Erasing Technical Labor in Technical Services

Last Friday, July 26th, was #sysadminday, or System Administrator Appreciation Day. Taking place on the last Friday of July every year, this pseudo-holiday initially started as a celebration of the system administrator but has grown to celebrate all IT workers. It is a day for celebrations, computer-themed cakes, and old war stories. It’s also an excuse for me to share my favorite IT horror picture.

#sysadminday is not as widely celebrated in libraries as you find in other places of work, but the work done by IT and other technology workers doesn’t differ all that greatly from other IT and technology work done elsewhere. This is where our story begins.

Someone posted a happy #sysadminday message on the Troublesome Cataloger and Magical Metadata Fairies FB group and a small discussion started about what exactly a sysadmin is and does. I chimed in with a library-centric example that a sysadmin might do – keep the ILS up and going. It’s not all that uncommon for library IT sysadmins to keep systems like the ILS going. It’s also not all that uncommon for your systems librarian who is officially responsible for the ILS to be the unofficial sysadmin of the library. The discussion moves on with more small talk.

But we soon found out that Someone Was Wrong On The Internet, and that someone was me. The screenshot of the exchange is below. The parent comment was deleted soon after my responses, so only the screenshot was left. I crossed out the names to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Screenshot of a FB comment thread, with names blocked out except for Becky. The comment thread contains someone mansplaining what a true sysadmin is, and a rebuttal from Becky.

[For those who don’t want to read the alt-text, the main comment in question is this: “That’s not the kind of sysadmin they’re talking about for sysadmin day. For sysadmin day, they’re talking about the IT sysadmins who keep all the computers (especially the servers) running (and backed up and upgraded and so on).” A link to the wikipedia page for sysadminday follows.]

At first, I chalked this little episode to a textbook example of mansplaining.

A white man in the foreground speaks, with the text "mansplaining" next to his mouth. A white woman leans in from the background giving a look of disbelief of what the man just said.
Janeway’s reaction is mild, to say the least.

However, after some reflection, the comment is more serious than just your generic mansplain. This comment erases the labor of many in the realms of library Technical Services and Systems departments.

Let’s break this down and get into some of the details as to why this is:

How does this comment erase labor?

The comment in question restricts the system administrator day to a particular type of IT professional, the system administrator. This ignores several realities:

  • #sysadminday celebrates all IT workers, as documented in various resources and practiced in the real world.
  • For those who have IT departments, IT staff are usually in the position of working in multiple areas due to limited resources. Sysadmin duties are more likely to be everyone’s duties in IT.
  • For those who do not have Library IT departments, sysadmin duties are spread out to those who have the skills. This happens at smaller or more resource-limited libraries. These folks might come from Technical Services as well as Public Services.

To gatekeep #sysadminday to only a person who is a dedicated system administrator in an IT department that can afford to have a dedicated sysadmin removes all others who do sysadmin duties from the picture of recognition.

Whose labor did it erase?

It erases any IT-related labor performed by staff who are not in traditional IT departments. This can include folks in both Public and Technical Services, as well as folks who work in Library IT within an organization that has an organizational IT department. Those library staff perform IT duties for a variety of reasons:

  • Organizational IT does not know how to deal with certain types of servers/infrastructure
    • For example, Organizational IT might be a Microsoft shop, but your library needs to have Linux servers for library systems and applications
  • There is no Library IT department to speak of, and organizational IT doesn’t get Library IT needs
  • Lack of resources in organizational/library IT for additional infrastructure/systems needed in the library

While my Public Services colleagues find themselves doing IT as part of their “other duties as assigned”, my focus in this answer will be Technical Services. Technical Services staff require many complex systems and applications to keep their department, as well as the library, up and going, and this is how your Systems Librarian, or Cataloging Librarian, or other TS staff become your accidental library sysadmin.

I lived through this type of IT work in multiple libraries. I did not belong to an IT department, and in one library there was no official Library IT department to speak of. In my work in Technical Services, I kept servers patched and running, troubleshoot servers and staff computers, assisted in playing “whack-a-mole” with blacklisting IP addresses trying to screen scrape the library catalog, and replaced server parts as well as entire servers.

[The reaction from the ILS vendor rep when I hauled the old ILS server out from the server room was priceless.]

So, when someone says that a Technical Services librarian that has done sysadmin duties cannot be a sysadmin, it erases the labor of that librarian. It even erases that time where she was in the server room very early in the morning, hot-swapping a failed hard disk drive in the ILS database server, a task not uncommon to many library sysadmins.

Why do I (the reader) care if this labor is erased?

Because erasing this labor reinforces the class hierarchy in librarianship, reinforces gender stereotypes and power dynamics, and reinforces the inertia that prevents Technical Services from gaining and maintaining the resources they need for sustainability.

It serves to reinforce the notion that valuable technology work only happens if someone is in a certain department with a certain title. Particularly in Technical Services, technology work is usually invisible labor – the curse of “other duties as assigned”. This leads to TS workers to be underpaid or unpaid for the skills and duties that they are actually performing. Considering that in many places facing budget cuts or ways to reallocate resources look at Technical Services for these cuts or sources to move resources from, your existence in TS turns into a never-ending cycle of “doing more with less.”

When we look at the data collected by Library Journal in their 2017 Placements & Salaries Survey, we find that Technical Services positions are near the bottom of the list for average salaries. Catalogers and metadata staff average salaries are in the middle of the pack, but near the top of the list are your technology workers – IT, Systems technology, UX, etc. The results are similar if you sort by median salary. TS workers who do similar technology work to IT work are most likely not getting properly compensated. On the topic of compensation, in both LJ’s 2017 survey and the May 2019 AFL-CIO (DPE) Fact Sheet on Library Workers, men are consistently paid higher than the other gender that the surveys recorded, which is women.

