Blowing with the wind of change

See, this is what I should have sung at karaoke the other day. Or something by Erasure, since it turns out Andy Bell and I have the same vocal range (who doesn’t want a little respect?). But that’s for another blog club, while this month we take some time out from changing the world to write about it.

For the longest time, the words ‘change’ and ‘cataloguing’ haven’t sat well together. Cataloguers are stereotyped as change-averse pedants who prioritise rule-following over user-helping. You’ve all heard the joke about how many cataloguers it takes to change a lightbulb, I’m sure (WHAT?! CHANGE??!?!?!). Lord knows I’ve met enough people who embody this stereotype, much as I’d like to disclaim it. And yet, to me, change is the only constant. I’ve never known a professional existence where change has been optional, and so I accept it, and go with the flow.

I glance over to my copy of Radical cataloging: essays at the front, a 2007 compendium of critical and radical analysis of cataloguing in North America. A lot has changed in the eleven years since the book was published, the biggest change being the replacement of AACR2 with RDA. With that change came a complete overhaul in how catalogue data was meant to be theorised and perceived by cataloguers—no longer card-based, but element-based, with the promise of linking those elements together in new and exciting ways. For better or worse I learned to catalogue after the introduction of RDA, but I hear there was much wailing and teeth-gnashing as the changes were introduced. People seem over it now, though.

Many of the chapters in Radical cataloging don’t seem all that radical to me, now. Yes, LCSH is unfit for the myriad of purposes we’re now putting it to. Yes, controlled subject access is practically dead (but that’s because our systems don’t harness our data well enough, not because the data itself is suddenly worthless). Yes, we should bend and/or break cataloguing rules where there are clear benefits for users. Yes, cataloguing remains a necessary and sought-after skill. Change and deviation from established standards doesn’t seem as radical to me as perhaps it did to others a decade ago. I find myself disagreeing with, though nonetheless respecting, some of the deeply-held views about the value of a rigorously-constructed catalogue. But I was raised on Google, so what would I know?

People have written entire books about how cataloguers cope with change (and I’m kicking myself for not having read that one before writing this post). Tina Gross’ chapter ‘Who moved my pinakes?’ in Radical cataloging blasts the old stereotype out of the water—that cataloguers do not oppose change for change’s sake, but rather because proposed changes are not considered to be in users’ best interests. Joan E. Schuitema’s chapter ‘The current cataloging landscape: a therapist’s perspective’ from The psychology of librarianship examines cataloguers’ experiences of trauma as a direct result of having the professional rug pulled out from under them.

And yet I suspect it’s no accident that the LCSH ‘Change’ lists ‘Catastrophical, The’ as a related term. Not all change is catastrophical, but all catastrophes are change.

If it were up to me, I know what I’d change. I would work with systems librarians and developers to better integrate our existing name and subject taxonomies into keyword-search interfaces. I would ensure our data formats recorded each element of bibliographic information once per item, and once only. I would break the Anglophone world’s inexplicable dependence on LCSH and help each sector build new and better vocabularies. I would decentralise cataloguing, by which I mean I would work to ensure a library’s users had a direct say in how its collections were described. But most importantly, I would finish off the cataloguer stereotype once and for all.

That used to be us. I think you’ll find we’ve changed.

Turn and face the strange

If only everything were hunky dory.

This month, the denizens of GLAM Blog Club are asked to consider the strange. I should find this easy. I’ve built a career on cataloguing the strange things. But these days, I am a stranger to myself. Two months ago I had a nervous breakdown in the service of cataloguing. I’ve been unwell and in pain ever since, and modern medicine has few answers. I’m no longer in crisis, but I’m still not the cataloguer I used to be. I resent the circumstances that brought me here. What happened to good health and good spirits? Why isn’t the metadata mojo back yet? I don’t understand.

It’s so strange. And so frustrating.

I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet

It’s difficult to inhabit this cloak of self because it used to be skin-tight. I radiated cataloguing enthusiasm, online and off. It came so naturally. It was awesome. These days it’s harder. I speak cataloguing fluently, but the words feel wooden, like someone else’s false teeth. It’s strange to feel this way. It’s not the natural order of things. Sometimes people talk to my old self, not knowing she’s a stranger to me now, and it stings in many places. It feels like a betrayal of those who follow my work, but I’ve been firmly told that it’s not, so I try to believe them. Can’t shake the shadow of false advertising.

