The Hyde Park Debate 2014

In my last LJ column I mentioned a couple of presentations I enjoyed at the Charleston Conference last month. Another session I enjoyed was the Hyde Park Debate between Rick Anderson (U. of Utah) and David Magier (Princeton U.). The proposition debated this year was “Wherever possible, library collections should be shaped by patrons, instead of by librarians,” with Anderson arguing the pro side and Magier the con side. In the debate format, there’s an audience vote on the proposition before the debate begins and a vote after, and the winner is whoever swings the most votes. It was a close debate, but Magier swung the most votes and won. I often disagree with Anderson about collections issues and generally agree with Magier (which is convenient, since he’s my AUL for Collection Development), so I enjoyed both the verbal sparring and the outcome. My favorite part of the debate starts with the “Response from David Magier”, which begins:

“Without identifying a single good thing about PDA, Rick devotes himself instead to a new low of dismissive stereotyping and character assassination, a completely fictionalized librarian straw-man to shoot down. He trivializes and slanders the work of librarians, calling us childish (“a collection is to collect”), vain and self-centered (“monuments to our own wisdom”), assured and delusional (tilting towards “comprehensive” collections for the distant future), and wasteful and self-interested (valuing our own jobs over the interests of patrons). This cartoon character villain doesn’t actually exist: no library would tolerate it. So let’s dispose of these distractions and hot air and look at the real world. We librarians are patron-driven: engaging closely with faculty and students every day. We engage in collection-shaping with and on behalf of our patrons, because failing to do so produces negative impacts right here and now, not 40 years in the future!”

It was certainly a change from the typical staid library presentation.

You can see the full text of the opening statements, rebuttals and opening and closing polling results here: http://sched.co/1txrXxm.
You can view the raw video of the entire debate itself, as well as the Q&A session, on YouTube, here: http://youtu.be/6i20chKm74U

Why I Don’t Have Anything to Add about Race in America

I’ve seen a couple of different claims on the Internet that not posting something on social media about Ferguson or Eric Garner or racism in America is itself a sign of racism, or something along those lines. By remaining silent on social media, white people are just part of whatever problem there is. I think that’s a bad argument, but I can understand why people might think that. If everyone posted something on Facebook about every injustice in America or the world, Facebook would be nothing but that. The world can be a shitty place. My constantly acknowledging that on Facebook isn’t going to make it any better.

Just to give some examples of things I hate: continuing worldwide environmental devastation; on-going, pointless, unjust wars America started that have killed tens of thousands of people, displaced hundreds of thousands more, and cost billions of dollars that could have been spent productively; all the wars America didn’t start; Islamist terrorists; American drug policies that have created near-genocidal conditions in parts of northern Mexico and a vastly unjust and expensive prison-industrial complex in the U.S.; the future of children being almost completely determined by their parents’ socioeconomic status; the persistent and possibly unchangable concentrations of poverty in the country; and the de facto unequal rights that oppress millions of Americans and billions around the world every day.

If some people think my sins of omission make me a worse person, then I’ll say something. Just to make those people happy, I’ll provide my completely irrelevant opinion on racial injustice in America. It’s awful. It’s systematic throughout the country. It should be stopped. I have no idea how to do that and suspect it’s impossible because many people are stupid and fearful of people who aren’t like them. The Ferguson grand jury was a farce, and the prosecutor must have been a fool to think that any disinterested person, much less the many interested persons, would be able to look at that process and say, “Yeah! Justice accomplished!” However, I expected no indictment, just as I expected no indictment in the Eric Garner case. I believe, like anyone who has paid attention to racial issues in America should know, when it comes to white people harming people of color, getting justice is very rare. What can I do about that? Not a damn thing.