Sadly I don’t have ready access to data about the gender ratios in library departments; however, I’m not sure if I need the numbers to state the fact that library technology roles are usually filled by cismen. It was only a few years ago when the Code4Lib annual conference attendance finally started to not be overwhelmingly cismen. Library technology mirrors general technology in several aspects. The ones better paid are the ones in technology roles, and in librarianship, you have those roles filled by cismen.

Being a woman in library IT is hard enough. I recommend reading We Can Do I.T. for a collection of recent recollections and essays about women working in library IT. But before I even took a traditional library IT role – the role of IT manager – my technology work in Technical Services faced many challenges concerning recognition. I was in a triple bind – not only I had to prove myself to others in the library technology world that a woman belonged there, but that a Technical Services librarian belonged there as well. A cataloger who codes? A TS librarian who is in charge of the feeding and caring of her ILS servers? I was in the wrong department with the wrong job title with the wrong gender.

This is why that comment by our colleague at the beginning of this post is more than just mansplaining. By erasing the technology labor performed by Technical Services workers with a comment in a public forum for Technical Services workers, the comment serves as a reminder to TS folks that their labor doesn’t count as real labor, labor that shouldn’t be properly recognized or compensated. It is to keep folks in line with their prescribed roles, dictated by those who control the role definitions.

All of this because someone suggested that the person keeping your ILS up and going should be celebrated on #sysadminday.

Accelerant for the fire: a #lismentalhealth reflection on psychological abuse and mental health

Author’s note: #listmentalhealth focuses on raising awareness about mental health issues surrounding LIS as well as sharing resources in educating and assisting yourself and/or others in all things mental health.

Comments are closed.


The last time I wrote for #lismentalhealth week in 2017, I wrote about T.B.D. – Trauma, Burnout, and Depression – in GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums). Folks in the library world still to this day write about their various experiences with T.B.D. Even with support services and networks in place, T.B.D. is still prevalent in our jobs as library workers. In this public conversation, however, there is something that is missing from the conversation when we talk about T.B.D. That missing layer has a major influence over T.B.D.’s effects on the individual person and the greater library community. It’s time to talk about psychological abuse.

Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional or mental abuse, has several definitions depending on the organization or agency. The varied definitions tend to center around the psychological tactics and methods of the abuser to maintain their power and control over the abused. Some of the more general methods and tactics are:

  • Gaslighting
  • Bullying and intimidation
  • Tearing down the abused person’s self-worth or sense of self
  • Threats of self-harm or harm to others if the abused person leaves the abuser
  • Isolating the abused person from friends, family, and other support/social network
  • Shifting the blame about the abusive behavior onto the abused person

Psychological abuse follows the same cycle of violence as physical and sexual abuse. Like its counterparts, the effect on mental health by psychological abuse is considerable. Psychological abuse can lead to depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, loss of self, addiction, and a plethora of stress-related health issues. In summary, it can both cause mental health issues as well as amplify or complicate existing conditions; hence, the “accelerant for the fire” metaphor in the title.

It’s important to take psychological abuse into consideration because in professional environments, both individuals and groups can be psychologically abusive or enable such abuse through their culture or structure. From anecdotes from friends and personal experiences, GLAM workplaces seem to have similar patterns of psychological abuse found in other workplaces. Folks have stories of abusive bosses or coworkers and how managers or HR mishandles or ignores reports of abuse. Sometimes the abuse is addressed by HR or administration, sometimes it’s addressed by gaining enough peer support to make the abuser to change their behavior, and sometimes the abused or the abuser leaves that workplace. Nonetheless, psychological abuse compounds health issues caused by underemployment, low pay, under-resourced, poor to no job benefits, overwork, and other issues wrapped up in GLAM employment.

Communities themselves can enable abusive behavior, just like workplaces. While one can move to a different department or workplace all together to escape an abusive situation, it’s harder to escape abusive situations in GLAM communities, particularly specialized or niche communities.  For example, even though we did not work at the same workplace, I still suffered psychological abuse from another library technology community member. The effects from her abuse were just as real as the abuse I’ve experienced from staff at toxic workplaces, and had similar effects on my mental health. GLAM communities serve in part as support networks to cope with the workplace issues mentioned above; nonetheless, I am unaware of a GLAM community that are effectively set up to manage abusive situations in all their main physical and online community spaces. Codes of Conduct are in place in many GLAM communities, but not many are readily enforceable due to lack of response and enforcement infrastructures or the scope of the enforcement. [1] This is more challenging when communities use platforms, such as Slack, that do not have community moderation tools that exist in IRC, email lists, and more traditional forums. The abused person finds themselves with very limited options when the abuse happens in a professional community, and, from my example above, it’s a very isolating experience.

It’s near impossible to have a space where one won’t encounter psychological abuse from an individual, organization, or community. Psychological abuse has such an immense effect on mental health that the GLAM community should not ignore it when talking about mental health. But, there’s no magic solution to addressing abusive behavior in GLAM workplaces or communities. Most of the burden is on the person experiencing the abuse to identify and report said abuse, much like workplaces put the burden on the worker to prevent and address their own burnout. Publicly naming psychological abusers comes with its own risks, similar to naming sexual harassers. Whisper networks hold some of this information, but the shame inherent in admitting that one was psychologically abused means that even the safer whisper network environment is not comprehensive in its knowledge of abusers. Leaving the workplace or community is not an option when one has limited job prospects elsewhere, or where one needs the income to survive.

Unlike my other #lismentalhealth posts, there is no set of recommendations or solutions about addressing psychological abuse, and its effects on GLAM workers’ mental health. Instead, this post is an effort to raise awareness. Below are some resources for learning more about psychological abuse, its relationship to mental health, and, if you need it, information as to where you can get help.

