I offer up two tendentious lists. First, some problems in the domain of library software that are natural to work on, and in the hopeful future, solve:

  • Helping people find stuff. On the one hand, this surely comes off as simplistic; on the other hand, it is the core problem we face, and has been the core problem of library technology from the very moment that a library’s catalog grew too large to stay in the head of one librarian.  There are of course a number of interesting sub-problems under this heading:
    • Helping people produce and maintain useful metadata.
    • Usefully aggregating metadata.
    • Helping robots find stuff (presumably with the ultimate purpose of helping people to find stuff).
    • Artificial intelligence. By this I’m not suggesting that library coders should be aiming to have an ILS kick off the Singularity, but there’s plenty of room for (e.g.) natural language processing to assist in the overall task of helping people find stuff.
  • Helping people evaluate stuff. “Too much information, little knowledge, less wisdom” is one way of describing the glut of bits infesting the Information Age. Libraries can help and should help—even though pitfalls abound.
  • Helping people navigate software and information resources. This includes UX for library software, but also a lot of other software that librarians, like it or not, find themselves helping patrons use. There are some areas of software engineering where the programmer can assume that the user is expert in the task that the software assists with; library software isn’t one of them.
  • Sharing stuff. What is Evergreen if not a decade-long project in figuring out ways to better share library materials among more users? Sharing stuff is not a solved problem even for digital stuff.
  • Keeping stuff around. This is an increasingly difficult problem. Time was, you could leave a pile of books sitting around and reasonably expect that at least a few would still exist five hundred years hence. Digital stuff never rewards that sort of carelessness.
  • Protecting patron privacy. This nearly ended up in the unnatural list—a problem can be unnatural but nonetheless crucial to work on. However, since there’s no reason to expect that people will stop being nosy about what other people are reading—and for that nosiness to sometimes turn into persecution—here we are.
  • Authentication. If the library keeps any transaction information on behalf of a patron so that they can get to it later, the software had better be trying to make sure that only the correct patron can see it. Of course, one could argue that library software should never store such information in the first place (after, say, a loan is returned), but I think there can be an honest conflict with patrons’ desires to keep track of what they used in the past.

Second, some distinctly unnatural problems that library technologists all too often must work on:

  • Digital rights management. If Ambrose Bierce were alive, I would like to think that he might define DRM in a library context thus: “Something that is ineffective in its stated purpose—and cannot possible be effective—but which serves to compromise libraries’ commitment to patron privacy in the pursuit of a misunderstanding about what will keep libraries relevant.”
  • Walled garden maintenance. Consider EZproxy. It takes the back of a very small envelope to realize that hundreds of thousands of person-hours have been expended fiddling with EZproxy configuration files for the sake of bolstering the balance sheets of Big Journal. Is this characterization unfair? Perhaps. Then consider this alternative formulation: the opportunity cost imposed by time spent maintaining or working around barriers to the free exchange of academic publications is huge—and unlike DRM for public library ebooks, there isn’t even a case (good, bad, or indifferent) to be made that the effort results in any concrete financial compensation to the academics who wrote the journal articles that are being so carefully protected.
  • Authorization. It’s one thing to authenticate a patron so that they can get at whatever information the library is storing on their behalf. It’s another thing to spend time coding authentication and authorization systems as part of maintaining the walled gardens.

The common element among the problems I’m calling unnatural? Copyright; in the particular, the current copyright regime that enforces the erection of barriers to sharing—and which we can imagine, if perhaps wistfully, changing to the point where DRM and walled garden maintenance need not occupy the attention of the library programmer, who then might find more time to work on some of the natural problems.

Why is this on my mind? I would like to give a shout-out to (and blow a raspberry at) an anonymous publisher who had this to say in a recent article about Sci-Hub:

And for all the researchers at Western universities who use Sci-Hub instead, the anonymous publisher lays the blame on librarians for not making their online systems easier to use and educating their researchers. “I don’t think the issue is access—it’s the perception that access is difficult,” he says.

