Beyond the Bullet Points: When will the Mission Die?

I asked my doctor how I would die. Her answer was that If this treatment didn’t work we had more treatments after that and another treatment after that and still more tries after that. And if all that doesn’t work no one dies in pain. None of this, of course, answered my question which is how does one actually die from lymphoma. It was, however, the answer I expected. No one wants to accept failure. No one wants to be part of a loss of hope.

To be sure, my path with cancer has had its times of lost hope when, as my wife and I refer to it, “I go there.” However, this is not why I asked the question. I wasn’t giving up. I didn’t ask out of despair. I wanted to know. I needed to know. I needed to understand because, for me, I need to know what I am fighting against.

I tell you this story because I have been talking with a few people I really admire who are asking tough questions that could also be easily mistaken for despair. They are questioning professional choices. They are, in their words, becoming cynical. They are “going there” and beating themselves up for it. They seem to feel that people who fight for progress, who are pioneers, aren’t allowed to ask those questions. For some reason questioning a mission is a sin and an admission of defeat. It is not.

I wrote before about using cancer. Using it to re-prioritize, to take a break. While I had hoped that my using cancer days were done, I find myself again facing that re-prioritization. This chemo is tougher than the last. I find it harder to concentrate. I have less stamina. Where the last chemo regime resulted in keynotes and a MOOC, this one is focused on treatment and teaching. This is not a defeat. This is a chance for a professional break and a useful distance. Rather than pumping out the next keynote, I can listen. Rather than pushing out a paper I can read beyond libraries. This is a necessary pause. I have had them before after the closing of AskERIC and after virtual reference went from hot topic to standard service. But that time lead to participatory librarianship and the Atlas. It allowed me to look deeper.

A pioneer and a professional should have a mission and seek to change the world. They will also encounter resistance. They will question the mission and they will question themselves. They will go there. Do not despair. Do not punish yourself for doubt. Do not be afraid to ask how that mission or how that passion will die. Because here is the secret. A good mission and a solid passion will not die easily.

Do you want to know the answer to how this cancer will kill me? It will kill me if I do nothing. It will kill me if I ignore it or if I feel the price of the fight is greater than the price of death. It is not. Changing the world is hard. The cost of the mission is high. It is only reasonable to ask how high and you can only know that answer if you honestly assess the cost of failure. If that cost becomes too dear, then perhaps you were meant to change the world another way.

Beyond the Bullet Points: A New Year’s Wish

I have no more use of resolutions. Last year I resolved to keep the weight off that I had lost during my “mystery ailment” from the months before. I succeeded, but only because gaining weight is not a real problem during treatment for cancer. So for this year, instead of making a resolution I will instead make a wish for you. I wish for you to grow beautifully and gloriously old.

Cancer changes your perspective on old and aging. Some years I would dread my birthday. 35 seemed old. 40 was huge. Now I can’t wait to turn 44. Years like 50 and 60 sound like paradise: a goal to achieve, not a sign of inevitable decline or a label to avoid.

Stop dreading the coming aches and pains. Stop fixating on wrinkled skin and greying hair. To see another year, even if it is just one more year, is no curse, nor a milestone of decline. It is a victory. It is a license to stand proudly before the world and say “I am here. I remain. I matter.”

May we all grow old in the company of our family and friends. Let every ache be a testament to a life well lived. Let every wrinkle be a reminder that you survive and sustain.

Happy New Year.

Beyond the Bullet Points: For the Syracuse LIS Class of 2013

It’s four in the morning and I should be asleep. Commencement starts in 5 hours, but chemo is keeping me awake. I was planning on writing a general message to new LIS graduates, but it just kept feeling overblown and preachy. Instead I’d like to direct my comments to this year’s graduating class of library science students – now librarians – at Syracuse University’s iSchool.

First, know that you are special to me. You were the first class I was responsible for accepting while LIS director. I learned so much from you. I saw how you filled the holes in curriculum and hands on skills by organizing yourselves and building a network of support. That move changed the program, and the school. I saw how you quickly saw beyond buildings and books to communities and proactive service.

Let me, if I may, give you one final lesson – a thought as you head into what for many will be your first job in libraries: Don’t wait. It will be too easy to wait to share your voice and your vision. You will want to wait for some experience. You will want to wait for promotion, or a management position, or the next job…don’t. Your voice, and your fresh perspective are too valuable to wait. The field needs you, just as I needed to learn from you.

