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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 12.40.29 PM

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.


Oh hello there, LFL® supporters

Hi there! If you’ve clicked on this, you may be a supporter of Little Free Libraries® and you’ve read about how I hate them and want them stopped. Before you engage with me, please consider the following:

  1. Myself and my research partner have no interest in “stopping” neighbourhood book exchanges, nor do we HATE Little Free Libraries. Those words were written by a journalist who is paid for the amount of clicks he gets on articles he writes. While I don’t think it was fair of him to paint us with that brush, that’s the biz. The rest of his piece fairly represents our work.
  2. Please, please consider reading our entire article. You can find it free here. It’s long. It’s nuanced. But it’s representative of a significant amount of research conducted over a long period of time. I assure you, we’ve thought a LOT about this subject.
  3. Please also note – though it should be obvious from the title of the article – our critique is focused on the non-profit organization LFL®, and not grassroots book exchanges. Share books with your neighbours – please, by all means, share away – but don’t call it a library.
  4. Finally, we sought to provide an alternative point of view on a subject that has undergone almost zero critique. We are researchers exploring a phenomenon in our field. You can disagree with us. That’s okay. But similarly, we can disagree with you too. That’s also okay.

On a final note, we implore you to inquire about the state of funding for your local public library. How are they doing? Is there something you could do to help give them a boost? Maybe you already do – and we applaud you for that – but if you haven’t checked in with the state of their funding or been to visit a branch in a while, please do that. They are so vital to the community and at risk in many corners of the world. They need your voice.

Thanks for reading our research, and we hope that it’s given you a bit of food for thought.

Jane & Jordan

Reinvention – easier said than done

I’m officially mid-career and it is not as glamorous as I thought it would be. I began my career in librarianship on a trajectory toward management. Early on, I was groomed to be a “leader” and I drank that Kool-Aid with gusto. Consequently, I became a department head within a few years of having started at MPOW. As a close friend observed, it was possible that I’d “seen the top of the mountain too soon.” I finished off my second term with a sabbatical where I focussed my attention on creating a research agenda and a firm intention to “reinvent” myself as an academic librarian. With a full semester back to work under my belt, I admit to still feeling disoriented and unfocussed; reinvention has not gone well.

For now, I’m doing my best to try on new portfolios. I have several temporary subject assignments and am dabbling in projects that need some attention and would benefit from my experience in collections. I think I am aware that I’m in a holding pattern, but it’s hard to really throw oneself into the dubious job title of “floater librarian” – temporary though it may be, patience is not my strong suit. I find myself distracted by shiny things. I was even seriously considering a move to apply for new gig, but then the reality of Toronto real estate and familial stability took over.

My vision of throwing myself into my research went a bit off the rails.  I went from the high of being an invited speaker to a well respected conference and writing the most read Open Shelf (not exactly the New York Times, but still, I was chuffed) article ever to the low of having that same well received work turned into a scholarly article and rejected in a particularly soul destroying peer review experience. Rallying to keep your chin up and keep going is really rough, especially when you haven’t experienced a lot of failure in your professional and academic life (see above reference to leadership grooming). I have to keep telling myself that I have it in me to do scholarly work. The temptation to just turn my back on that part of my career is strong. I’ve got career status. Fuck it. I can just rest on my laurels and meet the bare minimum, right? That’s a path that people seem to choose (is that a choice or does that just happen when you aren’t paying attention?). Luckily, I’ve got a husband who’s willing to call me on that bullshit and remind me that I’m better than that. And so, I carry on, and just hope that this relentless feeling of inadequacy will eventually pass. It will, won’t it?

I don’t think I’m alone in this wilderness. For many of us that are mid-career, perhaps we feel we need to branch out and gain expertise in other areas. Even if it’s just to try it on, it’s important to continue to learn and challenge ourselves. For many, there is immense pressure to move into management. There are no shortage of admin postings to aspire to out there. Chances are if you work for a Canadian university library, you’ve been encouraged to attend management training and had your personality categorized and presented to you in an attractively bound handout to help you locate yourself within your organizational culture. While I am in the inverse of this situation – I’m trying to back away from management – it’s difficult to find guidance in mid-career development, particularly if you aren’t keen to move to a different workplace, or climb the ladder toward administration.  I got a taste of work life balance and I aim to keep it, at least in this time of my family life.

So, what to do? In discussing this with my peers, there are options. Accept temporary assignments to cover while others are on leave when you can, it will better prepare you to accept new roles as they come available. Consider an international exchange – while a bureaucratic nightmare, they are definitely a gem of an opportunity to refresh your professional self. Secondments and local job exchanges are also appealing options – particularly if we were able to manage creating cross-sectoral opportunities. There would be much to gain from a year in public service at the public library and vice versa. Heck, you could even identify what you see as a gap in your own institution and offer yourself up for the job. Much depends on local organizational culture and administration’s openness to suggestion, but there’s nothing stopping you from trying.

The paperwork and hustling you’d have to do in order to make these things happen are daunting, but in absence of staying put (also totally an option for those who are happy where they are – I salute you) or going up, it’s awfully easy to fall into a comfortable pattern of “good enough” service and scholarship. It’s not where I imagined I’d be when I was a fresh faced go-getter, but it’s also up to me to look it in the face and challenge it. I can keep floating, or I can regroup and swim.

