I have some thoughts about ILL and document supply

During the last few weeks I’ve been helping out the Document Delivery (DocDel) team at work with some of their workload, chiefly processing other libraries’ physical items in and out, plus a bit of journal article delivery from our collections to other libraries. I am an almost complete newcomer to the inter-library loan and document supply side of the library business, and it’s been very interesting to see how the sausage gets made, so to speak.

Knowing the Share It! Resource Sharing Futures conference is coming up in a month’s time; noting that all the speakers are managers rather than coalface staff; and wondering if a newcomer’s experience of resource sharing work might be valuable, I decided to jot down my experiences of working in DocDel for the first time.

As always, these views are entirely my own and not those of my employer (but hey, if you wanna send me to #shareit2018 I won’t say no).

  • Resource sharing is surprisingly labour-intensive. I was astonished to find out just how much human intervention goes into an ILL request. When someone lodges a request through the online portal, or gives up and emails, or can’t wait until yesterday and calls up directly, that request is handled by at least three different people:

1) branch staffer at lending library receives book request, confirms book is present, retrieves book, applies book strap, posts book, tells ILL system this has been done
2) docdel staffer at receiving library receives book, applies second book strap with a barcode, writes down patron details on bookmark for easy reference, pops bookmark in book, sends book to pickup branch, tells ILL system this has been done
3) branch staffer at receiving library uses bookmark to locate book on hold shelf, checks out book to patron

And that’s if everything works properly. None of the above is particularly difficult work, but there are a lot of moving parts, and a lot to get right. It’s hard to automate attaching a barcode strap to a book, but we also have to include a little paper note reminding circ staff to change the item’s due date, and I despair every time I reach for a paperclip.

Within consortia using the same ILS, internal resource sharing has a lot less overhead. The BONUS+ consortium, comprising Australian and New Zealand university libraries running an Innovative system (Millennium or Sierra), allows patrons to request items from participating libraries without needing the involvement of document supply staff. The kicker is that you can use the lending library’s barcode without having to attach a new one, because all the ILSs can talk to each other. It’s brilliant! It also shifts a fair bit of the resource sharing workload from DocDel to branch library staff, who incorporate it into their usual circ workflows.

  • Human labour is often compensating for poor metadata and system design. In any given day, I routinely deny over 80% of article requests. It’s not because I get a kick out of saying no, but rather that the system we use, which hooks into the Libraries Australia Document Delivery network, thinks our collection includes items it doesn’t. From what I can tell, it matches a request to a holding library using a title, author, ISBN, ISSN, or a combination of these. It doesn’t appear to consider our actual holdings of a journal (i.e. the span of years or issues we have) or whether our licensing agreements permit supply of electronic items.

Having said that, our electronic journals have their holdings data recorded in an 856 $z field. Having this data in free text rather than fixed or coded fields surely makes it far harder for an ILL system to figure out what we actually hold. The licensing information is not recorded in a MARC format, is almost certainly inaccessible to the ILL system, and would differ hugely between libraries. Consequently I waste large amounts of time figuring out that no, we can’t actually supply items after all. It would be far better—not to mention faster—for all involved if the system knew not to ask us in the first place.

My colleagues in DocDel work very hard, but I can’t help but feel a lot of their labour is wasted. Surely we can do better?

  • Resource sharing is interesting and engaging work. While I wish I didn’t have to think so hard about whether or not we can supply an article, there’s still a lot of problem-solving in document supply, especially for rare and unusual materials. Most of that work is handled by the DocDel team leader, who understandably hasn’t let me anywhere near it yet. People ask for all sorts of weird stuff—theses, manuscripts, books that no library in Australia has, increasingly esoteric foreign-language films… if nothing else, it’s a great insight into certain academics’ current research interests. I can almost guess who has requested certain items just by looking at them!
  • For undergraduates, ILL and document supply are irrelevant. For higher degree students and staff, they’re a lifesaver. I never used ILL as an undergrad, chiefly because they were gonna charge me for it, and I was too broke for that. Ten years and two degrees later, I’m far more aware of the resources beyond my library’s walls, but I’m not sure all our patrons are. If users consider the first page of discovery layer search results to be the sum total of a library’s resource provision—and let’s be honest, most of them do—what incentive do they have to look elsewhere, or ask a librarian for help, or stumble upon that wondrous part of the library website titled ‘Document Supply’? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if most of our fervent ILL users discovered the service by accident. It’s usually followed by a ‘Where has this been all my life?!’ moment. It’s been right here, the whole time, but we could do with some more advertising. Also a better funnel for disappointed catalogue users.
  • There will always be a need for resource sharing services. In an age of open-access, preprint servers and Sci-Hub, where lots of people go out of their way to make their work (and others’) available online for free, plenty of people are questioning the need for library resource sharing services at all. As I see it, there are two main problems: people don’t know resource sharing exists; and when they do know, they often aren’t prepared to wait. Document supply is not a quick process—quite apart from being at the mercy of Australia Post, the use of substandard ILL systems and reliance on human labour means stuff just takes a while. That might work for document supply staff, but it doesn’t work for users.