I know lots of library technologists who would love to have more time to make library software easier to use. Want to help, Dear Anonymous Publisher? Tell your bosses to stop building walls.

From a security alert 1 from Langara College:

Langara was recently notified of a cyber security risk with Pearson online learning which you may be using in your classes. Pearson does not encrypt user names or passwords for the services we use, which puts you at risk. Please note that they are an external vendor; therefore, this security flaw has no direct impact on Langara systems.

This has been a problem since at least 20112; it is cold comfort that at least one Pearson service has a password recovery page that outright says that the user’s password will be emailed to them in clear text3.

There have been numerous tweets, blog posts, and forum posts about this issue over the years. In at least one case4, somebody complained to Pearson and ended up getting what reads like a canned email stating:

Pearson must strike a reasonable balance between support methods that are accessible to all users, and the risk of unauthorized access to information in our learning applications. Allowing customers to retrieve passwords via email was an industry standard for non-financial applications.

In response to the changing landscape, we are developing new user rights management protocols as part of a broader commitment to tighten security and safeguard customer accounts, information, and product access. Passwords will no longer be retrievable; customers will be able to reset passwords through secure processes.

This is a risible response for many reasons; I can only hope that they actually follow through with their plan to improve the situation in a timely fashion. Achieving the industry standard for password storage as of 1968 might be a good start5.

In the meantime, I’m curious whether there are any libraries who are directly involved in the acquisition of Pearson services on behalf of their school or college. If so, might you have a word with your Pearson rep?

Adapted from an email I sent to the LITA Patron Privacy Interest Group’s mailing list. I encourage folks interested in library patron privacy to subscribe; you do not have to be a member of ALA to do so.


1. Pearson Cyber Security Risk
2. Report on Plain Text Offenders
3. Pearson account recovery page
4. Pearson On Password Security
5. Wilkes, M V. Time-sharing Computer Systems. New York: American Elsevier Pub. Co, 1968. Print.. It was in this book that Roger Needham first proposed hashing passwords.

Gratitude to Cecily Walker and Kelly McElroy for calling us together for LIS Mental Health Week 2016.

Pondering my bona fides. I will say this: the black dog is my constant companion. I cannot imagine life without that weight.

I am afraid to say more too openly.

I will deflect, then, but in a way that I hope is useful to others.

Consider this: I am certain, as much as I am certain of anything, that my profession has killed at least three men of my acquaintance.

A mentor. A friend. A colleague who I did not know as well as I would have liked, but who I respected.

All of whom were loved. All of whom had the respect of their colleagues — and the customers they served.

All of whom cared, deeply. Too much? I cannot say.

I have been working in library automation long enough to have become a member of that strange group of folks who have their own lore of long nights, of impossible demands and dilemmas, of being at once part of and separate from the overall profession of librarianship. Long enough to have seen friends and colleagues pass away, and to know that my list of the departed will only lengthen.

But these men? All I know is that they left us, or were taken, too soon — and that I can all too easily imagine circumstances where they could have stayed longer. (But please, please don’t take this as an expression of blame.)

I am haunted by the others whom I don’t know, and never will.

I cannot reconcile myself to this. If this blog post were a letter, it would be spotted by my tears.

But I can make a plea.

The relationship between librarians and their vendors is difficult and fraught. It is all to easy to demonize vendors — but sometimes, enmity is warranted; more often, adversariality at least is; and accountability: always. Thus do the strictures of the systems we live in constrain us and alienate us from one another.

At times, circumstances may not permit warmth or even much kindness. But please remember this, if not for me, for the memory of my absent friends: humans occupy both ends of the library/vendor relationship. Humans.

There’s often more than way to search a library catalog; or to put it another way, not all users come in via the front door.  For example, ensuring that your public catalog supports HTTPS can help prevent bad actors from snooping on patron’s searches — but if one of your users happens to use a tool that searches your catalog over Z39.50, by default they have less protection.