The best laid plans

Sometimes, research doesn’t always go the way you thought it would. Myself and my colleagues, Curtis Sassur and Alison Skyrme, had high hopes for the research project we conceived back in April 2014. With fire in our bellies over the state of the labour market in memory institutions and pie-in-the-sky visions of 100% response rates, we forged ahead with our First Big Research Project exploring the use of unpaid internships in Ontario academic libraries. Two and a half years later, here we are – decidedly shunning the traditional route in favour of a popular blog – Letters To A Young Librarian. Thanks so much to Jessica Olin for agreeing to work with us on this! It’s been a great experience.

So, here it is. The culmination of our efforts, in all its glory. This is the unreviewed version, as submitted. It’s far from perfect, but we worked long and hard on it, and it would be a shame for it not to see the light of day. While we were unable to draw any definitive conclusions, we think there is some value in our findings. We hope that others can learn from both the experience we had from project conception to submission, and the outcomes of the research itself.


On being good enough

I am an atheist, but there is one thing that I read almost daily as though it were doctrine, and that is Desiderata. I have a very old framed copy of it that I inherited from my Aunt Jane. She obtained it on one of her adventures through North Africa in the ’60s. It’s hung in my hall and I read it while I brush my teeth. While I find solace in most of it, there are some passages that help me in my professional life, and I share these now for #lismentalhealth week.

I’ve written about imposter syndrome before. I suffer from it pretty much constantly. It, therefore, behooves me to remind myself of this – often:

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Superstars are over-rated. It’s unfortunate that our profession rewards elitism via invite-only institutions that will fast track your career to management/prestige, and by annual lists of People Who Matter, but there you have it. It’s there and how we react to it is what is under our control. It was a major revelation to me when I hit middle age that mediocrity is a really sweet spot to be in. I don’t mean mailing it in when you get to work everyday or being a lump until you can cash in on that sweet pension (forgive my privilege here as that is my own work situation – I’m truly fortunate). I mean being okay with going to work and doing your best. You don’t have to be The President of everything. Being the yeoman is totally okay, and sometimes, it’s the position where you get to have the most fun because you aren’t the Big Cheese and you’re not in the spotlight.

And you know what? If there’s a year or two (or three, or four) when you need to take a back seat and disengage for a while, that’s okay too.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

When you are on the tenure track/probation, or job hunting, sometimes you feel like you need to say yes to every opportunity presented to you. As someone in mid-career, I can definitely vouch for the fact that there will ALWAYS be more work to do, another volunteer position, another project to collaborate on. But there won’t always be time to spend with a loved one, or regenerating on your own, or taking a trip that just so happens to be available to you. Take care of you first – you will be no good to anyone if you burnout, most of all yourself. I’ll repeat – be gentle with yourself. We are our own worst critics and while that can be valuable for reflection, it can quickly turn to self-flagellation.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Your thoughts and feels are totally valid. Share them. Speak up. People are going to disagree with you and that’s okay. That’s why the phrase “we’re going to have to agree to disagree” was invented, so that you can still have your say, but be able to respond to the blowhard who thinks you’re wrong. That being said, be open to changing your mind. Stubbornness is a trait often celebrated from childhood onward, but damn if fighting with a donkey isn’t unpleasant. We need to allow our identities and ideas to reinvent and grow.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to admit when you made a mistake. I make mistakes all the time. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you human. Learn from them, apologize, move on. Forgive others for their transgressions – grudges are probably the biggest waste of mental energy I can name.

Be careful with life, strive to be happy.

… and brush your teeth. Big love, all.


Job openings and job seekers/grads in Canadian libraries

As part of a research project on unpaid internships in Ontario academic libraries (forthcoming), I had the chance to play around with data from the Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS). The gap in job seekers vs. opening for the occupational classification of Librarians, Archivists, Conservators and Curators was concerning, to say the least:

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.40.27 AMThis lead me to wonder how many graduates were going to be facing this hiring landscape.

I used the data on program performance available from ALA to produce the following graph on the number of degrees awarded in Canadian ALA accredited schools. ALA grads and COPSConsidering the job openings are projected to max out at 547 in 2021 (and recall we are also including conservators and curators!), this data seems to indicate that there are far too many ALA accredited masters degrees being sent to a market that cannot accommodate them.

The overall trend for degrees awarded in Canadian schools*, however, does seem to be headed downward – maybe.

total degrees awarded

I mean, I know none of this is shocking (right??!!), but a little bit o’ evidence never hurts. Happy New Year!

tobia sobbing

*WTF happened in 2013 – how many of those grads are still looking for work?


American Library Association. (n.d.) Trend data by program, including student-to-faculty ratios, enrolment, graduation. Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/accreditedprograms/reportsandpublications/prismreports

Employment and Social Development Canada – 2013 COPS Projections. (2012). Occupational Projection Data 2013-2022 – Librarians, Archivists, Conservators And Curators. Retrieved from http://occupations.esdc.gc.ca/sppc-cops/.4cc.5p.1t.3ondatas.2arch@-eng.jsp