Resources

Abuse Defined – https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/

Ask a Manager Posts About Workplace Bullying – https://www.askamanager.org/search-results?q=workplace%20bullying

Captain Awkward Posts About Emotional Abuse – https://captainawkward.com/category/emotional-abuse/

Emotional Abuse (Types of Abuse) – http://www.stopabuse.umich.edu/about/types.html

Emotional and Verbal Abuse – https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/other-types/emotional-and-verbal-abuse

The Insidious Effects of Verbal Abuse in the Workplace – https://www.thecut.com/2018/05/the-insidious-effects-of-verbal-abuse-in-the-workplace.html  

Looking for Emotional Abuse Survivor Stories  – https://ask.metafilter.com/326721/Looking-for-emotional-abuse-survivor-stories

What About Emotional Abuse?  – https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/what-about-emotional-abuse-0

What is Gaslighting?  – https://www.thehotline.org/2014/05/29/what-is-gaslighting/

Workplace Emotional Abuse – https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/8745_KellowayCh6.pdf

The Obligatory Wikipedia Pages

Psychological Abuse – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_abuse

Workplace Bullying – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workplace_bullying  


[1] An example of this type of limited enforcement is Code4Lib. The community has a CoC and an incident response procedure, but the response procedure is largely focused on the physical annual conference.

Missteps

Welcome to the first iteration of my first Twine story – Missteps, As told in two stories [Content Warning: abuse, harassment, stalking, and violence]. Many thanks to the folks who took the time to test a draft of this story.

Missteps is the product of a few projects and explorations during the past few months. This is a simple Twine story, and as I get more familiar with Twine, a second iteration might be in the works. It’s been an interesting experience and one that will continue to be interesting for some time to come.

The material behind the Twine story

The Twine story is inspired by true events where personal boundaries were violated. Some of these events happened to my friends and acquaintances, and some events come from having my own personal boundaries violated. I have been reluctant to write about some of the more egregious violations; it is an unwritten rule to not speak up of such violations, lest you bring yet more unwanted attention onto yourself. Still, I wanted to find a way to publicly discuss this behavior. There are many narratives from those whose boundaries have been violated, and one more story would most likely get lost in the never-ending sea of similar stories.

In thinking of a way to present the narrative, I started to wonder about the motivations of the violators. Some of the same boundary violations continued as the years pass, even when clear boundaries were set. What would make a person ignore such boundaries? Perhaps, instead of telling the narrative from the violated, the narrative would be from the viewpoint of the potential violator.

That is where this Twine began.

Is it a game, quiz, or choose your own adventure?

It would be impossible to try to write a Twine story that would 100% explain the motivation behind people who violate boundaries. There are many reasons why people violate boundaries in which I will not go into detail here. In addition, writing to one particular motivation for the violator will only resonate with a very small part of the audience, limiting the story’s potential impact. The story would have to accommodate different motivations behind potential boundary violations. The story would also have to accommodate the fact that not all violators are intentional – for some folks, navigating boundaries does not come naturally to them.

To achieve these accommodations, the Twine story would need to present each scenario in a way that would make the person self-aware as to why they made the choice to act in such a manner. I could achieve that goal with a point system based on the choices they made, like in a quiz or a game. In the end, the points tally up and the person would fall under one of several score range categories. However, this approach by itself doesn’t make the person stop to think about their choices unless it’s tied to achieving a certain score.

What the Twine story ended up being is more of a choose your own adventure with built-in reflection areas on each action the person takes. Some of these reflection areas happen during the scenario, and others happen at the end when reviewing your choices. There is still a point scale of sorts, but that system is used primarily to determine what types of reflections the person sees at the end of the scenario. By emphasizing reflection, the person is hopefully made to take a bit more ownership of their choices in the story, and the reflections in the story will carry forward after closing the browser.

This story isn’t really a game or quiz – it’s not meant for pleasure, or for fun. While it’s partly educational, it’s mostly an exercise in self-awareness on the part of the person interacting with the story.

Twine as a publishing platform

This is my first Twine story, and it probably shows. The platform shapes how one creates a narrative, and my lack of development experience in Twine did limit what I could do for this story. Nonetheless, I found my way around the basics, and for simpler interactive text adventures, Twine was a pretty decent tool for a beginner. When I downloaded the client, I didn’t know that there were three different formats you can create your story with: Harlowe, SugarCube, and Snowman. This made development a bit interesting when you are looking through documentation and are not quite sure which snippet of code would work in a Harlowe format. I also didn’t fully grasp at the very beginning what strengths each format had. I defaulted to Harlowe, but after reading the small Story Formats section in the Twine documentation, I might need to branch off to Sugar Cube if I want to expand on story interactivity or features.

There are some things that could use more polish with my first story. For example, the end screen can become one massive block of text, but due to the conditionals coded into the end screen, I would have to spend more time creating yet more conditionals to link to different screens. I don’t know if there’s a better way than manually writing said conditions; hence the investigation into SugarCube to see if there’s a function in there that can do this. The reflection areas are on the honor system – Twine does have input functions, but I haven’t had time to explore them, including effective ways in incorporating user input into the story itself. You can do a lot with Twine, which means you can go off in a thousand directions with your story.

As I said above, the experience of creating the Twine story has been an interesting one, both in content and in the platform. I hope you find the story interesting and useful, and maybe learn a thing or two that you can carry forward in your daily life.



#lismentalhealth – T.B.D.

This week, January 30 – February 3, is LIS Mental Health Week 2017 or ‪#‎lismentalhealth‬ if you are on various social media platforms. This week focuses on raising awareness about mental health issues surrounding LIS as well as sharing resources in educating and assisting yourself and/or others in all things mental health. More information can be found at http://lismentalhealth.tumblr.com/.


