What would it look like?

Here’s an exercise.

Try to imagine a library that does not care about its users.

What would it look like?

Let’s say that it’s an academic library on a large, urban campus, that serves tens of thousands of students.

What kind of library would it be if it didn’t care about those students?

It might look like this.

There would be no consequences. It wouldn’t really matter what the library did, or if it did it well. The library would have vague statements about its mission and goals, but there would be no measurable outcomes associated with any of the library’s spaces, services, or collections. This would include the library’s multimillion-dollar budget, which would only have a single budget code, so there would be no way to itemize how the library spends its funds. If you ask where the money comes from and how the budget is determined, someone will laugh and say, “Oh, that number is written down in a drawer somewhere.”

There would be no consequences for leaving obscenely large amounts of money unspent, year after year. Unused budget funds would be put into an ongoing, never-ending renovation that leaves the building in a constant state of uncertainty, chaos, physical disarray, and distracting noise. New spaces would be built without description, purpose, or plans to staff them. The library would celebrate the “substantial completion” of the renovation, complete with a ribbon-cutting and replica cake made of fondant, and then the renovation would continue for another year.

There would be no consequences for employees, whose low performance would never be punished and whose outstanding performance would never be rewarded. Non-tenure track library faculty would be employed continuously without appointment letters or contracts. Salaried employees would come and go as they please, sometimes being late to meetings in the afternoon because they simply hadn’t come to work yet that day. Instruction librarians would be late to classes, leaving students and course faculty waiting. The instruction scheduler would be baffled by Microsoft Outlook and its calendaring system; they would assign classes incorrectly, neglect to send instruction confirmations, and humiliate the teaching team. The scholarly communication librarian would hate Open Access. Public services staff would really prefer to work in the back of the library. Instruction librarians would be afraid of speaking to large groups. Collection development librarians would look at crumbling books and say smugly, “A worn collection is a used collection.” Student workers, without supervision or guidance, would ride skateboards through the staff area.

There would be no consequences for not having a faculty handbook, for not following the established rules of shared governance, and for deliberately violating by-laws. Decisions would be made based on an e-mail someone sent once, or how things were done last year, or  something someone overheard in a meeting. Promotions would be given based on individual employees and their needs and desires, rather than the goals of the organization (there are no measurable goals, anyway). Knowledge management would be practically non-existent, with documents scattered between a shared drive, an intranet, and cloud-based software. Policies and procedures would refer to individuals by name, rather than by their position or role.

The university responsible for this library wouldn’t particularly care who was in charge of it, and would leave interim leadership in place for years. Interim reporting lines would cascade as mid-level management left the organization, so employees would be in “continuity of operations” plans indefinitely. The university would open and close a search for a Library Director, declaring none of the candidates “viable” because they do not meet the requirements of the rank of Full Professor. Nevermind, of course, that no one in the library has ever been promoted to Full Professor, and nevermind that only three of the library’s two dozen faculty are tenured or tenure-track. Nevermind that what the library really needs is an effective manager, not a scholar.

If this library didn’t care about students, they might or might not keep any data about how the library is used, and if such data were recorded, it probably wouldn’t be regularly reported or used to make decisions in any way. The library’s operating hours and its services would be available randomly at the whims of the library, whenever it felt like staffing things, whenever employees were available. On-boarding for new hires would be random and haphazard. There would be no orientations or procedures or checklists or training manuals. There would be no quality checks to see if things were being done well because who would decide what that looks like?

Who is actually in charge? Look at the staff directory, it says vacant.

If this library didn’t care about students, it wouldn’t keep them safe. Intoxicated people would interrupt instruction sessions and refuse to leave the classroom. People would camp in the building overnight. Security guards would gently nudge sleepers, then let them fall back asleep. It’s understandable, of course, that the library would be a popular place for anyone seeking refuge-the library is the only building on campus where community members cannot be trespassed. Students would leave the library, complaining about these safety issues, and study somewhere else.

