Radical Reference Conference Call Minutes/Notes 5.21.12

On May 21, 2012 we had a conference call to discuss the future of Radical Reference and our services. Below you'll see some action items. Please take a look and let us know what you think--

Facilitator: Lia
Notetaker: Susie
Participants: James, Jim, Jenna, Julie, Lisa, Madeline, Heather, Melissa, Jessica

Action Items Coming Out of the Call:

+We all commit to do something by end of month with the website.

+A new informational letter will be drafted (Done 5/22-please see updated text here)

+Radical librarians conference organizing plan (Julie)

+ALA get-together

+Document example answers with strategies (will be added to info letter above) (Done 6/6)



Intro who you are, how long in RR and if you ever answered a question.

Lia since near beginning, part of NY collective, then part of San Diego collective (too small of a group). Lia makes the RR shirts and has answered questions.

James from northern CA, used to be from SD, involved since beginning, home support for RNC, answered questions particularly gov doc qs.

Jim from UMaryland, used to answer lots of questions but staff cut backs make it harder. Involved/followed since 2004, nearing retirement age which might make it easier to give more time

Jenna involved since beginning, has answered questions

Jessica, lives in NY, from Bay Area, involved in last year, followed longer, answered questions for about 6 months

Julie, new to RR, following for a while, teach about RR in class, Jenna was a guest speaker through email, haven’t answered questions, in social justice doctoral program, would like to answer questions

Lisa from Cincinnati, following since library school (a few years), recently joined RR (last week) hasn’t answered qs yet

Madeline, just graduated from lib school, just signed up in past week too.

Heather, Boston collective organizes events, don’t answer questions

Melissa. Various activities with NYC collective. Written about RR. Has answered questions in the past.

Susie, Boston. Follower and user since 2006, answered questions while in library school in late 2000s.

Conference Call Process:

Agreed: Names will not be used in notes, but people will introduce themselves before speaking.


Background/Reason for Conference Call:

What is the future of RR? What should we or shouldn’t we spend time and energy on? People are still using online Q&A but we’re not putting a lot of effort into it. We are neither in a place to promote ourselves accurately or to do events/projects effectively. This call and questioning is not a bad thing. The project has existed for nearly eight years. It evolves and has evolved. It is a nearly eight year national online project. Time is due.

There is an energy at Rutgers and Pratt who want to participate in social justice work (library teachers and students) and don’t know how. Students feel intimidated by answering questions. Need to meet other RReffers first to feel comfortable answering questions. People/students need some sort of ceremony to answer questions.

New students would feel really excited by this. PLG chapters are forming elsewhere and are looking for opportunity.

Many students already have the training from library school, but they need to feel they have the sanction to do so.

Boston has had workshops to set people up with right level of workshops, and intro from more seasoned Q&As. This may not have translated into long term participation, but it did help people feel comfortable doing it technically.

Repeated concern is that librarians don’t know how to physically navigate the site. People answered questions together. What if we had a tutorial to have people watch how to do this?

There have been about 6 sessions on how to work site, but hasn’t translated into long term participation. The sessions are good, but it’s the same usual suspects doing the workshops and pushing it forward. How do we get other folks take more ownership of the project?

The concerns speak to the difficulty of conducting a project where people don’t have face time and get to know each other. The face time helps with accountability. Is this making the case for local collectives? Where local collectives can have work days and trainings together.

People are nervous about taking on tough questions. Some have to do with statistics or business related things. People should know that simply by virtue of working in libraries and going to library school you have to tools.

Technically, you can upload a text answer and others can help add hotlinks later.

When people sign up and get a login, assign them a question right away. Tell them to try to answer and use listserv for help. That gets their feet wet, and gets them using the listserv and connected with others with other skills, including using html.

This is good, but the two or three people who currently answer new member requests (admin folks) are overwhelmed. Others need to step up and take on this role.

Can people who have the burden of responsibility explain what they do so others can take it on?

Let’s rewrite the welcoming/how-to script that goes out to new members.
Is it useful to have a monthly list of unanswered questions reminder? Maybe one weekend, every other month, host a big answer the questions day. But once a month isn’t even often enough.

