Hello, my name is Tara Robertson. I am from Vancouver, Canada which is the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Unceded means that the land was never sold, given, or released to any colonial government. In Canada we’re thinking a lot about relationships between settlers and First Nations in many areas of society, including education.
I am mixed race and queer, which means I’ve had a lot of life experiences where I don’t fit. Often being a misfit means that I’ve had a first hand personal view of power and group dynamics.
This month I changed careers and am part of the Diversity and Inclusion team at Mozilla, the organization that fights to keep the internet healthy, open, and accessible to all. Firefox Quantum launches on Tuesday, and if you’re not already using it as your web browser, you really should.
In most social situations, I think it’s always interesting to observe:
Who is in the room?
Who is at the table?
Who speaks a lot?
Who has social capital?
Who feels welcome?
Whose ideas are respected and centered by default?
I think even more interesting is to note:
Who is missing?
Who isn’t even in the room?
Who doesn’t have a seat at the table?
Who is sitting on the margins?
Who doesn’t feel welcome?
Who has to fight to have their viewpoints respected?
I think this simple question is useful to keep in mind as we move into the do-a-thon tomorrow.
I’m going to share 2 short examples with you to illustrate this point.
The first example I want to talk about is how I got involved in open textbooks.
For the last 5 years I was the Accessibility Librarian for an organization that serves students with print disabilities at 20 colleges and universities. We digitized their print textbooks and learning materials into digital and accessible versions. In Canada, students with disabilities can register with their Disability Service Office at their university. Students need to provide medical documentation or a psycho-educational assessment. Then they meet with a disability counselor who looks at the documentation, the academic program objectives and the course syllabus and then figures out what barriers exist and what the necessary accommodations are. All of this takes time, and often students with print disabilities don’t have access to the course materials until a couple of weeks after their classmates.
When I heard about the British Columbia open textbook project I saw an opportunity for us to move from remediating things that were broken to inserting ourselves at the beginning of the publishing workflow to make things that were accessible to everyone from the start.
As part of this process we worked with BCcampus and a group of students with print disabilities to test some of the first open textbooks that had been produced in British Columbia. Working with a group of students who were visually impaired or blind highlighted some access issues that we weren’t aware of.
Including students with visual impairments also made us think about how we worked and we learned some unexpected things. For example, when we were co-presenting at a conference I learned a lot about the lack of accessible signage in our light rail stations and the extra prep work that blind and visually impaired people need to do to travel somewhere new.
By including students with disabilities in this process we came up with a better product and we learned a lot about how to work in ways that are inclusive to people who are blind. The students said they felt like they were improving things for other students with visual impairments. The students were also paid and co-presented with us at a few conferences, which was awesome. It’s way more impactful for faculty to hear directly from students with disabilities, than for them to hear from me.
Amanda Coolidge, from BCcampus, Sue Doner, from Camosun College and I cowrote The BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit as a resource for faculty writing open textbooks to help them understand why this is important, who might be in their classroom and what they need to do to ensure their content is accessible from the start. I’m really proud that we won The Open Education Consortium Creative Innovation award for this work. Josie Gray, who is here, is working on updating this tooklit and working on making sure all of the BC Open Textbooks are accessible. The Toolkit is CC-BY licensed and has been translated into French, so feel free to use, reuse or remix this content.
When working at the university, are you ensuring that things are accessible to students with disabilities from the start? What does it say about who belongs when we don’t design for inclusion?
Most universities in North America have a Disability Resource Centre. You can reach out and recruit students to help you user test for accessibility. It’s important that students with disabilities are paid for this work as they are experts in accessibility and often face economic exclusion as many student jobs aren’t accessible to them. Also, as most of us are paid for our work, it’s important to pay people who are co-designing with us.
The second example is about open access.
I think that we would all agree that open access to information is a good thing. This is definitely one of my core values as a librarian. However, over the last couple of years I’ve come to realize that this isn’t an absolute and that there are some times where it’s not appropriate or ethical for information to be open to all.
Last spring I learned that Reveal Digital, a nonprofit that works with libraries, digitized On Our Backs, a lesbian porn magazine that ran from 1984-2004. It had actually been online for several years before I learned about it. For a brief moment 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 was worried that this kind of exposure could be personally or professionally harmful for them. There are ethical issues with digitizing collections like this. Consenting to a porn shoot that would be in a queer print magazine with a limited run is a different thing to consenting to have your porn shoot be available online.
Over the last year I’ve been researching this topic—I visited Cornell University’s Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection and found the contributor contracts, learned a lot more about US copyright law, and most importantly I talked to queer women who modeled for On Our Backs about their thoughts and feelings about this.
When Reveal Digital digitized this collection, the content was licensed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license. This license allows feminist porn to be remixed in ways that could appropriate the content and demean women. This license allows for this content to be repackaged, in any format, and sold, as long as credit is given and a link to the license is provided.
This is a quote from one of the models from an email to me in July 2016. She writes: “People can cut up my body and make a collage. My professional and personal life can be highjacked. These are uses I never intended and still don’t want.”
This research project has also been very personal and transformative for me.
In the past year, in my professional life I’ve come out as a former sex worker. I know what it’s like to have content about myself online that I didn’t consent to. In my case, it’s a newspaper article that appeared in a major newspaper that identifies me as a sex worker and a librarian. Throughout my career I’ve been terrified that my employer or my colleagues would find this out. We live in a judgmental society where there are many negative stereotypes about sex workers. I was worried that this would undermine my professional reputation.
Coming out as a former sex worker is one of the scariest things I’ve done in my career and thankfully I’ve only experienced support from colleagues. By coming out I made this potentially theoretical conversation about ethics an honest and messy conversation and named my stake in the broader conversation about The Right To Be Forgotten.
This conversation is about how we do good work in and with our communities. Being both a librarian and someone with sex work experience I have the privilege to speak from within our institutions. I choose to use that privilege to engage other librarians to consider the lives and perspectives of other queer sex workers.
So, I offer you these questions for tomorrow and for your work after OpenCon.