So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test

And yet all things must surely pass. What was once strange becomes normal, even valued. I’d like to think that two years of Cataloguing the Universe have swayed a few minds on the nature and value of library metadata, and shined a light on our (often invisible) labour. Most librarians probably still think cataloguing is a strange, dull thing performed by strange, dull people. That’s okay. At least now there’s a small corpus of posts on this blog that suggest otherwise, if they’re interested.

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same

Sometimes I feel a spark. On a path, in a pub, on the twitters. A spark of what I used to be, and what I might become. Putting the cloak back on and hoping I’ve grown to fit it. Accepting temporal realities while hoping to create others. Waving at my old self, though she’ll never wave back. Turning and facing the strange.

This week I plan to wear all my library-themed items of clothing to work. It’s at once a piece of 650 #0 $a Performance art, an excuse to show off 650 #0 $a Librarians $x Clothing, an attempt to change 650 #0 $a Catalogers $x Public opinion and a way to improve 600 00 $a Alissa $g (@lissertations) $x Health.1 It’s probably strange to even own library-themed t-shirts. It’s undoubtedly stranger to describe them using Library of Congress Subject Headings.

It comes so naturally. Why isn’t it real?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man

One day I will accept that the old me isn’t coming back. There might be a new and improved me in the future, who has recovered from ill-health and is ready to forge a new path. Someone who can draw on her experiences to create meaningful and long-lasting cataloguing reform. Someone who knows her limitations, and is prepared to do less for a time, if it means doing better later.

That person is also a stranger. I can’t wait for us to meet.

I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time


  1. This is not my actual authorised access point. But I wish it were. 

The serial place collector

This is not even half of it honestly you should see my book pile

For this month’s GLAM Blog Club theme of ‘collect’, I glanced over at my tottering ‘to-read pile that was sitting on a table but is now a table itself’. It’s perhaps an unusual pile. For one thing, I seldom read novels. Instead I’m drawn to narrative non-fiction, short stories and poetry. Stories about natural history, eco-friendly travel, walking, ecology, place, psychogeography, re-knowing our planet and watching helplessly as it changes. Stories that feel real.

Interestingly, that to-read pile has quite a number of print serials on place and nature writing. (Developing a magazine habit is a bit of a family tradition.) Currently I’m absorbed in volume 4 of Elementum, which arrived last week (don’t ask me how much the postage was!), as well as back issues of Elsewhere, which I hope to write for one day.

I did a brief analysis of my print serial collection in Libraries Australia and found only one title held in any Australian library: the Melbourne-based Lindsay, who have fulfilled their legal deposit obligations with the NLA. Considering the vast majority of these journals are published abroad I’m not terribly surprised. Perhaps when I die, some nature-inclined library here will take an interest in the rest of my collection. Perhaps not.

Then again, it’s not like online nature and place journals are well-represented in libraries either. There are lots of excellent blogs, often written and maintained by one person, as well as lush online magazines that make the most of the browser and create an immersive reading experience. Yet the long-term survival of many is largely dependent on the Internet Archive, which doesn’t quite feel like enough. My current personal favourite online journal is Emergence Magazine, ‘a journal of ecology, culture and spirituality’ with some seriously impressive writing, visuals and web design.

You know you want to read it, like, right now.

I’ve also been enjoying Plumwood Mountain, ‘an Australian journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics’. Australian publications of this type seem to be harder to find. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re thin on the ground; perhaps I’m just looking in the wrong places.

Naturally, I’d like to collect Plumwood Mountain, or hope that a library could do so for me. I have a few options: I can manually save every page to the Internet Archive (highly time-consuming); I can manually save every page locally using Webrecorder (also highly time-consuming); or I can submit the site to Pandora and hope the author acquiesces. If she doesn’t, well, I tried. (Did you know anyone can suggest sites to Pandora for collection? Be aware that if you put someone’s email address in the form, it’ll send them an email.)

