I was a Library Freedom Project cohort

For the past 6 months, I participated as a cohort for Library Freedom Project’s Library Freedom Institute, an IMLS grant-funded curriculum that trains librarians on privacy issues. Alison Macrina, who I first heard speak at a LACUNY Institute years ago, heads the project. Participating in LFI has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve had as a librarian. It is bittersweet, as I looked forward to our weekly lectures on privacy issues, but at the same time, it was quite a bit of work (that produced amazing projects).

Cohorts were divided up into various groups, where we produced a variety of content that can be shared among other librarians. The group that I was a part of consisted of academic librarians across the country, including former adjunct librarian at City Tech Michele Nitto. I really enjoyed working with my fellow academic librarians, as we created privacy classes geared for students and faculty, a library vendor rubric that graded their privacy policies, a zine/guidebook on dealing with online harassment, and a book display highlighting resources on learning more about privacy, and that was just our group. The other librarians who participated in LFI created other projects such as developing privacy guidelines for your library, community tool kits on privacy, privacy concerns involving FOSTA-SESTA, and much more. I feel a great sense of pride thinking and talking about these projects as they are real, useful, and intended to be shared with the library community at large.

Over the course of the curriculum, we virtually attended weekly lectures with an amazing cadre of privacy professionals. This included other librarians, lawyers, privacy experts and activists, journalists, artists, and authors. It was a well-rounded selection of guest speakers that made me really made me think of the bigger implications of losing our privacy and the importance of teaching patrons on how to better safeguard ourselves.

I am really concerned about the implications of artificial intelligence(AI) intersecting with publicly available data sets. Apps and social media has allowed private data and metadata to be monetized and used for potentially nefarious purposes. As education and library budgets are being slashed, I can easily see a university or county government to use AI out of austerity. I read this morning that Virginia Commonwealth University is piloting a system that tracks students attendance based on their WiFi connection. CUNY is already using a predictive analytics system that monitors a student that can make decisions if they are at risk based on a classroom metrics. What is done with that data? Surely, it is being monetized, much like how user information from search engines, library databases, and social media platforms are.

I feel like there is a future where AI and facial recognition will be used to “evaluate” undocumented immigrants like some dystopian Philip K. Dick novel. This is a real fear. The AI is learning from freely available data sets like Facebook, Google, and YouTube, and passively listening to you through your phone. This information we are freely giving up and it can be used against us. There’s the potential for this type of data to reinforce biases and stereotypes, to uncover immigration status, and even create this chilling effect of not being able to read or write what you want. This data has already been used to dictate the last US Presidential election to disastrous effect.

My wish is to educate everyone about the dangers of voluntarily and involuntarily giving up your data so they can take control of it. My experience with LFI has really made me think of how to better educate others about privacy issues. On a professional level, I’m trying to do this by jump starting the LACUNY Privacy Roundtable and conducting more privacy workshops in the library. I also feel that as a cohort, I have learned to conduct these workshops in a compassionate and mindful way. That is, trying to identify stressors and anxieties of participants and at the same time, facilitating inclusion and participation. This is especially important for librarians like myself who do not typically teach on a consistent basis. On a personal level, I find myself having conversations about privacy with my friends and family. I’ve even gone that step beyond and installed a network level Pi-Hole to block web tracking and advertisements.

I feel as our society is becoming more dependent on technology (do you feel naked without your phone or panic when you can’t find it?). It is getting more important to talk about privacy implications and the trade-off of convenience.

LFI was a wonderful experience and I think Alison is doing a real service to the library community by helping us empower our communities, so we can talk about these trade-offs. If you are interested in privacy issues, I highly recommend applying to be a LFI cohort!

Homophones vs. Discovery Tools

I’m on the reference desk and a very soft-spoke student asked for a book called Yvain the Knight of the Lion, but being a dork Star Wars nerd I typed in Yavin Night of the Lion and couldn’t find it. I even looked it up at the Brooklyn Public Library and didn’t find anything and told them we didn’t have the book.

Requests at the desk became less busy, so I conducted a Google Search which asked if I meant Yvain the Knight of the Lion. We did have a copy of the book AND an eBook version as well. Once I found it, I tried to track down that student but couldn’t find them. I hope they come back to the library so they can find that book.

I’m also wondering why PRIMO, our search discovery tool didn’t ask if I meant knight vs. night…

Sketch 2009

There are no classes today, so I’m doing a digital clean up. I found this sketch I designed for the library website in 2009.