If this library didn’t care about students, it would be impossible to retain faculty and staff who do care about them. Those people will get angry and exhausted. New hires would be undermined and sabotaged. Competent employees would be labeled as “over-ambitious.” People would leave this library, choosing lower-paying jobs, longer commutes, positions outside of libraries, expensive cross-country moves, or outright unemployment, simply to get away from the dysfunction.

The turnover rate would be high, but the remaining employees would tell themselves it’s somehow normal. “That person really wanted to get back into public libraries,” they would say. Or, “Their spouse got a new job out-of-state, so they had to go.” Some people stay just long enough to get a better job title to put on their CV, a reward for putting in their time, and then they would move on, too.

So the leftovers would settle in, determined to outlast all of the perky people with new ideas, and wait. What is there to lose? There are no consequences, anyway.

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Featured image by NeONBRAND

On Angie Manfredi’s resignation from the Newbery Committee.

To the ALSC Executive Committee & Directors,

I was extremely disappointed to read Angie Manfredi’s blog post explaining her resignation from the 2018 Newbery Committee.

Some people might say that the details behind Angie’s resignation don’t matter. I believe the details do matter, and they matter a lot. In fact, it’s the details of this story that make my stomach turn.

I understand that Angie was asked to resign because she shared a story about her job as a children’s librarian on Twitter. Specifically, she shared a story about a young reader of color at her library who was excited to read a book that reflected his life and interests. Yes, Angie praised the author and publisher of the book for providing a story that connected with this young reader. This brief anecdote was widely shared as an example of the importance of diversity in children’s literature. And for this attention, for this highlighting of the need for diverse books, you determined that Angie gave the appearance of an inappropriate relationship with the author and publisher.

Shame on you. It can’t be said enough, so I’ll say it again. Shame on you.

Let’s consider all the messages that are sent by Angie’s resignation:

Celebrating diversity in children’s literature is an inappropriate activity for ALSC award committee members.

ALSC award committees are only interested in librarians who can comply with outdated procedures that silence and limit a librarian’s professional contributions.

White supremacy is the highest value in librarianship.

With your decision, you have left no room for otherness. What I mean is, how could you expect a librarian of color to want to participate in an ALSC award committee after this decision? Or a queer librarian? Or a librarian living with a disability, or a mental health issue? If they speak out publicly, in any way, about their work, their patrons, their excitement for diverse representations in children’s literature, they will be asked to resign. Because of the appearance of bias.

I hope it is has been made very clear to all of us in 2017 that there is no neutrality in librarianship. I am personally humiliated by the resignation of Angie Manfredi from the Newbery Committee because I feel it cheapens the reputation of librarians everywhere. How can we claim to support our communities when we punish librarians like Angie for doing their job, for celebrating literature, and for acknowledging the work of authors and publishers to make the world a better place?

I share the opinion with many others that Angie is one of the most valuable librarians we have working today because she actively criticizes and critiques the field of librarianship. We need more librarians like Angie Manfredi, and we need them to serve on more committees, and we need them to provide examples of how to lead.

I look forward to a public response from ALSC that acknowledges a plan to update the policy for service on awards committees to avoid situations like this in the future.

Sincerely,

Zoe Fisher
Stonewall Award Committee Member, 2018
MLS, Emporia State University, 2010
BA, Oberlin College, 2008
www.quickaskzoe.com

Time to go.

I started a mutual admiration society with Kevin Seeber on or about July 2014, when we were both at Library Instruction West in Portland, Oregon. At that time, I was a tenure-track librarian at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington and he was a librarian at Colorado State University – Pueblo. He came to my lightning talk about inquiry-based learning, which included the following slides about microfilm (illustrating the most common question I received from my students):

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Even though I made fun of microfilm, he still had nice things to say about me on his blog.

Fast forward two years. It’s April 2016 and I’m a tenured librarian at Pierce and Kevin is Foundational Experiences Librarian at the University of Colorado Denver. He invites me to apply for a newly-created opening: Pedagogy & Assessment Librarian. I apply and, in a turn of events that surprises only me, I’m offered the position. My husband and I have a quickie wedding on the beach in Tacoma, throw our stuff in a car, and drive east to Denver.

