We are still in the winter intersession at the college where I work, and I’m trying to use some of these quieter January days to work on projects that take a bit more focus (though I admit that focus is definitely a challenge right now with so much Covid uncertainty). I’m working with several colleagues across my university on plans for a pilot mentoring initiative, which has got me reading about and thinking about mentoring in all its forms — formal and informal, peer and nonpeer, the roles of mentor and mentee — more than usual.
When I first started at the college where I work almost 14 (!) years ago as Head of Instruction, there was a formal mentoring program for new faculty in the Library and other departments. I participated in that during my first year — I was paired for a few lunches and meetings with a tenured faculty member in another department, and it was useful to learn from her perspectives on the college. While the college no longer has the same formal mentoring program, a new faculty orientation program has been developed that I think meets many of the same mentoring goals. Faculty in the Library and other departments move through a daylong orientation in late summer, and come back together for several additional meetings with more experienced faculty throughout their first year. This programming helps new faculty learn more about the expectations for their work, including service and scholarship, and also helps build a cohort of faculty from different departments in the college, which I think is especially valuable for Library faculty.
In my own work in the Library as a supervisor, mentoring is a huge component of my job and something that I really enjoy. We don’t have a formal mentoring program in the library, in part because there are many folx in our library who are a department of one, and it’s proven more useful for librarians in those roles to connect with colleagues at the other libraries in our consortial university who do similar work. My colleagues and I all engage in informal peer mentoring — I’ve written a bit in the past on the ways we try to support library faculty research and scholarship — and we discuss service opportunities (and challenges) both formally during my meetings with colleagues and informally in department meetings or otherwise. I try to plan a meeting at least once a year to check in and see where folx are at in their mentoring wants and needs, and to talk about changes we might make to help meet them.
As I draft these plans for the pilot mentoring initiative I’ve also been paying more attention to myself as a mentee or potential mentee. At this point in my career there seems to be lots of overlap between mentoring and networking (maybe that Venn diagram is trending toward a circle?). I have definitely appreciated colleagues in leadership roles who’ve discussed their and my careers with me, discussions that do have a mentoring feel to them. And while I admit that Twitter’s been more challenging than usual for me recently (see above re: Covid uncertainty), as a longtime Twitter user I’m so appreciative of Library Twitter which I think can also allow for informal mentoring (and mentee-ing). I try to be available on Twitter in that way, especially when jobs are posted at my college or university.
I’m excited about the pilot mentoring program my colleagues and I are planning, and am looking forward to moving it forward this semester. Have you had good (or even not so good) experiences as a mentor or mentee? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had a month of especially active blogging in January and early February this year here at ACRLog. In addition to the regularly scheduled posts from Erin and Lindsay in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series, there were also great posts about the upcoming Symposium on LIS Education from Sarah, and on better communicating our ideas to different audiences from Jennifer.
Since the Framework was scheduled to be discussed and voted on at Midwinter at the end of January, the timing of this flurry of posts isn’t surprising. These Framework (and related) posts tackled big topics and issues, issues that academic and other librarians have been discussing in many venues. So I have to admit that I was surprised to see that there was practically no discussion of these posts here on ACRLog. One person left a comment on the threshold concepts post sharing a citation, and there were a couple of pingbacks from other blogs around the web linking to these posts.
The absence of discussion here on ACRLog seems even more remarkable given the presence of discussion in other venues. I’m active on Twitter and there have been many, many discussions about the IL Framework as a replacement for (or supplement to) the Standards for months now. Whenever a post is published on ACRLog it’s tweeted out automatically, and these Framework posts sparked many a 140 character response. I’m not on any listservs right now (I know, I know, somewhat scandalous for a librarian), and I’m also not on Facebook, but from what I gather there was discussion of these posts on various listservs and FB too.
