Message from Al Kagan to the SRRTAC-L list:
We are excited to announce that Bill McKibben will be a featured speaker at ALA Annual 2017!
Bill McKibben is an author, environmentalist, and activist. His books have been published worldwide in over 20 languages. In 2014, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, which is sometimes called the “alternative Nobel.” The same year he was recognized by biologists who named a new species of woodland gnat (Megophthalmidia mckibbeni) in his honor. McKibben is co-founder and Senior Advisor at 350.org, an international, grassroots climate movement that works in 188 countries around the globe to organize rallies and spearhead resistance to the Keystone Pipeline. This organization is also credited with beginning the fossil fuel divestment movement.
McKibben suggests that we conceptualize climate change as a threat on the order of World War III and respond accordingly. With this mindset we can make societal shifts similar to those experienced in the 1940’s wartime era and move to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage.
There is urgency to his message as climate change is happening more quickly than scientists anticipated. McKibben argues that the status quo and doubt are luxuries we cannot afford. The nonviolent war that McKibben proposes will save lives and has the potential to produce millions of jobs.
Sponsored by: ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table and Sustainability Round Table as well as the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association and the American Indian Library Association
Date, time, and location of McKibben’s featured address at ALA annual in Chicago are forthcoming.
Call for Proposals
Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene: A Colloquium
May 13-14, 2017
New York University
As stewards of a culture’s collective knowledge, libraries and archives are facing the realities of cataclysmic environmental change with a dawning awareness of its unique implications for their missions and activities. Some professionals in these fields are focusing new energies on the need for environmentally sustainable practices in their institutions. Some are prioritizing the role of libraries and archives in supporting climate change communication and influencing government policy and public awareness. Others foresee an inevitable unraveling of systems and ponder the role of libraries and archives in a world much different from the one we take for granted. Climate disruption, peak oil, toxic waste, deforestation, soil salinity and agricultural crisis, depletion of groundwater and other natural resources, loss of biodiversity, mass migration, sea level rise, and extreme weather events are all problems that indirectly threaten to overwhelm civilization’s knowledge infrastructures, and present information institutions with unprecedented challenges.
This colloquium will serve as a space to explore these challenges and establish directions for future efforts and investigations. We invite proposals from academics, librarians, archivists, activists, and others.
Some suggested topics and questions:
– How can information institutions operate more sustainably?
– How can information institutions better serve the needs of policy discussions and public awareness in the area of climate change and other threats to the environment?
– How can information institutions support skillsets and technologies that are relevant following systemic unraveling?
– What will information work look like without the infrastructures we take for granted?
– How does information literacy instruction intersect with ecoliteracy?
– How can information professionals support radical environmental activism?
– What are the implications of climate change for disaster preparedness?
– What role do information workers have in addressing issues of environmental justice?
– What are the implications of climate change for preservation practices?
– Should we question the wisdom of preserving access to the technological cultural legacy that has led to the crisis?
– Is there a new responsibility to document, as a mode of bearing witness, the historical event of society’s confrontation with the systemic threat of climate change, peak oil, and other environmental problems?
– Given the ideological foundations of libraries and archives in Enlightenment thought, and given that Enlightenment civilization may be leading to its own environmental endpoint, are these ideological foundations called into question? And with what consequences?
Lightning talk (5 minutes)
Paper (20 minutes)
Proposals are due August 1, 2016.
Notifications of acceptance will be sent by September 16, 2016.
Submit your proposal here: http://goo.gl/forms/rz7uN1mBNM
Casey Davis is Project Manager at the American Archive of Public Broadcasting at WGBH and co-founder of ProjectARCC: Archivists Responding to Climate Change.
Madeleine Charney is Sustainability Studies Librarian at UMass Amherst and co-founder of the Sustainability Round Table of the American Library Association.
