My remarks to the TPL Board

Today I spoke to the TPL board about the decision to give a platform to a transphobe. Spoiler alert: I’m not a supporter of this decision. Here are my remarks.

Good evening. I thank the board for this audience.

My name is Jane Schmidt and I am an academic librarian, a passionate public library advocate, and together with my son, a dedicated user of the Toronto Public Library. We love the library. And so, in that spirit, I am here tonight to express my sadness and disappointment with the way the room booking for an event featuring a notorious transphobe has evolved.

In 2017, when the last room rental controversy took place, I felt differently. In that instance, I understood that the individuals booking that room identified that they were holding a memorial and that the library had no reason to believe that it would be an event that would incite hate speech. Of course, once it was revealed that this was a neo-Nazi gathering, the reaction was swift in the so-called court of public opinion. I was personally uncomfortable with the decision to let it carry on, but I understood the practical aspects of the situation and agreed that within the scope of the policy at the time; the library made the choice that it did based on the information it had about the purpose of the event.

However, the policy revision that followed the event gave me hope. From the December 11, 2017 board report:

The main objectives of the room booking policy are to provide equitable access to services and to maintain a welcoming and supportive environment free from discrimination and harassment. To reflect this, the purpose statement of the policy has been strengthened and the sections on denial of use contain explicit wording forbidding discrimination, contempt or hatred…

I genuinely believed that Section 4.4 of the revised policy would provide TPL with more latitude to deny further bookings that would have the effect of promoting discrimination or hatred.

The event under discussion is called “Gender Identity: What does It Mean for Society, the Law and Women?” and its stated purpose is to have “To have an educational and open discussion on the concept of gender identity and its legislation ramifications on women in Canada.” Indeed, on its face, this purpose seems to fall within the limits of the policy. It is curious that the only named speaker has no legal background and that there are no trans voices in that discussion; the spirit of open debate that the library espouses would, on the surface, appear to be missing here, but I digress. Given that we’ve seen this very similar scenario play out already at the Vancouver Public Library earlier this year, TPL had an opportunity to take in further context and potentially make a different decision. Management insists that they viewed the footage of the event and while they did not agree with the content, they found that it did not amount to hate speech.

I myself watched footage of the event. It was difficult to endure. Far from open debate, this was a platform for transphobes to expound their beliefs, free from the shackles of fact or opposing viewpoints. Meghan Murphy spent the first several minutes of her time smugly ripping the Vancouver Public Library to shreds for how they handled the booking and then went on to offer several definitions of her beliefs, including the absurd assertion that “we” don’t have a definition or understanding of “transgender”. This is not debate. This is not discourse. This is a denial of the existence of gender identity. She makes that abundantly clear. And her audience just laps it up. Eventually, I had to turn it off because I couldn’t stomach the slur-filled comments on the video. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that these words are, at the very least spreading misinformation, and at worst, spreading hate.

And so, here we are. TPL management insists that they have no reason to believe that this event will promote hatred. Vickery Bowles went so far as to assert the only circumstance in which TPL would cancel a booking is if a speaker had been charged with a hate crime.

And so I ask the question – why isn’t that in the revised policy? What was the point of making the revision if there was no clear intent to enforce it?

Trans rights are human rights. Trans women are women. Meghan Murphy and her ilk make no secret that they seek to deny the human rights of trans women, and go so far as to deny their very existence in their insistence that gender identity can be written off as “trans ideology”. Where in this conversation are trans voices?

As a librarian, I understand the significance of intellectual freedom. I understand its place in a democracy. But I stand here today to tell the board and everyone else who is here that there are a good number of librarians and library workers who believe that intellectual freedom must not trump the lives of real people. Ideology must never come before people and that is exactly the message that TPL is sending to the queer and trans community right now.

The discourse of intellectual freedom and the library’s role in protecting it is ripe for debate. I feel sad because I keep thinking of all of the rich conversations we could be having – alongside our community partners – about widening our understanding of intellectual freedom and social responsibility; about an interpretation of intellectual freedom with an anti-oppressive and trauma-informed lense. TPL had an opportunity to be a leader in that conversation when they were faced with this event. Instead, it has turned into a crusade for freedom of speech above all else being propped up by a global network of TERFs and alt-right agitators. Strange bedfellows indeed.

