How neutrality backfired on this librarian, and what I learned: The Kadr fiasco

If you don’t live under a rock you obviously have heard of Omar Kadr. He is the Canadian citizen who was awarded 10.5 million dollars by the Canadian Government after being held in Guantanamo bay. There is a huge divide and outrage in Canada over this. People are pissed he’s getting tax payer money and they think he should be in jail for shooting and killing an American Soldier when he was 15.

My opinion is that he did something wrong and he should be in jail for it, but the government didn’t take the legal route and instead sent him to a quasi legal place…and used quasi legal techniques….. to get a questionable confession out of the guy…..i regress.

The point of this article is to discuss neutrality. I decided to weigh into the argument on Facebook when some people on my feed started babbling over the pay out. I took the high road and tried not to get into the argument but to offer some facts and resources to these people; oh boy that was mistake #1.

One side then claimed I was anti military and pro terrorist. They were overly emotional about the situation and I tried to reason with them; that was mistake #2. Don’t try to reason with an emotional person, because they are already so emotionally invested they will see it as an attack.

And so it continued. I tried to reason with the person as to why the courts ruled this and that Khadr was getting the money not for being a terrorist but for being a human being. I got called a snowflake and various other things, then I got emotionally involved and fired back about the persons reasons for their career choice; mistake # 3 don’t get emotionally involved if your going to try this neutrality thing.

So Neutrality blew up in my face. For anyone who has played Dungeons and Dragons and tried to play a true neutral character….it is impossible, much like maintaining neutrality in between two passionate combatants in a online argument. No one wins the online fight and the person trying to mediate, educate, or maintain neutrality ends up being the loser in the battle.

This has not deterred me from being the neutral librarian that I have tried to be, it is just a lesson in what not to do when trying to provide information to a very passionate person. I still strive to maintain neutrality in the information world, but have learned a valuable lesson. #1. give the information and walk away; #2 don’t try to help, as a neutral person….you will only get yourself in trouble and become emotionally invested (see #1); #3 don’t get lit up, getting emotionally involved only makes the situation worse; #4 Online arguments are pointless and no one wins.

Minimum wage and the public library

The Ontario Liberal government has introduced $15/hour minimum wage to be brought in by January 1st, 2019; by January 2018 it will be $14/hour. This is a great day for those who work for minimum wage. It has been a long time coming and I applaud it. Businesses are complaining about it being too much too fast….Hello….how do you think an employer who makes no sales/no money feels?

As the CEO of a small public library I see this as a problem. Come next summer I will be forced to pay a summer student (or two) $14/hour. I am wondering what plans the Ontario government has for funding libraries come next summer.

My budget as a small public library is fairly miniscule, and the governments funding is even more dismal. As a non-profit, public service I am not sure how I would fork out an additional almost $800 per student (for 10 weeks at 30hrs per week) if the government does not have a plan for helping libraries pay for it.

Now $800 may not sound like a lot of money, but if anything has been as stagnant as wages in Canada, it is the amount of money given to public libraries since the 1990’s.

Smaller municipalities such as mine won’t/can’t put forward any more additional money, and the provincial government has given out the same amount of money to libraries since 1995/1996, after cutting it in half the previous year.

I hear all the doom and gloom from employers about not being able to pay more, I for one am leaning more towards the employees right to a living wage, but as a public service employer I can’t just raise prices…I don’t have prices. Our only income raised by us is through fines/fees and fundraising (make up only 10% of my budget). There is only so much people will pay for fines and photo copy/fax fees; fundraising for a library is only for special purposes; I can fund-raise for a new shelf, but not just in general because we need money for the budget.

I think this increase should have happened at the start of this governments term and raised a dollar a year over four years, instead of $3.70 in 18 months. Businesses can raise prices, and make money..not-for profit services such as public libraries do not have that luxury.

What’s a librarian to do?

Ontario Government giveth and taketh away.

The Ontario government has obviously learned nothing from what happened in Saskatchewan the past few weeks. In a bid to win votes the Ontario government in 2016 opened voting to ideas on where to put funding for various projects. One such proposal was Infrastructure for Rural and Northern Libraries. This sounds great, but is it?

It has been reported by the Toronto star that to fund a 1 million dollar investment in Rural and Northern Libraries they are taking money from a big city library: the Toronto Public Library. (Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2017/05/02/ontario-cuts-funding-for-toronto-public-library.html)

As a rural librarian why should I care? This is not an investment in libraries; this is a re-allocation of money. One time $1 million for rural libraries, Toronto public libraries lose $1.4 million. That is a $400,000 deficit to Ontario libraries (barring any new announcements we don’t know about).

