Monday, April 23, 2018

My summary of the Politics of Libraries 2018 Conference

There are many controversial topics in the profession of librarianship. Some topics more than others are uncomfortable, very sensitive, and professionally difficult to discuss for librarians. But one conference tackled many of these themes. In this post, I share about the inaugural Politics of Libraries conference 2018 at the University of Alberta. Themes covered included:
•      Critiquing librarianship for trying to be value neutral by promoting intellectual freedom over assuming social responsibility
•     The problem of monopoly in library technology services via the case of OCLC
•      studying the discourse that librarians, library users and authors/publishers use to represent or misrepresent fair dealing/fair use in copyright law
•      how language, and particularly English global dominance, inhibits linguistic diversity and negatively affects library services and users
•     provisions for academic librarians for academic/intellectual freedom
•      assessment of how many library science journals are open access versus commercially published
•      the problem of librarians using the concept of the "market place of ideas"

In the break out discussions, I got the opportunity to lead the discussion of the theme of colonialism in libraries and how librarians can attempt to resist and move forward. This discussion raised three main points:
•      that colonialism manifests differently in different spaces and requires different approaches to address based on the particular case of colonialism that manifested itself. Caribbean colonialism was more exploitative than Canadian colonialism, where in the Caribbean, the colonizers created Caribbean society to serve European needs with Europeans who were looking to establish temporary homes versus Canada being a society absorbing French and Englishmen looking for permanent new homes and opportunities.
•      Colonialism continues to manifest itself in language assimilation and domination in both print and online technologies.
•      Librarians need to recognize indigenous epistemology and different knowledge or information perspectives other than those of the West which dominates library science.

The other breakout discussion groups shared on Language/Terminology, which I felt was also related to the theme of colonialism and to Caribbean society with the current struggle in recognizing indigenous Creole languages. Some of the points mentioned were:
•      Language barriers are represented in library signage. Public libraries should use the languages of the communities they serve in their signage, while academic libraries should use such languages in library instruction
•      Multimedia technology can better address language barriers as they provide more than just text
•      Librarians need to recognize the value of other languages and not just English as well as to recognize our own problematic use of languages which can offend, included, exclude or "other" people.
This summary only represents a few of the issues discussed, some of which deserve a full post's discussion.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Final post for 2015

To my blog audience, I apologize for the lack of entries for the latter part of 2015 and for the famine of entries that will be coming for 2016. The year 2015 has turned out to be a challenging year for me. Further, considering that I now have dual identities as both a student and an employee, blogging becomes more challenging both in terms of time as well as in terms of institutional constraints.

For the most part, I am contemplating to cease personal blogging and to put my writing in other spheres. Time demands this. I have a larger family (four children now) and I am now lecturing, which means that I had to keep up a publication record to secure tenure as an academic. As such, whatever articles that I would have published here will better serve my occupational interest if published in LIS trade journals, newsletters or other publications.

May you prosper in 2016.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to survive clients that want information within 1 hour?

I attended the intermediate level educational program put on by the Competitive Intelligence Division of SLA, presented by Lynn Strand, the Principal of Outside Knowledge LCC. In this session, Lynn presents a Quick take session entitled: "What to Do When They Say "Give Me Everything You Have  on ... and Not Freak Out Because They Want it in An Hour". Below are her 9 tips in bullet form which can be helpful to both special librarians and independent information professionals.

  1. Don't panic. That does not help.
  2. Trust yourself. You can do this.
  3. They do not want everything. Just an overview. In fact, they really don't know what they want.
  4. Use "trends" in your search terms. This will retrieve information that provides an overview or that is broad in scope or focus.
  5. Use resources you already know. Exhaust the familiar first.
  6. Plan to search for 30 minutes and then give yourself time to put together your deliverable. Save some time to put together a final report on what you have found and don't spend all of it on searching for information.
  7. Have a flexible template. For doing research reports, you need to have a template that all you need to do is put in new content and not worry about formatting.
  8. Keep it to 3 pages or less. Right at the top of those pages, indicate three to four things the client must know. Hence, the most important information first.
  9. Do a Google file type research. Sometimes the commercial databases may not contain the information you are looking for. Hence, if this fails, use Google search for file types like pdf, ppt. or doc. in order to retrieve the information you need.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Distilling the career wisdom and stories of SLA 2015

So I am gratefully to have attended SLA 2015 in Boston and in this post, I want to share some of the career wisdom and stories shared on June 14, 2015 from the opening  and general session.

