All posts by Maura Smale

About Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York.

Here We Go Again: Net Neutrality

With so much in the news since the new federal administration took office earlier this year it’s easy to be overwhelmed — I certainly have been, especially in recent weeks. So you might have missed the announcement that the Federal Communications Committee has proposed to repeal regulations on commercial internet providers that guarantee net neutrality. Net neutrality is an admittedly somewhat clunky term that requires companies that sell internet access to treat all content equally. As a concept it’s a bit easier to explain using the negative example: if net neutrality ended, companies like Verizon and Comcast could force consumers to pay different rates for different kinds of content, for example, high-bandwidth content like streaming video (think YouTube or Netflix) could be more expensive than content that doesn’t require as much bandwidth. Rolling back net neutrality could make it much more challenging for many of us to access the internet.

The FCC last proposed changing these regulations in 2014, at which point John Jackson wrote a concise overview — Keeping Up With…Net Neutrality — on ACRL’s website, which is a good place to start to learn more. Margaret Heller’s thorough post on the ACRL TechConnect blog is also a great read; in What Should Academic Librarians Know about Net Neutrality? she offers a clear explanation of how content gets from content providers via internet service providers to us as consumers. And how does this affect us as librarians? Content that our communities need could be made more difficult and expensive to access, costs that neither our communities nor our libraries may be able to bear. Even more troubling to consider are possible effects on information freedom and free speech, since as Jackson notes

The loss of net neutrality would add additional layers of economic influence on the structure of the web.

The FCC’s previous efforts to roll back net neutrality were met with a strong campaign from consumers and content providers that was ultimately successful. Both ALA and ACRL issued a statement late last month opposing the FCC’s plans. The FCC was accepting public comments on the proposal, which is scheduled to be reviewed at its open meeting on May 18th, but as of May 12th has entered a “sunshine agenda period” and is not currently accepting comments. But don’t despair — the good folks at the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) are making it easy for you to register your opinions about net neutrality. Visit their Dear FCC site to add your comment, which will be submitted by the EFF when the comment period reopens.

Privacy and Academic Libraries Right Now

I have a kid in high school whom I’ve often jokingly referred to as my in-house research subject. I’ve been interested to observe and think about the ways that he accesses information for school and non-school reasons, especially as he gets closer to the age of many of the students who use the library where I work. When he started high school I was initially surprised by the number of educational technology products he was required to use. Much of my grumbling around these systems stems from my concern that some of his classmates likely don’t have good access to computers or the internet at home, and that use of these systems puts a strain on some kids to find time to use the school or public libraries to do their homework. But lately I’ve also been concerned about the number of products my kid has to use, which is only growing. Beyond the very real password management considerations, I’m also increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of information these systems collect about him.

That’s one reason I’m looking forward to digging in to the new EFF report Spying on Students: School-Issued Devices and Student Privacy. From the executive summary of the report:

Throughout EFF’s investigation over the past two years, we have found that educational technology services often collect far more information on kids than is necessary and store this information indefinitely. This privacy-implicating information goes beyond personally identifying information (PII) like name and date of birth, and can include browsing history, search terms, location data, contact lists, and behavioral information. Some programs upload this student data to the cloud automatically and by default. All of this often happens without the awareness or consent of students and their families.

Yes, this report covers only K-12 schooling, but it’s of relevance to us in college and university libraries, too, and not only because we’ll be seeing many of those students at our institutions soon. The proliferation of learning analytics across campuses has been fueled by their highly-touted potential for using institutional student data to help them stay on track, ultimately increasing student retention and graduation rates. Libraries (and the vendors we do business with) have data about our patrons, too — how can we ensure that students’ privacy is protected when we (or other college offices) use that data?

A recent preprint of an article by Kyle M. L. Jones and Dorothea Salo — Learning Analytics and the Academic Library: Professional Ethics Commitments at a Crossroads — does a fantastic, thorough job of walking us through these issues. From the abstract:

[T]he authors address how learning analytics implicates professional commitments to promote intellectual freedom; protect patron privacy and confidentiality; and balance intellectual property interests between library users, their institution, and content creators and vendors. The authors recommend that librarians should embed their ethical positions in technological designs, practices, and governance mechanisms.

Beyond reading this report and preprint, what can we do to learn more and help protect our patrons’ privacy (and our own)? Keeping up with these issues is a good first step. For starters, I recommend the terrific work of education technology journalist Audrey Watters published on her Hack Education blog. Her longer pieces and transripts of her presentations go in depth on many privacy-related topics, and her Hack Education Weekly News tracks edtech across a huge range of publications and outlets.

We can also work to audit our own internal library systems and practices, and to push the vendors we work with to protect patron privacy. Further, we can increase digital privacy awareness among ourselves, our coworkers, and our patrons. At the library where I work we hosted a data privacy training for all library faculty and staff a few months ago, run by some of the smart folks from the Data Privacy Project. They covered digital privacy protection for us as technology users as well as ways that we can shore up privacy protections in the library. Their presentation materials are all available on their website, too, for any library to use to offer digital privacy workshops for their community; my college’s library is running one next week during Choose Privacy Week.

