Ten things I hate about you – (part 1)

I’ve been in libraries for ten years this year. Ten years, which feels like both yesterday and a long time ago as well. There’s much to say about all of that so here’s my attempt in a multi-part series to reflect on ten years. Part one is careers, capitalism and the patriarchy.

The first thing I need to say is, I’ve had two permanent jobs in ten years. That’s right just two – I’ve gotten through the rest of the time with casual work and contracts. There’s a whole blog post in all the feels I’ve gone through around that situation which I’ll write, eventually. And I know it’s not just a library profession issue but let’s just say it’s been tough and I’ve often considered walking away, if I could ever work out what I want to do.

When I decided to become a librarian, it was because I loved books and between editing and librarianship, it seemed the more stable profession. Oh how I laugh now about that naivety because getting work in this industry is tough. There are more people than there are roles. For ten years I’ve read the ALIA employment trends report and looked for the promised land of “boomers retiring™” but although this has started to happen, the jobs still aren’t there. The industry is shrinking, caused by a range of issues including funding, outsourcing, and automation.

At my graduation, the keynote speaker talked about librarianship being a skill needed in the future. And it’s true – our ability to curate, analysis and contextualise information should see us in many non-traditional industries, as well as in libraries (whatever they look like in the future). But library degrees from my experience don’t seem to provide the broad level skills needed and unfortunately as an industry we are still far too much tied to the romanticism of libraries to really adapt.

Libraries are conceptually a very romantic idea. Everyone (in theory) is allowed in, and within the four walls is a representation of all human knowledge to a greater or lesser extent. Libraries, even more so than galleries or museums capture people’s imaginations. And yes libraries can and do play an important role in providing access to information, which is a core principle of democratic society.

While all that is lovely, it’s built a mythology around librarianship that is very bad for the industry and the people in it. It makes librarianship out to be a calling, not a job: you’re a freedom fighter doing something big and important. But the truth is, the myth doesn’t hold up in reality.

Burnout caused by “vocational awe” amongst librarians is very real. My own experience of it was brutal and I’ve watched friends and colleagues go through the same heartbreak. It’s appalling to me that we as an industry we could want this. But we feed off vocational awe, manipulating idealistic newbies into the belief that they can change the world.

As a profession, we are deeply rooted in the patriarchy with all the gender stereotypes that go along with it. From my own experience, we particularly love the imagery of women in libraries as the “lady bountiful”, centring women as nurturers, doing the emotional labour for their workplace and their communities. It’s not necessarily intentional but all of us continually re-enforce this because of how we have been socialised to understand the world.

The #critlib movement has done much to raise the knowledge of the patriarchal and colonial mindset that forms the basis of library and information services. But it is often individuals who advocate and highlight these concerns both in their workplaces and in the broader industry.

Professional associations should be on the front line of this movement but while they seemingly embrace it on one level, they also largely continue to re-enforce the status quo. Earlier this year ALIA released the diversity trends report, which among other things recommended that we need to hire more men, in the interests of diversity.

The same report highlights pay inequality and across all sectors of GLAM there is one. Unsurprisingly (though depressingly), it’s not women who get paid more, despite making up 84% of the industry. The fact that in a predominately female industry one exists at all is infuriating, while it’s equally alarming that it’s not being addressed.

As a career-long member of ALIA I was deeply offended by the report, feeling it was demeaning to women who turn up everyday and keep the industry running. I raised some concerns about it with ALIA but was told it is about diversity and not equality – as though they are not two sides of the same issue.

Their extraordinary bad take on this and other recommendations in the report shows, an organisation out of touch with its members; history, and societal context of the industry they advocate for. How no one thought that telling a predominantly female profession that it would be a better industry if it hired more men, shows a level of disconnect that is both astonishing and distressing. I’m certainly not suggesting that ALIA was anything other than unthinking but it also fits the patriarchal mindset to devalue the role of women, even in an industry that is predominately female.

Libraries, I believe, think that because we hire more women, we are somehow above all this and we have dealt with these issues and are all about female empowerment. But this is clearly untrue. We know gender oppression in libraries is very real, women in the industry face harassment particularly from the community, and from my own experience that library tech and leadership is disproportionately male in comparison to their participation in the industry.