I am not asking you to alienate, and I am certainly not excusing you from the obligation of listening. What I am saying is that time is no automatic test of fitness. Good ideas come from new places, and old ideas may need to be retired. The field needs your passion and it needs it now.

I realize that many of you are in your 20s and 30s and see the expanse of your life before you. You have plans, and career tracks, and goals for tomorrow…don’t wait. Don’t wait because now is the time for big and bold ideas. Don’t wait, because you have been prepared as radical positive change agents. Don’t wait, because you never know when all that time you saw before you is taken by lay-offs, an unreasonable boss, or the knife of a biopsy.

You have a voice in this profession not because your newly minted degree entitles you to one, but because you have earned it. I have seen you earn it in the classroom, and beyond. I am proud of you. Change the world!

Beyond the Bullet Points: Rock Stars

Editorial note. After having a great conversation with folks on twitter it became apparent that I devalued youth librarianship out of hand. I apologize for that and it was not my intention. I have noted the edit below.

I got the call while I was in the Apple store (surgical mask firmly in place to protect a very low white blood count). It was hard to hear. Margy Avery, my editor at MIT Press, and Rachel Frick, head of the Digital Library Federation, were asking me if it was OK to “something … Expect More… something… OK?!” After a few more “what?” I got that they wanted to load my latest book on to their LibraryBox and distributed it around Austin Texas and the SXSWi Conference – which is cool. Rachel just wrote up a great post on librarians SXSW and I have to say that I am proud to be a tiny part and jealous as hell I wasn’t there.

You see, in all of the recent back and forth on rock star librarians I read the posts from the rather enviable position as someone who got to give keynotes, and got invited to conferences. I’m not sure I would use rock star, but I was very happy to be in demand as a speaker (hopefully about more substantive things than simply the latest gadget or trend). I am very fortunate to work at a place and in a job and with a boss who appreciates getting out and scholarship making a difference in practice (Syracuse University’s iSchool, professor, Liz Liddy who is awesome).

I realized a long time ago that these conference trips for me are more than just an opportunity to speak, pick up a few bucks, and get my ego stroked (which I am not a big enough person to not need). They are a chance to meet new people, hear amazing stories, and argue out ideas in the most amazing conversation – a conversation of professionals who every day serve real members.

Then a few things happened. Last summer I developed some mysterious illness that to this day no one is quite sure what it was. It put me to sleep most of the day, gave me splitting headaches, and eventually seizure like symptoms treated with draconian drugs that more or less put me in a permanent bad mood with 10% less brain function (or at least that is how it felt). My travel was canceled. And while I still spoke via teleconference, the stories and chance encounters, and frankly the group dialog was closed.

In January that was cleared up, and with glee I looked at the possibility of getting back on the road, always careful to balance requests with my obligations at work and at home. And three weeks later I was in the hospital for 20 days facing 8 months of chemo for lymphoma, and pretty much told that airplanes and a compromised immune system don’t mix. I vividly remember as a brilliant and compassionate nurse hung a bag of chemo medicine on an IV saying “you just have to get used to putting your life on ahold for a while.”

So as I read the conference posts, and saw the Movers and Shakers, and as I reviewed the conference slides posted by friends, I couldn’t help but feel a bit passed by. “Will they remember me?” “When I kick cancer’s ass will anyone still want me to talk?” It was a pity party. It was jealousy, it was the worst part of me. Then I got a calls from friends that started out with “how are you doing” and always ended with “how can we solve professional problem X” or advance on a dissertation, or do something cool. This week I got a message via FaceBook with a plea to speak out on Open Access (which I will) and add my voice to that conversation. A type of message I invite from all.

I realized that being a rock star librarian has nothing to do with stage time and wanting to hear me talk. To be a true star (and yes I realize the arrogance of implying I deserve that title), one must be able to get other people talking. And to get people talking one must have something interesting to start the conversation.

Chuck McClure (clearly one of my stars) once talked about how a bad conference (and journal) was filled with “How we do it good” pieces. Stories of implementation of some technique or technology in a library with little thought to larger issues, or larger implementation across the profession. George Needham (star) once said you could tell a bad conference by how many speakers started their presentation by telling you when they got their library degree (sometimes phrased as when the dinosaurs roamed the earth). Both points are about people speaking, not inviting the world to a conversation. Both are admissions of myopia. Good ideas, truly great ideas transcend place and transcend time. And any good conversation starts with a good question…and the question “will you look at me” is never a good question.

