Monday, January 27, 2014

Yes, Libraries Are Oppressive. So What Now?

 Two questions:
  1. Are libraries designed to create and perpetuate inequity?
  2. Does the answer to the above question matter?
Two answers:
  1. Kind of.
  2. No, because regardless of intentions, libraries are oppressive.
I wish I knew the source for this, but I don't, so... fair use. 
"the library, as an institution, isn't that oppressive or designed to create and perpetuate inequity."
There's an out of context quote for you, taken to provoke maximum outrage, since
"the founding of a large public library could be motivated by multiple reasons, some of them perhaps contradictory."
The source for these quotes is Wayne Bivens-Tatum's "Libraries, Neoliberalism, and Oppression." In his book, Libraries and the Enlightenment (again, via Library Juice Press), he writes.
Harris and DuMont are quite critical of the admittedly stuffy movement in nineteenth century libraries to Americanize immigrants through education, arguing that Ticknor and others merely wanted to suppress dissent and the rising ideologies of socialism and communism. Even if Ticknor and other conservatives were motivated by a fear of, say, communist demagogues convincing the undemocratic masses to revolt, or whatever the fear was, this does not undercut the fact that they did indeed seek to educate people and to provide them with the means to educate themselves throughout their lives. That the founders of the Boston Public Library were not trying to educate revolutionaries does not take away from their accomplishment. We could just as easily interpret their actions as an early stage of progressivism. (p. 114)
Yet it seems there is a tension in his writings because of how he reconciles, or does not, the contradictory origins of public libraries.

The library is an institution, which has policies to define who is and is not a member, channels to resolve disputes, as well as feedback mechanisms. These structures intentionally legitimate some behaviors, and just as purposefully discriminate against others.

Many libraries deliberately practice social exclusion. Exclusion may also be an unintentional consequence, along with the illusion of community expertise where there is none.* The library is not unique or alone in this. Every institution has ways to include and exclude. Whether these actions and practices are intentional or unintentional is in many ways besides the point. Libraries, and librarianship, are implicated and often strengthen them. As I was saying: "libraries, and librarianship, are both radical and conservative; simultaneously perpetuating and undermining neoliberalism."

Indeed, Bivens-Tatum has written about this topic as well.
The best I can hope for is that we think globally and act locally, which requires understanding the larger context behind the specific challenges to the public good while doing what we can to fight against those challenges. 
R. David Lankes, David Shumaker, and others, are attempting to separate librarianship from libraries.
One of the principles of embedded librarianship is that librarians are important whether they work in libraries or not. In exploring the landscape of embedded librarianship, I've encountered embedded librarians who are part of library organizations (but spend a lot of time away from a library space), and others who are not part of a library organization at all. 
My focus on this principle makes me hyper-sensitive to rhetoric that over-emphasizes the institutions and minimizes, de-values, and depersonalizes the professionals. I think this happens a lot, subtly, in our professional literature. (Source)
Given this formulation, while libraries are implicated in neoliberalism, maybe librarianship doesn't have to be. Thoughts?

* Both links in this paragraph via Cecily Walker, who worked on alerted me to the project.

Related, elsewhere on this site:
Libraries and Postmodernity: A Review of Radical Cataloging
Toward of Unifying Field Theory of Librarianship
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty in Academic Librarianship
The Adjunctification of Academic Librarianship
More Thoughts on New Librarianship
Data and the Surveillance State
Libraries as Structures, Libraries as Agents, Late Capitalism Edition

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The ALA Midwinter 2014 Post #alamw14

Thanks to an extensive campaign of unrelenting peer pressure, I will be at the American Library Association's Mid-Winter meeting in Philadelphia on Saturday, January 25th. I'm taking the bus up from DC early in the morning and taking whatever the equivalent of a red-eye bus ride is back late that night. I'd love to see you, dear readers, and if you'd like to see me, here's where I'll be.

10:30 to 11:30am - I hope I'm not late to this, but I'll be at the Copyright Discussion Interest Group in room 303 AB. I'd like to get some tips and strategies on how to best promote awareness of copyright, fair use, and maybe open access issues on my campus.

Lunch thereafter, may-haps at Reading Terminal Market?

1:00 to 2:30pm - GameRT Forum in room 103 A so I can finally meet (IRL) and provide moral support to this guy.

Mid-Afternoon - Mainlining coffee, socializing, and wandering around the Expo Hall, picking up swag and office supplies.

4:30-5:30pm - Challenges of Gender Issues in Technology Librarianship in 201 C. This is the main reason why I'll be attending Mid-Winter. More on why I'll be at this panel here. And maybe drinks with some of the panelists afterwards.

