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Progressive Librarian's Guild - London Ontario Chapter: cultivating spaces for critical dialogue and collaborative action on core issues affecting information workers.

PLG London stands with Newfoundland and Labrador

Dear Mr. Dale Kirby, Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development,

The London, Ontario, chapter of the Progressive Librarians’ Guild strongly condemns the decision to no longer provide funding for 54 public libraries within the province. PLG also stands in solidarity with all citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador opposing the proposed austerity budget.

In times of economic recession, public libraries are a symbol of hope and resilience for individuals whose access to services are being cut back. Furthermore, statistics show that library use rises when regional economies decline. PLG London feels that these cuts are counter-productive to solving the economic crisis, and will only place more stress on the public. During this unprecedented economic decline, the people and communities of Newfoundland and Labrador would be better served by the government investing in their success and development, not by a scaling back of their service provisions.

PLG London also opposes the unequal targeting of rural Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as a result of these cuts. Rural library users experience significant benefit from access to public libraries, particularly in terms of economic opportunity and literacy levels. We feel these cuts, along with the government’s proposed tax increase on books, represent a significant threat to literacy levels in the rural areas of the province. Additionally, many of these communities have expressed that they were unable to continue to support their libraries without provincial funds, leaving their residents without access to library services. Finally, the government’s insistence that 85% of residents remain within a 35 minute drive of a public library is questionable and discounts the number of residents who do not have access to personal transportation.

Finally, this decision also poses a threat to the librarian profession in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Without appropriate funding, many libraries will not be able to operate on a full-time basis, and, therefore, available full-time positions for new librarians will decline. Professionally trained librarians are equipped with skills and knowledge that allow them to best serve their communities and without this kind of staff expertise, the ability of a library to provide optimal services to its patrons is significantly decreased.

We ask that you immediately retract your decision, and would advise that you enter into a series of discussions with library staff, administrators, patrons, and other stakeholders, to determine how Newfoundland and Labrador’s public libraries can be better funded and equipped to serve their communities going forward.

Sincerely, Progressive Librarians’ Guild – London, Ontario, Chapter

Bonnie Brooks Should Not Have Been a Keynote Speaker at OLA

About three weeks ago, Bonnie Brooks, the Vice Chairman of the Hudson’s Bay Company, presented a keynote at the OLA Super Conference. She was articulate, personable, and inspiring. By all accounts, she is a very successful businessperson and she has done wonderful things for the business prospects of the Bay.

It’s clear that she has done wonderful things, because during her talk she described, in detail, how through her leadership HBC has capitalized on its rich history to become a luxury goods retailer. Louboutins, Top Shop, and fur coats were mentioned.

None of this explains what she was doing at the largest library conference in Canada.

Libraries are not Ms. Brooks’ forte. Her speech was peppered with statements like: “I understand that libraries” and “probably like your libraries.” At no point did she make a claim along the lines of “from my years of experience working in a library” or “let me discuss the finer points of reference work.” She isn’t a librarian. She doesn’t know about libraries. She knows about business, and that’s what she spoke about.

 “probably like your libraries.”

We at the London Chapter of the Progressive Librarians Guild have a problem with this. Libraries and businesses are not the same. Businesses exist to make a profit. Libraries exist to provide access to information for their patrons. For public libraries, serving this patron base ultimately means serving the public good.

The Ethos of these fields are starkly different.

For instance, Brooks spoke at length about the importance of customer service. Leaving aside for a moment that The Bay has the worst customer service in the world, customer service, for businesses, is a means to an end. It’s a way to become better than other businesses, have more return customers, and make a profit. However sincerely businesses serve customers, they’re ultimately in it for that filthy, filthy lucre. And that’s okay, because they’re businesses and that’s what businesses do.

By contrast, libraries don’t have customers. They don’t turn a profit. They don’t exist to make money. They have patrons, and services, and materials for use. Their purpose in providing good “customer service” (if I have to call it that) is to better serve patrons and facilitate information access. In other words, service in the library context doesn’t serve an ultimate goal. It is the ultimate goal.

It’s worth asking: just because businesses operate differently, does that mean that we can’t compare what libraries and businesses do? Of course we can compare them! But any comparisons need to acknowledge their differences.

Businesses and libraries are fundamentally different creatures.

There is a dangerous tendency in the library world to conflate the two. We librarians tend to slavishly adore business practices and business leaders. It’s the neo-liberal way of thinking that business-knows-best.

When Bonnie Brooks spoke at OLA, she didn’t make comparisons between libraries and businesses. She didn’t acknowledge the vast sea of difference between them. Instead, she spoke about her knowledge and her experiences. Surely many of the librarians in the crowd had the sense to say to themselves as she spoke: “this could be relevant to libraries if we modify it a bit. Less luxury, more story time.”

We’re certain, though, that many listeners didn’t have this filter. After listening to Ms. Brooks they began imagining their libraries as malformed department stores to be fixed with business tactics.

And it isn’t difficult to see why some listeners could come away with that idea. Bonnie Brooks was given a stage, a podium, and a packed room. She was given two introductions, one of which was by Guy Berthiaume, the Librarian and Archivist of Canada. Her face was displayed on twin screens while she spoke, in the manner of your favourite rock band at a crowded concert, or Big Brother himself.

In other words, she was treated like a hero.

But, business people should not be our heroes. Our heroes should be librarians: people who have enabled the spread of knowledge. Our keynote speakers should be librarians, or at the least experts to whom librarians can directly relate. Our voices of inspiration should share the same librarian values as every library professional, because those values mean something. If business leaders are invited to speak, they should supplement major talks, not give them.

Have we mentioned yet that Bonnie Brooks brought up the nonsense term “synergies”?

Bonnie Brooks should never have been an OLA keynote speaker.

 

A Concerned Member of PLG London.

Beyond the money: Understanding the UWO salary scandal, Bill C-51 and Canada Post austerity as the attack on the public sphere

The 2015 salary scandal at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) gained media attention for various reasons but what should be emphasized most is the greater context, which is the undemocratic undermining of the public sphere. This context usually leads to a private versus public debate related to the corporatization of post-secondary education. Corporatization implies not only funding but standards, ones that prioritize things, like marketing over research, that do not fit the measures of success of a public institution, evident in the state of the people who produce the research every day. If the choice is between state capitalism and private capitalism, the debate should ultimately transcend the public versus private parameters of argument to ones of organization (whether democratic or capitalist) and distribution of wealth and income (egalitarian or inherently unequal).[1] Nevertheless, the public vs private debate is useful for directing the discussion of the scandal to the undemocratic erosion of the public sphere by connecting the functioning of a public institution to two other issues, namely Bill C-51 and the neoliberal policies, often called austerity measures in the ongoing European crisis, brought upon the crown agency Canada Post.

All three examples of the erosion of the public sphere produce different critiques but ultimately allow one not to see the UWO scandal as an isolated incident that can be resolved with the returning of the salary or the dismissal of an individual. While these actions set precedent just like accepting the contract in the first place, the focus must stay on the context that allows for such scandals to exist. This context creates a platform that allows for solutions to be implemented that represent alternatives addressing structural flaws rather than policies that aim to fix symptoms.[2] While it may seem that one inflated pay cheque, the right to protest once or one home losing delivery is not a cause of concern, for a country that holds itself to a G7 standard, these are indicators of a society showing its increasingly undemocratic side. To elaborate, what is at stake is deliberately irresponsible use of public funding, the right to express one’s conscience without authoritarian consequences, or being denied a right to seek, receive and impart information in a socially sustainable manner that demands a level of accountability, is affordable, indiscriminate, builds infrastructure, generates employment and forms an identity.

A scandal such as the one at UWO, regardless of whether legally justified or not, reveals the issues that plague public institutions facing ever dwindling state funding and increasing influence of corporations. It is not just funding but influence from corporations, which for post-secondary education results in the narrowing of the public sphere by standards that bend the public institution out of shape because it does not follow the same rules in terms of measuring success, revealing the “irrational logic” of capitalism.[3] Therefore, efficiency and effectiveness have very specific definitions that allow funding to be distributed in a highly discriminate way, like setting priority to certain departments in a divide and conquer strategy or focusing primarily on marketing, much like a company might spend disproportionately more on marketing than research.[4] Even without the scandal, if one were to look at how funding is portrayed at the university, the perception of the big “extraordinary” posters would certainly be different if instead of the alumni individuals being propped up, the corporations they stand behind were showcased.

Bill C-51 sets precedent in the previously mentioned undemocratic context by stretching the justification of security by blurring the lines of who or what is deemed a threat or could be in the future.[5] The public sphere is attacked through targeting the individual or group, normalizing the idea of creating a potential terrorist out of anyone and ultimately eliminating any platform for discourse, necessary in a democracy. Meanwhile, the Canada Post austerity measures may not be unique in how a crown corporation is handled but the policies do undermine rights in a multifaceted way.

Eliminating home delivery is the focal point of the transformation plans for Canada Post that is portrayed in the media. However, what is not always mentioned are the flawed justifications behind the policy like the projected deficit derived from questionable calculations and lack of adequate research into exploring alternative options postal services in other countries have pursued.[6]  In viewing the issue within one of the public sphere, it allows one to study further these alternatives in order to maintain the important aspects of a public service. These aspects include affordable and indiscriminate service to individuals, small businesses, and everyone in between, all the while turning a profit (though not always the bottom line), and producing infrastructure and decent wages amid public accountability. Also, not to forget contributing to access to information in a world where we are told everything is online, typically implying its free, yet are increasingly being cut off through ever greater barriers to access, physically or virtually.

While all three examples present different and overlapping examples of the undemocratic undermining of the public sphere, when combined they reveal the underlying shortcomings of each, whether they be stretching the veil of security, irresponsibly prioritizing public funds, or undermining a necessary public service. Within the context of the other two examples described, it is clear that there is more at stake at UWO than an unpopular contract that can be resolved with returning the paycheque or even a certain number of people being dismissed.  A more critical discussion is needed to propose alternatives that deal with the corporate influence and secure sustainable funding that do not discriminate against departments and undermine research by prioritizing marketing and leaving the people, who produce research day in and day out, starving.

Nikola Mitrovic, PLG London

[1] Richard D. Wolff, “Going beyond private versus public”, Democracy at work, (Dec 15, 2014) online: http://www.democracyatwork.info/articles/2014/12/going-beyond-private-versus-public/.

[2] For a more detailed comparison between universities and postal service see: Robert M. Campbell, “There’s a future for Canada Post as a public institution”, The [Toronto] Globe and Mail, (Dec 12, 2013) online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/theres-a-future-for-canada-post-as-a-public-institution/article15909840/.

[3] David McNally, Another world is possible: globalization and anti-capitalism, (Winnipeg, Manitoba: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2006) 122.

[4] York University, “Big Pharma Spends More On Advertising Than Research And Development, Study Finds”, ScienceDaily, (Jan 07 2008) online: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080105140107.htm.

[5] For more specific details of the Bill see: Alyssa Stryker and Carmen Cheung, “Six Things Protesters Need to Know about Bill C-51” The [Vancouver] Tyee, (Mar 11, 2015) online: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2015/03/11/C-51-Six-Things-To-Know/.

[6] For more details see: Erin Weir, “Canada Post: A Billion-Dollar Boondoggle?”, Behind the numbers [Ottawa] (Dec 12, 2013) online: http://behindthenumbers.ca/2013/12/12/canada-post-a-billion-dollar-boondoggle/.

Also: Francis Fortier, Hélia Tremblay-de Mestral and Simon Tremblay-Pepin, Should Canada Post be privatized? : A socio-economic report, Institut de recherché et d’informations socio-économiques (IRIS), (Montreal: April 2014) online: http://www.iris-recherche.qc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Note-Postes-WEB-en.pdf.

After Team Harpy

At the London Chapter of PLG, we’re late to the bandwagon. Many other library groups were quick to either condone or condemn the Joe Murphy/Team Harpy lawsuit. We’ve found it very difficult to publicly articulate a position before now. We have discussed it numerous times as a group in private, and we feel that the issues it raises – about workplace harassment in a gendered profession, freedom of speech, and white, male, privilege – are important, pressing issues that librarians need to tackle. Now that the lawsuit has finally settled, what we’ll take away from this case has become somewhat clearer.

There are three main reasons that we have not posted about this issue previously.

For a good refresher of some of the facts of the case, see Librarian in Black, Popehat and
Library Journal.

Libel

At first, we were reluctant to post a public statement about Team Harpy because it appeared clear to us, non-lawyers that we are, that Team Harpy was indeed guilty of libel. Their actions fit the bill. nina de jesus stated as a fact, rather than an opinion, that Joe Murphy is a “sexual predator.” Lisa Rabey based her assertions off of this statement. Since Team Harpy did not bring forward evidence to this effect, this claim is unsubstantiated. As a group, we waited to see what evidence would emerge, if any, and who would come forward as a witness or as a victim – and held off judgement until then.

