A few quick follow up comments about the Occupy event before moving onto other things. The teach-in led to a couple of interviews, an article on our event in the student newspaper (in which unfortunately we were not interviewed or quoted) and an invitation to help and participate in a separate panel event hosted by undergrad student societies in Political Science and Sociology.  Can’t remember a ‘how to use the library catalogue’ workshop  ever generating such enthusiasm! Anyway, apologies for the note-like post, but I haven’t time to produce something more polished.

1) I am  really liking the turn about of inviting guest professors into OUR house, with librarians establishing the curricular frame. There’s something both satisfying and kind of balancing about this – reminding faculty and ourselves that we have concerns and research issues which we want discussed as well, and that a little quid pro quo on the guest lecturing is reasonable.

2) If we are going to keep hosting controversial workshops/panels/teach-ins – we are going to need further training and thinking in regards to handling disputes in the classroom.

3) The fear of not occupying a podium turned out to be over-rated… our students were more than willing to speak when you give them something interesting to talk about.

4) Our institution, as a commuter campus with very limited student space may have unique demands/thirst for a public library type space or spaces.

5) The Occupy research guide deserves a whole separate post, but suffice it to say for now that it has been updated regularly, and we’ve had at least 2 people suggest new links for it.  The page visits have been really high (for a subject guide), and a few people have linked to us, shared and ‘liked’ the guide on Facebook and Twitter etc.

6) One of the unintended consequences of hosting this event and building this guide is that it forced us to learn about a lot more about #occupy, radicalized us, and helped us to listen to others who were both for and against the movement. Is this perhaps one of the many benefits of focusing on issues and events in library instruction rather than tools and skills? These activities broaden one’s own political horizons and deepens one’s own personal civic engagement.

7)Quite independently of us, our institution decided to donate 150 already deaccessioned books to the Toronto People’s Library.  And that was really cool.

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Whew!

One week after the event, here are some basic details, and some preliminary thoughts about what worked well, what didn’t, and what to keep thinking about.

Over fifty students came out (it was hard to do a firm count as some came in and out), but it was well over fifty most of the time.  Some arrived early and clearly learned of the event through the advertised channels but a fair number joined after seeing the group and were just curious, which was part of the goal.  There were also a decent number of librarians, but they didn’t outnumber student participants (a rare phenomenon for drop in workshops!!)  We were pretty satisfied with the turnout, given the limited advertising we could manage.    We tried to keep the format open, in keeping with the teach-in/knowledge sharing circle concept, but did opt to bookend the session with an introduction and wrap up.  I talked a bit about the purpose of the event and the series, and tried to stress that we weren’t after the standard speaker-audience experience, but were looking to create a space in which we could learn from each other.  And in retrospect, I think it was important to be explicit about that (even if it felt sort of contrived in the moment),  because the students really did end up owning the event, and it was pretty beautiful to watch it unfold.  Lisa wrapped up the hour or so by showing the research guide, which we now recognize was a critically important piece of this effort, and has since had a life of its own.

I threw out an opening question to David McNally to start, and he spoke for a few minutes about his take on the reasons for the Occupy movement, key antecedents and some fairly sobering statistics on unemployment, the debt crisis, and taxation.    It ended up being sort of defacto introduction to Occupy, which I think was ultimately very useful.  It was important to have David as a participant.   I was a bit concerned that he might dominate the discussion because of his background and expertise in the area,  and it would create a sort of teacher-student vibe.  But he was really mindful and supportive of the intended format, and in retrospect, I think his interventions were really well-timed and at times, critical to way the dialogue unfolded.

I am only beginning to think through the event and exchanges, but a couple of things stand out for me right now.   First, although trite, the old saw “if you build it, they will come” rings true.   In both the comments near the end of the hour and in follow up emails, a number of students expressed their appreciation for having a place to talk about Occupy, and a few asked about ways to continue the dialogue.  We were more than a little chuffed to see  a few students hang back after and start an email list to continue the discussion, and think through next steps.  I think I was most happy about this because it reminded me that we are filling a real NEED to create spaces for students to talk, and learn from each other.    I think this is less about our pedagogical mission (though that’s critical in our context), and more about our social responsibility as librarians.  So, the event was affirming for me  in that regard, and for those that are so inclined, provided some empirical evidence to support the larger project that Lisa and I are working through.  More later on this.

I was also struck by the level of engagement and the articulateness of the students who came out.  I don’t mean for this post to descend into platitudes, but the exchanges were, as one of our colleagues said to us after the event, so moving in their intensity and their scope.  The students challenged and confronted each other throughout the discussion, and there were times when I felt it necessary to hold back from that ingrained impulse to quell the intensity and the difficult emotions that came up.   One of the most powerful exchanges came when one participant put forth a forceful critique of the Occupy sites, and drew particular attention to the movement’s insularity,  lack of openness to marginalized groups and the reports of sexual assault and rape at specific sites.  In her comments, she also named the problems with our own event, pointing out that even though she was sitting in the inner circle of chairs in our group, she could barely hear the other participants.   She was right to name these issues, and in retrospect, watching the ways in which several students responded to her critique was a lesson to me that they don’t always need “us” (the teachers, the librarians, the professor) to moderate, or to intervene.  They get it.  Full stop.

I’m going to save more of these deeper, more nuanced pedagogical issues that this experience raised for me for another post, but for the moment, here’s some of the more immediate logistical and practical things we should keep in mind as we get ready for another event.