Whose voice is missing? Whose voice are we leaving out? And how to we change how we work to really include diverse voices?
October 16th will be my first day in my new career at Mozilla on the Diversity and Inclusion team. I’ve been telling people I’m going to be a feminist data driven storyteller, but the scope of the job is a little bigger than that. I’m really excited to learn more about the connections between diversity, inclusion and innovation. I’m also excited to figure out how to operationalize research on diversity and inclusion and support culture change. Until very recently I couldn’t have imagined a career in HR, but the People Team at Mozilla is not your typical HR group:
At Mozilla, we need a certain, special kind of “HR”. We are an organism more than an organization. We are bumpy, and rough, and strong, and unique. We’re powerful, and generous, and open, and brave. We respect iteration, failure, choice, and inclusion and care little for convention, rigidity, or compliance. We are wicked smart and imperfect. And we are all of these words and many more.
An experiment in open
Through the recruitment process I experimented with being really open with my Facebook friends about all my excitement, questions, insecurities and fears. I’ve curated my Facebook friend-list to be people I know, like and trust. My friends are generous and helped by encouraging, cheerleading, helping me beat back impostor syndrome, sending me research articles and tips for data analysis and storytelling, offering me feedback on my written work and presentation deck, and coaching me through explicitly connecting the dots from my library experience to this job. People also introduced me to friends who are current or past Mozillians who also agreed to chat with me. There were a few really delightful serendipitous connections. I know lots of smart, helpful and generous people in various industries and it was so awesome to have all kinds of support through this process. It was awesome having friends cheer me on as I made it through to the next round and have them reflect back all the positive things they see in me when I was having self doubts. This experiment turned out really well.
It was a bit scary leaving the stability of academic libraries, but I’m so excited about the challenges, adventure and positive change that are possible with this new job.
A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of chatting with the folks from the Centre for Teaching and Learning at UBC about accessibility, universal design for learning and inclusion. I’m really happy with how this video turned out. I love that captioning is now part of their production workflow, and not an afterthought. Yay born accessible content!
Rajiv Jhangiani’s post Just how inclusive are “inclusive access” e-textbook programs? points out the problems with mandatory course fees for all students to lease access to online textbooks. This so-called “inclusive access” model has been piloted at Algonquin College with the e-textbook platform provider Texidium.
Too often we conflate digital with being accessible. Here’s my thoughts on accessibility of e-textbooks for students with print disabilities. I left this as a comment on Rajiv’s post.
When talking about inclusion and accessibility we can’t forget about students with print disabilities. I’ve seen two major accessibility problems with proprietary “inclusive access” models like Texidium.
First, sometimes the platform isn’t accessible. This is more problematic than a print textbook as there’s workflows for format shifting print content for students with print disabilities. What does an accessible format look like for an online “book” that’s on an inaccessible platform? A whole new accessible website? Also there’s really no excuse for publishers who are building inaccessible web platforms in 2017.
Second, sometimes the content isn’t fully accessible. Many of the online publisher textbooks I’ve seen don’t have image descriptions, have math content that’s not in MathML (and therefore cannot be read by a screenreader), or have videos that lack captions. Again, there’s really no excuse for publishers producing content on the web that is not accessible.
A couple of years ago I used to think that publishers might not be aware of accessibility, but now I believe that they don’t care . I believe they don’t care because it cuts into their profits and they are not responsible for the cost of remediating inaccessible platforms and inaccessible content to provide full access to students with print disabilities.
When we talk about accessibility and open textbooks we usually mean financial accessibility, which is important. It’s also important that we make choices that don’t disable students in our classrooms.
It’s also important to include clear information about what the publisher will do if the content is not accessible. Who is responsible for the costs of making this content accessible? If the Disability Service Office, or a service provider like CAPER-BC, needs to do work to make the content accessible who do they contact for the publisher files? What is the turnaround time for this?
Moving to e-textbooks is not necessarily an improvement for students with print disabilities. Digital or “inclusive” doesn’t always mean accessible.
I love that OpenCon is making their values explicit and transparent and connecting them to how they do their work:
Central to advancing Open Access, Open Data, and Open Education is the belief that information should be shared in an equitable and accessible way. It is important to us that OpenCon reflects these values—equity, accessibility, and inclusion—both in our communities and in the design of our conference. We recognize that although the Open movements are global in nature, privileged voices are typically prioritized in conferences while marginalized ones are excluded from the conversation. To avoid creating an environment that replicates power structures that exist in society, OpenCon does its best to design a meeting that (1) is accessible and inclusive, (2) meaningfully engages diverse perspectives, and (3) centers conversations around equity.
I also love that they’re being transparent about their process and self assessment publicly. I’d love to see more organizations do this.
Are we engaged? Academic libraries and off-campus communities as partners in life (Dr. Norah McRae, UVic, Deb Zehr and Gordon Yusko UBC)
Collaborative effort: institutional OER initiatives shared and discussed (with Ken Jeffery, BCIT and Arthur Gill Green, Okanagan College)
From citizen science to personal benefit: data management for everyone (Alex Garnett, Carla Graebner, Jessica Gallinger, SFU, Allison Trumble, VIRL)
Technology trends: tomorrow’s library (Ben Hyman, VIU, Daniel Phillips, GVPL, Paul Joseph, UBC)
Provincial Digital Library (Caroline Daniels, KPU, Anita Cocchia, BC ELN)
Making it work: ideology and the infrastructure of the library (Emily Drabinski, Long Island University)
Does the medium matter? Using evidence from science and engineering student surveys to guide choices between electronic and print books in collection development (Christina Nilsen, Seattle University)
3×3 in Search of An Assessment Plan (Collen Bell, UFV, Amy Paterson, TRU, Laura Thorne, UBC-O)
Keeping Assessment in Sight (Tania Alekson, Capilano U)
Never Neutral: Ethics and Digital Collections – I’m organizing and speaking on this hot topic plenary panel about some of my (completely unrelated to CAPER) research on the ethics of digitizing lesbian porn. I’m super excited that Jarret M. Drake from Princeton University Archives, who does amazing work with community archives and is also on the Advisory Committee of DocNow, and Michael Wynne from the Mukurtu agreed to come and participate on this panel. I think we might challenge the idea that open access is always a good thing and also talk about how we need to shift how we work with communities.