Consider this extract from a tcpdump of a Z39.50 session:

02:32:34.657140 IP (tos 0x0, ttl 64, id 26189, offset 0, flags [DF], proto TCP (6), length 1492)
    localhost.9999 > localhost.36545: Flags [P.], cksum 0x03c9 (incorrect -> 0x00cc), seq 10051:11491, ack 235, win 256, options [nop,nop,TS val 2278124301 ecr 2278124301], length 1440
...p01392pam a2200361 a 4500001000500000003000500005005001700010008004100027035002100068852004900089852004900138852004900187906004500236955012300281010001700404020002800421020002800449040001800477050002300495082001600518245014300534260003500677300002400712440002900736504005100765650004300816700001800859700002800877700002800905991006200933905001000995901002501005.1445.CONS.19931221140705.2.930721s1993    mau      b    001 0 eng  .  .9(DLC)   93030748.4 .aStacks.bBR1.cACQ3164.dBR1.gACQ3202.nOn order.4 .aStacks.bBR1.cACQ3164.dBR1.gACQ3165.nOn order.4 .aStacks.bBR1.cACQ3164.dBR1.gACQ3164.nOn order.  .a7.bcbc.corignew.d1.eocip.f19.gy-gencatlg.  .apc03 to ja00 07-21-93; je39 07-22-93; je08 07-22-93; je05 to DDC 07-23-93; aa21 07-26-93; CIP ver. jf05 to sl 12/21/93.  .a   93030748 .  .a3764336242 (alk. paper).  .a0817636242 (alk. paper).  .aDLC.cDLC.dDLC.00.aQC173.6.b.A85 1993.00.a530.1/1.220.04.aThe Attraction of gravitation :.bnew studies in the history of general relativity /.cJohn Earman, Michel Janssen, John D. Norton, editord..  .aBoston :.bBirkh..user,.cc1993..  .ax, 432 p. ;.c24 cm.. 0.aEinstein studies ;.vv. 5.  .aIncludes bibliographical references and index.. 0.aGeneral relativity (Physics).xHistory..1 .aEarman, John..1 .aJanssen, Michel,.d1953-.1 .aNorton, John D.,.d1960-.  .bc-GenColl.hQC173.6.i.A85 1993.p00018915972.tCopy 1.wBOOKS.  .ugalen.  .a1445.b.c1445.tbiblio..............

No, MARC is not a cipher; it just isn’t.

How to improve this state of affairs? There was some discussion back in 2000 of bundling SSL or TLS into the Z39.50 protocol, although it doesn’t seem like it went anywhere. Of course, SSH tunnels and stunnel are options, but it turns out that there can be an easier way.

As is usually the case with anything involving Z39.50, we can thank the folks at IndexData for being on top of things: it turns out that TLS support is easily enabled in YAZ. Here’s how this can be applied to Evergreen and Koha.

The first step is to create an SSL certificate; a self-signed one probably suffices. The certificate and its private key should be concatenated into a single PEM file, like this:


Evergreen’s Z39.50 server can be told to require SSL via a <listen> element in /openils/conf/oils_yaz.xml, like this:


To supply the path to the certificate, a change to oils_ctl.sh will do the trick:

diff --git a/Open-ILS/examples/oils_ctl.sh b/Open-ILS/examples/oils_ctl.sh
index dde70cb..692ec00 100755
--- a/Open-ILS/examples/oils_ctl.sh
+++ b/Open-ILS/examples/oils_ctl.sh
@@ -6,6 +6,7 @@ OPT_PID_DIR="LOCALSTATEDIR/run"

@@ -115,7 +116,7 @@ function stop_sip {

 function start_z3950 {
        do_action "start" $PID_Z3950 "OILS Z39.50 Server";
-       simple2zoom -c $OPT_Z3950_CONFIG -- -f $OPT_YAZ_CONFIG >> "$Z3950_LOG" 2>&1 &
+       simple2zoom -c $OPT_Z3950_CONFIG -- -C $OPT_YAZ_CERT -f $OPT_YAZ_CONFIG >> "$Z3950_LOG" 2>&1
        echo $pid > $PID_Z3950;
        return 0;

