Andromeda Yelton

Across Divided Networks

reflecting on Introduction to Python for Librarians

November 25th, 2013 · Uncategorized

I’ve asked my students to reflect on their experience in my Introduction to Python Programming for Librarians class (now in its last week). I’m going to reflect on mine too, but I’ll do so publicly. :)

First off, the course sold out and had to turn people away. So I guess people really do want to learn this. Hooray! I felt like I could’ve done more to publicize it, but maybe that wouldn’t have a ton of ROI, considering.

And now for my torrent of categorized thoughts. (And then I want to hear yours, too!)

Boston Python Workshop and true beginners

The course is based on the intro to Python workshop at ALA, which in turn is based on the Boston Python Workshop, a one-day+evening sprint through Python fundamentals geared toward beginners. At ALA we covered the material in 7 hours, minus a break for lunch, plus time in advance for students to install Python and a text editor independently, so I used that to gauge how much to cover in the course.

And the thing is? That’s totally inaccurate.

In the one-shot version, students are often confused, but that’s not surprising because of the pace, and they generally accept that it’ll be intense and persevere through those feelings. Also, they have tons of help due to a great student-teacher ratio.

When you spread it out over a month, though…I think people expect to get to a place where they’re not confused. They have lots of time to think through the hard parts — which is great — but I think it means they also spend a lot of time confused (on which more later) and it’s harder to persevere, because they have different expectations about how things should feel.

I also think this has exposed how poorly these coverage goals work for true beginners. BPW has some wonderful beginner-friendly aspects to it (e.g. it’s good about identifying and defining jargon). But it takes a lot of time and practice to build mental models of these concepts, and the one-shot format (in which no one really expects to build those models) obscures how hard it is. You can frog-march people through a lot of exercises in a few hours, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got more than a cargo cult.

I expected to see a difference in how students with and without prior programming experience handled the course, but it’s a wider difference than I’d guessed, and not shaped like I expected.

I’ve started to think it’s not possible, outside of a truly intensive situation to cover enough material in four weeks to enable true beginners to program short scripts unsupported. So I’m turning over in my mind, what could one cover in that amount of time that would be useful? Going to have to mull that over for a while.

Feelings of confusion

Over the weekend, I came across this good essay on learning to code. It was tweeted with a pull quote about how you don’t have to fit the coder stereotype to be good at coding (I wholeheartedly agree), but the quote that stood out to me was this:

I’ve found that a big difference between new coders and experienced coders is faith: faith that things are going wrong for a logical and discoverable reason, faith that problems are fixable, faith that there is a way to accomplish the goal. The path from “not working” to “working” might not be obvious, but with patience you can usually find it.

Anyone who’s done much coding takes for granted that things will be really confusing (where am I, and why is this floor covered in yak hair and broken razors?). We get that, as you learn more code, you don’t actually spend less time confused — you just spend it confused about more abstract things, and with a bigger toolkit of better yak-razors.

But confusion is uncomfortable. And especially when you’re a beginner, the line between “this is confusing because it’s hard” and “this is confusing because I’m hopeless at it” is not clear (and yes, I did tell people explicitly about impostor syndrome). And I think some students have an expectation that things will become not confusing, that you do the exercises and at the end you are un-confused.

And it…doesn’t work that way. Maybe it never really did for any subject, but it’s a especially acute in programming. You get these total flashes of insight where it works and you feel like a genius and you’re standing atop a flaming wreckage of tracebacks totally triumphant, booyah…but you truly had to spend time climbing those tracebacks first.

I need to be way, way more explicit about this. How it’ll be confusing and that’s okay. How everyone who codes spends a lot of time confused, including experts, and confusion doesn’t mean you can’t do this stuff, or even that you don’t have a good grasp of it. How if you persevere you will get better tools, and you will find that the things that confuse you become more complex, at least. How some days, the best you can do is make code that reliably works and you don’t know why, but it works, and that’ll do.

Seriously, I still have no idea how some of the things I encountered in my first semester computer science class in college work. I literally emailed my professor about one of them just the other day. But I can also do lots of awesome stuff I couldn’t do when I was 17. It’s okay.

Be explicit about your nontraditional course formats!

A few students have indicated that they expected a more traditional course format – lectures and stuff.