Even in our post-Andrew Sullivan era, I still read plenty of real live, not-dead-yet blogs — indeed, trying to keep up with my RSS reader is sometimes a challenge. But it’s been interesting to see the comments, the conversations, move elsewhere on the internet lately. Not that our ACRLog comments have been totally silent, but more often than not I login to find that the comment approval page is pretty quiet. This is despite some of the obvious advantages to blog comments over other options (though as anyone who’s ever encountered a troll can attest, there are disadvantages too). While Twitter can offer the opportunity to immediately engage with folks over a topic or issue — and there are many, many librarians on Twitter — the 140 character limit for tweets can often feel constraining when the topic or issue is large or complex. Listservs allow for longer-form responses, but of course are limited to those who subscribe to them; as a walled-garden, Facebook also suffers from audience exclusivity.
All of which has me wondering if there’s a way to combine these different media to enable interested folks to participate in the conversation using whichever platform they prefer. I know there are plugins out there that can pull media streams together, but can these be combined in a way that’s less about displaying information and more about encouraging discussion? Or is that too much work to solve a problem that’s not really a problem? Should we be concerned that different conversations about the same topics in librarianship are happening in different online places, perhaps with little crossover?
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments. 🙂
ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sarah Crissinger, graduate student in library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Many LIS practitioners are probably already familiar with this story, but here’s a quick recap just in case:
In October 2013, Steven Salaita accepted a tenure-track position within the American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He subsequently quit his job and made arrangements to uproot his family from their home in Virginia. On August 1, 2014, Chancellor Phyllis Wise revoked his offer—an offer which had been decided upon by faculty within the American Indian Studies program—stating that she would not be passing along his recommendation to the Board of Trustees. Wise cited Dr. Salaita’s tweets as the impetus for utilizing this loophole, stating that “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them” would not be tolerated. Later, it was revealed that Wise was in close contact with donors that had differing views from Dr. Salatia’s.
These actions have created a “catastrophe” for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for several reasons. First, Wise made a conscious decision not to engage in a discourse about Dr. Salaita’s viewpoint or even the format he chose to express it in, but instead punished him for voicing his opinion by compromising his livelihood. These actions don’t seem to be in-step with the values of the academy. UIUC also exhibited no real due process. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has held that Illinois failed to demonstrate cause without holding any hearings or even providing proper notification.
Most importantly, UIUC’s actions are an egregious violation of academic freedom. But I will assume that I don’t have to tell LIS professionals (who are embedded in academia!) the reasons why. LIS scholars, practitioners, and students have already recognized this violation of intellectual freedom and have agreed to boycott Illinois. In addition, ACRL’s Women and Gender Studies Section has facilitated a discussion about the events on UIUC’s campus. I want to instead challenge librarians to think about Dr. Salaita’s unique case in a new way.
We have reached a pivotal moment in the academy. “Scholarly” communication is being redefined before our very eyes. Next month, I will be involved (at UIUC nonetheless) with an Online Scholarly Presence Symposium, hosted by the library. We will be encouraging students to embrace social media, blogs, repositories, and other public outlets for their scholarship and ideas. I currently teach a workshop about altmetrics for graduate students and faculty at UIUC. It is centered on the idea that scholarly impact isn’t as simple as citation counts; we explore impact by looking at traditional metrics alongside alternative metrics that account for public presence.
The list goes on and on. Scholars everywhere are writing about social media’s impact on their work. Regardless of if their blog or their Twitter handle is on their dossier (I’m guessing it’s not), it still impacts their work. Roopika Rasam, a postcolonial scholar and digital humanist, recently posted an entry on her blog entitled A Love Letter to Twitter, where she stated:
Twitter has opened up the contours of the academy, widening my communities within it and linking me to the world beyond it. By using Twitter as a professional tool, I have become a person committed to working in public. I have learned more about genre, rhetoric, and audience than I ever did in college or graduate school. Ideas for articles, projects, and books germinated on Twitter. Twitter is proto-scholarship; you won’t find it in my tenure file but it’s responsible for everything in it.
