Category Archives: inclusion/exclusion

Niceness, Helpfulness & Ethics: Feedback edition

The Canadian Health Libraries Association/Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada has a mentorship interest group. While I can be skeptical about institutional “leadership training” and am in that awkward adolescent phase of my career in which I’m not exactly new anymore but not quite senior enough to be a mentor, the idea of being connected with an experienced Canadian health librarian seemed low-risk and potentially positive, so I signed up. Turns out that it’s actually been quite nice to be sent profession-related conversation topics on a monthly basis, and it’s been quite enjoyable to get to know my assigned mentor better (someone I might not have really connected strongly with otherwise, but with whom I have a surprising amount in common).

This month’s “check in” from the mentorship interest group is about “Compliments and criticism,” and refers readers to the recent Harvard Business Review blog post: “Don’t Be Nice; Be Helpful.” The jist of the article is that withholding constructive criticism may be “nice,” but it’s certainly not helpful to your colleagues.

I’ve written about “the dreaded librarian niceness” here before, and the email conversation with my CHLA/ABSC mentor brought up some points regarding criticism and niceness that I thought were worth copying to this blog.

There are two experiences, both of which I feel very fortunate to have had, strongly inform my approach to feedback giving/getting. The first is my classical music training, and the second is anti-racism organizing.

Classical Music Studies

The couple years before I trained in conservatory, when I was a high school student taking music lessons, I had an amazing music teacher who paired me with another student for double lessons. Not only did this give us extra lesson time, and create a bond between the two of us (who were necessarily also competitors at auditions all the time), but he taught us how to teach by having us constantly give constructive feedback to each other. I remember him early on telling us to think of 3 things the other person did well in the piece she just played, and then 3 suggestions you have to make it better. He modelled this type of feedback, and I still use this style with regularity.

What does this mean in practice? I try always to give positive feedback in at least as large a quantity as the negative, and to always lead with the positive, whether it’s giving feedback on a colleague’s grant proposal draft or student term paper comments. I don’t mean being disingenuous about how great something is; in my experience there are always some positive elements in any performance if you just look for them – and retaining the good parts is as important as improving the weak parts. When I went to conservatory and was exposed to the big bad world of the classical music industry, in which cutting, negative comments were depressingly the norm (one adjudicator’s comments on my first recital were, in totality, “The Beethoven was better [then the preceding piece], but still not good.” !!) I gained a deeper appreciation for the “civilized” and constructive way I had been taught to provide critique.

Anti-oppression Activism

Later on, I became very involved with anti-racism organizing, something I carry on to this day in various ways. This was yet another forum in which criticism could be very nasty. There are a lot of people dealing with a lot of hurt and anger and also guilt when you’re talking about societal structures of privilege and oppression.

As a person with white-skin privilege, it was really important for me to learn to self-criticize in a humane way (productively, not merely berating myself for past wrongs) and to learn to accept anger and negativity from people of colour about things I could not “fix.” Trying to be a white ally to people of colour in various contexts sometimes means hearing awful things, or being excluded for very good reasons that might nonetheless hurt my ego.

Learning to listen to people’s criticism, and even anger, toward me and the groups to which I belong, without immediately reacting, was a big thing for me. Even if I think the accusations hurled at me are unfair, I owe it to a member of a group I oppress (even if just by default, by being a member of a more privileged group) to really listen to what they say. And then consider later how I might respond.

This means suppressing the urge to immediately defend myself or my family or my school/work/co-op/etc., and the desire to “fight back.” Because the accusations weren’t really what I wanted to be fighting. Even if they were based in a misunderstanding or incorrect rumour, there was something important in them that could teach me about oppression and how to untangle it.

This is harder to explain, and to quantify, than the “3 positive + 3 negative comments” rule, but also really important and influential with regard to how I handle criticism. Even if a critique feels like an unfair attack, I try to listen to it and figure out what it’s really about, and what in the criticism is useful for my learning.

In my Current Work

I should note that both of these lessons about criticism are lessons I try to pass along in my classroom when I am teaching. At my current librarian-job workplace, the research team with which I am primarily affiliated works hard to create a constructive environment in which to workshop each other’s work. It’s not perfect – I think most of us are still a bit too hesitant to throw really rough ideas out there, which is likely a side-effect of the hierarchical structure of supervision (i.e. not wanting to look dumb in front of your boss), and a challenge of the interdisciplinary nature of the team (i.e. those from other disciplines might not understand my half-formed idea). But we do also have a fair bit of informal collegial workshopping and feedback as well – we edit each other’s papers all the time, for example.

