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Librarians Email Me

Dorothea Salo
November 10, 2018

Librarians Email Me

Given for LITA Forum 2018. Includes several slides that had to be cut for time.

Dorothea Salo

November 10, 2018

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  1. Librarians Email Me Dorothea Salo Information School University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Photo: miss pupik, “message in a bottle” https://www.flickr.com/photos/miss_pupik/39863053/ CC-BY, cropped Hi, and thank you for that very gracious introduction. So the conference theme here at LITA Forum twenty-eighteen is Building and Leading, and I want very much to speak to that.
  2. Librarians Email Me and tweet me and direct message me

    and call me and chat me up at conferences like this one… Photo: miss pupik, “message in a bottle” https://www.flickr.com/photos/miss_pupik/39863053/ CC-BY, cropped One of the reasons I stand on daises just like this one is that librarians email me. And tweet at me, and direct message me, and call me, and chat me up at conferences— and a lot of times when they do this, they’re sending me a hail-Mary S-O-S message in a bottle, because they don’t feel safe in their work. They feel isolated and misunderstood and sometimes even threatened or trapped.
  3. Photo: NATT-at-NKM, “Rotting Log Fungus” https://www.flickr.com/photos/75001205@N02/8928608068/ CC-BY, cropped So they

    talk to me, and the things they talk to me about are what happens when you turn a log over and look at the creepy-crawlies beneath, okay? Serious management and infrastructure problems—leadership problems—that our workplaces and our professions don’t like to acknowledge, that prevent these folks from building what they want or need to build—pretty commonly, what they were supposedly HIRED to build.
  4. Photo: Cliff, “Classroom with Three Figures” https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/2872099576/ CC-BY, cropped Part

    of the reason folks feel safe heaving bottles at me is that I don’t work as a librarian any more. I teach in the Information School at the U-Dub Madison. That gives me an automatic connection with iSchool graduates, so a lot of the messages-in-a-bottle I get come from them, as they join the profession and try to figure out how to get anything done in it. But FAR from all my messages-in-a-bottle come from my own grads. My sense is that other librarians who throw bottle-messages at me see me as safer to talk to because I’m at one remove from the profession…
  5. My Librarian Career, An Analogy by Dorothea Salo age 46

    Photo: Glenn Fleishman, “Electric Boogaloo” https://www.flickr.com/photos/glennf/2459195045/ CC-BY, cropped, darkened —which is fair, my librarian career was an unbelievable twisty messy disaster of a thing, I’m not at all shy about that, and my lack of shyness about it tends to be another reason people feel safe talking to me about their troubles. So librarianship heaved me out seven years ago—
  6. Photo: Cliff, “Classroom with Three Figures” https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/2872099576/ CC-BY, cropped …

    and it’s not exactly shy about telling me what it thinks about me and my work now. If you can’t see what I’ve circled in this image of a classroom teacher with students, it’s the word TEACHER written in chalk… over a drawing of *CLEAR THROAT* a donkey. Yeah. Um. So… all this effectively makes me not just an outsider to librarianship, but a scorned and despised outsider. Which I’m not exactly proud of and don’t exactly enjoy—I went to library school hoping to, you know, be a librarian!—but it has its compensations…
  7. Photo: college.library, “CCAS Advising” https://www.flickr.com/photos/collegelibrary/14050614064/ CC-BY, cropped … and being

    a listening ear or an agony aunt for people who really need one, that’s one compensation, and it’s one I value highly. But we might want to think about what it means that people come to an outsider about this? I’ll have more to say on this later. Okay, so what I’m going to do today is excerpt some of the messages in bottles I’ve gotten, and seen other folks get, and pull some leadership lessons out of them for us. Now, don’t y’all panic, I’ve gotten message senders’ permission to quote and talk about their messages, and I won’t be using real names or real institution names or anything like that, I’m not about publicly shaming individual people or libraries today because these problems are widespread and they’re SYSTEMIC.
  8. Photo: takomabibelot, “Safe (Takoma Park, MD)” https://www.flickr.com/photos/takomabibelot/5207348197/ CC-BY, cropped I’ve

    been saying this word “safe” a lot, and I’m going to keep saying it, so lemme unpack it a little bit. Google did some internal organizational research a few years back on what makes some of their teams work and other teams not work at all, and what they ended up landing on was an organizational-behavior concept originated by researcher Amy Edmondson called “psychological safety.” There are a few different definitions of this concept out there, the one I like best being “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
  9. Anxiety zone Learning zone (best teams, best teamwork) Lasciate ogni

    speranza… (Too much) Comfort zone High Low High Accountability for excellence Psychological safety Low As Edmondson puts it—and to be clear, this is my crappy attempt at quadrant art, not hers—your psychological safety on a team interacts with how accountable you and the team feel for good work. What you WANT is the upper right quadrant where people feel safe to take risks and also feel accountable for ensuring what they do works out well—Edmondson calls that the “learning zone,” and she says it’s characterized by curiosity, care, willingness to speak up, everyone listening to everyone else, and everyone contributing to good outcomes. If you feel extremely accountable, but you DON’T FEEL SAFE, you’re in Edmondson’s anxiety zone—and that’s almost always where the people who send me messages in bottles are. It’s also the zone I spent pretty much my entire librarian career in, so yeah, this resonates. In contrast, if you’re safe but you’re NOT ACCOUNTABLE FOR ANYTHING, you’re in what Edmondson calls the “comfort zone” and I call the “too much comfort zone,” and, um, not going to ask for a show of hands, but I suspect a lot of people here have witnessed that zone in some libraries. I certainly have. If both safety and accountability are low—and a few of my bottle-messages have indeed talked about that—you are in Dante’s Inferno, I’m sorry! Find Virgil and tell him to get you the heck out of there. So there can be too little psychological safety at work… and there can also be too MUCH. Hang onto that idea, please.
  10. Photo: NATT-at-NKM, “Rotting Log Fungus” https://www.flickr.com/photos/75001205@N02/8928608068/ CC-BY, cropped I’ve done