  • MIC.  Noise was a big issue.  We were in the Atrium, right at the top of the main escalator, which was ideal for visibility, but it was really hard to hear each other.    We didn’t arrange for a mic, partly because we weren’t sure about turnout and didn’t think far enough ahead of time, but also because it didn’t seem to fit squarely with the knowledge-sharing idea.   I still wonder if the mic would have been a deterrent in some ways.  But if we choose to use the Atrium again, we need to sort out the sound issue one way or another.
  • VISIBILITY:   The location was ideal, but running a tumbler in the back with the event’s name might have drawn in even more.  There were lots of folks who walked by looking curious, but likely didn’t join because they weren’t sure what it was about.
  • ADVERTISING:  On balance, we did pretty good given our existing resources.  It’s hard to tell what brought people out (perhaps we should have asked how they learned of it?) but we advertised in all the appropriate email routes, via the daily campus events listing and e-newsletter, our library home page, and with a one hour blitz of paper posters which were hung in strategic areas of campus.  We also made handouts to distribute right before event in the library, which also had a link to the research guide, which I suspect was also good in getting some folks who were hanging around in the library to join us.  I’d do all of these things again — and I probably wouldn’t advertise for any longer than we did this time (one week), but t I’d certainly make a case for getting more support institutional with the graphic design end of things (we can only rely on on the generosity and talents of family members for so long!), and for getting more help with distribution.
  • FORMAT:  We did alright in terms of keeping the conversation going and ensuring that everyone had a chance to speak.  But if we do more events that bring out a lot of people, I think it would be helpful to think  and learn more about the mechanics/dynamics of convening or moderating discussions — I certainly felt out of my element at times, but that was sort of the point, so I’ll take that as a good thing.

Research Guide:

http://researchguides.library.yorku.ca/occupy

The promotional text and images for our inaugural workshop.  We’ll be posting about our experiences in planning for and hosting this event.

#Occupy Your Mind!

People are occupying spaces in over 150 communities throughout the world, and the movement continues to grow.  There is no clear set of demands.  So what is it all about?  And where can I get more information?

Join us in the Scott Library for an informal, participatory discussion about the OCCUPY movement with members of the York Community.   Participants will include David McNally (Dept of Political Science, York), Patti Ryan (Political Science Librarian),  Lisa Sloniowki (English Literature Librarian), and hopefully others.  All are welcome.

Tuesday, November 1st, 1 pm, Scott Library, 2nd floor Atrium (aka the York University People’s Library).  Join us!

Just a brief update – taking our cue from the Open Library at Occupy Toronto – our current plan is to host a knowledge sharing circle about the Occupy movement here at the Scott Library. Recognizing that people are curious about what it is all about, and that this a great pedagogical opportunity to occupy their curiosity… we’ll invite York people who have been to the occupation to come and talk about what they saw there, why they think it’s important (or not), etc. Very casual, probably held in the collaboratory.  The library tie in is pretty obvious:  knowledge sharing, social engagement of students in particular, York’s social justice focus… perhaps we were overthinking it in the previous post. Or not… the issues raised there will hopefully surface in the knowledge sharing circle.

So, next we have to figure out how to advertise it and who to get out! Excited!

Also stay tuned for our next post on “radical irrelevancy” as professional praxis in librarianship.

#OccupytheLibrary

2011/10/13

Over the last few days Patti and I have been hacking around ideas for a library panel/session/workshop/teach in on the OccupyBaySt (or Wall St or where-ever) movement.  For each possible session we consider timeliness and social relevance – but also what about the issue is relevant to information literacy and/or the democratic values we see animating librarianship (for instance … knowledge, sharing, common space).  So we’ve been asking ourselves the question… what is the information issue here?

A few thoughts.

1. Media literacy … the lack of coverage of the protest initially, except via blogs, twitter etc. How does one discover what’s going on when mainstream press isn’t covering it?  Or does this protest show us that mainstream press coverage is not so important any more?

2. What is this thing about? It is a very different kind of movement/protest with no single message. It is not a rally or a march but an occupation. What does that mean? Why is the movement being attacked on both sides of the political spectrum? So that’s a basic information question we could try and answer … what is this thing about? I think maybe it’s about an opening up of public discourse on a very broad level – and of course this is one of the aims of our series as well. So could we get all meta and run a session on the opening up of public discourse by opening up some public discourse in our library? Get someone to talk about Habermas and public discourse? Get someone else to come in and talk about social movements and how this is different?

3.The People’s Library. What is it and why is it there? The role of libraries/librarians not only as knowledge sharers but as archivists… who are preserving the written and oral history of the movement. Obviously we wouldn’t have a whole session re the library – but we could fold it into the above panel somehow, remembering that advocacy for libraries IS information literacy.

4. The information sharing purposes of social protest … often people think a protest has failed because it didn’t change a law or an action of the state. But there are multiple purposes of social protest, some of which are creating space for sharing information, self-education and meeting people from diverse backgrounds and forming coalitions.

5. We need the tumblr We are the 99 Percent floating in the background perhaps. Or at least on our guide. Our guide would link out to the various occupy pages, the libraries, places with good media coverage?

6. Space. Common space. What does it mean to occupy a space? What does it mean to occupy Wall St? Who owns Wall St? Opportunity to talk about common space, importance of it for democracy, how to reclaim it, and of course… importance of libraries as common space.

It also suddenly occurs to me that in inviting panelists in to speak on these issues – we are connecting with and building a network of scholars and librarians interested in these issues on campus, and building solidarity amongst them as well.