“Most companies aren’t good at personalization,” admits Richard Isaac, digital commerce guru and CEO of RealDecoy, a valued Lucidworks partner. He should know. In his two decades at the helm of RealDecoy he has helped household brands like American Greetings,
LITA is still accepting applications through August 30, 2019, to sponsor two Emerging Leaders for 2020. LITA sponsorship provides $1,000 to attend the 2020 ALA Midwinter and Annual conferences in order to participate in the program. It also puts you on the fast track to get involved with LITA in a leadership capacity.
ALA Emerging Leaders is a leadership development program that enables newer library workers to participate in problem-solving workgroups, network with peers, and gain an inside look into ALA’s and LITA’s structure. Participants select a project to work on virtually between February and June. The team will then present its work at the 2020 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, IL.
Contact us if you have questions about the Emerging Leaders program or this sponsorship opportunity.
Maple Leaves: Discovering Canada
Through the Published Record is the latest in a series
of OCLC Research studies that explore national contributions to the world’s
accumulated body of published materials. A national contribution is defined as materials
published in, about, and/or by the people
of that country. The last category presents a special challenge: how to assemble
a list of entities – people and organizations – associated with a particular
country from which authors, musicians, film makers, and other creators of
published works can be identified?
For the first three reports in our series – covering Scotland, New Zealand, and Ireland – I turned to DBpedia, a resource that converts the information in Wikipedia into structured data. I used data dumps from DBpedia, and processed them in two ways. First, I parsed a file of structured data, looking at certain attributes or properties such as birthPlace to find entities associated with the country in question. Because the use of attributes pertaining to country of birth or nationality are not consistently populated across all entities, I supplemented this approach by searching the short abstracts associated with each entry for strings such as “is a Scottish” “or is an Irish” in order to identify entities that are described as being of a particular nationality in their unstructured descriptions. Merging the results of these scans together resulted in a list of entities associated with a given country. We were then able to match these entities to publications via our WorldCat Identities database, which maps published works to their creators.
Although this methodology was reasonably effective in producing the
desired list, there were also drawbacks, not least of which that it required
lots of brute force processing. In parsing the structured data, I had to look
for an assortment of place names relevant to a particular country: e.g.,
Ireland, Munster, County Kerry, Dublin, and so on. This necessitated the compilation
of a list of pre-determined search terms with attendant problems of disambiguation
– did you know there was a village named
California in Scotland? In addition, the process operated on the data dumps
made available periodically by DBpedia, which could be many months out of synch
with Wikipedia at the time of use.
Earlier this year, as I prepared to launch the fourth and latest study, focusing on Canada, I had a conversation with my colleague Jeff Young about this work. In talking about options for accessing and querying data from Wikipedia, Jeff encouraged me to explore Wikidata as an alternative method, and generously gave me a tutorial on the basics.
Like the Project Passage environment, Wikidata is an implementation of
Wikibase with MediaWiki. Wikibase is an open source package for storing and
managing structured data. Paired with MediaWiki, another open source package
that supports collaborative creation and editing of wiki pages (if that sounds
familiar, it should: if you’ve used Wikipedia, you’ve used MediaWiki), you then
have a platform for collaboratively creating and editing a database of
The most visible implementation of Wikibase is Wikidata. Among other
things, Wikidata is a database containing structured data about all of the
entities found across all of the different language-versions of Wikipedia. But Wikipedia data is only a subset of Wikidata: an entity can appear
in Wikidata that has no corresponding entry in any of the Wikipedias. All told,
Wikidata contains structured information on nearly 59 million “items” – people,
concepts, places, and so on. But the really valuable feature of Wikidata is
that this data is translated into an RDF triplestore, which can then be
queried, via the Wikidata Query Service, using the powerful SPARQL language. In
other words, Wikidata permitted me to search all of the Wikipedias – and more –
as linked data.
Using Wikidata, my extraction of Canadian entities from the Wikipedia-based
universe was simplified to a single query, and required no computational
exertions on my part. The query I constructed looked for all identities registered
in Wikidata representing individuals born in, or citizens of, Canada, as well
as corporate bodies that were formed or are headquartered in Canada. My query
essentially linked a series of entity attributes – place of birth, country of
citizenship (for people), location of
formation, headquarters or location
(for organizations) – with the geographical requirement that their values are
locations in the administrative
territorial entity of Canada. The
result was a list of about 80,000 distinct entities, which I was able to easily
export in the form of Wikidata URIs (e.g., http://www.wikidata.org/entity/Q273034
for the Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery). It was these URIs which my
colleague Ralph LeVan used to match Canadian entities to works in WorldCat.
There were several big advantages to using Wikidata over my previous
methodology. First and foremost was speed: once I had settled on my query
parameters, I had my list in a couple of minutes. Second, Wikidata draws in
data from all of the different language versions of Wikipedia, as well as other
sources. This was especially useful in identifying francophone Canadians, as
Wikidata includes entries from the French language version of Wikipedia. This
helped make our list of Canadian authors as complete as possible—much more so
than would have been possible through the English language version of Wikipedia
alone. And third, my contribution to the process of extracting the list was
simply typing in a couple of lines of SPARQL – no need to write elaborate programs
to parse multiple flat files – and no need to pre-compile a list of place names
or worry about disambiguation. The appropriate linkages between a person or an
organization, citizenship/location, and the country of Canada were established
for me within the relationships documented in Wikidata.
I want to emphasize that my experience is not intended to diminish
DBpedia vis-à-vis Wikidata – I am not
an expert user of either resource, and no doubt I did not use the DBpedia
resources to their full advantage. The point I would like to highlight is the
significant advantages I enjoyed by shifting from my old methods of utilizing
structured data to one that leverages a linked data approach. The Project
Passage report addresses the practical realities of creating and editing linked
data about entities; what I hope I have illustrated in this post is a small
example of how that linked data can release value.
Acknowledgement: I’d like to
thank my colleague Karen Smith-Yoshimura for helpful comments that improved
This session will focus on discussions of open source publishing platforms and systems. What is the value proposition? What functionalities are commonplace? Where are the pitfalls in adoption and use by publishers or by libraries? What potential is there for scholarly societies who are similarly responsible for publication support and dissemination? Given the rising interest in open access and open educational resources, this session will offer professionals a sense of what is available, a sense of practical concerns and a general sense of their future direction.
An open source project that focuses only on the code is missing out on some of the biggest opportunities that the open source philosophy offers. To be sure, developing software with an open source philosophy brings a diversity of knowledge and shares the development burden over a wide group. But a community that embraces that philosophy in the conception, design, specification, and development of a project can build exceptionally useful software and a fulfilling experience for all involved. This portion of the program explores some of the structures and processes found in successful open source communities using examples from projects inside and outside of field.
Slide 16: “Sunset” from the National Archives and Records Administration via DPLA
Key Quotations from Resources
Brian Fitzgerald in 2006 wrote of a significant shift in how open-source software projects were being considered and operated. Fitzgerald noted that the rise of successful open-source software (which he called “OSS 1.0”) was characterized by self-organized, Internet-based projects that gathered loose communities around sheer willingness to participate. Fitzgerald identified a newer mode, which he called “OSS 2.0,” characterized by “purposeful design” and institution-sponsored “vertical domains,” and much more likely to include paid developers.
From Mind the Gap.
The fear of enclosure is certainly not the only force driving open-source development. Many funding agencies require that software developed under a grant be released as OSS in order to keep the fruits of their funding from disappearing into some corporation’s vaults. There is also the hope, at least, of increased scale: a publisher or a library, interested to develop a bespoke tool, will find it difficult to justify the cost of development and maintenance if the only user will ever be itself. For many, the idea of open source implies a shared deployment model that distributes, if not the cost, at least the value, across a larger community. From Mind the Gap.
New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.
On May 15, 2019, MyData Japan conference was held in Tokyo, co-organized by Open Knowledge Japan and MyData Japan. Open Knowledge Japan has been organizing MyData Japan conferences for the past 3 times (2017, 2018, and 2019), and the movement has been growing steadily. Interests from the corporate sector has been the strongest, with 22 companies providing support for the conference. Another sign of the growth is the fact that this year, the conference is co-organized for the first time with MyData Japan, a newly incorporated entity dedicated to the advancement of MyData agendas in Japan. Open Knowledge Japan’s activities and network has led to a number of projects and organizations, including Open Spending Japan and Code 4 Japan. MyData Japan is probably the latest of such spin-offs, involving some of the active OK Japan members.
Like the previous two times, it featured a wide variety of speakers from civic, academic, and corporate sectors, including some guests from abroad. The topics discussed included personal data protection, democracy and data, ID and authentication, system architecture for the data reuse, AI and ethics of data use, overseas policy developments, data portability, and many others. If I pick one, an open source software for personal data store (PDS), Personium, presented by its project lead Mr. Shimono. He envisioned the loose federation of PDS’ connecting individual users of the software. In general, different speakers had different views on the degree to which data should be centrally hosted and/or managed by a trusted agent or fiduciary.
Behind the growth of the movement in Japan is the increasing awareness of the importance of data reuse and data protection. The Japanese government has been exploring ways to promote data reuse, based on its 2016 version of “Japan Revitalization Strategy,” a comprehensive economic growth strategy package. Japanese government has funded some pilot projects, and developed a guideline for certification of such entity. The issue was put forth for a part of the G20 meetings with the concept of Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT). More specifically, the mechanism for better flow of data is conceived as information bank lately. The idea is somewhat close to that of data trust discussed in the UK and other countries. Individuals can decide to deposit information to a trusted entity, an information bank, which in turn will provide the data to a third party and return a portion of economic gains back to the individuals. An industry association picked up the task of certification of information banks. The extent it will succeed is yet to be seen, but Japan has at least seen the expectation leading to a formation of an institution. The MyData conference has discussed the concept of information bank in the past, and this conference happened right around the time the information bank becomes a reality.
Lately Japanese news media and social media discussed some services making potentially inappropriate use of personal data. One is Yahoo! Japan’s credit score service, providing credit scores of their users to various businesses, based on users’ transaction records (such as missed payments and cancellation rate of restaurant reservations) and other personal data. Questions raised on that service by various experts and concerned citizens included whether proper consent was obtained prior to the service, and if Yahoo! Japan users (data subjects) deserved to know what their score was. The company quickly responded by adding explanations to its website addressing users.
Another interesting case is the rating of job seekers by Recruit Career, whose platform Rikunabi is one of the largest in Japan. The rating was specifically about the estimated chance of job applicants to decline the non-final job offer from a specific company. The platform presumably had data on the applicant’s browsing history, contacting with other companies, and possibly other data. The Recruit Career admitted that they used personal data of nearly 8,000 users inappropriately, and scrapped the service. Some government investigation has started into the matter. While Open Knowledge Japan has not issued any official comments on any of these, it’s chair commented critically on various aspects, emphasizing corporate responsibility to gain proper understanding from the individuals.
Overall, OK Japan and its members have been actively involved in the discussions on the policies and practices of personal data use, on how to properly communicate with individuals, how best to handle data, and so on, which are still very much actively ongoing issues.
We’re going to create our URL using this template: cite.case.law/<reporter>/<volume>/<page>
In the reporter, volume, and page fields, add the information for the case you want to retrieve. Your URL for Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) should look like this: cite.case.law/us/347/483/
Let’s try it out! Add the URL you’ve just created to your browser’s search bar, and press Enter.
You just retrieved a case by citation using the CAP case browser! Nice job. You can now read and share this case at this address: cite.case.law/us/347/483.
This tutorial shares one way to retrieve a case by citation in the CAP case browser. Find and share your first case today!
Today we’re welcoming two new investors into the fold as we continue building the next generation of search. Lucidworks received a significant investment from Francisco Partners, a global technology-focused private equity fund, and TPG Sixth Street Partners, a global finance
This post is about a research paper (preprint) on sentence retrieval for statutory interpretation that we presented at the International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law (ICAIL 2019) held in June at Montreal, Canada. The paper describes some of our recent work on computational methods for statutory interpretation carried out at the University of Pittsburgh. The idea is to focus on vague statutory concepts and enable a program to retrieve sentences that explain the meaning of such concepts. The Library Innovation Lab's Caselaw Access Project (CAP) provides an ideal corpus of case law that is needed for such work.
Abstract rules in statutory provisions must account for diverse situations, even those not yet encountered. That is one reason why legislators use vague, open textured terms, abstract standards, principles, and values. When there are doubts about the meaning, interpretation of a provision may help to remove them. Interpretation involves an investigation of how the term has been referred to, explained, recharacterized, or applied in the past. While court decisions are an ideal source of sentences interpreting statutory terms, manually reviewing the sentences is labor intensive and many sentences are useless or redundant.
In our work we automate this process. Specifically, given a statutory provision, a user’s interest in the meaning of a concept from the provision, and a list of sentences, we rank more highly the sentences that elaborate upon the meaning of the concept, such as:
definitional sentences (e.g., a sentence that provides a test for when the concept applies).
sentences that state explicitly in a different way what the concept means or state what it does not mean.
sentences that provide an example, instance, or counterexample of the concept.
sentences that show how a court determines whether something is such an example, instance, or counterexample.
To support our experiments we indexed the documents at multiple levels of granularity. Specifically, the documents were indexed at the level of full cases, as well as segmented into the head matter and individual opinions (e.g., majority opinion, dissent, concurrence). This segmentation was performed by the Caselaw Access Project using a combination of human labor and automatic tools. We also used our U.S. case law sentence segmenter to segment each case into individual sentences and indexed those as well. Finally, we used the sentences to create paragraphs. We considered a line-break between two sentences as an indication of a paragraph boundary.
