Less Make, More Build

The 15 minutes a day when I skim Facebook, I usually only catch the titles of things that look vaguely interesting before scrolling on. A recent title stuck with me, so I finally made the effort to go back and read the article. Debbie Chachra’s Why I Am Not a Maker is worth a read, although my current state of mind took her ideas in a different direction.

I’ve been doing some professional soul-searching lately, which is a good practice generally I think, and I came to a realization – there is a unnamed third category in the work mode of the contemporary digital scholar. The Hack/Yack binary precludes those of us who aren’t particularly interested in (or good at) the deep intellectualization of digital academic work, and/or aren’t particularly skilled in (or have aptitude for) codestuffs and programmar syntaxes. The thread of Chachra’s piece that unspooled my desire to blog is simple: those that don’t make, build, and should be recognized as imminently as valuable. What she calls education and caregiving, I’ll call Buildability.

 The thing I like about “building” as my mode of work is that it doesn’t need to drill down to the microsope or zoom out to the mesosphere; building can be always, also the plan, the structure itself, and the process in between. You can build a brand, character, and consensus all at once.

Community engagement. Program development. Initiative coordinator. Implementer-in-residence. I have finally realized I care more about facilitating the physical and mental space and organizational “vibez” for a discussion than about the philosophical addressability of texts.* I will go to town evaluating, testing and playing with digital research tools, if in the end it means that a sense of enjoyment and fun stays with those who showed up. I’ll rouse every rabble on a listserv, if one or two people are inspired to reimagine how librarians should “publish.” I’d always rather grab a bite with a professor or grad student than “assess their information needs.” I am a builder of: teams, spirits, communities, organizational culture, workflows, independence, good times, realities, project plans, innovative outreach, modules, models, #digischolbandnames, #n00brarians, #foodtei, collegiality, and more.

“Isn’t this just semantic mumbo jumbo?” “Aren’t you just poking fun at an age-old debate in credentialing and credit?” Y’all, this is a weird, tough time where we are exploring new ways of working, and that means interrogating/problemitizing our “labor” from every angle. (See what I did there, with the academicese? Yeah, I survived grad school in a humanities discipline.) I hope to see more discussion on the dangerous? line we’re walking by exchanging the monograph (product) for the website (product) without duly examining, acknowledging, and evaluating the Buildability (process) and the effort (people). There is a whole lotta building going on that facilitates all the hacking and ALLLLLLLLLL the yacking. As we all dig deep to understand the valuation of multifaceted digital work, lets remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day… but it sure as shit was built.

*This is not to disparage or devalue either hacking or yacking, just to acknowledge that I’m not particularly good at it, I appreciate and respect those that are, and I hope we are moving toward an academe that appreciates and respects the solid middle of these two extremes.



Um … about that American Libraries article we wrote

Its a bummer to see this happening, but I am so pleased that Stewart and Patricia decided to share openly about it. I dont think I’ve ever reblogged someone elses work on my own blog, but this is important.

Stewart Varner

As a professional rule, I try to keep things positive. I like to be a cheerleader for all the great people out there and avoid boosting the signal on a bunch of negativity.

However, situations compel me to devote this one post to something totally crappy.

TL;DR: Patricia Hswe and I wrote an article for American Libraries and the editors added some quotes from a vendor talking about their products without telling us. We asked them to fix it and they said no.

Because American Libraries refused to clarify what happened, we decided to clarify it ourselves. What follows is our second (and hopefully happier) attempt at collaborative writing. This little blog does not have quite the reach of that big glossy magazine so please feel free to share as widely as you want. As always, let me know if you have any questions!

svarner@email.unc.edu  ||  @stewartvarner


If you are a member of…

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*Disclaimer – all thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own, and do not reflect the views of FSU Libraries, FSU, or anyone I work with.

A year ago today FSU Libraries faced a tragedy. Someone came to our campus with the intent to do harm to others. I was not at the library at the time of the shooting, but it affected me way more than I thought it might have.

In the weeks following, I was working on a draft of an invited talk I was scheduled to give at a conference in New York. Free counseling was available to the FSU community, and for a long time I meant to go and show someone this draft. Of course, life/work got in the way and I never did. This past week, as we prepared to remember the event, I dug up this draft and decided to share it for my own healing. The version of the talk that I actually ended up giving turned out very different, and is available here.

Most importantly, we are all healing. These pictures, and more on my Twitter throughout the day, represent the FSU Libraries family as we are today. We wore FSU colors today as a symbol of our strength and endurance.


