Creating a Privacy Policy from the Ground Up

Privacy policies are easy to ignore, but when done right, creating one can be a positive experience. In early 2017, several of the staff members at my library started having informal conversations about privacy in our digital platforms, largely a result of the release of ALA Library Privacy Checklists. After several months of talking, it became clear that we needed to get a formal group together to create a privacy policy. This would ensure that we were having conversations with everyone in the library, including our patrons, about privacy. This led to the creation of a Patron Privacy Task Force, which just wrapped up about six months of work. I co-chaired the group with the Head of Reference Services at one the libraries, and we had representatives from all library departments. The final result was just as we had hoped: a thorough and open process producing a clear and accurate policy we have provided to our patrons.

Because many libraries are working on similar projects, I wanted to describe our process and the lessons learned. While ultimately I am pleased with what we produced, I had to restrict the scope due to time and interest from the group, and there are some important takeaways from that.


When we started the project, construction in the library and changes in staffing were disrupting normal functions. We knew it was important to restrict the project to the time necessary to complete finite deliverables. Rather than creating a new committee, we felt it would be helpful focus effort on learning about privacy, and bringing that knowledge back to departments and standing committees as an embedded value. We had a member from every department across the libraries (which ended up being ten people) and intentionally included a mix of department heads, librarians, and paraprofessional staff. Varying perspectives across departments and functions helped create good discussions and ensured that we would be less likely to miss something important.

Nevertheless, such a large group can be unwieldy, and adding yet another set of meetings can be a challenge for already overburdened schedules. For that reason, my co-chair and I spent a lot of time preplanning all the meetings and creating a   specific project plan that would be flexible to adapt to our needs, which we needed to do in the end. Our plan had our work starting in early August and ending in December with the goal to have: 1) a complete policy, 2) internal best practices documentation, and 3) an outreach plan. As it turned out, we did not complete all the internal documentation, but the policy and outreach plan were complete on time, and the policy went out to the public at the same time as when we reported on the work of the committee to all library staff in mid-January 2018.

One of the most useful aspects of our project was treating it as a professional development opportunity with a number of reading assignments to complete before the kickoff meeting and throughout the work period (I have included some of the resources we used below). We also ensured from time to time we returned to theoretical, or guiding, principles of our work when it felt like we were feeling too bogged down with minutia. The plan ended up starting with research, followed by reading, writing, and practical research, more theory, and a final push with completing the draft of the policy and working on documentation.

Conducting the Privacy Audit

After spending some time talking through the project and figuring out some mechanics, we moved into the privacy audit stage. This requires examining every system and practice the library uses in a systematic manner and determining whether this falls in line with best practices. The ALA Privacy Checklists help with the latter part, but we also relied on Karen Coyle’s Library Privacy Audit spreadsheets. The first step was to brainstorm all the systems we used in our daily work and how we used them, and then divide those up by department. We mapped the systems we used into the spreadsheets, with some additional systems added. For that reason, multiple departments who use the same system in different ways reviewed some systems, and other systems that were unique to a department were reviewed just by that one. We then used the checklists to verify that we had covered the essentials in our audits and to raise additional issues that the spreadsheets did not cover.

This was not always the most straightforward process for people unused to looking carefully at systems, but for that reason it was a useful process. By dividing the work up between departments, it meant that everyone in the library had a better chance to learn about how their work affected patron privacy and ask questions about the processes of other departments as patron information moves across the library. For example, when a patron requests that the library purchase a book, this is recorded in one system and leaves a trail through email as it goes between systems. After the request is placed, that information stays in various systems to ensure the patron gets the book after it arrives. As public and technical services talked through that process, it was easier to identify which pieces of it were important to good service and which created informational residue.

Compiling the audit results into a useful format was a challenge, and this is an area of this project that did not meet my initial hopes. My original plan was to create a flexible best practices manual that would record all the results of the audit and how closely they met the standards set by the checklists. In practice, that was way too complicated, and we ended up just focusing on the “Priority 1” actions, which are those that any library can meet no matter their technical abilities. In fact, many of our practices are much better than that, but breaking the work down into smaller steps was a much more feasible approach. Ultimately, the co-chairs took the research done by all the task force members and created a list of practices for each checklist that indicated where we met best practices and where we needed to do more work. We asked all departments to complete the project identified for each checklist by one year out, and to consider including “Priority 2” level projects in departmental goals for the following fiscal year.

Writing the Policy

The process for writing the policy itself was different from the audit, in that the first draft came entirely from the co-chairs and then went out the group for editing. This was to create a unified tone and help identify all the gaps in knowledge that the task force members could complete with their research. Writing the policy started with the ALA Privacy Policy Creation Toolkit, and in particular the “Sections to Include in a Privacy Policy.” I literally copied those sections into a blank document to start the writing process, though some of them were renamed or reorganized in the final version.

After writing the rough draft, I listed all the sections where I was missing important information, and relied on the task force to fill in those sections. This was a fascinating process as we tried to explain technical processes that each of us understood in a way the whole group could understand and explain to a patron. Explaining the way the scanners could accidentally store a patron’s email address was an example of something that took multiple attempts to get right in the policy. The difficulty I had in writing was useful in itself, however. Each time I felt embarrassed or confused about describing one of our practices told me that this practice needed to change. I hope when we go back to revise the policy, the difficult sections will be easier to write because the practices will be better.

Outreach and Next Steps

One of the important privacy tasks in the checklists is the need for education and outreach to staff and patrons. The process of writing the policy in the task force took care of a lot of staff education, but this will need to be an ongoing process. For that reason, we recommended that the task force reconvene to check on the progress of privacy improvements in 9-10 months after the adoption of the policy, but not necessarily with the exact same members. As we work through fixing our practices this will be a great opportunity to have additional conversations with library staff and include more detail.

No matter how many checklists or guidelines we consult, we will not be able to cover all scenarios. For that reason, we asked people to keep the following guiding principles in mind when making decisions about data collection that could affect patron privacy.

  • Is it necessary to collect this information?
  • Could I tell who an individual was even if there was no name attached?
  • If I need to collect this information, what is the data I can remove to obscure personal information?

To tell patrons about the policy we wrote a blog post and posted it on the library website. Obviously, this will not reach everyone, but at least will catch our most active users–we know from usability testing that people do look at our blog post headlines! Meanwhile, a set of recommended outreach practices included creating guides for how to turn on privacy features in browsers especially for specific vendor platforms with potentially problematic practices, partnering with our campus IT department on information security awareness, and presenting on privacy issues in research and teaching at a faculty professional development event.


As someone who enjoys writing policies and looking for ways to improve processes, this kind of project will always appeal to me. However, many members of the task force told me that it was a useful exercise to improve their own knowledge and keep up to date with how the privacy conversation has changed even in the last few years. Because this is such a constantly shifting topic, this will require active management to keep our policy accurate and our practices in line with changes in technology. The good news is that this was a grassroots effort that can be started up again with relatively little effort as long as someone cares to do so, which I suspect will now always be the case at my library.

Selected Resources the Task Force Used

Other library policies


Net Neutrality Roundup: Alternate Internets

Now that we are facing net neutrality regulation rollbacks here in the United States, what new roles could librarians play in the continued struggle to provide people with unrestricted access to information?  ALA has long been dedicated to equal access to information, as clearly outlined in both the Core Values and Code of Ethics. You can read ALA’s Joint Letter to the FCC here. It emphasizes that “a non-neutral net, in which commercial providers can pay for enhanced transmission that libraries and higher education cannot afford, endangers our institutions’ ability to meet our educational mission.”

Net neutrality was discussed back in 2014 on this blog, with Margaret Heller’s post entitled “What Should Academic Librarians Know about Net Neutrality?” We recommend you start there for some background on the legal issues around net neutrality. It includes a fun trip into the physical spaces our content traverses through to get onto our screens. One of the conclusions of that post was that libraries need to work on ensuring that everyone has access to broadband networks to begin with, and that more varied access ensures that no company has a monopoly over internet service in a location. There have been a number of projects along these lines over the past decade and more, and we encourage you to find one in your area and get involved.

Library-based initiatives

Equal access to information starts with having access at all. Several libraries have kicked off initiatives in activities like loaning out wi-fi hotspots for several-month periods in New York City, Brooklyn, and Chicago.

Ideally everyone will have secure and private internet access.The Library Freedom Project has been working for years to protect the privacy of patrons, including educating librarians about the threat of surveillance in modern digital technology, working with Tor Project to configure Tor exit relays in library systems, and creating educational resources for teaching patrons about privacy.

These are some excellent steps towards a more democratic and equal access to information, but what happens if the internet as we know it fundamentally changes? Let’s explore some “alternative internets” that rely on municipal and/or grassroots solutions.

Mesh networks

You might be familiar with wireless mesh networks for home use. You can set up a wireless mesh network in your own house to ensure even coverage across the house. Since each node can cover a certain part of your house, you don’t have to rely on how close you are to the wireless router to connect. You can also change the network around easily as your needs change.