No matter how often we might hear it, we will never have everything available for free on the internet. As long as there are paywalls, print books and rare items, there will be a need for resource sharing. But our systems and processes must improve. Placing a request and waiting for an item has a decidedly old-fashioned sheen to it. Like I said, I am new to this work, and I don’t profess to have any of the answers. But I sure wouldn’t mind trying to come up with some.

Classifying works on Indigenous Australian languages in DDC, UDC, LCC and Bliss

Wiradjuri to English dictionary

It’s no secret that the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) is racist, sexist, classist and every other -ist under the sun. I can’t truly say it’s of its time, because it’s still in wide use. Libraries around the world use DDC as their main classification system for physical materials. Aren’t we supposed to be better than that?

As a former local history librarian, our collecting remit naturally included materials by, for and about the various Aboriginal nations on whose land our city was built. In particular, my former workplace has a modest collection of works about local Aboriginal languages, both in-language and in English. Unfortunately they are a DDC library, and so these materials are all classified with the same call number. In a bigger library with materials on many different Indigenous languages, this would render the call number virtually useless.

In the interests of advocating for a better solution (not just for me personally but for other DDC libraries), I thought it might be interesting to briefly compare and contrast how Indigenous Australian languages are treated by four widely used general classification systems Dewey Decimal (DDC), Universal Decimal (UDC), Library of Congress (LCC) and Bliss. (Okay, so Bliss isn’t as widely used, but it deserves some attention.)

DDC: 499.15 (source: DDC 22, hardcopy)
– Treated as an afterthought. After devoting the majority of the 400s and Table 4 to Romance languages, the rest of the world is unceremoniously shoved in the 490s at the end of the schedule. The entirety of Indigenous Australian languages are accorded /9915 in Table 4. Clearly inadequate to describe the language diversity of an entire continent

UDC: 811.72 (source)
– UDC is broadly based on DDC but with a few major structural changes; here, languages and literature are co-located, and the 4XX schedule is not used.
– ‘Australian languages’ more clearly integrated into Table 1c, but again there is no subdivision or faceting for any individual regions or languages

LCC: PL7001-7101 (source, p. 324)
– PL LANGUAGES OF EASTERN ASIA, AFRICA, OCEANIA > Languages of Oceania > Austronesian, Papuan, and Australian languages > Australian languages
– This schedule is a bit better thought out, and less squashed. Also specifically lists about three dozen individual languages (though not my local ones, sigh)
– Individual languages are cuttered, not classified by any real measure—still essentially lumping all Australian languages together as one entity, which taxonomically isn’t much better than DDC / UDC, but if you needed to create a local cutter for a particular language that wouldn’t be difficult

Bliss: XJE (source, p. 43)
– X classification is still in draft (after all these years) so I will give the authors a pass on this, but just FYI: ‘Austronesian languages’ ≠ ‘Australian languages’. The former refers to a language family roughly around the Mekong Delta.
– Astonishingly—and I was really not expecting to see this in Bliss, of all places—the authors have actually properly classified individual languages! It’s a bit piecemeal, to be sure: initially a prefixing / suffixing divide, then the prefixed ones by multiple, dual or non-classifying (in a linguistic sense), followed by suffixing languages by geographic region. It is… idiosyncratic, but it’s a damn sight better than anything the other three came up with. I appreciate that this was given serious thought

In summary, it looks like Bliss is your best bet for classifying materials related to Aboriginal Australian languages. But if you’re in a position to create a local, culturally appropriate classification system (as is being done up in Galiwin’ku), totally go for it!

