Thursday, July 21, 2016

Prolegomena to Any Future Organizational Frustration, by Brian Rogers

[Editor’s note: “prolegomena” means prefatory remarks.]

Upon beginning my first full-time professional librarian gig, I was neither young nor did I consider myself a librarian (hold onto your dreams, aspiring archivists!). I had been dabbling in different industries, each of which required varying work ethics, displays of organizational prowess, and feats of mental determination. Oh, how I dabbled. Thus, being a full-fledged adult worker, bearing an advanced degree and all the gumption of a novice, I unwittingly hauled along some tacit assumptions about how to get s*#^ done.


And then came that first year.

You will want to do things. You will be excited and you will want to summon forth that energy to prove your mettle and efficiency. You will want to tackle project after project. You will want to advocate for the library’s value in your effectiveness and passion as a worker. You will want to help and you will want to improve.

Then you will hit that first organizational brick wall. And once you’ve picked yourself up from that, you will trip over a smaller, second brick wall. And once you’re done cursing brick walls, you’ll scurry through a dust storm, step a little too deep into that mud puddle, and wonder why the hell there are so many traffic cones surrounding you.



Welcome to the odd and wonderful, oft infuriating and anachronistic, world of libraries. We fidget at a nexus of competing energies and agendas, goals and stakeholders, timelines and budgets, purpose and value. There are never enough of us; there’s rarely enough time; we can never please everyone; and we choose our battles the best we can.

If you aren’t careful, frustration can and will become your norm. To the purpose of preserving yourself, your energy, and your enthusiasm, I vaguely offer the following:

Librarians are an idiosyncratic lot. Our personality types run the gamut, but there is a steadfast, determined and stubborn quality about us, as a collective, that I admire. We each stand up for what we deem important to the mission of the library. The quicker you come to appreciate the commonality of intent, independent of the temperament of expression, the easier it will be for you to recognize when your interests and goals may need to recede to whatever good the library (or its governing entities) deems as priority.



The politics of managing a library are unavoidable. We each have our say and our perspective, but few of us will ever be in the position to maintain a holistic awareness of the effort it takes to keep this particular ship afloat. Patience and fortitude, and all good things in time, is the outlook you need. It may take years to push through an initiative you are convinced will only take weeks to finish, and it may take minutes to decide on a project that takes years to complete. You may or may not have a say in either scenario. Adjust your sense and scale of time to be more expansive. Consider your projects and goals, your intent and wishes, from the macro. Libraries tend to not function like industrial behemoths, chugging along at an ungodly pace and churning out service after service after service. We live and work and thrive in an ecosystem that is delicate and sturdy, demanding and lackadaisical.

Purely from anecdote, no two libraries seem to be alike. Talk to one person and you’ll get the rigid, hierarchical, bureaucratic, slow-moving sloth of burden. Talk to a second person and you’ll get the mental whiplash of an overworked, agile, change-oriented… gazelle of delight? Talk to a third person and they’ll hover somewhere between the two, an uncertain and unholy hybrid. Probably don’t talk to a fourth person or you’ll have difficulties generating conclusions.

Wherever you happen to end up, take the time to understand the organizational culture you just stumbled into. Understand its history, the folks who have worked there since time immemorial, and the ones with but a mere few years of existential weathering. Understand where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re trying to go. This is an elementary, but crucial, first step.

Every one of us, irrespective of rank or position, whether by design or accident, has a deep influence in how our library runs and how we serve in its mission. But you cannot use brute force to wield that influence, however subtle or overt it may be. The hope, of course, is that you find a library that places reciprocal diligence into getting to know and appreciate you, and that it is a co-evolution of personal and organizational growth. To that end, never cease to advocate for yourself and your professional intentions, while preserving the congeniality of open dialogue.