Female library leadership and libraries sit within the patriarchal system and abides by the same rules. Women have only as much power as the system grants us and we play our roles in re-enforcing the gender roles we have been told to play.

While all of that might sound unendingly depressing… There’s an upside.

Once you go through the fire and emerge singed and cynical, it’s still completely possible to function, engage with the industry and be good at what you do. In fact, I believe now without the emotional baggage of trying to make the world a better place I’m way more effective. Sure, feeling like you are just a cog in a big fat capitalist wheel is no way near as much fun, but it is safer and does give you a clear-eyed perspective on your value.

While I dislike intensely the idea that we are commodity, in a neo-liberal capitalist system when you’re unemployed, you need to get very real about things – including your value. For me, I recognised my value and, in fact, what all the years in libraries had taught me, by looking at my skills from a broader perspective then just libraries.  What I found was real bankable skills that make me employable in the age of information.

My skills include developing and implementing processes and systems, people management, relationship development and maintenance; tech skills, information gathering, organisation and dissemination, as well as analytical, problem-solving and creative thinking skills. These (and many more) are needed and useful skills that all librarians have but we are not encouraged to shout them from the rooftop or think of them pragmatically.

Recognising these skills means I’m more confident in my abilities, and have been able to thrive in a completely new sector. I’m now in a non-traditional library role, where I rarely see books but it suits my skills, and challenges me everyday and in all the ways I love.

If there’s anything I could hope for going forward is that we lose romanticism that ties us down and actually focus on our knowledge and skills and all the ways we can use them. For a million reasons we’d all be better off and we might just have a chance to really change the world.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret: I love romance

At the Melbourne Writers Festival this year there was a fantastic “Day of Romance” dedicated to romance writers, readers and books. I wasn’t able to go to all the sessions I wanted to because, life but I went to three, which were fascinating.

A few things struck me about the day – firstly that many attendees were super grateful there was a day dedicated to books we love but we are often shamed for reading. And secondly, a question from the audience about why they couldn’t get romance novels at their local library, which is what inspired me to write this post.

I’ve been a romance reader since I was a teen. The first book I bought was written in the 1970s and set in the French Revolution. Part of the appeal of it was that it looked and sounded dodgy. And frankly it was – consent was apparently not a thing and “passionate rape” could lead to love.

Even more so then because I clearly naive and was easily influenced, reading smutty books was frowned on – all the sex and romance could have a terrible effect on outlook and character. But I loved them as a way of escaping they were just fun, naughty and I felt rebellious choosing them.

As the genre has grown and changed over the years, the appeal of these books essentially hasn’t changed. I still feel rebellious reading them and still like them because they make me laugh.

Sometimes they aren’t meant to make me laugh but they are written with sincerity and sense of joy, they honestly just make me happy. It’s no more complicated than that. They are a fantasy where everyone lives happily ever after, the sexy times are always plentiful and no one ever needs to go to the bathroom or spills lunch on their top.

As a librarian into romance I’ve encountered much side eye because of my love of the genre. Once someone said they wouldn’t take manga recommendations from me because I read romance. As though my understanding and knowledge of one genre is clearly affected by my seemingly poor taste in reading material. While many are not so openly rude, the secret biases against these books are often discernible in collections.

At best collecting romance seems haphazard. If someone has a passion for it, you’ll get a decent collection, mostly it’ll be by coincidence rather than on purpose. Librarians like many in the general population don’t think romance novels as proper literature. Though there are other factors like profile buying, and format size that also play a role – seriously this is a thing.

It’s hard to understand why. Romance novels cover diverse topics like rape, child abuse, depression, war, relationships, consent and most of all the role of women in society – in everything from fantasy to historical contexts. If you’re into shape shifting hedgehogs or aliens you can find that too.

These stories centre the role of women; fighting against the constricts of society, their families – this is highly relatable, even if done in a way that is formulaic. And formulaic doesn’t mean poorly written – it’s as hard to write a romance novel as any other book. And I’d argue that all books are more of less formulaic anyway – so let’s get off our high horses about that.