I love being a librarian and I’m not even sorry

Being a librarian makes me happy. Yes it does. I’m one of those lucky people for whom ‘things I love doing’ and ‘things I can get paid for’ intersect to a great extent. I love organising information and describing resources and connecting people to what they’re looking for. People pay me to do that! I am incredibly fortunate to do what I love.

This certainly doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t criticise libraries. Our profession has plenty of systemic problems. The glacial pace of progress is incredibly frustrating, and some days I wonder why I bother. But at the end of the day, I chose this job. I chose this life. And I chose it because it suits me down to the ground.

In some quarters of librarianship I don’t think it’s fashionable to love being a librarian. I sense a growing divide between library lovers and library critics, and it feels increasingly dfficult to be both. I feel like some of us become so wrapped up in our criticism and bitterness that we forget why we became librarians in the first place. I was that person, for a time. I wasn’t in a good place. I saw a lot of what librarianship ought not to be, and I was despondent about the future.

I look at where I am now, in a happy workplace filled with good people, and I am hopeful again. I see my work making a difference, from improving catalogue access points to tracking down an article for document delivery to upgrading a libguide to miraculously finding a misshelved book. I feel our efforts push the boundary of what librarianship can be. I give to the team and the team gives back. I am so lucky. I am SO lucky.

I maintain that there is a lot to love about libraries. I will defend this profession with my dying breath. My passion for librarianship won’t stop me from criticising it, but nor will my criticism of librarianship blind me to my passion. I can do both. I can be both. I love what I do. And I never want to stop.

Games without frontiers

With warning / No warning
Peter Gabriel has a song for everything.

I hope you’ve read the recent articles about Cambridge Analytica, the secretive data-mining and -laundering firm that used data illicitly extracted from millions of Facebook profiles to microtarget American voters, and ultimately interfere in the 2016 US presidential election. I learned a lot the other day, including a troubling new-to-me phrase: ‘information operations’. Information as a cyberweapon, against which the public has little to no defence. In many cases, individuals have no idea that they have been targeted at all.

I look at this news as an ‘information professional’, long on morals and short on pay, and I despair. We are powerless against information mercenaries who will acquire personal data by any means and sell it to anyone. We are pawns in international cyber-wargames. How can we possibly arm people against threats like this? How are we defending our communities against this onslaught?

Our profession relies on the goodwill of people, chiefly middle-aged white women, who just want a comfortable job and a secure income. Fighting is a risk few librarians are prepared to take. Fewer still are adequately prepared. How often have you heard people say ‘ooh, I’d like a nice quiet library job’? Who wants a flaming argument at the reference desk with someone neck-deep in their News Feed? How many of us have shared inflammatory content on social media, unaware of how it came to us in the first place? Who among us knows where our patron data is going? (Hint: it’s going to Big Vendor, and we’re not calling them out on it)

What can we do? What good are our morals if we have no impact?

The March/April issue of ALIA’s member magazine InCite is themed ‘Libraries in the post truth society’. The day before deadline, I decided to write a short piece. That’s me on page 24. I’m surprised it was published, to be honest. I don’t think it’s my best work. But it’s also the most optimistic take I could possibly come up with (and believe me, I tried!). InCite readers want optimism, positivity, progress. They don’t want to hear about the slow disintegration of civic society and the planet at large. They don’t want to know how much Facebook has on them. They don’t think about the nature of their library’s relationship with their vendors. It’s not going to help them get through the day.

We seem to want it both ways. We painstakingly teach fake news detection strategies to people who aren’t listening. We want people to trust us. Yet we’re still buying (crappy) library software from commercial entities that naturally place profit above privacy. We’re still using Facebook to promote our libraries, even as we discover what happens to the data of Facebook users. Personally, I quite like the idea of a profession with an inbuilt set of morals and ethics. (I know there are varying views on this.) But we certainly don’t always act in ethical ways.

Librarianship is not innocent. We are complicit in the takeup of unequal systems and unethical practices. The sooner we all take a good hard look at ourselves, our society, and the Delete button on our workplace Facebook accounts, the better. We cannot hope to defend—and change—a world we don’t understand.

