Rory Litwin of Library Juice Academy

This interview is over 1 year old and may no longer be up to date or reflect the interviewee/interviewees’ positions

My interview with Rory Litwin, founder of Library Juice Academy, Library Juice Press & Litwin Books! “Library Juice Academy offers a range of online professional development workshops for librarians and other library staff, with classes. These workshops earn Continuing Education Units, and are intended as professional development activities primarily for academic librarians and staff.”

Naomi:  How did you come to work for (or start) Library Juice?
Rory:  Well originally, Library Juice was an email newsletter that I started while I was in Library School, basically because people who hated me begged me to stop forwarding political emails to the school’s listserv. I was a very inspired library student, and for me libraries were above all a great example of socialism in action, since libraries belong to the community, pool community resources, and are non-commercial. And I was very passionate about those things, and excited to have found a career that fit my ideals as well as my interests. I had become connected to people in the progressive side of the library profession, and was forwarding emails from them, and from other sources, to the school’s listserv that linked libraries to things that I thought were related, whether it was intellectual freedom issues, or information policy issues, or workplace issues, changes in the culture of reading, or other things that to me seemed to be about libraries indirectly and also about things that I thought were culturally and politically relevant.  But I was forwarding too many of these things to the list, and I started getting a lot of complaints, so I decided to start compiling them into a weekly digest and asked for people to sign up. I got 80 people off the bat who were interested, which was encouraging. In a couple of years  there were 2000 subscribers. This was before blogs, so there were not already a lot of places to find this kind of information compiled around a theme. Those early issues are still archived on the web.

Over time it became more difficult to continue it in the original format, for various reasons, one of which being that it’s hard to send out 2000 emails without getting blacklisted as a spammer. Another thing was that with the emergence of blogs, it was harder to find content for the newsletter that didn’t already exist somewhere on the web. So now that I was linking to things instead of digesting things, the content began to consist mainly of longish essays and reprints of out-of-copyright articles from the early library press. I kept it going like that for a while, and then shut it down in 2005. In 2006 I restarted it in a blog format, and started Library Juice Press as a spin-off. Starting a small press felt very natural, because I had built up a network of people who could write books, and had learned some things from other book publishers. When I started to do books that I felt had an audience outside the library community after a couple of years I changed the name of the company to Litwin Books, and continued the Library Juice Press name as an imprint for the titles which would have a specific audience of librarians.

Naomi:  How can librarians help Library Juice?
Rory:  Well, this is an interesting question and I’m glad to be asked it. The first answer is just to buy our books, but probably some people would like to be more involved than that. We take interns from time to time (with pay), to do copy editing and sometimes book layout and marketing. We could use a library student or recent grad who wants to do that right now actually, if they are a match for us. Also, the more people share information about our books or share our blog posts the happier we are, obviously. And we’re always looking for ideas and for authors. I like novel ideas and I like taking things from the idea phase to the reality phase and get a lot of satisfaction from that, and I am always happy to hear from people who have ideas.

Naomi:  Tell us more about Library Juice Academy
Rory:  Library Juice Academy does online professional development workshops for librarians and library staff. Usually library admin pays for these courses out of their professional development funds. I used to do this kind of workshop when I worked as an academic librarian, so I understand the need for it. So I started it really as an experiment and fun challenge this year, and got together a lot of librarians and academics to teach a collection of courses. The first classes are underway right now. Unlike the books published by Library Juice Press, which are more intellectual and academic than what other publishers in the field are publishing, the courses at Library Juice Academy are mainly on practical skills that have a very clear application in libraries (that administrators will recognize). There are some classes that are more conceptual and some that are based on library ideals (like an upcoming class critical information literacy and another one in library advocacy), they are mostly about things like how to handle a new assignment as an archivist, a deeper look at fair use, FRBR, specific areas of librarianship, Drupal, and others things in that range.

Naomi:  Can you speak a little about your experiences with libraries?  Any favorite
libraries or experiences with them?
Rory:  Working in libraries after studying them and thinking about them in a purely idealistic way was somewhat difficult, because what actually happens day to day is seldom what you think it could be or should be.  You spend a lot of time refilling printer trays and things like that that make you wonder why they needed somebody with a masters degree, but you get used to that. A little harder to get used to, for me, was the nature of the questions that came to the reference desk. I had been inspired by the potential of libraries to change lives and provide the underpinning of a democratic society, but I wasn’t called on to do that very often. For example, in a public library it’s often somebody who wants proof that the moon landing was fake, or it’s somebody who wants some data about a particular city to support their boss’s project of opening a new office, and when they look at the data, they say, “Do you have any different data? This doesn’t really support what we are trying to do.” Or in an academic library, you get students who are working on a research paper and they tell you that they aren’t actually going to read the articles, they just need something they can cite. If you’re going to work in libraries, you have to be prepared for that reality. The question is whether there is enough good stuff happening to keep you going. It might be one patron who makes your whole week, because they are really inspired to learn about something and want your help, and show you a lot of gratitude for the help you’ve provided. I found that these inspiring interactions happened often enough to make me not hate my job, but I also wished that they were more typical of the job.

Naomi:  Favorite book(s)?
Rory:  Thanks for asking this question. Some books that have influenced me a lot are Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy, Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time and The Question Concerning Technology, Hubert Dreyfus’s What Computers Still Can’t Do, Jesse Shera’s The Foundations of Education for Librarianship, Robert McChesney’s and Herbert Schiller’s books on the political economy of the media, Ron Day’s The Modern Invention of Information, Oscar Gandy’s The Panoptic Sort, Jurgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, and Sherry Turkle’s
The Second Self.

Naomi:  Are there any blogs or websites we should be following?
Rory:  I don’t actually read a lot of blogs, but, besides the Library Juice blog, I will give a shout out to Sarah Roberts for her blog The Illusion of Volition. If you’re just looking for some interesting things to read on a variety of topics, there is always Arts and Letters Daily.

Rory Litwin is a small press publisher and a doctoral student in information studies at UCLA. He earned his MLIS at San Jose State University in the late 90s and went on to work as a librarian in public, corporate, government, and academic library settings until 2011, when he left his job at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, to go back to school in California. In his doctoral studies at UCLA he is focused issues surrounding the formal, logical structure of information systems, drawing on the perspectives of Martin Heidegger and Walter Ong. He is the publisher of Library Juice, which was originally an email newsletter and is now a blog, and he is the founder of Library Juice Press and Litwin Books, which publish books on LIS and related topics. As a librarian, Litwin was active in ALA, serving on ALA Council and on the Action Council of the Social Responsibilities Round Table. He also served on the editorial board of the journal Progressive Librarian. In 2012 he founded Library Juice Academy, which offers online professional development workshops for librarians and library staff.


Reposted from 10/9/12 and 4/9/13 and entitled, Rory Litwin of Library Juice Academy …In Six

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