“Wait a minute Honey, I’m gonna add it up:” Kanopies, DRM, and the Permanence of the Collection

In my new position at the University of Washington I have a long commute, as one would expect, in a large city like Seattle. On this commute I listen to music and read and on the bus last week I reached for an old Midwestern standby, The Violent Femmes only to find that their first album, Violent Femmes (1983) had been removed from streaming platforms and, despite my purchase of the album electronically, had been removed from iTunes for me to listen to. (Reader, don’t worry many of the songs are available on their greatest hits record, aptly titled, Permanent Record.)

The Violent Femmes performing in 2006 (Wikimedia Commons)

In the last few weeks librarians have been confronted in various ways with the difficulties surrounding streaming and licensed materials. Kanopy, one of the largest and most popular streaming services available for library users, was recently and publicly dropped by the New York Public Library (NYPL). How we found this news out, and how it became well known, was a result of Kanopy sending an email to NYPL users who had registered for the service prior to NYPL’s own statement on the issue. In part, their message explained “The New York, Queens, and Brooklyn Public Libraries have decided to discontinue Kanopy’s film streaming service to its patrons…Film as a public resource is a critical part of New York’s culture and communities. We have enjoyed furthering the New York City Libraries’ mission of providing open access to knowledge… [emphasis mine].” 

Kanopy's Letter to Patrons
The Kanopy Letter sent to New York Public Library Patrons

Setting aside for a moment the frankly gross overstep of a vendor directly reaching out to library patrons about library budgetary or mission changes, let’s focus in on the language that Kanopy uses to describe their service: public resource and open access. For those of us who work in academic libraries and have dealt with the ongoing difficulties with providing access to streaming media for our communities, and especially those who are aware of Kanopy’s expensive nature, these kinds of words might make us take a pause.

As a cinema librarian I can say that film is an important part of cultural legacy and should be a public resource and that access to film should be part of any library’s collection mission. Yet, for many of us the way we consume and purchase media has dramatically changed in the past decade, as streaming and licensing digital files have become the norm for the majority of consumers. Kanopy fits into this very nicely. It’s interface looks remarkably similar to any other streaming platform, and invites users to click through its offerings like they would for Netflix, Criterion Channel, and Amazon Prime. It’s hidden cost, as we know, only triggers when a user clicks on a film and watches a certain amount of it. For users it seems free; like the offerings from Netflix that despite the monthly cost allows users to peruse and sample any film in the catalog. For the most part this is how streaming platforms like Kanopy have advertised themselves to our users.


I want to be clear that it is not my intention to pile on to Kanopy, because I truly believe that Kanopy provides a great service for spreading art and indie film to the widest audience. Rather I want us to think about how we are building collections and gathering materials in this new digital age of instant gratification and expectations.

Over the last year and especially in the wake of NYPL’s decision, I have seen many articles touting and promoting the great new “free” hidden service provided by the library. This article from Entertainment Weekly https://ew.com/movies/2019/01/18/free-streaming-service-kanopy/ emphasizes the accessibility and the free cost as these pillars of why Kanopy is amazing for users. And Kanopy for their part makes a pretty compelling case for this kind of access  CEO Olivia Humphrey states “‘We have such a wide audience,’ says Humphrey. ‘We have people who can’t afford an internet connection that go down to the local public library to watch…. That’s a really important demographic for us, [as much as] cinephiles in L.A. and New York.’ Part of serving that audience is finding what Humphrey calls “content gaps” in other streaming platforms and trying to fill the void” This is something that I think is a really wonderful part of Kanopy, is that it allows access to art and indie film through public libraries but at what cost?

Well…we often don’t know what the cost is. The model is certainly different at Academic institutions but one of the cited figures for public libraries is $2 a watch for each film, and some libraries have limited how often users can watch films a month in order to keep these figures down (
https://www.indiewire.com/2019/06/new-york-public-library-drops-kanopy-netflix-alternative-too-expensive-1202153550/ ) . For Academic institutions, Kanopy, and other services like it, are fairly reminiscent of our licensing agreements with our ebooks, and costs can be astronomical. In a Film Quarterly article critiquing the “freeness” of Kanopy, Chris Cagel, a film historian at Temple University, writes “Instead, Kanopy’s platform drives “patron-driven acquisition” in which three viewings (defined as 30 seconds or more of a title) trigger a library license fee per title. (The figures I’ve seen are $150 for a year, $350 for a 3-year license, though the price might vary or change over time.) (see: https://filmquarterly.org/2019/05/03/kanopy-not-just-like-netflix-and-not-free/ )” These costs can quickly go out of control for many libraries, and the larger the population and the more articles about how this “free service” is provided by libraries, complicate this matter. It leads us to the moment where we are forced to cancel subscriptions because our patrons are using it, rather than how we often weed in our collections based on lack of use or usefulness in a general sense.


