May conferences

I’m a bit of a nervous public speaker. Most people assume that because of my personality or pink hair that I’m really comfortable presenting in front of a group of people. Those people also assume I like rollercoasters. This is not true.

Instead of feeling a sense of dread I’m feeling pretty excited about these upcoming presentations. I’m going to be talking about work that I feel really passionate about and co-presenting with some of my favourite colleagues means that there’s support and that I need to be prepared well ahead of time.

BCLA conference, May 20-22

  • I’ll be on a panel Small Changes, Big Impact: New and Affordable Solutions for Document Delivery where I’ll be talking about the process of figuring out what you need software to do and how to look beyond library software vendors to meet your needs. I will reference Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks and talk about workflows.
  • Co-presenting with Amanda Coolidge, Manager, Open Education at BCcampus Can I actually Use It? Testing Open Textbooks for Accessibility where we’ll be talking about the user testing we did with the open textbooks and the toolkit we wrote with Sue Doner, Instructional Designer at Camosun College.
  • I’ll be one of many on the Oh Glorious Failures! Lightning Talks on How to Succeed Through Failure. We know that valuable learning happens through failure but many librarians are reluctant to share our professional failures. I’m going to talk about something I messed up in the open textbooks user testing focus group.

CAUCUSS conference, May 24-27

This will be my first time attending CAUCUSS, the national conference for student services folks in post-secondary. I’m really looking forward to meeting disability service folks from across Canada as well as attending a session on universal design for learning.

  • I’m also looking forward to co-presenting Alternate Formats 101 with Heidi Nygard from UBC’s Access and Diversity, Crane Library. Both of our organizations have  a long history of producing alternate formats and we’re going to go through how the similarities and differences in how we produce various alternate formats: accessible PDF, e-text, mp3, DAISY, Large Print and how we deal with pesky things like tables, math formulas and image descriptions. We’re going to sneak in some stuff about core library values and protecting user rights.

Open Textbook Summit, May 28-29

  • This will be the first time Amanda, Sue and I will present together in person. We’re doing a 30 minute session on the user testing and we’ll be co-presenting with one of the students who did the testing, Shruti Shravah. This project was the highlight of my last year of work: collaborating with Amanda and Sue was the best thing, the students were amazing, and I’m proud of the process and outcome. I’m super excited about this talk.

BC open textbook Accessibility Toolkit: generosity as a process

cover of Accessibility Toolkit

Last week we published The BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit. I’m really excited and proud of the work that we did and am moved by how generous people have been with us.

Since last fall I’ve been working with Amanda Coolidge (BCcampus) and Sue Doner (Camosun College) to figure out how to make the open textbooks produced in BC accessible from the start.  This toolkit was published using Pressbooks, a publishing plugin for WordPress. It is licensed with the same Creative Commons license as the rest of the open textbooks (CC-BY). This whole project has been a fantastic learning experience and it’s been a complete joy to experience so much generosity from other colleagues.

We worked with students with print disabilities to user test some existing open textbooks for accessibility. I rarely get to work face-to-face with students. It was such a pleasure to work with this group of well-prepared, generous and hardworking students.

Initially we were stumped about how to  get faculty, who would be writing open textbooks, to care about print disabled students who may be using their books. Serendipitously  I came across this awesome excerpt from Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbury’s book A Web For Everyone. User personas seemed like the way to explain some of the different types of user groups. A blind student is likely using different software, and possibly different hardware than a student with a learning disability. Personas seemed like a useful tool to create empathy and explain why faculty should write alt text descriptions for their images.

Instead of rethinking these from the beginning Amanda suggested contacting them to see if their work was licensed under a Creative Commons license that would allow us to reuse and remix their work. They emailed me back in 5 minutes and gave their permission for us to reuse and repurpose their work. They also gave us permission to use the illustrations that Tom Biby did for their book. These illustrations are up on Flickr and clearly licensed with a CC-BY license.

