Happy birthday NewCardigan: Helping GLAM professionals be more awesome since 2016

I’ve come quite a long way from shy, idealistic student looking for work in libraries who often only attended cardi parties for the talk to newish and slightly more cynical academic librarian who is often one of the last to leave drinks. While I have become less shy, I apparently wasn’t quite confident enough to say all I wanted to say about NewCardigan in front of a crowd, so I thought I’d write it instead.

NewCardigan (via Cardi Parties, the CardiCardi and GLAM blog club) has been a source of hope and solidarity for the past three years. As a student, they gave me hope to discover there were people out there in my future profession doing many of the things I’d been learning and thinking about. As a new professional, they have given me confidence and new resources and connections to start trying to put ideas into action in my workplace and a support group when bureaucracies and knowledge silos started getting to me. It also became a kind of support group or refuge during challenging times, particularly a certain non-binding, voluntary postal survey period. When many other GLAMorous professional organisations made some fairly terrible public responses to this survey, and quite a few GLAM institutions were largely silent as they tried to be ‘neutral’, NewCardigan’s response was excellent and very much needed. In fact, there have been a few times when I’ve described the inclusive environment of cardi parties and accidentally led people to believe it was a queer GLAM group. It isn’t one but it is an inclusive and safer space with a code of conduct and it has given me the confidence to help start GLAM pride group in Victoria and work on a few GLAMorous queer collaborations. It was great to see that quite a lot of GLAM organisations appeared to have great responses too – I particularly remember the responses from a number of university libraries, Museum Victoria and ACMI – the latter two have both been involved in a number of cardi parties… possibly a sign that the organisations who host and support NewCardigan events tend to be progressive ones.

As a librarian, it has made me more connected to GAM colleagues, issues and ideas as well as Library ones – which has been essential for my role supporting history and archaeology students and academics. It helped me propose and create a popular Australian archival research guide for them and I regularly revise it by adding new things I learn about from NewCardigan and beyond. I started using Victorian Collections in classes and other resources I created in order to help stress the importance of using community archives and looking beyond the public record after learning about it at a Cardi Party. I’ve shared a number of other things I’ve learned about with lecturers and students across a range of disciplines – particularly history, archaeology and screen studies. I also learned a lot from PBS community radio library and archive that was very relevant to my work with another community archive – ALGA! there were a lot of strong parallels.

We’ve discussed GLAM blog club posts and CardiCast episodes at our lunch time journal club at MPOW and actually initiating and facilitating journal club has been partly inspired by Cardi Parties the NewCardigan JFDI ethos and we’ve found we quite often accidentally end up having very similar themes to GLAM blog club.

When I tried to think of my favourite Cardi Party from the past three years, it felt a little bit like choosing a favourite book. Impossible! However, I realised there was a common factor in those that I found most memorable: Museum Victoria. Their odds were quite good as with archivist Nik McGrath being part of the Cardi Core, Museum Victoria hosted or were in some way involved in a lot of Cardi Parties. The first one I remember was about Victorian Collections at the Melbourne Museum after hours. I’ve come across and used Victorian Collections in archivist and librarian adventures  quite a lot since then and it’s been great to see it grow so much over the past few years. I also remember being part of an important discussion on privacy in libraries and archives at Melbourne Museum and on racism in GLAM at the Immigration Museum. Of course, I also loved learning about and seeing some of the rare books in Museum Victoria library too. I also loved curator Bec Carland ‘s fascinating talk on  Blandowski, his penchant for capes, and his role in the history of museum. It kind of reminded of my emerging interest in (okay maybe slight obsession with) finding out as much I can about a few queer librarians of the past… and also in finding out about the history of MPOW’s inaugural university librarian. Two of my favourite CardiCast episodes were related to Museum Victoria too. The interview with Mike Jones made me think even more seriously than before about doing a GLAMorous PhD eventually and the interview with Ana Tiquia (who was working at Museum Victoria at the time of the interview) inspired me to start getting to know the recordkeepers and archivists at MPOW, learn more about their work and collections, and brainstorm areas for more GLAMorous collaboration.

I’ve learned so much from NewCardigan and from connecting with fellow cardies, and I know how much work goes into it, so thank you so much.

Everyone should join now. And get a t-shirt.

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Photo by Nik McGrath. T-shirts and bowties are the new cardigans!