For our corpus we initially selected three terms from different provisions of the United States Code:
independent economic value (18 U.S. Code § 1839(3)(B))
identifying particular (5 U.S. Code § 552a(a)(4))
common business purpose (29 U.S. Code § 203(r)(1))
For each term we have collected a set of sentences by extracting all the sentences mentioning the term from the court decisions retrieved from the Caselaw Access Project data. In total we assembled a small corpus of 4,635 sentences. Three human annotators classified the sentences into four categories according to their usefulness for the interpretation:
high value - sentence intended to define or elaborate upon the meaning of the concept
certain value - sentence that provides grounds to elaborate on the concept’s meaning
potential value - sentence that provides additional information beyond what is known from the provision the concept comes from
no value - no additional information over what is known from the provision
The complete data set including the annotation guidelines has been made publicly available.
We performed a detailed study on a number of retrieval methods. We confirmed that retrieving the sentences directly by measuring similarity between the query and a sentence yields mediocre results. Taking into account the contexts of sentences turned out to be the crucial step in improving the performance of the ranking. We observed that query expansion and novelty detection techniques are also able to capture information that could be used as an additional layer in a ranker’s decision. Based on the detailed error analysis we integrated the context-aware ranking methods with the components based on query expansion and novelty detection into a specialized framework for retrieval of case-law sentences for statutory interpretation. Evaluation of different implementations of the framework shows promising results (.725 for NDGC at 10, .662 at 100. Normalized Discounted Cumulative Gain is a measure of ranking quality.)
To provide an intuitive understanding of the performance of the best model we list the top five sentences retrieved for each of the three terms below. Finally, it is worth noting that for future we plan to significantly increase the size of the data set and the number of statutory terms.
Independent economic value
[. . . ] testimony also supports the independent economic value element in that a manufacturer could [. . . ] be the first on the market [. . . ]
[. . . ] the information about vendors and certification has independent economic value because it would be of use to a competitor [. . . ] as well as a manufacturer
[. . . ] the designs had independent economic value [. . . ] because they would be of value to a competitor who could have used them to help secure the contract
Plaintiffs have produced enough evidence to allow a jury to conclude that their alleged trade secrets have independent economic value.
Defendants argue that the trade secrets have no independent economic value because Plaintiffs’ technology has not been "tested or proven."
In circumstances where duty titles pertain to one and only one individual [. . . ], duty titles may indeed be "identifying particulars" [. . . ]
Appellant first relies on the plain language of the Privacy Act which states that a "record" is "any item . . . that contains [. . . ] identifying particular [. . . ]
Here, the district court found that the duty titles were not numbers, symbols, or other identifying particulars.
[. . . ] the Privacy Act [. . . ] does not protect documents that do not include identifying particulars.
[. . . ] the duty titles in this case are not "identifying particulars" because they do not pertain to one and only one individual.
Common business purpose
[. . . ] the fact of common ownership of the two businesses clearly is not sufficient to establish a common business purpose.
Because the activities of the two businesses are not related and there is no common business purpose, the question of common control is not determinative.
It is settled law that a profit motive alone will not justify the conclusion that even related activities are performed for a common business purpose.
It is not believed that the simple objective of making a profit for stockholders can constitute a common business purpose [. . . ]
[. . . ] factors such as unified operation, related activity, interdependency, and a centralization of ownership or control can all indicate a common business purpose.
In conclusion, we have conducted a systematic study of sentence retrieval from case law with the goal of supporting statutory interpretation. Based on a detailed error analysis of traditional methods, we proposed a specialized framework that mitigates some of the challenges we identified. As evidenced above, the results of applying the framework are promising.
The intelligent use of technology in libraries continues to be one of our most crucial challenges. For those of us who became librarians because we loved to explore the book stacks, we are now finding new ways to explore both old and new content in digital form. With issue 6 of the Code4Lib Journal we hope you will find new ways to explore, experiment, and bring to your library users what they want and need.
By deciding what to digitize in special collections and archives, we choose what narratives to promote, what history to highlight, and what legacies to further. This paper details a new initiative at LSU Libraries to integrate diversity and inclusion goals into digitization policies. After reviewing examples of how digitization can be either beneficial or harmful to individuals represented in the historical record, the author uses Ibram Kendi's definition of racist policy -- that which leads to racial inequalities -- as a starting point for exploring how digitization selection can help counteract histories of exclusion.
In the digital age libraries are required to manage large numbers of diverse objects. One advantage of digital objects over fixed physical objects is the flexibility of 'binding' them into publications or other useful aggregated intellectual entities while retaining the ability to reuse them independently in other contexts. An emerging framework for managing flexible aggregations of digital objects is provided by the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) with its work on Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE). This paper will show how OAI-ORE is being used to manage content in digital repositories, in particular institutional repositories, and has the potential ultimately to transform the conception of digital repositories.
Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience of viewing computed-generated objects onto your view of the real world. Since the Pokemon Go craze in 2016, many libraries have tested the waters with AR programs. Some went on to the next step of developing their own AR content to enhance library services and marketing. While there are many AR applications that libraries can use for this purpose, it usually thwarts customers that they must install various AR mobile apps in order to enjoy these experiences on their own devices. This becomes the major hurdle of making AR more enjoyable and accessible at the library. What's more, libraries cannot share home-grown AR content across different platforms easily because of the technical barriers in various AR platforms. In this article, I would like to introduce a completely open source AR developing tool that allows library staff to create fast and efficient AR content with pure web solutions. It is standard and works on mobile devices with no installation required. I have created a basic AR experience with the tool for a regional Pacific Library Partnership conference and it proved to be a success in improving the accessibility and shareability of AR content.
The Lemon8-XML software application, developed by the Public Knowledge Project (PKP), provides an open-source, computer-assisted interface for reliable citation structuring and validation. Lemon8-XML combines citation parsing algorithms with freely-available online indexes such as PubMed, WorldCat, and OAIster. Fully-automated markup of entire bibliographies may be a genuine possibility using this approach. Automated markup of citations would increase bibliographic accuracy while reducing copyediting demands.
Vandal Poem of the Day (VPOD) is a public poetry initiative led by the Center for Digital Inquiry and Learning (CDIL) at the University of Idaho Library. For four academic years VPOD has published contemporary poems daily in collaboration with award-winning poetry presses and journals. This article details the project's genesis and history, focusing on two aspects of the project: 1) the customized WordPress site, CSS, and plugins that enable the layout, publication, and social media promotion of the poetry and 2) the innovative means we have developed for promoting the site using receipt printers. The latter portion includes details and code related to two different physical computing projects that use receipt printers--one using a Raspberry Pi and the other using a recycled library circulation printer-- to print individual VPOD poems on demand.
As with most businesses, libraries use statistics to justify expenses, to monitor the library’s expansion and to predict prospective developments. This article describes SQL and shell techniques for data retrieval as well as further processing of the data using the open source statistical environment R. The article emphasizes some of the pitfalls and reasoning errors librarians could easily slip into. Having an academic background on statistics, the author is appointed to projects and tasks which need mathematical and statistical methods to be successfully accomplished.
Tree representations can be useful for presenting hierarchical data on the screen. In this article I’ll briefly describe building trees using the Dojo, Yahoo User Interface, Java Server Faces, and Google Web Toolkit libraries.
In libraries, the relationship between textual descriptions of audiovisual material and access to that material is a primary concern, as users expect to have access to all the library’s resources—which increasingly include audiovisual content—through a simple and effective web interface. At UW-Oshkosh, library staff developed a unique site for its streaming video collection that would allow users to search for videos and browse collections on particular topics across each of the three vendors. In order to create more meaningful and topical collections, various programming tools and techniques were employed to identify geographical locations in vendor-supplied MARC records. This article describes three different methods for generating geographic terms for streaming videos using different Python libraries and evaluates them based on the number of terms generated, overlap in terms generated between the three methods, and the amount of cleanup needed to generate useful geographic terms.
The WGBH Media Library and Archives is piloting an online media archive for scholarly research. In conversation with users, we have discovered they want to quickly pinpoint items relevant to their work and get an overview of collections and their relationships to other materials. To demonstrate the size and complexity of our collection to users in a meaningful way, WGBH is employing data visualization techniques to provide an interactive, graphical representation of the various relationships between items. This article discusses the techniques employed in implementing our relationship map, emphasizes the cataloging techniques required for this effort, and offers code and examples to spark discussion about ways to improve or extend this effort.
Ability to collect time-specific lists of faculty publications has become increasingly important for academic departments. At OHSU publication lists had been retrieved manually by a librarian who conducted literature searches in bibliographic databases. These searches were complicated and time consuming, and the results were large and difficult to assess for accuracy.
The OHSU library has built an open web page that allows novices to make very sophisticated institution-specific queries. The tool frees up library staff, provides users with an easy way of retrieving reliable local publication information from PubMed, and gives an opportunity for more sophisticated users to modify the algorithm or dive into the data to better understand nuances from a strong jumping off point.
The NCSU Libraries’ Course Views project, along with a locally developed widget web service, improves course-based access to library collections and services by dynamically generating library course pages for all 6000+ courses at NCSU. By automatically generating custom content when possible and showcasing authored content when available, Course Views is able to achieve full course coverage without significantly increasing staff time to create and manage content. This paper will describe the system and the use of web services to achieve scalable and sustainable delivery of course-related library content.
In July 2017, W3C published SHACL as the standard to validate RDF. Since then, data modellers have the possibility to provide validation services based on SHACL shapes together with their models, however there are considerations to be taken in account when creating them. This paper aims to list such considerations and shows an example of a validation pipeline to address them.
The Integrated Digital Special Collections (INDI) system is a prototype of a database-driven, Web application designed to automate and manage archival workflow for large institutions and consortia. This article discusses the how the INDI project enabled the successful implementation of a process to manage large technology projects in the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University. It highlights how the scope of these technology projects is set and how the major deliverables for each project are defined. The article also talks about how the INDI system followed the process and still failed to be completed. It examines why the process itself is successful and why the INDI project failed. It further underscores the importance of process management in archival management systems.
The Florida Academic Library Services Cooperative (FALSC) makes available digital library hosting free-of-charge to all institutions of Florida public higher education. 21 institutions participate in the Islandora digital library platform hosted through FALSC. Centralized digital library hosting through FALSC, or its predecessor consortium, has been available since 1994. Meanwhile, the RightsStatements.org standard, which provides a controlled vocabulary for indicating the copyright status of digital library material, was released in 2016. After the standard was released, participating libraries expressed interest in implementing RightsStatements.org for existing digital content. During Fall 2018 and Spring 2019, FALSC implemented RightsStatements.org values on Islandora sites. This article describes the process undertaken by FALSC, the lessons learned, and recommendations for libraries looking to implement RightsStatements.org values.
The Gold Rush link resolver (GRLR) is part of a suite of programs developed by the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries (CARL) which help manage a library's electronic resources. It contains the essential features required to perform link resolution, and comes at a substantial discount compared to other commercial Link Resolvers. After a comprehensive review of the available options, the library at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) chose to implement Gold Rush over the summer of 2008. The UTC library also decided to take advantage of the release of the Gold Rush XML Gateway Web Services Layer by the Colorado Alliance in the spring of 2008. This article is a case study of how the UTC XML Web client was built and the steps necessary to successfully deploy such a client.
At Paul Smith's College, I recently implemented a "New Books" display using open APIs and an image scroller. In this article I'll give a brief overview of Google Book Search, OpenLibrary and Worldcat, explain how I created this New Books Widget using book cover data, and provide readers with some practical and simple code to show how to collect this data. This article will be of interest to anyone who wants to read about a brief overview of current state of free book data service providers. Additionally, beginner programmers will likely find the examples at the end of the article helpful when getting started with projects of their own.
Conference reports from the 4th Code4Lib conference, held in Providence, RI from February 23 to 26, 2009. The Code4Lib conference is a collective volunteer effort of the informal Code4Lib community of library technologists. Included are four brief reports on the conference from the recipients of conference scholarships.
Written by two of the leading authorities on the semantic web, the "Semantic Web for the Working Ontologist" is a timely and thorough introduction to the topic. Covering RDF, RDFS, and OWL, the book takes a logical, trainerly approach, with practical and illuminating examples. Well worth a read.
This is just a short post to write down an idea (that I’m assuming others have had) that for me was born of frustration on the Documenting the Now project and inspiration while reading Escobar (2017), here on the 5th anniversary of the killing of Mike Brown.
Let’s get the frustration out of the way first.
We’re trying to create tools that help people document events that get shared in social media. We started out trying to collect what was happening in Twitter during the Ferguson Uprising. As we all learned later with Cambridge Analytica it was actually a bit too easy to get at this data, especially if you have the technical skills to figure out how to talk to their API, and the credibility to get a set of app keys.
Getting the data is the easy part. Getting the consent of the people that created it, so that you can archive it is something else entirely.
Thankfully now it’s harder for just anyone to get at this data. But the policies around who gets access and how they get access to it act as a gateway that limits the people and organizations who can use the data. This is by design. Increasingly this is a big problem for researchers who are no longer able to study social media as they could before Cambridge Analytica (Bruns, 2019 ; Freelon, 2018). But its also a huge problem for just regular people, the billions of people who use social media every day.
However (and this is where the inspiration comes in) through a series of workshops starting in Ferguson and now being held in locations around the US organized by the tireless Bergis Jules, the Documenting the Now team has had the opportunity to hear from community and activist groups who are using social media as a place to document their own work. And they would like to get their data out to have it for themselves.
