Given for the Library Publishing Forum, 8 May 2023.
… can she?
Dorothea Salo ▫ Information School ▫ University of Wisconsin-Madison
Hi, everybody, glad to be here, thanks for having me, and welcome to the Forum!
To be perfectly clear, the “she” who “can’t say that” in this title is absolutely me. Over the course of my career I’ve said a lot of things I apparently wasn't
supposed to. I’m probably going to say more things I’m not supposed to say today! Lots of things that are “unprofessional,” or “uncivil,” or “inappropriate,”
or “unreasonable,” or “backlashy” or just “not nice.” Won't be the
rst time I've had those labels pinned on me, won't be the last.
But you’ll be happy to know I originally intended to put a content alert here for cussing, and I wound up not needing to. So there’s that, at least? Instead I
have props, so you might want to adjust your Zoom view so you’re seeing me as well as the slides.
As it happens, “she can’t say that, can she?” is actually close to a direct quote, from a peer reviewer for my very
rst published journal article, Innkeeper at
the Roach Motel. This reviewer asked the Library Trends issue editor, who told me this story much later on — they asked the editor whether I was allowed
to say some of the things I was saying in that article.
Notably, this reviewer DIDN’T say “that’s displaying some ugly bias and needs to be rethought,” or “you know, that’s not actually true," or "that's missing
something, it needs some nuance,” or “this doesn’t cite what So-and-so said about thingy-thing,” all of which are entirely legit things to say during a peer
review, they’re tied to editorial standards and publishing ethics. Instead, the reviewer said "she can't say that, can she?" which. What?
I thought this profession kind of didn’t agree with censorship? Because attempted censorship is what that was. And I’m grateful to the issue editor and to
Library Trends editorial leadership for replying that yes, I COULD actually say that and they would print it, and here we are.
Since this is a publishing conference, I can say that I’m also grateful to Library Trends for good typography. This is just a really pleasant, readable, classic
page design here and I’m a fan.
direct quote from me
But I ain’t mad at that reviewer. No, really, I ain’t mad. In all honesty, I think that reviewer was trying to protect me, babybrarian that I was at the time. And
I think this because of something that happened at about the same time Roach Motel was coming out.
I was interviewed by Rachel Singer Gordon for a sidebar in her book, What’s the Alternative, for a chapter on non-traditional jobs in still-traditional
libraries, talking about library tech in general and institutional repositories speci
And in that interview I said this: “Librarianship is still deciding how it wants to react to computers. Some librarians — prominently, Michael Gorman and
Rory Litwin — genuinely believe that computer programming is not something librarians should do.”
So yeah. I said that, and with twenty-twenty hindsight it was pretty gosh-darn ad hominem and impolitic of me. Today I’d have had the sense to say “seem
to believe” instead, and I’d have left out the names. But it was printed in the book — what you’re seeing is straight from a photocopy. And Rachel didn’t
change anything, that was all me.
Be a real shame if…
Puppeteer’s hand from The Godfather movie posters.
Fair use asserted.
Shortly after the book was published I got an email from one of those two, I decline to say which but the other one was copied on it, and that email had
this threat vibe right out of Marlon Brando in The Godfather, “be a real shame if something happened to your brand-new career…” I didn’t answer, and you
know what? I’m still here.
Now, that email wasn’t about holding me publicly accountable for my published words, which is also a legitimate thing to do. Gorman and Litwin were fully
entitled to say out loud and in public that I misstated their beliefs and how dare I, if they wanted to. They certainly had all the soapbox they needed —
Gorman had been ALA President not long before this, and Litwin had founded a whole entire press.
But public accountability is generally a public thing; this wasn’t. Nor was it opening a dialogue, which also would have been okay. Best I could tell, this was
a private attempt to intimidate me, then a babybrarian, out of speaking my sense of the beliefs of two very powerful and established librarians. In other
words, that email was kicking down and attempting censorship.
And I think that Roach Motel reviewer knew this kind of thing happens and wanted to protect me from it. A kind impulse. So I ain’t mad at them, even
though I think what they did was not actually okay.
