Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"The Customer" Is Always Wrong: Managing Community Expectations

I tend to get a bit twisted about semantics, so I write about it frequently. Word choice matters. A recent piece written by one of my favorite anthropologists illustrates another reason why:
"Words matter WORDS MATTER this 'customer' stuff isn't just benign semantics and labelling it comes from an insidious framing of education."
That is something that Donna Lanclos tweeted and then quoted in a longer piece about the problems with managing college and university student expectations. That blog post also included the following paragraph, which made me want to give Lanclos a standing ovation:
"Student expectations are informed by their pre-university experiences. And those are not uniform. We have students with a variety of levels of experience and preparedness for what university education requires. And we do not, as educators, have to buy the argument that the purpose of our work is to prepare students for 'jobs.' Our work, collectively, in higher and further education, is to provide students with experiences and support within those experiences to learn, to grow, to find and shape their voice, to be prepared to exercise citizenship, to live engaged lives, to shape their world in constructive ways."

I loathe the word "customer" for people who walk into a library, but even more so for students of a college where I work. It really does set up the wrong dynamic. I can't tell you the number of times that I have heard "I pay your salary" or variations thereupon directed at me or at a coworker by a student who isn't being allowed to do one disruptive thing or another. That student who got angry with me and told me how much they paid to attend that institution because I wouldn't let them leave their possessions strewn around a busy area was a particularly fun example of that. Because there is already so much money involved, calling a student "the customer" makes it feel even more like we are supposed to bend over backwards. How far is it from adding a rock-climbing wall to eliminating prerequisites for a price?

But back to my original point: I would argue that those skills Lanclos lists are precisely the kinds of skills employers both big and small need in their work force. I'm not pulling this out of the air, either. I've read so many studies that talk about how employers want people who can think on their feet, who can write, who can investigate, who can think critically... Dr. Lanclos writes that managing educator expectations is just as important as managing student expectations, but I'm wondering if we need to take a step further and manage the expectations of our communities. If so much of this is predicated on the assumption that we are educating students to be employable, can we use the expectations of those employers to shape the conversation? It seems that educators and companies are all saying the same thing, and there's got to be a way to leverage that so that our students and, more importantly, our upper-level administrator and boards of trustees get back to trusting the faculty and staffs of their institutions.

Or am I just dreaming here?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Interview: Megan Brooks

Editor’s Note: The whole idea of interview posts came from Megan Brooks, so I asked her be next. I’m happy to say she agreed.

Megan's Office
Biographical

Name?
Megan Brooks

Current job?
Director of Research Services at Wellesley College

How long have you been in the field?
19.5 years! Eeek!

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
It's well-organized, with little on my desks, and it has great natural light. My laptop and monitor are on stands so I have dual monitors, and I have an external keyboard and mouse. I have a large whiteboard on the wall behind me and a large bulletin board behind my monitor that is covered in postcards, letterpress prints, and greeting cards.

How do you organize your days?
I live and die by my Google calendars (personal and work). When I eat breakfast each morning at home, I check my calendar to see what's on tap for the day.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
As a manager, I spend a lot of time working with the staff on my team and with my manager colleagues to help get us all where we need to go. I also work the service desk, teach library instruction classes, help students and faculty with research consultations, and go to a lot of meetings.

What is a typical day like for you?
Let's take Tuesdays as an example: I have 4 half-hour long staff meetings, I work a 2-hour service desk shift, and I might meet with students or faculty for research consultations or teach/prep for a class. In the summer I working on projects, usually related to the web.

What are you reading right now?
I just got back from vacation where I devoured a ton of fiction: Rainbow Rowell's first novel, Attachments, Susan Juby's The Truth Commission, Amy Bloom's Lucky Us, Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, and the entire “Divergent” series. Professionally I'm making my way through Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction and The Sketchnote Handbook. 