However, neither the irrelevance of my opinions or the ineffectiveness of my personal actions are why I don’t normally say anything about racial injustice or race in America. It’s because when something like the Ferguson decision happens, I don’t see it as my place to speak. I see it as my place to listen, or at least read. I read the stuff my friends and acquaintances of and not of color post on Facebook. I try my best to understand what it must be like to be the Other in American society, because that’s a difficult enough thing for anyone without expecting some additional commentary that signifies to whomever that I’m a good person or whatever it is someone wants me to be. I’ve always felt like an outsider in American culture, but never an Other.

I even have irrelevant opinions about white privilege, about which I was ignorant for most of my life, but about which I couldn’t possibly disagree with once I understood what it was. Yes, I’m a beneficiary of it, and no, I never felt like one. I’m still not sure what it would mean to feel like you’re the beneficiary of something so abstract, but I acknowledge it exists and I understand how it works. Probably I never felt like it because when I was younger I was relatively poor compared to a lot of my friends. We weren’t destitute (although my parents basically were by the time of their deaths), but we didn’t have much money, and what money we did have was because my parents were extremely frugal. I didn’t feel white, but I sure felt poor.

In addition to being poor, I was also depressed through much of my childhood. I remember my mother saying she was always sad when looking at my 2nd grade school picture, for example, because I looked so sad. By high school I often assumed that one day, if things kept on like that, I’d just commit suicide. I have no qualms about it. If it was good enough for Cato, it should be good enough for me. Not wanting to burden someone with finding a dead body, I even worked out a method that would be painless and leave no trace anyone was likely to ever find. When your mind has been to places like that, it’s sometimes hard to consider other people’s problems as seriously as they should be considered.

This isn’t a pity party for previous me, though. Seriously, to hell with that kid. He was an ignorant fool, even if he couldn’t have known any better at the time. However, for much of my life I was so focused on my own problems that I didn’t think about other people’s problems. I suspect most of us are like that. So I was poor and depressed. I was also a tall, strong, intelligent, heterosexual white male, and decent enough looking that I’d never worry about discrimination because of my looks, which is generally something we only do to women in American anyway. Most people focus on their problems, not their unearned benefits.

Although I was hassled by the police a couple of times as a teenager, I haven’t been as an adult. The last time a cop confronted me I was 19 and walking with a friend on a levee near my apartment about 1am. The cop pulled up, shined a flashlight at us, and demanded to see our driver’s licenses. I told him I didn’t have one on me because I wasn’t driving, I was walking, and I didn’t say it in a subservient way. And this was in the south. What did the cop do? He told us the levees were really private property and that we shouldn’t walk on them, and then he drove away. One can’t say for sure, but I’d bet that situation would have ended differently if my skin had been darker. Did I realize that at the time? Nope. I realized it just now because I haven’t thought of the incident in years. I can walk into almost any public space in America and never be harassed. I’ll never be pulled over or pulled out of a security line because of the color of my skin.

That took me a very long time to understand, because as a member of the default race in American society, I never thought about being white. It’s not like I feel a particular bond with all white people. I’ve met a lot of them over the years, and mostly I’m not that impressed. A lot of my felt relationship to the world has been based more on my size. I’ve never known what it’s like not to be bigger and taller than most of the people around me. When I was a student back at my violent Christian private school (such, such were the days!), if someone wanted to fight or bully me I’d just fight back, and while I had my share of bloody noses and cut lips, I was never beaten up. I had no fear of other kids, just like today I have no fear of other adults. Muggers aren’t going to make me a first choice target because I’m big, just like cops aren’t going to target me because I’m white.

I mention this not to revel in my violent past, because I hated fighting. I mention it because that’s the way I now think about being white in America. It’s like being the bigger, stronger kid on the playground who can walk around being oblivious to what happens to other kids, to the ones who can’t just be the way they want to be. Sometimes that big kid is a bully, but most of the time that big kid just doesn’t have to consider the perspectives of other people. The smaller geeks are being bullied by a football player. Oh well, nothing I can do about that. He wouldn’t dare try that with me after all. Being white in America is like that. Sometimes it’s the bullies who win. They shoot an unarmed black man in the street and they get away with it because, just as boys will be boys, whites will be whites, and it’s not like anyone who counts got hurt, right? When it’s not the bullies, it’s the oblivious ones. I don’t know because I don’t need to know because I can mind my own business and do whatever I want and nobody’s going to say anything. When you’re in that position, it’s really hard to understand what it’s like not being in that position.