For example the Texas After Violence Project we met with last week have a website, and a Twitter account, and an Instagram account. They use these spaces to publish oral histories that help document state-sanctioned violence on people and communities. While there are tools for pushing content into these spaces there aren’t really any for getting their stuff out again. They want to have their data in case the platform decides their content is no longer welcome there, or the platforms policies change and they no longer want their content on there. As you can imagine there are lots of reasons why people might want to get their own data out of a social media platform. At its heart its just the nagging awareness that lots of copies keeps stuff safe.
And yet (back to the frustration) it’s a big investment for these groups to be able to download and install the DocNow application as it stands now. It involves standing up an application in the cloud that’s composed of a database or two, and a webserver, and managing little worker processes that harvest metadata, unshorten links, etc. Even with devops tools to automate that build process it’s complicated, and kinda expensive for an activist organization.
Plus the DocNow app is centered on Twitter, because of the public API access it still provide, and its use by journalists and the media. But the world of social media is so much bigger that just Twitter. Even accessing Twitter requires someone to create an app and get approved to get the keys to run it, which includes convincing Twitter that you are worthy of that, which is an increasingly opaque process to navigate. We have a command line tool twarc which doesn’t require such an expensive set up as DocNow, but the command line isn’t for everyone, and it still requires you to get app keys. Then there are tools like twint that scrape content out of Twitter because they can, even if that’s against the platform Terms of Service.
A year ago the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) kicked in in the EU, and a nice side effect of Article 15 is that social media platforms had to provide a way for you to get your data out of their platform. Alexandra Dolan-Mescal recently created a short zine called Social Control the provides people with instructions of how to get their data out of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Some of the platforms provide rudimentary guides to the downloaded data, but that’s not always the case.
So what’s the idea already you say?
What if there were an application that you could run on your computer that allowed you to import these GDPR archives and access your photos, posts, etc in a meaningful way so you could have them yourself? This idea has been tried before by folks like Aaron Straup-Cope with his PrivateSquare, or Dan Phiffer’s smol.archive. But these have been a bit hamstrung by the fact that they require you to get keys so that you can access your data. This, and setting up an application aren’t things just anybody can typically do. Working off of the GDPR download would be slower, and less up to date, but it would at least would only require you to download a zip file from the said platform and then start up a desktop app and import it. Then you’d have to repeat that process occasionally.
I mentioned this idea on Twitter, and got some interesting responses. One of which is to try out Solid which I should look at more closely. I’m much more familiar with Mastodon and Scuttlebutt in the federated/distributed social media space, and understood Solid to be working to achieve similar goals. I absolutely think we need these new models for social media, but we also have a lot of people using centralized forms that have evolved on the (once) distributed web. We have an obligation to help people work with the web we have now, while also helping build a better one.
I’m starting to wonder if the only way for people to manage their own social media data is for them to periodically download their GDPR archive and give it to an app that they can run themselves (off cloud). Has this been done already? Is it a crazy idea?
Another alternative to a new app would be to get folks working with the soon to be released Webrecorder-Desktop. We actually did this in our workshop with the Texas After Violence Project. Webrecorder-Desktop is an application you run on your workstation that you can use to archive and replay all kinds of web content. Since it uses your browser to do it it creates a high fidelity copy that is driven by how you interact with content in the browser. One thing that could be tedious is having to do repetitive actions like click on the detail of an Instagram post to get the larger image and comments. Fortunately they are working on what they called Behaviors that allow you to semi-automate the collection, so you could point your Webrecorder-Desktop app at your Instagram account and tell it to autoscroll the page and click on each item to get the details automatically.
So maybe instead of creating a new app to make sense of the GDPR download, perhaps it would be better (and more collaborative) to think about enhancing these behaviors to allow people to collect content from these sites? Maybe Webrecorder-Desktop could use the GDPR archive in some way in order to know what to crawl?
The obvious benefit to using the GDPR data is that the only person who has access to it is you. You are the only person who can request it and download it. Services like TwArxiv that ask you to upload your GDPR data to another service on the web are interesting experiments, but they are also risky propositions that you have every right to be wary of. Plus, you may not want to analyze your data, but just have your own copy of it, for yourself. Because it’s yours, right?
PS. I don’t particularly want to argue about whether the GDPR download is an archive or not. We all know that it’s not that kind of archive. But it’s a useful convenience to call it that. And maybe if it were more useful, and could be managed and backed up, it would be a little bit more like that kind of archive ;-)
Bruns, A. (2019). After the “apicalypse”: Social media platforms and their fight against critical scholarly research. Information, Communication & Society.
Escobar, A. (2017). Designs for the Pluriverse. Duke University Press.
Windows 10 introduced Windows Subsystem for Linux — and the convenience of Ubuntu downloadable from the Microsoft Store. This makes this dumb idea pretty much Just Work out of the box, apart from having to set your DISPLAY environment variable by hand.
So far, it's mindbogglingly useless. It can only run 64-bit Windows apps, which doesn't even include all the apps that come with Windows 10 itself.
But I want to stress again: this now works trivially. I'm not some sort of mad genius to do this thing — I only appear to be the first person to admit to having done it publicly.
TO DO: 32-bit support. This will have to wait for Microsoft to release WSL 2. I wonder if ancient Win16 programs will work then — they should do in Wine, even if they don't in Windows any more.
Of course, if they run in Wine on Ubuntu on Windows 10 on an x86, they should run on Wine on Ubuntu on an x86. But being able to run Wine in an official Microsoft environment might make deployment of preserved Win16 programs easier to get past an institution's risk-averse lawyers.
The origins of MyData can be traced back to the Open Knowledge Festival held in Finland in 2012. There, a small group of people gathered in a breakout session to discuss what ought to be done with the kind of data that cannot be made publicly available and entirely open, namely personal data.
Over the years, more and more people who had similar ideas about personal data converged and found each other around the globe. Finally, in 2016, a conference entitled MyData brought together thinkers and doers who shared a vision of a human-centric paradigm for personal data and the community became aware of itself.
The MyData movement, which has since gathered momentum and grown into an international community of hundreds of people and organisations, shares many of its most fundamental values with the open movement from which it has spun off. Openness and transparency in collection, processing, and use of personal data; ethical and socially beneficial use of data; cross-sectoral collaboration; and democratic values are all legacies of the open roots of MyData and hard-wired into the movement itself.
The MyData movement was sustained originally through annual conferences held in Helsinki and attended by data professionals in their hundreds. These were made possible by the support of the Finnish chapter of Open Knowledge, who acted as their main organiser. As the years passed and the movement matured, in the autumn of 2018, the movement formalised into its own organisation, MyData Global. Headquartered in Finland, the organisation’s international staff of six, led by general manager Teemu Ropponen, now facilitate the growing community with local hubs in over 20 locations on six continents, a fourth Helsinki-based conference in September 2019, and the continued efforts of the movement to bring about positive change in the way personal data is used globally.
The MyData 2019 Conference will attract some 800-1000 people from around the world. It is an associated event of Finland’s EU Presidency organised in Wanha Satama in central Helsinki. The conference provides three days of interactive sessions, networking opportunities and inspiration that will contribute to rebuilding trust for a human-centred data economy. Over 100 speakers will be presenting in the following tracks: Making Identity Work, Ecosystems and Operators, Governance, Cities, Empowerment through Agency, Crossing the Chasm, MyAI, Health, Design and more! The Next Generation Internet Forum is organised at the opening day of MyData 2019.
Join MyData 2019 conference with a special discount code!
If you want to learn more about MyData, join the MyData 2019 conference on 25-27 September 2019. As we love making friends, we would like to offer you a discount code of 10% for business and discounted ticket. Use MyDataFriend and claim your ticket now via mydata2019.org/tickets. The normal price tickets are valid until 1 September.
When British firm Darktrace needed to ward off potential ransomware attacks, machine learning came to the rescue, aiding clients in filtering and prioritizing threats. When health care organizations need to identify markers for aortic stenosis or cancer, they turn to
New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.
This meeting will provide opportunities to discuss ideas, strategies, best practices, use cases, and the future development of DSpace 7 with members of the DSpace community including repository developers, technology directors, and institutional repository managers.
The 2019 DSpace North American User Group Meeting is jointly sponsored by the University of Minnesota Libraries and the Texas Digital Library. We encourage members of the wider open repository community and those interested in learning more about the open source DSpace repository platform to participate. More information about accommodations, registration, and schedule is available on the conference website.
Drawing from survey results and interviews with recent job seekers, this article investigates the effect behind defeatist attitudes, anxieties, resiliency narratives, and intimacies that are central to librarian successes and failures. Connecting these narratives with Lauren Berlant’s cruel optimism, we explore the dangerous attachment LIS job seekers have with the field. While library schools and library associations promise a good life with financial stability and the possibility of upward mobility, it is often out of reach for nearly a third of LIS graduates. To explore job seekers’ emotional experiences during the LIS job search, the authors looked specifically at the first job search from the perspective of graduate students as well as from those already in positions. Our survey yielded over 900 participants and we conducted 18 in-depth interviews. The results provide both confirmation for themes already discussed in librarianship, as well as new insights for work to be done to support new colleagues entering the field.
For those finishing graduate work in library and information science (LIS), being on the job search can be a scary and yet necessary result of the degree. The expectation is a job at the end of the library degree, and this, as most of us in the field know, is not always the outcome. The difficult job search has become a rite of passage and depending on the library job we want, the location(s) we are willing to relocate to, and the positions available in the field, our searches can last a few months, or stretch beyond a year. In the end, the longer the job search goes, the more difficult it can be to “keep our chins up” or practice resilience. Throughout our searches, we expend emotional energy to find job postings, write personalized cover letters, prepare for phone interviews, and save up funds to travel to on-site interviews, all with the hope of employment in a library at the end.
This article aims to explore job seekers’ emotional experiences during the LIS job search. We wanted to look specifically at the first job search, both from the perspective of graduate students, as well as from those who had been in positions for a period of time. From the emotions throughout the job search, we wanted to know about the implications those feelings had on our thoughts around the field of librarianship as a whole. The job search, while stressful, is a process intertwined with possibility and hope in equal amounts to the desperation we often see when seekers cannot find employment. For job seekers, even the successful ones, the search is an attachment to a field that is perceived to be dying by the public, with fewer new jobs than new graduates, and an unstable future. The paper that follows explores the survey and in-depth interviews we conducted throughout 2018 and suggests directions for the field to take moving forward.
Job Market Optimisms and Pessimisms
The LIS job market in the current political and economic climate is fraught and full of peril for many new professionals. When attempting to tackle anxiety in the job search it is important to understand the historical and political underpinnings of this specific moment for the field of librarianship. There has been research exploring the reliance on “fit” as a criterion for job selection (Farkas 2019 and 2015; Cunningham et al 2019), diversity and the LIS job market (Morgan et al 2009; Berg et al 2009; Kim and Sin 2008; Vinopal 2016; Hathcock 2015; Galvan 2015), the precariousness of the future of libraries for job searching (Grady 2009), the role of mentorship in successful job searches (Lacy and Copeland 2013), and the need for technological training and job experience outside of coursework for success in searching (Eckard el al 2014; Roy et al 2010). Yet missing from this picture of the job search is an exploration of anxiety and emotions felt by new graduates and job seekers in this precarious market.
In the Fall 2017, Library Journal (LJ) published its annual Placements & Salaries report on graduating library students. It found that 4,223 new LIS graduates finished their degrees during 2016-2017. LJ conducted a survey of recent graduates (n=1,426), and found that overwhelmingly these respondents were employed full time (80%). However, only 67% of those employed were working full-time in libraries. Of 67% employed full-time within libraries, an additional 17% of those participants held part-time status in libraries, many holding several jobs to make ends meet with an average of 1.6 part-time jobs per library school graduate. While the report cited the rise in wages for new graduates, it hinted at deep dissatisfaction in the community. The report’s authors state:
Overwhelmingly, unhappy graduates point to underemployment issues, including low wages; lack of benefits; having to settle for part-time, temporary, or nonprofessional positions; or having to piece together two or three part-time positions to support themselves. Several report being frustrated about carrying student debt for their LIS degree without being able to use the degree in their current positions (Library Journal Placements and Salaries 2017).
While we do not wish to get into potential issues with Library Journal’s approach, it is hard to see this sampling (33% of the total 4,223 graduates) as representative of the whole. It is possible that LJ is oversampling successful job seekers, as those with difficulties finding employment may not contribute to this sampling. Did libraries create enough jobs for the 4,223 graduates that year? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (2019), the field is only projected to create 12,000 new jobs in the next ten years, and have a replacement rate per year of 14,500 over the next ten years. Within that 14,500 number, 7,900 are retirements and 5,400 are librarians leaving for other fields, with an estimation of 1,200 new jobs created. It is difficult to imagine that many of these 7,900 jobs will represent open entry-level positions. This is, of course, speculation on continuing trends, and economic trends are always hazy to begin with.
Investigating just the academic librarian job market, Eamon Tewell (2012) found that only 21% of advertised jobs between September 2010 and September 2011 counted as “entry level,” requiring less than a year of experience. Furthermore, even for jobs with expectations of less than a year of experience, 76% were being filled with candidates who did not meet the criteria as entry-level (meaning they had more than one year of experience in libraries) (Tewell, 2012). Unfortunately, these datasets only exist for academic librarian openings, mainly due to tenure and promotion requirements within this sphere of librarianship. The field has not seen a systematic exploration of opening and entry-level positions across the different types of librarianship. The survey and interview data we collected suggest that there are more graduates than entry-level positions across all subsets of librarianship. We saw in our research that hope and luck are necessary parts of the library search, and library students have often had fears calmed by ongoing promises of better markets in the near future, post-recession and post-retirement.