 

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Passion and creativity in librarianship and beyond

It’s been a busy couple of weeks full of passion and creativity, and I’ve been starting to feel more optimistic about librarianship and life, so I thought I’d quickly sneak in another GLAM blog club given the topic this month is passion.

I can’t write about passion and creativity without mentioning my immediate family. My dad is a visual artist and retired social worker and my mum is a very recently retired teacher. They were both extremely passionate about and dedicated to their careers and communities and quite well known for being creative at work and beyond work. I think they have both struggled quite a bit within bureaucracies/systems throughout their careers. They may have retired from their day jobs, but I don’t think they will ever stop helping people and teaching… and in fact, I think they’re starting to find a renewed passion for this outside of the system. I’ve loved seeing the new lease on life my mum has found this year after a combination of selling the family home to move into a smaller apartment and retiring from her job. Her creative pursuits tend to involve food and/or music.

My older brother is a musician and super intelligence, but was extremely disengaged in the formal education system and has struggled a lot in his life. He’s quite recently found a new passion in carpentery – which is a way he can be quite creative and also earn money to support other creative endeavours. My younger brother is also a passionate musician by night and a very passionate gardener by day. He has found himself singing his way around Georgia (in Europe –  not the US) and Italy in recent times. I may have struggled with reading until I discovered the Harry Potter books at about 11 and I still have to work really hard at reading and learning, but I think my passion for stories, knowledge and learning has always been quite strong. Perhaps not surprisingly giventhis passion, I think my creative outlet is writing (including but not limited to puns)… like our parents, we are all passionate about helping people and speaking up against discrimination and hate and do so in different, generally creative ways… and, again like our parents, also all quite well known for wearing bright colours or otherwise creative outfits, so I guess compassion and fashion is also an outlet for our creativity.

I’ve been starting to feel a little stifled by bureaucracies in recent times and it has made me realise that most of my creative energy had been going into a bit of a void at work and discover the need to find a new outlet for it…or to revisit my old passion for writing! I think my waning passion and creativity may have partly been because I haven’t really had a proper holiday since before I started studying in mid-2013 and I’d been starting to burn out (I’ve had time off… but I’ve tended to sneak in self-funded conferences to at least part of that time). I reached a point in my pre-library life job where I started writing monologues for the photocopier where which is how I knew I needed a holiday, a break from bureaucracy, and probably also a new direction in my career/life… I will soon be heading off on a holiday to Ireland with my creative and passionate O’Hanlon kin…. and I’ve found my creative energy and passion have started to come back beyond work and at work… before I started writing monologues for photocopiers again! I’ve also been feeling inspired by my creative colleagues in the library (we have a lot of musicians) and by English, creative arts and other humanities lecturers and students (and their reading lists).

In the past few weeks I have: been interviewed by a journalism student who remembered my passion and ideas for copyright reform from a class and was looking for a way to tell a story that would get more people interested in copyright law; been described as bringing a new level of chic to the library; invited to be in a video about librarian fashion (sadly the timing may not work out, but watch this space); brought Reid Moore out again to take National Similutaneous Storytime to a queer time and place (We’re also pretty sure it was 11am somewhere inthe world); started brainstorming ideas and sketching for a comic/zine; attended a meeting for arts librarians; and started and been part of quite a lot of interesting conversations about preserving, curating and celebrating queer histories with quite a diverse range of people… I guess all of these creative things are GLAMorous in some way, but they’re not all completely tied to my current role or workplace. I wonder if I will find a creative outlet that is less connected to GLAM or if I will become a writer in retirement.

This Lit Hub discussion on Librarians who moonlight as artists that went around earlier in the month definitely resonated.

 

 

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‘Shut Up and Wiki’ about your passions and hone your passion for facilitating access to diverse knowledge