I was never the bully, I was definitely oblivious, and now I’m neither. But after that, what could I possibly say? What business does a middle-class, middle-aged, white guy like me have saying anything about race in America? What useful or interesting perspective could I possibly offer? Does my speaking out on social media against racial injustice make me a better person? Is anyone every persuaded by Facebook activism? Are any friends’ minds ever changed, even if I had many friends whose minds I’d want to change? Are my opinions on the matter any more known to my friends than they were before? It’s not like I’m shy about telling people what I think. If I see injustice in person and do nothing, I’m complicit with it. If I’m silent on social media about something I haven’t experienced, then it’s because I believe the best thing to do in the situation is shut up and listen to other people who know more than me about the topic. I’ve been listening, and now I’m shutting up again.

Predators without Prey?

This is an amusing story about how a fake journal article called “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List,” consisting of nothing but that sentence over and over, might be published in an open access “scholarly journal.” It was originally written by someone else many years ago to protest spam conference invitations, and was forwarded to the journal to protest what a professor believed was a spam invitation to publish in a journal. Upon submission, the professor was told it would be published for $150.

What might be funniest about the story is Jeffrey Beall’s email response to Inside Higher Education. (He apparently “broke” the story on his blog, but after my last encounter with some of Beall’s prose, I didn’t have the will necessary to read anything else by him.) Here’s what he wrote to IHE:

“It’s clear that no peer review was done at all and that this particular journal (along with many like it) exists only to get money from scholarly authors. The open-access publishing model has some serious weaknesses, and predatory journals are poisoning all of scholarly communication.”

The first sentence is undeniable. This is obviously a scam journal that just wants to make money from gullible researchers, if it can find any. Any idiot should be able spot that, and the professor obviously did or he wouldn’t have sent the fake article. It’s the second sentence that’s so funny. “Predatory journals are poisoning all of scholarly communication.”

In this case, we have a professor who expected the journal to be a scam, which basically it is. He sent them an article written many years before to protest spam conference invitations. These two taken together imply that spamming researchers predates the rise of the so-called predatory journals, and that researchers can tell when something is a scam. “Poisoning all of scholarly communication” is a ridiculous overstatement on the face of it, but describing an interaction in which everyone, including the professor, knows what’s really going on isn’t poisoning anything. It’s evidence that scholarly communication is working pretty well and that scholars know these journals are questionable from the beginning.

What’s missing from the analysis of “predatory” journals is any evidence of widespread trickery, where researchers who don’t know any better are paying to publish in what they believe to be legitimate peer-reviewed scholarly journals. It’s hard to prove something is predatory if there’s not any prey. The professor in question is the exact opposite of prey, and if anything he’s preyed upon the journal by making it the butt of his joke, but I guess it’s easier to misinterpret evidence that challenges your beliefs instead of following the evidence to form your beliefs. Human, all to human.

The Best that Can be Done

There are a lot of things to love about JSTOR for ejournals. It’s easy to search and has such a wealth of content that I find it easy to understand why for a lot of professors a while back it was synonymous with library ejournals. “My professor told me to search JSTOR,” students would tell me. And for research in many fields, it’s still not a bad place to start. There’s the small irritation of having to click to agree on their terms every time I want an article PDF, but at least when I do it works. And there’s the time I was trying to do an exhaustive literature search and JSTOR thought I was a bot of some kind and shut down the session, but I was able to bypass that in a couple of minutes. Overall, though, a great experience.

Then we get to JSTOR ebooks, and things change. In my Library Journal column on the mess of ebooks, I complained about JSTOR ebooks among others, because after a certain amount of friction trying to download an ebook chapter I simply gave up. It just wasn’t worth it. After that column, a rep called me and we talked about JSTOR ebooks and their many advantages, and they do have some advantages. However, when it comes to downloading, they make the 18 steps it takes to download an Ebrary ebook for the first time look almost appealing.

