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September 2016
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June 2017

You Work For Us Now

Poor Donald.  If he's going to feel compelled to tweet his annoyance every time someone reminds him that he's going to be held to account for fulfilling his pledge to be president of all the people, he's going to have very busy little thumbs.

The message from the Hamilton cast to the VP elect was perfectly respectful and entirely appropriate.  The show itself is a stirring evocation of the wonder  that is the American experiment -- that people from all backgrounds, from all over the world, can come together and create a nation, create community based on an idea -- freedom of thought and belief, based on mutual caring and respect.  As Jon Stewart said in his recent CBS interview, this ain't natural.  It goes against our tribal instincts.  It's hard work.  And it's work that never ends.  But it's the work that keeps America great.

I spent some time this afternoon watching Sharon Jones videos.  Amidst the messages of people mourning her loss, I wanted to be reminded of how intensely alive she was. Watch her in Paris, taking the crowd through the Soul Train dances.  A slim figure in an orange hoodie sneaks out from the wings with a guitar.  Prince couldn't stay away.

I keep a picture of Bowie on my desk, one of those last promo shots of him, taken just weeks before he died, jaunty in his fedora, brilliant grin on his face.  The pictures were released on his birthday.  Of course he knew what he was facing.  If he  could grin like that, so can we.

Face it.  We all die.  Nobody's figured out how to avoid it.  What counts is the joy and creation with which we live.  The ways in which we reach out and care for each other.  Our artists do it the most directly, but it's in our grasp every day, in every human encounter.  That's what keeps us going, even though we know we're going into the dark.

Brandon Dixon told the audience to stop booing before he read the statement.  "There's nothing to boo here. ... We're all here sharing a story of love..."  He knows that love wins.  Even when it's not easy.  Maybe especially when it's not easy.

The President-elect and the crew he's gathering around him don't understand that.  They think that strength comes from being hard.  That greatness comes from smashing your enemies.  And that your enemies are those who disagree with you, who will remind you of the depth of the responsibilities that you've taken on.

Poor Donald.  Sad to be so disconnected from the joy and passion that makes life worth living, that defeats death, in the end.  He's in for a rough four years.  He needs to be reminded every day that he's taken on a sacred trust.  That he's going to be held to account.  It can be done respectfully, as the Hamilton cast did.  But it will be done relentlessly.  He's not going to like it.  But he's working for us now.

Data and the Librarians

It was the launch of the first publicly available bibliographic database, the very beginning of online search.  And it led some librarians to think it was time to leave the profession.

In her monthly column in the MLA News, the sage Lucretia McClure points us to Irwin Pizer's 1994 Doe Lecture where he describes the launch of the SUNY Biomedical Communication Network in 1968.  I've always been quite proud of the fact that online searching was invented by medical librarians.  Without Irwin Pizer (and others) there'd've been no Sergey Brin.

While it's true that online searching was scary enough to drive some librarians into early retirement, others (as Lucretia says) "could not wait to dive into the automation revolution."  By the time I entered the profession a decade and a half later, online searching was shifting from being a specialized skill to a basic proficiency that all librarians were expected to have.  Then came the World Wide Web and librarians who based their sense of their professional selves on their competence in searching the Dialog databases or MEDLINE felt the ground lurch beneath them once again.  I believe there may have been a few more early retirements.

But of course there were more librarians who were excited about it all.  And I noticed to my delight, as the decade of the nineties wound on, that at conferences it was easy to see more new graduates of library schools eager to make their mark in the online world.  Librarians knew how to surf the web.  Librarians were cool.  Pizer's BCN was ancient history.

It was timely for me to be reminded of this this morning as I'm getting ready to review a couple of data management books: Lisa Federer's edited collection, The Medical Library Association Guide to Data Management For Librarians and Margaret Henderson's Data Management: A Practical Guide for Librarians.  The shift into developing data management services that we're seeing in academic libraries across the country promises to be at least as radical and disruptive as the invention of online searching fifty years ago.

I'm sure there are some librarians who are watching "big data" conversations taking over conferences and discussion lists and thinking this may be a good time to get out.  But the webinar I attended this morning,"Creating a Campus-wide Research Data Services Committee: The Good, The Bad, and The…" makes it clear that just as in those earlier upheavals, there are smart and energetic librarians eager to take it on. (This was part one -- part two is Thursday morning, 11/17).

But it's a huge undertaking and while there are many reasons that it makes sense for librarians to take on these roles, few practicing librarians have the day-to-day skills that are necessary.  There's a huge learning curve.  And this morning's presentations make clear how very far we have yet to go.

