The Covenant Church has suspended their university chaplain for officiating a wedding

The school I attended for my undergrad degree has suspended their campus pastor because she officiated at a wedding. I’m ride-or-die with queer folk, so I’m speaking up to say that this is (specifically and in order) wrong, cruel, stupid, and fucked up. Read on for details and reasoning. I’ve chosen to engage is semi-polite conversation here, but I don’t actually think that is an appropriate tone for the topic. So, by the end, my language devolves into something more honest and appropriate to the topic.

TL: DR The ECC & North Park University’s action to suspend the ordination of Judy Howard Peterson and place her on sabbatical is wrong, cruel, stupid, and fucked up.

Background and source material:

The Covenant Church suspended their university chaplain for officiating a wedding.

My alma mater has placed their campus pastor on paid sabbatical leave for officiating at a wedding. 1)Technically, the Evangelical Covenant Church, with whom the university is affiliated, has suspended her ordination for officiating at the wedding and the University has chosen to honor the letter of their campus pastor job requirements—which specify she must be ordained—over all other moral commitments they have. I don’t think these details signify, but I recognize and acknowledge them. As an alumnus, this shames me. The Evangelical Covenant Church (Covenant or ECC) is the Church that sponsor’s the university and which suspended the pastor’s ordination. They are not an “open and affirming”2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_and_affirming organization. They have official doctrines that are clearly bigoted against non cis-het people. 3)https://covchurch.org/resolutions/1996-human-sexuality/. There are more recent updates to these doctrines that do not deny the bigoted declarations, but do leave enough wiggle room for people of conscience to remain in the organization. 4)I struggle w/ making this statement, but I respect the moral integrity of pastors I know in that denomination. I can’t square the logic of this, so I’m choosing to trust that they see something I’m missing. FWIW, I resigned my membership in 1995. For example, there is a document 5)http://www.bemidjicovenant.com/filerequest/2996.pdf that seems to imply that the marriage doctrines apply absolutely to ordained ministry, but also leave room for non cis-het people married elsewhere to openly participate in ECC church communities. This document hasn’t been officially adopted by the ECC despite it being used to justify the pastor’s suspension.

Before I go further, I include how the pastor, Judy Howard Peterson, explains herself.

I officiated a same sex wedding of two beloved brothers in Christ. This broke a religious rule. The church believes the rule is so important that breaking it requires discipline. This discipline will most likely cost me my job, my housing, my credentials and my reputation. And I would put all of this on the line again in order to love like Jesus loves and I would do it without pause because I believe love fulfills the law. (Romans 13:10)

She offers a clear and well-written letter with much more detail, but the important bits are covered above. I haven’t been a Christian since 1995, but I do have an undergraduate minor in Biblical and Theological Studies so I’m familiar with the underlying structures at play here. Using those structures Pastor Judy’s recent choices align with what I read about the man Jesus. The policies of the ECC align with what I read about the chief priests and elders, and the choices of North Park University align w/ Pontius Pilot washing his hands of responsibility and punting to the demands of the chief priests, elders, and crowd. Judy, if you ever read this, I’m in awe of your courage and actions.

Since I’m about to make observations on theology and doctrine here, it’s probably important to establish that I don’t claim any religious credibility. I’ve read the source materials (in translation) and some secondary sources, but I deny both the divinity of Jesus and the doctrine of sin, so it’s not like I get a seat at the table for a religious debate. The Evangelical and Pietist branches of Protestant Christianity have a lot of core assumptions that I’m not willing to accept and cause difficulty when evaluating the value of these arguments.

It’s also important to establish that I’m not here to argue for the place of homosexual people in society. I won’t argue that gravity works or that water makes things wet. It’s a core principle. It’s not up for discussion. 6)Now, I absolutely refute fundamentalism, so I’m not going to claim that my strongly held moral beliefs are more true than your bigoted bullshit. (See what I did there?) I’m just not going to sit for a discussion of them. In the same way I wouldn’t enter into debate with a flat-earther about geography or an advocate of slavery about human rights. I’m acknowledging that there’s no argument against the full person-hood of queer people that I’m willing to accept, regardless of it’s rational justifications or how well it is argued.