While I’ve worked on open source software projects this is the first time I worked on an open content project. It is deeply satisfying for me when people share their work and encourage others to build upon it. Not only did this save us time but their generosity and enthusiasm gave us a boost. We were complete novices: none of us had done any user testing before. Sarah and Whitney’s quick responses were really encouraging.

This is the first version and we intend to improve it. We already know that we’d like to add some screenshots of ZoomText and we need to provide better information on how to make formulas and equations accessible. It’s difficult for me to put work out that’s not 100% perfect and complete but other people’s generosity have helped me to relax.

I let our alternate format partners across Canada know about this toolkit. Within 24 hours of publishing this our partner organization in Ontario offered to translate it into French. They had also started working on a similar project and loved our approach. So instead of writing their own toolkit they will use use or adapt ours.  As it’s licensed under a CC-BY license they didn’t even need to ask us to use it or translate it.

Thank you to Mary Burgess at BCcampus who identified accessibility as a priority for the BC open textbook project.

Thank you to Bob Minnery at AERO for the offer of a French translation.

Thank you to Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbury for your generosity and enthusiasm. I really feel like we got to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Thank you to the students who we worked with. This was an awesome collaboration.

Thank you to Amanda Coolidge and Sue Doner for being such amazing collaborators. I love how we get stuff done together.

Intellectual Freedom Beyond Books

I was invited to speak on a panel with three other speakers:  Christopher Kevlahan, Branch Head, Joe Fortes – Vancouver Public Library,  Miriam Moses, Acquisitions Manager, Burnaby Public Library, and Greg Mackie, Assistant Professor, UBC Department of English.

I think that libraries do a great job of promoting Freedom to Read Week with events and book displays, but could be doing a better job in advocating for intellectual freedom in the digital realm.

Public library examples

I spoke about how Fraser Valley Regional Library filters all their internet, how Vancouver Public Library changed their internet use policy to single out “sexually explicit images”, and how most public library internet policies don’t appear to have been updated since the 90s.

Bibliocommons is a product that has beautiful and well designed interface that used by a lot of public libraries to sit over their public facing catalogues. It is a huge improvement over the traditional OPAC interface, I like that there’s a small social component, with user tagging and comments, as well. However, Bibliocommons allows patrons to flag content for: Coarse Language, Violence, Sexual Content, Frightening or Intense Scenes, or Other. This functionality that allows users to flag titles for sexual content or course language is not in line with our core value of intellectual freedom.

Devon Greyson, a local health librarian-researcher and PhD candidate said on BCLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee’s email list:

Perhaps the issue is a difference in the understanding of what is “viewpoint neutral.” From an IF standpoint, suggesting categories of concern is non-neutral. Deciding that sex, violence, scary and rude are the primary reasons one should/would be setting a notice to warn other users is non-neutral. Why not racism, sexism, homophobia & classism as the categories with sex, violence & swearing considered “other”?

Academic library example

I also talked about the Feminist Porn Archive, a SSHRC funded research project at York University. Before the panel I chatted with Lisa Sloniowski  who was really generous sharing some of the hypothetical issues that she imagines the project might encounter. She wondered if campus IT, the university’s legal department or university administration might be more conservative than the library. What would happen if they digitized porn and hosted it on university servers? Would they need to have a login screen in front of their project website?

This session was recorded and I’d love to hear your thoughts. How can libraries support or defend intellectual freedom online?

Developing a culture of consent at code4lib

two letterpressed greeting cards, left one "yes way", right one "no way"

I love code4lib. code4lib is not a formal organization, it’s more of a loose collective of folks. The culture is very DIY. If you see something that needs doing someone needs to step up and do it. I love that part of our culture is reflecting on our culture and thinking of ways to improve it. At this year’s conference we made some improvements on our culture.

Galen Charlton kicked this discussion off with an email on the code4lib list by suggesting we institute a policy like the Evergreen conference (which was informed by work done by The Ada Initiative) where “consent be explicitly given to be photographed or recorded”.

Kudos to the local organizing committee for moving quickly (like just over 3 hours from Galen’s initial email). They purchased coloured lanyards to indicate to participants views on being photographed: red means don’t photograph me, yellow means ask me before photographing me, and green means go ahead and photograph me. This is an elegant and simple solution.

