Thursday, July 2, 2015

Just for Fun: Oop. Ack.

Back when my age was still a single digit and reading the funnies section of the newspaper was an act of daily devotion, I had one true love: Bloom County. You may or may not remember a post I wrote last year about my nerdy t-shirt. In that post I wrote about how I still own the vintage Bloom County t-shirt that I got by using an order form in the back of a Bloom County book. That's how long I've been devoted to this strip. A few other things you should know about my love for this title before I share a few favorite memories from the work of Berkeley Breathed:
  • I bought and own Secondhand Lions mostly because the art of Berkeley Breathed had an important role in the film.
  • When I need to give myself a pep talk, I frequently recite a line from A Wish for Wings That Work to get myself motivated. Telling myself, "I can do this. I can fly this thing," almost always does the trick. (By the way, I own that short on VHS. Still watch it on occasion, too, even though I pretty much know it by heart.)
  • In 1984, when I was in elementary school, our teacher taught about democracy by having us vote for presidential candidates. Neither Reagan nor Mondale stood a chance: Bill the Cat and Opus won the election in my grade because of a campaign that I and some friends ran.
Now, some important highlights that will give you a bit more insight into my sense of humor than I should probably provide.

Pear Pimples for Hairy Fishnuts

click to embiggen, it's worth the effort
I know that strip by heart and yet it still makes me laugh when I read it. The confusion of Opus and the increasing frustration of the Hare Krishna disciple combine so perfectly.

Positive Portrayal of Disability

Cutter John, the gentleman in the wheelchair, is a doctor who has a great girlfriend and who is one of the more popular characters in the fictional municipality of Bloom County. His wheelchair is definitely part of the story, but it's not the only thing about him. He is more than his disability.

Pop Culture References

Very little escaped the notice of the characters. Apple Computers, Kiss, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Donald Trump, Vietnam, Michael Jackson, and so on. 

For those of you who have fond memories of this comic strip, please share a favorite moment in the comments. And I quote that great philosopher Bill the Cat as a way to leave you: "Oop. Ack."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What is Success?

I gave a talk last week to the Delaware ILEAD group (I'll be posting that talk next week - probably) and part of my talk was about how to be successful. I only had an hour to talk, so I couldn't expound at length on what I mean by "successful." But that's what a blog is for, right?

My thoughts on this are kind of messy, due in part to the fact that external success doesn't always lead to feeling successful. For now, the best way to explain how I think of success is to share that clip from City Slickers. Each person, each project, really needs a separate definition of success. The important part is to think long and hard about why you're doing a thing so you'll know what success looks like.
I think the hardest thing for most people is that they think their success has to look like other people's successes. Sometimes they will, like earning a graduate degree or finding a parking space near the door. For others, it will be highly individualized. I knew my graphic novel collection at a former workplace was successful when I saw senior faculty members, and even emeritus faculty, checking those books out. I knew that this blog was successful when I started seeing library science graduate programs in the Traffic Sources section of my blog stats.

A particularly tricky part of defining success is that people tend to get frustrated when it doesn't happen immediately. I've had twelve years since getting my MLIS to transform small career successes into bigger ones. I've had 2.5 years of being a library director with small successes leading to bigger ones. This process of watching my small successes turn into larger successes is so important to me, and so central to keeping myself motivated, that I've made it a part of my workflow. I regularly document all of my small successes and map them onto larger successes (and I have it in my Google Drive so I have immediate access to it no matter where I am).

There's also the fact that success has an internal measure. We are all so busy comparing ourselves to others. Even if those other people have very similar circumstances to ours, we can't know everything that goes into another project. Timing and people's moods and the small breeze from a butterfly's wings in Bangladesh can all make a difference. Or, in the words of one of my writing partners, "The fleeting and contingent recognition of success is not an accurate representation of the awesome [stuff] your readers are accomplishing."

Finally, and this cannot be stated enough, there's always a little bit of luck involved in success - especially the big flashy successes that get both external recognition and give you an internal sense of accomplishment. This blog, my other publications, my conference presentations, and even my job title all get high marks for recognition and accomplishment. They are also, all, a result of being in the right place at the right time.*

So, how do you define success? Have I made you think differently about it?

*Your mileage may vary, especially when one takes privilege or lack thereof into account.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Leading Means Teaching, by Patrick Wohlmut

As I write this post, I have just completed end-of-year evaluations for my library’s student staff of reference workers.

You read that correctly. We have students working at the reference desk.