History will judge this moment. So much damage has already been done. I don’t see how TPL comes back from this. I implore the board to set a course correction and begin the work to repair the relationships that this decision has damaged. Please make the right and bold choice to not give platform to transphobia and cancel this event.

Thank you.

In which I step off the ladder

In September 2018, I stepped in to the role of Interim Associate Chief Librarian to cover a maternity leave. Leading up to this move, I had waffled about it for months. I was very happy in the portfolio I was in, though feeling guilty thinking that it was a lighter load than I could handle. It became clear that it was a challenging opportunity to try on something new, and see for myself if it was right for my future.

It’s been a couple of weeks since returning to my liaison portfolio and, dear reader, I cannot say how much of a relief it is to be back. I learned a lot while in administration;  some highlights and lowlights:

It’s a lot of work.

Like, a LOT. Most of my weeks felt like marathons. By the time the weekend came along, all I wanted to do was hide at home with my family for two days. I didn’t even want to socialize. Sometimes, it was overwhelming – some days were booked solid with back to back meetings, and having a lunch break was something to be grateful for. A lot of the meetings were difficult. Sometimes political, sometimes strategic and sometimes just delivering bad news or being the face of difficult change. When you are in administration, you have to keep your cool. Those who know me well, know this is not something I excel at. Sometimes I failed and my frustration would spill over and I would agonize over it for days. It aged me. I mean, this also happens to me outside of this experience, but it just came up WAY more often!

NB: I did not have to travel for this job, but I got to see my boss’ travel schedule up close and personal. It was BANANAS. I have no idea how she manages, but she does, and mostly without breaking a sweat. Mad respect.

And part of me really liked that.

The hectic schedule, the near constant need to put out a fire, the mini-crises that would pop out of nowhere, the unpredictability of it all… part of me was totally in my element and thriving. It sparked an inner workaholic that I normally work very hard to deny. I don’t want to be that person. I need to not be that person.

You have the power to effect (some) change.

So, yes … it was a lot of work. But a lot of it was important work that led to really great outcomes. I was the chair of the appointments committee and had the great fortune to lead THREE faculty searches. THREE! The recruitment process was an honour and a delight. There are so many talented and brilliant librarians out there. Having the privilege of reading their applications and seeing such passion for the profession was most certainly the best part of this job. Of course, with the hiring also comes the letting people down gently part, but I tried to do it in a way that was empathetic and encouraging.

I also felt empowered to just go ahead and dive into new initiatives. A few of us took a course on libraries and homelessness to learn about how we could provide a more welcoming atmosphere for everyone; I got the green light to start up the White Fragility Book Club; I got to work with the amazing folks at Positive Space to strengthen the library’s role as an inclusive space for queer visibility and programming; I got to be a part of finalizing our new liaison model and seeing it through to implementation, and so many others.

I’m just not very sophisticated

There was never explicit pressure to dress or behave a certain way, but I felt like I needed to walk the walk and talk the talk. Trouble is, I’m just not very good at it. I bought a few new wardrobe items that I thought passed as “work dressy”, but otherwise, I think I wore a jacket exactly three times. They are suffocating and you have to dry clean them. Hard pass. After a while, though… I started to notice a trend: while a lot of dudes wore suits and dressy casual, several of them didn’t, choosing jeans and aggressively casual clothes on the regular. I never noticed women doing the same. So, I said fuck it, and started wearing my khakis and jeans more frequently. I feared no judging at that point, but it took me a while to get there.

There were several times that I had to speak on behalf of the library and I sweated each and every one of them, no matter how much time I had to prepare. I cannot fathom having to do this on the regular, and with no end in sight. Also… you lose your academic freedom – something that once you’ve embraced is very hard to let go.

When the shit hits the fan, it’s gonna hit you

I alluded to how much work this gig was, but damn was it ever a lot of responsibility as well. It was apropos that I ended as I had started – as Acting Chief Librarian, and both times, crises fell upon my shoulders. Floods, massive downtown parades gone awry, bomb threats, crime scenes… all of them moments where I had to pull up my britches and get my boss face on, all the while thinking to myself “what the hell am I doing?!?” But you do, and you manage, and eventually the day ends.