Draft one:

Two weeks ago, a man was shot and killed in front of my library. A young, black man was shot and killed on the steps I walk every morning at 8am. A kid is now paralyzed from the waist down after being shot, because he was hanging out in front of my library late one Wednesday night. A library staffer, who works the overnight shift and who I nod hello to every morning as he leaves was shot in the leg. I didn’t even know his name until I saw it in the news. This isn’t the talk I intended to give today. But it’s all that I have in my mind and heart, and I couldn’t pretend that open access matters when someone’s life was ended under a banner that says “A great university requires a great library.”

At 630am when a flood of texts came from concerned family and friends that were catching the morning news that day, my first thoughts were “I’m glad I wasn’t there” and “I knew this was going to happen sooner or later.” My Facebook status was a mix of shock, helplessness and confusion. “All my deadlines and projects seem to matter so much less now.” That sentiment has followed me these two weeks. I don’t care that SPARC hosted OpenCon and that a bunch of young people are excited about making real change in academic publishing. The Gates Foundation announced an Open Access Policy that I believe will be a significant turning point in research funders dictating how open access moves forward – but I could care less. The Friday after the shooting, I moved into a new position (Digital Scholarship Coordinator) and got a raise, something I’ve been working toward for months – bittersweet, and mostly bitter.

The talk I wanted to give today would have been a challenge, as I am wont to do in my professional life. A challenge to academic librarians to stop talking about open access and start doing it. To force our own field to change by taking collective action against Big Publishing and refuse to continue to perpetuate a system that continues to prove its blatant disdain for author’s rights, libraries budgets and the good/right of information access to the global knowledge ecosystem. That challenge is still in my heart, but as an echo. The talk that I have to give today is a feeble plea, in light of the sense of smallness that was inflicted on me two weeks ago. My simple response to the prompt “What is the role of the academic librarian in open access?” is this: access for all.

I titled my talk “Scholarly Communication is People” because I believe that is the number one thing that we have lost over the 8 years that Open Access Week has been observed in libraries internationally. In the beginning, we (libraries) made it about money; scholars have made it about their rights to their work; funders have made it about a return on investment; policy makers have made it about civic life. I believe all those things are true; but what we overlook too often is that the academic enterprise, and by extension all this goddammned writing we do, is about making better humans. I submitted a proposal to the Scholarly Communication Institute at Duke, held at the beginning of November. The proposal was rejected, but the core idea behind it has been driving me since early this year: The only real reason open access matters is because of the potential it offers. The possibility that a member of the public will discover academic research is the reason I wake up. And we have done a disservice to the public by making it all about us.

Could open access to publicly-funded scholarship about the historical and social constructs of race relations in America have saved Michael Brown? Might open access to research on mental health have prevented death and tragedy from visiting my library? I don’t know. I don’t think so. But, I do believe that it matters when my dad tells me he is tracing our family genealogy using some weird website called HathiTrust. Or when my sister, a single, working mother of two, is able to complete an MBA relying on Google Scholar as a resource because she doesn’t have time to learn about Ebsco’s Business Resource Complete database. I wont make the claim that open access will save the world, but I believe that it could make it a significantly better place to raise my son.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve thought a lot about what matters. Over the past three years, what has mattered a lot to me has been pushing buttons and asking questions no one seems to want to ask – like why the Journal of Academic Librarianship still exists in its present form? Or, why library schools indoctrinate students with ALA’s Code of Ethics, but those same faculty fail to exercise their rights to place their works in institutional repositories? Or, why we all walk on eggshells when vendors or publishers are around? Or, why librarianship acts to principled but has yet to live up to the edict under which every libraries’ heritage lies – access for all? What I’ve learned in three years as a librarian is that it’s a lot more complicated than a young, idealistic blogger can hope to change. And that, many of my questions are important more in the asking than in the answers. What I’ve been forced to reconcile these past weeks is that the strife and bickering and how ridiculous it is for librarians to sue one another and the conversations we have in and across our literature that seem so huge (PhD’s taking all our jobs! Library school doesn’t prepare you for the workforce! Numbers, metrics, assessment = funding!)– all of this doesn’t matter as much as we hope.