How can libraries collect emailed serials? In my past life as a local history librarian we dealt with this mostly by printing them out, which is obviously not ideal. To the best of my knowledge, newsletters hosted on platforms like MailChimp and Constant Contact aren’t harvestable by web archiving crawlers. Collection of these emails by libraries would therefore depend on either the publisher depositing a clean HTML or PDF version, or preserving the email files as part of an archive of someone’s inbox (which is very difficult, highly labour-intensive and not ideal for everyday access). We can’t rely on online platforms being available forever. We need to figure out a way to collect and preserve this content from the browser.

I desperately want someone to archive the full run of In Wild Air, a weekly emailed serial from 2016 to 2018 by Blue Mountains-based creative Heath Killen, each week featuring six things that made a guest tick. I loved this newsletter. Every Monday I took a leisurely walk through someone’s psyche. It was brilliant. I love basically everything Heath does. But if I were to ask Pandora to crawl that website, all it would collect is the index of names. The content itself is hosted on MailChimp—beyond the crawler’s reach.

I wonder if this proliferation of Anglophone ecoliterature is decidedly English in origin—the place, as well as the language. Settlers in Australia brought English concepts of geography with them (as explored in J.M. Arthur’s 2003 book The default country) and tried, unsuccessfully, to apply them to the Australian landscape. How else could you justify calling Weereewa / Lake George a ‘lake’ or Lhere Mparntwe / Todd River a ‘river’?

A collection selection

These are a few of my favourite journals. Please be aware that this list, though reasonably culturally competent, is white as hell. I’d really like to address that. A lot of these are based in Britain, where the nature writing crowd is overwhelmingly white, but I’m very keen to expand my collection to include more Indigenous perspectives. I’d also like to highlight the upcoming Willowherb Review, an online journal for nature writers of colour, which promises to be very good.

Print journals

Online journals and blogs

Zines: the cataloguer’s outlet

When considering this month’s GLAM Blog Club topic of ‘create’, my mind immediately turned to zines. Zines are a great creative outlet, as a way to see and be seen by like-minded individuals. They’re also a neat way of escaping and subverting surveillance capitalism, by returning to paper and making the results available offline, for free or cheap.

NLA and SLV have extensive zine collections. You can also pick some up from Sticky Institute, the world’s greatest zine shop, or from individual zine makers and distributors. Zinemakers often swap or trade zines—if you have zines, I’ll happily fling you one of mine your way.

My current work in progress is Hello MARC : a zine about cataloguing. I posted a preview on twitter a week or so ago and it went gangbusters! I was also very surprised by the response from areas of American cataloguing twitter I didn’t know existed. Cataloguers tend not to get much love, either from the public or from other librarians, so it’s nice to be able to contribute something positive to cataloguer culture. When I tweeted about the zine I had considered it finished, but I’ve since decided it needs some revision, so hopefully it will be released in a week or so.

Yes there is a mistake in the 100 first indicator it’s driving me nuts I’ll fix it

It helps if you’re arty, and it helps if you can draw. I have zero artistic talent so I create zines in other ways. Hello MARC was created entirely in Canva, a free online graphic design tool to help non-arty people like me create arty things. It also helps that a zine about cataloguing standards is largely text-based.

Speaking of cataloguing standards, did you know there is a Zine Union Catalog? Zine librarians and archivists are collaborating on a worldwide shared catalogue of zines, so that disparate zine collections might be found and explored in one place. There’s even a bespoke metadata schema for zines, xZINECOREx, based on the Dublin Core standard. (I won’t lie, I geeked out super hard when I found out about this. And there are people with ‘zine librarian’ in their job title?! Omg. Life goals.)

There is some disagreement on whether PDF zines are actually zines (some people consider the paper part to be a core aspect of a zine) but I disagree. I view zines as discrete works, either monographic or serial, intended as an underground publication, for a specific audience. They’re messy, often intensely personal, and not designed for mass consumption. I specifically chose to distribute Hello MARC online so that it might reach the most people, but I’ve since had enough requests for a print run that I’ll be doing one of those too. I even had a request from a zine librarian in the States!

I’ve found zinemaking incredibly therapeutic. I’ve recently spent way too much time and energy worrying about climate change, to the point where I couldn’t function because I had lost all sense of temporal perspective. Zines help bring me back to the here and now, the realm of things I can reasonably and personally accomplish, the community of good people who look out for me. They’re a concrete distraction and a source of great personal achievement. I recommend zines to everyone. Yes, even you.