For Koha, a <listen> element should be added to koha-conf.xml, e.g.,


zebrasrv will also need to know how to find the SSL certificate:

diff --git a/misc/bin/koha-zebra-ctl.sh b/misc/bin/koha-zebra-ctl.sh
index 3b9cd81..63f0d9c 100755
--- a/misc/bin/koha-zebra-ctl.sh
+++ b/misc/bin/koha-zebra-ctl.sh
@@ -37,7 +37,8 @@ RUNDIR=__ZEBRA_RUN_DIR__
 # you may need to change this depending on where zebrasrv is installed
-ZEBRAOPTIONS="-v none,fatal,warn"
+ZEBRAOPTIONS="-C $YAZ_CERT -v none,fatal,warn"

 test -f $ZEBRASRV || exit 0

And with that, we can test: yaz-client ssl:localhost:4210/CONS or yaz-client ssl:localhost:4210/biblios. Et voila!

02:47:16.655628 IP localhost.4210 > localhost.41440: Flags [P.], seq 86:635, ack 330, win 392, options [nop,nop,TS val 116332994 ecr 116332994], length 549
............ 2.........,lS...J6...5.p...,<]0....r.....m....Y.H*.em......`....s....n.%..KV2.];.Z..aP.....C..+.,6..^VY.......>..j...D..L..J...rB!............k....9..%H...?bu[........?<       R.......y.....S.uC.2.i6..X..E)..Z..K..J..q   ..m.m.%.r+...?.l....._.8).p$.H.R2...5.|....Q,..Q....9...F.......n....8 ...R.`.&..5..s.q....(.....z9...R..oD............D...jC..?O.+....,7.i.BT...*Q
...5..\-M...1.<t;...8...(.8....a7.......@.b.`n#.$....4...:...=...j....^.0..;..3i.`. f..g.|"l......i.....<n(3x......c.om_<w...p.t...`="" h..8.s....(3.......rz.1s="" ...@....t....="" <="" pre="">

Of course, not every Z39.50 client will know how to use TLS… but lots will, as YAZ is the basis for many of them.


The sort of blog post that jumbles together a few almost randomly-chosen bits on a topic, caps them off with an inflammatory title, then ends with “let’s discuss!” has always struck me as one of the lazier options in the blogger’s toolbox.  Sure, if the blog has an established community, gently tweaking the noses of the commentariat may provide some weekend fun and a breather for the blogger. If the blog doesn’t have such a community, however, a post that invites random commenters to tussle is better if the blogger takes the effort to put together a coherent argument for folks to respond to.  Otherwise, the assertion-jumble approach can result in the post becoming so bad that it’s not even wrong.

Case in point: Jorge Perez’s post on the LITA blog yesterday, Is Technology Bringing in More Skillful Male Librarians?

It’s a short read, but here’s a representative quote:

[…] I was appalled to read that the few male librarians in our profession are negatively stereotyped into being unable to handle a real career and the male dominated technology field infers that more skillful males will join the profession in the future.

Are we supposed to weep for the plight of the male librarian, particularly the one in library technology? On reflection, I think I’ll just follow the lead of the scrivener Bartleby and move on. I do worry about many things in library technology: how money spent on library software tends to be badly allocated; how few libraries (especially public ones) are able to hire technology staff in the first place; how technology projects all too often get oversold; the state of relations between library technologists and other sorts of library workers; and yes, a collective lack of self-confidence that library technology is worth doing as a distinct branch of library work (as opposed to giving the game up and leaving it to our commercial, Google-ish “betters”).

I am also worried about gender balance (and balance on all axes) among those who work in library technology — but the last thing I worry about in that respect is the ability of men (particularly men who look like me) to secure employment and promotions building software for libraries.  For example, consider Melissa Lamont’s article in 2009, Gender, Technology, and Libraries. With men accounting for about 65% of heads of library systems department positions and about 65% of authorship in various library technology journals… in a profession that is predominantly comprised of women… no, I’m not worried that I’m a member of an underrepresented class. Exactly the opposite.  And to call out the particular pasture of library tech I mostly play in: the contributor base of most large library open source software projects, Koha and Evergreen included, continue to skew heavily male.