    a lot of speaking and writing in the decade-plus I’ve been in and around librarianship, and the reactions have been mmmmmmmixed, but there’s one reaction I get a lot, especially after a talk when I’ve been exposing creepy-crawly things. And that reaction is, “Thank you for saying what you did! You’re so brave, I never could.” Here’s the thing about that, in light of what we just learned from Amy Edmondson. I don’t have to be especially brave—and honestly, I’m not, I am super-easy to scare and a lot of people have succeeded in scaring me—I don’t HAVE to be brave if I’m safe. And what makes me safe to look at creepy-crawlies from conference podiums is the sense that my workplace colleagues and higher-ups have my back. Which they do, and I’m grateful. I mean, that’s not the only thing that works. Having nothing left to lose can also fuel voice, and honestly? I’ve kiiiiiiiinda been there, and some of the people who send me messages in bottles are close to that point. It’s not a good place, I think I can say with some authority. We can’t WANT to herd our colleagues to a nothing-left-to-lose place. We shouldn’t even want to point them TOWARD it. Yet we do. Ask my email inbox.
  11. Photo: tanjila ahmed, “vanity” https://www.flickr.com/photos/tanj/1152946430/ CC-BY If you see yourself

    mirrored in the anxiety zone, or in any of the problems I’m going to talk about today, and I’m sure some of you will, I want you to know you’re not wrong, you’re not alone, and I wouldn’t be standing up here if I didn’t care about you and what you’re going through. Special shout-out to the six people who were fired a few days ago from the Digital Public Library of America. I am so, so sorry. If I can help in any way, please find me. Y’all did not deserve this horrible treatment from DPLA, and I will not forgive and I. Will. Not. Forget. I know you care about your work, and your library, and your patrons. I did too. I know you want to do good things well. I did too! I know you are not the problem you’re being painted as. I wasn’t—okay, yeah, sometimes I WAS, but I was a lot less a problem than I was painted, and I can pretty much guarantee you weren’t as problematic as I was.
  12. Photo: Rahim Sonawalla, “Guiding light” https://www.flickr.com/photos/rahims/197637715/ CC-BY On the other

    hand, if you recognize your management style or even your library in the critiques I’ll be making today, I cannot be sorry about making you feel a little unsafe about it! I’m asking you not to hunker down in a bunker over it, okay? Stay open, keep listening, stay out of the too-much-comfort zone. The problems I’ll be talking about have real consequences for your library and for libraries in general, and I will absolutely talk about those too. Take that feedback for the gift it is, please! And I’m going to try to suggest fixes when I can, but I cannot even PRETEND I have all the answers here. One of the things all of us here can do as we travel home and settle back into our day jobs—is think of more and better fixes!
  13. Job ads and hiring Photo: miss pupik, “message in a

    bottle” https://www.flickr.com/photos/miss_pupik/39863053/ CC-BY, cropped So, let’s start with job ads and hiring. Wow, the messages in bottles I get about these. Some people ask me to practically write their job ads for them. Or failing that, they ask me where there are job ads or competency lists they can copy from, especially for positions the library’s never had before. Please do not put “write my job ad for me, please” in a message bottle, okay? I will throw the bottle RIGHT BACK AT YOU, and here’s why.
  14. Photo: Qaqqaqtunaaq, “Avinngaq aka lemming” https://www.flickr.com/photos/macinuk/2837135320/ CC-BY, cropped Putting together

    a job ad by looking at everybody else’s job ads and competency lists instead of your own library’s needs, goals, and resources, that ain’t being a leader —that’s being a LEMMING. If you can’t even manage to care enough to do your own research into how a job works, so you lob a message in a bottle at me? C’mon. And yeah, lemmings are cute—look at this li’l guy, he’s darling—but still, lemming job ads are what happens when library leadership abdicates its responsibility to figure out how to make sure a new hire is safe to do what they need to do. Trust me and my disaster of a career, this does not end well.
  15. Some job ads I see read like the Saturday Night

    Live sketch for the product that’s a floor wax AND a dessert topping! Looking for just a ridiculous, impossible breadth of skill and ability, six jobs in one—and to add insult to injury, the WORST ADS OF ALL for this tend to explicitly say they’re entry-level! On behalf of my students let me say, what the heck, libraries?! Do I think this happens because clueless lemmings build job ads from competency lists? Oh yeah. I sure do. So don’t. Look, LIBRARIES SHRED THEIR APPLICANT POOLS LIKE A FRAMED BANKSY PICTURE WHEN THEY DO THIS! They also de-diversify them. How can anybody feel safe even applying to a job like this? How can somebody who takes a job as a floor wax and a dessert topping NOT take up permanent residence in Edmondson’s anxiety zone?
  16. Photo: Jenny Park mydisneyadventure, “Mary Poppins” https://www.flickr.com/photos/11325321@N08/6764547041/ CC-BY, cropped These

    ads also signal that the hiring library expects new employees to be Practically Perfect in Every Way. Smart people, and people who have been burned a few times, will know they won’t be safe with that library because it won’t cut them any slack ever. So they won’t apply to that job. So, if I just burned you or your library, here’s an experiment you can try when you go back to work. Take your library’s last few tech or tech-adjacent job ads and consciously remove every single acronym, every single specific piece of software, and every single programming language name. I mean it, toss them out, all of them. Reread the ad and see if it doesn’t actually work BETTER. If there’s nothing actually LEFT in your ad—well, that’s a sign of tunnel-visioned tech hiring, which is a bad idea because specific technologies change.
  17. Another thing that frustrates me is that [my bosses] seem

    to expect me to work miracles while simultaneously putting me down and not believing anything I say. I have put hours and hours into redesigning all those buttons multiple times because my boss keeps finding new things to change… meanwhile, the library is hoping to move to a new CMS early next year, so I don't even know why they're having me bother with changing the current site. Here’s a bottle-message from a public librarian about what happens when a tech hire is expected to be Practically Perfect in Every Way, especially when supervised by someone who resents tech and resents them for being technical. {READ TOP ONE} Another thing that happens is bikeshedding. Bikeshedding, do people know what that is, do I need to define it? Yeah, okay, it’s when people who are often utterly unqualified to opine nitpick something to the ends of the earth in flagrant disregard for other people’s time and expertise, and it happens a LOT with web design. Here’s an example from the same bottle-messager: {READ BOTTOM} I’m happy to say that this person did get out of that horrible, horrible library and is somewhere else now, somewhere that isn’t outright abusive.
  18. {A library} posted for a systems librarian. They are an