I have been meaning to get into Wikipedia editing for awhile, particularly as I have become increasingly aware of the lack of diversity among Wikipedia editors and campaigns to change this. However, I have always been daunted by the prospect, unsure where to start, and fearful that I didn’t know enough about anything to be able to make a meaningful contribution (hello imposter syndrome). Well, I was pretty confident that I did know a lot about Harry Potter, but it turns Harry Potter fans are very thorough Wikipedia editors so there wasn’t much more I could contribute. When monthly Shut Up and Wiki sessions started up at MPOW, I fought imposter syndrome and seized the opportunity to start building my confidence and contribute in small ways during my lunch break. While I still don’t think I really know enough about anything, I know I am pretty good at finding information (#librarylife) and do have a few niche interests that I know a fair bit about (hello Eurovision and LGBTIQA+ archives and special collections pages!)… and I have discovered that editing Wikipedia is pretty addictive. In fact, it’s a lot like a game and I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Given the GLAM blog club topic of passion this month, I thought I would share some resources and projects that have helped me get started. Editing Wikipedia articles is a great outlet for my passion for advocating for social justice and inclusion by facilitating access to knowledge/research and promoting the power of play in libraries.

Some resources and projects that have helped me get started:

GLAM wiki beginner’s guide

1 Lib 1 Ref – the Citation Hunt is particularly fun (or at least fun for librarians)

Wikimedia LGBT+ Project 

Art + Feminism Wikipedia campaign 

Ling Wiki project 
One of the fellow Wikipedians at MPOW is a linguistics academic involved in the Ling Wiki project and some of their suggestions for getting started look great for GLAM folk and could be adapted a little – particularly archive linking!

A few other Wikipedians at MPOW at have been involved in translating Wikipedia articles from English into other languages and there seems to be quite a bit of work to do there.

Wikipedia editing resources at the University of Melbourne

Wikipedia is pretty open and transparent about its weaknesses and biases and I recommend checking these articles they have prepared to find out more (and work to change them):

A quick summary of tips I have come across from these resources and from the ‘Shut Up and Wiki’ sessions I have been to include:

  • Connect with the ‘Teahouse‘ (log-in required): a safe online community for new editors to ask any questions they may have. No question is stupid.
  • Start small by cleaning up pages (i.e. adding credible sources and citations).
  • Search WikiProject pages to find things that need to be cleaned up and connect with the community of Wikipedians working on the project. Apparently pretty much everything has a project page! There may be a better way to do this, but if you search for something in the Wikipedia search box, you can then refine your search to look only in help and project pages.
  • View the page edit history by checking out the talk section: everything that happens behind the scenes of an article is recorded!

You can read about the ‘Shut Up and Wiki’ origin story in this great Why ‘Shut Up and Wiki’ post by Dr Tseen Khoo. RMIT University have also started Shut Up and Wiki sessions, there’s a Wikipedian community of practice at the University of Melbourne, and Monash University library has recently hosted a few WiKiD Wikipedia editing sessions to encourage Women in Design to contribute.

I encourage you to register for this Wikipedia Editathon for International Museums Day (later this month) hosted by Mike Jones and Sayraphim Lothian at ACMI X.

Speaking of nerdy niche things I know quite a bit about, I think MPOW’s inaugural librarian, Dietrich Borchardt, would have been a Wikipedian and would have encouraged other librarians to contribute too…

There is a great quote from the Australian Parliament Joint Committee on Publications Inquiry into the Purpose, Scope and Distribution of the Parliamentary Papers Series, 1976–77: Official Hansard Transcript of Evidence Canberra sn 1977, p 103:

“Perhaps every librarian is somehow also a bit of an educator, or thinks he ought to be, or he has a social conscience which urges him that he should share his inquisitiveness with the public at large. I have strong feelings about the importance of the demo-cratic process-this has nothing to do with any particular political view, it is just the democratic process itself-and I cannot see how we can overcome the inertia with regard to politics which does abound in so many countries, including Australia, without taking some steps to at least make it possible for people to find out more about what government is about. I understand that this is a philosophical view, but I do think it is an important one which has some bearing on librarianship in general.”

It looks like we shared a penchant for bowties too!

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I realise MPOW is pretty obvious in this particular post!

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Queerying the catalogue: Control, classification, chaos, curiosity, care and communities

Last month I reflected on how my Bachelor of Arts degree has influenced my life and career in librarianship by giving me creative, critical thinking, research and communication skills and the reflections on my undergraduate degree have continued this month. Part of the reason for this is because I have been supporting gender, sexuality and diversity studies students a lot and therefore revisiting old theorists and concepts related to gender and sexuality. It is also because I have been finding solace, solidarity and comfort amongst these students, researchers, theorists and archives where fluidity and the questioning of systems, structures, boundaries and binaries is encouraged whilst continuing to struggle a bit within bureaucratic, institutional structures. This month’s GLAM blog club theme of Control has found me reflecting on the problematic histories of classification in librarianship and in psychology, particularly in relation to LGBTIQA+ communities, my complicated relationship with labels, and the power of play to help librarians become more comfortable with letting go of at least some of our control and authority, find courage in chaos, embrace fluidity, and change the system.