We trust our student reference workers, who we call Lead Workers, with a lot. To be eligible for the position, student workers must have worked in the library for at least one year. Lead Workers offer research assistance to library patrons, make sure that the library runs smoothly when librarians are not present, handle difficult situations as they arise, take on small projects for librarians and library staff as needed, and refer patrons to the proper place for help when necessary. Where the student staff of the library is concerned, Lead Workers really are leaders. The cream of the crop. Some students look up to them as role models.

For me, assuming leadership of this team was daunting. I hadn’t had much experience with this kind of supervisory position before and, since I was a visiting faculty member and didn’t know whether or not I would return in the next school year or who would head the program after me if I didn’t, it kind of felt like this:


I had to figure out very quickly how to do several things:
  • combine authority with approachability;
  • make the transition between supervisors as smooth as possible for the Lead Worker team;
  • balance my work with the Lead Workers against personal concerns, including an hour-and-a-half commute, being a dad and husband, and the interview process for the tenure-track position that would replace my visiting one, not to mention my other job responsibilities;
  •  take ownership of my new role while knowing that I may have to let go of it at the end of the school year;
  • and make sure that the Lead Workers got what they needed to succeed and were impacted by as few of these struggles as possible.

Mostly I was successful; predictably, I also made mistakes. Here are five of the many important things I learned as a result of spending a year doing this job:

Leading Means Teaching
Teamwork, communication, initiative, acting on vague or missing information, and dealing with difficult people effectively and respectfully are just some of the skills Lead Workers have to develop. I was always modeling these skills for them. I quickly learned that in this position, leading means teaching, and teaching means modeling both my successes and how to learn from my mistakes.

Make the Expectations Clear
Young Adults aren’t always good at handling ambiguity, so they have to learn. Giving them a project with very broad guidelines, no concrete deadlines, and only a fuzzy idea of what I expect, and expecting them to do their best, is like asking a polar bear to fish without giving her any ice where she can fish. I learned to be very clear about my expectations.

Let Them Run
At the same time, dealing with ambiguity is a huge part of a Lead Worker’s job. I found that I had to give them enough opportunities to take ownership of what they do, make clear where and when they can run with a project or with the job in their own way, and in what areas I completely trust their decision-making and discretion.

Make Them Reflect
Aristotle was wrong: excellence is not a habit. It’s a process. I could follow a rubric and make sure that my student workers are able to do everything on that rubric, and they still might not grow, either as people or as Lead Workers. I learned that to really do their job well, my workers needed chances to reflect on what they do, on what they do well, and on what they could be doing better.

Connect With Them
I have a great library director, and one of the things I admire about her is her authenticity and how well she connects with her library staff as a human being. It makes it very easy to respect her, listen to her, and follow her lead, because I know exactly who is getting my respect. This is a quality I have tried to emulate with my Lead Workers. It bites me in the rear sometimes (I’m kind of a softie), but mostly it works.

Doing this job has been a yearlong, rewarding, confusing, joyful, scary, headlong-rushing balancing act. It has also been one of the best learning experiences of my life, and one that I have since been hired to do more permanently at the same library. I have so many ideas for the future, and I can’t wait to try them out.

Patrick Wohlmut is the Teaching and Research Librarian at Nicholson Library at Linfield College. He walked away from most social media around a year-and-a-half ago, and has never been happier. He’s also a produced playwright, and juggles a mean three-ball Mills Mess. He can be reached at, and blogs very, very occasionally at

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Interview Posts, Take 1

I got some great suggestions on last week's post, and I want to get working on them right away. I particularly like the idea of interview posts for people who are too busy to write a full blog post (this came from Megan Brooks, who's written for LtaYL twice in the past). Here is my first stab at questions to ask that would be applicable pretty much across the board (some very obviously stolen from the Lifehacker "How I Work" series and others borrowed from James Lipton), but I'd love y'all's feedback and suggestions. Also, I'd love to hear who I should ask. I'll probably put myself up on the chopping block first, to give others a chance to think about it.

  1. Name?
  2. Current job?
  3. How long have you been in the field?
How Do You Work?
  1. What is your office/workspace like?
  2. How do you organize your days?
  3. What do you spend most of your time doing?
  4. What is a typical day like for you?
  5. What are you reading right now?
  6. What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
  7. What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Inside the Library Studio 
  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
  4. What profession would you never want to attempt?
Everything Else
  1. What superpower do wish you had?
  2. What are you most proud of in your career?
  3. If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
  4. When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
  5. Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Okay, so - what should I add? Subtract? Change? I have an idea of who to ask first (there are a couple of people who've been promising to write for me for a while), but who would you like to see answer these questions?