Over the past few years streaming the conference presentations has become standard as is publishing these videos to the web after the conference. This is awesome and important—not everyone can travel to attend the conference. This allows us to learn faster and build better things. I suggested that it was time to explicitly obtain speaker’s consent to stream their presentation and archive the video online.

At first I was disheartened by some of comments on the list :

  • “This needs to be opt out, not opt in.”
  • “An Opt-Out policy would be more workable for presenters.”
  • “requiring explicit permission from presenters is overly burdensome for the (streaming) crew that is struggling to get the recordings”
  • i enjoy taking candid photos of people at the conference and no one seems to mind
  • “my old Hippy soul cringes at unnecessary paperwork. A consent form means nothing. Situations change. Even a well-intended agreement sometimes needs to be reneged on.”

The lack of understanding about informed consent means a few things about the code4lib community:

  1. there’s a lack of connection to feminist organizing that has a long history of collective organizing and consent
  2.  the laissez-faire approach to consent (opt-out) centres male privilege
  3. this community still has work to do around rape culture. 

It was awesome to get support from the Programming Committee, the local organizers and some individuals. We managed to update the consent form we used for Access to be specific to code4lib and get it out to speakers in just over a week. Ranti quickly stepped up and volunteered to help me obtain consent forms from all of the speakers. As this is a single stream conference there were only 39 people so it wasn’t that much work to do. 

Here’s the consent form we used.  A few people couldn’t agree to the copyright bits, so they crossed that part out. I’m sure this form will evolve to become better.

At code4lib 2015 in Portland it was the first time we were explicit about consent. The colour coded lanyards and speaker consent forms are an important part of building a culture of consent.

Thanks to my smart friend Eli Manning (not the football player) for giving me feedback on this.

The Library Juice Press Handbook of Intellectual Freedom

cover art of book

Ahhhh! It’s done!

This project  took over 7 years and went through a few big iterations. I was just finishing  library school when it started and learned a lot from the other advisory board members. I appreciate how the much more experienced folks on the advisory board helped bring me up to speed on issues I was less familiar with. I also valued how people treated me as a peer, even though I was just a student.

It was published this spring but my copy just arrived in the mail. Here’s the page about the book on the Library Juice Press site, and here’s where you can order a copy on Amazon.

Porn in the library

At the  Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium the program session I was the most excited about was Porn in the library.  There were 3 presentations in this panel exploring this theme.

First,  Joan Beaudoin and Elaine Ménard presented  The P Project: Scope Notes and Literary Warrant Required! Their study looked at 22 websites that are aggregators of free porn clips.  Most of these sites were in English, but a few were in French.  Ménard acknowledged that it is risky and sometimes uncomfortable to study porn in the academy. They looked at the terminology used to describe porn videos, specifically the categories available to access porn  videos. They described their coding manual which outlined    various metadata facets (activity, age, cinematography, company/producers, age, ethnicity, gender, genre, illustration/cartoon, individual/stars, instruction, number of individuals, objects, physical characteristics, role, setting, sexual orientation). I learned that xhamster has scope notes for their various categories (mouseover the lightbulb icon to see).

While I appreciate that Beaudoin and Ménard  are taking a risk to look at porn, I think they made the mistake of using very clinical language to legitimize and sanitize their work. I’m curious why they are so interested in porn, but realize that it might be too risky for them to situate themselves in their research.

It didn’t seem like they understood the difference between production company websites and free aggregator sites. Production company sites  have very robust and high quality metadata and excellent information architecture. Free aggregator sites that have variable quality metadata and likely  have a business model that is based on ads or referring users to the main production company websites. Porn is, after all, a content business, and most porn companies are  invested in making their content findable, and making it easy for the user to find more content with the same performers, same genre, or by the same director.

Beaudoin and Ménard  expressed  disappointment that porn companies didn’t want to participate in their study. As these two researchers don’t seem to understand the porn industry or have relationships with individuals I don’t think it’s surprising at all. For them to successfully build on this line of inquiry I think they need to have some skin in the game and clearly articulate what they offer their research subjects in exchange for building their own academic capital.