The first thing that came to my mind when thinking about control this month was controlled vocabularies, cataloguing and classification and our profession’s problematic history with classifying LGBTIQA+ material. (Also it’s problematic history with classifying material related to First Nations peoples, People of Colour, women, and religions other than Christianity!) I am not a cataloguer and the more technical aspects of cataloguing are beyond me. The thing I enjoyed most about the one compulsory cataloguing subject I did was discovering radical cataloguing movements to improve and change existing systems and practices and once I had come across them I found it difficult to concentrate on learning how to put inadequate, problematic systems into practice. I was initially very taken with the idea of folksonomies and thought they seemed like they could be a great alternative (at least in theory) to controlled vocabularies that would facilitate the democratisation of knowledge and enable more diverse and inclusive language to be used to describe our collections. Now that I’ve had some experience with folksonomies, I can definitely see that there is a benefit in using mor controlled vocabularies! I still think folksonomies should have a role in complementing controlled vocabularies and they can be one really valuable access point to collections but they shouldn’t replace them entirely.

The second thing that came to mind on the topic of control was the problematic history psychology has had with control and classification of LGBTIQA+ people. I increasingly became aware and critical of it whilst studying sociology and gender studies at the same time, and it was one of many things that made me realise that I didn’t want to be a psychologist. Interestingly, quite a few librarians at MPOW have similarly ‘escaped’ from psychology, one has just finished a PhD in it, and another is a psychoanalyst. I’ve also been finding solidarity on campus with student wellbeing colleagues (a mix of psychologists and social workers) in recent times around LGBTIQA+ inclusion. This has made me think about the similarities and connections between our professions beyond our problematic histories of classification systems. The crucial similarity is that we all care about people and want to help them, but help in different ways. We also tend to be curious about people and want to better understand how they think, learn and/or behave in order to help them. Research skills and asking questions are (or at least should be) crucial to our work and are a pretty strong focus of our training. I am still fairly critical about psychology for being individualistic/often seemingly ignoring the impact of systems on people, but I think psychologists and also social workers are very important allies for librarians in academic, public and school libraries, and believe that we need to collaborate much more. This has led me to read about the Whole Person Librarianship movement which seems to have started to facilitate greater collaboration between social workers and librarians in public libraries and has evolved to advocate for this in academic libraries too.

Labels can help us make sense of ourselves and the world and to find our communities and information and are therefore very important in the increasingly chaotic and uncertain times we are in. I guess they help us control the chaos, find solidarity, and navigate uncertainty to some extent. However, there are a lot of LGBTIQA+ folkx who reject labels and embrace fluid notions of gender and sexuality and every LGBTIQA+ group I have been part of  has had long and often heated discussions about labels and what to call ourselves (and I am aware of many other groups having similar discussions) and the language we use to talk about ourselves has evolved quite dramatically over time and as controlled vocabularies and classification systems are very slow and complicated to change, I can’t imagine they will ever be able to keep up. I have personally gone through moments of identifying strongly with a particular label because it has helped me connect with a community and moments of wanting to burn all the labels down because everything is fluid and labels are so complex and can be extremely problematic. As mentioned previously on this blog, I tend to use the label queer these days as it feels most fluid and I like it’s radical political and theoretical connotations.

As the histories of classification in libraries and in psychology illustrate quite vividly, labels can be incredibly harmful when assigned to marginalised groups by more privileged people. Labels and these classification systems can also perpetuate stereotypes and myths, medicalise people, and reinforce false binaries. We need to do more to help LGBTIQA+ people find information about themselves and their communities in their own words in our collections and I think adding folksonomy/tagging capabilities to catalogues is one great way to do this. Perhaps we could also host metadata parties to make it more fun to add tags and facilitate engagement with the collections and the process. We could learn from the community of Wikipedia editors and make tagging collections feel like a game too.  The We Are Here exhibition at the State Library of Victoria which invited LGBTIQA+ artists to work with and interpret the library’s collections to find and explore their queer histories is another great example. The State Library of WA exhibition In Plain Sight is another great example that involved bringing people in and encouraging them to interpret the library’s collections with a queer gaze. We need to let go of some of our ‘authority’ and become more comfortable with chaos and fluidity in order to give people opportunities to interpret and describe our collections in their own words (to give them control over how they are described), which I realise is probably very confronting for many librarians who already feel like they’ve already lost a lot of authority in changing and uncertain times. We’ve definitely made progress in democratising access to knowledge (and away from being the authoritative gatekeepers to it) and Nik illustrated some great GLAMorous examples of this in her post this month, but we still have quite a long way to go.