    ABSOLUTE PIT who screwed over a brilliant internal [candidate] because they are {a member of an under-represented population}. Wave everyone off that job who asks. Here’s another message in a bottle I got recently, redacted for reasons that will shortly be obvious, and I’m aiming this particularly at my fellow cishet white folks. It reads {READ IT}. Librarians who are members of under-represented populations talk to one another—and when I’m lucky, they talk to me too—as a matter of self-preservation in this profession. Not even safety, there is no safety, just day-to-day self-preservation. Why? Because we librarians too-steadfastly, too-often refuse to confront librarianship’s racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and especially in tech and leadership positions, sexism. We cishet white folks are in Edmondson’s low-accountability, high- safety Too Much Comfort Zone and we will NOT stir out. So yeah, as soon as librarians from underrepresented populations find out a library and its people are problematic, AND THEY WILL FIND OUT, that library can kiss the diversity of its applicant pools goodbye, and serves them right.
  19. But. Add a lot of these absolute pits together, and

    there’s a lot of them out there, and you get a larger profession that isn’t diversifying anywhere NEAR as fast as it needs to. So don’t kid yourself, this isn’t just a problem for one crappy library—it’s a problem for all of us. As Nancy said yesterday, LOOK AROUND. If any of you read the manager-interview series at the Hiring Librarians weblog, the astounding -isms in hiring there from all kinds of library managers—we’d be here all day. *CLICK* Results of a survey on inclusion in hiring came out for A-R-L libraries last year, and they were just. Masterpieces of self-delusion, I can’t even. “There might be inclusion problems in library hiring; we don’t really want to admit that, mind you, but it’s possible… but hey, NOT AT MY LIBRARY!” Y’all. Anyone who even SAYS “not at my library!” is part of the problem. We all—ALL OF US, zero exceptions—need to start from a place of “there ARE inclusion problems in my library’s hiring processes; let’s find out what they are and start fixing them.”
  20. Avoid loaded language in the ad. List salary/range in the

    ad. Remove names from applications before review. Have a rubric for applicant evaluation. Ask all candidates the same questions. Avoid whiteboard coding and other on-the-spots. Fix stereotype-threat-inducing environments. I helped build a course for the iSchool called “Code and Power” where we teach a little web programming and as much as we can about the sociology of gender, race, sexual orientation, and so on in IT. When I teach the course, I do an entire class session on hiring, because there ARE evidence-based best practices for avoiding bias in hiring and it’s super-important that we know them. Here are a few: {READ THEM}. This isn’t by any means exhaustive, but it’s a start.
  21. Photo: Rusty Clark @ 100K Photos, “Mannikin” https://www.flickr.com/photos/rusty_clark/29541721285/ CC-BY, cropped

    One hiring story from my own experience: I got headhunted once—which is weird, right? who’d want me?—but it’s true, I got headhunted once for a library job that looked pretty interesting on paper. Here’s the thing, though. The librarian who’d just left that job, who’s an amazing librarian with incredible skills, was a friend of mine and had totally thrown me messages in a bottle about that job. I knew why that job was open, and I also knew that if my message-sender couldn’t hack it there, I sure couldn’t. Amazingly—real shocker here, y’all, hang onto your hats—even white cis-het librarians like me TALK TO OTHER LIBRARIANS. We can often find out how a library treats its people, whether it have leaders or lemmings, whether anyone can build anything—including a career—in it. Fundamentally, we can find out whether we’re likely to be safe, in the Amy Edmondson sense. So if you’re repeatedly disappointed by your applicant pools for tech or tech-adjacent jobs? Having to fail searches? I think you might wanna take that as a red flag about your library’s working environment. It could well mean *RIGHT INTO MIC* the rest of us are onto you.
  22. "The successful candidate must have… a focus on digital scholarship

    or data curation; and a minimum of 4 years of experience [in]… successful management and supervision of personnel." WHERE ARE WE SUPPOSED TO GET THAT EXPERIENCE Here’s another bottled message I got about a job ad. The ad read in part {READ IT} and the message read WHERE ARE WE SUPPOSED TO GET THAT EXPERIENCE. Show of hands, academic librarians in the audience. Thank you! Okay, keep your hand up if your library has a dedicated full-time digital scholarship or data curation expert? Okay, a few. Okay, now, keep your hand up IF AND ONLY IF somebody reports directly to your dedicated expert, otherwise put your hand down. Yeah. Right. What I figured. (If any hands still up: Y’all can put your hands down.) So… who exactly is a digital-scholarship or data-curation expert supposed to spend four years supervising, please? Public librarians, raise your hands, please. Thank you! Now, keep your hand up if your library or library consortium has a dedicated full-time emerging technologies librarian or makerspace librarian. Uh-huh. If this librarian supervises anybody, keep your hand up; otherwise, put it down. Right. So yeah. Trying to hire. Purple. Freakin’. Unicorns. This is also a reason libraries lose good people even when they CAN hire them, by the way. Being “the only” of something new can be lonely, wretchedly difficult, and trust ME on this one, it can be NO way to build a career, it’s INCREDIBLY UNSAFE and the progression paths don’t exist. When lonely onlies send me bottle-messages, I usually end up telling them to leave if they can—and a lot of them do. So if you have a job that’s either a stuck door or a revolving door, it’s not your applicants and hirees —it’s your library.
  23. Photo: Brent Moore, “Unsafe Ice” https://www.flickr.com/photos/brent_nashville/272891720/ CC-BY, cropped Which leads

    me to… did y’all think you’d escape this talk without me mentioning precarious and contingent positions? Sorry, no. These are endemic in technology and technology-adjacent positions in libraries. And, you know, just to show, how many metadata librarians got fired from the Digital Public Library of America like, two days ago? And what will that mean for metadata librarians and other librarians at DPLA content and service hubs, many of whom are precarious or contingent? Yeah. Academic libraries are also an epicenter of precarity, thanks in no small part to grant-funded two-year post-doc and post-MLS positions, “residencies” they’re often called—and yes, A-R-L and CLIR, I am talking to y’all and y’all should not feel safe or even okay about what you’re doing here. I understand you mean well, but intent is not magic. How is somebody in an explicitly temporary job supposed to feel psychological safety in their work? How? They’re NOT ACTUALLY SAFE. And when they’re brought in to do something new for the library, which is how CLIR fellowships are intended to work, and in practice it’s how diversity residencies pretty much always work… how safe can these people possibly feel, given that the library apparently doesn’t care enough about them or what they’re doing that they’d even have been hired without a grant? Now add that to this being their first library workplace, which for no intrinsic fault of anybody’s NEVER feels safe, and I don’t know, what do we think we’re doing here, librarians? This is so not okay as a hiring pattern. If you think someone’s important and what they’re doing is important, COMMIT TO THEM. Two years is not NEAR enough. Try five at LEAST. Grant agencies can subsidize the first two years, fine, I won’t argue, but in return for ANY of these grants, the library needs to agree to pony up for the next three.
  24. Anxiety zone Learning zone (best teams, best teamwork) Lasciate ogni