Sessions by and about First Nations people:
Understanding the library and archival needs of Indigenous People (Camille Callison, University of Manitoba)
Rhymes, Rhythm, and Relationships: A Model of Community Collaboration between a Public Library and an Organization Serving Aboriginal Families (Els Kushner, VPL, Robyn Lean, YWCA Crabtree Corner)
Khelsilem – Sḵwx̱wú7mesh language activist and teacher
Anita Sarkeesian – Equality or GTFO: Navigating the Gendered Minefield of Online Harassment She’s well known for her tropes vs women in gaming video series and for continuing to speak out about sexism in gaming despite being the ongoing target of massive, vicious online harassment.
For me it’s a rare chance to connecting with colleagues from across the province and with folks who work in public libraries.
I’ve been on the program planning committee for a few years now and I’m really proud of the diversity in speakers and quality of sessions. The program has a good balance between sessions for public and academic libraries and seeks to provoke broader conversations around the themes of access, community, evidence, place and work.
From the title of this post you have probably already figured out that I wasn’t successful in tracking when the PDFs on the Women’s March Unity Principles page changed. It’s always less fun to document when something doesn’t work the way you wanted, but I’m doing this in case it’s useful for anyone else.
These words of wisdom have helped me through this week:
Your feminism is either intersectional or it is garbage
It was easy to set up Versionista to track changes to the Women’s March Unity Principles webpage. On this page there’s a link to a longer PDF document. I wanted to be able to save the various versions of the full PDF statement and then compare the different versions to see what changes happened. I know that this document has also changed because people have screenshots of various version. Also, this document used to be 5 pages and now it’s 6.
This started as a place for me to put my anger around sex workers being thrown under the bus by the Women’s March. In watching the changes to the website I also saw how “disabled women” was added to the first paragraph of that page. To me, the changes in language (additions, deletions, changes) illustrate power struggles within this movement. I’m so curious about the politics behind each edit.
Library technology colleagues are awesome
I’m really lucky to work with library technology colleagues who are smart, curious and generous. A big thank you to Peter Binkley for his time tweaking a script he had written to email him updates to the bus schedule when the PDF schedule was changed. Peter made some changes of his script to email both of us changes to the PDFs on the Women’s March site. Unfortunately that didn’t work as the name of the PDF and the location of the file kept changing.
Coming out as a former sex worker is the scariest thing I’ve done professionally. My big fear is that the people I work with (both at my workplace and in the Access and code4lib communities) would dismiss or shun me and the work that I do. These communities are really important to me, and it’s been amazing to have colleagues offer their technical smarts and support. I think, like most people, the feeling of belonging and being connected is deeply important to me. When Christina Harlow suggested I could put the PDFs in GitHub and that she and others would help run comparisons and share the change outputs I found myself in crying on the bus.
Being clear that I am a former sex worker (and a feminist and a librarian) positions me in a unique place to be making these critiques of the Women’s March. Librarianship is not neutral, and neither are the changes to Women’s March Unity Principles. Being out is also necessary to be trusted by some sex work activists–I’m not a researcher who wishes to study sex workers, I have this lived experience. While I have experience doing feminist activism, I have very little experience doing sex worker activism. It’s felt good to put my librarian skills to use in service of sex worker rights and supporting sex worker activists.
How to see what has changed in 2 versions of a PDF
There were 3 excellent suggestions from colleagues:
Sean Hannan suggested pdfdiff I didn’t end up trying this in the end. I’m not comfortable working in the command line, but I thought this didn’t seem daunting, but the other tools worked better.
According to the 4 year old video Juxta Commons can only accept plain text or XML, according to the documentation it accepts more file types now: HTMl files, Microsoft Word DOCX, Open Office, EPUB and PDF. I didn’t realize this so did the unnecessary step of converting the PDFs to text files using Omnipage.
I liked the different comparison tools. The heatmap shows where changes have happened and there’s icons to identify things that have been added, deleted or changed. For me the side by side comparison was the most useful. The histogram was also useful to see all of the changes on more of a macro level. This is how I realized that I was comparing different copies of the same version of the PDF.
Adobe Acrobat Pro – Compare Documents
I’m glad Carmen reminded me of this as I had forgotten it was there. This was pretty straightforward. You tell Adobe Acrobat which PDF is the newer one and which is the older one, tell it which pages you want to compare, and then pick from 3 different document layout types: 1) reports, spreadsheets, magazine layouts; 2) presentation decks, drawings, illustrations; 3) scanned documents.
Again, I was unknowingly comparing 2 copies of the same PDF and it found no changes.
Juxta Commons is way more useful, but most people already have Adobe Acrobat on their computer. If I had a bunch of documents to compare or was going to do this more than once I’d recommend using Juxta Commons.
I was really excited to see that the Women’s March’s Unity Principles said that they “stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements”. To my knowledge this is the first time such a big feminist gathering has explicitly acknowledged and included sex workers. It’s a really big deal. The Unity Principles really inspired me with how broad, inclusive and intersectional they were.
Yesterday the language on the website changed several times and there was a lack of transparency about the changes and why they happened. Refinery 29 does a good job of summarizing what happened. As a feminist, a librarian and former sex worker I was so pissed. Discussing and debating with friends on Facebook about what was and wasn’t in the Unity Principles felt like being gaslit.
Once my anger levels had dropped I realized that some librarian skills might be useful in documenting what kind of changes were happening, as organizers were not being transparent. I wish I had the foresight to set up something to monitor changes to the website in the morning. I asked on Twitter for recommendations on how to do this and got some great suggestions.
