Musing on Maintenance

I’ve been on sabbatical for almost six months, which has temporarily alleviated my need to use the New York City subway system with any regularity. This has come at almost exactly the same time that the subways (and the rail systems that use Penn Station) have experienced a sharply increasing wave of delays and failures. I love the subway, truly — it’s near the top of my list of reasons why I live in NYC — but I’m very grateful that I don’t need to ride it regularly right now. The subway unreliability plus hot summer temperatures are an especially awful combination, which makes this week’s news that the governor plans to allot funds for a fanciful bridge-lighting project on the city’s river crossings seem particularly ill-inspired. The subways are failing for the same reasons many other infrastructures fail: deferred and delayed maintenance. That these failures are happening at a time when the subway has hit a high in popularity and use is no surprise, too. The solution is more funding for maintenance, which the state and the city can’t seem to agree on, an impasse that leaves commuters stuck, too.

Yes, New Yorkers are obsessed with public transit (and I will admit to being more obsessed than many), but what does this have to do with libraries? As I was writing this post I remembered that I’d written about The Maintainers conference last year, thinking a bit about the conference’s discussion of maintenance as the opposite of innovation, and how to make space for both in our libraries. But this week, with cascadingly ridiculous subway news, I’m thinking about maintenance of infrastructure that can be critical and is sometimes too easily ignored.

Any organization or institution needs maintenance, including libraries. Like subways, the more popular we are in libraries, the more maintenance we have (and, I would argue, the more deferred maintenance can snowball). At the beginning of the semester our circulation desk has a rush of students checking out reserve textbooks; with the midterms and finals week rush comes more trash for our custodial staff to clean up; the more pages students print, the more often we need to repair or replace the printers. We try to allocate resources appropriately to accommodate busy times, but that can be tricky given flat or declining budgets. And with increasing popularity also comes a need for not only maintenance but expansion — we are absolutely struggling with that at the college where I work, which has seen nearly a 50% increase in enrollment in the past decade (and with expansion comes a neew for more maintenance, too).

Much of the work that we as librarians do is also about maintenance: continuing to meet the needs of our communities by offering services and resources that they need for their academic work. This work can be invisible, sometimes, because our community may not see the work as it happens (for example, in technical services). Invisibility can also be a result of the tendency of institutions to privilege the additive for planning and reporting. When we pull together our goals and targets each year, the tendency is to focus on what we’re doing that’s new. But the maintenance work for continuing services and resources is important, too, and I try to make sure that doesn’t get left out of our goals and reports.

One form of maintenance that I’ve tried to make time and space for during my sabbatical is for my professional and research self. A few times each year I update my CV and professional website, keeping track of what I’ve worked on both to share it (e.g. links to articles in my institution’s repository) and to make it easier to do my own annual report each year. Research, too, is additive: collecting new data, analyzing and interpreting it, and sharing the results. When time is short it’s easy to dump those files into a folder (bonus points for media files with unintuitive filenames!) to be dealt with later. It’s all too easy to let this kind of maintenance pile up, even for those of us who generally enjoy organizing physical or digital files. I’ve done a fair amount of professional and research file management during my leave. It’s been great to have some time to focus on this kind of maintenance, especially for the research that my colleague and I have been working on for many years.

I’m not sure how to resolve my concerns with maintenance in our libraries and for ourselves as librarians, other than to try to keep the focus on these maintenance tasks when we’re planning and reporting. How have you integrated maintenance into your work in libraries?

Information in the Indignation Age

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Mark Lenker, Teaching & Learning Librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

As a librarian, I worry about the ways that emotion, especially anger, influences our interactions with information. So much of our political discourse is intended to arouse indignation, and I’m concerned about indignation’s impact on one’s ability to learn. Higher education needs to become more intentional about preparing students for inflammatory discourse as a potential hazard in the information landscape.

An important Pew study offers a lens for understanding the cyclical relationship between our media habits and the increasing political polarization of the United States. The short version is that media consumers spend more time with media that confirms their political outlook, and that ideological reinforcement makes one less receptive to dissenting views. The degree of outrage and distrust in our political discourse makes this dynamic quite unsettling. A quick perusal of the online comments following any major news story shows that media-driven ideological reinforcement is not leading to higher rates of polite disagreement – AkronKittyLuvver is out for blood.