Art // attack

SCREAMING INTERNALLY
Same.
(Sarah Goffman, I am with you (2017), at the ACCA)

I did a lot of watching this month. It never sits well with me, watching. It’s too passive. I want to jump up and do things. Make things. Break things. Change things.

This month, I was excited to attend my second ever CardiParty: the exhibition Unfinished Business at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. I grew up in a household that couldn’t have cared less about art, and here I was, visiting art galleries on my weekend off. Feminist art galleries. On my birthday, no less!

The gallery was chock-a-block with eye-catching, provocative art, but my favourite piece was I am with you, a 7 square-metre collage of fake protest posters featuring real slogans. I wanted them on a t-shirt. I think I said to Kassi I wanted to decorate my house with everything in the room (though on reflection I think I might pass on the metal sculpture of the inside of someone’s vagina).

Despite having the artistic capability of a garden snail I was filled with a strange compulsion to do art. Watching art created by other people suddenly wasn’t enough. I didn’t know what I might do—I had no experience of doing it. I had this incredible need to express myself, artistically. To create, somehow. To be more than words.

Perhaps my brain processed that as ‘Well, you’re no good at art, but what are you good at? PANICKING’ and I promptly had a sub-acute panic episode at the cardiparty afterlunch, followed later that night by a second episode so acute I called triple-zero and asked them to come round and make sure I wasn’t dying, please. It was horrendous. I think I’d prefer art.

The next day I visited the NGV Triennial, because everyone on twitter told me to. I was pleasantly surprised by the interactivity of the art. Pieces so close you were encouraged to touch them, art that took up entire rooms, things you could lie down on and soak up. Art you could feel. One installation was set up like an ordinary loungeroom, with a real person watching a video of their choice. I’ve no idea what was playing when I visited, but it looked like some kind of hair metal concert.

I stepped around a few corners and into a dark hallway. Beyond, I caught a glimpse of Moving creates vortices and vortices create movement, an enthralling installation by Japanese art collective teamLab. Sensors track the movement of your feet and project little dancing lights around them, a contrast against the whirls of blue projected on the floor. It was incredible. It felt like seeing Dust for the first time.

The room filled me with a profound sense of worth, of purpose, of wholeness, of consciousness. It was healing, it was overpowering and it was very real. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to watch the lights forever, wanted the vortex to swallow me whole. A picture doesn’t do it justice. Experience the room, if you can. But be careful, there’s a warning just outside not to stay in too long, because it can make you dizzy.

I think I would like to include more art in my life. But I don’t want to watch art. I want to do art, even if it’s terrible. I want to squeeze art through my fingers and throw art all over the house and fling myself in a pool filled with art.

Do art. Make art. Break art. Change art.

And maybe scream a little less, internally.

The curse of reference anxiety

This week, I’ve been wrested from the safety of my office workspace, surrounded by trolleys and paperwork, and thrust into the bustling atmosphere of a law library reference desk. It’s the start of semester so there are new students everywhere, wanting to know where the loos are, how they can find short-loan textbooks, and why the printers aren’t working.

I’m no stranger to reference, but I am a stranger to law students. I have a rudimentary understanding of Australia’s legal system, but I couldn’t use LexisNexis properly if you paid me. And people are paying me. I borrowed an old copy of the first-year intro to law textbook and a legal research guide, hoping I might learn enough to be useful while on the desk, but I know it won’t be enough. I also don’t know anything about fixing printer problems, and we had a lot of those today.

Now, I know I wasn’t hired to be a law reference librarian. If asked, I wouldn’t describe myself as a law librarian at all. I’m a cataloguer working in a law library. My strengths and interests lie elsewhere. I’ve also only been in this position for less than three months—I can’t possibly be expected to know all this stuff.

But it doesn’t help when someone comes to the desk and asks a question I can’t answer.

I wondered today whether ‘reference anxiety’ was a thing. Whether I might add it to my burgeoning collection of anxieties. I have anxiety. I’ve had it for years. It’s been exacerbated recently by a succession of personal problems—I can’t help but bring it to work.

Turns out reference anxiety is very real. A 2010 article1 [non-OA] by Adam Bennington in Searcher examined the causes of reference anxiety and its effect on librarians, along with some tips on when to cut your losses and accept an incomplete or unsatisfactory answer.

It still hurts, though.

