My Hopes for a New ALA Executive Director

The job posting for the ALA Executive Director has gone out. Keith Michael Fiels, who has been the ED longer than I’ve been in the profession, is retiring and a search firm has been retained. I read through the job ad and the requirements put it pretty squarely in the “have been a Library Director” range, which I’m okay with. There were strong debates about the need for an MLS or not for this position. This is not a continuance of that debate.

But there are some hopes that I have for the new ED:

  • A commitment to accessible transparency to the organization. When I’ve brought up issues of transparency in the past, I’ve been told that well, if I just want to dig deeply enough into documentation of the Council, the this, the that– navigating ALA Connect in all of it’s bad interfaces, requesting permission, and showing up in person to meetings that don’t actually seem like they are open or welcoming –I’m entirely welcome and things are totally obvious. That’s not transparency.
  • Active two-way communication with the members of ALA. This is not only a leadership role, it’s a service role. If an active staff member doesn’t recognize the Library Director, I think that’s an issue. If an active ALA member could physically run into the ED and not know who they are–similar issue. Communication methods have evolved drastically. I expect a social media presence and willingness to engage in far more than the ‘usual’ places or to a very narrow group of people. My Provost holds open office hours once a month and *anyone* on campus is welcome to drop in and raise a question with her. Could we see something like that from the ED at least on a quarterly basis?
  • ED accountability that expands beyond the Executive Board. Currently the EB are the only ones engaged in the evaluation of the Executive Director. I take issue with this because there historically has been no input from the membership. When Fiels was last evaluated, nothing was solicited from the larger membership and the process was entirely opaque. Most of the other people I know in ALA didn’t even know an evaluation had happened (me included) — and I tend to run with a very engaged crew. Feedback should be solicited, encouraged, and welcomed. And please don’t tell me it will be too much data to ask likert-scale questions about the strategic initiatives and allow for a short open comment from members. We have many quant and qual researchers, and I bet I can find a couple of librarians who could knock together some text analysis to pull out big trends. And think of the interesting information it would give the ALA Office that they could use for evaluating those initiatives and identifying engaged members.
  • ALA Staff Accountability to Volunteers. Engaged members work regularly with ALA staff who are not specifically accountable to these volunteers. On one hand I understand that; volunteers change and there will always been personalities that don’t go together. However, being told as a volunteer that you are expected to take on much work that falls squarely in the job description of one of those paid staff members is disheartening and disillusioning. Watching a paid staff member repeatedly not do their job is infuriating. Seeing no change for years when concerns are raised by multiple voices drives members away and trust me…unhappy volunteers talk. Solicit feedback from committee chairs and division leaders with the intention of determining actionable outcomes.
  • Appreciate your volunteers. This lines up with that last bullet point. *We* are the organization. We show up, pay dues, pay for conferences, put together presentations, give education, write publications, run committees, create plans, give of our time when it’s frequently not encouraged by our organizations– or is in name only. We will give you an hour at 2 a.m., show up early, stay late, find ways to make things work, drag in our friends and do what we can to make this a great organization. But if we’re only ever presented with more obligations and there is never appreciation expressed for what we do– why should we continue? We’ve *paying* for the privilege of giving back to our profession — many of us thousands of dollars a year in dues, conference fees, and travel. Find tangible ways to demonstrate that appreciation.
  • And that leads me to a last point–find more ways to hear from more voices. ALA has long held the line that if you’re a librarian and certainly if you’re a member,  we can’t possibly cover your travel to the conferences and there’s NO WAY to give someone a day pass. This hard line creates an immediate barrier to bringing in underrepresented voices. I’m fortunate to have funding from my Dean to cover part of my attendance and membership fees. My salary is generally sufficient to cover the rest. I am not the general rule for our membership. ALA cannot cover attendance fees for everyone, I recognize that– but not allowing any flexibility puts the divisions in a hard position when recruiting speakers for things like 8 hour pre-conferences.  Review these policies and see where we can make changes to encourage broader representation.

I think there is much a new Executive Director can do and I look forward to working with them in the future.


I Had An Idea…

We’re  solidly into summer here in Chicago. I’m waiting on the Board of Trustees to vote on my tenure (July 12/13 is their meeting–I’ll let you know as soon as I get word…) and it’s ALA this weekend, which involves 20K of my friends descending upon the city. There will be ARCs aplenty and exhaustive discussions  of data management, innovations and changes, what’s happening next in libraries, and really, where one can find the best desserts and cocktails. I’ve no doubt Chicago will rise to the punch.

At work I’m trying to get through the backlog that built up over spring. It’s unlikely that I’ll be able to work through it al but perhaps I can make a large enough dent? Theoretically?

It would help, of course, if I didn’t continue to get dive-bombed by ideas. I’ve begun to dread Tuesdays.

Tuesdays seem to be miscellaneous idea days. Someone mentions something; a random thought runs through my head. And things have slowed just enough that I have a minute to write it down and to send off perhaps one short email. Just a “what do you think” or “wouldn’t be interesting if…” By Friday there’s a full fledged idea, a plan, and a team.

No really. It’s happened twice already this summer and last weeks’ idea tried very hard but I stuffed it into a notebook and said STOP. I figure that might buy me a week or two.

All of the new things will hopefully pupate into full on butterflies later this fall and you can hear about them more fully then. Currently, they aren’t solely mine and we’re still framing.

But if I call you on a Tuesday….watch out!


P.S. Attending ALA this summer? Places to catch me:

Saturday: 10:30-11:30 LITA  Appointments Committee Meeting;

Sunday: 10:30-11:30 Panel on Collecting Library Data! Come see me moderate Jenica Rogers, Kristin Briney, and Sara Mannheimer! I CAN’T WAIT!

Sunday evening: LITA Happy Hour [because where else would you find me?]

Monday: STS Research Poster Session! Representing me and Megan Sapp Nelson and the ACRL RDM Road Show

Tuesday: Closing Keynote! How could I miss it!

Let Us Do Better

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…

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…

*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: