Monthly Archives: January 2009

From Educator to Organizer?

On his Embedded Librarian blog, David Shumaker recently mused about the difference between working as partners with our faculty/clients/users/populations/patrons and working to serve them. Shumaker is a former corporate librarian who now researches embedded librarianship, and his brief thoughts on moving from a one-way relationship of service to client (the “information waitress” model of librarianship) to a more mutual partnership in which responsibility is shared are worth a read.

As a fellow embedded type librarian/informationist, I welcomed these words, as my mind has been traveling a parallel track. As I come from a non-profity, education-type sphere, and have never been thrilled with the idea of library using populations as “customers,” the trajectory my mind has been wandering is from Educator to Organizer. That is, organizer as in Community Organizer, who also happens to specialize in the organization and management of knowledge.*

This line of thinking, for me, developed from working on the issue of open access with the research community in which I am embedded. While traditional education methods (lectures, classes, seminars, websites) were of some utility, I found myself drawing heavily on the community organizing skills from my pre-MLIS days.

When I think of the types of library/information work I am most drawn to, they tend to be the ones that embrace the values of community organizing over the values of education – I much prefer the role of an organizer than that of a teacher (and I say this as someone who is technically employed as a teacher in my non-librarian life). I can jokefully say that this much have to do with my “problems with authority,” but in reality there is a kernal of truth in that statement; I find relationships based on equity more appealing than those based on supporting a hierarchy, even when I am placed in a position of power within the hierarchy. I don’t want to be the shushing librarian behind the desk. I don’t even want to be teaching your English 100 library class. I do want to empower you with access to information that will help you meet your (generally self-identified) needs.

In order to organize my research community around open access I have had to find out what matters to my researchers, staff, programmers, etc., and work from there. I have worked collaboratively with them to understand the issue and the relative merits of open access in ways that make sense to them and reflect their motivations and values. Yes, I have specialised tools and access I can offer, and yes I can share my personal values and passions with my colleagues, but the goal we work toward has to be a common one, not one I want to impose upon them. To achieve this I have to suppress the librarian’s natural inner know-it-all a bit, but as long as I can let that out by whupping my little brother at Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit from time to time, that’s not too bad.

This approach obviously wouldn’t work if I were a librarian in an environment where I didn’t share the core values of the institution, but I’m fortunate to work in what I think of as “the world of good,” with people who also work there because they want to make the world better, healthier, and more equitable. This approach also wouldn’t work if I were heavily invested in corporate-speak or a certain flavour of Professional identity.

Time to add community organizing to the list of things not taught in library school? It’s certainly been bouncing around in my brain.


*Once I met a guy at a party who, when I asked what he did, said he was an organizer. I assumed community organizer. He was a professional closet/home organizer. Whoa. I had no idea such an occupation existed.

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Finally DRM-free music at iTunes, but…

Apple announced yesterday that they are now offering iTunes Plus songs (News release – there doesn’t seem to be a permalink). iTunes Plus files are DRM-free, so that is nice. The not so nice part is that if you want to convert your previous purchases to this DRM-free version, you’ll need to to pay: 30 cents (apparently 40 in Canada) per song or 30% of the album price.

Since I’ve been reluctant to buy too much online because of the DRM limitations, this would mean I would have to pay about $25 (for 84 songs) to do what I should be able to do right now: download my music to my non-iPhone phone and stop counting how many times I burn songs.

I am glad that apple is finally giving us our users rights back, but I am still upset that they present it as an added bonus, when it shouldn’t be. I probably will get over it sometime soon and start buying iTunes Plus stuff – lets face it, it’s easy, convenient and very tempting- but right now, while I debate if I’m willing to pay those $25, I am busy sulking.

Want to read more? See the Globe & Mail’s “Apple cuts the digital locks off iTunes.”

– martha


Filed under copyright, technology

the price of funding

Capital campaigns and other fundraising efforts

Academic institutions, both private and public, are under enormous pressure to raise money from individual or corporate donors.  We all seem to be on a competition to get donations, big donations.  But I worry that in this race to be the chosen recipient of those big donations the original mission and goals of our colleges and universities might be the losers.

Who decides what is funded? How come those with money get to decide which programs flourish, which lines of research are supported?   Don’t get me wrong; there are many examples of wonderful projects (short and long term) that are made possible by the generosity of alumni, foundations, corporations and many others, but what gets me every time is that more and more there is a shift, even at public institutions, in the responsibility of funding from the public, represented by our governments, to the private world, to special interests. I know; there are special interests within the government too and those who make decisions about how to allocate public funding at all levels, do not always support or understand the importance of education or, at least, its nuances.

As the university I work for embarks on a major capital campaign, I wonder who will come to the rescue of our library branch. Yes, we have a beautiful historic building, important library collections and archives, and we serve well ranked programs in architecture and planning, but we are competing for funds with science, business, technology… not to mention athletic facilities.

 On December 11th I read on Chronicle of Higher Education about Princeton recent dispute[1] with the heirs of the Robertsons, major donors for the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.  I understand that when you make an important donation (and important is a relative term, at least for me) you, as the donor, might want to have guidelines and limitations in to how that your contribution will be used and I also understand that when accepting such a donation, an institution should stick to the terms established, but but I feel that the pressure that we are feeling to get more and more donations is putting more and more institutions in a place where they might be compromising the integrity of their mission and that is really sad.

We also hear stories from all over about raising tuitions and, naturally, this has devastating effects limiting access to education to only those in a privileged position and it seriously limits the diversity in our campuses.

State contribution to the running of public universities keeps dropping and I believe that is where the answer lies, in giving back the state the responsibility of funding these institutions. We need to decide what are priorities are, what do we want our governments to fund and we need to let those in power know.

– martha

1. Gose, Ben. Princeton to Pay $90-Million to Settle Dispute With Donors’ Heirs. Thursday, December 11, 2008

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