You are the information professional after all, the expert searcher, the experienced librarian, the ultimate information broker. People come to you because Google couldn’t cut it. Not only do you want to help, but you want to help legitimize the profession by showing the client you can find anything.

When the searcher can’t uncover the answer, feelings of guilt, shame, and doubt in his or her professional worth can grow acute, especially in newly minted information professionals.

Don’t I know it.

If someone comes to the desk with a circ query, or a catalogue query, or a ‘where are the loos’ query, I know I can handle those, and my confidence is obvious. On the flipside, if someone asks me about finding cases, or choosing the right book for their essay question, or even how to fix the damn printers, I freeze. Not only can I not help them, I don’t even know where to look. If all three reference librarians are unavailable, I’m out of luck. I could ask the reference seekers to send an email and ensure someone gets back to them, but people need their printing right now, and they don’t teach printer repair in library school.

My heart rate goes through the roof. I can’t breathe, suddenly. My brain is going in ever-tightening circles. I can’t help them. What the hell am I here for?

We speak often about people who become overwhelmed by libraries and librarians, and the resultant user anxiety that creates. We call it, reasonably enough, ‘library anxiety’. Librarians bend over backwards to alleviate the fears of users who aren’t used to asking questions of people, not the internet, and we strive to make the library a welcoming and productive place. But that necessitates a certain level of reference skill.

I don’t have that skill, and I know I’m not expected to, but I like working here, and I want to do right by our users, my colleagues and my boss. I want to make sure every patron leaves with something. Whether that’s a case citation, or an email address for further help, or the number for the IT helpdesk.

Managing my anxiety enough to get them that something remains a work in progress. But all I can do is try. Perhaps after I’m done with the first-year law textbook, I’ll pick up a printer manual as well.


  1. Bennington, A. (2010). A practical guide to coping with reference anxiety disorder. Searcher, 18(3), 22-25,54. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/221110022 

Five things I didn’t learn at #VALA2018 (because I didn’t go)

VALA2018 logo with sadface

This is my actual face.

I was sad to miss VALA this year. I had long dreamt of attending this huge library technology conference, seeing my favourite people, learning about what others are achieving in this space. The lineup looked amazing, and I’m sure I would have had a whale of a time. But I didn’t have a spare thousand bucks (!) to drop on a ticket. My workplace, where I am on a temporary contract in a non-library-technology role, would not have financed it either. So I didn’t go.

Instead, I attended vicariously through Twitter, where the @VALAlib account (ably run by @mpfl) live-tweeted throughout the conference. The organising committee also posted all the conference papers online before the conference, which turned out to be a boon for cross-pollination!

Somehow, between eyeballing the #VALA2018 hashtag and sitting at work trying to get work done, I managed to learn a few things… or not:

  • Everyone is off-message. If everyone at a conference agreed on everything, it would be incredibly dull. Yet I was struck by how often I seemed to hear conflicting messages in rapid succession. One minute we’re told that we don’t need 100% accuracy in our metadata. The next minute we’re told about all the wonderful things linked data can achieve, which depends on accurate linking and relationship-building. Which is it? Linked data is useless if it isn’t accurate, and such is the nature of digital that it’s either accurate or it’s not. There’s not a lot of room for error.

People were also deeply conflicted about vendors. Some people said we should love vendors. Some people were a lot less complimentary about vendors. Some people appreciated the people who work for vendors but not the socio-political circumstances that enable this work. Because I wasn’t caught up in conference frenzy, where you nod along to and agree with and blindly tweet everything that is said to you, I found I noticed these contradictions a lot more.

  • Do everything. Or not. We’re in a tough spot, skill-wise. We’re constantly encouraged to invest in our own professional development, in many instances by learning to code. On the other, we hear that upskilling ourselves in multiple areas is actually doing us a professional disservice, as an increase in skill is generally not matched by an increase in pay. Code is useful, code is good. Except if too many people learn to code, then it’s bad.

I agree that not all librarians would find coding skills useful or necessary in their work. But with library services becoming increasingly top-heavy, with less skilled staff continuing to lose their jobs, with the industry contracting, with the job outlook for librarians looking rather bleak, with our future becoming increasingly reliant on technology whether we like it or not, wouldn’t you want to make yourself as employable as possible, and learn some code basics?