On my first day, I was a nervous wreck. I opened my email first thing in the morning at home and found that there had been a burst pipe in the stacks and subsequent flooding. We had a big mess on our hands and collections had been damaged. As I made my way into work, I tried to picture what I would have to do. I came up blank. It all seemed very surreal. Once I arrived, I made contact with the Lead Hand in charge of stack maintenance. He apprised me of the situation and ended by saying “We just need Jane to make a decision about what to do next.” It had the effect of snapping me out of my self-induced stupor. He was right. I just had to make a plan, and that was that. And so I did. I put one foot in front of the other and it all came together. I’m so grateful to him for saying that when he did. I was in charge, and others were looking to me for direction. That’s the job.

And now I know

Part of the reason I wanted to take this on was so that I could figure out how it all worked. I wanted to see how the sausage was made, if you will. Now, I have first hand knowledge of why things take a seemingly INTERMINABLE amount of time to get done. I have a far greater understanding of university governance and HR practices. There’s so much going on behind closed doors … and much of it has to stay there. Transparency and accountability are so key to a healthy organization, but it takes a lot of intentional effort to practice it, not to mention a lot of herding cats if it’s not all information that’s yours to share. I like to think that this will make me a better librarian, and hopefully a more patient and forgiving person.

And that’s that. I’m back to being a liaison librarian and was happy to pass the torch back to my very talented colleague who’s taken on this job for the long haul. I salute her and others who have chosen this path. For now, I can say for sure that it’s not for me. I brought home a lot of work stress and spent a lot of time looking at my email on my phone. I just don’t think it’s what’s best for my family right now. A couple of weeks ago, we ended up running late in the morning because we couldn’t find my son’s shoes. Yelling and screaming and tears ensued. As we rushed off to school, Elliott said “I wish it was July 1.” It was like a knife through the heart. July 1 was the date that we had frequently mentioned as the day I would no longer be doing this job.

And so, when the day came, my fellas came downtown to help me move offices and shut ‘er down. We all survived, only slightly scarred and a lot wiser. Onward. VN2DyiR7Svq%BqEF6JwjvQ

Security screening at Winnipeg Public Library

At the urging of the Twitter account @Millennium4all, I wrote a letter to Ed Cuddy and the board members of Winnipeg Public Library about their decision to install metal detectors and screening in the Millennium branch. If you feel passionately about this issue, you should write to them too. Help yourself to my words if you like. Here they are:

Dear Mr. Cuddy and the Winnipeg Public Library Board Members,

I’m writing as a concerned public library advocate regarding the installation of metal detectors and screening in the Millennium Library. Not only do I think that this move is one that sends a punitive message to the community and is of questionable efficacy to address the problem at hand, but it is entirely in opposition to the values that uphold libraries.

Winnipeg is certainly not alone in its struggles to maintain service levels for all in the face of a failing social safety net. Increasingly, public libraries are being called upon to be the living room of the community – which is in and of itself not a problem – but when issues borne of inequality, marginalization and poverty rear their ugly head, conflict arises and is on display. Staff and bystanders feel threatened and understandably, feel that action must be taken. It is my contention that the action that WPL has decided to take is the wrong one.

Aside from creating an entirely unwelcoming atmosphere, research from the school and hospital sector has demonstrated that harm can actually come from the installation of metal detectors. A review of 15 years of research into the use of screening in schools found that metal detectors are not proven to increase safety, and in some cases, can incite a decreased sense of security in the community. In the hospital sector, one study found that the perception of safety through provision of safety features (including metal detectors) does not correlate to actual safety, and can provide false sense of security. In this same study, it was found that psychiatric nurses were better equipped to deal with potentially dangerous situations than their general practitioner colleagues due to their training in de-escalation strategies and their ability to recognize mental health crises. [citations below]

All this by way of saying that there are alternatives to using the very blunt instrument of metal detectors and physical screening that are not only more effective, but could also provide the added benefit of increased trust and relationship building with the community. The principles behind community-led librarianship focus on working collaboratively with community, including socially excluded individuals or those with barriers to library services, to understand the needs of the community and in turn, to inform the direction of the library’s work and policies. What was the extent of the community consultation that took place prior to this decision? Were there other options presented that would be more palatable to all? How much has been invested in training staff in mental health first aid and de-escalation strategies? Has the WPL investigated the potential behind collaboration with the local social work community? Research has shown that these partnerships provide benefit to library workers, library users and the community; social workers in libraries provide crucial services to transient populations who may not receive services in other environments, and they provide heightened awareness and skill development for library workers [citation below]. Investments in strategies such as these are investments in building bridges with the community. Investing in metal detectors and security guards frisking community members is damaging to the library’s service ethos (open to all), and does nothing to move the dial forward in addressing systemic societal issues.

