Mapping for the masses: Population Density in Kitchener-Waterloo

One of my sidebar projects this fall has been to get back into mapping socio-economic data. This is something I used to do quite a bit four years ago (these maps have sadly succumbed to linkrot and plugin abandonment). Projecting numeric data onto maps is easier than most people think, and ever since I moved to a new city in 2013, I planned to pick up this skill again to learn a few things about my new town. And as a data librarian, I know where to find and work with census data, so it was easy to kickstart things into gear once more.

Below is a map showing population density in Waterloo Region’s census tracts at the 2011 census. Click through to get the entire map:

The interesting thing about this map isn’t so much its colorful polygons, (based on statistics anyone can download here) but the tools I used to build it.  When I was creating maps in 2010, the average person who wanted to hack something out was limited largely to using Arc on his or her campus, or using the open source (and still maturing) variant, QGIS, or working with Google Maps. These days, QGIS is very mature and has a strong developer community, GMaps is still going strong, and users can use services such as Mapbox’s TileMill. The options to choose from are stronger, and there is an option that can meet your background, whatever it may be.

As an example, I’m linking over to Mita Williams’s recent work mapping population change in Windsor, Ontario, as well as making the case for electoral change in her hometown.  Mita is a UX librarian and far more of a coder than I’ll ever be, so her recent work with maps shows a freer hand at hacking out java to make things go, while I use plugins within QGIS to automate some of the coding for me, which frees up my time to spend on analysis.

At the end of the day, our maps are projected with the same code and with data from the same datasets, so our endpoint is the same, but the tools we’ve chosen to use may be better suited to our own particular abilities. That is something I didn’t see in 2010 as much as I see today. And that change is a good thing. Getting these datasets into the hands of the masses, and then making them usable and understandable for everyone, is crucial to the precepts of openness – open access, open government, open data – that we espouse as librarians. One can have completely open access to data, but its value is lessened when it cannot be used or understood by all of society. Yes, open data is a crucial part of today’s citizen-to-citizen and citizen-to-government relationships, but the more tools people have to work with that data, the better.

Share the CLA Statement on Cuts to Statistics Canada

CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)
CLA: Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians (October 23, 2014)

This week, in the middle of Open Access Week, the Canadian Library Association issued a statement criticizing the government cuts that have been made to Statistics Canada in recent years. This critique is strongly worded and it packs a punch; I expect it to gain traction beyond our regular librarian circles.

But getting the word out cannot happen without your help. Read the statement and share it with your colleagues and friends, especially with people outside of your typical library and archives networks.  To make the case that StatCan is not just a numbers factory but a social barometer for the nation, we must extend our voice. We must be on point, and we must persuade.

I have copied the text of the statement from the original PDF in order to help circulate this statement. When you share, please link to the original document or to www.cla.ca.

-Michael

Cuts to Statistics Canada are Harming Canadians
October 23, 2014

The Canadian Library Association / Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities.

Canadians know that access to reliable and high quality information, from the widest variety of points of view, is critical to a prosperous, functioning and democratic society. The decisions that citizens, communities, and governments make are better informed and have the ability to be more innovative when there is a free exchange of ideas facilitated by open and equal access to information. It is with these values in mind that CLA responds to recent and ongoing changes at Statistics Canada.

Recent programme cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada have made it more difficult than ever for Canadians to track changes to critical issues that affect their communities, such as unemployment rates or the education of our children. The replacement of the mandatory long-form census with the National Household Survey, at a significantly greater cost, and the cancellation of many social surveys has made it increasingly challenging, if not impossible, for municipalities, hospitals, schools, and government agencies to administer social programmes and to track their success. In some cases, municipalities are financing their own surveys to gather the critical data they once had access to through StatCan. StatCan cuts and changes are continuing to impede effective planning for all agencies, making future programming a costly gamble. Additionally, with all levels of government focused on social and economic innovation, it is imperative that municipalities have the ability to look back on trends in order to plan for the future with reliable data.