It was awesome to have a quick Twitter conversation with Jiz Lee and Chris Lowrance, the web manager  for feminist porn company Pink and White productions,  about how sometimes the terms a consumer might be looking for is prioritized over the  performers’ own gender identity.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.40.34 PMUpdate: @FetishMovieBlog responded to Jiz and Chris to say that this was an unintentional error that had been corrected. Jiz’s performer entry doesn’t have a gender listed and I also noticed that their race is listed as hapa, another non-binary category.

Jiz Lee is genderqueer porn performer and uses the pronouns they/them and is sometimes misgendreed by mainstream porn and by feminist porn. I am a huge fan of their work.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 4.36.55 PMI think this is the same issue that Amber Billy, Emily Drabinski and K.R. Roberto raise in their paper What’s gender got to do with it? A critique of RDA rule 9.7. They argue that it is regressive for a cataloguer to assign a binary gender value to an author. In both these cases someone (porn company or consumer, or cataloguer) is assigning gender to someone else (porn performer or content creator). This process can be disrespectful, offensive, inaccurate and highlights a power dynamic where the consumer’s (porn viewer or researcher/student/librarian) desires/politics/needs/worldview is put above someone’s own identity.

Next, Lisa Sloniowski and Bobby Noble. presented Fisting the Library: Feminist Porn and Academic Libraries  (which is the best paper title ever).  I’ve been really excited their SSHRC funded porn archive research. This research project has become more of a conceptional project, rather than building a brick and mortar porn archive. Bobby talked about the challenging process of getting his porn studies class going at York University. Lisa talked they initially hoped to start a porn collection as part of York University Library’s main collection, not as a reading room or a marginal collection. Lisa spoke about the challenges of drafting a collection development policy and some of the labour issues, presumably about staff who were uncomfortable with porn having to order, catalogue, process and circulate porn. They also talked about the Feminist Porn Awards and second  feminist porn conference that took place before the Feminist Porn Awards last year.

Finally,  Emily Lawrence and Richard Fry presented  Pornography, Bomb Building and Good Intentions: What would it take for an internet filter to work?  They presented a philosophical argument against internet filters. They argued that for a filter to not overblock and underblock it would need to be mind reading and fortune telling. A filter would need to be able to read an individual’s mind and note factors like the person viewing, their values, their mood, etc and be fortune telling by knowing exactly what information that the user was seeking   before they looked at it. I’ve been thinking about internet filtering a lot lately, because of Vancouver Public Library’s recent policy change that forbids “sexually explicit images”. I was hoping to get a new or deeper understanding on filtering but was disappointed.

This colloquium was really exciting for me. The conversations  that people on the porn in the library panel were having are discussions I haven’t heard elsewhere in librarianship.  I look forward to talking about porn in the library more.

Digesting the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium

Most of the conferences I go to are technology ones that are focused on practical applications and knowledge sharing on how we have solved specific technical problems or figured out new, more efficient ways to do old things. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a conference that’s about broader ideas and a much longer time since I’ve been to an academic conference. This was outside my comfort zone and it was an extremely worthwhile experience.

I was unbelievably excited to see the program for the first Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies colloquium. Also, as Emily Drabinski and Lisa Sloniowski  were involved, so I knew it was going to be great.

There were 100 attendees. I’d estimate that library and information studies professors and PhD students made up 50%, library school  grad students made up 25%, and the other 25% of us were practioners, who work almost exclusively in academic settings. The conference participants had the best selection of glasses, and I was inspired to document some of them.

The program was great and I had a very hard time picking which of the 3 streams I wanted to attend. A few people scampered between rooms to catch papers in different streams. Program highlights for me was the panel on porn in the library and the panel on gender and content. My thoughts on the porn in the library panel became a bit long, so I’ll post those tomorrow.

In my opinion it was a shame that most of the presenters defaulted to a traditional academic style of conference presentation, that is, they stood at the front of the room and read their papers to the audience without making much eye contact. For me the language was sometimes unnecessarily dense and that many of the theoretical concepts discussed would’ve been more successful if expressed in plain English.