Cruel Optimism, Hope, and Challenging Job Markets
In order to fully understand how emotion and anxiety specifically impact LIS job seekers, our research project relied heavily on frameworks developed by literary critic Lauren Berlant. Berlant terms the growing societal and cultural anxiety stemming from neo-liberal dissatisfaction “cruel optimism.” For Berlant, “cruel optimism” terms an attachment “when the object that draws your attachment actively impedes the aim that brought you to it initially” (Berlant 2011, 1). Attachment for Berlant is always inherently optimistic, and the futures imagined through attachment are based on fantasy in a somewhat neutral sense. Yet the fantasies that drive students and job seekers are becoming more and more frayed (Berlant 2011, 3). This is particularly poignant in promises of “upward mobility, job security, political and social equality” which Berlant explains are “the set of dissolving assurances [that] also includes meritocracy, the sense that liberal-capitalist society will reliably provide opportunities for individuals to carve out relations of reciprocity that seem fair and that foster life as a project of adding up to something…” (Berlant 2011, 3). For LIS students the degree is an investment of time, money, and emotions, often with a stated goal of a professional library job. For librarians, a “good life” could mean many things. It may mean a tenure track job at an R1 institution, a secure position at a public library, or recognition in the field. A student graduating in the next few years is promised, in many ways, “a good life,” yet that attachment, however optimistic, is strikingly bleak when countered with the difficult road that many job seekers must walk for self- and job- satisfaction.
Whatever a “good life” entails is individual, yet, as Berlant and many others have pointed to, it is ingrained in the American experience. Berlant writes that some might “call the fragilities and unpredictability of living the good-life fantasy and its systemic failures ‘bad luck’ amid the general pattern of upward mobility, reliable intimacy, and political satisfaction that has graced liberal political/economic worlds since the end of the Second World War” (Berlant 2011, 10). Many of our respondents pointed to luck as a factor in job search success and failures. One, a full-time librarian who spent 8-9 months searching for a full-time position, responded that:
I’m still friends with a bunch of people that I did the masters program with, and it’s almost two years since we graduated. And it’s just now that some of them are finally getting a full-time librarian position. So, that is another, there’s a few others that have just finally gotten them. So, seeing that wow, I feel really lucky that I was able to get a full-time position shortly after finishing.
Furthermore, because of the interlinkage between jobs and upward mobility, a central component of the “American dream,” the recent recession has hit confidence and outlooks especially hard. Aronson found that students identified new value in post-secondary education in the wake of the recession, with many of the interviewed subjects citing the job market as a driving force for graduate or professional degrees (Aronson 2017, 51). On the other hand, Aronson concluded that the lack of prospects after graduation may lead to a larger erosion in the “confidence in educational and work institutions.” (Aronson 2017, 55) Graduates often felt their professors, programs, and universities were out of touch with the current economic environment and fears of malemployment and unemployment were not to be assuaged by institutional support (Aronson 2017, 55). This is a theme that appears in our research as well.
The cruel optimism framework has been used quite successfully to explore the effect of job searching within fields like education, which, like librarianship, experience constant change, threat, and murky futures. Moore and Clark argue that teachers are cruelly optimistic not only because of the painful ramifications of “good life” affects, but that they are engaged doubly in the creation of good lives for their students and for the public good. Furthermore, the authors explain that teachers “may need to convince themselves of the possibility of helping to bring about the better world they embrace in spite of the fact that its translation/mutations into the terms and conditions of neo-liberal policy…may be working against the realisation of that vision” (Moore and Clarke 2015, 671-672). Specifically, Moore and Clarke are referring to educational policy which inhibits the change that teachers may go into their field hoping to encourage. We can see parallels in the way in which librarians butt up against counterintuitive restrictions on how public service is performed in this neo-liberal system.
Passions and Intimacies on the Cruel Market
For job searching in public service fields, especially those where jobs are limited, a tremendous amount of emotional labor is necessary for the application and interview process. In an article aptly titled “It’s Like Writing Yourself into a Codependent Relationship with Someone Who Doesn’t Even Want You,” Jennifer Sano-Franchini writes about the complex relationship formed between the applicant and the search committee, through the pretext of intimacy in the “tailored cover letter” to the meetings and meals between interviewees and interviewers, or the showing of “passion,” “loyalty,” or “commitment” to institutions they’ve just met (2016, 101, 108). The attachment here is cruel in that the high level of competition as well as the emotional energy required to perform interviewing tasks will, for most candidates, be for nothing, and as jobs are perceived as scarcer and scarcer they will continue to elucidate these “cruel optimistic” feelings. It requires an intimacy that is expected and often impossible to the point where the feigned knowledge of the institution becomes a sought-after trait for job seekers. The rejection letters for jobs, described by Sano-Franchini as bad break-ups and the common “it’s not you, it’s me” letters,” bring out this attachment that is fleeting and hard to reconcile. Sano-Franchini (2016) concludes:
There is a problem with the system when these sorts of experiences are widely felt, yet normalized and accepted as part of the process. There is a problem when, instead of critiquing our institutional practices, the quick fix seems to be to provide hoards of advice, directives, and tips for candidates to navigate—indeed, to survive—the job search, and the problems of the job market are dismissed as the result of larger political and economic issues. (119)
The expectation of a long and difficult search, combined with the grin and bear it attitude, comes up often in the interviews with LIS job seekers below and illuminates the compassion with which our field must come to terms if it doesn’t want to purely exist in cruel contexts.
Our project revolves around two research questions:
In what ways do negative perceptions about the future of libraries impact the emotions of job searching?
What are common feelings and concerns about the librarian job market and how do those impact the anxieties of first-time library job seekers?
In order to discover the answers, we employed a mixed methods approach. We started by creating a survey that we sent out internationally, with respondents primarily from the United States, Canada, and Australia. This survey was meant to capture feelings around participants’ first job searches, how they felt about the future of libraries, and also to find respondents who wanted to discuss their job searches further through in-depth interviews. Our survey was open from the end of February to the end of March 2018.
Participants were recruited via Twitter and listservs. At the end of the survey, respondents could indicate if they were interested in a follow-up in-depth interview. Over 200 people indicated interest in the interview. From that group, we had another screening survey in order to make sure we had a representative sample for our interviews. We chose to do in-depth interviews with no more than 25 participants. From our transcribed interviews, we analyzed the data and created codes based on the themes that emerged throughout.
Our selected interview participants talked to either author — in-person or over the phone — between April and July 2018. These interviews lasted anywhere between 30-60 minutes and were later transcribed in order to identify themes. In the end, we interviewed 18 people. Of our participants, 9 were in academic library positions, 3 were public librarians, 1 was a school librarian, 2 worked in special libraries, and 3 were graduate students on the job search.
We created a set of nine questions that we wanted to ask. The full set of interview questions can be found in Appendix A. As we coded for themes, we began to see the cruel optimism framework, especially for those still on the job search. These interviews helped to expand our perspective on the job search and demonstrated the ways that the LIS job search is frustrating, long, exhaustive, and time consuming.
Our project has a few limitations. First, because we sought out our population through social media and listservs, we do not know our response rate. All we can say about this population is how they responded to the survey and the in-depth interviews we conducted. While these findings cannot be generalized to all LIS job seekers, we do think our findings indicate an interest in this topic and will help to start conversations within the field about the job search.
Once the survey went live and we began our interviews, we discovered a few questions that were not asked or were interpreted differently than we had intended. We did not include a question about the type of library the respondent was currently employed by or where they hoped to be employed. We also asked a question about where in the job search process the respondent was. Our choices were:
Have been job searching for under 6 months
Have been job searching for 7-12 months
Have been job searching for more than 12 months
Employed for 1-11 months
Employed for 12-36 years (1-3 years)
Employed for 3-5 years
Employed 6 or more years
Out of the job search
Originally, we thought this question would get us the information we wanted, but during the interview process, we realized that reality can be more complicated. This was especially true for respondents who were getting their MLIS degrees, respondents who were currently working in libraries and finishing their degrees at the same time, and those who had been on the job market consistently for a longer period of time. These gray areas made it difficult for respondents to easily choose an answer.
Additionally, we did not ask in the survey for information around the respondent’s race, gender, or ability. These issues came up during some of our interviews and would be a place to expand this research in the future. We acknowledge that people with marginalized identities are more likely to find themselves in crueler job markets with more limited geographical parameters and more expectations for resiliency throughout their search.
We had 1,047 respondents start the survey and used the 907 completed surveys for our analysis. From those 907 responses, we had over 200 people indicate interest in an in-depth survey and 145 who filled out our secondary screening survey. All secondary survey results were reviewed and interview participants were selected according to status (graduate student) or library type (academic, public/school, special, and other).
The surveyed population cut across many lines of the librarianship job searching spectrum. The majority of participants reported that they held their job for at least a year. Many were in the process of searching for under 6 months (17%), searching for 7-12 months (6%), and searching for more than 12 months (7%), and a final 3% indicated they were out of the job search completely and were not looking for a library job. There were also respondents who had been employed for under a year (21%), employed for 1-3 years (19%), and employed for 3+ years (27%).
When it came to whether or not respondents felt anxiety during the search, we found overwhelmingly that they did. Three hundred participants responded with “A great deal” when asked to rate their anxiety levels during the search, and over 200 rated it “a lot.” Only 7 respondents stated they felt no anxiety during the search (Figure 1). We did not formally define anxiety in this survey, so participants were able to choose their own definitions for this word. This means that multiple definitions exist, and this influences the findings in Figure 1.
When asked about the future of libraries the response was overwhelmingly positive, with the majority of respondents holding “positive” or “strongly positive” viewpoints (Figure 2). However, when divided amongst those who were employed and those on the job market, the percentages of negative views on the future of librarianship rose for those who were unsuccessful in their search; 12% of unemployed respondents responded negatively compared to 7% of the employed respondents.
One of the most curious trends in the results above is that despite these narratives of uncertainty and change in libraries, future and current librarians are still hopeful about the future of libraries. Seventy one percent (71%) of respondents reported either “positive feelings about the future of librarianship” or “strongly positive feelings about the future of librarianship” as opposed to only 10% responding in the negative. Consider these numbers when placed within the context of 15% of total respondents having been underemployed and unemployed, searching for a job, or out of the job search. Furthermore, for respondents for whom the job search ended without placement, 54% still held positive views on the future of libraries, which was consistent with the opinions above on the “death of libraries” (Figure 3).
Finally, the question on the survey that yielded particularly interesting results was, “What are three words you would use to describe your job search?” Using Nvivo, we were able to find the words used most frequently (Figure 4). Frustration (and all roots) was the top word used by 177 respondents. Stressful (and all roots) was a close second, with 164 mentions. Long (87), Exhaustive (62), and Time (59) were the top five words chosen.
Several important themes permeated our in-depth interviews. Some focused on well-known and well-trodden library research ideas such as resilience in libraries, but others approached ideas around passions and the future of librarianship. One of the themes that has not been talked about much in library research is an intimacy between the job seeker and interviewers and the resulting feelings of rejection afterwards. Each of these confront vulnerable job seekers in striking ways and paint an uncomfortable portrait of what it means to become a librarian post-library school.
“I don’t have to be a librarian” resilience and failure in job searching.
One of the important themes present in our interviews and among our data, was the underlying concept of “resilience” in the face of dwindling odds for facing the competitive job market. One of our respondents, who while a paraprofessional had been on the market for many months for a more stable position, commented that:
…one of the things that I think about a lot, in a lot of talks that I go to, are about resilience. Kind of resilience in libraries, and that’s the kind [of] thing that the word I wish we didn’t have to use as much….. But it takes a lot of fortitude sometimes to get through [the job search]. And if you are new and fresh out of library school… I wish there were more conversations about resilience in that way, as like, ‘Yes. We don’t want you to have to deal with this, but the chances you will are pretty good. Pretty good.’
Yet, because the market is so stressful, we are forced to talk about resilience on the way. Added to this is the expectation that soon job prospects will improve. In fact, one of the persistent myths in librarianship (and indeed most of contemporary employment) is the idea that mass retirements will open the doors to new graduates. One of our interviewees commented:
I always worry that library budgets are being cut, and, you know, people are retiring, which everybody says, ‘Oh everyone, all these librarians are gonna retire and there’s gonna be a million jobs,’ but a lot of those positions aren’t being filled…they’re just sort of being done away with…they have a smaller staff.
Some have attributed this myth to the American Library Association (Hardenbrook 2013; Hiring Librarians Blog 2014) which told students to not be swayed by the dismal employment numbers because retirements were on the way. When these retirements do not materialize, because Americans work longer before retiring, or their positions are replaced by part-time jobs or not replaced at all, the optimism of the graduating student falls.
What persons invested in optimism engage with is an expectation of stability. What we have seen in the recent history of libraries is the exact opposite. This has encouraged many librarians to think of ways to be resilient against inevitable change. One example, from In the Library with the Lead Pipe, explores this in terms of ecological sustainability. Munro writes:
…resilience acknowledges that we live in a state of constant change, in systems that are larger, more complex, and more interrelated than we know. When we try to control change in one part of the system—to optimize it for our current needs—we often create effects that we can’t predict (2011, 2).