I set up accounts with both Versionista (thanks Andrew Berger for the suggestion!) and OnWebChange (thanks Peter Binkley!) Both were easy to set up. For Versionista there was a 7 day free upgrade that I’ll need to cancel so I’m not billed. With the free version on OnWebChange it will only check the website I’m tracking once every 24 hours. I’m assuming you need to upgrade to access the greyed out options of 5 min, 30 min, 1 hour, 2 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours. You also need to upgrade to the paid version to access Diff Reports. I was only concerned about how the language around sex workers’ rights was changing in the Unity Principles, so this wasn’t a deal breaker for me.
With the upgrade Versionista had more functionality. This morning I manually ran a check and saw that a new page for sponsors has been added to the Women’s March website. I couldn’t see how to automatically schedule checks.
DocNow has created a tool called DiffEngine that I think does something similar. Unfortunately I don’t have the technical skills required to set this up and run it. Still, I’m glad it’s out there.
We will not be free until those most marginalized, most policed, most ridiculed, pushed out and judged are centered. There are no throwaway people, and I hope every sex worker who has felt shamed by this momentarily erasure shows up to their local March and holds the collective accountable to our vast, diverse, complicated realities.
…it revealed a larger truth—that to listen to and include sex workers’ voices in dialogue is a skill that we have not yet developed, just as we have not learned how to include the voices of anyone who does not conform to accepted behaviours or ideas.
The Women’s March website was edited again between 11:45am and 12:15pm to add “disabled women” in the first paragraph before Muslim women and lesbians. Here’s a screenshot.
While I appreciate the coalition of organizers are handling a bunch of logistics for the march in Washington the way this page is being edited is a reflection of what’s been going on in mainstream feminist organizations for a long time. Who is included and who are the people who are being thrown away?
I’m a huge fan of Liberating Structures. Despite the name being a little hokey they are great facilitation techniques that are designed democratize participation and come up with different, new and better ideas.
I’ve been dabbling in using these in regular weekly meetings, in community meetups, in facilitating panels and to make a conference talk more engaging (and avoid doing a Q&A session). Our work team has a yearly planning meeting and I wanted to try using Liberating Structures to structure our planning. Most of my team are on the more introverted side of things, and I wasn’t sure if these would work. I’m new to stringing together Liberating Structures and wasn’t sure the meeting would flow well.
The meeting ran extremely well and I credit the activities and our team being willing to try something new. It was really satisfying for me to bring something useful to my team, as my skills are pretty different than those of most of the people I work with. My coworker also had the great idea to get out of the office and meet somewhere new. Thank you to the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre for letting us use one of their meeting rooms.
Agenda (3 hour meeting)
1. What was your biggest accomplishment at work this past year?
A photo posted by Tara Robertson (@tara.robertson) on
Something that Stina Brown said during the Vancouver book launch for Drawn Together Through Visual Practice, an amazing book on graphic facilitation was “let your time together be generous”. Stina said that when she works with groups she values generosity and builds this in to her facilitation so that people might make new connections and develop new relationships. I was thinking about this for our team and I wanted to make space for my teammates to reflect on work they were proud of and ensure there was time to share that. I realized after that this was also a litmus test of trust levels on our team.
2. What have we accomplished in the last year?
Every year we are surprised at how much we’ve accomplished in the previous year. We individually brainstormed ideas on to sticky notes. We then shared them and grouped them into common topics. This bit took about 20 minutes.
Then we mapped them to the Ecocycle planning chart and talked about what we needed to let go of and what we needed to nurture. The themes were of different levels of granularity and we split some of our client relationships into needing growth and those that are at a mature stage. This took about 30 minutes.
4. What must we stop doing to make progress on our deepest purpose?
I asked people to brainstorm ways that we can make things more difficult for the students that we serve, including things that are completely over the top. Some of the ideas that people came up with were pretty funny, like only being open 2 hours a day like many embassy passport offices. Then I asked them to think if anything we’re currently doing resembles anything on this list. We were all a little surprised to uncover some of these links.
TRIZ was a good way to step outside how we normally look at things and get a fresh perspective on what we’re doing. As the facilitator I was most unsure about this exercise and it was probably the one that worked the best.
5. What is your 15 percent? Where do you have discretion and freedom to act? What can you do without more resources or authority?
As the department coordinator (and holder of the work credit card) I have a lot of freedom to try new things. I have a great working relationship with my director and she gives me a lot of freedom and independence, which I value a lot. This is one of the things that makes me happiest about my current job.
Everyone I work with is really smart but I want to foster a work culture where people feel empowered to try new things, take risks and fail safely. I thought this would be a useful way to wrap up our planning meeting.
Liberating Structures 2 day workshop
I’m super excited to be part of the facilitation team for BCcampus’ two day Liberating Structures workshop in February 2017. I’m already learning lots from the rest of the team and I hope to learn more about stringing together individual activities so they flow well for a workshop or planning meeting. I’m also excited to meet Nancy White, who is leading this workshop. It’s going to be really useful and a lot of fun–I hope you’ll join us!
Note: the Creative Commons license for these slides differs from the rest of the content on this site. These slides are licensed with an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license as they contain extended quotes that are not mine, and while most of the of the images are CC-BY licensed, several are not.
I am from Vancouver, Canada which is the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Unceded means that the land was never sold, given, or released to any colonial government. In Canada we’re thinking a lot about relationships between settlers and First Nations in many areas of society.
In Canada we’re still deeply feeling the effects of colonization and the effects of Residential Schools where the church and state tried together to “kill the Indian in the child”. Through the process of Truth and Reconciliation we’ve witnessed the stories of people who survived and heard about the massive amount of physical, sexual and emotional abuse that occurred. The Truth and Reconciliation Report called this cultural genocide. Despite systemic efforts from the church and the state to erase Aboriginal people in Canada these nations and cultures continue to persevere, resist, and First Nations and settlers are actively working to break the cycle of violence and trauma.
I’m half-Japanese-Canadian and my family was interned during WWII in Canada. So for me a settler, learning and naming whose land I’m on is a small thing that I’m committed to doing as part of the process of decolonization and reconciliation with First Nations.