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
From my dad (applies to life and work): If you can't find the time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Today I helped move materials that got wet when an air conditioner compressor unit decided to spew liquid into spaces where some of our collections are housed. That was fun and exciting and new. (Fortunately, everything seems like it'll be able to be saved. Our conservator is the BEST.) I also never thought I'd be a manager. As a newer librarian I firmly declared that I'd never do such a thing! Until I did and realized I liked it.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
Legume. It's just a funny word to say.

What is your least favorite word?
Cuddle Duds. Very long story involving a childhood spent in cold Minnesota. *shudders*

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Bass player in a rock band. Or a professional athlete.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Emergency room staff (doctor, nurse, orderly, etc.)

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Instant healing from injuries. 

What are you most proud of in your career?
I'm proud of the fact that I've made a positive difference in the lives of people - both in the immediate moment and in the longer-term, for faculty and students, with colleagues inside and outside my organization.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Several years ago we migrated the entire college site to Drupal. I was on the team, and so I was (and still am) an admin in the system. I changed the background of the entire college website to a garish red and put chunks of content in places where they shouldn't be. Most of these mistakes were easily fixed, but my take-away is that a little power can be a very dangerous thing, so it's always best to fess up quickly when you're the one who effed up.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Playing hockey, working out at the gym, sitting on my sofa reading, fiddling on my phone.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Maura Smale and Derrick Jefferson.


Megan Brooks is on Twitter as @librarygrrrl. This is actually the third time she's written for Letters to a Young Librarian. The first was "Job Fit Revisited: What to Do When You Are the Square Peg," and after that she wrote "Hospitality and Your New Staff Member, by Megan Brooks."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Know When to Hold 'Em and Know When to Fold 'Em: On Being Privileged Sometimes

"Privilege" is a word that comes with steamer trunks' worth of baggage. For the purpose of this post, I am using this word within the context of social inequality, the unearned kind of privilege that comes at birth. For background, please refer to "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" and "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is."

One further warning: this is a post where I'm not sure yet of the answers to my questions, but the ideas are still important to me.

I think of myself as fairly privileged. I grew up the only child of two working adults at a time when that wasn't common, so it put my family solidly in the upper-middle-class income bracket. I lived in a fairly affluent neighborhood of a Boston, MA bedroom community. Heck, I lived down the street - for a year or two - from someone who played for the Boston Bruins. Nobody you'd've heard of, but still he and his wife lived there. I'm also Caucasian and able-bodied. I never joined and have always been vaguely but insistently embarrassed by this, but I could be a member of Daughters of the American Revolution since I'm a direct descendant of William Whipple.

So imagine my surprise when I got this result for a BuzzFeed quiz on privilege:


The thing is, that 63% of not being privileged doesn't show for the most part. There are questions on that quiz about never having to hide aspects of yourself, and wow I have done that. I've rarely told outright lies, but I've lost count of how many times I allowed assumptions to stand when I was a kid.

Yes, boys and girls and variations thereupon, I lead an intersectional life. I am a mixed up, messed up, wibbly-wobbly ball of privileged and oppressed.

And I'm not the only one. I've seen a number of people tweeting about this topic lately, but two individuals stand out:
If you're unaware, Brianna Wu is a video game developer and a self proclaimed "Gozilla of tech feminists." (She also has great taste in fictional leadership role models.)

Screen shot was the only way to get it all. Sorry. Source.
Daniel Solis is an art director and a game designer. Yes, I own games of his. I also had the fun task of doing some editing for him recently.

Most of us have lives like this: some truths about us that are oppressed and minority, but other qualities that are considered "normal" and carry privilege. I know this isn't a particularly library/librarian oriented post so far, but it's so important to discuss this kind of thing. We, as librarians and educators, need think about our privilege and/or lack as we move through our worlds. It's especially important for us to consider other voices in our collections and our programming and our hiring. But the most important thing, to bring it back to where I started, is for us to know when to speak and when to shut up. The second one is so hard for me, I have to admit. I'm so used to being the one shouting about my own stuff that I sometimes forget to be quiet when it's not. But I'm learning to listen. I'm learning not to center my concerns when it's not about my experiences.

