Associate Professor of English, University of Michigan-Flint. I research and teach rhetoric and writing.
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Weekly Review

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The United States Senate confirmed to the Supreme Court Ketanji Brown Jackson, and a former Republican National Committee aide who once requested and enthusiastically responded to a video of a baby being raped was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for receipt of child pornography.1 2 3 “I was honored to have his endorsement in PA. Twice. But I’m disappointed by this,” tweeted Sean Parnell, who ended his Senate campaign after his wife publicly accused him of abuse, in response to Donald Trump’s endorsement of Mehmet Oz.4 5 “Oz is the antithesis of everything that made Trump the best president of my lifetime.” Pakistan’s parliament ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former cricket star, in a vote of no confidence, and the right-wing incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right politician Marine Le Pen received the most votes in the first round of France’s elections.6 7 Viktor Orbán, who was recently reelected as Hungary’s prime minister, announced that he would break ranks with the European Union by purchasing Russian gas with rubles, and climate activists rallied outside the United States Postal Service’s headquarters in support of transitioning to a fleet of electric mail trucks.8 9 An assailant poured red paint on Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel Peace Prize–winning editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, as he rode a train in Russia, and an investigation revealed that violence against journalists reached record levels in Mexico, with 25 murders since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018, an 85 percent increase from his predecessor’s tenure.10 11 It was reported that Israel is currently holding 10 Palestinian journalists in jail for “incitement.”12

Shortly after defending the New York Police Department’s increased arrests for low-level offenses, New York mayor Eric Adams, a former cop, attended a dinner party for the haute couture fashion brand Valentino, and then contracted COVID-19.13 14 15 The NYPD destroyed homeless encampments across the city, opened fire on a getaway car, and with a police van killed a man who was asking for money in Brooklyn.16 17 18 19 With updates to its death chamber now complete, South Carolina announced that it would give people sentenced to death the choice of whether to be killed by firing squad, the electric chair, or lethal injection, depending on availability.20 In Oregon, the trial of Nancy Crampton Brophy, a woman charged with murdering her husband after self-publishing an essay titled “How to Murder Your Husband,” began, and in Florida, a woman was dismissed from jury duty for the sentencing of the Parkland school shooter after asserting that she is too occupied with her husband and her sugar daddy.21 22 Ammon Bundy was sent to jail for contempt of court after arguing that his campaign for governor should count toward his required 40 hours of community service.23 A woman was fired from a strip club after it was revealed she had merely pretended to be related to a boy who died after falling from an amusement park ride.24 “You could smell it a block away,” said the owner of Barney Greengrass, the famed smoked-fish store, after an arsonist burned down its dining shed.25

Mark Zuckerberg claimed that employees of his company “lovingly” refer to him as the Eye of Sauron.26 “We really want this to become the most famous, iconic statue in the world,” said John Bartleman, the CEO of TradeStation, referring to a 3,000-pound robotic bull without testicles that was unveiled in Miami, which is meant to represent the cryptocurrency market.27 In accordance with tradition, the Canadian finance minister purchased a new pair of shoes before the nation’s budget was announced, and the family of a deceased rapper defended their decision to stand his corpse on the stage of a Washington, D.C., nightclub.28 29 “We’re worried about how professional this has become,” said Theo Dekker, the chairman of a Dutch dairy interest group, after thieves pulled off a cheese heist in the Netherlands and an employee of a mattress shop in Middlesbrough, England, expressed concern that proposed bike lanes would provide shoplifters with “a clear getaway.”30 31 A man in Germany received up to 90 COVID-19 booster shots, and scientists announced evidence that invertebrates feel many emotions, especially when shaken or injected with acid.32 33Sam Needleman

The post Weekly Review first appeared on Harper's Magazine.
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Why I Left Libraries. Spoiler: I was broke, and job… | by Allison Jai O'Dell | Apr, 2022

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Spoiler: I was broke, and job insecurity in the academy needs to change.

For almost a decade, I worked in special collections — flitting from one library to the next, taking on a series of temporary, grant-funded positions. I moved from DC to Baltimore to Philadelphia to Miami to Gainesville to Los Angeles in response to job offers. I never once planned a vacation, because, a) I couldn’t afford it, and b) I never knew what airport I was going to need to fly out of in six months.

