Response to ALIA’s updated statement on marriage equality

As I’m sure everyone has seen by now, the ALIA Board of Directors today made an additional statement on marriage equality. This statement was prompted, in large part, by the negative response from ALIA members to ALIA’s formal response to NGAC of 11 September (released online on 18 September), culminating in the open letter I wrote to the Board on Tuesday 19 September, and the further letters and feedback that followed.

(I feel like I need a timeline, to be honest.)

Firstly, I’d like to sincerely thank the ALIA Board for reading my letter and those sent by others (including James Nicholson and @Preprint_). I received the same email response that James did, which echoes the statement on the ALIA website.

I was heartened to see my letter strike such a chord with the Australian library community. I was especially thrilled to have inspired others to write to the Board as well, and to have helped fellow librarians to find their voice. I was so, so happy to see so many supportive Twitter comments and likes and retweets and engaged, thoughtful commentary.

However, I must admit I am not as thrilled by the Board’s statement as I would like to be. My views on this are quite complex, with my earlier attempts to condense them into 140 characters ending in complete failure. I want to be careful in how I phrase these views, and I apologise in advance if I am wordier than usual.

For perpetuity, the Board’s revised statement is as follows:

The ALIA Board agrees that the current Commonwealth legislation dealing with marriage is discriminatory, and that a yes response to the postal survey is required to right this discrimination. At a human level, we regret the divisions that are forming and the impact on the well-being of our Members. We believe the majority of our personal members will support a yes vote and we, as a Board, do so too.

We continue to encourage ALIA Members to participate in the postal survey; to support our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and clients; and to ensure that library users have access to the information they need to help them understand the issues.

Note that ALIA’s institutional position has not changed—that is, there isn’t one. Where the Board previously spoke as individuals, they have decided to speak together, and lend the weight of their collective Directorships to their speech. This statement, like the one before it, has come from the Board as people, not from ALIA as an institution. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

By comparison, Andrew Vann, the Vice-Chancellor of Charles Sturt University (where I studied for my MIS) issued a searing, powerful statement affirming CSU’s support for marriage equality. Professor Vann clearly agonised over this statement and gave it a lot of thought, yet ultimately decided to commit not just himself as an individual, but the university ‘as a corporate body, an employer of staff and a community of students’ to supporting LGBTIQ scholars and the broader cause of marriage equality. It’s a beautiful piece and I can’t thank Professor Vann enough for writing it.

I love Professor Vann’s statement because it hits all the right notes. It affirms a university’s role as a defender of intellectual freedom and a place to discuss sometimes difficult ideas. It acknowledges the existence of other views and the right of people to hold and express those views. It also makes clear that if the university is to uphold its stated value of inclusivity, being neutral is simply not an option.

The Board’s revised statement does not do those things. The opening phrase ‘the ALIA Board agrees’ (with whom? with me, presumably) kinda gives away that this statement wasn’t ALIA’s idea. There is no mention of the existence of opposing views (a concession that, for the record, I would have completely supported) and no defence of the library as a space for the exploration of ideas.

Note also the expression of ‘regret [for] the divisions that are forming’ within Australian librarianship. This is not the first time the Board have brought this up; it was also mentioned in their response to Katie Miles-Barnes’ resignation from NGAC. I’d like to be wrong, but this tells me the Board are more preoccupied with the idea of librarians (publicly) disagreeing on this issue than on the issue itself. Because, you know, we were all one happy family before the postal survey was forced on this country, and librarianship totally wasn’t dying a slow death, right? Right?!

In what is surely a complete coincidence, NGAC advertised today for new members. There has been a lot of talk on Twitter over the last week about the relevance of ALIA to newer, more progressive librarians. The cynic in me suggests these advertisements were timed to capitalise on this wave of dissent, to provide a way for those disaffected librarians to contribute positively to the future of their organisation.

I was once asked, long before all this blew up, if I were interested in joining NGAC when the opportunity arose. I was then, as I am now, reluctant to join an organisation and advocate from within, when I felt I could be more effective working from the outside. (I was also hesitant to give up some of my hard-won internet semi-anonymity.) ALIA’s treatment of NGAC over the last month has only cemented my position. Sustained lobbying by NGAC and the resignation of an NGAC member over this issue were not met with an appropriate response. It took a few letters from ordinary Personal Members, and a flood of Twitter discussion, to galvanise the Board into taking a stand.

I truly feel that ALIA’s response is not enough. I wanted ALIA as an institution to take a position. It didn’t happen. But this new statement of support from the Board is more than we had. NGAC, Katie, yours truly and many others have worked hard to make it happen. I am grateful that the Board took the time to read and discuss my letter, and I am gratified that they have responded at all.

If nothing else, it demonstrates that this system works. Andrew talked today about the value of remaining an ALIA member, a topic on which I continue to seesaw. It’s true that I couldn’t have written my letter were I not an ALIA member. I know it spoke for librarians who, for various reasons, are not ALIA members themselves. Yet I find it difficult to support an organisation that had to be cajoled into supporting its members. I wonder if other groups are a better fit for me.

I’ll finish by clarifying an important point. I am not a queer person. I am, so far as I know, a straight person. This fight is not about me. It is about you, rainbow librarians of Australia, who deserve all the love and support and empathy and advocacy I can muster. I was not asked to fight this battle. I choose to fight it because it’s the right thing to do. I can shout pretty loud, so I choose to use my voice to amplify others.

I’ve made my point. I’ve cast my vote. I encourage you all to do the same.

Please vote yes. 🙂

An open letter to the ALIA Board of Directors on marriage equality

Board of Directors
Australian Library and Information Association
PO Box 6335
Kingston ACT 2604

By email: aliaboard@alia.org.au

19 September 2017

To the ALIA Board of Directors

I write regarding your recent statements on marriage equality in Australia, a topic currently the subject of a voluntary postal survey, to be issued to Australians on the electoral roll. While I have debated writing you for several days, your response to NGAC dated 11 September 2017 and released by NGAC on 18 September has compelled me to speak.

As a Personal Member of ALIA, I am extremely disappointed by your handling of this issue. It has been apparent from the outset that ALIA, as a professional organisation, clearly cannot bring itself to say ‘We support marriage equality’. Your actions are a source of intense professional shame.

Your stated reasons for this reticence demonstrate ALIA’s priorities loud and clear—that you prioritise the interests of Institutional Members (including faith libraries, whom you did consult) over those of Personal Members (including the ALIA LGBTQ SIG, whom you did not consult). You prioritise the rights of members ‘to hold an alternative opinion’ on what you claimed to agree was a human rights issue. You consider this topic so important that you relegate your recent statements on it to the ALIA FAIR Twitter account, which has just 12% of the followers of ALIA’s main account, and which seemingly enables ALIA to distance itself from its own political advocacy. Even then those statements are issued from individual Directors, not the Board itself.

You have gone out of your way to disassociate ALIA from any statements of support made by Directors, members, SIGs or committees. This suggests that ALIA is fearful of potential backlash from opponents of marriage equality. I don’t want my professional organisation to be so terrified of backlash that it refuses to stand for anything. I want ALIA to take a stand. I want ALIA to speak for me.

Compare your statements with those of the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) and Professional Historians Australia (PHA). The ASA’s statement demonstrated their willingness to stand up for their members and the wider LGBTIQ community. PHA’s statement went even further, recognising the work of LGBTIQ individuals in historical pursuits and the right of all Australians to be regarded as equals before the law. Neither statement told their members how to vote, yet both organisations affirmed their support for marriage equality and the welfare of their members. There is nothing stopping ALIA from taking a similar approach.