If you think that shut me up, look, have you even MET me? Shutting up is kind of not my thing.
But the truth is, I have actually shut up, to avoid hurting colleagues. Such as this piece, in which the peer reviewers once again questioned whether I was
allowed to say some of the things I was saying, and this time the editors went along. If it had been just me, I’d have dug my heels in, because again, this
wasn’t a question of accuracy or bias or citation cartels or data problems or human-subjects ethics or plagiarism or any other ACTUAL PROBLEM of
publishing ethics or standards. It was just that I wasn’t being relentlessly cheerful about everything ever — and with twenty-twenty hindsight, I was right
not to be!
But Regina and Rebecca were my coauthors, and if I remember right at least one of them was tenure-track at the time and needed this publication to
happen. So I grumbled to myself and made the requested changes.
It helped reconcile me that I was able to tell the story my way in another context, in a presentation whose slides and talk notes I put online. So yeah, if you
compare my talk notes for Manufacturing Serendipity to what got published in the journal, you can see pretty easily what the journal censored.
Because I repeat. That? Was censorship. In the LIS literature. There is no war in Ba Sing Se, and there are no problems in how academic libraries handle
research data management services.
taking my lumps
(and some aspirin)
ip side of being a loudmouth, of course, is that I have had to take my lumps, when I’ve earned them… and I absolutely have earned some lumps.
Some days, like for example today, I invite lumps deliberately and keep my aspirin handy… but some days I don’t, I’m the
rst to admit that I don't always
calibrate my big mouth right. Either way, I have to take the lumps and I do.
ED and AFRAID
in a World We Never Made
University of Wisconsin-Madison Information School
Minnesota Library Association
Annual Conference 2018
Photo: Jay Phagan, “Surveillance Cameras”
CC-BY, cropped, darkened, masked
By way of example, these days I laugh about being librarian non grata in the entire state of Minnesota after giving this keynote at MLA Annual that hit
harder than I meant it to. I laugh because what else am I gonna do, but the truth is I'm sorry, because I ended up kicking down myself in this one. I
nitely should have had more consideration for the people listening to me. I’ll take the lumps I earned for that.
And it so happens that a bit later I actually got attempted-censored AGAIN over this one, I’ve told the story in other contexts, but in the interests of time
I’ll let it go today.
So yeah, keep that in mind for what I’m about to say.
In the United States libraries are in the middle of a horrifying censorship crisis, which is why censorship is top of my mind, I’m teaching my library-school
students what little they can do to respond to all this, and I wish from the bottom of my heart that I didn’t have to.
Now, I am de
nitely not saying all the stu
I’ve talked about so far is on THAT LEVEL. Absolutely not! Look, incoming ALA President Emily Drabinski had
her own university’s leadership try to shut her up! This is all LIS insider baseball by comparison. Even so, as library publishers, I think we maybe want to set
an example here? No
eld’s literature is supposed to be about shutting people up when they have defensible points to make, as long as they make those
points without doing anything that’s straight-up unethical.
But what I notice is that we in LIS are actually unfortunately good at censoring one another! Including in our LIS literature sometimes. And what I’ve learned
from my own experience and that of other librarians — and you may well have
gured it out already, just from what I’ve said so far — is that there's a
c thing that gets censored: anything from one librarian that says that other librarians might have done something wrong, like, ever.
We're not supposed to say THIS IS BAD in public about our profession or anyone in it, EVEN IF IT’S TRUE, even if we’re just calling a spade a shovel…
because it's our profession and critiquing it is somehow, I don’t know, disloyal or something? Are there loyalty tests in librarianship that nobody ever told
me about? And of course if there’s a power di
erential involved, the silencing gets worse.
And the way to shut people up, apparently, is to hassle them outside the public eye and with little to no accountability! That's why that Library Trends
reviewer asked to censor me during the con
dential peer-review process. That’s why Gorman or Litwin, I’m still not saying which, got all up in my
babybrarian emails. That’s why the Journal of E-Science Librarianship asked me to tone my critiques of my institution down, again during con
review. And that’s why I’m persona non grata in Minnesota, I broke the unwritten rules about keeping every critique ever private.