And please, don't worry. Nobody will be thrown off The Bridge of Death if they get a question wrong.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Seven Phases Related to Building My Job from Scratch, by Emily Thompson

Dom Williams checks out the first iPod Touch. © Emily Thompson

Phase 1: Elation
As many of my cohort will attest, 2011 was a rough year for job hunting - especially for librarians. Not quite as bad as 2010, and, of course, all of the years are a little bit awful. My hunt was compounded by my lack of reference experience. As a result, I had a very long summer of application writing with few interviews. I was really excited when I saw the posting from SUNY Oswego. They wanted someone who was good at technology and was good at teaching (the other skills could come later).

The job ad said that the library was looking for someone who could take the lead in helping faculty integrate multimedia assignments into their classes and then help the students accomplish them. There was also a tinge of “Emerging Technologies” to it, since Oswego needed someone to guide the library’s tech for checkout. It was the most amazing combination of everything I liked to do, and it was a tenure-track librarian position. So I worked very carefully on my application materials, aced the interview, and got an offer!

Getting the job felt amazing. I was going to get to teach people how to use gadgets. This was something I’d been doing informally for years anyway, but now I was going to get paid for it. In a library, even! The possibilities were endless, even if they were going to be covered in lake effect snow.

Phase 2: Anticipation
Any new job involves some level of not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing. There tends to be 3-6 months sitting in your office wondering if you should be somewhere else and being confused because everyone else is so busy. At this job, no one else was sure of what I should be doing either. With no precedent, the actual day to day was wide open.

Of course, there were other things to do. I had to learn how to apply all of the theory I’d learned in grad school to librarian reality. This was particularly true with collecting and reference. I also made my first foray into the “buy cool stuff to circulate” part of my job with the purchase of two portable projectors, the process of which completely blew up in my face.

Not literally of course, but let me explain the “blew up” part: as it turns out, one of the liabilities of having a cool job is that other people want in. My little, “let’s buy a mini projector” turned into a 6-week discussion of lumens, size, IT buy-in, and check-out times. Sometimes it takes a while to learn the politics, and sometimes you get a crash course.

Phase 3: Catalyst
Every campus has some cool thing you can tap into; it’s just a matter of figuring out what it is as riding the wave. After trying the usual roads of emailing contacts and trying to set up meetings, I found it: Winter Breakout. SUNY Oswego has an informal professional development conference between semesters. It’s a chance for professors to share what has been doing in their classes and get some new ideas before they head off for the winter or summer. Winter Breakout was also a chance to tell everyone about the Multimedia Production Room with my counterpart from IT and, more importantly, tell people about me.

Important side note: around the same time, another librarian quit. Normally, I would not have been given a liaison area two months into the gig, but they needed someone to take Psychology and Human Development. (Yes, they’re two different departments. Long story.) In other words, I had a captive audience.

Phase 4: Word Gets Out
The key to my success? It only takes one person to think you’re cool, but you’ve got to figure out the right people. For me, it was a combination of a couple of English professors who wanted digital stories (a personal experience essay narrated over pictures and music) and a Psychology professor who wanted to do something different than a paper. And then they turned out really well.

I also knew my way around campus better, so I was able to start making the rounds of departments to advertise my services. I won’t say that the class requests started to roll in, but I did start to get a few. Some were more successful than others. One professor asked me to teach a class in Excel. I explained that I don’t teach classes in Excel, but I would be happy to go over some graphics programs they could use with their data to make figures to enhance their papers. That’s the class I taught, and she sent an email to complain. It was OK, though. Sometimes you have to irritate people in order to figure out where the boundaries lie.

Then there was Summer Breakout, followed by New Faculty Orientation. In between, I talked to anyone who would listen. As I described my services, I could see wheels starting to turn. It turned out there were a number of professors who were interested in ditching the standard research paper. They just weren’t sure where to start.

Fall of 2012, the position started to feel like it had shape. I knew what I could teach, and more importantly, people wanted me to teach it. The iPod Touches arrived, so we had tools for the students to accomplish their projects. I was able to elbow my way into the Writing Center’s series of workshops rather than starting a competing series.

I felt pretty sure the rest of the year would be spent building up the multimedia classes. Then one of my colleagues announced that Campus Technology Services would be doing its Technology Initiative Project grants and the deadline was in three weeks. Since no one else had any ideas, I decided that I would go for it. With some help from my director and the Learning Commons Librarian, I wrote up an application. Three months later, our 3D printer was on its way, and Oswego’s Penfield Library had started to make news as one of the first academic libraries in the country to offer 3D printing.