Your responses to this issue smack of an organisation trying desperately to be neutral. To please all parties. To tick all boxes. Yet this survey presents us as voters with only two boxes, and we may tick only one. To abstain—to claim neutrality—is to do just as much harm as it would to vote no, for abstention is both an implicit endorsement of the status quo and a sign that you do not consider this issue important enough for you to voice an opinion.

Librarianship is not, has never been, and will never be a neutral profession.

You campaigned for months for the release of Ukrainian librarian Natalya Sharina from house arrest. The language you used then to defend her was noticeably stronger than the language you use now to defend your own members. You were not neutral on that issue—because being neutral would have been inconsistent with library values.

ALIA’s core values include a commitment to ‘respect for the diversity and individuality of all people’. The debate on the scope of Australia’s marriage laws—for that is all it is—presents a golden opportunity for you to walk that walk. To respect the diversity of library workers and library users alike. To support the right of all couples to have their relationships recognised by law. Your actions so far have sent a very clear message that you do not respect our diversity, and by extension, that you do not respect us.

It is not too late for you to set this right. The survey is still in progress, and you have ample opportunity to show your support for, and solidarity with, LGBTIQ library workers and library users. You do not have to tell people how to vote. You can acknowledge the breadth of opinion on this issue, and how the influence of Institutional Members had previously guided your stance. All you have to do is issue a brief statement affirming ALIA’s position, as informed by NGAC and Personal Members across Australia. It can, in fact, be four words long.

‘We support marriage equality.’

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Alissa M.
ALIA Member

Flatland and the limits of fiction

The original cover of Flatland (image courtesy ArchDaily.com)

The other day I decided I’d better get started on the books in my enormous to-read pile, preferably before I have to return half of them to the library I work at. The topmost book just happened to be Flatland: a romance of many dimensions (1884) by Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838-1926). A colleague had recommended it to me as part of a potential display on ‘flat’ books. (We share a building with a public library branch, and I was thinking of doing a book display which, for once, had nothing to do with local history. I seem to recall being in a flat mood at the time.)

I hadn’t even opened the cover when I was distracted by the book’s call number. This happens to me a lot.

530.
11
ABBO

Flatland, as far as I can ascertain, is a work of fiction, and has been since 1884. Why was it classed in non-fiction? Is this a common view? Who made this decision, and why did they make it?

Firstly, let’s examine this number. DDC 530.11 is the home of general relativity, among such physics luminaries as Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Knauss and Brian Cox (whose works on the subject are definitely not fiction). Einstein popularised (and drew on others’ efforts in consolidating) the theory of general relativity in 1915.1 That is, over thirty years after Flatland was published. How can this be?

Is it because Flatland is primarily about science, and the term ‘science fiction’ didn’t exist when the book was published? Did the cataloguer of this particular item even know it was a work of fiction? I flipped the book over and read the synopsis. “Flatland (1884) is an influentual mathematical fantasy […] A classic of early science fiction.” Hmm. Looks fairly clearcut to me. Maybe they weren’t in a synopsis-reading mood.

I then looked at the book’s CiP details. Which call numbers did they provide?

PR4000              823.
.A22                8
F53
2009

‘Aha!’ I exclaimed, to nobody in particular. So even the CiP cataloguer knew it was fiction, and classified it as such! The LCC call number PR4000 is English literature > 19th century, 1770/1800-1890/1900 > Individual authors (with A22 F53 presumably being the cutter for Abbott, Edwin. Flatland), while DDC 823.8 is Victorian-era English literature. I’m beginning to get a bit cross at our cataloguer by this point, who seemingly hasn’t read either the synopsis or the CiP data.

I’ve now spent over an hour investigating this book. I haven’t even started reading it yet.

Interestingly, the CiP for this work was done by Library and Archives Canada, as the editor of this particular version is Canadian. Hmm. Did Library of Congress treat this book differently? (No offence, Canada)

I had a peek at the Libraries Australia record for this edition. This record is an LC copycat job, using the original Canadian data, but making a few slight changes…

QA699              530.
.A13               11
2010b

Bingo!! So that’s why the cataloguer of my copy of Flatland thought it was non-fiction—because Library of Congress did too! … Or did they?

While DDC 520.11 is for relativity, as discussed above, LCC QA699 includes a fascinating—and critical—scope note: Geometry > Hyperspace > Popular works. Fiction (Including Flatland, fourth dimension)

According to LC, it is so crucial that Flatland be classed with non-fiction works on hyperspace that it’s literally namechecked in the scope note! This is amazing! But why did they do that? And why was this logic reproduced in DDC?

I then decided to browse LC’s collections at QA699 to see what else was there. The most recent work appeared to date from 1971, with the bulk of works (excluding revised and edited editions, of which the book in my hand is one) dating from the late 19th and early 20th century.

A quick scan of works in QA699 suggested almost all of them were indexed with the LCSH $a Fourth dimension. The scope note for this heading reads: Here are entered philosophical and imaginative works.
Mathematical works are entered under Hyperspace.

LC holds 100 items with this heading, but it also holds 5 items indexed $a Fourth dimension $v Fiction, which are not classed in QA699. These items include a book about Flatland: the movie edition (2008) and four novels published in the 21st century.

So what is this telling me? Flatland, according to LC, is a ‘philosophical’ or ‘imaginative work’, which suggests they think it’s too intellectual to be considered merely a work of fiction. But this seems like a load of crap to me. Isn’t all fiction inherently ‘imaginative work’? Is Flatland accorded this kind of respect because it’s old, was written by a white man, and has increased in intellectual stature over time? Did the cataloguer at LC who originally wrote the QA699 scope note (however many years ago that was, and may or may not have been the same cataloguer who processed Flatland) decide that this work was not mere literature, fit for the P class, but a higher-order piece of writing that ought to reside near the subjects it fictionalised?

Hmph. This reeks of classism to me.

But it also explains why the book in my hand has the entirely inappropriate DDC call number 530.11: the cataloguer at LC probably looked up the closest thing to ‘Hyperspace’ in DDC (that being ‘Relativity’), either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the ‘Fiction’ aspect of QA699, classed the book where DDC said to and moved on with their life, with dozens of subsequent copy cataloguers not knowing, not caring, or not being paid enough to reconsider this choice. I’ve stopped being cross at our cataloguer, who clearly saw no reason not to defy the ANBD record. I can understand where they were coming from.

For me, the question now becomes: will I change it locally? Technically I have this ability, but because it’s not a local history book I’m supposed to refer it to our collections team. They have way more important things to do than change the call number of a perfectly findable item, especially because nobody’s yet complained about it.

I’ll think about what to do next. For now, though, after several hours of investigation and writing, I might actually get started on the book.

I think it’s the least I could do.


  1. For a longer explanation of why I didn’t just say ‘invented’ like everyone else, see this piece on ‘Who invented relativity?’ http://www.mathpages.com/rr/s8-08/8-08.htm 

Cataloguing tabletop games: an introduction

A closeup of the Settlers of Catan board. (Picture courtesy CatanShop.com)

In my apparent capacity as Oz library twitter’s Resident Cataloguing Boffin™, I was recently asked if I had any thoughts on cataloguing tabletop games. My first thought was ‘A tabletop game about cataloguing? That’s the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard (and I’ve played the Wikipedia card game1)! Also, sign me the hell up!’ My second thought was ‘Oh, right, metadata about tabletop games. Actually, you know what, I know nothing about this.’ Naturally, my third thought was ‘But I will find out!’

