Friday, April 15, 2016

So Your Library Is Closing

We've known for a while that the branch library where I work (a STEM library at a university) would close eventually. Some years this has meant very stressful uncertainty about whether or not we'd be here at the end of the year. The Maybes were really hard - probably harder than getting the real date we have to close. We'll be out in about 9 months 2 months so the academic building we're in can create more lab space, which is a totally legitimate reason to kick us out. Nevertheless, our small staff that works here is pretty bummed about this and it got me thinking about all the other stories I've heard or read about library branches or just libraries full stop that have closed. These stories always discuss the loss of service to the populations those libraries served and often include quotes from users who are upset about the loss. I've noticed, though, that few stories -unless told by the librarians themselves- talk about what the librarians think about the closure, or how they are feeling their feels. I am feeling a lot of feels right now and I think maybe we (librarians) all need a support group for this kind of thing. Failing that, I wanted to capture some documented emotions from others and some information about how to deal with reorganization/layoffs. So...

 Stories of Other Grieving Librarians

It was really hard to find stories about libraries closing that talked to the librarians and also mentioned how the librarians felt. Please share if you know of others. These represent some different types of libraries and although they have differences from my experience and library, we all have the same emotional process about it, it seems. Note to journalists: If your covering library closures, you're bad at your job if you don't at least try to interview the librarians.
  • Branch closings hurt, library director says (2001):
    "It makes me so emotional. I am a career librarian. It hurts. People say they've cried over this. I've cried, too."
  • County to Shut 10 Libraries, Cut Hours at All Branches (1992)
    "It's going to be terrible...People from the community, you get to know them. They become your friends."
  • Niland library closing is ‘sad situation’ (2010)
    "I really love this little place."
  •  Stanislaus County Library Lays Off 94 Part-Timers (2008)
    "I hope the public understands that we are trying to do the best we can."
    "I feel sad for the community"
  •  Searching the MedLib-L listserv archive for subject line "library closing" gives a warning that "Your search produced too many hits and the query was aborted." This is very sad in and of itself, but reading those emails is sadder still. Many of these messages show the pain these librarians felt at the closure of their and their colleagues' libraries. Many of these talented people were laid off in the process. Just a major, major bummer.


Other Articles about the Emotional Effects

There are a lot of articles about the emotional effects of reorganization and layoffs. These also tend not to give perspective from actual people going through the effects, but they offer some interesting advice and insights to why we get sad about it all. Layoff articles about those laid off were harder to find than articles about "survivors" of lay offs and support for management during layoffs.These articles got kind of depressing so I left the list pretty short. There's a lot out there, though. You're probably a librarian, so you know how to find more.




All My Feels

I am sad. One of the reasons I took this job was that it was in a branch library. I can't tell you how much I believe in the value of branch libraries. They're really quite something, and Barbara & Michael do a good job summarizing why here (hoping not paywalled!). I'm not sad that I'll be in the main library now. I'm lucky to still have a job - not all librarians who lose their libraries are so lucky. While having a much deserved drink with some understanding work friends recently, one noted how losing our library was also losing our professional identities. I agree. I haven't been here that long (it will be almost 3 years when we leave), but this is my job. I work here. The differences between Us and the Main Library have been clear for as long as this branch has operated, no matter how much we try to be united. Being a separate entity has often had many problems for us with regard to our budget and our professional relationships. But what happens to the Red Headed Step Child when they get invited to stay in the main house with the other kids? It's going to be an adjustment. Our shack out back had it's problems, but it was home. And yes, we're going to insist on continuing to support our users in the main library. That's going to be an adjustment for them and we'll have to deal with some (totally ridiculous) push back. I hoping the staff over there will check their "Why do we need to change things to serve STEM kids?" and "About time you came over here" comments and be a bit more sympathetic. I fear any good things that could happen by incorporating us into the Main Library will be made very difficult without sympathy from the librarians there. [Note: Since first drafting this, we've received many kind words from Main Library staff. I'm very appreciative of this and hope it continues.]

Another thing that makes this sad is certainly the loss of community. The students who used our library are going to lose this community and that is sad. But we -the staff at this library- have been part of the community as well. We're also losing that community. We're losing being able to see our students and our faculty everyday. We have to adjust to a new community in the main library. We'll have to work harder to see faculty because they won't work harder to see us. We likely won't have the same kinds of relationships with the main library student workers. Sadness.