    speranza… (Too much) Comfort zone High Low High Accountability for excellence Psychological safety Low But precarious tech positions are kinda weird, right? Because librarianship is always complaining that it doesn’t have enough tech-savvy people, that it can’t fill tech and tech-adjacent jobs, that the pipeline’s too small because the people I teach and graduate don’t know enough tech, and so on. So how can a precarious tech job even happen? Who’d take it? Here’s my read on that, through an Edmondson lens. *CLICK* Libraries who hire precarious tech folks tend to have a lot of existing staff in Edmondson’s comfort zone with respect to new stuff generally and tech-related stuff specifically… high safety, low accountability. Whatever these folks do or don’t already know about tech, they’re not learning, and they’re not being held accountable for not learning. They’re totally safe not to learn! And because those of us who work in library tech do that thing? That thing where we talk to one another about libraries? We know about your comfort zoners that you do nothing about, we don’t apply to your tech and tech-adjacent jobs, so you can’t hire us. So in something that looks a lot like desperation, your library makes a two-year grant hire. Hi, precarious new broom, c’mon in, do the new thing because everybody else doesn’t want to and doesn’t HAVE to! Do I need to explain to you how the comfort-zoners treat this person? Do I? Because I shouldn’t. The bottom line is, this person cannot be psychologically safe. No way. Simply cannot happen. *CLICK* They’re gonna live in the anxiety zone, if they’re lucky, *CLICK* and the abandon-all-hope zone if they’re not. If you and your library are not gonna commit, if you’re not serious either about a new service area or a new person, just don’t bother—and letting your comfort-zoners zone out while you assign new stuff to a precarious position is a painfully obvious signal that you’re NOT serious and you’re NOT committing. Taking one from Paul Simon, who do you think you’re fooling? Stop it.
  25. Photo: Simon Kellogg, “Christmas Gift” https://www.flickr.com/photos/akellogg/332383256/ CC-BY, cropped, darkened Infrastructure

    Okay, enough with hiring already. Let’s talk about infrastructure. I don’t know too many libraries in the United States who would say “hey, new reference librarian, here’s two sawhorses, a piece of plywood, and a nineteen-eighty-two almanac, go forth and enlighten our patrons!” We pretty much know that’s not okay except in real extremity, which does happen and I’m not trying to minimize that, I’m just saying, as a regular planned-on practice? Not okay. At some point, there’s just not enough infrastructure to call something a library, you know what I mean?
  26. We’ve come to think that stuff that you do on

    a computer can be done anywhere, anytime — and thus everywhere, all the time, with no particular material requirements. Miriam Posner, “Money and time” http://miriamposner.com/blog/money-and-time/ Fair use asserted Digital humanist Miriam Posner writes {READ IT}. My disaster of a library career was in scholarly communication, where it was and sometimes still IS believed that you can install DSpace or buy BePress, then wind up a librarian and turn them loose because that software is all they need to convert the entire campus to open access. I’m seeing similar with public-library makerspaces, sometimes. Here, have some cardboard and rubber bands, now go teach all the kids to code! In two-thousand-five when I started my first library job, the open-access thing was almost defensible; we just didn’t know yet what a slog this would be, and we were totally being told it wouldn’t be a slog at all! But I still get messages in bottles from resource-starved, collaboration-starved scholcomm librarians right now, in twenty- eighteen, and I’m sorry, there is NO MORE EXCUSE FOR THIS. In twenty-eighteen it is a failure of leadership to hire new librarians or start new initiatives with zero attention to their material requirements for such things as equipment, outreach funds, and event management funds, not to mention zero attention to hirees’ need for support and collaboration from colleagues. Yet resource and collaboration starvation is probably the problem I get the most messages in bottles about.
  27. They hired me to do data curation. The whole interview

    was about the technical stuff, and I aced it, it was great! When I got here, though, all I ended up doing was trying to convince people to give me the resources I need to do what they supposedly hired me for. I looked at data-curation jobs in other libraries, but they all seem the same way to me. I want to do data curation! So I’m looking elsewhere. Here’s another bottle message I got from a brilliant graduate of mine, a conversation we had at a conference we both turned up at. She said {READ IT}. And you know what? She landed a terrific job outside libraries where she does actual data curation, she’s happy there and doing phenomenal work, and I’m delighted for her! Libraries should be… less delighted, because I’m pretty sure she ain’t never coming back. Why would she? And this calls back to the question of writing job ads about aaaaaaaaaaall the skills that candidates need to bring to the table, without a moment’s thought about what the LIBRARY needs to bring to the table. This library—this major, important library in a gigantic super-wealthy institution, believe me, you’d recognize the name—this library WASTED this librarian’s data-curation skills, because it wasn’t ready to hire a data curator. And you know what? During this conversation I told her to bail. And I tell other bottle-messagers on this theme to bail when they can. This is ridiculous. And it’s a failure of leadership.
  28. Give that librarian IT “support” but when the librarian and

    programmer want to work on a project that requires committing 20% of the programmer’s time to participate, say that is too much. Anonymous guest blogger/Library Loon “A new-hire messiah speaks” https://gavialib.com/2014/03/a-new-hire-messiah-speaks/ CC-BY This is from a guest blog post at the Library Loon’s now-vanished weblog, and whoever that guest was, I want to say—solidarity, friend, I have been there too. It reads {READ IT}. I needed ONE AFTERNOON of a programmer’s time once to help out with a programming problem that would have vastly improved a patron-facing workflow, but could I get that one afternoon? I could not. And to make matters worse, there was, in theory, programmer time DEDICATED to the service I was running. In theory. Look, good leaders don’t bait-and-switch their people. Lying is bad! When I get a message in a bottle indicating that the author has been lied to by their leadership, I have no compunction about telling them to leave if they can. How do you get out of the anxiety zone when you can’t trust a word your reporting chain has ever said to you?
  29. Quoted email from top admin, in its entirety: “We’ll get