There's also a tweet up on Saturday night that I might make an appearance at, but I also heard something about music, and loud music is not conducive to conversations.

Get off my lawn! Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino, via Giphy.

Philadelphia is a great city to eat and drink in, and Drexel's Tom Ipri has many suggestions here.

I hope to see you there. If you'd like to meet up, let me know below, or via twitter.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Libraries as Structures, Libraries as Agents, Late Capitalism Edition

The "their" in question above is libraries, which are a creation of the above socio-political economic system, often termed neoliberalism, "an ideology that rests on the assumption that individualized, arms-length market exchange can serve as a metaphor for all forms of human interaction," (source). How complicit are libraries in this system? Plenty, argues Nina De Jesus, convincingly. To wit:
when libraries were shifting from private institutions to institutions designed for the ‘public good,’ the notion of who, exactly, was considered part of the ‘public’ was radically different than today. Indeed, when you look into the rhetoric of why public libraries became a thing, it was a middle-to-upper class initiative enrich and ‘better’ the working class, so that they’d have something to do with their free time other than realize just how crappy this new economic system was for them. (Source)
The offset excerpt above illustrates a Gramscian take on how this is the case; libraries co-opt lower classes, staving off class consciousness. In Gramscian thought a socio-political economic system exerts influence unconsciously. The fact that it goes unnoticed, assumed, and taken for granted by most is proof of its effectiveness. The first step to challenging a hegemonic superstructure such as this is realizing that it exists.
Further, De Jesus writes that, "And I've seen very few people take a critical and sincere approach to analysing how the library, as institution, is actually oppressive and designed to create and perpetuate inequity."

That is, the public library as we know it was designed in no small part to prevent revolution and class revolt. Can we measure the "success" of the library by the lack of open class warfare? Or, do libraries exist to give people a lottery ticket, a way out; and is that the best we can hope for given that we are all products of the socio-political and economic system, and even strengthen it by our participation?
However, the critiques of libraries as neoliberalist institutions implicate everything, thus said critiques run the the risk of losing any explanatory power and effectiveness. They cannot be directionless, as Fredrik deBoer points out. Are libraries any more, or less, implicated that other structures, agents, and organizations, and if so, why? And and where do we librarians, archivists, and other information professionals go from here? The library, as always, is a good place to start. Chris Bourg, an Associate University Librarian at Stanford, has compiled a list of resources, with more on the way. Her twitter timeline is also a good place to start.

Critical Library Instruction
Love this press
Information Literacy and Social Justice (cover image)
Really, love this press
Per Barbara Fister, libraries, and librarianship, are both radical and conservative; simultaneously perpetuating and undermining neoliberalism. We librarians should be conscious of this, and try to do more of the latter and less of the former when and where possible.
Mostly baffled that a profession that constructs knowledge + has so little critical to say about the construction of knowledge. - Emily Drabinski, on twitter ( and
Some ways that libraries can combat neoliberalism, and offer an alternative, come to mind.

First, library and information science programs can offer courses that make future LIS professionals aware of neoliberal issues they'll encounter in the workplace. As the state has abdicated and markets have failed to provide shelter, child care, and job application centers, these tasks, and others, have fallen to public libraries. LIS curricula should spend some time discussing these challenges for LIS staff. Courses on academic librarianship should discuss the political economies of higher education and publishing, and how they influences libraries and library management.

Second, the relevant bodies, comprised of LIS professionals, can rework assessment regimes, changing the conversation from return on investment and measurements of efficiency to those of values. Both Bourg and Fister are excellent resources here.

Third, when librarians are in the classroom, they can foster awareness of these issues. The same is true of the library website. More about that here.

And yet neoliberalism cannot be a deus ex machina or scapegoat for libraries, museums, and archives. Neoliberalism is not a "thing," it is not static. It is a process, an evolving and moving target that is a product of a particular place and time. Locating neoliberalism in the Enlightenment throws a very important baby out with the bathwater, though no doubt the seeds of the former are found in the latter.

Beyond the links above, the following are good reads on the effects of neoliberalism and neoliberalist practices on and in education:
On Precarity  
Vulnerability, Contingency, Advocacy 
The Neoliberal Library: Resistance is Not Futile - Bourg's talk at Duke University. (Update, 1/16/14) 
Teachers in Lee, MA Return Merit Pay - This is what resistance looks like in practice. 

Related, elsewhere on this site:
Libraries and Postmodernity: A Review of Radical Cataloging
Toward of Unifying Field Theory of Librarianship
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty in Academic Librarianship
The Adjunctification of Academic Librarianship
More Thoughts on New Librarianship
Data and the Surveillance State

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Beer and Music, Music and Beer, 2014 edition

One of the better songs of the year, or any year

The backstory: Every year this guy and I trade top ten, or fifteen, or whatever lists and then make fun of each other. I usually spend the mornings with National Public Radio (and I donate to this station) on in the background, then switch over the music in the afternoon.

