boston Public Library, and this photo was taken in 2010 or so.

This is the same area of the library today. You can orient yourself with the dome-shaped windows.

boston public library children's room

This kind of huge transformation has been happening in libraries all around the world. Libraries don’t just change their look and feel–they also have been keeping up with changes in technology and their communities, which have grown increasingly rapid in the last 30 years.

Libraries that have succeeded in adapting to change have one thing in common: they are continuously asking and seeking answers to these three questions, all while keeping their communities at the heart of the process:

what do we aspire to do and be? what do we value? how do we make it happen?

This can help in many contexts: in classrooms, businesses, and for individual use as well. I want to note that I am saying the word “user” as a catch-all for community members, students, co-workers – all the kinds of people we do things with and for.

What do we value and aspire to be? This is high-level, conceptual stuff – your vision and mission. What do you care about and why? This isn’t just a time to praise yourself. What are you not doing? What’s not working and how can you fix it? Social infrastructure, to be welcoming & safe, and to be inclusive & do outreach are library examples; I would guess some of these resonate with you as fellow educators as well.

What do our users want? Where are you putting your energy–does it connect to what they want? In libraries, people want our help accessing information, community space, and creativity and learning opportunities. Even if we think we know what our users want, we still need to ask them.

How do we make stuff happen? The following steps are what I’d tell librarians to do, but I’d be willing to bet the same advice would work in many other types of situations. As I mentioned, we need to ask our users what they want, and we need to involve them in the process of creating and embarking on our goals. We stop doing more with less, meaning we figure out what we value, who we are, and what our users want, and use that to allocate our resources more appropriately. Last but not least, we need to view this process as continual – it’s not linear, it’s circular.

With self-awareness, we know how, where, and what to change. Even if we don’t know what will come next, or know what the long-term impacts of the current change and uncertainty we’re in right now will be, we can figure out who we are, what our users want, and what we mutually value.

library mgmt

a few thoughts on change stuff

I’m giving a talk for the consortium in a couple weeks, and it’s a lightning/ignite style presentation: just five minutes to pack in an introduction to a concept or idea. I’ve been working on trying to dump the key lessons of the recently published book I co-authored, Responding to Rapid Change in Libraries: A User Experience Approach, into this five minute chunk. I’m also trying to retool the content for non-librarians. It’s been tricky, but ultimately it’s helping me see the stripped down version of the book’s thesis, which I think is encouraging people in the field (and beyond) to ask themselves the following questions:

  1. What do we aspire to be?
  2. What do we value?
  3. How do we make it happen?

Can a thesis be questions? Probably not, so maybe it’s more like what’s at the core of what we’re prompting people to try to do. Change is inevitable, but if we can get ourselves to a place where we can answer those questions without racking our brains, we’re going to do a good job responding to it.

1. What do we aspire to be?

This question comes first so the answer to #2 (hopefully) doesn’t reshape it. Here’s where you don’t just recite the ALA Code of Ethics or buy into the general “libraries are and have always been emblems of democracy” self-praise. You think about what you’re not doing. You think about what’s not working and how you can fix it. If you’re saying you’re a welcoming safe space that’s free and inclusive to all, are you really providing that, or is it only an aspiration at this stage? #2 and #3 will help you make it real.

2. What do we value?

What are you spending time and money on? How does that relate to what you identified as what you’re aspiring to above? Libraries are continually being asked to “do more with less,” but it’s time to stop doing some things and start doing other things strategically (see #3). Now’s your chance to think about the Library Bill of Rights, intellectual freedom, and social responsibility. Which of these ethics and positions help us advance what we say we’re aspiring to do? As hinted at in describing #1 above, this isn’t a time for self-celebration; this is a time to think critically and deliberately about what is important to us and why.

3. How do we make things happen?

You need a strategy. How do you get one? Co-design with community feedback. Surveys and focus groups. Post-it notes. Bulletin boards. Get community experts on staff, or foster a culture of creating that expertise. That isn’t to say “keep everyone forever;” rather, hire and train people who connect with your aspirations and values and want to stick around long enough to help you get there. If you think you don’t have time to make your aspirations happen, unpack why that is. You can likely find things you can stop doing. Don’t think of it as sacrifice if you stop doing something because the feedback says you should be doing something else.

