My ALA Conference

a group of librarians in front of the Natucket Public Library sometime in the early 19th century

I am the Chapter Councilor for Vermont. This means I get to (have to) go to the annual and midwinter conferences and represent the great state of Vermont. I mostly like it. To be honest, I’ve liked it MORE since COVID means we can’t travel. This means two important things: meetings are held later in the day to accommodate our colleagues from Hawai’i; and meetings are cheaper because I don’t need to get on a plane and stay in a hotel to attend these meetings. There are many reasonable critiques of ALA, many of which I agree with, but I’m still trying to do my best in this tiny role. I always write up a report for the Vermont Library Association, the group that pays for my membership and which would be paying for my travel and registration. I figured I’d share it here as well.

I’ve just completed the ALA Annual Conference as your Vermont Chapter Councilor and wanted to fill you in on ALA things.

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unusual outreach

a black and pink stock car, number 20, with the caption "I've got a need... to read. USE YOUR LIBRARY" over the back tire

I am usually a librarian without a library. This despite the fact that I’m working actually IN a library this month until they hire a permanent librarian, and I’m also paid by my local library to do tech drop-in time work a few hours a week until the library opens up. My main thing besides technology work has always been outreach; if I am not trying to get people into a single library, I can always try to get them into libraries generally. Last October, in response to a local mailing list post, I decided to sponsor a racecar driver, a young woman from my community whose dad also drives. When I mentioned this online, the response was not only positive but also “Take my money!” So I did, and together we pooled our money and came up with some slogans. I wrote a check in February and kind of forgot about it. I just checked back in to the Chambers Racing facebook page and hey hey there’s the finished car and it looks great! The cost of this advertising is less than a quarter-page newspaper spot and probably is seen by more non-library-goers than the newspaper. Pretty tough to determine any real return on investment on this one, but it makes me happy to look at.

what you learn in library school, what’s in a name

library of congress advanced search boxes

I use my library school education in odd ways. I barely knew library school was a thing before I went to library school. So I’m not entirely surprised when other people don’t know that many, if not most, librarians have some sort of professional-level education. Library education is a curious mix of what I think of as trade-school work–learning to do repetitive tasks efficiently and within the scope of an existing protocol–and professional work–thinking about big picture ideas like intellectual freedom and how to determine what a book is really “about.” In the work I do nowadays, I am more likely to use my decades of experience than I am to use things I specifically learned in school, but there are a few exceptions. Doing research to write Wikipedia articles uses a lot of my library school learning.

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Ask A Librarian: Prison furniture?

image of a sturdy library tabl that was built by iowa prison industries.

We have discussed whether it is ok to contract with [prisons] — is it possible that it means people who are incarcerated are learning actual useful skills that they can use to get decently paid work when they get out? Or are we kidding ourselves? Do you have any idea? I’m wondering how I might find out if it actually translates like that. I guess I could try and get in touch with someone at the Department of Corrections. What do you think?

The prison furniture thing is really a pickle. I see it as “of a kind” with discussions about library pay rates. Some libraries are just so small that they can’t pay reasonable wages and if it’s between that and being closed more hours, I think it’s important to make the decision that is best for the community. At the same time, the prison labor situation is… a problem and it’s worth trying to not contribute, but I am also cognizant of the fact that yes, building nice furniture is actually a job skill and a real one, as opposed to, say, making license plates.

So I often think, for myself since I am not in a decision-making capacity, how could I still serve my community but also make the world more just? So thinking about ways in which the library could try to balance the situation either by doing something like making a donation to people who are trying to address inequality or incarceration issues (I realize this is not necessarily simple for a library) or maybe finding a way to Zoom with some of the people who made the library’s furniture, either currently incarcerated people or people who have gotten released to let people know how the situation really works. Alternately, working with restorative justice organizations within communities to try to keep people out of prison, or getting a subscription to Prison Legal News for the library. Or working with the prison that makes the furniture to see what their prison library (if any) is like and how you could help. I know Johnny Flood at Vermont Humanities has been doing some of this work.

https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/

Obviously it’s a difficult choice, but I’m not sure it’s entirely practical for libraries to entirely eschew prison labor. But they can assure if they do engage with the prison industrial complex I think there are ways to do it mindfully and acknowledging that any time you engage with the capitalistic system–as we have to!–there are ways to mitigate damage, a little.

How To: Adding fair use images to people’s Wikipedia pages

collage of photographs of 41 librarians of color ranging from old black and white ones to much newer color photographs.
I’ve always got some nerdy Wikipedia project going. I think improving Wikipedia’s coverage of marginalized voices is worthwhile work, even as I understand and agree with many of the criticisms of the place. My most recent project was to look at the list of African American librarians (108 in total) and try to add as many photographs as I could (41, many articles already had images) to articles that didn’t have one. This is tricky work, because you can usually only add images that have free licenses–either public domain, or certain Creative Commons licenses. These can be hard to find.

However, there is a very useful loophole which is that if you are adding an image to Wikipedia–and not Wikimedia Commons where most image uploads happen–you can take a copyrighted image, shrink it to a small, low-resolution size, and use it to illustrate a page of someone who is deceased. Here’s a page that explains it but it’s a lot of reading. There are similar fair use exemptions for logos, cover art, and a few other categories; this is just about images of people. Here’s a short explainer. Continue reading “How To: Adding fair use images to people’s Wikipedia pages”