For this session, as I listened to the career stories of the SLA awardees, I was impressed at the diversity of awardees featured. I saw international awardees from Asia and the Middle East, awardees that recently graduated as students and were newly active in the profession, and awardees that were faculty of library schools.

In particular, I listened to two speakers. The first was the awardee, Marjorie Hlava, who received the John Cotton Dana award. Her career gems to me were:
  • Employers allow us to learn their business and give us the opportunities to serve their needs. Hence we are indebted to employers who give us opportunities to learn, grow and give back. They provide us with the opportunity to develop new skills and expertise, and to get experience and practice in serving the needs of others.
  • Since what we do in our daily jobs have changed, but the principles remain the same, we must test assumptions to see if they are still relevant or not. After doing this, we must remove barriers, give access to all members and remove unnecessary rules and regulation.
Marjorie Hlava
The next speaker that I documented career gems and wisdom from was the SLA 2015 conference keynote speaker, Leigh Gallagher . Gallagher is a Fortune Magazine editor and journalist, and author of the book The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving. Gallagher was a useful speaker because she spoke about herself as a user of libraries and librarians as well as provided some advice for how librarians can better advocate for their value in business organizations.

Gem #1: The process of planning is more important than the plan itself
Gallagher first described her job as being paid to become an expert on any topic by doing research.
She spoke about how she always over-researched a topic just to be over-prepared. In this discussion Gallagher made the statement that plans are not really as important as the planning process. The planning process is more important than the document or plan itself.

Gem #2: Librarians need to develop and write business cases
Gallagher also talked about the need for information professionals to document case studies when information helped a company to make a better decision. She described such case writing as a "show- don't tell- cases of how information provided helped a company make a crucial or critical decision.

Gem # 3: New names suggested for libraries
Gallagher also suggested that information professionals consider alternate names to libraries such as the "Wisdom lab" or the "Wisdom Vault".

Coming up in future posts: Tips that I gathered from other speakers and also a post on my own conference presentation with a link and embedded slide presentation .

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Re-positioning libraries as safe spaces for answering career-related queries

I came across this news article about a young engineer who got two job offers (McGregor, 2015). He took to Quora, an online question-and-answer website, to ask for advice about which company's offer to accept. Representatives from both companies responded with one rescinding the job offer.

This caused me to reflect on my first publication (Scale, 2008) that compared how libraries matched up to Facebook as a "social search engine". While I will not go into a detailed summary of the journal article, I just wanted to make a few points about how this young engineer's problem highlight a missed opportunity for the positioning of libraries and highlight what I think libraries can do to change this.

Let me begin by mentioning that "social search" can be defined as the use of online platforms for locating individuals with the expertise to answer one's query (people search) or for locating information from search results informed by a community of users that input data into the online platform (human intermediary search) (Scale, 2008). Social search comes as a development of the Social Web or Web 2.0 era, where search engines and algorithms no longer dominate how users find relevant information online. Instead, human beings are now connecting online to retrieve information from online personal sources rather than documents.

This brings me to the points I wish to make in this post. How do libraries position themselves in this era?

1. Libraries need to position themselves as social search engines which preserve privacy, contain little to no advertising and maintain the confidentiality of queries.

2. Learn from Apple's Siri for i-Phone & i-Pad. Promote and provide a listing of the types of questions that we librarians can answer or are good at answering. 

Point 1

Librarians need to promote to library users the benefits of getting their answers from us as opposed to the online competition. Sure enough, online sources can get an individual quicker access to people sources and information, but online also leaves a trail and the Internet does not forget. Librarians though will forget.

