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.

On Tenure, Publishing, and Such

I’ve been thinking about this topic in response to a couple of things I’ve read lately. One is this blog post by Meredith Farkas giving her thoughts about tenure after leaving the tenure track (along with numerous comments) and the other is a discussion on an ACRL listserv about whether College & Research Libraries should try to include more than the empirical research studies that seem to be the norm. Since I started drafting this post, Barbara Fister has also responded to Meredith.

In the interest of disclosure, I should note that I am not now nor have I ever been on a tenure track as such. The librarians at Princeton don’t have faculty status, although we do report to the Dean of the Faculty and we do have a three-tiered promotion structure and a tenure-like status called “continuing appointment.” However, while that process does reward publication, it does not require it. My previous professional librarian job had no faculty status, no promotional structure, and no tenure-like status. Not only have I never been on the tenure track, when starting out I deliberately avoided jobs where the librarians had faculty status and tenure requirements. I’d have taken one of those jobs in a pinch, but I definitely didn’t want one.

Meredith and others are debating the merits of having tenure and faculty status, and I’ve heard a few librarians over the years tell me I’d be better off with faculty status. Campus governance, respect from the faculty, etc. That’s possibly true, but I seem to have done okay without it. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever lacked the respect of the faculty members that I’ve come into contact with, even as a lowly librarian interacting with relative academic superstars. I can’t imagine the Princeton faculty members ever considering the librarians as equals to them professionally, but they do seem to consider us as capable professionals in our own right and I’ve yet to have an unpleasant or demeaning experience with any professor here.

For me, this is a sign that the librarian tenure debate might be affected by place. Perhaps there are institutions where a lack of faculty status would mean a lack of respect, or that a lack of participation in governance would harm the library or the librarians. There’s a lot to be said for faculty status, but I have found no reason to agree with the more diehard proponents that faculty status is always necessary for professional well being. There are a lot of librarians at good universities who don’t have it and don’t miss it. However, I also disagree with those who think tenure is always restrictive rather than liberating. That might also depend on place. While I didn’t write much prior to being granted continuing appointment, I didn’t hesitate to speak my mind or take risks at work if I thought the cause worthwhile. The prospect of being up or out in six years didn’t silence me, but I understand there might be institutions where librarians might feel they had to remain silent to keep their jobs.

I avoided such jobs mostly because of the publishing requirement. I don’t think it’s too immodest to say that writing and publishing themselves weren’t obstacles. While there are a lot of librarians who struggle with both, I haven’t been one of them. However, I knew the sort of empirical research studies that seem expected in jobs like that would be a struggle. I’m not trained to do them. I don’t want to be trained to do them. And I have no interest in writing and usually very little interest in reading them. In the C&RL discussion, someone mentioned librarians writing articles based on critical inquiry who feared for their tenure chances because they hadn’t cranked out social science studies. That was not going to be me. While a lack of tenure wouldn’t silence me, a requirement to publish social science research articles would have harmed me, either by forcing me to write stuff I didn’t like or by keeping me from publishing at all.

It’s a pity, because there are librarians out there writing some good stuff that doesn’t fit in with the empirical, quantitative social science model that seems to be the norm. I’ve seen historical, philosophical, or political writing about libraries and librarianship that’s pretty good, and often much more readable than most LIS writing, and if the tenure process serves to stymie such writing, then the library literature is better off without tenure. For that matter, the literature of most scholarly fields would probably improve if tenure wasn’t a publish-or-perish process.

The great thing about not being a faculty librarian on the tenure track and not having my work judged by empirical research ideologues is that I can publish whatever I want, and there are always places to publish. I once had a practical ethics article rejected from a conference proceeding because the reviewer claimed that such an “opinion piece” wasn’t appropriate for this scholarly book. That reviewer seemed not to know or care that there are scholarly genres other than the empirical research study, or that a lack of quantitative data doesn’t reduce arguments to “opinions.” The only thing that irked me at the time is that I’d been asked by the editor to take a brief conference presentation and write it up as an article. That was just as well, since I then published it in an open access journal where it would actually be read. I didn’t need the publication, but there’s no reason to waste a piece of decent writing.