A subsequent Pew study confirms the tension. Researchers found that Democrats and Republicans tend to associate negative character traits with members of the opposing party. A strong contingent of Democrats say that Republicans are more dishonest compared to other Americans. An even larger percentage of Republicans say that Democrats are more immoral than other Americans. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans say that the other side is more closed-minded compared to other Americans. We are all-too-ready to make hostile judgments about those whose perspectives differ from our own. What does this self-righteous antagonism mean for our capacity to learn about complex and evolving issues?

Indignation in both the media and in personal communications is particularly worrisome because it signals to one’s audience that the matter at hand is so grave and so morally charged that there is no room for alternative perspectives. Attempts to present other points of view will be met with resistance or even hostility, so there is little point in sharing a different opinion (unless you take moral offense at the indignant person’s thinking, in which case you can vent your own sense of outrage).

But is indignation necessarily the enemy of open-mindedness and open discussion? In True to Our Feelings, philosopher Robert Solomon presents a more nuanced view of anger and indignation. According to Solomon, anger arises when we have been hurt or offended in some way, and it manifests itself as an impulse to level blame against the offender. While anger can operate on a strictly personal level (“his loud talking is distracting me and it’s making me mad”), indignation implies that the offense oversteps important considerations of justice and morality (“his loud talking in the quiet area of the library is rude and unfair”). The sense of transgression involved with indignation can make a difference in the level of vehemence with which indignation is felt or expressed. Indignation involves more than simply being offended – it is being offended and having justice on your side (or at least feeling that way).

Because indignation is wrapped up with one’s understanding of justice and morality, it is not the sort of emotion that one can get over easily. Moving past indignation may require a revised estimation of the line between justice and injustice, and that sort of reexamination is hard to undertake in today’s polarized environment. The indignant mind presents fertile ground for confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and other obstacles to learning.

But Solomon also points out that anger and indignation have their value. For one thing, the ability to experience and express these emotions is essential to maintaining our personal dignity, to stand up for ourselves or to stand against unfairness. As Solomon puts it, “[T]here are times when one is a fool not to get angry, not only because the situation calls for it but because otherwise one degrades oneself as less than a fully functioning human being.” Indignation puts energy and backbone behind our convictions.

Furthermore, for Solomon (and for Aristotle), anger is not inherently irrational. Instead, anger is rational when it fits the occasion, when it is directed at the right parties, and when it is proportional to the offense (neither an overreaction nor an underreaction). Forward-looking considerations are also crucial for assessing anger’s reasonableness. Solomon emphasizes the strategic qualities of emotions, especially their impact on how we relate with others. Does one’s style of anger fit with one’s long-term interests, or is it better to revise (or even abandon) one’s current strategy?

Considering indignation in this strategic light, I find a theoretical home for my worries. For example, indignation is irrational if its heat and hostility get in the way of negotiating to address the conditions that inspired indignation in the first place. Indignation is also irrational if it entrenches the indignant person in righteousness to such a degree that they cannot consider other points of view or continue to learn about the circumstances of the offending injustice (which, in the case of political disputes, are probably quite complicated).

Can indignation foster learning? A sense of outrage might lend urgency to one’s investigation of an injustice, driving one to learn more quickly or more deeply than an investigator without the same sense of passion. Amia Srinivasan points out that anger is part of really understanding oppression, a matter of viscerally apprehending the gulf between the way things are and the way they should be. A vital educational message for these polarized times is that learning is a crucial lens for reflecting on the reasonableness of one’s indignation.

Rational indignation cannot become so all-encompassing that it crowds out dispositions to learn. Indignation motivates learning when it is combined with intellectual courage (a willingness to face ugly situations squarely, without rationalizing them away or exaggerating their severity) and with epistemic humility (a clarity about the limits of one’s perspective and a consistent recognition that one can always learn more).

Media-inspired indignation is an information problem, a potential pitfall that higher education should help students prepare for by exploring a range of important questions:

  • How do partisan media, indignation, and intellectual autonomy relate to one another? Does media-inspired indignation stimulate or stifle curiosity about politics?
  • How does indignation over political matters define one’s relationships with one’s peers? With other groups?
  • When political leaders and campaigns use rhetoric to inspire indignation, how does that work to their advantage?
  • Is indignation worth the costs? Political discussions in the media typically address exceedingly complex conditions that impact vast, diverse groups of people. Given the uncertainty involved in policy making, when we weigh the likelihood of achieving a satisfying political resolution against the consequences of being angry at our neighbors, is the antagonism associated with indignation justifiable? If not, what attitudes are more appropriate?