This post is not a professional guide to best-practice tabletop game cataloguing, rather a collection of stray thoughts with a couple of sample records at the end. I’m trying to get out of the habit of needing to write absolutely perfect blog posts—often a work in progress is good enough!

NB: I’m assuming that if you’re interested in this post, you probably have at least a basic understanding of how MARC works, such as fields for authors, titles and publishers. Therefore I’m focussing on aspects of tabletop game cataloguing that differ from your standard books / serials / online resources dealio.

As it turns out, most of the literature on games cataloguing relates to video games. OLAC has produced an excellent guide to video game cataloguing, which I highly recommend if you’re in need of guidance. For tabletop games specifically, however, the pickings are a lot thinner. Slouski et al. say as much in their EBLIP article.2

Descriptive cataloguing

The most important field in a tabletop game record is the 300 field. Here is where the physical components of the game are recorded in detail: boards, pieces, dice, cards, everything.

Ideally there would be defined MARC fields for game duration and number of players, but there aren’t, so they get thrown in a 500 field. (This is the sort of thing where a dedicated schema for games would be really handy. I know there’s a schema for video games3, but again, not much for physical games. If anyone’s got plans to invent one, I’m super interested!)

If the game publisher has a specific internal catalogue number for the game, record it in 028, along with a designator: 028 50 $a 3061 $b Mayfair Games

In a bygone age, I might fret about assigning a 100/110 (main author) field at all, considering games are almost always better known by their title than the name of their creator. Fortunately we live in a more enlightened age where the dictionary catalogue is dead, long live keyword search, so I’m not worrying about a game’s authorised access point potentially being a little obscure.

Content, media, carrier types

McGrath suggests using 336 ## $a tactile three-dimensional form solely for objects intended exclusively to be perceived through touch, and items with some visual content.4 This would be used in conjunction with 337 ## $a unmediated and 338 ## $a object. In addition to these fields, I’ve seen 380 ## $a Board game5 suggested in accordance with RDA 6.3. I can see the point for items of realia without appropriate genre/form terms, but considering a 380 in many instances would duplicate a 655 I’m not sure I’d bother, to be honest. Your mileage may vary.

Subject indexing

LCSH doesn’t make this easy for cataloguers, either. Would you believe there is no accepted form subdivision for board or tabletop games? There’s one for computer games: sensibly enough, it’s $v Computer games. I’ve seen $x Games used a bit, but this isn’t a valid heading for tabletop games (for one thing, that’s a topical subdivision, not a form one).

In the meantime, in accordance with my penchant for pragmatic cataloguing, I’m going to go ahead and invent my own subdivision! If your library is a stickler for LC rules, perhaps don’t try this at home, but maybe someone will suggest this subdivision to LC. (Also, if you’re contributing records to OCLC, Libraries Australia or other union catalogue, definitely don’t try this at home, or the software will convert it to the above-mentioned $x Games invalid subdivision.)6 I’ll be using $v Games, in conjunction with the existing genre/form terms 655 #7 $a Board games and 655 #7 $a Puzzles and games.7 If the difference between these two genre terms is not meaningful to your users, feel free to choose one or the other for local use.

Personally, I’m not wild about the topic/genre crossover in LCSH; that is, I would personally prefer a heading like 650 #0 $a Logic puzzles to feature items about logic puzzles, rather than items that are logic puzzles. But maybe that’s what users want. I could be totally off base with this. Let me know!

Sample record 1: Settlers of Catan

The below example is adapted from Libraries Australia record 59644071, itself likely imported from another union catalogue and created by an unknown library. I was going to catalogue this from scratch but discovered someone else had done the hard yards for me 🙂 The copy record is surprisingly good, I’ve only needed to make a few adjustments.

000 01765crm a2200397 i 4500
005 20170306145003.0
008 121024s2012    ilu||| g          gneng d
020 ## $a 1569052018
020 ## $a 9781569052013
028 50 $a 3061 $b Mayfair Games
040 ## $a ABCD $b eng $e RDA
082 04 $a 794 $2 23
100 1# $a Teuber, Klaus, $d 1952-, $e designer.
245 14 $a The settlers of Catan / $c Klaus Teuber.
246 30 $a Catan.
264 #1 $a Skokie, IL : $b Mayfair Games, $c [2012]
300 ## $a 1 game (19 terrain hexes, 6 sea frame pieces, 9 harbor pieces, 18 circular
    number tokens, 95 resource cards, 25 development cards, 4 building cost cards,
    2 special cards, 16 cities, 20 settlements, 60 roads, 2 dice, 1 robber),
    1 game rules and almanac booklet : $b cardboard, wood ; $c box 24 x 30 x 8 cm.
336 ## $a three-dimensional form $b tdf $2 rdacontent
337 ## $a unmediated $b n $2 rdamedia
338 ## $a object $b nr $2 rdacarrier
500 ## $a For 3-4 players.
500 ## $a Duration of play: 60 minutes.
500 ## $a Detailed description of contents on box.
520 ## $a Summary: "In The Settlers of Catan you control a group of settlers trying to
    tame the wilds on the remote but rich island of Catan. Start by revealing 
    Catan's many harbors and regions: plains, meadows, mountains, hills, forests
    & desert. The random mix creates a different board for virtually every 
    game"--Container.
521 ## $a Ages 10 and up.
650 #0 $a Competition $v Games.
650 #0 $a Natural resources $v Games.
650 #0 $a Colonists $v Games.
655 #7 $a Board games. $2 lcgft
710 2# $a Mayfair Games Inc. $e publisher.

Sample record 2: Tantrix

The below example is adapted from Libraries Australia record 41011711, which looks to have been imported from OCLC. The original was an AACR2 record and in worse shape, so I’ve upgraded it to RDA. (Apropos of nothing, this is a great game.)

000 01592crm a2200349 a 4500
005 20160113135201.0
008 060612m19912003nz |||            gneng d
040 ## $a ABCS $b eng $e RDA
082 04 $a 794 $2 23
100 1# $a McManaway, Mike. $e designer
245 10 $a Tantrix / $c created by Mike McManaway.
250 ## $a 8th edition.
264 #1 $a New Zealand : $b Tantrix Games International, $c c1991-2003.
300 ## $a 1 game (56 bakelite tiles) ; $c in plastic hexagonal travel bag, approx 
    16 x 16 x 4 cm + $e Instruction booklet, (48 pages : illustrations ; 13 cm)
336 ## $a three-dimensional form $b tdf $2 rdacontent
337 ## $a unmediated $b n $2 rdamedia
338 ## $a object $b nr $2 rdacarrier
500 ## $a "Tantrix was invented [in 1987] by Mike McManaway...This 8th edition 
    now includes contributions from all over the world." -- booklet, page 4.
500 ## $a For 2-4 players.
520 ## $a The game consists of 56 Bakelite tiles with painted links of red, green, 
    blue, and yellow. Each tile is unique, and with all the tiles you can play 
    both the solitaire puzzles and the multiplayer game. The Tantrix game 
    includes 25 Tantrix puzzles and a strategy game.
650 #0 $a Mathematical recreations $v Games.
650 #0 $a Logic, Symbolic and mathematical $v Games.
650 #0 $a Logic puzzles.
650 #0 $a Educational games $x Study and teaching (primary).
655 #7 $a Puzzles and games. $2 lcgft
710 2# $a Tantrix Games Australia. $e publisher

Final comments

I hope someone out there finds this post helpful 🙂 With libraries diversifying their collections to appeal to a broader cross-section of their userbase, non-traditional items like board games may become more integral to a library service. It’s all well and good to acquire cool things like these, but if your users can’t find them, they may as well be hidden entirely. I’m also very interested in any comments or suggestions you may have: drop me a line on Twitter @lissertations or by email (hello AT lissertations DOT net).

