I found myself drawn into odd conversations with librarians, archivists, and other information professionals soon after I started teaching library school. Not the conversations about how terrible I am and how bad I am at what I do and how whatever I’m doing in the classroom is automatically the wrong thing—those conversations are standard, and I am as inured to that angry dismissiveness as anyone can be. No, the odd conversations I landed in over and over again went something like this:
The animated television show South Park made a business of touching nerves, but even its creators reportedly did not expect the furor that roared forth over their Underpants Gnomes episode satirizing common workplace beliefs and practices. The Underpants Gnomes’ business plan lives on (slightly altered) in web culture as a shorthand for inadequate, failure-prone product or service planning. I spent my entire library career wallowing in Step 2.
Last month I enjoyed the distinct privilege of keynoting the Conference for Law School Computing (also known as “CALIcon”), a gathering of legal educators, law librarians, and IT professionals in law put together by the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). I can’t say enough in praise of the ever-present spirit of sly spirited fun at this conference.
Summer lets me teach my favorite course, the run-down of what’s going on with several publishing industries and how libraries are riding the rapids. (It’s actually a course in environmental awareness and handling change, but such skills are much easier to teach given a concrete context in which to exercise them.) As I tore through syllabus and lecture revisions earlier this month to clear time for other necessary work, I found a few spare milliseconds to wonder whether the serials crisis, which hasn’t felt like an immediate all-hands-on-deck crisis in some time, might finally be heating up into one. Into many, really; the localized nature of serials pricing means that crises hit consortia and individual libraries at varying times, not all of academic librarianship at once.
Could we talk about skill and competency lists, please? They’re everywhere, inescapable as change. Professional organizations have made dozens. Dozens more come from the LIS literature, as content analyses of collections of job ads or position descriptions. Whatever job you do or want to do in libraries, someone’s made a list of the skills you must supposedly have mastered.
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.