Miskatonic University Press

Code4Lib++, or, Why I'm Still Going to McMaster Even Though Jeff Trzeciak Spreads Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

Posted: 12 April 2011

I considered boycotting Code4Lib North because it’s happening at McMaster University, where Jeff Trzeciak is the University Librarian.

I decided against it. I’m going, and I’ll do what I can to help make it another great Code4Lib event, because Code4Lib stands against the fear, uncertainty and doubt that Trzeciak spreads.

Last week Trzeciak gave a talk called Transforming Traditional Organizations in which, among much else, he talks about how librarians shouldn’t be in supervisory positions and he doesn’t plan on hiring any more of them anyway. It’s been getting a lot of attention, and Jenica Rogers’s This is NOT the Future of Librarianship is a good post to start with if you’re looking for reactions. (See also Mita Williams’s Cassandra and the Future of Libraries Without Librarians, Karen Schneider’s Thoroughly Modern Karen: A Response to Jeff Trzeciak and Lane Wilkinson’s Shut Up, Jeff.)

I don’t disagree with everything Trzeciak’s tried out at McMaster. He came with a much-needed fresh outlook and arranged for new positions that brought in some excellent people. He put in an Endeca-based catalogue, which was good, though it seemed like it was done as much for the prestige and newsworthiness of being the first academic library in Canada to do it as for the sake of having a better catalogue. He got the library involved in Second Life, which is something I was glad they were testing because I had absolutely no interest in it. It turned out to be a dud, but someone had to find that out. He’s changed how the reference desk works, which is something we all need to look at. I don’t think he went at it with the right approach, and it seems like it ended up worse than before, which I hope they can fix, but there’s nothing wrong with changing how the desk works.

What I do object to is the poisonous atmosphere of anxiety, worry, and fear that Trzeciak has brought to Mac. He fired two librarians in 2009 and is now getting rid of five more through “voluntary separations” (early retirements, I think). “Involuntary separations” (firings) might follow. In 2010 McMaster librarians unionized and formed the McMaster University Academic Librarians' Association. MUALA recently finished bargaining their first agreement, but I don’t know the details and I don’t know how much defense they have against cuts initiated for “budgetary” reasons. (Other Canadian librarian unions and associations need to get involved with what’s going on at Mac.)

I’m acquainted with some McMaster librarians. All the ones I’ve met are good. They don’t talk much in public about what it’s like to work there. I wish they would. The more the rest of us know, the better.

Two very good McMaster librarians, Nick Ruest (who just said I may work at an institution with arguably the worst morale among librarians in Canada, but I love my job) and John Fink, organized the second Code4Lib North chapter meeting for 5-6 May 2011. Forty or fifty library and archives geeks are going to get together for a hackfest and an informal, self-run conference.

Here’s what Code4Lib is about:

code4lib isn’t entirely about code or libraries. It is a volunteer-driven collective of hackers, designers, architects, curators, catalogers, artists and instigators from around the world, who largely work for and with libraries, archives and museums on technology “stuff.” It started in the fall of 2003 as a mailing list when a group of library programmers decided to create an overarching community agnostic towards any particular language or technology.

… Things get done because people share ideas, step up to lead, and work together, not because anyone is in charge. We prefer to make community decisions by holding open votes, e.g. on who gets to present at our conferences, where to host them, etc. If you’ve got an idea or an itch to scratch, please join in; we welcome your participation!

Code4Lib is friendly, open, supportive, helpful and welcoming. Code4Lib is a good time. It’s a loose, baggy community of people (with library degrees or not) who love hacking on library and archives stuff, making information and knowledge available for free, sharing what they’ve done, improving what someone else has done, and giving others a helping hand.

Code4Lib is what Trzeciak isn’t. When I go down to Mac I’ll bring as much Code4Lib spirit as I can. If you can make it then I hope you’ll come too. We’ll hack on stuff, show each other things, go to the pub, have a great time, and cheer up our McMaster friends and colleagues. Thanks to Nick and John for organizing it. I’ll see you there.

Updated: 12 April 2011