embodied library work

I’m coming down from the Gender and Sexuality in Library and Information Studies colloquium that Emily Drabinski, Baharak Yousefi and I organized. For me one of the big themes was bodies and embodiment.

Vanessa Richards‘ keynote was amazing. She spoke a bit and facilitated us in singing together. It was powerful, transformative and extremely emotional for me. Some of the instruction she gave us was to pay attention to our bodies, “what do you feel and where in your body do you feel it when I tell you we are going to sing together?” Both my body and my mind are very uncomfortable with singing. At some point in my life someone told me I was a bad singer and ridiculed me and I think I believed them. Vanessa Richards said something like: “Your body is the source code. Your body knows how to sing. All the people who told you that you can’t sing, kick them to the curb. This is your human right.”

For me this was deeply transformative and created magic in the room. We sang 3 songs together, and by the last one there was a beautiful transformation. I observed people’s bodies. People’s shoulders had dropped and their weight was sinking their weight down into their feet. People were taking up more space and looking less self conscious. Also, our voices were much louder and they were beautiful. This was an unconventional and magical way to start the day together.

There were so many excellent presentations. I was so excited to learn about GynePunk, the cyborg witches of DIY gynecology in Spain. James Cheng, Lauren Di Monte, and Madison Sullivan completely blew my mind in their talk titled Makerspace Meets Medicine: Politics, Gender, and Embodiment in Critical Information Practice. This is the most exciting talk I’ve heard about makerspaces, though they argued that because it’s gendered and political we’re unlikely to see this in a library makerspace. GynePunk reminds me of the zine Hot Pantz that starts with:

Patriarchy sucks. It’s robbed us of our autonomy and much of our history. We believe it’s integral for women to be aware and in control of our own bodies.

I also loved Stacy Wood’s talk on Mourning and Melancholia in Archives. She told the story of working in an archive and having cremated ashes fall out of a poorly sealed bag that was in a poorly sealed envelope. I hope I have a chance to read her paper as she had many smart things to say about institutional practice, as well as melancholia.

Marika Cifor presented Blood, Sweat, and Hair: The Archival Potential of Queer and Trans Bodies in three acts: blood, sweat and hair. She used examples of these parts of our bodies that were part of archival objects:

  • blood – blood on a menstrual sponge, blood during the AIDS crisis, blood on Harvey Milk’s clothing from when he was shot and killed
  • sweat – sweat stains on a tshirt from a gay leather bar
  • hair – hair on a lipstick of Victoria Schneider a trans woman, sex worker and activist, and hair samples (both pubic hair and regular hair from your head) in Samuel Steward’s stud file, where he documented his lovers, that is in the Yale Archives

It was so exciting and nourishing to talk about bodies in relation to libraries, archives and information work. I didn’t realize that I was so hungry to have these conversations. I realized that when I’m doing my daily work I’m fairly unembodied dissociated. I bike to work, hang up my body on the back of my office door, and then let my brain run around for the day. I put on my body and go about the rest of my life. I’ve been working to try and be my whole self at work, and have realized that the brain/body binary needs to be dismantled.

I’m not really sure what this is going to look like. I fear it might be messy, as bodies often are. I also fear that there will be failure, as is common with trying new things. To start, I think I’m going to go join the Woodward’s Community Singers this Thursday and sing again.

Woodward’s Community Singers – An Invitation to Sing Together from Woodward’s Community Singers on Vimeo.

digitization: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

I learned this week that Reveal Digital has digitized On Our Backs (OOB), a lesbian porn magazine that ran from 1984-2004. This is a part of the Independent Voices collection that “chronicles the transformative decades of the 60s, 70s and 80s through the lens of an independent alternative press.” For a split second I was really excited — porn that was nostalgic for me was online! Then I quickly thought about friends who appeared in this magazine before the internet existed. I am deeply concerned that this kind of exposure could be personally or professionally harmful for them.

While Reveal Digital went through the proper steps to get permission from the copyright holder, there are ethical issues with digitizing collections like this. Consenting to a porn shoot that would be in a queer print magazine is a different thing to consenting to have your porn shoot be available online. I’m disappointed in my profession. Librarians have let down the queer community by digitizing On Our Backs.