Sometimes you’ve got to take the hardest line

Do you have fifty cents for the jukebox?

This month’s GLAM Blog Club topic (‘passion’) is, for me, a bit of a touchy subject. I’ve written before on people disagreeing with my passion choices, and the reactions I get from those who don’t understand why I care so much about librarianship.

These reactions fall into two groups: those who see a simple excess of passion in one area (which includes my work) and those who see a corresponding dearth of energy in other areas. ‘Get a hobby,’ they say. ‘Do something that isn’t work.’ I realised late last year that I really did have nothing in my life besides my job, which wasn’t healthy for a number of reasons, so I took up psychogeography and zinemaking. But I never lost sight of my true passion—librarianship. So this year, naturally, I’ve signed up for more library extra-curriculars than you can shake a stick at. I got a better job, too.

People, wasting away in paradise
Going backward, once in a while
Taking your time, give it a try

Many librarians are not as fortunate as I am. I have been richly rewarded for my passion. Yet I know so many brilliant people wasting away in their dream jobs. They have more to give, more to learn, more to change. More to accomplish. But the system is letting them down. So many passionate people hit the wall of library intransigence. They grow angry, frustrated and bitter. They burn out and lash out.

I can have all the brilliant ideas I want, but what chance do I have of actually making them happen? After all, I’m at the bottom of the ladder. I’m new and impatient. I don’t want to spend decades excavating the history of libraries, setting aside fossilised workflows and analysing collections with a stratigraphic eye. I don’t want to argue with brick walls. I don’t understand why people say ‘no’ all the time. It’s as if we forget who libraries are really for.

I also have to remember that I am but one person. And I owe it to those who’ve helped me get this far to not burn out in a fit of passion.

What do you believe, what do you believe
What do you believe is true
Nothing they say makes a difference this way
Nothing they say will do

Most librarians can understand being passionate about the profession, but far fewer understand why anyone would be so passionate about cataloguing. To them, I recommend Junli Diao’s Passion of a Young Cataloger. It bursts with the promise of spring, of those who know no frosts, only warmth and growth and sunshine.

It remains popular for librarians to deride their cataloguing colleagues as being persnickety old bags who can’t see the forest for the trees. Look, I’ll be the first to admit cataloguers have a bit of an image problem. But I’m a little tired of people bagging me out for pursuing a career in something I enjoy, and in which I excel. There’s so much potential in library data, so much scope for improvement and advancement. I’d love to bring you all with me.

Take all the trouble that you can afford
At least you won’t have time to be bored
At least you won’t have time to be bored

Isn’t that the problem with being passionate? I work hard, study hard, walk fast, break things. My reward is more work. More stuff. More things I said ‘yes’ to, because I can’t help expending my passionate energy in the same places. Wasn’t that a key lesson from NLS8? Say ‘yes’ to things. But also say ‘no’ to things if they’re not right for you. The issue is that everyone is right. I ought to diversify. But I also know I’m the sort of person who likes to focus on a few select things. Do them well, or don’t do them at all.

Oh the power and the passion
Oh the temper of the time
Oh the power and the passion

This is my situation. All passion and no power. Libraries everywhere remain in thrall to the burnt-out and jaded. It will take more energy than I can give to bring about meaningful, long-lasting change. Powerful people won’t do anything. Passionate people won’t stay.

I am free to invest my passion and my energies wherever I like. But I can no longer afford to give all of myself to my profession, lest I burn out too.

Sometimes you’ve got to take the hardest line

Associate, collocate, disambiguate, infuriate

Regular followers of my twitter account will know that I regularly complain about uniform titles. I know that’s not an RDA-approved term, but I don’t currently have the luxury of a wholly RDA-approved catalogue, and time passes particularly slowly in the tech services department. It’s also the term currently used for the 130 and 240 MARC fields, a format to which we remain shackled, and in which someone will probably write my eulogy.

In my view, uniform titles are some of the most misunderstood and misused fields in cataloguing. I say this not to look down on those who remain baffled (for I was myself baffled right up until last week) but because they don’t really serve the purpose for which they were intended. I’ve seen so many records with uniform titles they didn’t need, inserted by cataloguers who were no doubt simply following someone’s rules.