I enjoyed reading ‘Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction by Emily Drabinski which applies queer theory to cataloguing and librarianship to highlight that cataloguing and classification decisions are not neutral but rather ideologically driven and advocates for public services and/or other more front-facing librarians to join cataloguers in changing these systems and structures by helping people critically engage with the histories and ideologies that have shaped them. Drabinski argues that classification structures and controlled vocabularies should be presented as contested and in flux rather than objective and stable – which is similar to how the labels LGBTIQA+ people use to describe themselves are. I’ve started to do this at least a little bit in gender, sexuality and diversity studies (GSDS) and history classes, as there are many examples of how language and labels have changed to critique, and I stress the importance of understanding context, but I definitely need to do more. I mention it and share resources about it quite a bit (possibly too much) to GSDS lecturers and tutors…and one of them mentioned that collections and classification sounded like a great essay topic some day. The examples I have shared above are more co-curricular or extra-curricular ways to engage people with the catalogue.

So how do we become more comfortable with chaos, embrace fluidity, and let go of some of our control in order to bring more people in? I keep coming back to play, which is another theme I reflected on last month. As Phillip Minchin has illustrated, play at its best is messy, fun, explorative, creative and collaborative and it can be used to foster experimentation, innovation, inclusion, courage and resilience. It blurs boundaries, can build empathy, and creates a sense of possibility and hope. LGBTIQA+ communities have a history of playing with and reappropriating language in creative ways. Many librarians also tend to enjoy playing with language, so perhaps we could start there. The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) is coming up on May 17 and was started to commemorate the day homosexuality stopped being classified as a disease, and the theme this year is ‘Alliances for Solidarity’ so I think it is the perfect opportunity to collaborate with our  psychologist, social worker, art therapist and other wellbeing professional allies and host an event and/or start a project to engage LGBTIQA+ communities with your collections and spaces.

I’m really sorry I didn’t manage to make it to any of Phillip Minchin’s GLAMer sessions over the past month. On that note, as much as I think play has a crucial place in GLAM, it probably begins at home, so I am trying to bring more play into my life outside libraries…. And part of this plan is a trip to Ireland in June to connect with the O’Hanlon clan…. although I’m certain that GLAM will be included in this trip too…

Recommended reading on play in GLAM and beyond

Phil Minchin’s work, particularly these talking points:

Talking Points: The powers of play

Dr Matt Finch’s work at Mechanical Dolphin:

https://mechanicaldolphin.com

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart L. Brown and Christopher Vaughan

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

I also encourage you to explore the resources in this Zotero library about Whole Person Librarianship:  https://www.zotero.org/groups/172771/mlismsw/items?

Recommended reading on queerying classification

Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. The Library Quarterly 83(2), 94-111. Retrieved from: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/66954

Naming the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name: A Look at How Gays and Lesbians are Classified in the Dewey Decimal Classification http://drumm.info/naming-the-love/

A brief history of homophobia in Dewey decimal classification by Doreen Sullivan https://overland.org.au/2015/07/a-brief-history-of-homophobia-in-dewey-decimal-classification/

Adler, M.A., 2015. “Let’s Not Homosexualize the Library Stacks”: Liberating Gays in the Library Catalog. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 24(3), pp.478-507.

I thought I would conclude with this picture of me learning to walk on my own that I came across recently, as there’s something about it that I really like. I’m free of labels, looking fairly androgynous, just starting to get a sense of agency and control by walking on my own, and I’ve got a toy in my hand -reminding me of the power and possibilities of play!