We didn’t use this design because I think the argument was it was too minimal. I regret not doing some paper prototyping to get some data on it.

LACUNY Institute Report Back

This past year, I co-chaired the LACUNY Institute Planning Committee with Prof. Mark Aaron Polger of the College of Staten Island. It was my first time organizing the LACUNY Institute annual conference, and it was a excellent experience. The Planning Committee was top notch, and I felt that nothing could’ve happened without them.

Our theme, Librarianship in Challenging Times: Advocating for Intellectual Freedom, Democracy, and Equity, was a broad, yet timely topic. We wanted to explore how living in a polarized political climate impacts the library profession. The conference had a multitude of speakers that examined democracy, intellectual freedom, labor, free speech, censorship, misinformation, and inclusiveness. 

The panel opened with a panel discussion featuring April Hathcock from New York University, Emily Drabrinski from Long Island University, and Greg Cram of the New York Public Library, moderated by Anne O’Reilly of LaGuardia Community College, CUNY.

The first presentation I attended was Allison Chomet’s examination of the labor digitizing books. Chomet looked at how companies such as Google digitize books with “gig economy” stable of workers.

Allison Chomet's slide on digitizing books.
Allison Chomet’s slide on digitizing books.

The poster session looked at various issues, ranging from the University of Puerto Rico’s post-hurricane recovery effort to library resources for refugees.

The last presentation I went to was a session looking at librarians as outsiders. There was emphasis on self-care and identity within the library profession.

Librarian Outsider: Balancing the Needs of Ourselves and Our Students
Panelists: Vicki Gruzynski, Worcester State University, Carrie Salazar Middlesex Community College, Madelyn Washington Berklee College of Music, and Sofia Leung, MIT

I took a lot from this conference, but I am so glad that my colleagues were live tweeting the other presentations I wasn’t able to attend. I look forward to the next LACUNY Institute!

ABQLA Conference Report Back

It’s been a very busy academic year, and I hadn’t been able to make regular blog posts. I do want to mention the ABQLA conference I attended earlier in May. 

This past May, I was able to present at the l’Association des bibliothécaires du Québec – Quebec Library Association (ABQLA) 85th annual conference, held at the Loyola campus of Concordia University. I presented on my work making the City Tech Library website more accessible using the WAVE tool. 

ABQLA President Julian Taylor started the conference of by recognizing that the Loyola campus was on First Nation ground. I was surprised to hear this reverence given and was quite pleased that it was said. Maybe the states could follow such an example? 

The Emergence of the Chief.
The Emergence of the Chief.

I was impressed by many of the speakers of the conference. Cynthia Orozco opened the keynote, explaining her work on LIS microaggressions. She explained her personal journey as a librarian as well as the many of the hardships that librarian people of color experience throughout the creation of the LIS microaggression zine. She also provided many strategies that librarians can employ to empower themselves, their institution, their patrons, and their communities. Her must see presentation was enlightening and inspiring.

Michelle Maloney of the University of the Pacific gave an excellent talk about her experience working with first-generation students. She discussed how her library worked closely with their writing center to prepare incoming freshman.

Amy Jo Mitchell and Kristine Nowak gave an excellent talk about a custom library classification system for a LGBTQ center in my home state of Kentucky. Located in Lexington, the center has a library, and Nowak and Mitchell discussed how the Library of Congress classification system needs an update on LGBTQ subject headings. The headings are outdated and the Pride Community Services Organization needed a system that was more flexible for it’s patrons.

The library at the Pride Resource Community Services Organization in Lexington, KY.
The library at the Pride Community Services Organization in Lexington, Ky.

The last session I attended was an organization update on ABQLA. I found it fascinating how the Canadian library groups work independently from one another after the dissolution of the Canada Library Association. I also learned that Fair Dealing is the terminology used instead of Fair Use.

Fair Dealing in Canada

The ending keynote was presented by Marcelle Kosman, Co-host of the Podcast, Witch Please. She discussed her doctoral research into women Canadian sci-fi writers, and how a lot of those works were republished and modeled from American pulp fiction magazines. As a sci-fi reader, I found her end note fascinating. 

Kosman's explained that early Canadian women sci-fi writers used white-supremacy in a number of stories, which comparable to young Dumbledore's flirtation with fascism. 
Kosman’s explained that early Canadian women sci-fi writers used white-supremacy in a number of stories, which comparable to young Dumbledore’s flirtation with fascism. 