When I presented on #libtech burnout in 2016, I mentioned that there is an overlap between the symptoms of burnout and depression. In her 2016 #lismentalhealth post, Maria Accardi wrote about this problematic overlap in detail, where what she thought was burnout was in fact major depression. I recommend reading her post before moving on. I’ll be here waiting for you while you do so.

For your reference, the phases of burnout:

  • The compulsion to prove oneself
  • Working harder
  • Neglecting their needs
  • Displacement of conflicts
  • Revision of values
  • Denial of emerging problems
  • Withdrawal
  • Obvious behavioral changes
  • Depersonalization
  • Inner emptiness
  • Depression
  • Burnout syndrome

Compare the above with some common symptoms of depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

The overlap is quite large. Trying to figure out which one is affecting you on your own is daunting, and almost impossible if your symptoms fall solely in the overlap area. Unfortunately, I’m going to complicate matters even more in the next section.

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You might have noticed the title of the blog post: T.B.D. This is an acronym for “To Be Determined”.  For the purpose of this post, the acronym has a double meaning. The “B” and “D” stand for Burnout and Depression, respectively. The “T” stands for trauma.

Trauma in the GLAM professions can take form in both firsthand and secondary traumas. Usually, when we discuss trauma we focus on trauma experienced in the first person. Examples include verbal and physical attacks by other staff or patrons. Given recent events, the increase in hate crimes in libraries will only increase the instances of primary trauma among staff.

Nonetheless, it is equally important that we pay attention to secondary trauma, sometimes referred to vicarious trauma. This is trauma that is common for those who work with traumatized people and their experiences: social workers, health care workers, law enforcement, teachers, journalists, and so on. Gallery, Library, Archives, and Museum (GLAM) workers too are susceptible to secondary trauma in various ways. We work with patrons who otherwise have no other support network, we work with collections that have firsthand accounts of atrocities. We as GLAM workers are exposed to trauma on a regular basis, so what is the consequence of constant exposure?

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, in her book Trauma Stewardship, talks about the effects of trauma for the workers above in the context of “trauma exposure response”. Trauma exposure response refers to the transformation of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings when one is exposed to trauma. Laura focuses on how transformations can harm not only oneself, but those who one is supposed to be helping. She proposes 16 warning signs of trauma exposure response:

  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • A sense that one can never do enough
  • Hypervigilance
  • Diminished creativity
  • Inability to embrace complexity
  • Minimizing
  • Chronic exhaustion/physical ailments
  • Inability to listen/deliberate avoidance
  • Dissociative moments
  • Sense of persecution
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Anger and Cynicism
  • Inability to empathize/numbing
  • Addictions
  • Grandiosity: an inflated sense of the importance of one’s work

Here again, we have a sizable overlap of symptoms. If you’re experiencing symptoms that are in all three areas– trauma, burnout, and depression – you might find yourself in a “TBD” situation as you figure out what exactly is going on…

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Where do we go from here?

If you are struggling and not sure if you are dealing with trauma, burnout, and/or depression, your best bet is to enlist help, be it through talking to friends or coworkers, or, better yet, a licensed mental health worker. The overlap in symptoms makes it hard for an individual to correctly determine what the symptoms are pointing to, and, as Maria and others found out, an incorrect conclusion can lead to potentially dangerous results.

I can go into the various self-care and other individual actions one can take after they have a sense of which of the TBD they are dealing with, but in all honesty, I would only repeat what has already been said, and is currently being said, in other #lismentalhealth posts.

The one area which I do want to focus on is the importance of recognizing that GLAM workers can and do experience trauma, be it firsthand or secondary. This is especially important for managers and supervisors to grasp, since we share a bulk of the responsibility of making sure that our staff feel safe at work.  What can GLAM managers and supervisors do?

  • At minimum, recognize the signs of trauma exposure response (see above). Bonus points for reading Trauma Stewardship or attending a training.
  • Get familiar with your place of work’s employee assistance program. These programs usually offer a limited free number of sessions with a mental health professional, which is important for workers who might otherwise skip treatment due to health care costs.
  • Pay attention to the climate in your workplace. If you find that your staff morale is low and cynicism is high, for example, you might be dealing with a climate shaped by the collective staff’s trauma exposure response.
  • Provide staff time to process traumatic events. If your staff member was involved in a physical or verbal assault by another staff person or patron, do not require them to go right back into the environment after the traumatic event. In the same vein, if a staff person is processing a collection of primary sources surrounding a particularly traumatic event in history, give them space to work on other collections. This would seem like common sense advice to some of you, but there’s nothing wrong in re-stating the obvious once in a while.
  • Let your staff know about the resources available to them: EAP, training, flextime, leave policies, accommodations, etc. Have this information about these resources available in places where staff can discreetly access them (specifically not right outside your office entrance).
  • Provide venues and opportunities for staff to learn about trauma and trauma stewardship. Leave a few copies of Trauma Stewardship or articles about trauma in the staff room, advertise workshops that cover trauma work, and so on.

Trauma, like burnout and depression, affects a larger number of GLAM workers than we realize. Increasing awareness that GLAM workers can be and are traumatized by the very nature of their jobs, will hopefully lead to more discussion about the role trauma has at your places of work, alongside discussions of burnout and depression.

#lismentalhealth Guest Post – Which tools; why build

The following is a guest post for #lismentalhealth week 2016. The author wishes to remain anonymous. If you have a long-form text piece that you would like me to post either anonymously or with attribution, please contact me at b dot yoose [at] gmail. Another option is to post at http://lismentalhealth.tumblr.com/.

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“According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health3, in the US there were 8.3m adults who had serious thoughts of committing suicide, and 2.3m who had actually made plans to commit to suicide. Of those, 1.1m actually attempted suicide, but only just over 33,000 succeeded. Which would make the ratio of failure to success 33 to 1.”  http://lostallhope.com/suicide-statistics

Statistics are why I’m alive, and why I will remain alive. When I’m in a particularly bad spot, I read and re-read those statistics. I am not a person who does something where the odds are so clearly stacked against me.