Also realize that when you ask a good question, when you propose a conversation intended to lead to positive change, there will be those who seek to kill the conversation. Some out of an honest belief that your position or ideas are not yet ready…seek these out. There will also be those who seek to stop the conversation out of envy, or an unwillingness to engage the new. The only way you know the difference is through conversation. Those who disagree for the right reason will converse, and argue, and fight, and reply. Those who seek to be shielded from change will simply ignore or dismiss you or worse belittle you. I was at a doctoral defense that lasted 30 minutes. Most of that time was the candidate presenting his material. Afterward I asked a member of the review committee why it was so short, when, in my opinion, the topic was so weak. The committee member’s response; “you have to say something interesting to prompt questions.”

So when I looked at the interior of my house and the institutional walls of the regional oncology center I felt like the world got smaller… the world I really wanted to be a part of was in Texas, or Mississippi, or London, or Austin. But then I realized, that my professional world is only as small as the questions I ask. There are good questions for those physical locations (am I doing all I can to care for and appreciate my family; am I doing all I can to kick cancer’s ass) but if my professional question is only “will you look at me?” Then, frankly, they are big enough because who the hell cares.

I have bigger questions. Questions about the future of our profession. Questions about the direction of the information science field. And these questions don’t stop at my front door and they damn sure don’t stop with me. I have had the most wonderful conversations with mentors, and mentees, and friends and colleagues since my diagnosis. Those Movers and Shakers? I have worked with a ton of them and feel fortunate to call them friends. They share my questions and are keeping that dialog alive around the world.

So can I sit in Wichita, or Columbus, or Fort Worth and get new stories? Not yet. But I am I trapped by the physical walls around me? No. And so, several months too late, I finally have my answer for the rock star conversation. Being a rock star is not about hipster attitudes and new tools. Nor is it about the number of conference invites, or even the area in which you practice. Being a rock star is about having a damn good question and being damn good about inviting others to join in a conversation.

Eric Miller made this point so clear to me. We were working on a project called Reference Extract that sought to use reference transactions as the basis for a credibility search engine. He asked “so what is our goal in this project?” I said something to the effect of “making a credibility search engine.” To which he replied “I think we’re trying to demonstrate how librarians can be fundamental to making good decision on the Internet.” Suddenly my response seemed small, and frankly uninteresting. I learned you NEVER lose by taking the high ground and the grand aspiration.

Youth librarianship and the books we choose and why? In youth Librarianship why should we care what books are chosen when we really care about how they propel our youth on a course to change the world they inherit? Don’t give me titles; give me titles and reasons. School libraries and adoption of the Common Core? Nope. Overcoming an increasingly misguided education assessment system to liberate the aspirations of our students? I’m there. What is a digital object identifier? I only care once you convince me that if librarians don’t step up and get our digital heritage in order, we are stymied as a society in inventing our future.

Good questions, passion, the quest to engage and forward the conversation of our profession does not have to happen on the road. It happens in the networks we build and the change we inspire. I hope to be back on the road and speaking when my body heals, but until that time I refuse to put the conversation on hold. If you feel your questions are important don’t wait for the conference invite, or the paper submission, ask the damn question. If what I say is stupid, or arrogant, or guarded, call me on it, and hope and pray others do the same with your work.

Librarianship is not a set of skills to be learned, or a set of degrees to be mastered. Librarianship is a conversation that has taken place over millennia. It is a conversation that we must all be a part of or it will die. It will not die from defunding, Google, and whether we make the transition to RDA. It will die if librarians forget they have an obligation to constantly reinvent ourselves, imagine a better future, or stay silent until asked our opinions.

Beyond the Bullet Points: Irony and Lymphoma

Today I start chemotherapy. I realize for those who follow this blog that statement might come as a shock, it certainly does me. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was in good health following seizures and illness in the fall. Perhaps the post was tempting fate.

Last week I was admitted to the hospital with a very low platelet count and in the process of finding out why the doctors discovered enlarged lymph nodes. The biopsy confirmed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, also known simply as Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the blood. In essence my immune system was attacking my blood.