Here's a taste of what I spent last year listening to:
Sigur Ros - Kveikur: This band spent the last two albums in the wilderness, mistaking pretty sounds for cohesive, coherent records. Perhaps shedding a band member provoked an identity crisis. Like a grade school student trying on new personas, wondering where they want to try to fit in, Sigur Ros cuts an album that shows they spent the ‘90s listening to the pop-industrial stylings of Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins. The band drops its most aggressive record to date, polished to a slick studio sheen as if Mutt Lange was behind the boards. Heavy percussion, prog-metal tendencies, and actual verse-chorus-verse song structure, albeit at 6/8 time, make this perhaps the most accessible Sigur Ros record as well as the most unexpected. This is as tight, compact, and mainstream as this band will get, and the result is their only album you could credibly play on a road trip.

Savages - Silence Yourself: Politicized without being political, Savages are a thrash band that happens to play post-punk in the vein of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Pornography-era Cure. Jagged, angular guitar riffs, a tight rhythm section, and a snarling beast of a lead singer add up to one of the better debut records in recent memory. 
Deafheaven - Sunbathers: It’s black metal. It’s post-hardcore. It’s shoegaze. It’s post-rock. It’s screamo. It’s walls of guitar noise, piercing Neil Young-style solos, blast-beat drumming and then…. silence. It’s gravity-defying and earthbound. One of the best explorations of musical space from the new breed of smarty-pants metal groups out there. But mostly it’s uplifting.

Kanye West - Yeezus: Let’s get this out of the way right now: Kanye is the GOAT. There’s no one better, past or present. He’s not on the next level, he is the next level. There’s enough going on here to write a dissertation on, and I suspect that people will try.
Yeezus is an album full of self-loathing that reminds me of the controversy around Guns ‘n Roses’ “One in a Million;” Kanye’s misogyny says so much more about him than it does about anything else. “Dude misses his mom and lashes out” is the pop-psychology take I subscribe to. “The plan was to drink until the pain’s over, but what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” he asked on his last album. We still don’t have an answer.
He writes some of the most fascinating lyrics around: “She Instagram herself like ‘bad bitch alert / the Instagrammers watch like ‘mad bitch alert’” sums up so much of 2013 in terms of race, class, celebrity, and gender, and the cultural tourism that stems from those cleavages. But there’s more. The trappiest, trunk-rattlingest, DJ Khaled- est, “We tha Best-est” song on the album, the one you’d like to bump the loudest? It features a Nina Simone sample about lynching.
Elsewhere, dancehall menacingly interrupts songs, beats drop out, and the most soulful song on the record, “Bound 2,” was the subject of an embarrassing video/home movie leak. Absolutely fascinating, and the album spawned some of the best music writing of the year. To wit: 
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City: The greatest trick VW ever played was their first, applying African compositions to preppies and being in on the joke while too many critics weren’t. Now they’ve gone and made their most challenging album, both musically and lyrically. A mediation on growing old that shouts out my late night falafel joint and borrows from Souls of Mischief’s “Step to My Girl.”

My Bloody Valentine - m b v: An album that has no right to exist that sits comfortably alongside the rest of their cannon, twenty years after the fact. “Touched” and “To Here Knows When” from “Loveless” are the precedents for this album, which is less “pop” than their others.

Posted in full right here.

Photo by the author. 
A word about beer: I strive to list only beers that are new for 2013, or first reached the Washington, DC area in 2013. Here goes...

Franklins Munton Chuck Porter - A single malt, single hopped porter, flawlessly executed. Beer terroir.

Otter Creek and Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Dose - The latter makes a cult double India Pale Ale called Double Sunshine and this is as close as we'll get to that. It was still a magnificent beer three months after bottling. Mangoes, nectarines, corn syrup, and grass. Is there malt in here? Does it matter? White pepper spiced through the middle. A soft water finish with a bit of mouth-coating stickiness and tons of grapefruit and lemon pith. Dangerously drinkable for such an unbalanced beer and immediately in the higher tiers of DIPAs.

Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel - The first time in the US for this beer, the platonic ideal of what a dopplebock should be. Dark breads, like rye & whole wheat, a good amount of carbonation, but the bubbles are delicate. Massive sugars, caramel, toffee, & molasses. Plum & figgy pudding. A hint of noble hops give it some straw, hay, & grass. Finishes sweet, & the bread & sugar linger, but there's enough dryness from the carbonation to keep you going back for more.