Collection acquisition plays a role in re-enforcing these biases as well. With libraries largely outsourcing collections, there’s not enough time or resources for that personal touch. Standing orders are a necessity because there are authors you just want but these need to be reviewed every year for new authors or trends.

Profile buying is the worst and should die a thousand deaths. While convenient for saving time and money its ensuring libraries are becoming homogenous, with bland collections, not tailored to community needs. And don’t get me started on ebooks – you buy a package and leave it up to the platform to choose your collection – as though that’s going to lead to anything good.

And because there’s a perception around the quality of romance novels in publishing, this perpetrates into libraries as well, despite the fact librarians think they are somehow immune to these biases. Librarians don’t necessarily want to believe they have inherent biases but we do. As much as we try for balance the biases are real and it’s as apparent in our collections as it is in our programming, which is a much bigger issue than I can cover here.

As an example, when I was doing acquisitions I brought things that appealed to me, a middle class white woman, that I thought others might like. The problem with this is obvious, though in some cases it worked – the romance novel collection I started was a great success, the coffee table books less so.

Stuart Kells, in a recent talk as part of the Pulp Fiction exhibition at La Trobe University talked about how libraries have long ignored the collection and preservation of romance pulp fiction because it was seen as too lowbrow for collecting. While this has started to change in a historical context, it still holds true for contemporary romance novel publishing.

Librarians should know and do better than this. Romance and erotica, make billions of dollars in sales. They are super popular and efforts should be placed into curating romance collections that appeal to their community. And not just for the perceived readers – older women who want large print Mills and Boon but actual readers women between the ages of 30-54.

As an industry we are doing a disservice to our communities if we look down our noses at women who choose to read romance rather than the latest literary sensation. Just because something is literary doesn’t mean it’s good or appeals to all readers. Worse, we are contributing to the patriarchal and colonial world view that we know what’s best for women and that is improving literature.

As a public library user rather than worker now, I want to see my interests and tastes reflected in the collection. I also want to be surprised finding books by diverse authors and stories. It doesn’t matter whether romance novels are your thing or not, they appeal to a lot of people and it’s time we understood them better and showed them a little love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Press Freedom In Australia

Originally published in ALIA’s Member magazine, INCITE, Volume 40, Issue 9/10, page 30 (https://www.alia.org.au/incite)

In June this year, the Australian Federal Police executed warrants at the Canberra home of Newscorp journalist Annika Smethurst and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney. The raids rang alarm bells over press freedom and public interest journalism in Australia and were widely condemned both here and internationally.

Unlike other countries, Australia does not enshrine freedom of the press or freedom of speech in the constitution. This means journalists have no inherent protection when publishing stories in the public interest which are critical of the government. In fact, Australia offers less protection to journalists than many other western democracies.

In the 2019 annual index of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, Australia was ranked 21 behind countries like Germany, Canada and New Zealand (rsf.org/en/ranking). The score indicates significant issues with press freedom in Australia attributed to ’draconian legislation’, such as our defamation and secrecy laws.

The ability to report on the government, especially when the story is unfavourable, is vital to a robust democracy. Public interest journalism contributes to the flow of information and ensures people are getting the full picture on government activities.

It would be harmful to everyone if media organisations or journalists were unable to report on stories in the public interest. And for libraries, it would result in being unable to support their communities to make informed decisions and fully participate in democracy.

Libraries exist to ensure people can access the information they need and ALIA mandates this human right in its constitution. The principles of journalism in providing a record of events, disclosing information and ideas are the same as libraries – contributing to people’s knowledge by having access to information.

Indirectly, the ALIA constitution addresses the role of libraries in supporting press freedom. In its statement on Free Access to Information (bit.ly/2APWIck), it says libraries need to work towards the amendment of any laws or regulations that inhibit us meeting the obligations of providing access to information.

As a profession this means we all must act to lobby the government to change the laws that criminalise journalism. Organisations and individuals can follow ALIA’s lead and contact the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister of Home Affairs, the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, and your local member of parliament to express their concerns about these risks.

Libraries must continue to provide access to authentic and reliable information from reputable sources. Providing access to a range of news sources via print, radio, television and online is essential to give people a broad range of information, analysis and opinion. Being able to demonstrate how these news sources are reliable is also key. Libraries can do this by teaching people skills to evaluate the reliability of an information source whether it is a newspaper report or something they read on the internet.