What I am setting out to do here is, as promised, explain how these actions by the ECC and North Park University are (specifically and in order) wrong, cruel, stupid, and fucked up.

Wrong

The easiest way to unravel this mess is to read the underlying documents up to the first obviously counter-factual point and stop. That point is reached in the ECC’s 1996 resolution on human sexuality. 7)https://covchurch.org/resolutions/1996-human-sexuality/ We need go no further than the first sentence of the declaration. We could probably get caught up in the bits before the declaration, but I’m passing on that because “we choose to believe” type statements deserve different treatment from “this is the way reality is” type statements. The declaration opens with:

God created people male and female

I have no problem with the assertion that a deity created male-identified and female-identified people. (I don’t assert this, but I don’t think it’s problematic to choose to believe that some deity made us. It’s likewise non-controversial to assert that gender identity exists and is most visibly manifested as male and female.) What is clearly & demonstrably false is to move from this banal observation to the assertion that all people can be categorized as either male or female and that this distinction is obvious, absolute, and unchanging. We know this. Setting aside gender identity8)which we can’t do indefinitely, but I’m doing here to streamline the argument I’m making, biologists are aware of a broad range of sex diversity in humans (e.g.,  intersex and xx-male people.) Asserting that all people are either male or female is demonstrably false. It’s simply not possible for a reasonable person to assert that sex is absolutely binary. So while it’s non-controversial to affirm that a g*d created male and female people, it violates independently verifiable biological understanding to assert that humans can all be accurately categorized as male or female.

As far as I know, people who follow the ECC and rely on their chosen texts as “the only true guide for faith doctrine and conduct” don’t insist that the sun goes around the earth. In precisely the same manner, there’s no reason to treat Genesis 5:2 or “God created people male and female” as a point where people of faith must break from observable scientific understanding. There’s no compelling reason to choose Genesis 5:2 as the one time an ancient text’s description of biology requires a break from contemporary scientific understanding when other examples of ancient science are allowed to pass with little comment. Here’s an example that shows biblical divergence with contemporary scientific explanations don’t break your stance on scripture. “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down for about a full day.” 9)Joshua 10:13 NIV We all know that the earth moves in relation to the sun, the sun does not move in relation to the earth, yet people of faith don’t seem to have a problem with this choice of words in the story. The sun, in relation to the Earth, is already stopped, and we know that if the earth stopped rotating that would cause other problems with our physics models. As far as I know, this and other problematic metaphors do not require people of faith to refute contemporary science. The Covenant is not the church of Galileo’s day. At least they don’t claim to be. The human sexuality resolution & Pastor Judy’s suspended ordination contradicts this, but this is why I want to be able to believe that the Covenant’s current actions are in error and contradict their core values. 10)This is definitely an X-Files or William James I want to believe moment. At very least, this line of reasoning demonstrates that ECC doctrine does not need to be closed and disapproving toward queer folk in order to remain faithful to their principles and texts and that the choice of sex and gender as the cornerstone of human sexuality doctrine is arbitrary.11)Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system. OR (of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/arbitrary

Cruel

My favorite quote about religion changes over time, but Kafka’s “There is hope, an infinite amount of hope, just not for us.”12)https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Franz_Kafka is a perpetual favorite. Kafka suggests that there is hope for g*d, but not hope for us humans. In their doctrines and policies, the ECC trumpets the blessings and sacrament of sexuality and marriage, while denying them to everyone outside their arbitrarily chosen cis-het binaries. In effect, the ECC declares to arbitrarily chosen communities that sex and companionship are wonderful, and heaven is the ultimate;  You just can’t have them both. This is cruel. It’s cruel because denying whole-hearted and open sexual relations to people is materially harmful to their well being. It’s cruel because the people who are excluded are chosen arbitrarily.

Even if we ignore the previous section and assert that a deity has created the gender binary, that’s a shitty thing for them to do. It’s a shitty thing for people to decide that their god has done. It’s a shitty thing for the people who function as the gatekeepers for their god’s grace to enforce on their congregations. Sometimes, seemingly cruel things are necessary. For example, withholding an addict’s item of dependence causes great suffering, but the suffering is necessary for a greater good. In that case, the ends justify the means. In this case, there is nothing to be gained by causing suffering. There is no greater good being served. Causing suffering for arbitrarily chosen groups can only be called needlessly cruel.

