Radical Reference Conference Call 8/25/13

On August 25th, 2013, we had a conference call to discuss the future of Radical Reference. 8 members participated in the call.

These are the action items created during the meeting:
Action item: Jessica will draft language for sending out on the list and putting on the website (re: suspending reference question answering on the site)
Action item: Asking James or another website-savvy person about disabling or altering the submission form.
Action item: Looking for someone to put together the website-focused call, ideally with folks with tech experience and an interest in working on the website
Action item: Send out a call for FB and Twitter updaters.

Lia - San Diego UCSD Member since the beginning
Jim - Retired from U Maryland
member from close to the beginning
notes difficulty using RR site on an iPad
Richard - Public librarian, Bay area, involved in Occupy Oakland, answers questions for RR
Sarah - Academic librarian in Philadelphia, involved for a few years, has occasionally answered questions
Jessa - Boston - Involved for 4-5 years in RR
Jenny - Kansas City - Law firm reference librarian -
Is taking over the email list administration (welcome emails)
Heather - Cambridge, MA - Academic librarian, one of the organizers of the Boston collective, active for about 6 years
Melissa - Brooklyn - Member since around the time RR started

● Melissa is editing a book on librarianship and social movements. the book will include a chapter on RR. Book will be called Informed Agitation: Library and Information Skills in Social Justice Movements and Beyond

● Jenny: taking over for Jenna re welcoming new members

● Richard asks if there is a local collective in the Bay Area. Lia points out the online list and also encourages folks who are interested in a local collective to send a message to the general RR mailing list. Doing this allows folks who live in the same area to speak up and get together.

Future of the reference question service
○ There’s a lot of discussion on the list about the future of the reference question answering service. Has been a resource for activists and independent journalists. One problem has been questions not getting answered, or not being answered completely.
○ Right now there’s only one question waiting to be answered. It was mentioned that the recent discussion [of the future of RR, over the listserv] has maybe rekindled participation...but how to sustain that?
○ A question was raised about context for this discussion of waiting periods. One member indicated that they have seen between 3-6 questions being unanswered at a time, with questions waiting for somewhere between a few days to a few weeks.
○ A member indicated that they were on the call last year and were really opposed to closing the reference service. Says that when they bring up the reference question answering service, it helps other activists understand what Radical Reference does, a concrete thing that people like and really get excited about. This member has gotten frustrated by questions lingering for a long time or only get half answered. This member mentioned seeing people gear up last year [after a conference call] and then letting it slide again.. suggests that perhaps it’s not in RR’s interest to keep it going.

○ Someone asked if it is possible to look at actual wait times. It is possible to manually pull this data when logged into the site but so far as people on the call know, there is no easy automated way to pull this data.

○ Another participant commented that in addition to the concerns raised about timeliness of response to questions, a successful reference service should also involve outreach to activists to actively encourage asking questions rather than waiting for them to come to us.

○ A participant said that some questions require very specific expertise. Because of this, it should not be taken as a failing of the reference service that some questions wait a long time, because they are difficult to answer.

○ Someone pointed out that hundreds and hundreds of librarians have signed up, so we have a considerable amount of expertise. This participant pointed out that it’s possible to sign up for email notifications (see below) and that they err on the side of keeping the reference service going despite the problems. Saw in the notes of last year a mention of needing to be OK with “good enough” answers, and notes that it’s hard for librarians to do. Points out that we generally have “good enough” answers.

○ Another participant asked about routing questions to local collectives to increase the timeliness of answers and increase the chances that the RR librarians will have relevant expertise to answer the question.

○ Someone else brought up restructuring along the lines of local collectives, to shift the framework of national RR from a focus on question-answering towards something else.

○ A participant remembered seeing a question that was very specific to a particular locality. The question needed someone who was knowledgeable of work with prisoners and perhaps that specific prison. Proposes indicating when we’ve run out of options for answering a particular question.
■ Another participant also remembered that question and dug into it, and there was nothing out there.At a certian point you have to say we can’t find evidence.
■ That prison question came from a NY activist who some NYC RR folks know in person, which is part of the reason this activist felt comfortable asking multiple questions on the site.

○ It was proposed that we restructure how we tell people how we are going to answer their questions, e.g. make it clear that we’ll offer a few suggestions to start with (rather than promise a complete answer if we cannot deliver one).

● Another participant offered a proposal: if the question service is going to continue, someone should send submitted questions to the RR listserv (paste them in the body of the email.)
○ Other participants responded that it’s possible to sign up for notifications whenever someone posts a question to the site.

How to sign up for notifications:
Here are the steps to get notification:

1. Log In using your credentials
2. On the home page, under user name, click My Account. This will take you to the “My Account” page
3. On the my account page, click Notifications, then click Subscriptions.

From here, you can select the content type (and frequency) you would like receive notifications for by clicking the radio buttons.

● Initial proposal: Stop answering reference questions on the RR site.
○ Amended to: Suspend answering reference questions on the site.
○ A vote was taken, with 5 participants in favor of suspending, 2 against, 1 abstaining
○ Individual participants voting to suspend the service noted:
■ Voting to suspend reluctantly and sadly.
■ Voting to suspend but also noting that they will go along with the general membership’s opinion.
■ Voting to suspend sadly, also looking for an increased emphasis on local organizing, perhaps with questions being answered locally
○ Individual participants abstaining noted:
■ Not having a local collectives but wanting to participate in RR

Action item: Jessica will draft language for sending out on the list and putting on the website.
Action item: Asking James or another website-savvy person about disabling or altering the submission form.