Public libraries are so important in this sphere. I urge you and the board to reconsider this policy and launch a meaningful and inclusive consultation with the community and city council in order to explore alternative solutions that embrace community, and provide training to equip staff with the skills they need to do this important work.

Respectfully,

Jane Schmidt

Citations

Blando, J. D., O’HAGAN, E. M. I. L. Y., Casteel, C., NOCERA, M. A., & PEEK‐ASA, C. O. R. I. N. N. E. (2013). Impact of hospital security programmes and workplace aggression on nurse perceptions of safety. Journal of Nursing Management, 21(3), 491-498.

Gastic, B., & Johnson, D. (2015). Disproportionality in daily metal detector student searches in US public schools. Journal of school violence, 14(3), 299-315.

Hankin, A., Hertz, M., & Simon, T. (2011). Impacts of metal detector use in schools: Insights from 15 years of research. Journal of School Health, 81(2), 100-106.

Schweizer, E. (2018). Social workers within Canadian public libraries: A multicase study (Master’s thesis, Social Work).

A letter to the editor of Open Shelf

I submitted this letter to the editor of Open Shelf after this column was published last week. If you felt similarly after reading it, perhaps you’ll also consider leaving a comment on the column, or writing to the editor yourself. Heck, you can copy this text if you like. Twitter commentary doesn’t always reach the people who need to read it.

Hello,

I like to think that this is an old fashioned “Letter to the Editor” and I do hope this is going to be treated as such and read by the Editor-in-Chief/editorial board of this publication.

With regards to the latest iteration of the Safe Spaces column, I am writing to implore the Open Shelf Editorial Board to consider discontinuing this series in its current form. In the inaugural column, I made a comment suggesting that perhaps diverse voices would be considered and offered a platform as these incredibly difficult topics were explored. With the most recent Race and Privilege piece that was published, I am dismayed to see that this suggestion was not taken under advisement and given the response to it that I have seen, hope that it will now be seriously considered.

Race and privilege are difficult topics. The author, as well intentioned as he may be, has shown that he does not have a solid grasp of the nuance of this subject. The column seems like an unfinished outline with half formed thoughts, quotes dropped without context or analysis, and a random assortment of events from the past, present and the authors own life thrown together without a coherent argument being made about any of it. Furthermore, the overall tone is one of incredulity and condescension: the use of quotes around certain terms suggest disbelief, the misinterpretation of microaggressions is curious given that there is a definition of it linked in the document itself, and the inclusion of a poll on the usefulness of white fragility as a concept on the website as this was published – suggesting that the author felt that its utility is, indeed, in question. In short, this column was poorly written, lacked a coherent argument/analysis, betrayed a lack of understanding of the concepts by the author and really should not have been published in the state that it was. It read as though it was written for a white audience, assuming that these concepts were up for debate or used simply as provocations to get white people thinking. And we sit by and wonder why our profession is so white.

I urge the editorial board to give serious consideration to this critique, and those that were voiced on Twitter. Words matter. And columns written about race and privilege have enormous potential to cause harm if not written carefully, thoughtfully and – crucially – by those whose very lives are effected by them every day. If a person does not rely on or require safe spaces, they should really consider whether or not they are the right ones to write about them.

Sincerely,
Jane Schmidt

Stuff I read for CAPAL

When I agreed to take on the daunting task of keynoting CAPAL18, I knew I was going to have to read a lot. And read I did. Here’s a list of most of it. Not everything will be cited for the actual bibliography, but all of this helped me form my thoughts.

 

Alvesson, Mats, and André Spicer. 2016. “(Un)Conditional Surrender? Why Do Professionals Willingly Comply with Managerialism.” Edited by Dr Marja Flory and Dr Juup Essers. Journal of Organizational Change Management 29 (1): 29–45. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-11-2015-0221.

 

Bartram, Erin. 2018a. “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind – Erin Bartram.” February 11, 2018. http://erinbartram.com/uncategorized/the-sublimated-grief-of-the-left-behind/.

 

———. 2018b. “Sublimated Grief Responses and FAQs – Erin Bartram.” February 18, 2018. http://erinbartram.com/uncategorized/sublimated-grief-responses-and-faqs/.

Bell, Cristina, and Marisa Mendez-Brady. 2017. “The Future of Librarianship: Challenging Professional Norms.” Journal of New Librarianship 2 (2). http://www.newlibs.org.