Librarians and libraries should be alarmed by these recent events and the government’s attempts to legislate away the public’s right to know. Journalism is not a crime and we need to shout this from the rooftops for the sake of democracy.

 

Life isn’t fair… But that’s not the whole story.

Life isn’t fair. We know this. We know this every single day. As we know that the sun will come up and go down. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Justice is rarely swift, nor is it blind.

The cards are stacked against you, either by the design of greedy people who think they control the universe or the unknown mystery of fate which does. There’s no escape for any of us.

Some days the weight of it all gets you down. And so defeated, you trudge home miserable and alone. Maybe you open a bottle a wine because a drink or two helps make the world a little less sharp. Exhausted and heart sick you retreat into the arms of  Morpheus, wanting to stay safely asleep forever.

If you’re lucky, the miracle of sleep scours the pain away and in the morning light it’s dulled enough for you to restart the fight.  If you’re not, then it lasts for days, walking around with you like your shadow self. Until a flower or a bird, a friend or a cat (or a friend with a cat) somehow crumples it, making it small and manageable again.

And when it is only a dull ache, you find hope again. And it’s equally foolish friend, empathy. They warm you and make you laugh; making the world full of light and wonder.

Hope makes you believe that it’s glittery promises of something better can be reached if you just try. So bright does it shine, that like a siren you cannot resist, and must move towards it, though something better is eternally one step away.

Empathy hurts and groans, as we all hurt and groan. We fail in empathy and feel the burn of it for others. The burning makes you angry that such unfairness can exist. And  it compels to try and do something (anything!), to fight back against a loaded system, push the line slightly closer to the light.

And you relish the small victories. Because there are only small victories. A tiny shift happens every time you act against the unfairness. The ultimate win maybe not be yours but that’s not the point. It’s about standing up for what is right; about not letting the things get away unchallenged.

You feel sometimes that you are fighting alone, like a row boat against the power of a hurricane. But if you lift your head and look around, or call out, you see others fighting too. And as one becomes many, the line shifts closer, ever closer. 

Life isn’t fair. You know this. But you even as you know it, you must also believe you can change things. So you stand up, fight, then fall, and then return again, in an endless cycle. You do so because it’s worth it, for the dream of what is good and fair and right, and for other people – even complete strangers. This is the point of life and it’s everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Losing my religion

Last night we had a parish council meeting, and it was long and hard and I lost out on something that mattered to me. Of course right now I’m massively emoting, it’s early and I’ve not had much sleep.

I feel pretty foolish; I wrote something about it in the church newsletter, which clearly just looks silly now. As does my joy at clawing a little bit of the injustice that is swamping us.

I raised this issue because it was important to be seen to do something. It’s a small gesture that I hoped would shift minds and hearts, and set us on the path to larger actions.

I raised it because I want the Jesus I love – the radical street preacher who spoke truth to power to be the Jesus I meet in church. I don’t want my Jesus to be the nice safe white man who made up a set of rules we follow. I want to see the person who cared for the sick, the outcasts, who challenged people, who was political and who took a side reflected in my church. I’m not sure if I find him there.

And that’s down to me… Perhaps I need to look harder, or look elsewhere. For some time I’ve wondered if I’m a good fit for that church. It’s been easy and safe to go there but maybe that’s the problem – Jesus is not easy or safe.

It would be a wrench of course because they are good people, some of who I love and consider friends, most I’ve known for half my life. And right I’m hurting and prone to making rash decisions. But I can’t keep ignoring this, so maybe it’s time to stop, reflect and seriously think; what kind of Christian am I called to be, and is my current church is equipping me to do this.

I hope the answer is yes, but I don’t know unless I ask. And if the answer is no, then I hope God gives me the strength to take a new path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to high school: facing demons

I just finished reading a book by Jill Stark called Happy Never After. It was about her struggles with anxiety and depression. Some of this book was difficult for me to read. Her experience of anxiety was a lot like mine. Even more her experience with bullies and feeling friendless in high school resonated.