I decided to give it another try, though. The first time I tried was just an experiment. I didn’t want the book, I just wanted to test the service. Yesterday, I found a book I actually wanted to read, but the print copy was checked out and every copy in the Borrow Direct system was also checked out. The JSTOR ebook came up, because the book was published by the Princeton University Press and we buy the ebooks from PUP. I don’t want to read chapters in the Flash reader online, but If you don’t like the Flash reader, you can download the PDF, supposedly. According to the JSTOR rep I spoke with, that’s available on only 60% of the titles, but it was available on this one. It’s a long book, so I figured I’d download a chapter at a time and read through it when I got a chance.

I went to the page for the ebook. The first thing I noticed was the warning. “This book has viewing and download limits.” That’s for sure. “There is no printing or copying allowed,” because it seems like a good idea to take a potentially useful technology and make it impossible to do simple, basic tasks that everyone would expect it to do. Deliberate hobbled technology makes it unlikely I’ll invest in it, but the ebook was already paid for.

Screenshot 2014-11-18 18.14.03

I could download a PDF of a book chapter, that is, if I logged in to my MyJSTOR account.

Screenshot 2014-11-18 18.17.00

I didn’t have a MyJSTOR account, because I don’t want one. What I wanted to do is download some of the book the library paid for that says downloads are available. That doesn’t seem like much of a demand. Since completing that simple task was made impossible for me, I spent a few minutes creating an account I don’t want and shouldn’t need, filling in all the blanks with meaningless or wrong information. Then I logged in to the account I don’t want and shouldn’t need. Supposedly, now I can download the book.

Oh, but not yet. Replicating the outstanding JSTOR article platform would be far too harmful for the publishers, I assume, so I get some more friction. I need something called the FileOpen program, because JSTOR ebooks can’t just give me a PDF once the book is purchased and I’ve created this pointless account.

Screenshot 2014-11-18 18.06.56I was already pretty irritated, but what the hell. By then I was suffering from the “sunk costs fallacy,” where I’d invested enough time that I would feel bad giving up, even as my benefit-to-time ratio rapidly shrank. So I tried to load the plugin that’s only purpose seems to be to allow me to open a PDF that I should be able to open anyway if it hadn’t been screwed up by DRM or whatever they did to it. I couldn’t open it without the plugin, that’s for sure.

And finally, success! No, wait. Not success. Here’s what I got next:

Screenshot 2014-11-18 18.04.58

If you can’t make that out, it reads, “Note to Safari users: Due to Apples’s updates and fixes it has become no longer possible to view PDF files in your Safari web browser. We apologize for this, and we hope to be able to restore this functionality in the future.”

That was really weird. First of all, I wasn’t using Safari, but Google Chrome. Second of all, here’s a screen shot of me viewing a PDF file in Safari a few minutes after I got that message.

Screenshot 2014-11-18 18.28.57

Thus, the statement that it’s no longer possible to view PDFs in Safari was a lie. What it seems to mean is that they’ve added so much DRM to the PDF that it’s not viewable by standard web browsers like ordinary PDFs are. Let’s get clear who’s keeping me from viewing PDFs. It wasn’t because of changes that Apple made, or even Google. It’s because of changes to the PDF that JSTOR made. This turned into one of those “don’t pee on my head and tell me it’s raining” moments, only less messy.

I couldn’t view it in Chrome, either, so I went back to the note to Safari users and pretended it applied to me. “For now it seems that the best that can be done is to use Firefox together with stand-alone Adobe Reader or Acrobat.”

Really? That’s it? The best that can be done? Make me create an account, login to that account, install a plugin I shouldn’t need to read a PDF, fail to give me a PDF that I can read, and then tell me to go follow some special instructions and change browsers to view a file format I should be able to view with any standard browser. That’s the best that can be done?

