Category Archives: Thoughts

Interview with Emily Drabinski

Emily Drabinski is Coordinator of Library Instruction at LIU Brooklyn. She is co-editor of Critical Library Instruction: Theories & Methods (Library Juice Press, 2010), and sits on the editorial board of Radical Teacher. Emily also edits Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, a book series from Litwin Books/Library Juice Press. She is the instructor for a two-week course with Library Juice Academy next month which she designed, called, “Working Faster, Working Smarter: Productivity Strategies for Librarians.” Emily agreed to be interviewed so that we can give potential participants (and readers) a better sense of where she is coming from, what the class will cover, and how they can benefit from it.

Emily, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I thought I’d start by asking you to tell us how you got to the point of teaching this class, what it is based on and how it relates to what you are doing in your job as a librarian. Actually, you can start at the beginning! I know you are from Idaho and living in NYC – I think that is an interesting biography.

I first got interested in thinking about productivity strategies when I found myself with too much to do. I had just started working at LIU Brooklyn, a mid-sized private university with a very rigorous tenure process that required a second subject masters degree that I did not already have. I found myself suddenly enrolled in school, working full-time in a brand new job, and finishing projects that I probably would not have started if I’d known I’d be back in the classroom. (Critical Library Instruction was just winding up, and I was starting on the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies book series.) And I am a person who has always valued a personal life, too–friends, relationships, time with my cat, the pursuit of random new hobbies on a fairly regular basis, a taste for lots and lots of bad television. I needed strategies for managing all of these balls in the air. I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and that helped–I go through a lot of manila folders in my office! But the key was inbox zero: turning my email into a to do list. It’s no exaggeration to say that inbox zero changed my life and gave me a sense of control over my work that translates into a calmness of mind. For me, that’s what productivity is all about–calmness of mind. This class is about sharing some simple techniques that can help people gain that calmness, as well as talking about what really keeps us from getting things done. Very rarely is it about the actual to do list being too long. When I’m falling behind or forgetting to do things, it usually has to do with something about a project that doesn’t fit with my values or what I think is important. Figuring out a way to keep what really matters in focus–and this is often not something that has to do with work!–while taking care of the usually-small and pesky things that get us off track, that seems like the trick.

I come up for tenure in another two years, which really means that I need to have everything I want to include in my portfolio submitted by the end of the summer. The publishing clock is a long one, and I have no fantasies that I have a lot of time left. Taking time to think about how I do the work I do has always been time well spent, and has meant the difference between drowning in anxiety and delay for the last five years and developing a balanced approach to my work that has yielded a significant body of scholarship, service, and librarianship without my needing to forego all pleasures. I think there are some simple productivity strategies that can make that happen for all of us.

Thanks, that sounds great. That that gives us a very clear idea of what inspired the course. Could you describe what will happen during the two-week course and what people can expect to learn if they take it?

More than anything, I think the two week course will be a structured way for people to take stock of what they want to accomplish, what might be let go, and what’s standing in the way of getting things done. We’ll also learn about some concrete strategies for productivity, things like inbox zero and two minute tasking, but I’m also hoping that the class will give people a chance to clarify what really matters and learn to focus attention on those things. I led a workshop about productivity for librarians at Barnard College recently and at the very end a librarian raised her hand and asked, But what if I have a child? What can I accomplish then? And it’s a real question. So one of the things people can also expect to discover is a set of things that they can’t do, not because they’re lazy or unproductive, but because other things matter more.

Thanks, that sounds good. Since you are working a lot with Library Juice Press and have a lot of strong interests outside the topic area of this class, I’d like to ask you to talk about what other ideas for classes that you might have, what you might like to teach once you have time to do more with us. Ideas?

I’ve been really interested lately in how we can leverage critiques of library organization structures into classroom practice. Since we put together Critical Library Instruction I’ve had a pretty strong critique of things like information literacy standards, and I’ve been thinking and presenting about gender and sexuality and library classification for several years. But I’ve sort of fallen in love with my object: I love how the ACRL information literacy competency standards organize both what I choose to teach and what I don’t, how classification structures organize materials in libraries and simultaneously organize their own critiques. What would I do without the lever of LCSH to help me develop a critique of normative systems, both LCSH itself but also others? I’d love to teach a class that worked through how to use our theoretical critiques of the field to transform our daily work lives. So, how can a critique of subject headings related to gender and sexuality yield concrete classroom strategies that help students find materials about gender and sexuality while also learning something about how gender and sexuality are regulated more generally? Is that something we could do in a 75 minute session with a group of freshmen comp students? Maybe! I’m excited about some of the books coming out on the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies series for exactly this reason–they all connect theory to practice in really interesting ways and will lay out some fruitful ground for librarians. Patrick Keilty and Becca Dean have assembled a collection that seems pretty much ideal for this purpose: it bring significant theoretical work in gender and sexuality studies into direct conversation with how librarians have been talking about these same issues. It’s a bridge text, and I’d love to teach something out of it.