The interdisciplinary nature of the team really highlights the different approaches to criticism. Economists, for example, can apparently be very nasty in criticism (not our economists, but ours are renegade economists who swap war stories of econ conference presentations)! In my experience, librarians (especially public librarians) tend toward being overly “nice,” but niceness is not the same as respecting a person’s rights and behaving in a just and equitable manner.

In a conversation with another blogger, Katie, here a few years ago, I wrote, “Nice is culturally based and thus culturally biased. Nice to me means exclusive to others who don’t share our cultural norms. Nice to my colleague means not challenging her when she says something racist in a meeting. Sometimes being ethical means having to be not-nice to people.” This still pretty much sums up  my problem with “the dreaded librarian niceness” and hits on some of our disciplinary challenges with constructive criticism.

-Greyson

recent Harvard Business Review blog post: “Don’t Be Nice; Be Helpful
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Filed under ethics, inclusion/exclusion, LIS education

Evaluation, assessment, research & impact

Around the same time I noticed that a number of academic libraries were posting for new (or newish) “assessment librarians,” I went to a cool lecture by Dr. Eliza Dresang about a project teaming LIS researchers with children’s librarians to investigate impact of early literacy programming.

After the lecture, a local children’s librarian extraordinaire and I began a conversation – still ongoing – about assessment & impact research in public libraries. I’m a firm believer that in order to a) provide the best possible service to the community, and b) justify funding, libraries ought to be doing assessment beyond mere program evaluation.

Unfortunately, library school “research methods” courses seem generally weak, and there is limited professional development on research methods for professional librarians. Even excellent library programs often result in needlessly-biased evaluation reports that could have provided more valid evidence if only the methods have been stronger. Even senior librarians in public libraries confuse evaluation with assessment with research (yes there is ample grey area in there, but the terms are not synonymous), and fall into the trap of trying to demonstrate impact & value by counting things/measuring productivity.*

Adding to the challenge, few public libraries are intimately connected with professional academic researchers, and few librarians have the time to learn how to conduct unbiased program evaluations, let alone develop high-quality impact assessment skills.

In my mind, large public library systems should consider taking a page out of academic libraries’ new book and hiring internal research staff to demonstrate value and investigate impact. What’s more, government bodies that oversee libraries (e.g., the BC Public Libraries Services Branch) should be hiring staff to a) support library-based assessment & research, and b) coordinate, liaise with & conduct research on the value and impact of public library services.

I know that asking more more staff seems expensive, and there have been a couple of years of belt-tightening in a row at this point, but some of the best things the library sector could do to improve our ability to advocate for funding are to

  1. provide evidence of impact and
  2. ensure that services are relevant to the community

-Greyson

*To those nodding along with my concerns but unsure of how to move beyond these common problems, I recommend Markless & Streatfield’s Evaluating the Impact of Your Library, published by CILIP’s Facet Press. It does a great job of walking one through that process of mid-level assessment between basic program eval/library stats and full-fledged long-term impact research.

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Filed under academic libraries, funding, government, inclusion/exclusion, LIS education, public libraries, The Profession

Which is preferable: Invasive or Intrusive? (aka the Future of Canadian Census)

Back in July, when the kerfuffle over the long form census was fresh, I accused the Harper government of being disengenuous in their claims that changing the long-form census from mandatory to voluntary was due to privacy concerns over the invasiveness of the census form.

Recent permanent appointment of new Chief Statistician of Canada Wayne R. Smith (necessary due to the 2010 resignation of Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh over the census issue) and subsequent media coverage of Smith’s approach pretty much confirm that view.

Apparently Harper has asked Smith to “rethink” the census for 2016, specifically directing the Chief Statistician to look into how other countries conduct censuses. (Oh, you mean like this freely-available Sept 2010 article in Canadian Public Policy did?) The buzz that is arising from this directive is all about register-based methods that avoid mailing surveys to individuals at all. And this reinforces my assertion that the claims of concern over privacy are bogus.