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Queerying ‘Walkaway’ by Cory Doctorow and reflecting on Trans Day of Visibility, utopias, and gender euphoria

I finished reading Walkaway by Cory Doctorow at the end of 2017 and I have been reflecting on it ever since. I thought I would share some of these reflections as they relate to the GLAM Blog Club theme of happiness and also to Trans Day of Visibility. Walkaway is a utopian speculative fiction novel released in 2017. I discovered Cory Doctorow through his non-fiction work on copyright reform, online privacy and maker culture, so I have been keen to read his fiction for a while and, after listening to the cardicast in which he read an extract from it, I thought this would be a good one to start with.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book was with all the main walkaway characters being pansexual and this being completely ‘normal’ for want of a better word. In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was very queer given the amount of discussions I’ve had with queer friends about queer utopias or about walking away from mainstream society and starting a commune. There was also a trans character which I initially thought was great, as trans visibility in fiction is even more rare, but there was still only one trans character and I found the representation to be somewhat problematic as it seemed like her body was objectified and othered in a way that cis characters‘ bodies were not. I have read and seen representations that are much worse and while some of the characters initial responses to this trans character weren’t great, I quite liked that they mostly acknowledged this to some degree and critiqued their responses, so I guess this representation is a good start. It would be amazing to read about a utopian world where everyone is both pansexual and gender diverse and this is normal… It is a shame that even our speculative fiction struggles to think beyond binary genders or can’t seem to imagine a gender diverse future. Trans academic and activist, Riki Wilchins, has similarly commented on how sci-fi oddly adheres to strict gender norms. 

I think utopian fiction is very important in the current climate because it can help build much needed hope, and so I still recommend this book, especially after the past year in politics. It was great to see the queer utopias of my conversations at least begin to be represented in fiction. Doctorow has done some fabulous utopian worldbuilding and the book was particularly strong on philosophical, political and tech developments which appealed to my nerdy librarian side and he conveyed a pretty excellent vision and sense of hope for the future (which is perhaps not surprising given his background). I think I particularly l enjoyed the book’s critique of gamification in tech – highlighting that it tends to foster competition which can have disastrous results and advocating instead for a more collaborative culture built on trust. Although, of course, games and play can foster cooperation and collaboration too, and I am very passionate about this side of ‘gamification’. My inner librarian also loved the references Doctorow made to other books. However, I think the character development could have been stronger and this might be at least partly why I found the trans representation a bit problematic. If you’re interested in the philosophical, political and tech world aspects, I highly recommend you have a listen to the aforementioned cardicast episode.

I think the best fictional examples I have come across where gender diversity is considered normal are two Australian YA books: Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward and Ida by Alison Evans. There have also been some great Australian trans memoirs released recently that I cannot recommend highly enough: Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin, Danger Music by Eddie Ayers, and All the beginnings and Rallying by Quinn Eades.

On trans day of visibility, I acknowledge that while increased visibility in fiction and in real life can be empowering, validating & affirming, it is something that many people sadly still respond to with discrimination, prejudice and violence as we saw during the postal survey in Australia and have seen during the bathroom bill debates in the US. I understand that not all trans people feel they can celebrate and that there is still so much work to do on visibility and beyond it. I offer my love to my trans friends who are awesome and inspire me so much. I love this idea of gender euphoria (featured in the shelfie below): “the strong feeling of happiness that trans people experience when they’re treated as their true gender” (coined by tumblr user ph4u57) and I am committed to helping change the cistem so that everyone can safely experience gender euphoria.

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What is red? and other questions and reflections from an Arts degree

This semester, I have been supporting a new core second year Bachelor of Arts subject at MPOW designed to help students realise the value of the knowledge and skills they learn during an Arts degree for their future careers and lives. As I was reflecting on this subject, I was reminded vividly of a question I came across in the first year of my Arts degree: What is red? It was in a psychology lecture on perception. We were given a very technical, scientific answer about wavelengths that I only vaguely remember but what I remember most vividly is regularly being encouraged to creatively and playfully question this answer. Is my red the same as your red? Apparently my mind goes to politics when I think of red. Is red the ALP? The republican party? The communist party? We had a great assignment for the subject which required us to attend an art exhibition and watch a sunrise or sunset and reflect on our perception of them in both a scientific or technical and creative way and I’ve just remembered I ended up submitting a poem as part of it.

