Posted by: Steven Harris | June 27, 2019

ALA Reparations: Ideas

It’s pretty well documented that ALA materially participated in the structural oppression and discrimination against African American library patrons or potential patrons AND African American librarians. (See suggested readings below.) It is, therefore, reasonable that the organization participate in a process of reparations and reconciliation. These are just some of my ideas about what those reparations might include.

  • Form a commission that would make recommendations about how to pursue ideas of reconciliation and reparation.
  • Create a scholarship fund to substantially fund LIS education for people of color, and create a foundation board to manage the fund. I’m thinking on a large scale… ALL people of color who want to pursue an LIS graduate degree. Publishers and other library vendors should be asked to substantially support the fund.
  • Require that all ALA accredited MLIS programs recruit and provide financial aid to people of color at a rate of at least 30% of all their admissions.
  • For people of color who are new graduates of MLIS programs offer cost-free membership to ALA for their first 10 years after completion of the degree.
  • For people of color who are new graduates of MLIS programs offer cost-free attendance at ALA Annual and Midwinter Conferences for 10 years after completion of the degree (funded by the scholarship foundation).
  • Create teaching materials about the benefits of reparations to the practice of library and information science.
  • Create a clearinghouse of information about the damaging effects of slavery, segregation, discrimination, and racism, including bibliographies, teaching materials, speakers bureau, and book discussion guides for all reading levels and educational objectives.


Suggested readings:

Battles, David M. The History of Public Library Access for African Americans in the South, or, Leaving behind the Plow. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2009.

Du Mont, Rosemary Ruhig. “Race in American Librarianship: Attitudes of the Library Profession.” The Journal of Library History (1974-1987) 21, no. 3 (1986): 488–509.

Gleason, Eliza Valeria Atkins. The Southern Negro and the Public Library: A Study of the Government and Administration of Public Library Service to Negroes in the South. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1941.

Graham, Patterson Toby. A Right to Read: Segregation and Civil Rights in Alabama’s Public Libraries, 1900-1965. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002.

Harris, Steven R. “Civil Rights and the Louisiana Library Association: Stumbling toward Integration.” Libraries & Culture 38, no. 4 (2003): 322–50.

Harris, Steven R. “Battle Cry: The American Library Association and Its Southern Chapters during the Civil Rights Movement,” July 20, 2017. (A substantially altered version of this article will be published soon.)

Josey, E. J., ed. The Black Librarian in America. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press, 1970.

Josey, E. J., and Marva L. DeLoach, eds. Handbook of Black Librarianship. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2000.

Knott, Cheryl. Not Free, Not for All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2015.

Neely, Teresa Y, and Khafre K Abif. In Our Own Voices: The Changing Face of Librarianship. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003.

Peterson, Lorna. “Alternative Perspectives in Library and Information Science: Issues of Race.” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 37, no. 2 (1996): 163–74.

Tucker, John Mark, ed. Untold Stories: Civil Rights, Libraries, and Black Librarianship. Champaign, Ill: Publications Office, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1998.

Wiegand, Wayne A., and Shirley A. Wiegand. The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2018.


Posted by: Steven Harris | October 2, 2013

Kindling the Fire

The Kindle Fire is a pretty good device for consuming Amazon products, whether we’re talking Amazon music or Kindle e-books. But it’s not very friendly towards using e-books from other sources. If you look for some common e-book reading apps like Aldiko, Bluefire, or txtr in the Amazon app store, you won’t find them. You can get all of those apps in the Google Play store and install them on other Android devices, but not so on the Fire. Even if you navigate to the Play store with the web browser on the Kindle itself, you won’t be able to download and install these third-party e-book reading apps. Amazon is blocking you. “Please only read our e-books.”

But don’t despair. We can get around this barrier with some of the apps. You don’t even have to “jailbreak” your Kindle, but you have to make sure you have enabled installation of apps from non-Amazon sources:

  • Touch the gear icon (“Settings”)
  • Touch “More”
  • Touch “Device” (scroll down a bit)
  • Set “Allow installation of Applications” to ON, and touch OK when prompted

Then you need to find the app install or APK file for the reader that you want (NOT through the Play store). Bluefire was one of the first apps to publicize a location where you could download their APK. But if you hunt around a little you can find others. I have successfully installed Aldiko, Bluefire, Nook, and txtr. There are probably others.