Register-based censuses link administrative databases so that an individual’s profile can basically be mined for the answers to questions that would have been asked on a paper census. This is exciting for researchers and statisticians, because these registries are generally very accurate. However, for privacy advocates, giving the federal government carte blanche to link and mine federal databases is a matter of concern.

The Online Party of Canada is hosting a discussion on this topic in a  forum on their website. The original post notes:

At first glance, it would seem that most of the vital information collected by the Canadian long-form census questionnaire (2B) is already being collected, at least in part, via other governmental sources (i.e. federal, provincial, municipal, etc.):

●      Age (Q1), gender (Q2), date of birth (Q3) and most labour market activities (Q34-46) information can all be linked to our Social Insurance Number (SIN) and/or Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) data.

●      Citizenship (Q10-11) via Citizenship and Immigration Canada;

●      Place of Birth (Q9) and parents’ POB (Q25) via Provincial Birth Certificates or country of origin under the Immigration Act;

●      Mobility (Q23-24) via Canada Post (theoretically);

●      Education (Q26-32) via Provincial Departments of Education, School Boards and Post-Secondary Institutions;

●      Only a few questions related to: Activities of daily living (Q7-8), Household Activities (Q33), Language (Q13-16), Commuting (Q47) and Dwelling (QH1-H8) could not presently be answered from other sources.

But then asks:

How would Canadians feel about this alternative?

No more census. Save millions in tax dollars. More accurate data.

But our personal information would have to be linked and completely centralized. What types of mechanisms would we need to implement in order to insure confidentiality and protect ourselves from government misuse or abuse of data?

Now I’ve never heard of the OPC before, but these questions are right at the heart of the matter. The only thing  I can think of that they leave out is the question of whether inconvenient questions – questions not represented in official data and also those asking things the current government might not wish to collect – things such as self-reported ethnic identity or unpaid work hours – would be scrapped under a register-based census plan. Given that the unpaid work hours question was already scrapped (much to the chagrin of feminists), I expect this is not a large concern of the current government.

So, How do we feel? How would you feel about your medical records being linked to your tax filing and your hydro bills and your school records  and your motor vehicle records and your vital stats records and your address as listed with Canada Post and…a bunch of other things? How would you feel about a law requiring you to register all address changes with the government? Denmark astutely points out that registering your address with one central body is highly efficient. But do we trust our government the way Danes trust theirs?

The researcher in me loves the idea of the high-quality data we could get with a registry-based system. (The researcher in me is also skeptical that Canada could pull together anything like that for 2016!) However, there would have to be some serious safeguards (including updated ethical review and data stewardship processes) put in place for the privacy advocate in me to feel comfortable with it. I’d also have to feel assured that the increased data infrastructure would be available for non-governmental researchers as well as internal government use.

Last year Harper supposedly changed the census due to its invasiveness. But that’s not the right word. A lot of us were using the wrong word, because it appears that perhaps he’d like to entertain the idea of a more privacy-invasive process, as long as it would be less intrusive into our lives. No pesky, visible forms taking up our time. No census takers knocking on our doors, asking us annoying questions, making sure the population is well aware of what info the census is aiming to collect. Instead just a quiet government data-mining operation. Invasive (possibly more invasive than now), but not so intrusive.

-Greyson

ps – Incidentally, if you’re interested in reading it, the Globe & Mail has published a transcript of their whole interview with Mr. Smith, and it’s pretty enlightening. For example, until reading that I had no idea StatsCan is assuming there would be only a 50% response rate to the voluntary survey that replaced the long-form census. In this fascinating read, Smith says amazing things, including:

“The one thing we know with absolutely certainty is the response rate going to fall from making the survey voluntary.”

and

“But there is no guarantee this data will not be usable. There is no guarantee it will be subject to major non-response bias beyond the levels we’ve traditionally seen in the census.”

He also denies that there is *any scientific reason* to expect non-response bias from groups such as Inuit, non-English speakers, or immigrants.

Wow.