When I was in high school I had very few friends. I don’t know why, you’d need to ask those girls who said they didn’t want to be my friend. I cannot to this day explain to you why no one wanted to hang out with me.

Social media is on these occasions a blessing and a curse. I’m friends with a few people I went to high school with but I’m picky. I didn’t have a lot in common with those people then and perhaps less so now. Some of those who weren’t kind to me have messaged me to say they wonder what happened to me. I haven’t responded.

What happened to me is that I grew up. I went to uni and found people who had broader minds than them with their middle class snobbery. I found my people amongst book nerds and librarians. I found people who have accepted me with all my weirdness, just as I am.

But it hurt. Like only rejection can. It felt fundamental that somehow I’d been made wrong. And it made me scared too. Scared that what I was into was weird and stupid. That I was weird and stupid.

At 15 I wanted to kill myself because it got too much. No one liked me, I was a terrible person. These days that would trigger alarms and get you some help. This was the 90s and no one believed me. When I tried to talk about it, I just felt like I was disappointing people. so I pushed it aside and got on with things.

I went back to my high school for the first time a few weeks ago. Some friends and I snuck in. It looked exactly the same, with its white tower and 19th century English stately home vibe.

For a girl with a romantic heart such a school was the perfect place – it had a croquet lawn and history. Mostly, I just remember it being cold not just in the winter but cold and unkind. Ironic for a Christian School, where one should have expected generosity and acceptance.

The school format didn’t help with its English grammar school pretensions, ranked classes and prefects. Nothing is more irritating than being told what to do by a 17 year old with a little bit of power and a superior attitude.

Of course it wasn’t all bad. In the last two years things were mostly better or at least bearable. I made friends through the school play, a shared love of literature and there were some people who were genuinely kind.

But there was a cost – being scared of my own shadow, feeling like I didn’t deserve to occupy a place in the world and the need to be validated. When the opportunity arose, I had a completely inappropriate relationship with a man 15 years older than me. I was an adult but he was not kind and I was too naive to see he wasn’t perfect. It ended as one would expect.

About five years ago I got an invite to my 20 year high school reunion. You won’t be surprised to find out I didn’t go. I told the person who asked me, that I’d rather stick needles in my eye. Given the generally awful experience sitting around reminiscing about “the good times”, and feeling like I had to justify my life didn’t seem like a healthy choice.

I’ve now reached the end of this post, and I wonder why I’ve written this. It’s water under a very distant bridge. I’m not that person anymore, as I’m sure the people I went to high school have changed too. But experiences shape you for good and bad.

The hole they created – still hurts sometimes. It’s a faint feeling that I’m still not in on the joke that everyone else gets. I sometimes feel physically awkward – like my body is weird and wrong. I have tried to be invisible and take up as small a space in the world as possible.

While this is a painful story to write, it’s also been joyous. I’m not unhappy. Your life is your life; you do the best you can, play the hand you have been given. I’ve been privileged and blessed. And I hope that this experience has made me more compassionate, with a heart for outsiders.

I’m still working on the forgiveness thing. I know Jesus was rejected and still loved but I’m not at that level of grace. Perhaps it’s also forgiveness for myself for not being whatever it is they needed. I was quiet, and did the right thing, to afraid of upsetting people. Rightly or wrongly, I was heavily influenced by my family. I was in no ways cool, I liked whimsy and romance and by their reckoning had poor taste in clothing or music. I was not brave enough to own that. I am now.

Jesus shines a light in dark places, he gathers up those who have been hurt. So perhaps in telling this story, in reckoning with the sadness  and sharing it, it stops being painful and the healing starts.

Post script… If you are experiencing difficulties or this post has triggered things for you please consider talking to your doctor or call these numbers

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where are you going with your life?

Some friends and I decided to sit down and think about what we wanted to do with our lives. We are going through some changes at work, and it seems to be a good time to do a check in. I’m not much of a planner so rather than a firm idea I was hoping to uncover some sense of not just wondering about aimlessly.

I hate the question where do you want to be in five years. Because the answer to that is always on the beach, with an endless supply of books and cocktails.

Here are the questions we talked about… I hope you find them useful if you too are asking yourself the question – what do I want to do with my life?