…the larger expectation for our library within the community is that we are permanent repositories for information (see the issues we generally see when library’s weed their collections) digital media is anything but permanent, and we have to reconcile this fact with our user expectations.

I want to be clear that it is not my intention to pile on to Kanopy, because I truly believe that Kanopy provides a great service for spreading art and indie film to the widest audience. Rather I want us to think about how we are building collections and gathering materials in this new digital age of instant gratification and expectations and how we tell that story to our users. Our users will start to feel the loss of licenses when materials start to leave our collections, just as they are starting to see their own digital materials lost in their personal collections. On the same day that Kanopy and NYPL parted ways it was reported that ebooks purchased through the Microsoft Store would be deleted this month from those who had purchased them. https://gizmodo.com/ebooks-purchased-from-microsoft-will-be-deleted-this-mo-1836005672

Digital items with DRM (digital rights management) are never fully owned, instead they are licensed. You can read more about DRM from the grassroots anti-DRM movement Defective By Design. They even wrote an open letter to libraries https://www.defectivebydesign.org/LetterToLibraries. These objects can be locked to prevent sharing of the material to other users and they can be taken away, like the ebooks or like my precious Violent Femmes album. My institution is well off enough to encourage our subject liaisons to purchase ebooks without DRM (which increases the costs substantially), but many public libraries or smaller academic libraries cannot afford to pay an extra $150 to make sure digital items are the community’s to keep. But the larger expectation for our library within the community is that we are permanent repositories for information (see the issues we generally see when library’s weed their collections) digital media is anything but permanent, and we have to reconcile this fact with our user expectations.

In my own life I have begun collecting materials for myself in non-digital form. This means that I have spent money buying twenty-year-old video games, hard to find DVDs, and vinyl because I am aware of the tenuous grip that we have on our digital files and media. It is essential that libraries work to make our communities aware of the restrictions and the fugitive nature of digital licensed materials and platforms and work with our users to ensure their needs are met in this changing time. NYPL for their part explained their decision to move away from Kanopy stating that “The Library made this decision after a careful and thorough examination of its streaming offerings and priorities. We believe the cost of Kanopy makes it unsustainable for the Library, and that our resources are better utilized purchasing more in-demand collections such as books and e-books (https://www.nypl.org/press/press-release/june-24-2019/statement-about-kanopy

For a city of 8 million people, Kanopy was perhaps unsustainable, but NYPL is also making a point about how they see their collections growing and that is in books and ebooks. For libraries providing for the public good means making these kinds of decisions, and we need helpful partnerships with our vendors to provide this access. While I do not know what was going on in the minds of the directors of NYPL, it sure does not seem like the library system was wanting to wage this battle in the open prior to Kanopy’s patron email. Yet, this has become a moment where librarians can have conversations with patrons about the costs and limitations of streaming and digital materials. I, for one, have received several messages from my faculty colleagues about how the NYPL decision impacts us at the University of Washington, and I tell them that while it won’t change the way we interact with Kanopy (that decision was made long before I came here) but that this is an important teaching moment in our current climate. While the vendor spurred this conversation, I believe that libraries can have an important voice to share in this new media age.

Open Access and the Benevolence of Multinational Corporations

As with much of its history the academic library is at a crossroads. The exploding budgets for journal subscriptions which are necessary to the living and breathing research institution is slowly strangling libraries. This, of course, is obvious and much maligned and talked about. Getting back to the perceived roots of librarianship and the values of intellectual and learning freedom is an increase in open access publishing and learning in the minds of our left-leaning colleagues. The narrative has been pretty simple; open access moves the dissemination of information away from large corporate publishers and into the hands of “radical” faculty members who use their clout and expertise to provide information for the masses.

