Starting the Spring Semester and Bringing Light

I sent the following message this morning to the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the iSchool here at South Carolina.

I am writing you from my office in Davis Hall. It is the morning of January 11 – the first day of classes for the Spring ’21 semester. Right now, I’m the only one here, a result of the reality around the pandemic. This semester we have no in person classes – though we will be setting up a regular in-person undergraduate joint study session soon. This semester we continue to adapt to a global pandemic.

Davis Hall Ready for the Semester

I also have to admit, that after the events of January 6 in the U.S. Capitol Building, I was not anxious to have a government building unattended. It is frankly horrifying that in classes where we are studying the global realities of the pandemic, the historic Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice, and the effects of the economic realities of the pandemic on communities, we must add armed insurrection. And yet, here we are. Our faculty, staff, students, and alumni are suffering and attempting to come to terms with a world that seems out of control.

In college I had a professor who taught an evening class. He said how he always loved teaching evening courses in the Spring because they would begin the semester in darkness, and by the end light would fill the classroom as summer approached. We too can see ourselves at the beginning of this semester in the darkness of winter, and we are seeking out the light. However, it won’t be a matter of simply waiting for the Earth to turn on its axis, but rather through action. We bring about the light by embracing our mission at the iSchool: to bring meaning and justice to communities through information and knowledge. 

We do this through our teaching. We share the skills and foundations for how organizations use information resources in serving people in ethical ways. We teach librarians, web designers, business analysts, future faculty, and future information professionals. This teaching, really a partnership of learning, continues to mesh skills with perspective and highlighting all of our commitment to a more just and equitable society. 

We do this through research, discovering new aspects of the human condition in a world of connection, data, and information resources. 

We do this in our K-12 classrooms as school librarians empowering our youth with critical literacy skills and a sense of passion for continuous learning.

We do this in public institutions – public libraries, government departments, and as citizens engaging in the democratic process – by ensuring transparency, by building knowledge platforms empowering citizens to find meaning, and by constantly refreshing, reifying, and reinvesting in democracy itself. Democracy, as we know, doesn’t live in documents and laws, but in the common commitment of the governed to seek out the community good.

We do this in universities and archives. We not only preserve the past, but ensure that a living past is not forgotten and informs our future. We provide vital support to scholars and faculty taking on the pandemic, on issues of systemic racism, and inventing new technologies.

We do this in business, academia, schools, colleges, government, and in our neighborhoods. 

This past week, and indeed this past year, have seen dark times. They are getting darker. COVID cases are rising, innocent Black citizens still face unequal justice, our fellow Americans and my fellow citizens of the world are losing jobs and the security of a home. It is easy, and even understandable, that in the face of overwhelming challenges we feel lost, or hopeless, or alone. You are not alone. For 50 years this school has sought to build and empower a community – a network of professionals dedicated to bringing light to the darkness of ignorance.

Through collections, and computers, and social media, and data mining, we have been part of a half century preparation for just this time. We send out a kickass chicken into the most under-resourced schools of the state to encourage literacy. We manage libraries – engine of innovation and service in San Francisco, Vermont, Santa Barbara, Charleston, Columbia, Lexington, Oxford and throughout the world, and we will continue to do so. We have alumni in DC and insurance agencies, state government, and startups that are part of a network committed to a better tomorrow. We are woven throughout the fabric of the nation, and now is the time for us to pull together and bring the light.

If you need support, encouragement, or simply someone to listen, please reach out. And if you have the strength, reach out to your fellow students, your fellow alumni, and show them we are together.

I know we will have a strong and successful semester. That, however, is not enough. We must ensure that we have a strong and successful nation. Let us bring the light.

One Last Little Lecture

One of my favorite parts of the school year is the hooding we do for newly minted MLIS grads in the spring and fall. I’ve gotten into a tradition of giving one last little lecture at each. I created a video of this year’s for those who couldn’t make it, and am sharing it widely.

First the video, then the script.

Congratulations on this great step into your future… we just have time for one last little lecture. Because this moment is no doubt not how you imagined it. A zoom’ed hooding was not a normal thing just a year ago.

And that’s what I’d like to talk about – what is normal. Because like it or not, it is a question that will be at the center of your job for the next several years. In your classes you have been taught skills to organize information, to find information, to use information to help people find meaning in their lives and for communities to make smarter decisions. All of those skills, however, are ultimately about creating normality. How the world organizes itself, the data it collects about its operations and the choices it makes based on that data is what we come to see as normal.