Phase 5: Loneliness
I can’t even begin to write how excited I was to head to ACRL in 2013. I was positive that if I was so busy, someone else at another university had to be doing something similar. I had daydreams of coffee with someone who had great ideas of how to teach video editing. Instead I found a lot of confused looks and people saying, “Wow, sounds like you have an interesting job.” There were a few librarians who were calling their spaces “MakerSpaces,” but they only did the occasional workshop or it was only open for a specific class. I could see the seeds, but even though we only had a small room, I had grown a full-fledged program before it seemed to have occurred to anyone else.*

It was really disappointing, but that conference was also tinged with that terrifying freedom that comes with knowing no one has written the rules yet.

Phase 6: With Great Power . . .
And so I continued.

Most of my classes came back, and I started to get more as word of the 3D printer spread and faculty had time to think. I did lose a couple of the digital story classes, but it was because the professors felt like they had learned enough to teach the class and could just send the stragglers to me.

I like to be busy, so I didn’t really notice things were getting out of hand until I was pretty close to burning out. Again, this was my first job out of Library School. I had no idea what a workload was supposed to look like, and I like to be busy. I didn’t know that 60+ classes a semester would be considered excessive (about half were multimedia, the others were library instruction for my liaison area). I didn’t know how many committees were too many committees. I didn’t know that going to more than two conferences a year is a bit intense and that going to five in 2014 was insane.

I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself until a very strange spider bite erupted on my forehead in August of last year. It wasn’t a spider bite. It was shingles.

Phase 7: Leaving
Even before the shingles, I had made a decision to start looking around for my next job. SUNY Oswego gave me some amazing experience and some of the best friends I’ll ever have. However, the feeling of loneliness never quite went away. I like to have someone to bounce ideas off. My colleagues would let me talk at them, but since my work was so different they couldn’t throw much back, enthusiasm notwithstanding.

As any artist will tell you, one of the most difficult parts of a project is knowing when to stop.

When the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga advertised for a Studio Librarian, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least apply. When I went down for my interview and learned there would be a Studio Team, I almost wept with joy. There was no hesitation at all when they offered me the position.

To my replacement: You can do this. Penfield has its quirks, but they’ll let you work through ideas and no one expects everything to be a home run. If you can get something past Library Technology Services, you’re golden (not that it’s hard, they just ask good questions). Oh, and white is the worst color for that 3D printer. It’ll clog the extruder every time.

Ola Kaszpulska and her Set Design class check out the 3D printer. © Emily Thompson

Emily Thompson was born in Helena, Montana and her round about route to librarianship took her through a theater degree from Drake University, several years of costume designing, and teaching English in South Korea and Taiwan before she landed at the University of Michigan School of Information in Ann Arbor. She is currently a member of the merry band of miscreants at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Library as Studio Librarian. This means she spends her days teaching multimedia editing, drawing stop-motion animated movies, and swearing at the 3D printers. She tweets @librarianofdoom.

*I later found out that Bo Baker was doing similar things at UTC, but he wasn’t in Indianapolis.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Four Years of Letters

Four years ago (well, four years and eight days as of when this post will be published) I started my very first blog post with:
"I want to break down the barriers between library schools & students and professional librarians and I want your help."
If you'd told me back then that not only would I still be writing this blog, but that I'd see library science graduate programs linking to my blog and that it would change the course of my career... well, I would have listened eagerly to you, but I would have been skeptical.

Publishing opportunities and speaking opportunities and collaboration opportunities, all because I decided to shake my fist at the edifice of library science graduate program curricula.

For the first two anniversaries, I asked for feedback and gave away prizes as a way to celebrate. I got great suggestions. (2012, 2013) I'd like to resurrect that tradition for the fourth anniversary. So, here are the contest details (copied and pasted from past contests):

You will win a donation in your name to a book- or library-based charity/entity of your choosing. The amount will vary depending on whether you want me to make a cash donation or buy an actual book (there will be an upper limit - I am a librarian, after all, not a bazillionaire). The beneficiary can be the library where you work, your MLIS alma mater, the Ferguson Public Library or Enoch Pratt, etc.

To enter, you must, before midnight on June 23, 2015 (EDT), leave a comment on this post in which you:

  1. ...give me feedback about the blog. What's your favorite thing about LtaYL? Your least favorite? Is there someone who you really want me to get for a guest post? A topic you haven't seen me cover yet? A topic that has been covered, but for which you'd like an update? So long as it's constructive feedback, it counts.
  2. ...let me know how to get in touch with you. I'd prefer an email address, but a Twitter handle or a Google+ link will work as well if you don't want to advertise your email address publicly.
The rest of the rules are simple:
  • One entry per person.
  • The winner will be selected, as randomly as I can manage, from all entries.
  • I reserve the right to tweak the rules as necessary.
Once I've picked the winner, I will contact him/her for details of the charity. After that, I'll announce the winner.