Rory Litwin is a former librarian and the founder of Litwin Books, LLC (Colloquium sponsor)
For more information about the colloquium, including a profile of our keynote speaker, go to: http://litwinbooks.com/laac2017colloq.php
A couple of paragraphs from Roy Scranton’s Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, from City Lights Books, 2015. Pages 108 and 109:
Wars begin and end. Empires rise and fall. Buildings collapse, books burn, servers break down, cities sink into the sea. Humanity can survive the demise of fossil-fuel civilization and it can survive whatever despotism or barbarism will arise in its ruins. We may even be able to survive in a greenhouse world. Perhaps our descendants will build new cities on the shores of the Arctic Sea, when the rest of the Earth is scorching deserts and steaming jungles. If being human is to mean anything in the Anthropocene, if we are going to refuse to let ourselves sink into the futility of life without memory, then we must not lose our few thousand years of hard-won knowledge, accumulated at great cost and against great odds. We must not abandon the memory of the dead.
As biological and cultural diversity is threatened across the world by capitalist monoculture and mass extinction, we must build arks: not just biological arks, to carry forward endangered genetic data, but also cultural arks, to carry forward endangered wisdom. The library of human cultural technologies that is our archive, the concrete record of human thought in all languages that comprises the entirety of our existence as historical beings, is not only the seed stock of future intellectual growth, but its soil, its source, its womb. The fate of the humanities, as we confront the end of modern civilization, is the end of humanity itself.
Join a Tweet-up with ProjectARCC & SustainRT on sustainability in libraries and archives on October 19 at 1pm ET!
On Monday, October 19, 2015 at 1pm ET, ProjectARCC (Archivists Responding to Climate Change) and ALA’s SustainRT (Sustainability Roundtable) are co-hosting a tweet-up to discuss how we as archivists and librarians can reduce our professional carbon footprint and implement sustainable practices in our institutions. We invite you to participate by using #SustainLIS and by following @projectARCC and @ALA_SustainRT on Twitter.
You don’t have to be an expert on sustainability or climate change to attend and contribute! We welcome all librarians, archivists, and information professionals to join this open discussion. How can we make our institutions environmentally sustainable in order to preserve our collections, profession, and planet?
Feel free to send in advance any questions or issues you’d like addressed in this tweet-up to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Earth Day in 2015, a group of alarmed archivists founded ProjectARCC, a task force with a mission to motivate the archival community to affect climate change. We believe that as those responsible for the preservation of history for future generations, we should be as passionate and concerned about preserving a safe and habitable planet for ours and future generations.
SustainRT is a new round table under the American Library Association. In the face of pressing climate disruption, the group was formed from an urgent ‘Call to Action’ within the library profession. The need: A unified effort to address the new millennium’s environmental, economic and social sustainability challenges. The group offers resources for the library community to support sustainability through curriculum development; collections; exhibits; events; advocacy, and library buildings. They also offer a free webinar series which is open to all.
Mandy Henk is the author of what I think is the most important LIS book of 2014 (at least the most important one not published by Library Juice Press). The book is Ecology, Economy, Equity: The Path to a Carbon-Neutral Library, published by ALA Editions. Quoting the publisher’s description:
In the first book to seriously examine the future of libraries in a climate reality-based context, Henk convincingly argues that building a carbon-neutral future for libraries is not only essential but eminently practical. Using the ‘three E’s’ of sustainability (ecology, economy, equity) as a foundation, she traces the development of sustainability from its origins in the 1970s to the present, laying out a path librarians can take at their own institutions to begin the process of building a carbon-neutral library.
I’m not sure that our earlier Greening Libraries and Focus on Educating for Sustainability did not “seriously examine the future of libraries in a climate reality-based context,” but I admire her book and wish that we had published it. Mandy agreed to do an interview here, to talk about her book and the topic it addresses.
Mandy, thanks for agreeing to do this interview.
Hi Rory, it’s nice to chat with you and thank you for interviewing me.
I’d like to start by asking you about your own background and interest in this topic. What drew you to write this book?
You know that’s a hard question to answer. I was drawn to it for lots of reasons. Part of it was because I was spending a lot of time in meetings and at conferences angry and I couldn’t quite articulate why. I needed to really explore in depth what it was about the general tone of the profession that frustrated me. I started the book at a time in my life when I was turning back towards an earlier political radicalism that I had sort of left behind to focus on making on a living and raising my children. Then I turned 30 and I had an employee get cancer and I had this epiphany that life was short and I should do more with mine than just be really good at managing an Access Services department. I realized I was hiding in my work and not being true to myself in some really important ways.