Generally, we’re fans of passionate, loud opinions. We are not fans of censorship, but of debate and dialogue. We do not agree with how Joe Murphy used legal action to silence the accusations against him, even if he was legally to do so. In our opinion, Joe Murphy has ruined his own reputation through the Streisand effect. We’re happy to be able to voice our opinions, but do not claim that they are facts – and that’s an important distinction.

There are a number of supporters of Team Harpy who got carried away and forgot that this lawsuit was a libel case. Joe Murphy, as he has pointed out, has never been accused of any crime. It was nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey who were on trial for libel. Team Harpy supporters wrote about supporting victims of sexual harassment and standing up against oppression. Sign us up for such a cause: but supporting Team Harpy is not the same as supporting victims of harassment.

Overgeneralizations

 

With that said, the London Chapter of PLG is an advocate of progressive librarianship. This includes supporting gender equality and women’s rights. We acknowledge the inequality that exists between genders and that there are many, many reasons that victims of sexual harassment may not come forward. We recognise that divisions of power create an unequal playing field, and that questioning authority is sometimes necessary and right when that authority is itself unjust, as patriarchy is. However, we don’t want to be blind and conflate our issues. It would be a mistake to overgeneralize and claim that a vote of confidence for Team Harpy is a vote of confidence for victims of sexual assault. It isn’t that clear-cut. And, it would be a mistake to believe libel about Joe Murphy simply because he is a white man who sometimes acts like an asshole around women (opinion substantiated by this video). In short, we cannot hold up this specific case as representative of the worthwhile cause of advocating for victim’s rights. This is not the case for that. Broad strokes, in this instance, would make us guilty of an injustice against Joe Murphy, and nothing else. We also fear that broad strokes also ultimately undermine efforts to support victims of sexual harassment.

nina de jesus’s blog post – the one that got her in all this trouble – was specifically about supporting and believing victims of sexual abuse pre-evidence and pre-conviction. She wrote phrases such as: “Don’t ask for ‘proof’” and “Don’t treat ‘both sides of the story’ as if they hold equal weight.” And we get it. It’s difficult to address the issue of sexual harassment when one side has all of the power. We believe, though, that change must ultimately be achieved within the auspices of the law, and not outside of it, if we’re to make real progress. Doing so prevents the kind of mayhem that can ruin a man’s life.

Real People

 

Finally, the reason that most held us back from posting before now is also what initially made us want to post in the first place. This case has impacted real people’s lives in drastic ways. At first, like so many others, we wanted to reach out to Team Harpy. We wanted to tell them that we believed they were well intentioned, that we sympathized with their plight, and that we, too, rankle at the thought of sexual harassment. Later, the fact that Joe Murphy is a real person really hit home when his step-father posted this emotional open letter detailing how his son’s reputation has been ruined. We wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

The last people to consider in this case are real, and ubiquitous, but often ignored and overlooked. They are the victims of sexual harassment. Despite the fact that they are the cause of Team Harpy’s initial statements, they are nowhere to be seen in this case. They hang about as phantasmagoria. It is important that we acknowledge the real threat of sexual harassment and the very real silence of victims, even if their presence in this case is insubstantial. We feel very strongly about supporting victims, and we sincerely hope that the Team Harpy debate has raised awareness that will lead to positive change, despite its failings.

CUPE 3902 Picket Line Crossing

In solidarity with the Toronto Chapter of PLG, we would like to express our distaste for the University of Toronto ischool’s decision to breach picket lines rather than reschedule or relocate the 50th Anniversary Bassam Lecture by R. David Lankes on”Radical Librarians.” The protesting CUPE 3902 members were picketing for the sake of their employment rights. That a lecture on radical librarianship would justify devaluing this good work is ironic in the extreme and lacking good sense, and we cannot condone it.

Please see the PLG-GTA’s post here.

Our Thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

Lately, the PLG London Chapter has been having discussion after discussion on current events. We most recently spent a great deal of time talking about the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office and related acts of violence in France. Our talk covered censorship, terrorist motivations, French  colonialism and imperialism, and the purpose of terrorism and its effects. We would like to share snippets from our debate with the world. If we did have a conclusion – apart from the apparent one that more voices seeking understanding is better than just one – it would be that seeking a single answer to a complex situation such as this is often dangerously polarizing and shortsighted.