For libraries, this comes to the changing formats in collections, the reduction of budgets, and the overall uncertainty that plagues the field’s future (Munro 2011). Resilience is a response to the perpetual uncertainty that confronts libraries, and can, in Munro’s feeling, be overcome with radical cooperation and thoughtful adaptive solutions. Yet this approach does not get at the core of where the resilience narratives harm vulnerable populations.
In recent years, resilience narratives have been pushed back upon. Berg et al. (2018) explain that “demanding resilience in libraries and other contexts helps to conceal larger problems by transferring blame to the individual, resulting in a vicious cycle of the workers in the most precarious positions doing the most work to keep services and collections functioning”. Echoing this sentiment, Meredith Farkas (2017), in a piece for American Libraries, commented that “resilience narratives paint workers who feel burned out or frustrated as failures who couldn’t overcome adversity.” Specifically, these writers are approaching librarian resilience for those who are already within the field, showing the “doing more with less” approaches as difficult for individuals to bear within organizations. Yet, how do resiliency narratives affect those on the job market and those who have given up hope because of the constant uncertainty surrounding librarian futures?
This issue is perhaps exacerbated by the degree itself, and professionalism inherent in its distribution.1 The library degree has been painted as the only way into the field. While libraries do not have licensure or certification, the degree itself is one designed for employment purposes and as such is accredited by our associations. When this promise is unfulfilled it is on job seekers to perform the emotional labor of resiliency. One interviewee, a current graduate student on the job search, mentioned their frustration with the MLIS program: “As I’m applying and as I finished my program I was really frustrated with the fact that it felt like all I did was get this golden ticket that meant that I could get some jobs that I had already the skill set for.” Even with this “golden ticket” you are not promised a job that fits your skill set. Another interviewee, who has years of experience in libraries, spoke to the discounting of pre-degree experiences:
So, it was kind of like I needed that degree, but all of the extensive experiences that I had, I 100% feel like that was discounted. Many people have told me, ‘Well, you have to start early career. That’s what you are.’ I was like, ‘That’s not what I am. I’m on year 19 of progressive responsibilities.’
The degree is perceived as essential to permanent stability and the “good life,” and is often sold to students as a “golden ticket” to librarian prosperity. Yet, we know this isn’t true. Factors like experience or geography often interfere with the opportunities presented by the degree.
Passions, Callings, and Co-dependencies
Overwhelmingly, the respondents, even those for whom the job search had ended without a job, were positive about the prospects of the future of the library and of librarianship. Many would still suggest librarianship to students or colleagues as an employment path. For library job seekers who were not successful, this kind of positive attachment is incredibly telling about the cruel state of affairs our field finds itself in. Those who have been promised the librarian “good life” and have yet to achieve it are left in a precarious mental space and are engaged very clearly in a cruel attachment to this field. In some ways, it is partially a result of the ways in which we talk about the sanctity of the library as a space and as a calling, a concept termed “vocational awe” by Fobazi Ettarh (2018).
Noting the religious undertones of vocational thinking, Ettarh comments that librarianship is often talked about as a “calling” and that “the physical space of a library, like its work, has also been seen as a sacred” (2018, 4, 5). The sacred mission of the library and the holiness of its spaces run against our emotional and physical wellbeing as Ettarh poignantly states, “in the face of grand missions of literacy and freedom, advocating for your full lunch break feels petty. And tasked with the responsibility of sustaining democracy and intellectual freedom, taking a mental health day feels shameful” (2018, 11). Perhaps the same is true for job seekers. When called to the profession that holds these high values, it is petty to advocate for the “good life.” In the same way, a person “called” to librarianship, who is attached to librarianship in an optimistic way, and does not reach the “good life,” oftentimes internalizes their failure as not living up to the ideals of the library rather than the cruelty of a vastly diminishing field. The promises and call of librarianship, while noble, are dangerous for the emotional wellbeing of job seekers.
This is, of course, not limited to libraries. On the culture of despair in higher education Pamela Aronson shows that practicality and hireability are a commonality amongst graduates of all stripes, where students are career focused often dropping majors or programs that are passions but not “practical” (Aronson 2018, 395). Aronson’s study found that:
…uncertain plans mirrored the difficult objective work circumstances of recent graduates. Although some interviewees selected what they thought would be ‘recession proof’ majors and/or were able to secure jobs in their field of study after college, about 60 percent were experiencing unemployment, underemployment or malemployment at the time of the interview (2018, 396).
For many, librarianship was a practical approach to a “recession proof” job. A number of our interviewees pointed to practicality as an essential part of a good library program and essential to the job hunt.
When interviewees were prompted about the future of librarianship the conversation quickly turned to “passions” and “excitement” despite the pessimistic undertones of many of the interviews. One interviewee, geographically limited but employed after a six-month search, commented that:
You know, of course, anyone outside of our profession, there’s quite a range of opinions on whether libraries are still useful or not, but if you’re going into this field, hopefully you’re optimistic about it. I can’t imagine going into this field thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s not gonna be anything for me.’ If I had thought that, I would not have continued my program, and I think it definitely, knowing all the cool things that different libraries are doing all the new services that are being offered while there is things you can check out other than books, whether it’s kits, little science kits and things or what the different classes that they’re offering …It made me more excited to be entering the field…
For this interviewee, they had to believe libraries would continue to flourish and provide job opportunities, otherwise it would not have made sense to invest time in gaining the necessary credentials. Yet there is an acknowledgement of the “range of opinions” on the usefulness of libraries in the 21st century. This internal optimism about libraries was not shared among all participants, such as this currently employed librarian working in a special library, stating “I don’t think the library is dead, by any means…. I don’t think it’s necessarily a really solid career choice. And I don’t know if I would have gone and done my MLIS if I had had a clearer picture going in.”
Some of our interviewees felt the pressure from those around them. Another interviewee, a recent graduate who was working part-time at a library while searching for full-time employment, was aware of the articles around the death of libraries, commenting, “[An article about the death of libraries] does not make me feel more optimistic. Yeah, I know that’s what my mom was going for when she sends me these and that’s not how I feel…”
Others, who had stable positions, have difficulty encouraging others to follow the same path into librarianship. One interviewee commented that:
When I do hear that another person applied for the library…wants to be a librarian, like, I’m happy they’re choosing that field. But I’m also thinking, like, there are not enough jobs. And then the jobs that are available usually have, like, 50 applicants for one position. And I can’t be, like, discouraging, obviously. And that’s not to say that I don’t want people to go to library school. But there’s a lot of, like, challenges that come with trying to find a permanent position.
“Weird Rejections,” Auditioning Yourself, and Break Ups
These responses show a deep dedication to and passion for the field of librarianship despite the shifting sands of positivity in the librarianship landscape. Yet, they also illuminate cruel intimacies that play out in the job search process. We return to the work by Sano-Franchini where she comments that
…the concept of cruel optimism can shed light on the ways in which normative ways of desiring on the job search are not only historically and institutionally informed but also function as motivation that enables candidates to persist in a system wherein employment is not always available for all” (emphasis ours) (2016, 104)
Essential here is a deep intimacy within librarianship and job searching which in turn leads to this attachment despite limited hopes of employment.
Throughout our interviews, we saw that within these resilience narratives of applying for job after job, our interviewees also spoke to the intimacy of the job applications they submitted. The reason for this close connection came from advice that your job application materials have to “fit” the job posting, show your knowledge of the field, and your understanding of the institution seeking an employee. As one currently employed academic librarian said about this process:
I feel like you basically have to audition yourself to even get your application looked at. I mean, that’s not really anything new. But I think I definitely felt the pressure of…to make everything perfect…like, for my application, to even…follow-up e-mails. That’s like… And it takes a lot of time, I think, to spend on any other efforts. I mean, you have to do a lot of research on the institution you’re applying for. So, that takes time.
This effort to tailor each application can be intensified as a LIS student, juggling coursework, work, and job applications. One of our interviewees, a graduate student seeking academic librarianship jobs, mentioned this about the application process:
And definitely how rigorous the application process or the job application process has become, definitely has caused me some burnout. There are some weeks where I know that I should be trying for these things, but if I’ve already filled out 20 applications and 20 cover letters, I’m tired.
Recall, from above, conversations surrounding “fit” in library job searches, fit is itself a performance of intimacy on the part of the employer investigating whether or not the person interviewing fits into the narrow spectrum of the library without truly understanding the complexities of individuals and institutions. A “tailored cover letter,” for instance, is a “performance of intimacy that is oftentimes desired, if not expected, by institutional agents (search committees)” (Sano-Franchini 2016, 108). Not only is intimacy required by institutions, intimacies appear within our interviews in terms of cohorts, mentors, or schools. So, what does this mean for the job search and anxiety?
Any kind of intimacy is an attachment, and the attachment here is to the difficult field of librarianship. It relies in some ways on the calling aspects of vocational awe. For those who do not make it into the field after a year or two of searching, failure might not, as our data shows, change their opinion of librarianship as a whole but it does harm to their ability to see themselves as anything other than failures. Pushing the metaphor of intimacy into the realm of romantic relationships, rejection feels to job searchers like a breakup and their repeated attempts at new connections feel like desperation because they feel “punished when they reach out and the beloved is curt” (Sano-Franchini 2016, 116). One of our interviewees, a part-time librarian seeking full-time employment, stated:
I’ve had a lot of really weird rejections, or unofficial rejections, where they just never respond after a phone interview, or a Skype interview. And not responding to a paper application, I mean that’s not great, but it’s par for the course. But not responding… Not officially rejecting someone after you’ve actually talked to them feels really rude to me.
We often would not think of large institutions as being capable of rudeness, but the job search relies on an intimacy that allows rudeness to be “par for the course.” This respondent felt intimacy through the interview process, through the materials they specifically created and the connections formed through the interview. When they did not receive a response or were not selected, they felt unfairly treated.
These breakups go so badly that pure frustration makes some librarian hopefuls leave librarianship. As one interviewee, currently in a temporary library position after a year and a half of searching, said:
And I, I need a little more focus or help to get to see what else is out there. Because I, I have skills I want to use. I really like being a librarian. But I don’t have to have, to be a librarian, you know? I want to do something I’m excited about. And I want to do something that matters and pays the bills. But, I’m, I’m pretty open-minded too.
The field has asked resilience for this particular candidate who wants to be a librarian, likes librarianship, and has skills and a passion to share. MLS degree holders are sometimes forced to move on with their lives, similar to the individual who comes to the end of a romantic relationship.
Conclusion and a Call to Action
For those who have been successful in the job search, many point to luck as a factor because success feels so fleeting in our field. While we acknowledge the difficulties surrounding the search and the prospects for new job seekers, it is difficult to offer real solutions to this ongoing situation. The attachments we form to librarianship are inherently cruel as long as we, as a field, as LIS programs, ALA, and as employers of librarians, continue to promise a job at the end of graduation and cannot fulfill that promise. For those under or precariously employed or unemployed colleagues it means very little to ask for resilience in this time. Job seekers are expected to be dedicated to and passionate about the field, while also intimately aware of individual libraries and systems. We encourage them to consider it a calling more than a simple job to assuage fears that they might not be lucky enough to find stable employment. It is not our intention to demonize the system in which we are deeply embedded, but our hope is that our study can provide some illumination of the difficulties for new job seekers in librarianship. What we learned throughout this research is that more work needs to be done around the LIS job search. This project was a small step in uncovering the various ways our newest colleagues seek out employment. As one of our academic librarian interviewees said, “just acknowledging that searching for jobs can really suck” can be important. While we were fortunate, it is essential that we remember that many of our friends were and are not.
So, what can be done? We believe that it is essential that library programs, librarians and administrators involved in hiring, and future library students be aware of the difficult emotions surrounding the job search. Those of us with secure employment must work to lift those without up as best we can. This support can come through mentorship (both formal and informal), in advocacy, and in the ways in which we conduct hiring. It is also the responsibility of library schools to provide the necessary tools and experiences for job placement at graduation. Is the MLS degree enough, in its current state, enough for gainful employment? For those respondents and colleagues who are struggling to find the good life, the answer is no. There is an implicit (and oftentimes explicit) promise that the MLS will lead to a library job at the end of the program. If this is not the case, as we learned from our data, there needs to be a change in the way that programs are marketed, administered, and the support given to graduating students and new graduates. When a student leaves library school it becomes the responsibility of the library community as a whole to guide these new colleagues onto the path of gainful employment. Neoliberalism, which fosters ongoing austerity movements in the public sector and the systematic defunding and devaluing of libraries, pits us against each other and help is not often in its vocabulary. As a result, the community has, oftentimes, failed in this regard for these job seekers and we must as a whole do better.
We would like to thank everyone who filled out survey, those we interviewed, and those who have talked to us about their job search while we have worked on this project. Without your perspectives, this paper would not exist.
We would also like to thank our In the Library with the Lead Pipe collaborators — Ian Beilin and Bethany Radcliffe — as well as our external reviewer, Eamon Tewell. Your insight and comments have helped to make this a stronger paper.
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———. 2018. “‘I’ve Learned to Love What’s to Pay Me’: A Culture of Despair in Higher Education during a Time of Insecurity.” Critical Sociology 43 (3): 389–403.
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Cunningham, Sojourna, Samantha Guss, and Jennifer Stout. 2019. “Challenging the ‘Good Fit’ Narrative: Creating Inclusive Recruitment in Academic Libraries.” In Recasting the Narrative: The Proceedings of the ACRL 2019 Conference. Cleveland, Ohio.