My high-school journals are filled with various iterations of “I want to die.” When I was in high school, depression in teens was mostly written off as hormonal adolescent angst.

When I was 18, I took an entire bottle of Nuprin. I’m showing my age here; these haven’t been sold in years. They were tiny – their tagline was “Little. Yellow. Different” – and I have a hard time swallowing pills. I’m still alive, so they were little, yellow, and not especially toxic in the quantity in which I took them; I passed out for a few hours of the blackest, most dreamless sleep I have ever had, and woke up with a headache.

I have not made another attempt since, unless occasionally gazing longingly at tall structures counts (best to be above 6 stories for lethality). The fencing alongside overpasses in NYC, with their tiny holes and their inward curves that make them impossible to climb, are probably there for people like me.

I have anxiety disorder, depressive episodes, a mother who shut herself into the apartment for years only leaving it to go into the nursing home in which she died and thus a family history of mental illness. I fight every day to not become my mother. I have a therapist and SSRIs. I have a good life that I’ve made for myself; good friends; a decent amount of professional success; moments of absolute delight amidst the “meh.”

And I still read the statistics.

#lismentalhealth – Employee Assistance Program Primer

This week, January 18 – 23, is LIS Mental Health Week 2016 or ‪#‎lismentalhealth‬ if you are on various social media platforms. This week, co-organized by Cecily Walker and Kelly McElroy, focuses on raising awareness about mental health issues surrounding LIS as well as sharing resources in educating and assisting yourself and/or others in all things mental health. More information can be found at http://cecily.info/2015/12/20/announcing-lis-mental-health-week-2016/ and http://kellymce.tumblr.com/post/137514229595/white-text-on-a-pink-background-reading-lis.

Early on the first day of the week, the mention of Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, came across the hashtag. Since many library workers might not be aware that their workplace has an EAP, or are hesitant or confused about what an EAP can do for them, I thought that a brief primer would be useful to put out there for this week.

Before I continue, a few disclaimers:

  • IANAT/IANYB – I am not a therapist or your boss; this is a high level informational look at EAPs.
  • YMMV – Your mileage might vary at your place of work. Each employer has different EAP benefits, or none at all.
  • The below primer is based off of my experiences with EAPs, including providing information to staff and as a user of an EAP.

What is an EAP?

An EAP (usually run by a third party company) provides a variety of services and resources for employees when they encounter issues affecting overall well-being and/or job performance.

What issues do EAPs provide services and support?

The range of issues can vary by program; nonetheless, the majority should at least cover issues surrounding stress, abuse, addiction, personal and professional relationship problems, and a number of mental health related issues. Some programs’ coverage also includes issues surrounding caregiving, financial, and legal matters, as well as consultation for managers in matters of employee relations and performance.

Who is covered under an EAP?

The employee, though it would be worthwhile to check with your supervisor or HR to see if you are covered if you are part-time or temporary assignment. Depending on the program, everyone in the employee household is covered regardless of if that particular person is covered under the employee’s health insurance. For example, an employee who has a college age child who needs assistance in dealing with a particular issue can contact the EAP to request resources for their child, even though that child is not covered under their insurance. This is a particularly useful benefit if you find yourself needing to find assistance for a family member who is struggling.

What type of services and support does an EAP provide?

Most EAPs provide referrals to mental health professionals, attorneys, financial advisers, and other professionals. Most also provide a limited number of free sessions for counseling and legal/financial appointments.

Another thing to note that these benefits are per issue, not by date. In addition, if you find that the referred counselor is not working for you, you can switch counselors and reset the free session count.

If you need immediate assistance, most EAPs have licensed counselors on call.

Are EAPs confidential?

Yes*. They will not report back to your boss or employer saying that you specifically used an EAP service. Your place of work will receive a total count of how many people used the service within a particular time period, but what you discuss with EAPs are confidential* (*with the exception of mandatory reporter laws).

What happens when you call an EAP?

The EAP will ask for your name and why you are calling. The staff person will ask if you are in immediate danger or if you are thinking of harming yourself or others. If you say yes to these questions, they will direct you to the appropriate resources for immediate help. If not, they will walk you through the referral and benefits process. Depending on your preference, you can request a list of referrals to make appointments on your end or you can have the EAP staff make the appointment with a referral for you.

They will also ask for your employer’s name to determine what benefits are available to you like referrals and free sessions, but again will not give your name to your employer when reporting the number of employees using the EAP for your place of work.

A special note to managers

For those of you who want to promote your work’s EAP outside of the standard spiel that HR gives during the benefits session, reminders never hurt. Most EAPs have brochures, flyers, magnets, etc. that you can give to your employees directly or leave somewhere in a “neutral” area, like the break room. Having this information available for employees to access outside the gaze of other employees or their supervisor is important due to the stigma that surrounds seeking help.

One way to lessen that stigma, if you are comfortable in doing so, is to talk about your experiences with EAPs. You do not need to go into detail about your experiences – as you can see above, I did not go into exact personal details about my experiences using EAP services. Nonetheless, as a manager you have some influence over how your employees cope with work and life stress and, to some extent, workplace culture. By promoting EAP services and in engaging in other actions in supporting your employees’ well-being, managers stand a better chance of building a healthier workplace culture.

A mishmash of #mashcat thoughts

There are many thoughts I want to present in this post, but the connections between the thoughts are not fully developed. Therefore, the post comes in several parts.