So, on your Kindle Fire web browser, go to one of the links below.

  • Touch the download link.
  • You will see a number in the notification area at the top of the browser screen.
  • If you touch and pull the notification bar down, you will see the progress of the APK download.
  • Once the download is complete touch that item in the notification list. You should be prompted to start the installation.
  • When it is complete, you should now have the app in your app list.
  • You may need to configure the app with your ID  (or Adobe ID) when you open it.

Links to APKs:

There you go. You can now read e-books on some other apps. These are especially useful for e-books with Adobe DRM. You can configure these apps with your Adobe ID. And thus you can read e-books from sources like EBL and Ebsco. Happy reading.

Posted by: Steven Harris | June 2, 2013


Some time ago, I heard an interview with James Gleick talking about his book, The Information. I bought the book, but haven’t read more than the first couple of pages. Something about that sampling of the book suggests something to me about the nature of the world, the universe. I have maybe stole this whole idea from seeing just a few molecules of the whole: It (the universe) is made up of information, or, more accurately, of narrative, information that comes streaming at us in linear fashion. I know that the idea of linear time is contested by philosophers and quantum physicists alike, but we all know how the world looks.

We look out at the night sky. Stars twinkle, light beaming across galaxies to reach our eyes. Yet it is an ancient story, long past, the narrative of events billions of years old that are now finished and done, extinguished by the distance and the feeble inadequacy of the speed of light to tell the story of now. Even our most powerful instruments can never gather anything but long perished information. It’s like the report from the messenger at Marathon: Nike! [collapse]

But, really, things and events closer to our senses in a spatial sense are no better. The thing itself doesn’t come into our brain, only information about it, a story of its existence, made real by a sequence of firing neurons in our bodies. Narrative. Everything we know of the world is a story, which doesn’t make the world less real. It makes narrative more important. Our brains don’t need to be told this. Every human inherently knows the importance of story and narrative. We crave these in everything we do. Stories make the world whole for us. Stories make us know the universe and our place in it. I think I’ll read Gleick’s book now.

Posted by: Steven Harris | February 20, 2012

Tech Timeline

I’ve been thinking about how much technology has changed since I started working in libraries in 1983. I decided to create a timeline of where I’ve worked and the technological things that happened to me personally and in the workplace. This list does focus on my experience, which is primarily in acquisitions, collections, and reference. There were lots of other technological events in libraries during this time, but I had little involvement with them.


photo by Steven Harris

Where: University of Utah, Marriott Library, 1983-1989; Law Library, 1989-1990
I worked as a student searching orders in acquisitions, staff doing a serials inventory, and as head of monograph ordering
Library Tech:
In acquisitions we searched all orders on OCLC, but we also used microfilm to determine availability from book vendors. There was an on-order database. Somehow, IBM punch cards were still involved in the ordering process. There was a selection process for an integrated library system. NOTIS was chosen. We also implemented a link between OCLC and our ILS to create brief order records. There was a lot of talk of Silverplatter and other CD-based data products. Don’t remember them being implemented. We used bitnet email.
Personal Tech:
I bought my first computer, an Apple Macintosh 128K.
Mobile Tech:
I think I bought a Walkman a few years before this time. I wasn’t much for carrying it around.


photo by Maliaca

Where: University of Arizona, Main Library, 1990-1991; Center for Creative Photography, 1990-1991
all student positions while I went to library school – reference graduate assistant, library instruction assistant, Center for Creative Photography student assistant
Library Tech:
They had not implemented an OPAC/ILS when I was in school there. Still a card catalog.  I remember library school courses on spreadsheets and wordprocessing. There were collections of databases on CD in the reference department.
Personal Tech:
Still had the Mac, but the library school had a computer lab that I hung out in quite a bit. I don’t think I had Internet service at home. Still using a bitnet-like email system. I did make the leap to music on CD. Had a little Sony shelf-top stereo.
Mobile Tech:
Still only the Walkman for mobile.