Gold open access (journals which publish fully open with little or no strings attached) is hardly the norm, and is outpaced in all metrics by Green open access (the self-archiving of pre or post print versions from non-open access journals). Gargouri, Larivière, Gingras, Carr, and Harnad (2010) found that unsurprisingly that subscription-based journals dominated STEM fields for publications, and only about 21% of their articles were available by green open access means. At the time of their study, only ~3% of publications were fully open access, evidence suggests this number has grown but not by much. While this number has surely grown in many fields, currently OA is dominated by Green and the dreaded hybrid journals.

Oftentimes, green OA is only possible with copyright strings that make it difficult for scholars to keep straight the versions, the citations, and the identifiers necessary to comply with author’s agreements. The burden is on the scholar to provide the necessary versions to libraries or other disciplinary repositories for the green model to work. While this can be seen as an open path set forth by the publishers, the hurdles and the arcane rules behind it makes the benevolence more of a blind eye. Some scholars I’ve spoken with do not want work viewed as “unfinished” or “unpolished” out on the internet, which is a far assumption to make. The “pre-print” especially because of its lack of peer-review and editing is very unappealing in some disciplines, while others, with long standing histories in open science have embraced it (looking at you Physics). On a practical side, how do we cite pre-prints and post-prints? I’m a librarian and I’m not actually sure the best action on that. When a journal owns the copyright on the very page numbers, how can I cite a passage I glean from an IR?

This has led me to often wonder whether green OA operates under the assumptions that overworked faculty and librarians will not follow through on the rules and therefore keep the article behind subscription walls.

The present and future of Open relies heavily on the benevolence of corporations to provide avenues for their content to be openly accessible. The success that libraries and scholars have had with green open access is limited by the rules set up by journals as well as the initiative of individual scholars. With many of the larger publishers showing anything from reluctance to open hostility to open access measures, this is a precarious proposition for libraries. Pressure from researchers and the past Presidential administration has made OA an important part of the scholarly communication environment yet we as researchers and as librarians are at the mercy of the large publishers to make this happen and need their partnerships and the continued patiences of our patrons to make this happen. Publishers, knowing the field’s love affair with open, have provided for open access in a pay-to-play model known as “hybrid.”

For many librarians, hybrid journals are seen as double dipping. Institutions are asked to provide extra money on top of growing subscription fees to make locked access articles fully open. APCs, the most common way to pay for these articles to be made open, range from a couple hundred dollars to upwards of $3000 depending on the field. For libraries chaffing under the threat of rising subscription fees this is not something many are willing to pay for no matter what our good intentions are to do. The elitist and competitive nature of publications and tenure requirements reinforce the need to publish in certain journals published expensively by certain publishers. The best journal in your field will allow you to have an open access version with rules that are complicated and impossible to understand or with the low price of several thousands of dollars make it gold open access for you. Wealthier scholars will soon pay the APC rather than jump through the hoops of green open access, if they know such a path even really exists.

What we are left with is a system that is built to perpetuate the subscription crises without any real and easy solution to full open accessibility. We either pay for subscriptions, pay for APCs, or pay for both. International and national boycotts, like the ones striking Western Europe  hurt the bottom line of publishers but harm faculty who need the journals to survive in this current scholarly climate. Pirate websites prey on our log in systems to provide “open” access to every published article but put our institutions, as well as researchers, at risk. While green avenues might be appealing, they are only the most common method of providing open access materials because of their inherently difficult nature. A journal wanting you to pay their hybrid fee would be happy to provide you with many hoops to jump through for a post-print. Relying on faculty to provide the correct versions is like relying on faculty respond to your Friday afternoon emails during the Summer; some will be pros at it but most will ignore you.

For now, we wait with baited breadth for the benevolence of publishers like the cave children who could be saved by Elon Musk’s submarine.