Denault, Alan. n.d. “Mediocracy – Between the Lines.” Accessed April 13, 2018. https://btlbooks.com/book/mediocracy.

Drabinski, Emily. 2016. “Valuing Professionalism: Discourse as Professional Practice.” Library Trends 64 (3): 604–14. https://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2016.0005.

Drabinski, Emily, and Scott Walter. n.d. “Asking Questions That Matter | Drabinski | College & Research Libraries.” Accessed May 5, 2018. https://crl.acrl.org/index.php/crl/article/view/16508/17954.

Druery, Jackie, Nancy McCormack, and Sharon Murphy. 2013. “Are Best Practices Really Best? A Review of the Best Practices Literature in Library and Information Studies.” Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 8 (4): 110–28. https://doi.org/10.18438/B8RC9S.

Ettarh, Fobazi. 2018. “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves.” In the Library With The Lead Pipe, January. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/.

Fleming, Peter, and Subhabrata Bobby Banerjee. 2016. “When Performativity Fails: Implications for Critical Management Studies.” Human Relations 69 (2): 257–76. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726715599241.

Frankfurt, Harry. 2005. On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. https://press.princeton.edu/titles/7929.html.

Graeber, David. 2004. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Paradigm 14. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press : Distributed by University of Chicago Press.

———. 2014. “Anthropology and the Rise of the Professional-Managerial Class.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (3): 73–88. https://doi.org/10.14318/hau4.3.007.

———. 2018. “Are You in a BS Job? In Academe, You’re Hardly Alone.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 6, 2018. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Are-You-in-a-BS-Job-In/243318.

———. 2013 “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” STRIKE! Magazine. August, 2013. Accessed March 2, 2018. https://strikemag.org.

Grandbois, Jennifer, and Jamshid Beheshti. 2014. “A Bibliometric Study of Scholarly Articles Published by Library and Information Science Authors about Open Access.” Information Research: An International Electronic Journal 19 (4). https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1050457.

Hoffman, Kristin. n.d. “Introducing the C-EBLIP List of Peer-Reviewed Journals in LIS | Brain-Work: The C-EBLIP Blog.” Accessed May 14, 2018. https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2018/01/16/c-eblip-list-of-peer-reviewed-journals-in-lis/.

Lew, Shirley, and Baharak Yousefi. 2017. The Feminists Among Us: Resistance and Advocacy in Library Leadership. Sacremento, CA: Library Juice Press. http://libraryjuicepress.com/feminist-leadership.php.

Lo, Leo S., and Bethany Herman*. n.d. “An Investigation of Factors Impacting the Wellness of Academic Library Employees | Lo | College & Research Libraries.” Accessed May 17, 2018. https://crl.acrl.org/index.php/crl/article/view/16736/18248.

Mats Alvesson, and André Spicer. 2016. “(Un)Conditional Surrender? Why Do Professionals Willingly Comply with Managerialism.” Journal of Organizational Change Management 29 (1): 29–45. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOCM-11-2015-0221.

Nalani Meulemans, Yvonne, and Allison Carr. 2013. “Not at Your Service: Building Genuine Faculty‐librarian Partnerships.” Edited by Jennifer Rosenfeld. Reference Services Review 41 (1): 80–90. https://doi.org/10.1108/00907321311300893.

Nicholson, Karen P. 2015. “The McDonaldization of Academic Libraries and the Values of Transformational Change.” College & Research Libraries 76 (3): 328–38. https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.76.3.328.

Parker, Simon, and Martin Parker. 2017. “Antagonism, Accommodation and Agonism in Critical Management Studies: Alternative Organizations as Allies.” Human Relations 70 (11): 1366–87. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726717696135.

Peekhaus, Wilhelm. 2017. “Open Access among Canadian Library and Information Science Faculty / L’accès Libre Dans La Communauté de Bibliothéconomie et Des Sciences de l’information Au Canada.” Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 41 (1): 105–46.

Popowich, Sam. 2018. “Is there such a thing as a library?” http://redlibrarian.github.io/article/2018/02/28/is-there-such-thing-as-a-library.html

Russell, Andrew, and Lee Vinsel. 2016. “Innovation Is Overvalued. Maintenance Often Matters More.” Aeon. April 7, 2016. https://aeon.co/essays/innovation-is-overvalued-maintenance-often-matters-more.

