Moving Forward

February 6, 2018 | Comments (2)

Hey-o folks. I’ve been more incommunicado than usual, I know. Feel free to lob rotten fruit and molotov cocktails in the general direction of Northern California.

In September I had a bad fall whilst doing laundry (!) and fractured my right ankle and shattered my left patella (kneecap) so ended up on two months of bed-bound rest. I used to think two months of reading, watching movies and series, doing needlepoint, and petting cats would be great. I was wrong. There is too much of a good thing. Medically-forced rest isn’t the same as a vacation, especially when you’re doing it with zero painkillers. I’ve been back at work for a couple of months now, got rid of my walker and cane, and now just have a slow limp to show off. I’ve been told it looks like a cowgirl swagger. I’ll take that.

One of the only good things about my time away from work was that I thought long and hard about the future. I didn’t know for sure if I’d be walking again without assistance. What would that look like? How would that change my life? I thought about home life, work life, and the intersection between the two. What is rewarding to me, and what is not? Where does my joy sit in the universe, and where are the pain points? Where and how do I want to spend my time on this earth, and where and how do I not?

I’m not the type of person to write a motivational post. Well, unless it’s a social justice call to action motivational post, I suppose. But here you go, some motivational shit.

Every time I see the sign below on the pavement or on a street sign, I smile.

Every time I see this sign it reminds me that in life there is no going backward. It’s a small visual kick-in-the-butt to re-focus forward. We each have a multitude of decisions we make every day. We can go left, right, straight, or anywhere in that spectrum in between–but we can’t go backward. Ruminating on the past, lamenting the past, aching for the past is absolutely without joy, because you can’t go there again. Think of the sign above again with an unlimited splay of arrows in every direction (except backward). Which way do you go today with the decision you’re facing now?

Lately I often find myself discussing the pervasiveness of the mid-30s-mid-40s crossroads mode that many of my colleagues and friends find ourselves in. Typical conversations involve questions like: Do I keep doing what I’ve been doing? Do I look for a new challenge? Something adjacent to what I do now or something totally different? Do I actually even like what I do? Do I feel like I’m good at what I do? Do I want another degree? Do I drop it all, pack it up, and move away to do something totally unrelated?

Do I keep on with my family life as it has been or look for something new? Am I satisfied, content even? Do I even like my home situation much less love it? How can I make it better? Have I become complacent? Am I good at being a mom/dad/husband/wife/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/son/daughter/whatever? Do I fake my own death and start a new life off the grid in the woods?

I don’t have the answers for myself quite yet. But after nearly a decade as a library technologist and seven years as a library administrator I’m solidly mid-career, and not sure what to do with the skills I have. Where can I do the most good? Where does my skill-set match up best with the challenges that exist in our world? After being in several long term relationships, with whom can I do the most good and where does my personality match up best with the other person’s?

And I keep looking at that street sign. No matter what, in my personal and professional life I need to keep moving forward. What’s gone before matters less than keeping my eyes trained to my front and sides and looking for opportunities. Because you never know when that one word, that one conversation, that one chance encounter, is going to take place that changes your course for the better.

Operation 451: Mission 1

September 26, 2017 | Comments (0)

It’s here…the last mission for Operation 451. Mission 1 comes at a timely point during a national discussion of the true meaning free speech and the First Amendment. And it also coincides with Banned Books Week!

The First Amendment is key to a free society, and key to the ethics we uphold in libraries.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We have some ideas on the Operation 451 website, big and small, so that anyone working in a library can accomplish at least one of these to support freedom of speech and the press in the many ways that plays out in our communities every day.

Go do some good. 

Operation 451 is back with a new mission: Mission 5, to ensure that “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” – Library Bill of Rights, Article V.

What can you do in your library to support this today? A lot! And we have some ideas for you.

Engage with Mission 5.

Operation 451 is proud to announce Mission 4–our next call to action for library workers, library supporters, and lovers of free expression and free access to ideas everywhere.

Mission 4 is all about the 4th Article of the Library Bill of Rights: “Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.” – Library Bill of Rights, Article IV

We’ve set some challenges for you as library workers, some ideas for what library workers can do to serve our communities, what we can do to support our co-workers, what library supporters can do, and a call for your ideas.