    there.” When? WHEN? Photo: @joefoodie, “Strawberry Jam” https://www.flickr.com/photos/montage_man/4677532966/ CC-BY, cropped Sometimes this style of lie stretches out into something I call “jam tomorrow, jam tomorrow, but NEVER jam today.” And here’s an example: someone wrote to me about a situation where they were underresourced for what they were doing, everybody knew it, but when they actually expressed that to top admin, the entirety of top admin’s reply was, “We’ll get there.” When? WHEN? they asked me. I dunno. Not today, I guess, not with leadership that won’t leave Edmondson’s too-much-comfort zone. I told this person to leave if they could. They left, and they’re immensely happier now. Their library has still not Gotten There, wherever “there” is. I was lucky enough to have lunch with Miriam Posner a couple weeks ago, and she talked about this happening. One way it happens is, you bring somebody in and give them nothing, and they do the best they can with the nothing they’ve got, and then everybody’s like “okay, they’re making something out of nothing, so let’s keep giving them nothing!” Yeah. No. This is not leadership. RESOURCE YOUR PEOPLE if you want to deserve them. RESOURCE YOUR PROGRAMS AND SERVICES if you want them to reach their potential. Why should I even need to say this out loud?
  30. AUL for IT, proudly: “We’ve been having budget problems, like

    everyone, so we cancelled our memberships in LOCKSS and the DSpace Consortium.” Me: *total O.O face* This was another hallway conversation, with the A-U-L for IT at a major academic library. {READ IT} And clearly this person expected me to beam with approval at this decision! I didn’t! I thought this was horrible, and I’m afraid I let that show on my face. Just touching on scholcomm one more time because it’s my old stomping grounds, SPARC right now is doing this big push on community-owned infrastructure, and the reason they’re doing that is because Elsevier is trying to buy up the universe—and they’re SUCCEEDING. And the reason they’re succeeding is people like this. Billions of dollars for Elsevier, not one CENT for open ANYTHING. I want to reinforce what Nancy said yesterday about publicness and how we all do better when we ALL do better. Starving collective infrastructure, collective technology development, is not leadership. Leadership in libraries and library consortia understands that there’s a picture that’s bigger than the local budget. We’re the ones who get burned in the end when we free-ride, because it ends up costing us MORE.
  31. Photo: Qaqqaqtunaaq, “Avinngaq aka lemming” https://www.flickr.com/photos/macinuk/2837135320/ CC-BY, cropped I think

    the fix for these infrastructure-related problems goes back to our friend the lemming. Namely, our library leadership cannot hope to build viable services by lemming-ing them. Makerspaces, institutional repositories, media labs, library-as publisher, libraries teaching coding, whatever—if your library isn’t serious about it, much less enthusiastic, but you’re just doing it because you think you have to, STOP. I mean it. Stop. Do not pass go, do not do the thing if you’re only going to allocate two hundred dollars to it! Go directly to service jail, and don’t come out until you’ve either resourced the service appropriately or decided that you can’t and therefore you’re not doing it! And this isn’t just a new-hire thing, it can be hard to say no to an enthusiastic existing librarian who wants to do something new. I get that. My department chair says no to me and my oddball ideas a lot—oddball ideas are kind of my thing?—and I don’t exactly like that, nobody likes hearing no. But it’s so much kinder to say “no, we can’t afford this” up-front than to say “yes, you go do that thing” and then never lift a finger or spend a dime to help. I’m fond of two planning methods for avoiding lemming services, and they’re fairly similar, so use whichever you like better. One is logic modeling, and the other, which is what I teach when I get to teach planning, is theory-of-change. What’s different about these methods is that they force you to specify exactly what success looks like, no glittering generalities and no buzzwordy garbage—and oh, could I ever talk about lemming services where the library has NO IDEA what they actually want to accomplish —and THEN they make you walk through each step on the way to success, you’re not done planning until the entire path exists and makes sense. This is a compelling antidote to the magical thinking that drives lemming service establishment.
  32. Photo: Agustín Ruiz, “pollution!” https://www.flickr.com/photos/a6u571n/2979958568/ CC-BY, cropped Atmosphere And then

    there’s the question of workplace atmosphere for technologists and technology-adjacent folks. I’m amazed and appalled at how the people who send me bottle-messages have been treated just for, I don’t know, existing?
  33. Librarian: “What are you taking in library school?” Student: “I’m

    in Digital Tools, Trends, and Debates!” Librarian: *recoils, makes yuk face* At the iSchool we require a practicum of all our students, because some of them come in without relevant experience, and we know they’re all but unhireable without it and they won’t necessarily get it unless WE take responsibility for ensuring they do. And most of our practicum sites are absolutely amazing, with incredible people who encourage our students, help them build professional networks, and get them experience they can really leverage into their first professional jobs, and I am so grateful to them! But then there are practicum sites where a librarian asks a student of ours “So, what are you taking in library school?” and the student mentions something like our general intro-tech course, Digital Tools, Trends, and Debates—and the librarian PHYSICALLY RECOILS and makes ew-icky faces. This one happened to one of my advisees, and it sent them straight into the Anxiety Zone regarding their job prospects and whether they’d even be happy in librarianship. Like, if we want tech-savvy librarians, maybe libraries and librarians have to, I don’t know, ACTUALLY WELCOME TECH-SAVVY PEOPLE?! Just a thought.
  34. Photo: Library and Information Services Metropolitan State University, “Computer Help