We also have a lot of work to do. We have to map all our things to new locations. We have to map all our services to new units. We have to figure out what our jobs are going to be in the main library. We have to empty our offices (dear, God!) and move all our crap to some random corners of the main library (and listen to people complain about having to empty those random corners for us). We have to figure out what to do with all these business cards. We each have a running list of Things To Do with us at all times. And we still have to do our regular work. We have to meet with students. We have to teach. We have to keep buying books our users don't need. We have to keep developing and growing as professionals. And we have to do all these things while being really sad (and, let's be real, sometimes angry) about losing our home.

A question that has come to my mind during this, and came up a lot more during the Maybe days, is Did we fail? During those Maybe days, it felt like perhaps we could've stayed more relevant and had a greater perceived value if we'd had the financial support to do the things we wanted to do (quick reminder that these opinions are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer). Today, though, I don't think we failed. Everyone's hands were tied here and many higher ups in the academic college whose space we're occupying have come to us to express their dismay at having to make the decision to close us down. Those comments are so important and we are immensely grateful for them. I know of other libraries where that is not the case. Reflecting on this question is in itself a painful process, though, especially when the blame can't be so easily placed. I feel like a lot of library closures could be avoided if the case being made for the library was better made to the public and The Powers That Be. I think Libraryland at large is terrible at explaining our value, especially when we're serving populations that don't do historical research or use Books. This is where Main Libraries could do better (and where LIS education could do better). It's been my experience that most Main Libraries (and LIS education) are particularly bad at advocating for those groups. I can feel myself going into my tangent about this, and that will take away from the point of this post so I'm stopping there. One thing we hope The Powers That Be take away from our closure is how important spaces like ours are to students. I think we've done a really good job of making that clear and hopefully all the new buildings going up around here will take that into consideration. They won't, but hopefully at least one person will raise the issue at meetings about them.

One of my colleagues at my library threw out an idea that I love and we're thus far planning to do: a Grand Closing event. I think this will be an amazing way to provide students and other users with information about where the services they've grown used to will be once we close and allow us all to grieve our loss and pay tribute to this place we've been so fortunate to have. We were going to have a Grand Closing Party but then they decided to kick us out at the end of June instead of December and no students will be here for such a party. We might do a Library Staff and Whatever Faculty Are Around Good-Bye Party. I would love to have a black tie gala -with booze and a big band jazz troop- but I won't hold my breath for that. Maybe I'll dress up and drink in my office alone the night before.

I was going to document some of the closing activities we'll be doing and share that documentation to personally pay some tribute to this place and give us a proper send off. But now we're on a crazy short time table and we can't do any of the things we wanted to do. If your library is closing (so sorry!) and you want some ideas for things to do for patrons, I'm happy to share what we were going to do.

Support Group

Please use the comments section -at least in part- to share your own experiences with closures and your emotions. That's the best I can do for a support group at this point. I imagine most librarians going through this go through some serious emotions. When my feels started bubbling up, I really wanted to hear other librarians' stories and found that was a difficult thing to find. I hope this post can retroactively help those who have already lost their libraries and in-time help those who go through this in the future.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Let's Talk about Sci-Hub

I so badly don't want to go into the background of what Sci-Hub is. If you want to read more about what this is and why a lot of people's feathers are ruffled about it, you have many options. Here's the tl;dw (the w is for write) version: Sci-Hub is a repository of stolen research articles that allows users to get access to the usually pay-walled articles (translation: articles that need to be paid for to be read) for free.

That sounds good, right? In fact, I think (on the surface) it sounds pretty awesome. I've long said (and stood by it enough to make it my Twitter description bit): "Information (the good stuff) could save the world if only those who need it could find & access it." I'm strongly in favor of increased free access to information and pretty cranky at how inexplicably expensive most information is. Plenty of people writing about Sci-Hub are cranky about that and other things, but there are some points that everyone seems to be glossing over, missing, or not mentioning at all that I really want to get out and into the conversation. Let's discuss the players and the things being said about them.

Publishers. The Big 5 publishers, to be exact. They charge an arm and a leg for articles, journals, and cleverly designed journal packages. This is not good. Libraries aren't particularly well funded but are the ones who must pay for this stuff. When libraries can't afford it, they often offer inter-library loan but all the same get grumbles from researchers and students that things aren't immediately available. When publishers try to play the open access game, they charge often totally absurd fees to authors, and sometimes the library pays those, too. This is all ludicrous because the research that libraries are paying for their institution to read about was done by people at other institutions, many of them public. The institutions paid the salaries of the researchers, whose job it is to do research and, explicitly or not, to write about what they found. The research may additionally have been paid with public funds from, say, the NSF or NIH. So the publishers didn't have one thing to do with creating the research or paying for researchers to do it, but they're profiting from it. By wide margins. Really, really wide margins. I have no complaints about how Sci-Hub commenters have been painting the publishers. The Big 5, at least. Crankiness is deserved.