When I started my first post-MLIS job at Miami University, I was repeatedly told that the position I held – bibliographic systems librarian – was an unusual position in traditional technical services departments. My predecessor (an authority control librarian) essentially automated himself out of the job; he took authority control workflows and made a suite of scripts (mostly macros and server-side scripts) that made his full time job into a part time duty for a support staff member. The role I took on was essentially Technical Services Developer: split between cataloging and programming.

I inherited my predecessor’s scripts, learned the workflows that they covered, and then built new scripts based on the needs of the department. Most of the programming knowledge I have was learned at MU. As the workflows became more complex, more complex and powerful tools were needed. From my predecessor’s Macro Express and Perl scripts came an abundance of AutoIt and PHP scripts. Before I left MU, I started to build scripts using pymarc, digging through the script wizard function of MarcEdit to automate certain database maintenance projects.

My goals were many. Keystrokes saved equal more time to work on other projects. Simple decisions made by the script meant that the staff person can focus their attention on more complex decisions, ones that are not so easily scripted, at least for a novice coder. All of these technological goals needed to operate within the overarching goal of creating and maintaining access of these resources for library users. The scripts I wrote were constructed after analyzing workflows and deliberation about the level of quality that needed to be met in said workflow. We had to strike a balance between entirely system automation and manually editing everything. Once we agreed on a midpoint, a proof of concept scripting phase could begin.

In short, efficiency without sacrificing quality. Saving the time of the user as well as the staff. My purpose was to serve both the public and the staff.

When I asked about the other candidates who applied for my position, a coworker detailed the two types of candidates that made up the majority of the candidate pool: the pure catalogers and the pure systems people. “You were neither, but you had the ability to work with both sides. You were the only one in the pool who got it.”


I walked into the Technical Services department one morning, having been gone the day before to an OhioLINK meeting. I saw one of my coworkers and smiled and said my hellos. Something was off when she didn’t return the greeting. I asked if everything was ok.

She was one of several Technical Services staff to receive layoff notices the day before.

In all, my department was cut almost in half during the first round of layoffs and “early” retirements. The majority of the layoffs and retirements in the libraries came from Technical Services.

The library dean at the time continued to funnel sparse resources into other departments, even with additional rounds of layoffs being planned by the university. Technical Services was left to keep up production with essentially half the staff and a deficit of 60+ years of tacit institutional knowledge.

Second round of retirements and layoffs came soon after the first. Luckily TS was spared; however, it became apparent by the library dean’s actions that my position was seen as a nicety for the department and not a necessity.

I don’t think they ever replaced me when I left in 2011.


Catcode and Libcatcode grew in tandem in the Codecademy’s Code Year push of 2012. After years of being called the odd one in the worlds of Technical Services and #libtech, I saw these efforts as a possible way to get people to see the obvious. Cataloging/metadata work and library coding are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are secret siblings. For me, this is on the level of saying that grass is green and the sky is blue. It just is.


And the conversation started. A code4lib preconference on the subject. An ALCTS/LITA interest group forming and a preconference at Annual. The first #mashcat conference.

And then conversation stalled.

This isn’t the first time a conversation about cataloging and coding stalled. Many have started on various levels, and yet we always find ourselves having to start from Square One each time we revive the conversation. Why is that?


“Not all catalogers.”

I tweeted that phrase some time ago. It is a problematic phrase to use; for example, it echoes back to “not all men…” to defend against criticism from feminists. But then you have “not all women…” being used as well. I suspect this usage stems from the desire of the speaker to break away from the stereotype being invoked in the conversation. And yet, at the same time, using the phrase in this context reinforces the social trappings that come with the stereotype – “not all $x” denotes that a set within a group does indeed fit the stereotype being discussed and the speaker shares the feeling of disdain for those who fit the stereotype; therefore, reinforcing the majority view of hir group.

Am I that desperate to climb the class structure in librarianship? To reinforce the stereotype by showing that I do not fit it, thus gaining social credibility with my peers?

However, I am no longer a cataloger. I am a systems person who is being hurled into the realm of library middle management.

Perhaps I am experiencing the library equivalent of my inserting an “r” when I say “wash” when I forget that that is not the “proper way” of saying the word while in certain company.


Knowledge is power. Technology is power. Which one has more power, though? I have the knowledge and the technology. I can create the metadata as well as systematically work with it. There are people who have the knowledge and there are people who have the technological skills. However, we see the conversation between the two as more of a one way street.

“You have the knowledge? Here, learn the technological skill!”

Is that what we want from catalogers and metadata people? Are we expected to lean in, to pull ourselves by our bootstraps and code ourselves to relevancy in the current library landscape?

Lean in. I know many who did… only to fall, mostly through no fault of their own.


I watch the new round of conversations start, a #mashcat revived. Every year I feel less lonely; the odd TS person out is joined by other odd people, these hybrids, these “non-traditional” library people. Many folks wear many hats; one thing I heard from folks in the first #mashcat Twitter chat was that they work in both metadata and systems. Great!

And yet… I worry.

While I am excited about the resurrection of #mashcat, we will run into The Wall like the previous conversations did. Folks will hit The Wall hard like I’ve done many times before. There are so many times one can throw themselves against The Wall, but I’m still breathing and able to figure out how to break down The Damned Thing.

I am not sure what The Wall entirely consists of: stereotypes, inertia surrounding change, cynicism brought on by previous conversations. One big component of The Wall, though, is the apathy of librarianship at large about this conversation. They expect the technology to work. They expect the metadata to be there. They don’t care how things are made, like we don’t care how some things that we use in our daily lives are made. As long as it’s there, we’re fine. Status quo achieved for the day.

I don’t know if dragging every library worker kicking and screaming into this conversation is the way to knock down The Wall, but it has become apparent through observations that The Wall cannot be bypassed or knocked down by only a few. We can’t lean on The Wall to knock It down. We need tools: hammers, pickaxes, jackhammers, sledgehammers. We need people to not only provide these tools but to help us to knock The Wall down. It doesn’t do us any good if the same people try to take down The Wall time after time. We need all the help we can get.