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Filed under democracy, ethics, government, government information, inclusion/exclusion, privacy

The metered Internet threat to innovation & access to information

Remember the early days of mass public access to the world wide web? Back when AOL was king, noisy dial-up modems were par for the course and having any graphics on a webpage was super-fancy? Remember in 1993 or so, when you’d connect to the Internet, download your email as quickly as possible, disconnect to read the text and write your responses, then connect and send your pre-written emails as quickly as possible? It’s the type of scenario today’s kids would find baffling and hilarious: clunky, unwieldy, expensive, and certainly not one that encouraged increased use of the technology.

Well, everything old is new again. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), Canada’s telecom regulator that brought us nearly-neutrality rules just a year ago, recently issued a decision on “usage based billing” or UBB (Telecom Decision CRTC 2011-44). And the meter on your Internet may well be back on – albeit measuring bytes rather than seconds this time around.

A lot of reaction to this decision is coming out, and more analysis will follow in the coming days, I’m sure. OpenMedia.ca has a petition up, Canadian news outlets are covering the decision (and reaction) widely, and online content providers are understandably furious.

I haven’t gotten a chance to comb through the decision in detail yet, and I have to take a couple of boys to the science museum shortly, but there are a few points I want to make right off the bat. I may be back later to comment further or clarify these quick notes.

1) UBB is not the same issue as net neutrality (unless #2 applies)

The reason usage-based billing sounds so appealing, so normal,  is that we do pay per item/metered amount for a lot of goods. We pay for utilities like hydro (hydro = electricity for you non-Canadians) on a metered basis, and many areas also meter water (although that is not without controversy). Frankly, the UBB idea is a brilliant example of big ISPs hearing the pro-neutrality argument that Internet should be treated like a utility and running with that concept, turning it to their advantage.

A lot of the same folk who were up in arms over net neutrality are upset about this UBB ruling. And they have good reason to be outraged. However, in strict sense, UBB is not in contradition with net neutrality (where net neutrality = slowing down of selected content en route to the consumer). My understanding of the CRTC UBB decision is that it is supposed to be content-agnostic, and only size-based. Now, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, policy-wise, anyway (as I will discuss below), but it’s not necessairly non-neutral.

However, metered use makes sense for goods for which we have  a finite supply, not for things like information, which do not require rationing. Economically speaking, information is a non-rivalrous good, meaning that my use of the good (say, a webpage, journal article or TV show) does not in any way prevent you from also using & enjoying the same good.

I know, I know, there’s that old argument about your pipes getting clogged because your neighbours are downloading too much big stuff all the time, but frankly Canadian ISPs have been given ample opportunity to show evidence of this overload, and none has materialised. In fact, the logs we did see during the net neutrality hearings showed the exact opposite of congestion, making it clear that this is just a cash grab. (I do want to make the point, however, that even if congestion were present – and eventually it may exist if ISPs fail to invest in their infrastructure – that does not mean that the correct response is to slow down Canada’s Internet in response. Other industries are required to upgrade their infrastructure over time as needs change or parts get old and fail.)

2) UBB is a potential neutrality workaround

While I think the intent of the CRTC  is allow metering of all Internet content equally within the same subscription plan, and to do otherwise is likely a violation of the still-untested CRTC net neutrality rules, there is a lot of scope here for ISPs to provide favourable conditions for content from which they benefit.

For example, an ISP may offer special promotional “exemptions” from UBB for content offered by their parent company – dinging, say, Netflix while exempting their own online TV/movie service. This isn’t throttling content in the “pipes” or charging a toll to content providers for content delivery, it’s charging a toll to users for content access. It’s throttling the consumer’s wallet.

3) UBB is a giant threat to access to information, and to innovation

Here’s where it gets really ugly. Imagine what it would (will?) be like when we are charged by the byte for information downloaded (and possibly also uploaded?) over our connections.

No one knows how much bandwidth they’re using so they minimize use, fearing fees. AJAX is no longer an asset; it is a liability and we disconnect from continuously refreshing websites to save bandwidth. The pressure is on for online content to be as compressed as possible, hitting the art community hard. Community wireless, such as building-wide wifi in co-op housing, becomes potentially pricey and hard to control.Schoolkids are no longer encouraged to post videos from the classroom to demonstrate and share learning. Employers start to police recreational Internet use more than ever. Coffee shops and other hotspots stop offering wifi all together, making life harder for freelancers, the self-employed, students and others without official workspaces.