Katherine Clancy, an anthropologist, recently wrote a response to a satirically proposed metric, the K-Index. Neil Hall joked that a K-Index (or, you guessed it, a Kardashian Index) would in essence gauge a scholar’s public profile against their “actual” publications by dividing their Twitter followers by their number of scientific publications. Clancy’s response? She finds that this is unfair representation that makes an either/or dichotomy; the scholars who might have a higher K-Index are the ones that are “younger, less white, and less male.” She asserts:
So yes, he’s punching down, and that makes it not funny. There is no dark corner of academic metrics to expose when the people you’re mocking are the ones least well positioned to respond. I would never have gotten that paper published – in a journal with an impact factor of 10.5, no less – because I am one of ones whose profile is built on “shaky foundations.”
All I can do… is blog about it.
Ithaka S+R’s 2012 report entitled Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians found that many historians use their blogs to “test the waters” for new scholarship. Sometimes they even present findings because, as one respondent stated, “I have a book. Maybe forty people have cracked the spine. But, the blog has tremendous readership.” However, the report also finds that changes in disciplinary culture and T&P practices are incremental at best. Only by adapting these practices to new modes of communication and embracing junior faculty that implement them will any real change come to fruition.
Many people argue that “tweets are not the same as classroom teaching (or scholarly writing),” and, to some extent, I agree. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that in today’s academic environment, the two are inadvertently conflated. A scholar’s online presence—especially when it is related to their academic niche—is undeniably linked to that scholarship, and more broadly the scholar themself. Again, leaders interested in scholarly communication are attempting to change the tenure environment so that digital work and social media presence are measured and a more of a portfolio model is implemented. So the current question is, how can Dr. Salaita’s tweets be used to jeopardize his academic career but cannot be used to reflect his academic impact or scholarly success?
I am, of course, illustrating a point that applies more broadly to all scholars. Dr. Salaita’s case has opened a can of worms for academics everywhere. Where is the line between personal and professional, if there is such a thing? What is “fair game” for interpretation or critique? How can we facilitate conversation if we’re fearful of repercussions?
My intention is not to suggest a scenario of big-brother institutions that track down scholars. I think that instead we should recognize alternative forms of scholarship so that they are more fully protected. The AAUP’s report on Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications states that electronic communication does not “warrant any relaxation of the rigorous precepts of academic freedom”. It calls for surveillance to end and for faculty to be involved in IT decisions concerning privacy and academic freedom. It asserts that intramural and extramural communication or “speech outside or inside the university’s walls” is irrelevant in the world of electronic communication.
The report says that it’s a no-brainer if the social media outlet isn’t linked to the scholar’s academic work; personal tweets, for example about political views, are protected. But what about when politics are central to scholarship? As an aspiring librarian, I find myself standing up for what I believe in (and what my profession believes in) not only in my daily interactions but also in my social media presence. There are a whole host of professionals that would probably agree—political scientists, scholars of medicine, etc., etc. Not everyone will agree with everyone else’s methods, conclusions, values, or even presentation! There is no form of scholarship that is neutral. But that’s the beauty of it, right? The academy allows us to converse with each other (aren’t we saying that scholarship is a conversation these days?), even if we disagree.
In many ways, Dr. Salaita’s case is an abnormal one. But it is also a case that has the ability to set precedence, not only in the discussion of social media and academic freedom but also in the conversation about changing scholarly practices. I once had a panel of deans come into one of my classes and assert that scholarship, as a practice, is less about tenure and the vetting processes attached to it and more about changing the world, advancing knowledge, and making a direct impact on the city, state, or nation it is published in. That’s a lofty assertion but it’s one I’d challenge us as librarians and scholars to think more critically about. Scholarship can be communicated in endless formats, often depending on what is most conducive to the audience and topic. It’s time to protect and acknowledge work that looks different than “traditional” scholarship. If we don’t, we risk losing creative and innovative faculty and an engaging conversation that could change the world we live in.
To support Dr. Salaita and the Department of American Indians Studies, please join the students, faculty, and alumni of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at UIUC in signing this open letter.