Looking back, the question ‘what is red’ and that first year subject set the scene for the key skills I learned during my degree that have been crucial for my working life and career. They are skills I only really realised I had and started to value after I had graduated and been working for a few years, after some obligatory post arts degree overseas travel/soul searching, and after I had commenced studies in Information Management, so I think it is great that there is a core subject that has been designed to help students realise this during their degree.

I studied a very eclectic mix of subjects including creative writing, cultural studies, sociology, gender studies, criminology, psychology, politics, history and philosophy of science and more which eventually led to a double major in sociology and psychology. Studying gender studies and sociology at the same time as studying psychology made me increasingly critical of psychology as it was very individualistic and often seemed to ignore or downplay structural and systemic issues, so by the end of my degree I was pretty certain that I did not want to be a psychologist, but I had no idea what I did want to do.

The skills:

Critical thinking and reflection: I was encouraged to critically think about and reflect on and constructively question traditional knowledge, systems, structures, assumptions and ways of doing things.  This is essential for these post-truth times we live in where you need to pretty much constantly critically evaluate information online: question truth claims, verify sources, break out of  filter bubbles and examine different perspectives. I now get to help people do this across a diverse range of disciplines.

Research: I ended up doing a lot of social science research methods subjects in both quantitative and qualitative methods. I was drawn to research methods subjects because they tended to give me the opportunity to propose small research projects that I could develop to find answers to all the questions I had and support my ideas and arguments with evidence. Not only that, but I also still remember discovering how great library databases were for finding research for my essays and projects. Those databases were so much better than the library discovery layer that was then known as Super Search (and that I often referred to as unSuper Search). Now I get to help people use our discovery layer as a gateway to research and then introduce them to databases to help them delve deeper into the research. This strong research foundation led very directly to my post-arts degree, pre-library work – which involved doing various research support tasks -often in libraries (including doing literature reviews and browsing microfilm).

Creative thinking and problem solving: My constant questions and love of research definitely helped me do some creative thinking and problem solving, which always led to more questions and research. In hindsight, this creative thinking was regularly reflected in the feedback I got from tutors (and also possibly in my difficulties with sticking to word limits). I think I am becoming quite well known for thinking very far outside the traditional box in MPOW and the GLAMorous world more broadly, and it can sometimes be a bit of a struggle to reign in my ideas and questions. Given how dramatically technology and the world is changing, and how much is unknown or uncertain, creative thinking and problem solving is going to become more and more valuable in future careers.

Communication and collaboration: I learned to communicate my reflections, ideas and research in diverse ways: through essays, poetry, monologues, reports, stories, group discussions and presentations. I also kind of loved group assignments because I loved helping other people research and learn and I loved learning from different people. I could quite regularly be found organising small informal study groups in the library, the park and the pub and curating relevant resources from popular culture (mostly the TV show Scrubs) to share with my peers and help us all understand what we were studying in a fun way. Now I find myself regularly curating audio-visual resources for the subjects I support in MPOW, developing a digital storytelling and scholarship guide to help students ethically communicate and share their ideas beyond traditional essays, and increasingly bringing students together and facilitating peer learning.

The knowledge and skills I learned from my Arts degree were consolidated and honed in my information management degree in which I not surprisingly connected with a lot of fellow Arts graduates who had diverse post- Arts degree lives and professional experiences. While they were quite diverse, they were generally caring and/or creative lives in some way. This Information management degree at RMIT was very cleverly designed to help us draw on our undergraduate studies, work experience and other passions and apply them to working in libraries and archives. I feel so lucky to have found a career and a professional community that not only encourages me to continuously question, research and learn, and to work towards creating more inclusive institutions and a more inclusive society, but also gives me opportunities to help other people do these things. Interestingly, there are a lot of librarians at MPOW who have similarly escaped from psychology and found librarianship as a way to help people learn and navigate systems, and to help change the systems themselves, and it’s been great being able to reflect on the journey from psychology to librarianship with them.