No, that’s not the best that can be done. That’s a non-solution to a problem JSTOR created, no doubt at the behest of the publishers. The best that could have been done is having me click “Download this chapter” and then downloading the chapter. That’s the best that could have been done.Telling me my problem downloading a chapter was something other than their restricted file format isn’t tempting me to buy any JSTOR ebooks for the library. It did tempt me to write this blog post, though.

Sleazebags in Librarianship

After my last post on TeamHarpy, a friend contacted me to ask why I’d written, noting that the post itself was bland and opining that it seemed like I’d wanted to write more, but for some reason didn’t. That seemed a fair assessment. The post was bland. Its purpose was merely to publicize the fact that Joe Murphy was suing a couple of librarians and that they were requesting support from the librarian community.

As I wrote before, I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of Joe Murphy or any other alleged sexual predators. None of them have ever preyed on me. Like the librarians in the lawsuit, and apparently other librarians, I’ve heard many things about Murphy over the years from numerous people who know him, but these weren’t tales of his alleged sexual hijinks. As it happens, I’ve never heard anything positive, only negative. However bright a star Murphy might think he is in the librarian firmament, there are clearly a lot of people who don’t like him. Then again, I’m sure there are plenty of librarians who don’t like me, although I doubt for the same reasons. For his own sake, I hope Murphy drops the lawsuit, because the more publicity this gets the worse he’s going to look.

I wrote because I don’t like sleazebags. I have no proof that Murphy is a sleazebag, and I’m not accusing him or talking about him here, but I know for a fact they exist in the profession and that this existence is generally whispered, not broadcast. Sleazebags in this case are those men who frequently make sexual propositions to uninterested women, or worse yet start handling them. Sleazebags are the ones who will tell any lie in order to have sex with a woman.They view women as objects to be taken or “conquered,” not human beings to relate to.  They also might brag that they’ve had sex with women at conferences. (Seriously, how insecure do you have to be to do something like that? What’s the thinking here? “I know I seem like a smarmy toad, but real women have had sex with me!”) They’re the cads, the mashers, the “pickup artists,” and other varieties of sleaze. I don’t like them and I never have.

I wrote because of a conversation I was in recently. I was the only man there, and the conversation somehow turned to sleazy sexual predators at ALA, I think by someone who had been aggressively hit on by one at a conference function. At that point I mostly just sat back quietly and listened. I realized, even at the time, that I was privy to the kind of conversation that generally occurs only among women. And, frankly, what I heard was appalling. Some of the behavior mentioned was unprofessional, rude, and just plain creepy.

That sleazebaggery happens didn’t surprise me. Sleazebags are everywhere. But I was surprised by how frequently it seems to happen at conferences of librarians. There might be only a few sleazebags in the profession, but they really go out of their way to offend. Thinking about it more, I believe the reason I hadn’t seen any of this behavior was that such sleazebags are similar to child molesters and other predators. They have a sense for who they think they can target and who will remain quiet. They’re not going to harass people while other grownups are around.

It’s possible there are some unwitting sleazebags out there who really are well meaning and don’t know they’re sleazebags. They just don’t understand appropriate boundaries. Here’s a rule of thumb for men like that. Imagine me for a moment. I’m 6’2″ tall, big, and kinda hairy. Imagine we’re at a social event at a conference, perhaps at a bar. If there’s anything you’d feel uncomfortable me doing to you, then you probably shouldn’t do it to a woman. Would you feel comfortable if I fondled your buttocks, or came up behind you really close and started massaging your shoulders or put my arms around your waist, or leaned in and whispered sultrily in your ear, or reached out and squeezed your thigh, or kept asking if you’d like to go back to my room and have sex? No? Then don’t do it to a woman.