Statistics Canada withering on the vine
Budget cuts have affected Statistics Canada enormously, which in turn affects all Canadians and all levels of government. While StatCan extended a lifeline to surveys and tools that tracked the nation’s economy through these cuts, it did so at the great expense of its social surveys, where significant budget reductions to the agency and ill-advised policy changes to its census program created major gaps that cannot be filled.
Canadians have forever lost valuable research that affects their communities as a result of cancellations of and cuts to surveys such as:

  • The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, which followed the development and well-being of Canadian children from birth to early childhood
  • The Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, which provided valuable insight into the financial situation of Canadian families
  • The Workplace and Employment Survey, which examined employer and employee issues affecting the Canadian work place, such as competitiveness, technology, training, and job stability.

Canadians and their communities are now suffering the consequences of budget cuts and policy changes at Statistics Canada. Major, long-standing surveys that paint a dynamic picture of Canadian society have been eliminated, making it nearly impossible to do year-over-year comparisons and to track the changes in social data and programs over time. It is hard to imagine less responsible measures in the age of open data, open government, and evidence-based policy-making than limiting the supply of data or replacing it with inferior products.

In the context of fiscal responsibility, CLA believes that the government can be much more effective at planning and supporting sound planning. The current government is determined to balance the books and bring Canada into an environment of economic prosperity and growth. In order to plan for these outcomes, careful public spending is dependent on correct information to inform decisions. Statistics Canada has long been the core agency for Canada’s ability to plan and spend carefully at all levels of government, and within the business and not-for-profit sectors. CLA believes that without consistent and reliable data, this ability will be lost.

The CLA urges the government to return Statistics Canada to its status as one of the world’s most respected National Statistical agencies by restoring its funding and the long-form census. The CLA urges the government to provide Statistics Canada with the support it needs to collect, analyze, and publish data that has proven, longstanding value for decision-makers, communities, and Canadians alike.

The Canadian Library Association/Association canadienne des bibliothèques (CLA/ACB) is the national voice for Canada’s library communities, representing the interests of libraries, library workers, and all those concerned about enhancing the quality of life of Canadians through information and literacy. CLA/ACB represents 1410 library workers, libraries and library supporters; and Canadian libraries serve in excess of 34 million Canadians through the nation’s public, school, academic, government and special libraries.

For more information, please visit
www.cla.ca
Valoree McKay, CAE
Executive Director
vmckay@cla.ca
613-232-9625 x 306

Research Data Management Highlights: Digital Infrastructure Summary Summit 2014 Summary Document

This week, a very significant document regarding the future of research data management and digital stewardship landed on my desktop. This is a PDF all academic librarians in Canada must read – whether or not you are tasked with RDM. If you are in IT, Research Facilitation, REB, Industry Compliance, or are a researcher or an administrator, then you should read this, too. It conveys the pressing importance of RDM to the profession, and it shows that we have an opportunity at hand if we take it – or a storm brewing if we turn it away.

The document is the Summary Report for the Digital Infrastructure Summit 2014This conference was hosted by the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure in January 2014. Group representation included CARL, CRKN, CANARIE, TC3+, and CUCCIO; in all 140 participants took part (p. 1). This document outlines the outcomes of the summit, which argued that RDM is lacking in Canada, that a sincere commitment to digital stewardship and not just technology is required to move forward, and the time to act is now (p. 1). If you are a Canadian academic librarian, download the document and read it now.

Note: I was not a participant of this summit and am only summarizing the PDF in regards to RDM in Canada for librarians. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants when I write this post.

This document asks What is Digital Infrastructure (DI)?, considers the existing problems that are hampering the development of an effective DI in Canada, and traces a clear path forward on which the Canadian research enterprise should move. Research Data Management and the people involved in it are front and centre in this document, and this means academic librarians and preservationists. The library has a significant role to play, and we are expected to contribute.

Digital Infrastructure and Soft Skills

One of the document’s biggest takeaways – and what I argue should be one of the first talking points you should use when discussing research data management – is that digital infrastructure (DI) is far more than technology alone. The executive summary states in clear, plain language that digital infrastructure includes “our ability to capture, manage, preserve, and use data . . . data are infrastructure, as are the highly skilled personnel who facilitate access to data, computational power and networks” (p. 1). DI requires “skilled knowledge management personnel” (p.1) who have technical capacity, but as we see elsewhere in the document, also can participate in local and national policy formulation and interpretation, understand project management, and have the capacity to collaborate and lead in their own field and in others. These are a suite of advanced “soft skills” that are concomitant IT knowledge and experience, and they are bound together with other essential criteria such as sustained funding and ongoing government and industry support, which allow research data management to flourish rather than wither on the vine. A successful solution that addresses near-team and long-team RDM issues requires skilled, committed resources on the ground who are leading the way. DI cannot be left to colleagues on limited term appointments or to our grad students. It demands institutional memory and it requires organizational vision.