I do think that library technology does better at gender balance than Silicon Valley as a whole.

That previous statement is, of course, damning with faint praise (although I suppose there could be some small hope that efforts in library technology to do better might spill over into IT as whole).

Back to Perez’s post. Some other things that I raise my eyebrow at: an infographic of a study of stereotypes of male librarians from 23 years ago. Still relevant? An infographic without a complete legend (leading free me to conclude that 79.5% of folks in ALA-accredited library schools wear red socks ALL THE TIME).  And, to top it off, a sentence that all too easily could be read as a homophobic joke — or perhaps as a self-deprecating joke where the deprecation comes from imputed effemination, which is no improvement. Playing around with stereotypes can be useful, but it requires effort to do well, which this post lacks.

Of course, by this point I’ve written over 500 words regarding Perez’s post, so I suppose the “let’s discuss!” prompt worked on me.  I do think think that LITA should be tackling difficult topics, but… I am disappointed.

LITA, you can do better. (And as a LITA member, perhaps I should put it this way: we can do better.)

I promised stuff to make satisfying thuds with.  Sadly, what with the epublishing revolution, most of the thuds will be virtual, but we shall persevere nonetheless: there are plenty of people around with smart things to say about gender in library technology.  Here some links:

I hope LITA will reach out to some of them.

Update 2015-10-26:

Update 2015-10-28:

  • Swapped in a more direct link to Lisa Rabey’s post.
Update 2015-11-06:

Perez has posted follow-up on the LITA blog. I am underwhelmed by the response — if in fact it’s actually a response as such. Perez states that “I wanted to present information I found while reading”, but ultimately missed an opportunity to more directly let Deborah Hicks’ work speak for itself. Karen Schneider picked up that task, got a copy of Hicks’ book, and posted about it on LITA-L.

I agree with Karen Schneider’s assessment that Hicks’ book is worth reading by folks interested in gender and librarianship (and it is on my to-be-read pile), but I am not on board with her suggestion that the matter be viewed as just the publication of a very awkward blog post from which a reference to a good book can be extracted (although I acknowledge her generosity in that viewpoint). It’s one thing to write an infelicitously-composed post that provides a technical tip of interest to systems librarians; it’s another thing to be careless when writing about gender in library technology.

In his follow-up, Perez expresses concerns how certain stereotypes about librarianship can affect others’ perceptions of librarianship — and consequently, salaries and access to perceived authority. He also alludes to (if I understand him correctly) how being a Latino and a librarian has affected perceptions of him and his work. Should the experiences of Latino librarians be discussed? Of course! Is librarianship and how that interacts with the performance of masculinity worthy of study? Of course! But until women in library technology (and in technology fields in general) can count on getting a fair shake, and until the glass escalator is shattered, failing to acknowledge that the glass escalator is still operating when writing about gender in library technology can transform awkwardness into a source of pain.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of the work and achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and math.

And library technology, whose place in STEM is not to be denied.

Here are a few (and I should emphasize that this is a very incomplete list) of the women I have had the privilege to collaborate with and learn from:

  • Ruth Bavousett: Ruth is a Perl monger, contributor of many patches to Koha, has served as Koha’s translation manager, and is an author for opensource.com.
  • Katrin Fischer: Katrin has contributed over 500 patches to Koha and has served many terms as Koha’s quality assurance manager. QA Manager is not an easy position to occupy, and never comes with enough thanks, but Katrin has succeeded at it. Thanks, Katrin!
  • Christina Harlow (@cm_harlow): Christina walks the boundary between library metadata and library software and bridges it. In her blog’s title, she gives herself the sobriquet of “metadata lackey” — but to me that seems far too modest. She’s been instrumental in the revival of Mashcat this year.
  • Kathy Lussier: Kathy has contributed both code and documentation to the Evergreen project and has served in many roles on the project, including on its oversight board and its web team. She has spearheaded various initiatives to make the Evergreen project more inclusive and is a strong advocate for universal, accesible design.