How about you? How do you handle the intersections in your life of privilege and the lack?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

ALA Annual Correspondence From a Small Town Librarian, by Chris Wilkes


As a librarian from a small, rural library, it is easy to become isolated from the larger library world. The “rockstar” librarians, big, urban libraries, and innovative ideas that are seen on the pages of Library Journal and American Libraries every month seem an otherness, something that I do not encounter in my daily work life. My perception of this otherness pervades my view of the American Library Association itself. Although I am a member of ALA, I have a difficult enough time using its website, let alone understanding the many divisions, roundtables, and committees. Besides bringing back new ideas to my library, I had hoped my attendance at my first ALA Annual would give me a clearer picture of the library community and my place in it.

For the most part, the conference shattered my perceptions about this otherness. I found attendees and vendors approachable throughout the conference. I met a couple of LJ Mover & Shaker’s and even met a former Executive Board member of ALA when both of us were resting our feet. It was those moments where I heard another attendee say they had difficulty marketing their programs or they were running successful programs on no budget that gave me most confidence that I was not on an island.

In a couple sessions, I did perceive a divide between larger suburban and urban public libraries and smaller libraries. I attended one presentation talk about their large library system that had more money for marketing than my entire library’s materials budget. There also seemed, from the sessions I attended, to be a lack of understanding that buying new things can improve your library’s circulation and attendance. [Editor’s Note: This is not just a public library thing. Lots of us forget that our perspective isn’t the only one.]

Walking away from ALA Annual, I still sense a certain separation between myself and the larger ALA bureaucracy. Even though most meetings were open to members, I do not feel that my attendance at these meetings would have changed my opinion. At the NMRT 101 and RUSA 101 sessions, the message was to get involved. I’ve taken this message to heart and I hope to join a committee (or at least attempt). I cannot really complain about the organization if I only play a peripheral role in it.

One of the unexpected outcomes of attending ALA was that I have begun actively to question my role within my library. I think this self-reflection started when I was asked in an Unconference to state my preferred pronoun. I was immediately confronted with identity. As a white, male librarian, I very rarely thought about how my gender, racial, and social background can affect a reference interview or staff interaction. To some degree, I had thought such conversations were academic and were separate from my role as a librarian. I hope this new awareness will allow me to recognize barriers in my daily interactions with patrons and staff.

Similarly, I began to question my library’s role within our community. My community has a very small minority population and there is almost no visible LGBT presence, but my library could do more to serve their needs. I doubt these thoughts would have occurred to me within my small, conservative community without being a part of ALA Annual during Pride weekend or without seeing the praise that the Ferguson Library has received. My library has already taken steps to start adding more LGBT books for all age levels in the week since I’ve been from Annual.

My first ALA Annual left me both exhausted and rejuvenated. Besides bringing several new, innovative teen and adult programs as well as new marketing strategies back to my library, the most important outcome of my first ALA Annual is that it challenged my perception of my role in the library community.


Chris Wilkes is the reference librarian at the Tazewell County Public Library in Southwestern Virginia. Despite having a robot for an avatar on Twitter, where he tweets as @irobotlibrarian, he promises he’s a really real person. Maybe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Not a Real Post (With Kitties)

I had a topic all lined up for today (based on a session I taught to the Delaware ILEAD group), but when I tried to retool it into a blog post, it didn't go so well.


And as I looked around for another topic, I realized I didn't have anything that I could get done quickly, so instead I'm going to share a video and some pictures of my new-ish cats and beg your forgiveness. I'll be back with something more substantive next week.









Thursday, July 16, 2015

Are Your Colleagues Dumb? Read This, by Kimberly Sweetman

When I think back over my career of almost 20 years, I can think of one or two defining moments. One in particular happened when I was about 2 years out of library school. I was living in the West Indies, 27 years old, and working as the associate director of the small library at an offshore medical school. That’s a great story in and of itself, but a story for another day. This was back in the mid ‘90s, and part of my responsibility was providing campus-wide training and support in Microsoft Office.

