Urban Alliance, and I can’t believe I’m doing this

I read the incredibly cheesy portmanteau “Blogust” on Twitter and since it makes much more sense than NaNoBloPo (let’s leave that month to the novel writers, please) and I have a lot to say, I figured I’d take part. We’ll see if this determination lasts past today.

Yesterday was my intern’s last day. Pout. She came to our office through Urban Alliance, which is an a-MAZING program. UA accepts high school seniors with promise (and with enough credits that they can leave school at mid-day), who then spend all of October in what is essentially an extended interview, learning various job and life skills. They get placed with employers at the beginning of November, at which point they work 3 hours a day, Monday through Thursday, and on Friday continue to have workshops. Private sector employers make a contribution to UA to participate in the program, and the students’ wages are paid by UA through those contributions and other fundraising. Over the summer the students work full-time.

The program provides the students with a lot of support in addition to the weekly workshops. They each have a “program coordinator” who is a UA employee who does things like make site visits, help the students with college applications, and be the heavy when there’s a problem between the mentor* and student. UA continues to be involved after the students go to college.

This was my second year as a mentor. I have definitely improved in my supervisory skills, though my extreme distaste for confrontation still holds me back from providing appropriate feedback in a timely manner. I’m getting there.

My intern worked very hard this year; so hard that I’m not sure what we’ll have an intern do next year. My intern did a scanning project making my boss’s OpenLIMS project possible, and more significantly, the links to DC Laws in our open source publication of the D.C. Code. I had anticipated that she would scan much more slowly than she did! She also compiled data into spreadsheets (including information about 1720 Superior Court decisions).

I do have ideas for next year’s intern, if not fully fleshed-out projects. My goal is for him or her to get exposure to computer programs and tools that high school students don’t often use: mail merge, for example, or using a spreadsheet for more than just data entry. If you have ideas of projects or tasks that an ambitious high school senior could do, whether substantively interesting or not, please share in the comments.

 

* Me! The primary supervisor at the jobsite.

Conferences and Diversity

When I go somewhere new (like a conference), I tend to look around to gauge the visible diversity of the attendees. AALL was definitely more white than my place of work. I’m fairly confident it was more white than the average general population. So was Digital Preservation, though my “all of the presenters are white or Asian” complaint was countered by a really interesting presentation about data sharing among zooarchaeologists by Dr. Ixchel Faniel. Still pretty white, though.

As much as I found that disheartening, though, I know that there are efforts to increase racial diversity in librarianship. I don’t know that they’re necessarily working, but it’s at least a topic of conversation.

What I found more troubling was that I saw no one at Digital Preservation (out of about 330) who had a visible physical disability of any kind, and at AALL only one person (out of about 1250) who used a wheelchair–for what looked to be a temporary injury–and only a few with other physical limitations. (For lack of a more appropriate word. Please correct me in the comments, and I can edit this.) I saw no blind librarians, and no sign language interpreters, suggesting no deaf librarians. (Sad for me, as my feeble attempt to learn sign language would have benefited from watching interpretation and making new friends who are deaf. Can’t make friends if you don’t meet them!)

At AALL I went to a subcommittee meeting on the general topic of “individuals with disabilities.” The focus–because the subject has too many facets for a group of 7 to address all at once–turned to patrons with mental illness. But I am interested in making our profession welcoming to librarians with disabilities.

I realize that conferences do not reflect an accurate cross-section of our profession. To attend a conference, one needs to be able to afford the travel, have a partner to take care of any children at home, have a job that allows time off for conference attendance, and other privileges. I’ve never needed to use a wheelchair, but I imagine that travel is more difficult and more expensive for someone who does. The same for someone who is blind or deaf. In fact, I’d imagine that as stressful as travel is in general, there is additional stress when needing to worry about accessibility that might make attending conferences more stressful than it’s worth in many cases. So the absence of librarians with visible physical disabilities from conferences does not mean that there are no librarians with visible physical disabilities.

Nevertheless, I think about my LIS program, and I haven’t met any students with disabilities.* (Okay, thinking about law school, I only remember 2 students, one in the class I began with and one a class or two below the one I graduated with, who used wheelchairs. And that program was much larger than my LIS program. So maybe the problem is grad school in general? Or the paths to higher education in general?)

What can we do?

I have colleagues in the archives field who have noted that archives job descriptions generally include a requirement of being able to lift [XX] pounds. Yes, archives involve boxes of paper and ephemera.** Yes, those boxes need to be moved on occasion, whether to bring to a researcher or for processing. But does every person working in an archive need to be able to lift boxes? No. The archivist processing a collection could have the boxes brought to her. Other office procedures could be adapted for patron service.

