Toward a humane ethical framework in Intellectual Freedom

Content Warning: transphobia, racism, gender- and race-related violence

The following post is an expanded version of an email sent to the Intellectual Freedom Committee regarding concerns about the open letter sent to Library Journal with the demand to revoke the Library of the Year award from The Seattle Public Library. You can read the reasons why this demand is made, as well as sign the open letter if you so choose, at

Hello everyone,

I initially was not planning on publicly responding to this thread. In my private reply to [name redacted], I expressed uncertainty about the appropriateness/safeness of a sub-committee member to comment on the main IFC threads. After reflecting on that sentiment for some time, this is a time where I need to get past those reservations and add yet another perspective in the discussion, procedural formalities be damned.

First, disclaimers – I am another signatory of the open letter. I am also a former employee of SPL (left in January 2019). I will keep my comments about SPL to a minimum, but I want to remind everyone that while MT does have considerable power within SPL and his actions contributed to what transpired in February, he is beholden to the Library Board of Trustees, including Board President Jay Reich. It was the Board that made the final decision to uphold the meeting reservation and not to revise the meeting room policy.

While the legal aspects of Intellectual Freedom (IF) are also in play in the SPL situation, it would be better served in a separate thread. I also do not want to take away from the important work that is being done under the name of IF concerning challenged books. I want to focus on the ethics of the application of IF to meeting rooms. My glimpses into the main IF discourse around meeting rooms has concerned me for some time.

The format that stores and delivers information influences its reception by its audience. In print, digital, and oral culture research, you will find that in different periods of history particular formats had different levels of legitimacy and trust attached to them. The level of trustworthiness of this information was judged partly by how the information was delivered. The written word was not automatically given the same authority or trust found in oral transmission in some cultures; in those cultures, the values eventually changed to grant that trust. (It should be noted that some cultures today still place high value and trust in the oral word over other formats). Even today we see this with print and digital formats – an example is a college professor who demands that their students find and copy a physical, print version of an article when the digital copy is also available. This is due to the level of trust in print over the trust of digital (remember when we all said not to use Wikipedia at all?), but again that trust is changing.

A major difference between a library’s collections and the in-person events is how information is transmitted. The act of reading is “slow” – the reader can go at their own pace. The resource doesn’t demand immediate feedback from its reader. The act of speaking is “fast” – if you are attending a live discussion, there might not be room to reflect, lest you miss the speaker’s next point. Undivided attention is demanded. The speaker or other audience members might engage with you even if you’re not ready. You also get the chance to interact with others in real-time, creating an immediate feedback loop that can be reinforced with continued human interaction.

Both print and oral methods have the element of trust in the information being delivered, but the potential impact is where these two diverge. A print resource can bring strong emotions or move someone to action as much as someone’s talk – the difference is that reading gives someone the time to process, while audience members can enter into the feedback loop without time to process what they just consumed. The more you reinforce the feedback loop, the stronger it becomes.

What does this have to do with the ethics of IF and meeting rooms? Libraries are entrenched in print culture, and with it, the trust of the printed word. In popular culture, the library as an institution is seen as trustworthy in terms of being a place to find “correct” information. I know that we’re all cringing at the use of the term “correct” but we have to realize that our patrons see the library as legitimizer, as expert curator, of the information it provides. We have ourselves to partly blame/thank for this reputation because we advertise ourselves as trusted professionals and “impartial” stewards of information (when in reality humans are inherently biased and true objectivity in Library Science is impossible, but that’s for another thread).

Meeting room events are interpreted as being a part of the library’s duty to curate information. A talk or class held in the meeting room is granted some level of legitimacy with the approval of the event by information stewards. While physical and digital resources are managed through a collection management policy that guides library works in determining appropriate content for the collection, meeting rooms policies give almost no guidance beyond prohibiting certain types of activity, such as charging registration fees or fundraising for political candidates. Meeting rooms under the current IF framework are given much more leeway in terms of the information distributed in those rooms.

The problem comes when we don’t question the assumption in IF that people will research and do their due diligence in coming to their own conclusions no matter the mode of information transmission.  This assumption makes sense when patrons are working with print or digital materials; again, this “slow” act allows patrons the chance to work through ideas that they come across, either on their own or reporting back to a group of their choosing. While there is the possibility of a feedback loop, there are several chances to disrupt it early in the process.