photo by Stuart Seeger

Where: Texas A&M University, Evans Library, 1992-1994
Humanities Reference Librarian
Library Tech:
I wasn’t involved in tech much other than what was used in the reference department. There were towers upon towers of cd databases, but we also offered mediated database searching (which had, of course, been around for many years). FirstSearch, an unmediated database platform from OCLC was making its appearance. The library OPAC was NOTIS. I didn’t even have my own computer at work. Several of us in one area shared a PC. The library created several Gopher pages.
Personal Tech:
The Mac went belly-up just when I finished library school. I went the entire time at TAMU without a computer at home. I did get a TV and a VHS player.
Mobile Tech:
Alas, only the Walkman.


photo by Tim Johnson

Where: Louisiana State University, Middleton Library, 1994-1998
Humanities Reference Librarian
Library Tech:
Continuing use of CD databases, but a growing number of networked databases as well. A statewide consortium, LOUIS, worked to shared online resources. “The Web” exploded in 1994 with the introduction of Mosaic. I and several co-workers developed web subject guides, which we called “Webliographies.”
Personal Tech:
I bought a second-hand IBM clone (funny that they were called “IBM” clones, non?) At home I had dial-up networking through the university.
Mobile Tech:
And (really) still only a Walkman.


photo by Wyoming Jackrabbit

Where: University of Tennessee, Hodges Library, 1998-2004
English Literature Librarian
Library Tech:
Networked databases pretty much supplanted towers of CD databases. It became assumed that all libraries would have a  web presence. E-resource management services became common. My computer at work was a laptop that I plugged into a docking station with network connections and desk-top monitor. There were a lot of things happening in library digitization that I wasn’t really involved with. I and many librarians, however, were involved in maintaining websites and online services.
Personal Tech:
Bought a new HP PC and had an Internet service provider at home. Bought a DVD/VHS player. Kept all my VHS recordings of Ren & Stimpy.
Mobile Tech:
I bought my first Personal Digital Assistant (PDA): a Compaq iPaq with Microsoft Pocket PC. I went through a couple of versions in a couple of years. Also got my first cellphone:  a Motorola StarTAC. I loved its small flip-phone form-factor.


photo by Steven Harris

Where: Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, 2004-2008
Collection Development & Management Librarian
Library Tech:
E-resource management was pretty much a necessity with all the networked resources available. The USU library implemented RFID tags just before I arrived there. They also implemented automated storage system that was part of a new library/library renovation. I worked on deciding what to store and what to keep out in public stacks. The library started an institutional repository and worked on a lot of digital projects that I was not involved with. I did, however, encourage the library to adopt a variety of social media.
Personal Tech:
A laptop replaced my desktop at home. I dove whole-hog into social media myself with Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter. Gmail became my personal email.
Mobile Tech:
I finally merge the cellphone and PDA with a Treo smartphone. Bought an iPod mini. Didn’t really like it. Also talked the library into buying a Sony Reader for staff use. I later bought a first-generation Kindle for personal use.


photo by Steven Harris

Where: University of New Mexico, University Libraries, 2008-present
Director of Collections & Acquisitions Services
Library Tech:
My involvement with tech is mostly through collections. The number and variety of networked resources is mind-boggling. The library IS online. Lots of library digitization going on. UNM was an early adopter of Encoded Archival Description (EAD) for online archival finding aids. We implemented a discovery layer for information search. Tinkered around with WorldCat Local. We’re thinking about what our next generation of OPAC should be. Many library electronic resources have been “in the cloud” for a while, but this seems markedly so now. We have begun loaning iPads and Kindles to the public and have bought several other brand of e-reader for staff training purposes. Library social media is pretty much the norm.
Personal Tech:
I’m all about laptops. I’m using all kinds of cloud products such as Google apps, Dropbox, and Evernote.
Mobile Tech:
Also bought a netbook, which has pretty much fallen into disuse. Got the library to buy me an iPad for work. Bought a Kindle Fire for personal use. In the space of three years, I’ve adopted iPhone and then switched to Android. Small mobile devices, social media, and cloud apps have converged to become a significant part of my work and recreation.