Even with the help of several librarians I wasn’t able to find out whose homeland we have been conferencing on. If you know, I’d love to learn how to appropriately acknowledge this.
For me the land impacts my thinking quite a bit. While I was born in Vancouver, I grew up in a northern logging town halfway between Washington state and Alaska. While I live in a city now, a lot of the technology work I’ve done supports people in rural areas and seeks to bridge the digital divide.
I’ve worked in libraries for 13 years, 9 of which I’ve been a librarian. I’ve worked doing training and support for small public libraries who migrated to Evergreen, an open source ILS. I’ve worked as a systems librarian at a small art and design college, and currently do accessibility work to remove barriers for students with print disabilities by format shifting their textbooks.
I love this image from Choi+Shine Architects’ concept drawings for powerlines in Iceland. I feel like this photo illustrates the technology work I’ve done in libraries. When having a imposter syndrome moment at a conference, a colleague said, “I think of the technology work you do is the last mile”. So, while I’m not at the front breaking new ground and innovating, I’m chugging along behind making sure everyone can access information.
I became a librarian because I’m passionate about access to information. My core values are around “open”: open source, open access, open textbooks and open education. So, why am I arguing that all information should not be accessible?
Before I get into that, I’d like to tell you about one of my favourite writers.
Amber Dawn is a writer, a poet, and a creative writing instructor at a couple of universities and in community driven art and healing spaces.
…my writing does not stand on its own. My writing is comprised of the lives, deaths, struggles, and the work, accomplishments, alliances, and love of many. My writing is indebted to queers and feminists, sex workers and radical culture makers, nonconformists and trailblazers, artists and healers, missing women and justice fighters. My writing stands with those who also have been asked—in one way or another—to edit their bios.
I’m one of those annoying extroverts who needs to think out loud. I appreciate the generosity that all of these people have extended to me. These people are friends, colleagues, comrades, librarians, sex worker activists, academics, feminists, queers, artists and pornographers. I think it’s important for me to acknowledge all of these people as extended feminist citation practice but also because I wouldn’t have the courage to speak today. I’m standing on the shoulders of these giants.
I feel privileged to talk to you today about some of the ethical issues I’m concerned about in digitization. For me I need to step out of my comfort and safety of being a professional and share my personal stake in this conversation.
Amber Dawn writes:
If comfort or credibility is to be gained by omitting parts of myself, then I don’t want comfort or credibility. I am not ashamed of my bio. What would be a shame is if I were to fall silent. Each time I bring my fingers to the keyboard, I join the many who also seek to explore and discover seldom-told stories, speak the tough and tender words that are too rarely articulated in day-to-day discourse, and create that place where we have permission to express emotions.
The first time I did sex work, I was 19 years old and studying Japanese at the University of Victoria. I was a macho third wave feminist and I was broke. I dipped in and out of different types of sex work over the next 15 years, usually while doing some other straight job as well. I worked at Legal Aid while I worked at a BDSM brothel and worked at the public library while I worked as an escort. My shame kept these two work lives very separate and I was unable to speak to many people about my experiences. I don’t think sex work is shameful work, but the judgements and assumptions that are made about sex workers has made me wary and careful about where I’ve talked about these parts of my life.
Until very recently this isn’t something that I ever talked about.
It’s interesting to be a stealth about my sex work history while working in higher education. I’ve heard a lot of very educated people say some very ignorant things when they were describing sex workers with simplistic stereotypes. At last year’s Open Ed conference the participant swag were red umbrellas. It rains a lot in Vancouver, so that makes sense. What the organizers didn’t know is that red umbrellas are the symbol for sex worker rights.
Montreal Out Games, 2006
When I was working at the public library as a library assistant I was selected to represent my union at an international LGBT labour union conference in Montreal that was part of the Out Games. One of the goals was to produce a proclamation on LGBT human rights. We met in various caucus groups to learn about issues from different countries and the issues facing workers in different industries.
The plenary took place in a large, generic, beige conference room with a panel at the front of the room on the stage, mic in the middle of the centre aisle, and the simultaneous translation booths at the back. In the caucus meetings leading up to the plenary I’d listened to many of the older feminist union leaders talking about us sex workers as pitiful and naive victims who were undeserving of workplace protections.
I hadn’t planned on speaking, so I’m not sure how I ended up at the mic. My hands and my voice were shaking. I remember introducing myself as a feminist, a sex worker and a library worker. I said inherent in the phrase “sex worker” was that we were workers and like all workers should be entitled to a safe and respectful workplace. After I felt super overwhelmed and my hearing started to go, like it does before I black out. Through my inadequate high school French and some professional translators I had a passionate discussion with some of the feminist leaders of the Quebec labour movement who had done a 180 and were now supporting including explicit protections for sex workers in the proclamation. Svend Robinson (that’s me and him in the top left photo), Canada’s first openly gay national politician, crossed the floor and gave me a big hug and told me how proud he was of me for strategically coming out to facilitate a more inclusive proclamation. Speaking from my experience was really powerful for me because I changed people’s attitudes about sex workers.
ProQuest: Canadian Major Dailies
What I didn’t know was that a reporter from the Montreal Gazette was in the room. The next morning while reading the newspaper I almost threw up when I saw I had been quoted in the newspaper as “Tara Robertson, Vancouver public librarian and former sex worker”.
Honestly about half my fear was the wrath of librarians policing the border between paraprofessionals, which I was, and their credentialed selves. The various types of sex work I had done had always been under a pseudonym and with the makeup and wigs, I wasn’t easily recognized as my library worker persona. I was angry and scared. I didn’t know that there were media in the room and I hadn’t intended to come out, let alone make a public, searchable record of it.
The Montreal Gazette is indexed in a couple of ProQuest databases. My biggest fear, earlier in my career, was that I would be outed through a thorough reference check for a job. People would be searching for “Tara Robertson and libraries” and discover that I was a former sex worker. This is one of the reasons that I purchased my website domain when I was a library school student. I wanted to do what I could to control what came up when people searched for me.