In recent years this style of decorum-invoking censorship has been called out, and I de
nitely don’t think it’s coincidence that the callers-out have mostly
been women of color. This is all tied in with Kaetrena Davis Kendrick’s formulation of "Library Nice,” which as Kendrick points out is super-gendered and
super-racialized. It’s absolutely tied in with Fobazi Ettarh’s concept of vocational awe, in which librarians too often not only believe, but ENFORCE this
illusion that we all *PUT ON HALO* run around with little halos over our heads, we can do no wrong because of our sacred mission. *TAKE OFF HALO* So,
shout-out to these two brilliant librarians. Their work has taught me a lot.
so, so done
But look, I have no patience for the illusion enforcement any more. I am so, so done with illusions of sacred perfection that must never be broken. We can’t
x problems with our profession if nobody is allowed to actually talk about them out loud!
ip side of that is that if we are actually serious about being professionals with integrity, we all need to take our lumps, often in public. I can tell
you from bountiful experience, this is not fun! But I can also tell you it’s survivable. I’ve had to do it, I’ve done it, and I’m still here.
Perfection is not a thing, no matter how much we might want it to be. So I hope it’s a little bit reassuring that a few lumps don’t mean the end?
But okay, that’s me, what about y’all? Why do you, as library publishing professionals, care about being able to discuss suboptimal practices openly? *PUT
HALO ON* Surely there are no poor practices in library or LIS publishing? *TAKE HALO OFF* Okay, yeah, fooling no one here, y’all probably have worse
stories than I do, and I de
nitely have some stories — heck, I’ve BEEN the story once or twice, ask me about the time I accidentally sent a piece to one of its
authors for peer review. Oops.
One thing I'm saying is, the LIS literature and y’all as the LIS publishing contingent, these are a big part of the public face of our profession. So we need
that public face to re
ect what WE say is important, what WE say is okay.
So if we here today are going to make a bid for being part of the scholarly publishing scene more generally, and that’s one thing we’re here to do, right?
We need to put our own discipline’s publishing house in order.
There's no outsourcing library ethics in the LIS literature, just as one example, not to alphabet-soup data-protection law, not to IRBs, not to our
institutional data governance, HEAVENS no, not to the Committee on Publishing Ethics, not to ANYBODY. And among other things, that means attention to
patron privacy, since we claim it as central to our disciplinary ethics. Privacy is totally where our stated ideals, actual practices, and professional literature
stop being insider baseball and start to be part of our public face, okay?
Library learning analytics
Here's my example of LIS research and publication that’s got serious privacy and other ethics issues. Not saying it's the only example — de
nitely not! —
I’m not even saying it's the most important example necessarily, but it's the example I've spent the last
ve years on, so it’s the example you’re getting
today: library learning analytics.
Which, for those who are not in academic libraries, I’ll give you the Siemens twenty-twelve de
nition of learning analytics, it’s the QUOTE “measurement,
collection, analysis, and reporting of [student and other data] for the purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it
Now, I actually disagree quite strongly with Siemens that understanding and improving learning is the only purpose learning analytics researchers have.
Library learning analytics is actually a great example! If you read the methods and advocacy pieces about it, you discover right away that it’s not about
helping students, it’s about making libraries look good. Which is a whole can of ethical worms right THERE, that’s not supposed to be what human-
subjects research is for. Self-interested research using other people as lab rats has historically gone in very ugly directions very quickly.
And then there’s the me de
nition of learning analytics, which is: assessment by student surveillance. Learning analytics runs on intentional student
surveillance through data exhaust. Library learning analytics, at least as it’s mostly been done so far, is intentional surveillance of students as library
patrons through data exhaust.