Posted by: Steven Harris | January 3, 2012

Internet Emergency Preparedness

The Internet is a vital part of our work environment today. If your Internet access stops working, do not panic. In the case of such an emergency, follow these steps:

  1. Determine if your Internet access is through wi-fi or an ethernet cable.
  2. Check to see if the cable is plugged in.
  3. Check to see if the wi-fi on you computer is enabled. Sometimes there is a switch that may have been accidentally turned off.
  4. Sometimes a network or router may go down, thus inhibiting your access to the Internet.
  5. Check with your IT department to see if they can determine if that is the case.
  6. If you have followed all of these steps and there is still no Internet, notify all of your co-workers in the area of the emergency.
  7. Exit the building in an orderly fashion.
  8. Bring any mobile devices you may have.
  9. Seek an area safely away for the affected building.
  10. Determine if wi-fi is available to your mobile device.
  11. Continue computing to the extent possible on the mobile device.
  12. DO NOT return to the affected building until the problem has been resolved.

Remember that these procedures are only intended for FUN. Do not take them seriously.

–A messeage from the Internet Emergency Preparedness Team

Posted by: Steven Harris | November 28, 2011

One Small Word

I’ve always loved a Penguin Classics book. They’re just the right combination of convenience, authenticity, and scholarship. This holds true for the paperbacks as well as the e-books. I’d rather pay 7 or 8 bucks for a nicely edited classic e-book from Penguin than to have to slog through one of those typographical disasters offered by Project Gutenberg for free.

The irony here is that I rarely borrow Penguin e-books from my library (public or the academic library where I work). Too much trouble. I just buy them on Amazon. Last week Penguin ruffled feathers in the library world when they withdrew their e-books from OverDrive in what turned out to be a conflict with Amazon over the Kindle lending option in OverDrive.

It looks like Penguin has backpeddled on that a bit, at least until the end of the year, when they hope to work out some details with Amazon. Existing Penguin books have been restored to OverDrive.

But there is something in the initial statement from Penguin announcing the withdrawal that continues to bug me. One small word:

“We have always placed a high value on the role that libraries can play in connecting our   authors with our readers.” (emphasis mine)

Publishers always trot out the “we love libraries” platitudinous crap when it suits them (actions to the contrary). No biggie. What really bothers me though is the possessive pronoun: OUR.

I can understand them having a feeling of ownership about the books they publish. If the phrase had been “the role libraries play in connecting readers with the books we publish,” then cheers to them. But our authors with our readers? Really? Those agents don’t exist outside the Penguin corporate structure? As though people who happen to read a Penguin book are forever part of the machine. Worse yet for the author: there’s more than a little of the plantation in that sense of ownership. “Shut up and write another book!”

I know some of you will say I push this too far. It’s just a little possessive pronoun. But the unthoughtful and inconsiderate way in which this and other e-book fiascos have been sprung on libraries reinforces the idea that corporate publishers don’t much care about libraries and they could give a hoot about readers who aren’t buyers. It’s a market transaction or it’s nothing. Same holds true for authors. (Watch your back!) The entire phrase speaks pretty ominously about what Penguin thinks when the library invades their turf.

Literature, reading, and information itself are all part of a cultural ecosystem populated by individual humans. There is no ownership in that regard. If publishers really valued libraries, they would work to develop a relationship that was mutually beneficial. I think there is room for publishers to profit and for libraries to thrive in the ecosystem, but it only happens when we recognize the human in the relationship. Treating books and e-books like commodities is one thing, but none of us have a right to treat people that way too.

Posted by: Steven Harris | July 28, 2011

What Librarians Do

I’ve created another infographic: What Librarians Do. There are, in fact, a million things that librarians do and probably a million different kinds of librarians. There are many different types of libraries. Even within one organization, there is a division of labor among librarians. One thing that almost none of them do: SHUSH!


Click to view the whole big PDF (in might be necessary for the fine print)

Posted by: Steven Harris | May 12, 2011

ALA Infographic

I’ve made my own ALA Infographic! Click the image to view the full PDF file.