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Empathy, #ThinkTanks, and Grievances

We live in an unprecedented time. Our web connected lives let us go in and out of conversations, of our colleagues’ lives, and, on occasion, into the fray of online controversies. Such a controversy sprung up in our field over the last two weeks. Chris Bourg, Director of Libraries at MIT, was the target of sustained harassment by right wing trolls, pundits, commenters, and, in some cases, librarians. This harassment was prompted by snippets of Dr. Bourg’s keynote from Code4Lib 2018. You can watch Dr. Bourg’s keynote here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MF-B3uVZwkA&list=PLw-ls5JXzeNZc3FZMem-uLCPgiTM9IzKg&t=0s&index=6 You can read Dr. Bourg’s text here: https://chrisbourg.wordpress.com/2018/02/14/for-the-love-of-baby-unicorns-my-code4lib-2018-keynote/

Dr. Bourg explores the problem of diversity in tech, specifically in a library context. She investigated similar ground that Junot Diaz, whom she references in the keynote, did at ALA Midwinter. Within a few weeks of Dr. Bourg’s keynote, conservative and anti-PC forces, sought out and harassed her online in many environments. Like most reactionary responses to anything happening in the field of higher education and “political correctness” the responses narrowed in on a specific grievance rather than deal with the entire keynote on diversity in tech. This narrowing focused on a citation Dr. Bourg used to talk about the way in which white guy nerd cultural artifacts discourage women and minorities from staying in tech jobs.

I will not link to these posts or these comments because they do not warrant being repeated.

It is not surprising at all that some who describes themselves as “butch, lesbian, and feminist” would be the target of sustained harassment. Our culture, especially in the right wing blogosphere and opinion engine, thrives on cutting queer folks down for speaking out against the dominant forces of oppression within our institutions. It also isn’t surprising that publications like The National Review who have found enemies in higher education wouldn’t decline an opportunity to attack the director of one of our best and brightest centers of critical thinking and education. Glancing at The National Review writer’s oeuvre we find all sorts of faults with feminism and gender inclusion in schools, universities, healthcare, yoga, Doritos, and dating apps.

What is surprising and disappointing, given the supposed political inclination of our field, is the response that the keynote saw in our online forums run by and contributed to by Librarians. While it is true that many organizations, Code4Lib and ARL included, came out in support of Dr. Bourg, underneath these organization lies a dark and toxic quagmire of reactionary attacks and harassment.

Many of these toxic social media collectives are well known to us, and the example of Dr. Bourg’s treatment made me think about libraries, social media, and attacks against social justice efforts.

The group formerly known as ALA Think Tank is one such example and the twitter bot LIS Grievances is another. On Think Tank, A user shared a conservative anti-higher education blog post from the College Fix about Dr. Bourg and commented that “This librarian claims to want to non-gender our workspaces but totally genders our likes and dislikes in the attempt!” Which led to dozens of shares and comments some in support, but most in the dog pile against Dr. Bourg. Important in this post by a fellow librarian, and the conservative blogger, is the fact that Dr. Bourg’s butch appearance is threatening to masculine and cis spaces in general, as if her appearance or her sexuality preclude her from discussions on gender in workplaces.

The problem here is not that anyone is not able to disagree about the gendered nature of Star Trek posters (Dr. Bourg is quick to point out that these are stereotypes of male dominated tech spaces), but that our supposedly inclusive profession, one where discussions about Nazis in libraries prompt long winded think pieces about neutrality and librarianship, attacks our own members with gendered, disgusting, and unthoughtful volleys.

Much like the attacks against feminists during #gamergate, reactionary forces use the shield of geek culture to allow themselves the room to attack women with impunity. This explosive reaction was from one line in a 45 minute keynote address, and yet dominated library discussions and led to threats against Bourg’s institution and herself.

On the other hand we have @LIS_Grievances. This is a bot programed to tweet “grievances” with the field with an appropriate profile image of George Constanza (although Frank was much more of the grievance type). When a disgruntled member of our field submits a “grievance” it comes out of the bot’s mouth. Recently these have been only slightly veiled attacks against prominent critical librarians on twitter. Commenting on “self-righteousness,” “blowhards,” and the long-time scourge of the academic library….critical theory.

LIS_Grievances Twitter
“I’ve got a lot of problems with you people and now you’re gonna hear about it”

Groups like Think Tank  and @LIS_Grievances perpetuate the outrage machine that feeds many library focused online harassment moments. More specifically, these two social media engines work to undermine the work done by our colleagues who think critically or imagine the library role as a social justice issue. When they attack, they attack specifically those who are marginalized or work for the marginalized. The toxicity of these is an open secret amongst many librarians.