Which is a speci
c variant of a general virus infecting the LIS literature and libraries more generally: increased risks to patrons and even breaches of patron
privacy through use and abuse of patron data. What you’re looking at, and if you haven’t read it I strongly encourage you to, is an example of library
PATRONS schooling their library and its librarians on data privacy.
What has EVEN happened to my profession. We should be ashamed of this. I am ashamed of this.
… can she?
I don't know, can I say that? Can I say that some librarians are doing some horribly and embarrassingly wrong things with patron data? Am I allowed to use
the word “surveillance” about library research? Can I say that the LIS literature contains plenty of articles and conference papers that need to be retracted
for abuse of patron data and breach of patron privacy? I hope I can say all that, because I just said it, I stand by it, and I’ll take any lumps I have to for
And I thank the Library Publishing Coalition for giving me a soapbox to say it from. I’m not — despite appearances — a total dimwit, I do know what my
reputation as a speaker is. It takes a certain amount of strength of character to invite me anyway. So thank you, L-P-C. I appreciate you.
Anyway. One of the interesting things about learning analytics both outside and inside libraries is how entrenched it became before ANYBODY asked a
SINGLE STUDENT what they thought about it. What a power trip, y’all!
Fortunately, that’s changed. I pitched in on a multisite research project, there have been other research projects, so we now know some things about what
students think, and at least a few students have had a chance to ask us what the heck we’re doing.
And I have to say, if you read the research, a lot of student respondents take this in stride. They’re accepting of surveillance in ways I
horrifying, and they trust us in ways I don’t think we always deserve. A lot of students in this research consider surveillance normal, and don’t seem to
have direct experience of surveillance harms yet, so they have trouble thinking of surveillance as problematic.
And that rhymes with what I see in my classrooms. I’m pretty good at shaking them out of this complacency if I do say so myself — but lots of them need
that shaking, is what I’m saying here.
1. Notice and transparency
2. Revocable consent
3. Deidentified data
But even with that complacency they have, students have said loudly and clearly across existing research that they wanted some fences built around
learning analytics. If I had to boil their expectations down, I’d say they wanted three things:
One, to be told what’s going on — what data is being collected and retained and what’s being done with it, and they want us to be quite speci
both those things.
Two, to be able to say yes or (especially) no at any time, and have that choice respected.
ed data. Rightly or wrongly, and I would argue that they’re naïve in this, they felt safer if the data under analysis didn’t have their name or
er on it anywhere.
And honestly this breaks my poor little librarian heart into pieces. None of this is actual privacy! They COULD have demanded actual privacy! But this is
what they asked for, so okay, keep it in mind as I go on.
1. Assemble a giant pile of citations
to library learning analytics work.
2. Filter to projects using (non-self-reported)
student data to show that libraries
aid student success.
n=62 projects, 46 in the US
represented in 102 documents
3. Assess projects’ data use.
After the multisite research project I was part of concluded last year, I decided that it was kind of pointless to argue about data practices in library learning
analytics if we didn’t actually know much about what those data practices WERE. So I put together a gigantic pile of citations to research in and around
library learning analytics.
And before I dive in to what I did with that pile and what I found out from it, I need to remind everybody that this study I did HASN’T PASSED PEER REVIEW
YET. Indeed, it’s been rejected once already from a peer-reviewed journal; I have it under review at another. So turn on your skepticism
With that said, what I did was, I went through the pile for projects that used non-self-reported — so no surveys, no interviews, no focus groups, I’m talking
data collected ON students that isn’t actual student input. Right, so projects using data on students to show some kind of bene
t of library use to student
success. And I should also mention that I limited to English-language work, there was no way I could properly evaluate every cited work I found, a lot of it
was in languages I don’t read. So there’s a huge US bias here, which I acknowledge and regret.
I ended up with 62 projects, 46 of them American, represented by a hundred and two documents. Most of the documents were journal articles, but there
were also conference papers, conference slides, and a few dissertations and book chapters and reports.
And then I went through this pile to assess how these researchers were using data, and whether they were paying due attention to human-subjects ethics,
library ethics, and information privacy.
