Month: March 2013

Way of the future

Mia Breitkopf has a summary of Roy Tennant’s 2012 talk to the Academic Librarians Conference at Syracuse (yes, I’m late to this party but it’s still worth highlighting). Tennant (and R. David Lankes) emphasized the need for academic librarians to focus more on services, less on collections, and the need to be out in the community instead of behind a desk or in an office. What particularly caught my attention was “Tennant’s Ideas for Tugging Your Library Into the Future”:

  1. Outsource back-office work
  2. Get rid of the office
  3. Plan for continual change
  4. Reattach the library to the institution
  5. Dream up big ideas and try them
  6. Change collection development policies (i.e. reduce and move offsite)
  7. Have fun

Given what Tennant calls the “Four Horsemen of the Library Apocalypse” (unsustainable costs, viable alternatives, declining usage, and new patron demands), there isn’t much standing in the way of one bull-in-the-china-shop university administrator shutting the whole library system down in favor of an outsourcing option. In fact, as more universities adopt corporate world-inspired business models, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more of it already.

But I thought books were smart

This show is brilliant.

I’m old

While staying up late to wrap up a few projects was the smart thing to do given the fact that family comes into town today, it’s making my work day a bit… slow.

The traveling scriptorium

“John and I should roadtrip to ACRL in a van with the words “Traveling Scriptorium” written on the side in graffiti-style.” – via thepinakes. This is how I imagine that would look like:

Ulcerative colitis, or why I can’t stop reading about Aaron Swartz

I had been planning to write a tribute to Aaron Swartz, but not only could I not find the words, I also didn’t think there was much I could add. That is, until I discovered that Swartz suffered from ulcerative colitis. I’m surprised that more has not been said about this, especially the seemingly obvious link between his eating habits and the disease, but then I realized, while researching his experience with ulcerative colitis (U.C.), that there isn’t much in the way of personal stories of U.C. on the web. According to the CCFA, only 700,000 Americans may be affected and most, I imagine, have no desire to talk about it. And so, this is what I can add to our understanding of tragedy of Aaron Swartz’s death: my experience with his disease.

What is ulcerative colitis?

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the large intestine that has no known cause and no known cure. It results from an abnormal response of the immune system, causing inflammation in the inner lining of the intestine and leading to many tiny ulcers. These ulcers produce pain, cramping, bleeding, bloating, and mucus but ultimately the disease can lead to more serious problems, such as weight loss, malnutrition, depression, intestinal perforation, and colon cancer. In rare cases, the parts of the large intestine may need to be surgically removed.

Managing the disease with medication is often as unpleasant as having it. Anti-inflammatory drugs like mesalamine (administered both orally and rectally) are usually taken daily. For some, that may be enough to control the occasional flare-ups. For more serious cases, short-term steroid use (e.g. prednisone) and long-term immunosuppressants may also be needed.

I am in the latter group. Among other medications, I take a daily dose of mercaptopurine, a “light” chemotherapy drug typically prescribed to leukemia patients. With it comes all the usual side effects of chemo: nausea, hair loss, loss of appetite, fatigue, constant sore throat, higher risk of getting an infection (e.g. scars don’t heal as quickly; I’ve had more colds in the last year than in the last decade) risk of liver damage (I have to go in for blood tests every 90 days), and a significantly higher risk of developing skin cancer (which is why I have to see a dermatologist once a year). Despite the frustration of not having a “fix-it” drug, medication is far from the worst of it.

Food is always followed by pain

In one of Swartz’s blog posts, he makes the comment that “food is always followed by pain.” I don’t know if he was specifically referencing his U.C., but I understand where he’s coming from: the fear of food. Red meats, vegetables with insoluble fiber, sweet fruits, alcohol, foods with sulfates, refined sugars, dairy products… all have been shown to aggravate U.C., though the research literature has been careful to point out that individual experience varies widely (Buchman, 2012). After living with U.C. for over a year, I’ve learned to avoid certain foods when possible, to only eat a little at a time, and to drink mostly water.

There is no hard and fast rule for what will cause a flare-up, but one thing I am certain about: the pain of hunger is better than the pain of U.C. and so it is not uncommon for me to go an entire day without eating (something which, if you knew me, would be unheard of a year ago!). Imagine preferring hunger to food or going to a new restaurant with family and being afraid to try anything on the menu.