Why is this collection different?

The nature of this content makes it different from digitizing textual content or non-pornographic images. We think about porn differently than other types of content.

Most of the OOB run was published before the internet existed. Consenting to appear in a limited run print publication is very different than consenting to have one’s sexualized image be freely available on the internet. These two things are completely different. Who in the early 90s could imagine what the internet would look like in 2016?

In talking to some queer pornographers, I’ve learned that some of their former models are now elementary school teachers, clergy, professors, child care workers, lawyers, mechanics, health care professionals, bus drivers and librarians. We live and work in a society that is homophobic and not sex positive. Librarians have an ethical obligation to steward this content with care for both the object and with care for the people involved in producing it.

How could this be different?

Reveal Digital does not have a clear takedown policy on their website. A takedown policy describes the mechanism for someone to request that digital content be taken off a website or digital collection. Hathi’s Trust’s takedown policy is a good example of a policy around copyright. When I spoke to Peggy Glahn, Program Director for Reveal Digital she explained there isn’t a formal takedown policy. Someone could contact the rights holder (the magazine publisher, the photographer, or the person who owns the copyright to the content) and have them make the takedown request to Reveal Digital. Even for librarians it’s sometimes tricky to track down the copyright holder of a magazine that’s not being published anymore. By being stewards of this digital content I believe that Reveal Digital has an ethical obligation to make this process clearer.

I noticed that not all issues are available online. Peggy Glahn said that they digitized copies from Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture at Duke University and Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern University but they are still missing many of the later issues. More issues should not be digitized until formal ethical guidelines have been written. This process should include consultation with people who appeared in OOB.

There are ways to improve access to the content through metadata initiatives. I’m really, really excited by Bobby Noble and Lisa Sloniowski‘s proposed project exploring linked data in relation to Derrida and feminism. I’ve loved hearing how Lisa’s project has shifted from a physical or digital archive of feminist porn to a linked data project documenting the various relationships between different people. I think the current iteration avoids dodgy ethics while exploring new ways of thinking about the content and people through linked data. Another example of this is Sarah Mann’s index of the first 10 years of OOB for the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archive.

We need to have an in depth discussion about the ethics of digitization in libraries. The Zine librarian’s Code of Ethics is the best discussion of these issues that I’ve read. There two ideas that are relevant to my concerns are about consent and balancing interests between access to the collection and respect for individuals.

Whenever possible, it is important to give creators the right of refusal if they do not wish their work to be highly visible.

Because of the often highly personal content of zines, creators may object to having their material being publicly accessible. Zinesters (especially those who created zines before the Internet era) typically create their work without thought to their work ending up in institutions or being read by large numbers of people. To some, exposure to a wider audience is exciting, but others may find it unwelcome. For example, a zinester who wrote about questioning their sexuality as a young person in a zine distributed to their friends may object to having that material available to patrons in a library, or a particular zinester, as a countercultural creator, may object to having their zine in a government or academic institution.

Consent is a key feminist and legal concept. Digitizing a feminist porn publication without consideration for the right to be forgotten is unethical.

The Zine librarian’s Code of Ethics does a great job of articulating the tension that sometimes exists between making content available and the safety and privacy of the content creators:

To echo our preamble, zines are “often weird, ephemeral, magical, dangerous, and emotional.” Dangerous to whom, one might ask? It likely depends on whom one asks, but in the age of the Internet, at least one prospectively endangered population are zinesters themselves. Librarians and archivists should consider that making zines discoverable on the Web or in local catalogs and databases could have impacts on creators – anything from mild embarrassment to the divulging of dangerous personal information.

Zine librarians/archivists should strive to make zines as discoverable as possible while also respecting the safety and privacy of their creators.

