Category: Uncategorized

Book Review: How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger

**This review was completed from an e-ARC provided by the author. I have also purchased the e-book and ordered the print copy as well, it’s that good**

Werewolf Cover

There are some books that one races through, delighted to be taken on an authorial romp or determined to find out how the story ends. There are others that are a slog or which must be chewed slowly in order to digest everything within. And then there are those that you string out as long as you possibly can because you’re enjoying it and you don’t want it to end.

By the start of the second chapter section, cleverly set off with werewolf shadow icons, I knew this was that last kind.

Carriger brings her readers back to a post-Alexia world and while it is firmly within the Parasolverse she has so comprehensively created, this book easily stands alone. New readers will intimate there there have been other stories, but this doesn’t prevent the enjoyment of seeing an alpha male (in the romantic story sense, not the werewolf sense) meet his match.

Excepting the paranormal aspect of it, this is a fairly straight-forward historical romance — I’d call it a Regency Romance more for the style than the time period. Boy meets girl; boy and girl are both rather flawed; boy and girl spend the book trying to sort out each other and their romance. There is sexual wordplay but it’s overall chaste until the end.

But Carriger is never quite that simplistic. We are dropped into a story that opens with familial anger at some misbehavior on the heroine Faith’s part. She is banished to England (an amusing reversal) to find a werewolf husband only to encounter on first landing the obnoxious Channing.  There is a sub-plot of missing Sundowner bullets and another of parental abuse towards a child that may be difficult for anyone who knows what it is to walk on eggshells around a parent known to unexpectedly lash out verbally or physically.

Carriger does not excuse the faults of her leads, nor does she indicate that love will perfectly solve everything. That realistic aspect keeps the characters from becoming caricature.

After so many books, it was sorrowful and a relief to learn Channing’s past and to have a happy ending for him. And where Carriger’s last book was a love story to her readers, this felt a little fresher. I was left with anticipation for further books in the “Claw and Courtship” series, ones that may not include characters I already know so well.

This book though I needed to also order in print, so that next time the author is in town I can bring it along, abused, dropped in the tub once, and splattered with hot tea on a few pages, for a signature.

Book Review (ish) Sexism Ed by Kelly Baker

Book Cover Sexism Ed by Kelly Baker

I can’t quite call this a book review, because I ended up having additional thoughts.

I went into this book of essays with hope and a fair number of reservations. What kind of hope I was looking for, I’m not sure. That perhaps we’re starting to make progress? My reservations, however, felt exhaustingly confirmed.

Baker presents a compilation of essays written over the past four years, addressing aspects of academic faculty sexism. Topics include the challenges of interviews and teaching when colleagues and students focus on your appearance, your child, and your spouse, and your voice as opposed to your research or pedagogy. Baker highlights the research on assault during fieldwork, done by a colleague here at my institution. These blog-post sized essays are quick to read through and circle around familiar themes that will come as little surprise, though they may renew or reinforce frustration.

I bought this book the day it came out because I want to see books like it succeed. I think we need books and writers that address this chronic ailment in the academy. But I was also curious to see if she addressed the vast amount of supportive labor done by academic staff and specifically whether or not she addressed librarians and how as a majority female profession we are treated (frequently as a doormats or as checkbooks who also are supposed to turn students into critical researchers in 50 minutes).

Here Baker disappoints. She mentions librarians once, citing the ALA Code of Conduct and Andromeda Yelton’s excellent article about why we need it. It was nice to see that nod, but our banishment beyond that to the shadows was frustrating. And while she writes eloquently about the relegation of women to contingency faculty positions, her focus solely on faculty misses broader sexism that plays out across how staff are treated. As many academic librarians are in staff positions, but still frequently led by men in director or Dean positions, this made the collection feel unfortunately shallow.

Two particular essays did speak to me: one on the motherhood-penalization and one on men “performing” ally work while not actually being allies.

The former raised familiar concerns about why several friends, expert and accomplished researchers in a variety of disciplines, have struggled to get academic interviews. They still face assumption that they will leave for motherhood, for their spouse, that they don’t care as much, that they’ll demand a spousal hire.* Despite CVs that rival or exceed their male peers, they are often not considered for positions beyond adjuncts. Several of them have seen all of this and, despite wanting very much to be educators and academic researchers, have looked elsewhere to find stable employment.

The latter topic is a harder one and addressed here only from the binary gender aspect but was, as always, infuriating. Baker talks about men expecting and getting cookies and kudos for pronouncing how they are amazing allies and are here to show women how ally-ship to other women is done right. Over the past decade, I’ve seen this often in librarianship: men so busy promoting their own names and brands that they never actually assist the women they claim to be raising up. Men whose top-of-the-hierarchy-status is continually reinforced as they escalate into leadership/management positions based on the oft-unfounded expectation that they will be capable and the assertion that they are brilliant [a word Baker points out is almost never applied to women].  It’s hard to call out this behavior — if one does, the response is that it is just sour grapes or jealousy that you didn’t get that position, grant, paid keynote, or invited columnist position. Meanwhile the women doing the interesting work and moving the field forward are smacked down with tall poppy syndrome, given fourth authorship, invited to do more behind the scenes service work, and told to stay in their place.