Change is a catalyst for pain

For the most part, the medications I take keep my U.C. under control, but that does not mean I live carefree. I am constantly aware of my digestive system. I can differentiate between the various parts of it as it is constantly in motion (Constantly. I can feel it moving right now. I can hear it). I am also acutely aware of its schedule and so any potential changes to my daily routine have to be considered in light of this.

Last year, MPOW decided that all non-permanent staff members would no longer be allowed in the building before 8am. This included myself. I asked if it would be OK to enter the building and lock the door behind me, but my request was denied. This caused me a significant amount of stress (which has been shown to aggravate U.C.), not because I felt I was being unjustly treated (nb: permanent staff are allowed in the building before 8am but keep the doors locked until then) but because I would not have access to a men’s room. This was in the early days of my U.C., before it was conclusively diagnosed. I’ve since been able to adjust my morning commute, but at the time it was almost enough justification for me to quit my job.

Depression and anxiety

All of the above should shed some light as to why ulcerative colitis is so closely connected with depression and anxiety: fear of food, fear of change, a feedback loop of stress and pain, an uncomfortable awareness of one’s digestive system and the fear that others are aware as well. A number of studies have explored this connection (see the references in this article). According to the International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (2005):

“The circumstances that trigger the onset of the disease or attacks have been identified by the majority of authors. […] Often, although not always, the following are found: experiences of object-loss, experiences of wounded narcissism with feelings of worthlessness, self-depreciation, and a sense of the impossibility of taking on new responsibilities. These experiences may result from new real-life situations (with a traumatic valence) or situations that are fantasized and retroactively reconstructed. In “Étude psychosomatique de dix-huit cas de recto-colite hémorragique” (Psychoanalytic study of eighteen cases of ulcerative colitis; 1958), Michel de M’Uzan and his collaborators wrote: “The common element in these factors is their ability to provoke in the patient a loss of self-esteem, along with the belief that he is unloved or incapable of overcoming a difficulty.”

During August and September this past year, I went to a dark place for a time. I dropped most of my commitments and refused to take on new projects. My productivity dropped at work. I stopped reading, stopped practicing the ukulele, stopped taking Codecademy classes, and withdrew into myself. My wife can attest to this. I found out I was going to be a father. I found out that I would not be getting a number of jobs for which I had applied and interviewed. It was a low point emotionally and while the thought of suicide never crossed my mind (honestly, I’m far too narcissistic to get to that point), I was certainly hating myself and ashamed and what I was not accomplishing… and blaming my body for all of it.

I am in a better place now. I still lack much of the motivation that I’m used to feeling. The fatigue from the chemo, the initial fear that accompanies change, and the frustration that comes with not having a definitive cure does get to me from time to time, but I’m more able to deal with it knowing that it’s part of the deal I’ve been dealt.

My wife and I are having a baby in three months. Tears are in my eyes as I type this because I’m so excited. We’ve been taking Bradley classes to prepare for (we hope) a natural birth. One of the most significant benefits of taking this course is simply knowing what to expect. By not being afraid of birth and all the biological pain/messiness that comes with it, we both feel more comfortable and prepared for when the day comes.

For those who suffer from ulcerative colitis, I hope that by reading this, you feel more prepared, less alone, and more able to get through each day knowing that it’s just part of an unfortunate deal. It’s nothing personal. We love you and you can get through it. If you have any questions or want to talk about it, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Buchman, A.L. (2012). Nutrition in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, In: Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis by D.C. Baumgart (Ed). Spinger, 643-653.

Kurina, L., Goldacre, M., Yeates, D. and L. Gil. (2001). Depression and anxiety in people with inflammatory bowel disease. Journal of Epidemiol Community Health, 55(10). 716-720.

Ulcerative Colitis. (2005). In A. de Mijolla (Ed.), International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (Vol. 3, pp. 1813-1814). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.

John Jackson for ALA Council 2013

The elections for ALA Council begin March 19 and once again this year I’ll be running for member-at-large. Those of us who participate in the Facebook group ALA Think Tank have been answering questions on FB and Twitter. Since not everyone participates in that group, I wanted to share my responses to those questions below. If you are a member of ALA, I encourage you to (1) vote; (2) to vote for me; and (3) to additionally vote for my colleagues: Erica Findley, Mel Gooch, Lynda Kellam, Viccy Kemp, Kate Kosturski, Chris Kyauk, Coral Sheldon-Hess, Manya Shorr, and Patrick Sweeney.