Thanks for reading, and happy cataloguing!


  1. I’d just like to point out how stupendously difficult this thing is to google. I don’t often wish the internet had a left-aligned browse search, but today I did. 
  2. Slobuski, T., Robson, D., & Bentley, P. (2017). Arranging the Pieces: A Survey of Library Practices Related to a Tabletop Game Collection. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 12(1), 2. http://dx.doi.org/10.18438/b84c96 
  3. Lee, J.H., Perti, A., & Clarke, R.I. (2014). UW/SIMM Video Game Metadata Schema
    Version 2.0.
    Retrieved from http://gamer.ischool.uw.edu/official_release/ 
  4. McGrath, K. (2012). Cataloging Three Dimensional Objects and Kits with RDA. Slides accompanying a talk delivered March 28, 2012. Retrieved from http://downloads.alcts.ala.org/ce/03282012_RDA_3D_Kits_Slides.pdf 
  5. McGrath, op. cit., slide 63 
  6. Many thanks to Netanel Ganin for making this excellent point on Twitter. 
  7. It’s worth noting that 655 #7 $a Board games was only added to LCGFT in June this year (at Netanel’s suggestion, cheers!), and isn’t yet listed on the Free LCGFT on LC’s website. It was seemingly extensively used as a genre/form term for years before that, though. 

Cò mise? = Who am I?

‘An nì a thig leis a’ ghaoith, falbhaidh e leis an uisge. What comes with the wind, will go with the rain.’ Wall print in the hallway of Museum nan Eilean Siar, Lews Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis (Eilean Leòdhais), September 2016. Photograph by the author

Is fheàrr Gàidhlig bhriste na Gàidhlig sa chiste.
It is better to have broken Gàidhlig than dead Gàidhlig.
— Scottish Gaelic proverb

An invitation by GLAM Blog Club to discuss ‘identity’ has taken me in all sorts of unexpected directions. For one thing, I was fortunate enough to finally attend a Cardi Party, held this month at the Melbourne Immigration Museum, which has helped shape my nebulous thoughts. I’ve also spent most of this week in bed, fighting off a nasty illness gifted me by the city of Melbourne. You know I’ll be back, though.

Talking about identity invariably entails talking about yourself. Who you are, where you have come from, where you are going, what you believe, and so on. Yet it should also entail talking about everyone else, because identities are shared just as much as they are kept to oneself. Whatever I am, someone else is also.

The extent to which we might choose our identities has occupied my thoughts for some time. Identities can be (and are) granted, revoked, adopted, rejected, gifted, stolen, bought and sold. We express our identities in myriad ways—culture, language, ethnicity, dress, official papers, unofficial papers, oral histories, written histories, birth ceremonies, burial rites. Some of these identities have been chosen for me. Some I cannot change. Many I have picked for myself. A few have been thrust upon me. A couple taken by force.

About a year or so ago I began casually learning Gaelic. Known to speakers as Gàidhlig, a language understood by 1.7% of the people of Scotland,1 threatened with extinction in the long term, and spoken by less than a thousand people in Australia,2 it may appear a strange choice of hobby. For various reasons I haven’t been learning as intensely as I once did, but I enjoy following Twitter accounts in the language (using my other account @lis_gaidhlig) and am pleasantly surprised by how much I understand. Gaelic is closely related to Irish (Gaeilge) and Manx (Gaelg) and is part of the Celtic family of languages. It is not to be confused with Scots, the Germanic language closely related to English.

You’d be forgiven for wondering why I chose Gaelic. While it wasn’t originally my idea, it became something in which I was intermittently interested. I no longer have access to the learners’ guides, yet I’ve found myself actually using my skills more than ever. Curiously, I don’t know if any of my ancestors ever actually spoke Gaelic (I think it’s likely, but I’d have to ask my grandmother); certainly nobody in my extended family currently speaks the language.

Writing this post represented the first time I started to think critically about my relationship with Gaelic. I began asking myself copious questions, most of which I couldn’t immediately answer. Did I choose Gaelic (or was Gaelic chosen for me) out of a genuine desire to reconnect with my Scottish roots? My (extremely) Scottish surname was handed down through my family’s 150-odd years of Australian habitation, and yet it was not the name I was born with. I chose this name, much as I chose my family. Does the name conceal other areas of Britain and Europe from which I am descended? Why did I choose this strand of ancestry and not others?

Is there a performative aspect to this exploration of my identity? Am I only aligning myself more with ‘Scottish’ because it’s politically expedient to not be ‘English’? Is it part of a quest for a more concrete ethnicity than ‘generic white Australian’? Am I echoing middle-class Lowland Scots in appropriating a culture and language which is no longer truly mine? Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland (today, chiefly the Hebrides) are cold, remote and economically disadvantaged. Is it my place to enjoy the good things without the bad?

Faerie Glen
Cold, remote, economically disadvantaged, yet still hauntingly beautiful. Faerie Glen, near Uig, Isle of Skye (Eilean Sgitheanach), August 2016. Photograph by the author

Am I looking for a point of difference? A homeland? A place I can point to, despite never having lived there, and say ‘That is my home’? I was privileged to visit Scotland last year, the realisation of a lifelong dream. When I first saw the outskirts of Edinburgh from the plane window, Scotland felt like the strange, exciting, foreign country it was. But it also felt like home. Should it have done?

Is it a response to becoming more educated and aware (some might say ‘woke’) about the black history of Australia, and in particular what Scottish settlers did to Aboriginal people? A reaction to the knowledge that the land I live on, the only home I have ever known, is not mine and was never ceded? A realisation that if I were to repatriate myself, to go back to where I came from, I’d better know where to start?

Moreover, had this sudden interest rendered me the Scottish equivalent of a ‘weeaboo’, because I drink whisky and Irn Bru, listen to a lot of Gaelic folk music and have strong views on Scottish independence? I decided it had not, chiefly because I don’t think everything from or about Scotland is automatically superior to non-Scottish equivalents. (Surprisingly, the thing I missed most about Australia when I visited Scotland was a supply of fresh fruit and vegetables!)

When asked, I don’t tell people that I’m Scottish, because I’m not. I’ve never lived in Scotland, I’ve visited only once, I don’t hold a passport and I don’t speak the language. I say I’m Australian and leave it at that. Occasionally I might get ‘where’s your family from’ (not the more insulting ‘where are you really from’ doled out to non-white people), at which point I might specify Scotland. Yet where is the line drawn between ‘having Scottish heritage’ (or any other ethnocultural affiliation) and ‘being Scottish’? At what point, if any, will I ever be ‘Scottish enough’?