I’ve heard similar concerns with lack of care by universities when digitizing traditional Indigenous knowledge without adequate consultation, policies or understanding of cultural protocols. I want to learn more about Indigenous intellectual property, especially in Canada. It’s been a few years since I’ve looked at Mukurtu, a digital collection platform that was built in collaboration with Indigenous groups to reflect and support cultural protocols. Perhaps queers and other marginalized groups can learn from Indigenous communities about how to create culturally appropriate digital collections.

Librarians need to take more care with the ethical issues, that go far beyond simple copyright clearances, when digitizing and putting content online.

On ramps to participation: what open education can learn from open source communities

slow exposure photo of a freeway with two on-ramps that go off in different directions
High Five Ramps by SETShot

As a newcomer to the open education community I observed that there is a core group of smart and passionate people who were doing their thing. At first the opportunities for where and how I could participate were not obvious or clear to me. I don’t think I’m the only person who has been puzzled by how to become an active participant, instead of a bystander, in this community.

I’m completely inspired by the idea of a Z-degree, or a degree program where there is no cost for textbooks for any of the classes, but feel that’s a daunting goal from where most of our institutions are at currently. I’m excited about how some faculty are moving away from disposable assignments to assignments that further knowledge creation and sharing, but I don’t regularly teach so this isn’t something that connects with me either.

While the open education community is much more decentralized and open source communities have some additional structures (like feature road maps and release dates) there are still some valuable lessons that can be learned.

Continue reading On ramps to participation: what open education can learn from open source communities

Missing the mark: IBM accessibility

I’m excited to see that accessibility is becoming more of a mainstream discussion within web development communities and technology companies.

This short 2 minute video from IBM answers the question “why is accessibility important?” The production values are high and the music is upbeat and feel good. This video was created with subtitles, which makes it accessible to Deaf and Hard of Hearing folks.

This video, however, is not accessible to blind and many visually impaired people as it has lots of information that is only conveyed visually and there is no descriptive audio. The following facts are only presented as text on the screen:

  • 1.2 billion people in the world have a disability
  • 600 million are over the age of 60
  • 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 15 years
  • 20% of the population has language or text comprehension difficulty
  • 2.4 million children have cognitive learning difficulties

In addition to these snippets of text, the visuals of different people with different types of disabilities doing different things is not accessible to blind people. While the talking heads are accessible, a blind person doesn’t know who the person talking is. This context is important.

This is highly ironic as the video opens with a (presumably blind) person using a white cane and then cuts to a short clip of a different person walking with a service dog.

Phil Gilbert, General Manager, IBM Design and one of the talking heads in this video says:

I think we have a unique responsibility to the world, being who we are, to design for inclusion. The differentiation that we can drive into the marketplace by designing intentionally to reach every possible human being on the planet, regardless of their technical capability, I think it could possibly be one of the key differentiation of our portfolio has in the marketplace.

In addition to being full of jargon like “key differentiation of our portfolio” this video does not deliver on the promise to design for inclusion or to reach every possible human being on the planet. This video on accessibility excludes blind and visually impaired people and that sucks.

NOPE-sevier

Bitmoji of Tara holding up a sign that says "NO"

This morning I received an email asking me to peer review a book proposal for Chandos Publishing, the Library and Information Studies imprint of Elsevier. Initially I thought it was spam because of some sloppy punctuation and the “Dr. Robertson” salutation.

When other people pointed out that this likely wasn’t spam my ego was flattered for a few minutes and I considered it. I was momentarily confused–would participating in Elsevier’s book publishing process be evil? Isn’t it different from their predatory pricing models with libraries and roadblocks to sharing research more broadly? I have a lot to learn about scholarly publishing, but decided that I’m not going to contribute my labour to a company that are jerks to librarians, researchers and libraries.

Here’s some links I found useful:

Amy Buckland’s pledge to support open access

Mita Williams pointed me to The Cost of Knowledge petition, which I also encourage you to sign.

using Pop Up Archive to help create a transcript

I had the pleasure of being on Circulating Ideas with Steve Thomas. We talked about a bunch of things including open textbooks, accessibility, alternate formats, and being a systems librarian. He’s a great host and an interesting person to chat with. The interview went up last week.