Bandcamp keeps me sane.

This week I've been writing a book chapter on knowledge management systems. Here's my writing soundtrack:

Presentations for the City Tech Poster Session and CUNY IT Conference

Last week I gave two presentations. The first was at the annual City Tech Poster session with my colleague, Prof. Nora Almeida. Our poster examined the learning modalities of students and their design preferences in LibGuides. Using a variety of evaluation methods including paper prototypes, a cognitive walk through, advanced scribbling techniques, and interviews, we developed a LibGuide template to be used on all of our research guides.

I also had a panel presentation with Robin Davis of John Jay College, Mark Eaton of Kingsborough Community College, and Stephen Klein of the CUNY Graduate Center at last week’s CUNY IT Conference. We discussed how we have used (mostly) free and open source technologies to make our library resources accessible to our communities. You can see our presentation here.

In Response to Jeff McCall’s Banned Books Opinion Column

Jeff McCall recently wrote an opinion column for The Hill regarding the American Library Association’s annual event “Banned Books Week,” held every September. I strongly disagree with Prof. McCall’s points on how this celebration is “shrill Chicken Little-like panic about the supposed evil forces in America that want to censor reading material and diminish a person’s right to read what he pleases.”

McCall mentions that the books on ALA’s top ten banned books list can be purchased through online and through bookstores. A reader can simply go and buy a banned book. This is extremely problematic, and not so simple, as it assumes that a reader has the money to buy books in the first place. Libraries provide access to books relatively for free. I grew up in a small Appalachian rural town, where there was no public transportation. However, what did exist was a bookmobile, which was driven through the hollers and mountains of southeastern Kentucky and brought books to those who didn’t have the means to make the trek to the library. The library is an Internet access point for the homeless and those who live below the poverty line. How would it be possible to buy a book, let alone one that was banned, in those circumstances?

This opinion piece also states that banned books are available in numerous other libraries, and that just because it is not in a particular one it is not indicative of being banned. This may be true, but it is also because of the hard work that librarians have done to make controversial books available in the first place. Fighting against censorship, especially on the local level, is a valued tenet of the library profession.

Unpopular ideas today may be commonplace tomorrow, and it is important that librarians curate and protect this. Take for instance Garth Williams’  The Rabbits’ Wedding, where a black rabbit marries a white rabbit. This book was banned in Alabama (state-wide!) in 1958 because it promoted interracial marriage. It’s important to never forget that anti-miscegenation laws were on the books up until 1967. Loving v. Virginia really wasn’t that long ago.

“Community standards” is another point that McCall argues and that a public dialogue should be had in order to determine what books should be in a library’s collection. This too creates numerous problems. Numeros books had been banned or made controversial simply because they weren’t read or they were taken out of context. The book Belly Button Defense was banned because of title alone even though it’s a story about basketball. Huckleberry Finn was banned because of the racial slurs and how Jim was treated throughout the story. This was reflective of the times in which it was written; slaves were looked down upon and treated horribly. The book had also been banned because it depicted the friendship between a white boy and a black man. Like the confederate statues that were erected in the times of eugenics, desegregation, and the civil rights movement, decades after the end of the civil war, it’s important to note that same historical context in which why these books were banned.

I’m not saying that library shouldn’t listen to the community it serves, however, I don’t believe that communities should take away the option of reading a book just because they disagree with it. Libraries serve a wide variety of people.  As with any educational institution, libraries are there for people to ultimately learn. There is no greater learning process than that of learning out of conflict. Challenging one’s personal beliefs, ideas, and values, out of something they’ve read is a gift taken for granted. Ellen Johnson, former chair of the Arkansas Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee said, “Libraries serve a wide range of interests, and the library needs to provide materials for more than one group of people. It’s hard for people trying to censor books to understand that in a public situation, you can’t serve one group only.”

I suggest that Prof. McCall should visit his college’s library and attend next year’s Read-Out in order to challenge his own views.




#LTC2017 Report Back

Despite the recent snowstorm in the northeast, I was lucky enough to attend and present at the annual Library Technology Conference, held at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. The conference highlights practical applications of technology in libraries. It seems that a majority of attendees come from academic libraries, but there was  good mix of public, special, and school librarians in attendance.  Continue reading “#LTC2017 Report Back”