I do not have those. I have lots of interactive reading (prompting them to do various things in the Python shell and asking questions about inputs, outputs, and expectations). I have sample scripts to read and modify. I have discussion forums, with questions that ask students to consider important functional elements of programs — trying to lead them to think like programmers, to identify the salient parts and reason about them.

And I have these on purpose. Regardless of people’s overall learning preference, everyone I know who’s learned how to code has done so in a hands-on way. I want them to get their hands dirty — to encounter actual errors, to be walked through how to recover from them in practice before encountering them in the wild. To test the differences between general ideas and pseudocode (which is what you’ll build in your head during a lecture) and actual running code, every step followed with blind literalism by a persnickety computer.

And the forums. And the fact that I sacrificed some coverage goals to ensure that everyone had a Python shell and a text editor, rather than looking for some online interactive shell. And the fact that I spelled out how you ask a good question, and what the canonical reference documents are. And the fact that the bibliography links to lots of online and face-to-face communities that do libtech and Python, and I’ve explicitly asked students to look into these.

Because — lone-wolf-in-the-basement stereotype be damned — code learning is social. We have this pipeline whereby you don’t get to the advanced parts if you couldn’t hack the lone-wolf gauntlet when you were ten, but in practice everyone I know who’s an advanced programmer has gotten there in part by working with other people. You collaborate on a codebase and you see someone else’s approaches to a problem, and they aren’t yours, and sometimes they’re better, and you learn. You shoulder-surf a colleague and see a tool you didn’t even know existed that makes some part of your workflow ten times faster. You get frustrated and ask a question and someone says, “did you try X?” And you hadn’t even known X existed and damned if it isn’t a revelation. You work together, and your strengths are this part of the codebase and theirs are that part, and suddenly you have something so complex it couldn’t fit in a single person’s head, and far better than either of you could have made alone.

Code-learning is social, and I want my students to be doing that early, so that when the class ends, when they’re on their own to take the material beyond the class, they are not, in point of fact, alone.

So. Reasons. I have them. But I need to be more explicit about them, because otherwise for some students it will feel like a violation of expectations.

Also I expect the class would benefit from some video of me thinking out loud about some of these problems, modeling a way to go about it.

Craft knowledge and non-beginners

So I had expected that beginners would get more out of this course, because the programming material is new to them, and non-beginners would be frustrated by some of the review and mostly be getting “oh, that way that PHP does a thing, Python spells it this way, cool”. Yeah. Totally wrong.

One of the things I have discovered, to my surprise, is how much I value craft knowledge. Like I said above, this stuff is social. The craft knowledge is all transmitted socially. And I’m being really explicit and intentional about surfacing it. I ask people to reflect on what a good comment looks like and why we do that. I talk about reusability and maintainability and modularity. I talk about it more than I expected to.

And I’m finding the non-beginners get a ton out of it. They have enough background that they don’t need to spend much time on if and for, and so they’re picking up on all these hooks about quality and style, and internalizing them.

That part is awesome.

Proofread!

Yeah, so I made some humiliating errors in my code samples. Which my students were clever enough to find and fix, but really, the educational benefit of that discussion was less than the educational detriment to others of stuff not working. Note to self: just because it’s a simple program doesn’t mean you get to skimp on testing. You are error-prone about details and always have been.

(Related note: every single class, you need to make a clean virtualenv and develop new scripts in it, so that you will discover what your students need to install. If you are developing outside of a virtualenv the program will not complain when it relies on a module you installed in 2011 and forgot about. And then your students will be confronted with yaks, and maybe not armed with razors.)

Encourage more discussion earlier

My students have been doing a more and more awesome job as the course goes on of helping one another. And this is great, not just because they’re helpful, but because they detail their thought processes, and they come up with solutions that are different from the ones I would have come up with (there are lots of right answers!). I’d like them to do more of that earlier, though, both because it’s great, and because as a practical matter I can’t provide sufficiently prompt and thorough feedback when I get a couple dozen emails per day from my class. (Not all of which require feedback, but some do.)

Will have to do some thinking to the architecture of forums. A lot of them are set so that you don’t see others’ posts until you post, because I want people to think about the answer independently, and because I’ve been a student posting the 10th nearly-identical answer on a forum where I can read everyone else’s content and it feels pretty pointless. At the same time, though, this format discourages discussion. I think I can get there with a more carefully crafted mix of open troubleshooting-and-discussion forums and more locked-down think-about-the-answer forums. (And then also be clearer about the visibility settings, and encourage people to at least skim their classmates’ answers, particularly if they were unsure of their own.)

