Changing of the Guard

I’m teaching a brand new class this term, and I was surprised by its popularity. It’s a first year seminar, in the brand new Digital Culture and Information minor. Lots of shiny new stuff. Including my students.

It’s been a while since I exclusively taught first year students; I often deal with seniors writing honors theses or doing capstone projects, or students in higher level courses. I haven’t had a dedicated class for first years since my last position. So it strikes me, sometimes, how thoughtful first year college students are these days. Perhaps my students are self-selecting (in fact, they definitely are, considering the course content) but they seem so much more reasonable about digital culture than many of my fellow Gen Xers or the Boomer generation. These are students who don’t understand why people would take online disagreements so personally. They are cautious about their online privacy. They doubt the real benefit of social media, but see why it’s necessary. (Hint: it’s often because the olds have made it that way.) They seem to have a story to tell, both collectively and individually, but are struggling to reconcile what they’ve grown up hearing (Internet=bad! Not reliable! Too messy! TROLLS!) with what they feel obligated to participate in. I hope to make them feel more comfortable to tell their stories digitally, on their own terms.

In 5 class meetings, I’ve grown ever hopeful that humanity’s evolution as a digital society is indeed in good hands. It takes a while to personally feel comfortable with ceding cultural control (although many wonder if Gen X had much cultural influence beyond grunge and bad eyebrows) to younger folks, but somewhere around 40, you happily relinquish it. I ask my Gen X colleagues to embrace this changing of the guard. Millennials have inherited a raw deal economically, politically, socially, and dammit, they’re resourceful enough to overcome it.

I can’t wait to see what the Fall Term brings . . .

 

Social Media #librariangoals

I haven’t written in a while. My inspiration for writing today is a conference I attended yesterday at Radford University, The Innovative Library Classroom (TILC). I have attended this conference every year since it’s birth in 2013, and always find that it re-inspires my #librariangoals. This morning I’m working on updating my professional digital identity, which means creating separate social media accounts for my librarian identity.

My reasoning is that my personal social media presence is part progressive politics, part feminism, part parental humor, a little bit of librarianship, and lots of silliness. I am very conscious of the fact that I work at my best if I separate work from everything else. Librarians who mix it all up on Twitter amaze me, because they seem fearless and have a true love of the profession. I, however, have a tendency to become too immersed in the profession unless I make a real effort to stop myself, otherwise I burn out.

So, separate identities for every platform!

BBC Dad and Professionalism

There has been a lot of talk about BBC Dad, good and bad. I’ll say up front that I found the video hilarious on first viewing, and it only got funnier with subsequent viewings. All of it just seemed, simultaneously, so very relatable as well as too good to be true. So, I want to focus on those who are saying that either the father wasn’t being a good dad, or that he was being unprofessional. Two sides of a crappy parenthood coin.

When the video first came out, perhaps a little bit after the initial laughter died down but we were all still quietly giggling, a few folks came out to criticize Kelly (alias: BBC Dad) for going on with the interview and not engaging with his kids. Two things:

  1. I don’t think he was “cruel” to his older child by trying to move her out of screenshot, and
  2. I think it would have been professional suicide if he’d lifted her up on her lap during the interview.

First, I saw no violence or cruelty in his mannerisms with his daughter. I often find myself pushing or pulling my 2-year-old multiple times a day, just to help him navigate a world that is much larger than he is that he also doesn’t always understand. I think Kelly was just showing his daughter that the space she was occupying wasn’t meant for her at that particular moment. I have a feeling that she feels comfortable in her father’s home office; otherwise, why would she even try to go find him there? If she feels this comfortable with her father in his office, he must be a very open and welcoming parent. He simply needed to find a solution for his (rather regrettable) neglect to lock his office door, and he did what all parents do when their children encroach on a space not meant for them: he physically moved her because reasoning with a toddler has mixed results. This is not cruelty, or assault, or misogyny; it is parenting. I guarantee you that if Kelly were a woman, this child’s mother, we would not be having this debate. Read what Kelly had to say during a press conference regarding the incident (emphasis mine):

“You have to be flexible,” he said. “For example, this was my home office space and normally I hope that my children don’t come in and I can get more work done, but we want our children to feel comfortable coming into the room and being able to approach their father. So that means you can’t keep that strict boundary where some rooms are off limits.”