Fearing the bandwidth limits on their personal subscriptions, the middle-class flock to libraries to do their downloading. Libraries cannot afford this. Libraries may not be able to afford current levels of bandwidth use, if metered, particularly academic libraries or those dealing with subject areas involving rich media (art, film, music…). I cannot over-emphasize the threat to public access to information via libraries here: libraries are currently THE places in society where anyone can access the Internet. If libraries have to limit this, ration it somehow, or lose this role, it will be a tragedy both for libraries and for the public who rely on library Internet. When public Internet access is limited or closed, public access to information, and therefore public participation in democracy, is seriously impinged. With the government increasingly moving to online-only forms, information, and dialogue with the public, how responsible is it to simultaneously move to meter Internet use?

We may move backwards in time, returning to network television for entertainment. Online course reserves could be pricier for the university than those old print custom course packages. We might actually revive the fax machine?!? Why would a country want to push its population back in time, when the rest of the world is jetting ahead with innovative multimedia content and new delivery systems? Hard to say. Just dumb policy-making? The cynic in my says it could be that those making the policy stand to benefit from old media technologies and fear the threat of the new. However we may drag our feet and try to slow things down within national borders, change and innovation are going to happen – if they need to happen elsewhere first, that will happen. Maybe the CRTC needs to attend Karen Schneider’s talk at MLA?

-Greyson

ETA – Well, that didn’t take long. The decision has already been appealed. Fasten your seatbelts!

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Filed under academic libraries, business, democracy, digitization, government information, inclusion/exclusion, Intellectual freedom, Internet, media democracy, net neutrality, privatization, public libraries, technology

Modernizing vs Censoring: Where’s the line?

Hello folks — yes I am back and feeling much better, thanks! Looking forward to a new, improved year – this time hopefully without the bike and car accidents that plagued 2010.

——-

What do we do with a “classic” work when the connotation of some of the language shifts over time?

Take Shakespeare, for example. Take high school English, for example. Many students in the Anglo-American world are required to read something by Shakespeare in their high school English curriculum. Few of them actually read the whole original text, at least not without a “translation” into more modern English nearby. Many watch film adaptations along with reading a given play. While I’m sure there is some controversy among Shakespeare purists, one of the widely-celebrated teachable aspects of Shakespeare’s plays is the adaptability of the stories to multiple contexts, despite the inaccessibility of the now-esoteric original language.

What about a more recent example, though, in which the language is still intelligible, but the cultural context has changed, making some formerly “acceptable” language now gravely offensive? Yes, I’m talking about Huck Finn, and the current debate over the suitability of NewSouth Books’ new edition of the Twain classics The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, which has been either modernized or censored, depending on whom you ask.

I have to admit, I’m not as thoroughly offended by this new edition as I feel like I’m expected to be.

I know that schools can go to ridiculous extents to sanitize works in an attempt to keep them palatable to some faction of their community. (How well do I know this? I played Sandy in a Grade 9 production of Grease in which we had to cut out all smoking, sex/pregnancy, and dropping out of school – leaving basically no plot, just girl meets boy and oh yeah a nice car.) On the other hand, I also know that words can feel violent and contribute to an environment of harassment and oppression, and as a member of a group with a lot of white-skin privilege I’m not ready to jump on a bandwagon that says we should make our students – especially students of colour – read the n-word over & over in an assigned book – especially if assigned by a white teacher.

Ideally, Huck Finn would always be taught in the classroom by a compassionate and brilliant Twain scholar with incredible historical insight and the ability to guide students through the nuances of a novel that documents some terrible, violent elements of US history. But in reality, we all know that’s not always the case.

Schools, just like other institutions in society, often perpetrate the experience of violence and oppression upon participants (in this case students). Teachers are just as likely to be racist and sexist and homophobic as anyone else. I’m not sold on the necessity for schools to require the original exact n-word-inclusive Twain wording, when they so often offer abridged, translated or otherwise modernized versions of other works. If a particular school/system wants to take a stand on only assigning original wording of literary texts, more power to them. If that’s something they feel strongly about, there are many such editions of Huck Finn available, and hopefully the adoption of such principles would inspire lots of discussion of the historical context of every non-contemporary text.

