#L1S Tweetchat a Success

The inaugural First Generation Library Professionals chat went very well last night – much better than I expected. The biggest takeaway for me is that there is definitely a need among those of us who fall into this group to network and discuss issues around class, access, and navigating professional responsibilities. What I didn’t expect were the heartbreaking stories of how entering into the professional class created distance — and in some cases, resentment — from family members.

Other chats are forthcoming. If you have suggestions for chat themes, leave them below in the comments, or connect with me via twitter.

Many thanks to Abby for creating the Storify archive of last night’s chat.

Today in "Man, I Suck At This"… (Adventures in Learning Ruby)

building a blog with ruby

There is absolutely nothing in this world like the feeling of sucking at something and then improving at it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the hard work of getting better at something. I’d do well to remember this whenever I want to quit learning Ruby.

I’m on my third go-around with Skillcrush’s Ruby Blueprint, and once again I’ve become stuck on class variables, class methods, and attribute accessors. I’m comfortable with being bad at this, but I’m worried that the “getting better” part that Coates alludes to will always be just out of reach.

How to Get Newcomers Involved In Your Open Source Project

Listen, I won’t bore you by telling you that you have to learn to code. If developing this skill makes sense for the kind of work you need to do (or would like to move into), then by all means, spend the time and money on learning. But there are other ways to contribute to software development projects, and one of those ways is by helping write documentation.

I’ve spent a few months looking around for a software project I could contribute to, but for the most part I’ve felt stymied. Either I didn’t know enough about the project to know where to jump in or the kinds of help the project needed were far beyond my meagre skills. If these DuckDuckGo search results are any indication, other folks have wondered how to get involved as well.

Even projects that are hugely welcoming (hi, hood.ie) have left me unsure about where my talents were best suited because the descriptions were written in such a way that you had to have some advance experience with or knowledge about the project to know where to jump in.

If you want to make sure that your project is welcoming to people of all skillets, makes sure your requests for help are written as clearly as possible.

I’ve spent the better part of this weekend contributing to the Exercism project. It’s a library of exercises that supports students learning to code by giving them practice problems and helpful, constructive feedback.

I don’t remember how I came across the project, but Katrina Owen wrote her request for help so clearly and succinctly that I immediately jumped in.

Many column inches and bytes of data have been spent telling us how software development/open source projects need to diversify. This point isn’t up for discussion. What still needs to be addressed is how companies can build their communities so that anyone with access to a computer and basic literacy skills can feel confident enough to contribute to their project.

It seems that many companies err on the side of difficulty/obfuscation when soliciting help. Maybe this is a way to weed out people who they think lack dedication, or maybe they’re afraid of talking down to people. Those are valid concerns. Computer use has become so ubiquitous that not everyone who sits in front of a computer is a computer scientist, yet nearly all users could make valid contributions to your open source projects if given the chance. Creating tasks at all levels is one way of giving newcomers the chance to participate.

Here are a few things you can do to remove some of the barriers to participation:

  • Make your descriptions clear and unambiguous. If you need grammatical help, say “We need help with grammar in this paragraph” and highlight the paragraph in question.
  • Be receptive and open to questions. Really mean it when you say “ask us anything,” and make sure your responses are friendly but helpful.
  • Avoid using words like “basically”, “just”, or “simply” when writing instructions. These words are shorthand for “You’re too stupid/inexperienced/dumb to work with us.”
  • Invite users to offer feedback on an interface, whether it’s labelling for form fields or other interface elements or inviting them to comment on typography or colour schemes.
  • Lastly, thank your contributors and let them know they’ve done a great job. Even the smallest contributions improve your overall product. Remember that people respond well to thanks and praise, and instilling goodwill about your product is a key component of your project’s success.

First Generation Library Professionals Tweet Chat

“Survey says…!” (I’ve just dated myself with that reference, haven’t I?

It looks like most of you thought a weekly tweet chat was the best way to stay in touch, so let’s get one started! First, we’ll need to settle on a day of the week. Because #libchat and #critlib both take place on Tuesday and I don’t want to compete for attention, I think we should hold this chat on a different day of the week. Also, if you have an idea for the hashtag we should use, leave it in the comments below.

All Moved In

I must say that moving back to WordPress from Jekyll was far easier than moving to Jekyll from WordPress. Because I made sure to structure URLs the same way on both platforms, all links should still work. If you happen across any hiccups, do let me know.

For Want of a Title

The WNBA’s Glory Johnson and Brittney Griner were arrested on charges of assault and disorderly conduct. Both Johnson and Griner have since been released. A few media outlets were quick to paint this as an intimate partner violence situation, which feels inexact for a number of reasons. First: BG and GloJo are physical equals. sure, BG is taller, but on the surface, it’s hard to imagine the unequal power relations that are a frequent indicator of spousal/partner abuse being at play in this relationship.