New Belgium Hop Kitchen French Aramis IPA - Green apple, toasted walnuts, apricots, clementines, grass, crackers.

Allagash FV-13 - American Wild Ale - Like balsamic vinegar run through strawberries and cherries, and then the liquid is oaked.

The Bruery's Bois (strong ale), Smoking Wood (smoked, barrel-aged porter), and Sour in the Rye (American Wild Ale).

Terrapin Side Project 19 Mosiac Rye - A single-hopped pale ale.

3 Stars Harvester of Sorrow (barrel-aged saison) and Zombie Date Night (imperial porter with raspberries and cocoa nibs)

Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout (barrel-aged imperial stout) and Gillian (barrel-aged saison).

Westbrook Gose, because if they want to run lactobacillus through their canning lines, then I'm all for it.

Birrificio del Ducato Brett Peat Daydream - I have no idea what style this is. It's an ale refermented with a strain of brettanomyces yeast, then aged in Scotch whisky barrels.

Devils Backbone Striped Bass Pale Ale - A new classic.

Adroit Theory B/A/Y/S (Ghost 003 batch) Imperial Stout ages on chestnut staves.

An additional cheers to
  • DC Brau's On the Wings of Armageddeon Imperial IPA, as now we have our first DC-made "whale" beer.
  • Stillwater Classique, a sessionable hoppy farmhouse ale from an interesting brewery.
  • Evil Twin Bikini Beer, a 2.7% ABV IPA that is essentially a "lite" beer. Too hoppy and bitter to properly session, but great to have one or two on a weeknight or afternoon.
  • Heurich Lager, a collaboration between the Heurich Museum, homebrewers, and DC Brau. More on that here.
Bonus: Bluejacket has been open for less than three months and has already made thirty beers in that time. I'm partial to
  • Mexican Radio - A lower gravity take on what appears to be a new sub-style, stouts made with chocolate, chilis, and cinnamon.
  • Forbidden Planet - a Kolsch-style ale dry-hopped with Galaxy.
  • The Panther - A hoppy black lager that pairs well with red meat.
  • Birds of Prey on cask - A strong India Pale Ale that uses Falconer's Flight hop pellets, a la DC Brau's IPA mentioned above.
For more on what I liked last year, head over to, where my colleagues and I discuss our 2013 favorites and reflect back on the year that was. A sample of the latter:
I was very impressed with all the Craft Brewers Conference collaborations [More on the CBC here]. I usually view those as gimmicky, but the rye lager from DC Brau, Devils Backbone, and Brewer's Art; Yonder Cities from Brau and Union; and the rye gose from 3 Stars and Oliver Ales were all beers I'd love to see again.
The January, 2013 edition of this post
The January, 2012 edition of this post
The January, 2011 edition of this post

All beer coverage on this site available here.

Friday, January 3, 2014

What I Saw, What I Heard, What I Read: On Codes of Conduct

I have two stories to tell, in chronological order.

First, my then-girlfriend turned down a graduate school program in the sciences in no small part because she was tipped off by female graduate students that the program was hostile to women, and that multiple influential faculty engaged in sexist and harassing behaviors.

Second, I saw male tenured faculty members target female graduate students during a dinner, after hours at a political science conference when I was also in grad school. The faculty divided up the grad students before sitting at the table, isolating each woman. Looking back on it, it seemed like wolves hunting in a nature documentary.* I talked over and around the faculty members closest to me in an attempt to stay in contact with the women. Some seemed to just want the attention of a younger woman. Others may have wanted more. The two targets of this behavior now have PhD's and tenure-track jobs; I hope, and am somewhat confident, that this incident only took place at dinner, with no repercussions in the form of silencinggaslighting, and the like. We three graduate students reported this to our Graduate Studies Director, and that was the last I heard of it. The next year, at another political science conference, one of the perpetrators stared more than a little too long at a female companion while in the elevator.

So when you see me retweeting pieces about the American Library Association's Statement of Appropriate Conduct at ALA Conferences, boosting signals, the stories above, and others that either I'm not ready to tell, or aren't my stories to tell, are why.

Lisa Rabey has more stories, both hers and others, here (especially on page two). Some of those are below, loosely in the order they were tweeted, since Will Manley's piece was published and then deleted. If I missed any, please both accept my apologies and let me know, either via the comments, or twitter.
The above link mentions race as a factor in harassment as well, which is a cleavage absent from many of the others for a variety of reasons, chief among them that librarianship and Masters of Library and Information Science programs are overwhelmingly white.
* And yes, the aggressive male, the prey... that is an awful, harmful stereotype. And I felt it all the same.

Elsewhere on this site: An Open Letter to Male Librarians.