I was also disappointed that there wasn’t a plan to post the papers online. Lisa explained to me that for those librarians and scholars in a university environment publications are important to tenure and promotion. Conference presentations count, but not as much as peer reviewed publications, which don’t count as much as book publications. I know there’s a plan in the works for a edition of Library Trends that will be published in 2 years. Also, I know from the interest on Twitter that there are many people who weren’t able to travel to Toronto and attend in person who are very hungry to read these papers. For the technology conferences I go to it is standard to share as much as possible: to livestream the conference, to archive the Twitter stream, and to post presentations online and made code public too. I hope that most of the presenters will figure out a way to share their work openly without it costing them in academic prestige. There’s got to be a way to do this.

There was a really magical feeling at this first colloquium on gender and sexuality in LIS. Everyone brought their smarts, ideas and generous spirits. I think a lot of us have been starved for this kind of environment, engagement and community.

My brain, heart and sinuses are full. I’m exhausted and heading home to Vancouver. This one day of connections and ideas will keep me going for another year. Kudos to the organizers Emily Drabinski, Patrick Keilty and Litwin Books for organizing this. I’m hungry for more.

Reply from Vancouver Public Library Board re: new internet use policy

A few people were critical of my directness in my letter to the VPL board, so I was surprised to get a response. I have permission to post the reply I received here.  I’d love to know what other people think.

Dear Tara,

Thank you for your email dated August 26, to the VPL Board regarding the new VPL Policy.

VPL upholds high standards with regard to access to information and intellectual freedom. We have demonstrated this repeatedly in response to challenges to items in our collection and room rentals. The issue of public displays in a public space is a challenging one that raises unique issues that access to collections for personal private use does not.

Staff considered a multitude of options before and during the development of this policy solution, including all of the considerations you mentioned in your email , space design, equipment options, specific versus more general language. Ultimately, each of these solutions creates their own problems and it was determined that the approved approach, while not perfect, was the most appropriate given the library’s circumstances.

The Board agrees that implementation of the policy and appropriate training for staff will be critical to ensure that people’s rights to access content are not unreasonably restricted. Our professional librarians at VPL , who share common library professional values , have considerable experience in managing and balancing diverse values and public goods in policy and service. In fact, we have high confidence in our professional librarians’ ability to apply this policy in a nuanced and appropriate manner that does not unreasonably restrict access to content. We also all agree that the appropriate person to have this conversation are public service staff; however, there are occasional circumstances when Security staff are appropriate.

Staff will monitor the outcomes of this policy change and will report to the Board after a full   year of implementation. At that point, they may or may not recommend adjustments to the policy.

If you have any further questions, we invite you to connect with VPL management. We understand you have many personal contacts on the VPL management team who are always open to discussing matters related to the library with colleagues.


Mary Lynn Baum
Chair, Vancouver Public Library Board

Internet Use Policy across Canadian public libraries

I’ve been pretty critical of Vancouver Public Library’s new Internet Use Policy. After sending a letter to their Board I was wondering what other public library policies were like. VPL is a member of the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, so I thought it would be interesting to see what other member libraries policies were.

I put up a spreadsheet on Google Drive and got help from some other librarians (thanks Justin, Myron and Sarah for your help and translations). Here’s my initial thoughts.

VPL’s policy isn’t the worst.

Here are some things that I was a bit shocked to learn:

  • Brampton Public Library filters their public wireless network.
  • Burlington Public Library,  Windsor Public Library  and Winnipeg Public Library prohibit using FTP. I wonder about the reason for this.
  • Burlington Public Library has tried to use very accessible language, which I appreciated reading over the policies that are written in legalese: “If you would hesitate to show the site you are viewing to a child, your mom, or ‘Uncle Bob,’ it means it is inappropriate in a public setting. Please click away to another site.” (This is pretty vague, my “Uncle Bob” could have very different standards of appropriateness than your “Uncle Bob”.)
  • Calgary Public Library‘s policy states that “Your access to the Library’s Network is in public space, and you must not display materials on this Network which, in the opinion of any Library staff, are unlawful, obscene, abusive or otherwise objectionable.” Any library staff? This seems very arbitrary and wide.

