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. 

Freedom Libraries

After seeing this tweet from Dolly Moehrle and after reading Jason Griffey’s Poverty, Libraries, Jobs, Me , I started thinking about organizing a grassroots movement that would support perpetually underfunded, understaffed small and/or rural libraries. For whatever reason — maybe it’s the residual effect of the Oscars — I thought that a sustained movement that was based around a Freedom Summer concept might work.

(This is a very rough, stream of consciousness blog post, but I want to capture the basic ideas before they all slip away.)

Freedom Summer

Over the course of 10 weeks in 1964, more than 1,000 community activists, civil rights organizations, students, clergy and laypeople organized a voter registration drive in Mississippi. Teams of volunteers descended on Mississippi in an attempt to dismantle one of the more pernicious manifestations of white supremacy – suppressing the right to vote. Though only 1200 people were ultimately registered, Freedom Summer remains a watershed moment in American history.

What if librarians, library associations, and other library workers organized a similar effort? MLIS students could be our community organizers, large library associations could provide financial and operational support (mailing, communications, logistical support), and librarians from around North America could volunteer their time to help struggling libraries with whatever these libraries needed.

It’s important that this effort is sustainable, which is why I’ve backed off my original idea of some sort of crowd-sourced funding. It’s also important that this not come off as a group of do-gooder outsiders who think they know what’s best for local communities. Our first order of business would be to listen to the workers in these libraries to see what sort of help they need, and to make sure that those of us who have the time and resources could not only supply the help in crisis moments, but could be counted on to develop ongoing relationships with these library workers and their communities. We don’t want to put a bow on something and disappear. That isn’t helpful, and doesn’t do much beyond making us feel better about ourselves.

Next Steps

  • Strategizing
  • Building a team of organizers
  • Contacting rural libraries and/or state library associations to identify libraries in need
  • Raising awareness witih library assocations, library schools, etc.
  • Putting together a plan of action — I wouldn’t even begin to know how to do this…

Your thoughts and ideas are what will help make this idea a reality, so feel free to comment below, or contact me on Twitter.

Vancouver – Why I Stay

(Inspired by The Bold Italic’s “What Keeps You In SF?”)

It’s so expensive I can’t afford to move anywhere else.

My union job. If you’ve ever had a union job, you know how hard it is to give up that security.

When the fall fog banks roll in and envelop the city in cotton wool. The mournful melancholy of a distant foghorn momentarily makes my hair stand on end, but settles into a comforting bass note as the hours pass.

The damp chill suits my overall mood far more than blisteringly hot sunny days ever could.

The long late-spring evenings where it doesn’t get dark until almost 11:00pm

Really, really good pho.

Incredible craft breweries around just about every corner. Vancouver turned me into a beer lover.

The way the 9 O’Clock gun echoes off the mountains on a clear winter night.

Ethnic diversity that goes beyond a black/white axis.

Living in a place where feeling like a minority isn’t (widely) considered to be a limitation.

The Pineapple Express is perfect for hunkering down inside your comfortable, warm, postage-stamp sized apartment while the wind and rain hammer your windows.

Living so far away from the place I grew up in allows me to truly be the person I’ve always wanted to be. It also gives me the freedom to reinvent that person whenever the mood strikes.

Always knowing which way is North, thanks to the mountains.

Playing “spot the landmark” while watching Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Adventure shows becomes a lot more fun when you get to know a city intimately.

My family.

The heady mix of Englishness, colonialism, Pacific Rim polish, deeply steeped First Nations history and outsize wilderness can’t be found anywhere else on the continent.

Seeing coyotes in the city.


The Celebration of Light.

Being a short train ride away from Portland, OR.

My cat loves rain, which seems to be a very Vancouver-cattish way to be.

78° summers.

Being able to wear boots and layers for most of the year, except in July and August when you trade them in for Birkenstocks and floaty dresses.

Bicycles belong here.

I don’t need highways to get from one end of the city to the next.

Burrard Inlet.

Seal and dolphin sightings in Burrard Inlet.


Weird public art, like the laughing statues, the strange animal statues outside the Kensington library branch, the wedding rings at English Bay, and the 8-bit orca at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Nobody cares if you smoke pot. Or if you don’t.

Because if I leave, the city’s black population drops by a fraction of a percentage point. That may not seem like much, but when the black population hovers around 1%, every one of us counts.

Being able to say “I’m Canadian” when I look and sound like I do is always a source of great joy.

Down deep I was always meant to be a West Coast girl. Vancouver allowed me to make that geography mean something more than mountains, ocean, rain, and sushi. The West Coast is (and hopefully always will be) home.

