TILT-y Mail #23 — the political is personal, the library is personal

On openness and libraries and moving on; a Thanksgiving week reflection


Activist updates resume next week. Today is my last day of work at Open Library. I’ve emptied the inbox, left a few dozen Slack channels, finished my training documents and said my goodbyes. I worked there for three and a half years. It was a good run.

When I started there — seeking a hobby as I learned to develop some boundaries with my work at MetaFilter — it was a ghost ship of an earlier project started in 2007 by Aaron Swartz among others.

I began helping out early in 2013. No one had answered the email for months, and the project had no dedicated staff other than me. And still the code and the database helped people worldwide read thousands of books per day using a nice Open Source interface that is STILL better than most options out there.

I took over, first as a volunteer and then, after I left MetaFilter, as a very part-time worker, to keep the place on life support until it either got shut down or got revived. And revive it did, slowly at times, but now it has a project manager and a few developers who work on it regularly. Bugs get squashed. Features get added. All this time, I was answering almost all the email, doing all the tweeting, writing all the Help/FAQ pages and most of the blog posts, repping Open Library at conferences and, in many ways, being the public face of the project.

This year was the year I decided I either needed to make it a real job (i.e. one with enough hours so I didn’t need other jobs) or move on. And, though I’ll always be a friend to the project, I’m moving on.

Ultimately the librarianing work I wanted to do in addition to just email — community engagement, outreach to libraries, building out features, improving the user experience particularly for international users, digitally divided users and print-disabled users — didn’t hit the same place on the priority list at the Archive as it did for me.

I’ve got a lot of feels about that particular issue (being a library without a good solid public feedback loop) but they’re mainly philosophical ones, ones about which reasonable people disagree. I still use the site every day even when I am not at work; it is an amazing treasure trove of stuff. I learn about the history of libraries there.

The Archive did right by me, mostly, and I did right by them, mostly. I’m going to have a proper holiday season from now until the new year, and then I’ll poke my head up and see what’s going on. For those keeping track at home, my current paid jobs are now

For 2016 my Hustle income and my Archive income were roughly equivalent. I’m excited to get to do something different next year. This will be the first Thanksgiving in over a decade where I won’t have the nagging feeling of the email piling up while I eat and relax with friends.

If you’re concerned your holiday may be less than peaceful, the group Showing Up for Racial Justice has made a Thanksgiving Guide to give people talking points and coaching calls and texts to help people talk with their families and friends about racial justice. You might also want to read over this refugee Thanksgiving Prayer (even if you’re not the praying type) and reflect on the promise this country can have even if it may not seem like it does right now.

Another world is possible. Activist updates resume next week.

TILT-Y MAIL is written irregularly by Jessamyn West who also maintains librarian.net. It’s also available in your inbox via TinyLetter. Thanks for reading.