  • Show me the money! The conference was also filled with exhortations to do things. Make that bibliographic data linked open data! Surface those ‘hidden’ local history collections! Don’t put up with crappy products and services from vendors! Yes! Sure! I will totally do all these things with no additional budget, no staffing, and on top of my existing responsiblities!!!1!

On one level, conferences aren’t meant to be realistic. Presenters will usually highlight the good things they do and gloss over the bad things it took to get there. (Andrew Kelly’s talk was a notable exception, and I’m sure there were others.) We’re meant to leave conferences hyped up and enthused and ready to make change happen in our workplaces and communities. But I brought a much higher dose of cynicism and realism to my remote conference experience. I can’t implement any of these radical and awesome ideas, or in fact any ideas at all, without additional funding, staffing, support and time. Or a permanent job.

  • Technical services librarianship is public work, and deserves to be valued. Finding myself a bitter, cynical husk at the end of this post, I decided to watch Angela Galvan’s heavily livetweeted keynote, ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Standardized’. I hoped it would energise me again. I wanted to reconnect with why my work matters, why tech services is not dead, why I spent three days lurking the backchannel of this conference in the first place.

It was immensely gratifying to hear Angela speak of tech services as ‘public’ work. Our direct patron interactions may be limited, but the interfaces and discovery systems we create, maintain and troubleshoot are the centre of most patrons’ experiences of a library. They may never visit us in person. They may never speak to a staff member. But they’re using our catalogue, our databases, our libguides, our websites. Those things don’t build themselves. They exist because a lot of people worked very hard (and a small number of people paid a lot of money).

The characterisation of tech services workers as the ‘backend’ of libraries is increasingly inaccurate. The metadata I work with is viewed by thousands of people. If they can’t access an online resource, it’s my job to rectify it. I may not get to decide what the library purchases and how much they’re willing to pay, but I can decide how that resource is presented to patrons. I game the search results all the time. I edit metadata every day to make it better and clearer for patrons to use. I may not be public-facing, but my work certainly is, and it’s about time library administrators really acknowledged this. A little self-esteem is a wonderful thing.

(Not gonna lie, I was also extremely here for the LexisNexis joke. Next week, part of my ref desk work will likely involve advising first-year law students how LexisNexis works. I hope they don’t ask me. I have no idea.)

  • Go in person next time. In the end, I was surprised by how much I got out of a conference I didn’t attend. I definitely learned more, but I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I would have if I’d been there in person. I also missed out on all the networking and socialising, which many people say is the best part of conferences, and to be honest it felt a bit sad watching all these people have fun at an event I couldn’t go to. I’m very glad that the conference papers were uploaded ahead of time and I would encourage the VALA committee to consider doing this again.

But next time, I think I’d rather just go.

Keeping up with the GLAMsters, using Pocket, Feedly and Evernote

You know you want one. (Image via Society6)

I have a tab problem. The other day I realised I had fifty-seven tabs open in Chrome and my computer was beginning to complain. I already used Feedly and Evernote to keep track of feeds and save things for later, but I was still burdened with all these tabs that I couldn’t or wouldn’t save elsewhere. I also never quite got around to actually reading half the stuff I saved. I was drowning in digital detritus. Something had to be done!

Yesterday I decided to give Pocket a go, chiefly thanks to Messrs. Rundle and Shaddow singing its praises. The idea is that instead of leaving eleventy million tabs open, you would instead save the page to your Pocket account to read later. You can do this via the Share function on your phone, or via an extension for a web browser.

Pocket then keeps all your saved pages in one place for you to read at your leisure. When you choose an item to read within Pocket, the page is rendered with easy-to-read fonts and layout (which you can customise). Once you’re done, you can recommend it to other Pocket users, or share via the usual methods. You can even get all the AusGLAMblogs delivered straight to your Pocket—no need to keep an eye out for the Twitter, or subscribe to everyone’s individual feeds.

The killer function, though, is the text-to-speech functionality. If you’re more of a listener than a reader, you can have articles read out to you by a computer voice with an Australian accent, all for the low low price of free! It’s not the most personable thing I’ve ever heard, I must admit, but it’s better than trying to read GLAM Blog Club and, say, drive a car at the same time. (It also can’t pronounce ‘podcast’, but never mind.)