Affective goals…?

I thought going into this that the hardest part of making the leap to an online forum would be preserving the outstanding affective quality of BPW. It’s so strong in creating a welcoming, inclusive culture, in naming impostor syndrome so it loses some of its hold over people, in having tons of help available. I feel like I should have a lot more thoughts about this at this point, and yet I don’t, and I’m not sure what’s up with that.

And…?

This is the part where I invite comment from my students, and from other code-teachers and online-teachers (and especially online-code-teachers). What do you think does and doesn’t work here? What should I keep? What should I change?

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#libtechgender: your world and mine

November 20th, 2013 · Uncategorized

This relates to yesterday’s post on ALA’s new code of conduct, and it doesn’t, and it does again.


So these all happened in the last two weeks:

I consider myself a pretty sensitive person with respect to these issues. In language as well as action, I try to let things be neutral and fair, evicting unnecessary and damaging assumptions. But I didn’t notice the gendered language [of a LITA Forum keynote] at all until I saw the tweets calling it out.

Eric Phetteplace, thanks to #libtechwomen, 9 November 2013

I was actually a little surprised at the gender thing with Github…it makes sense, I just had no sense of it. To know that the Github community is EVEN MORE biased towards males than general tech was…counter intuitive to me? I don’t know, just didn’t realize.

Jason Griffey, personal correspondence (in re this article on unpaid labor and open source, 18 November 2013

That said, I came in to the panel believing that the most important gender related issue in library technology was finding ways for well-intentioned colleagues to communicate effectively about an uncomfortable problem. Listening to my colleagues tell their stories, I learned that there are more direct and pressing gender issues in libraries.

Nicholas Schiller, #libtechgender: A Post in Two Parts, 9 November 2013


I should make clear here, yes, Eric and Jason and Nicholas are all white men in academic libraries. They’re also all staunch feminists who spend a lot of time listening, actually listening, to non-male-identified people’s perspectives about gender issues.

And yet here we are living in different worlds. I take for granted that using a female-gendered IRC/github nick and a picture of my face as an avatar is a conscious choice, and the fact that it has not yet occasioned blowback is just remarkable good luck which will run out in time. I take for granted people will use language which implicitly defines me out of geekdom in general, and its higher reaches of technical competence specifically (developer’s-girlfriend jokes and neckbeard references, I’m looking at you). I take for granted that people will be marginalized and threatened at work in ways it’s just not worth bringing to HR’s attention.

I take for granted all these things that are invisible to you. (And I am living with about all the privilege it’s possible to have — no doubt there are many more things others take for granted that are invisible to me.) And I have to spend energy on surmounting them all and it’s wearying, sometimes. And we talk and we’re friends and you listen. And you don’t see.

Do we (somehow, despite this constant obsessive blogosphere twittering thing) not talk about this enough? Do we not talk about it, or do we only talk about it to other women, or do we talk about it and it doesn’t make any sense because our experiences are so different that you think we can’t mean what we mean, not even because of malice or marginalization but just because you’ve got no context to fit them into where the facts tell us both the same story? Are we over here shouting loudly like drowning people against a chorus of internet voices who are just so tired of it, why are you so upset over nothing, because it really is nothing to you if it never happens in ways you see?

This is why I use a female-gendered nick, you know. Because being female is important to me and it’s not something I stop being when I enter tech spaces, and I refuse to surrender it in order to be technical, or to make it easier for people to fit me into their tech-culture stories. Because I don’t want the stories we tell ourselves about technologists to only encompass neckbeards who don’t have girlfriends; I want them to fit around everyone who wants to play.

But this is what I was talking about when I wrote about my first hackathon, when I said the bar for being a woman in tech is the ability to say “Fuck you.” Because before I can get to the table I have to wade through all these things you don’t even see. I have to defy all these things. And you don’t notice. Or you only notice the defiance. Or the weariness.


Feeling so baffled and angry that here we are in different worlds, colocated and superimposed to look like they’re the same. That overlap until that sudden reminder that, oh no, they don’t.

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The new ALA Code of Conduct

November 19th, 2013 · Uncategorized

I’ve mentioned on Twitter, but this should be formally announced on the blog as well: ALA now has a conference code of conduct.

how it happened

The policy grew out of face-to-face and Twitter conversations a few months ago, with a highly collaborative (and fruitfully argumentative) Google doc draft that wound its way through ALA process – Counsel, the executive board, et cetera – to become a final statement.