So, I got involved with Keystone XL protesting and once that happened I realized that living my values at work too was really important to me. But I had no clue how to do that. So, the book is really a long conversation with myself about how to live my values at work and how to bring a DIY/anarchist ethos into my professional life. The book was a way for me to break down the dissonance between what I felt and did in my personal life and what went on at work. To live an authentic life I needed to tie those things together. It was either that, or I was going to quit and go live off the land. Since I like health insurance and hate farming and really love libraries, the book seemed a better choice. It also gave me great cover to say and do things at work that I think would otherwise just be considered a bit nutty. It gave me a real legitimacy so that I could say things like, “I think software-as-a-service is dangerous to our patron’s long-term interests.” Or, “Discovery layers are hollowing out libraries.” The work on the book demonstrated that I wasn’t just being testy, I had done real research and work to come to those positions.
Most people reading this have not read your book yet an therefore don’t know how that relates to what you’ve written. At one level, the book is about how to guide libraries in the context of global warming and other threats to the environment, but it also addresses other ways in which our current structures are at odds with sustainability, identifying problems with the current “library industry” as it is sometimes called. For the convenience of people reading this, would you mind outlining the book? The problems it addresses and how it addresses them.
Of course, I am happy to do that. One thing I’d push back on is the idea that it is possible to pull apart the various sustainability challenges that we face. Climate is the most urgent manifestation of an entire system gone absolutely off the rails and so I gave it center place. But my understanding is that climate and other problems, like mining or labor issues, are really just different aspects of the same basic failure of our society to create the conditions needed for a biophilic planet. Our libraries exist in the midst of a morass of environmental, political, and economic challenges and this gives us moral obligations that go beyond fulfilling our stated missions. Clocking in at work doesn’t give us the right to clock our values out, that’s my basic premise. And that’s where the book starts. It’s divided into three parts. In the first part, I try to connect the various dots of sustainability issues to the library world and to our professional values, while also outlining a picture of the world as it is. So, I look at the science behind climate change,the philosophical construct that is “sustainability,” as well as how libraries have been impacted by these issues.
In the second part, I provide a framework for conducting what I call a sustainability assessment. It’s not really a formal assessment, it’s more about giving people an excuse to look at their own libraries and choose their own starting points. There are an awful lot of librarians who are very concerned about these issues, but who don’t have either the political capital in their own libraries or the ability to spend a whole lot of time figuring out what to do. But once you lay it all out in a book, it empowers them to have something to work from and offers a sense of legitimacy that can be very important to getting something like this done in an actual library. That’s the point of the second part. I used the structure of the three basic areas of sustainability, ecology, economy, and equity, to structure this section so that librarians could have sense that, even if their sustainability work had to be in collections, they could still feel confident that that work was tied into the larger concept of sustainability.
The last part is about the larger information system. This is really where I tried to talk about the “library industry” and what we need to do, what we can do, to transform it. I see technology and corporate control of the collection and our software as twinned problems. To solve them, I think that we need an alliance between our advocacy groups, like ALA and SLA, and activist groups. I highlighted some really successful examples of those kinds of alliances in this part, groups like SaveNYC Libraries. I also used this part to talk about why climate change is hard to talk about. There are structures and social expectations in place that shape our discourse. Talking about climate and libraries seems really “unserious” and I devoted a chapter to breaking that down in the hopes that if we can learn to see these structures working to suppress our voices, we can resist that suppression and say, insist that a vendor tell us the carbon footprint of their server operation before we agree to purchase a new database. That’s a pretty uncomfortable position to take and if we understand what makes it uncomfortable, I think it is easier to work through the uncomfortableness.