Brian Rogers is the Director of Library IT at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Prior to that, he worked as a Web Design and Instruction Librarian. Prior to that, he worked as a software tester and copyeditor for the tech industry. Prior to that, he’ll tell you over drinks. He holds a BA in English from Emory, and an MLIS in Archives, Preservation and Records Management from the University of Pittsburgh. Everything clearly, clearly worked out precisely as he imagined it would. He tweets @bhar0.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Information Literacy Wrestling Spectacular

source

If you've been doing information literacy instruction for any length of time, you've had to deal with the faculty member who wants a laundry list of skills and websites shown to their students. If you're especially lucky, you've also gotten "teach them everything they'll ever need to know ever about the databases" with a heaping side dish of "oh, and can you do it the first week because I'm sure they'll need it." Of course, there are variations on this theme, like faculty who see you as a substitute teacher who want you to come when they're at a conference or others who wait until you're in the information literacy session to ask for yet another thing... It's enough to make you sigh dramatically just thinking about it, right? The thing is, librarians know the laundry list isn't going to work. By the time students need the skills we've taught them, sometimes years later, they will have forgotten everything including the librarian's name.

It's all very frustrating. Feels like a wrestling match at times, and if you're at an institution that considers librarians staff instead of faculty, it can feel like a very mismatched sumo match.

The truth is, though, that it's been years since I've had to consciously think about this kind of issue. I have my arguments and responses so firmly in place that it's become second nature to me. But then I saw a string of tweets from Carolyn Ciesla, and I started to think about it again. I realized it would be a good thing to share on my blog, so here is how I approach the situation, including some of the phrases I use over and over again:
  • Start early. I email all the first year seminar faculty, and anyone else who incorporates librarian led info lit, way ahead of time so I can be the one to start the conversation. This way I am more likely to be the one steering it to make sure my outcomes are in the mix. I use phrases like "we want to partner with you" to bring that thought home.
  • Make sure there's an assignment involved. This helps with faculty who want their students to see all the things now because I can tailor my suggestions to what the students will actually need. When there isn't an existing assignment, I offer to help them design one. "It will help cement the lessons, if your students have to use the skills right away."
  • Establish a pedagogically sound timeline. Make sure your instruction happens between the students getting the assignment and when it's due. I admit I stole this line, but I tell faculty "it's better that the instruction be just in time instead of just in case."
  • Have a pre-established information literacy curriculum. This can be hard to establish, but nothing has helped me push back against the laundry list approach more than this answer. "With first year seminars, we teach X, Y, and Z, and since your class is on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, there isn't a lot of time left over." Also, "Since this is a senior seminar, most if not all of them will have already seen X, Y, and Z, but to be safe how about I breeze through that before moving onto A, B, and C." (How to establish a curriculum for your information literacy program is a whole other kettle of fish.)
  • Be willing to say, "no." This is the most difficult thing, and you might want to check in with your boss before you do it, but it is possible to decline and come out alive. "We want to establish the basics for the students before we go onto something as advanced as that." This can be harder when faculty plop a request into your lap in the middle of the session, but it's still possible to tell them no, but kindly, at that point. "Your students will be able to find everything they need using the database I'm showing them now, but if we have time at the end I'll try to fit that in" is especially apt.
  • Know when to give in. I once worked with a faculty member who wanted to teach databases and web analysis on their own, and they wanted me to show their first year students how to use our citation management software. I still think citation management software is a bad idea for first years. Using that kind of software for a paper that will have five citations is overkill and useless since first students won't use it again for months or even years. When this particular faculty member came to me (at a previous job), I complained to my director. "Do I really have to do this? Can I tell them no?" He told me it was my choice, but then wisely pointed out that I could embed my own agenda in the larger lesson and show them how to assess websites in the midst of teaching them how to use the software to create a citation. Smart man, and his idea worked perfectly.

I hope this post helps. I know I said, "yes! sure!" to everything early in my career, and don't beat up on yourself too much if you aren't comfortable turning down faculty requests and demands. As for the more experienced info lit instructors reading this, chime in with ideas that have worked for you in the past.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Interview Post: Emily Thompson


Biographical

Name?

Emily Thompson

Current job?

Studio Librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

How long have you been in the field?

Almost 5 years.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I have a desk that wraps around to a table. If I need to focus, I can turn to the desk and face my bulletin board. If I’m feeling tired or stressed, I can put my laptop on the table and look out on the big tree next to the University Center.

How do you organize your days?
My job entails desk shifts, instruction, and individual appointments; so every day is a little different. I try to spend a few minutes in the morning figuring out where I have to be and at what time. Then I can see which hours are free to work on projects or research.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend most of my time teaching students how to make videos and other multimedia. It might be in a class or 1-on-1 or answering questions at the Studio Desk.