My salaries ranged from $32,000 annually to $45 hourly (part time, without benefits). I spent most of that money moving to new cities and traveling to yet other cities for professional conferences and workshops. I spent the rest buying suits and bibliophilic society memberships to help me appear more affluent, hoping to be accepted by the antiquarian gentleman’s club.

While I was never able to accumulate wealth, switching jobs every 18 months did help me develop a wide range of skills and perspectives on data management — proficiencies that I would later realize were coveted (read:$$$) outside of the library profession.

In 2016, as I was finally relaxing into a long-sought and, so I thought, well-deserved tenure-track position at the University of Florida, I learned that my department was under threat of imminent re-organization. I was faced, yet again, with the prospect of moving to protect my income.

At this point in my career, I’d invested the following into the goal of working as a rare book librarian:

  • Two master’s degrees (and their respective student loan repayment bills);
  • Three romantic relationships (dead upon relocation);
  • The blood, sweat, and booze involved in producing 12 peer-reviewed articles and 1 single-author monograph;
  • Enough red-eye flights, iPads, and pant-suits to sustain 36 conference presentations, 39 committee appointments, and 1 Software Carpentry side hustle.

I was tired. I was broke. And I was feeling broken.

I could have picked up my cardigans, donned some sensible shoes, and gone back on the academic job market.

Or, I could decide to f*ck it all and earn some real money in the tech sector. I chose the latter.

At the 2021 RBMS Conference, I co-presented a session on the “impacts” (read: detriments) of the gig economy in special collections with Katharine Chandler, Lori Birrell, Courtney Dean, and Tamar Evangelista-Dougherty. Their insights ranged from the loss of institutional knowledge when temporary staff leave, to the loss of permanent staff energies when re-filling (re-recruiting, re-training) soft-money positions every year.

For my part, I dug into the financial and logistical reasons why someone who had devoted seven years to graduate school and a decade to special collections might want to renounce their reputation as a book historian and develop CRM databases, instead.

My reasons for abandoning an entire career in libraries were two-fold:

  1. The toxic and competitive culture in the academy left me emotionally and physically exhausted — but hey, that’s a topic for another day;
  2. I easy doubled my salary for half the work.

Academic jobs are never 9-to-5. If you aren’t working, then you’re teaching, and if you aren’t teaching, then you’re researching, and if you aren’t researching, then you’re writing, and if you aren’t writing, then you’re networking, and if you aren’t networking, then you’re on a plane going somewhere to network, and then, maybe then, you’ll catch a bit of sleep.

Normal people jobs, it turns out, have start and stop times. Normal people get to do their dishes more than once a quarter. Normal people get to take their family to the beach in July. (Read: normal people get to have families.) Normal people get to buy furniture without immediately wondering how they’ll fit it onto the moving truck.

During the “Gig Economy” session, I compared earning potential in academic libraries to earning potential on the whole for various technical services functions. If you’re in a dead-end academic cycle, I hope that these figures inspire you to consider how your portfolio may be applicable outside of special collections.

Below, I’ll recap the figures given in this presentation. I reference average salaries for position titles and keywords in the city of Los Angeles. These data were taken from Glassdoor, current as of June 2021.

As a baseline, the average salary for a Librarian in Los Angeles was $62,120 annually (with a salary range of $42K to $92K).

Data Architecture: I was an active member of the RBMS Bibliographic Standards Committee, the ARLIS/NA Artists’ Books Thesaurus project, and an OCLC initiative on Web archiving metadata. I used to contribute to development of international schemas, controlled vocabularies, and content standards for free, as a service activity. Meanwhile, I could have earned $134,677 as a data architect.

Web Development: I developed applications and customized discovery layers to help library patrons find resources. I learned several markup and scripting languages in order to take on this extra work for the library, in the hot-hot pursuit of grant funding to list on my CV. I could have earned $88,285 as a front-end developer (the folks who use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to build the parts of a website that you see), or $101,021 as a back-end developer (the folks who work with APIs, and transfer data to/from databases).