I didn’t have the courage to retrieve this article until earlier this year.
This is a self reflection exercise and I will not be asking you to share your thoughts out loud with other people. For the next minute you may want to close your eyes. I’d like you to think about a time when you felt shame.
What caused this shame? Where do you feel shame in your body? Who has seen your shame? What would it be like if your shame was public?
On Our Backs
I know firsthand what it’s like to have information on the internet that I didn’t consent to, the fear that it could harm my career, and the double standard against women’s sexuality in our culture.
In March of this year I learned that Reveal Digital has digitized On Our Backs, a lesbian porn magazine that ran from 1984-2004. It had actually been online for several years before I learned about it. For a brief moment 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 was worried that this kind of exposure could be personally or professionally harmful for them.
While Reveal Digital claims to have gone 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 talked to a few people I know who modelled and they generously agreed to give me quotes to use in this talk.
From the first discussion with the editors, I knew I had to weigh what appearing in the magazine might cost me in my work and community life. But at the time, I felt that the magazine had a small print run, and was sold in queer spaces to queer audiences.
When I realized the distribution was broader, I requested that my name not be added to metadata, and tried to do my best to protect myself. The editors respected my request and even had the UK distributor edit their tags and metadata for me.
Quote #1 continued
When I heard all the issues of the magazine are being digitized, my heart sank. I meant this work to be for my community and now I am being objectified in a way that I have no control over. People can cut up my body and make it a collage. My professional and public life can be high jacked. These are uses I never intended and I still don’t want.
I actually never consented to have my photoshoot published in On Our Backs in print, in 2002. My ex and I were in a photoshoot specifically for a photographer’s book on kink in 1993—before the first web browser was released!—and signed a model contract for limited use. So 9 years later, I felt fairly fucked over to discover this shoot in On Our Backs–with our real names on the cover–after it had already been out for over a month.
This person works in the tech industry and as a queer woman has to work harder to be taken seriously as an expert in her field. She’s worried that if this is digitized, with her name on the cover, it’ll impact what is searchable under her name.
Quote #2 continued
“It’s one thing to have regrets over what you’ve published, but I actually never consented to have this photoshoot published by On Our Backs in the first place, let alone digitally.”
Quote from Amber Dawn
In 2005, I co-edited a queer erotica anthology titled With A Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn. The collection marked many things for me, the most significant of which was my coming out as a queer, femme sex worker and survivor within published writing. I was motivated by the growing number of mentors and peers who had spoken up before me, and also by the much larger number of sex workers and survivors I knew who did not have the privilege or ability to speak up. The evolving sex-positive and social justice values of the mid-2000s did not protect me from fear and stigma I faced coming out. Backlash, I discovered, was very real consequence. I quickly learned importance of making strategic and self-caring choices about where to use my voice and body.”
Some early decisions Amber Dawn made for herself included:
to only speak, publish or showcase body art in forums where she can directly speak to and negotiate with the editor or curator,
where she understands the intended audience to be communities that share similar sex-positive and social justice values and
where she has the ability to directly connect with audiences and foster future respectful dialogue.
Amber Dawn says that choosing to appear in OOB in 2005 allowed her to adhere 3 of these conditions.
Quote from Amber Dawn continued
Years later, the digitization of On Our Backs strips me of all three. What was once a dignified choice now feels like a violation of my body, my voice and my right to choose. In no small way is the digitization a perpetuation of how sex workers, survivors and queer bodies have been historically and pervasively coopted. How larger, often institutional, forces have made decisions without consulting us or considering our personal well-being.
Ethics of care
These three quotes clearly illustrate that these people had clear ideas about the content, how they wanted it viewed and used. They all have sophisticated and nuanced understandings of media representation and how they wanted to be represented.
The consent issues here are dodgy. For the first woman there was an agreement that this content would never be online. For the second woman there was no consent given to even appear in the magazine. For Amber Dawn having OOB digitized and put online violated the conditions that she had decided were critical for her.
Even the copyright issue is complicated: the photographer would’ve held copyright, not the models. The photographer would’ve then either handed over copyright to the magazine, signed over copyright for a specified time period, or agreed to have them published and retained copyright. OOB doesn’t exist anymore, so it takes some sleuthing to track down who now owns the rights. When I was at Cornell I visited the Rare Book and Manuscripts Collection to sift through Susie Bright’s papers. Susie Bright is a sex positive feminist who cofounded and edited OOB from 1984-1991. I found copies of contributor agreements. Some of them were for one time rights only, or for first time North American serial rights, or for a period of one year from a specific date.
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. This could negatively impact many people’s careers and lives.
When I brought up these concerns in March the most common critique from librarians was about our responsibility to be good stewards of our collections. A few librarians viewed this as limit on open access and worried about censorship. A year ago these would’ve been the same points that I would have made.
We talk about our responsibility to the collections, but what about our responsibility to communities. In this case I found myself caught between my profession and one of my communities, and I noticed that my opinion changed. “The community” wasn’t an abstract notion, it was the people who gave me those generous quotes. I could see their faces and empathize with their fears and feelings that institutions had screwed them over again.
If you haven’t read Bethany Nowviskie’s piece on Capacity and Care I highly recommend it. In discussing the application of an ethic of care Nowviskie says:
…let’s create more cultural heritage platforms that promote an understanding of the vulnerability of the individual person and object. Let our visualization systems more beautifully express the relationship of parts, one to another and to many a greater whole.
Reveal Digital takes down OOB
On August 24, 2016 Reveal Digital announced that they were temporarily removing access to the OOB content. The main reason they gave was took this collection down citing minors access to pornography, the privacy concerns I raised and the need to consult with community.