Seeing the Highland tartan exhibit at the Immigration Museum brought a lot of these issues into sharp focus. The Clan MacDonald tartan, easily recognisable with its bold reds and muted greens, formed the backdrop to a medal made of silver, a first prize for dance at the Buninyong Highland Society in country Victoria. Inscribed on the obverse is a curious epigraph, left untranslated by curators: ‘Làmh na Ceartais’. The hand of justice. But for whom?

Highland medal
‘Medal – Buninyong Highland Society, First Prize Strathspeys & Reels, Australia, 1860’. Displayed at the Immigration Museum, Melbourne, July 2017. Photograph by the author

While researching the background to this post I discovered two books that might help me answer some of my questions surrounding the legitimacy of my Scottish identity. The first is The Survey of Scottish Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand, a 2004 PhD thesis by St John Skilton. It documents the efforts of Scottish expats, descendants of immigrants and interested learners to keep the language alive an leth-chruinne a deas (in the Southern Hemisphere), as well as broader questions of Gaelic ethnicity in Australia and LOTE teaching traditions in Australian schools. At almost 400 pages it’s a hefty read, but one I intend to savour.

The second is Caledonia Australis, a 1984 book by Don Watson exploring the intersection of emigrant Scottish Highlanders and the indigenous Kurnai people of what is now Gippsland in eastern Victoria. Many Highland Scots were forced to emigrate after being thrown off their land by the English during the Highland Clearances. Those who sailed to Australia systematically dispossessed Aboriginal people of their land, just as the English had dispossessed the Highlanders of theirs. I haven’t yet gotten my hands on a copy of this book, and I regret that I could not incorporate its histories into this post.

For a final word on Gaelic identity, I turn to Sorley MacLean (Somhairle MacGill-Eain, 1911-1996), one of the great Gaelic writers and poets. His thoughts on the topic (in English) were set to music in ‘Somhairle’ by the Gaelic electronic band Niteworks, whose album NW is one of my favourites. (I recently bought their gear on Bandcamp and conversed with one of the band members in Gaelic!) Sorley was an ardent defender of his culture and language in the face of English dominance and destruction. It seems only fitting that his words lend us a sense of his grim determination to survive, as well as that of his language.

Ever since I was a boy in Raasay
and became aware of the differences between the history I read in books
and the oral accounts I heard around me,
I have been very sceptical of what might be called received history;
the million people for instance who died in Ireland in the nineteenth century;
the million more who had to emigrate;
the thousands of families forced from their homes in the Highlands and Islands.
Why was all that?
Famine? Overpopulation? Improvement? The Industrial Revolution? Expansion overseas?
You see not many of these people understood such words,
they knew only Gaelic.
But we know now another set of words:
clearance, empire, profit, exploitation,
and today we live with the bitter legacy of that kind of history.
Our Gaelic language is threatened with extinction,
our way of life besieged by the forces of international big business,
our countries beggared by bad communication,
our culture is depreciated by the sentimentality of those who have gone away.
We have, I think, a deep sense of generation and community
but that has in so many ways been broken.
We have a history of resistance but now
mainly in the songs we sing.
Our children are bred for emigration.


  1. Scotland’s Census 2011: Gaelic report (part 1) (this encompasses all levels of fluency, so the number of true speakers is certainly lower) 
  2. The Survey of Scottish Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand, 2004, p. 183 (it’s closer to 800, and that was in 2003) 

Applied Pragmatic Cataloguing: a reading list

I’ve long been an advocate of what I call ‘pragmatic cataloguing’. You may know the phrase ‘user-centred cataloguing’, which is similar, but narrower in scope.

Being a pragmatic cataloguer involves taking a good hard look at:

  • what you record
  • where you record it
  • how many times you record it
  • what purpose you record it for
  • what terminology you use to record it and
  • whether a patron can fully access and use what you have recorded.

To give but two examples: a cataloguer may decide that the most appropriate LCSH for a work would be exclusionary and/or misleading to a patron, and so use another controlled vocabulary or some free text keywords instead. Longer-term, they might consider petitioning LC for a change of heading, but in order to best serve their patrons right now, they choose alternative headings from different sources, and inform the library employee in charge of cataloguing standards what they chose and why.

In another scenario, an audiovisual specialist cataloguer may have a large backlog and be pressed for time, yet must catalogue items from scratch. Their OPAC does not index, display or otherwise harness the detailed metadata for AV items (or indeed for any items) in the fixed fields of a MARC record. Knowing this, they may decide to skip the fixed field data entry and instead focus on fields that their OPAC can process and display to a user, even if this means creating an ‘incomplete’ record.

Normally I would sit down and write a long (and slightly inaccessible) essay about this topic, but why listen to my waffle when you can read the sources for yourself? I was inspired to collate a reading list by this delightful Twitter conversation. This list is surely incomplete, so I would welcome any suggestions for additional content. I hope you enjoy reading these articles and resources as much as I enjoyed finding them.

Where possible I’ve tried to use OA / freely available resources, because that’s chiefly what I have available to me at the moment, but some of these are paywalled and/or physical.


Hoffman, Gretchen L. (2009a). Applying the User-Centered Paradigm to Cataloging Standards in Theory and Practice: Problems and Prospects. 2009, Vol 2:27-34. [Open access]

Gretchen Hoffman has written quite a lot in this space. This well-referenced, accessible article begins by pointing out that the term ‘user-centred cataloguing’ invariably runs into difficulty because cataloguers often do not know who their users are, and in today’s world a library’s users could be literally anybody. Standards have heretofore required cataloguers only to think about their users, not actually have a user-centred approach; cataloguers have in turn believed that adhering to standards will best serve users, eve when this is patently not the case. Hoffman suggests a rethink of the widespread practice of taking ‘master’ records (eg. OCLC, but also Libraries Australia) and adapting them for local use—such adaptations could be merged into national practice, or different ‘master’ records for, say, academic and school libraries could be considered.

Hoffman, Gretchen L. (2009b). Meeting Users’ Needs in Cataloging: What is the Right Thing to Do?, Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 47(7), pp. 631-641 [Not open access]

Hoffman’s CCQ article is a revised, expanded and slightly more biting version of the OA article reviewed above. Here she delves further into the topic of cataloguing ethics, concluding that cataloguers are behaving as if they have none, and broadens the suggestion of ‘domains’ of cataloguing based on the intended user (eg. academic and school libraries).

Barbara Tillett’s response to this (also in CCQ) is illuminating: having taken the article very much to heart (and understandably so), she hits out at Hoffman’s characterisation of cataloguers as ‘unethical’ and wishes the article were more ‘upbeat’. My personal thoughts on this could easily occupy another blog post; suffice it to say I’m less sympathetic to Tillett than most other cataloguers would be.

Baia, Wendy (2008). ‘User-centred serials cataloging’. In Roberto, K.R. (ed.) Radical cataloging: essays at the front. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland &​ Co. [Not open access]

The Google Books preview of this chapter is incomplete, and so must my annotation be also. Baia clearly shares my enthusiasm for flexible cataloguing practices and disdain for those who can’t see past the rulebook. Her chief bugbear is successive entry serials cataloguing, whereby a new record must be created whenever a main entry changes (author / title / uniform title). Users hate this because it means various ‘bits’ of a serial are strewn throughout the catalogue, yet cataloguers persist in doing it anyway. The end of the chapter includes a very helpful bullet point list of characteristics a user-centred serials cataloguer ought to possess, which largely boil down to pragmatism, open-mindedness and a user-focussed approach.