Eckard, Max, Ashley Rosener, and Lindy Scripps-Hoekstra. 2014. “Factors That Increase the Probability of a Successful Academic Library Job Search.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 40 (2): 107–15.
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Roy, Loriene, Trina Bolfing, and Bonnie Bzozowski. 2010. “Computer Classes for Job Seekers: LIS Students Team with Public Librarians to Extend Public Services.” Public Library Quarterly 29 (3): 193–209.
Sano-Franchini, Jennifer. 2016. “‘It’s Like Writing Yourself into a Codependent with Someone Who Doesn’t Want You!’ Emotional Labor, Intimacy, and the Academic Job Market in Rhetoric and Composition.” College Composition and Communication 68 (1): 98–124.
Tewell, Eamon. 2012. “Employment Opportunities for New Academic Librarians: Assessing the Availability of Entry Level Jobs.” Portal: Libraries and the Academy 12 (4): 407–423.
“So maybe my great ambition, such as it is, is to refrain from engagement with systems that purport to tell me what I’m worth compared to anyone else. Maybe my great ambition is to steer clear of systems. Any systems. All systems. (Please Like and Share this essay if you agree!) What I would like to say is: Lean In my hairy Jewish ass.”
-Elisa Albert “The Snarling Girl”
When I was a kid, I was what they then called, pigeon-toed. My mother seemed to see this as a character defect and one that was within my power to fix. She would walk behind me (from my early years well into my teens) saying “practice! You’re toeing in!” to get me to practice walking with my feet straight ahead. That was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I was doing wrong. My acne came from my not washing my face well enough, not hormones. In high school, I started using rubbing alcohol on my face because I was convinced I was filthy. The gap between my teeth was something bad that needed to be fixed. When I was bullied at the bus stop in fourth grade, I was a “ninny” who wasn’t brave enough to stand up for herself. No one was going to marry me if I continued to hold my fork wrong, wore those ugly shoes, etc., etc., etc. I was one big walking deficit.
I know my mother meant well and wanted me to have what she believed I needed to be successful in life, but what those constant criticisms did was make me deeply self-conscious (sometimes to the point of paranoid persistent thoughts) and feel like I would never be enough. When a friend in college who also had a gap between her front teeth told me her mother told her it was a sign of wisdom, I burst into tears on the spot. What would I have been like had someone told me the things that made me different made me special?
But we all get these messages, right? If you don’t get the message that you’re not enough from your family or your peers, you certainly get it from traditional media and social media. I know there are positive accounts on Instagram, but it mostly seems like a highly-effective anxiety, low self-esteem, and FOMO engine. And probably those perfect people with their perfect lives are not actually as perfect as they portray, but it’s so easy to let the message seep into you that you are not enough in all the ways that matter. You’re not pretty enough, successful enough, popular enough, or doing enough cool things. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mental models around what a good life looks like. And I realize that so many of my assumptions and ambitions were predicated on the idea that I am not enough just as I am.
I will fully admit to having felt the way Heather Havrilesky does in her book What if This Were Enough, and I’m grateful to have mostly made my way out of that space:
I wonder if I have the face of a woman who missed out on something. This is the shape my mid-life crisis is taking: I’m worried about what I have time to accomplish before I get too old to do anything. I’m fixated on what my life should look like by now. I’m angry at myself because I should look better, I should be in better shape, I should be writing more, I should be a better cook and a more present, enthusiastic mother. Sometimes I go online looking for inspiration, but all I find is evidence that everyone in the world is more energetic than me.
I don’t want to define myself by what I don’t have and what I’m not doing. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out or that I’ve taken the wrong path. I’m learning to accept the person I am rather than feel envious and inadequate or force myself to do things that are harmful to me. For so many years, I forced myself into professional situations that caused me extreme stress. I live with social anxiety and it’s taken me a long time to accept that it’s not something I’m going to “get over” by pushing myself to do things that make me miserable. I used to feel such a terrible sense of FOMO when I’d skip a social or work event because of my anxiety. When I significantly cut down on speaking at conferences, I felt like I was disappearing à la Michael J. Fox at the end of Back to the Future. But I think we have a choice: we can focus on what we do not have or we can focus on what we do. I’ll take the latter. There is so much I have to be grateful for.
I’m also taking inspiration from people who are paragons of self-love. I recently listened to an interview with one of my favorite baseball players right now, Pete Alonso. He talked about how he was told in his sophomore year of high school by his coach that he was never ever going to be a professional baseball player. In his Freshman year of college, he got a C on a paper about his career ambitions because it wasn’t realistic. In the minor leagues, scouts said he was a great hitter, but would never be able to field the ball at a professional level. He ignored all of those naysayers, worked his ass off, and is now kicking ass on the New York Mets at first base and just won the homerun derby and played well in the MLB All Star Game (and wore THIS on the red carpet, which makes me love him all the more). Lizzo is also a powerful role model for loving yourself just as you are. At the Lizzo concert I went to, she said “if I shouldn’t be full of myself, who should I be full of?” Right! People treat self-love like it’s something negative and shameful. But in a world purpose-built to bring us down and make us feel less-than, I can’t help but think that confidence and self-love are acts of resistance.
And yet, ambition (and self-love for that matter), especially in women, is frequently treated like shameless selfishness. Heather Havrilevsky writes:
It’s not surprising, I guess, that we coo and fawn over little boys who behave audaciously, while little girls armed with such arrogance often strike us as troublesome. And if a girl stubbornly holds fast to her strong sense of herself, the world is sure to chip away at it, day after day.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ambition in our field, but I feel especially happy when I see ambition coming from women. Work it ladies!!!
“Why do I fear the word ambition? Is it because I am secretly ambitious? Is it because I am a woman?”
-Sarah Ruhl, The Double Bind
I read the essay collection The Double Bind: Women on Ambition earlier this year, and it was very clear that women, by and large, have an uncomfortable relationship with ambition. And who can blame them when, according to the Washington Post, “a 2010 Harvard study… found that female politicians who sought power came off as uncaring, but male politicians who did the same didn’t incur the same reputation.” If women are passive, they’re passed over. If they’re ambitious, they’re seen as bitches. But, even in our female-dominated profession, we see ambitious men celebrated and propelled up the career ladder at a pace one rarely sees with female librarians. I’ve heard lots of my friends express resentment about that and I’ve felt it too. I remember mentioning something about this in 2008 on this blog and being told that sexism against women can’t happen in a female-dominated profession. I’m happy to find that the consensus on that seems to have changed — feminized does not necessarily equal feminist.
A lot of the women writing about ambition in The Double Bind seem deeply uncomfortable putting that label on themselves. Some talk about how women’s ambition is more focused on doing good and doing things for the collective good rather than personal ambition. The playwright Sarah Ruhl asks if some ambition is better than others: “And I realized that I have a confusion about the word ambition untethered to an object. Does the nature of ambition change depending on the goal? Is it different to be an ambitious capitalist, an ambitious peace-worker, an ambitious socialite, an ambitious pope?”
I have very mixed feelings about ambition. Had you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said “hell yeah I’m ambitious!” But at this point, I’m not even sure I know what being ambitious means in my context. Back then, I wanted to climb the ladder. I wanted more responsibility, more challenges, more more more. I’m still driven in a lot of ways, but it’s very differently-focused and much less achievement-driven.
Is ambition that drive to improve, to do more? Or is it a drive to rack up achievements? I think I’ve always felt ambition in my life — I was always driven by something inside me that felt almost beyond my control. Starting in first grade, I was a prolific writer of poems, songs, stories, and plays. Sometimes my best friend and I would perform my plays, filming them with my dad’s video camera. I would record my songs and remember creating a cassette tape with my original songs — cover art and everything. My dream in 9th grade was to be a newspaper columnist (hey, I got close with my American Libraries gig!). It all sounds super cheesy now, but I remember always feeling that drive to create when I was growing up. I think I still feel it, though the nature of creation is different now. Even writing this… when I don’t blog (and it’s been a long time since I have) blog posts dance around in my brain tormenting me. I’ve been composing this series in my head since February but didn’t have time to devote to it. But is all that ambition? Maybe it’s the purest kind of ambition since I felt it long before I was aware of the expectations of others.
Earlier this year, I read an article about the retirement of Adam Moss, editor in chief of New York Magazine in which Moss said “I’ve been going full throttle for 40 years; I want to see what my life is like with less ambition.” It got me thinking — is ambition something we can shut off?
When I close my eyes and think about my own ambition, the same weird comic-book image always pops into my mind: a radioactive substance that chases the blood around in my veins. I have no idea why this X-Men picture always materializes, and it feels a little silly to admit it. But it captures some of the complicated feelings I have about ambition: that it is somehow in me, but not of me; that I have less control over it than I’d like.
I really responded to Bugbee’s notion of ambition being something that happens to you, something that is at least a little bit beyond our control. There have been moments in my life where I have felt called to do things. I’ll decide not to take on any new projects and then something will come along or I’ll have an idea and that will go right out the window. I’m currently near the end of the second year of a three year term in leadership of the ACRL-Oregon Board, and I told one of my colleagues to punch me in the face if I think of taking anything similar on for at least a year after I rotate off. But will I slow down? I hope so.
Bugbee has had some forced career hibernations (related to health, having kids, getting laid off) that forced her to reckon with her ambitions in different ways. I have too. Having a child, having work setbacks, dealing with depression, dealing with chronic pain; those things will make you question your identity and the direction your ambition has been driving you in. Bugbee ends her editorial by suggesting that “there’s nothing quite like stepping off the treadmill to teach you which direction you want to go.”
Having a child didn’t blunt my ambition, but it sure made me question why I was doing what I was doing. Now every choice I made had to be weighed against leaving my family. I really like sharing ideas with others and meeting people, but part of why I started speaking was to prove I could with social anxiety. I’ve already proven that I could do it; why would I do it now? The calculus has changed significantly.
Almost a decade ago, I also saw how negatively many in our profession viewed ambition; as if upward mobility and good librarianship could not co-exist. Having now experienced administrators who were more focused on getting feathers in their own cap so they could move up to the next better thing than on doing what’s best for their employees or students, I better understand where those critics were coming from. But I also have seen managers and administrators who care deeply about their work and become leaders so they can do more good and support others in doing good. And it feels like the view that career ambition is toxic is tied to a sense of vocational awe where our work is so important and “good” that we should subsume our own needs and desires to the cause. Screw that.
But ambition can also come from a need for external validation. I especially appreciated writer Elisa Albert’s sharp interrogation of ambition in The Double Bind (her chapter in particular was really a must-read and a somewhat altered version of it is available here as “The Snarling Girl”):
I mean: ambition to what? Toward what? For what? In the service of what? … Is it because we want to believe that we are in charge of our own destiny and if “things” aren’t “happening” for us, we are failing to, like, “manifest?” Or is it because we are misguided enough to think that external validation is what counts?… Here is what I know for sure: there is no end to want. Want is a vast universe within other vast universes.
And gosh she’s right. Even at my busiest — when I was blogging regularly, writing a monthly column, speaking at a dozen or more conferences per year, teaching a graduate-level course, serving on a ton of committees, plus working a full-time job — I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. There always was more I could be doing, and I could just about picture this far-off time when I would be doing enough, would have enough, would be enough. Now I know that was a fantasy. I think in some ways I was lucky to get pregnant then, because there’s no way I could have kept on like that indefinitely. And to what end?
When I read this passage from Albert, I saw myself after I wrote my first book. Holy wow, do I feel seen:
Fine, okay, but I’ve been publishing for a decade now. When my first book came out I was a silly wreck. I smoothed my dress and crossed my legs and waited smugly for my whole life to change. I looked obsessively at rankings, reviews. Social media wasn’t yet a thing, but I made it my business to pay very close attention to reception. I was hyperaware of everything said, everything not said. The positive stuff puffed me right up, and I lay awake at night in a grip of fury about the negative. You see this a lot with first timers. It’s kind of cute, from afar. Do I matter? Do I matter? Do I matter? Rookie mistakes. What’s tragic is when you see it with second, third, fourth timers. Because that hunger for validation, for hearts and likes and blings and blongs, is supposed to be shed like skin.
It’s so toxic — this need for positive strokes from people who would probably mean very little to us in any other context. Yet we let them have so much power over how we feel and how we see ourselves. Why? I have a friend who uses a tech tool that tells her who follows and unfollows her on Twitter. On several occasions, she has obsessed over why a particular person unfollowed her. Why take this personally? Why torture yourself? Why set up an alert like that in the first place when it seems purpose-built to cause anxiety and pain? Are these really the yardsticks we want to use to measure our worthiness?
As I wrote about in my last post, much of my personal ambivalence around ambition comes from the fact that so much of my own ambition has been motivated by a need for approval; to fill a hole in myself. I think a lot of people work themselves to the bone for the same reason. The author of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika Sánchez, also seems to be writing my life in her chapter in The Double Bind:
I finally understood that until I addressed all of the underlying problems in my life — my constant need for validation, the depression I’d left untreated for years, my issues with my family — no amount of achievement was going to make me happy.
While I’m proud of everything I’ve achieved, I also recognize that these professional achievements never really made me feel better about myself. I proved to myself I could write a book, teach graduate school courses, develop all kinds of multimodal learning experiences, write a magazine column, give a keynote speech to a large international crowd, but after many achievements, instead of being elated, I felt deflated. Part of it is the arrival fallacy: the disappointment that comes from spending so much time anticipating the great things that will happen when you reach a goal. When you’re focused so much on achieving a particular goal, it’s easy to build it up in your mind. And when you finish and things aren’t a magical unicorn fairyland it’s easy to wonder “is that all there is?”