Charlie Hebdo Wordle

Charlie Hebdo Infographic_Revised

Image credit: Wordcloud: Amanda Denman, Infographic: Angela Kwok; Eagle Icon credit to Lincoln Cushing via http://www.docspopuli.org/LibraryCulture.html

Ideas: PLG London Chapter

Notes from the Copyright Awareness Roundtable, July 2014

The roundtable we hosted this past Wednesday, July 23rd on copyright and contemporary librarianship was a resounding success! Thanks to all who attended and especially to our fantastic speakers who took the time to share their professional experiences and offer approaches to issues such as copyright literacy, risk mitigation, advocacy, and institutional policies. We’ve provided key points from the talk below:

Tom Adam, Project Manager and Special Advisor to the Provost
The Copyright Literacy Project @ Western

  • The library is the place where people should come for copyright information, especially in an academic environment
    • As creator, user and enabler of content as well as resources/tools for the academic community
  • The Copyright project is currently in its third phase
    • (1) Fall – December 2013: Environmental scan, launch of copyright website
    • (2) January – May 2014: Further development of website, strategies for delivering the message campus-wide
    • (3) June – December 2014: Sustainability
  • Many of the concerns are the same – still a matter of considering the rights of both creators and users
    • However with the five pivotal cases, the landscape has changed especially with regard to higher education
    • Can look to action in the courts for guidance
  • Copyright Decision Map offers a foundational tool to help users think about copyright and make sense of Fair Dealing
  • Copyright literacy is not a matter of “policing” or “going after infringement” but rather making copyright part of the conversation

Bobby Glushko, Scholarly Communications & Copyright Librarian
University of Toronto

  • There continues to be a real market for librarians with a knowledge of copyright law – it is a growth industry
  • The role of the librarian can be considered in terms of risk mitigation
    • For those disregarding the law, there is a need to convey a sense of ‘reasonableness’ and reduce the likelihood of serious legal consequences
  • It is important to establish the narrative of an institution that respects copyright law
  • Libraries and universities have an opportunity to expand the conversation on copyright
    • While the law can be complicated (not written to be easily comprehended, instills a lack of certainty) doubt and fear should not overshadow academic activity
      • Librarians can focus on the parts that are comprehensible like fair dealing and make this easier to understand by “harnessing a narrative”
  • It is useful to consider copyright in the context of the doctrine of Jack Bernard:
    • (1) “Righteousness is our greatest ally as librarians” – we should be focusing on our positive role of facilitating knowledge
    • (2) Think about your actions in a narrative context – How are you approaching something? Will this look good or bad [in a court of law]?
      • Not a matter of “outsmarting the courts” or disregarding and going ahead
      • Instead we must think about and research what we can do – work with the rights we have in this area… there is a great deal of potential

Sam Trosow, Associate Professor
FIMS and Faculty of Law, UWO

Following the ruling of CCH v. LSUC in 2004, librarians were granted the privilege to provide legal advice to library patrons on copyright issues. This authority allows us to influence policy on copyright through five venues:

  1. International treaties/agreements
  2. Parliament (e.g. Bill C-32, Bill C-11)
  3. Courts: infringement litigation and review of Copyright Board decisions
  4. Copyright Board (tariff applications)
  5. Local institutional policies.

In order to change policy, there must be action at all levels of society. Institutional policy change is the easiest way to make change at your own establishment and it is often overlooked by librarians as an effective means. The mobilization of academic libraries in the area of copyright policy has been lagging behind in Canada, and has only become an important issue since Bill C-11 was passed, the Copyright Pentalogy was ruled by the Supreme Court, and Access Copyright changed its licensing agreement with CAUT. Librarians in every setting should exercise their right to influence policy in a democratic direction that pushes our mandate as information providers.

The importance of copyright officers with M.L.I.S. backgrounds will likely become more prevalent in the years to come, even in non-library settings. This is tied to commentary by Kenneth Crews, who argues that educating authors and students in all aspects of copyright law (meaning both the things you can’t do and also the things you can) is essential to academic freedom and the advancement of knowledge.

Please see the attached slides:

PLG Roundtable talk – Institutional Copyright Policy-making