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From Dynamic to Static

As a way to challenge myself and learn new skills, I think I’m going to eventually abandon this WordPress based blog and switch to a static site generator. This past academic year, I’ve had to deal with a few hacked WordPress sites from bad or outdated plugins at work. One of these plugins hadn’t been used for years and it infected one of our WordPress installs, and it went throughout the whole server at the file level.

I’d rather deal with the labor of learning how to use Jekyll or Node.js than disinfecting a whole site.

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My two pennies

Working from Home During the Corona Virus

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working remotely. I hate it. I really dislike bringing work home, as I have a personal code to keep my work life separate from my home life. It’s been that way ever since I’ve been able to work, and I think part of is because my dad was a doctor who would be on call 24/7. Our home landline growing up, a corded, yellow rotary phone that was akin to a permanent banana long before they were taped up on a gallery wall as “art,” would ring incessantly throughout the day and night. There were some days dad would just spend the night at the hospital because it was easier to hang there than commuting back and forth from home.

I didn’t realize the importance of having a separate space for my daily work until this past week. I write music, lyrics, read, draw, meditate, play video games, and do yoga all at home. I value having a quiet space that facilitates these activites and I’ve had difficulty finding the balance of *not* working on a work project instead of a hobby.

I also miss working alongside my colleagues. There’s a comradery in my library that I truly cherish. I greet our wonderful library staff at the circulation desk every morning after my bike commute, I talk to my colleagues around the water cooler, reference desk, and I miss people just popping into my office to say hello, to talk about a work project, or to answer a question from one of our student workers. I miss the occasional student who wanders into my office thinking it’s the Multimedia Resource Center or to ask if I have an extra pencil/paper/pen/calculator/laptop/tablet/cell phone charger I could lend them.

There also an extra amount of labor working online. Zoom meetings, Webex meetings, email, text, Signal, Twitter, this is all just screens which make me want to scream sometimes. There’s extra steps in contacting folks now. Naomi Klein had a screencast on coronavirus capitalism a couple of weeks ago and she was talking about how this is the Silicon Valley dystopia. Work blends into home life and human interactions are done through a computer screen. Brick and mortar stores are closed and the commerce of goods are done electronically in our own little personal prisons.

I feel like the cultural war against intellectualism, science, and experts have resulted in the casualties of the COVID 19 crisis. It befuddles me that we live in a world where people don’t believe in vaccinations or that we live on a flat planet. Our national education system is headed by a billionaire who has no background in education and whose brother not only was a head of a mercenary group, but has carried out clandestine spy operations against teacher unions. Students and faculty alike are being forced to use remote conferencing software that violate their privacy. Higher education across the country has turned into a nightmare versions of Phoenix University Online. Not all students can learn through distance learning (or have the technological/economic access to it) and not all faculty are apt (or have the time, resources, or support) at teaching in this new medium.

Regardless, this last week I’ve been able to work on a book project which is going well. I have plans to update our LibGuides installation since usage has jumped since CUNY has gone completely online. I’ve also been able to work on reading and reviewing articles. Although this has been a very productive two weeks, it’s such a different feeling than working at the library. For one, there’s no cats that sit on my keyboard(s) there. I can take a walk down the hall to clear my head. I can take a break and check my mail or talk to someone at the water cooler.

This week marks working 14 years at City Tech Library. I really do love what I do for a living, and I hope this pandemic comes to a safe close soon.

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My two pennies

code4Lib and Designing for Digital 2020 Conference Report Backs with Corona on the Side

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend portions of the code4Lib 2020 Conference in Pittsburgh, PA and the Designing for Digital (D4D) 2020 in Austin, TX conferences in the same week. During this time, while traveling the COVID-19 (which I have began singing to the tune of Come On, Eileen) epidemic transitioned into a pandemic. This has certainly made a difference in my previous conference experience.

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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!

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My two pennies

New York Technical Services Librarians Fall Program

I am very excited to be invited to discuss web accessibility for the New York Technical Services Librarians Fall Program in a few weeks! More information about the event can be found here.

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My two pennies

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…

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My two pennies

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.

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My two pennies

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!

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My two pennies

Bandcamp keeps me sane.

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

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My two pennies

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.

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