Speeches can be persuasive as printed or digital material, but I’d argue (going back to oral culture) that the impact is greater than these other formats because of the immediate feedback and creation of a feedback loop reinforced by the speaker and other audience members. We also forget that within a marketplace of ideas persuasive ideas can also be deadly ones. A persuasive speaker combined with an active audience feeding into a feedback loop can entrench someone before they are consciously aware of what is happening. This model has even adapted to the digital realm with YouTube, with the speaker creating an active online community in a model that imitates the need for an immediate response as well as reinforcing the feedback loop. The best illustration of this adaptation is the alt-right community on YouTube. Sometimes people break the loop like described in the linked article, but others are driven to act out in real life, often targeting certain people based on the ideas and information provided by these group of speakers. It goes to show how a platform can be gamed to recruit new people into a particularly dangerous ideology, as well as rally existing community members.

Library meeting rooms are not immune to this. Library meeting rooms exist as a platform for hate groups because of the misplaced belief in IF that as long as everyone has a chance to speak, then everyone is treated fairly. The problem is that the group renting the room isn’t interested in dialog – they’re interested in recruiting new members and energizing the base. The group communicates in code – “gender critical” sounds neutral and a reasonable topic for discussion to folks who might be interested in the “debate” promised by the movement, but the phrase is code for the existing base, and a hook to gain new members. The marketplace of ideas embedded in the current set of IF ethics forces people to argue for the right to be recognized to be human, for their very lives. Librarianship’s unquestionable devotion to the marketplace of ideas in meeting rooms is making people plead for their human rights and not to be harassed or even killed because of who they innately are. And when this type of hate speech is held inside the walls of the library, it automatically gains a level of legitimacy because of the inherent trust that the information in the library is curated or vetted by trained experts. This is why giving hate groups space in library meeting rooms is so dangerous – the library is a platform that hate groups leverage for institutional and cultural legitimacy.

You might have guessed at this point that I have a social justice bias, so you might be thinking that the next section calls for the abolishment of IF. That is not the case. There’s still some time to salvage the ethical framework of IF, but the recommendations require a fundamental change from within.

There are many ways that I’ve seen organizations try to do DEI work, only to fail. These same options are not going to be effective here, either. Building a bridge between IF and “social justice” is only a temporary measure if there is only dialog and no follow-up or action. Bringing in someone or a small group to be the “social justice subcommittee” runs dangerously close to tokenism. DEI efforts fail because the people and organizations that create these efforts do not understand that they have to do the work to create a more inclusive environment. The ethics around IF not recognizing the loophole it created for hate groups to use meeting rooms as recruitment and rallying platforms for decades and not adapting to close this loophole goes against the Fifth Law of Library Science. This stagnation itself is an entrenched feedback loop.

There is still hope to get rid of this stagnation if the framework of IF around meeting rooms is willing to evolve to reflect the reality of IF being used by hate groups to legitimize their ideas through the institutional reputation of the library. There are already libraries that have changed their meeting policies to make it very difficult for hate groups to use meeting rooms. NYPL recently was able to cancel a “gender critical” event that was going to be held in their meeting rooms based on their meeting room policy. However, many libraries have not made this change because there is still the IF narrative that an unrestricted marketplace of ideas is best for library meeting rooms. This narrative supported by OIF and ALA is considered the canonical one for libraries to base their policies and practices.

What I’m asking for is a more humane set of ethics in IF surrounding meeting rooms. One that recognizes the differences and realities of print, digital, and oral cultures. One that states that someone’s right to have human rights should not have to be proven by that very person in the marketplace of ideas. One that realizes that hate groups are well organized and subversive, knowing that having the library as a platform further legitimizes their message. One that commits to evolution, and not stagnation steeped in the flawed ideology of neutrality. One that recognizes that the library does not exist in a cultural vacuum and that libraries have an ethical duty to take their part of the responsibility of the harms incurred by their unwillingness to acknowledge as such.

All of this work needs to start within OIF/IFC. If unwilling to do this work, or solely rely on others to do the work, then any effort to humanize the ethics of IF surrounding meeting rooms will most likely fail. We then are stuck in the cycle of more hate groups exploiting the loophole, more protests, more counterprotests, more hate groups exploiting the loophole, etc.