Those earlier revolutions, online database searching and navigating the World Wide Web, applied technology to the traditional domain of the reference librarian.  They vastly expanded the information resources available, with a concomitant increase in the challenge of acquiring mastery, but it was still fundamentally the librarian in the library, working with students and faculty, helping them find and use the information resources they required.

The challenges of data management might seem similar, calling on the skills of the cataloger and indexer to provide metadata and context for datasets.  But the shift is more radical.  It requires a new kind of partnership between the librarian and the researcher and new forms of organization and collaboration between the library and the other components of the institution.  What is apparent from this morning's presentations and is a theme that runs through most of what I see as librarians work to develop data management services, is how isolated librarians typically are from understanding the range of work and activity that makes up the days of the average faculty researcher.  It's not really surprising.  Although librarians work with people from all across campus, our interactions with them usually touch only a very small part of their daily activity.  And because we are so focused on providing a particular library service to them, we can miss their bigger picture.  This myopia affects the development of data management services.  The natural tendency, because this is the way we've always operated, is to define and develop a set of services that we think researchers need, and then try to figure out how to get them to use those services.

I touched on this in my recent essay in JeSLIB.  As I've been thinking about the challenges of data management over the past two years I've had two significant advantages for developing what I've come to believe is a necessary perspective.  First, I'm operating out of the Provost's Office rather than the library.  This is incredibly useful in keeping me focused on what researchers need, rather than what the library can provide.  Second, I come to this after nineteen years as director of the health sciences library, where I operated as a member of the Council of Deans, part of the senior leadership of the university.  I know the people, I know the issues, I know the politics.  In too many libraries, the primary responsibility for developing data management services has been turned over to a mid-level librarian who usually has other responsibilities as well.  But to have the kind of impact that is necessary, these services have to be collaborations with the Research office, Offices of Sponsored Programs, research centers, IT and others.  Mid-level librarians generally don't even know what all these entities are, much less who are the people in them and what challenges they face.  Doing that kind of outreach is going to require that the senior people in the library do some of the heavy lifting, opening doors and clearing the way for those smart and energetic data librarians that they're hiring and training.

Fifteen years ago it was common to see ads for electronic resources librarians.  I'd look at these ads and tell my staff, if we're not all becoming electronic resources librarians to some degree, we're not doing the job that our communities need us to do.  I feel the same way about data management librarians.  Just as online database searching and WWW navigation became bread and butter services for libraries, helping the institution do a better job of managing research data will become just a regular thing that librarians do.

For now, though, those pioneering librarians are like Pizer's crew at SUNY, half a century ago, inventing the future without a map, with only a sketch of a plan, but with great enthusiasm and, as Pizer said, thinking back on his career, "a sense of wonder."  What a fabulous time to be a librarian!

Trustworthiness in the Post-Fact World

How long will it take for the Trump voters to realize they've been conned?

Among the most confounding items in the avalanche of pre-election polls was the finding that Americans viewed Trump as significantly more trustworthy than Clinton. For those of us still living in the fact-based world, this was incomprehensible. Trump's penchant for brazen lying has been well documented. His willingness to say things that are clearly not true, even when there's easily controvertible video evidence baffled observers who looked to past campaigns and saw how quickly a candidate foundered when confronted with misstatements far less blatant than those Trump makes on a daily basis. Clinton, on the other hand, was rated the second most truthful politician of the dozen or so that Politifact rated over the course of the long campaign.  Despite the non-stop chanting by Trump's supporters, Clinton's lies were far, far fewer and of much less consequence than Trump's.  How could it be that most Americans viewed Trump as more trustworthy?

Elizabeth Kolbert pointed the way in a piece in the New Yorker. We now live in a post-fact world (as Ron Suskind explained when reporting on the Bush White House more than a decade ago).  Facts are mushy, malleable things.  Everybody lies and everybody throws "facts" around as weapons to prove their own points of view.  All media are biased, so you're foolish to take at face value anything that you see.  You can't base your trust on "facts."

You go with your gut.  When Trump contradicts himself, it still feels like he means exactly what he says in the moment that he says it.  It doesn't matter if he says something different the next day or the next hour.  Those are just "facts."  His willingness to say horrifying things is evidence that he "tells it like it is."  He's not going to modify his language to appease some PC norms about what it's okay for a candidate to say.  Clinton, on the other hand, appeared to be always hedging, always carefully thinking about the impact of what she was going to say before she said it.  Even if she was saying true things, how could you tell if she really believed it?  And that's what counts -- belief, not facts.  Belief is all you can trust.