In an online discussion recently, some folks were bewildered about how the various parts of ALA related to one-another. I’m not sure my infographic answers that question. It is my own interpretation of ALA organizational relationships. My main approach here is to say that most ALA member groups deal with either:

type of library
functional interest
professional development
professional ethics

There are, of course, many other parts of ALA that I could have included. And there are many other ways you could visually interpret the organization.

You may disagree with my interpretation altogether. In which case, I encourage you to make your own infographic!

Posted by: Steven Harris | March 4, 2011

What I do for my community

[The events we see unfolding in Wisconsin and some discussions (arguments?) I’ve had online recently have me thinking about the value public employees bring to their communities. Obviously, public workers like teachers, librarians, police officers, and firefighters are employed because of the public good they provide. We are not entitled to those positions. We need to demonstrate the value of our services. At the same time, we are not simply a bunch of vampires preying on the taxpayers. Most public employees are hard-working, dedicated, and civic-minded individuals. OK, there are exceptions, just like with any cross-section of society. I wrote this statement as something of an apologia for public workers. It is also a description of what a particular stripe of academic librarian does. Other types of librarians’ jobs are very different.]

About my job: I’m an associate professor at the University of New Mexico. I have academic or faculty status, but actually I’m a librarian rather than a classroom professor. Furthermore, you’d really just say I’m a business manager‑‑middle management. I am in charge of collections & acquisitions for the library, which means I manage the acquisition of material that sits on the shelf (although more & more it’s an online and virtual shelf). Books, magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, videos, music CDs, microfilm, databases and other formats are bought, licensed, received, and accounted for by the 15 people I supervise. We spend about $5 million annually on these collections (a bit more if you count our endowment funds). It takes quite a few people to manage all those processes. Nonetheless, I have pared our staff by 4 positions in less than 2 years (all through attrition). That is over 20% in cuts. Some were fairly advanced jobs so the $ savings is more than 20%.

The $5million collections budget we spend is not especially large as academic libraries go, particularly for research universities. We are middling to small among research libraries. We don’t spend our budget frivolously. In fact, we’re looking every year at what we can cut and still serve the research and learning needs of our students and faculty. There is a demand for what we provide. In fact, many students and faculty find our collections inadequate for their research, teaching, or learning programs. We don’t have enough of what they need. And they tell us about it all the time. Nonetheless, our materials are used a lot. Last year, over 220,000 physical items are checked out of the libraries. There are over 2.4 million visits annually to our library website, which is how our online collections are accessed. Users did over 3 million searches in library databases. They accessed over 1.9 million full‑text articles. We can’t even count the number of searches done on campus through Google & Google Scholar. A lot of folks think the publications they find that way are free, but actually we work with Google to allow discovery and linking to collections that my department has purchased or licensed for UNM.

All of those numbers are pretty impressive, but they don’t really mean a thing if we don’t consistently help students and faculty succeed. The goal of my department is to have exactly the information resources UNM students find necessary to learn what they need to learn, and to provide the material faculty need to do research and make new contributions to human knowledge. We are proud of our roll in the academic success and scholarly achievement at UNM.

What is my roll in all this? Obviously, I supervise the 15 people in my department, try to see that they have all the tools and skills to do their job. I also want to make sure we do our work in the most efficient manner possible. We use several automated systems to manage and track our work. I also negotiate contracts and licenses with the hundreds of publishers and vendors we buy from. The work we’ve done converting many of our collections from print to electronic means more and more of our content is governed by a license rather than owned outright. I review all these licenses for terms that are acceptable to UNM. (Someone in the university purchasing office actually signs the licenses on UNM’s behalf.) I also try to give a vision to our collection goals in the library. Where do we want to be, what do we want the collections to look like: next month, next year, 5 years from now? What innovations do we need to make in order to provide the most important information to the university community in the most cost‑effective manner? I don’t do that alone, but my leadership should help to get the entire library staff working towards the same goal.

There are, in fact, about 25 librarians who are given particular subject assignments. They make decisions about which books and journals to buy that will best serve the needs of academic departments in that subject. They also teach library orientation to students and generally serve as the main point of contact for faculty in those departments. I am one of those subject librarians. In addition to my Director of Collections duties, I also serve as the subject librarian for the English Department at UNM.