I would say this isn’t as bad as it sounds, but it actually is precisely as bad as it sounds. I can’t leave the hospital until my platelet count grows, and that will only happen by attacking the cancer, and my immune system at the same time. The good news is that a bone marrow biopsy came back clean. The other good thing is that unlike other cancers you may have heard of, enlarged lymph nodes are where this cancer starts, so it doesn’t indicate spread.

I have few answers for you (and since most readers of this blog are librarians I’m sure you’re all on PubMed now anyway). The good news is that at my age (finally something to make we feel young) there are excellent treatments and projected outcomes.

The big effect of my illness is that with a compromised immune system, and courses of chemo I will once again need to cut out travel. I don’t know how the treatments will affect me, but as always I have webcams and video conferencing to continue to spread the message of how librarians are radical positive change agents, and how communities are our collections.

I will certainly take prayers and good wishes, but this is no time for sympathy. I feel good. I have an amazing family, colleagues, and network of friends. I will beat this.

Beyond the Bullet Points: Confessions of an Assistant Professor (15 years later)

I am often asked by academic librarians how to partner with tenure track faculty. I always tell them to help them with their tenure cases. Not just teach an untenured professor or his or her GA how to search: help them. Do the searches. Help them brainstorm beyond Google Scholar for citations. Look at holdings in WorldCat for books, find example packages. Many wonder if this isn’t way too much work for the relationship built. I would like them to know where this advice comes from. I apologize for the rather self-reflective nature of this post, but you need to know the honesty with which I give this advice.

I have tenure. I have rank (I’m a “Full” these days), and it seems an unspoken tradition that I can now complain about the state of the field, my colleagues, my students, loss of some focus, and the myriad deviations academia has made since I started out in this profession. Yet I’d like to tell you what I remember most from when I started: I was scared out of my mind. I felt alone even though I had the rare chance of being hired into the same school in which I received my Ph.D. In fact that made it worst. I was now sitting next to Jeff Katzer, Mike Eisenberg, and Chuck McClure! I was nothing.

In the opening week of my first year we had a series of progressive dinners to meet other new faculty members. They were all smarter than me. We were received by the provost at the Chancellor’s resident – the same provost who had welcomed me as a freshman to campus 11 years earlier (I am truly a survivor of academic incest). He knew my name. It didn’t feel like an honor, I felt like a target.

Would I ever publish? Would I ever get a grant now that my advisor was leaving for a new job? When would they realize that I was fake; an unprepared kid who bluffed his way through the final defense, and felt about as scholarly as a rock. In my first year of my new position my father died. I was even more alone. My wife had her job and was of great support, but come on – this was tenure and I was special (don’t worry she has since beaten this out of me).

In my first year evaluation, with nothing to really evaluate, my peers asked what my theoretical framework was. My what?!? I used Complexity Theory in my dissertation, does that count. My insecurity grew as my tenured peers reached out with advice and honest attempts to help. Every word of advice only served to make me feel inadequate. I tried to cover my insecurity with arrogance. “Who needs to publish a peer reviewed article? So old fashioned.” “I may not have a lot of publications, but I bring in a lot of research dollars, they’re all just jealous.”

It was with arrogance that I went into my third year review, where the tenured faculty had to make a determination if I could make tenure at the end of three more years. The first vote was negative…I couldn’t. I was angry. I was indignant. I was an idiot. In conversations with my former advisors, and my previous, and as it turns out, my present dean (then chair of the committee), I broke. I was mad, but I listened. They gave me very good advice. They talked about what it took to get my attention, and how that is not what they want in a colleague, and who would.  The second vote passed, I would get my chance at tenure.

After three more years, with a much better record, with listening, with a lot of work, and working with my fellow faculty, I received tenure. Five years later, promotion to full.

Why this long prolog? If you are an academic librarian, I needed you. All your new faculty need you. They won’t say that and they will certainly not say that to someone else on their faculty. They will be arrogant, they will be dismissive, but it is very likely because they are scared. Be a friend. Be a helper outside of the peers they are most likely either avoiding, or desperately trying to please. Give them an escape. Give them and ear. Give them hope. Once you help one, use it as an endorsement for the next, and then the next new face. Team them up with other folks facing the same challenges. Host writing clubs and tenure clubs. Host briefings of specific journal titles with accept rates, rankings, trends in articles published, and contact information for editors. Hell, if the faculty’s dean is anything like mine, they would help you do it. These new folks feel like they are fighting a war…they probably feel unequipped to do so. Help them with strategy.