Preparation Peril

On Tuesday I delivered a webinar1 for LITA on creating web maps with the Leaflet JavaScript library. I’m afraid the session didn’t go exactly as I planned. The problem wasn’t the content, it was in my execution and delivery. In working so hard at making sure the session was content-rich, I forgot about the importance of performance2.

When I’m in front of an audience I can see, I adapt my presentation style based on visual and verbal cues the audience gives me. An online seminar removes all of that useful feedback, and if I can’t tell how I’m doing, I lose the plot, and when that happens, it’s hard for me to pick it up again.

I felt like I was talking to myself in an empty room, which of course I was3. I wasn’t prepared for how this format would change my delivery. I was nervous, I didn’t feel engaged with the topic, and I certainly didn’t feel engaged with the audience, through no fault of their own. It just didn’t work, and being the perfectionist I am, I haven’t been able to let this go.

If I ever do another seminar in this format, I’ll do several things differently:

  • Write a shorter script (my script was approximately 8 printed pages long, not including screenshots)
  • Deliver the seminar to a live audience, solicit feedback, and leave enough time to incorporate any changes.
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Stick to subjects I’m (very) familiar with
  • Use fewer examples with greater detail

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the real lesson in all of this is I work better with a live audience, and I should just stick to what works…

  1. I hate this word with a white-hot intensity. I’ll use it only once in this entry. My apologies. 
  2. My dearly departed mentor Jeffrey Woodyard was instrumental in helping me develop an understanding of performative pedagogy when I was an undegraduate student. I call on his memory whenever I step behind a podium. 
  3. Unless you count my cat, and she wasn’t interested at all

Best Practices

I don’t often go on a tear about UX or library UX, but it’s a new year, and I feel like maybe it’s time to break with conventions. And speaking of breaking with conventions…

Kill your best practices.

See what I did there?

Someone who is much smarter than I am once said “Best practices are for people who can’t think for themselves.” These conventions become standards because people grow used to them. It does not mean that the interaction is the most efficient, elegant, or even the best designed. What had happened was1 somewhere along the way an interaction designer had an idea for a system response. Another IxD saw this design, thought “Hey, that looks pretty good, why don’t I just use that?” and in no time at all, every single website had its logo in the upper left hand corner2.

Best practices and conventions are good guidelines. They’re a starting point for a design conversation, not the entire dialogue. At the risk of doing the very thing I dislike3, I’m going to step out on a limb and say that if you’re simply accepting best practices without testing them with your own user groups, you’re part of the problem and you should just stop. Stop. Right now. Walk away from OmniGraffle, move away from Visio, and just..I don’t know, go for a hike or something. And while you’re on a hike, take a mobile-friendly version of your wireframe with you so you can test your design with someone on the hiking trail.

  1. This is intentionally poor grammar. 
  2. Not all conventions are bad, they’re just unexamined. 
  3. Ponderously pontificating about design when I’m not a designer, but w’ev. 

Diversity Training for Majority Female Workplaces

While listening to Episode 7 of The Broad Experience, a podcast about women and workplace issues, the seed of an idea implanted itself in my brain.

I am thinking about creating a diversity workshop for employees who work in majority-female environments.

I frequently find it difficult to express myself properly at work. I’m told I speak out of turn, am “too confrontational,” and my emails are read as terse. I’m generally thought of as unfriendly, which causes no end of stress and anxiety. And while I will cop to my shortcomings, I believe that a large part of this comes down to cultural misunderstanding.

My white colleagues can’t possibly know what it’s like to be a non-white person in this environment. They can’t possibly understand how hard I work at being sufficiently deferential, at not speaking up about things that seem unjust, or that the heat of an ever-present klieg light of scrutiny becomes suffocating.

The workshop would cover some of these cultural differences, of course, but what else could/should it cover? Should there be one workshop for whites, and one that serves as a support system for non-white library workers?

When women come together in a majority, we sometimes think that power relations aren’t at play. I’d like workshop participants to come away with an understanding of how power relations manifest themselves between women. The learning outcome should be that women acknowledge the negative impact of this unequal balance between WoC and white women in the workplace. They should be able to recognize the signs, and those women who are in positions of power would walk away with enough tools to work toward dismantling the imbalance.

At the same time, I’m wary of this becoming a session all about fee-fees, and I’m reluctant to be a part of anything that comes across as “Sassy WoC tell white women off and make them feel bad about themselves.”

This feels very rudimentary and scattered, but it feels like there’s something there. A very small something, but still something.

More to come.