Data Engineering: Libraries are constantly integrating data from publishers, digitization projects, legacy catalogs, union catalogs, and more. I became a whizz at data wrangling and transformation. I developed countless data pipelines and ETL processes to combine disparate data streams. I should have been earning $112,935 as a data engineer.

User Experience Research: To inform cataloging guidelines, and to better design catalogs and finding aids to meet user needs, I spent a lot of time in libraries researching information-seeking behaviors. I became intimately familiar with Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. I ran focus groups, conducted usability tests, and led card-sorting exercises in order to gather insights on how to improve our discovery interfaces and their navigation. As a user experience researcher outside of libraries, I could have earned $140,985.

Fundraising: As a special collections professional, I was routinely asked to give tours and host events, with the goal of building relationships with donors. I cultivated skills in storytelling, and learned to quickly craft narratives about my projects’ efficacy and impact. As an academic and a gig worker, I helped develop numerous grant applications, and served as a principal investigator on several large-sum projects. Overall, I honed techniques that are crucial to fundraising and philanthropy. In the nonprofit sector, I could have earned between $98,765 as a development manager and $102,546 as a director of development.

Project Management: In libraries, I never had less than five major projects going at once. I oversaw several large-scale database and website migrations, making sure that each of my team members’ contributions were completed in sequence and on time, while I myself served as a project contributor. In the tech sector, I could have been working as a project manager — someone whose sole job is to hold others accountable to the development timeline — and earned $87,086.

You might be part of the problem. If the grant project padding your CV has generated a term-limited position, you’re not creating opportunity for new professionals, you’re creating instability for the entire workforce. Shuffling from gig to gig, special collections professionals take their talent, institutional knowledge, and anxiety with them on each hop.

The solution lay in your budgets. Work with your own fundraising teams to create permanent positions with competitive salaries. Ensure pay equity and advancement schedules for the staff you already have. Don’t drive your colleagues to quit just so they know where and how they’ll make rent next year.

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Capitalism normalizes death: From COVID-19 to the threat of nuclear war

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The utter casualness and recklessness with which the US political establishment is treating the prospect of a war that threatens to escalate into a full-scale nuclear exchange must be seen in context of the ruling elite’s indifference to mass death in the pandemic.
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Teaching for free

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Prompted by the now-infamous listing for an unpaid teaching position at UCLA, The New York Times looks at the realities of academic labor: “The unspoken secret had been fleetingly exposed: Free labor is a fact of academic life.”
These unpaid arrangements are perhaps the most concrete example of the unequal power in a weak labor market — in which hundreds of candidates might apply for one position. Institutions are able to persuade or cajole people who have invested at least five or six years in earning a Ph.D. to work for free, even though, academics said, these jobs rarely lead to a tenure-track position.
I gotta say it again: Where else do people willingly work for free? In cults.

A related post
UCLA is (not really) hiring
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betajames
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Moving to Texas eight years ago forced me to think often about water — and the f...

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Moving to Texas eight years ago forced me to think often about water — and the future of American places that simply don’t have enough of it to sustain their populations. (I have an essay on this topic coming out in Raritan, but not for a few months.) Stories like this one are, to me, harrowing, and they always push me towards a counterfactual thought experiment: What would America look like if the growth of our population and the movement of our people had been governed by rational expectations of water supply? 

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We Have the Tools to Fix the Climate. We Just Need to Use Them.

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A new video from Kurzgesagt is designed to provide a little hope that humans can figure a way out of the climate crisis, without being overly pollyannish.

And so for many the future looks grim and hopeless. Young people feel particularly anxious and depressed. Instead of looking ahead to a lifetime of opportunity they wonder if they will even have a future or if they should bring kids into this world. It’s an age of doom and hopelessness and giving up seems the only sensible thing to do.

But that’s not true. You are not doomed. Humanity is not doomed.

There’s been progress in the last decade, in terms of economics, technology, policy, and social mores. It’s not happening fast enough to limit warming to 1.5°C, but if progress continues, gains accumulate, people keep pushing, and politicians start to figure out where the momentum is heading, we can get things under control before there’s a global apocalypse.

Tags: climate crisis   Kurzgesagt   science   video
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