    Desk sign” https://www.flickr.com/photos/metrolib/3905316952/ CC0, cropped, brightened I’ve gotten plenty of messages in bottles from sysadmins, programmers, metadata people, and so on, whose colleagues treat them like first-level help desk no matter what their job actually is. “Hail, tech peon, I shall interrupt that useless keyboard-mashing of yours so that you may help me with my PowerPoint!” And I’ve been there too. It feels—and is, I’m not gonna lie about this, it IS amazingly disrespectful of our time and expertise. Here’s the thing though. Sometimes I’m pretty convinced that hail-tech-peon disrespect is exactly what’s going on. And that’s not okay, and leadership needs to deal with it; library staff need both appropriate tech training and appropriate tech support, and some library staff need to be told outright they can’t treat their colleagues like peons. But sometimes, I think what’s happening is that the rest of the library staff has absolutely no mental model for what tech and tech-adjacent folks actually do, or how it fits into the work of the library. So they’re NOT consciously being disrespectful—they’re just trying to interact with the tech person in the only way they can think of. Now, this is also not okay! But it’s not okay on a completely different level, the level of “a lot of your staff have no idea how large and important aspects of your library even WORK.” And fixing it is a different kind of leadership challenge. It’s a change management challenge. It’s a communication-of-priorities challenge. It’s a training challenge. It’s an impostor-syndrome challenge, because yes, that’s totally in play here. And I’m not saying any of these challenges have easy fixes, because they don’t. I’m saying that leadership means not ignoring these challenges just because they’re hard.
  35. Photo: Neil McIntosh, “Cougar ready to pounce” https://www.flickr.com/photos/harlequeen/2975144846/ CC-BY, cropped

    Here’s another way I see the all-tech-folks-are-help-desk idea play out in my bottle messages. A fair few libraries hire what they think are general-purpose tech folks, but they don’t put any process around the claims on those folks’ time. No project management, no planning, no ticketing systems, no nothing. So, inevitably—I mean it, this happens EVERY TIME—inevitably everybody else in the library sneaks up on the tech folks to say “hey, here’s this little thing I need, it won’t take long, honest!” And without process, the tech folks have no way to prioritize, no grounds on which to say no to some things and yes to others. And their plates get heinously overloaded, but they can’t say no to anybody because that’s not being Library Nice, and anyway everything that everybody wants is such a little tiny thing, how could it possibly be a problem? And as tech folks fall behinder and behinder because the expectations on them are so out of whack, it truly gets to feel like all your colleagues are big cats sneaking up on you to pounce! I understand that the Agile project management philosophy has its detractors as well as its proponents, but there’s one piece of it that I have actually seen turn this situation around, and that’s the stakeholder meeting. At that meeting, all the work gets laid on the table, actual capacity to DO that work is openly measured, and stakeholders have to slug it out with other stakeholders instead of stalking tech people. And I like this partly because it explicitly answers the grossly insulting question “what do the tech people DO all day?” and partly because it stops the sneaking and the just-one-thing-ing in its tracks. You want something done, you put it on the table along with everybody else, and everybody sees what’s on the table and what’s possible to address. And if there isn’t enough of the tech folks to go around? That stops getting blamed on the tech folks, and starts getting blamed on the leadership that’s underresourcing tech. Which is where that blame BELONGS.
  36. once at a meeting, after i presented for 40 minutes

    on {new thing}, a dude raised his hand and said, ‘but do i _have_ to do this?’ liiiiiiiike “We don’t need any of these fancy digital people. We need to hire some REAL LIBRARIANS.” Here’s another atmosphere-killer. The top quote is another of my experiences, actually, a conversation about me that I overheard in the cube farm a month or so into my first librarian job running the local institutional repository. A liaison librarian said {READ IT}. And I have to laugh at this, now that I’m not a Real Librarian any more—wow, prophecy, right?—but I can assure you, I wasn’t laughing at the time. I immediately dived into the Anxiety Zone and honestly, I never really came back out. The second one was a social-media bottle message, so I’ve redacted it a bit. {READ IT} A thing I see a lot in my bottle-messages is library staff in Edmondson’s too- much-comfort zone who don’t like change in general, or a specific change the library is making in particular… these people start openly foot-dragging, trash-talking the change, or even worse, taking their aggro out on the poor schmuck responsible for the new thing. Saima Kadir and Rick Peralez talked about this this morning—and unlike Saima and Rick, a lot of times library so-called leadership just lets this happen. Y’all, this is another of those things there ain’t no excuse for. Even highly collaborative environments CAN and DO make change without allowing this level of, and let me be blunt here, sabotage from within. I mean, is the U-W Madison iSchool changing? Oh, yeah. We’ve only even been the iSchool for, like, a year and a half; we just did a GIGANTIC identity change. Have I agreed with all the changes we’ve made? Nope. Have my colleagues? Naw. We’re an independent-minded and opinionated bunch; we disagree with one another often. But we talk it through beforehand, vote as needed, and get on with our lives afterward! Do ANY OF US trash-talk one another in public? No. It’s unimaginable. Do we foot-drag and bellyache and white-mutiny? We ain’t got TIME for that nonsense. Has any of us intentionally sabotaged change that has been formally agreed upon? Absolutely not—not even me, and y’all know by now how contrary I can be—and if any of us tried it I have full confidence our department chair would go to that person and read them the riot act. Because our department chair? Is a LEADER. Too many librarians with leadership titles are not leaders.
  37. … [my bosses] took me completely by surprise by starting

    to talk about how I'd been “too frustrated” lately, and how I was “making them tense”... What’s onscreen now came from the librarian at that horrible abusive bikesheddy public library. {READ IT} This is an absolute paradigm example of what’s called “tone policing,” and I see it a lot in my bottle messages, not usually as the main problem people are asking me about, but kind of as the poisonous cherry on top. So, this talk probably sounds pretty frustrated about what I’m hearing from all these people who email me. And yeah, I’ll cop to that, I’m frustrated, because this stuff shouldn’t be happening and hearing about it over and over and OVER again is exhausting. But if you tell me the actual problem is that I’m frustrated? Or the actual problem is that I’m openly saying I’m frustrated? I’m going to LAUGH AT YOU. Because the problem is not me expressing frustration; frustration is a perfectly reasonable response to what I’m seeing. Nor is the problem my tone of voice or my bluntness or my abrasiveness—oh yes, I have had that highly-gendered insult leveled at me. The problem is that there are problems, and there is actually NO WAY I can talk about them that will get them heard without damage to me. Believe me, I TRIED to be Library Nice. It didn’t work and I’m done trying. And I’m a white woman. If you listen to folks of color in this profession, you will hear SO MUCH MORE about relentless, inescapable tone policing. We white people NEED to do that listening, and we need to cut this tone-policing garbage right out.
  38. Tone policing is only one way the problems I’ve been