You can also read a new update on what we’re envisioning for 451 for the future, why we’re doing this, and what we hope people can get out of it.

Follow along with Operation 451 on our website or our Facebook page.

binary code and locked and unlocked padlocks

In June 2016, the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee released a set of Library Privacy Guidelines, a set of seven library service-specific guidelines “intended to assist librarians, libraries, schools and vendors to develop best practices for online privacy and data management and security.”

From then until January 2017, a 40+ person group of volunteers from the LITA Patron Privacy Interest Group and the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee’s Privacy Subcommittee (led by myself and Mike Robinson) was busy at work creating a practical set of checklists to help libraries of all sizes, types, and staffing expertise to audit and improve their privacy practices.

These checklists match up with the seven library service areas of the guidelines and are tiered into priority actions within each checklist–actions that we think all libraries can take all the way up to “ideal scenario” privacy practices that are dependent on staff expertise and available resources. The checklists were approved at the ALA Midwinter Conference and are ready for prime time.

So therefore,  I give you this huge group of talented and genius volunteers’ labor of love: The Library Privacy Checklists.

I am going to be working in my own library starting this week to conduct a privacy audit of our practices and begin improving what we can. I cannot overstate how much I hope that each and every library of every size and every type will use these checklists as a way to safeguard our users’ information to the very best of our ability. It’s our job. It’s our responsibility. And for some of us, it’s our passion.

Go forth and protect.


Andy Woodworth and I are pleased to announce the launch of Operation 451.

Operation 451 offers a way you can show support and solidarity for core library ethics in this tumultuous time. Read more and get involved at the Operation 451 website.

If you’re headed to ALA Midwinter, check out my session on Monday, January 23rd, at 10:30am: 21st Century Library Ethics. This session is part of the Symposium on the Future of Libraries and free to anyone with general conference registration.

You can bet your bippy I’ll have lots to say about the ethical issues and challenges facing us right now as library professionals. If there’s something you’re hoping I’ll discuss, pop it into the comments here or message me.

Greetings all. I have been appointed as the Library and Information Technology Association’s representative to the Legislation Assembly, an arm of the ALA Committee on Legislation.

At this critical time in our nation’s history I am excited about the opportunity to participate in this way and want to do the best job possible.

To that end, please comment below or email me at [email protected] with pending legislation with which you think LITA and/or the Legislation Assembly should be concerned, either in support or opposition. Do you have ideas for resolutions that you think the Assembly should recommend to the Committee on Legislation?

For more on the Committee and the Legislation Assembly (context is everything), see the ALA website.

My term ends at Annual in 2017, so this invitation extends out several months.

I’m listening.

I have been a member of the American Library Association for 16 years, with membership and committee involvement in the Library and Information Technology Association and the Office of Intellectual Freedom. I also hold long-standing membership in LLAMA and PLA. I have authored several pieces published by ALA. I have presented at many ALA, LITA, and PLA conferences. I have been an ALA member since I was in library school, and have always considered my ALA membership to be a given. I have not always agreed with positions ALA has taken, or more often refused to take, on issues vital to our role as information professionals in this country. However, I have never before this week considered canceling my membership.

Kurt Vonnegut quote about libraries

In the first organization-wide press release addressing the outcome of the election, dated 11/15/16 [update: link edited to an archived copy as ALA chose to “rescind” (AKA take down) this press release as well], you, ALA President Julie Todaro, stated: “We are ready to work with President-elect Trump, his transition team, incoming administration and members of Congress to bring more economic opportunity to all Americans and advance other goals we have in common.” I understand the global goal–working with all incoming elected officials–but as an ALA member I am absolutely not ready to work with President-elect Trump. He has stood for racism, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination for his entire life–including during his campaign. Those are all things ALA stands firmly against. Explain to me why we’re ready to work with a bigot? Because I’m not ready for that at all. The rest of this release went on to detail some of the things libraries do for communities–coming off as a weak and pandering missive begging for scraps and, in truth, coming from a place of fear.