We could even make this optional where users can be taken into a closed room, read a confidential non-disclosure agreement form to be signed by both the librarian and the library user, before the individual divulges their query.

This brings me to a concern about virtual reference, which keeps a virtual memory of queries and does not forget. Luckily, virtual reference services can do so with the removal of personal identifying information. Nonetheless, I find it on the side of caution that such system by requiring authentic users to login can still keep track of where queries are coming from. So I am still kind of wondering about this and need to research this some more.

Nonetheless, I would advocate for librarians to be selective of which technology or technical solutions are used for the purposes of virtual reference. Even when we use online platforms, ours must be distinctive from our competitors that collect personal information and maintain a public record of such information.

Point 2
I refer here to the experience of using Apple's Siri for i-Phone and i-Pad. Sometimes after using Siri, Apple's artificial intelligent virtual agent, I find that she presents a listing of some of the questions that she can answer and some of the information that she can provide.

How do library users know what questions to bring to the library reference desk? In my experience, as a library user, users coming to the reference desk get varied levels of service and do not know with certainty if a competent staff member will be on hand to handle their queries. One unhelpful experience is sufficient to prevent a user from being a return client.

Hence, it is necessary to reduce the chances of this uneven service delivery from happening in the first instance by highlighting what we are competent at answering. We must provide a way of assuring our patrons or users about the types of questions we can answer or provide information for and what they can expect us to answer or find answers for.

Even if we do not have the sources to answer all our users query, we should be able know where we can refer users and provide a list of questions for which we can refer users if we do not have the answers. That is, librarians should also know what areas we can competently advise users so that even if we do not have the answers in our library, we can advise users about where to go next and explain the pros and cons of getting the answers from the sources we refer them to. (In a way, this points to a need for deep subject expertise).

Some of the challenges

I do acknowledge that one of the challenges of doing this type of reference work is reduced library budgets and problematic staff shortages. In some libraries, the staff does not have the time to walk the users through a long decision-making process but stop short at just pointing them to the sources. This process makes the library little different from Google or original Web search that just directs users to the highest ranked or used sources that possess possible answers. This forces users to still have the work to determine the relevance and pros and cons of the sources retrieved. This is why I like the special library environment where librarians can provide a framework for extracting relevant and useful information and coming to a decision about which sources to use.

A possible way forward
For me, the young engineer's question could be viewed as a missed opportunity to re-position libraries to the wider public as safe spaces to ask questions and conduct inquiry, especially about career and entrepreneurial information. I for one believe that a dedicated career information resource librarian should be in every public library. This person would specialize in helping users answer career related queries and help them locate career-related information for all stages of an individual's career journey. These librarians should be dedicated to answering reference queries related to career, business or entrepreneurship questions ad questions about choosing educational programs.

Nonetheless, every public library should know its users and the questions that users are most likely to need answers for and provide a dedicated subject librarian to address those questions. Again I realize that this is an ideal in the present time of austerity and economic uncertainty. As such, I lament that we need greater advocacy to let politicians, economists and other authorities that make funding decisions know that the quality of library services depend on the type of deep expertise that we provide in areas that are important to communities. For example, seeing that current authorities are interested in job creation, we can advocate that libraries can provide value to the labour market and the economy if given sufficient funding and staff to provide a dedicated librarian for career and business related questions. Of course, I realize that this means focusing on priorities that fit into the neo-liberal paradigm in which libraries are now working.


McGregor, J. (2015, May 7). A young engineer asked for career advice online. Big mistake. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Scale, M. (2008). Facebook as a social search engine and the implications for libraries in the twenty-first century. Library Hi Tech, 26, (4), p. 540-56.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A critique of "Intellectual property"

In my April 19, 2015 blog post "Thoughts on Copyright", I  argued against extending copyright beyond 50 years after an author's death. My basic premise was that such an act was socially unjust and amounted to restricting the right to distribute information to a few creating an unfair and unnecessary monopoly over the distribution of creative expression. In response to that post, a colleague of mine responded especially to one of my points that copyright should be treated like patents. His argument was that the "economic worth of both a patent and copyright are realized differently". However, one of his response that triggered this blog post was the mention of the school of thought that conceptualizes "intellectual property" as "real property". Hence, the purpose of this post is to react to the school of thought that argues that we should treat "intellectual property" as "real property".