I’ve mentioned the argument in the above paragraph in a post long ago, but I’ll take this opportunity to link out again. Chuck Humphrey states this in clear terms when he explains that RDM is the “what” and the “how”, and digital stewardship is the “who”, and both are necessary requirements in RDM infrastructure. If you are a librarian, then read Chuck’s website. If you are a Canadian librarian, then read it again. And again.

What’s wrong with Canada’s Digital Infrastructure?  

The Leadership Council has cut right to the chase in their document. They want you, the reader, to know right away that there are real issues affecting digital scholarship in Canada:

  1. Our research data are a national asset, and they are not stewarded properly (p. 1). Canada needs to get up to speed, quickly. It needs RDM and it needs it now. It requires data storage infrastructure it doesn’t have at present. It requires better skills training. It requires better software development. (Fellow Librarians: This is all about us.)
  2. There is very little governance and coordination (p. 1-2). There are many, many players, from funding agencies to libraries to standards organizations to researchers themselves. We are all trying hard to fix this, but we’re not working together. Our governance model is weak. Time is lost, efforts are duplicated, and we are spinning our wheels. (Fellow Librarians: This is very much about us. Get in there and make it happen.)
  3. There is very little federal policy regarding DI (p. 2). This is related but distinct from the second point. With little direction from government, the community is looking in all directions all at once. Greater coordination, planning, and sustained, reliable investment would be beneficial to the national research enterprise. (Fellow Librarians. This, too, is about us. Do. Take part. Take charge.)

I support it's not a blog post if you don't add a worldle.

How to act. How to improve RDM. How to solve this crisis.

Note: I am focusing on mainly on RDM and digital stewardship in this post; the original document gives equal attention to other areas such as governance, policy, and funding.

Research data management/stewardship is as yet the weakest link in the Canadian DI landscape, despite the massive increases in the amount of data being created daily through the research process. There is currently no agreed-upon strategy and/or the capacity to protect this valuable public asset, with little capacity to support access, use and reuse by a wide range of users. (p. 6)

The document makes a strong case not just for increased technical infrastructure but for greater knowledge management, project management, and policy analysis. We simply cannot allow ourselves to dump data files one after another onto a server and then hope that serendipity or an as-of-yet uncoded search algorithm will help us organize, preserve, and provide access to these files in the future. Research data – especially publicly funded research data – are a public good, and they require maintenance, management, and care.

The document highlights significant RDM gaps in Canada that must be addressed. These are:

  • Lack of a core RDM resource (p. 8)
      • Canada requires a national data service, which can lead in stewardship, policy, and education. RDC, CARL, and CRKN all have assets to contribute in this regard; RDC has shown incredible strength in this area already
  • Lack of strategy (p. 9)
    • Canada has no high-level strategy framework guiding debate and decisions on standards, infrastructure and distribution access networks, obligations to existing international agreements; funding
  • Lack of Policy leadership (p. 9)
    • Tri-Council should take the next step and implement RDM policy under consideration.
  • Weak RDM culture (p. 9-10)
    • The benefits that RDM brings must be better articulated.
  • Lack of understanding of Digital Infrastructure (p. 10)
    • It is incumbent that stakeholders demonstrate to the greater community that digital infrastructure necessarily includes the data, and the professionals who steward them
  • Lack of training (p. 10)
    • RDM training is inconsistent at present and must be improved in the short-term for practitioners and researchers alike
  • Weak policy on long-term data lifecycle management (p. 11)
    • Like any collection, data must be managed in part because its supports are not without cost. Management will include asking tough questions like what should be preserved, if we have the means and capacity to preserve it, and for what length of time. I recommend that we all have discussions about data collection policies as soon as possible. Locally, in our consortia, and nationally.
  • Lack of Storage (p. 11)
    • Storage capacity for all disciplines must be addressed. RDM is in no way an “X not Y” proposition. We must serve all discipline, departments, faculties, and researchers.
  • Means to foster acceptance (p. 11)
    • This is a tricky issue. We need our researchers to accept and be a part of RDM. Compliance should be required, but strict policies at the outset may prevent too much pushback. There will be give-and-take in the beginning.
    • Note: The original document refers to “compliance” here. I don’t want to use that term. Do we need sticks? Yes. Do we want to use them? Only if we have to. But from the outside, we must have the attitude that everyone is a partner in this venture.