Sam Popowich wrote a year ago on his github about the LIS_Grievance call out of the “crit lib tribe” http://redlibrarian.github.io/article/2017/03/10/critlib-and-code4lib.html 

Andy Woodworth, on his blog Agnostic, Maybe?, wrote that “In the past, I was someone who said that they would never hire someone who posted in the ALA Think Tank. That’s only a partial truth; it would really depend on what they had to say. It would have to be something so detrimental, so completely outrageous that I would have to question the inherent character of the poster.” https://agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/reconsidering-the-think-tank/

This prompted Hiring Librarians forum on whether or not librarians would hire someone who posted on Think Tank https://hiringlibrarians.com/2014/01/03/further-questions-does-participation-in-the-alathink-tank-facebook-group-hurt-a-candidates-chances/. Should involvement in ALA Think Tank hurt someone’s chances at getting a job? Not automatically, but after these repeated attacks against minorities it should make us all think about what a membership to such a community might be like.

Woodworth challenges the notion that its open format is truly open. Not only does this include time to be involved, the controversies and the fights, even when tame, exclude many members of our library world. This is not a welcoming environment. The example of Dr. Bourg’s harassment is just one, of many, examples. (Here is a Library Microaggressions post referencing the not-too-uncommon Think Tank http://lismicroaggressions.tumblr.com/post/98411107398/from-an-ala-think-tank-thread-on-racism). Woodworth does not go as far as to throw ALA Think Tank out completely because of its problems, but maybe it is time.

The attacks from Think Tank or @LIS_Grievances are not the community at its most rabid, but it is the tip of a larger toxic iceberg. These call out social medias thrive on the dog pile. They thrive on not being kind to others in our profession and we as a profession need to seriously think about how we support our fellow librarians, even if we disagree with them.

As librarians take the lead on neutrality and freedom of speech, we should also take a leading role in the development of digital empathy, especially for those who practice social justice. Psychologists have called society’s uncontrollable rage toward one another online as a symptom of “online disinhibition.” (Konrath, O’Brien, Hsing 2011) The mediated, online, and asynchronous environment does not discourage verbal abuse levied at other “faceless” folks online.

Fostering digital empathy could be a step forward in troubled times. Christopher Terry and Jeff Cain wrote in “The Emerging Issue of Digital Empathy” that digital empathy shows “a targeted awareness that digital communication is powerful and can often have unintended effects on others.” (Terry and Cain, 2016) While this idea could be ripe for academic librarian instruction, especially for younger students, it will be essential that we instill these beliefs in our own interactions online.

While it is easier to paint conservative bloggers with broad brush strokes about their anti-PC fights, it is more difficult to understand the dog pile when it comes from librarians. We should be aware that all of our spaces online are not inclusive or even safe. We are a social justice field, we should fight against those who would malign our “woke” colleagues.

What We Know and What They Know: Scholarly Communication, Usability, and Un-Usability.

Over the past handful of years, a lot of digital ink has been spilled on library responses to #icanhazpdf, SciHub, and, most recently, the #Twitterlibraryloan movement. This hit home in my life because  in recent discussion with students at my University, we found that students told us outright that they used SciHub because of its ability to “get most things.”

How we talk about piracy with our patrons is an important topic for discussion, and places a tremendous amount of emphasis on the ethics of a for-profit publishing model. But it places librarians in a precarious situation defending publishing practices that build barriers to research.

SciHub Pirates, from the Rjiksmuseum in Amsterdam. Schip van de schrijver Jean de Thevenot door zeerovers overmeesterd, Jan Luyken, 1681

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lydia Thorn wrote an excellent piece about teaching professors and students about the importance of legal means of acquisition, pointing to an expectation of immediate access and declining library budgets as culprits in this explosion of piracy. Thorn suggests pointing to the ways in which piracy hurts small presses and not-for-profit publishers and how the library can and should fill these needs. She also suggests that we point to several open models that provide access to materials without the illegality of piracy.

Switching gears slightly, it reminds me of the difficulties I have in working with faculty on online scholarly profiles. Because I administer DigitalCommons@USU, and its profiling system Selected Works, I am often confronted with faculty and students who use the for-profit academic profiling systems (I’m using this difficult phrase to talk about the systems that we all know but I’d rather not name) that are extremely popular across the world and across disciplines.