• Out of 62 projects, only 16 documented
an ethics review.
• US-based studies? Of 46 projects, 11
passed IRB review. 4 were declared exempt.
• That leaves 31 likely unreviewed.
One thing I found is that tons of this stu
looks to be getting no ethical review whatever. Out of sixty-two projects, only sixteen documented that they
had. In the United States, out of forty-six projects, eleven passed IRB, four were declared exempt, and the remaining thirty-one? Nothing they mentioned.
Which, apparently, not mentioning IRB review for projects that got it is a thing at some LIS journals? I can’t
gure out why and I don’t think it’s very ethics-
minded, but people I trust tell me it’s so. L-P-C, y’all might want to say something about this in your publishing ethics materials?
And some of you are yelling at me in your heads right now that so-called quality-assurance or quality-control projects, assessment projects, may not have
to be ethics-reviewed. Sometimes IRBs
at-out refuse to review them, even. And yeah, I know that. I’ve got another thing I’m writing where I talk about
that, because I think that’s part of the problem here. Assessment practices absolutely can do harm, and both in librarianship and the academy more
generally, we’re not really reckoning with that.
But it’s worth mentioning that this lack of ethics reviewing puts y’all in a bad spot, as publishers. You are the
nal frontier for ethics, you can get called out
for an author’s bad ethics at any time, and you have to make these ethical calls after all the work’s been done, and quite possibly a lot of the harm to
patrons. I’m just saying, I don’t envy y’all here.
big bad data
Lemme put my vocational-awe halo back on for a sec. *HALO ON* We’re librarians, right? And librarians are thoughtful people with whole entire ethics
codes who protect the privacy of our patrons from the Big Bad Data Wolves, right? Especially vulnerable patrons like students, right? So do we really need
ethical review? We couldn’t possibly have done anything sketchy, right? And especially we wouldn’t PUBLISH anything sketchy, right?
Look, I want to be fair about this: some things I looked at for this study were well done! For example, there was this one piece from just last year that
ended up in my study, by Wittkower, McInnis, and Pope, that I thought was outstandingly good. The authors thoroughly considered and explained their
ethics decisions, and those decisions were solidly defensible. A model for how to do this kind of work right.
But was everything I looked at like that?
*HALO OFF* Let’s
Data variable # projects (n=62)
Combination of gender, race/ethnicity,
year, and major/program
Combination of gender, race/ethnicity,
and major/program (no year)
We sure are tossing sensitive data around like hackysacks. There’s the standard sensitive demographic stu
, including in combinations that probably make
it possible to pick a fair few individual students out of the pack even if the data doesn’t contain their names or identi
ers. And those reidenti
students are likely to cluster in already-minoritized, already-oversurveilled groups, because those groups are numerical outliers in most of our
Data variable # projects (n=62)
SES / finances 13
High-school performance measures 13
Location data 7
First-generation student status 6
National origin or citizenship status 4
Military or veteran status 3
Disability status 1
But wait, there’s more! The survey my multisite research colleagues and I did showed that students hold
nancial information to be extremely private, and
socioeconomic status is broadly held to be sensitive across sources of data guidance. Fair few of us not really respecting that, in our eagerness to dig
through any data we can
nd or our institution will give us.
I also found a fair few studies that looked at various aspects of students’ high school records, which surprised me, I wasn’t expecting it, and I bet it’d be an
unpleasant surprise for a lot of students who thought they were done being judged on what they did in high school. Then there’s location data,
status, national origin or citizenship, miltary or veteran status, and one study even looked at disability status.
But it all got published or presented or past a thesis committee, one way or another. Mostly without ethical review.
• Aggregate data only: 2 projects
• Some kind of deidentification: 25 projects
• No deidentification:
Speaking of names and identi
ers, crossed with sensitive data… students want us to use only deidenti
ed data, and a lot of the studies I looked at are not
respecting that. Now I have to add, even the projects that said they were trying, way too many of them either didn’t explain their deidenti
techniques at all — that was REALLY COMMON — or they were using techniques that were pretty
agrantly inadequate or didn’t take reidenti
potential into account.