The foundation of conversations, or facilitating knowledge is trust. As I said in the Atlas your most valuable tool as a librarian is your credibility. Before any conversation happens, before any partnership is formed, before any relationship can be struck beyond stereotypes and misunderstandings, there must be trust. That scared assistant professor needs to trust you. They need to know that you know they are scared, but trust you won’t give them up. You can be their hope. Their hope that maybe, just maybe, they can catch up by the time it comes to prove themself. Give them cover.

Today I admit to still being scared sometimes, and inadequate. However, I have learned that that fear is my trigger to listen and learn. It is hard. I will still lash out. I apologize.

For those assistant professors reading this and not relating. Congratulations on either being better prepared, or better at denial. But for those who relate. Courage.

Beyond the Bullet Points: Missing the Point and 3D Printing

OK, the post by Hugh Rundle ( has gotten some attention. Most of it expected…bleeding edge folks think we need them, plenty of folks think they are unnecessary or not ready. However, all of these arguments miss the point in my opinion, because they are all grounded in the concept of library as collection with printing as one service to export the information provided by the library. In other words we (the library) have the stuff you need, and we’ll let you take some of it with you by printing it out.

I’ve tried to make a few twitter comments and leave it at that, but it just keeps annoying me, so sorry for the rant (I’m told a grumpy disposition is a side-effect of the medication I am on), but I just can’t help myself.

Hugh starts off with what I think might be the worse piece of logical reasoning I’ve seen in quite a bit of time:

Printing and copying in two dimensions is about making a copy of the information. Librarians have spent the last decade talking about how it’s all about content, but three dimensional products are not content, they are containers.

So a sculpture is not information, a video, nothing? A dance transfers no information because it is in 4 dimensions (time and space)?! Are libraries not supposed to support any field that works beyond text? Architecture, engineering, fine arts – see ‘ya! Aaarrggg.

The rest of my very real problem with this post is stated almost in passing … that is the library is about “storage, discovery and dissemination” of information.” In other words library as collection. That the library is the composite of its purchased and leased resources, and the nice services like printing (and I assume study areas, cafes, and the like) are nice additions on top of the core mission. And that undermines his entire argument in my opinion. He is absolutely right that to rush into 3D printing for technolust with no real reason is stupid. Printing chocolate and other examples, do not measure up to the services like 2D printing (and I presume bathroom services). What he is wrong about, is that only the provision of information (here clearly defined as that that is printable in 2 dimensions) constitutes a legitimate library service.

What 3D printing is being used in libraries is not as a sort of Xerox plus, but as part of innovation and creation spaces…MakerSpaces. The point is not for folks to come in and print out existing things, but to create their own things (and ideas, and new products, and pieces of whimsy). Why in a library? Because that is the core of the library – not the collection – idea creation and knowledge generation. Those books and stacks, and printers, and bathrooms, and study rooms, and tape players, and microfiche readers are just tools to get at what librarians are really supposed to be doing…helping the community create knowledge and know itself.

So while Hugh is probably right when he asks:

How many of the librarians clamoring for 3D printers currently provide their patrons with laundry facilities? Sawmills? Smelting furnaces? Loans of cars or whisky stills?

I would be glad to list the libraries that share fishing rods because they ARE A PART OF fishing communities where rods and reels are essential for learning something important to the community. Libraries share and host games, because key members of the community learn through gaming not dictates are a linear curriculum. Libraries loan out people: experts, members of minorities to help establish a civil and informed debate about what it means to be a community. They loan out seeds, and plots to grow gardens.

Ultimately what bothers me about this post is not an attack on 3D printing, and certainly not a warning against technolust. I agree. If you buy a 3D printer for your library expecting it to be a matter of changing a different kind of toner cartridge, just don’t. What bothers me is that by chiding librarians to keep with core values of librarianship, Hugh missies those values. Some librarian brought the first printed book into the library, another brought the first microfiche reader. Some librarian brought in the first game, and the first scroll, and the first illuminated manuscript. They did this to enhance access, yes, but also to expand the capabilities of the communities they served. They did so not because it was text and therefore OK, but because they were tools that could help. Help, not document the world, but to change it. Librarians change the world. Librarians are radical positive change agents that work with their community, sometimes following, but often provoking and pushing. A good librarian challenges what could be, not simply reifies what is.