One day after assisting a colleague in the housing office with a spreadsheet, she turned to me and said, “you know, I used to wonder what value a young kid like you brought to the workplace, but now I know that you really know your stuff and do a good job.” This comment has stuck with me through my career. While librarianship was a second career for me as it is for many of us, I spent only a nano-second in my first career and earned my library degree in my mid-twenties. And I looked young. At a job interview about 10 years later (I still looked young then) I was asked how I deal with people assuming I’m younger and less experienced than I am. I was able to relay the story of what my housing office colleague had said and reply that my strategy has always been to be excellent at what I do.

Just as people no doubt dismissed me based on my appearance, I admit I did the same. When I first started out, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I was bright and committed. There definitely were times I thought I was brighter and more committed than my colleagues. Sometimes I didn’t listen to them. And it’s a mistake I’ve seen repeated by lots of newly minted librarians. How about you? You’re smart. You’re energetic. You’re committed. You’re passionate. What do you think of your colleagues? Are they as smart, energetic, committed and passionate as you are? 

Diversity of perspective is essential in the workplace. Only recently (by reading Roger Martin’s The Responsibility Virus) did I realize that my choice to assume that my colleagues didn’t bring value to the discussion wasn’t just my own rash, over-inflated sense of self. Human beings are hard-wired to protect their own viewpoints and dismiss other perspectives. Roger Martin describes the four governing values that inform our actions when dealing with differing perspectives as:
  1. Win, don’t lose;
  2. Maintain control;
  3. Avoid embarrassment;
  4. Stay rational.
So, when someone offers a different perspective on something under discussion, we instinctively shift into a mode of wanting our perspective to prevail (win, don’t lose), of getting our way (control), of wanting our supported choice to be the right one at any cost (avoid embarrassment), and of staying rational to the point of being rigid. We tell ourselves that our perspective is the right perspective, and the answer we bring to the table is the right answer, which shuts us down from hearing differing viewpoints. We assume the other party is uninformed or possibly out to sabotage the organization. And we try to get others to see our way at the cost of listening to other ideas—ideas that could be really useful!

If we can alter this frame we can work with others to develop the strongest plans and ideas possible. Even opening your mind for five minutes to the possibility that others have something to contribute can change the dynamic. Rather than assuming you have all the answers, try this: actively tell yourself that although you have a lot of knowledge and understanding, you may not see or understand everything. By acknowledging that other people have different experiences that allow them to see things in different ways, you can remind yourself that their perspective will contribute to your understanding. Make your primary task accessing the collective intelligence in order to make the best choice.

The next time you are working with others to solve a problem, pause and check your mindset. Without being aware of Roger Martin’s theory, this is what my housing office colleague did. By actively reminding yourself that the perspectives of your colleagues, combined with your own, can make for stronger choices and options, you will ensure that your organization moves forward collaboratively. This benefits not only interpersonal relations in the workplace but also the plans and projects your organization carries out. Plans created with a diversity of perspectives are stronger and generally more successful. And fully thinking through an issue by weighing the contribution of everyone involved really does lead to better solutions.


After spending 20 years in library public service, Kimberly Sweetman now works as a consultant and coach helping libraries and library people to reach their goals and develop superior service through exceptional leadership. She blogs at kimberlysweetman.com and tweets as @sweetcoachcons.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Interview: Jessica Olin

To get things started with these interview posts (previous post for context), I'm going to be the first to fill out this questionnaire. So, here goes...

Me, chatting with my office mate: a velociraptor stuffy.

Biographical

Name?
Jessica Olin, or, to my friends, Luna Lovegood

Current job?
Director of the Robert H. Parker Library at Wesley College

How long have you been in the field?
I got my first gig as a professional librarian almost exactly 12 years ago.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
Small with lots of windows. I've got a couple filing cabinets, a desk, a bookshelf, a bulletin board, a slow & old computer, an all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax, a phone - all the requisites. I try to keep it as neat as possible because, as I've already mentioned, it's small and very visible. I have lots of toys there, too, as you can see from the photo I posted above.