But all these projects got out there, one way or another. Journals or books or conferences or getting past a thesis review committee.
Students want notice.
Did they get it? Nah.
• Of 62 projects,
only 11 informed
students of the specific research undertaken
using their data.
• One more said “eh, they clicked through an
agreement mentioning research when they
signed up for their campus ID.” That’s not
In addition to deidenti
cation, students said they wanted to be told what’s going on. Are we telling them? Most projects in my study didn’t. I particularly
loved the one that was like “well, in the million pages of click-through legalese students saw when they signed up for their campus ID, campus told them
somebody could do research on them.”
Come on, in what world is that genuine notice? It’s a
gleaf rationalization for not doing the work of telling students what we’re up to. How are we not
better than this?
Yet somebody published that, or let it be presented, or whatever.
Students want consent.
Did they get it? Nah.
• Of 62 projects,
only 5 obtained
informed consent from students.
• (“But QA/QC and assessment don’t need
informed consent!” You think students care?
In my view this dodge is part of the problem.)
As for consent, the numbers are even worse. Wittkower, McInnis, and Pope is one of the informed-consent
ve, by the way, and good for them.
And yeah, some of you are yelling at me in your heads right now that QA, QC, and assessment may not be required by policy or law to get informed
consent. Yeah, I know that, but here’s the thing: do you think students care about the distinction between “research” and “assessment”? Especially when
there’s actually LESS ethical oversight for assessment work, but the results still get put out there in public? ‘Cos I don’t think they care, and I don’t even
see why they should.
to jump through
(or run away from)
This legalistic hair-splitting view of consent and ethical review as a pointless hoop to jump through or even run away from, I think that’s part of the
problem here. Fundamentally, it’s not okay to traipse through students’ data exhaust without telling students about it and giving them a voice in it! Even if
library privacy ethics weren’t what they are, as a matter of basic respect for student agency and autonomy, it’s not okay! And the hoops are there to guard
against it, though in practice, as we’re seeing, they do so very imperfectly. Which just says to me, we need to design better hoops.
Recording specific subjects
of inquiry? Yep.
11 projects (
8 American) analyzed specific items
circulated to, and/or specific databases or
resources consulted by, individual students.
6 of these projects (
4 American) shared data
outside the library.
• This is a BRIGHT LINE in library ethics.
Patrons are supposed to be safe from us, too!
Here’s a thing I was not expecting to
nd THIS MUCH OF that I completely blew my stack about, I stomped around my home o
ce cussing like a sailor, I
was so mad. Eleven projects, most of them American, actually thought it was okay to surveil individual students’ subjects of interest. Several times, this
included the exact information objects these students used. Half of these projects even shared data outside the library!
This is a bright line in library ethics, folks. The BRIGHTEST. The subjects individual patrons are interested in, never MIND the exact information objects they
used, are NONE OF OUR OR ANYBODY ELSE’S BUSINESS except when we can’t avoid knowing! And even then we’re supposed to forget as soon as we can;
our patrons deserve safety from our shenanigans too.
I believe the choice to use data on individuals’ speci
c information use merits article and conference retractions on library ethics grounds. I acknowledge
that that’s gonna cause some of us some career damage, and I’m genuinely sorry for that, but we just CANNOT let this stay in the LIS literature and retain
our professional integrity. And maybe Dorothea Salo can’t say that, but I just said it anyway.
I’m also saying that if y’all’s LIS journal and conference portfolios don’t have guidelines that say to desk reject anything recording or analyzing what
information individual patrons looked at? Those guidelines NEED to exist. Because these projects got out there, didn’t they.
“Our journals would never…”
Our journals ARE.
Journal # articles (n=73)
College & Research Libraries 18
Journal of Academic Librarianship 10
Evidence-Based Library and
portal: Libraries and the Academy 8
*HALO ON* Vocational-awe halo back on: But I’m speaking to the Library Publishing Coalition, right? We’re librarians. Library publishers aren’t the big pigs
or the bottom feeders who publish any old thing and screw the ethics, right?