I was happy to hear that they had removed this content from the web, even if it is temporarily. However, I feel very conflicted about the work that Reveal Digital is doing. On one hand I admire that they’ve figured out a unique business model and a way to work with libraries to digitize and make independent media accessible on the web. On the other hand I feel that naming restricting access to minors as the first reason for why On Our Backs as been temporarily removed is odd. While citing the Greenberg v. National Geographic Society ruling Reveal Digital says it gives “the legal right to create a faithful digital reproduction of the publication, without the need to obtain permissions from individual contributors”. When I first started talking to them about my concerns they defined community narrowly, basically as the libraries that are funding their work. Thankfully they’ve broadened their idea of community in this instance to include “publishers, contributors, libraries, archives, researchers, and others”.
In an interview in The Charleston Advisor Peggy Glahn, Project Manager at Reveal Digital, stated that future projects will focus on zines. She said that they would be “working in close partnership with librarians who are currently following the Zine Librarians Code of Ethics and intend to be in full compliance with this document when we do work with zine content.” This statement is a bit odd for me as the Zine Librarians Code of Ethics is not a technical standard or legal code that one could be in full compliance with. The Zine Librarians Code of Ethics says “This document aims to support you in asking questions, rather than to provide definitive answers.”
Zine Librarians Code of Ethics
We need to have an in depth discussion about the ethics of digitization in libraries. The Zine Librarians Code of Ethics is the best discussion of these issues that I’ve read. There are two ideas that are relevant to my concerns are about consent and balancing interests between access to the collection and respect for individuals.
Zines are often highly personal and some authors might find the wider exposure exciting, but others might 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.
The Zine Librarians 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:
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.
The Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Delgamuukw case (PDF) in 1997 is widely seen as a landmark case for treaty negotiations. During the trial Delgamuukw elders testified and shared information that would not normally be shared outside their community. They chose to break cultural protocols for the greater good of their community’s land rights. As this was in the courts their testimonies were part of the court record.
These trial transcripts are widely available in print in law libraries across Canada. At the request of UBC’s Law Library they were digitized. As you can see in the screenshot, these are part of UBC’s “Open Collections”.
Even though these materials are widely available in print at law libraries across Canada, some people believe that UBC should not have digitized this collection. There was an acknowledgement that a policy is needed, but this collection is still up while there’s slow progress towards writing the overall policy. UBC should take this collection down while they consult with the nations whose traditional knowledge was put online without their consent.
So, I’ve showed you a couple of examples of digitization projects that I consider really problematic. What’s a better way to do this?
Mukurtu is a Warumungu word meaning a safe keeping place for sacred materials. The Warumungu are a group of Indigenous people in Australia.
Mukurtu is an awesome grassroots project aiming to empower communities to manage, share, preserve, and exchange their digital heritage in culturally relevant and ethically-minded ways. It’s open source and community driven. The top priority is to help build a platform that fosters relationships of respect and trust.
Mukurtu allows you to set up complex permissions, for both digital objects and users, so that the digital access mirrors existing cultural protocols around accessing information. I also love how the community can contribute metadata alongside our spare institutional metadata.
This summer I attended one of their twice monthly online office hour sessions. This is a great strategy for open source software projects. It’s really accessible, welcoming and while documentation is good, it’s great to talk to someone who really knows the software. Alex Merrill did a great demo and was able to answer all of my questions about how permissions work.
Traditional knowledge (TK)
I was at a loss of what to put for an image here. I thought of a variety of First Nations technologies, and then decided it was best to leave it blank. These aren’t my cultural traditions and it didn’t feel like it was my place to pick an image for this slide.
I’ve read several of Greg Younging’s publications on traditional knowledge and copyright. I love the ideas he’s introduced me to and how accessible his writing is.
certain plant harvesting, songs, dances, stories, and dramatic performances
which can only be performed/recited in certain settings, seasons and for certain cultural reasons;
artistic aspects of TK, such as songs, dances, stories, dramatic performances, and herbal and medicinal techniques which can only be shared in certain settings or spiritual ceremonies with individuals who have earned, inherited, or gone through a cultural or educational process.
These are just two examples, Younging identifies several more.
Younging lists 3 major ways that TK and Western system of intellectual property rights clash:
that expressions of TK often cannot qualify for protection because they are too old and are, therefore, supposedly in the public domain;
that the “author” of the material is often not identifiable and there is thus no “rights holder” in the usual sense of the term;
that TK is owned “collectively” by indigenous groups for cultural claims and not by individuals or corporations for economic claims.
So, what is a good way to respond to these conflicts?
There are some TK licenses that have been developed for when people own the copyright for their traditional knowledge. But what about cases where someone else, like a museum or a library holds the copyright to traditional knowledge that belongs to an Indigenous group? TK labels were designed for this scenario. TK labels are educational and informational. They are not legal tools.
Many Indigenous knowledge systems rely on protocols. Many of the protocols have to do with *not* seeing, which very much is the antithesis of the Western “seeing is believing”. You have to see it to know it. And these systems are saying you don’t get to see it or know it—deal with it.
Last summer I went to the c̓əsnaʔəm exhibition where the Musqueam nation told the story of their history and culture in their own words. One of the most impactful things was a display case with photo of a bowl. The actual bowl wasn’t inside. The explanation read:
Our relationships with the spiritual and sacred world are personal and private. Some belongings, such as those used in ceremonies and the ornate stone bowls used for mixing medicines, were the property of powerful ritualists who lived at c̓əsnaʔəm. These belongings remain spiritually potent and can be dangerous. They must not be touched or viewed by people who do not have the proper ritual training, hereditary privileges, or ceremonial knowledge.
Like Kim Christen Withey said “you don’t get to see it, deal with it”.
At localcontexts.org they explain that working with the community is necessary to use TK labels:
Using the TK Labels requires community decision-making. This is especially the case for cultural material that is not owned individually but should be managed collectively by your local community. The decision-making processes for using these TK Labels should be established before you choose which labels will suit your needs. The TK Labels can also facilitate dialogue about what options are more appropriate for your local context, and what kinds of conversations need to happen before even using or developing the TK Labels. Each family, clan or community will have different processes and frameworks for decision-making.