Things that we take as par for the course today – opinion polls, economic numbers, credit scores – are information creations of the past century. And we see the often grim new normal of data and collected information being formed around us today: positivity rates, mortality numbers, public acceptance of disinformation. This information can be used to enlighten such as exposing the outsized effect of the pandemic on communities of color. How information is organized and disseminated can also be used to blind: attacks on our very democracy masked as benign legal maneuvers.

Make no mistake, what is and will be normal, is a choice. Not just a choice as to what people expect or accept, but in what you will do and advocate for. It is the librarians, information professionals, educators, data analysts, and researchers that you are now that will shape the new normal. It is your unique combination of skills and ethical center that must fight disinformation and reweave the connective tissue of our communities and our very democracy.

You will do this person by person, neighbor by neighbor, student by student. You will do this by never accepting that people – children, mothers, brothers, flawed and glorious all – can be reduced to a stream of data or flattened to consumers. You will do this through difficult conversations in person and in print and in Zoom. Conversations on race, on ideology, on the very nature of truth. You will do this not by being neutral, but by being transparent and an example of knowledge informed by data and information, but more importantly by your humanity.

Today we celebrate – tomorrow we begin the work of forging a new normal where Black Lives Matter. Where the fate of a student in rural South Carolina is never determined by the zip code of their birth. Where the access to life saving medical treatment is not tied to the size of a bank account, and where borders never limit the span of our imagination or friendship.

This is your last lesson then. The true value of your degree, and your education is never determined by the diploma you receive, but by the communities you improve.

One Last Lecture for the MLIS Class of 2020

Last Thursday would have been the hooding, and this past weekend graduation. While I would love nothing more than to be with you to say congratulations, I did want to use this opportunity to talk about tradition. As part of the academic tradition at the school you would have worn academic robes, and you would have to endure one short last lecture from me. While we are not gathering together, I wanted to at least pay homage to those traditions for this year’s graduates. I think in a time of pandemics, a lecture on those robes would be appropriate to talk about what we have prepared you for.

Many may have heard that academic robes are modeled on the robes of medieval monks. Monks held a special place in society in Europe – not least of which they were partially exempt from many of the daily chores of survival. They had to be literate to study and preach the bible. These two things made them ideal tutors for the gentry. They became teachers. As time progressed the gentry pooled their monies and gathered these tutors into colleges.

Some may have also heard about the hoods worn by graduates at the masters and doctoral level. The hoods symbolize where the monks would keep their food and wine. What folks don’t always know is that the food and wine were often the payment for their services. Hard currency was either hard to come by, or lacked reach for traveling tutors, so they took their payments in sustenance. The wine, fermented, was much safer than water at the time.

What many familiar with academic regalia do not know, however, is why at the big graduation ceremonies at most universities the procession of faculty is led by a mace holder. The mace is usually VERY large and ornate (check out UofSC’s here: https://www.sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/registrar/graduation/commencement_ceremonies/commencement_traditions/university_mace.php ). Why a mace? It seems a bit discordant at a place of higher education that a weapon opens and closes major events.

Except, think about the origin of the symbol. You are a monk. You are carrying payment in the form of gold or wine or food as you travel to many often unknown locations. You needed your robes to keep you warm, your hood to carry your living, and a mace to keep you safe. The mace has become a symbol of academic authority because it recalls that the world of the educated is not always easy and, to an extent, must be protected.

This week you graduate. You have earned through hard work and long hours the right to wear those robes and claim your place as a master of your field. You are doing this in a perilous time. No one planned this, and no one wishes it upon you. However, here you are, and you must move forward.

Many of you are going into our state’s schools. There you will face education by Zoom, and a student body disconnected – sheltered at home trying to learn while taking care of siblings, struggling with technology, or all too often struggling with a lack of access to technology. Most of your partners in this endeavor, teachers and administrators, are teaching online for the first time, and are unable to truly comfort their students, much less push them toward excellence.

Some of you are headed, if not today, then in the future, to public libraries. Closed buildings will be reopening, most likely too soon, and you will be the face of local government hopefully in a mask. You will be asked to be a place of gathering for a community that has become suspicious of touch, and who are wounded by weeks of loss and isolation.

Some of you are headed to the nation’s colleges and universities. You will be facing a faculty also struggling to teach online, and students morning the loss of the college experience. Traditional means of creating a community of learners side lined for safety.