Thanks for that outline of the book. That’s very helpful. I am interested in what you say is the impossibility of pulling apart the various sustainability challenges that we face. You cite the “three E’s” of sustainability: ecology, economy, and equity. I think when most people think about sustainability, they are thinking about ecology – resource extraction, pollution, climate change. The three E’s are not an idea that you’ve made up, but I think to a lot of readers the ideas that equity and economic structures are an essential part of sustainability will be new, and perhaps in need of justification. Equity in particular, and the democratic library values that it implies, are an essential part of sustainability in your view. I wonder if you could say a bit about equity, and what makes it part of sustainability?
Absolutely. The concept of sustainability is not easy to intuit, nor is it without some basic flaws in its premises. The basic argument is that poverty and inequality lead to ecological destruction through a failure to manage the global commons. So, in the United States, you can look at California right now and examine the politics of the drought. I suspect most average citizens of that state would strongly support limiting water use by farming corporations. But because the corporations are such a powerful group, because they control a wealthy industry, they have been successful over a long period of time in preventing the kinds of restrictions that the natural world and people who make their living in other ways would benefit from. Sustainability advocates would argue that a more genuinely democratic process would have a better outcome since economic power would not translate to political power. At the same time, part of sustainability is building resilient economic systems that would, in theory, prevent the concentrations of economic power that we see today.
With that said, I do have some concerns about the interrelationship between ecology, economy, and equity. The biggest one is that I am not convinced that citizens are always able to make good choices, especially at the national level. The use of media and the educational system to control the paradigm through which people understand the world is an extremely powerful tool that has been well honed by the wealthy in this country. Environmental resistance has been degraded and minimized as “NINBYism.” So I am not at all convinced that it is possible for us to create a more democratic society, nor do I think that those with power are going to step down and allow a more just form of organization for our society.
I agree with you, and I share the pessimism implicit in your response there. But your book is not a pessimistic book, or at any rate, you could say it’s guided by the idea of “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” It’s consistent with the idea that as dark as things may be, you have to try. You take the position of a “solutionist” as you explain in Chapter 1, as opposed to being in a state of resignation or paralysis. I struggle with that myself. It seems that an obstacle to a sustainability initiative in libraries is getting everybody on board as a solutionist, when there are good arguments to justify other positions. What do you think about that? How do you find the strength to maintain the position of a solutionist?
I have children. As a mother, I feel an obligation to do what I can to try and fix the world. There’s also the question of what else I would do with my life. If I didn’t work on what I see as the most pressing problems that are within my power to influence, what would I do? The answer to that, as far as I can tell, is be a really diligent Access Services Librarian. Which is a fine thing to be, but it is similar to being a great steward on the Titanic. Laudable sure, but also beside the point. I think that there is value in looking hard and with as much clarity as you can muster at the actual state of the world and then insisting that you live your life in a way that is informed by reality. Even if it leads to sorrow and frustration.
Do you think the book gives enough attention to obstacles to sustainability measures in libraries? It seems that a lot of the work is going to be overcoming obstacles.
Yes, I could have talked more about obstacles. There are a few reasons I shied away. One is that I think there are many libraries right now where this kind of initiative would not meet resistance. Sustainability is a pretty hot idea and library administrators love getting on board with trends. So, I didn’t really think it was absolutely necessary. Instead, I focused on broadening the sustainability umbrella so that it included changes that could be implemented at almost every level of a library’s staff hierarchy. Taken individually maybe they won’t make a huge difference, but I think that building momentum is really important Having lots of library workers making changes in their libraries under the banner of sustainability is a valuable form of organizing. It creates space for deeper organizing activities.
At the same time, I think it’s worth being upfront that I think largest obstacle is hierarchy. Because of that, I am the last person who should be giving mainstream library staff advice about how to manage up. There are others who do have that skill set and I respect them and their ability to engage in organizational politics. I am not one of them. That kind of persuading requires respecting the authority of those currently holding power, and I mean that across all levels–in libraries and out in the larger world. And I don’t. My advice would be to just do what you see that needs to be done. Don’t let someone more powerful insist that you engage in actions that you think are destructive. Stop following orders. So, yeah, that’s why I stepped back from that. It isn’t particularly useful advice and it doesn’t respect the risk tolerance levels of those who may need their paychecks and health insurance. I know my limits.