Aside from all that, because I have faculty status, I am expected to contribute research or creative works to the scholarly community and to participate in professional service activities. I must write and publish articles in professional journals or publish scholarly books. I must take part in professional societies, preferably in a way that illustrates the high regard of my colleagues. (Getting elected to office or appointed to an important committee in a professional organization is always good.) All of these professional activities are reviewed on a regular basis by my peers in the UNM library. As an untenured faculty member, I can be denied tenure, if my work and professional contributions are not up to snuff. A timeline of tenure review gives me several years to meet expectations. Then I am either given tenure or terminated. Tenure means I have been deemed worthy of long‑term appointment, but by no means does it entitle me to employment for life. I can still be terminated for cause or reviewed for my ongoing productivity.

I find my job very rewarding. Knowing that I contribute to the success of students and faculty at UNM gives me great satisfaction. It is demanding and hectic at times and not at all the quiet and cushy life you would expect of a librarian. But I’m glad of that. I know that what I do will never be fully understood by the entire UNM community, much less by the general public, but I will continue to perform my duties with a sense of pride, knowing that I’m doing something good for the community I live in. I can only hope that my service is appreciated in some small way.

Posted by: Steven Harris | November 20, 2010

The Genealogy of My Reading

Stories about what boys read have me thinking about the chronology, the genealogy of my own reading history. I don’t remember the very first pure picture books, although I know there were several. It’s hard to remember details even after that. Impressions of books that made the biggest impression. There were kids picture/word books. Curious George, Go Dog Go, Green Eggs and Ham, Never Tease a Weasel, the Berenstain bears. Then chapter books. Dog books. Various Big Red books. The Incredible Journey. Where the Red Fern Grows. The Yearling. Horse books. Black Beauty. Worldbook Encyclopedia and Childcraft, anything that struck the fancy, wandering from topic to topic. Then sports books. No titles remembered. Johnny Unitus. Red Grange. Lew Alcindor. Jim Thorpe. Jim Brown. The morning newspaper, especially Sundays. Then airplane books. Then war books. The Black Sheep, Flying Tigers and whatnot. Pearl Harbor! Then western history especially mountain men. Crow Killer. Pemican. Adult books really. Charles Dickens. David Copperfield. Then sea books. Joseph Conrad. Going back and forth between adult books and adolescent books. A short time of mysteries. Agatha Christie. Sherlock Holmes. Then Jack London. Lord of the Rings (twice). Then: a big huge Ernest Hemingway time. The Sun Also Rises. Everything Hemingway. Permanently in adult books now (about 13 years old). Short stories around the house. John Cheever. Isaac Singer. John Updike. Then I decided I would be a writer. Then. It was all serious fiction. It gets very mixed up. High school, loved my English teachers. English major in college. James Baldwin. William Faulkner. Absolom Absolom. Absurdity! Thomas Pynchon. The Crying of Lot 49. John Barth. Joseph Heller. Then a masters program in English. Foreign authors! Milan Kundera. Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Gunter Grass. Heinrich Böll. Took a course from Mark Strand. Poetry! Elizabeth Bishop. William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stevens. Shakespeare (there since high school–but better now). John Donne. Not sure what to do with my life. Reading more literary theory than I ever did in two English degrees. Feeling inadequate to a Ph.D. in English. Philosophy. Pragmatism. William James. More serious fiction. More foreign authors. Umberto Eco. Hiking. Outdoors. Taking biology classes for fun. Natural history. John McPhee, Barry Lopez, Edward Abbey. Stephen J. Gould. Then it’s all just a mix of the books on my favorite books list. ( Coming back and back to postmodern novels. Salman Rushdie. Satanic Verses. Don Delillo. BOOM! Infinite Jest. David Foster Wallace. Ian McEwan. Then back to adolescent books. Harry Potter. Ursula Leguin. Robert Cormier. Back to Charles Dickens. More Jane Austen than I ever read before. And I still want to read big books. Odd books. Hard books. But I spend more and more time on the web. Facebook. Twitter. Need to read more! Need to make time for books and not get distracted.  

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