Let us begin by first defining intellectual property. For this, I go to the World Intellectual Property Organization's [WIPO] website. According to WIPO (n.d.), "Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce" (p. 2). In my personal opinion, it is problematic to conceptualize  "creations of the mind" or what I call creative expressions of the mind as "property". For the rest of this post, I want to advance two arguments against conceptualizing works or expressions of the mind as "intellectual property" or even as"property". By my use of the term "property", I mean equating works of the mind as land.

Argument 1: Equating works of the mind raises social justice issues
Treating creative works or expressions of the mind as "property" is an unjust idea that creates a class of haves and a class of have-nots that can be traced to the practice of feudalism. In feudalism, there were those who owned land and others that did not own land. As such, those who needed the land to create or use had to sell their labour, services or part of what they created to land owners or landlords.

Treating creative works of the mind brings back this type of system, where individuals labour to create works and have to own or use those that own the material means for making those expressions of the mind tangible or material. This type of system to me does not reflect a just model upon which to base the market for the exchange of products or expressions from the mind. It favours those that own the means for creating and distributing media. In this case, the owners of publishing houses, recording studios or technological platforms function as the landlords that are able to cash in on the works of authors, even after they are dead.

Second, treating the creative expression of minds in media creates new inequalities rather than enable a progressive open society that builds on the ideas of others and advance the welfare of all human beings. Just as how feudalism later gave rise to monarchy, where power and authority concentrated in the hands of a few, having creative expression of minds being treated as "property" will inevitably lead to the centralization of distribution of creative works in the hands of a few. What is to stop big companies from buying out smaller ones or pricing them out of the market?

Argument 2: Is "Intellectual property" really an appropriate term to refer to creative expressions or the labour of the mind?

For this section of my critique, I wish to raise a series of questions.

1) Are creative expressions of another person's mind worlds that we inhabit? Do we need to pay rent to inhabit or access such a "world"?


2) Are creative expressions products of the mind that can do things to or for other people who find value in those products?

3) For me the issue with "intellectual property" is that it is an inappropriate metaphor for what creative works of the minds are. Why do we select the metaphor of "property" for creative works of the mind and not another? And why does a global organization like WIPO want to enforce what is merely a rhetorical construction in order to create an economy out of it?

Another question that challenges this metaphor or property is:

4) Do we truly own our creative expressions even when what we "create" actually comes from recreating what we have learned from others?

We create from what we have seen, experienced, heard or read. And even when we have something "original", we use language rules and other rules of discourse taught or given to us by society to translate that which we conceive into a mode of expression and onto a medium. As Davies and Harré, (1999) argue, we use language according to rules that “are explicit formulations of the normative order which is immanent in concrete human productions, such as actual conversations between particular people on particular occasions” (p. 33). In addition, whatever we create using language is based on “whatever concretely has happened before, and to human memories of it, which form[s] both the personal and the cultural resources for speakers to draw upon in constructing the present moment” (Davies & Harré, 1999).

5) On that basis, isn't what we create using language and media as expressions of our mind really "private property" or something that should belong to the public?

My Conclusion:
We need to be critical of the idea of "intellectual property" and resist it. For this label of "intellectual property is socially and rhetorically constructed to liken creative expression to "property" or "land" or to something that can be owned.

For me, a more appropriate metaphor is "intellectual labour" which recognizes that a person has done "work" or expended effort to use the rules of language and discourse to construct or translate an expression of the mind into a product that others can consume or make use of. As such, we should recognize and reward creators for labour and efforts involved in making the expression of the mind consumable and accessible to the public. However, such rewards should not extend into unjust political and economic privileges.