In sum, I think the question of “sanitizing” or “updating” the language of a work depends greatly on what the purpose of one’s use of said classic is. Is it to introduce students to the classic text or the works of that author? Grant them some sort of cultural literacy? Understand what makes the texts we have deemed “great” work? Serve as an entre into greater discussions of history, culture, and the big questions? Produce literary scholars and critics? Ideally, school assignments would do all of these, but at core I think a lot would be happy to settle for doing a good job of the first couple or so. If teachers are unable to use (or appropriately use) the original text, and if a more palatable edition makes that possible, so be it — as long as it is obvious that the revised editions are not the original, and the original is widely available.

As an immigrant library student, I was fascinated at exploring Canadian culture through children’s literature. One text (or rather, texts) that really captured my interest was Beatrice Culleton Mosionier’s In Search of April Raintree. I really wrestled with her decision to create a revised version for use in schools. I searched and searched for evidence of coercion, of censorship, in this revision, but everything I could find indicated that Mosionier was perfectly okay with it. Her current website (linked above)  proudly lists the three different editions of April Raintree, with their different intended audiences. Researching April Raintree really made me question my ability, as a white, Western, school-type-literate person, to understand what textual authenticity meant in cultural context that weren’t my own. And that’s okay.

Now, Mark Twain/Samuel Clements was white, and isn’t alive anymore to give or decline approval of new editions of his works. But the story of this revision isn’t so much about his cultural context as that of kids of colour who are being assigned to read Huck Finn today. I haven’t yet come across many African-American voices sounding in on this controversy, but I’d be really interested to hear various cultural interpretations of this revision, because the one or two I’ve been seeing don’t seem to be coming from this perspective.

And the line between “bad” censorship of a text and “good” modernizing for accessibility…well, I think it moves depending on where you’re standing.

-Greyson

ETA- NewSouth has responded in the comments of PW, and links to the book’s introduction,which discusses the controversy about the language change.

ETA #2 (Jan 6) – The NY Times has hosted a series of “debaters” writing to discuss this revised edition. Among the voices there, I recommend Paul Butler’s Why Read that Book?, who expressed the kind of sentiment I was intending to get at, but in a more concise and eloquent manner. I also recommend reading Thomas Glave’s Obscuring the Past, even though he doesn’t agree with what I wrote above.

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Filed under censorship, inclusion/exclusion, publishing, racism

Addressing Perceived Barriers to Implementation: Community Led Libraries

Community led service planning is a relatively new perspective and way of doing library work.  Like all new approaches to work, the newness implies and necessitates change.  Like all change processes, questions linger about the impact of the change on work.

A Community Led approach to library work really isn’t that radical.  One perspective, is that it can be viewed as additional skill sets which can be drawn upon when developing and delivering programs and services, where the community (the people we are meant to serve) are engaged in the process (inside and outside the library) – thus making sure what libraries do is relevant to the community.

A number of possible rationales can be put forward for not using a community led approach in libraries.  Each of these concerns are legitimate, and need to be addressed either by the system, a branch or a service area – when there is a desire to truly include the community in service development.

At this point I have identified three broad thematic issues which could be raised to impede the implementing this approach.  They include 1. Resources, 2. The Role of Library Services, and 3. The Unknown.

Resources

  • Time (to busy) and Money
    • Everything we do in libraries takes time and money.  When thinking about the potential cost of implementing the approach, also re-evaluate where time and money is currently being spent.  A serious evaluation of current activities should at a minimum allow a library system or branch to re-allocate (within the current budget) a portion of current staff time and money towards working with the community.
    • ‘It makes good business sense to engage with as many community members as possible. A business model which only meets the needs of a minority of people is not value for money or sustainable. The collective public resources which are used to fund library services should be shared as widely as possible with all sections of the community.’ – John Pateman
    • Time is always in short supply.  If a gap is identified, it is always easy to fill it with another activity.  The question becomes, is it filled with an activity libraries identify internally, or activities that are identified with the community as a priority/need.  If the community is involved from the beginning of the service process, time may actually be saved – since relevance to community is ensured.