-How does this job fit into my life?
-What tasks inspire me/what tasks drain me?
-Am I progressing how I would imagine?
-What am I really passionate about and why?
-What does my dream job look like?
-Is my career allowing me to do what’s important?

The last question I think is the best and most useful one. Because in answering it, you need to think about where you career fits into your life.

Saturday night movies

Last week for reasons I can’t explain I got all nostalgic and looked up Bill Collins Wikipedia page. It was probably Saturday night and I was probably moaning about how they don’t show good movies on TV anymore.

Generally my tv watching goes like this – looks rubbish, really rubbish, super violent, boring, super scary, what even is that. Oh Carlton Heston great let’s watch that for a while.

Of course I know a lot of the classic Hollywood movies because as a kid I grew watching Bill Collins Golden Years of Hollywood on a Saturday night.

Saturday nights were pretty fun at our house. We made an 80s Aussie version of Pizza with a meat sauce base. It was delicious. We’d watch Hey Hey it’s Saturday and we were allowed to stay up a bit and watch a movie. Mum and Dad always said to get into our pyjamas and clean our teeth first – so they could carry us to bed if we fell asleep.

I think this is why we sometimes groaned at his long introductions because it meant we’d see less of the movie before falling asleep. But eventually the movie would start and we’d be transported to Casablanca or Paris after the war or the America during the Civil War.

This was how I came to love musicals. Rodgers and Hammerstein movies were great. State Fair was a favourite. I could never stay awake for all of the Sound of Music. Watching Gene Kelly tap dance, inspired me at age of 16 to take it up for myself. After watching Roman Holiday I knew I was going to visit the mouth of truth if I ever made it to Rome.

Hitchcock Season was the best – I’ve never forgotten watching Rear Window for the first time. For obvious reasons, I was restricted to the not terrifying for little people movies, so no the Birds or Psycho, which I still have never seen.

One of the best things about Saturday night movies was having an intermission in the middle, where you could make a cup of milo and go to the toilet. Often this was also the cue for me to go to bed as the littlest. Until I was a teenager I’d seen half of some of the best films ever made from Hollywood’s golden age.

Nostalgia isn’t always a good thing, it gives you rose coloured glasses about what the world was like. What I remember mostly though was these movies were fun, violence happened but was not gory, men wore hats and were effortlessly cool, and Audrey Hepburn was the most gorgeous woman on the planet. Oh and there was usually a happy ending.

Things you can eat on couches

I’ve been a bit sick so there’s been a lot of lying and eating on my couch. I’ve come up with some rules about non-mess making couch eating.

Here are my rules for eating on couches…

1. Things in bowls – cereal, noodles, dessert, pasta but not soup. I like soup but getting it from the bowl on a spoon to my mouth without spilling any requires way to much hand eye coordination. Note also big bowls are better than small ones.

2. Things on plates – anything that does not require a knife or fork. Also not eggs because those things are messy.

The best thing to eat on a couch though is anything out of the care package your parents bring you after you decide that you have had enough of trying to be an adult and tell them you’re sick. And then the call and say – what do you need?

Deadlines

It’s a stupid word if you think about it. Deadline. Its origins are as grim as it suggests. From my, albeit scant, research it looks like originally the word meant – a line  drawn around a prison camp, which if you crossed you could be shot dead. So quite literal then.

According to wikipedia, it came into its modern parlance as “due date” in a round about sort of a way. Printers used it first, to indicate the space on the page under which they could no longer print. And then publishers joined in a few years later to bring it to the sense of due date – get your book/article/writing to use by this date or you’ll miss the deadline.

I stayed at work tonight until late because of a rather pressing deadline… There was only one other person in the staff area when I left. Even the university librarian had gone home.

It’s always a difficult decision to stay and do the work. Harder still when you are casual. But I choose too because after four weeks and approximately 370 emails I just wanted it done.

While I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of pride, I would say that regardless of my work status doing the work is important. To put it another way, I didn’t do it so people think I’m diligent or how great I am to stay, I did because it needed to be done.

I like deadlines because they give me something to aim at… When I was doing my library degree, my friends would have completed the assignment weeks before it was due. I’d start the day before and write 19 hours straight to get it done. You do your best work when working to deadline.