Sloniowski, Lisa. 2016. “Affective Labor, Resistance, and the Academic Librarian.” Library Trends 64 (4): 645–66. https://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2016.0013.

Sloniowski, Lisa, Mita Williams, and Patti Ryan. 2013. “Grinding the Gears: Academic Librarians and Civic Responsibility.” Urban Library Journal 19 (1). https://academicworks.cuny.edu/ulj/vol19/iss1/14.

Spicer, André. “Shooting the shit: the role of bullshit in organisations.” M@n@gement 16, no. 5 (2013): 653-666. https://www.cairn-int.info/abstract.php?ID_ARTICLE=E_MANA_165_0653&DocId=69489&hits=11+4+3+2+1+

Spicer, A., Alvesson, M. and Kärreman, D. (2016). Extending critical performativity.Human Relations, 69(2), pp. 225–249. doi:10.1177/0018726715614073.

Spicer, André. 2017. Business Bullshit. New York, New York: Routledge.

Spicer, André. 2017. “From Inboxing to Thought Showers: How Business Bullshit Took Over.” The Guardian, November 23, 2017, sec. News. http://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/23/from-inboxing-to-thought-showers-how-business-bullshit-took-over.
 

“Tone Policing.” 2018. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tone_policing&oldid=841061304.

Waugh, Courtney. 2014. “Balancing Visions and Values.” Progressive Librarian 43 (Winter): 10.

Zweig, David. 2014. Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion. New York, New York: Portfolio/Penguin.

I’m still here

A while ago, without ceremony or much thought, I went dark on social media. I deleted all of the apps from my phone and haven’t been to the websites. For someone as socially engaged as I am on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, this is a Big Deal. Except, it turns out it sort of isn’t.

I’ve always admired folks who announced they were taking a break, or those rare people who just never signed on, but I didn’t think I could do it. I readily admit to a Twitter addiction; I am not immune to the effect of a “like” or a “favourite” on my brain. Beyond that, I am just a really social person and these platforms were great facilitators for keeping up with my friends and family. Without them, I would most certainly not enjoy the professional networks that I currently have. But something not great was happening to me within the last while — it all just got too noisy and I sort of snapped. My mind was racing almost all the time and it just wasn’t leading anywhere productive. So. I stopped.

I honestly thought I would cave and crawl back after a couple of days, but I’ve adjusted quite well. The desire for social interaction is definitely still there. My husband and best friend get WAY more texts about mundane daily life than usual, but honestly, that’s probably for the best. Twitter doesn’t actually need to know that I am incapable of remembering to use the avocado I keep bringing for my salad at lunch (NB: I’ve solved this problem by singing this song to myself on those days). The knee jerk reaction to share what I read is definitely still there; I mean if I don’t share an article and throw in my own 280 character hot take on it, did I even really read it? The local radio morning show doesn’t even know how angry they’ve made me anymore!  My son turned 7 and we had a freaking Binky The Space Cat themed birthday party! And, honestly, I do feel really bad about keeping the cuteness that is Binky and Mittens to myself; they are something else.

There are things I miss that I wish I could keep and throw away the rest – mainly Twitter banter with people who I met there, or with who I would otherwise have no reason to chat (hey Giso… I miss you, buddy!), and there is a touch of FOMO when it comes to being up to date with the latest in library stuff and world news, but I have also come to realize that it’s both a blessing and a curse to be so immersed in keeping up with EVERYTHING. Instead, I purchased a subscription to The New York Times and am more intentional in the news stories and other news media I choose to listen to and read. My mind has slowed down, I feel more focussed and more productive. It feels good. It also means I am able to concentrate on what the heck I am going to say at CAPAL (!!), which, given the amount of headspace I’m letting it take up, that’s a really good thing.

I can’t say I’m 100% done. I mean, I feel like unless I get better at watching TV on my own, I will eventually run out of light hearted mind candy to scroll through in the evenings. I am rapidly running out of English language content on Angela Merkel. In the meantime, I am still here. And so are these guys… here ya go!

Love, Jane and Binky and Mittens

 

People are not problems

A recent article called Trends in Library Security came to my attention a while back. It was infuriating to me, and I had a few choice words for it on Twitter. I am often hesitant to say too much about this topic because I have the luxury of never having to actually deal with issues like drug use in the library bathrooms or confronting an angry patron who objects to the person looking at pornography on a public-use terminal. These are day-in-the-life instances in a public library worker’s world and I’m just an academic librarian firmly ensconced in her tower. It’s not my place to say how public library workers should or shouldn’t do their job; not all heroes wear capes, as they say. But then, this article was shared within MPOW*. So. I’ve got something to say about that.