What is a typical day like for you?
People have typical days? There’s usually a combination of Studio desk shifts, 1-on-1 appointments, and classes. All of them involve helping students with various media projects, so my brain keeps the Adobe Suite on constant rotation.

My favorite days are when I actually get to see the finished projects that the students have been working on. The head of Sculpture (Lauren Ruth, MFA) lets me be a guest critic in the Performance Art class for the assignment I help them with, and it’s my favorite two days of the spring semester.

What are you reading right now?
I somehow keep grabbing books without finishing them, so I have two going right now: Salamander  by Thomas Wharton and  The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
“You cannot control other people.” Betty Burton told me this back in my first career as a costume designer. I also once had an Esoteric Buddhist Master tell me that I should stop dwelling on old thoughts because they’re like old gum. And like old gum, I should spit them out.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
We always talk about how dynamic librarianship is, but I didn’t expect to end up in a position that requires so much constant learning. Every single day a student will get one of our software programs into a new knot, and we have to help them untangle it. Either that or a professor will ask, “Hey, so could you maybe teach my students X?” and we figure out how to do it. I am never bored.

That and fixing a 3D printer. Those things are evil, but my life would be much worse if I couldn’t fix it myself.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
Gah! Jaleh Fazelian already said “defenestrate.”


I used to live in Taipei, Taiwan and my favorite expression was O-bu-okay. In Chinese, the word “bu” basically means “not,” and it gets inserted between two of the same verb to basically add an “or not” to the end. For example, “Yao-bu-yao?” is “Do you want it or not?” So they’ve taken the english word OK and added their own grammar. “O-bu-okay” is literally “OK or not OK?” and they run it all together with a delightful lilt.

What is your least favorite word?
I don’t have a word that bugs me. I feel like all of them have their place, but should be used carefully.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
I wish I knew how to be a really good carpenter. I like patterns and puzzles and I would love to be able to apply that to wood.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
I am the least detail-oriented librarian you’ll ever meet, so anything that involves data entry. I always have to do everything three times to make sure I haven’t missed or added anything by mistake.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Teleportation. I’ve moved around so much that I don’t get to see all my favorite people nearly often enough. If I could teleport, I would be able to have coffee with whomever I want without the travel time.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m really proud of the network I’ve built. I genuinely like to meet new people and I try to keep them in a mental file cabinet. Then I can introduce them to each other and spread the network further. The Aquarius-Pisces cusp in me wants everyone to be successful and I like connecting the people who can help each other.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I have a lot invested in being “fine.” Most of my big mistakes revolve around being fine to the point of breaking and then exploding. I’m very grateful to be in a position that will occasionally tell me “no.”

For a more specific example, while I was trying to build out my position at my previous job I tended to be a bit over-enthusiastic as to what I could handle. My “Sure, I can teach your students how to make videos.” was interpreted as “Awesome, we don’t have to learn this thing that’s now required for all 900 of our seniors. We can just send them over to the library.” It required not one but two interventions from the library director explaining that if it’s required of everyone in your department, the department may have to support it. It taught me to ask more questions, say no, and be assertive in reminding colleagues that I’m only one person.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
I’m really a homebody. I tend to be at my house working on some sort of fiber project (knitting, cross-stitch, or sewing clothes) while my cat cries at me to let her go outside. (She’s not allowed outside.)



Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I would love to hear what Meg Hixon has to say, although I worry she’ll get stuck on the superhero question.


Emily tweets at @librarianofdoom. This is actually her third post for Letters to a Young Librarian. Previous posts: "Pushy Polite" and "The Seven Phases Related to Building My Job from Scratch."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Captaining the Ship


A while back, a library science graduate student said something like, "did I tell you I've decided I don't want to be a library director?" to me. I'm pretty sure my response was, "Nobody in their right mind does." After we both laughed, I followed up with, "I felt the same way when I was new in the field. Goes to show you never know."