What brings these two examples and issues together is the way in which we, as librarians, promote ourselves as experts in this realm and how, in a lot of ways, our strategies for promoting our services fall flat. Faculty are not cynical monsters who actively search for ways to be “anti-library,” but make rational choices that fit what they need. They aren’t very often knowledgeable about the inner working of collection development or the serials crisis but they are knowledgeable about what they need right now in their academic careers.

I explain to my faculty, much like Thorn suggests, that the for-profit profiling systems are sometimes deceptive, corporate, and, often times, include illegal materials. While the illegality of the for-profit profiles often reaches faculty, who want to avoid any legal entanglements, the prevalence of these systems does not seem to be waning. The library’s 100% legal version pales in popularity in comparison to the others, who are often much more popular in certain fields. Who am I to tell professors not to choose these options in academic areas where for-profit profiles are more valuable than the library’s resources? Despite my feelings to the contrary, sometimes the for-profit profiles fit certain scholars well.

This brings me back to the issues surrounding SciHub and #Icanhazpdf. The important thing to remember about our users is that they spend much less time than we do worrying about these things. For them, the ease of use of a for-profit profile or a pirated pdf warehouse is an issue of access and not a preference towards profits or not-profits. While each choice we make as actors is political, I do not believe that our faculty who use these platforms are willfully ignorant or disloyal to their institutions, libraries, or librarians. They just want what they want, when they want it.

Carolyn Gardner and Gabriel Gardner speak to this in their College and Research Libraries article from earlier this year:

“Poor usability is also hindering our patrons from gaining access to materials. Librarians need to apply user experience thinking to all our online systems. At our respective libraries, we have to click multiple times just to discover if an item is own. Besides complicated discovery methods, software or holdings errors are possible…Librarians need to view these crowdsourced communities as alternatives that fill a gap that we have yet to meet as opposed to purely underground and shadowy communities.” (CRL February 2017 pg 144)

When the film and television industries felt the crunch from piracy they invested in Netflix and created Hulu, and when the music industry faltered we got Spotify and other streaming platforms. Each of these systems allowed for the quick access to media that users stole to gain access to. Libraries should view SciHub and for-profit profiling systems not as a betrayal but as a call to change and action. If SciHub is easier to use than the library we cannot blame our users if they use it over our complicated systems. If the for-profit profiling systems are superior to the library administered in someways, perhaps that is what our faculty are looking for.

We as librarians shouldn’t  “teach” our patrons to adapt to our obtuse and oftentimes difficult systems but libraries should adapt to the needs of our patrons. I really do not want to be at odds with my colleagues who call for education on these issues, because education is needed on these issues. After all, we are in the business of education. Yet, I believe that, in some ways, we should respect our faculty for what they do know. They know that they need resources to do their job. They should know that the library is often the best source for these resources. They also know that there are some platforms that provide easier access to these materials. I do not begrudge faculty who seek easier paths towards the resources they need to do their jobs, as much as I don’t begrudge undergraduates (or librarians) who use Wikipedia as a first source of quick info. It is a symptom of the age of easy access to materials online, and it is something that we as librarians should learn about what our scholars are looking for.

The second part of this is adpatation. We should not only respect our patron’s decision making processes but we should listen when  faculty seek sleazier means towards library services, and adapt to this need. If the for-profit profiles do something that my profiles don’t, I should think about ways to build my system to reflect those needs. If access to materials needs to be quicker than three clicks through our system, we should work to make it easier to gain legal access to materials. We shouldn’t claim that we know more than they do just because we deal with our obtuse systems on the daily, we should adapt to their needs when they arise.

 

HLS/ACRLog: Tweet your heart out?: Social Media and Expanding Professional Development

Today we welcome a post by Zohra Saulat as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School. Zohra Saulat is a second-year MLIS student and graduate assistant at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She plans on becoming an instructional and reference librarian. Through librarianship, she hopes to do her part in making information accessible. She likes cats, chai, and cardigans, as well as alliteration. She tweets occasionally @zohrasaulat.

From MySpace and Facebook to Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, social media is one the most radical developments in the past fifteen years, altering the way we do things and think about things. Information is everywhere. News is not just available through print newspapers, nor through the publisher’s website, but is disseminated via social media. Thus, discussions are no longer confined to a room, nor limited to face-to-face interactions, but conversations now also occur in digital space. We can share our ideas with others across the world. We are connected now more than ever. The way we communicate, present ourselves, and take in information has expanded thanks to social media.