I’m just starting to explore this perspective, but I think I’ll get there. The bottom line is we need a mission, and we need self-awareness, if we’re going to endure change.


surreal estate

I just read two great books that I guess you could call…spiritual? Metaphysical? Introspective? They don’t fit neatly within genre, but I find that what I’m liking best these days rarely does. First came the novel Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, then I picked up Her Body and Other Parties, a short story collection by Carmen Maria Machado. At the end of Emezi’s book, they talk about a writer’s workshop where their fellow people of color said they couldn’t do what Nabokov does. This kind of stuck with me, not because of the relative Nabokov-iness of either one of these books but because of how silly it is to try to box these writers in comparisons with their forebears. I rarely assess things from that point of view anyway, but still, there was so much going on in these two books that to bog down a reaction to them by trying to find past commonalities seems pointless.

Earlier this year, I read Aimee Bender’s The Butterfly Lampshade and liked it for its similar vibes. All of these works are surreal, introspective, and haunting, but to link them by saying there’s a common theme of troubled protagonists is also too reductive. In The Butterfly Lampshade, Francie worries about peering into otherworldliness because of the genetic legacy she may or may not have inherited from her schizophrenic mother. In Freshwater, Ada is contending with her/their brain being divided up and fought over by gods as she/they attempt to enter adulthood. In Machado’s stories, the mostly unnamed first-person narrators are bound by mysterious magical ribbons and try to truck through global catastrophes; in the most powerful story of the collection, “The Resident,” the protagonist finds herself torn between past and present, wandering too closely to a darkness in herself that she winds up having to destroy, even though it’s part of her and the inspiration for her art.

As a person who has struggled with mental illness throughout my life, and has engaged in… lifestyle choices that may or may not have exascerbated it, these tales all felt close to the bone, “The Resident” perhaps most of all. In the story, the narrator goes on a writer’s retreat to an unnamed mountain range north of Philadelphia that starts with P. It turns out to be very close to a Girl Scouts camp she frequented in her childhood (aside: I went to a Girl Scouts camp in the Poconos) and the novel she’s working on involves a character inspired by the childhood traumas she winds up reliving as an adult. There’s a repeated idea in it that the point of the retreat is to allow your brain space and time to make random connections and dig up memories you didn’t know you still had. This is intended to be positive (and may be a comment on how complicated and insensitive this prompt would be for many people), but as the narrator leans into that, she’s only met with horror after horror, both physical and mental, and her traumas meld together in a way that transcends time.

I think this story resonated with me in particular because I don’t feel as besieged with emotions (and, let’s be honest, possessing of creativity) as I used to. And while part of that is due to better lifestyle choices and stability, part of it is due to having shuttered that section of myself off in many ways. And the reason for that shuttering is explored well in The Butterfly Lampshade – it’s a defense against following threads too far into a version of the world (and yourself) you might not be able to come back from. Freshwater differs in how its inevitability is clear from the start; Ada is mostly along for a ride she/they adapted to in order to survive. I have been fortunate to live with some semblance of control over my situation, but I also feel like a large part of me has been excised in return for it.

There was a time when a blank page or a blinking cursor in an empty document was never a match for the downpour of words flowing out of me, when I could sit composing music and tweaking lyrics for hours. But now I’m eating, sleeping, and making money, and I’m afraid of removing any of the load-bearing walls I’ve assembled to keep moving forward. Or maybe it’s not a matter of load-bearing, as Machado puts it at the end of “The Resident,” but a thing some of us find we must do:

Thus far in your jury deliberations, have you encountered any others who have truly met themselves? Some, I’m sure, but not many. I have known many people in my lifetime, and rarely do I find any who have been taken down to the quick, pruned so that their branches might grow back healthier than before.

– Carmen Maria Machado, “The Resident”

library mgmt

weeding thoughts, part 3

(Continued from parts 1 and 2.)

OK, so, I’m ready to stop writing about this, not least of why being that I scanned over 3,000 items for removal yesterday and my hand kind of doesn’t work right now…? But yeah, I was able to remove about 6,000 items from the collection in the last two and a half months. Unfortunately, it wasn’t before we did our ILS migration (which means we had to pay to migrate items over that wound up getting deleted a couple months later…womp womp). There was no way I could have done that much if we were regularly open, though.

So I mentioned at the end of Part 2 that I’d talk about how I got through this stuff so quickly. The number one way was that we weren’t open to patrons this semester, and there wasn’t much else for me to do on the days I was on campus other than paging for delivery. I initially had been trying to do things pretty conventionally, to pull things off the shelf that looked sus and scan them into a spreadsheet that would identify if it had circulated in the past 4-5 years or not. Given that no weeding happened in this library for the first 20 years of its existence, though, that wound up being a ton of stuff – just scads of things that would never be consulted in paper form anymore, and books that probably seemed like they had five years of shelf life back in 2003. To save myself time, I flipped the script a bit.