Second: there’s a spectre of “butch-as-aggressor” framing going on in the media. Many articles only mention BG in the headline, a construction that elides Johnson’s involvement. You see BG’s mugshot more than you see Glory Johnson’s. While it’s true that Griner has the higher profile, it seems to me that BG is being given the perpetrator edit.

Autostraddle is one of the few media outlets to refrain from using mugshots in their coverage, and as far as I know, they’re the only publication that included Johnson’s name in the headline. Their reporting has been fair and nuanced, which I’m ashamed to say, wasn’t something I expected to see on Autostraddle. Kaelyn, the author of the Autostraddle piece, sounded off in the comments about assumptions people were making about the nature of the Griner/Johnson relationship, and her comment showed the kind of sensitivity and thoughtfulness you wish all media would display1.

This is a difficult issue, and my status as the ultimate Griner stan may make you take this opinion with a grain of salt, which is only fitting, considering I wasn’t there when the incident happened. I had such high hopes for this couple, and I hope they’re able to get whatever help they need to make it through this situation.

Thanks to everyone who has signed up for The Librarian Cabal. I started the channel so library folk would have a safe, open place to talk about All Things Library without fear of recrimination. The Cabal has a Code of Conduct in place, and I hope everyone will honor the spirit and the letter of the CoC. It’ll probably be a little tough to enforce. I’m committed to try, because like Anil Dash said, “If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault.”

Additional thanks to everyone who shared or commented on my Bridging the Experience Gap article. I think some great things will come out of the conversations that sprang up, including a tweet chat, and possibly a mailing list (if I can find an alternative to Google groups, that is). I’m not sure how to move on as an interest group/sub-group of a national library association when many of the people who replied are outside of the United States, so if you have any ideas about how to make that work, I’m happy to listen.

I’m contemplating moving away from Jekyll and back to WordPress to power this site. Jekyll is powerful, and learning to work with it has increased my comfort and familiarity with Ruby programming. But to tell the truth, there are times that I really miss a web-based CMS, or one that comes equipped with a robust mobile app that supports blogging from anywhere. I’ve been slowly moving some posts over to a WordPress site I’ve kept around for just such an occasion, but I probably won’t flip the switch for a few weeks yet. I’d like the switch to be as seamless as possible, so I’m taking some time to reformat entries and ensure that URLs stay the same between the two platforms.

  1. It was also the first time I’d heard the term “common couple violence”, so additional kudos to AS for teaching me something new today. 

Bridging the Experience Gap

Before you read any further, take five minutes to watch Ivy League Trailblazers at the New York Times. It’ll offer a bit of background for what I’ll be discussing in this post.

How do you learn to learn, to know what you don’t know? As a first generation college student, the first in my family to attend integrated schools, and the first in my family to earn a graduate degree, I’ve had experiences that my parents and many of my siblings couldn’t conceive of. Thanks to my background and lack of preparation, I’ve dealt with sometimes crippling amounts of self-doubt and shame in these environments, especially when faced with academic or professional challenges.

My parents weren’t professionals. They always worked, but if you had to call them anything, “working poor” would be the closest fit. The stress of raising nine children in reduced circumstances took its toll on my parents, so they weren’t always responsive when I had questions they couldn’t answer. To this day, I find it hard to approach superiors — or anyone, really — when I need help. They taught me so many other skills — resilience, resourcefulness, and optimism — so the lessons I learned from them is a source of pride. It wasn’t until I started moving in more educated circles that I realized what I was missing.

"First Generation" by Chong Fah Cheong

When you don’t have a trusted peer network to depend on for advice, where do you turn? First generation ivy league students banded together to create a support network and conference that provides services, camaraderie, and strategies for successfully navigating the challenges that arise when you’re out of your element. I’m inspired by this sort of grass-roots problem solving, particularly when it happens in a judgment-free environment where everyone commits to helping you succeed.

I wonder whether a similar network might be needed for first-generation professionals or first-generation graduate students? As a mostly middle-class profession, librarianship fails to address the cultural expectations that go along with membership in this community, such as cultural literacy, notions of professionalism that are rooted in the dominant culture, or access to wealth.1 Maybe the conversation could start as a special interest group of a professional library association. Then, provided the interest still exists, the group could propose a conference panel to discuss these issues at the organizational and personal level.

The other day, a librarian I “internet know” asked why books that focused on teaching librarians to code or about marketing were needed when great books by marketers already exist. I wish I could understand the perspective that leads someone to ask like this, but my position on the margins makes that difficult.

Coding groups for librarians, or trans people, or black women and girls exist because affinity groups are a key part of success. Anything that validates the experience of marginalized people, that makes us feel not only welcome, but fundamental to a community’s success is a good thing. Diversifying our voices and practices are good things, are necessary things if we want to do more than present diversity as a problem to solve.

  1. Such as access to education, the ability to take on and repay student loan debt, or the social currency that comes from being a member of the class that sets the standard.