For the past thirteen months, I have had the daily thrill of working with Kevin. He is, in my opinion, one of the most passionate and thoughtful information literacy librarians alive.  I love every second of every conversation I have with him, especially when we disagree. Over the past year, we have debated topics ranging from neoliberalism in higher education to assessment procedures and active learning strategies. We have regular conversations about mentorship, lesson planning, approaches to internal professional development, and the praxis of critical librarianship. We both care deeply about students, and we both see ourselves as teachers. We love a good Negroni. We agree that Pilot G2 pens are the best. Working with him has made me a better librarian in a hundred ways.

But it’s time for me to go. And if I’m honest, it’s been time for me to go for a while. Denver is not a good fit for me or my family. I’m a Pacific Northwest native and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. While it’s been a blast to work with Kevin, I haven’t been happy in my job. I had no idea how much I would miss teaching community college students.

Thanks to my talented software engineer spouse, we have a reason to move back to Washington. He starts his new job in Seattle on August 21.

Friday, August 11 is my last day in Denver.

 

 

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For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I don’t take back the microfilm joke, the Max Fischer tweets, or the decision to take a new job in an unfamiliar city. I may not fully understand yet all the lessons I’m supposed to learn from this experience, but I am grateful.

I don’t know what’s next. I don’t have a job lined up in Seattle. This is the first time in my adult life that I’ll be unemployed. I worked non-stop all through college and graduate school and I have held a full-time job in some form since I was 21 years old. I realize this makes me incredibly lucky. But it will also make the next few months pretty challenging.

I’m interested in working on my writing, learning how to play professional poker, and teaching community college classes like Reading and College Success. Of course, I’d love to be a community college librarian again, but I recognize that those opportunities are rare, so I may need to wait it out for a while. My librarian life won’t stop, though. I have a couple of research projects in the works and I’m reading dozens of books for the Stonewall Book Award Committee. I plan to attend local conferences like the UW Critical Librarianship in Practice Unconference and ACRL OR/WA Joint Conference. I know I’ll see a lot of familiar faces when I’m back in Denver in February for ALA Midwinter, and I’ll be back in Colorado in July for Library Instruction West 2018.

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I got my first (and only) tarot deck when I was 12 years old. I purchased the classic Rider Waite deck at the Goddess Gallery on Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, Oregon. In the seventh grade, I would practice reading the cards on the school bus, which yielded accusations of Satanism from my classmates. I have always thought the Strength card was one of the most beautiful cards in the deck. Salem Tarot suggests it can be interpreted that the lion and the woman are the same: You may imagine the two figures on the card as the two sides of yourself: the woman is your superego, and the lion is your id.

You are the Goddess and the beast, the tamed and the tamer, the rage and the joy. It’s a helpful image, a reminder that something can be more than one thing at once. That I can be heartbroken to leave and excited to go home. That I can know and not know. That it’s okay, and it will be.

 

 

 

What I want for my birthday.

I am 31 years old today, and here’s what I want for my birthday:

I want a frozen Negroni. Okay, maybe I want a couple of them. I want to drink them with my favorite librarians.

I want to not have to worry about your healthcare, or mine, or the idea that the only people who will survive are the people who can afford to get sick.

I want a flat of chocolate Costco muffins, and I want to eat them by myself.

I want you to read my essay at The Rumpus, but I also want you to listen to Fobazi Ettarh’s keynote about vocational awe. For my birthday, I want a future with fewer white librarians.

I want abortion funding.

I want the Pacific Ocean and I want it to love me back.

I want Ted Berrigan to read his sonnets to me.

I want what I’ve already got–friends and family who adore me exactly as I am, feminine marvelous and tough, wild and loud, breathless and exuberant, freckled and fierce.

If I could ask you for one thing for my birthday, it’s this.

Stop repeating the mantra that defeats you. Stop telling yourself the lie that holds you back. Even if just for one minute today, tell yourself that you are enough, you have enough, and you do enough.