This is good news for rural libraries, but bad news for overall Ontario libraries. The Toronto Library system represents approximately 2.7 million people(Census: 2016). That accounts for about 20% of the population of Ontario. Rural libraries may be cheering for this, and some people may even say “well Toronto has got too much for too long.” Cuts will be coming, and I bet they are going to hit rural library programs as much as they hit metro Toronto.

The Toronto Libraries offer so much digital information and programing tools that are shared with other libraries, such as the Toronto Reference Library, Digital Archives, Genealogy and the sharing of maker tools. These programs are likely the first to be cut as they appeal to non-tax payers such as us rural folk.

The Ontario government has pulled a fast one on us. one hand giveth, the other taketh away. We as a community of libraries have lost almost half a million dollars in funding. This is nothing compared to what was happening in Saskatchewan and New Foundland, but people need to speak up and mobilize. In a year or two that $1 million dollar investment will be gone, and I bet the government will not return the 1.4 million to Toronto or any other library without action from its people.

Update:
After some outcry from the public and some literary muscle leading the way (Margaret Atwood) the Ontario government has recinded the removal of funding for the Toronto Library.

Basic income and the future of librarianship

So everyone is talking about Basic income in my province. Ontario is working on putting together a test run of basic income. you have your advocates and your haters, just about everyone has a side. What side are you on?

I have an opinion of this, which I will reserve for the end of this post. This post is more about how basic income could affect libraries and in particular public libraries. let us imagine that the basic income replaces many social programs in the province with a $1300 per month per person. how does this impact the services we as public libraries offer?

I for one believe that this could be a good thing, as it will in theory lift people out of poverty and help those most in need, also helping those who use public libraries very often. the poor, disabled,and aging population of our province.

These people will need new services, they may not have to navigate the governments many hoops and different departments, which is a positive, but the new system will be foreign to many and will require expertise and know how to navigate for sure. That is where we come in.

We as librarians should be ready and updated on this program, how will it work? what are the challenges of getting on/staying on the program. With this new program will there be cuts to other programs to pay or centralize this? You can bet your cardigan it will.

What are people going to lose? Will they need to find new dental programs and medical programs if they are cut to fund basic income? what happens to those students who needed OSAP to go to school, does the new program assume 1300/month is enough to go to school and live off of or is it reformulated to offer less money? How do students cope with this change?

People are going to need help figuring out what they actually gained and lost, as well as figuring out where they stand when the dust settles on this program.

My thoughts on basic income sort of come through in the previous paragraphs. I think it is a necessity. Many basic level jobs are disappearing to automation and in the future a factory will be run by 1 person in an office overseeing a pile of computers. Unemployment will become rampant, and it will be libraries that will save the people from mass hysteria, people don’t react well to change. Basic income is one idea and I think it is a good idea, but that is not to say it wont come without a cost. Many of the social programs we depend on be it OSAP, Disability, Child Benefits, Government Pension Plan, Welfare, Healthcare will be changed in a significant way. We must be prepared for this change, as people will want more information and access to these programs as we move forward.

Libraries and the age of Trump

Ok, so the only thing on the news, social media and in the office is how trump won and everyone is screwed. I personally think everyone is overeating and the problems of the American people, that have been there for quite some time, are finally at the forefront. Time to deal with your issues America.

This post is not a rant about trump. It is a post about what libraries can do while people are in crisis (real or imagined). A lot of people are scared, confused, and just going nuts over the election results. Libraries all over America and the world can help alleviate some of this stress by being beacons of your community.

Libraries have long been centers for free speech, protection, education and freedom. In this time of hysteria we need to stand tall and offer people guidance and appeal to their real information needs. We need to remain calm so that these people can look at the situation, and move through this time of crisis. We should not take sides, but offer perspective to all who want it Left, Right, Democrat or Republican.

Libraries were there for the people when Huricane Katrina destroyed the east coast, Libraries were there when New Orleans was almost swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico, Libraries were there for those in Baltimore during the cities crisis. We stand together and are strong beacons of community, and we are here for the people now.

Privacy in a Public Library

Public libraries for a long time have been associated with freedom and privacy. I understand this and have seen the debate over both topics. This short blog post is to share some of my experience involving privacy (without sharing too much).