It seems I’ve been identified as The Person To Talk To About This — and I am more than willing to talk to anyone about it! — but I want to clarify for the record that I was only one of many people involved in turning this idea into reality. Other people brought more urgency to starting the process, more draft language to the Google doc, and more knowledge of ALA process to bear. I want to make sure they are recognized here.

The Ada Initiative and Geek Feminism provided invaluable starting points, in terms of both sample policies to work from, and explanations of what these policies are and why they matter.

The following people contributed to the Google doc:

Aaron Dobbs, Bess Sadler, Chris Bourg, Chris Martin, Cindi Trainor Blyberg, Coral Sheldon-Hess, Courtney Young, Jason Griffey, Jenny Levine, John Jackson, Karen Schneider, Lauren Pressley, Lea Susan Engle, Lisa Rabey, Mary Ghikas, Matthew Ciszek, Melia Erin Fritch White, Tyler Dzuba.

I’m sure there were others who contributed to the conversation, but whose names I did not keep a record of or (particularly in the case of ALA staffers) never knew, and I apologize for the omission.

Above and beyond, though, Mary Ghikas, ALA’s Senior Associate Executive Director, deserves credit, for working with ALA’s lawyer to make this a document that the organization can sign off on, for understanding the realities of its staffing and staff training enough to make this a document we can implement, and for herding all the cats necessary for final approval.

Thank you, everyone.

what I learned

Like I said, I’ve been The Person To Talk To About This.

It took me a while to get comfortable with this role, and I’m still not, 100%. Mary Ghikas did a huge amount of the heavy lifting. Others wrote most of the words, or were first to insist we had to do this thing. Me? I…stuck around to the end, mostly. And translated.

The translation comes pretty naturally; I’ve been at the intersecting edges of enough groups that I like the challenge of reframing one set of cultural constructs in a way that makes sense in another context. And there was a lot of that, and I expect will be more. Code of Conduct discussions come out of the technology world, where the discourse about gender is often very different than it is in libraries, and where there have been numerous recent high-profile incidents of conference harassment. I found along the way that this context is wholly unfamiliar to many librarians with nontechnical backgrounds, so there has been, and I expect will be, a process of explaining. Ongoing and challenging and fun.

But sticking around to the end, man. That doesn’t come naturally to me at all. I like the first 80% of anything, the shiny part full of ideas and possibility. The bit I can do in a couple days of enthusiasm-fueled focus. The bit that doesn’t require me to make to-do lists and keep track of stuff.

And my role in this process? A whole lot of it was exactly that: putting items on a list, with deadlines. Emailing people. Checking in to see if the doc had been edited and the comments resolved. Asking about status. Making sure that (as I’m doing right now) the result gets publicized.

And it…seems like so little. Nothing that takes special talent or insight. None of those amazing leaderly gifts people dream of having. Just an act of will.

And yet, someone’s got to be there at the end. Or you don’t get to have ends.

This is going to work its way through my skull for a while, being quietly, profoundly transformative.

but why? stories and values

But, why do we need this, several people have asked. Are things like this a problem at ALA conferences? We don’t have high-profile incidents, like they do in tech.

Well. Part of being The Person To Talk To About This is becoming a keeper of stories. People don’t just ask about policy; they tell you things in whispers. That time in a bar. That thing that happened and they didn’t know what to do at the time, or what to do after.

No, we haven’t had outlandishly-troglodyte incidents that convulse the internet for a week, and we have very few people willing to speak publicly about the things that have happened, but that doesn’t mean we’re without problems.

But even if we were, this would be worth doing. Because it’s better to have and not to need than to need and not to have. Because anyone — anyone — who feels threatened at ALA, at this place that is my community and my second home and my metamorphosis, should have a place to turn. No one should ever be harassed and feel alone. No one should ever wonder whether ALA will help.

A conference anti-harassment policy is a mechanism for investigating and resolving disputes, but it is also a statement of values. A signal to everyone of who we are.

ALA seeks to provide a conference environment in which diverse participants may learn, network and enjoy the company of colleagues in an environment of mutual human respect. We recognize a shared
responsibility to create and hold that environment for the benefit of all
.

I want my association to publicly state that it values being a safe space for everyone. I’m glad that it has.