Out of Office (For the Semester)

This semester I’m on sabbatical from the library. At my university librarians are faculty and eligible for research leaves, and I’m grateful to have been granted one for the spring and early summer. I’m using the time to work on a few writing projects with collaborators and I’ve also started a new research project. I’ll be interviewing students at my urban, public, commuter university on their practices around their course reading, hoping to learn about the ways they get access to their course materials and fit reading into their schedules. So far it’s been fascinating to speak with students about their reading, and I’m looking forward to analyzing the interview data as well.

While I knew that the routine of sabbatical would be different than my usual library director routine, I’ve been a bit surprised at how different it is. My usual schedule in the library is heavy on meetings; on sabbatical most of my meetings are with…myself. (Full disclosure: also sometimes with my cats.) I haven’t had this much autonomy over my own time since graduate school and it’s taken a bit of getting used to. The first couple of weeks were odd — I hadn’t realized how much I relied on the predictability of my usual schedule to frame my days. Now that I’m in the interview stage of my project I have a bit less flexibility, and I’m getting more settled into my new routines.

It’s been interesting to work on library (and higher ed)-related research and writing full-time while not physically working in the library (or at the college). Most of my research interests focus on practice, and the distinction between my own library practice and research is not usually as separate as it as been this semester. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that. I appreciate the uninterrupted time for reading and writing and thinking, but it feels somewhat strange not to be in the library at all.

Once my student interviews finish I’ll be buckling down for transcription, analysis, and writing, and continuing work on my other projects too. My plan is to schedule worksessions in libraries around the city, public libraries as well as those at the colleges in my university. In addition to the self-imposition of a new routine to structure my days, I’m also looking forward to the opportunities to visit lots of different libraries and to experience them the way patrons do.

I’m curious to hear from other librarians who’ve taken sabbatical leaves. How’d it go? What did you find surprising (or frustrating)? Drop me a line in the comments.

Library (and Library-relevant) Events and the Inauguration

The U.S. Presidential Inauguration is scheduled for tomorrow, and many organizations have planned programming, displays, and other ways to engage their communities in conversations around issues raised since the election and during the transition. At my college and university we’re still in our winter intersession — our Spring semester doesn’t begin until the end of the month — and we don’t have any events planned at my library, though I’m enjoying the Post-election Resource Guide zine that my CUNY colleagues at Hunter College Library put together. I found myself wondering what academic (and other) library folks are up to this week, and after a bit of research found a few library and library-adjacent events I thought I’d share.

While not specifically happening in academic libraries, the Writer’s Resist event last Saturday January 15th at the iconic 42nd street location of the New York Public Library felt near and dear to my librarian and academic heart. Sponsored by PEN America, a literary and human rights organization, this literary rally featured readings by prominent writers and a pledge by PEN members and participants to defend the First Amendment. There are terrific photos on Twitter — including gorgeous signage featuring author portraits and quotes — under the hashtag #LouderTogether. And closer to my college in Brooklyn, the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library held a Pre-Inaguration Weekend Sign-Making Workshop last night. Brooklynites (and other local folks) of all political persuasions were invited to come to the library to use art supplies and button makers to exercise our First Amendment rights to free expression.

Many academic librarians are already back to the new semester this week and are planning programming in conjunction with inauguration-related events at their colleges or universities. At American University in Washington, D.C., Communication Librarian Derrick Jefferson participated yesterday in Teach, Organize, Engage: A Forum on Contemporary Politics and the Future. This full-day teach-in at the university was jointly sponsored by AU’s student, faculty, and staff governance bodies, and featured presentations about getting to the current moment in the U.S. as well as other domestic and international issues. The session Derrick presented — “Fact Checking and Communication in the ‘Post-Truth’ Era” — sounds like it was a great example of the critical information literacy expertise that academic librarians can bring to these conversations on campus, both formal and informal.

I also heard from John Jackson, Outreach & Communications Librarian, and Marie Kennedy, Serials and Electronic Resources Librarian, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles about a half-day teach-in at their campus on Friday, the day of the inauguration. The LMU teach-in starts with a viewing of the inauguration and then breaks out into various smaller sessions, during which librarians will offer four sessions of a workshop on critically analyzing news sources called “Keepin’ It Real: Tips & Strategies for Evaluating Fake News.” The workshop will cover misleading news sources like misinformation, disinformation, click-bait, and propaganda, among others. I think holding this workshop right after the inauguration will provide students with a great opportunity to discuss any questions they have about speeches and media from the inauguration while it’s still fresh in their minds.

Is your library doing any programming or displays for the inauguration this week, or continuing to discuss the transition to the new administration in the future? Let us know in the comments.

Does this post make me look vulnerable? Vulnerability and Leadership

ACRLog welcomes guest co-author Michelle Millet, Library Director at John Carroll University.

Maura:

As so often happens to me, the idea for this post began with a conversation on Twitter.