All of you will be faced with a world no one wants and be given a choice. That choice is what will the new normal look like?

You’ve heard the phrase, the new normal. But you have almost always heard it in a negative frame. The new normal is talked about what we will give up. A new normal of social distancing, of fear of infection, of shuttered businesses. But I ask you to ask what should the new normal be? What if we learn from this horrific pandemic and work together to forge a new normal founded on the principles of equity and inclusion?

What if the new normal is universal broadband access to erase the digital divide? What if the new normal is the gathering of local voices to make governments more transparent, accountable, and tied to accuracy? What if the new normal for libraries is not just serving people at home in times of crisis, but every day serving our communities wherever they must be – the mother and father and home bound? The elderly and differently abled? What if the new normal allows us to connect the scholar to research articles and kids to story time online without fear of copyright lawsuits? What if the new normal is access to the world’s memory and opportunity as defined by desire and not a zip code?

No monk foresaw today’s academy as he walked through dirty streets of desperation seven centuries ago with a loaf of bread tucked into his sleeve and a mace in his hand. No monk foresaw the gathering of the tutors, the creation of colleges, the advancement of education and the creation of a scholarship that pushed humankind out of the middle ages to explore the globe, and the moon. And yet, that monk didn’t have to – he merely needed to continue to teach and serve.

We – you and I- do not know what literally tomorrow holds. Will there be second waves of infection? Will classes ever return to full in-person? Will the next economic boom be about technology or medicine or learning? But what we do know, is that over these past years, you have been preparing to serve and inform, and educate. You have learned skills, but also principles that uniquely qualify you to shape the future. You will be entering into organizations reeling from change, and you will embrace that change, and with calm competent compassion you will lead.

I congratulate you on your graduation. I look forward to the great things you will do. Here’s to the class of 2020.

Real Time Archives

I hope you have had time to check out librarian.SUPPORT (https://librarian.support) and the Real Time sessions. I have some great conversations and learned a lot on everything from scenario planning with Matt Finch, to Emergency planning with Jason Broughton, to universal access with Clayton Copeland, and graphic novels with Karen Gavigan.

Upcoming sessions are with Chad Mairn on how librarians can use extended realities (VR/AR/MR/360/3D), and Brad and Lucy Green on fostering literacy through music.

Check out the list of previous and upcoming talks. Also let me know if this is something to continue past April.

Real Time Sessions Added to librarian.SUPPORT

Thanks to the great library community’s generosity we’ve added some great new sessions to the http://librarian.SUPPORT site:

March 24: Matt Finch

March 26: Jason Broughton

March 31: Erik Boekesteijn

April 2: Clayton Copeland

April 7: Karen Gavigan

April 9: Valerie Byrd Fort

Please check out http://librarian.support/category/real-time/ for more information and new sessions.

We’ll be meeting every Tuesday and Thursday through the end of April (at least). If there is no guest speaker it will just be me and you having a conversation and answering questions.

All sessions will be at https://us.bbcollab.com/guest/efd8f17225514d5f83dba12dcb50d7ae

Librarian.Support Real Time with Matt Finch

Join David Lankes as he talks with Matt Finch Tuesday March 24th 9-10 Eastern Time.

Matt is regularly invited to keynote at conferences and events. He is currently a facilitator on the Scenario Planning course at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. Join us to talk about Planning for uncertainty; scenario and foresight work for libraries; how to do the anticipatory groundwork for the post-pandemic ‘New Normal’ which awaits librarians, information professionals, and the institutions they serve

We’ll be using Blackboard Collaborate – a web based conference solution. We should have room for about 100 folks to join the “studio audience” and ask questions.

https://us.bbcollab.com/guest/efd8f17225514d5f83dba12dcb50d7ae

We’ll be hosting these sessions every Tuesday and Thursday morning through the end of April as part of the Librarian.Support effort. You can see the system requirements for Collaborate here: https://help.blackboard.com/Collaborate/Ultra/Administrator/About_Collaborate/Browser_Support

SLIS Pandemic Resources

We have been fortunate that as our university moves online, we were already there. We are, however, working hard to ensure that our students can access our courses online with a particular eye to emergent digital divide issues.

I spend a fair amount of time talking about how the School of Library and Information Science seeks to have an impact in the community. We don’t just want to teach change agents, we want to be change agents – faculty, students, staff, alumni.

To that end I am happy to announce some of our efforts to support our communities.

