Uncategorized Archive

Let Us Do Better

Posted March 29, 2017 By Abigail Goben

I watched Congress this week vote to sell off all of our browsing histories. It is a horrifying thing to observe and the Philosopher and I need to sort out what exactly we can do at least on our personal devices. There are many resource lists available and I’m particularly grateful  to the Library Freedom Project and Alison Macrina for giving me clear places to start.

But over the weekend at ACRL, I was appalled to encounter several program descriptions that celebrated grabbing all of the student data that we can with the proclaimed goal of showing library impact. On the heels of the incredibly-invasive ACRL app that I wrote about before (please note, I talked several peers who said things such as WTF this thing wants my passwords and contacts — I was not alone) I was already primed for some serious frustration and this did not help.

Librarians: we must do better than this.

Some of the points that I have settled on thus far:

  • I speak regularly with academic librarians who are frustrated that our institutions continue to boil researcher impact down to a single number (journal impact factor, h-index, etc) to hire, award grants, give tenure, etc. And yet we are openly praising invasive data gathering about our students in an attempt to demonstrate that their asking if we own a book or walking in to buy a coffee correlates to academic success.
  • We’re grabbing this data from a position of power and forcing our students to actively opt-out.  Assuming that opt-out is even possible, of course, some students will, but most will not understand that they can or that they might want to. It’s one more decision they have to make in a day full of fraught choices and “swiping my ID card to make the librarian happy” is not one I want to put on them. We are not a clothing store trying to send them coupons, but this is very similar behavior.
  • Many of us are creeped out by the insidious data mining that means anything I look at on Amazon follows me around via my browser ads for the next two months. Historically librarians have fought strongly against government monitoring and freedom to read. So why are we treating our students as mindless drones who should be grateful to fork over all of their data?
  • I’m at a public institution. Data we capture is FOIA-able. Our university may be able to deny the FOIA but if someone knows it exists, they can ask for it. A standing statement around here is that if we don’t want it on the cover of the Tribune...
  • We’re flailing around grabbing data because it might be useful. This always seems to come with vague outcomes of “showing value” or “student success” –which any evidence-based practice medical librarian will tell you does not make a good PICO question. We have few protocols, access procedures, or policies —and sometimes we haven’t even formulated questions. In a previous project at MPOW, we tried to figure out what data everyone was capturing and what reports it fed into, primarily from a workload/duplication of effort perspective. It was an enormous project that led to realizing the giant piles of data that various library departments had. We also found quite a number of reports that were regularly run but didn’t seem to go anywhere.  We’re still working on a deletion practice.
  • Without clear policies and procedures and particularly access practices, we are at the mercy of the most vindictive among us. If we’re gathering granular building access data, is this available to a student employee trying to locate where their significant other is or is not? Are we absolutely sure?
  • It is unlikely that we will get statistically significant information about our populations through many of the measures I have heard suggested. And our actions in making captured data anonymous or sharing it appropriately needs some work as well. I have seen multiple examples in our literature and presentations where indirect identifiers meant I could quickly and easily get to a single individual or very small groups–particularly of underrepresented and therefore potentially more vulnerable patrons.

Quantitative data assists us in understanding the use and happenings in an academic library. I do not contest that. Part of helping my department head understand why I’m drowning is giving her the number of consultations I’m doing; the classes I’m teaching; the research projects I am engaged with; the endless committee list; etc. Resource use counts helps us to inform collection development, as does ILL numbers and turnaways. If we’re seeing a spike or a major decline in usage of one of our research guides or at the reference desk, it’s good to have some information that may help us determine why. Attendance at workshops informs and can give us ideas as to what topics are resonating with our campuses.

But a blithe assumption that our students do not care or should not be allowed to care about their academic behavioral privacy and tossing aside our professional code of ethics is not behavior I can condone. I keep coming back to the Ian Malcolm quote from Jurassic Park “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”


Open Access Tenure: Quickly, Quickly…

Posted March 6, 2017 By Abigail Goben

I’m in the midst of two manuscripts, spring teaching, conferences, and all of my other usual nonsense, so just a quick but important update.

I got the results of my campus tenure vote and I PASSED. Of the people voting for me, no one voted no on my dossier at the campus level. Couple of absence/abstention so I can’t say unanimous but I’ll take an overwhelming majority and no one against.