Good data stewardship is not just a researcher’s responsibility, but it also needed at institutional, organizational, national, and disciplinary levels. (p. 10)

Making things happen and getting things done.

The LC provides a roadmap for action and results in its summary report from its 2014 Digital Infrastructure Summit. I am focusing on RDM-related activities and policy in this post since they are both so important to me, so I do encourage you to read the entire document yourselves to see the entire action plan.

The LC’s ways forward for RDM and policy include:

  • Maintain the Leadership Council and analyze its organizational structure (p. 17-18)
    • A steering committee is required and the LC has done a good job this far. That said, there are clamours and a need for greater representation. Consider increasing membership, developing an executive committee, form working groups, and establishing a Charter and Secretariat
  • Engage government (p. 19)
    • The LC had developed a strong community-driven response to RDM challenges. That said, push government – again – for improved coordination of policy and funding
  • Establish a national RDM network (p. 20)
    • Working on CARL and CRKN’s leadership and experience in this area, establish a network focusing on services, tools and tech, and education
  • Create an RDM pilot (p. 21)
    • Develop pilot discipline-based RDM programmes in three domains: astronomy, social sciences, and medical genomics
  • Coordinate with CRKN’s Integrated Digital Scholarship Ecosystem (ISDE) (p. 22)
    • Engage with this initiative that will enable next-gen library collaboration for seamless access, and improved infrastructure
  • Develop an RDM metrics pilot (p. 22-23)
    • For assessment, understanding performance

If you have made it this far in the post, then I offer you my congratulations. There is a lot of information to synthesize, but it is vital that academic librarians in Canada understand what is on the horizon for our profession, and what role will be expected of us. As this post shows, the work that follows – the opportunity we can take hold of – is as much resource-related and people-related as it is tech-related. To discuss digital infrastructure is to discuss the people who make it happen. Research Data Management doesn’t happen on its own. RDM requires careful planning, policy interpretation, technical capacity, and a thorough understanding of resource management.  

And yes, this is an opportunity for us. But we must be ready for what is to come. RDM will soon become the coordinated response to big data in Canada as it is elsewhere in the developed world, and it will mean work. But this is our work. It is our field. Take heed, take note, ask questions, and get set. Plan for this, and get set to play a leading role, because things are going to get busy.

tl;dr : read this now.  apply it to your work.

 

Information Literacy, Census Geography, and Maps

One of the things I’m constantly doing as a government documents librarian is giving lessons on Statistics Canada geographic areas. Census geographies can be downright confusing to the new user (and to sometimes to the seasoned expert!). The names are riddled with acronyms and jargon, and their relationships to other areas and spaces can be complicated. One legally incorporated township may be considered a census subdivision while another may be classified as only a census agglomeration. Another city may be classified as a census subdivision, and also be part of a census metropolitan area of a similar name, e.g., Toronto CSD and Toronto CMA.   Or, a city may be classified as a census subdivision and exist not only in a CMA with a similar name, but also a census division (I’m looking at you, City of Waterloo CSD, Waterloo Region CD, and Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo CMA). And if you dare introduce census tracts the first time through, your short introduction to the “Russian dolls” nature of census geographies runs the risk of turning your lesson into an information dump about privacy and data validity when all that your first-year economics student wanted to know was why it’s so hard to get comparable income and migration numbers for Kitchener, Ontario, and The Pas in northern Manitoba.

Don’t ask me how many census tracts this CMA holds.

Confusion abounds. One of the problems we encounter are the tools we use to explain these geographies, which should be easily understood but are often abstract – we may live in towns and cities, but we refer to them as census agglomerations or CMAs. What can you use to show how spaces relate to one another, or how certain concepts can be measured and expressed spatially? The answer is a map, of course.  God lov’em, those maps. Maps help us express numbers – quantities, amounts, rations, proportions – with colours and shapes, and in the regions we live in and travel through each day. Face it, “big data” wouldn’t be as big as it is today if we didn’t have “big maps” to help use make sense of the numbers. However, StatCan’s digitized maps are large, layered PDFs that aren’t always user-friendly. The Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) PDFs are great reference items, but they aren’t very accessible.  And this creates a learning gap for so many of our users.