How do you organize your days?
Is "over organized" a thing? I plan every work day at the end of the previous day, looking at which projects are in process and what meetings I have. I try to be flexible about it, too, since as the director and one of only two librarians on staff, chances are pretty high I'm going to have something unexpected dropped in my lap. Being this structured almost always helps me have room to stop for lunch and leave work on time. I've learned the hard way that too much work and not enough rest makes Jessica grumpy.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Administratriva. I'm our bookkeeper and our scheduler and bill payer and and and... I take care of lots of little details, but I make sure to carve out time every day (well, almost every day) to work on longer term projects. It's hard to find a balance between long term goals and short term needs, but I'm getting better at it.

What is a typical day like for you?
I know this is a cliche, but there's not really a "typical day" for me. On an academic calendar, you go in cycles. Right now it's the summer, so I spend a lot of time in my office reading and working on projects that got ignored in the 9 months prior, During the school year I'm sometimes too busy for projects; I've got meetings and meetings and instruction sessions and did I mention the meetings?

What are you reading right now?
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. I realized I'd never read anything by her, even though I consider her works part of the American Canon, so when I saw a used copy get donated to my library's book sale, I snapped it up and I'm really glad I did. 
The World Exchange by Alena Graedon. I'm actually listening to this right now, but I think audiobooks count. Even though I have a short commute, I still listen to audiobooks. I picked it up on a whim because the cover art appealed and the description sounded interesting. I'm really digging it so far.
The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. Part of finding balance is being mindful, and this book is a great help towards that end. 

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
"Stop interviewing for the job you already have." My mentor from the College Library Directors' Mentor Program, Jessame Ferguson, said this after she visited my campus. When I started applying for director positions, I didn't expect to get one. I was expecting to get an assistant director gig at best. So when I was hired for a director spot, I was startled. And she was right - I was still trying to prove to them that they'd made the right choice instead of concentrating on the work at hand.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
I joke that my job is 90% "and other duties as required," but if I'm honest I'd say the percentage is closer to 50%. That means the unexpected comes on a regular basis. I have, in my 2.5 years a director: cleaned up after a flood in the basement; put together furniture; moved furniture; dealt with many arachnid and insect critters, rescuing my staff from the critters and the critters from my staff; taken apart furniture. (Yes, lots of furniture.)

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
Mellifluous. It is an example of what it means.

What is your least favorite word?
Derogatory words associated with minority groups - all of those words.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Wildlife rehabilitation. Especially raptors and/or bats.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Any kind of elected office. I'm glad there are people willing to serve in that capacity, but I wonder about their sanity.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Jamie Madrox, or Multiple Man, can create multiple copies of himself. The copies can go off, do things, and then when they return he can reabsorb them and have their memories and skills and what not. I wish I had that power. I mean... THINK OF HOW MANY BOOKS I COULD READ!

What are you most proud of in your career?
That this blog has done what I set out to do: help people who are either new or at a crossroads in this field. I've been pretty lucky in the way I've stumbled into the paths of mentors, both traditional and peer, but not everyone is that fortunate. The ever-growing blog readership and professional acclaim are nice, but that I'm meeting the goal I set is the thing that makes me proudest.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I used to get so excited about ideas and projects that I was compared to a steamroller in one place and a bull-in-a-china-shop in another. I've had to learn the hard way to be more circumspect and politic.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Making cover band jokes on Twitter? Actually, the things I've been spending lots of free time on are reading and crafting. Cross-stitch is my craft of choice, and I tend to be fairly omnivorous with reading. I try to go hiking, too, but have been lazy about it lately.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I'm going to play the "it's my blog" card here and skip this question. Too many people to name, but I've already started approaching people privately.