How is this better than Feedly and Evernote?

It’s not necessarily—the three apps perform different functions. In the immediate term I’m hoping to cut down my open tabs by saving articles to Pocket, but there’s still a broader discoverability issue to consider. As it stands, I discover roughly two-thirds of the articles I read on Twitter, with one-third coming from RSS feeds via Feedly. There is an IFTTT applet that connects RSS feeds directly to Pocket, but I’m reluctant to add 60+ feeds to Pocket because I would be shifting the problem I currently have with Feedly to another app—that is, I have to manually filter out posts or articles I’m not interested in from the wholesale feed. (In the longer term I’ll probably be choosier with my feeds, but that’s another story). Filtering is a chore, but reading is a reward.

Ideally, I would check Feedly every week or so, saving to Pocket articles I want and marking as read articles I don’t want. Pocket would then be a curated collection of stuff I know I’ll want to read. For articles I want to keep long-term, I’ll continue saving those to Evernote (from whatever source). My Evernote is currently as messy and disorganised as the rest of my life, but there is some semblance of a filing and tagging system. Can you believe I have a controlled vocabulary for indexing in Evernote? Of course you can. I’m a cataloguer.

To put it in more concrete terms: Feedly is a newspaper, Pocket is a collection of newspaper clippings, and Evernote is the archive that preserves my favourite clippings. In time I’m sure I’ll refine the system (what if I could skip the newspaper and go straight to the clippings??) but for the moment, this tripartite ecosystem just might help me get more stuff read.

An entitlement to knowledge

The Seven Sisters, 2010, by Eileen Tjayanka Woods, Papulankutja Artists, acrylic on linen, 171 x 145 cm. National Museum of Australia. © Eileen Tjayanka Woods. Licensed by Viscopy, 2017.

Today I went to see the exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters at the National Museum of Australia. I was motivated to spend today somewhere airconditioned, and figured I could tick off this exhibition on my to-do list at the same time. As it turned out, I’m already planning a second visit.

Songlines is an incredible, spellbinding exhibition. I implore you, if you can, to see it before it closes on February 25. It’s an enthralling journey across space, time, culture, language and people, telling an Indigenous story in Indigenous ways—paintings, ceramics, carvings, song, dance, oral retelling, even a virtual reality experience depicting Cave Hill rock art. The saga of the Seven Sisters (Minyipuru in Martu country, Kungkarrangkalpa in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara [APY] country) incorporates essential knowledge for survival in the desert—the locations of waterholes, medicinal plants and food sources, sacred places, areas of risk, how to mitigate that risk.

I came to the exhibition with some awareness of Indigenous desert culture and left with an exponentially greater understanding of Martu and APY lore, culture and knowledge. I felt an incredible sorrow at what settler culture had inflicted on these people. An incredible awe at their continuing survival. An incredible gratitude that they had chosen to share this lore with Australia, and that I might experience it. An incredible sadness that their ways of life were imperiled to the point that APY elders considered it necessary to stage this exhibition at all.

Songlines also made clear that this story was being shared with me, with the public, with settler Australia, because the elders wanted it shared. That non-owners of the tjukurrpa (the Dreaming) were not necessarily entitled to this knowledge, and would not traditionally be privy to it. The concept of ‘entitlement to knowledge’ was fortunately not new to me, but I found myself returning to it during my almost three-hour stay in the exhibition space. It had represented a profound shift in my conceptualisation of self, both my personal white self and my professional librarian self.

Modern western librarianship has its roots in the Enlightenment ethos of the primacy of reason: rationalism, scepticism, empiricism, objectivism. All of those -isms naturally presuppose access to knowledge, which builds logical argument and constructs a rational worldview. The idea that an Enlightenment thinker might be, in their view, denied access to knowledge that might advance their philosophy… it would be inconceivable. It goes far deeper than ‘I don’t want to tell you because I’m a competing philosopher’. It’s an intrinsic entitlement to knowledge. A staunchly-held view that worldly knowledge is there, just there, for the taking.

This line of thinking has trickled down to us today. I spent my childhood voraciously consuming every book, newspaper, magazine and educational computer game I could get my hands on. I brought to librarianship the same thirst for knowledge that defined my early years. I saw nothing wrong with this. It wasn’t until very recently—say, the last 18 months or so—that I began learning far more about Indigenous epistemologies and methods of knowledge transmission, and in doing so beginning to question the very foundations of my profession.