Baia, Wendy & Randall, Kevin M. & Leathern, Cecilia (1998) Creativity in Serials Cataloging, The Serials Librarian, 34(3-4), 313-321 [Open access]

An earlier article from Baia expands on her notion of ‘creative cataloguing’, outlining what a serial record catalogued according to latest entry rules might look like. This article is old, and the example of course is an AACR2 record, but the theory holds true.

Drabenstott, Karen, Simcox. Schelle and Fenton, Eileen (1999). End-User Understanding of Subject Headings in Library Catalogs. Library Resources and Technical Services, 43(3), pp. 140-160. [Open access]

This article outlines a study of adults’ and children’s understanding of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and the assignment thereof. Participants were issued questionnaires at selected public libraries in the U.S with a set of headings, and were asked to interpret what they meant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people weren’t very successful at this; less than half of the LCSH corpus were interpreted ‘correctly’ (i.e. in accordance with the opinion of an expert subject cataloguer). Prime reasons for this included the difficulty of vocabulary and the obtuse structure of LCSH subdivisions. Is LCSH an appropriate controlled vocabulary, if users don’t understand what headings mean?
While the structure of LCSH has remained more or less the same since this study was carried out, the introduction of faceted (i.e. not subdivided) vocabs like FAST may improve comprehension of headings by end users.

Hufford, Jon R. (2007). The Pragmatic Basis of Catalog Codes: Has the User Been Ignored?. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University. [Open access]

The gist of this article is basically ‘People who invented cataloguing codes did so without doing any UX research whatsoever’. Serving as a general history of the topic, Hufford illustrates how professional librarians (read: white, male, educated, nominally Christian librarians) in the 19th and early 20th centuries devised lengthy, arcane rules for establishing name and title headings, while failing to consider the needs of users. Whether this failure was conscious or subconscious is not explored, but considering a library’s userbase at the time probably roughly mirrored the librarians who ran it, staff may well have considered themselves ideally placed to decide what would suit users best.

Morris, Ruth (1994). Towards a User-Centred Information Service. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 45(1), pp. 20-30. [Open access]

It’s not often I read articles saying LIS needs more theory, but Morris’ 1994 piece argues quite strongly for a better theoretical and conceptual understanding of what a ‘user-centred service’ might mean, so that librarians might begin to provide one. Yes, begin. (sigh) Beginning with an intro to the constructivist theory of LIS research and discussing the theories of four prominent researchers, Morris then deconstructs each aspect of librarians’ interactions with the public.
The section on cataloguing talks about getting users to stop ‘constantly constructing and reconstructing reality’ when considering search terms, and encouraging them to think outside the box. It also discusses the user unfriendliness of internal cataloguing notes on the whereabouts of an item.

Olson, Hope A. and Schlegl, Rose (2001). Standardization, Objectivity, and User Focus: A Meta-Analysis of Subject Access Critiques. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 32(2),
pp. 61-80 [Not open access]

Olson and Schlegl explore the difficulty of locating various critiques of indexing and classification that have taken place over the years (with respect to gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability etc.) because the databases that index this information adhere to the same biases and paucity of headings that the critiques themselves discuss. The reference list to this article encompasses some of these articles, which are good reads in their own right. (Alarmingly, their research database has vanished from the Web, and is not available in the Wayback Machine.)
Apropos of nothing, I love their phrase ‘exploited serendipity’ (p. 64). I think I might borrow it for a future post!

Deodato, Joseph (2007) Deconstructing the Library with Jacques Derrida: Creating Space for the Other in Bibliographic Description and Classification. In Leckie, Gloria J., Given, Lisa M., and Buschman, John (eds.) Critical Theory for Library and Information Science: Exploring the Social from Across the Disciplines. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, pp. 75-87. [Chapter is open access]

Finally, because who can resist a little existential philosophy with their cataloguing (I know I can’t), Deodato takes us through an exploration of deconstructivist French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and his theories as they might apply to librarianship. It is, by definition, not an easy read, as Derrida’s work seeks to illustrate the plurality and ambiguity of meaning. This represents a challenge to LIS notions of a fixed relationship between meaning and text, as expressed in subject headings and classification schemes. The article also dissects inherent bias in LCSH and the resultant ethical responsiblity of cataloguers to recognise and address these biases. It’s an excellent, if slightly heavy, article.

Five things I learned from #VALATechCamp

VALA Tech Camp logo

A few days ago I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the inaugural VALA Tech Camp, a two-day symposium for librarians in tech and technologists in libraries. I learnt a lot and had an excellent time, thanks in large part to the Herculean efforts of the organising committee. Below are a few scattered and not entirely comprehensive thoughts on the event:

Coding is easy! Coding is hard! When the committee asked for suggestions on what to include in the camp, I asked for fairly basic stuff—an intro to Python, for example, for those of us at the n00b end of the spectrum. A 2-hour crash course in Python wound up being the first event on day 1, so I felt more or less obliged to attend. I had previously tried several times to teach myself Python (out of books, on Codecademy, from YouTube videos) but had realised I needed an actual person to teach me the basics.
By the end of the session I had achieved the following:


I was not expecting 56 people to be so supportive of my own personal Wow! signal, so that was super nice. The workshop really did feel like the booster I needed to get me started in Python.
Later in the day (and continuing on day 2) was ‘Hacky Hour’, essentially free time to work on coding projects. I started out doing some web scraping with ParseHub and Beautiful Soup, then got bored and wound up with a Trove API key trying to rewrite Libraries Australia SOLR queries as Trove API queries (with mixed results), then got bored again and started writing a Bash script to extract metadata from a PDF into a CSV or TXT file.
The latter occupied my time and imagination even after I returned to the hotel, culminating in me figuring out how to export metadata from a PDF to a CSV, then to OpenRefine, then to MARC! I was thrilled to have actually achieved something concrete that I could take back to work and actually use. If that was all I got out of VALA tech camp, it would have been worth it.

There’s a huge gap between what tech can do and what people think tech can do. Ingrid Mason spoke at length about the gap in not just digital literacy, but digital infrastructure literacy. You might know how to use wifi, but would you know how to fix your wifi if it broke? (I know I wouldn’t, and I’m more tech literate than the average person.)
There’s also the problem of extremely clever people constantly creating new ways to do things and new ways to solve problems, including library problems, but how much of that knowledge trickles down to us at the coalface? It’s something I’m keen to explore and maybe, hopefully, change.

I was surprised by how much I already knew. One of my problems in tech is that I know I have a very uneven skillset. I am a total Python n00b, yet I can cobble together a Bash script. I’m totally across LOD and RDF triples, but didn’t know how SPARQL worked (until I attended the SPARQL talk!) I understood the mechanics of web scraping, but not how to properly harness web scraping tools. Even the talks where I came armed with a little background knowledge (like UX, APIs, the importance of good documentation) I left feeling twice as knowledgeable, which is an excellent outcome.
I particularly enjoyed the SPARQL talk because it explained linked data concepts in a way ordinary people could understand. Their use of Wikidata as an example SPARQL interface was an inspired choice—I felt it helped make an otherwise arcane and distant concept really concrete and accessible to a lay user.

