Twice a decade whether it needs it or not

This is a theme update. I was looking for a way to sort of merge this blog and my newsletter. I have not managed that, but I did get this site looking fairly decent for now and maybe like it was designed in the last half of this decade. If you see anything looking broken, let me know.

Ask a Librarian: the relationship of library work to social justice

scene of a protest with a woman holding a sign that says "Down with this sort of thing"

Email from a library worker, paraphrased: I am deeply committed to social justice and anti-oppression principles. I am radical in my politics. I am interested in literacy as a feminist issue. I am also interested in knowledge, access, critical thinking, community impact, etc. I worry there isn’t room to work at the intersections of these interests in library spaces…. Is there room for me in librarianship, and if so, where?

I feel like librarianship is a “big tent” sort of profession, especially public librarianship, so I often feel that there is space for people, but some of it depends not only on politics but on temperament.

Sensible talk about HTTPS

https showing in a browser bar

(this is a slightly amended reprint of an article I wrote for Computers in Libraries magazine in 2016 and I’m putting it here because it’s timely. Original title: Practical Technology – Digital Privacy is Important Too. If something seems inaccurate, let me know.)

This month’s column is amplifying the signal on a movement that has been brewing in the library world: getting libraries to make patron’s digital activities as secure as their lending records. There are a few ways to do this but I’m going to focus on using HTTPS.

Ask A Librarian: How does library presenting work? Who pays and when?

collage image of a woman's feet and part of a map, a postmark and some stamps

Travel image by Tyler Hewitt on Flickr

Email from someone asking about how to merge librarianship and public speaking. I may not be the right person for this question…

Does your employer (if you’re employed at a Library) pay (travel, salary and credited work time) for you to attend those conferences when you’re presenting or do you pay out of pocket?

I mostly freelance. So when I worked in a library, I had a part time job at the library and if I was not presenting for the library then I’d just get unpaid time off. If I was presenting for the library like at a local event, they’d give me (paid) time off and usually it was an either/or about who would pay for things like travel and expenses. If it was part of my job, the library would usually pay for travel or at least reimburse mileage. Occasionally, rarely, I’d get paid for my time by the organization, and that money would go back to the library if I was getting my time reimbursed by the library.

This is definitely a tricky issue with full-timers and it’s worth making sure you’re very above-board with your library about doing professional work like this. Some libraries are thrilled to have staff doing a lot of professional development (teaching or attending) and some are less into it.

If you’re giving a presentation at another library (such as staff day or as part of Library program) how are you contacted? Do you pitch a proposal to those libraries or do they contact you first?

I’ve been in a weird lucky place where I think people mostly have heard about me and so reach out? So I got started in 2004 being asked to give a talk for a local ASISt event and then people saw me and invited me to more stuff. I have a lot of flexibility because of my freelancing and my rates are attractive/competitive (honestly they are probably too low) which always helps. Occasionally I pitch presentations, especially for my local conferences. Now it’s primarily word of mouth. And here’s how it breaks down:

If someone contacts me, it’s a job and I expect to get paid, reimbursed and accommodated by the org who contacted me unless it’s a *very* prestigious conference in which case I just ask for entry to the conference (SXSW used to be like this, some very remote library conferences will pay you to get there and put you up, but not pay you otherwise)
If I contact them I assume I am on my own dime but might get free conference entry especially on the day I gave a talk

I was thinking of searching for other libraries outside of my state and submitting a Suggest for Program Proposal directly to that library with my presentation/program description and contact information. Is this something that you recommend?

Depending on how narrow your topic is? A lot of libraries don’t have a lot of money to pay speakers (especially for things like travel reimbursement) but every state has an annual conference and they bring in people for those, so maybe start at the state level in more states especially ones which are nearby to where you are so wouldn’t be a killer travel thing. Assume if your proposal gets accepted you would get free entry to the conference but likely not get paid (is my understanding).

Things like in-service days at libraries are definitely the exception: they like having professionals who can hold up a good chunk of the day, they pay well, and you get to meet a LOT of librarians and really spend time with them, which is something I always feel is special about these events. I do some of the talking that I do at in-service days at local schools as well as libraries which you might consider, again based on your topic.

Also, if you’re asked to speak outside of the United States, does your library pay for your travel accommodations and salary while presenting or are you paid directly by the Library who ask you to speak? – Thank you!

If I go outside the US, the organization pays for me to get there, stay there and talk there. But again, my situation as a freelancer is very different from when people are full-time employed, You might want to ask other librarians like David Lee King, Meredith Farkas or Michael Stephens, people who are in my cohort of public speakers and also full-time employed in library professions.

Ask A Librarian: Options for Remote Librarianship

stained glass in the Lincoln Library
A portion of an email I received: “It seems you’ve been able to piece together disparate threads to form an unusual career. That’s exciting to me. I see the economy shifting toward a new model i.e. multiple income streams/work when you want/remote employment, and feel like there is for potential for me to carry over what I’ve learned in the library world, I’m just uncertain as to my options, and among them, which are lucrative and/or worthwhile.”

The trick mostly is learning to live on not much money and making sure you have a consistent profile online even if you don’t have a geographically bounded one. And staying in touch in a consistent manner even if you’re doing it from many locations. Have an email and a phone and a twitter that you ANSWER.

For me, it’s having a home base, at least, so I do get in some of that “terroir” thing of actually knowing a place. My general MO that I say is that librarianship is primarily a very very grounded profession, both in the philosophical sense and in the staying-put sense. Most librarians only cross-pollinate with people outside of their systems at professional development opportunities or at infrequent conferences and special events.

Accordingly, I think it’s a useful thing for some librarians (a small subset) to actually do more moving around, talking about libraries to other libraries. It’s tricky because you can wind up sounding like a
“Here I am someone who doesn’t really know what your job entails, telling you how to do it better” person. So it’s good to have a set of librarians, whoever they are, who really know you. For me this is the librarians in Vermont. I work with the profesisonal association, maintain their website and go to (and help plan) their conferences.

So picking a few things

  • Whatever your “local” is, might be an online community, might be one library or place where the people know you
  • Having a consistent online presence that is maintained since more people will know you through this than in person
  • Gigging with things that don’t require in person stuff (maintaining association or other websites, social media stuff, writing). I don’t know where the email/social media lady for VLA is and it doesn’t matter to me as long as she gets the job done.
  • Maybe some regular stuff that isn’t glamorous but pays bills. I write for Computers in Libraries, a regular column in a print magazine, and it keeps my health insurance paid

And realizing that it’s all about choices. If travel is the most important thing to you, other people with work to offer may realize that and say “Eh that’s not what we want” and that is also okay. Having a consistent self-narrative so that even if you’re not in one place, you are one person, will make a difference in how people feel about tossing money your way. Being professional in what you do for work, no matter what you’re doing in your life, is to me what people want to see.

I get a lot of mileage out of presenting at conferences, both in getting the word out but also meeting people and learning about them and their lives. Depending on what your traveling scenario looks like, having something where you travel between library conference gigs is a workable thing if you don’t mind having your travels being bounded by work responsibilities. It’s pretty easy to plan ahead of some of this stuff, especially at a national level, so thinking about having a thing or two you could do at these events that other people might pay for would be my first “plan of attack” in seeing if you can make this work for you.