To overcome this gap, I’m constantly pulling out the old SGC print maps, and I’m also cutting and pasting and hacking together magnified screenshots of the PDFs into my slide deck.  Typically, if you need census help and you’ve found me in person, then there stands a good chance that I’m going to crack open the SGC and unfold a map somewhere in the office (I even keep the southern Ontario CD-CSD map posted to a wall).  I started doing this last Spring after I moved to Waterloo and had to learn the region’s geography and confirm its census divisions, subdivisions, and CMAs for myself, and I realized this was a simple and effective tool that should be used more often, especially with new StatCan users.

StatCan’s 2006 geographies for southern Ontario, from a summer 2012 research consultation

 

Typically, I bring students to a nearby conference room and unfold the map on a large table.  I find that being able to “walk around” the entire map and point to the places where the lines that signify the different geographies merge, separate, and then merge again, helps students understand some of the logic behind the regions (at least in terms of distance and population). They may not always be able to recall all the differences between a census division, subdivision and metropolitan area after a session, but they at least remember that there are differences, and these differences are important enough to affect their research.

The original SGC PDF gives us a wide view of Ontario

The classroom is a different story, though. When working with only one person or a small group, there is a persuasive element at work that captures everyone’s attention. Carefully unfolding and presenting a map to a small group of people is like opening a box that holds a surprise. (Let’s call this surprise “knowledge” and we’ll call ourselves awesome for charming our audience so handily into learning something). But if we take that same map into the classroom or lecture hall, it risks becoming an awkward, cumbersome prop. It can become a distraction or even a failed means to demonstrate your expertise in such a short time to such a large group of people.

Zooming in reveals the different geographies

Maps that unfold to become wider and taller than you put the room’s attention onto your map-wrangling skills (however good or poor they might be) instead of on the knowledge you have share, so I avoid them. You’ve never caught me walking to a classroom with a print map, and I doubt many other librarians do that today.

The final zoom focuses directly on the region the classroom is interested in (and it’s often Waterloo Region)

Instead, I give the class what they want and what they expect, and that means I work that map into my PowerPoint deck. Any time I’m introducing StatCan resources and geographies to a class, I insert three images of the same PDF map, each one magnified more than the last. This helps people “zoom in” with their eyes and see the many relationships and regions that are defined in one place alone. The length of time I spend on these slides depends on the classroom’s needs: sometimes, I spend only a few moments on these slides, and other times, I’ll spend five or ten minutes. What matters is that after I’ve finished up and am headed back to the office, I know that the instructor can pass around a slide deck that always refers to all these different areas.

I know I’m not presenting anything new in this post: maps have long been a tremendous tool within government documents librarianship. Perhaps the takeaway lies more in information literacy than it does anywhere else. Is your digital resource, as presented to you, the best way to help the user understand the resource? You may want to turn to the print resource or manipulate the digital resource, as I do with StatCan maps, to improve learning and synthesis. It’s just one more tool (or two, in this case) in our IL toolbox.

Why we must be apprehensive about DRM and digital locks

This little piece of news hasn’t yet got much coverage in the popular press, but it should. It shows why Canadians (and everyone, really) must be concerned about digital locks.  Librarians and lawyers are the ones taking note of it right now, but it’s an issue we should all worry about:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/librarybazaar/status/139008379023667201″]

 

Yes, that’s right – as Michael Geist reports, if you are Canadian and have ever purchased music through Napster Canada, then you run the risk of losing access to content you have paid for:

These downloads are DRM-encoded WMA files and can be backed up by burning them to audio CDs. Doing this will allow you access to your music on any CD player and generally have a maintenance free permanent copy. If you do not back up your purchased Napster music downloads by burning them to CD and you later change or reinstall your computer’s operating system, have a system failure or experience DRM corruption, then the downloads will stop playing and you will permanently lose access to them.

(Source: Napster Canada PR via Geist’s blog)

Let’s put this into perspective:

  • Customers have purchased items (music, objects, widgets, whatever) from a company with the assurance that these items can be accessed.  But the use of these music files are limited by a lock that the company will no longer support now that it has pulled out of the market and been bought by a competitor.
  • Customers have been advised by the company to effectively circumvent their digital locks if they want to continue listening to their music.  