But wait, there’s hope! In another press release dated 11/15/16 which was released shortly thereafter, you stated “ALA believes that the struggle against racism, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination is central to our mission.” OK, ALA! Good for us! We’re speaking out against injustice. It doesn’t quite resonate with the last release, but OK. You’ve given me some hope. I was heartened by this statement and was ready to hear from our national library leaders how we, on the front lines, could continue the fight.

And then the bomb fell. The most recent release dated 11/17/16 says it all with its headline: “Libraries bolster opportunity — new briefs show how libraries support policy priorities of new administration.” The release was deleted but an archived copy can be found of course, because we’re librarians and nothing can ever really, truly be erased from the web. From the release: “Today the American Library Association (ALA) released three briefs highlighting how libraries can advance specific policy priorities of the incoming Trump administration in the areas of entrepreneurship, services to veterans and broadband adoption and use.” Things go downhill from there and the rest of the release reads like a plea to the new administration to not cut library funding, a childish whine of “please, please–we’re still relevant,” and above all, a backing away from the statements of the release that so firmly upheld the values of our profession to protect the most vulnerable in our populations.

This trajectory away from justice and toward collaboration with a fascist regime disturbs me greatly.  These comments are tone deaf and, not only do not represent my values as a librarian, but do not represent the shared values of the American Library Association and its membership.

There is a time to walk a middle road, to give voice to a moderate viewpoint of an organization’s membership. This is not that time. This is the time to stand tall and proud, and give voice to the fiery ethics and values that our profession has held dear for so long in the face of fascism and bigotry.

I have no intention of supporting this incoming administration in any way whatsoever. With the transition team and other appointments being floated in the press, President-elect Trump has made it clear that racism, sexism, bigotry, assault, discrimination of all kinds, and the destruction of basic civil liberties are foundational to his administration’s philosophy. I refuse to be complicit in the work of the Trump administration and cannot in good faith remain part of a professional organization that chooses to be complicit.

I read your apology about the 11/17 release, which states that this release was a draft only and that a revision will be posted Monday. I write drafts all the time and pieces of drafts change by the final version. But never in my life has the overarching message of a draft changed remarkably before final publication, and the overarching message of these statements is what I have a fundamental moral and ethical problem with. It remains to be seen whether this release was a colossal screw-up or just an unrefined version of what you and ALA were going to send out anyway. Weirdly, I find myself hoping for the colossal screw-up scenario.

As the Director of the San Rafael Public Library, I will continue to stand up for the rights of the people in my diverse community. As Sarah Houghton, resident of San Rafael, I will work every day to fight against the oppressive administration of President-elect Trump.  It appears that I can not count on ALA to help me do either of these things. If ALA continues its policy of pandering to a bigoted and dangerous administration, if not outright supporting it, I will cancel my ALA membership and resign from all of my existing committee appointments.

I hope that the staff and Executive Board of ALA, and you President Todaro, reverse course and find the strength within yourselves to stand firm and uphold the long-held values of our profession and this, our professional organization.


Sarah Houghton

(edit for clarification : this letter was also sent directly to Ms. Todaro)

Earlier this year I organized a training for library staff throughout our county from the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and a stellar local senior non-profit named Senior Access dedicated to serving residents with memory loss issues. This training was inspired by two things: in my year in the San Rafael Leadership Institute our class project was raising funds for Senior Access -and- a demographic study from the Association of Bay Area Governments that highlighted Marin County’s median age compared to regional, state, and national norms. In 2013, the median age was:

  • 37.5 in the United States
  • 35.7 in California
  • 45.5 in Marin County

Basically, where I live and work to provide library services, our population is ten years ahead in terms of age. As a result, library services here are slightly different to meet the needs of this older population. A significant part of serving this older population is seeing an increase in various memory disorders (Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Lewy body disease, Frontotemporal dementia) among our neighbors and library users. Thus, the training.

Libraries are uniquely positioned to see changes in our regular users. We have people who come in all the time, and we can see changes in their behavior, mood, and appearance that others who see them less often would never recognize. Likewise, libraries and librarians are trusted entities–you may have people being more open and letting their guard down with you in a way that lets you observe what’s happening to them more directly. Finally, people who work in libraries generally really care a lot about other people–and that in-built sensitivity and care can help when seeing a change in someone’s mental health and abilities.

