Alan Harnum

Thoughts from Chris Bourg's 2015 OLA Super Conference Talk

29 Jan 2015

Chris Bourg was the OLITA spotlight speaker at this year's Ontario Library Association Super Conference.

The full text is already available and should, I think, be required reading for anyone working in libraries in this era. Bourg is an incisive writer and speaker about the structures of power in the "neutral" library world, and I think it says good things for MIT's libraries that she's going to be the new director.

I don't have any great thoughts to add, as a white straight cis man, about the sometimes-toxic intersection of tech and gender in the library world. What little I know comes from observing and occasionally participating in these conversations on Twitter, and from female colleagues who've trusted me enough to share experiences with me.

But I do have a few things that I want to get down somewhere in a longer form than Twitter while the ideas are hot in my head:

  1. To the extent that we have entry-level jobs in the profession any more, we need to have entry-level library jobs working with tech with low work experience barriers for entry, and a mentorship path where someone with a level of technology experience you might gain from library school + student jobs can work with more experienced professionals and grow their skills.

  2. We need to carefully examine the ideologies and power structures embedded in our common technology choices - for example, the barrier to entry in getting ILS-focused jobs that comes from the combination of most libraries running closed vendor systems and job descriptions that require experience administering a specific ILS.

  3. At the senior admininistrator level, I think most institutions would do well to closely examine their structures of technology decision making and acknowledge that in the current era, decisions made about technology commonly impact the work of the entire library. They therefore cannot be made in isolation by a specialized group with disproportionate structural power due to their control of the tools and systems that enable modern library work.

  4. Related to #3, the ongoing treatment of tech as a sideline, specialized pursuit or non-core work has allowed problematic or sometimes completely septic cultures to arise in some institutions around technology. If you are a senior administrator in a library, you owe it to your institution to ask two questions (among many others) - if the answer to either of them is no, you need to do some serious work about changing them to yes:

That's all I got for now.