Without a transcript a podcast isn’t accessible to Deaf and some Hard of Hearing people. It felt strange to be talking about accessibility and universal design and have it be in an audio-only format. So I decided to produce a transcript.

I heard the folks from Pop Up Archive present at code4lib in Portland. Pop Up Archive makes sound searchable using speech-to-text technology. Their clients are mostly public radio broadcasters who are looking to make their sound archives searchable. I remember thinking at code4lib that this could be an interesting tool to help make politics more accessible and transparent. For example, transcripts could be made available fairly quickly after a municipal committee (or provincial or federal committee) met.  The transcript is almost the byproduct of this process.

I was curious how it could be used to produce a transcript. I was also curious about how accurate the machine transcript was, as well as how long it would take me to clean up. First, you upload the sound file. Next, you can add metadata about the file you uploaded. Then Pop Up Archive processes your sound file. The machine transcript takes as long as your file is, in my case 39 minutes, to process. The machine transcript was about 80% accurate. Finally you can edit the machine transcript on their platform. It took me about 2 hours to clean up a 39 minute interview.

Continue reading using Pop Up Archive to help create a transcript

tips for travelling to Japan

I love Japan. I first visited as a high school exchange student to Tokyo. I studied Japanese language in university as part of my International Studies degree. After my undergrad I lived in Hokkaido for 3 years teaching English on the JET program (or as I used to joke, snowboarding semi-professionally on the Ministry of Education team. One year I got about 100 days of boarding in!)

Through YVR deals I found some cheap tickets (~$625 from Vancouver to Tokyo, taxes in, on a reputable airline, ANA). This was my partner’s first time to Japan and my first time to Naoshima and Miyajima. It was a pretty busy trip, in two weeks we went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Naoshima, Hiroshima, Miyajima and back to Tokyo.

Continue reading tips for travelling to Japan

vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver

 

Beer battered haloumi at The Acorn. Photo by Heather Joan
Beer battered haloumi at The Acorn. Photo by Heather Joan

An out of town friend asked for vegetarian restaurant  recommendations. I asked my friends on Facebook, then checked their suggestions on Urban Spoon. Finally I filtered out some places I don’t like. Lots of people seemed to find the list useful, so I’m posting it here too. The best options are not downtown, so if you’re in town for DLF Forum or Open Education this is another reason to get out of downtown.

Last updated April 2016.

Continue reading vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver

discovering default settings

old light switch with 3 switches all in the down or "off" position
Old Light Switches by Paul Cross

I had a fantastic conversation with Dana Ayotte about some of the work she does as an interaction designer at OCAD’s Inclusive Research Design Centre. One of the projects she worked on was working with people to figure out their settings preferences on a computer and codify or summarize them, so that they are portable. It struck me that this is a little thing that can be really important in terms of access, but also in terms of letting people customize things to suit them. It allows them to decide for themselves what works best. I love the idea of people sharing their preference sets, because sometimes you don’t know that there are other options than the default you’re presented with.

This reminded me of a couple of other conversations and experiences over the past year.

Continue reading discovering default settings

HUMAN: subtitles enhancing access and empathy

I came across this video on a friend’s Facebook feed. I’m a chronic multitasker, but by half a minute in I stopped doing whatever else I was doing and just watched and listened. This is the part that grabbed my heart:

This is my star. I had to wear it on my chest, of course, like all the Jews. It’s big, isn’t it? Especially for a child. That was when I was 8 years old.

Also Francine Christophe’s voice was very powerful and moved me. She annunciates each word so clearly. My French isn’t great, but she speaks slowly and clearly enough that I can understand her. Also, the subtitles confirm that I’m understanding correctly and reinforce what she’s saying.

I noticed that there was something different about the subtitles. The font is clear and elegant and the words are positioned in the blank space beside her face. I can watch her face and her eyes while I read the subtitles. My girlfriend reminded me of something I had said when I was reviewing my Queer ASL lesson at home. In ASL I learned that when fingerspelling you position your hand up by your face, as your face (especially your eyebrows) are part of the language. Even when we speak English our faces communicate so much.

Continue reading HUMAN: subtitles enhancing access and empathy