But this doesn’t truly reflect the real cost of all of this has on people’s lives. Back in 2019, Toronto Public Library hosted hate speech denying transgender and non-binary people their basic human rights. Two months later, Julie Berman, a well-known transgender activist, was murdered. While it’s unclear if Julie was at the protests at TPL, I suspect that she at least a role in planning them, given her reputation in advocating for trans rights in the Toronto area. She might have spoken to TPL leadership about their choice to host hate speech. She might have been told that in the interest of intellectual freedom, the speech is allowed in the library and she is always free to protest or request a meeting room to hold her own event at a later date. “The marketplace of ideas is there if you want to plead your case that you’re a valid human being and deserving of rights” – this is the quiet part of the library’s response.

So, when you see people sad, hurt, frustrated, angry, or made about libraries holding hate speech in meeting rooms, they are as such because literal lives are at stake. Giving a legitimizing platform to hate groups on one end and making people argue for their existence on the other end is inhumane and unethical. There are ways to mitigate this harm and to disrupt this cycle at scale. What I’m asking is that those who determine the evolution of the ethical framework of IF to do the work instead of reaching for token gestures or just shutting down.

… But You Can Never Leave [#lismentalhealth]

Author’s note: #listmentalhealth and #lismentalhealthweek focus 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.

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Content warnings – physical, emotional, and verbal abuse; child abuse and neglect; suicidal ideation; suicide attempt; stalking; harassment; financial, job, and health care precarity

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Second Statement to The Seattle Public Library Board

Content Warning: Transphobia

The following is a written version of my second public statement to the Seattle Public Library Board on January 23, 2020.

At the time of this post, The Seattle Public Library has not cancelled the room reservation for the anti-trans event on February 1st, 2020. A protest is planned at the library from 6 pm to 9 pm on the same day.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address the Board.

I was at the special meeting on January 10th where the Board met with attorneys and subsequently failed to second a motion to cancel the February 1st event hosted by a self-proclaimed “feminist” group who will not be engaging in gender discourse at the event but instead engaging in the erasure of human rights of transgender people. In the statement read by the Board right after after the failed motion, the Board declared that they supported both the transgender community and intellectual freedom.

In the statement the Board noted that the Library needs to “[listen] to and [work] with the transgender community”. However, you did not listen to the transgender community when they brought up concerns about the library providing a platform for hate speech that erases their existence and their human rights. You did not listen to the community organizers who reached out to you with offers of assistance in protecting transgender patrons and staff from the effects of this speech. You did not listen to the lawyers and others in the community who pointed out that the existing library policies and the upcoming event itself violates state and local regulations. Why should we believe that you’ll listen when your actions say otherwise?

The Board states that the Library must “maintain its role as a stalwart protector of intellectual freedom”. The Board conflates the principle of Intellectual Freedom with the principle of free speech – libraries already place limits on content and speech by their very nature. The Board seems content with this conflation. That became very apparent after the executive session in the special meeting. The Board President stated before the session that no decision would be made in the closed session, but given that there was a full statement right after the 45 minute closed session most likely meant that the decision was already made before the meeting started.

Libraries are not sacred spaces, as the Board declares in their statement. Libraries are not neutral and they often contribute to systems of oppression in communities. At the same time, though, libraries also provide the opportunity of a place of refuge for those seeking a brief respite from that oppression. The New York Public Library realized this when, last week, they cancelled a transphobic event featuring speakers from the same group coming to SPL. I only wish SPL realized this as well. The Board’s actions have reinforced systems of oppression by giving a platform for hate speech that harms transgender patrons and staff. No amount of words of support to the transgender community from the library or statements about how the library strives to be a good community member will fix that.

Statement to The Seattle Public Library Board (Expanded)

Content Warning: Transphobia, racism, violence against transgender and non-binary people, workplace violence

The following is an expanded version of my public statement to the Seattle Public Library Board on December 19, 2019. Versions of this statement are being sent to other library administration and City government officials.

At the time of this post, The Seattle Public Library has not cancelled the room reservation for the anti-trans event on February 1st, 2020.

Hello and thank you for the opportunity to address the board.

My name is Becky Yoose. I worked at SPL from 2015 to 2019 as the Library Applications and Systems Manager. I have worked in libraries for almost 18 years, with over ten of those years as a professional librarian.

You heard many people arguing for and against SPL renting a meeting room to WoLF, a self-described “feminist” organization, on February 1st, 2020. You might have heard arguments invoking intellectual freedom, free speech, and civil discourse.