So I’m done now, right? [Question I have answered a lot of times now.]


Currently my dossier is with the Provost, who has to agree to sign off on it. Then it goes to the Chancellor, same deal.  Then, sometimes on July 12-13, the Board of Trustees will review the cases for this year and sign off on them (or not).  So, four more months. Not that I’m watching the calendar like a hawk or anything.

In between all of the other deadlines bleeding all over my desk.

But if you were curious if a campus P&T would approve an Open Access focused dossier, where I explicitly stated in my paperwork that this was my goal, then the answer is yes.

But You Get Badges And Networking Opportunities…

Posted February 7, 2017 By Abigail Goben

*Note 2/8 at 5 p.m., if you’re just joining us– ACRL did respond to a few of the privacy questions in the comments. I have not seen the Lightning Talks voting addressed as yet.*

I was troubled this week to learn that ACRL is promoting an app specific to those of us attending ACRL 2017. It struck me as a waste of phone space and of limited use. But what particularly surprised me was that in a “Welcome to the Conference” email, I was informed that the only way I could participate in voting for Lightning Talks was to download this app.

A colleague of mine has a lightning talk that I’d really like to see presented–and this then backs me into a corner. No alternate option was given, nor was there a specific contact on the email (the response email went directly to ACRL’s general inbox). So I tried to download it. A waste of phone space, yes, and annoying…

And also attempting to invade my privacy.

On my Android device, the app aggressively pushes for access to my device’s contact list. There is no apparent need for this and when I chose “Deny” the app kept rerouting me to try and get me to agree. **See the screenshots at the bottom for what it looks like**  Android has the option to “Deny and check here to stop it asking this again.” 

Once you finally get those pop ups to stop, now you are required to fill in at least some part of the manually entered profile to get to the app. Again, no clear way around this and no apparent need for this. You can’t click on a “do this later” or anything like that. Trying to get out of the Profile page sends you back on a loop of “we need to access your contacts.” So at minimum they have an email address, first name, and last name and even then you have to guess/try to figure out how to get to the full application. (Note: A hard return will do it after you fill in the last name) I leave it to the usability experts to clarify how this might also be a usability issue.

By the time I actually got into the full app, I was more than a little suspicious of what else it was signing me up for, so I went to check the settings. The default is that all of them are turned on. This includes a variety of notifying people when I/others check in, automatic blue tooth beacon alerts, and receiving private messages from anyone else with the app. What it didn’t include was any information of what was being done with information we put into this app.

The responses I got from ACRL when I shot off a few questions were not adequate.

  • They were surprised to hear about the Contacts requirement that the app was asking for. I sent the screenshots below but how do you not know what happens when the app is installed?
  • They said the app could be used at more than one ACRL event. But the conference is every two years and I really don’t want an ACRL app, LITA app, ALA app, STS app, etc. Nor do I want my other organizations to suddenly jump on this bandwagon so additionally I end up with an RDAP app, IASSIST app, Code4Lib App…
  • They went with an app rather than a mobile site due to feedback from last year. I am not convinced of the tradeoff for a universal ALA/Divisions mobile website for conferences.
  • In response to my question about the all Opt-Out settings, I got a generic statement about respecting people’s privacy. Considering the profile information being required and the settings, I am not convinced of this.
  • Regarding the Lightning Talks–both the email I got from ACRL and a lovely person on the Innovations Committee on Twitter offered to take my votes in some other way and ensure they get counted. This is not a viable option, only available to those of us frustrated on social media. There should be an option for those who do not have a smartphone or other device or who just do not want to use the app.

The latest Pew report I could find from 2015 tells me that we have ~64% saturation of some type of smartphone. That is by no means universal and I find that presumption from ACRL incredibly off-putting. This tells attendees who don’t have a Android/Iphone smartphone that they cannot participate in shaping the Lightning Talk session.

This app is also asking for my contact information and a suspicious depth of profile information in exchange for notifications I probably don’t want. Where is that information going and who has access to it? How much does the app maker DoubleDutch get? Should I expect vendor spam from them now that they have my work email? Is someone archiving all of the content captured in the app and if so, for how long and will that be searchable? None of this is clear. LITA and the ALA Information Freedom Privacy Subcommittee just put out checklists for Patron Privacy. Perhaps we need one for organization privacy as well?