Now it's your turn. How can I improve this blog? What should I never change?

And, as always, for your continuing readership:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Money on Your Mind, by Dolly Moehrle

You know what we talked about in library school? Collection development; the history of libraries; marketing; web and tech-y things; and other stuff I dutifully wrote about and promptly forgot after the end of the semester. You know what we didn’t go over very much? Money. And now that I’m the director of my small library, guess what I spend most of my time dealing with and thinking about? Money. 

A lot of people tell you, if you don’t like math, go into the humanities. The liberal arts! Psych majors don’t have to do math, is the promise. Librarians don’t need to worry about accounting. “They” promise that librarianship is a soft, math free field. You get to sit in a cozy office, cat in your lap, cardigan over your shoulders, and read for a living. (And maybe those librarian jobs do exist and I just haven’t had any of them.) But as it turns out, there is PLENTY of math in libraries.

I started in circulation and we accepted money for fines, lost books, supplies, and lots of other things. None of the amounts were huge—we didn’t take in one week what the average retail store probably takes in one day—but still, we had to count the amounts in the register, and eventually I was given the task of preparing the weekly deposit.

(A note on financial management tasks, specifically deposits: every library and library system is different. Some deposit directly into a bank account. Others direct you to go through the parent organization’s treasury. Still others only have designated people handle cash at all, and some require deposits to be made under a full moon with fire. It depends.)

Reconciling register tapes and daily cash count logs wasn’t what I pictured when I thought about working in a library. At my next job, I was in an administrative position and didn’t handle cash, but I did manage something else: acquisitions! Our integrated library system had a module that allowed us to track collection spending and pay vendors electronically, so now I was monitoring and reconciling A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY. More than that, I was part of a process that was actually getting money to vendors, which came with its own set of challenges.


As a library director, I am ultimately responsible for not only making sure vendors get paid, but the entire process of budgeting. (Did I mention I am not a trained bookkeeper?) I have to draft the budget, present it to my board, and work with them to make sure it is adequate for the needs of the library. While our county is essentially our “banker,” it is my responsibility to keep a copy of the books for the library and making sure that everything is balancing out the way it should and matching with what our county is reporting. It’s never been malicious, but mistakes happen and I need to be able to catch them. A new challenge this fiscal year, for example, is that the county is preparing to switch to a new financial management system, and we have had to make changes to our books to reflect their new system. We also have to be trained in the operation of the new system.

There are jobs in librarianship where you don’t have to think about money, but even collection development librarians need to be aware of and work within their budgets. If you aspire to management, you don’t need to be a trained bookkeeper, but basic awareness of accounting procedures and governmental accounting (if relevant) is pretty darned important. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
  1. Money is a tool, and keeping track of it will serve you well. Knowing where you are in your budget cycle, and being aware of what’s being spent, is useful knowledge even if you don’t have a role that involves budgeting or even spending. [Editor’s Note: Submitting a purchase request towards the end of your fiscal year is a bad idea.]
  2. Know how to use your tools: the acquisitions system, if you have one, or even good old fashioned Excel. Knowing what you’re using is half the battle. (If you’re working in Excel, LOCK YOUR FORMULAS you won’t regret it I promise you.)
  3. Are you working with vendors? You need to know your purchasing power. Do you need a purchase order? A credit card number? How much credit will they extend? What are their payment terms?
  4. Is your funding source stable? Are you looking at a reduction in service hours or layoffs next fiscal year? Ignorance is not bliss.
Most public library systems and a lot of public higher ed institutions make their financial documents available on their websites, so you can begin to get an idea of what costs make up a library’s budget. (Hint: the majority of costs are in staffing.) has several cool looking courses on Excel and budgeting, but if you’re lazy and cheap like I am there are books and YouTube videos and tutorials galore on the internet to walk you through the basics of understanding what a budget document is. Until library schools wise up and make budgeting classes mandatory, you may have to take charge of this aspect of your education alone.


Dolly Moehrle is the director of the Ventura County Law Library in Ventura, CA. She was a 2012 Eureka! Leadership Institute Fellow and received her MLIS from SJSU in 2012. She blogs sporadically at and tweets obsessively as @loather.