As I read through the essays I found myself increasingly numb. While individually and with topical context, the essays felt as though they would be impactful additions to a syllabus or as a targeted reading, as a full book it became draining and simply seemed to reinforce that this won’t get better. I also struggled to understand who the audience was for the full text.  I can’t imagine that the various upper administrators or tenured male faculty around me will sit down and read it, less that they might act upon it. The narrative of frustration carried through, but without any sense of actual opportunities to address the issues at an individual, departmental, institutional or disciplinary level.

It is difficult to articulate what I had hoped for by the end of the book: perhaps a larger call to action than what I might see in a series of individual blog-post style essays; perhaps a more ambitious closing essay. Whatever it was, at the end of the text I was just irritated.

Overall, an unsatisfying read.

 

*This one always amuses me as I see male Deans, Provosts, Chancellors, and Presidents regularly require spousal positions in the academy and that’s “how we recruit the best” where best apparently only = men. Why wouldn’t you expect your candidates to potential inquire for help connecting their family with jobs when you’re asking them to completely relocate?

Build It Up; Take It Down — Professional Organizations

My professional organizations all seem to be in the throes of something major. Some are formalizing, taking on a much needed layer of governance as a group realizes we need something more than an email chain. Others are really finding their feet after flailing around. Others are heaving under longstanding bureaucracy and what appears to have been several serious rounds of questionable fiscal management. There are so many spreadsheets.

Being in the midst of all of this is exhausting. Several groups want people to help write governance documents or navigate what necessary infrastructure looks like. Others are looking at major disruption or end of life and need someone to acknowledge when things are done. Still others are just getting started and resisting any of that “formal document” stuff–although increasingly we recognize that this doesn’t work due to historical power, race, gender, etc issues.

I find governance development and maintenance fairly enjoyable, which surprises few as it goes back to that idea of process vs. product that I’ve discussed before. Digging through Bylaws isn’t my favorite pastime but so help me if it means we can edit language and create a checklist so this isn’t a headache for someone else in the future, sign me up.

But it’s exhausting. Having to try and tackle these varying fronts means I have lost a clear sense of what my professional organization home is, where I feel “my people” are, where I go to be inspired. I’ve both taken on more responsibility and given it up — indicating where I can the need for others to step up and keep work going if this is actually of value to the organization. There’s an overwhelming expectation that all the volunteers will want to spend an extra x hours a week on this organization, this new sub-group listserv.

And I am indescribably weary of paid staff members who dump their work onto the volunteers; seem incapable of major portions of their jobs; face no accountability when issues are raised; believe that budgeting is all magic handwaving; or who hand out guilt trips about how I’m letting the profession and the organization down by not doing ^insert time-intensive thing here^.

There are always compounding expectations.

I’m headed into conference season, all of which are tied to various organizations. I am in the midst of preparations to present research — all projects I have worked hard on and which I hope others can use, adopt, and engage with. Yet simultaneously I am running the cost balance and questioning if what I am getting back is enough. And the number of potential conferences I could attend, could pitch my research to…that seems to multiply every day. I could be somewhere every week and in many instances I would *love* to get speak to engage with those peers and learn from them. But (1) my job is my first priority and making sure I’m doing that well has to come first and (2) the cost both financial and of time can be enormous.

V and I were discussing last week why we stay involved. We have different understandings of the primary mission(s) of one of our mutual organizations and they overlap but I can see how that, multiplied times each member, makes things unwieldy. And that particular organization, it’s leadership, it’s staff do not articulate clearly either of the missions she and I see as an actual goal or how the organization is supporting the members. What do the members *get*? The opportunity to pay thousands of dollars to serve on committees, donate volunteer countless hours, and give presentations. Oh, and have our email addresses handed out.

Where does this lead? I don’t know. I have this hope that something this spring will inspire me and I will feel deeply connected again, rather than simply obliged. I’m working on a five year plan (separate post) and trying to determine who gets my energy and who has just become a drain. Donating my time comes with personal and professional costs and right now that feels out of balance. Perhaps I can come up with a checklist and Hedgehog Governance. We shall see.

Book Review: Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

The copy I read of this book was borrowed from my public library. 