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what I learned as an Emerging Leader

September 30th, 2013 · Uncategorized

As a LITA Board member, one of my happy duties is participating in the discussion about which Emerging Leaders should be LITA-sponsored. (I’ve already made my recommendations and won’t be discussing them. Moving right along.) It’s all very circle-of-life, and I think that makes it time to tell the story that sticks out most in my head from my Emerging Leaders experience, the Thing I Learned that’s at the root of all the other things I learned.


A room in San Diego, Midwinter 2010. We had a flipchart and en masse, all eighty or so of us, we were brainstorming the qualities of a good leader.

And that woman on the flip chart, let me tell you — I would have loved to work for her. She was just amazing. And as we painted her out of air one of my cohort — one of the ones I knew, a friend of mine — said, you know, there’s one quality we haven’t written on that chart, and that’s intelligence. And the room nodded in agreement.

And I thought, well, damn. Because she just named the only thing I’ve ever been really good at, and she’s right. Not that it’s okay for leaders to be idiots — it’s not — but once they’re past a reasonable minimum, a minimum that many people achieve, having more intelligence won’t necessarily make them better leaders. Having lots of intelligence, without any of those qualities on the flipchart, won’t make them good leaders at all. It is not, to borrow from D&D, a prime requisite.

So I flailed for a while inside the cognitive dissonance of that.

And then I realized, you know what? I was there. I was there in San Diego, in a room of people who’d been chosen as exemplars of young library leadership. A room of people who seemed deserving of the name. And I knew one of the people who’d done the choosing was — still is — one of the leaders I respect most. So whatever else, whatever the mismatch between me and our flipchart leader, I deserved to be there.

And then I realized, you know what? Flipchart woman, she doesn’t actually exist. She has all the strengths we wish our leaders had — and many people have many of them — but no one has them all. She doesn’t have any weaknesses, and all of us have some of those, too. I can’t be her because no one can be her.

I can’t be the leader that the other people who were in that room can be, either. I don’t have their unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. But neither do they have mine.


What I learned in that room is that, for me, if intelligence is the thing I’m best at, I’m going to use it to bootstrap all the rest. It may not substitute for any of those flipchart skills, but it can at least briefly simulate some of them, and better yet: I can use it to frame the questions. I can use it to choose the situations I need to be in to learn those other skills, and to reflect on my experiences critically, and to learn faster.

What I’ve learned since is that people think not only that I have some of those other skills, but that they’re native talents. I maybe don’t. They’re definitely not. You didn’t see me when I was a kid. But it turns out if you practice things long and obsessively enough, until you internalize them, they look like native talents to people who meet you after. And it turns out your whole life is a big canvas on which to paint. There’s a lot of after. You never have to stop.

What I’ve learned is that we can’t, any of us, be the flipchart leader, and we can’t be the leader that every situation needs its leader to be. But many of us can be the leader that some situation needs us to be. And we can choose to gravitate toward the places where our strengths have impact and our weaknesses are held less against us. And toward the places ones that make us the leader we will need to be tomorrow.


Tomorrow’s big, and there’s a hell of a universe out there. Let’s go.

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this nearly-all-female tech startup (it’s fun!)

September 8th, 2013 · Uncategorized

In light of today’s tawdry-but-alas-unsurprising round of sexism (not to be dignified with a link), let’s have a counternarrative.

This startup I’m contracting for? It’s pretty much all women. And I don’t mean that it’s a tech company where everyone except the developers are women. I mean the CEO/face of the brand/technical project manager/former sysadmin/mad knitting genius is a woman, and the business manager, and the designer, and the UX consultant, and two of the three developers. (The third is married to the founder.)

And it’s this glorious disruption of all the stereotypes. We’re competent and pragmatic and zero-drama. And that’s that.

And it’s strange and wonderful.

And while we’re at it, most of us are parents of young children, and I’m really loving that too, because everyone took for granted that our schedules would be insane in late August due to the total unavailability of our normal childcare options, and we’d have to leave in the middle of things to pick up a kid, and okay so I’d bring my kid over to the CEO’s house so my kid could distract her kids and she and I could get some work done, and failing that maybe things will get done at 6am or 11pm or whatever but they’ll get done, somehow, because we’re grownups, and no one’s going to judge me for the fact that late August is insane when you have a six-year-old, and it’s okay. I have a crazy amount of work to do this week and my next couple of invoices will be epic, but it’s okay.