Mesh networks are dynamically routed networks that exchange routes, internet, local networks, and neighbors. They can be wireless or wired. Mesh networks may not be purely a “mesh” but rather a combination of “mesh network” technology as well as “point to point” linking, with connections directly linking to each other, and each of these connections expanding out to their local mesh networks. BMX6/BMX7, BATMAN, and Babel are some of the most popular network protocols (with highly memorable names!) for achieving a broad mesh network, but there are many more. Just as you can install devices in your home, you can cooperate with others in your community or region to create your own network. The LibreMesh project is an example of a way in which DIY wireless networks are being created in several European countries.

Municipal networks

Nineteen towns in Colorado are exploring alternate internet solutions, like a public alternative. Chattanooga offers public gigabit internet speeds. This has some major advantages for the city, including the ability to offer free internet access to low-income residents and ensure that anyone who pays for access gets the same level of access, which is not the case in most cities where some areas pay a high cost for a low signal. Even just the presence and availability of municipal broadband, “has radically altered the way local politicians and many ordinary Chattanoogans conceive of the Internet. They have come to think of it as a right rather than a luxury.”1 A similar initiative in Roanoke is the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority, which in an interesting twist lobbied the Virginia legislature to reduce oversight of its activities in a bill that originally specifically stated that broadband services should focus on underserved areas–so a reminder that in many ways municipalities view this as an investment in business rather than a social justice issue. 2 In Detroit, the Detroit Community Technology Project is working to set up and bring community wireless to neighborhoods in Detroit. New York City‘s Red Hook neighborhood relied on their mesh network during Hurricane Sandy to stay connected to outside of New York. New York City also has the rapidly-growing NYC Mesh community with two supernodes and another coming later this year, uniting lower Manhattan with Northern and Central Brooklyn. Toronto also has an emerging mesh community with a handful of connected nodes. The Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center developed CUWiN, which provided open wireless networks in “Champaign-Urbana, Homer, Illinois, tribal lands of the Mesa Grande Reservation, and the townships of South Africa”. 3

Outside of North America, Berlin has its own mesh networked, called Freifunk. Austria has Funkfeuer. Greece has the Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network. Italy has Ninux and Argentina has AlterMundi. Villages in rural northern England are joining together to get connected via a cooperative model called B4RN, where they dig their own trenches for cables using their farm tractors.

Thinking big is a wi-fi network that covers a large part of Spain and defines itself as “the biggest free, open and neutral network.” It was developed in 2004 as a response to the lack of broadband Internet, where commercial Internet providers weren’t providing a connection or a very poor one in rural areas of the Catalonia region. Guifi has established a Wireless Commons License as guidelines that can be adopted by other networks. At time of posting, 34,306 nodes were active, with over 17,000 planned.

Finally, Brooklyn Public Library was granted $50,000 from IMLS to develop a mesh network and called BKLYN Link, along with a technology fellowship program for 18-24 year olds. Looking forward to what emerges from this initiative!


The internet was started when college campuses connected to each other across first short geographic areas and eventually much longer distances. Could we see academic and public libraries working together and leading the return to old ways of accessing the internet for a new era?

Meanwhile, it’s important to ensure that the FCC has appropriate regulatory powers over ISPs, otherwise we have no recourse if companies choose to prioritize packets. You should contact your legislators and make sure that the people at your campus who work with the government are sharing their perspectives as well. You can get some help with a letter to Congress from ALA.

Taking Diversity to the Next Level

“Building Bridges in a Divisive Climate: Diversity in Libraries, Archives, and Museums,” panel discussion program held at the University of Rhode Island Libraries on Thursday November 30, 2017.

Getting Minorities on Board

I recently moderated a panel discussion program titled “Building Bridges in a Divisive Climate: Diversity in Libraries, Archives, and Museums.”1 Participating in organizing this program was interesting experience. During the whole time, I experienced my perspective constantly shifting back and forth as (i) someone who is a woman of color in the US who experiences and deals with small and large daily acts of discrimination, (ii) an organizer/moderator trying to get as many people as possible to attend and participate, and (iii) a mid-career librarian who is trying to contribute to the group efforts to find a way to move the diversity agenda forward in a positive and inclusive way in my own institution.

In the past, I have participated in multiple diversity-themed programs either as a member of the organizing committee or as an attendee and have been excited to see colleagues organize and run such programs. But when asked to write or speak about diversity myself, I always hesitated and declined. This puzzled me for a long time because I couldn’t quite pinpoint where my own resistance was coming from. I am writing about this now because I think it may shed some light on why it is often difficult to get minorities on board with diversity-related efforts.

A common issue that many organizers experience is that often these diversity programs draw many allies who are already interested in working on the issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion but not necessarily a lot of those who the organizers consider to be the target audience, namely, minorities. What may be the reason? Perhaps I can find a clue for the answer to this question from my own resistance regarding speaking or writing about diversity, preferring rather to be in the audience with a certain distance or as an organizer helping with logistics behind the scene.

To be honest, I always harbored a level of suspicion about how much of the sudden interests in diversity is real and how much of it is simply about being on the next hot trend. Trends come and go, but issues lived through many lives of those who belong to various systematically disadvantaged and marginalized groups are not trends. Although I have been always enthusiastic about participating in diversity-focused programs as attendees and was happy to see diversity, equity, and inclusion discussed in articles and talks, I wasn’t ready to sell out my lived experience as part of a hot trend, a potential fad.

To be clear, I am not saying that any of the diversity-related programs or events were asking speakers or authors to be a sell-out. I am only describing how things felt to me and where my own resistance was originating. I have been and am happy to see diversity discussed even as a one-time fad. Better a fad than no discussion at all.

One may argue that that diversity has been actively discussed for quite some time now. A few years, maybe several, or even more. Some of the prominent efforts to increase diversity in librarianship I know, for example, go as far back as 2007 when Oregon State University Libraries sponsored two scholarships to the Code4Lib conference, one for women and the other for minorities, which have continued from then on as the Code4Lib Diversity Scholarship.2 But if one has lived the entire life as a member of a systematically disadvantaged group either as a woman, a person of color, a person of certain sexual orientation, a person of a certain faith, a person with a certain disability, etc., one knows better than expecting some sudden interests in diversity to change the world we live in and most of the people overnight.

I admit I have been watching the diversity discussion gaining more and more traction in librarianship with growing excitement and concern at the same time. For I felt that all of what is being achieved through so many people’s efforts may get wiped out at any moment. The more momentum it accrues, I worried, the more serious backlash it may come to face. For example, it was openly stated that seeking racial/ethnic diversity is superficial and for appearance’s sake and that those who appear to belong to “Team Diversity” do not work as hard as those in “Team Mainstream.” People make this type of statements in order to create and strengthen a negative association between multiple dimensions of diversity that are all non-normative (such as race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability) and unfavorable value judgements (such as inferior intellectual capacity or poor work ethic).3 According to this kind of flawed reasoning, a tech company whose entire staff consists of twenty-something white male programmers with a college degree, may well have achieved a high level of diversity because the staff might have potentially (no matter how unlikely) substantial intellectual and personal differences in their thinking, background, and experience, and therefore their clear homogeneity is no real problem. That’s just a matter of trivial “appearance.” The motivation behind this kind of intentional misdirection is to derail current efforts towards expanding diversity, equity, and inclusion by taking people’s attention away from the real issue of systematic marginalization in our society. Of course, the ultimate goal of all diversity efforts should be not the mere inclusion of minorities but enabling them to have agency as equal as the agency those privileged already possess. But objections are being raised against mere inclusion. Anti-diversity sentiment is real, and people will try to rationalize it in any way they can.

Then of course, the other source of my inner resistance to speaking or writing about diversity has been the simple fact that thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion does not take me to a happy place. It reminds me of many bad experiences accumulated over time that I would rather not revisit. This is why I admire those who have spoken and written about their lived experience as a member of a systematically discriminated and marginalized group. Their contribution is a remarkably selfless one.

I don’t have a clear answer to how this reflection on my own resistance against actively speaking or writing about diversity will help future organizers. But clearly, being asked to join many times had an effect since I finally did accept the invitation to moderate a panel and wrote this article. So, if you are serious about getting more minorities – whether in different religions, genders, disabilities, races, etc. – to speak or write on the issue, then invite them and be ready to do it over and over again even if they decline. Don’t expect that they will trust you at the first invitation. Understand that by accepting such an invitation, minorities do risk far more than non-minorities will ever do. The survey I ran for the registrants of the “Building Bridges in a Divisive Climate: Diversity in Libraries, Archives, and Museums” panel discussion program showed several respondents expressing their concern about the backlash at their workplaces that did or may result from participating in diversity efforts as a serious deterrent.4 If we would like to see more minorities participate in diversity efforts, we must create a safe space for everyone and take steps to deal with potential backlash that may ensue afterwards.5

A Gentle Intro or a Deep Dive?