*HALO OFF* Yeah, nah, that’s not a defense here. Of the seventy-three journal articles I read for this study, at least twenty-seven were in librarian-
managed open-access journals. And yeah, I expected that College and Research Libraries would be at the top of this list because it’s ACRL’s journal and
ACRL went all-in on learning analytics more than a decade ago, but to me that just means ACRL and that editorial board need to take their lumps here.
As I said, though, not all the news is dismal! We have decent examples in our literature to work from! But enough IS dismal that I hope I’ve shown there’s a
mess here, folks. Big hairy ugly ethical mess. And I’ve only given you the edited highlights; there’s more in the article I have under review that I didn’t have
time to talk about today.
proxy server logs
Web, ILS analytics
chat reference logs
This isn’t even the only patron-data mess in our literature that I think urgently needs some critical examination. There’s stu
going on with proxy server
logs that absolutely should NOT be. Same with chat reference logs. I saw some troubling use of web trackers in one or two learning-analytics projects, and
I can’t believe learning analytics is the only place it’s happening. What’s going on with ILS analytics in the literature I’m not actually totally sure? But I
suspect it needs looking at.
And while I was assembling and
ltering citations for this study, I ran into a lot of data-centric methods papers. Now, they weren’t eligible for inclusion
under the criteria I’d set up, but I looked through a fair few of them anyway, and it absolutely appalled me how many I found that didn’t even MENTION
ethics or privacy or con
dentiality. Or if they did, they did this little rhetorical genu
ection to privacy and con
dentiality being important, but that was it —
they said NOTHING about how to operate while actually RESPECTING privacy and con
And that’s another thing I think merits full retraction. Those methods papers are straight-up misleading librarians into bad, unethical research and
assessment practices. It’s not okay and we need to deal with it.
I'm not pretending cleaning this mess up will be fast or easy or uncontroversial. How long have I been in and around libraries? I know better — heck, I’m
the one sitting on a journal rejection, right? I know you know better too.
… can she?
But I ain’t mad. I do believe I’ll manage to get this published. It’s just a question of how many journal editors give it the ol’ Roman thumbs-down, before
one of them does what Library Trends did with Roach Motel, and what L-P-C is doing today by inviting me to speak.
I mean, I know lots of y’all are doing righteous work in your roles as editors and publishers. I know it! I’ve worked with some of you, yeah? So this is not
even a question in my head. What I'm asking you to do today is, take that bigger, okay?
Because y’all have power. As publishers, as editors, as editorial board members who set journal policies, as fundraisers, as peer reviewers, as a
COMMUNITY, you have POWER. And though that power can be abused and sometimes is, for the protection of patrons, among other things, it’s
unfortunately necessary that someone have it, and y’all are in the hot seat.
So part of your job is wielding your power responsibly, threading the needle between editorial standards and censorship. But in my estimation, too many
folks involved with LIS publishing are not using their power right, wasting everybody's time on can-she-say-that Library Nice nonsense when there are
actual ethics violations happening right under everybody's noses. As a profession, I repeat, we can’t
x what we won’t let anyone acknowledge.
So let’s re-train our attention on this mess and clean it up. And let’s talk out loud and in public about the cleanup process. Because maybe that even helps
de-mess research and publishing ethics in other data-centric
elds, who knows?
• Require ethics statements from authors. (portal: Libraries
and the Academy is doing this for library learning analytics.)
• Establish policy for use of patron data in
publications and presentations.
• Check expression-of-concern and retraction policies.
• Add clear, specific data-handling questions to author
guidance, editorial workflows, peer-review rubrics.
• Add an ethics to editorial boards.
•Retract the unethical stuff. Apologize for it.
I have some ideas about how to go about
xing this. Requiring ethics statements from authors, as the journal “portal” is doing, is a start, though I disagree
with “portal” that these issues are restricted to library learning analytics, I think we’ve got broader problems with patron data use and abuse. So having
actual policy about acceptable and unacceptable use of patron data would be good!