I suppose that Napster Canada/Rhapsody is acting in good faith when they explain to Canadian customers how to ensure that the content they have already purchased will always be accessible. Napster/Rhapsody has informed customers that all they need to do is copy the data to audio CDs to ensure that the music can be played even if the digital lock on the file is ever corrupted. But does anyone else find it a tiny bit illogical that a company that normally espouses the use of digital locks is now effectively telling its customers to break the law and circumvent the lock in order to make sure they will always be able to access this music?

Digital Rights Management is something we must be wary of.  DRM limits the consumer’s rights to the content he or she has purchased; it “manages” rights by taking them away from the consumer. This is of particular concern in Canada, when so many organizations are subsidiaries of larger companies located elsewhere. If Napster pulls out of the Canadian market, will the digital locks that limit access to the content you purchased still be supported? It seems not. If Amazon were ever to pull out of the Canadian market (which is an unlikely scenario, but a worthy point to make), would its digital locks that limit access to the content you purchased still be supported? That would be up to Amazon to decide.  Digital locks keep your purchases at the mercy of the vendor, which is reason enough to oppose them.

Copyright is a mess, especially in Canada.  The law is antiquated and it does need an overhaul to actually work in our digital landscape.  But DRM and digital locks place an undue burden and risk on consumers (be they individuals, families, or libraries), most of whom are law-abiding citizens, respect intellectually property and rights, and do not copy content.

 

Post script: Am I suggesting we back out of all e-content on account of DRM?  No, I’m not. What I’m trying to show, like so many others, is that the system is out of balance right now and will remain so in the future.  Advocacy is required to fix this.

Come to the Halifax Holly Holly!

This post is for all you Halifax Librarians out there. By now, you’ve probably got the e-mail, but I wanted to post it anyway.  This way, I can link to my favourite Christmas song below the fold, which is a decent track no matter where you live. –ms
====

Halifax’s Library and Information Science Holiday Social is back – Join your friends and colleagues for an evening of great food, door prizes, fun, and holiday cheer at our annual Holly Jolly!

Even Santa's elves need a break from cataloguing the toys.

The Holly Jolly costs only $10, or $8 for students. We’ll be taking over Argyle Fine Art at its new Barrington Street location on Thursday December 8, from 6pm to 9pm. There are many door prizes to give away, and once again we’ll have excellent catering from Certainly Cinnamon. In the spirit of the season, we ask that Holly Jolly’ers bring a non-perishable food item(s) to support the Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank.

Please RSVP to hollyjollysocial@gmail.com by December 5, 2011

Date: Thursday, December 8, 2011
Time: 6:00pm – 9:00 pm
Location: Argyle Fine Art, 1559 Barrington Street, Halifax, Suite 102
Price: $10.00 ($8.00 for students)

The Holly Jolly is brought to you by the Halifax Library Association with the support of NSALT, APLA, other and library associations in Nova Scotia.

Why I’m a member of the Canadian Library Association

The CLA is dead.  Long live the CLA.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past year, then you know about the CLA’s plans to dissolve its divisions and other internal bodies and replace them with networks.  My read on things is simple: the networks are hoped to be nimble, member-driven groups that can organize Canadian librarians, strengthen their voices, and improve participation in the Association itself.   This change is coming at *great* expense to the former divisions, such as CACUL, CASL, etc., but I’m hopeful we’ll see some benefits from this in the long run.

I’m hopeful we’ll see benefits in the long run because the CLA needs it.  Librarians of all stripes can gain a lot by being part of a broad-based, national umbrella organization.  In my mind, the CLA still has the potential to speak for our profession (yes, librarianship is a profession, but a “small-p profession”.)  It has the potential to represent the wide range of opinions, activities, and values of librarians across Canada, and it has the potential to be an advocate for our concerns within the community and within society at large.  But right now, it doesn’t do that so well.  The CLA remains a player in the “acronyms market”, but it has to compete with so many other associations that are regional (e.g., OLA, APLA) or professional (e.g., CHLA,  CALL).  And it also has to compete for our attention and membership fees with the granddaddy of all library associations, the ALA and all its own divisions and councils, which can offer its members a wealth of networking and information-sharing opportunities.  In short, the CLA is being pinched, which is diminishing its ability to be a strong, nation-wide advocate for librarianship and information science, and for information policy.