Technically Wrong Cover

Technically Wrong takes the reader through an accessible discussion of issues currently affecting how technology is built and the biases built into it. Drawing on very recent examples including Uber and the 2016 US presidential election, as well as more universal examples that have had long ranging impact across technolology such skin tone and pretty much anything involving images, Wachter-Boettcher effectively shines a light on the practices that regularly frustrate many of us.

For women or persons of color who have run into these issues before, or been brushed aside as “edge cases” when we point out hardware or software problems, much of this will sound familiar. The belittling and sexual harassment or exclusion of women; the persistent othering of anyone not white; the heavy drinking young white male tech culture that has been told and continues to tell itself (and the rest of us) how brilliant and wonderful it is. Wachter-Boettcher is pragmatic about this culture, how it has spun it’s own web around itself with the glorification of the programmer and the reinforcement of their culture– nearly always “requiring” a degree from Stanford or MIT and the reliance on hiring those who already have connections in the industry.

Her overarching point, however,is that this can be changed and should be. That we should not blithely accept what we are presented with as immutable. With straight-forward examples of how forms require information they don’t need or ask for information in a way that asserts unnecessary or inappropriate choices, she indicates how more critical thinking and diverse representation and engagement is needed.

Perhaps the most interesting point for me was when she was addressing “meritocracy” — a phrase that at this point automatically conjurs in my head a petulant white dude who next will be telling me about his current trendy workout habits and how because I don’t love IPAs I will never be a true beer connoisseur. I hadn’t realized the source of the phrase: it comes from a satirical book from sociologist Michael Young in the 1950s.  It wasn’t intended as praise but as something to watch and worry for… That put a whole new spin on things for me.

She also vocalizes frustration I’ve felt but have not been able to coherently express: the problems with middle-school coding camps and the exclamation points which surround those with then how those minority and/or female participants are treated in the classroom, on projects, and in the workforce. Her derision is appropriately aimed at those who constantly assert the pipeline/lean in issues rather than addressing the toxic existant culture.

It’s a relatively quick read — about 3 hours for me while also doing laundry and cooking on Sunday morning. A fun fact: about halfway through the book I put up an Instagram post of the cover which I pushed to Facebook and Twitter.  Of the responses/likes/engagements I got by the time I sat down to write this post: there are only two men represented and one of them is transgender.

This book is recommended as a good reminder for those of us who are regularly in this every day, the examples are useful as ones we can remind others of. I’m also going to suggest it as reading for my Clinical Informatics fellows (all but one are male) because they are the ones whose goals are to build systems in healthcare and I want them to remember that *I* am not an edge case for “normal” health.

 

Planning for This Week/Month/Year or Just Tomorrow

Nine days out of the office was enough that I stopped dreaming about work and by Saturday, while I was still struggling to remember what day it was (note to self, it was “go to M&M’s open house day”) I noticed I was starting to be excited about the idea of To-Do lists and upcoming projects.

2018 promises already to be a busy year, kicking off this week with in-person interviews for a colleague who retired last summer. Here’s what is on deck so far:

  • I’m the Project Manager an ARL SPEC Kit on Library Analytics with a focus on patron privacy and data handling. My team is 7 institutions and they have been a joy to work with thus far. We launch the survey in late March and the late spring and early summer should bring us a wealth of data.
  • My first for-credit class that is all by me! I was approved to teach LIB 573: Intro to Research Data Management at the 11:59th of last semester. This 8-week course will launch in March and is the University Library’s first foray into hosting our own graduate courses. So far, three people have registered!
  • The usual courses I teach in the spring semester: two for Dentistry and one for the PhD in Informatics program. Those are already built and we did some refreshing of content at the end of last fall.
  • Submission of my first IMLS grant! I’m Co-I on the project and my PI has been doing a masterful job wrangling together all of the details. We received generous and thoughtful feedback and really high preliminary scores, so I’m encouraged.  We’ll hear those results in May (right about the time I get SPEC kit data….)
  • I’m organizing an accepted panel on Library Analytics/Patron Privacy for ALA 2018. See you in NOLA.
  • A research project Rebecca and I are leading on Nursing PhD/DNP programs and Research Data Management was accepted for MLA 2018; she’ll be there to present.
  • I’m hoping to be in Montreal for IASSIST; waiting to hear about a panel and a paper.
  • I’ll be at RDAP 2018, helping with local arrangements, dine arounds, and I led keynote planning. Can’t wait to see all of my Data colleagues; I really missed them last year.

Except for the course (“except” hahahahahahaha) all of these are team projects and while I’m integral, I’m poking around a bit to try to sort out what my next major thing is.  I have several ideas floating around but many of them feel nebulous. I would also like to do more continuing education for myself this year; I am trying to stay highly rut averse.

And I want to write more. I say that every year and it’s perennially true. I’m happiest when I write frequently: blogs, journals, papers, and more. So I’ll continue to see ways to do more of that more regularly.

Happy New Year!