I cannot say I was always happy at university. I struggled with reading and anxiety in particular and also communicating my ideas throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. It was only in the last semester of my Masters degree that I worked up the courage to register for equitable assessment adjustments, and I realise now that I should have done this from the beginning. Psychology in particular was extremely competitive and not good for my mental health. The first question I was asked by peers when I started university was “where did you go to school?” and when I said it was a public school in Footscray, I was often met with surprise. However, these are key reasons why I love working in a university library, particularly one within a university that has a lot of ‘non-traditional’ higher education students from diverse backgrounds. I know how hard study was for me and can be for many people, but also how amazing it can be. I love and am addicted to knowledge and learning,  and I get to help make it more fun for and accessible to everyone and foster collaboration and peer learning (rather than competition) everyday. Although I haven’t been diagnosed with dyslexia, this recent piece by Grainne Cleary in The Conversation on “My dyslexic perspective on academia – and how I found science communication” really resonated with me. Academic librarianship is my science communication. Turbitt & Duck’s recent interview with Katie Lumsden also resonated with me in a similar way.

I have recently been revisiting queer and gender studies theories (it’s like revisiting old friends) and exploring queer pedagogy to more explicitly bring them into my practice in librarianship in order to help ensure I am being inclusive. I’ve also done a little bit of informal collaboration with student wellbeing to help LGBTIQ+ students so I guess I have not really escaped psychology either. While it turns out that studying psychology wasn’t so good for my mental health, I did learn a lot about mental health. I remember one lecturer who was also a clinical psychologist saying she read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath every six months to remind herself of the lived experience of depression. Like a good young future librarian, I got my hands on the book as soon as possible after that! This Freud costume for a “Dreams and Nightmares” themed ball is further proof of my psychology student past.

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This excellent seahorse shirt selfie is a tribute to the many subjects I did during my Arts degree that encouraged me to question traditional gender roles.

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A punderful life: Reflections on wordplay in the workplace

Last year a colleague noticed I wasn’t my usual happy and optimistic self at work during a certain government postal survey period, so they anonymously put up some tearable puns around the office in an attempt to cheer me up… It cheered me up a great deal and started a pun wall in the office that still lives on today. It brought humour and light into our workplace in dark times and people from across many teams and levels have control ibuted. This is not the first workplace I have been in that has been enriched by the power of puns in dark times (that’s another story) so perhaps it is not surprising that puns were one of the first things I thought of when this month’s GLAM blog club theme of happiness was announced.

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I was keen to find out the identity of the Original Punster and so issued a puntastic challenge and invited them to meet in our campus amphitheater on Halloween, which I dubbed a ‘Spooktacular play on words’. Given how much I hate competition, challenge was probably not the right word, but still I came with a few Twix up my sleeve and a reword to give this Punster when they revealed their identity.

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When they did reveal themselves, we decided to keep their identity a secret because it had been quite amusing watching more puns spring up each day and also seeing people try to guess who started it. Interestingly, almost everyone assumed it was either me (apparently I was already a well known office pundamentalist) or a man (the dad jokes are strong). They were not correct. I went on leave shortly after our spooktacular showdown and the puns escalated while I was away…

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Someone even described it as cat-astrophic…

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It got me thinking about how I use puns almost every day in the workplace in some way. I particularly enjoy sneaking them into clarefully crafted emails and dropping a few in classes. Clareification and Fundoora are favourites that most people I work with would be aware of. My (mostly animal and plant themed) puns have also become quite notorious on our institutional Yammer network… and I’m definitely not the only one to pun on there. I would even go so far as to say the best thing about Yammer is that it provides a place for connecting with others over puns.

Puns provide a different way to connect with people and I think they kind of challenge or resist professionalism, bureaucracy and strict work/play binaries in small, quiet and mostly harmless ways. I am mindful that people for whom English is not their first language may find it difficult to understand them so I do use them clarefully and will also clareify meaning as I don’t want to exclude anyone.

I was also reminded of Stuart Brown’s book Play: how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul which argued that the opposite of play is not work but depression, so play should be part of the workplace, and I wanted to share this quote from the book.

“In the adult world, play continues to be woven into the fabric of our culture. In a large part, play is our culture, in the form of music, drama, novels, dances, celebrations, and festivals. Play shows us our common humanity. It shows us how we can be free within societal structures that allow us to live with others. It is the genesis of innovation, and allows us to deal with an ever-changing world” – Stuart Brown

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Philip Minchin recommended Stuart Brown’s book after a workshop he facilitated at NLS7 and he has just announced that he will be running a series of GLAMer showcase sessions (excellent pun there, Philip) in Melbourne which I strongly encourage everyone to attend. I hope to make it to at least one and wish I could made it to the cooperative games one.

I often wonder what my purpose in life is… but am certain that whatever it is will involve puns and play!

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