What does matter, and what I think is the most important thing about anything we do, is that you and I are here right now and that I really want to know what you’re excited about. What matters is that across the pond, my former Grad Assistant Chealsye is struggling through a Master’s degree in the History of Science and Technology, while at the same time working on the Open Access Button. What matters is that Erin McKiernan, an early career  neuroscientist, has pledged to only do open access with all her work, for the rest of her career. What matters is that lots of new librarians will be hired in the next 2-5 years never knowing a library-land before DPLA, Open Access Policies, Research Data Management or Digital Humanities. What matters is that the morning of the shooting I was comforted and honored to be part of a profession where emails flowed in all day long – from Molly Keener at Wake Forest, Ellen Duranceau at MIT, Kathryn Pope at CDRS, from Colin Lukens at Harvard, Claudia Holland at George Mason U, and countless others on Twitter.

I do strongly believe that every library needs a scholarly communication initiative, and that every librarian can and should participate in this work. I believe that scholarly communication (and everything connected to it, DH, Data management, GIS) is offering us the chance to exert our principles, “access for all” in the real, practical benefit of global change. I believe the academic librarians role in open access is to just do it, to embody the change we hope to see, to be a catalyst for shifting research patterns at our institutions. I believe the time for timidity and “service” has passed, and that our role now is active, collaborative participation in research, teaching and learning. I believe there is a good chance I am wrong about some of this because I am still a new librarian, and am just learning to be ok with making mistakes.


That’s where the draft ended. Some of the threads here have changed the way I live since I wrote this. I started leaving my laptop at work when I went home at the end of the day. I pulled back from a lot of researching/writing and speaking to stay around Tallahassee. I have invested a lot more energy in connecting personally with people I work with (#tacotuesday has been amazing.) I won’t leave you with any grand takeaway, except that I love this library. It’s been a strange, interesting, and delightful year since Nov. 20th, 2014.

*Disclaimer – all thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own, and do not reflect the views of FSU Libraries, FSU, or anyone I work with.

HILT2015, iSchools+DH, and deconstructive/critical digital pedagogy.

I’m at HILT right now, and supposed to be involved in a discussion group on pedagogical methods and tools. Instead, I’m racking my brain over the current state of LIS education. Guess you really can’t teach a new dog old tricks. Or whatever.

A while back I heard about this great project, iSchools+DH, which aimed to “develop a robust and sustainable program for placing interns within digital humanities centers.” As far as I can tell, the program was a success, but it continues to haunt me. What’s the point of placing interns in DH centers? Are DH centers still a thing? What is the sustainability/model of this program that could be more broadly applied? And, returning to my age old mantra, are LIS schools actually preparing students for the work that we in libraries are doing or preparing to do?

One outcome that iSchools+DH proposed was to “Generate a syllabus for a digital humanities LIS course that will be taught by one or more of the iSchool faculty participating in the grant in the third year of the program and released widely under a Creative Commons license.” Thus far, I haven’t been able to discover that CC licensed syllabus, and I want to know why. Further, what “opportunities for collaborative research and scholarship” came out of the program?

So, in the spirit of all this critical digital pedagogy I’m imbibing, I decided to turn the micro/macroscope back on LIS programs. How are DH courses being taught in LIS programs and iSchools? Is there any continuity or curricular similarities across programs? Are DH courses at different programs teaching on similar topics? Are we all reading the same things, learning the same tools, gaining the same skills?

I pulled together a quick Zotero library of DH/LIS syllabi (Add more if you got ’em!). Now, I’m not sure where to go next. Did a quick Voyant of the Course Descriptions, but eh… Topic model all the text of the syllabi? Rip the text as data, clean it, then look for patterns? I’d also like to see how courses develop over time… John Walsh at IU might be a good example since a lot of his syllabi are online.

I’d like to argue that if libraries were collaborating more deeply with their iSchools, and vice versa, some of that training could happen practically, hands-on. Especially at schools where there is an iSchool, some DH curriculum in different departments and a library with some experts or expertise in the area. So, I’m probably going to wrangle some colleagues, write a grant proposal, and re-ignite the iSchool+DH+Lib integration project. You want in?

Modeling contributorship with TaDiRAH

Very, very excited to be a participant in this year’s Scholarly Communication Institute. Read more about the project I’ll be involved in.


This is the fourth in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2015, and their projects. This one was submitted by Micah Vandegrift.

The goal of our project, codename TaDiRize, is to examine the expanding model of contributorship in the humanities, especially as digital work becomes more broadly recognized. Digital projects often require a team of scholars, and the mounting diversity of team members involved in the production of digital scholarship has prompted a diverse set of questions surrounding the challenges of assigning credit and authorship. We feel that this aligns perfectly with the goals of the Institute this year by focusing on the valuation of digital scholarship.

We plan to address this topic by developing a model for applying the Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities (TaDiRAH) to contributor activities and outputs as a first step toward better assessment of…

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