Beyond the Bullet Points: Stand Up and Act

I write this as a parent, as a teacher, and as a librarian. There is a conversation this country must have. A conversation about guns. A conversation about mental health. A conversation about how we protect our children, a conversation about civil rights, and a conversation about the role of government in all of this.

This is a conversation that librarians must be a part of, and in some cases lead. I don’t say this because it provides librarians an opportunity for visibility. I don’t say this because of a sense of politics. I say this because there are few if any forums outside our libraries, particularly our public libraries, where we can have this conversation.

Certainly in Congress and our statehouses politicians will talk. Certainly in social media quotes, statistics and positions will be broadcast. But this is not what is needed. What is needed is a community by community conversation about who we want to be as a town and as a nation. A conversation that must happen in a civic and civil space. A conversation that must be informed, grounded, and vetted. It is a conversation that too many librarians back away from because it is too emotional, too political, too divisive.

We cannot shy away from this one. The massacre of Sandy Hook is only the latest call to the conversation. It is tragic, but more tragic would not be to hear it as just the latest sorrowful call to action. In Newtown, and every community our communities are hurting, and scared, and confused, and angry. In our communities people call for understanding, to make sense, or at least to cope with the mindless and inexplicable.

This is the time for librarians to stand up and not say we have the answers, but to say we can help forward this conversation. I have already seen librarians put together guides to resources. I have seen libraries provide gathering places. Let us not stop there. We must not simply inform the debate, but truly facilitate it. We must actively seek conversation, consensus, and action. Reach out to the politicians and offer a forum. Reach out to PTG’s, parents groups, school administrators, hunting clubs, media organizations, and offer yourself as a forum and facilitator. No more lib guides or pages of links, but calls for action. No more waiting for the conversation to support, start the conversation.

Beyond the Bullet Points: IFLA Code of Ethics

IFLA just released “IFLA Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers” (you can read it here and to call is disappointing is putting it mildly. There are few documents that so clearly represent a collection centric worldview. That is, libraries are collections, and librarians jobs are about maintaining (and circulating) that collection.

To be sure there is some good stuff here (I’m all for ethics). Yet every time it gets a good head of steam, it veers back into the old school presumed safety of objectivity, and stacks. It also assumes throughout that all the professional ethics are practiced in a library. It seems that librarians and information professionals don’t need to care about ethics unless they work in a library.

I’ve devoted the better part of a decade to countering this collection-centric worldview so I won’t rehash that decode in this post. You want to see my take on ethics, you can here. Instead let me point out some particularly problematic parts of this code:

From the preamble –

This code is offered in the belief that:
Librarianship is, in its very essence, an ethical activity embodying a value-rich approach to professional work with information.
The need to share ideas and information has grown more important with the increasing complexity of society in recent centuries and this provides a rationale for libraries and the practice of librarianship.

So far so good.

The role of information institutions and professionals, including libraries and librarians, in modern society is to support the optimisation of the recording and representation of information and to provide access to it.

That’s right, your job a a librarian is optimization. Not to improve society, not to make a difference. Your job is to make the printer to work faster and get those suckers to the shelves (or CD’s, or online searchable databases). How about that for inspiring passion.

Information service in the interest of social, cultural and economic well-being is at the heart of librarianship and therefore librarians have social responsibility.

Remember this line for later when we get to neutrality. For now, can someone explain to me how optimization of recording representation of information (at least we can agree it is not information itself) is a social good?

OK, that’s just the preamble. Off to the actual ethics. First up, Access to Information”

The core mission of librarians and other information workers is to ensure access to information for all for personal development, education, cultural enrichment, leisure, economic activity and informed participation in and enhancement of democracy.

Now I actually really love the second part of this statement. The problem is it is not the ethical responsibility to actually further communities education or participation in democracy…nope, we ensure access [to a collection] that will do that for us. Read: librarians are passive and our effect is from our collections.

Librarians and other information workers reject the denial and restriction of access to information and ideas most particularly through censorship whether by states, governments, or religious or civil society institutions.

Surely, I can’t have any problems with resisting censorship you say. And you would be right. Of course, resisting is an active verb that would imply we do more than reject it (rejecting a denial at that), but actually fight against it and arm our communities to do so as well. Of course the idea of doing anything with our communities would imply that we are more than just collections, and that doesn’t fit in this document.

