Historical Context

10:02 AM, OLITA Digital Odyssey 2015

( intervening work over lunch / in snatches during other sessions)

3:30 PM

Additional Things I Said, From Imperfect Memory, Based on a Spontaneously-Given Talk

Minus the parts where I just read from the slides, and probably making myself sound more articulate than I was when I actually did the talk.

Slide 1

After Dan Scott said this morning that people could still volunteer for lightning talks, I tweeted the suggestion that someone give one on institutional and professional culture barriers to open data in libraries. Several people called me out on this and said I should do it, so… here we are.

Slide 2

When I originally showed this title slide to Mita Williams, she pointed out that I was pointing a finger at “Barries”. So if we have any Barries here, I blame you for any issues around open data.

Many of you here know who I am, but for those who don’t, I’m a senior developer on Toronto Public Library’s web team. I’m also moving shortly to work as a senior developer at a research unit at OCAD University, but I swear I would have given this talk anyway despite being about to “leave” the library world. Correlation, not causation.

Slide 3

I am now going to have several pages of disclaimers.

Slide 4

(reading from slides like an awesome presenter)

Slide 5

(reading from slides like an awesome presenter)

Slide 6

The quote is from a paper by McLendon and Weinberg. The people interested in the sociology and psychology of software development here may know Weinberg, who was one of the authors of Peopleware

It’s about blaming cultures in organizations, but at a larger level it’s about congruency, the quality of alignment between your true values and beliefs, and your words and your actions.

I’ve been working in the last several years on congruency in myself, both personally and professionally. The paper lays out a number of steps, including the importance of speaking publicly. So this is my truth, my understanding of the negative aspects of the mental and emotional position of the profession on open data.

Slide 7

What I’m about to say isn’t based on things that are written down, so can be dismissed as anecdotes. But I’m trying to get at something I think is an observable fact, which is that with some exceptions, the way libraries talk about open data publicly isn’t reflected in the actions we take around it or the way we talk about it privately among ourselves.

I want to try and understand why this is, and again, I’m speaking only my truth here.

Slide 8

We worry that our data isn’t perfect, that if we put it out there its inconsistency or quality will be inherently embarrassing. We know, because we work with it on a daily basis, that there are challenges in our data.

Slide 9

We worry that malicious actors will use data we release to attack us, to tell untrue stories, to encourage misinterpretations. We’re afraid for our position and reputation in the world - which is an understandable fear. There’s aspect to the digital age that do represent an existential threat to the position of the library in society, or even to its very existence.

See how that theme from the first slide is there again - “if they could see what we were really like, they wouldn’t like us any more”. We worry that our data will our true selves and we will be shamed because our true selves are shameful, worthless.

Slide 10

I hear this one sometimes from people in my own area of work, the ones who build technical solutions based on library data. Who will need us any more, if our data is out there in the open? Won’t they be able to build better and more desirable things than us?

Will our monopoly on the data we’ve built up over the years save us? I don’t think mere monopoly has proven to be a good long-term survival strategy for organizations.

Again, there’s that theme: “if they only knew what we were really like…” It’s child-logic. Fear, shame, embarassment.

Slide 11

I am now going to talk about my feelings, because this talk isn’t already uncomfortable enough.

Slide 12

I think that over time incogruence - feeling one way but trying to present in another way - is very dangerous, for individuals, for organizations, for professions. The daily psychic toll of it is high, and can eventually cause a major fissure.

Slide 13

I think we all have some experience of what I’m talking about. Hands up if you feel this gap between the way you feel inside and the self you present to the world to survive. Everyone does it.

I think maybe we are afraid of what open data might reveal about us because of deep-seated fears about openness in general. But making decisions out of fear is so dangerous - fear of changing, fear of not changing.

Everything of real value I’ve done in my life has been because of choosing against fear. I’ve also obviously had some missteps, but that’s the way of it.

Slide 14

Who knows what this is? Dune, yes! So let’s recite the Litany Against Fear. Let’s be honest about what we’re afraid; let’s look it full on, know it, move past it.

Fear will kill us, personally, organizationally, professionally. So I will skillfully bring this back to the actual topic: don’t be afraid of open data. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Put it out there; let others learn from it. Let us learn from them, and them from us.

Slide 15

Anyone know where this is from? Jodorowsky’s Dune! A wonderful documentary about all the great things that can happen when you fail at something massive.

Thank you very much.