UPDATE: For ALA President, I endorse Courtney Young. I cannot recommend her enough. Courtney was one of the first people I met at ALA and since that time she has continually served as a model of professionalism: the type of model that I think we all should work emulate in our own lives. Her passion and her experience will lead our organization well. For more information, please see her candidate page.


My Official Statement of Professional Concern

I am primarily concerned with building communities and creating opportunities that help young professionals bridge the gap between graduate work in library science and professional employment. I’m particularly interested in running this term because ALA will be formulating its new strategic plan, in preparation for the sunset of the 2015 plan. I believe it’s important that we have a strong coalition of young professionals involved in the planning process: librarians who would think beyond the horizon and imagine the myriad of possibilities that contemporary technology will bring to our profession.


Question 1: What is the first thing you plan to do on Council?

One of my personal/professional agenda items in Council is to have a role in the strategic planning process for the organization. Libraries, like many service professions, have a strong tendency to default to being reactive to the world around us, but strategic planning and future thinking can help us to define our own future and create new opportunities. So one of my first actions on Council will be to identify those committees and ad hoc groups (official or otherwise) that are most interested in writing their own future for libraries in the 21st century.


Question 2: Many in the ThinkTank-for-ALA caucus referenced young members/new professionals in their platforms. What is one concrete step ALA can take to engage this demographic? And, if elected, how will you ensure Council pursues it?

One concrete thing we can do is work more with student members and create more opportunities for involvement. Programs like Emerging Leaders and Student-to-Staff are a good start, but are limited in their reach. ALA could sponsor student projects and research by helping to bring collaborators together, providing a [virtual] work-space and scaffolding, and offer funding. Creating more mentorship opportunities is extremely important. I don’t think we lack for interested mentees, but over the years I’ve noticed many groups in ALA struggling to find enough mentors to support the number of interested mentees. So finding incentives for mentors is a challenge that we should address.


Question 3: What is one thing you plan to learn more about before being elected to council?

Getting to know the structure of the Council (both formally through its by-laws and informally through its committees, constituencies, etc) will be a challenge, as I see it. It will take some time to get the lay of the land, but it is on the top of my priority list prior to taking office. Every organization has a unique culture of communication and knowing how that is so for Council is, in my opinion, indispensable in order to make things happen.


Question 4: How do you plan to connect with ALA Members while on Council?

In addition to Twitter, FB, personal blogs, and ALA Connect, I plan on reaching out to my local community. As one of the largest urban areas in the country, we have both a city-wide and county-wide library system, two large universities (not to mention a number of smaller institutions, both public and private, as well as the community college system), and the LAUSD. By creating opportunities for networking and fellowship (something which I am passionate about and help bring about though the “Librarians in La La Land” social group), I hope to connect with librarians in their daily lives.


Question 5: What are 3 reasons people should vote for you?

  1. I will step forward. I’m willing to raise my hand and stick out my neck. Call it drive, call it passion, call it what you will, but I’ll be among the first people to volunteer for a task, to take the lead on a project, and to risk my time and attention. I’ve often been told that in large organizations half the battle is simply stepping forward, so my strategy is to get that part out of the way as quickly as possible and get to business.

  2. I will listen. I’m willing to admit when I don’t know enough, which means I’ll be reaching out to you as members of ALA to keep me informed of your needs, your desires, and your hopes for the organization. My door (virtual and IRL) is always open. Likewise, I hope you will feel comfortable coming to me with your concerns at conferences or online.

  3. I will be transparent. I hesitate to use that word, given it’s one of the many overused buzzwords of our time, but I think it best describes my philosophy toward leadership. I make no effort to hide my intentions and I am perfectly comfortable laying my cards on the table. Through my personal blog, Twitter, ALA Connect, FB, etc. I will make my goals as clear as possible so that you can understand my actions and trust my decisions. Concurrently, I hope you will feel the same openness toward me in letting me know what you need from your ALA Council.

If you any additional questions about me, why I’m running for ALA Council, or my goals, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Good food. Good wine.

And good friends.