ETA: Eric Hellman tells me the screenshots may not be embedding. I’ve also shared the Google Album here: https://goo.gl/photos/kdHvrSbUSGimy8wG7


Book Review: Romancing the Inventor, Gail Carriger

Posted November 1, 2016 By Abigail Goben

This book was reviewed from an Advanced Reading Copy that I received. This review will have spoilers.


Carriger returns with another one of her romantic short stories, taking readers familiar with and new to her world on a side path and finding a happy ending along the way.

Romancing the Inventor is set later in the Parasol Protectorate series and brings a love story for the complicated Madame Lefoux, the French inventor. Though not the first lesbian romance to which Carriger has introduced, this is the first time it has been the focus of the story.

The tale is from the perspective of Imogene, a country maid who takes a job at the hive both for much needed wages as well as a goal of perhaps finding others who like herself share a same sex interest. Carriger does carefully frames the challenges a village woman with little power in the Victorian era might have had in finding a lover of her own preference.

Once at the hive, Imogene comes across Genevieve Lefoux and over a number of months their flirtations grow to something far deeper. Class differences are noted by Imogene, who feels overwhelmed at how far apart they are socially and there is a nod to the above/below stairs divide that may appeal to fans of Downton Abbey.

Several aspects worked quite well in this book. Despite the brevity of the story, time passed. This was not a three week romance one often finds in shorter stories, nor was there an unreasonable number of years going by. Instead a few weeks passed here and there, long enough for the heroines to actually get to know each other–not just fall madly into bed.

Imogene was an active heroine. There were aspects that were out of her control and the resplendent Lady Maccon charges in to save the day at one particularly frightening moment but overall, Imogene does her best to hold her own and act on her interests. At the beginning she displayed a combination of heroine worship and puppy love that could have made her unbearably sweet but Carriger develops the character to be more active and complex and therefore more suitable counterpart to Lefoux.

While I’m not much of one for reading sex scenes, the ones in this story were much better than what was in the last story. It was sweeter and consensual desire and affection was apparent. While Genevieve was resisting, it was out of emotional self-protection.

There were a few minor quibbles. Imogene’s family is mentioned several times at the beginning but then dropped rather cavalierly about 60% of the way through the book. Considering she is a primary source of income for them and a potential driving force for her work, this was a loose end flapping.

I also found it a litle odd that in a family with many children and a large amount of poverty, Imogene was only just going to work at age 28? Alexia was odd at 26 being a dedicated spinster in Soulless, it seemed almost impossible that a country girl would be unemployed, unmarried, not in the church, etc by two years older.  Sexual violence is present in the book–though more as threat than activity, and I didn’t care for Imogene later seeming to partially excuse it.

A final delightful aspect was seeing Major Channing a somewhat warmer light. One has the suspicion that Carriger has a romance planned for him and perhaps the relevation of a lost love as well. He was kind to Imogene and their interactions were heartfelt and comfortable.

Carriger is more confident in this second romance offering and returns with ease to Alexia’s world, which will bring longtime readers along easily. Newer readers will notice the allusions to other characters and stories but these do not distract overall.

Overall, this is a charming addition to the canon.

Open Access Tenure: Hurdle In Sight…

Posted October 24, 2016 By Abigail Goben

Thursday is the last Library vote on my tenure dossier. It’s my final College vote where my tenured Library colleagues will recommend to my Dean whether or not my package goes forward to campus in January. They’ve been deliberating all fall, so hopefully it will be a fast meeting? I don’t know when exactly I’ll get the results, probably within a week or two.

My external reviewer letters were back in September* and the fall has seen myriad rounds of edits and not a little process frustration squeezed into the usual chaos that is Fall Semester. Teaching, new students, new research, new projects–and proofreading my papers another time, one more time, tweaking a date here when something comes out, moving two more book chapters from the accepted column to the published column.

At the moment I feel very abstracted from the process. My “final” dossier went to the library a week and a half ago and since then I’ve been through a conference, a personal trip, and a B1G Homecoming Weekend (minus the actual football game itself). I know the vote is coming but it still feels far away. That will probably change Thursday morning.

I am putting together my 6Y-Public-Dossier for those who are following along and I’ll have that up for download after I hear about the vote.

In the interim, I’m not writing enough…but what academic ever is?

*I wish I could read those. Could they strip out the names?