And I think it makes sense to look at your policies for expressions of concern and retractions, to make sure you’re covered if you have to respond to
serious ethics issues. Once you have those policies, you put authors and reviewers on notice about them and add them to manuscript evaluation processes.
That’s really important.
I don’t think you have to go this alone; we have a fair few ethicists in LIS and I think it’s fair to ask them to serve as watchdogs on editorial boards. And
there’s no reason every journal has to do this on its own; isn’t that what organizations like L-P-C are for?
nally, I’m gonna repeat one more suggestion I’ll probably have to take some lumps for: retract the unethical stu
. We shouldn’t have published it or
allowed it to be presented, and we collectively need to take our lumps for that. An editorial apology and promise to do better wouldn’t go amiss, even.
You CAN do this. If you choose to. And I hope you will.
I’ll also say this: I will have a TON of respect and admiration for any librarian, any LIS researcher, who asks their publication outlet to retract their library
learning-analytics work on ethical grounds. Seriously, I will pass them the aspirin. That’s hard. That’s gutsy. That’s taking one’s lumps when those lumps
really, really hurt. Any librarian with the strength of character to do that, we should be PROUD OF, and if it happens, you have my WORD that I will be proud
We all screw up, I’ve screwed up plenty. I’ve been forgiven a time or two, even, and I’m willing to forgive. We all should be. As upset as I am about this —
and I am — I am absolutely not out to hurt ordinary librarians doing what ACRL basically told them they were supposed to.
I’m resigned to some career damage happening to some of us anyway, mind you, because not everybody’s gonna retract their own work who should, and I
do believe that protecting patrons is more important than librarian careers — if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have done this work at all. But I truly don’t
think we can pin all the responsibility here on the librarians who did problematic research and assessment work — as I keep saying, somebody published
! — and I absolutely don’t think we should use them as scapegoats, another thing we as a profession are way too fond of doing to our own.
So if you perhaps noticed that the only study whose authors I named today was a study that I could honestly praise… yeah, that was deliberate. All the dirt
is in the data which I’m gonna make public, it’s all in the article, it has to be. And I will say, some of that article is blunt and some of it’s harsh, because I
don’t know how else to counteract all the hype around surveillance assessment. If Library Nice was gonna work it woulda worked already, plenty of people
have tried it by now.
But in this context today, where I have a soapbox and people can’t easily talk back to me, naming names wouldn’t be right, so I didn’t. See, I DID learn
something from my Minnesota screwup.
Finally, I think that L-P-C speci
cally has a real opportunity here. Y’all are revising and updating your Ethical Framework for Library Publishing, there’s a
session on it in this very forum and I will be there! And you already have some privacy and website analytics stu
in the current version, and it’s really good
and I like it a lot!
But the question of students, and library patrons generally, as research and assessment subjects — as library surveillance targets — that’s not here yet. I’d
LOVE for it to be in the new version if it’s not too late for that, and if I can help with it, PLEASE call on me, I really think this is important and I’d be honored
to pitch in!
There must have been
a moment, at the beginning,
where we could have said—no.
But somehow we missed it.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Otherwise, I fear we end up in my favorite Tom Stoppard play, wondering when the moment was when we should have said NO to doing exploitative and
invasive data surveillance to patrons, and worrying that we missed that moment.
Now. Now is that moment. Now actually IS THE MOMENT for LIS publishing to lead librarianship and the rest of the publishing world in saying no to student
surveillance. To patron surveillance. To surveillance generally.
This presentation is available
under a Creative Commons Attribution
4.0 International license.
Art sourced from openclipart.org unless otherwise noted.
So, whether I can say this or not, I AM SAYING IT, out loud and in public: WE NEED TO DO BETTER AND BE BETTER, around patron data and around how we
take our lumps. ALL OF US. If we in LIS publishing don't
x this, ain’t nobody else gonna
x it for us.
Thank you, and I hope to see you at the meet-the-keynoters social event later on!