I was surprised at how many libraries policies include phrases like sexually explicit materials, pornography, overt sexual images. Richmond Hill Library  and Regina Public Library‘s  policies mention “illicit drug literature”.  A few libraries mention hate literature, hate speech or incitement to hate and hateful propaganda. A handful of libraries mention that copyright infringement is prohibited.

It was disappointing that some libraries (Bibliothéque Ville de Laval, and Guelph Public Library)  don’t seem to have their internet use policies published on their website.

So many of these policies sound like the 90s. There’s a lot of language about the internet being unregulated and that some of the information on the library may not be accurate, complete, or current and there may be controversial information out there. I read the phrase “The Library is not responsible for the site content of links or secondary links from its home pages” more than once.  I think that these days we accept these things as common knowledge.  Greater Victoria Public Library‘s policy states that their “website ( recommends  sites that provide quality information resources for both adults and children.” This seems like a very dated way of viewing information literacy.

Toronto Public Library‘s policy is worth reading. I like that it’s written in plain English. I think they do a good job of  acknowledging that users are sharing public space  without singling out sexually explicit content:

Internet workstations are situated in public areas, and users are expected to use the Internet in accordance with this environment. All users of the Toronto Public Library, including users of the Library’s Internet services, are also expected to follow the Library’s Rules of Conduct which are designed to ensure a welcoming environment. Disruptive, threatening, or otherwise intrusive behaviour is not allowed and Library staff are authorized to take action.

I’m not sure how this policy is being applied, it could be good or a bit of a disaster. I don’t know.

letter to the Vancouver Public Library Board

I am writing to urge you to reconsider the changes in the Public Internet Use policy that the Board recently passed. These are bad policy changes that erode intellectual freedom, are problematic for library workers and are harmful to libraries. I have many concerns both as a library user and as a librarian.

I served as the chair of the BC Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee from 2006-2008, have blogged about intellectual freedom issues in libraries for 8 years and sit on an editorial committee for an encyclopedia on intellectual freedom for libraries.

According to the VPL’s 2013 Annual Report there were 1.3 million internet sessions and 1.1 wireless sessions. The management report cites 31 complaints out of a total 2.6 million internet sessions. This is not enough of a problem to justify a drastic policy change.

I appreciate that the management report dated July 17, 2014 references the Canadian Library Association’s Statement on Intellectual Freedom and talks about VPL’s commitment to this core library value. This policy does not “guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity”, in fact it erodes these freedoms. The phrase “explicit sexual images” is highly problematic and extremely vague. Who decides what is sexually explicit? A colleague at a public library told me about a complaint from a patron about another patron who was apparently looking at pornography. This person turned out to be watching a online video of childbirth.

It seems like there is confusion about what intellectual freedom looks like online versus the library’s traditional print collections. If someone was to read an ebook version of the graphic novel Lost Girls on a tablet device, or search for online information about sexual health or human sexuality, or watch a video of well known contemporary performance artist Annie Sprinkle–would VPL staff or security come and kick them out of the library? While some people might find these topics offensive, they are all legitimate information needs.

Reading the current practice of what happens when someone reports seeing something offensive really troubles me. The management report states that either staff or a security guard asks the user to stop viewing the inappropriate material, if the library user does not comply they are asked to leave the library. I’m concerned that there isn’t an evaluation of whether the material is acceptable or not. Also, having a security guard come up to you and possibly kicking you out of the library is a scary and intimidating experience, especially for many socially excluded individuals.

The management report describes this as being a problem primarily at the Central library and Mount Pleasant branch. This sounds like a design challenge: “how do you design public spaces so that library users’ freedom to access does not impact staff member’s freedom to work without seeing things that offend them?” As the Central branch has moved to a roving reference model, perhaps it is time to rethink how the seating areas and computers are set up.

Again, I ask you to reconsider this policy decision.