Let’s start with intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom was codified into the library profession by the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights in 1939 as a response to events taking place in Europe on the eve of WWII. Comments surrounding IF focus almost exclusively on the materials themselves, but a closer examination of intellectual freedom reveals that intellectual freedom is much more than materials – it’s also about protecting the person accessing the materials from the consequences as a result of that access. Stating that intellectual freedom requires libraries to include any and all material is a dangerous oversimplification of the concept of intellectual freedom. It de-centers the patron aspect of intellectual freedom and makes it an afterthought. In any case, there’s a difference between providing access to a variety of materials without surveilling library patrons and providing a platform for hate speech that endangers the lives of others.

That leads us to free speech. WoLF supporters state that the First Amendment protects the group. While there is no exception for hate speech in the First Amendment, Washington State and the City of Seattle consider speech as a factor in hate and bias crimes, as well as allow for civil actions against those who perpetrate such speech. The City of Seattle also has policies regarding protecting persons from discrimination and harassment in places of public accommodation.

WoLF’s and Murphy’s talks around gender and sex dehumanizes transgender and non-binary people by insisting that they do not exist and that they do not deserve the same human rights as others, like walking down the street or using public bathroom facilities without the threat of violence. Their speech isn’t about discourse or debate around gender identity, it is about intentionally stripping people of their basic rights to exist as human beings. These events are productions to create a coalition of people tasked with actively working against giving human rights to transgender and non-binary people.  Removing the humanity of a class of people is a tried and true strategy of many hate groups, as well as governments and others who hold power, to incite violence against those in that class.

Dehumanizing transgender people has led to increased rates of violence and death compared to the general US population. In 2018, the FBI saw a 40 percent rise in hate crimes committed against transgender and non-binary folks nationwide compared to 2017. Seattle saw a 25% increase in overall hate crimes between 2017 and 2018. This violence disproportionately affects Black transgender women, who already experience dehumanization because of their race.

This accumulates into the last argument that the library is a neutral place for civil discourse. Libraries are not, and never were, neutral. Libraries were used as places to educate “uncivilized” immigrants in the ways of the dominate culture. Libraries are places where racial, ethnic, and other types of slurs are used to describe materials in the library collection. Libraries are where Black, Latinx, and other people of color are disproportionately excluded from the library compared to white people – a recent example of this is the 2018 report by the South Seattle Emerald about SPL’s exclusion practices. Libraries are where transgender people are forced to use a name for their library card that outs them. As with any other cultural institution, the library inherits the biases and systematic oppressions of the greater society.

Claims of neutrality and civility have been used to dehumanize classes of people as well. The writers of the Constitution had a civil conversation that resulted in the Three-Fifths Compromise. Many of the atrocities committed in the name of eugenics were masked by civility of those carrying out said atrocities. The notions of neutrality and civility excuses oneself from the personal and organizational responsibility of invoking harm to those who are at most at risk. It is an immoral stance to take, at best.

I am concerned not only for library patrons, but for library staff as well. 2019 has seen an increase in violence against SPL staff compared to 2018. Staff have been verbally harassed, physically assaulted, and in certain cases doxed and threatened for LGBTQIA+ work that they do at the library. As mentioned earlier, speech that dehumanizes transgender and non-binary people leads to violence against these people. How can SPL ensure a safe working environment for their transgender and non-binary staff if they allow for this type of speech at their place of work? The answer is that they can’t.

The speakers at the WoLF forum are not engaging in discourse or dialog. They are engaging in stripping away the human rights of transgender and non-binary people, including library patrons and staff. This puts both library patrons and staff in danger of harm.

The City has policies in place to protect workers against hostile work environments as well as initiatives to create an equitable workplace for all. The City also has policies protecting the public from harassment based on gender. I ask you to follow these policies and cancel the February 1st room reservation for the WoLF event.

Thank you for your time.


State and City of Seattle policies

Further Readings and sources

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.


Abuse Defined –

Ask a Manager Posts About Workplace Bullying –

Captain Awkward Posts About Emotional Abuse –

Emotional Abuse (Types of Abuse) –

Emotional and Verbal Abuse –

The Insidious Effects of Verbal Abuse in the Workplace –  

Looking for Emotional Abuse Survivor Stories  –

What About Emotional Abuse?  –

What is Gaslighting?  –

Workplace Emotional Abuse –

The Obligatory Wikipedia Pages

Psychological Abuse –

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.


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

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.


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…


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


“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.”

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 and

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.