I started pulling lists of books that had actually circed in the last 4-5 years (we don’t have data for any earlier than that) and placed them on carts flagged for keeping, while clearing off the contents of the shelves that we weren’t keeping on separate carts. This required a crapton of carts; I had 16 at my disposal. It helped me speed up selection for weeding as well as shifting, and helped me get a good idea of how much space the newly decreased collection would take up on the shelves. Another benefit of doing it this way was being able to figure out which classes were just overwhelming non-circulators and could be eliminated more or less entirely. These aligned with subjects we don’t teach (army/naval history, agriculture and forestry, etc), but might have been most useful in the most popular classes where we really needed to do some culling (computer science and physics, in particular).

The biggest problem that came out of this was how quickly the carts filled up with discards. I saw a couple different ways to handle this, but ultimately wound up cycling through a process of filling up carts, scanning everything on them, and emptying them onto tables (and eventually the floor) so student workers could come in and take the final steps (crossing out barcodes and boxing them up for Better World Books donation).

I want to stop here to point out how much physical work it is to do this kind of weeding. I’ve had to take epsom salt baths, use a massage pillow, and get extra liberal with the Advil to be able to do this. I’ve thrown my back out more than once, one time badly enough that I could hardly use stairs for a couple days. My scanner arm/hand is still kind of weirdly numb over a day after I stopped my marathon yesterday. Be careful out there if you’re doing this, especially when getting massages and chiropracting might not be on your covid activities list.

This might seem like too much for some libraries, and that’s probably true. But the fact is, our circulation rate of books was so low that even if I wound up getting rid of things people still want – and I’m sure there’s no way that didn’t happen, considering over 6,000 of them got weeded – it will be very easy for me to replace them. I think a collection of well under 10,000 print volumes makes sense for a library serving a student body of 330, and in our strategic planning, we asked about how space should be allocated in the future. Students overwhelmingly asked for fewer books (not none!) and more study and group work space, and that’s what they will get…once I can buy new furniture to remove the shelving we’re getting rid of. I also changed our shelf ranges from having five overstuffed rows that looked messy and uncared for to three nice and neat rows that leave ample room for adding titles, and will make browsing and paging easier.

This week, I decided to hire a few more student workers to help lighten the load – we were trying to get by with just one before. There’s a few too many steps for one person doing it to be able to do it all that quickly, so now we have people working assembly line-style: specifically on building boxes, crossing out barcodes, packing boxes, and moving them to the pickup location. I’ve been passing them into this production line as soon as I’m done scanning them, and I finished scanning yesterday, which means I can let the students do their thing with minimal supervision. This frees me up for my time on campus, so I’ll be working in the archives next, and while it’s going to be a dumpster fire of a different variety, I’m so excited to have something else to focus on.

I wish I’d taken more photos to document all of this, but I think we had about 21,000 items at our peak last summer and now we’re down to about 9,500. A bunch of shelving on both floors is gone now and we don’t have any shelves that are full of so much crap that you can’t easily browse through it, and we don’t have anything so close to the floor that you have to get on your hands and knees to grab it. Back when we did our strategic plan survey last fall, someone described the library as having “old man garage sale vibes.” I really hope we’ve moved beyond that now, lol.

library mgmt

weeding thoughts, part 2

(Continued from part 1.)

Alright, so let’s talk about moving the art, design, and photography books first. I mentioned last time that the photography books moved to the quiet reading room (at one time called the “photography room”) and while I still am not sure I am completely on board with an engineering college having nearly one thousand photography books, it’s a pretty awesome collection, so given how many garbage books about globalization and outdated ones about internet culture from 2002 I also had to contend with, I more or less left this stuff alone. We got the photography shift done right before students were sent home in March and we had to start working remotely. I’m still trying to play around with different ideas for shelving it a little more sustainably and in a way that’s browsing friendly, but this has been tough because another issue I inherited is that the shelves in that room are just long, expensive pieces of wood. They look nice, but they also mean it’s dominoes time if you don’t divvy up the collection with bookends.