When I read Michelle’s tweet my first thought was about a recent conversation I had during a meeting of our Library Appointments Committee. During our appointments meeting I remarked that it can sometimes be challenging for us tenured folks to remember how vulnerable it can feel to be untenured, because we feel so much more secure once tenure’s been granted. I was still untenured when I became a director two and a half years ago; my first year as Chief Librarian was my tenure vote year. I shared with the committee that I too felt vulnerable in my last untenured year. Even though I knew intellectually that my tenure was highly likely, since I’d been appointed Chief Librarian, there was a small but persistent nagging doubt until my tenure was actually approved. I almost surprised myself by sharing that in our committee meeting, but it seemed important to our discussion to remind ourselves how our untenured colleagues might feel, even though I felt somewhat vulnerable to say it.

Michelle:

I feel vulnerable, as a Director, about showing emotions now that I’m a Director. It’s hard when you think you’re doing your best in a job but you don’t think people like you. But, once you’re the Director, you have to assume that people at times will not agree with you or even like you, but you have to get over it. Emotion is something that we’re shamed for. “Don’t be such a girl. Don’t be so emotional,” are things that a lot of women have heard for a long time. So, I hide my emotion at work, lest I seem too vulnerable. Is there a too vulnerable?

If I had to pinpoint a specific time when I felt extremely vulnerable, even with tenure, even with a supportive supervisor, it was when an article about gender and leadership I wrote with a colleague was published. As soon as it “hit” online, I literally become sick to my stomach and thought I would get fired. Nothing in that article was untrue. Gender and leadership is a problem in libraries. Leadership, and assumptions about leaders, are very gendered everywhere. My experiences noted in the article were true, yet vague enough not to embarrass an individual person. Yet they were also real enough to probably cause pause. But, I got through it. Colleagues on campus were positive about it. Most never said a word.

Maura:

As Michelle and I talked more on Twitter and email, we realized that we wanted to explore our thoughts about vulnerability in leadership. It probably speaks volumes to share that it’s taken us a long time from our initial brainstorming (“hey, let’s write a post about this!”) to get to writing and publishing this post. Vulnerability can be challenging and scary.

Michelle:

We probably struggle everyday as leaders who believe that vulnerability is a positive characteristic, but I think very strongly there is value for our colleagues and staff in this. I want my staff to know that I am a real person, with real, complicated emotions and that I feel vulnerable, too. I believe that showing vulnerability is a key to feminist leadership. I am vulnerable, like you, and I see us as all moving towards a collective goal.

But there’s a push-pull. There is always is, for women especially. I want to seem human and show that I’m here to lead us all to work together, but I don’t want that appeal for collaboration and unity to come across as weak. I want to show my vulnerability, but not seem as too soft. I want to be comfortable showing my vulnerabilities, but not have that lead to doing all of the emotional labor at work.

Maura:

I agree that showing our vulnerability as leaders at work can be positive — I hope it makes me more approachable to my colleagues and emphasizes our shared humanity. I also hope it encourages collaboration, especially in a smaller library with a relatively flat organizational structure like where I work, as we all work together towards our common goal of making the library the best it can be for our college community. However, I sometimes feel that it can be difficult to balance confidence and vulnerability. I don’t have all the answers — no one does. And that’s okay. Part of being a leader is encouraging an environment where it feels safe to ask questions, and working together to figure out answers and solutions.

Michelle:

There’s also our work to do outside of the library and this group is one we often feel most vulnerable with. They are other Deans, Assistant Vice Presidents, Provosts, and the like. Do we show them the same vulnerabilities? Or do we have more of a facade and confidence?

Working on this post made me think about how I’ve reacted to other women leaders I know during times when they’ve been extremely vulnerable in front of me. It’s uncomfortable. You don’t know how to react at first. But then you find some empathy.

Maura:

I’ve had similar concerns about being vulnerable as a leader in public. Twitter (the only social media platform I use) is a perfect example. I want to be a real person on Twitter, especially since I interact with friends (and occasionally family) there. But I’m also an experienced professional and scholar, and I want that to be evident as well. I think there’s value in being that real person on Twitter, though in many ways that makes me feel more vulnerable than if I had a strictly professional persona — those typically feel very corporate to me. That said, I absolutely think more about what I tweet than I did before I was a director, and I do consider my vulnerability more than I did before, too.

Michelle:

As an administrator, I feel like I am vulnerable within my librarian community. Am I still a real librarian? I feel vulnerable in my teaching, because I’m not still “in the trenches” as much. I feel vulnerable in leadership positions within my profession because I’m “too real or too honest” and not just some talking head that represents my school.

Maura:

Over the course of writing this post it’s become clear just how meta the topic of vulnerability in leadership can be for library directors. Both Michelle and I struggled with the writing, feeling vulnerable in this act of discussing vulnerability. Ultimately we found many similarities in our individual experiences with vulnerability as leaders, and we both strongly feel that vulnerability is an important part of our leadership roles.

We’re interested to hear about your experiences with vulnerability, both in your own leadership work and in your libraries. Drop us a line in the comments.