I’m going to do my best to sum up what I learned at the training as well as what we’ve seen here in our Library serving older adults with memory issues. I hope some of this can help you at your library too.

How do memory disorders usually make themselves visible?

As each of us ages, our memories get less and less reliable. Typical changes can include forgetting an occasional appointment or bill due date, forgetting words, and losing things. Changes that indicate something more progressed is happening in someone’s mind include disruptions to daily life, changes in personality, withdrawal from work or friends, poor judgment, misplacing things frequently, difficulty solving problems, confusion  about when and where you are, and trouble with spatial relationships or speaking and writing.

How might these memory disorders present in a library environment?

People will think they are in another library, another city, or another time period. They may confuse library staff for a relative of theirs. They may become upset, not remembering how they got to the library. They may repeatedly come to the library on the wrong day for an event. They may tell staff that their library card must have been stolen because they don’t remember checking out the items on their account. They may become angry and frustrated when you present them with the “correct” information. They may need to be shown the same basic procedures repeatedly, always as if for the first time. They may become uncharacteristically verbally abusive to staff or other library users when frustrated. They may pace or wander seemingly at random. They may repeatedly ask the same questions during the same short window of time. They may look and behave completely normal. One never knows for sure.

What are people with memory disorders experiencing?

Overall, in any stage of memory decline, people experience confusion, and then a resulting discomfort or uneasiness, which usually leads to an uncharacteristic behavior. Some people withdraw while others lash out. Most people experience severe fear during the latter stages of their memory loss, which makes sense if you think about it. How scary would it be to wake up with a functionally blank slate and try to “appear normal” to everyone as you go through your day? Showing up at a job that you haven’t had for 10 years, looking for a car that you don’t have any more, expecting to see a 22 year old friend who’s somehow now looking like she’s 62. How people with memory disorders behave has a lot to do with their personalities, as well as how the disease has progressed.

What is the most important thing to do when working with someone with a memory disorder?

Focus on communication. Be a good listener by expressing interest, being patient, and not interrupting. Use body language effectively by making eye contact, using a calm voice, and using gestures. Be mindful of the environment by moving to a quiet place, reducing distractions, and moving away from potential onlookers. Aim for simplicity by giving simple instructions one at a time, asking simple questions one at a time, and being mindful of the pace of your speech.

Communicating with someone with an impacted memory can be very frustrating. What should I do and not do?

Do: allow plenty of time for comprehension, repeat instructions using exactly the same words, agree with them even if what they’re saying is false, accept the blame when they feel something is wrong, be patient and cheerful, and forgive.

Don’t: reason, argue, remind them that they keep forgetting things, question their memory, or take it personally.

What should I do if I repeatedly see an adult alone in the library who seems to have some kind of memory disorder and who cannot take care of himself or herself?

If you can contact a family member or caregiver, do that first. Oftentimes our integrated library system databases have the capacity to add a second name to someone’s account or a note in the record to call a caregiver if there’s a problem. If you cannot find a family member or caregiver, call Adult Protective Services (here’s California’s APS website) or whatever the local agency equivalent is for you. It may feel like tattling or ratting someone out, but just as we would contact Child Protective Services if we feared for a child’s safety and well-being, so we should do for adults who have a diminished capacity to take care of themselves. It’s never fun, but these folks handle cases like this all day and approach their work with sensitivity, care, and kindness. Let them do their jobs.

What can I do in my library to support a community of people with memory issues?

Offer free and conveniently timed classes on memory retention, communication strategies, living with dementia, signs of memory loss. Local non-profits can definitely provide the expert trainers for these classes. Offer to be a site for a support group. Keep a handy resource list of local non-profits and governmental resources for people with memory disorders: adult day cares, advocacy groups, residentiail facilities, caregiver support, diagnosis programs, in-home care, legal and financial information, meal programs, and transportation options. Train your staff on the warning signs to look for and how to effectively communicate with people with memory issues. Collaborate with local non-profits on art programs, day field trips, and other activities to keep people with memory disorders active and engaged in their communities.


For more information, check out the Alzheimer’s Association website: look for a local chapter, resources for family care, caregiver support groups, classes, day programs, and training. And in a pinch you can definitely call the Alzheimer’s Association National Hotline: 1-800-272-3900.