Stupid.

This section is not intended to provoke people who have struggled to keep faith with the ECC’s doctrine. (I’m saving that for the next heading.) My intent here 13)For whatever intentions are worth, I’m a firm believer that impact > intent. is to build on two points from the previous heading, specifically that the ECC’s doctrine here is arbitrary and causes harm. What’s stupid about this is that this cruelty does not achieve anything. I have made the snarky insinuation in other conversations that the purpose of these policies is to ensure that major donors to the Covenant continue to give money. I have been assured that this is not the case. So I’m taking the Covenant at its word and rejected all financial explanations for maintain this doctrine in 2018. This leaves fidelity to scripture as a primary motivation for the mistaken and cruel doctrines. It has been established that there are, at absolute minimum, acceptable readings of the ECC’s chosen scriptures that refute the foundation of the Covenant’s exclusionary doctrine. This leaves the issue at a place where something may be appropriately discussed and debated. 14)Personally, this isn’t enough, but it’s better than the existing status quo in the ECC. There are legitimate readings of scripture that support differing opinions. Thus, open and affirming marriage sacraments are a thing that it is allowable for Covenant pastors to disagree on without breaking with the denomination.15)I’m not sure I’d be willing to belong to a group that leaves open the closed and disapproving option, but that’s far from the first barrier between me and church.

So if the reason the ECC chooses to be cruel cannot be justified by financial reasons and if it is possible to be faithful to their scriptures while fully accepting queer people into the church body, what benefit does standing by an incorrect and cruel doctrine offer? From my perspective as a non-believer outside the organization, there’s no benefit to be gained by being assholes about sex and gender. It’s just stupid.

Fucked up

I struggled with what voice I should use for my contribution to this conversation. While I settled on the kind of reserved and disinterested voice that is more likely to engage in conversation, I don’t think this is appropriate. What is appropriate for this kind of stupid and wrong cruelty is confrontation and profanity. This shit is fucked up. To censor my honest word choice here is to privilege the oppressor by being a collaborator in placing tone barriers to conversation. It gives the advantage to the status quo and puts another barrier between the marginalized and conversations about them. Maybe the last remaining artifact of my North Park College Christian education is a respect for liberation theology. Give the primary option to the marginalized. Tamping these sentiments and outrage down make my arguments more palatable to some but also makes them less true.

Thus, the truest response to Judy Howard Peterson’s suspension is: “THIS SHIT IS FUCKED UP.” Of course, as a white, male-identified, cis-het, tenured, middle-class, American citizen it is even more true to say: “THIS SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND I’M COMPLICIT.” An appropriate response to these arbitrary and cruel exclusions is “FUCK OFF, YOU ASSHOLES!” An appropriate response to the weak-tea compromises people of conscience in the covenant offer to placate the bigots is “NOT FUCKING GOOD ENOUGH!” It feels like a betrayal to self-censor this truth-speaking in order to placate those who might be offended by profanity and blasphemy but not by the Covenant’s Goddesses-damned-fucking-shitstorm-abomination of a doctrine.

It’s not okay to treat the personhood of queer folk as something to be bargained for, as something that can be conceded in order to achieve a nice compromise. We don’t call that Covenant-nice, we call that Covenant-horseshit. It’s not okay for cis-het folk to decide what others can or cannot do with their sexuality. The ECC, as with any other group, is free to choose their own conditions for entry. What makes this a problem that demands confrontation is dodging responsibility for this intentional decision and blaming their g*d or their scriptures for the arbitrary decision to exclude queer people from their sacrament. It is not the case that the ECC is bound by scripture to treat their faithful queer members like shit. It’s a fucking choice and y’all need to fucking own it.16)Better yet, y’all need to move forward beyond this sin and this error and ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. We all need to repent and ask forgiveness.

Obscenity is appropriate here because this situation is fucking obscene.

It’s not fucking okay. I have a choice in how I engage. I can choose between being a fierce partizan uselessly screaming my objections from the outside or using my straight privilege to collaborate with the powers that be. There may be an ethical answer for how to engage in this conversation without either collaborating with the oppressor or being pure and useless.  I’m not smart enough to find it here. So I’ve made the choice of moderating my anger in the first sections of this blog post in order to collaborate and find a compromise. It’s wrong, but the least wrong option I can come up with today. Please forgive me.