Tech people are less intimidating than I thought. The attendee profile of VALA Tech Camp certainly skewed older, maler and more experienced than NLS8, which at first was a bit scary for this young, female n00b, but this is precisely why I went in the first place: to learn, and to find out what others are doing. I struck up some great convos with attendees of all genders doing excellent things. I wound up on an all-ladies table for the first Hacky Hour, the ‘Number 1 Ladies Solving Each Other’s Data Collection Problems’ table (moniker by me). In each situation people were only too happy to help and to chat.
Interestingly, I realised that in order for me to do better in tech, I would probably feel more comfortable in a women-only environment, like PyLadies or RubyGirls or something. I’ll look into local chapters and see if I could contribute. Seeing other women do super well in library tech was really empowering and wonderful, and I’d love to see more of it.

You can do the thing! 👍 Several short talks focussed on getting out there and just making stuff happen, including Justine on podcasting in libraries and Athina on running a cryptoparty in a public library. It was really inspiring to hear of people taking initiative and making excellent things happen.
On a much smaller scale, I found myself much more able to get out there and do things I find really difficult. Yes, I can go and make small talk to people! Yes, I can summon the courage to thank people for writing things that have meant a lot to me! Yes, I can do the thing! Yes I can.

Yes I can.

You don’t scare me! I’m a librarian!

Being a librarian, I have discovered, comes with a lot of advantages. I can defeat Google with my superior searching and indexing skills for the benefit of patrons everywhere. I can talk proudly about how hard I work to make my library a better place. I can shush with impunity (only because our ref desk is in a designated quiet space). I can meet other librarians and know we’ll have something in common. Above all, I can sleep at night, knowing my job is intrinsically good and whole and meaningful.

See, I used to fear all of these things. I once thought Google was as good as it got, and I didn’t want to ask for help. I never wanted to talk about my work in case I appeared boastful, egotistic or fake. I used to hate shushing people, for fear it would perpetuate librarian stereotypes. Other people terrify me, so networking was (and is) painful and scary. And I’ve worked jobs that I was scared to go to, because the job crushed and violated my morals each and every day, and there was no end in sight.

So how did I do it?

Obviously I didn’t come straight into libraryland knowing this stuff. It wasn’t until I started my MIS, and received explicit instruction to this effect, that I realised the extent of my poor search habits, that there was something beyond Google (don’t look at me like that, I’m a millennial). I finally realised I hadn’t necessarily been doing it wrong, but that I could be doing it so much better. Search prefixes. Boolean. Union catalogues. Discovery layers. Trove. OMG. So empowering. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone (even if they weren’t interested). I found myself full of something I hadn’t known existed: ‘information confidence’. Not confidence in myself, necessarily, but confidence in my ability to locate, distil and critically examine information. It’s a good feeling.

You’ll have noticed I tweet a lot about cool stuff other people are doing, but not a lot about cool stuff I’m doing. This is partly because I can’t talk about things at work that aren’t yet public, and also because I’m keen to not humblebrag about how great / busy / exhausted I am. But recently I’ve become much more aware of the importance of highlighting librarian labour. Every aspect of library work—reference, acquisitions, programs, cataloguing, outreach, shelving, the lot—is valuable. Some parts of that work (programs, outreach) are more visible than others (acquisitions, cataloguing). Some of that work is valued differently (by management, and also by payroll). Being primarily a back-of-house worker, I need to work harder at demonstrating how hard I work and what I do to make collections accessible and discoverable by our users. It’s critically important not to minimise the length of time or amount of money one spends doing something, lest others think they, too, could achieve it in that timeframe and with that budget. I always used to diminish myself when talking about my work. Now I talk about my efforts with pride. It’s a powerful feeling.

Recently, I’ve had to up my shushing skills. Our reference desk is situated, oddly, in our library’s ‘quiet space’. People really value this space, and so I’ve had to get used to enforcing the quiet by way of a good shush. I don’t like doing it. I used to hate having to go up to noisy chatters or loud call-takers and ask them to keep the noise down and take the call outside. But at least it no longer scares me. Being a staff member affords me certain privileges within the library, and shushing is one of them. (Others include being able to evacuate people in a fire drill and using the exalted Staff Toaster™ for lunchtime jaffles.) I’ve only really gotten better at shushing through experience. I now know how best to phrase a shush, from a pointed smile to a simple ‘shhh’ to a polite ‘hey can you try and keep the noise down, this is a quiet space’ to a firm ‘take the call outside, please’ (and they know I’m not asking). It’s a comfortable feeling.

People scare me. People are weird, unpredictable, incomprehensible things. I always look the wrong way and say the wrong things. I can’t people. It’s a known fact. So naturally a big part of librarianship (as with many other professions) is networking with fellow library workers and people in related fields. ‘Why did I choose this career?!’ I say to myself, perhaps not as regularly as I used to. ‘Nobody told me there would be so much socialising!’ The best way to overcome this fear, it turns out, was to face it head-on. Knowing that I find this sort of thing hard and scary, I deliberately inserted myself into situations where I would be forced to network and make small talk. I did this at ALIA meetings, at ASA meetings, at NDF and at NLS8. People seemed to want to talk to me back, so I took that as a sign I wasn’t doing everything totally wrong. I still don’t always know when to stop talking, and I can’t always tell when someone would, politely, like to talk to someone else. But I definitely know I’ve gotten better at this. It’s an incredible feeling.

I’m exceptionally lucky to have a job that comes with a good set of morals. I haven’t always been so fortunate—I’ve worked in retail, I’ve worked in call centres, I’ve worked in warehouses and I’ve worked in some questionable pizza joints. To be clear: blue-collar, low-skill jobs are not in and of themselves morally deficient, and I would never judge someone for working in these fields to support themselves. But all of the above places existed either to sell a product or to make people’s lives miserable, and I feared for my health and my sanity while I worked in them. Libraries, on the other hand, exist to make people happy. We exist to enrich the populace, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We offer a place to rest, to study, to discover, to chase small children around beanbags. We are here for you. All of you. And we don’t charge a cent. (Except maybe for photocopies.) How could I ever fear a place like this? How could I ever again be scared of going to work? For as long as I’m in the library sector, I don’t think I’ll be scared of my own job. And that’s a great feeling.

It’s a great comfort to look back on things I used to fear so much and know that the fear is largely gone. Don’t worry, there are still non-library-related things I’m scared of (heights, mostly). But on the whole, conquering these fears has made me a better, more confident, more engaging and more effective librarian.

And that’s a wonderful feeling.

Five things I learned from #NLS8

It’s the Wednesday after the weekend before, and I’m exhausted just thinking about NLS8 (the ALIA New Librarians’ Symposium in Canberra, which I attended last weekend). To be honest, I’m exhausted just thinking about a lot of things. I wasn’t clever enough to get the following Monday off work, so I’ve been showing up all week with a head full of ideas and a to-do list as long as your arm. I usually drink tea at our weekly morning meeting, but this week I drank Berocca instead.

I’m overjoyed to report that I had an absolute ball at NLS8. It was a great use of a weekend that I would otherwise have spent doing very little. I also definitely got out of the conference what I had hoped to: I networked with like-minded and similarly-aged people, I attended all bar one of the events I wanted (and that one was due to a clash), and I had an unseemly amount of fun. I also learnt a lot, too. Here is a selection of those things:

My reputation precedes me! Despite having a kaleidoscopic swirlygig for a face and not specifying my surname, my hometown or my place of employment anywhere on the internet, I was astonished by how many people recognised who I was, and who seemed pleased to meet me. My prodigious use of Twitter accounted for most of this. In fact, I had at least three conversations broadly modelled on the following:

Me: Hi, I’m Alissa! 😄
Them: Oh, hi! … *double-take* Do you tweet? 🤔
Me: … yes 😔

I also had several people tell me how much they enjoyed my blog, which was just such a huge thrill. I heard that people like that I generally say what I think, which is not usually what the library industry wants to hear. In all honesty, though, I don’t have the good sense to know when to shut up. I have always been quite a blunt person, though I’m trying to learn how to be more polite while still being direct and to the point. Let me know if I’m failing miserably!