Are we encouraging our paraprofessionals with disabilities to get an MLS? Are we arranging our physical spaces not simply to be compliant with the ADA but to actually be welcoming and comfortable to potential coworkers?

Do you have a physical disability? Do you have LIS classmates or coworkers with disabilities? I would love to hear about your experiences in your LIS program or workplace. What more should we as a community be doing?

 

*Totally lying. One of my classmates has CP–but if she hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have realized it. So maybe I shouldn’t have lazily left the word “visible” out of this sentence.

**I am excited to have had the opportunity to use the word “ephemera.” It’s almost as good as “stuff.”

Questions of Scholarship

A law school acquaintance of mine was killed on Friday, and just as I did 12 years ago when two other friends were killed — that time in a bombing, this time what was likely and shockingly an intentional homicide — I have found myself reading every blog post looking for something new. Partially it’s to desensitize myself; the more times I read “Dan Markel is dead” (or a version of it) the kick to my gut has less force. And partially it’s because Dan — and 12 years ago, Marla and Ben — was SUCH a good person, and I want to know more about what people who were closer to him experienced of his goodness.

Orin Kerr wrote today about questions of scholarship that he debated with Dan, and this debate is what I want to highlight. The salient quote:

Dan and I spent around an hour debating whether it is better for new scholars to start their careers by joining preexisting conversations or trying to start new conversations. I argued that the better strategy was to start a new conversation (more likely to lead to a unique contribution); Dan believed that the best strategy was to join a preexisting conversation (more likely that the scholar will focus on something serious and important). It’s the kind of academic topic that even a lot of law professors consider just navel-gazing. But to Dan it was a hugely important issue, as it raised fundamental questions about what law professors should be doing and why.

These are fundamental questions not just for law professors, but for all higher education (if I may be so presumptuous to say so). I’ve written in this space and others about rigor. Focusing on LIS education, what should our professors be researching, asking, doing? Does students’ impression of our professors depend on whether they are charting new territory in theory or practice or “merely” (in scare quotes because it definitely is more than merely) contributing to existing scholarship? What is our role, as students, in advancing new or participating in ongoing conversations?

My overarching goal in everything I do in the information realm is to provide access. Currently, that goal has formed itself into two distinct projects: digital legal publication that complies with the requirements of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act, and activities and research related to access to justice. The former is new. The theory and practice are still in rough drafts. There are few people engaged in UELMA compliant efforts. The latter is ongoing. There are contributions to be made (and I hope to make many), but there is already a large, established core of librarians and lawyers working on access to justice issues. I find there to be benefit in being engaged in both types of questions.

Dan was a valuable guide through my first year of law school; I wish I could have had the opportunity now to discuss the nature of scholarship with him. May his memory be a blessing.

Rigor, revisited

When the Library Loon first (recently, at least) wrote about rigor, I responded at Hack Library School. She wrote again about rigor last week, and I feel that she again is calling for a response.

Now, despite my linking to her own response post in the above paragraph, she actually began with a post a few days earlier using an apt proverb as her introduction. I particularly enjoy writing that is in response to a quotation (I know there’s a fancy word for such a quotation, but am unable to pull it from my brain at the moment), and in this case, I find the proverb as meaningful as the Loon does.

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

—Archilochos (reputedly)

The Loon suggests that she is a fox, as I would describe myself. I think that the profession of librarianship is perfect for foxes (as is–or can be–the profession of law). We do not disagree on the difficulty of training hedgehogs in courses designed for foxes, nor on the ideal of the profession containing both foxes and hedgehogs. Where the Loon and I diverge, if I understand her correctly, is in her assumption that those of us engaged in striving for more rigor in library school are doing so because we feel that library school should be training hedgehogs.

Before I turn to my opinion that rigor and the education of the fox are not incompatible, I want to turn to the Loon’s follow-up piece, the one that explicitly addresses rigor. When I first read the beginning of this post, before reading about foxes and hedgehogs, my thought was that she was describing my law school: “every course…is as deep and rigorous as its instructor’s expertise will permit. No remediation, no consideration of prior background (or lack of same), devil take the hindmost.” Which was fine for me (barely!) and my classmates*, but does not mean that a non-Ivy League law school doesn’t provide a rigorous education.