Before, each of the admins had a day to check in, and make sure questions are answered and assigned. However, this system didn’t work.

Most people on this call want to keep the Q&A function running.

Being involved in Q&A is not necessary to be a part of RR. RR started with a focus on being on the street. It’s great if collectives are independent.

We could de-emphasize the Q&A on website and announce other events. How do we create a sense of community? There is a desire to be a part of a radical library group but how does that translate into a project where you just lurk because you are uncomfortable answering questions.

It’s important to keep each other on task and be reminded that we need to be responsive to questions. Face to face accountability is crucial. If someone going to ALA could organize a meeting, it would be great. Meetings are in evening. Try to pick a night that PLG and Social Responsibility Roundtable isn’t scheduled. Usually on Saturday night.

Who is attracted to RR and PLG? How about a 3-day conference for library students or prospective library students interested in activism?

Put this type of request on the listserv and on facebook.

Listserv hasn’t had a lot of action, but the request for this call generated a lot of response. When people post personally with a request or for help with a project, it generates energy. We should think about what this means for future directions.

An alert system can be set up so you are notified when a new question comes in. We may need to set up a facilitate system.

A lot of unanswered questions actually have partial answers. Is there a way to note that something has been done, so we answer fully unanswered questions first?

We may need to have our shit together more before we get into technical solutions. A module to flag partially answered questions requires Drupal.

We could do it low tech, by annotating the title.

Let’s adopt the model of “good enough”. There is a place for doing what we can. Tell people that this is a first stab at this. “I am giving you a start.”

That is valid, but maintaining the Q&A service also means going back and making sure you explain your search strategy. Don’t “only” give answer, even if only partially.

Create a more step by step guide in the welcoming email. Say it’s about information literacy as well as getting them the answer.

If you go to My Account, there is a tab called Notifications, and you can choose by content type – daily, etc. This info should be added to script.

As a good faith that we can do this thing, can those of us on the call say we can answer a question by the end of the week. If we, on the call, can’t do it, then we’re in trouble.

For new people, let’s open an IM gate together to get you started.

Other commitments are just as valid, like organizing a radical librarians conference.

Reference shelf is another way people can be frontline participants without answering questions.

It’s easy to update the reference shelf materials with minor effort.

Pilot this plan to test our commitments over next 6 months. Then re-evaluate.

Dream project page on RR website is useful and inspiring. Over emphasizing the sexy projects, may divert energy away from the necessary Q&A and update work. It doesn’t need to be advertised on its own. People taking on dream projects need to be ready to take authority and manage the project.

New folks said nervous is allayed by knowing that there is a circle of support for their participation.

Interest in indexing project too. People in library school or just graduating want the experience.

Individuals are available to be one-on-one RR mentors.

Notes will go out to group on the call. Then we will put out a summary email/twitter/facebook announcement of renewed commitment.

Use our renewed commitment to also reach out to new groups and post blog posts on RR website about project ideas beyond Q&As. More content on site would be good. Post articles about radical librarianship.

Example answers done with collaborative strategy are available and will be built.

Focus our commitment concertedly on the Q&As through the rest of May.
SRRT Newsletter may be place to post info about RR. RR history with SRRT is slightly troubled. Some SRRT folks were involved in beginning. RR member is now on SRRT Newsletter editorial board.

There are genuine concerns about competing with SRRT by RR advertising/recruiting in the Newsletter. Are they similar groups or different enough to alleviate concerns of competition? A draft article can be run through RR listserv for collaborative editing.

There are genuine concerns about competing with SRRT by RR advertising/recruiting in the Newsletter. Are they similar groups or different enough to alleviate concerns of competition? A draft article can be run through RR listserv for collaborative editing.

We are glad for this call. Nice to connect and hear voices. Thanks to founders and new people alike.

Other notes:

Not on call/comments via email: John B., Sarah E., Heather H. - Q&A service is positive; needs moderation; use auto-reminders to participants; Q&A could be useful for new librarians, library students.