On the internet, an article in the New York Times and a piece on Breitbart carry the same weight.  How do you choose?  Whose biases line up with your own?  Who gives you more comfort and reassures you that they see the world the way you do?  "Trustworthiness" in the post-fact world has nothing to do with an adherence to things that are true.  What matters are the words that justify and confirm.  Trump has been so good at that.

So how long will it take for the Trump voters to realize they've been conned?  The Donald is loading his transition team with the Washington insiders, lobbyists and plutocrats he railed against (along with his adorable children, of course).  Drain the swamp?  Hah!  McConnell's cynical strategy appears to have worked.  The Kentucky Tortoise smiles his oily smile at the President-elect and thinks, "You're my bitch now."

The Republicans aren't going to allow 35% tariffs on companies moving operations out of the U.S.  They have corporate profits to protect.  Coal is not coming back unless natural gas production is squelched.  The markets won't let that happen.  Now Trump thinks some pieces of Obamacare are worth keeping.  He says he hasn't given much thought to a special prosecutor to lock up Hillary.  He won't answer questions about banning Muslims.  Parts of the wall will be a fence and he's going to start discussions with Mexico on how it'll be paid for.  He might deport as many undocumented as Obama has, but he's not focused on that right now.  So how long will it take for the Trump voters to realize they've been conned?

That Trump won't be able to actualize some of his most egregious slogans should give comfort to no one.  The viciousness that he's unleashed won't be easily restrained.  When the WSJ asked him if some of his campaign rhetoric had gone too far he said, "No. I won."  He tells Leslie Stahl that he's "surprised" and "so saddened" to hear about the violence committed in his name.  But hatred works for him.  And when the Trump voters finally do realize they've been conned and try to call him to account, he'll turn the blame elsewhere.  His failures have always been someone else's fault.  He'll resort to stirring up the rage and resentment that has worked for him so well this year and direct it at those who've been his targets all along.  He's very good at that.

He's betting that in the post-fact world he can keep saying the things that energize his supporters and garner him the praise and adulation he seeks above all else, no matter what his administration actually does or doesn't do.  He might be right.

I'm not giving up on facts.  But with Bannon in the White House the American Experiment has a fierce and formidable adversary.  Facts won't be enough.  We need to tell better stories.  Trump will rely on hatred and fear because that works for him.  Those who oppose him have to be better than that.  The opposition stories have to speak to what is best about America.  Stories that are true.  That greatness comes when we lift each other, when we listen to each other, when we take each other in.  I still believe that the arc of history bends toward justice.  But it demands that we work for it.


One Day At A Time

I empathize with the shock and anger of the many who say they are determined to oppose everything that President Trump does.  I get it.  He's demonstrated over and over again that he's a ghastly human being.  He has the potential to do tremendous damage to everything I hold dear about the American experiment.  I expect that I will vigorously oppose most of what he tries to implement.  But vow to oppose him on everything?  I'm not going to go there.

When Mitch McConnell announced his determination to make Obama a one-term president and quickly made it clear that he would lead the opposition to everything Obama proposed, (even if, like much of the initial healthcare proposals, those policies were rooted in ideas that Republicans had long favored), Democrats and those on the left howled that he was abdicating his responsibilities.  Rather than governing, he was acting solely in favor of his parochial political interest.  We were right to do so.  The unyielding blanket opposition to everything Obama did was shameful.  We shouldn't let our anger and fear bring us to the same low point.

Part of what is trainwreck fascinating about the Donald is that we really have no idea what he will actually try to enact.  He has contradicted himself so many times that any attempt to discern actual policy proposals from his statements of the past year is a fool's game.  Yesterday he praised Hillary for her campaign.  This morning, at the White House, he spoke of his great respect for President Obama (I note that he did have a bit of a deer in the headlights look at finding himself finally in this position).  Does that mean he won't appoint a special prosecutor to Lock Her Up?  Has he changed his mind about Obama founding ISIS?  I don't believe what he said yesterday or today any more than I believe anything else he's said during the campaign.  And that's the point.  I won't know what to oppose until he actually, finally, has to do something.

Here's one example -- he's talked about a massive infrastructure overhaul to create jobs and refurbish roads and bridges.  This is something we've desperately needed for many years.   If a solid sensible proposal that looks like it could get through Congress and actually accomplish something were to appear, I'd support it, even if it originated from the Trump White House.  I'd expect Chuck Schumer to lend his weight in getting it through.

I don't expect there to be many opportunities like that.  I expect that most of what he tries to enact will require my full-throated opposition.  But I'm not going to declare my "principled" opposition to everything he might do just because I'm horrified that we elected him.  

We've had eight miserable years of obstructionist politics.  I'm sick of it, and I won't be a part of it.