But this crisis shows us why we really do need a strong CLA and why we should all invest our time into the CLA’s new network structure.  What do we lose by leaving the CLA?  Whether you leave the CLA reluctantly or willfully, you are diminishing a nation-wide body’s ability to advocate for you and the profession.  Our membership in the CLA is what lends it authority to be an expert not only on copyright and the book rate, but also on data curation, on open access to government information, on the census, on teaching and learning, on privacy in a public sphere, and on how to build an Internet that works for our grandmother in Random Cape Nowhere as well as it does for our cousin John who lives in a suburb pre-wired for Fiber Op.

These are the things the CLA can do.   These are the things that a national association should be doing.   The national association has let a lot of people down in the past few years; that can’t be denied or understated.  But it is only a national association that can raise our concerns in our communities, in our regions, and in all of our capitals.   As strong as the OLA is (and I don’t mean to pick on the OLA), it cannot speak for librarians and libraries in my home province of Nova Scotia.   And although our membership with the ALA gives us incredible value for the money spent, its Washington Office doesn’t have the time or desire to look into what’s going on in Ottawa.  Only a national Canadian library association can do this.

I’m not going to deny that CLA membership is expensive, because it is.  It is especially expensive for newer librarians such as myself, who often are working term contracts and are lucky to be able to expense these fees.  (This is a pity since recent graduates have so much energy and potential that must be tapped for the CLA to fulfill its mandate, I believe).  And I’m not going to deny that profession-specific associations can offer librarians a community of peers that better resembles him or herself, because if you’re a health librarian, then the CHLA conference probably has more sessions that pique your interest than the CLA can, or if you’re a law librarian, then CALL’s community probably speaks to the day-to-day issues you face in your workplace better than the larger CLA community can.  But these facts, which can’t be denied, can’t deny the greater fact that a national professional association, when properly charged, can raise the profile of the profession, affect policy-making and governance, and produce positive change within society at large.

The new Networks policy at the CLA is far from perfect and I don’t think everything is going to be sorted out overnight.  But if you have any care or any grievance at all with the library profession in Canada, then now is a perfect time to get involved with the CLA because you can make a difference immediately by proposing and organizing these networks and communities.  It’s an opportunity to stake a claim and to make it known that your issue, belief, goal, or intention is so important that it warrants nation-wide attention and discussion.  This is the time to make it happen.

Whether you call yourself an academic librarian, a public librarian, a health librarian or law librarian or anything else, remember that the adjective only modifies the noun: you’re a librarian first and foremost, and librarian isn’t a dirty word.  The CLA won’t ever please everyone, but it is the professional body in Canada that gives librarians of all stripes a chance to affect change in their workplaces and in their communities all across the country.   Change is slow – it always will be – but change can happen, and you can be a part of it.  Consider taking part in a CLA Network and being part of positive change, for the good of you and your peers, the good of your workplace, and of your community.

 

On the costs and benefits of conference attendance

This post on ALA’s New Members’ Roundtable Listserv (NMRT-L) bears repeating.  Lorna Peterson, through Linda Crook, reminds us that conference attendance and the work of the ALA in general, i.e., of professional library associations, is largely funded by individual members and not be employers.   She notes that regardless of how new ICTs can bring people together, holding a constant attitude that library conferences can’t be attended due to cost is a disservice to your peers and stakeholders,  Furthermore, professional associations have survived for decades, or in the case of the ALA, for over 130 years, on the fees and dues paid by its members:

“But I do have to make a comment here: Never, ever, in the entire history of ALA, in its 135 year history, has the membership as a whole gotten full support from institutions to attend. Doesn’t matter the type of library– school, public (believe me, public librarians in the past got REAMED in local papers for attending ALA), academic,special– these librarians have not been sent in full to ALA by their institutions.

On the one hand, I think it is good that the younger generation is holding on to its money more (and yes, that is because there is less security now for those who entered the workforce in the 1990s and afterward) but on the other hand, bringing up the cost issue presents a picture that we old timers were sent to ALA fully funded by our institutions. Didn’t happen. My first ALA in 1982 after working as a librarian for 2 years, was in Philadelphia where I stayed in a dorm, took a super cheap flight from Columbus to Philadelphia, and had most of my meals at a 7-11 across the street. But the experience of ALA — the speakers, the programs, exhibits, meeting other colleagues, was worth the money. And so it has been for these almost 30 years of regular ALA attendance. And trust me, a great portion has come out of my pocket and not because I am rich.