Second, some were saying that he should have lifted her up on his lap, given her a kiss, and continued the interview.

No. Sure, I would have thought it was adorable and my ovaries would have exploded. But no.

This is BBC, people. This isn’t YouTube (although there are many iterations of the segment on YouTube by now) and it isn’t a local broadcast. BBC is the most respected news broadcast in the Western world. World leaders were most likely watching, which warrants a certain degree of professionalism. This is not a venue, or topic, for children. Sure, if he were talking about something related to work and family balance, or even parenting, it may have been okay. But that’s up to Kelly to decide and act upon. Criticizing him for not picking up his child is foolish and craps on everyone’s good time. People have different reactions in stressful or unexpected situations. Kelly’s reaction isn’t a reflection on his parenting, but it is a reflection on his professionalism. He realized that he screwed up by not locking the door, tried to fix it, and was saved by his superhero wife. (Seriously, that was some expert sock-sliding. Give her a cape!)

No analysis needed. So stop crapping on our good time and let BBC Dad be.

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Snow Day, But Don’t Tell Anyone

A decent bit of snow is predicted to start falling tonight and into tomorrow morning, most likely resulting in school closures in my city, including my son’s preschool. On days like this, or when kiddo is sick or otherwise on break, my husband and I have a typical shared setup: I take the morning off from work to stay home, and husband comes home a little after noon to take the afternoon off from work. It works well for us, and we each get at least a half day of work in.

I had some meetings scheduled for tomorrow morning, which I’ll likely have to miss because I’ll be watching my son at home. (Note: My campus rarely ever closes for snow. It’s a running joke around here.) This morning, I went about proposing new times for these meetings because they were small, allowing some flexibility. But I felt I had to hide why I was proposing new times.

Is it unprofessional to mention that you have to reschedule or Skype in to a meeting because of childcare obligations out of your control? Personally, I don’t think so. But a recent post in Working Mother Magazine mentions in the first bullet not to mention your sick kid.

I always mention to my boss and my direct report that I’ll be out because kiddo is sick/has a snow day/has Spring Break. I don’t see a downside to being human, but now I’m doubting myself. Am I just constantly reminding my colleagues that I’m a mother first? Is that a bad thing?

I truly don’t know the answer.

Libraries are Radical

Libraries are safe spaces. We welcome anyone and everyone, regardless of belief, political leaning, or economic status. So why are librarians expected to be politically neutral?

I recall a conversation I had with a group of female colleagues in my library about the Art+Feminism Wikipedia event in March. Supposedly, one of the women had mentioned the event to our boss, who wondered if using the word “Women” instead of “Feminism” would feel more welcoming. I immediately recoiled from the thought.As the oldest woman in the room (although not by a lot) I felt a bit stodgy, but stood my ground. Our campus is historically very white, upper class, and male. Women were not admitted to the undergraduate college until 1985. In my opinion, privileged white men had been prioritized enough.

Academic instruction librarians have such strong external and internal pressure to increase attendance to events (classes, workshops, socials) that it’s very easy to try to use more inclusive language to describe our events, but we must be thoughtful. In progressive circles, inclusiveness is always a positive thing. We like to include those of all ethnicities, sexualities, socioeconomic statuses, and gender identities. So, inclusiveness always equals good, right? It depends on your surroundings. If you have a very underrepresented population (in this case, proud feminists and/or women of color) giving them a space that they own and are able to manipulate to be heard is more important than making sure literally everyone feels welcome.