Role of Services

  • It doesn’t fit our mandate
    • Working with the community, especially the public, in public libraries is part of our mandate.  If it is not, be an advocate for changing your library systems mandate/vision/goals etc.
  • We are not social workers
    • As a former social worker and now a librarian, I agree librarians are not social workers.  We are information specialists.  As information specialists it is our obligation to inform and educate ourselves before making statements like this.  The definition of a social worker can be found here and community led librarianship is explained here.
  • We are already doing it
    • That is great.  Since the approach was developed in 2008, it would be great to learn from one another.  Let’s collaboratively share and discuss best practices – a new site has been launched to do that.  Please join here!
  • We are already serving our current users well
    • Great.  This approach will ensure that the library system will serve current users even better.  For example, by building evaluation into each component of the service planning process, the community will inform the system if something is relevant to them before the program or service is launched.
  • It doesn’t work
    • Four major urban library systems across Canada used this approach extensively from 2004-2008, and the approach is being integrated by different systems in different ways.  This process was constantly externally evaluated and won national recognition and awards.  It has since been adopted and applied in other library systems and many other systems have expressed an interest in learning about the approach.  The only way to know if something does or does not work is by trying it.

The Unknown

When approaching a community and learning to listen to hear community identified need – the unknown is the most important part of the process.  This is where learning and innovation occurs.

  • This is not a prescriptive approach to work
    • This is not a repetitive task orientated approach to work.  As discussed by Ken Roberts from Hamilton Public Libraries, one of the future trends of library work is moving towards service not task orientated work.  This approach will lead to innovation – which in the current environment of rapid changes to the publishing and information management field, can only be beneficial to public libraries.
  • How will it impact my work?  I am unsure?
    • The good thing about community led work is that it is a two way process.  Library staff, along with the community will be involved in these decisions.  Library staff can become more empowered by participating in this change management process.

Thanks to John Pateman for feedback on this posting.

~Ken

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Filed under community development, inclusion/exclusion, public libraries

Census Privacy is the Harper gov’t’s Girl-Power Barbie

I’m going to go ahead and assume anyone who’s reading this blog knows about the Canadian government’s recent decision to scrap the mandatory long-form national census, and attempt to replace it with a voluntary “National Household Survey” (NHS).

I’m going to assume you all know that the information from long form census is used for all kinds of governmental and non-governmental planning, including social programs, financial allotments for various uses, and, yes, library service planning.

I’m going to assume that readers all have the basic statistical proficiency (that the leaders of the Conservative party apparently lack) to know that a mandatory survey with near 100% compliance given to 20% of the population will almost certainly have greater validity that a voluntary survey of 33% of the population, because even if the absolute numbers of responses are the same under both surveys the response rate in the latter will almost certainly be lower and thus reflect self-selection/non-response bias. This, by the way, is a neat way to create policy-based evidence.

I’m also going to assume you know that the Tories are holding fast to their position, even in the face of the Chief Statistician of Canada’s resignation and overwhelming outcry from people who are not always allies on the issues.

Throughout this whole kerfuffle, the Harper government has insisted that the change is due to privacy concerns. They insist that the long form is too invasive. That people think the state should not be requiring that individuals report such personal information as the number of bedrooms in their dwellings and how we travel to work. Etc.

You probably also know that little evidence has been produced to back up the claim that many people are concerned about the invasiveness of the questions on the long-form (although in the most recent 2006 census there were refuseniks on the basis of the gov’t subcontracting census work to Lockheed, an issue that is going unmentioned today).

Privacy, eh?

Privacy, my foot! This change has nothing to do with privacy. Scrapping the long form does incredibly little to improve privacy of Canadians, and in fact may even make our personal data less private and secure.

Here’s some info about the long-form census, and voluntary StatsCan surveys, in terms of privacy. All of this is written to the best of my knowledge, so if anyone works with census data or has StatsCan connections and can clarify or expand on any of the below points, please do let me know.:

Public Release of Data

Full census data is normally released to the public after 92 years. Since the passage of S-18 in 2005, there has been an opt-in check box on the census, which must be checked in order to release that data after 92 years. Opt-in, while frustrating to researchers and genealogists who wanted opt-out instead, is a pretty high standard of privacy protection. Voluntary surveys are not released to the public, ever. Thus, it would seem that the NHS would be more private, 93 years from now, than the census. Or, rather, it would seem so if Tony Clement hadn’t assured us that they were changing things so the NHS will also be available after 92 years No word as of yet on whether the NHS will have an opt-in box.