Davies, B., & Harré, R. (1999). Positioning and personhood. In R. Harré & L. van Lagenhove (Eds.), Positioning theory: Moral contexts of intentional action (pp. 32–52). Malden, Massacghusetts: Blackwell Publishers.

World Intellectual Property Organization [WIPO]. What is intellectual property. Retrieved from

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thoughts about copyright

Two events have triggered my expression of thoughts in this blog post. One is a dream that I had about sharing an article on Facebook and finding out that they suspended my account indefinitely as a result of what they called "copyright infringements". The next event was news circulated within my Jamaican library community about the bill before Parliament to extend copyright from fifty to ninety-five years. (I don't know which one is more irritating, although, I figure that the dream came in response to the news).

Let me begin with the dream or the unreal event or what narratology scholar Georgokapoulou (2010) calls the hypothetical story. In the dream, I shared content from a news report on Facebook with quotations and my commentary. A friend reacted to the article and wrote a response. Then my wife was about to write a response, when all of a sudden she said she did not see my online profile any more. That was when I discovered on my attempt to login that Facebook "suspended" my account "indefinitely" for sharing content from the Associated Press that amounted to "copyright infringement". I felt that there was no means to appeal and that I was not warned before they took this action. I further reasoned that an algorithm had done this, as any human being would have seen that I shared only a portion of the text in quotes and added my own commentary to it.

This leads into my next issue, the pending amendments to the Jamaican Copyright Act. I have not completely studied the act but have merely examined at it to confirm what my library colleagues have been discussing. The chief of peeves is this extension of copyright beyond 50 years to 95 years after the death of the author (See section 11-13a of "A bill entitled An Act ", p. 11). This to me is wholly unjust and unwarranted and I hope to advance three reasons why.

1. Unmeritocratic
Giving copyright extension after an author's death does not benefit the author. It likely benefits the family of the author, the publisher or any other entity (individual or institution) that possesses the copyright. As a result, what this act enables is amounting to creating a new privileged class that do not work to earn their wealth but lives off the wealth and royalties of a dead person. This is unmeritocratic and is as just as having a monarchy or landed aristocracy.  In other words, copyright after a author's death is giving rights to individuals and institutions to exploit a dead person's labour and live a life of privilege from such past intellectual labours. At the same time, these privileged individuals and institutions who have not done the intellectual labour to earn from the intellectual work are given the right to restrict others who want to benefit from the same work.

2. Treats intellectual property as superior to physical products
Similar intellectual property like patents last for 25 years (or definitely less than copyright). Yet, patents lead to the creation of more tangible, useful and beneficial products for humanity. Why is it that copyrighted works need to be longer than a patent?

This is especially questionable as popular culture changes and information gets outdated. Hence, I see no reason why copyright should last any longer than patents where a physical product created can be improved and changed for the better over time.

3. A justification for censorship and an unfair monopoly over ideas
Now for this reason, I include the analysis or the example in my dream. For me, copyright amounts to restricting persons or institutions from distributing a work. This is okay while the author is alive, and perhaps even okay for a few years after the author's death in order for family members of the decease to gain some financial support after they have buried their loved one. However, to restrict the distribution of a work for almost a century after the author's death can in no way be seen as a credible way of supporting the family of the author, but as creating an unfair barrier of entry for others to share and distribute the author's work. It forces a monopoly over the author's intellectual property by a few. This is contrary to a free market logic and to a democratic ideal where individuals and institutions are free to exchange and share information and ideas unrestricted by the state.

Given these reasons, I oppose any copyright limit extension. In my opinion, after an author's death, no one individual or institution should be given any right to benefit from the work of the dead author and monopolize the distribution of their ideas for any amount of time over 25 years.


"A bill entitled An Act to ammend the copyright act" (2015, April 2). Retrieved from,%202015.pdf

Georgakopoulou, A. (2010). Reflection and self-disclosure from the small stories perspective: A study of identity claims in interview and conversational data. In D. Schiffrin, A. De Fina, & A. Nylund (Eds.), Telling stories: Language, narratiev and social life. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.