The Loon suggests–though I don’t believe this is her main point about rigor–that the ALA accreditation standards get in the way of specialization, making the education of the hedgehog librarian-to-be less rigorous than it should be. I return to law school: the law school curriculum is intentionally fox-like. Yet it can be rigorous, even in the required introductory courses, even for the foxes.** The expectation is that specialization will happen on the job.

My law school education makes me believe that rigor and the education of the fox are not incompatible. When I wrote earlier about rigor, I suggested that rigor is about asking the right questions:

Are we learning the basics that we need in order to be well-rounded librarians? Are we learning how to adapt traditional library theories and functions to an always changing library landscape? Are we learning how to advance the library and information field to serve modern patrons? Are we learning to ask questions, and to ask the right questions? …

And finally, we ask if we’re learning these things in an environment that encourages us to reflect, elaborate, discuss, and discover?

These questions can apply to a single course or to a LIS program as a whole for both the fox and the hedgehog. It is easier to answer these questions when the answer is a clear “no”–a course that spends an entire class session learning how to use MSPaint, for example, rather than providing a curricularly appropriate means of supporting students who are not familiar with various modes of creating digital images. Or a participation grade for asynchronous class sessions that encourage shallow thinking.***

It is much harder to state affirmatively that a class IS rigorous by this standard. But it is our professors’ obligation–as it is ours as students–to strive for reflection, elaboration, discussion, and discovery. And these can be achieved regardless of specialization, for both foxes and hedgehogs.

 

Dan, you will be missed.

** To be fair, I don’t know what courses my brilliant, now professor classmates took. Did my tax professor friends take an advanced taxation course? Did my civil procedure professor friends take whatever advanced course would follow the first year civ pro class?

*** I am absolutely sure that I would do no better in coming up with questions for asynchronous courses than my professors have done. This critique of discussion questions is not intended in any way as a critique of my professors.

Opinion of the Day

After yesterday’s high-tension SCOTUS ruling in Hobby Lobby, some lighthearted yet with serious consequence opinion from the District Court for the District of Columbia, 1989. Clarke v. United States addresses the question of whether a legislator’s vote is protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution. Believe it or not, the defendants, with a presumably straight face, argued that it is not. The District Court disagreed, and Congress now knows that it must amend our laws directly rather than conditioning the use of our own funds on the Council amending its laws in ways directed by Congress.

Some highlights:

The United States suggests that this condition does no more than force the Council members to “hold their noses” and adopt the law. First amendment protection, however, encompasses both the right to speak and the right not to speak, and even the olfactory burden to which the United States refers is constitutionally suspect.

 

Finally, Congress has no clearly defined interest, compelling or otherwise, in so burdening plaintiffs’ speech. (emphasis added)

 

The keystone of the United States’ argument is that plaintiffs’ voting is not protected speech, and it gives three reasons for this conclusion. First, it argues, the act of voting possesses no intrinsic communicative quality. Second, it contends that official acts by public officials are not protected speech. Finally, the United States asserts that, even if legislators in general have a first amendment right to vote as they please, D.C. Council members do not…

#yesallwomen

Dear advice columnist,

I am writing today so that I can show your response to the offender in this situation. I am too chicken to speak to him directly. I should start by saying that I am very fortunate never to have been actually sexually assaulted or raped. The one time I was with a guy who wanted to go further than I was ready to, I told him I was uncomfortable and left. I never saw him again, but he also didn’t try to force me to stay. I’ve never felt the lack of safety that many women feel.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve never been faced with the many “micro-agressions” that women face.

I have a colleague who called me, on our first meeting, “Sweetie.” “Sweetie” is what I call infants when I first meet them. It’s not what a man in a professional context should be calling a woman 20 years his junior.

He also brings flowers to us every Monday. What a sweet gesture, right? That’s what he thinks. And it was encouraged by other women. He told me the story of how this tradition came about: he wanted to let “the ladies” in his office know that their work was appreciated, so he started bringing them flowers. Then other women joked “why don’t you bring ME flowers?” and it grew from there. It didn’t bother me at first. Then I realized he wasn’t bringing flowers to everyone in the office; he was bringing flowers to the women in the office.

This week I asked him about it. “Do you bring flowers to everybody, or just the women?”

Earlier today we passed each other in the hall. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I was too tongue-tied to respond appropriately. I gave a shrug. At which point he patted me on the back.

He’s not a bad guy. How do I get him to understand that calling women “Sweetie,” giving us flowers, and patting us on the back devalue our professional qualifications and experience?

Signed,

#yesallwomen