    bringing up today get swept under the rug. There’s lots of ways to do that, I’ve written about them, it’s open access so you can read it… but what I want to say here is that almost universally, the people who send me bottle messages do it because they want to know how they caused the problems they’re having and what they can do to fix them. And it breaks my heart, because THEY ARE NOT THE PROBLEM, and that they think they ARE is just—it’s gaslighting, it’s these people’s workplaces cruelly and intentionally redefining their reality, making them believe they’re wrong and ineffective and bad librarians when they’re not wrong and they’re doing the best they can in intolerable conditions and they’d be GREAT librarians if only their workplaces would LET THEM.
  39. Librarian: “Hi, you’re Dorothea Salo, right? I’m so glad to

    meet you!” Me: “Uh, yes, hi… you’ve heard of me?!” *conversation starts* Librarian, quietly: “Thanks for talking to me. This guy was asking me out and getting really pushy about it, and talking to you got me away from him.” One last thing before I move on.This is a thing that happened to me at a conference quite a while ago. {READ IT} This is the kind of thing that makes me really glad to be tall and fat and middle-aged and ugly as a mud fence, because all those things tend to add up to Creepy Jerk Repellent, which it turns out really helps people! So yes, I’ve rescued folks at conferences. I’ve had to make Title Nine reports of sexual harassment at my institution, I’ve had to raise cain with certain conferences because of how students of mine were treated at them, I’m part of any number of whisper networks, there are people I absolutely will not work with or be in a room with if I can avoid it, I have avoided going to certain conferences or applying to certain jobs because of creepy jerks I knew would be there, I have friends who have done the same… And the messages in bottles I’ve gotten about this kind of thing, at all levels, from jerky jokes through sexual harassment on up to actual sexual assault… I could FILL THIS ROOM with message bottles, y’all. And it has to stop. It. Has. To. Stop. It’s the elephant in the room at all of the non-males-in-IT conversations we had yesterday.
  40. Photo: Cliff, “Classroom with Three Figures” https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/2872099576/ CC-BY, cropped These

    atmosphere issues can’t be magic-wanded away. Not a one of them. But there’s one insight that I picked up as I was doing research for our Code and Power class: Leaders can’t make people change their minds. Implicit bias training, for example, as an inclusion measure? Doesn’t work. Sorry. It flat-out does not work. Jawboning people about change! and innovation! and diversity! and “leaning in!” Does not work. What leaders CAN do is insist that people change their BEHAVIOR—and I went for this image again, because yes, classroom management is kind of what it’s like. No, says the real library leader, you cannot avoid technology or the people who work directly with it. No, you cannot continue to drag your feet and bellyache about this change now that it has been decided on; you don’t have to like it but you DO have to do it. No, I just better not hear you running down your colleagues and their accomplishments! No, you absolutely cannot treat your profession like it was Tinder or Grindr or OKCupid, what is wrong with you? And, says the real library leader, if I see any of these behaviors from you, I will impose consequences on you and you will not like them. It sounds harsh, but if there’s another way to push people out of Edmondson’s too-much-comfort zone, I honestly don’t know what it is. And the great thing here is that behavior change is actually the thing that changes minds! I’ve noticed this in myself, even, and it’s made me a lot more deliberate about the fires I start… believe it or not. So those of us who are leaders, try behavior change as a strategy—and those of us who aren’t there yet, you know what? We can ask for the behavior changes we need, just like we can ask for the money we need. We won’t always get either one, as Nancy pointed out, but we will NEVER get them if we don’t ask. I’m sorry I didn’t ask, back when I was a librarian. Don’t be me. ASK.
  41. Photo: miss pupik, “message in a bottle” https://www.flickr.com/photos/miss_pupik/39863053/ CC-BY, cropped

    Assessment And that leads me to talking about assessment, because how people are assessed, both formally and informally, both as individuals and for what they represent, is a big part of what can send them straight to the Anxiety Zone.
  42. male staff… can say whatever they want about computers and

    [female boss] will believe them, but when I was doing the website design and saying certain design elements might not work out, I was told I didn't know what I was talking about. This is one more from the public librarian with the unbelievably terrible bikesheddy boss. {READ IT} Have I run into “women don’t tech, listen to the man” in librarianship? OH HECK YEAH I SURE HAVE, coming from at least two genders, and even from previous reporting chains I’ve been in. Y’all. LITA would not let me stand up here if I didn’t tech. I tech. Librarians of any gender who can’t manage to believe I tech because I do not identify as a man can bite my shiny metal female techie butt.
  43. Photo: Suvodeb Banerjee, “If you’re different, you stand out 2”

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/suvodeb/2542961046/ CC-BY, cropped And this is where I need to say that Nancy and I did not coordinate our presentations, because where Nancy talks about the nail sticking out getting hammered down? I’m talking about tall poppies and how they get their heads cut off. Some bottle messages I get are from amazing people who are being put down or ignored or even disciplined or sabotaged—basically for being amazing, especially when technology is the area they’re perceived as being amazing in. They’ve gotten slagged by their own colleagues and even bosses for presenting at conferences, or publishing about their work, or getting promoted, or winning awards. Not only have their colleagues not celebrated their successes—which is honestly really poisonous, how do people not have the basic decency to congratulate colleagues on an achievement?—but no, these amazing tech people get in actual workplace trouble for achieving. Wow. Wow, y’all. How does anybody build anything under conditions like that? How do we build LIBRARIANSHIP with this happening? And the people messing with them often come at this from a place of “because I feel I’m bad at tech, nobody else is allowed to be GOOD at it, because then I feel threatened,” and wow, that’s so not okay. When I’ve seen this myself, and I have, one thing underlying it is an existential fear that the work of libraries is changing out from under some folks. And that’s a reasonable fear, because it’s NOT ACTUALLY WRONG. What I don’t and will never understand is how anybody thinks chopping down the so-called tall poppy is a healthy response to that, never mind why any library leader allows that behavior. The right response to change is to learn, and understand, and grow, and HELP. The right response to change is to celebrate and grow our collective knowledge, our collective excellences—what we ALL know and can do TOGETHER. And this cannot happen where necessary knowledges and useful excellences are banished to the unsafe Anxiety Zone.
  44. It's very tiring working in an environment where I never