According to the 2005 revision of AACR2, a uniform title had the following functions:

Uniform title. 1. The particular title by which a work is to be identified for cataloguing purposes. 2. The particular title used to distinguish the heading for a work from the heading for a different work. 3. A conventional collective title used to collocate publications of an author, composer, or corporate body containing several works or extracts, etc., from several works (e.g., complete works, several works in a particular literary or musical form).1

In other words: a cataloguer might choose, create, or otherwise determine a particular title to associate with a given work; to disambiguate from other works of the same name; and to collocate works with different names within a title index. It’s a form of authority control; titles and author/title combinations are often given authority records of their own. (Hence the tie-in to this month’s GLAM Blog Club theme, ‘control’.)

Association, disambiguation, collocation: that’s a lot to ask of one field, and I can grudgingly accept that most of it made sense within a book or card catalogue. Remember, this refers not to collocation of books on a shelf (that’s what classification schemes are for) but for collocation of entries within a catalogue. Until quite recently, a catalogue was simply a collection of indexes: title, author, subject. Librarians wanted these entries arranged in a particular order, and created filing rules to ensure this order was adhered to.

During the development of MARC in the 1960s (led by the incredible Henriette Avram), a format originally designed to automate the production of catalogue cards, the layout of a MARC record mirrored the layout of an AACR-compliant catalogue card.2 The first paragraph, mapped to the 1XX set of tags, included the main entry—an author, corporate body or meeting, but also uniform titles where the work in question had no author, but another, different, title proper. The second paragraph featured the title proper and edition statements, and were recorded in the 2XX set of tags. Because a uniform title could conceivably end up in multiple places on a catalogue card, depending on whether there was an author attached, the developers opted to create two fields.

(In the first example, it’s considered advantageous to have all the Bibles entered directly under title, collocated in the title index, then disambiguated by language, version, year [in that order]. In the second example, we already have an author, but the item in hand has a different title to that by which it is more commonly known.)

130 1# $a Bible. $l English. $s New Revised Standard. $f 2003 
245 14 The new interpreter's study Bible : $b New Revised Standard version 
       with the Apocrypha. 

-------------------

100 1# $a Xenophon $e author.
240 10 $a Hellenica. $l English.
245 12 $a A history of my times / $c Xenophon ; translated by Rex Warner.

Apropos of nothing, this also explains how the title statement, arguably the best-known MARC tag, was assigned the odd number 245:

To represent the second paragraph of the catalog card (title and edition), the MARC developers logically chose the 200 range of tag numbers. Because they had reached 130 in the first paragraph, and were trying to proceed by tens, the first choice for the title tag was 240. Continuing by tens, the 250 for edition and 260 for publication information were also defined. Law librarians, however, asked where the uniform filing title, which they used for filing, should be placed. Since uniform title preceded title proper on catalog cards, it seemed logical to maintain this arrangement in the MARC record, so the 240 was reassigned for uniform title, and the 245 tag (halfway between the filing title and the edition) was created for the title proper.3

Law librarians: warping MARC logic since 1965.

Anyway, back to titles. When I was learning to catalogue, I struggled with the reasoning behind uniform titles, as I had no concept of a title index to base them on. Never having used a card catalogue in my life, I saw no reason why anyone would use a browse function instead of a keyword search. (I stand by this view.) Even the idea of collocation doesn’t work in a keyword-based OPAC setting, because I can dive straight to the record I want, with no reason (or, indeed, ability) to view records on either side in any index. Viewing a list of records in browse mode is so… old-fashioned. (Besides, if there is no reason to do this, there is also no reason to create uniquely identifying main entry headings… (taps noggin))

The main cause of my frequent twitter complaints about uniform titles are the preponderance of unnecessary titles in our catalogue, specifically those relating to online resources. Because MARC-based catalogues entail a flat record structure, we can’t (yet) nest different expressions of a work, to use RDA parlance, within a work-level authority record. Instead we’re stuck with one record per manifestation, whose titles we have to disambiguate. Because so many resources exist in both print and online versions, and often a library has access to both, the obvious differentiating factor is whether it’s online or not. Therefore a resource might be titled: 130 1# $a Economist (Online) to distinguish it from the print version.