I think you’re right. I think looking at folksonomies in relation to the problem you’re describing could be useful, for showing how people organize information in alternative structures. Personally, and I am not sure if this is the right place for a conversation like this, but I like to think of it in terms of the analogy of a culture where there is a mother tongue that people speak in the household in a given place, and a different official language that they learn for interacting with the state or with other institutions that transcend their locality – like a local German dialect and High German for example. People have to learn to use the High German vocabulary and be able to translate between it and their dialect. One remains close and one remains a bit alien and official. I struggle to see how this is not something that follows from necessity where there is social organization, and see the problem more as a problem of the global encroaching on the local through mass media homogenization. So with regard to gender and sexuality differences, it seems to me that the important thing is for their to be support for “local” ways of speaking and thinking alongside the official, trans-local way of speaking. But in general though I agree with you that this is an interesting area for bridging the gap between theory and practice. I would be interested in seeing a proposal for a class.

I totally agree that it “follows from necessity where there is social organization.” Really interesting to think about how to grapple with that in the classroom. I think that’s what I like about working as a librarian–we are where the rubber of that problem meets the road.

Thanks for doing the interview. Always good speaking with you.

Thanks for the chance to talk through the class–it’s been very productive!

Interview with Rachel Bridgewater, Instructor for Exploring Fair Use

Hi Rachel. Thanks for taking the time for this interview. I’m thinking that some people might be interested in knowing more about you and more about this class that you’re teaching for Library Juice Academy: Exploring Fair Use.

First question is, what qualifies you to teach a class on fair use, given that it’s a subject that a lot of librarians know about? What is your background for teaching this?

Early in my career I became really interested in the ways in which copyright, as it has evolved, can come into conflict with core librarian values around access to information and the freedom to read. Though copyright, and especially fair use, is squarely within our balliwick, I feel that librarians too often defer to individuals with legal training rather than feeling empowered to value their own expertise and knowledge of professional norms within our communities of practice. It was from this perspective that I started presenting regionally about copyright issues. Later, I was fortunate to work with copyright expert, Carrie Russell, on her copyright class for ACRL. I helped her develop a version of the class and served as her teaching assistant several times and, ultimately, took over teaching the class. In my work, I serve as the copyright librarian for my college. In all of my teaching, presenting, and one-on-one counseling around copyright, my main goal is to help people think clearly about the copyright issues involved in their particular situations and not get bogged down in fear and uncertainty. For several years, I also led a great discussion group locally where librarians, lawyers, artists, computer programmers, authors, and others came together to talk about copyright.

Okay, good. So, who will want to take this course and what can they expect to get out of it?

I’ve tried to develop the course in such a way that it will be useful to people with a broad range of experience with and knowledge of fair use issues. When I imagine the participants in the class, I imagine a healthy mix of the following:

  • people whose jobs require them to make fair use analyses or to provide fair use counseling and who feel some combination of fear and uncertainty about it and are looking for specific answers or help with specific scenarios
  • people who get excited about information policy and about discussing copyright and want to engage with like-minded colleagues
  • people who are generally knowledgeable about copyright and fair use but who feel like they haven’t been able to keep up with all the latest developments (eg. the ARL best practices document, the GSU ruling, the HathiTrust ruling, etc)
  • people who are interested in advocacy around fair use

I’ve tried to design the course so that all of these people will get what they need out of it. Often librarians learn about fair use as part of a general class or presentation about copyright. By taking fair use as our subject for the full four week class, we have the opportunity to explore the doctrine more fully. One thing that I think participants will find especially valuable about my approach is that I really start from the historical and philosophical roots of the fair use doctrine. Too often fair use is taught fairly mechanistically and librarians are left feeling that they can’t confidently transfer the knowledge that they gained in purely scenario-based sessions to the specific cases that arise in their work. It is my hope that participants in this class will leave the class feeling confident and excited about their ability to conduct a fair use analysis, to discuss copyright with patrons, colleagues, and administrators, and to advocate for fair use practices that align with the original purposes of the doctrine and our own professional values.

What are some possible situations where librarians may find that they need to give advice about a fair use analysis? I think some new librarians haven’t encountered it yet, and some librarians probably haven’t been providing information about it where it may be needed.

Great question! I’m often surprised how many opportunities to talk about fair use arise when your community knows you have some expertise and are happy to have those conversations. Before I talk about specific situations that come up, I want to talk a little bit about the word “advice”. One thing that comes up whenever I teach about copyright is the concern that librarians have about providing advice that could be construed as legal counsel. While I don’t want to minimize that concern, it is absolutely the case that there is a lot of expertise that we can offer without coming anywhere near giving legal advice.