First things first. Steve Albrecht, the author of the article is a white man who is a retired police. His wheelhouse is coaching city employees – and library workers specifically – on handling workplace violence. He seems to have profile in American libraryland. Furthermore, I will also offer the caveat that I am a Canadian, and we have gun control in this country. I am eternally grateful for this and cannot imagine what it is like to live in a place where fear of an active shooter situation erupting could happen at any moment. All that being acknowledged, I’d like to focus on the tone of this article and the underlying message that it sends. Don’t even get me started on the “related article” suggestion that follows this piece called the “To Catch A Library Thief: Black Belt Security” – it is next level awful (and not by Albrecht, to be clear).

TL;DR – it problematizes marginalized populations and is completely lacking in empathy for the human condition and the systemic issues that creates the marginalization. The author makes a lot of presumptions of ill intent on the part of library patrons and encourages an us vs. them dichotomy. It is also implicitly endorsed by all of the organizations that publish, sponsor and advertise this approach to library work.

While dealing with drug overdoses and ransomware attacks are very real and present issues facing library workers, I’m really uncomfortable with the tone presented here. For example, the scenario presented where someone is blocking the library entrance to pray is highly unlikely. The presumption that this person is trying to make a statement about religious freedom? Are you serious? Maybe they are really just TRYING TO PRAY. In my experience, people seeking somewhere to pray are just trying to find a quiet spot appropriate for their needs. What’s more likely at play here and is left unsaid, is that people praying in public spaces can make others feel uneasy. It’s useful for us to instead question why that makes us feel uneasy, and recall that as proponents of access to all, what are we doing to make our space more accessible for those looking for prayer space. This man suggests that we should resort to calling the police.

Another example is the problematizing of “emotional comfort animals”. The inherent ableism and disdain for people’s right to medical privacy and self-determination of need is so incredibly patronizing and insensitive. He portrays privacy laws as an impediment to asking inappropriate questions to determine whether or not they should be allowed to have their animal with them. Is the animal defecating on the floor? Growling at the children? That’s another issue entirely. Treat it separately from the question of need and have some faith that the person in question knows what they need and is really not out to make themselves a public nuisance.

The first sentence of this article refers to “challenging patrons who sometimes adversely affect library services, including people who are homeless, have a mental illness, or abuse substances” and goes on to refer to them as “common problems.” In and of itself, when we dismiss the homeless, mentally ill or addicted as a problem to be solved, we are not acting with empathy. We are not acknowledging the myriad reasons why people may be homeless, mentally ill or addicted. Poverty is not a lifestyle choice.

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American Libraries is a publication of ALA. Furthermore, ALA offers webinars led by Albrecht. My boss shared this article with our entire staff indicating that it was “useful.” Respectfully, I disagree. I think it’s downright harmful. Yesterday, as I pondered this post, a respected archivist who did important work in transforming the whiteness of the archives world quit. He declared that professionalism is the problem in the perpetuation of oppression and white supremacy:

Professionalism emphasizes “the work” — its completion, its evaluation, its perpetuity, etc. — without a meaningful critique of how “the work” mandates a replication of the patriarchy, oppression, and violence many in our world experience.

I can’t help but draw a parallel between that observation and this situation where a former cop’s expertise is upheld as the gold standard in how we do our work. What about leading with empathy? ALA is the same organization that invited Brene Brown – the queen of empathy – as a feature speaker at their conference. What if library managers hired life coaches instead of security experts to train their staff? If instead of perpetuating the notion that patrons are “difficult”, up to no good, and mean to do harm, what if we spent more time thinking about what brought them in the door that day, and what sort of reality they are living? It may not change the need to have to escalate if there is a genuinely dangerous situation, but when we act with empathy, we are far more likely to effect positive change. Small stones making lots of ripples and all of that.

I’ll conclude by mentioning that in the print issue of this magazine, this article was adjacent to this one. An interesting juxtaposition. We may no longer be explicitly excluding certain populations, but when we prioritize the comforts of the privileged, we are implicitly telling certain people that they don’t belong – and the cycle continues. We can do better. We can be better.

*context: I work at a downtown campus library that is open to the public.