As a public librarian I have come across quite a few people who take privacy seriously, but also use the public library to send private information. Usually in the form of legal documents. People don’t seem to know how much privacy is not guaranteed. We have policy for internet use that clearly states that this is an open internet portal and any information sent/received is not secure. Though no one seems to care.

In my year and a half at this location, I have never once been asked/seen anybody reach for the policy. This seems to be the norm for everyone in the library and outside, myself included at one time. It seems to most people privacy is expected and assumed; What most these people don’t realize is that it is not. Yahoo recently was hacked for a tonne of information on e-mail accounts, a few years ago the student loan information of 1000’s of Ontario students was misplaced on a thumb drive, and still people believe their information is safe.

As a public Librarian I logout/clear my computers regularly and do my best to protect patrons information, but these people and most of society seems to take it for granted. I have begun posting more information for patrons in my library and encourage others to do the same, people are blind and don’t realize what they are agreeing to/allowing others to steal, view, and use.

Librarianship and semi-Professionals: De-professionalization or middle management promotion?

So over the last two years I have seen increased discussion online at conferences and in classes (when I was still in school) about semi-professionals in libraries. Many librarians or people who are in the process of becoming MLIS/MLS accredited argue that semi-professionals are stealing jobs and cheapening our degree; at the same time they argue employers are looking for cheaper labour as budgets become tighter and funding is drying up. The other side of that coin is semi-professionals are arguing that MLIS grads are applying for semi-professional work that is making it hard for them to find work…blaming librarians for crowding in on their jobs. The problem is not that simple, but I would like to open up a discussion about it in 1000 words or less.

Focusing more on the librarian side of the coin. Over the years what used to be work done by librarians is now becoming (or has become) the area of work given to college Library Technician graduates. Many positions posted for cataloguing, reference work, circulation, etc. does not require a Master’s degree. This work was once the realm of master’s (or previously Bachelor’s) degree in Library Sciences. So because Library techs are now the “cheaper” option for many libraries they have taken on the grunt work of librarianship in the past, and are being trained to do it.

In Library School I had 1 semester class on reference services, and one semester class on cataloguing. That was it. I got one day (maybe 2 in a week) on each type of cataloguing: MArc 21, AACR2, Dewey, Library of Congress, etc. This compared to a friend of mine who went through the Library technician course whom recieved a class devoted to dewey, a class devoted to Library or Congress, etc. Full 8 week courses devoted to types of cataloguing. This is just one example of where the Library technician program was given ground work duties, compared to my MLIS.

So what do they teach in an MLIS? It really varies dependant on the program. My own program focused more on Technology, and management based skills. I took a reference class, I had a cataloguing class, I took some technology classes. The core classes focused on giving you the basics. So I learned how to generally do AACR2, Dewey, and Library of Congress. This was taught so that one day I would be able to oversee someone else doing it, and know what they were doing/offer assistance/training/guidance.

Probably the best courses I took were my Management course, which at the time I thought was a waste of time, issues in librarianship, and my Special Libraries course. All three focused on project management, team building, types of volunteers/employees and issues in real world librarianship. They were all basically priming us for middle management issues: how to deal with different demographics involving employees/volunteers, how to make a proposal to refresh/build a new library, are libraries neautral, etc.

It wasn’t just the way things were taught in school, but a few professors argued it was the future of librarianship. There was a meeting between faculty and students, this annual meeting allowed students to voice concerns or opinions on the program. Student concern was pretty central on the topic of practical skills. The response we got was one that we didn’t want to here. We basically got told that the landscape of librarianship was changing. The librarians of the past who stamped books, catalogued the magazines, and answered reference questions had gone the way of the card catalogue. We were told that the skills librarians needed were to act as middle managers for those people who chose to go the library technician route. Next question…

We weren’t too thrilled about that answer but it got me thinking. This allows librarians to move up in the theoretical corporate ladder in libraries. So instead of having a long chain that starts at Library Page and goes up to Library CEO, we start at middle management. This may be a dreamy eyed approach, as many others see it as cutthroat and driving wages down by allowing cheaper, less professionalized people do the work, but as I see it the wages were gonna go down regardless, as it has in all other professions as well. This allows Librarians to try to maintain some form of medium waged salary in a professional field that we love. Regardless of what you think of all this, the professors were right about one thing. It is the future of librarianship, whether you like it or not. You have just got to make the best of a not so great situation.