First up the South Carolina Center for Community Literacy has pulled together resources for parents with kids at home and teachers:

We also know that a lot of libraries around the world have closed their physical spaces and a lot of library staff are working from home. To support librarians using this time to work on skills and engage in professional development I am proud to announce SLIS has teamed up with Public Libraries 2030 to put together Librarian.Support, a site (and to be clear one we are building as we go) to highlight some professional development resources from SLIS. Our focus is on preparing folks for better libraries after the virus.

We are adding resources as we go including archives of webinars, lessons from our online courses, guides to good learning resources, and we want to add more. Once agin this is a fluid effort, so all are welcome to contribute and please be patient.

Starting this Tuesday, March 24th I will be doing open support sessions every Tuesday and Thursday at least through April. I’ll be inviting faculty, staff, and great librarians from the field to join me in a call-in-style class/show. I’ve already had folks like Erik Boekesteijn for the Royal Libraries of the Netherlands, Karen Gavigan SLIS Professor and genius in everything graphic novels, Marie Østergaard director of one of if not thee most innovative public library in the world Aarhus Public Libraries in Denmark, and Kim Silk Strategic Planning & Engagement Librarian at Hamilton Public Library agree to join me for shows. The idea is a real-time conversation that you can join to ask questions and join the conversation.

I’ll do a separate post this afternoon with details, but for now know the link will be https://us.bbcollab.com/guest/efd8f17225514d5f83dba12dcb50d7ae

9-10 Eastern Standard Time and archives of the conversations will be posted on the Librarian.SUPPORT site. It should be great to get a global view on librarianship. We can have up to 150 folks join the live sessions.

If you have a topic you or your library would be interested in, or want to be a guest, please email me at rdlankes@gmail.com

Folks, this is an extraordinary time. Borders are closed, National Guards activated, quarantines enforced. Everyone has every right to be anxious. I have found that in times of anxiety it is best to do something – anything. Let’s use this time, if we have the resources, to first take care of ourselves, and then teach each other.

Remarks at Winter 2019 Hooding

The School of Library and Information Science hosts a hooding for those graduating in the Fall and Spring semesters. It is an important small gathering of graduates and family. I take the opportunity to give “one final lesson.” Here are remarks for this hooding.

Welcome to the last graduating class of the decade. I fear you’re not quite done yet. There is only time for one last lecture.

As I was preparing my remarks, I found myself thinking about global issues. Divided politics, monetizing privacy, the growing specter of artificial intelligence developed outside of social responsibility, growing economic disparity, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria. A little Ghostbusters humor for you there.

I started to write the now formulaic doom and gloom and your job is to save it message. But, as I learned in a very personal way this semester, this is not how I need to send you into the world. Our communities don’t need you to save them – they need you to inspire them. Our students in the poorest and richest school need an ally to accept them as they are, lift what burdens you can, and let them know they are worthy and important. Our neighbors need a partner and a friend to learn and dream with them. The doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, and public servants need an expert that not only serves but makes them better. Our elected officials need role models in integrity and trustworthiness.

Just as you don’t need to be reminded that the world can seem overwhelming, neither do our communities. They need a light to shine a way forward, not spotlight challenges.

So here then is my final lesson for you. Fight injustice, fight inequity, fight apathy, but do not be consumed in that fight. No one is served by a librarian lost in despair. 

In a recent interview Paul Bloom a Yale psychology professor made a distinction between empathy and compassion. Empathy, he pointed out, is taking on other’s emotions as our own. To be empathetic is to feel the pain of others as our own. Empathy can be exhausting and depleting. It can also be debilitating. Imagine, he pointed out, the oncologist that has to constantly feel the fear of her patients, or the social worker lost in feelings of hopelessness of his clients. 

Bloom argues that that doctor and that social work, need to be compassionate, not empathetic. You need to be compassionate and understand the struggles of those we serve but not be debilitated by it. Preserve your optimism and use it to lift up those around you. Your professional responsibility is not to suffer, but to prevent suffering. Your professional responsibility is not to despair, but to bring hope to the despondent. Seek out those in need and remember that what they need is assistance and support and celebration in addition to service and dedication.

Every great librarian I know has a story – a moment when they made a difference in someone’s lives. For some it is the glow in a child who has been shown the best book ever. For some it is the student who passed a class, or their part in a scientific breakthrough. They can be large moments or intimate connections, but they are all anchors. They anchor us to why we do this and an appreciation of the good we do.

Find your moment.