Another issue that many organizers of diversity-focused events, programs, and initiatives struggle with is two conflicting expectations from their audience. On one hand, there are those who are familiar with diversity, equity, and inclusion issues and want to see how institutions and individuals are going to take their initial efforts to the next level. These people often come from organizations that already implemented certain pro-diversity measures such as search advocates for the hiring process.6 and educational programs that familiarize the staff with the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion.7 On the other hand, there are still many who are not quite sure what diversity, equity, and inclusion exactly mean in a workplace or in their lives. Those people would continue to benefit from a gentle introduction to things such as privilege, microaggression, and unconscious biases.

The feedback surveys collected after the “Building Bridges in a Divisive Climate: Diversity in Libraries, Archives, and Museums” panel discussion program showed these two different expectations. Some people responded that they deeply appreciated the personal stories shared by the panelists, noting that they did not realize how often minorities are marginalized even in one day’s time. Others, however, said they would be like to hear more about actionable items and strategies that can be implemented to further advance the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion that go beyond personal stories. Balancing these two different demands is a hard act for organizers. However, this is a testament to our collective achievement that more and more people are aware of the importance of continuing efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in libraries, archives, and museums.

I do think that we need to continue to provide a general introduction to diversity-related issues, exposing people to everyday experience of marginalized groups such as micro-invalidation, impostor syndrome, and basic concepts like white privilege, systematic oppression, colonialism, and intersectionality. One of the comments we received via the feedback survey after our diversity panel discussion program was that the program was most relevant in that it made “having colleagues attend with me to hear what I myself have never told them” possible. General programs and events can be an excellent gateway to more open and less guarded discussion.

At the same time, it seems to be high time for us in libraries, museums, and archives to take a deep dive into different realms of diversity, equity, and inclusion as well. Diversity comes in many dimensions such as age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Many of us feel more strongly about one issue than others. We should create opportunities for ourselves to advocate for specific diversity issues that we care most.

The only thing I would emphasize is that one specific dimension of diversity should not be used as an excuse to neglect others. Exploring socioeconomic inequality issues without addressing how they work combined with the systematic oppression of marginalized groups such as Native Americans, women, or immigrants at the same time can be an example of such a case. All dimensions of diversity are closely knitted with one another, and they do not exist independently. For this reason, a deep dive into different realms of diversity, equity, and inclusion must be accompanied by the strong awareness of their intersectionality.8

Recommendations and Resources for Future Organizers

Organizing a diversity-focused program takes a lot of effort. While planning the “Building Bridges in a Divisive Climate: Diversity in Libraries, Archives, and Museums” panel discussion program at the University of Rhode Island Libraries, I worked closely with my library dean, Karim Boughida, who originally came up with the idea of having a panel discussion program at the University of Rhode Island Libraries, and Renee Neely in the libraries’ diversity initiatives for approximately two months. For panelists, we decided to recruit as many minorities from diverse institutions and backgrounds. We were fortunate to find panelists from a museum, an archive, both a public and an academic library with varying degrees of experience in the field from only a few years to over twenty-five years, ranging from a relatively new archivist to an experienced museum and a library director. Our panel consisted of one-hundred percent people of color. The thoughts and perspectives that those panelists shared were, as a result, remarkably diverse and insightful. For this reason, I recommend spending some time to get the right speakers for your program if your program will have speakers.

Discussion at the “Building Bridges in a Divisive Climate: Diversity in Libraries, Archives, and Museums,” at the University of Rhode Island Libraries.

Another thing I would like to share is the questions that I created for the panel discussion. Even though we had a whole hour, I was able to cover only several of them. But since I discussed all these questions in advance with the panelists and they helped me put a final touch on some of those, I think these questions can be useful to future organizers who may want to run a similar program. They can be utilized for a panel discussion, an unconference, or other types of programs. I hope this is helpful and save time for other organizers.

Sample Questions for the Diversity Panel Discussion

  1. Why should libraries, archives, museums pay attention to the issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
  2. In what ways do you think the lack of diversity in our profession affects the perception of libraries, museums, and archives in the communities we serve?
  3. Do you have any personal or work-related stories that you would like to share that relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion issues?
  4. How did you get interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion issues?
  5. Suppose you discovered that your library’s, archive’s or museum’s collection includes prejudiced information, controversial objects/ documents, or hate-inducing material. What would you do?
  6. Suppose a group of your library / archive / museum patrons want to use your space to hold a local gathering that involves hate speech. What would you do? What would you be mostly concerned about, and what would the things that you would consider to make a decision on how you will respond?
  7. Do you think libraries, archives, and museums are a neutral place? What do you think neutrality means to a library, an archive, a museum in practice in a divisive climate such as now?
  8. What are some of the areas in libraries, museums, and archives where you see privileges and marginalization function as a barrier to achieving our professional values – equal access and critical thinking?  What can we do to remove those barriers?
  9. Could you tell us how colonialist thinking and practice are affecting libraries, museums, and archives either consciously or unconsciously?  Since not everyone is familiar with what colonialism is, please begin with first your brief interpretation of what colonialist thinking or practice look like in libraries, museums, and archives first?
  10. What do you think libraries, archives, and museums can do more to improve critical thinking in the community that we serve?
  11. Although libraries, archives, museums have been making efforts to recruit, hire, and retain diverse personnel in recent years, the success rate has been relatively low. For example, in librarianship, it has been reported that often those hired through these efforts experienced backlash at their own institutions, were subject to unrealistic expectations, and met with unsupportive environment, which led to burnout and a low retention rate of talented people. From your perspective – either as a manager hiring people or a relatively new librarian who looked for jobs – what do you think can be done to improve this type of unfortunate situation?
  12. Many in our profession express their hesitation to actively participate in diversity, equity, and inclusion-related discussion and initiatives at their institutions because of the backlash from their own coworkers. What do you think we can do to minimize such backlash?
  13. Some people in our profession express strong negative feelings regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion-related initiatives. How much of this type of anti-diversity sentiment do you think exist in your field? Some worry that this is even growing faster in the current divisive and intolerant climate. What do you think we can do to counter such anti-diversity sentiment?
  14. There are many who are resistant to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Have you taken any action to promote and advance these values facing such resistance? If so, what was your experience like, and what would be some of the strategies you may recommend to others working with those people?
  15. Many people in our profession want to take our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to the next level, beyond offering mere lip service or simply playing a numbers game for statistics purpose. What do you think that next level may be?

Lastly, I felt strongly about ensuring that the terms and concepts often thrown out in diversity/equity/inclusion-related programs and events – such as intersectionality, white privilege, microaggression, patriarchy, colonialism, and so on – are not used to unintentionally alienate those who are unfamiliar with them. These concepts are useful and convenient shortcuts that allow us to communicate a large set of ideas previously discussed and digested, so that we can move our discussion forward more efficiently. They should not make people feel uncomfortable nor generate any hint of superiority or inferiority.

To this end, I create a pre-program survey which all program registrants were encouraged to take. My survey simply asked people how familiar and how comfortable they are with a variety of terms. At the panel discussion program, we also distributed the glossary of these terms, so that people can all become familiar with them.9 Also, videos can quickly bring all attendees up-to-speed with some basic concepts and phenomena in diversity discussion. For example, in the beginning of our panel discussion program, I played two short videos, “Life of Privilege Explained in a $100 Race” and “What If We Treated White Coworkers The Way We Treat Minority Coworkers?”, which were well received by the attendees.

I am sharing the survey questions, the video links, and the glossary in the hope that they may be helpful as a useful tool for future organizers. For example, one may decide to provide a glossary like this before the program or run an unconference that aims at unpacking the meanings of these terms and discussing how they relate to people’s daily lives.10

In Closing: Diversity, Libraries, Technology, and Our Own Biases

Disagreements on social issues are natural. But the divisiveness that we are currently experiencing seems to be particularly intense. This deeply concerns us, educators and professionals working in libraries, archives, and museums. Libraries, archives, and museums are public institutions dedicated to promoting and advancing civic values. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of those core civic values that move our society forward. This task, however, has become increasingly challenging as our society moves in a more and more divisive direction.

To make matters even more complicated, libraries, archives, museums in general lack diversity in their staff composition. This homogeneity can impede achieving our own mission. According to the recent report from Ithaka S+R released this August, we do not appear to have gotten very far. Their report “Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity: Members of the Association of Research (ARL) Libraries – Employee Demographics and Director Perspectives,” shows that libraries and library leadership/administration are both markedly white-dominant (71% and 89% white non-Hispanic respectively).11 Also, while librarianship in general are female dominant (61%), the technology field in libraries is starkly male (70%) along with Makerspace (65%), facilities (64%), and security (73%) positions.12 The survey results in the report show that while the majority of library directors say there are barriers to achieving more diversity in their library, they attribute those barriers to external rather than internal factors such as the library’s geographic location and the insufficiently diverse application pool resulting from the library’s location. What is fascinating, however, is that this directly conflicts with the fact that libraries do show little variation in the ratio of white staff based on degree of urbanization. Equally interesting is that the staff in more homogeneous and less diverse (over 71% White Non-Hispanic) libraries think that their libraries are much more equitable than the library community (57% vs 14%) and that library directors (and staff) consider their own library to be more equitable, diverse, and inclusive than the library community with respect to almost every category such as race/ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ, disabilities, veterans, and religion.