To be clear, my concern is not ideological. If one’s beliefs place them in the far reaches of the ideological spectrum, that may be perfectly legitimate, as long as those beliefs stem from the careful, iterative consideration of the best evidence available. But when I look at the polarization data from Pew, I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I worry that indignation contributes to a cycle that drives us ever further from the ideal of informed political participation. Our students need to reflect on this dynamic – they need to demand better of their politicians, their news sources, and themselves.

(Though perhaps, not too indignantly.)

Silent Fireworks, HRC, and #ALAAC2017

Battling summer sinobronchitis — not allergies as it turns out — certainly puts a damper on conference travel.  It has also contributed to feeling less than celebratory leading up to the Independence Day holiday. The fact that July 4th fell on a Tuesday made celebrating all the more awkward.  This year I noticed recirculated articles advocating  silent fireworks which seemed an excellent alternative given the current mood, and certainly spares animals (and the rest of us) the anxiety.  Alternatively, quiet bursts of colorful light seem to aptly juxtapose my idyllic reminiscence of this holiday with the grief and frustration I’ve felt about the state of my country in the past year.

Similar highs and lows marked my experience of ALA Annual in Chicago the weeks prior.  I always hope, perhaps naively, that conferences will both reassure and challenge me as a professional.  These competing emotions are familiar companions to learning or undertaking anything enormous or new, and I can usually always find something new at ALA. This year there were only a few glimmers as far as programming and my usual professional networking.  I got much more out of the professional-social networking I experienced both online and  in serendipitous face-to-face meetings.

One particularly spectacular session I attended gave an overview of how libraries are supporting researchers’ text and data mining needs from both the licensing and technical ends.  While the session also had a good balance of presentation and discussion, I still left feeling like a whole pre-conference could be devoted to this topic.  The terrifyingly relevant session, Hacking the Web of Science data?…, also had me hanging on every word and  fighting the familiar existential dread.  Eamon Duede, executive director of Knowledge Lab & Metaknowledge Research Network at the University of Chicago,  analyzed particular combinations within the Web of Science haystack to discover patterns in the attention research gets versus the disruption it causes.  He found that big teams of researchers, who get a lot of attention and funding, aren’t the ones with disruptively new discoveries.  He also noted patterns that show the majority of biomedical funding goes to helping address lower-level societal suffering, rather than targeting society’s more critical ills.

On the networking side, I joined a social gathering of those interested in FOLIO development. In addition to free craft beer and grilled cheese shooters (brilliant!), I got to talk to a wide range of colleagues, from friends working very closely with FOLIO functionality, to meeting others with no idea what FOLIO is.  At an ACRL University Libraries Section social hour,  I met and talked shop with several very cool Arizonans, and got a tip on the “wild librarian party” underway in the ALA presidential suite.

On a more professional note, I had a successful discussion with one of the four big deal publishers with whom my library will be negotiating in the coming year.  I had intended to arrange this meeting in advance, but time got away from me.  So, I was impressed that I got two reps to sit down with me on the spot and have a productive discussion on some pretty complex issues.  Although it was just handshakes and elevator speeches to three other publishers,  I navigated the exhibits floor with a refreshing confidence for a change.

One of the more disappointing events, unfortunately, was the highly anticipated closing keynote by Hillary Rodham Clinton.  I decided to extend my trip and work in a visit to see my dad in southern Illinois where an extra overnight stay would be more manageable.  This meant a three-hour drive through farmland highways.  Since the weather and 55 mph roads permitted,  I had the windows down and filled up on the olfactory memories of my fourths of July spent here as a kid.  Perfectly timing my arrival back in Chicago just three minutes before the keynote start spared me the long line and still offered a pretty good seat up front.

Clinton’s keynote certainly sparked emotions, laughter, cheers, and even a bit of dancing.  Her calls to “fight to defend truth and reason, evidence and facts” were reflexively encouraging, but the rest was nothing I’d not already heard top-name speakers say to librarians before.  Given the brevity of the talk and without Q&A (but I get it), I just found it lacked the engagement and inspiration I had imagined. Call it silent fireworks, I guess just seeing the “first woman candidate of a major national party” in real life was apparently all there was to it.  I left asking myself, how did that even matter?