Librarians and other information workers offering services to the public should make every endeavour to offer access to their collections and services free of cost to the user. If membership fees and administrative charges are inevitable, they should be kept as low as possible, and practical solutions found so that socially disadvantaged people are not excluded.

Read…you are a collection and an institution. Apparently if you are an embedded librarian or work in places other than a library no ethics for you.

Librarians and other information workers promote and publicise their collection and services so that users and prospective users are aware of their existence and availability.

Do we promote our skills? Do we promote our communities? Nope, our collections and services (presumably in relation to the collection).

I actually like section 2. RESPONSIBILITIES TOWARDS INDIVIDUALS AND SOCIETY. There is still an emphasis on collections, but at least it acknowledges that we live in a community and that community has a culture we must respect.

Section 3 is pretty good with the exception of…

The relationship between the library and the user is one of confidentiality and librarians and other information workers will take appropriate measures to ensure that user data is not shared beyond the original transaction.

This is so un-nuanced I cannot stand it. It just begs for an additional clause on the end about “without the knowing approval of the user.” Don’t even get me started on the term user. It is well intentioned here, I just hate the term.

Section 4 is fine, until you realize it is all about other people’s intellectual property rights. Underlying the entire section is an assumption that libraries are places of consumption that build collections through acquisition, as opposed to community creation.

But then we come to section 5. NEUTRALITY, PERSONAL INTEGRITY AND PROFESSIONAL SKLLS and I run to my keyboard.

Librarians and other information workers are strictly committed to neutrality and an unbiased stance regarding collection, access and service. Neutrality results in the most balanced collection and the most balanced access to information achievable.

Neutral has the same root as neuter. Now I won’t go through a lengthy conversation about how we as human beings cannot be neutral, nor ever leave the biases built into us as individuals and as a society. I’ve done it other places. Instead let me ask how in the world can neutral people provide “information service in the interest of social, cultural and economic well-being is at the heart of librarianship and therefore librarians have social responsibility” as stated above. If we see libraries as important in the social scheme that is not neutral. If we talk about social responsibility, we are biased towards the norms of that society. If libraries are going to do anything other than collect and wait, HOW CAN WE BE NEUTRAL? This very document screams bias. It shows a clear bias towards open access…hardly universal. It shows a clear bias towards transparency, and equitable access. THESE ARE ALL BIASES. Just because we agree with them doesn’t make them neutral. Librarians are heavily biased towards access and equity.

I would so have loved IFLA to take on the much richer, and much more messy discussion of ethics in the real world. Ethics in the world of majority and minority world views. Ethics that acknowledge individual biases, and ways of overcoming, or at least representing them. As it is this line reads like a piece of throwaway fluff that totally avoids the hard questions of context, and social definitions of right and wrong.

Librarians and other information workers define and publish their policies for selection, organisation, preservation, provision, and dissemination of information.

…because that is all librarians do after all is build collections.

Librarians and other information workers distinguish between their personal convictions and professional duties. They do not advance private interests or personal beliefs at the expense of neutrality.

Wait…what? Oh, I see. We are all biased individuals, we as librarians just have a special super power to turn off those biases and forget we are human beings. This line at least gets closer to reality. We should talk about intellectual honesty, about representing both majority and minority viewpoints in a transaction (really a relationship) with members.

Librarians and other information workers have the right to free speech in the workplace provided it does not infringe the principle of neutrality towards users.

Sigh…does anyone else see the inherent problem with the concept that neutrality is a choice? Either you can be neutral or not.

Librarians and other information workers counter corruption directly affecting librarianship, as in the sourcing and supply of library materials, appointments to library posts and administration of library contracts and finances.

AAAARRRRGGGGG!!!!! So let me get this straight…librarians only care about corruption that directly affects librarians? The rest of the community has to fend for itself. Take a bribe and screw the poor is OK, as long as it doesn’t effect our materials budget?! Oh, and we’re back to the library as a collection, because the only way that corruption can effect libraries is through our materials (because we’re only a collection), hiring in a library, and library money.

OK, there is my rant for the day. To be honest there is some really good stuff in here about librarians needing to be open, collegial and constantly learning. However, the underlying worldview is that librarians work in libraries, and that libraries are collections. The focus is on libraries buying stuff, and lending it out to users. This not only ignores the reality of being human and how people learn, it creates internal contradictions that ultimately turn this potentially important document into jingoistic truisms.