While these findings in the Ithaka S+R report are based upon the survey results from ARL libraries, similar staff composition and attitudes can be assumed to apply to libraries in general. There is a great need for both the library administration and the staff to understand their own unconscious and implicit biases, workplace norms, and organizational culture that may well be thwarting their own diversity efforts.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion have certainly been a topic of active discussion in the recent years. Many libraries have established a committee or a task force dedicated to improving diversity. But how are those efforts paying out? Are they going beyond simply paying a lip service? Is it making a real difference to everyday experience of minority library workers?13 Can we improve, and if so where and how? Where do we go from here? Those would be the questions that we will need to examine in order to take our diversity efforts in libraries, archives, and museums to the next level.


  1. The program description is available at
  2. Carol Bean, Ranti Junus, and Deborah Mouw, “Conference Report: Code4LibCon 2008,” The Code4Lib Journal, no. 2 (March 24, 2008),
  3. Note that this kind of biased assertions often masquerades itself as an objective intellectual pursuit in academia when in reality, it is a direct manifestation of an existing prejudice reflecting the limited and shallow experience of the person posting the question him/herself. A good example of this is found in the remark in 2005 made by Larry Summers, the former Harvard President. He suggested that one reason for relatively few women in top positions in science may be “issues of intrinsic aptitude” rather than widespread indisputable everyday discrimination against women. He resigned after the Harvard faculty of arts and sciences cast a vote of no confidence. See Scott Jaschik, “What Larry Summers Said,” Inside Higher Ed, February 18, 2005,
  4. Our pre-program survey questions can be viewed at
  5. For this purpose, asking all participants to respect one another’s privacy in advance can be a good policy. In addition to this, we specifically decided not to stream or record our panel discussion program, so that both panelists and attendees can freely share their experience and thoughts.
  6. A good example is the Search Advocate program from Oregon State University. See
  7. For an example, see the workshops offered by the Office of Community, Equity, and Inclusion of the University of Rhode Island at
  8. For the limitations of the mainstream diversity discussion in LIS (library and information science) with the focus on inclusion and cultural competency, see David James Hudson, “On ‘Diversity’ as Anti-Racism in Library and Information Studies: A Critique,” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1, no. 1 (January 31, 2017),
  9. You can see our glossary at; This glossary was put together by Renee Neely.
  10. For the nitty-gritty logistical details for organizing a large event with a group of local and remote volunteers, check the Organizer’s Toolkit created by the 2017 #critlib Unconference organizers at
  11. Roger Schonfeld and Liam Sweeney, “Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity: Members of the Association of Research Libraries,” Ithaka S+R, August 30, 2017,
  12. For the early discussion of diversity-focused recruitment in library technology, see Jim Hahn, “Diversity Recruitment in Library Information Technology,” ACRL TechConnect Blog, August 1, 2012,
  13. See April Hathcock, “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS,” In the Library with the Lead Pipe, October 7, 2015, and Angela Galvan, “Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias: Whiteness and Librarianship,” In the Library with the Lead Pipe (blog), June 3, 2015,

Yet Another Library Open Hours App

a.k.a. Yet ALOHA.

It’s a problem as old as library websites themselves: how to represent the times when a library building is open in a way that’s easy for patrons to understand and easy for staff to update?

Every website or content management system has its own solution that can’t quite suit our needs. In a previous position, I remember using a Drupal module which looked slick and had a nice menu for entering data on the administrative side…but it was made by a European developer and displayed dates in the (inarguably more logical) DD/MM/YYYY format. I didn’t know enough PHP at the time to fix it, and it would’ve confused our users, so I scrapped it.

Then there’s the practice of simply manually updating an HTML fragment that has the hours written out. This approach has advantages that aren’t easily dismissed: you can write out detailed explanations, highlight one-off closures, adjust to whatever oddity comes up. But it’s tedious for staff to edit a web page and easy to forget. This is especially true if hours information is displayed in several places; keeping everything in sync is an additional burden, with a greater possibility for human error. So when we went to redesign our library website, developing an hours application that made entering data and then reusing it in multiple places easy was at the forefront of my mind.

Why is this so hard?

One might think displaying hours is easy. The end products often look innocuous. But there are a bevy of reasons why it’s complicated for many libraries:

  • open hours differ across different branches
  • hours of particular services within a branch may not fully overlap with the library building’s open hours
  • a branch might close and re-open during the day
  • a branch might be open later than midnight, so technically “closing” on a date different than when it opened
  • holidays, campus closures, unexpected emergencies, and other exceptions disrupt regular schedules
  • in academia, schedules differ whether class is in session, it’s a break during a term, or it’s a break in between terms
  • the staff who know or determine a branch’s open hours aren’t necessarily technically skilled and may be spread across disparate library departments
  • dates and times are unique forms of data with their own unique displays, storage types, and operations (e.g. chronological comparisons)

Looking at other libraries, the struggle to represent their business hours is evident. For instance, the University of Illinois has an immense list of library branches and their open hours on its home page. There’s a lot to like about the display; it’s on the home page so patrons don’t have to go digging for the info, there’s a filter by name feature, the distinct open/closed colors help one to identify at a glance which places are open, the library branch rows expand with extra information. But it’s also an overwhelming amount of information longer than a typical laptop screen.

Hours display on the UIUC Libraries' home page.
Hours display on the UIUC Libraries’ home page.

Many libraries use SpringShare’s LibCal as a way of managing and display their open hours. See Loyola’s Hours page with its embedded table from LibCal. As a disclaimer, I’ve not used LibCal, but it comes with some obvious caveats: it’s a paid service that not all libraries can afford and it’s Yet Another App outside the website CMS. I’ve also been told that the hours entry has a learning curve and that it’s necessary to use the API for most customization. So, much as I appreciate the clarity of the LibCal schedule, I wanted to build an hours app that would work well for us, providing flexibility in terms of data format and display.

Our Hours

Our website CMS Wagtail uses a concept called “snippets” to store pieces of content which aren’t full web pages. If you’re familiar with Drupal, Snippets are like a more abstract version of Blocks. We have a snippet for each staff member, for instance, so that we can connect particular pages to different staff members but also have a page where all staff are displayed in a configurable list. When I built our hours app, snippets were clearly the appropriate way to handle the data. Ideally, hours would appear in multiple places, not be tied to a single page. Snippets also have their own section in the CMS admin side which makes entering them straightforward.

Our definition of an “open hours” snippet has but a few components:

  • the library branch the hours are for
  • the date range being described, e.g. “September 5th through December 15th” for our Fall semester
  • a list of open hours for each weekday, e.g. Monday = “8am – 10pm”, Tuesday = “8am – 8pm”, etc.

There are some nuances here. First, for a given academic term, staff have to enter hours once for each branch, so there is quite a bit of data entry. Secondly, the weekday hours are actually stored as text, not a numeric data type. This lets us add parentheticals such as “8am – 5pm (no checkouts)”. While I can see some theoretical scenarios where having numeric data is handy, such as determining if a particular branch is open on a given hour on a given date, using text simplified building the app’s data model for me and data entry for staff.

But what about when the library closes for a holiday? Each holiday effectively triples the data entry for a term: we need a data set for the time period leading up to the holiday, one for the holiday itself, and one for the time following it. For example, when we closed for Thanksgiving, our Fall term would’ve been split into a pre-Thanksgiving, during Thanksgiving, and post-Thanksgiving triad. And more so for each other holiday.

To alleviate the holiday problem, I made a second snippet type called “closures”. Closures let us punch holes in a set of open hours; rather than require pre- and post- data sets, we have one open hours snippet for the whole term and then any number of closures within it. A closure is composed of only a library branch and a date range. Whenever data about open hours is passed around inside our CMS, the app first consults the list of closures and then adjusts appropriately.

The open hours for the current day are displayed prominently on our home page. When we rebuilt our website, surfacing hours information was a primary design goal. Our old site’s hours page wasn’t exactly easy to find…yet it was the second most-visited page behind the home page.1 In our new site, the hours app allows us to show the same information in a few places, for instance as a larger table that shows our open times for a full week. The page showing the full table will also accept a date parameter in its URL, showing our schedule for future times. This lets us put up a notice about changes for periods like Thanksgiving week or Spring break.

Hours API

What really excited me about building an hours application from the ground up was the chance to include an API (inside the app’s file, which in turn uses a couple functions from The app’s public API endpoint is at and by default it returns the open hours for the current day for all our library branches. The branch parameter allows API consumers to get the weekly schedule for a single branch while the date parameter lets them discover the hours for a specific date.