I also wonder: is ambition only directed towards our work and careers? Can it be directed towards family, self-care, service to our community, being an awesome friend, etc? I looked and looked for articles that talked about ambition being directed towards our lives outside of the 9 to 5 and found nothing. Right now, I’m deeply ambitious about enjoying my time with my family and friends away from distractions like work and social media. I’m deeply ambitious about exercising and spending more time in nature. I’m deeply ambitious about self-care and shutting down the voice that tells me I’m not doing/being enough.
My first academic library director was an important mentor for me. I learned so much from her. But I began to see climbing the career ladder as my ambition because it was her path as an ambitious person. I remember talking with her one late afternoon about the “ambition” of a female colleague in the library. My director lamented that our colleague wasn’t more ambitious because she was so bright and great at her job. She just didn’t have any interest in rising in the field or getting a library degree to allow that rise. She saw it as a waste of talent and, at the time, I agreed. But my view since then has changed significantly. The idea that ambition is limited to climbing a ladder and moving to bigger and better seems so limited. My colleague was great at her job, but her biggest ambitions were more around family and community. Is that a bad thing? Is she less than because she didn’t define herself by her work? Hell no!
Professionally, my ambitions have changed. I want to be a good ancestor. I really want to do things that support and advocate for new library workers and library workers from underrepresented groups. My goal of getting people to share their knowledge with others has never changed, though the ways in which I’m making it happen now are different. I want to continue to improve my teaching and find ways to support students. I’m also ambitious about taking care of myself at work and having a healthier relationship with work where my sense of self is not totally wrapped up in my work. I want to find a balance between healthy detachment and caring deeply about our students and my work. I’m also trying not to be motivated by a need for validation. Looking for external things or people to provide internal validation is an exercise in futility; running on a treadmill that never stops. I’m getting off.
And, as Elisa Albert says, “Lean In my hairy Jewish ass.”
Up next — “Our Achievement Culture: What You’re Doing Isn’t Good Enough.”
Why the card catalog―a “paper machine” with rearrangeable elements―can be regarded as a precursor of the computer.
Today on almost every desk in every office sits a computer. Eighty years ago, desktops were equipped with a nonelectronic data processing machine: a card file. In Paper Machines, Markus Krajewski traces the evolution of this proto-computer of rearrangeable parts (file cards) that became ubiquitous in offices between the world wars.
The story begins with Konrad Gessner, a sixteenth-century Swiss polymath who described a new method of processing data: to cut up a sheet of handwritten notes into slips of paper, with one fact or topic per slip, and arrange as desired. In the late eighteenth century, the card catalog became the librarian’s answer to the threat of information overload. Then, at the turn of the twentieth century, business adopted the technology of the card catalog as a bookkeeping tool. Krajewski explores this conceptual development and casts the card file as a “universal paper machine” that accomplishes the basic operations of Turing’s universal discrete machine: storing, processing, and transferring data. In telling his story, Krajewski takes the reader on a number of illuminating detours, telling us, for example, that the card catalog and the numbered street address emerged at the same time in the same city (Vienna), and that Harvard University’s home-grown cataloging system grew out of a librarian’s laziness; and that Melvil Dewey (originator of the Dewey Decimal System) helped bring about the technology transfer of card files to business.
I haven’t read it yet myself.
But I’ve thought for a while about how card catalogs were pre-computer information processing systems (with some nostalgia-for-a-time-i-didn’t-experience-myself of when library science was at the forefront of practically-focused information processing system theory and practice).
And I’ve realized for a while that most of our legacy data was designed for these pre-computer information processing systems. And by “legacy” data, I mean the bulk of data we have :) MARC, AACR2, LCSH, even call number systems like DDC or LCC.
If you want to understand this data, you have to understand the systems it was designed for — their affordances and constraints, how they evolved over time — and thinking of them as information processing machines is the best way to understand it, and understand how to make use of it in the present digital environment, or how to change it to get the most benefit from the different constraints and affordances of a computerized environment.
So I can’t quite recommend the book, cause I haven’t read it myself yet — but I recommend it anyway. :)
Suppose a B2B buyer is looking for a vendor to reliably restock chicken for their chain of grocery stores: They start their search by typing “chicken breast” into a potential supplier’s website and discover 1,300 related products. After a lot
Godby, Jean, Karen Smith-Yoshimura, Bruce Washburn, Kalan Knudson Davis, Karen Detling, Christine Fernsebner Eslao, Steven Folsom, Xiaoli Li, Marc McGee, Karen Miller, Honor Moody, Craig Thomas, and Holly Tomren. 2019. Creating Library Linked Data with Wikibase: Lessons Learned from Project Passage. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research. https://doi.org/10.25333/faq3-ax08 .
The 90-page report includes 30 figures, 5 tables, and 151 references. An introduction of the context in which the pilot was created is followed by an overview of the MediaWiki/Wikibase platform and the OCLC Research project prototypes, details of the eight use cases, some lessons learned and reflections, and a “looking forward” section.
Dorothea Salo tweeted following my first summary:
“Can I just say, I’m really impressed with OCLC Research’s let’s-poke-at-Wikibase project. Participants wholly devoid of onus in any direction approached Wikibase to see what it could usefully do in a library context.”
One of the most retweeted excerpts from my previous blog
“Transitioning from human-readable records to knowledge graphs represents a paradigm shift. … The most important new task is changing the focus on the ‘item in hand’ to ‘what entities matter to this object?'”
I hope you enjoy reading the report and that you agree it
was worth waiting for!
The Caselaw Access Project API offers a way to view the corpus of U.S. case law. This tutorial will review how to run a CAP API call to return all cases decided 100 years ago today in your command line.
The Caselaw Access Project API makes 40 million pages of U.S. case law available in machine-readable format, digitized from the collections of the Harvard Law School Library.
Create Your API Call
Let’s start by building our call to the CAP API using the parameters decision_date_min and decision_date_max. Adding these parameters will only return data for cases decided between these two dates.
Open a text editor and paste:
Update (year)-(month)-(day) with today’s date in this format and update 2019 to 1919. Once you’re set, it should look something like this:
Use Your API Call
Next, we’ll continue this tutorial in MacOS using Terminal.
Open Applications and Select Terminal
In the Terminal command line, copy and paste the API call from your text editor and press Enter.
You did it! The CAP API should return metadata for all cases decided one hundred years ago today.
Now, what do the content of those cases look like? Time to add a new piece to the mix.
To view the full text of all cases returned, add &full_case=true to the end of your original API call. It should look like this:
Run your new API call in Terminal.
You’ve finished this tutorial and run a CAP API call using decision_date_min and decision_date_max. Well done!
More Ways to View Data
Before closing, let’s look at more ways to view this same data:
Let’s run that same CAP API call in your browser (this time, without the curl and quotation marks). It should look like this:
Now you can view the same data that was returned by your original API call in your browser. Learn new ways to refine and expand your CAP API call with our API Docs. We can also retrieve this data for a more human readable experience with CAP Search.
With the CAP API, we can retrieve cases from across 360 years of U.S legal history and develop new interfaces to do that. This tutorial shared just one place to start.
Walking through conferences it seems everything is now fortified with AI. But what does that mean? And is that vendor’s offering really for you? It depends. Advantages of Machine Learning There is no debate that machine learning rapidly produces highly
This is the first in a (probably) five-part series of essays.
For about two years, until January, I felt a disturbing lack of ambition. I felt directionless and passionless; devoid of my usual neverending energy and interest. I chalked it up to mid-career malaise, but it was more than that. Having only in the past suffered from major depressive episodes, I didn’t recognize that at least part of what I was feeling was depression. Depression is insidious like that — it sneaks up on you, coils itself silently around your life in a way that feels inevitable. It’s very easy to mistake low-grade depression for burnout. I only realized that what I was feeling was dysthymia when I came out of it and I only came out of this when I thought I was going to die.
In late-December, I started to feel burning and pain around where my heart is. I also found that when I would exercise, my heart rate would shoot up to an absurdly high number and wouldn’t go down for many hours afterwards. I could feel my heart racing even when I was lying in bed and thought every time I went to bed that I might not wake up again. It was extremely alarming. After a bunch of doctor visits, tests, and some pretty heart palpitation-inducing bills (thanks high-deductible insurance plan!), I found out that I’m healthy and my symptoms were likely caused by pericarditis or possibly from a migraine prevention medication that I’d started taking in November but had quickly stopped taking because of other side effects. By February, the symptoms were totally gone and I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off of me.
Thinking I might die jolted me out of the quicksand I’d been slogging through and I felt lighter again. I started questioning things in my life in a more mindful way — why I do what I do, why I feel the way I do, how I spend my time and how it impacts me, etc. I will fully admit to not being the most observant or self-aware person (due, in large part, to the tunnel vision anxiety creates), but I started to slow down and unpack my thoughts and feelings. I started using social media less because I struggled to see the good I was getting out of it (I’m still wrestling with this — more on that later). I became more aware of my body too. Before, I’d sit for ages, engrossed in my work and totally unaware of how my body was situated and feeling. Not surprisingly, I had lots of aches and pains and tension headaches. I’d exercised on the elliptical 3-4 times per week for years, but I started doing a lot more (and a greater variety of) exercising. I’ve had a lot of knee problems over the years that sometimes made me unable to exercise at all and I feel like I finally understand how to exercise hard without hurting them. The fact that I can hold my body up in a side plank with one arm for a a couple of minutes now is something I never, ever, believed I could do. I’ve spent more time walking and hiking outside, enjoying the natural world around me. For the first time ever, I feel physically strong and am much more at home in my body than I’ve ever been before.
I can’t imagine that I’m the only woman who has felt so out of touch with her body. I feel like our society tells women that our body is something that can get us into trouble, something that will betray us, and something we should be ashamed of if we don’t measure up to a ridiculous and unhealthy standard. For so long, my body was this thing I dragged around; this inconvenience that occasionally kept me from getting shit done. I certainly didn’t listen to it. It took well over a decade of having migraines before I discovered the things that triggered them — some of which I could easily remedy. I’ve also become more aware of the physical manifestations of anxiety, how they impact me, and how to combat them. I spent so much time trying to muscle though chronic pain and anxiety rather than giving my body and mind what they needed. This winter, for the first time ever, I asked for a very small and inexpensive accommodation at work to help with my migraines and asking for it was deeply awkward and uncomfortable for me. (And if I, in my privileged position had such difficulty asking for a relatively minor accommodation, imagine what it’s like for people in more precarious positions or for those who need more extensive/expensive accommodations.)
I feel like I spent so much of my life on auto-pilot, just grinding and grinding towards something I couldn’t quite see or define. High school, college, grad school, career, family. Anxiety was largely what propelled me forward — I was always trying to fill this hole inside me. This led to overwork — to overcome the stigma of depression, to seek approval, to feel better about myself. Maybe if I did enough, achieved enough, worked hard enough I would fill that hole, but every achievement made me feel more like an impostor rather than less. Mostly, it didn’t make me feel better; just exhausted. I never felt like I was doing enough.
I recently finished the absolutely charming and escapist summer read Red, White, and Royal Blue and the main character, Alex, describes a similar feeling:
If I keep looking directly ahead, that stuff [(painful memories/feelings)] can’t catch up to me. Or if I take this class, or this internship, or this job. I used to think if I pictured the person I wanted to be and took all the crazy anxiety in my brain and narrowed it down to that point, I could rewire it. Use it to power something else. It’s like I never learned how to be where I am.
“I never learned to be where I am.” That’s it. For years, I was focused almost entirely on my career. Before my son was born, when I wasn’t at work, I was still working — creating presentations, writing, doing professional service, and blogging. I was tied to a computer for nearly all of my waking hours. There was no such thing as work-life balance. My husband owns his own business and his worklife bled into his homelife back then too, so it didn’t feel so weird at the time. But quality time in a young marriage is not spending time sitting next to each other on separate laptops. That lack of focus on both our parts nearly wrecked our marriage, and it took years for us to learn how to be present with each other. And having a baby and toddler for me was so difficult, not only because of postpartum depression, but because I couldn’t devote as much time as I thought I should to my work or to my child, making me feel like a dismal failure in both roles. I was never satisfied where I was at any particular moment. It was, I was, never enough.
Depression is a jerk who gaslights you into believing all the worst possible things about yourself. When good things happened, I felt embarrassed by the random luck I perceived as having given me these things I didn’t deserve. When bad things happened, it was as if I suddenly believed in the prosperity gospel and saw them as confirmations of my bad character. Why did I feel this way? My childhood left me believing I was fundamentally unlovable and undeserving and that nothing I did was good enough. When I think about how enthusiastically I celebrate every one of my son’s achievements I realize that I’m trying to make sure he never feels that way. I want so much for him to be proud of his achievements.
I think depression and anxiety can also cause a great deal of want, which is another black hole in itself. You want to change things about yourself, to have things (love, success, money, etc.) that you think will make your life better in some way. I spent so much time wanting to be different and trying to fight against my true nature. All that wanting just leads us to either mourn a past that we think was somehow better or obsess over possible future happiness (frequently setting ourselves up for more disappointment). Either way, it keeps us from appreciating the moment we’re in. The lovely poet and author, Judith Viorst, has a terrific article about her happiness at age 90 that came largely from gratitude and enjoying the present moment.