Next steps for the website?

A participant said that it seems like what RR means is kind of up in the air right now.

Another participant pointed out that the RR list recently received an email from someone who wasn’t interested in answering questions but was interested in working on the website. It was proposed that we schedule another call, ideally with that person.

Consensus is to have another call focusing on the RR website.
It was noted that there is potential for burnout with updating the website.

Action item: Looking for someone to put together the website-focused call, ideally with folks with tech experience and an interest in working on the website

New member process
It was noted that we are still taking new members, even if people aren’t answering questions at this time.

Info about alias email, signing up etc..
● There was some discussion of the alias email and how to sign up to receive messages sent to info@radicalreference.info.
● Heather noted that she can help with the mailing list (mailman).

Future of Radical Reference (website, local collectives only, what's our mission?)
Use of the "brand" Radical Reference by local collectives who may not be participating in answering questions (is this okay? are there caveats?)

● The participant who raised this question explained that they are asking about local collectives using the name RR, and double-checking that it is OK to use the name RR.

● Another participant notes that RR has a clear mission on the website about information access for all, including activists and independent journalists, and asks if we should have a statement of principles that folks subscribe to? As an example, a few years ago, this participant did a fact-checking workshop with other RR members and was later approached by a group (with whom the RR members did not want to work for political reasons) about doing a similar workshop.
● Another participant agreed that a statement of principles would be very useful. This participant indicated that they’re working from the standpoint that we’re in the midst of an assault on public services and the commons. If we are going to be active we should have some sort of acknowledgement of that.
● A participant said that this issue (of defining the politics of RR more specifically) has always been a challenge, saying that RR members all come to this place from a lot of different experiences and political places. Likes the idea of having a general idea of what we are standing for. If we can do that without talking about very specific political positions that would be good.
● A participant has been helping with questions and feels like they haven’t seen opportunities for organizing in other ways. Notes all of the cuts to public libraries, literacy services. Perhaps RR could be a place for that kind of action. Says that one thing the Left has done is connect organizing in the workplace with politics.
● Another participant said that people sign up for RR for a reason, there’s some reason there. For this participant, they would rather err on the side of having an open, broad mission so people feel they can do something on a local level.Local work is the kind of work that resonates with this participant personally. Wants to ensure that groups doing that work will still be encouraged. Agrees with a broad interpretation, that less limiting is more empowering and action is what we’re after.
● Another participant Indicated agreement with what the previous participant said.
● The mission statement from the RR site was read:

Mission Statement: Radical Reference is a collective of volunteer library workers who believe in social justice and equality. We support activist communities, progressive organizations, and independent journalists by providing professional research support, education and access to information. We work in a collaborative virtual setting and are dedicated to information activism to foster a more egalitarian society.

The participant reading the mission statement indicated that they feel very comfortable working under this umbrella.

● A participant has heard that RR responds to the needs of other activists and journalists, providing information for other people’s activism. As library workers, we do have something to say about the state of the library profession in general. There are issues that cut across the whole profession, for example ebooks and publishers taking away the right of libraries to pay a fair price and distribute. Does not agree with the RR mission statement as it’s written.

● The participant who read the mission statement said that they feel like these library focused issues are included within the mission statement. That there is a wide range of politics represented within RR, and that work on these library-focused issues could be done within the current mission.

● There are benefits of being broad, such as being able to be inclusive. But not having a focused mission statement runs the risk of not being specific.

● Is there a goal for this? When will we know when we’ve gotten there?

● A proposal was raised that local collectives make a good faith effort to follow the mission statement as it is currently written.
It was added that if people have affiliate RR pages, they could point to the RR mssion statement. And make sure that local groups point to the main site to have a sense of cohesion.

A vote was taken:
7 yes
1 abstain

● The member who raised the initial discussion of the RR mission indicated that they still see a need for a statement of purpose that has more detail than the mission statement, so that when people join there’s a little more substance to what it is they think they’re joining. As we update the website, the content we create will also be a part of articulating that.

● Another participant indicates that it makes sense to them to clarify what it means to be part of RR, to have a local collective, to do work under this umbrella.

● Another member states that they haven’t really known what the “radical” part of Radical Reference means. Thinks it ought to be more specific.

● Speaking of the mission statement, another participant points out that the mission statement page needs a bit of updating...as it says we’re gearing up for the upcoming 2012 US presidential election.

RR Social media presence (Facebook and Twitter)
● A member suggests that we handle the Facebook “EU-style,” in which someone signs up to do the Facebook for a month and then passes responsibility for it to the next person. This way an individual will only have to do it for a month, rather than 3-4 people having the password and updating when they get the chance.
● Another member agrees, liking the idea of a rotating schedule. This way specific individuals are not locked in indefinitely, and there’s a clear and defined time frame required.
● A question was raised about how to get people to sign up.

● A participant suggested that we have 6 months-1 year of people signed up in advance and then get reminders a week in advance of your month. Get people on board immediately.

● There was some discussion of posting this sign-up on the wiki, and various attempts to login to the wiki. Also some discussion of putting out a note to the listserv.

Action item: Send out a call for FB and Twitter updaters.