// GET
    Materials: "11am - 4pm",
    Meyer: "8am - 5pm",
    Simpson: "9am - 6pm"

I’m using the API in two places, our library catalog home page and as an HTML snippet when users search our discovery layer for “hours” or “library hours”. I have hopes that other college websites will also want to reuse this information, for instance on our student portal or on a campus map. One can see the limitation of using text strings as the data format for temporal intervals; an application trying to use this API to determine “is a given library open at this instant” would have to do a bit of parsing to determine if the current time falls within the range. In the end, the benefits for data entry and straightforward display make text the best choice for us.

To summarize, the hours app fulfills our goals for the new website in a few ways. It allows us to surface our schedule not only on our home page but also in other places, sets us up to be able to reuse the information in even more places, and minimizes the burden of data entry on our staff. There are still improvements to be made—as I was writing this post I discovered a problem with cached API responses being outdated—but on the whole I’m very happy with how everything worked out.


  1. Libraries, I beg you, make your open hours obvious! People want to know.

Memory Labs and audiovisual digitization workflows with Lorena Ramírez-López

Hello! I’m Ashley Blewer, and I’ve recently joined the ACRL TechConnect blogging team. For my first post, I wanted to interview Lorena Ramírez-López. Lorena is working (among other places) at the D.C. Public Library on their Memory Lab initiative, which we will discuss below. Although this upcoming project targets public libraries, Lorena has a history of dedication to providing open technical workflows and documentation to support any library’s mission to set up similar “digitization stations.”

Hi Lorena! Can you please introduce yourself?

Hi! I’m Lorena Ramírez-López. I am a born and raised New Yorker from Queens. I went to New York University for Cinema Studies and Spanish where I did an honors thesis on Paraguayan cinema in regards to sound theory. I continued my education at NYU and graduated from the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program where I concentrated on video and digital preservation. I was one of the National Digital Stewardship Residents for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. I did my residency at Howard University television station (WHUT) in Washington D.C from 2016 until this June 2017. Along with being the project manager for the Memory Lab Network, I do contracting work for the National Portrait Gallery on their time based media artworks, joined the Women who Code community, and teach Spanish at Fluent City!


Tell us a little bit about DCPL’s Memory Lab and your role in it.

The DC Public Library’s Memory Lab was a National Digital Stewardship Project back in 2014 through 2015. This was the baby of DCPL’s National Digital Stewardship Resident, Jaime Mears, back in the day. A lot of my knowledge on how it started comes from reading the original project proposal, which you can find that on the Library of Congress’s website as well as Jaime Mear’s final report on the Memory Lab is found on the DC Library website. But to summarize its origin story, the Memory Lab was created as a local response to the fact that communities are generating a lot of digital content while still keeping many of their physical materials like VHS, miniDVs, and photos but might not necessarily have the equipment or knowledge to preserve their content. It has been widely accepted in the archival and preservation fields that we have an approximate 15- to 20-year window of opportunity to digitally preserve legacy audio and video recordings on magnetic tape because of the rate of degradation and the obsolescence of playback equipment. The term “video at risk” might ring a bell to some people. There’s also photographs and film, particularly color slides and negatives and moving image film formats, that will also fade and degrade over time. People want to save their memories as well as share them on a digital platform.

There are well-established best practices for digital preservation in archival practice, but these guidelines and documentation are generally written for a professional audience. And while there are a various personal digital archiving resources for a public audience, they aren’t really easy to find on the web and a lot of these resources aren’t updated to reflect the changes in our technology, software, and habits.

That being the case, our communities risk massive loss of history and culture! And to quote Gabriela Redwine’s Digital Preservation Coalition report,  “personal digital archives are important not just because of their potential value to future scholars, but because they are important to the people who created them.”

So the Memory Lab was the library’s local response in the Washington D.C. area to bridge this gap of digital archiving knowledge and provide the tools and resources for library patrons to personally digitize their own personal content.

My role is maintaining this memory lab (digitization rack). When hardware gets worn down or breaks, I fix it. When software for our computers upgrade to newer systems, I update our workflows.

I am currently re-doing the website to reflect the new wiring I did and updating the instructions with more explanations and images. You can expect gifs!


You recently received funding from IMLS to create a Memory Lab Network. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes! The DC Public Library in partnership with the Public Library Association received a national leadership grant to expand the memory lab model.

During this project, the Memory Lab Network will partner with seven public libraries across the United States. Our partners will receive training, mentoring, and financial support to develop their own memory lab as well as programs for their library patrons and community to digitize and preserve their personal and family collections. A lot of focus is put on the digitization rack, mostly because it’s cool, but the memory lab model is not just creating a digitization rack. It’s also developing classes and online resources for the community to understand that digital preservation doesn’t just end with digitizing analog formats.

By creating these memory labs, these libraries will help bridge the digital preservation divide between the professional archival community and the public community. But first we have to train and help the libraries set up the memory lab, which is why we are providing travel grants to Washington, D.C. for an in-depth digital preservation bootcamp and training for these seven partners.

If anyone wants to read the proposal, the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences has it here.


What are the goals of the Memory Lab Network, and how do you see this making an impact on the overall library field (outside of just the selected libraries)?

One of the main goals is to see how well the memory lab model holds up. The memory lab was a local response to a need but it was meant to be replicated. This funding is our chance to see how we can adapt and improve the memory lab model for other public libraries and not just our own urban library in Washington D.C.

There are actually many institutions and organizations that have digitization stations and/or the knowledge and resources, but we just don’t realize who they are. Sometimes it feels like we keep reinventing the wheel with digital preservation. There are plenty of websites that had contemporary information on digital preservation and links to articles and other explanations at one time. Then those websites weren’t sustained and remained stagnant while housing a series of broken links and lost PDFs. We could (and should) be better of not just creating new resources, but updating the ones we have.

The reasons why some organization aren’t transparent or updating the information, or why we aren’t searching in certain areas, varies, but we should be better at documenting and sharing our information to our archival and public communities. This is why the other goal is to create a network to better communicate and share.


What advice do you have for librarians thinking of setting up their own digitization stations? How can someone learn more about aspects of audiovisual preservation on the job?

If you are thinking of setting up your own digitization station, announce that not only to your local community but also the larger archival community. Tell us about this amazing adventure you’re about to tackle. Let us know if you need help! Circulate and cite that article you thought was super helpful. Try to communicate not only your successes but also your problems and failures.

We need to be better at documenting and sharing what we’re doing, especially when dealing with how to handle and repair playback decks for magnetic media. Besides the fact that the companies just stopped supporting this equipment, a lot of this information on how to support and repair equipment could have been shared or passed down by really knowledge experts, but it wasn’t. Now we’re all holding our breath and pulling our hair out because this one dude who repairs U-matic tapes is thinking about retiring. This lack of information and communication shouldn’t be the case in our environment when we can email and call.

We tend to freak out about audiovisual preservation because we see how other professional institutions set up their workflows and the amount of equipment they have. The great advantage libraries have is that not only can they act practically with their resources but also they have the best type of feedback to learn from: library patrons. We’re creating these memory lab models for the general public so getting practical experience, feedback, and concerns are great ways to learn more on what aspects of audiovisual preservation really need to be fleshed out and researched.

And for fun, try creating and archiving your own audiovisual media! You technically already do with taking photos and videos on your phone. Getting to know your equipment and where your media goes is very helpful.


Thanks very much, Lorena!

For more information on how to set up a “digitization station” at your library, I recommend Dorothea Salo’s robust website detailing how to build an “audio/video or digital data rescue kit”, available here.


A Look Back at Open Access Week 2017

This year’s Open Access Week at my institution was a bit different than before. With our time constrained by conference travel and staff shortages leaving everyone over-scheduled, we decided to aim for a week of “virtual programming”, with a week of blog posts and an invitation to view our open access research guide. While this lacked the splashiness of programming in prior years, in another way it felt important to do this work in this way. Yes, it may well be that only people already well-connected to the library saw any of this material. But promotion of open access requires a great deal of self-education among librarians or other library insiders before we can promote it more broadly. For many libraries, it may be the case that there are only a few “open access” people, and Open Access Week ends up being the only time during the year the topic is addressed by the library as a whole.

All the Colors of Open Access: Black and Green and Gold

There were a few shakeups in scholarly communication and open access over the past few months that made some of these discussions more broadly interesting across the academic landscape. The on-going saga of the infamous Beall’s List has been a major 2017 story. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Jeffrey Beall was emailed to me more than once, and captured the complexity of why such a list is both an appealing solution to a problem but also reliant on sometimes questionable personal judgements. Jeffrey Beall’s attitude towards other scholarly communications librarians can be simplistic and vindictive, as an  interview with Times Higher Education in August made clear. June saw the announcement of Cabell’s Blacklist, which is based on Beall’s list, and uses a list of criteria to judge journal quality. At my own institution I know this prompted discussions of what the purpose of a blacklist is, versus using a vetted list of open access journals like the Directory of Open Access Journals. As a researcher in an article in Nature about this product states, it’s likely that a blacklist is more useful for promotion and tenure committees or hiring committees to judge applicants more than for potential authors to find good journals in which to publish.