The problem is when cataloguers take this to mean that every online resource must be so titled, even when it has no print equivalent. This has the effect of 1) cluttering the catalogue with unnecessary uniform titles and 2) furthering the antiquated narrative that print resources are the norm, and online is the exception. There’s no point in creating 130 1# $a Digital humanities quarterly (Online) if it has only ever existed in an online format.

Associate, collocate, disambiguate, infuriate! (sigh)

Tell you what, I can’t wait for my wholly RDA-compliant, IFLA-LRM-based, fully FRBR-ised catalogue of the future (now with 25% more acronyms!). I look forward to being able to bring expressions together under a work-level authority, and have this tree display intuitively in an OPAC. I look forward to not having to use titles as disambiguators for indexing purposes. I look forward to relinquishing some of my control over the form and display of titles within a catalogue.4

I look forward to dispensing with uniform titles, for they have well and truly reached their use-by date.


  1. As reproduced in the RDA Toolkit, accessed 29 April 2018. 
  2. For more on this fascinating topic, see Jo Calk & Bob Persing (2000). From Catalog Card to MARC, The Serials Librarian, 38:3-4, 349-355. DOI: 10.1300/J123v38n03_20 
  3. Ibid, p. 351. 
  4. For more on the history of uniform titles, see Jean Weihs & Lynne C. Howarth (2008). Uniform Titles From AACR to RDA, Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 46:4, 362-384, DOI: 10.1080/01639370802322853 

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.

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 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.

2018: a year of expanding horizons

I have a good feeling about 2018. I suspect I’m one of the few people who does. I’ve long been of the view that things have to get worse before they get better, and last year was ‘worse’ by just about every metric, so I’m hopeful things will improve this year.

As suggested by GLAM Blog Club, I reflected on the goals I set myself last year:

  • ‘Improve my digital skills’: While I didn’t manage to learn SQL, I did attend an engaging talk on Python for beginners at VALA Tech Camp and acquired a couple of decent beginner programming books. I got much better at Markdown and Bash scripting, and did a lot of work with SKOS vocabularies. I had some fun with wget and other web archiving tools.
  • ‘Reconnect with long-form writing, which is worth paying for’: I definitely achieved this goal, thanks to a burgeoning interest in psychogeography and landscape writing. Among many others, I encountered the delightful print journal Elsewhere, the Dark Mountain Project and their recent compendium Walking on Lava, and Alastair Bonnett’s 2014 book Off the Map. I still acquired several unread books, but I made the time to devour several more
  • ‘Get some perspective’: Aside from a new perspective on landscape (embodied in the zines I began writing late last year), I’d like to think I broadened my perspective on several issues. I made a point of regularly reading the Guardian’s American series Burst your bubble, catering for a section of its readership newly bewildered by a rapid political transformation they didn’t see coming. I also read a lot more about Indigenous issues in Australia, in particular the excellent book Decolonizing Solidarity. I’d like to sincerely thank Nathan Sentance and Annelie de Villiers, whose writing and retweeting on these issues helped broaden my perspective immensely.

So what will I aim for this year? The ‘expanding horizons’ of the title refers not just to expanding my dislike of the Horizon ILS, which I will hopefully never have to use ever again, but of new opportunities in many aspects of my life. I feel I am at a crossroads. I intend to take a path where I might see far ahead of me. Already I have some concrete goals:

  • Submit papers to conferences: I recently learned the CILIP CIG conference is in Edinburgh this year, and seeing as I love a) metadata b) Scotland and c) conferences, this is an opportunity I can’t pass up. I don’t yet have a smashing idea for a topic, but I really hope I can think of something. I already have an idea for NLS9, which I can’t wait to work on.
  • Write more zines: I went on a walk last year and wrote a zine about it. It was the most creative thing I’d done in ages (and my family loved it!). I already have ideas for several more zines, which promise to broaden my physical and philosophical horizons. I’m so glad I discovered zines. They’ve been a great outlet in all sorts of ways.
  • Back myself: This was the main thing I learned in 2017—to have confidence in myself and my decisions, and to know when to change course. A lesson like this is only as good as its implementation.

As always, I aim to continue tweeting and blogging, as well as attending GLAM events where I can. 2018 will be a bit of a rebuilding year for me, but I hope to build something bigger and stronger that will serve me well for years to come.