That said, this shit is fucked up and I’m complicit.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Technically, the Evangelical Covenant Church, with whom the university is affiliated, has suspended her ordination for officiating at the wedding and the University has chosen to honor the letter of their campus pastor job requirements—which specify she must be ordained—over all other moral commitments they have. I don’t think these details signify, but I recognize and acknowledge them.
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_and_affirming
3, 7. https://covchurch.org/resolutions/1996-human-sexuality/
4. I struggle w/ making this statement, but I respect the moral integrity of pastors I know in that denomination. I can’t square the logic of this, so I’m choosing to trust that they see something I’m missing. FWIW, I resigned my membership in 1995.
5. http://www.bemidjicovenant.com/filerequest/2996.pdf
6. Now, I absolutely refute fundamentalism, so I’m not going to claim that my strongly held moral beliefs are more true than your bigoted bullshit. (See what I did there?) I’m just not going to sit for a discussion of them. In the same way I wouldn’t enter into debate with a flat-earther about geography or an advocate of slavery about human rights. I’m acknowledging that there’s no argument against the full person-hood of queer people that I’m willing to accept, regardless of it’s rational justifications or how well it is argued.
8. which we can’t do indefinitely, but I’m doing here to streamline the argument I’m making
9. Joshua 10:13 NIV
10. This is definitely an X-Files or William James I want to believe moment.
11. Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system. OR (of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/arbitrary
12. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Franz_Kafka
13. For whatever intentions are worth, I’m a firm believer that impact > intent.
14. Personally, this isn’t enough, but it’s better than the existing status quo in the ECC.
15. I’m not sure I’d be willing to belong to a group that leaves open the closed and disapproving option, but that’s far from the first barrier between me and church.
16. Better yet, y’all need to move forward beyond this sin and this error and ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. We all need to repent and ask forgiveness.

#AcWriMo 2017

#AcWriMo is an online project inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s a month-long commitment in November to be intentional and diligent about writing academic stuff. There are official-ish ways of going about it, but I’m just planning on using the hashtag to communicate about some of my research goals.

This November, I’m committing to giving 60 minutes a day to focused writing & other productive work on the various writing/publishing/scholarly productivity activities I have going on. I’ll use this space and Twitter to report on my progress and to keep myself accountable to putting in time every damn day.

Currently I owe three people proposals for projects, and I have a few irons already in the fire, so these projects come first.

Obviously my list went well beyond the original three items. It’s time to get out of productivity debt. Here’s how I’m going to do it.

  • Dedicate one block of time (60 minutes) each day to working on these things. After the first week, I’ll touch base to see if I need to be strict about whether this time must include putting words in a text file, or whether I can include reading, outlining, thinking projects. I’m leaning towards being strict, but some of my *writing* is going to be generating code and some other might be soldering parts in an electronic project, so time will tell what works.
  • Report back at least weekly. On Tuesdays I’ll write a reflection post here in this blog to update on my productivity or lack thereof.
  • Relentless positive regard. This is hard for me, but I get more done when I’m relentlessly positive with myself. Somehow self-loathing and introspective cynicism are comfortable places within me and I can wrap them around myself like a blanket and not get anything done. If I’m remorseless with my positivity, more gets done. It’s really disgusting, but it works.

To make all this work, I’m going to have to give up some time I’m spending doing other things. I do tend to phaff about with social media and Reddit and on the weekends I do spend some time playing video games. I’m hoping I can make all this happen without strict rules, because those are annoying, but if I need to I’ll put the kibosh1)I had to look this up to make sure this saying doesn’t have unsavory origins, but all looks well. Carry on. on all gaming activities and restrict my reading of the Twitters and the Facebooks. I hope it’s not too much to ask that I can do this without having to give myself rules. If history is any guide, I’ll have to give myself rules, but I’m going to be relentlessly positive and give myself the benefit of the doubt to start.

So who’s with me? Anyone else out there #AcWriMo-ing this year?