For my birthday, I want you to wear that sleeveless shirt, the one that you’ve been afraid to wear because you’re embarrassed of how your arms look. I want you to sing even if your voice warbles. Write that thing that scares you. Kiss that girl even if you know she can’t love you back. See what it feels like to forgive the person who hurt you. I want you to do whatever you need to do to feel completely free, even if it’s only for a moment.

You don’t need to get me anything else. I would trade a mountain of shiny, wrapped packages to share that feeling of being free. Free of guilt, free of shame, free of the Not-Enoughs. And that’s what I want for you.

Happy birthday to me.

Featured image by Annie Spratt

Tell me it’s more than a t-shirt.

On Friday, January 20th, I was on my way to Atlanta for the American Library Association Midwinter meeting, and I was looking forward to two things: staying with my friend Jessica and filling my suitcase with free books.

Things I was not looking forward to included: crowds, long lines for the bathroom, awkward exhibit hall interactions where vendors try to force stuff into my hands, and dragging aforementioned free books across the convention center.

I did not anticipate that the highlight of ALA Midwinter would be Carla Hayden touching my arm.

I also did not anticipate that I would completely lose all respect for Neil Patrick Harris before leaving Atlanta.

 

Let’s back up a second.

There’s a reason they call ALA Midwinter a “meeting” instead of a conference. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the deep inner workings of librarianship in America today, the Midwinter meeting is when the professional association for librarians conducts its organizational business. This means that librarians meet with their colleagues from around the country and give updates or make decisions about their agendas for the year. There are a lot of sub-groups within ALA, including Divisions (like the Association of College and Research Libraries), Round Tables (like the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table), and Offices (the Office for Intellectual Freedom is probably the most well-known since it promotes the Banned Books Week observed by libraries around the country every year). This doesn’t include all of the committees and task forces within these groups.  Approximately 5,000 librarians attended Midwinter this year, and most of those folks were there to fulfill their service commitments to the organization.

For me, the most important meeting at Midwinter was the CHOICE Editorial Board meeting. I’ve been a member of the CHOICE Magazine Editorial Board since 2014, but I hadn’t met most of the other Board members in person. We had a great conversation about CHOICE’s initiatives with Open Educational Resources (OER), their successful webinar series, the new ACRL-Choice app, and other exciting developments for 2017.

Before I explain why I won’t be watching “A Series of Unfortunate Events” any time soon, let me mention a few other Midwinter highlights:

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Proof of our #critlib meat feast.

So what did Neil Patrick Harris do?

Harris was our closing session speaker at Midwinter. He was there to promote his new book, The Magic Misfits, which should have been a simple task, but he managed to simultaneously disrespect Muslims, the deaf, and trans people all in one joke. Bravo, sir.

Harris’s session was interpreted by two ASL interpreters: a person in a hijab and another person in a suit jacket. Harris decided that it would be funny to flirt with, joke, and harass the interpreters rather than let them focus on their work. For example, he mentioned that Lemony Snicket didn’t like his new book, so he wouldn’t be asking him for a pull quote.

“Wait a second,” Harris said. “Let me see how you sign ‘pull quote’.” He paused and turned to the interpreter in the hijab.

The interpreter repeated the gesture, hooking her fingers and pulling them toward her chest.

“Oh, that’s right,” he said salaciously. I barfed a little in my mouth. Somehow, it got worse.

A few moments later, while Harris was distracted by a question from the audience, the interpreters switched places with one another. The interpreter in the suit jacket was busy signing when Harris noticed the switch and made the joke,

“That’s what was under there? Wow.”

In just a few painful words, Harris managed to:

  • Insult the person dressed in a hijab, stoking Islamophobic fears that there’s something “hidden” under their clothing.
  • Insult both of the interpreters’ gender presentations. Hyuk, hyuk, men don’t look like women, hyuk.
  • Distract the interpreters, yet again, from their important work of serving the people in the audience who needed them to interpret.

The worst part was the laughter.

Everyone laughed.

A room full of librarians thought this joke was funny. My stomach sank. I was disgusted.

It was hard to watch as librarians hustled out of the theater, his die-hard fans in a hurry to get in line for him.