Henriette Avram [image via Wikipedia]
Henriette Avram [image via Wikipedia]
Although she is no longer with us, Henriette Avram, the creator of the MARC format, deserves a callout today as well: it is not every programmer who ships, and moreover, ships something that remains in use 50 years later. I am sure that Avram, were she still alive and working, would be heavily involved in libraries’ efforts to adopt Linked Open Data.

The current Librarian of Congress, James Billington, has announced that he will retire on 1 January 2016.  I wish him well – but I also think it’s past time for a change at LC.  Here are my thoughts on how that change should be embodied by Billington’s successor.

The next Librarian of Congress should embrace a vision of LC as the general national library of the United States and advocate for it being funded accordingly.  At present LC’s mission is expressed as:

The Library’s mission is to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.

Of course, Congress should continue to have access to the best research resources available, and I think it important that LC qua research library remain grounded by serving that unique patron population – but LC’s mission should emphasize its services to everybody who find themselves in the U.S.:

The Library’s mission is to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people, present and future, and to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties.

Having LC be unapologetically and completely committed to being a national library first is risky.  For one thing, it means asking for more funding in a political climate that does not encourage such requests. By removing the fallback excuse of “LC is ultimately just Congress’ research library”, it also means that LC perforce cannot not evade its leadership responsibilities in the national and international library communities.

However, there are opportunities for a Library of Congress that sees its patron base as consisting of all who find themselves on U.S soil: even broader support than it enjoys now and the ability to act as a library of last resort when other institutions fail our memory.

The next Librarian of Congress should be willing and able to put LC’s technology programs back on track. This does not require that the next Librarian be a technologist. It certainly doesn’t require that they be uncritically enthusiastic about technology – but they must be informed, able to pick a good CIO, and able to see past puffery to envision where and how technology can support LC’s mission.

In particular, research and development in library and information technology is an area where the Library of Congress is uniquely able to marshal federal government resources, both to support its own collections and to provide tools that other libraries can use and build upon.

I wonder what the past 20 years or so would have been like if LC had considered technology and R&D worthy of strong leadership and investment. Would Linked Open Data – or even something better – have taken off ten years ago? Would there be more clarity in library software? What would have things been like had LC technologists been more free to experiment and take risks?

I hope that LC under Billington’s successor will give us a taste of what could have been, then surpass it.

The next Librarian of Congress should be a trained librarian or archivist. This isn’t about credentials per se – see Daniel Ransom piece on the “Real Librarians” of Congress – although possession of an MLS or an archivists’ certificate wouldn’t hurt.  Rather, I’d like to see candidates who are already participating in the professional discourse and who have informed opinions on library technology and libraries as community nuclei (and let’s shoot for the moon: who can speak intelligently on metadata issues!).

Of possibly more import: I hope to see candidates who embody library values, and who will help LC to resist the enclosure of the information commons.

What I would prefer not to see is the appointment of somebody whose sole professional credential is an MBA: the Library of Congress is not just another business to be run by a creature of the cult of the gormless general-purpose manager.  I think it would also be a mistake to appoint somebody who is only a scholar, no matter how distinguished: unlike the Poet Laureate, the Librarian of Congress has to see to the running of a large organization.

Finally, the next Librarian of Congress should not attain that position via the glass elevator.  There are plenty of folks who are not white men who can meet all of my desiderata – or any other reasonable set of desiderata short of walking on water – and I hope that the President will keep the demographics of the library profession (and those we serve!) in mind when making a choice.

Tomorrow I’m flying out to Hood River, Oregon, for the 2015 Evergreen International Conference.