Oh, and while we’re at it? This is the sort of company that only exists because of diversity. Walking argument for why having more people with tech skills is good for tech, as well as for the people. Because having the idea demanded both significant tech skills and significant domain knowledge in knitting, and there’s just not a lot of people who have both, and really, most of the people with the knitting domain knowledge are women. And once you have both, well of course computers are a thing you can use to make bespoke knitting patterns around people’s unique measurements and style choices…but the idea simply never occurs to you otherwise.

I think the world is full of ideas like this — the economists’ proverbial twenty-dollar bills just lying on the ground — that no one has seen yet, because too much of tech looks with the same eyes.

And here we are looking with different ones, a tech startup full of women. And it turns out that’s totally a thing you can do. So we are.

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what I’ve been up to

August 26th, 2013 · Uncategorized

So as we blogged at Unglue.it a month back, I have quit my job at Unglue.it so that I can teach libraries to code.

I’m still figuring out what that means, and if you have opinions, I want to hear them! (Seriously. I have a big list of people to set up Google hangouts with, and after Labor Day when everyone’s schedules have stabilized I’m going to start in on that.) I mean, on the high level, it means optimism and empowerment and building things and collaborating, a world of librarian partners-in-crime improving services and workflows through hacker epistemology and crafting ideas into things. But that’s gotta translate into action :) For starters, I’ll be teaching an online Python course through Library Juice Academy (please sign up!) and doubtless I’ll be doing a lot more teaching things, too.

But it starts with conversations. Conversations and listening and connections. You know where to find me.

In related news, I’m enjoying & feeling honored about & rapidly learning from my new role as a LITA Board member. (Are you a constituent, current or prospective? I have a info page and contact form just for you!) I’m liaising to the Education committee, so if you’re interested in doing a web course or similar for LITA, please talk to me and I’ll make sure you get a great committee member to help you through the process. Or if you already have an idea for a course you’d like to teach, you can skip right ahead to proposing it.

I’m also doing some independent software contracting. Right now my software bandwidth is pretty well taken up by my friend’s awesome startup (about which more later), but I expect to be taking on other projects later. My skills are chiefly Django front-end development (Python, CSS, jQuery, etc.), but my real specialty is doing things I don’t know how to do, so if you happen to need some software contracting like that (but not immediately), let’s talk. If you have ideas for how I can deploy Django and CSS and lightweight scripting and the like to make your library’s life easier or better, I’d love to hear those too!

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When you walk into a room, count: diversity and LITA Forum.

August 20th, 2013 · Uncategorized

This is what I ask: when you walk into a room, count. Count the women. Count the people of color. Count by race. Look for who isn’t there. Look for class signs: the crooked teeth of childhoods without braces, worn-out shoes, someone else who is counting. Look for the queers, the older people, the overweight. Note them, see them, see yourself looking, see yourself reacting.

This is how we begin.

– Quinn Norton, Count


I’m on the planning committee for LITA Forum 2013. And months ago I thought, I should count up my best guesses as to speaker race and sex and library type for the last few years of Forum, use it as a baseline, see where we are with diversity, and if we do better this year.

And then I counted up 2012 and it was too depressing for me to do 2011 and I couldn’t figure out how to even talk about it because this stuff is so inflammatory, so I wrote a draft I never posted and drank some whiskey. And then Twitter brought me Quinn Norton today. And so, I count.


Method: the terribly error-prone, but what I’ve got, best guess. Names. LinkedIn and Twitter and staff directory photos. As you can see from numbers not adding up to 100 I did not always have a guess.

I took the race categories from ALA data for the sake of comparison. It counts Hispanic separately from other categories, which both makes sense and makes me feel this horrible gnawing stomach feeling at having erased a whole swath of experiences, not that I could have at all reliably guessed from people’s LinkedIn photos anyway. I bet I’ve both undercounted nonwhite speakers, and undercounted them in precisely the same way most people would if they were at Forum and saw a sea of white-looking faces.


The thing is, we care. Then-LITA-president Zoe Stewart-Marshall, who’s ex officio on the Forum 2013 committee, specifically charged us with caring. Many of us have explicitly said we care about diversity. I know that I went out of my way to brainstorm speakers outside LITA’s usual white-academic bailiwick, to extend invitations outside it, to ask others to.

But the committee is also, when you get right down to it, overwhelmingly white and academic, and maybe replicating ourselves is what we know how to do, maybe that’s how homophily works, maybe caring isn’t good enough.