Commercial Interest Intervention

Commercial firms do not have access to the census planning process. Commercial firms as well as non-profit researchers may purchase modules  for many voluntary surveys from Stats Can (e.g., the Canadian Community Health Survey), however. Should the long form census remain a voluntary survey, I would not be surprised at all if business were eventually granted access to this survey too. In fact, I would expect it, if the survey loses the “sacredness” of the National Census.

Privacy Safeguards

While we might never be fully confident that stewards of any data could never possibly misuse it, the census is subject to privacy safeguards above and beyond other surveys. Disclosure for any purpose prior to the 92-year blackout period would be subject to fines and penalties under the Statistics Act, which requires StatsCan employees working with this data to be sworn to secrecy. Unlike other StatsCan surveys, the Census is not available to researchers outside StatsCan as a full microdata file. It is also not eligible to be linked with other databases, unlike other data sources including other StatsCan surveys. Again, should the long-form census turn into and assume the norms of a voluntary survey, these safeguards will likely be lost.

The Short Form & Privacy

The still-mandatory short form, which nobody appears to be speaking out against, provides plenty of information on which to base discrimination (name, age, sex, marital status including whether partner is same or opposite sex, first language learned). Sexual orientation is pretty personal and invasive to ask everyone to disclose on a mandatory basis, if you ask me — perhaps more so than many of the questions on the long-form. First language-learned gives a lot of ethnicity & immigration information, even without the long form asking about where your ancestors came from.

As comment poster LindL on the Worthwhile Canadian Initiative blog writes, of the move to scrap the long form but retain the short form,

“If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. What you’re arguing is equivalent to ‘Stealing is wrong. So I’m not going to steal a car, instead I’ll just steal a bicycle’.”

Harper’s Privacy = Girl-Power Barbie

The Harper government is using privacy as a red herring here. Calling these changes to the census good for privacy is like calling a “girl power Barbie” feminist – in other words disingenuous cooptation of a real issue in order to improve market share. I fear that to take the Harper/Clement argument at face value – that this change is about privacy – is to play right into their hands.

What is the Harper government’s interpretation of Census privacy? Well, apparently that applies to the government need/ability to make private and unseen the concerns of Canadians regarding the census changes! The long-form census, although second top rated issue by participants in the recent digital economy econsultation, was buried on the site(Although I wouldn’t vote for this very specific issue to be the top concern of Canada’s digital economy, I am quite impressed that it got so many votes, continuing to add votes and hold second place *even after it was buried* on the site and could only be accessed via a direct URL.)

As a privacy and social justice advocate, the long-form census is not what I am worried about. There are a lot of less secure sources of data out there, with less redeeming social value to worry about. For me, the benefits of  responsible, privacy-sensitive data collection and stewardship sometimes outweigh the risks, but I can respect opposing opinions.

It’s one thing if you oppose any government collection of personal data. That I can respect. I think it’s a perspective that usually comes from a position of privilege, and I don’t take this stance myself, but I can respect it if you think the long form should be scrapped along with a whole bunch of other things, on principle. But THIS? Only scrapping the long form? That is not about privacy. If you want to campaign for the end of all government information gathering, fine, but the census is really not the place to start. And don’t think for a moment that the Conservative government is on your side  an end to government information-gathering

However, in a practical sense, this change is not improving the privacy of Canadians in any measurable way, and is in fact eroding the privacy of those who answer the voluntary survey as well as hurting those who don’t by virtue of providing a skewed and unreliable demographic profile of Canada.

Silver Lining?

On the upside, if they do go ahead with this plan to convert the long-form to voluntary National Household Survey, I think it’s likely that whoever is in power in 2016 will change it back. In that case, while we’ll lose the 2011 data for planning and research purposes, it will be interesting to see how and to what extent making a survey voluntary creates deviations from trends (i.e., we may be able to tease out which subgroups will & won’t respond to a voluntary survey). A natural experiment in the making!

-Greyson

ps – For whatever it’s worth, I agree with Sandra Finley that the census software etc should not be subcontracted to Lockheed Martin – much like I do not think the BC MSP data should be with Maximus. But that’s another kettle of fish.

pps- Tracey over at datalibre.ca has been researching the census as part of her PhD research and has been chronicling this recent debacle quite comprehensively.

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Filed under ethics, government, government information, inclusion/exclusion, privacy