I remembered that conversation when I read a piece on The Chronicle of Higher Ed: "Don’t Cry for Me, Academia!" by Kevin J.H. Dettmar. In it, Dettmar speaks eloquently about his path to administration, and about how much he loves being a department chair. I found myself nodding along as I read each paragraph. Like Dettmar, I never envisioned a career that would lead to administration, but here I am.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of headaches involved with being in charge, but there's a lot of good in administration as well. In case you're considering moving to library administration, here are some of my favorite aspects of my job:
  • Having a voice/seat at the table. It's not that people didn't listen to me before this job, but there's something nice about the extra weight people both at my college and in the community give my words because I've got the word "director" in my job title. 
  • Setting the agenda. I've got a lot of strong feelings about the direction academic libraries should pursue, and being in administration gives me a way to follow that path. I'm not a dictator; I do listen. But I'm the one captaining the ship and I get to stear. (Sorry/not sorry about the mixed metaphor of paths and ships.)
  • Helping staff grow. I am still a bit shy of the word "mentor," but it's something I've really grown to love. As the director, I can require professional development and help people work to their strengths. I get to guide people through things they don't think they can do, just like Hamlet the Minipig up there. And that kind of opportunity is worth all the budget headaches in the world.

How about the rest of you? I know a lot of directors/managers/administrators read this blog. What do you like about being an administrator? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Just For Fun: Bugs!

I love insects and spiders. Really, I do. I talk to moths that land near me, telling them how pretty they are. No, I don't get or expect answers. I'm careful to step over ant processions. They have as much right to exist as I do. I capture jumping spiders in my bare hands to escort them out, and anything bigger gets removed with a cup and a piece of cardboard. I think they're fascinating and a lot of them are adorable to me.

Don't get me wrong: I'll still swat a mosquito or spray a wasp nest if it's being built on my porch, which both my cats and I use. But really, I love bugs. And thanks to a friend, I recently found out that there's an insect museum just up the road from me in Philadelphia. So of course I took myself there. Here's some of what I saw:



That's a White Spotted Assassin Bug. They're native to West and Southwest Africa. Bonus for those of you who don't like bugs: they prey on cockroaches!



Lubber Grasshoppers are native to parts of the United States, so if they look familiar that's why. According to the sign at the Insectarium, they are named for the weird way they walk.



This Orchid Mantis was playing peekaboo with me. They're from Southeast Asia. Doesn't it look like it could be part of the plant?



The tank with the Macleay's Spectre Stick Insects caught my attention for a while. They come from Australia, and can grow up to EIGHT INCHES LONG!



I fell a little in love with the Giant Black African Millipedes. I like cucumbers a lot, too. They are native to a large part of Africa. They have a life expectancy of 5-7 years and are often kept as pets!




This was the best part of the day. These are Tanzanian Giant Tailless Whipscorpions. You'll find them both in Tanzania and in Kenya. They're harmless to humans, and I got to HOLD ONE! It was delicate and light and completely unfazed by me.


I left out most of the insects that I knew would really bother people, like the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (although I did get to pet one!). I find insects and arachnids, like my friend the whipscorpion, fascinating. Yes, I even like wasps unless they insist on building in spaces where my cats go. I figure if you've made it this far in the post that you like 'em, too, so share yours in the comments?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Interview Post: Robin Bradford


Biographical

Name?

Robin Bradford

Current job?

Collection Development Librarian

How long have you been in the field?

I started my very first library job in 1992, so….24 years. Wow.


How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

My office, right now, is clean. Hooray! But, normally, there are books and papers cluttering it up. Because, even though I get a fraction of the paper that I got when I started doing collection development in 2001, the clutter seems to cling to me like a designer fragrance. Eau du paper.


How do you organize your days?
This is a great question and I wish I had a great answer. It usually works out to me doing print based materials 3 days a week, and AV 1-2 days a week. I focus mainly on new things, but the replacements issue is huge in my collection areas (fiction, music CDs, and fiction DVDs) so time has to be set aside for replacements, too. I have a reminder on my outlook calendar for replacement DVD ordering, because it’s easy to forget but so important. I also work 16 hours/month in public service, so time has to be set aside for that too. That’s usually when I order Overdrive books, because I don’t need to be in my office with catalog and/or journals to do it. I take a weekly turn on the library’s twitter page (visit me on Tuesdays @TRLDistrict) and then there are the little things like meetings, conferences, programs, and special projects, that get tossed into various days. You’d think that every day would be the same, but that is rarely the case.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Discovering things to order.