I remain proud to represent this organization, but I am not proud of this part. I want to represent more of you, and better. If you are willing, I ask that you tell me how. Maybe even at Forum, in person. I’ll buy you drinks. And give you feedback on your talk proposals for next year.


We care. But, for sure, caring isn’t good enough. Tomorrow I will want solutions. Today I’ve drained my whiskey counting up these numbers and I’m going to go get more.

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Missing #ala2013 already? Why not come to #litaforum?

July 3rd, 2013 · Uncategorized

I’m on the planning committee for LITA Forum, which means this November 7-10 I’ll be in Louisville, KY, wrangling logistics, listening to some speakers I’m pretty excited about, taking advantage of bourbon country, and maybe hanging out with you.

This means I’m going to have lots more to say about my personal conference highlights over the months to come, but let me give you some teasers…

  • Keynotes by Travis Good of MAKE Magazine, Emily Gore of DPLA, and Nate Hill of whatever crazy awesomeness the Chattanooga Public Library is up to lately.
  • An entire track on making and makerspaces. This was a hugely popular topic at ALA (there was a sold-out makerspace preconference!) So if you missed out on that, or were there and want more, we’ve got you covered.
  • In fact, we’re working on a field trip to the local makerspace. Stay tuned.
  • Whole track on UX and web services, too.
  • This Zagat list of 8 awesome foodie getaways worldwide includes Okinawa, Vieques, Cairo…and Louisville. Just sayin’.
  • Moar tracks: Management, Collaboration, Outreach; Data & Discovery; Repositories & Scholarly Communications. Seriously: whether you’re a web services librarian, a tech department manager, a repository nerd, an outreach librarian, a wikipedian, an instructional technologist…there is something here for you. We’ve even got some stuff for you codemonkeys.
  • Our speakers include academic and public librarians, independent consultants, library school students, a children’s librarian, and the YALSA president-elect. Aw, yeah. And we’ve got lightning talks, so maybe you’re one of our speakers, too!
  • A preconference on security and another on project management, both presented by experts I know and think highly of.
  • Poster sessions on the digital divide, tech training, discovery layers, library spaces, licensing…
  • Bourbon. Did I mention the bourbon? Louisville. Kentucky.

So yeah. That’s my early November, and I hope to see you there. For more info and to register, check out the conference site. And if your organization might be interested in sponsorship, here’s our prospectus, and let’s talk.

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wearing what I want

May 28th, 2013 · Uncategorized

It is one of those times when the blogosphere is talking about how leadership and professional identity dovetail with clothing choices. I love those times.

Me, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the leadership angle of fashion choices (though I expect now that I’ve been elected to the LITA Board I will be). But one of my singular little joys is when people say “you’re dressed up today!” and I say “yeah, work” and they are just about to nod in understanding and then do the double take of “…wait! You work from home!”

It’s true. I do. My dress requirements get as far as “should put on a shirt before the video call (but not necessarily pants)”. And yet most days I’m wearing this cozy sort of business casual with a twist of nerd, outright feminine though not too girly. With actual accessories. Often even a jacket.

Here’s the thing: somewhere in my twenties I had this blinding realization that I’m not in high school any more and therefore I do not have to pay attention to stupid social boundaries like “there are people who like math and people who like clothes and never the twain shall meet”. 1 And it’s taken me a long time to operationalize this because I have no innate taste, so I had to spend years studying style in a data-gathering nerdly way, and then I was spending all my money on grad school (and didn’t have the skill or kid-free time to pull off the stylish-via-Goodwill route), but now, here I am, necklace and portrait collar and wedge sandals and all. And it turns out, the more I’ve gotten into code, the more clearly feminine my style has gotten.

Because I like crossing boundaries and challenging stereotypes. Being a woman in tech at all challenges stereotypes. But then you get here and the men wear jeans and nerdy t-shirts and the women wear jeans and nerdy t-shirts and…huh. I am super glad that geekdom provides a home for women who are fed up with gender-normative performance, who are happier being androgynous or genderqueer or just not giving a damn (and maybe not even, while we’re at it, wearing the term “women”). A lot of my friends, no matter their anatomy or chromosomes, are happiest being somewhere outside mainstream conventions of gender performance, and that is awesome.