This reminded me of a unpleasant experience I had. A few years ago I was part of a pub crawl in a small college town, one of those evenings that starts out well and then devolves as the hours pass, and I was trapped. So I ended up at a college bar sitting alone being generally annoyed by the whole situation when a young man came up to a table of young women sitting near me. Despite their apparent lack of interest in him, he proceeded to lay on the smarmiest, sleaziest schtick I’d ever heard. At first I had trouble believing that someone would have the nerve to even say the bullshit he was saying. Being annoyed and perhaps a bit tipsy, I started making fun of him, giving a running commentary of every statement he was making, exposing the motivations behind his seemingly casual conversation and causing the women to laugh. (And yes, I realize I can be guilty of my own inappropriate behavior.)

Seeing how he was alone and I was a lot bigger than him, his main response was to tell me repeatedly to shut up and mind my own business. And that’s the final thing I don’t like about sleazebags. They count on silence. They count on women being afraid to speak out and on other men to “mind their own business.” He counted on the silence of men who disapproved of him, just like if he’d ended up date-raping one of those women he’d have counted on her silence.

The defendants are done being silent. Are they right? Are they wrong? That’s not for me to decide. But I believe that women should be more outspoken about stuff like this and that men should mostly shut up and listen and not try to defend inappropriate behavior as if it’s somehow innocent, and if in the end they disagree, then they can disagree and move on. My default position is also that if there’s smoke, there’s probably fire. Most men, or at least most male librarians, would likely be as appalled by this sort of behavior as I was, only they aren’t aware it exists. I want to know so that I’m aware of sleazebags in professional clothing and can act towards them appropriately. I believe the more information out there, and the more everyone, men and women, talks about it openly, the less likely such behavior will be. Well, maybe not believe, but at least I hope so.

[I took a while drafting this post, unsure of the form it should take. While I was doing it, Barbara Fister also wrote about the situation. While I wasn’t thinking about “whistleblowers” as such, I pretty much agree with everything she says here.]

Suing Librarians for Damages

It seems we have another librarian lawsuit, again in Canada. Joe Murphy is suing two librarians–nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey–for $1.25 million in damages for publicly calling him a sexual predator. That’s a lot of alleged damages.

Apparently, the allegations started on Twitter, but here’s where I first ran across the discussion back in May. That they called him a sexual predator isn’t really in doubt. Here are two quotes from the blog post:

Joe Murphy, a fairly ubiquitous presence in the library conference circuit, has been continuously sexually harassing women at these conferences (and one imagines pretty much anywhere he goes)….

Can I point out the fact that Joe Murphy’s behaviour is so well known that women attending lib conferences literally have instituted a buddy-type safety system to protect themselves? That — quite literally — they are afraid to be alone with him?

The defense in the lawsuit will be that they didn’t defame him because it’s true. The Team Harpy link has calls out for witnesses and legal fund donations if you’re interested in supporting the librarians being sued.

One of the things I wondered about when the Edwin Mellen Press sued Dale Askey is whether the lawsuit might bring the wrong kind of attention to the plaintiff. Dale Askey went from being a relatively unknown librarian to becoming a minor cause celebre among librarians and other academics, and I don’t think the EMP came off well at all from a public relations perspective. I wonder the same thing here, and whether the fact of the lawsuit might hurt Murphy within the librarian community more than any accusations of sexual harassment.

I don’t have any personal knowledge about this. I met Joe Murphy in person one time and was in his company for about five minutes, and I’ve never heard him speak at a conference. I had one Twitter interaction with nina de jesus regarding the Enlightenment where we each decided that we were right even though we completely disagreed with each other, so pretty typical for an Internet discussion. I have also witnessed no sexual harassment at library conferences, but then again I’m a man and thus probably wouldn’t be around when it happened.

However, it’s hard to believe that people would just make up stuff like this, especially targeting a specific person. Tales of sexual harassment at library conferences make the rounds, but I haven’t seen any librarians actually named (well, at least not publicly in writing), and it would seem strange to me that people would make up something as detailed as a “buddy-type safety system.”

Other than that, I don’t have an opinion about this I’m willing to share publicly, but I wanted to write in case any of you who hadn’t seen this already have witnessed stuff or would like to give the defense some money.