Be ethical, not just when you’re in a library, but all the time. Fight corruption, and discrimination, and censorship all the time, and actively. See your community as more than users that must be coddled and protected. Librarians are ethical, and noble and have a rightful claim to the moral high ground. We take that right not from being passive and neutral, but by being ADVOCATES for the well-being of our communities. Our ethics define us as librarians, so we should take better care to ground those ethics in a worldview that reflects a focus on community and learning, not collections and institutions. We can do better, and our communities should expect more of us.

Beyond the Bullet Points: Bullet Points

I was recently asked for tips on giving good presentations. I’ve been asked this on several occasions, so I thought I’d share. Please be aware most of this was composed on a train from Amsterdam to Tilburg, so I don’t claim it has been thoroughly thought through.

There are a ton of sites on making good slides, and rules for good presentations. However, I have found that every rule needs to be broken from time to time. So if I have advice on developing speaker skills it would be these:

  1. Always present something that you care about. If the topic doesn’t excite you, it won’t excite the audience. Speakers are too often hesitant to let themselves get out of control, or show their deep feelings on a topic – don’t be. The audience roots for passionate people and will respond to real emotion.
  2. Own what you are talking about. You need to find an angle on the topic you are presenting that you feel you own – that is, that you can offer a fresh perspective. Anyone can talk about eBooks, but what do you add to that conversation (even if it is just a little bit). Your understanding of a topic matters. Don’t just do a sort of book report or reference “read back” on a topic. The deadliest presentations are the ones where a person gets up and presents “everything you want to know about ebooks.” I can do a Google search, I don’t need a search result, I need your unique perspective. Synthesize and help me make sense of it.
  3. Related to the owning: have your presentation go somewhere. Take the audience from the light and airy to the profound and inspiring. More jokes at the front, more volume at the end. Just like a good song you want people to feel like they have reached a destination, not simply stopped.
  4. Don’t put in too much. Less is more. Pick 3 topics you want the audience to remember, not 12. Please don’t present a 30 item conceptual chart detailing the migration of catalogs to discovery systems….save that for the book.
  5. Point to a better day. No matter the scale of the topic, there is always some way or approach that will make a positive change. Find it, and give it to folks at the end – or better still, give it to them at the beginning and then remind them at the end.
  6. Never ever talk down to the audience. Never ask rhetorical questions with a leading tone…in fact never ask a question unless you know the answer.
  7. Personal anecdotes and stories/examples make any presentation better.
  8. Be an expert on your topic. Now this could be read as presenting on only things you have a great deal of expertise in, it is not. When you are presenting on new or emerging topics, you know your own reactions and experiences. You are expert in you. Think about the topic, read widely. Until you can get past the “I read this and so and so said this” to “I think that” don’t present. Loud voices and lofty words are fine, but pale in comparison to true insight. The best presentation I ever saw was given by a doctoral student as he sat quietly at a table, and softly read a paper he wrote. He violated all the rules (speak loudly, move around, never read) and it was wonderful – because he was brilliant. Content always trumps style.
  9. You never ever lose by going to the high ground. Fit what you are talking about in a larger, and nobelnoble context.
  10. Rehearse in your head, but never too much. “Practice practice practice” leads to a robotic delivery. Instead, imagine yourself in front of the audience, and what you will say based on a prepared outline (for me the outline is my slides). While a good presentation is a performance, it is more like stand up comedy than Shakespeare. Know your bits and have your stories, but don’t script the whole thing.
  11. The bigger the crowd, the easier it is to present. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but it works. Why? In a small group of 10-20 you can see each face. You often know folks in the crowd. As social creatures we naturally pull back on passion and excitement to put the group at ease. As those numbers go up, the crowd becomes more and more anonymous. Rather than a series of faces, the audience becomes like one entity allowing you to judge impact and mood without having to attend to every person. For me, the more people I know in the crowd, the worse I do. I get too much into my head wondering what they’ll be saying tomorrow.
  12. Slides are important, but for pictures, not text.
  13. Mix up the rhythm. Start slowly and casually and build to the crescendo (see 3), but within the presentation vary too. No one can be yelled at, no matter how passionately, for an hour. Speaking quietly will make people pay just as much attention as yelling.