Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Librarians, cataloguers and stereotypes

Hello - again! Only a week after delivering my last post to you, I am here again. And, I have to admit, I am feeling passionate. "Eh?" I hear you cry! "Passionate? But you're a librarian, you're neither passionate nor energetic, but rather, retiring and quiet" - apparently.

"Ah", say I, "I think you have me confused with that stereotypical, nay, mythical librarian". For, there is no such thing as a stereotype, as we are all unique, and if you are still living with stereotypes then you are at best deluded, at worst guilty of discriminatory beliefs. 

So what's this all about, you might ask. Well, I'll tell you.

I've just read an article in the THES regarding careers advice to librarians, which is itself a review of a report produced by Sconul - "Leading Libraries". The subtitle (stay with me, I'm a cataloguer!) of this report is enlightening, if not significant: "The view from above", for the aim of this report is to illuminate the path to a senior management position within higher education for librarians, which it is expected is the holy grail for librarians, but in many cases remains elusive.

The 62-page report makes for interesting reading, being almost like a collective 360 degree feedback on how librarians are perceived by those folk already in more senior positions in HE. I've no doubt the aims of the Sconul "Leadership Task and Finish Group" 
"to develop a range of initiatives to enhance the collective leadership capacity across SCONUL and to support individuals and groups of staff in member institutions in their leadership development"
are admirable, and perhaps I'm overreacting (having never had the opportunity to take part in a 360 degree process) but I find some of the comments provided to the Task and Finish Group by "senior members of the executive of a range of [UK] universities" a bit hard to swallow. 

As the THES report suggests:
"Rightly or wrongly, many senior managers seemed to buy into traditional stereotypes about librarians ..."
Too darn right this is "wrongly"! Senior members of UK universities suggest it's up to librarians themselves to disprove this stereotype, but I believe that in a 21st century society which advocates for equality, diversity and tolerance, the onus should be on the stereotype believer to operate more objectively, or at the very least a meeting of minds in the middle would be preferable. Hence my blogpost ...

Let's be clear here that the profession is somewhat female-dominated, at least in the hierarchy below senior management level, and there have traditionally been many barriers to such progression. Hazel Hall, in an article published on 9th May 2017, reports on the Chartered Institute of Libraries and Information Professionals (CILIP) and the Archives & Records Association (ARA) Workforce Mapping Project, reveals that:

* nearly 97% of library and information professionals are white, 
* over 78% are female, 
* men in the profession earn more than women, 
* there are more men in senior management roles,
* and 55% of the people in the profession are over 45 

So, given these figures, it is possible that the white, male, senior manager, aged 45+ might be able to crash through the library bookcases and launch themselves into a career as a senior manager in HE. However, should he be unfortunate enough to fit the perceived stereotype of a library and information professional then his chances of tearing up the covers and pages of the book, and turning them into something else are slim.

There is much in this Sconul report that is laudable, much that is common sense, much that is applicable to a person in any profession wishing to progress their career, and it is organised into helpful sections, supported by quotes from those senior executive members, and it's mostly good stuff. However, there are some things that are almost offensive.

In relation to ambition, here's one quote:
"Be able to show passion and energy rather than the stereotype retiring and quiet profile"
This raises a couple of eyebrows: one that says there is a place for the quiet and retiring profile in any organisation and at any level, for they are the ones whose words are most insightful because they [those words] are rare and well-considered; the other that says all librarians are retiring and quiet, which, in my experience is most certainly not true. 

So the stereotypical librarian is quiet and retiring, but as one quote from the section entitled: "The librarian within the institution", and suggesting that significant opportunities for reinvention were around, says, the lot of the cataloguer is that they are not only quiet and retiring, but also never "go with it" and never capitalise on opportunities. Which in my world of cataloguing is utter nonsense! I, as a cataloguer, am always looking for opportunities for myself, for my team, for the library and for our students. I simply don't understand the comment.

And in the same section, we [cataloguers] are encouraged to put ourselves out there and raise ourselves 'above the parapet' - like we hide behind the library shelves, or something! Coming up with creative and innovative solutions also requires the same parapet activity. Oh c'mon! Librarians, including cataloguers, are renowned for their creative and innovative solutions and interpretations - there are hundreds of examples of this out there on the internet, available for all to share including Clare Sewell on Research Data Management for postgrad students and other researchers, Kaye Towlson & Julia Reeve over at Writing Pad East Midlands aimed at engaging students and researchers with their assignments, and creative training methods for new cataloguers over at HVCats - ok, I'll give you that, that last one's a bit cataloguing-specific, but if such creativity works in this situation, it's likely to work in other areas of HE.  

Following these excellent examples, let's end on a really positive note: 
" ... some library-related skills and strengths ... [are] ... useful ... Analytical approaches are valuable ... " 
Fantastic!! A skill I particularly associate with cataloguers and others involved in operational processes. 

Having commented upon some of those things that I found difficult, I concede I am at least grateful that someone in a senior management position in HE knew that cataloguers actually existed!

Reisz, M. (2017) Career advice: librarians 'must defy stereotypes' to climb ladder. [Online] London: Times Higher Education. Available from: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/career-advice-librarians-must-defy-stereotypes-climb-ladder#survey-answer [Accessed: 6 November 2017]

Baker, D. & Allden, A. (2017) Leading Libraries: the view from above. [Online] London: SCONUL. Available from: https://www.sconul.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/LL%20View%20from%20above.pdf [Accessed: 6 November 2017]

Hall, Hazel (2017) Diversity and Equality in libraries: as services, as workplaces. [Online] Available from: https://hazelhall.org/2017/05/09/diversity-and-equality-in-libraries-as-services-as-workplaces/ [Accessed: 6 November 2017]

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Ethics and cataloguing

Application of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)
to metadata associated with items in library stock

In September 2014 I was lucky enough to attend the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group conference entitled: "Metadata: making an impact", at which Ruth Jenkins delivered a lightning talk "Improving subject-based metadata for LGBTQ related young adult books." At the time this was an interesting view on an area that, to my knowledge  had received little previous discussion [do let me know if you know otherwise], and was perhaps suggesting that young adults might benefit from being more easily able to discover resources that might reflect their own life experiences.  