A wrecking ball would help as well.


It’s time to have the conversation not be dictated by cowering to stereotypes, to power structures, to class structures.

It’s time for this conversation not be dictated by the actions of a few and being expected to excuse or apologize for these few, reinforcing the status quo every time we do so.

And it’s about time to drag every G*d-damned library manager and administrator by their ears, kicking and screaming, into this conversation.

Rumor is that they have a wrecking ball we can use.

An Experiment

Time to try something new.

I see various versions of “tip jars” for developers and artists online. While I haven’t been actively developing code-wise, there is quite a bit of work I do elsewhere: community building and maintenance, human RSS feed, and other bits of work with libraries/technology/fandom/etc.

If you want to find a way to say “Thanks!” for something I have done for you, I have created a new page to give you a couple of choices: the Tip/Word Jar. You can choose between two tokens of appreciation:

  • Monetary – Any amount is welcome. Funds raised here will mostly go to my neglected “It’s ok to spend money on something you want and not something you need” budget line. However, parts of the operating budget, like cat medication and vet bills, might receive a boost from donated funds. (This is what happens when you have a diabetic cat on one end and a neurotic cat on the other end.)
    I know that there are some folks that are not Paypal fans; if you have suggestions as to other online tip jars I can use, please feel free to point me toward them for my consideration.
  • Linguistic – Not everyone can, or wants to, give money. Totally ok! But folks might feel odd shooting me an note of thanks to my work address or Twitter – I understand that as well. I have provided a feedback form for those who feel most comfortable using that medium. You have the option to leave a name or email, but neither are required.

Again, this is something that I am trying out for this year. I’ll see what happens in terms of activity… and now, time to become a cat bed.

Gatekeeping the table full of cookies

Note: Comments are moderated on the blog. They will probably not show up to the public until the evening, when I’m back home from work. I can’t seem to train the cats to do comment moderation for me…

There’s been a lot of discussion going on around #libtechgender after the ALA Midwinter conference panel. I’ve been following and poking my head into the conversation stream every so often, but, for the most part, I’ve done a lot more reading than talking. The recent conversation has brought up some things that I’ve been struggling with in regards to #libtechwomen and #libtechgender. Some of those struggles deal with the nature of librarianship, and some of the struggles deals with trying to put some more sensitive internal discussions into words. The latter has seen people more elegant in their use in the English language than I put words to some of those internal discussions I’ve been having; for that, I thank you, and please forgive me for using some of your words to convey some of my thoughts.

I’m not sure if this is the right time for me to talk about the below things, or even if I’m the right person to talk about them, but, for what it’s worth, I’ll try to make it brief.

*****

Librarians are gatekeepers.

Barbara Fister’s recent post about librarians as (sometimes reluctant) gatekeepers touches back to some thoughts that I’ve mulled over since my cataloging days. Catalogers and metadata workers are gatekeepers in their own right. We create the data that is used for discovery and access to information resources. If we mistype a word in the title, for example, that resource might not show up in the catalog if a library user does a title search. We get the factual metadata correct, and then there should be no problem with that title search.

Then you have the subject field. Catalogers and metadata workers have a great amount of control over ambient discoverability and browsing due to the subject keyword work they do. If a particular resource is not given a subject assignment, or is classified a certain way, this excludes the resource from the user searching in a particular area. In short, even though that resource could have been what the user needed, that resource doesn’t exist to the user due to its classification in the library discovery tools.

I’m a gatekeeper, and you are too. Acknowledgment leads to action.

When #libtechwomen started, I wrote in my previous post that, despite the gender specific name, I hoped that the support network would become inclusive to other underrepresented groups. Over the past year, it has, which then #libtechgender was a spin-off of that growth. I still worry, however, that we are unconsciously carrying over our librarian gatekeeper tendencies to this realm. For example, Lisa Rabey has curated a page of #libtechgender writings from the community. This is what we as librarians do: collect resources and make them accessible to users through various ways. While Lisa has done a fine job with curating the page, there is still that gatekeeper element, that subject guide approach which might exclude certain voices and resources. Maybe migrating the list of resources to a more open platform, like a wiki or other collaborative platform, could lessen the gatekeeper aspects of documenting #libtechwomen/#libtechgender; it seems like an appropriate next step, a natural evolution of a growing list that is documenting the different types of voices in the conversation.

*****

Who sits at the table?

Andromeda Yelton talked about sitting at the table at her first hackathon. Since then I’ve paid attention at who’s at the table. Recently, however, my thoughts have shifted from the above question to the following one:

Who decides who sits at the table?

And, after the #libtechgender conversation about the place of storytelling, I don’t like where my thoughts are going with this one, because this is where well-meaning people that I care about do more harm than good.

Why are we focused on telling stories in order to ensure that we get a place at the table?

In our drive for diversity, we forget that some people are not comfortable sharing their stories for various reasons. Some people do not want to very publically come out; some do not want to publically relive the physically and emotionally painful process of becoming a man or a woman. Others are still dealing on how to handle their PTSD from traumatic experiences, and not publically speaking of said experiences could be one strategy that ensures that they don’t take two steps back in terms of managing their PTSD.

This has been a long frustration of mine, and the storytelling vs institutional structure discussion has given me words to put my frustrations into physical form, though my words are probably not as elegant as others. My observations and personal conversations with people surrounding #libtechgender have fueled this frustration. People who should be at the table are not because they feel that they have to tell stories to appease the gatekeepers to the table. If a person believes in a movement and is willing to work with others to achieve the goals of the movement, that alone gives them a place at the table. Telling a story, on the other hand, does not automatically give you a place at that same table. Pressuring people to tell stories in order to gain a seat at the table is unethical at best, dehumanizing at worst.

