I’ve finally dumped Gmail forever. Though the process took quite some time—moving mailing-list subscriptions, changing profiles on websites that knew me by my Gmail address, extracting the messages I needed to keep, and similar chores—the relief of a little more freedom from Google’s privacy-invasive data mining has been well worth the trouble for me. I want as little as possible to do with a company that allegedly thinks trawling and keeping behavior-profile data from college students’ school-mandated, school-purchased email accounts without notice or consent is in some way ethical.
Some of the best new professionals I meet and teach are leaving academic libraries. Another scholarly-communication librarian in an academic library got in touch with me online last week about finding a different kind of job. I’m well-used to these messages from scholarly communication librarians and research data managers new to the profession; sometimes they’re my former students, sometimes they’re conference acquaintances or folk I converse with online. Like the other pre-departure messages I’ve gotten, this one came from the kind of new professional every academic library claims to need: smart, tech-savvy, creative, passionate, hard-working, up-to-date, and consciously committed to staying that way. Like the other pre-departure messages I’ve gotten, this one breathed disillusionment and burnout. I’m worried.
At the next Library Technology Conference in the Twin Cities in March, there won’t be one session on privacy-protecting measures for library computers—there will be two. These aren’t the only sessions of their type I’ve seen advertised lately. I’m delighted to see information professionals stepping up to teach each other how best to protect ourselves and our patrons from unwarranted invasion of privacy by digital means. As it happens, another prime opportunity to register opposition to digital invasion of privacy will arrive on February 11. Several of the best advocacy organizations in the tech industry are joining forces with prominent websites and anyone else going their way for The Day We Fight Back.
I’ve had some strange experiences teaching workshops and continuing-education courses over the last couple of years. These challenges simply don’t happen in my regular library-school classrooms. Sometimes I can easily take them as a salient reminder to me to explain clearly the “why” behind the “what” in my teaching. More often, though, I find myself worried, both for these learners and for the state of the overall pool of professional skill.
Teaching from the real world is pure joy most of the time. Students love it when they see something from class in the pixels of library journals and magazines, the mass media, or the technology press. Most of the time, discussing change while it’s happening is a visceral lesson in professional adaptability and continuous learning. However, I could have done without having to teach technology-related privacy issues to my “Digital Trends, Tools, and Debates” students in the shadow of the NSA’s newly-revealed surveillance practices.
Last weekend I went to Spring Green, Wisconsin for a treat I’d been anticipating most of a year: a double-bill of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at American Players Theatre. I drove home from the theater with lines and themes from the play pulling together disparate threads in my mind, such as opportune moments and their opposites, MIT’s report on its behavior during Aaron Swartz’s prosecution, the Biss bill as the latest twist in the movement toward open access to scholarly literature, and sundry other past and present information-related struggles in academe, and I want to share some of my musings.
For the future of library education, watch today’s “topics” courses. I’m celebrating this week: after three years of teaching it, my Digital Curation course has at last graduated to the dignity of its very own course number! When I first suggested the course to the formidable Louise Robbins, then director of SLIS, she immediately shot back “Where are the jobs?” I dug up a few, so Louise agreed to let me pilot the course under one of SLIS’s generic “topics” numbers. Topics courses change all the time—that’s what they’re for.
When the Research Data Services group I helped inaugurate worked out a response process for data-management-plan assistance requests, we were careful to respect the disciplinary expertise among our members. After all, even in late 2010 it was a truism that the barrier skill for helping researchers manage data was disciplinary expertise. “In practice,” wrote Alma Swan and Sheridan Brown in 2008, “data scientists need a wide range of skills: domain expertise and computing skills are prerequisites…” Data curation’s dirty little secret is that this isn’t always true. It isn’t even often true.
I have a gift for picking despised professional niches. I used to run institutional repositories, and if there’s a niche in academic librarianship more despised than that, I’m honestly not sure what it might be. From the frying pan into the fire—now I teach library school. If nothing else, I’ve greatly expanded the universe of librarians and archivists who despise my work!