I don’t really care if someone is scared off by the “Feminism” part of the event. Sure, they could benefit from the event, but I’m not sure this is the time for that. This event is more than a protest or informational session; it’s an activity for women (especially women of color) to have a voice not just on campus, but in the world. Editing a Wikipedia article is a radical act.

So who will teach these dominant populations about equality, true inclusiveness, and marginalized people’s experiences? Is it the library’s place? We already offer our physical space to any student group who wants it for displays, meetings, and demonstrations. Is that enough?

In the same conversation from earlier, we talked about how someone had posted Women’s Strike posters on bulletin boards throughout the library, and someone mentioned that they would have to be removed. We have a loose set of rules regarding our bulletin boards, including “nothing political allowed.” I translate “political” as something intentionally divisive, such as any kind of anti-person event, or any controversial stance, such as abortion rights. Someone could truly feel silenced if the library sponsored something like this. But feminism (or LGBTQ rights, or bathroom rights, or Black Lives Matter, or any other civil rights issue) seeks to expand rights to marginalized groups. What’s controversial about that? Dominant populations should not feel threatened by the expansion of a less powerful population’s rights, and if they do feel threatened, librarians are in the perfect position to help them along the path to becoming informed and making their own choices.

After all, isn’t that why we became librarians? Isn’t the act of becoming a librarian inherently radical?

BTW, the posters remained.

TMI

Women’s bodies are mysterious and gross according to Western cultural taboos. You would think that in a female dominated profession such as librarianship, these topics would feel less threatening to discuss when necessary, but in the drive to act more like men in the workplace (a common mistake among well-meaning feminists) we’ve simply devised new devices to hide our biology: tampons, menstrual cups, breast pumps. I admit that I’m as guilty as anyone of trying to hide my biology most of the time, and I won’t argue against the freedom these devices give to women.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to hide your biology.

Story time: Getting to my son’s birth was hard. I was 37 by the time I became pregnant with him, and that was after multiple miscarriages. These miscarriages forced me to take sick time, more than I’d ever taken before. My boss, a man, knew what had happened. He knew how often it happened. At first, only a couple of other people knew, but I slowly opened up about my miscarriages as time went on. So there I was, I’d like to think a valuable asset to my library organization, completely vulnerable to biology. I was ashamed, even though a coworker had taken a lengthy medical leave recently with reassurance and sympathy. But this was shameful.

When I got pregnant with my son (with the aid of a fertility specialist) I felt ultra-delicate. I was not able to travel because I needed frequent monitoring. I was suffering from nausea exacerbated by the hormones I had to take. I was severely depressed, detached from my pregnancy, knowing that I could lose it at any time. Also, my first trimester coincided with my 12 week sabbatical. I had to divulge my condition once again to my boss, because my travel plans had to be cancelled.

But somehow, I made it through the first trimester and things looked up. Way up. Until the end of my second trimester, when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This meant a strict schedule of testing my blood sugar and a strict eating schedule, both of which are not very conducive to the fast paced workday of an academic librarian. I had to excuse myself from meetings, cut classes short, bring snacks to the reference desk. All because of biology.

This is a long winded way to say, women shouldn’t feel the need to cover up their biology, because it’s basically impossible. The men who dominate the working world (in and out of libraries) need to come to terms with these things. Luckily, my boss never made me feel uncomfortable about any of my pregnancy related issues, but I know it could have happened. Now that my son is here, I have other mom-problems I have to deal with: namely, the perception of being a mom in addition to an academic librarian. I’m not sure some of my colleagues can take me seriously now that I’ve had to take substantial time off from work in order to grow and nurture my family. Should I announce at the next staff meeting that I’m done having kids? My husband jokingly thinks so, but I’m tempted to do that. Why do women have to justify their bodily decisions, when no man would ever have to make such a reassurance.

Could the “mysterious grossness” of female biology perhaps contribute to the academic library’s glass ceiling? Perhaps! We’ve seen how our own president speaks about women without a shred of nuance or awareness of biology. How many other men think this way?