This also completely leaves aside the green open access options, in which authors can negotiate with their publisher to make a version of their article openly available–often the final published version, but at least the text before layout. While publishing an article in an open access journal has many benefits, green open access can meet the open access goals of faculty without worrying about paying additional fees or worrying about journal quality. But we still need to educate people on green open access. I was chatting with a friend who is an economist recently, and he was wondering about how open access worked in other disciplines, since he was used to all papers being released as working papers before being published in traditional journals. I contrast this conversation with another where someone in a very different discipline who was concerned that putting even a summary of research could constitute prior publication. Given this wide disparity between disciplines, we will always struggle with widely casting a message about green open access. But I firmly believe that there are individuals within all disciplines who will be excited about open access, and that they will get at least some of their colleagues on board–or perhaps their graduate students. These people may be located in the interdisciplinary side, with one foot in a more preprint-friendly discipline. For instance, the bioethicists in the theology department, or the history of science people in the history department. And even the most well-meaning people forget to make their work open access, so making it as easy as possible while not making it so easy that people don’t know why they would do it–make sure there are still avenues for conversation.

Shaky Platforms

Making things easy to do requires having a good platform, but that became more complicated in August when Elsevier acquired bepress, which prompted discussions among many librarians about their values around open access and whether relying on vendors for open access platforms was a foolish gamble (the Library Loon summarizes this discussion well). This is a complex question, as the kinds of services provided by bepress’s Digital Commons go well beyond a simple hosting platform, and goes along with the strategy I pointed out Elsevier was pursuing in my Open Access 2016 post. Convincing faculty to participate in open access requires a number of strategies, and things like faculty profiles, readership dashboards, and attractive interfaces go a long way. No surprise that after purchasing platforms that make this easy, Elsevier (along other publishers) would go after ResearchGate in October, which is even easier to use in some ways, and certainly appealing for researchers.

All the discussion of predatory journals and blacklists (not to mention SciHub being ordered blocked thanks to an ACS lawsuit) seems old to those of us who have been doing this work for years, but it is still a conversation we need to have. More importantly, focusing on the positive aspects of open access helps get at the reasons people to participate in open access and move the conversation forward. We can do work to educate our communities about finding good open access journals, and how to participate legally. I believe that publishers are providing more green access options because their authors are asking for them, and we are helping authors to know how to ask.

I hope we were not too despairing this Open Access Week. We are doing good work, even if there is still a lot of poisonous rhetoric floating around. In the years I’ve worked in scholarly communication I’ve helped make thousands of articles, book chapters, dissertations, and books open access. Those items have in turn gone on to be cited in new publications. The scholarly communication cycle still goes on.


Copyright Changes: It’s All Connected

UPDATE: Just after this post was published, the U.S. Copyright Office released the long-awaited Discussion Document that was referenced below in this post. In this document the Copyright Office affirms a commitment to retaining the Fair Use Savings clause.

Libraries rely on exceptions to copyright law and provisions for fair use to provide services. Any changes to those rules have big implications to services we provide. With potential changes coming in an uncertain political climate, I would like to take a look at what we know, what we don’t know, and how it’s all related. Each piece as it currently stands works in relation to the others, and a change to any one of them changes the overall situation for libraries. We need to understand how everything relates, so that when we approach lawmakers or create policies we think holistically.

The International Situation

A few months back at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, I attended a panel called “Another Report from the Swamp,” which was a copyright policy specific session put on by the ALA Office of Information Technology Policy (OITP) featuring copyright experts Carrie Russell (OITP), Stephen Wyber (IFLA), Krista Cox (the Association of Research Libraries [ARL]). This panel addressed international issues in copyright in addition to those in the United States, which was a helpful perspective. They covered a number of topics, but I will focus on the Marrakesh Treaty and potential changes to US Code Title 17, Section 108 (Reproduction by libraries and archives).

Stephen Wyber and Krista Cox covered the WIPO Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (aka the Marrakesh Treaty), which the US is a signatory to, but has not yet been ratified by the US Senate (see Barack Obama’s statement in February 2016). According to them, in much of the developing world only 1% of published work is available for those with print disabilities. This was first raised as issue in 1980, and 33 years later debates at WIPO began to address the situation. This treaty was ratified last year, and permits authorized parties (including libraries) to make accessible copies of any work in a medium that is appropriate for the disabled individual. In the United States, this is generally understood to be permitted by Title 17 sections Fair Use (Section 107) and Section 121 (aka the Chaffee amendment), though this is still legally murky 1. This is not the case internationally. Stephen Wyber pointed out that IFLA must engage at the European level with the European Commission for negotiations at WIPO, and there is no international or cross-border provision for libraries, archives, or museums.

According to Krista Cox, a reason for the delay in ratification was that the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations wouldn’t move it to ratification unless it was a non-controversial treaty with no changes required for US law (and it should not have required changes). The American Association of Publishers (AAP) wanted to include recordkeeping requirements, which disability and library advocates argued would be onerous. (A good summary of the issues is available from the ALA Committee on Legislation). During the session, a staff attorney from the AAP stood up and made the point that their position was that it would be helpful for libraries to track what accessible versions of material they had made. While not covered in the session explicitly, a problem with this approach is that it would create a list of potentially sensitive information about patron activities. Even if no names were attached, the relatively few people making use of the service would make it possible to identify individual users. In any event, the 114th Congress took no action, and it is unclear when this issue will be taken up again. For this reason, we have to continue to rely on existing provisions of the US Code.

Along those lines, the panel gave a short update on potential changes to Section 108 of the Copyright Act, which have been under discussion for many years. Last year, the Copyright Office invited stakeholders to set up meetings to discussion revisions. The library associations met with them last July, and generally while the beneficiaries of Section 108 find revisions controversial and oppose reform, the Copyright Office is continuing work on this. One fear with revisions is that the Fair Use exception clause (17 § 108 (F)(4)) would be removed. Krista Cox reported that at the Copyright Society of the USA meeting in early June 2017, the Copyright Office reported that they were working on a report with proposed legislation, but no one has seen this report [NOTE: the report is now available.].

Implications for Revisions to Title 17

Moving beyond the panel, let’s look at the larger implications for revisions to Title 17. There are some excellent reasons to revise Section 108 and others–just as the changes in 1976 reflected changes in photocopying technology 2, changes in digital technology and the services of libraries require additional help. In 2008, the Library of Congress Section 108 Study Group released a lengthy report with a set of recommendations for revisions, which can be boiled down into extending permissions for preservation activities (though that is a gross oversimplification). In 2015 Maria A. Pallante testified to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on a wide variety of changes to the Copyright Act (not just for libraries), which incorporated the themes from that 2008 report, in addition to other later discussions. Essentially, she says that changes in technology and culture in the past 20 years made much of the act unclear and required application of loopholes and workarounds that were legally unclear. For instance, libraries rely heavily on Section 107, which covers fair use, to perform their daily functions. This report points out that those activities should be explicitly permitted rather than relying on potentially ambiguous language in Section 107, since the ambiguity means some institutions are unwilling to perform activities that may be permitted due to fear. On the other hand, that ambiguous language opens up more possibilities that adventurous projects such as HathiTrust have used to push on boundaries and expand the nature of fair use and customary practice. The ARL has a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use that details what is currently considered customary practice. With revisions, there enters the possibility that what is allowed will be dictated by, for instance, the publishing lobby, and that what libraries can do will be overly circumscribed. Remember, too, that one reason for not ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty is that allowances for reproductions for the disabled are covered by Fair Use and the Chaffee amendment.

Orphan works are another issue. While the Pallante report suggests that it would be in everyone’s interest to have clear guidance on what a good faith effort to identify a copyright holder actually meant, in many ways we would rather have general practice mandate this. Speaking as someone who spends a good portion of my time clearing permissions for material and frequently running into unresponsive or unknown copyright holders, I feel more comfortable pushing the envelope if I have clearly documented and consistently followed procedures based on practices that I know other institutions follow as well (see the Statement of Best Practices). This way I have been able to make useful scholarship more widely available despite the legal gray area. But there is a calculated risk, and many institutions choose to never make such works available due to the legal uncertainty. Last year the Harvard Office of Scholarly Communication released a report on legal strategies for orphan work digitization to give some guidance in this area. To summarize over 100 pages, there are a variety of legal strategies libraries can take to either minimize the risk of a dispute or reduce negative consequences of a copyright dispute–which remains largely hypothetical when it comes to orphan works and libraries anyway.