I can imagine ALA Publishing might have balked at that as well. I wonder, do you have any thoughts on what you might have done differently in writing this book if you could?
I suspect they would have. This was really intended to be a mainstream book for a fairly mainstream audience. I wanted to write a book that someone could share with their director or with their board and not feel like they were being outlandish.
It’s hard to say what I might have done differently. This was the first book I have ever written and writing it was a learning process. In terms of the final product, I think I wrote the best book I could have written. So, the things I would do differently are all process based. For example, I really struggled with falling into never ending research. I would read and read and read and never really feel like I knew enough to actually write something down. So, in retrospect I would have a bit more confidence in myself. Also, I would probably have let the book be longer. I think people prefer short books, but I might have too harsh in my own editing.
I think a longer book would have been great, but a shorter book is easier to use in a practical setting. I think the book benefits from the research that you put into it, definitely. It is very strong bibliographically.
At this point, would you be willing to say a few words about your next project?
Absolutely, I am really excited about my next project, which is under contract with Library Juice Press. The working title is OCLC: A Biography. This book really evolved from the dissonance I felt, and still feel, when working with OCLC products. One of my first jobs when I was a student assistant was in an ILL Department, and it was there, working with WorldCat, that I really grew enchanted with the world of libraries. The idea that there was this cooperative system in place between libraries, complete with a complex infrastructure and rules and customs was just such a revelation to me. Which is why, after 17 years of working with WorldCat and with OCLC, I think it is so important to critically examine it as an institution. Both in the United States and globally, OCLC is such a central and powerful member of the library world. This next book will explore both the history of OCLC, but also how it works as an organization and what really drives it. I’m going to frame it around the question of who owns WorldCat and use that to explore what it means to own something as vital and also as valuable as WorldCat. I also think it’s going to fill an important void in the current literature. As a profession, we don’t always take the time to examine how we got to where we are. It’s my hope that this book will remedy that, at least for this particular case.
Thanks for the teaser! I am very excited that we will be publishing this book. I agree that it will fill a major gap in the literature. And thanks for the interview. I admire your book and appreciate your taking the time to talk about it.
Thank you for talking to me. It was a good chat and I appreciate your taking the time from your schedule to do it.
Print-on-demand from kiosks and electronic distribution of the news predicted in 1975…. Here is an excerpt from the 1975 book, Ecotopia, by Ernest “Chick” Callenbach. Thanks to Lincoln Cushing for sharing this with the PLG list…
Although the general picture of the Ecotopian media is one of almost anarchic decentralization, a jungle in which only the hardiest survive, here too we find paradoxes. For the newspapers, which are even smaller than our tabloids, are actually sold through electronic print-out terminals in the street kiosks, in libraries, and at other points; and these terminals are connected to central computer banks, whose facilities are “rented” by the publications. Two print-out inks are available, by the way: one lasts indefinitely, the other fades away in a few weeks so the paper can be immediately re-used.
This system is integrated with book publishing as well. Although many popular books are printed normally, and sold in kiosks and bookstores, more specialized titles must be obtained through a special print-out connection. You look the book’s number up in a catalogue, punch the number on a juke-box-like keyboard, study the blurb, sample paragraphs, and price displayed on a videoscreen, and deposit the proper number of coins if you wish to buy a copy. In a few minutes a print-out of the volume appears in a slot. These terminals, I am told, are not much used by city dwellers, who prefer the more readable printed books; but they exist in every corner of the country and can thus be used by citizens in rural areas to procure copies of both currently popular and specialized books. All of the 60,000-odd books published in Ecotopia since Independence are available, and about 50,000 earlier volumes. It is planned to increase this gradually to about 150,000. Special orders may also be placed, at higher costs, to scan and transmit any volume in the enormous national library at Berkeley.
This system is made possible by the same fact that enables Ecotopian book publication to be so much more rapid than ours: authors retype their edited final drafts on an electric typewriter that also makes a magnetic tape. This tape can be turned into printing plates in a few minutes, and it can simultaneously be fed into the central storage computer, so it is immediately available to the print-out terminals.