But it is not awesome if the unstated rule in slinging code is that, if you’re going to be female, you’d better not be obviously or conventionally female. That, you know, girls who code are cool and all, as long as it’s not too hard to pretend they’re guys. That we’re still in a space owned by guys, which girls get to enter if they play by guy terms.

I feel like I can challenge more stereotypes, from more directions, as a woman with a development environment and a skirt than I can as a woman with a development environment, full stop. And I thrive on that.

It turns out that the stereotype I challenge most is my own, of me. I thrive on that too.

Now I don’t think I get to play with these boundaries for free. Clothing choices still carry social signals, even if I’d rather they didn’t, and I can choose to dress in ways whose signals aren’t wholly accurate, but I can’t choose not to be misread for it. I do feel lucky to be in a position where I can dress more or less how I want, but I find the parts of this conversation I’m most interested in are the instances where people feel they can’t — where the social and professional consequences for misaligning signaling and role or identity or body politics are too big to take on. I’d like to hear a lot more from those voices.

And maybe over time, by dressing to be, yes, socially aware, but ourselves as much as we can, we can push this envelope outward, create more space for people to signal and be more variegated things, yet still unquestionably be seen as belonging inside the boundaries of “coder” or “leader”…

Notes:

  1. So I mean I really like math. Ask me about the Cantor diagonalization proof sometime if you want to see me totally nerd out. It’s so elegant!

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Newtonian mechanics, and the LITA election

May 4th, 2013 · Uncategorized

I’m bad at physics.

I went to an engineering school and I majored in math and I almost majored in chemistry so people thought I was supposed to be good at physics but, no. Put me in front of a free-body diagram and I react with this sort of blind scared incomprehension, forces are supposed to act on this? What could they possibly be? How on earth would I know? There’s this cargo-cult algebra of gravity and normal forces I could try to do but I never had any sense of what I should or shouldn’t write, or why. Arrows, at random.

My school required three semesters of physics so, well, that didn’t work out awesomely for me. Thursdays, the night before physics and chemistry (also required) were due, I’d get together with two friends who were good at physics but struggling in chemistry and we’d trade off strengths, dragging each other bodily through the hardest classes we’d taken to date.

A week before the final I showed up at last, embarrassed, in the professor’s office to throw myself on her mercy. (Yes, I should have done this a lot earlier, but what do you expect of a 17-year-old without a trace of study skills.) And I’m not clear what I hoped for, exactly, some kind of guidance or clarity, the guru on the mountain making the entirety of mechanics clear to me, magic, but I definitely did not expect what I got from her, which was her saying: you’re a smart student and I believe in you.

I had, let’s be clear, done nothing that semester to justify her belief. But I was seized with a guilty fire of needing to live up to it. For the next week, I took my physics textbook with me absolutely everywhere I went. I read it through meals. I reworked every single homework problem we’d done all term. I didn’t study for any of the rest of my finals (I was doing better in those classes and had some wiggle room…) I took a few hours off to go see a Shakespeare class put on a play, but I had the book with me and I read it during intermission.

And then I sat down for that final, and the first hour was okay, actually, things looked familiar, I wouldn’t say I understood them but I’d seen the problems or something very like them and I can pattern-match, and then the second hour was this awful dawning horror of meaninglessness opening up underneath and I could feel this test physically assaulting me, I was in actual bodily pain, and hour three dawned and I thought, to hell with this, I didn’t study for a solid week to be defeated by some test, and I wrote blindly and damn-the-torpedoes handcrampingly fast nonstop until the second they made me put the pencil down, and then I staggered out with the rest of my freshman class into the California May sunlight and we blinked at each other in zombielike weariness and defeat.

The class average ended up around 50%. I got about a 75. So. I killed it. Brought my average all the way up to a B-, which I assure you was not where that average had been a week before, and I cherish that B- more than anything else on my transcript.

This is a roundabout way of saying, yesterday I was notified that I won the LITA election — that you, my friends, think that I’m someone who ought to represent you on the Board for the next three years. You believe in me. And for the girl who spent her introverted depressed math-nerd high school years not having a whole lot of friends, and who graduated from library school what feels like yesterday, this is a mind-boggling statement of faith.

Like walking into that office, being told point-blank I’m more than I believe myself to be. So. Time to study. Because it matters, that I justify your belief.

I made a LITA page to make it easy for you to contact me and keep up with what I’m thinking about the association. I hope you’ll use it. It turns out I do have study skills, when I have to, but I’ll learn a lot more if you’re on the journey with me.

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