Whether an individual or an institution, having an online presence is necessary to stay connected in today’s world. Many businesses and organizations have strategically increased their reach to target audiences through various social media platforms. Libraries, too, have been using social media to market their services and resources. Much has been written about how libraries can effectively utilize social media, but there is little literature on another fascinating trend: how librarians use personal social media accounts for professional development and networking.

Each social media platform has been designed for a unique purpose. LinkedIn is considered the typical platform used by a myriad professionals for networking. Librarians, ever the innovative bunch, are taking advantage of another platform to connect with each other professionally. Twitter, in particular, allows for librarians to easily discover other librarians and engage in both professional and personal discussion. Twitter was essentially created to quickly share bits of thoughts and information. A bit like a diary entry, a bit like the Facebook status and a bit like the comments section of an online newspaper, Twitter has naturally emerged as an alternative space to broadcast thoughts and have conversation regarding any and everything from politics, to pop culture, or the personal.

Librarians can find each other using hashtags (#library #librarians etc.). Twitter also offers suggestions on who users might be interested in following based on what they tweet or who they follow. Librarians may promote job postings and other professional opportunities. I’ve seen librarians actively seek out hotel roommates or organize meet-ups for conference trips. Often during LIS conferences, librarians at the conference as well as those who are not attending can follow the dialogue via a hashtag. Organized Twitter chats also take place. #Critlib, short for “critical librarianship” hosts bi-monthly Twitter chats on specific topics within librarianship. Hack Library School also hosted a Twitter chat earlier this year. Our profession is known for being progressive and socially conscious. Being able to discuss important topics and connect with librarians across the country, and around the globe, can potentially bring forth recognition and solutions to the issues we care about as a profession. Additionally, all of this fosters a supportive and inclusive professional support system outside of work.

However, there are a few drawbacks we should be cognizant of when identifying ourselves professionally on a personal and public account. Even though for the most part I have seen excellent use of social media amongst LIS professionals in managing the line between professional and personal, I have come across a few questionable, and even shocking, instances on Twitter. As a general rule of thumb, one should refrain from posting work gossip or any sort of “dirty laundry.” This etiquette may seem to be common sense, but I feel it is worth reiterating: if you are identifying yourself as a professional on a public account, even if it is a personal account, you should act professionally.

As someone who grew up using social media, I recognize that folks of my generation do have a tendency to overshare on social media. When discussing this issue with a few of my colleagues, some shared that they make a conscious decision to filter what they post: nothing too partisan, nothing too negative or whine-y. This may not be ideal to some, but the reality is that there can be consequences. Employers do look through social media accounts of prospective employees. I have even heard of an instance or two where seemingly qualified candidates were not offered interviews because they did not seem to be an “institutional fit.” Before even getting a chance to speak with the hiring committee, these candidates were eliminated based on an impression. This may be problematic or unfair, but it is the reality: Whether the impression is based off a few tweets or minimal interaction through in-person professional collaboration, it is similar.

Social media is an extension of ourselves. The way we post on social media undoubtedly imparts an impression to whoever sees it, whether an employer or an acquaintance. From our default picture, to our header image, our bio; however we chose to represent ourselves on social media may not necessarily be the full picture of who we are and can unfortunately be taken out of context.

This is not to say we cannot be political or voice our opinions, we just need to be conscious of how we represent ourselves and our place of employment. Many librarians issue a disclaimer in their Twitter bio that their tweets do not represent their employer. It can be easy to rant on social media. If you find yourself needing to vent about work or the job hunt that is perfectly acceptable, just don’t do it on public social media accounts where it can come back to bite you. If anything, you want to make yourself look good (i.e. employable) on social media; so take advantage of these platforms to highlight your achievements. Ultimately, as the name implies, as information professionals, we should be professional and be able to expertly manage information, including our own.

Though not exactly created for networking, Twitter has proven a great tool for professional development, especially for librarians. This post is merely intended to be exploratory. It will be interesting to see studies on how librarians can effectively use Twitter for professional development. However by then, I am sure there will be another tool or technology that librarians will be taking over.

Many thanks to ACRLog and Hack Library School for this opportunity.