When I was younger, I spent too much time obsessing over what would make me feel better or how I imagined a certain set of circumstances would magically transform my life and career. But I learned, though it took me a while, to look around and pay attention to what—if I’d let it—could make my life feel better right here and right now. My book Nearing Ninety opens with a wonderful quote from philosopher George Santayana, whose proposition all of us should heed: “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” I believe he’s telling us that instead of wistfully looking back at what we once had, or anxiously imagining what might come, we ought to be seeking what satisfactions, what pleasures, what meaning, the season we’re in has to offer us.
I feel like so much of our unhappiness comes from how we are programmed from birth in the United States (and in many other countries that share these dubious values). The focus on achievement, productivity, status, and traditional markers of success pushes many of us toward lives that may not be what we’d have chosen in the absence of these pressures. Heather Havrilesky put it well in her book What if This Were Enough:
From the day we are born, the world tells us lies about who we are, how we should live, and what we should sacrifice to cross some imaginary finish line to success and happiness. More powerful than the outright lies we’re told, though, are the subtler, broader poisons of our culture, how we ingest and metabolize them until they feel like a part of us, yet we still can’t figure out why we’re sick.
All those lies about who we are shape who we become and the choices we make. I often wonder about what kind of a life I’d have had if I had been born 15-20 years later, now that being bisexual (and that term feels so wrong and outdated given that gender is far from binary) is less stigmatized than it was when I was becoming me. By the time I got to my mid-20s, I chose the smoother path; the one my parents wanted for me, the one society wanted for me. And it’s not like I regret anything or am unhappy with the life I have (while I chose to date men with my head, my heart chose Adam, in whom I saw a kindred spirit and the first person with whom I could truly be myself), but the question in the back of my mind remains: who might I have been had I not chosen a life based, in part, on wanting approval from others? Or who might I have become had those negative messages not been so omnipresent?
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to unpack, interrogate, and separate out what desires are really mine and what are the things I do because it’s what I think I should do. There are so many things I’ve stopped doing or striving for because I realized that I wasn’t motivated by my own authentic desires, but by a desire to fit into a community of which I’m a part, to fill a perceived hole in my life, or just because I think it’s what I should want to do. It’s been tremendously liberating to let go of these things though I had to also struggle with the assumption that not doing those things made me a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad neighbor, a bad Portlander, a bad librarian, a bad colleague, or a bad woman. In the end, each thing I’ve let go of has been a weight off my chest. I feel so much lighter.
I’ve also been thinking about what I want my career to look like as a mid-career librarian. Mid-career is a funny place. I’m incredibly privileged to be in a stable job I mostly love (with completely amazing colleagues) that I want to keep for the foreseeable future. I don’t have a desire to move up, to move out, to be noticed, to win awards, or to have the spotlight. And that lack of hunger when you’ve always been so, so very hungry is both liberating and freaking scary. You have to find the things that you’re truly excited about because there is no specific path. Lee Skallerup Bessette writes about this phenomenon in her essay “Mid-Career” for Inside Higher Ed:
Now what” used to be what’s the next step up, the next step towards a better salary, a better institution, more job security, leadership roles. I was always, always looking out – looking out for what’s out there, what’s next, what’s coming, what opportunity I could jump on. But now, I don’t have to. I have to look up, look in. I have to look at where I am, who I am, and who I want to be here. I’ve never been in this space before, personally or professionally. My boss recently asked me what my goals were for this year, and I was at a loss. What do I want to do? I have the opportunity to plan long-term, and I am overwhelmed. What’s next?
While my life now is not materially very different than it was a year ago, my attitude towards it is, and that feels like a sea change in itself. My next four blog posts are going to be focused on the societal traps we sometimes fall into that keep us from being happy, fulfilled, and true to ourselves. I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the past six months about being at mid-career, achievement culture, ambition, productivity, the attention economy, gratitude, and happiness. I don’t pretend to have all the answers and my path isn’t necessarily the one that’s right for you, but my blog has always been about sharing my learning from both my successes and missteps, and what I’ve learned from the journey I’m on now might just be useful to someone else. I’d also love to hear about your own inner journeys!
Below the fold, a look at the varying approaches governments are taking to the problems they perceive cryptocurrencies pose. When Satoshi Nakamoto introduced Bitcoin, he motivated it thus:
Commerce on the Internet has come to rely almost exclusively on financial institutions serving as trusted third parties to process electronic payments. While the system works well enough for most transactions, it still suffers from the inherent weaknesses of the trust based model. Completely non-reversible transactions are not really possible, since financial institutions cannot avoid mediating disputes. The cost of mediation increases transaction costs, limiting the minimum practical transaction size and cutting off the possibility for small casual transactions, and there is a broader cost in the loss of ability to make non-reversible payments for non-reversible services. With the possibility of reversal, the need for trust spreads. Merchants must be wary of their customers, hassling them for more information than they would otherwise need. A certain percentage of fraud is accepted as unavoidable. These costs and payment uncertainties can be avoided in person by using physical currency, but no mechanism exists to make payments over a communications channel without a trusted party. What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust, allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party. Transactions that are computationally impractical to reverse would protect sellers from fraud, and routine escrow mechanisms could easily be implemented to protect buyers.
Lets compare Nakamoto's goals to the state of cryptocurrencies in practice:
Parties transact directly without intermediaries. This is possible, but in practice for large transactions you need exchanges, and for small transactions you would need the Lightning Network (if it worked).
Irreversibility protects sellers from fraud. In practice, fraud is rampant.
Escrow protects buyers from fraud. In practice, escrow mechanisms have not turned out to "easily be implemented".
So Bitcoin hasn't been a great success measured by Nakamoto's goals for it. But it has been a considerable success at enabling fraud, theft, flight capital, money laundering, tax evasion, and the sale of officially-disapproved-of commodities. None of which are things most governments favor when their citizens are victims, and especially when it is their taxes that are being evaded.
The “Banning of Cryptocurrencies and Regulation of Official Digital Currencies Bill 2019" draft has been circulated to relevant government departments, ... The government had formed a panel under finance secretary Subhash Chandra Garg to draft regulations for cryptocurrencies last year. ... the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) and the Investor Education and Protection Fund Authority (IEPFA) have endorsed the idea of a complete ban on the “sale, purchase and issuance of all types of cryptocurrency” according to a government officials who did not wish to be named. ... A committee including representatives of the DEA, CBDT, CBIC and the IEPFA was “of the view that already there is a lot of delay in taking action against cryptocurrency. ... There is an urgent need to ban sale purchase and issuance of cryptocurrency”
It is possible that Indian law enforcement is capable of enforcing an immediate complete ban on cryptocurrencies, but the Chinese central government's approach is more gradual and thus probably more realistic in the light of China's powerful provincial and municipal governments. Starting in about 2013 China dominated both cryptocurrency mining and speculation, but:
Bitcoin mining had relied for years on overbuilt power plants that weren’t well-connected to the national grid — so the surplus was cheap or near-free for miners to use. But in November, Sichuan Electric Power Corporation told its increasingly grid-connected power plants to stop selling electricity to crypto miners. ... A local report in YiCai (translation) attributes this to both economic concerns over crypto trading, and the waste of electricity involved. The Internet Financial Risk Special Rectification Office had apparently been meeting with local governments as far back as 20 November .
cnLedger notes: “The first steps would be canceling preferential benefits and strict in checking taxes etc, and monitoring activities.” Local offices have been asked to report monthly on the Bitcoin mining companies — name, founding date and financial and tax details— and power consumption, rent or land price subsidies and electricity prices and subsidies.
China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) released guidance (PDF in Chinese) on Monday that includes shutting down Bitcoin mining — and even the manufacture of mining hardware. From the South China Morning Post:
Industries in the eliminated category include those seen as wasting energy or polluting the environment, according to rules enacted by China’s cabinet in 2005. Investment and loans in those industries are banned. During the elimination period, authorities are allowed to raise electricity prices for relevant businesses to force them to close. The manufacturing, sale, and use of products in the eliminated categories are also prohibited.
Bitcoin mining is one of the sectors to be eliminated immediately.
Anyone who has watched Under The Dome, Chai Jing's extraordinary movie about pollution in China, will understand that policies such as these take effect slowly, by gradually raising the risks involved in defying them. Progress is uneven, but incremental.
The US approach is different again, and comes in two forms:
The US tries to keep tight control over the gateways between cryptocurrency and "fiat currency".
The US tries to protect investors by preventing deceptive marketing of cryptocurrencies, ICOs and similar innovations.
Within these boundaries, the US takes a somewhat hands-off approach.
Controlling the gateways is a fairly effective technique. Since few legal merchants accept cryptocurrency directly, cryptocurrencies are largely a mechanism for speculation. For a speculator to use any winnings to buy their Lamborghini, they need to pass through one of the gateways.
The US rules for gateways are enforced by FinCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. FinCEN's view of cryptocurrencies was recently codified in Application of FinCEN’s Regulations to Certain Business Models Involving Convertible Virtual Currencies. It relates mostly to obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act incurred in the process of transmitting value using cryptocurrencies. It looks likely to apply to all possible cryptocurrency exchanges, ICOs, etc. requiring them to observe the Know Your Customer/Anti-Money Laundering laws and other restrictions that cryptocurrencies were invented to evade. And in particular, as David Gerard notes, it looks like a death knell for the Lightning Network:
The FinCEN paper doesn’t mention the Lightning Network at all. But it seems obvious to me, and others, that running an intermediary node would really obviously involve money transmission, would not hit any listed exemption, and would require you to engage in anti-money-laundering compliance to the full extent of the BSA.
The US Stock Exchange Commission has strict rules governing offerings of financial instruments, and has been evolving their application to cryptocurrencies. SEC Commissioner Hester M. Pierce's speech How We Howey lays out the SEC's recent actions in this area:
In 2017, before my arrival at the SEC, the Commission issued the DAO Report, which found that—despite some confounding factors—the tokens issued by the unincorporated organization known as the DAO were indeed securities under the Howey test. In early 2018, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton testified during a Senate hearing “I believe every ICO I’ve seen is a security.” Later that year, Director of Corporation Finance Bill Hinman gave a now well-known speech “When Howey Met Gary (Plastics),” in which he stated “calling the transaction an initial coin offering, or ‘ICO,’ or a sale of a ‘token,’ will not take it out of the purview of the U.S. securities laws.”
We also have brought a handful of enforcement actions against individuals and organizations that have issued what are clearly securities without either registering the offering with us or qualifying for an exemption. I have been pleased to see that our staff has worked to enforce our laws fairly and, in crafting its recommendations, has taken pains to provide relief where issuers have self-reported. For example, in February of this year, we settled with Gladius Network LLC. In late 2017, after the SEC’s DAO report was public, Gladius conducted an ICO without registering the offering with the SEC or qualifying for an exemption. In 2018, Gladius self-reported and demonstrated a willingness to work with the SEC to take the necessary remedial steps. Because of this, we imposed no penalty. Instead, as is typically required for improperly issued private offerings, Gladius was required to make a rescission offer to its investors and to register its tokens as securities. One notable part of the order was a provision envisioning the possibility that one day the tokens might no longer be securities.
But she also criticized the lack of clarity in this area. For example:
Investors typically use brokers to buy and sell their securities. Brokers and investment advisers who hold client assets are subject to regulations regarding the custody of those assets. How can they satisfy the custody rules if the thing being custodied is a digital security? How can auditors fulfill their obligations in connection with digital securities? If a broker is selling a digital security, how can the broker prove that it has control over the security such that no one else can sell the same asset? May a broker-dealer’s business include a mix of digital assets, only some of which are securities? If a platform wants to allow trading in digital assets, what are its obligations? Is it permitted to trade both securities and non-securities?
Our Jackson Pollock approach to splashing lots of factors on the canvas without any clear message leaves something to be desired, so we still have work to do in clarifying what factors are the most important in making that determination. It is time for us to tackle the remaining legitimate legal questions in a way that does not throw merit-based obstacles in the way of socially beneficial innovation. As I said last year, regulators are not in charge of the creative process. We should not be trying to guide innovation, but we also should recognize that we cannot stop it and embrace the potential for positive change that innovation offers. Our silence is likely to simply push this innovation and any attendant economic growth into other jurisdictions that have done their work and provided clear guidelines for the market participants to follow. The U.S. securities markets have historically been the envy of the world; I do not want heel-dragging by the SEC in crypto to mar that well-deserved reputation.
Law enforcement will develop new techniques and I have no fear whatsoever that they [law enforcement officials] are supremely tech-savvy, way more than the average person.
And to their credit, law enforcement and regulators have been supremely cool, especially in the U.S., about cryptocurrencies. They have taken this sort of wait-and-see approach. They haven't come in with a heavy hand. They have allowed the technology to flourish. I think it has been pretty amazing, so I hope that continues, and I don't fear the bad use cases.
They already happen — crime is gonna take place in one way or another. But if we find a way to completely kill it off, so that there are no bad cases or abuses, then that is not money.
Update 8/2/19: here, from my local Safeway, is an illustration of why the "consumer protection" kind of regulation is desperately needed.
Location: Chicago, IL, June 25-30, 2020 Deadline: September 10, 2019 Acceptances will be sent out in mid-December 2019
We encourage the submission of innovative and creative proposals for the 2020 Annual American Library Association Conference. We’re looking for 60-minute presentations that focus on the current or future use of technology in libraries. We strongly encourage presenters from underrepresented groups to submit proposals.
Whether a large organization, or a start-up trying to break through the noise, you shouldn’t be flying blind on goal setting. We’re releasing our inaugural ecommerce benchmark survey with RetailTouchpoints to measure the key elements powering site performance. The survey