    know when I'm going to be criticized for something small. And one more—I promise this is the last one!—from Horrible Bikesheddy Public Library. Though really, I’ve heard this so many times from so many people in so many situations… it’s not even a problem specific to library tech jobs, it’s a super-common library workplace problem. {READ IT} Wow, anxiety zone in a nutshell. There’s a piece of this problem that I think is super-common in tech and tech-adjacent library jobs, though, and it’s this: the lack of clear up-front project and employee assessment criteria. And it’s commonest in lemming services and projects. Nobody else in the library has any idea what really needs to happen, so they don’t think about how to assess it—and where I’ve seen THAT end up is that whatever the relevant librarian does? Is somehow always automatically the wrong thing. Gotcha assessment! No matter what you do, your boss’ll gotcha you! And we know my refrain by now, right? When someone sends me this message in a bottle, I tell them to leave because it will not get better where they are. The theoretically correct advice is “manage up, make them give you assessment criteria,” but look, I tried that one myself, some of my message-bottlers have tried it, and It. Does. Not. Work. Lemming library so-called leadership doesn’t WANT assessment criteria nailed down because then they lose the easy way out of any problem ever, which is gotcha-ing their tech people.
  45. A couple-three days ago I saw this tweet from Charleston

    Conference, and just so y’all don’t make the mistake I did, sorry, Lindsay—this is Lindsay Cronk channeling some goofball in the audience, not her own thinking. {READ IT} So, I have a phrase I want y’all to take home, and it’s “fundamental attribution error.” Please say it with me, everybody: Fundamental. Attribution. Error. What that is, is a human tendency to blame problems on specific other humans instead of on the systems those humans are embedded in, much less on ourselves. And this is an absolutely perfect example. Scholcomm librarians are clever people, scholcomm librarians still run into problems, so gosh, the answer must be that those scholcomm librarians just don’t have those soft skills. Somehow, some way, the problems they’re having must be their own dang fault. Aaaaaaaaand if you hear an echo in this of “women don’t ask, women aren’t confident enough, women don’t talk themselves up enough, basically it’s all women’s fault they don’t succeed” you’re not wrong. My reply to this on Twitter, y’all may have seen it, was not kind: “Not when the real problem is that their workplaces are underresourcing them, undersupporting them, and (in not a few cases) actively undermining and gaslighting them. No amount of soft skills fixes this.” That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
  46. Photo: jodi0327, “Gas Lamp” https://www.flickr.com/photos/23879201@N00/4477516662/ CC-BY, cropped And the fundamental

    attribution error is fed by the whole “skills and competencies” narrative. Here’s the fifty-page laundry list of skills and competencies for your job; if you don’t have every last competency it means you’re not good enough, so if you’re having difficulty it’s obviously all your fault for not being good enough! Holy wow, people, how much more gaslighty could we BE? Yeah, of course everybody blames me too, I’m an LIS educator now, it’s a hazard of the job. In both cases, though—when I’m blamed, and when the people who send me messages in bottles are being blamed—nobody ever seems to ask what is actually reasonable to expect of us. And that’s not on librarians trying their level best to meet flatly ridiculous expectations. That’s on us and our hiring and infrastructure and atmosphere and assessment practices AND…
  47. These are failures of LEADERSHIP (among other things). our leadership.

  48. Photo: Margaret W. Carruthers, “Danger!” https://www.flickr.com/photos/64167416@N03/6726697233/ CC-BY, cropped I promised

    I’d come back to this, so here we go. Library leaders, why are YOUR people heaving messages in bottles at ME? It’s because your people don’t feel safe talking to you. I hear this over and over and over again—they tell me that if they talk to you they’ll get their hand bitten. Or they HAVE talked to you, and they’re writing to me with a bitten hand. Libraries NEED to work out how their leadership will learn to hear things they don’t wanna. Because look, you’ve been listening to me this long, what advice do you think I give to people with bitten hands? Heck yeah I tell ‘em to leave! And heck yeah, they leave!
  49. From Schonfeld and Wolff-Eisenberg, 2017, “Taking A Closer Look at

    Talent Management.” https://sr.ithaka.org/blog/ taking-a-closer-look-at-talent-management/ Fair use asserted. Speaking of masterpieces of self-delusion, Ithaka did this study on what they called “talent management” in big academic libraries, and their introduction to it was kind of hilarious, there was so much subtext in their text, “this utter nonsense we’re hearing from library leadership, what the heck?!” But one big thing did come out of it: two out of five of the library leaders they talked to said that they were having a really hard time hanging onto good people. Gosh. Yeah. Imagine that. But according to the big bosses at big academic libraries, here’s why people are leaving. *CLEAR THROAT* Number one: Other personal reasons, not work-related at aaaaaaaall! Number two: Salary! Look. People with bitten hands, people who have been living months or years in the Anxiety Zone, this is what they’re going to say when they leave, whether it’s true or not! Because it’s safe, it doesn’t endanger a reference, it won’t get them tone-policed or talked about. I will bet every dollar I ever MADE as an actual librarian that if Ithaka asked departing librarians why they left, guaranteeing them anonymity, they’d get VERY different stories than this. And a lot of those stories would look like the stories I’ve told today. So there’s a whole lot of NO TRUTH happening around tech-savvy librarian exits from library workplaces. How ironic is that, an institution dedicated to truth instead of truthiness, and its leadership cannot hear truth about why people are leaving. And libraries can’t fix this until libraries ACKNOWLEDGE it.
  50. Photo: NATT-at-NKM, “Rotting Log Fungus” https://www.flickr.com/photos/75001205@N02/8928608068/ CC-BY, cropped I’ve done

    the thing that as a library outsider it kind of falls to me to do, which is turn over the log and say hey, look at all the creepy-crawlies! But, you know, it should be safe for all librarians to discuss both inside and outside their workplaces how they’re being treated. That it’s painfully, obviously not safe is a pretty big stain on the profession.
  51. Photo: Dano, “Chit chat” https://www.flickr.com/photos/mukluk/256889331/ CC-BY, cropped The next step

    is to keep talking out loud, keep naming problems in public, keep pointing out the damage they do. Y’all can totally blame it on me when you do that, I don’t mind and it can’t mess me up any more than it already has. But I’ve done what I can do here for the librarians who email me.
  52. The rest is up to you. Thank you. Messages in

    e-bottles: salo@wisc.edu Copyright 2018 by Dorothea Salo. This presentation is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Photo: miss pupik, “message in a bottle” https://www.flickr.com/photos/miss_pupik/39863053/ CC-BY, cropped The rest is up to you. Thank you, and safe travels home.