I don’t think there’s much doubt that the social scientific empirical research study is considered the gold standard of library scholarly publishing. My question is, why? At least from practicing librarians, many of them are terrible. Even I, committed humanist that I am, can often spot the flaws in such research. Librarians typically don’t have the time or training to do these things well, and yet they’re expected to and probably wouldn’t publish so many if they weren’t. The average results speak for themselves.

The reason is possibly because that’s what LIS professors usually publish. As an academic enterprise, LIS professors seem long ago to have decided that library science is a social science and that social scientific research methods were the appropriate methods. Creating that norm makes it easier to unify a field of study and to evaluate research from other LIS professors. Because this is what they do, and these are the people who have the time and training to publish the most rigorous stuff, the publishing model has become the norm, with librarians trailing along behind trying to keep up while working 12-month contracts and usually not having PhDs in LIS or social science disciplines.

I, on the other hand, resist this ideology, because I believe that the “science” in library science doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as the “science” in social science. The science of library science depends upon an older 19th century meaning of science, something like an organized body of knowledge about a field. In that sense of science, library science is definitely a science, and a fairly well developed one. Thus, while there’s nothing wrong with engaging in social science research related to libraries, there’s also no reason why such research should define what sort of scholarly work about libraries is appropriate. Library Science might be a social science, but being a librarian is an art. There’s absolutely no reason that libraries can’t be approached in a humanistic manner. It’s just that most LIS professors aren’t humanists.

That seems to me to be a big divide in the profession. LIS professors are social scientists, but most people going to library school to be librarians are humanists. Plant someone like me in a job where I’m expected to publish social science research and it’s going to be pretty bad, plus I’m going to hate writing it. That’s a recipe for garbage research and misery that I wanted to avoid. Let me approach the profession rhetorically, philosophically, or even historically, and the results, although perhaps not outstanding, at least won’t be embarrassing.

Thus, in retrospect, I avoided faculty status and the tenure track not because I was afraid of research, or that I couldn’t write, but that so much LIS research is unnecessarily narrow, and the expectations for research are equally narrow. When LIS is unjustifiably defined as only a social science, when most LIS professors are social scientists, and when most of the leading journals in the field expect that sort of writing, that tells humanists like me that whatever scholarship I might produce is unwelcome, unvalued, and sometimes just plain misunderstood. The clear message for me as a library school student and then a new professional was that mainstream LIS scholarship was something I wanted nothing to do with and that wanted nothing to do with me.That was fine, because my experience, and I suspect I’m not alone here, is that most of that social science LIS research is largely irrelevant to my work or to my professional interests.

I have no problem with faculty status or tenure for librarians, but I also don’t consider it a necessity at every institution. The value might differ depending on circumstances. However, I am glad that there were good academic libraries where someone like me could write and publish what I wanted, rather than being constricted by the social science expectations of mainstream LIS publishing. If faculty status and tenure for librarians with expectations to publish social science research were universal, I’d probably be in another profession, which would be too bad for me because I’m pretty happy doing what I do.

PhilPapers et al.

I’d promised some librarians that I would write up a comparison between PhilPapers (PP) and the Philosopher’s Index (PI), because choosing between the two of them might be a budgetary necessity for librarians who wanted to subscribe to PhilPapers under the new terms. This has been delayed somewhat because I knew PhilPapers was planning to announce some important changes, and until then a comparison would be premature. The changes are on the website now, so I feel comfortable writing. The big news is that PhilPapers will be merging with the Philosophy Research Index (PRI). This will still be a comparison, but the incorporation of the the PRI into PP is something of a game changer. But first, some comparisons.

If we’re going by sheer number of entries, PP is ahead. As of July 21, there were 1,104,558 entries from 1,032 journals. According to the Philosopher’s Index website, PI “has a total of over 540,000 journal article and book citations from over 1600 journals collected from 139 countries in 37 languages.” This is qualified somewhat in that only about half of the PP entries are classified according to the categories of its philosophy bibliography. That makes the number of controlled indexed entries about the same. However, PP is, according to David Bourget, “categorizing hundreds, sometimes thousands a day,” and will soon be improving the categorization process. Thus, in the not too distant future, most if not all of PP’s entries will be categorized, making them even more accessible than they are now. In addition, about 700,000 of the entries have categories or associated keywords, and I’ve been told by PP that the most prominent method for accessing entries is search, not browsing via the bibliography. So most of the entries are available to search. In addition, PRI is larger than both PP and PI, with more than 1.3 million bibliographic records. It also covers 800 journals in 30 languages. Once PP incorporates PRI, PP will definitely be by far the largest philosophy literature index. The coverage will also go back to the beginnings of many library journals, instead of just back to 1940 as with PI, and the addition of more foreign language coverage will broaden the scope considerably.