Sci-Hub. So Sci-Hub is making some folks cranky and others cheer for joy. The joy is due to the sticking-it-to-the-man-iness of it and, you know, the making stuff free. That's fine. Those are things to be joyful about. For the huge number of researchers who otherwise don't have access it's an invaluable service. The crankiness is for a few things. Firstly, what Sci-Hub is doing is definitely illegal. Not only are the articles generally owned by the publishers, but they are stealing log-in credentials from people at universities to get the articles through the libraries' subscriptions. It's that latter thing that makes me cranky, and not just because of the security risks involved. And this is the point that I don't think others have really driven home that upsets me most: Sci-Hub still relies on the broken publishing system we have. Sci-Hub requires that publishers keep publishing stuff and libraries keep paying for it. This is not a solution. It also has the potential to exacerbate the problem as publishers could certainly raise their prices claiming the need to recoup the costs lost to Sci-Hub.

Another major problem that isn't being talked about as much as it should be is how Sci-Hub joins libraries paying the bill and access to ILL in obscuring the extent of our broken system from the privileged researchers who, ultimately, are the ones who could fix it. If they have access to everything they need, and everyone else has access, too, then they don't need to change their behavior, right? Spoiler alert: They do need to change their behavior.

Last but not least, Sci-Hub's founder and runner, Alexandra Elbakyan is upsetting me by tweeting and commenting on things about how she's making these works open access. Sci-Hub is not making anything open access. Things that are open access are not stolen and not under the copyright that these works are under. You don't have to steal open access works because they were born free. Don't believe this nonsense that having your work in Sci-Hub means you've met public access or open access policies set by your funder or your institution. There are legitimate ways to make your work open access like publishing in open access journals, paying author fees to make your work open access in a closed access journal, or self archiving in reputable IRs.

Libraries. There's some crankiness at libraries for a few reasons. I'm biased, because I am a librarian, but I think a lot of this is over-blown or unfair. First, libraries pay the Big 5 publishers for their content. This is largely true, but, really, we don't have a choice. As stated previously, researchers and students want and need access to these articles and grumble when they don't have it. We can't just not subscribe, even if Sci-Hub exists (because Sci-Hub needs our subscriptions to get its own content, remember). We could probably have been doing a better job at not getting as entangled with publishers in the first place, but we can't really fix the past yet, can we? Next claim for crankiness: libraries haven't done enough to get the Open Access thing going. We've been yelling about this for years. Since 1994 at least. We have events. We have workshops. We have scholarly communications librarians sending emails to people everyday asking them to publish open access. The truth is no one listens to librarians (that's why everyone thinks we're so quiet). We'll talk more about this point in a second. Finally, libraries are taking flack for being either too for or against Sci-Hub. We teach people about copyright, so we're pretty well aware that, from a legal standpoint, Sci-Hub is doing something wrong. But we also like information to be available to as many people as possible. So, yeah. I'd say most of us are a little conflicted. I'm not that conflicted. And that's due to our final, least often discussed player here.

Researchers: Meet me at at camera 3.

I love ya. But you're the reason the publishing system is broken.

You're the ones who could and should be insisting that you keep your author rights (remember when I said the publisher probably owns the article?) so you could archive a copy of your work in a reputable, open repository -both things a librarian has probably offered to help you with at some point.

You're the ones who should be publishing in open access journals to begin with whenever you can afford it. A librarian could easily point you to good ones that aren't scams. There are lots that aren't scams. You library might even have a fund to pay those fees for making it open for you.

You're the ones who, at the very least, could be critical thinkers when looking for places to publish. A journal with a high impact factor might seem like the best choice, but if that journal publisher has questionable business practices (like not giving free or discounted access to lower income institutions or developing countries or having 30+% profit margins) or if your library can't afford to pay for it - find a different publisher! You could totally ask an acquisitions, electronic resources, or scholarly communications librarian about it if you aren't sure. Librarians know stuff and are generally nice.

You should be talking about this with people in your discipline, trying to find new ways to publish stuff. Look at physics and You're not totally off the hook, physicists, but good job with arxiv. Don't stop using it.

And, to those of you on promotion and tenure committees, why are you using impact factors and h-indexes for rating researchers anyway? These are deeply flawed metrics and a librarian has probably told you that, too. Shouldn't we be rewarding people for doing research well and making their work available to help other people make more discoveries? Isn't that the point of science? When did it become a secret club that only people at wealthy universities in wealthy countries could partake in? Doesn't this all seem crazy to you? I bet a librarian or two has been trying to tell you this makes no sense for a long time. Maybe it's time to listen to them.