Perhaps we need to burn the table.

*****

The cookies are not for you.

This last part is the most personal out of the three sections, as well as the most frustrating. The frustration, however, is not with ally cookies. Allies expecting cookies need to be gently reminded (often repeatedly) that, no, you don’t get cookies when you support someone, make a change in the system that benefits underrepresented folks, and so on.

I’d like to address the other cookie seekers.

Those who solely use a movement for their own gain, be it for professional prestige, personal ego, or both.

Those who are insistent that their voice be a part of every conversation, every discussion, especially those where it is inappropriate for them to actively engage in that discussion without listening and understanding the context surrounding said discussion first.

Those who claim to listen, but otherwise show no evidence of such listening in their actions.

Those who keep telling their story, not to encourage, not to educate, not to mobilize change, but as a means to promote themselves.

Those who do not want to serve the movement, but expect the movement to serve them.

To those people, I have these three things to say:

1.       You don’t get a cookie just because you’re part of a movement.

2.       You don’t get a cookie for voluntary “martyrdom” in the name of the movement.

3.       Practice the following: Shut up. Listen. Adjust as necessary.

There are no cookies.

Some reflections

Note: I wrote this post last weekend, but have not posted it until today. This was written primarily to get some thoughts out on paper, and not a detailed overview of recent events, nor it was intended to be as such.

Also, the last time I checked the settings, comments are moderated on the blog. They will probably not show up to the public until the evening, when I’m back home from work. I can’t seem to train the cats to do comment moderation for me. Good-for-nothing, freeloading cats…


Here I am, sitting at my computer, processing what happened in the last couple of days. The following is part “going through what happened”, and part me thinking out loud.

How did I get here?

A few weeks ago, Bess Sadler posted on the code4lib listserv with a request that code4lib adopt an anti-harassment policy similar to those that were being adopted by other technology conferences. The initial post prompted many +1s and the anti-harassment policy began to take shape in github.

Then the conversation continued, and after a survey and more discussion, the suggestion for a code4libwomen showed up… and then more discussion. Technically, since code4lib is not a formal organization, anyone could do something in the name of the group, whether there is group consensus or not. However, since we are librarians, and librarians like going through approval processes, sometimes people ask. And when you ask for opinions on the Internet, you’ll get them. On occasion, you might even get one of mine, which is the case in the code4libwomen discussion.

My opinion? A code4libwomen group wouldn’t be effective.

Why? Twofold:

  1. While a separate group might be conducive to more women actively participating in that group, if there are no mechanisms to bring that participation to the larger group, then, effectively, the smaller group has segregated itself from the rest of the organization.

Point 1 is more of a procedural issue with the code4libwomen idea that could be addressed with a lot of organizational policies, prompts, and mechanisms that would have to be built into the group.[1]  Point 2, however, happens to be the bigger reason why I found myself not married to the idea:

  1. It doesn’t go far enough.

So, let’s say a code4libwomen group does form, and it functions well. Great, but that group only covers a subsection of the population of women in library technology. What about LITA? ASIST? State library associations? And what about those who don’t feel that they don’t belong in either LITA or code4lib? That’s a big group of people who wouldn’t benefit from such a group if that group was tied to an organization that they are not a part of. If we get all the other organizations creating their own groups, then we end up with a hodge-podge of subgroups with varying effectiveness and few chances of collaboration between other organizations. Again, this also leaves out folks who don’t identify with any organization.

And, after Lisa Rabey and I ended up in an IRC channel for further discussion on related ideas, #libtechwomen was born.

What do I think #libtechwomen should be? Here’s what I have so far:

  • A place for women to get training, advice, and encouragement in a neutral environment that is not tied to a single organization, so we can include all types from the library technology field: coders, network admins, sysadmins, tech managers, and those who want to learn about any of the above.
  • A group that want to advocate for women in library technology. That group is made up of anyone that wants to help – everyone on the gender spectrum – and can partner with various organizations when opportunities arise.

The biggest part for me about my hopes for #libtechwomen is this – that the people who benefit from the group go out and contribute to the greater library technology community. I plan to kidnap people from this group to various code4lib events, because code4lib for me has been a place where I could grow in my skills as well as meet folks who are dedicated to what they do. I know that there will be others in #libtechwomen that will lend a hand to those who want someone to help them navigate an organization such as LITA, code4lib, EDUCAUSE, state library organizations, and so on. The biggest potential benefit from this group is overall growth in participation in library technology by women and transgendered women. If we find ourselves with a majority folks in #libtechwomen that never leave the confines of the group, then the group finds itself in the situation that I hoped to avoid in the first place – yet another silo in the sea of siloes in the library community.

Perhaps I’m being too optimistic about this. I haven’t been on the receiving end of any blatant harassment in the library technology community, but I have heard stories of others that have encountered it. Some folks might say that I’m not going far enough with my thoughts on #libtechwomen, and I’m not sure if I’ll be comfortable with some of the directions that people will want to take #libtechwomen. That’s something that I have to deal with, like in any other area of my work life.

Also, #libtechwomen does not directly deal with other groups that are in a similar situation that women and transgendered women. I realize that even though I can be an ally, I need to let others take the lead for those folks who decide to tackle those issues for their respective groups. Then again, there’s starting to be discussion about the name of the group, and if the name – along with the focus – should change to something more inclusive to other underrepresented groups in technology. If that discussion comes to fruition and the name does change, I’d support the change.

So, here I am, sitting at my computer, processing the events of the last few days. It might be a while before I’m able to process everything.

 


[1] Formal organization and code4lib has had a mixed past. For example, post that code4lib should become a formal organization (501(c)). Make some popcorn and grab a soda. Get comfortable in your chair and watch the conversation unfold.