The PP/PRI merger also means that PP will incorporate the Philosopher’s Index Thesaurus. For those unfamiliar with the history of PI and the Philosophy Documentation Center (PDC), a little background might be worthwhile. PDC and PI were both founded in the 1960s at Bowling Green State University, and until 1995 PDC published PI. In 1995 the editor of PI left BGSU and took PI with him. PI is now published by the Philosopher’s Information Center. However, the PDC still owns the Philosopher’s Index Thesaurus, which is the thesaurus PI still uses, and which PRI has been using to build up its own index. The thesaurus is available in print from the PDC, which explains why it cannot be accessed from within PI, comparable to thesauri from other indexes. Thus, when PP incorporates PRI, PP will have both its robust and developing bibliography of philosophy and the thesaurus that PI also uses, plus more extensive coverage of the philosophical literature.

There’s also a difference in how the entries in PP and PI are classified. PI uses the Philosopher’s Index Thesaurus. I couldn’t find any information on the website by whom the indexing is done, but presumably it’s a by a team of indexers with some knowledge of philosophy (if anyone has more complete information, please let me know). PP entries are classified according to the entries of the philosophy bibliography either by the authors themselves or appointed editors, all of whom are professional academic philosophers. I haven’t noticed any problems with either classification process, so I’m not sure the comparison would help anyone make a choice. If others disagree or have found issues, please leave a comment.

One problem I had early on was using SFX from PP. I was getting incomplete results. The problem could be solved only by creating an account with PP and going through a relatively simple process of choosing a link resolver (very simple if anyone from your institution had ever done it before). The accounts can be completely private if you choose, but I disliked the extra steps someone might have to take to get to articles that PP doesn’t have OA but which a library might subscribe to. However, PP is improving OpenURL and SFX linking, and subscribing institutions shouldn’t have a problem. It should work as seamlessly as PI when everything is done.

The final comparison is platform and price. PI is a proprietary index available through Ebsco, Ovid, and ProQuest. Princeton uses the Ebsco interface, which I happen to find very user-friendly. The PP website is also very user-friendly in my opinion. On whatever platform, the cost will vary among institutions because of differences in FTEs or consortial agreements or whatever. Princeton pays a few thousand, and the PP expectation from Princeton is $1200 because Princeton is a philosophy PhD granting university. That makes PP cheaper than PI for my library. I don’t plan to cease subscribing to PI yet, because I’m awaiting further PP developments and I want to have a conversation about it with the Philosophy Department, but I imagine that will matter for a lot of libraries. However, with the incorporation of PRI into PP, I will be canceling the subscription to PRI if it continues to exist as a standalone database, and that money will go to PP instead.

And then there’s the open access of PP. PI is available only to subscribing institutions, while PP is available to everyone in the world. As those of you reading in the spring might remember, my major objections to the PP subscription drive were the unmanageable budgetary timing (asking to subscribe by June 1 or face penalties) and the list of institutions expected to pay (basically every institution in the world from which anyone had ever accessed PP). I thought the first pointlessly hasty and the second unjust. Both those objections were met soon after. The announcement of the PP/PRI merger says, “The service will continue to be available on the model where non-institutional use is free and only institutions located in high-GDP countries and that offer degrees in philosophy are asked to subscribe.” Although I still would have preferred the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) endowment method, those are the same kinds of institutions that SEP targeted and the kind that should be subsidizing this sort of open access project if possible.

Of course, PP is more than just a competitor to PI. In addition to the growing index and the structured bibliography, it has the huge OA archive of philosophy articles. It also has announcements for philosophy events and job, and generally serves as a community portal for professional philosophers and philosophy grad students around the world to share work and stay informed. I’m not aware of anything quite like this for other academic disciplines. If PP can gather enough subscriptions to continue to develop, it will remain an important resource for anyone interested in philosophy. And when PP is used in combination with the SEP, philosophy has perhaps the most robust OA reference support of any academic discipline.