Seeing folks pour to the exits before he was finished, Harris joked, “Why’s everyone leaving?”

“Because you made fun of the interpreters!” I yelled, loud enough for all to hear. Harris  paused. Then he let out a half-chuckle, trying to feign disbelief, and said, “What? No way! I wasn’t making fun of them.” He jerked his thumb toward the interpreter in the suit jacket. “He’s cute!”

Whatever and ever, dude. I walked out. And whatever and ever to all the librarians who laughed at his joke, waited in line, and fawned over him.

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Later, at the airport, I overhead a woman in a “Library Folks in Solidarity with…” t-shirt bragging about getting her tote bag signed by Harris, and the moment burned itself into my brain. What is solidarity to you, I wondered? Just a goddamn t-shirt?

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my day to remind the world why I am here.

Last Saturday, I mailed 75 holiday cards to destinations ranging from Sheffield, England and Killin, Scotland, to more domestic addresses like Denver, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York. For the past three years, I’ve included a photocopied, handwritten “Best of” list with my cards. It’s an assortment of favorite books, music, memories, things I’ve eaten, or places I’ve traveled over the past year. This is what my list looked like this year.

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I had some really big milestones in 2016. I achieved the rank of Associate Professor at Pierce College, then I accepted a new position at the University of Colorado Denver, got married, and moved over 1,000 miles (the last three events took place within 30 days). I read some great books, but not as many as I wanted to. I turned 30. I traveled, wrote cards and letters, watched sunrises and sunsets, and took many walks with my dog, Charlie, who has taught me the invaluable lesson that there is something exciting about every single day, even when the days involve seeing the same scenery and eating the same food. He is a living lesson in gratitude.

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I know that this time of year is tough; it’s dark, cold, and there are unpleasant reminders everywhere that may make you feel like you’re not happy enough, not cheerful enough, or not grateful enough. This year seems to lack light in a way that is particularly hard to endure. People are exhausted, anxious, and afraid, and rightfully so. I am not here to sugarcoat anything. I will just say, with certainty, that you are loved. You are someone’s light. I know this.

This might also be the time of year when you find yourself tempted to make grand, sweeping resolutions for the New You of 2017, where you make an impossible list of radical changes that will yield an idealized version of yourself, this person who has more money, is more patient, kind, and generous, who weighs less, who eats better, who reads more books, who finishes projects ahead of deadlines, who has glowing skin, who drinks 64 ounces of water every day, who flosses, or whatever.

Just stop it.

I support goals. Boy, do I. I taught goal-setting in College Success for years. What I don’t support—and never will—is the idea that you are not enough. As my friend Jen Pastiloff likes to remind us, you are enough. I will add: You have enough. You do enough.

If you start from that place, if you really allow yourself to believe that you are enough, that you have enough, that you do enough, you will like your goals so much more. And you will be so much happier in working toward those goals. I promise.

A few other tips if you’re setting goals for the New Year…

Don’t set a weight loss goal. Don’t attach your self-worth to a number on a scale.

Do set goals that encourage joyous movement and release from stress. Dance, do yoga, hike, run marathons. If you lose weight and you’re happy about it, that’s great. If you don’t lose weight, that’s okay, too. You are still a worthy person and you deserve happiness and love. (I have to remind myself of this a lot.)

Attach your goals to your values.

What’s important to you? Your career, your family, your hobbies? Probably all of the above. Pick a few areas in your life that you want to focus on this year, create meaningful goals around those areas, and you’ll be more likely to stick to what you want to achieve. Unfortunately, you cannot do ALL the things so you have to pick and choose. Sorry.

Set the bar low.

No, really. Most people make goals that are too ambitious and end up frustrated and disappointed. Set mini-goals. As this article suggests, the key is to take small habits and turn them into the building blocks for your bigger goals. In the article, it mentions that B.J. Fogg does two push-ups every time he goes to the bathroom. That sounds kinda gross to me, but I do like the other suggestions (“Make one choice and then stop choosing!”).

Make your environment conducive to the behavior you want to create.