I’ve learned my lesson from last year — too many presentations at one conference make Galen a dull boy — but I will be speaking a few times:

Hiding Deep in the Woods: Reader Privacy and Evergreen (Thursday at 4:45)

Protecting the privacy of our patrons and their reading and information seeking is a core library value – but one that can be achieved only through constant vigilance. We’ll discuss techniques for keeping an Evergreen system secure from leaks of patron data; policies on how much personally identifying information to keep, and for how long; and how to integrate Evergreen with other software securely.

Angling for a new Staff Interface (Friday at 2:30)

The forthcoming web-based staff interface for Evergreen uses a JavaScript framework called AngularJS. AngularJS offers a number of ways to ease putting new interfaces together quickly such as tight integration of promises/deferred objects, extending HTML via local directives, and an integrated test framework – and can help make Evergreen UI development (even more) fun. During this presentation, which will include some hands-on exercise, Bill, Mike and Galen will give an introduction to AngularJS with a focus on how it’s used in Evergreen. By the end of the session, attendees have gained knowledge that they can immediately apply to working on Evergreen’s web staff interface. To perform the exercises, attendees are expected to be familiar with JavaScript .

Jane in the Forest: Starting to do Linked Data with Evergreen (Saturday at 10:30)

Linked Data has been on the radar of librarians for years, but unless one is already working with RDF triple-stores and the like, it can be a little hard to see how the Linked Data future will look like for ILSs. Adapting some of the ideas of the original Jane-athon session at ALA Midwinter 2015 in Chicago, we will go through an exercise of putting together small sets of RDA metadata as RDF… then seeing how that data can be used in the Evergreen. By the end, attendees will have learned a bit not just about the theory of Linked Data, but how working with it can work in practice.

I’m looking forward to hearing other presentations and the keynote by Joseph Janes, but more than that, I’m looking forward to having a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues in the Evergreen community.

The Hugo Awards have been awarded by the World Science Fiction Convention for decades, and serve to recognize the works of authors, editors, directors – fans and professionals – in the genres of science fiction and fantasy.  The Hugos are unique in being a fan-driven award that has as much process – if not more – as juried awards.

That process has two main steps.  First, there’s a nomination period where members of Worldcon select works to appear on the final ballot. Second, members of the upcoming Worldcon vote on the final ballot and the awards are given out at the convention.

Typically, rather more folks vote on the final ballot than nominate – and that means that small, organized groups of people can unduly influence the nominations.  However, there’s been surprisingly few attempts to actually do that.

Until this year.

Many of the nominations this year match the slates of two groups, the “Sad Puppies” and the “Rabid Puppies.”  Not only that, some of the categories contain nothing but Puppy nominations.

The s.f. news site File 770 has a comprehensive collection of back-and-forth about the matter, but suffice it so say that the Puppy slates are have a primarily political motivation – and one, in the interests of full disclosure, that I personally despise.

There are a lot of people saying smart things about the situation, so I’ll content myself with the following observation:

Slate nominations and voting destroy the utility of the Hugo Award lists for librarians who select science fiction and fantasy.

Why? Ideally, the Hugo process ascertains the preferences of thousands of Worldcon members to arrive at a general consensus of science fiction and fantasy that is both good and generally appealing.  As it happens, that’s a pretty useful starting point for librarians trying to round out collections or find new authors that their patrons might like – particularly for those librarians who are not themselves fans of the genre.

However, should slate voting become a successful tactic, the Hugo Awards are in danger of ending up simply reflecting which factions in fandom are best able to game the system.  The results of that… are unlikely to be all that useful for librarians.

Here’s my suggestion for librarians who are fans of science fiction and fantasy and who want to help preserve a collection development tool: get involved.  In particular:

  1. Join Worldcon. A $40 supporting membership suffices to get voting privileges.
  2. Vote on the Hugos this year. I won’t tell you who the vote for, but if you agree with me that slate nominations are a problem, consider voting accordingly.
  3. Next year, participate in the nomination process. Don’t participate in nomination slates; instead, nominate those works that you think are worthy of a Hugo – full stop.