NLS8 really focussed on teaching useful skills. I had chosen talks and workshops with a practical bent, as I was very keen to come out of NLS8 with an expanded toolbox of concrete, applicable skills that I could use at work. Accordingly, the Library Carpentry workshop by Carmi Cronje and Fiona Jones, which taught the basics of OpenRefine, fit this bill perfectly. By the end of the session I felt like I could not only use OpenRefine confidently and to great effect, but that I knew exactly how I would do so at work the following Monday! (My notes for this session included ‘Dead useful!’, ‘The data cleaning tool I knew existed but didn’t know how to use!’ and ‘Such great teaching too!’) I also enjoyed Jade Koekoe‘s session on DIY Marketing for Libraries, a topic I know absolutely nothing about. Despite not having a creative bone in my body I managed to make a infographic in Canva, a tool I shall certainly use again.

I met some wonderful people whom I really admire. I had the pleasure of meeting ILN co-founder, keynote speaker and all-around gem Clare McKenzie (who was inexplicably keen to meet me too!). We had a great chat about the awesomeness that is New Zealand’s National Digital Forum and the GLAM Digitisation Google+ group that we co-moderate. I also followed Clare’s keynote advice and told a few people that I love their work, including Matthew, who does some great digitisation and digipres stuff; Nathan, who runs an absolutely fantastic blog on archival decolonialism (seriously, read it); and Katie, who is one of the nicest and coolest people I’ve ever met, and who also creates some bangin’ #critlib zines.

It’s okay to say no. Several speakers, most notably keynote Mylee Joseph, followed a running theme of exhorting delegates to get out there and say ‘yes!’ to things. Go for that job for which you satisfy almost all the criteria, put your hand up for a volunteer role, collaborate with people across teams, workplaces and professions, that kind of thing. Yet we were also encouraged to recognise our limits and say ‘no’ to things that weren’t right for us or that we didn’t have time for. I wound up saying no on two occasions to things I might otherwise, in a different time and a different place, have said yes to. The first was an invitation to be more involved in an ALIA Students and New Graduates group, whose events I attend semi-regularly. I was in fact asked several times but said no to each, reasoning that I have more than enough on my plate right now, and social organising has never been my forte anyway. The second was an invite from aforementioned idol Clare McKenzie for a selfie for our Google+ group. Despite admiring Clare a great deal and not wanting to disappoint, the group is public-facing and our (meaning my) photo would have been visible to the entire internet. I have very strict rules for myself (and have done for several years) about not putting my face online, which meant I had to say no to her offer. I felt really bad afterwards, but I know I would have felt worse had I done something that was so contrary to my values, and which I couldn’t undo.

NLS8 helped affirm a lot of my values, about librarianship and also about other things. For many attendees, the keynote speech from library evangelist R. David Lankes was undoubtedly a revelatory experience in their library careers. Lankes says a lot of things that chafe a little against the library establishment, including (paraphrasing) ‘Information literacy makes people feel better about their lousy skills’ and ‘Data often says far more about who it’s collected by than who it’s about’. His talk was all the confirmation I needed of the virtue of maintaining personal privacy online and limiting my exposure on social media. It was gratifying and reassuring that very little of the content of his keynote was news to me. I’m very aware of the risks posed by the internet: to librarianship, to information literacy and to us as human beings, and I’ve spent years ranting about them to anyone who will listen. (One of the umpteen books on my to-read list, incidentally, is called The Internet Is Not The Answer.) I’m so glad my fellow delegates had the opportunity to hear Lankes’ speech.

For my part, I spent the following session in the breakout room, trying to reconcile these progressive values of new librarianship with the unbridled capitalism that underlies so much of our profession, particularly in areas such as vendor negotiation. I had attended a workshop the previous day on the work of special libraries, hosted by GRAIL, who are part of the State Library of Queensland. The workshop was well run and I found it very informative and highly illuminating. I left the workshop with a far greater appreciation of the realities of special libraries—but I also thought that some of those realities kinda suck, especially the bits about paying extravagant amounts of money for resources the library doesn’t even own. I was saddened, but not surprised, to hear of the necessity of justifying the library’s services in purely dollar terms. These are our realities right now, but it doesn’t always have to be this way.

NLS8 really was all about the future, which I’m excited to be a part of. I left the NLA feeling re-invigorated and re-energised about my chosen career. I hope we can all take the positive energy from NLS8 and sustain it in our regular LIS practice. The future of our profession depends on it.

What I’m looking forward to at #NLS8

To a chorus of shrugs, I have managed to resurrect this blog and make a few cosmetic changes. I literally have a pile of papers on my desk with ideas for future blog posts, harried Opinions scribbled thereon. I do wonder what I was thinking when I wrote some of them down. “The dangers of personal branding” “Representing draft–final relationships in LRM and Bibframe” “But why do we hate serials???”

In case you thought this made me a dull person, some of you may soon have the chance to let me know in person. The ALIA New Librarians’ Symposium is coming up this Friday to Sunday, and I’ll be in attendance. Now in its eighth iteration, NLS8 has been spoken of quite warmly by previous attendees, and it looks to be a fun and informative conference. Loads of people I know are going. (By ‘know’, I mean ‘follow on Twitter’.)

As expected, many of the attendees will be LIS students, many others new graduates / new professionals, and a few others serial attendees who can’t get enough of NLS. I’m in the slightly odd situation of being both a student and a new professional; I was astonishingly fortunate enough to score a professional-level library job despite not yet having that bit of paper. Some days I can’t believe my luck. Other days I can believe it, because I know the refreshing perspectives that new professionals bring to LIS, and I’d like to think I’m good at what I do.

More than anything, I’m looking forward to networking and socialising with people my own age. I’m the youngest professional-level librarian at MPOW by over a decade, and sometimes the generation gap is painfully obvious. It’ll be really nice to meet library-inclined people at similar stages in their career and see how they’re faring, and maybe snag a few tips.

I had a hard time deciding which talks and workshops I would attend, because so many of the speakers are so good! I’m particularly keen for (in chronological order)

  • Getting down and dirty: modern realities of special libraries (Angela Vilkins, Cassie Pummell, Anna Landy & Amy Walduck)
  • Increasing digital preservation skills in libraries (Kimberley Dye)
  • DIY marketing for libraries (the indefatigable Jade Koekoe)
  • #auslibchat and social librarians (Elizabeth Alvey, James McGoran & Katie Miles-Barnes)
  • and whichever workshop on Sunday session 3 is not full, because I desperately want to attend all five! (Sam Searle, Irma Birchall, Sharee Cordes, Madelin Meddlycott & Michael Hawks, Andrew Kelly)

Finally, I won’t lie, I’m looking forward to getting out of my little office and doing something fun. I’ve found myself with a lot on my plate this week (some good, some bad, some planned, some unexpected) and it’ll be nice to leave that all behind for a couple of days, listening to impassioned speakers and chatting with fellow new professionals. Honestly I can’t think of anything I’d rather spend my weekend doing.

(Except maybe sleeping. I love sleeping.)