It sounds really obvious, but it’s true. Your environment dictates your behavior almost more than anything else. If you want to write every day, maybe you should carry your notebook and pen (or laptop, or whatever) with you. If you want to read 50 books, well, you should probably have lots of books around, and maybe a To-Read list. If you want to go to the gym, keep gym clothes in your car. You want to stop eating take out for lunch, pack a lunch the night before. And so on.

I’m still working on my goals for 2017, but I know that I want to read (more books than I did this year), travel (yes, to Scotland, to see my mum-in-law, sister- and brother-in-law, and our niece and nephew), write (a lot!), and do yoga (mmm, hot yoga).

When I was in Ojai in September for a writing and yoga retreat, Jen asked us to write our own personal prayer. A meditation you can use every morning, in that minute before you open your phone, or pick up your baby, or turn on the coffee pot. One prayer for one moment. I’ve been thinking about that, about a prayer for 2017, and it feels so big that it’s almost impossible. This is the best I’ve come up with:

Today is my day to remind the world why I am here: to love, to teach, to fight, to be fierce and gentle and kind. I vow to listen, to use my voice, and to serve others. And so it is.

Maybe you don’t need resolutions for next year, and maybe you don’t make goals. That’s okay. (You are enough.) But I think we could all use a moment, a breath, a pause. So what’s your prayer for 2017?

 

 

 

But I know that there will be libraries.

Dear librarians,

I love you. I wanted you to know that right away because today is a day when people should be reminded that they are loved. You are loved. I’ve sent a dozen texts this morning to friends and family that just say, “I love you.” But you, librarians, you–I love you for a lot of reasons.

I’ve loved librarians for a long time. I love you like Matilda loves Mrs. Phelps. When young Matilda wanted to read long, complicated novels, Mrs. Phelps said, “And don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music.” I’ve loved you since I took home a Babysitters Club paperback from my local library when I was nine years old, just before we moved to California, and the book moved with me, and then we moved back to Portland, and I still had the book, and I was nearly in tears of thinking how awful my library fines would be, and you said, “It’s a bring-em-back-paperback. No fines!” I was so relieved. I’ve loved you since I was an awkward queer teenage witch, checking out stacks of books by Starhawk and Scott Cunningham and collections of gay erotica–and you let me have it all, never judging, never questioning. I’ve loved you since I was a volunteer at my local public library, since I was an assistant in my college’s library, and I loved when I was in grad school, working full-time in HR while earning my MLS, and I love you now.

We have the most incredible job in the world, but you already knew that. We are helpers. We help people make sense of the world, especially during confusing times. And no matter what has happened, through the long, wild history of the world, we have endured. There have always been libraries, even when wars have toppled our buildings or fascists have burned our books. We remain. We rebuild the buildings, we put back the books, and we fight for tomorrow.

For a long time, librarians stored and organized information, and people came to us to access it. This is still true in many ways, but people now have more access to information than ever before without us, and we have to help them sift, dig, sort, evaluate, and question it. We have to help them read. We have to help them think. These skills matter. Our work matters.

All across America today, librarians got up and went to work. Right now, librarians are helping students write research papers. They are helping unemployed people write resumes. They’re teaching someone who used to be incarcerated how to use a computer, and they’re leading story times full of songs and books for young children.

Librarians, I love you because of what we believe in. We believe in freedom of information, we value democracy, and we know that this country is a special place to be a librarian. We fight censorship and we protect our patrons’ right to privacy, even when doing so is unpopular. We are fiercely loyal to the people we serve, and we keep our doors open when the world seems to be ending around us.

Today, many people feel like the world has ended. The world they thought they knew has faded away, and a new world is here. People are afraid of what tomorrow, next year, the next four years will bring. They may lose their jobs, their healthcare, their right to marry the person they love. We don’t know. But I know that there will be libraries. There will be librarians to help people make sense of senseless things. And when I think of that, I am less afraid.

Yours always,

Zoe

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Featured image is a bookplate from Zaluski Library, which was burned down in World War II during the destruction of Warsaw.