Notes   [ + ]

1. I had to look this up to make sure this saying doesn’t have unsavory origins, but all looks well. Carry on.

To Criticize, To Hope, and To Library

I’ve been struck by something on library Twitter recently. I doubt that anything has changed, but i seem to be noticing this more and wanted to dig deeper into my response to it. What I’m seeing is a lot of “either for us or against us” response to criticism of libraries. A lot of what I’m seeing is good push back, I’m certainly not arguing against the content of what people are saying. Instead, what I want to do is to look at criticism of and in libraries and see if there is something to learn in the general reaction, as opposed to simply choosing a side or deciding who is right and who is wrong. 

This is coming from a place of self-contemplation. At my intersections of gender, race, class, and other demographics I’m learning how to examine my initial emotional responses to external criticism and temper my defensiveness with listening. For example, when friends post online “Men are awful!” or something to that effect, instead of responding “YOU’RE WRONG! I’m not awful.”  I’ve been taught to listen to the complaint and to try not to be awful. When this happens, above all, don’t say #notallmen.

Maybe because I’ve been paying more attention to how I respond when groups I belong to are publicly criticized, I’ve seen that when libraries and librarianship are criticized, our first responses aren’t quite what they could be. So there are three examples of criticism of libraries and librarians that showcase our response. Again, my point in writing this is not to determine who is right and who is wrong, but instead, I want to figure out how can we best respond to criticism.

@theangriestlibrarian’s excellent rant to an uninformed library critic

(librarians) are so convinced that we must defend libraries against threats that we are defending libraries against improvement

In this lovely rant, @HalpernAlex takes down someone who suggests that libraries are no longer needed, or at least are no longer the most efficient way to provide the public with access to information. I have zero criticisms of the rant; I think that it’s is accurate. What I’m worried about is that we, as a profession, are more interested in preserving libraries as institutions than we are in fulfilling the mission of libraries. When we see bad ideas about replacing libraries, whether it’s this one (give the books to schools and close the buildings) or others (buy everyone Kindle Unlimited and stop funding libraries or academic libraries are vanity project that have already been replaced with smartphones) we (myself included) gleefully dogpile on the poor benighted fools who dare question the invaluable contributions of our vocation to the public good. My question is this: when librarians face a choice between libraries and something new that more efficiently serves our mission, how will we respond? Part of me worries that it will be with torches and pitchforks.

At least, this is what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid that we (librarians) are so convinced that we must defend libraries against threats that we are defending libraries against improvement.1)Though, obviously in this case, just dumping books in schools and closing libraries is the opposite of improvement.

@rdlankes’ tweet about a continuum of library quality and @lisalibrarian (& others)  response to this.

I’m really intrigued by this exchange. There are two good (and not mutually exclusive, in my view) arguments being made here. One: some libraries do bad work or at very least, bad libraries are the result of bad library work. The other: referring to library work as bad in public forums is disrespectful of library workers. So what do we do about libraries that fail in some aspect of their work?

The first example that comes to mind is the Florida librarian who broke the law and patron privacy ethics by calling the FBI to report on suspected library usage by 9/11 perpetrators.  If that is too ambiguous an example, nina de jesus’ article Locating the Library In Institutional Oppression and Cheryl Knott’s book Not Free, Not For All: Public libraries in the age of Jim Crow provide undeniable examples of not just bad libraries and bad librarianship, but libraries (the concept writ large) in the service of oppression.

if good library work is our goal, positive and nurturing conversation is more likely to achieve it than running down and disrespecting our colleagues

So I guess I’m taking a position here. I’m against the unwritten rule that orders librarians not to tell the truth about bad library work. On the other hand, I’m on board with the argument that says if good library work is our goal, positive and nurturing conversation is more likely to achieve it than running down and disrespecting our colleagues. As a personal rule, I try to talk about bad libraries and bad library work, but not bad librarianship or bad librarians. Failing this, if I’m talking about bad librarianship, it’s best to assume I’m talking about myself. We’ll see in the next example that I don’t always follow my rule here, but similar to the first example there’s a tension between telling the truth about library work and providing a consistent narrative most likely to lead to better library work in the future.

My tweets about bad library instruction and the responses to them.