What is a typical day like for you?
Usually, the first thing I do is read email, then check in with twitter. Check the news, see what’s going in booklandia [Editor’s note: Publishers’ Marketplace is behind a paywall, but it’s Robin’s favorite.]. Decide what format I’m going to focus on that day (audiobooks, large print, regular print, a certain genre, DVDs, music CDs) and then off we go. If it’s baseball season, that’s usually the soundtrack in my office.

What are you reading right now?
Dead Man’s Debt by Elliott Kay, Beyond Addiction by Kit Rocha and just last night I finished Skies of Ash by Rachel Howzell Hall. I recently discovered this series, and it is my new obsession.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
“Don’t ever pretend you’re not smart.” That sounds like good LIFE advice, but it was definitely good professional advice. Thank you, Georgia Cravey! And “If you’re going to bring me a complaint, come with 2-3 suggestions on how to fix it” Thank you, Penny Pace-Cannon.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Paying $80 for one copy of an ebook.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
Today, it is conundrum.

What is your least favorite word?
Entitlement. (My least favorite attitude, as well.)

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Professional cellist.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Mathematician.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Telekinesis. I’m actually really mad about this.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Opening up collections to a much wider variety of materials, and making a wider variety of people feel like their library really does want to have the things they’re interested in.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
HA! I actually talk about my mistakes all the time on twitter. One of my favorites was ordering 85 copies of a book when I meant to order 5. Luckily, most of them were able to be sent back. Not all 80 copies, though… I’ve ordered things that were tiny, there was also that football book once with the astroturf cover…

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
I’m a tv show addict, so probably discovering a new show, or catching up on current shows, or watching the show my friends told me about and I never did see….If a show was on during 2004-2008, when I was working and in law school, there’s a good chance I missed it. Prison Break, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Heroes….yeah, I have a lot of catching up to do. If someone has forced me outside into the world, I’m probably at a restaurant, a baseball game, or somewhere near large bodies of water.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Shayera Tangri.


Robin tweets, a lot, at @tuphlos.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Minority Serving & Representing Libraries

We are a predominately white and female profession. I'm not so much worried about the woman power stuff (and I do include anyone who identifies as female part or all of the time in that term), but the Caucasian aspect bothers me. Especially at my own institution, which has a student body that is largely African American. This topic came up a few months ago when I was participating in a #libleadgender conversation on Twitter, one that was - I think - lead by April Hathcock. Talk had turned to how we work towards inclusion as a way to serve our community:


As I said above, I work at a minority serving institution, and every day I try to move towards this kind of inclusion. Someone asked me to explain further what I do, so here it is. This is by no means scientific, but I feel it helps the situation.
  • I start recruiting students to work at the library before they've even started classes. Any time I work an orientation (and I work plenty of them), I'll answer anyone's questions about jobs in the library but I will bring up the topic with all students of color. I talk about how working in the library isn't just sitting at a desk doing your homework, about how we give our student workers important tasks to do and sometimes even have them take the lead on projects so it will look good on a resume and/or internship application.
  • I skip the name on application materials and look at the body of their application/cover letter/resume/etc. first. I am very white. I was out in the sun for hours this weekend, and I think I've darkened almost to an ecru (usually my skin is more cream color). I also have a fairly Caucasian sounding name. Study after study has shown bias, either conscious or unconscious, even when it comes to whether your name *sounds* white. This is my way of controlling for that bias.
  • We do book displays tied to different minority groups and people of color outside of their designated months. We had a display about protest culture and important figures tied to civil rights protests in the fall instead of during African American History Month. We had another display with materials about Islam and Muslim Americans and Arab Americans in the winter, instead of in April during Arab American Heritage Month. 
  • Most importantly, I think, I talk about the elephant in the room. I talk to students, especially our student workers, about how the library can better support students of color. I've said some version of "Librarianship is such a white profession, but I want the people behind the desk to reflect the people who come up to the desk" so often I've lost count. I'm the director, so things I say are weighted differently from other librarians - they're taken more seriously, whether I want them to be or not. I try to keep that in mind, ask questions, and then really listen to the answers. Even if my feelings get hurt, listening is even more important than asking the questions.

In the past, I've been guilty of trying to be the "white savior," but someone (Thank you!) pointed it out to me and I've mostly worked that instinct out of my system. I no longer assume I know how to fix every problem, especially one as complex as systemic and ingrained racism. I'm curious what kinds of efforts have been successful for others. Comment or respond on social media? Thanks!