The new information and communication technologies make it easier for us to meet virtually. And this is a boon. And it saves individuals and institutions money. What I am criticizing, what I don’t like, is the false picture presented that there was a time of members’ memberships, registrations, travel paid for by institutions or fairy godmothers — some members may have had blip, unique experiences when all was paid for, but in general, for the work of ALA in its 135 history, the financial burden has been on the individual. I am not saying you should martyr yourselves. What I am saying is that I would like to see the narrative change — we have an opportunity to do more because of the new information and communication technologies that allows us to the work in a blended way that will advance the cause of our community– the community of librarianship and what we believe in. Saying that because we don’t have the money to attend diminishes the commitment of those in the past and what we do at ALA. The new information and communication technologies allow for an engagement that broadens participation. In my opinion, the narrative should be broadening participation, enhancing engagement, and furthering the mission of our awesome profession and association. If the argument is only based on saving money and financial hardships, ALA would not have survived for 135 years.

 

You can read the e-mail on the NMRT-L listserv’s archive here.  And if you’re up for it, join the list and respond.

What’s the takeaway here?  Peterson and Crook’s post should remind us that when it comes to professional associations, you only get what you put in.  Of course, in some years, conference fees will be too expensive for your budget, but don’t be 100% dismissive of the conference or of the association.  It isn’t good for you, your peers, or your profession.

 

[n.b. In the coming days, I’ll be writing up my own takeaways from #CLA2011.)

 

 

Create a CLA Network for new(er) Academic Librarians

#CLA2011 has come and gone, and so have all its divisions and interest groups left us.  They’re going to be replaced with “networks“, which will be self-governed, self-initiated groups who advocate the interests of their members.   This is a bit risky, I agree, but I like this move in principle:  it shows that the CLA has faith in its members, and it will help the general membership come together in ways that interest them the most.

But we’ve got a little dilemma here.  As Kim at Re:Gen has pointed out, the organizational structure of the Association as we know it has been wiped away. There’s now nothing until we rebuild it again.  The king is dead; long live the king.

And that’s what we plan to do. There is currently a group of academic librarians, who are mostly new or recent graduates, that is working on creating a new network to represent our interests.   Here’s what we’re interested in:

  • Real and effective networking, in the profession and at the library schools
  • Crowd-sourced professional development from our peers and by our peers
  • Tech, lots of tech.  There are 5 time zones in Canada, people, and the Interwebs helps bring us together
  • Raising the visibility of a new generation of information professionals.  We want to take part in (if not drive) transformative change in our academic libraries.

We can’t and we won’t do this without you. If you are interested in the future of academic librarianship in Canada (and your place in it), then please visit our wiki and contribute to it today We are looking for ideas for this network’s aims and goals, and we are looking for like-minded librarians and library students who want to participate.

Head to the wiki, create an account, post your opinions, and make this happen.  Let’s do this.

And if you needed one more reason to contribute, then it’s this:

The name of the game is networking:  people meeting people, for the purpose of meeting again at a later date.

 

[n.b. You can contact me personally for more information, too.]

 

[edit: June 3/2011 : There is already movement on the wiki to expand the scope of this network beyond academic librarians, which I wholly support.  Am I an academic librarian?  Yes, I am, but the adjective only modifies the noun.  We’re librarians/info.pros first and foremost.  Let’s define ourselves by our profession rather by our trade.]

#CLA2011 Google Map

Are you coming to #CLA2011 (or #CLA11) in Halifax, Nova Scotia?   Then this Google Map may come in handy.   I created a Google Map to help a few librarian-friends from across Canada decide on some things to do in Halifax and then decided to share it with the world.       Enjoy, contribute, and share and share alike.

And since you’re coming to CLA 2011, make sure you visit and say Hi! during Saturday morning’s Technology Lightning Strikes! panel at 8:30 (Session G49).  I’m going to be speaking with a bunch of excellent librarians (read: absolute tech superstars who know so much more than me!) about emerging technology trends and how to integrate them into your everyday work with little fuss and hardly any muss.   I’ll post more details on this in a later post.

At any rate, come say Hi, or tweet me on Twitter – I like meeting people and showing them about this town – Halifax is a great town to visit.

-mike.