I wrote some tweets earlier this month about bad library instruction and my response to it. There was more engagement with these thoughts than there is with most of what I write, so I appear to have struck a nerve with others. However, it wasn’t the same nerve that I had struck in myself. Reading how others responded to what I wrote, I saw a lot of people concerned about their own library instruction being seen as shit. I was more concerned with interacting with the course instructors–what do we do when then inevitable bad day of instruction happens? How do we safe-guard instruction programs from instances of low-quality work? I know that author intent theory is dead and what I intended is not more important that what the readers perceived, but it was hard to see the thread of conversation get away from me.

It was especially hard because my casual use of profanity and the scatological metaphor 2)I’m sure this reads as pompous, but it was SO MUCH FUN to type that I’m leaving it in. only amplified the disconnect. When instruction librarians are fighting for the time, respect, and resources we need to succeed, it must have felt awful to have another librarian say that our work is shit.3)I wasn’t trying to say that at all, but that’s really beside the point. Swearing about librarianship helps me, as a professional practitioner, to shed rose-colored glasses I have to wear at work. There are a lot of contexts in which I rightfully treat librarianship as holy. These make it necessary to have a space where I can blaspheme with critical thought. Otherwise I’ll have no choice but to believe my own marketing copy and drink the Kool-Aid. When we’re shifting perspectives or code-switching, hyperbole, profanity, and blasphemy can be contextually confusing. I’m confused as well. I still strongly believe that the library instruction I was writing about was undeniably shitty and that talking about shitty library instruction is a first step towards making better library instruction. Yet by not making my criticism general enough or impersonal enough 4)I really don’t think it matters if original  example was someone bad at their job or just someone having the inevitable bad day. I appear to have disrespected my colleagues and caused pain.

So What Do We Do About Criticism?

What do we do about criticism? We accept it. We listen to it. We don’t have to agree with it or obey it, but we should hear it. Librarians should strive to hear criticism of our profession without treating it as a personal attack. Library critics (myself included) should strive to hear the push back that tells us overly mean criticism tears down rather than building up. Criticism is a means to an end and that end is the public good, the good of the people who use libraries. The end we are pursuing is not the good of libraries or librarians, it is the mission of libraries.

We embrace criticism and we pursue to provide better criticism. We seek out criticism that provides hope for better libraries to come. I don’t have a better example of this than a talk given by Eli Neiberger in 2010.  Neiberger tell us that libraries are screwed, explains why, and then gives us reason for hope and a vision for services that better meet the information needs of our communities. For me, this is the platonic ideal of how do provide criticism. I worry that if we’re not able to hear that libraries are screwed, if we’re not able to hear that there are bad libraries out there or that if we make bad choices, we get bad libraries, and if we’re not able to hear that some library instruction is shitty, then we’re not able to avoid these fates.

 

There’s no intrinsic value in making us feel bad about libraries. There’s nothing to be gained in nihilism or in being a pretentious know-it-all who looks smart by correctly predicting that there is no hope. However, the path towards hope, the path towards a better future, the path towards better libraries goes through criticism, not around it.

Vocational Awe: A concept that helps us go forward here

Finally, I want to refer to someone else’s words and thoughts that do a better job of describing the dangers I’m trying to write about. Fobazi Ettarh wrote a great piece on Vocational Awe I strongly encourage y’all to read it. I’ve pulled two key passages here to explain the term vocational awe:

As we were brainstorming, I mentioned that I was interested in deconstructing this idea of vocational awe in librarianship. I saw the concept as the root of a lot of problems within librarianship, especially in creating a work/life balance and in larger critiques of the field. ~Fobazi Ettarh

So what exactly is “vocational awe?” Well simply put, it is the idea that libraries as institutions are inherently good. It assumes that some or all core aspects of the profession are beyond critique, and it, in turn, underpins many librarians’ sense of identity and emotional investment in the profession. The closest that Sveta found to a similar concept was occupational mythology in the journalism world.

My fear is that we (librarians) feel so much protective love for our work and our patrons and we feel so much justified fear that changing attitudes towards funding the public good and changing information technologies will undermine and destroy libraries; we feel this so much that we lash out against all criticism, even the criticism we need in order to have hope for a better future. Vocational awe is a thing that keeps us from building better libraries because we are afraid of listening to criticism. Vocational awe is what makes us define program assessment as “making the library look good to the administration so they don’t cut our funding” instead of as a practical tool to doing our work better. We can do better.

Hope.