Reception at ALA

Davis College

If you are attending this year’s ALA Annual Conference in D.C. or are in the area please join the University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science for a reception celebrating great librarianship. Great librarianship exemplified by our alumni, faculty, students, and staff.

This year, we will also be celebrating the life of the great librarian and 2019 Margaret E. Monroe Library Adult Services Award winner Nicolette Sosulski, who passed away this year.

So, if you are an alumni, South Carolina librarian, friend of Nicolette, or just want to share some great company, please join us:

Friday June 21st. 6-8pm

The Loft at 600F 4th Floor (Retreat Room)

600 F St NW

Washington, DC  20004

How you know you need a blood transfusion in the days and weeks after a bone marrow transplant

Here is how you know you need a blood transfusion in the days and weeks after a bone marrow transplant.

It will start at 3am when the cocktail of fluids and supplements from the previous day’s treatment will wake you up with a strong need to pee. However, no matter the urgency, you can’t just get up. If you don’t slowly sit up and wait; then make sure you flex the muscles in your arms and legs first, you will stand up with too little blood pressure to push oxygen to your brain and you will fall back into bed (if you are lucky- if you are not lucky it will be the floor). Your heart will not provide enough force to push blood up against gravity and so it will pool in your veins, waiting for your major muscle groups to provide pumping action.

Once you get to the bathroom, be sure to either sit down to pee or place a steadying hand on the wall so you don’t sway or make a mess. There is a good chance the effort of the 10 foot walk will also wind you.

Assuming all that goes well, you will need to wake at 7am for the daily drive into the clinic. This will mean you need to fight to wake up. I don’t me deal with being groggy, or wanting to go back to sleep. I mean feeling like you are at the bottom of a 30 foot well, and you have to climb up and will your eyes to open at the top.

Once you’re up, remember your nighttime routine to sit up slowly. Next, as you dress don’t forget the compression socks. It turns out that the cells and proteins in your blood determine the amount of fluid that stays in your blood vessels, and how much is pushed out to soft tissues. Your proteins are out of whack, so your body pushes fluid into your ankles, swelling them, and painfully engorging your muscles. The socks provide a temporary reprieve squeezing the fluid around.

Now that you’ve made it to the clinic you have a very important decision to make. You enter the building on the ground floor. There are two ways to get to the clinic one floor above. You can take the elevator (the blessed blessed elevator), or you can take the staircase in the atrium. The physical therapist who deserves sainthood for the evil glares she endures with a smile from you, has made it very clear that if you don’t do some exercise, you will have real trouble in walking. You will hear her voice in your head sweetly telling you that stairs are the best exercise you can get right now. You will also see in the face of your beloved caretaker, that she is hearing that voice too.

The stairs are split in two by a merciful landing. The first half is easy…you will only need to rest here for a minute or two. However, and this is very important, at the top of the second half, to your right is a bench. Do not stop until you are sitting on that bench. It is very important, because at the top of the stairs you will be suffocating, and don’t want to fall down the stairs. Suffocating is not an exaggeration. The deep gasps for air, the empty feeling in your lungs, and the panic you are feeling is real. Without enough red blood cells to take oxygen molecules to your brain and body, you can fill your lungs as many times as you like, but it will not make a difference. You might as well be drowning.

But, it will pass. You will stand, you will walk, and you will make it the 100 feet or so to the treatment area. The nurses (the blessed blessed nurses) will draw vials of blood from an external central line that leads from outside of your body, through your chest, up to your neck, and then down to a point just outside the heart. Then you start to hope for less than 8. It is not always a hard rule, but in your mind you are hoping the hemoglobin count is 7.9 or lower. 8 is the threshold for a transfusion of platelets – red blood cells. These are the cells you need to breathe. These are the cells you need to keep from fainting. These are the cells that will keep you awake for more than three hours at a time.

Without transfusions of red cells and platelets in the days after a bone marrow transplant, you die. Without these transfusions in the weeks after the transplant, when your new marrow is growing, you may not die, but you won’t enjoy living.

Today, from 12-6 at the Holy Cross Church at 4112 East Genesee Street in Syracuse there is a blood drive. The blood you give today may help a bone marrow patient like me. It may help several infants in hospitals around the area. It may save a life of a patient in surgery. No matter who it helps, it will mean that a father or mother or child or grandparent a cancer patient a hemophiliac a friend or a lover will live. Please consider giving a gift you hopefully never have to think about to a person or who can think of nothing else.

Thank you.