I work in an academic library, and have for most of my career, so many of the situations that come up in my work involve teaching and research. For instance, instructors will talk with me about questions they have about posting materials to their course websites or learning management systems. Instructors often have questions about converting material from one format to another. Both faculty and students regularly approach me regarding inclusion of copyrighted materials in books, research papers, dissertations and theses, and other course-related papers and projects. Also within the academic world, we deal with fair use issues around electronic reserves. Lots of the situations that come up, though, aren’t specific to the academic environment. Fair use can come into play when copyrighted materials are used in displays (both physical and digital), institutional/digital repositories, on websites and handouts, or in performances or programs.

Basically, anytime a patron or a colleague wants to do something with copyrighted material, there is the potential that fair use is going to be a component of the discussion. Knowing fair use inside and out allows you have some fascinating and useful conversations instead of just pointing people to some checklist or guideline.

What are some misconceptions that you find librarians often have about fair use?

You would be amazed by some of the misconceptions I have heard over the years. I think most misconceptions I hear have to do with conflations of local policies or guidelines with the actual law. For instance, I’ll often talk to librarians and library staff who have some set percentage of a work in mind that they believe is always fair and any more than that is never fair. Of course, no percentages are specified in the law and, in fact, there are times when using 100% of a work is perfectly fair and times where using very small portions is not fair. Most people laboring under the belief that there is some prescribed percentage do so because they worked somewhere that had a policy that laid out a percentage. The one that has driven me the most crazy over the years is the “first semester free” practice that so many academic libraries use in their reserves operations. That is, library staff will place a reading on reserve without seeking permission the first time an instructor wants to use it but in subsequent semesters they will automatically ask for permission. This is wrong on so many levels and yet it is a fairly common practice. We’ll talk about this one at length in class! Finally, there are a lot of what I would call “first factor misconceptions”. That is, there are those who believe that any educational use can be presumed to be fair and that any commercial use is automatically unfair. Again, I think these beliefs come out of a desire to reduce complexity but it is simply the case that fair use is a four factor test and all four factors matter and must be considered.

Finally, to give people a foretaste of what they will get in your class, what are a few of the specific points of information or interest that you will cover which they may not have heard a lot about in a campus presentation on fair use? Or, beyond that, what will they learn that will give them confidence regarding fair use that they didn’t have previously?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, I think one real benefit that participants in my class will get is just the opportunity to explore fair use in depth for four weeks. Many people encounter fair use as just one part of an hour-long session on copyright. The structure of this class allows the content a lot of “breathing room”. Participants will have time to reflect on their learning in a way that isn’t always possible in a shorter, in-person session. I also really try to present the information in a way that discourages “checklist thinking” when it comes to fair use. Checklists have their place, and we’ll talk about that, but the beauty and power of the doctrine comes from the fact that it is not a checklist that can be applied mechanically. Instead, if we understand the historical and philosophical origins of the doctrine and we understand something of the ways that the courts have interpreted it, we can approach fair use analyses with nuance! Finally, I think participants will find a curriculum that situates fair use within our values and professional practices. I want participants to feel, after taking my class, that they aren’t somehow trespassing on the lawyers’ territory when they talk about fair use but that they are very much on home turf!

Sounds like a great class. Thanks for doing the interview and for being an instructor for Library Juice Academy.

Jesse Shera on Continuing Education

Jesse Shera wrote in The Sociological Foundations of Librarianship (p. 151-152):

Finally, the librarian must remember that his professional education does not stop the moment he receives the degree. The process of learning must go on, throughout his life. One of my good friends at Case Western Reserve University has said that every diploma ought to be printed in ink that would fade into oblivion in ten years, by which time the student will have to return to school and repeat the educational process. I am sure that this is a prospect none of us would care to face, including its advocate. But it does emphasize the fact too often forgotten, that education, like everything else, wears out as the environment, the culture, the cultural surround, change, shift, and create new responsibilities and new opportunities for self-expression; this is certainly true in the case of librarianship, where change is taking place so rapidly. It is not an easy job to which the educator must address himself. I have often used the analogy of the educator as being in the position of the railroads engineer who is trying to remodel the locomotive while his train is going down the track. Yet this is exactly what we must try to do. We are constantly working with our educational system and at the same time we must graduate qualified young professionals, who are competent, well-educated, and have initiative, imagination, and the capacity to meet challenge. So the problems of the curriculum of the library school, like the problems of the educational process generally, are never really solved, because once they are “solved,” we have a stagnant educational system, and this, I think, no one wants.

Professor Shera wrote that in 1967, for a lecture that he tape recorded and sent to India.

In Shera’s view of the knowledge-base of librarianship, courses like the ones we offer at Library Juice Academy are only a part of what is needed. Continuing education, in his view, meant something more general, more akin to “lifelong learning,” but for the purpose of being better at understanding the interconnections of the library’s information resources by knowing more about its content, its relevance, its uses, and the community and its needs. We have a niche cut out here, and don’t pretend for a moment to be offering a full Library Science curriculum. We just hope to provide education and training experiences that people in libraries find useful.