Here’s the hope I have to offer. No matter how real the threats we face are, our cause is just. We can wrap ourselves in the confidence that when we teach people to find and use quality information, we are improving their lives. When we help kids learn to love literature, stories, and information we are making their futures brighter. When we library5)That’s right, a library isn’t a book warehouse, library is a verb!, we are doing the good work. This confidence is well-founded and it can replace vocational awe. We don’t have to be afraid of criticizing the library that we love, because we know that the library is unquestionably lovable. We don’t have to shy away from ugly truths about the shifting foundations beneath our feet, because our mission is clear.

We’re going to have to face a lot more ugly truths about the future need for today’s library services. We’re going to have to confront the ways in which our library structures prop up oppressive structures in society. We’re going to have to face the unpleasantness of learning that some of the ways in which we library are misguided. We are wrong about a lot of our thinking about libraries. That’s where the hope is. We can do better. We can find new ways to library that aren’t shit. We can find new ways to library that don’t exclude the marginalized. We can find new ways to library that continue to meet the changing information needs of our service populations. As long as people need information, librarians need to library.

 

Note: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Fobazi Ettarh’s name. My sincere apologies for being careless.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Though, obviously in this case, just dumping books in schools and closing libraries is the opposite of improvement.
2. I’m sure this reads as pompous, but it was SO MUCH FUN to type that I’m leaving it in.
3. I wasn’t trying to say that at all, but that’s really beside the point.
4. I really don’t think it matters if original  example was someone bad at their job or just someone having the inevitable bad day.
5. That’s right, a library isn’t a book warehouse, library is a verb!

What is Nicholas Doing?

Photo on 10-10-17 at 11.53 AM
What is Nicholas doing?

Today I have an opportunity to talk to my WSU library faculty colleagues about what I’m doing, now that I’m working outside of the library. Organizing my thoughts on how to update them <waves at WSU librarians> seems like a fitting context to also fill the rest of you in on what I’m currently doing at work. <Waves at everyone else.>

At WSU, library faculty divide their work into three categories

  • Category One is our librarian work: primary job responsibilities
  • Category Two is our research
  • Category Three is our service to the library, university, profession, and community

The most significant changes occur with my Category One work. In the past, the work included reference and instruction, systems work, collection development, and liaison work. [1] Now this work includes acting as the Assistant Director of the Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) and also working with the Electronic Literature Archive (ELA) at WSU Vancouver. Here we are working to archive and provide access to early (pre-web) works of electronic literature. We are starting with the collections of early scholars of electronic literature and expanding our collections to allow electronic literature artists to archive their work with us. We are also expanding to host the archives of other scholarly organizations with similar missions to ours such as Turbulence and the trAce writing centre. Current projects w/ ELL include pursuing grant funding to help us migrate our catalog to the Samvera platform, hosting a series of events including traversals of early e-lit works, hosting a Wikipedia edit-a-thon to improve the public documentation of e-lit works and artists, and publishing our work. Dr. Dene Grigar, the director of ELL, and I have been writing a paper: Documenting Multi-Dimensional Works.  We have also put in a proposal to bring our work engaging undergraduates in the archive to the upcoming INKE meeting.

This summer, Dr. Grigar and I will be teaching a course at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute on the preservation of born-digital works. Our course focuses on preserving works through documentation. We’ll walk our students (DH faculty, librarians and archivists, and graduate students) through the pathfinder methodology and

I am also working as the ELO Coordinator for the scholarly society Electronic Literature Organization (ELO). I’m working with the directors to keep the organization and it’s annual conference running efficiently and effectively. Currently we are planning the 2018 ELO Conference in Montreal Canada. I am also, through the ELO and the Electronic Literature Archive (ELA-an ELO project) working to earn a certification from the Society of American Archivists as a Digital Archives Specialist. I’m also working with ELA to help implement the CELL taxonomy of electronic literature to help unite the literature and increase access to the field.

Finally, I am continuing to teach DTC 356: Information Structures a three credit course in search, organization, and finding information. Over the course of the semester my students and I move from organizing physical information artifacts, to organizing digitally in databases and then moving on the the particular contemporary challenges of organizing information at web-scale with particular focus on search engines, search engine optimization, and semantic markup of web content for increased search engine visibility.