Future Considerations

There is one other important wrinkle in all this. The Copyright Office’s future is politically uncertain. It could be removed from the purview of the Library of Congress, and the Register of Copyrights be made a political appointment. This was passed by the House in April and introduced in the Senate in May, and was seen as a rebuke to Carla Haydenn. Karyn Temple Claggett is the acting Registrar, replacing Maria Pallante who resigned last year after Carla Hayden became the new Librarian of Congress and appointed (some say demoted) her to the post of Senior Advisor for Digital Strategy. Maria Pallante is now CEO of–you guessed it–the American Association of Publishers. The story is full of intrigue and clashing opinions–one only has to see the “possibly not neutral” banner on Pallante’s Wikipedia page to see that no one will agree on the reasons for Pallante’s move from Register of Copyrights (it may have been related to wasteful spending), but libraries do not see the removal of copyright from the Library of Congress as a good thing. More on this is available at the recent ALA report “Lessons From History: The Copyright Office Belongs in the Library of Congress.”

Given that we do not know what will happen to the Copyright Office, nor exactly what their report will recommend, it is critical that we pay attention to what is happening with copyright. While more explicit provisions to allow more would be excellent news, as the panel at ALA pointed out, lawmakers are more exposed to Hollywood and the content creator organizations such as AAP, RIAA and MPAA and so may be more likely to see arguments from their point of view. We should continue to take advantage of provisions we currently have for fair use and providing access to orphan works, since exercising this right is one way we keep it.

  1. “Briefing: Accessibility, the Chafee Amendment, and Fair Use. ” (2012). Association of Research Libraries.
  2. Federal Register Vol. 81, No. 109

Working with a Web Design Firm

As I’ve mentioned in the previous post, my library is undergoing a major website redesign. As part of that process, we contracted with an outside web design and development firm to help build the theme layer. I’ve done a couple major website overhauls in the course of my career, but never with an outside developer participating so much. In fact, I’ve always handled the coding part of redesigns entirely by myself as I’ve worked at smaller institutions. This post discusses what the process has been like in case other libraries are considering working with a web designer.

An Outline

To start with, our librarians had already been working to identify components of other library websites that we liked. We used Airtable, a more dynamic sort of spreadsheet, to collect our ideas and articulate why we liked certain peer websites, some of which were libraries and some not (mostly museums and design companies). From prior work, we already knew we wanted a few different page templates types. We organized our ideas around how they fit into these templates, such as a special collections showcase, a home page with a central search box, or a text-heavy policy page.

Once we knew we were going to work with the web development firm, we had a conference call with them to discuss the goals of our website redesign and show the contents of our Airtable. As we’re a small art and design library, our library director was actually the one to create an initial set of mockups to demonstrate our vision. Shortly afterwards, the designer had his own visual mockups for a few of our templates. The mockups included inline comments explaining stylistic choices. One aspect I liked about their mockups was that they were divided into desktop and mobile; there wasn’t just a “blog post” example, but a “blog post on mobile” and “blog post on desktop”. This division showed that the designer was already thinking ahead towards how the site’s theme would function on a variety of devices.

With some templates in hand, we could provide feedback. There was some push and pull—some of our initial ideas the designer thought were unimportant or against best practices, while we also had strong opinions. The discussion was interesting for me, as someone who is a librarian foremost but empathetic to usability concerns and following web conventions. It was good to have a designer who didn’t mindlessly follow our every request; when he felt like a stylistic choice was counterproductive, he could articulate why and that changed a few of our ideas. However, on some principles we were insistent. For instance, we wanted to avoid multiple search boxes on a single page; not a central catalog search and a site search in the header. I find that users are easily confused when confronted with two search engines and struggle to distinguish the different purposes and domains of both. The designer thought that it was a common enough pattern to be familiar to users, but our experiences lead us to insist otherwise.

Finally, once we had settled on agreeable mockups, a frontend developer turned them into code with an impressive turnaround; about 90% of the mockups were implemented within a week and a half. We weren’t given something like Drupal or WordPress templates; we received only frontend code (CSS, JavaScript) and some example templates showing how to structure our HTML. It was all in single a git repository complete with fake data, Mustache templates, and instructions for running a local Node.js server to view the examples. I was able to get the frontend repo working easily enough, but it was a bit surprising to me working with code completely decoupled from its eventual destination. If we had had more funds, I would have liked to have the web design firm go all the way to implementing their theme in our CMS, since I did struggle in a few places when combining the two (more on that later). But, like many libraries, we’re frugal, and it was a luxury to get this kind of design work at all.

The final code took a few months to deliver, mostly due to a single user interface bug we pointed out that the developer struggled to recreate and then fix. I was ready to start working with the frontend code almost exactly a month after our first conversation with the firm’s designer. The total time from that conversation to signing off on the final templates was a little under two months. Given our hurried timeline for rebuilding our entire site over the summer, that quick delivery was a serious boon.

Code Quirks

I’ve a lot of opinions about how code should look and be structured, even if I don’t always follow them myself. So I was a bit apprehensive working with an outside firm; would they deliver something highly functional but structured in an alien way? Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised with how the CSS was delivered.

First of all, the designer didn’t use CSS, he used SASS, which Margaret wrote about previously on Tech Connect. SASS adds several nice tools to CSS, from variables to darken and lighten functions for adjusting colors. But perhaps most importantly, it gives you much more control when structuring your stylesheets, using imports, nested selectors, and mixins. Basically, SASS is the antithesis of having one gigantic CSS file with thousands of lines. Instead, the frontend code we were given was about fifty files neatly divided by our different templates and some reusable components. Here’s the directory tree of the SASS files:


Other than the uninformative “misc”, these folders all have meaningful names (“about-us” and “collections” refer to styles specific to particular templates we’d asked for) and it never takes me more than a moment to locate the styles I want.

Within the SASS itself, almost all styles (excepting the “reset” portion) hinge on class names. This is a best practice for CSS since it doesn’t couple your styles tightly to markup; whether a particular element is a <div>, <section>, or <article>, it will appear correctly if it bears the right class name. When our new CMS output some HTML in an unexpected manner, I was still able to utilize the designer’s theme by applying the appropriate class names. Even better, the class names are written in BEM “Block-Element-Modifier” form. BEM is a methodology I’d heard of before and read about, but never used. It uses underscores and dashes to show which high-level “block” is being styled, which element inside that block, and what variation or state the element takes on. The introduction to BEM nicely defines what it means by Block-Element-Modifier. Its usage is evident if you look at the styles related to the “see next/previous blog post” pagination at the bottom of our blog template:

.blog-post-pagination {
  border-top: 1px solid black(0.1);
  @include respond($break-medium) {
    margin-top: 40px;
  .blog-post-pagination__title {
    font-size: 16px;
  .blog-post-pagination__item {
    @include clearfix();
    flex: 1 0 50%;
  .blog-post-pagination__item--prev {
    display: none;

Here, blog-post-pagination is the block, __title and __item are elements within it, and the --prev modifier effects just the “previous blog post” item element. Even in this small excerpt, other advantages of SASS are evident: the respond mixin and $break-medium variables for writing responsive styles that adapt to differing device screen sizes, the clearfix include, and these related styles all being nested inside the brackets of the parent blog-post-pagination block.

Trouble in Paradise

However, as much as I admire the BEM class names and structure of the styles given to us, of course I can’t be perfectly happy. As I’ve started building out our site I’ve run into a few obvious problems. First of all, while all the components and templates we’d asked for are well-designed with clearly written code, there’s no generic framework for adding on anything new. I’d hoped, and to be honest simply assumed, that a framework like Bootstrap or Foundation would be used as the basis of our styles, with more specific CSS for our components and templates. Instead, apart from a handful of minor utilities like the clearfix include referenced above, everything that we received is intended only for our existing templates. That’s fine up to a point, but as soon as I went to write a page with a HTML table in it I noticed there was no styling whatsoever.

Relatedly, since the class names are so focused on distinct blocks, when I want to write something similar but slightly different I end up with a bunch of misleading class names. So, for instance, some of our non-blog pages have templates which are littered with class names including a .blog- prefix. The easiest way for me to build them was to co-opt the blog styles, but now the HTML looks misleading. I suppose if I had greater time I could write new styles which simply copy the blog ones under new names, but that also seems unideal in that it’s a) a lot more work and b) leads to a lot of redundant code.

Lastly, the way our CMS handles “rich text” fields (think: HTML edited in a WYSIWYG editor, not coded by hand) has caused numerous problems for our theme. The rich text output is always wrapped in a <div class="rich-text">, which made translating some of the HTML templates from the frontend code a bit tricky. The frontend styles also included a “reset” stylesheet which erased all default styles for most HTML tags. That’s fine, and a common approach for most sites, but many of the styles for elements available in the rich text editor ended up being reset. As content authors went about creating lower-level headings and unordered lists, they discovered that they appeared just as plain text.

Reflecting on these issues, they boil primarily down to insufficient communication on our part. When we first asked for design work, it was very much centered around the specific templates we wanted to use for a few different sections of our site. I never specifically outlined a need for a generic framework which could encompass new, unanticipated types of content. While there was an offhand mention of Bootstrap early on in our discussions, I didn’t make it explicit that I’d like it or something similar to form the backbone of the styles we wanted. I should have also made it clearer that styles should specifically anticipate working within our CMS and alongside rich text content. Instead, by the time I realized some of these issues, we had already approved much of the frontend work as complete.