What sorts of knowledge am I entitled to? If any? What knowledge should I be sharing, not sharing, promulgating, not promulgating, making findable, making secret? The idea that not all knowledge ought to be public knowledge, that not everything ought to be shared, is a seismic shift in western librarianship. Consider our current preoccupation with linked open data. Not all data is appropriately shared in these kinds of frameworks, which is why Indigenous data sovereignty is essential for any open data project. Knowledge is not always ours for the taking. Knowledge belongs to people, and their interests must always come first.

I picked up a book in the museum gift shop, Glenn Morrison’s Songlines and fault lines: epic walks of the Red Centre. I’ve accidentally read half of it already, though I had hoped to do it justice and soak up the book in one sitting. It’s a wonderful addition to my growing collection of books on psychogeography, a burgeoning interest of mine, which is basically a white way of trying to establish a (spiritual?) connection with places and with the landscape. I left the exhibition painfully aware of the connection I do not have with this land, partly because I’ve only recently tried to reconnect with walking and nature, and also because it’s not my land.

In any case, I look forward to returning to the Songlines exhibition. There’s so much more I could learn from it, for as long as it deigns to teach me.

The passionate armour

I recently came across one of those quote-retweet Twitter memes asking what my ambitions were for the next ten years. To my surprise, the first answer that came to mind was ‘spiritual enlightenment’. I’ve never been a religious person, but perhaps my subconscious is trying to tell me that I’m missing something. I then tried to come up with a more concrete response, but found I had difficulty picturing myself even being ten years older. I’d be thirty-six. I’m not ready to be middle-aged. Hell, I’m barely ready to be the age I am now.

Instead, I focused on the word ‘ambitions’. The meme was in response to ambitious women being stereotypically derided as ‘opportunistic’, ‘calculating’ and ‘conniving’. How dare we have goals for ourselves, that we might have to work hard to reach. I figured I wouldn’t describe myself as ambitious, but then I stopped to consider why. I think I generally associate ambition with a quest for power, or social status, or a certain celebrity. I don’t want any of these things for myself. I do, however, want them for my profession. I want libraries to reclaim their power, their status, their celebrity within the public consciousness.

This is quite an ambitious goal. It’s not as concrete as the other goals I set for myself this year. It’s really more of a guiding principle than a goal. But it aptly encompasses the kinds of things I’d like to achieve.

I think it’s fair to say I’m passionate about librarianship and the broader GLAM sector. ‘Passionate’ is an interesting descriptor. Sometimes it’s a compliment and sometimes it’s almost an insult, especially if one’s passion on a given topic is far and above the mean within one’s social group. I think it’s also fair to say I’m more passionate about librarianship than the average librarian. How can I demonstrate this passion in a meaningful and sustainable way (i.e. by not working myself to the bone)? To me, the obvious answer is to redirect some of my energies away from work and into professional development, or PD, so that I might become a better librarian.

The UK’s FLIP network, a social group for new professionals, recently blogged about PD and managing one’s mental health. It was an eminently sensible post, but something about it really rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t think I was quite the post’s target market.

My twitter feedback could best be described as ‘polarised’. Some people praised my view while others defended their more moderate stance, as if passion and resilience couldn’t possibly coexist. As if librarianship is all I am, because it’s all Twitter ever sees of me. As if I had to be talked out of caring so much. It stung, and I found myself at a loss as to how to respond.

In saying ‘I fear that without [PD], people won’t take me seriously as a librarian’, I felt I was exposing a little of my inner self to the world. A part of me that remains bitterly insecure about my skills in this job. A part of me I’m not sure I was really ready to talk about. A part of me hiding underneath the passionate armour—that I care so deeply about what I do, and yet have so little faith in my own abilities, I’m not sure I can ever truly meet the ambitious goals I set for myself.

I have two options: care less, or believe more.

Which brings me back to seeking spiritual enlightenment. I still don’t think I’ll find religion anytime soon. But it’d be nice if I could scrounge up a little more self-belief. It ties into my existing goal for this year—to back myself. To know my own mind, my own strengths and weaknesses, my own path.

And to never, ever, stop caring.