teaching the unsexy

- 5 mins

I will write more about my ALAAC 15 experience in the future, but for a first post I want to focus on something very near and dear to my heart.

##A disclaimer and an illustrative story I attended and participated in the Digital Rights in Libraries unconference during my time in San Francisco. Alison and April and Alycia are amazing people who do fantastic organizing and educational work. I highly suggest you find them online and/or in person, get your institution to sponsor their classes and organization, and anything else you can do to help them out, including shirts and bags and stickers. It rivals the most recent CAPAL as hands down the gold standard for what you should be doing with your conference.

Only one thing bothered me. I chose to take an hour and facilitate a conversation about how to get the ideas, projects, technologies, and everything else about DRiL into the library school sphere, only no one showed up. It’s a natural part of the democratic unconference process along with the fact that I was up against amazing sessions on threat modeling and Internet Archive tools, but I am still upset. Not at DRiL or anyone there, for the record, but at the larger forces at work that are neatly summed up by this illustrative example.

I had a conversation with Alison before DRiL over lunch and without revealing or lambasting anyone who doesn’t deserve that exposure, we talked about someone who initially found talking to librarians about their work to be unsexy and boring. After my conference and research experiences of late, I am beginning to find that the only thing unsexier than working with librarians seems to be teaching students who want to be librarians.

##Whither LIS education? Who cares about library school? Seriously–not a rhetorical question. The following constituiencies come to mind:

-the current students, sometimes
-the faculty and adjunct lecturers, kind of (not even sometimes)
-the ALA office of accrediation
-hiring managers, sometimes
-solo weirdos like me and scattered mentor librarians

Knowing the risk of painting with the broadest of brushstrokes because these are constellations of groups that coexist and intermingle, I want to point this out: you know who is largely missing from that list? Working librarians. I don’t have a survey and I am not going to make one because the limitation of the survey format and the grandness of claims about “librarianship” is not worth trying to support that claim any more than anecdotally. But I can’t count the number of working librarians in the last year who I have talked to that just don’t care about what happens in library school now–whether that is because of the awful experience (like me, who comes from the most productive LIS program in the world), because they just got the degree for a pay bump or a different job, or because the sphere of LIS education just doesn’t touch their life. It’s a hoop or an afterthought (or both).

Meanwhile, we (library science students) are getting passed up in favor of sexier tech skills and jobs. (Look for a project from me and an as-of-now anonymous colleague in the next year so about the I in LIS). This is not an indictment of tech skills in the library and information science degree and world; these things are both necessary and good, though maybe looking at the wrong things (e.g. shiny new toy vs. ethics in/around/with tech approach). But the numbers don’t lie: a forthcoming publication from said anonymous colleague points out that the technical side of the LIS world and jobs that want a degree like information science pay a median of ~$50k better starting salary and recruit a far-past majority white male workforce than jobs that want a library science degree, even if the skills are largely the same. This may not surprise you; seems standard fare to me. But it rings bells as another indication of the devaluation of library workers and libraries at a more fundamental level–we’re not training library workers to go into a career in librarianship anymore; we’re training people to go into jobs that sometimes live in the library if you’re rich and lucky.

I don’t think there is much of a divide between the library and information professions as structural rifts seem to imply. However, the majority of library organizations just do different things than your average job focused on technology and information science. In LIS programs, there is rarely a focus on community-based organization and community relations, or matters of social justice, or digital rights in a surveillance state, or paradigms of management outside neoliberal, technocratic models from the large business world–just a few key components of working in an organization dedicated to public service and the empowerment of all people (and if you aren’t doing that at some level, ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, or don’t. I’m not your boss). The I is simply more profitable for the schools, employers, and students who want to go that route. But strategic partnerships can and should exist between organizations like those presenting and training folks at DRiL and the LIS education world. Perhaps I am sensitive to this because of attending and working at a university that is regularly commended by the NSA as a top security (ahem, surveillance) institution. But that no one save one person required to be at the threat modeling session wanted to talk about it for even 15 minutes reads like another act of isolation and neglect, so much so that I felt physically ill for putting myself out there unsuccessfully for almost the rest of the conference.

Reminds me of a charge I gave recently at the end of an article: we can do better for our future.

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