In September 2017 the ALCTS ran an eforum entitled: “Power that is moral: cataloguing and ethics”, which was based on a session discussing cataloguing ethics at the ALA Annual Conference in June 2017. The ALA Code of Ethics was created in 1994, and ALCTS created a specific code for their members in the same year.

Up for discussion was the widespread use of LCSH in cataloguing records, how these terms are based on a Western code of ethics, and how appropriate, or otherwise, their usage is today, particularly in relation to equality.

Following up on this discussion I discovered an article about a small group of students in the US who felt that the use of the LCSH “Illegal aliens” was inappropriate. They got together with library and information professionals and were successful in persuading Library of Congress to withdraw the use of the term.

So, this term is no longer recognised in the up-to-date LC database, however, as with any changes to cataloguing and classification standards, there remains the problem of legacy records – records already in a system, which retain the use of out-of-date practices. The dilemma for most under-resourced cataloguing departments is, do we spend time amending our metadata retrospectively, and if so, how much time can we afford to divert from the cataloguing and classification of new stock. Certainly here at DMU, our previous approach has been to accept that there will always be a quantity of metadata that is outdated.

However, there are times when evidence of past practices need to be eradicated: this is one of those times.

With a view to improving our cataloguing and classification practices to better reflect current thinking and provide better access to our resources for our customers, a search was performed on the library catalogue using the term “Illegal aliens”. This search produced a disappointing 12 results, disappointing because the outcome was greater than zero.

Delving slightly deeper into the catalogue revealed that the term “Illegal aliens” was picked up by the search as it appeared as an LCSH, and as a result of these search results, cataloguers began to investigate and amend the use of this particular LCSH.

The consideration of this particular LCSH is the start of a bigger project to look at the application of subject headings more broadly, particularly in relation to equality, whilst at the same time allowing for those involved in the academic study of a discipline to still be able to identify relevant resources easily. 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Building trust

Well, here I am back at the blog posts again, and managing to make it back within the 18 months I mentioned on my previous post about communication!

During the past 15 months, there have been many blog posts written - mostly in my head, but one or two have made it to draft form on here, but none have actually seen the light of publication! I'm sorry about that! I'm sure you've not missed my ramblings, but I'm genuinely disappointed in myself for not making the time to share my cataloguing thoughts with you, although in reality there haven't been many thoughts about the act of cataloguing, nor about RDA, nor hardly about the future of cataloguing, as I've been distracted by so many other things recently!

So, I've just read a call for papers for a local conference, the topic of which is centred around that of trust. An interesting topic, which I believe is relevant to all of us, which made me think about my own approach to building trust. I don't think it's something I consciously do. It's a bit like my approach to communication I was telling you about in the last blog post - something that is such an integral part of me, and the way I think and operate, that I simply automatically live by these rules - if you want to call them rules!

I could not talk at a conference for 40 minutes on the subject of building trust, because I only have six golden rules that I try to live by, so that would probably only take about six seconds!!! For what it's worth, here they are:

Always put other people first

I suppose this is actually about supporting people, in whatever way I can. For me, life is about human relationships, and it's those relationships that build the world. There is simply enormous satisfaction to be had from supporting people to develop and achieve, to grow and to succeed, and being effective at supporting them helps to initiate and cement trust.

Make time to listen to people

People are invariably most interesting to listen to. Each of us is unique, we've all had different experiences, and we all have so much to share and to learn from each other, that to not listen to others would mean missing out on so much. Listening to others, and being interested in them helps to develop trust - both ways.

Never promise more than you know you can deliver

Bit of a customer service mantra, this one, really, but I think it applies in many situations where people are involved! I guess it's about managing people's expectations, so they are not left disappointed, angry or sad, as such negative emotions can lead to a breaking down of any trust that has been built up - and it sure is a difficult hill to re-climb.

Always deliver what you say you will

Yes, agreed, this one sounds rather like the previous one, but it is subtly different in emphasis. So, you've not promised things that are not within your gift, but equally, you won't let anything get in the way of the things you have agreed to deliver, so you can keep that promise.

Never bitch or gossip

Eek, I didn't much like writing either of those two words, but it is so very important not to be drawn into the grapevine, the rumour machine, the office politics. It would be easy to do, but quite catastrophic for a relationship with work colleagues. If people tell you something in confidence, don't be the one to break that confidence by sharing with others - at least, not unless there are lives at stake - and never let yourself be drawn into judgmental conversations about colleagues.

Show people you're human

The place for being the real you is at home, with your loved ones, who accept you for exactly who you are, warts and all, as a friend of mine used to say! But, there is absolutely no harm done, and probably lots to be gained, by showing yourself to be human at work, now and again. Obviously, I'm not suggesting that one should show one's vulnerability at every opportunity (if indeed one was that vulnerable), but occasionally it's good for people to understand that we're all people, and we're all in this together, and a little bit of trust and support goes a long way.

So, that's my thoughts on building trust. As ever I'd be pleased to hear your views, and what you do to build trust between yourself and others, after all, we're all different and all have our unique ways of doing things.
See you next time!