Looking back,  I am realizing how this naive disappointment and my subsequent desire for an quieter 4th of July is nothing noble or humble.  In fact, I suspect it illustrates my own privileged denial and fears more than anything.  What’s worse, I know it perpetuates inaction.  With the help of my social networks, I’m impatiently trying to move beyond just thinking on this.  I do see ever deeper glimpses of privilege and the problem that presents to my professional values.  For starters, though, I’m pretty sure my introverted conference fatigue on day three is privileged. I haven’t unpacked many good practical actions in response yet.  But, I must now, knowing that this spark has been ignited for some time.

 

Changing Roles: Mentee to Mentor

Like many of you, I just came back from ALA Annual in Chicago. I had the opportunity to attend some interesting sessions, meet new people, catch up with some old classmates, and see some librarians that I knew in library school.

In my previous ACRLog post, I talked a little about finding your own cohort. I found myself catching up with librarians that were supervisors at UIUC, as well as a classmate. We had a good mix of early career librarian and seasoned librarians. 

It seems like in any setting like that, we end up talking about our jobs, the profession, the job search, and telling each other of the future plans you’d like to accomplish. One of the things that I look forward to the most during conferences is catching up with people, hearing about their future plans, and also asking for advice on something I may have.

Mentorship is something I have touched on a lot during my time with ACRLog and it has gotten me thinking of the mentorship that I have received over the past 4 years. As a student, I received advice and help from not only the librarians supervising me, but the classmates who left and went off to great jobs. I would ask them for feedback on classes I would possibly take, professors I should avoid, and how to go about the job search. Two years later, I found myself being that person to a friend of mine who began library school last year. 

Now, I was the one getting asked for advice on classes, professors, the job hunt.  When did the mentee become the mentor? When I began American University, I was assigned to a mentor. By sheer luck, we were a perfect fit and I will probably continue to ask for her advice for the rest of my career.

I think that we never truly leave the roles of mentee and mentor, no matter our age or amount of time we have been in the profession. My thought or question to other librarians is, how do we manage both roles?

Finalizing the “Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians in Higher Education”

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sara Harrington, Head of Arts and Archives at Ohio University Libraries.

The Task Force is pleased to announce the release of the Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians in Higher Education document. The Task Force revising the “Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators” now called “Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians in Higher Education” announced a call for feedback via ACRLog and the ILI-L listerv. Feedback was submitted via the gmail address set up for this purpose as well as came in-person at the ALA annual poster session presentation in 2015.

The stakeholder community offered robust feedback on the “Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians in Higher Education.”  This input ranged from overarching comments to specific suggestions, and included:

  • Awareness of the fact that hiring institutions will be looking to this document for guidance as position descriptions for teaching librarians are developed
  • Word changes to improve readability and clarity
  • Background information on the quantitative analysis of job posting done before the Task Force’s writing process began
  • Questions and suggestions about the nature and formulation of references to the Framework
  • Questions about how the Task Force engaged in its work
  • Questions and suggestions about the organization and order of the roles
  • Suggestions about the relationships of the roles to each other
  • Suggestions about the revision or expansion of specific strengths statements
  • Suggestions about the relationship of specific strengths to roles and suggestions for additional strengths under particular roles
  • Recommendations to include particular concepts, including innovation, curricula, and hospitality
  • Questions and concerns about the significance of the terminology used in the document, most notably the shift from “instruction librarian” to “teaching librarian” and “skills” to “strengths”

The Task Force made a number of grammatical corrections and clarifications based on feedback, as well as made a range of more substantive changes intended to clarify and strengthen the descriptions of the roles and attendant strengths. The Task Force did retain the terminology “teaching librarian” as well as “roles” and “strengths.”

A Google doc containing feedback can be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1V4XKtoOf-GQ05YwQaDN9Rwnk0LrDXfzuOlC2LjM-pgs/edit?usp=sharing

After the revision process the document was sent to the Instruction Section Executive Committee and Standards Committee for approval.

The “Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians” is now available at: http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/teachinglibrarians

This document will be formally shared via a variety channels in the coming months, including ili-l, the Instruction Section Newsletter, College and Research Libraries News, and other ACRL digital promotion channels of communication.

The Task Force plans to propose an online session for Fall 2017/Winter 2018 on practical applications for implementation of the Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians document including, for example:

  • how a librarian writing position descriptions for teaching librarians might use the language
  • how a coordinator of instruction might plan a professional development session around the document
  • how a librarian might apply the document’s language in collaborative work with a faculty member
  • how several teaching librarians might use the document in their own practice.

The Task Force will be sending out a call for volunteers to participate in the session. Please share your comments for us here, as well.