For me, as someone who has worked at smaller libraries for the duration of their professional career, working with a web design company was a unique experience. I’m curious, has your library contracted for design or web development work? Was it successful or not? As tech savvy librarians, we’re often asked to do everything even if some of the tasks are beyond our skills. Working with professionals was a nice break from that and a learning experience. If I could do anything differently, I’d be more assertive about requirements in our initial talks. Outlining expectations about that the styles include a generic framework and anticipate working with our particular CMS would have saved me some time and headaches later on.

Information Architecture for a Library Website Redesign

My library is about to embark upon a large website redesign during this summer semester. This isn’t going to be just a new layer of CSS, or a minor version upgrade to Drupal, or moving a few pages around within the same general site. No, it’s going to be a huge, sweeping change that affects the whole of our web presence. With such an enormous task at hand, I wanted to discuss some of the tools and approaches that we’re using to make sure the new site meets our needs.

Why Redesign?

I’ve heard about why the wholesale website redesign is a flawed approach, why we should be continually, iteratively working on our sites. Continual changes stop problems from building up, plus large swaths of changes can disrupt our users who were used to the old site. The gradual redesign makes a lot of sense to me, and also seems like a complete luxury that I’ve never had in my library positions.

The primary problem with a series of smaller changes is that that approach assumes a solid fundamental to begin with. Our current site, however, has a host of interconnected problems that makes tackling any individual issue a challenge. It’s like your holiday lights sitting in a box all year; they’re hopelessly tangled by the time you take them out again.

Our site has decades of discarded, forgotten content. That’s mostly harmless; it’s hard to find and sees virtually no traffic. But it’s still not great to have outdated information scattered around. In particular, I’m not thrilled that a lot of it is static HTML, images, and documents sitting outside our content management system. It’s hard to know how much content we even have because it cannot be managed in one place.

We also fell into a pattern of adding content to the site but never removing or re-organizing existing content. Someone would ask for a button here, or a page dictating a policy there, or a new FAQ entry. Pages that were added didn’t have particular owners responsible for their currency and maintenance; I, as Systems Librarian, was expected to run the technical aspects of the site but also be its primary content editor. That’s simply an impossible task, as I don’t know every detail of the library’s operations or have the time to keep on top of a menagerie of pages of dubious importance.

I tried to create a “website changes form” to manage things, but it didn’t work for staff nor myself. The few staff who did fill out the form ended up requesting things that were difficult to do, large theme changes that I wasn’t comfortable making without user testing or approval from our other librarians. The little content that was added was minor text being ferried through this form and myself, essentially slowing down the editorial process and furthering this idea that web content was solely my domain.

To top our content troubles off, we’re also on an unsupported, outdated version of Drupal. Upgrading or switching a CMS isn’t necessarily related to a website redesign. If you have a functional website on a broken piece of software, you probably don’t want to toss out the good with the bad. But in our case, similar to how our ILS migration gave us the opportunity to clean up our bibliographic records, a CMS migration gives us a chance to rebuild a crumbling website. It just doesn’t make sense to invest technical effort in migrating all our existing content when it’s so clearly in need of major structural change.

Card Sort

Making a card sort
Cards in the middle of being constructed.

Not wanting to go into a redesign process blind, we set out to collect data on our current site and how it could be improved. One of the first ways we gathered data was to ask all library staff to perform a card sort. A card sort is an activity wherein pieces of web content are put on cards which can then be placed into categories; the idea is to form a rough information architecture for your site which can dictate structure and main menus. You can do either open or closed card sorts, meaning the categories are up to the participants to invent or provided ahead of time.

For our card sort, I chose to do an open card sort since we were so uncertain on the categories. Secondly, I selected web content based on our existing site’s analytics. It was clear to me that our current site was bloated and disorganized; there were pages tucked into the nooks of cyberspace that no one had visited in years. There was all sorts of overlapping and unnecessary content. So I selected ≈20 popular pages but also gave each group two pieces of blank paper on which to add whatever content they felt was missing.

Finally, trying to get as much and as useful data as possible, I modified the card sort procedure in a couple ways. I asked people to role play as different types of stakeholders (graduate & undergraduate students, faculty, administrators) and to justify their decisions from that vantage point. I also had everyone, after sorting was done, put dots on content they felt was important enough for the home page. Since one of our current site’s primary challenges in maintenance, or the lack thereof, I wanted to add one last activity wherein participants would write a “responsible staff member” on each card (e.g. the instruction librarian maintains the instruction policy page). Sadly, we ran out of time and couldn’t do that bit.

The results of the card sort were informative. A few categories emerged as a commonality across everyone’s sorts: collections, “about us”, policies, and current events/news. We discovered a need for new content to cover workshops, exhibits, and events happening in the library which were currently only represented (and not very well) on blog posts. In terms of the home page, it was clear that LibGuides, collections, news, and most importantly our open hours needed to represented.

Treejack & Analytics

Once we had enough information to build out the site’s architecture, I organized our content into a few major categories. But there were still several questions on my mind: would users understand terms like “special collections”? Would they understand where to look for LibGuides? Would they know how to find the right contact for various questions? To answer some of these questions, I turned to Optimal Workshop’s “Treejack” tool. Treejack tests a site’s information architecture by having users navigate basic text links to perform basic tasks. We created a few tasks aimed at answering our questions and recruited students to perform them. While we’re only using the free tier of Optimal Workshop, and only using student stakeholders, the data was till informative.

For one, Optimal Workshop’s results data is rich and visualized well. It shows the exact routes each user took through our site’s content, the time it took to complete a task, and whether a task was completed directly, completed indirectly, or failed. Completed directly means the user took an ideal route through our content; no bouncing up and down the site’s hierarchy. Indirect completion means they eventually got to the right place, but didn’t take a perfect path there, while failure means they ended in the wrong place. The graph’s the demonstrate each tasks’ outcomes are wonderful:

Data & charts for a task
The data & charts Treejack shows for a moderately successful task.
"Pie tree" visualizing users' paths
A “pie tree” showing users’ paths while attempting a task.

We can see here that most of our users found their way to LibGuides (named “study guides” here). But a few people expected to find them under our “Collections” category and bounced around in there, clearly lost. This tells us we should represent our guides under Collections alongside items like databases, print collections, and course reserves. While building and running your own Treejack-type tests would be easy, I definitely recommend Optimal Workshop as a great product which provides much insight.

There’s much work to be done in terms of testing—ideally we would adjust our architecture to address the difficulties that users had, recruit different sets of users (faculty & staff), and attempt to answer more questions. That’ll be difficult during the summer while there are fewer people on campus but we know enough now to start adjusting our site and moving along in the redesign process.

Another piece of our redesign philosophy is using analytics about the current site to inform our decisions about the new one. For instance, I track interactions with our home page search box using Google Analytics events 1. The search box has three tabs corresponding to our discovery layer, catalog, and LibGuides. Despite thousands of searches and interactions with the search box, LibGuides search is seeing only trace usage. The tab was clicked on a mere 181 times this year; what’s worse, only 51 times did a user actually search afterwards. This trace amount of usage, plus the fact that users are clearly clicking onto the tab and then not finding what they want there, indicates it’s just not worth any real estate on the home page. When you add in that our LibGuides now appear in our discovery layer, their search tab is clearly disposable.

What’s Next

Data, tests, and conceptual frameworks aside, our next stage will involve building something much closer to an actual, functional website. Tools like Optimal Workshop are wonderful for providing high-level views on how to structure our information, but watching a user interact with a prototype site is so much richer. We can see their hesitation, hear them discuss the meanings of our terms, get their opinions on our stylistic choices. Prototype testing has been a struggle for me in the past; users tend to fixate on the unfinished or unrefined nature of the prototype, providing feedback that tells me what I already know (yes, we need to replace the placeholder images; yes, “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet” is written on every page) rather than something new. I hope to counter that by setting appropriate expectations and building a small but fairly robust prototype.

We’re also building our site in an entirely new piece of software, Wagtail. Wagtail is exciting for a number of reasons, and will probably have to be the subject of future posts, but it does help address some of the existing issues I noted earlier. We’re excited by the innovative Streamfield approach to content—a replacement for large, rich text fields which are unstructured and often let users override a site’s base styles. We’ve also heard whispers of new workflow features which let us send reminders to owners of different content pages to revisit them periodically. While I could do something like this myself with an ad hoc mess of calendar events and spreadsheets, having it build right into the CMS bodes well for our future maintenace plans. Obviously, the concepts underlying Wagtail and the tools it offers will influence how we implement our information architecture. But we also started gathering data long before we knew what software we’d use, so exactly how it will work remains to be figured out.

Has your library done a website redesign or information architecture test recently? What tools or approaches did you find useful? Let us know in the comments!


  1. I described Google Analytics events before in a previous Tech Connect post