Moko: or Maori Tattooing (1896)
Moko; or Maori Tattooing was published in 1896 by Chapman & Hall in London. Horatio Gordon Robley wrote this book, and it contained many illustrations that he did of mokomakai. According to Wikipedia: “Mokomokai are the preserved heads of Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, where the faces have been decorated by tā moko tattooing. They became valuable trade items during the Musket Wars of the early 19th century.”
This is an important historical book for New Zealand so the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection wanted to digitize it. They wrote a thoughtful report that includes background information, outlines a range of digitization options, describes the community consultation process and concludes with the digitization path that they chose. I love that they’ve put their report online, which raises awareness of the issues that surround digitization of textual taonga, or cultural treasures.
The six perceived options for digitization ranged from:
Present everything online.
Provide access to all content except photographs of mokamokai.
Provide access to all content except photos and line drawings of mokamokai.
Provide access to all content except all photos of people and line drawings of mokamokai.
Provide access to text only.
They consulted with academics, librarians and curators, and with communities.
Academics were generally in favour of retaining the integrity of the book in the interests of scholarship by presenting all the content online.
Librarians and curators had a wide variety of opinions. Some concerns were “expressed about both the public display of images of ancestral remains and the potential for the moko themselves to be copied and used in inappropriate ways when made globally accessible online”. As parts of the book had been digitized by Google Books some felt that it was better that a New Zealand organization was digitizing New Zealand historical materials.
People from user and source communities also had a wide variety of opinions. One artist was against, it as he felt that wide dissemination of moko designs might result in others profiting from them. Suggestions were made that they should contact the family of those in the images to ask for permission to display them or to have a way of dealing with grievances and requests from family asking them to remove the images.
In the end they decided to present the text with all associated images except those depicting mokamokai or human remains. They also stated that they were open to altering their decision. They were willing to remove images of people’s ancestors as well as willing to add information about people’s ancestors.
Michelle Morovec, a historian of women’s culture and digital history at Rosemont College in Philadelphia introduced me to this case study. Spare Rib was a UK feminist magazine that was published from 1972-1993. In 2013 the British Library wanted to digitize and put the entire magazine run online. Unlike a mainstream magazine, Spare Rib was edited by a feminist collective who didn’t necessarily get copyright clearances for things they published. The British Library hired a copyright clearance officer who worked with some members of the collective to track down over 4,000 authors and artists who had contributed to Spare Rib.
A contributor named Gillian Spragg wasn’t opposed to the content being digitized and put online, but she found the request that contributors agree to have their content licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license to be problematic. She was worried that her feminist content could be remixed for anti-feminist purposes. In 2014 a law was passed that allowed “orphan works”, or work where the copyright holder can’t be found, to be digitized and the project went ahead. For each digital object there are clear rights statements. It’s also easy to find who to contact if you have more information about an object which I assume also includes if you know whose work it is, or if it’s yours and you want to have the licensed changed or have it removed from the website.
According to the British Library approximately 20% of the Spare Rib content has been removed from the website.
I love that they also have a page on Ethical Use acknowledge that the “usage guide is based on goodwill. It is not a legal contract. We ask that you respect it.”
What are some other examples of culturally sensitive materials in libraries, archives and museums?
You’ll have 4 minutes, 2 minutes each to talk. I’ll give you a time check halfway through.
Community led digital projects
Academic libraries can learn a lot from public libraries about how to work in community and with community.
In a toolkit on community-led libraries Annette DeFaveri talks about a time when she worked to build relationships with people in a homeless shelter and how it revealed some of her assumptions and biases. When she asked them what they might like from the library
One man said that he thought the library should give free courses in astronomy. Another person suggested that the library do astrology courses as well. Finally, someone else suggested that the library buy a telescope. This was a significant discussion for me and revealed many of the biases and prejudices I had brought to the work. I had expected people to talk about the importance of offering free coffee at the library or to discuss the dismal lack of wet weather beds in the community and ask what the library could do about that. I thought I would hear about all the issues that concerned me about homeless people in the community. After I left the shelter, I realized that the people I talked with had asked for things from the library that were relevant to their lives. They were interested in the night sky, astronomy, astrology and telescopes because they often slept outside and so spent significant amounts of time looking at the stars.
If the library worked with the community to co-create a digitization project from the start I think the process and the outcome could be awesome. Co-creation is much more than just consulting with the community on metadata, or tweaking a project that’s already done. It’s working with communities to identify the scope of the project, the process and what the final project will look like. We bring some knowledge of digitization, workflows and metadata, but I think we could let go of control a lot more and truly co-create with our communities. This could be transformative. Not just for the digital collections that we create, but for the relationships we have, and for libraries as a whole.
How can we do a better job of digitizing culturally sensitive materials?
I work at a really wonderful community college. In preparation for this talk, I had a few meetings to make sure that speaking about being a former sex worker wouldn’t compromise or cost me my job. Both my director and faculty association president had awesome, supportive responses. I used to describe myself as lucky, but more and more I’m realizing that it’s not luck—it’s privilege. Because I have this privilege I have a responsibility to speak up about these things.
I’d like to end with another quote from Amber Dawn. She writes about a social experiment she ran in the 90s when she would answer the question “what kind of work do you do?” with “prostitution.” She observed that this made people uncomfortable and speechless. She writes:
While this little investigation was by no means sound research, it revealed a larger truth—that to listen to and include sex workers’ voices in dialogue is a skill that we have not yet developed, just as we have not learned how to include the voices of anyone who does not conform to accepted behaviours or ideas. What does it mean to be given the rare and privileged opportunity to have a voice? To me, it means possibility and responsibility. It means nurturing my creativity and playing with personal storytelling, while honouring the profound strength and dignity of a largely invisible population of workers and survivors. It means revelling in the groundbreaking work of voices that have come before me.
I’d like to ask you to listen to the voices of the people in communities whose materials are in the collections that we care for. I’d also like to invite you to speak up where and when you can. As a profession we need to travel the last mile to build relationships with communities and listen to what they think is appropriate access, and then build systems that respect that.
All images are CC-BY except for The Land of Giants, fingerlove, and the Spare Rib covers.