When we were moving the photography books and when we initially got the art books downstairs, I still had student workers to help me, but that didn’t last long (I only have two working physically on campus this semester for various reasons, mostly having to do with safety and staffing). One of my student workers did an amazing job reshelving the Ns in a place where they’ll be far more browsable, and she played around with shelf heights and facing to make an appealing display. This was so much better than their previous relegation to rickety ersatz moveable shelves where they barely fit and couldn’t be even so much as thumbed through without creating an enormous headache. But when I started coming in regularly again back in September, I had the NAs, NBs, NCs, NDs, NKs, and NXs awaiting me, as well as a bunch of music scores that are not the most appropriate element of our collection but also not a hill worth dying on at the moment.

With our print periodicals collection culled between my efforts in the past year and the obvious money-saving choice to cancel those while we’re closed to foot traffic, I wound up with a periodicals shelf that lent itself very well to smushing a ton of music scores in a relatively small space. I put a handful of well-known composers’ works on the display side (the part that lifts up so you could see back issues of magazines, if that’s what we were using it for). On the other side of the shelf, I moved the contemporary music scores and started the NAs in the next range over. The other Ns are on the shelf across from this one; there’s a large work table in between these shelves, and our workroom (pseudo-makerspace) is right next to the place where the NBs through NXs now reside. I like the thought of the art books being right next to the art space. The design books in TS will ultimately wind up close to that room as well, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

I didn’t get rid of a ton of the Ns for reasons similar to the photography books – there’s just so much more elsewhere in the stacks that needs to go before we target these, and I think putting them in a more sensible and patron-friendly space will increase their usage for sure. I did weed some that were in crappy condition or didn’t fit in the space I had allocated for each of the N subclasses. I also did my best to split things up so it’s much easier to know when NA ends and NB starts, for instance. This was not how things were shelved before.

There’s a temptation when you’re shifting to just cram things in where they’ll fit, because you’re forever worrying about running out of space as you keep going. Resist that temptation and think about the person who is going to be browsing and searching these shelves – that includes you. You will save yourself and patrons so much time if you can shelve books in a way that helps you easily know where QA76.76 starts and ends and QA76.9 begins, etc. If you have a job where you’re not routinely working in the stacks or pulling or finding books, which was how my previous job was, you still really should take the time to figure out where everything is, and I swear you’ll find that simpler if you don’t have shelves crammed to their limits and starting willy-nilly with classes and cutter numbers. If you’re worried about space, weed more stuff, or depending on your space considerations, consider getting more shelves instead of jamming things in wherever they’ll fit.

Now, most people who’ve done shifts before know that when you start moving things around, you tend to trigger a chain reaction of other things that need to move, too. In the case of moving the Ms and Ns to the two shelves I mentioned, this meant dealing with the tail end of the collection because of the bizarre way the stacks had been arranged before. On the lower level of the library, there is a built-in shelf along one of the longest walls in the space, and then the free-standing shelves are lined up in parallel lines starting from across from the built-in shelf and extending to the opposite end of the library. The now-home of the Ms and Ns is across from two of the long rows of shelves in this parallel line area. (I’ll put a floor map in this post at some point, since this is tough to explain verbally.) So they’re not after the other shelves; they’re lined up with what now houses P through T. Anyway, the main point here is that the books displaced by the Ms and Ns were the back half of the TKs (electrical engineering, a large collection for us), TLs (motor vehicles and astronautics, another large collection), TNs (mining and metallurgy; we only have a handful), TXs (cookbooks, mostly), U (military science), V (naval science), and good ol’ Z (library science).

I moved all of these books onto trucks so I could get the Ms and Ns where I wanted them to go, and I let them sit for a while as I moved alphabetically through the classes, but I got sick of people from other libraries requesting random stuff from the TKs, so I wanted to get that stuff out of the collection as quickly as possible. I figured it was a good time to prioritize what to target next, since that initial push of getting stuff downstairs was behind me. So, I turned to good ol’ Sierra’s Create Lists reporting function. I knew from our previous ILS that we had 14,000+ items that had never circed. The circ data did make its way over in the form of “total checkouts” in Sierra, so I was able to run a report to show me only the things that had circed (we’re talking about a collection of about 16,000 items, so that was between 2-3,000). I used Excel to arrange the circed items by classes and figure out which had circed the most, and which items in particular, and used the lists to do the following:

  1. determine which classes should be targeted for extreme weeding
  2. determine which classes could/should get by with less weeding
  3. separate the wheat from the chaff and keep only the books that had circed in the last 4 years, which is what I have data for

This seems like a good place to end for today, but next time I’ll talk about how looking at things from this angle vs. the more traditional “cull things with zero circs” angle is saving my sanity and helping me move through the rest of the collection in warp speed. Ciao!