Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Complaining Complainers in the Library



I was asked recently about how I handle complaints in the library. This is an awkward thing to explain, because - like so much - there is no one policy that addresses all of the problems. I try to be as respectful as possible, but trust me: there are always going to be times when I wish I could send the complainingest patrons off to Notlob or Bolton or wherever.

Honestly, though, I'm still learning how to handle complaints from the administrator perspective. Before this job, if things got bad I could always resort to, "would you like to speak with the director?" Now when someone asks to speak with the director, it's me. I no longer have the relative ease of just passing the buck. That's okay; I've developed a few rules of thumb in the three years I've been a director.

Do:
  • Have some rules already in place. For example, though I've yet to deal with a book challenge, we have a policy and procedures in place.
  • Get familiar with local laws and (if applicable) law enforcement/security personnel. Becoming friends with campus security guards has given me a sense of security for those rare instances when patrons won't listen to reason.
  • Be ready to listen. Sometimes all the person needs is to feel heard, and I can do that.
  • Keep an open mind. One complaint that came to me through student government was justified - not enough outlets - and easily helped with the addition of some powerstrips in key areas.
Do not:
  • Make promises you can't keep. I've seen people promise any-any-anything to calm someone down. They'll just be angrier later. Guaranteed.
  • Bend over backwards for someone who's treating you poorly. I've had multiple people try to intimidate me by cursing and getting loud or trying the cliched "I pay your salary." It never works with me. Ever.
  • Get angry back. Calming things down is generally going to be the best road, so yelling or cursing back won't help.

That's what I've got so far, especially when it comes to rules of thumb. Specific situations are a whole other thing. For instance, the faculty member who wanted something that was prohibitively difficult and time consuming? I explained the situation politely, but I said no. But I'm still learning. I'd be grateful if more experienced administrators want to chime in.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Digital Media Labs: Pros and Cons, by Amanda L. Goodman




In June, the Digital Media Lab (DML) I spent a year putting together will be four years old. The planning stage took a lot out of me. My library’s phone bill must have spiked with all the hours I logged interviewing other libraries. I agonized over buying window tinting to keep the studio light from bothering others (no one has noticed). I met with the local high school music guy about the best audio equipment. The final product is the result of the whole library working together to make it happen. Then when we opened the doors for the very first time, we had a patron already waiting outside the door.

For us, the effort was definitely worth it, but I know a digital media lab isn’t for every library. Here’s a few things to consider:

Pros
Out of all the work I’ve done, nothing has had a greater impact than this tiny room. I’ve taught people to digitize their tapes, slides, photos, negatives, documents, and records. I’ve also spent a lot of time setting up the camcorder so I could show how to do an interview, use the green screen, and make a music video. While digitizing slides, a patron and I looked up Google Street View of the hotel she stayed at in the 60s. We looked at the location now vs. then. She told me about jumping into the pool there on the Jersey Shore. The DML is small, but it’s full of memories.

Then there are the entrepreneurs. They come with both full-fledged visions and ones that haven’t thought beyond wanting a website. I didn’t start out to be a small business consultant, but they draw me in. I’ll coach them through articulating what need their idea meets, defining their audience, and how to reach them. The original query might have been for website help, but we usually end up discussing their dreams.

Cons
The worst thing about a DML is that it is the only place where the library may harm a patron, and by “harm” I mean their memories. We take their photos, videos, and audio, and try to create a digital copy. Every time someone pushes their tape into the VHS to DVD recorder, I panic a little. Yes, it's been safe for each video before. But is this the point where it fails? Tapes with their ribbons pulled out and torn, scratches on discs, equipment catching fire, photos rumpled in an automatic feed scanner. It would be so easy for the technology to betray us and break something that we can’t fix. We make no promises, but the guilt would be immense.

Less terrifying, but more annoying, is keeping up with maintenance. Software constantly wants updating and someone snuck food in and now I can’t get this -- what even is it? -- off the table. Every six months I edit the desktop’s wallpaper to say that I’ll delete all content left behind the first week of January/July, although I rarely need to since there’s enough space for it to stay.

So far only one person’s materials have been deleted by someone else. It was mine -- I edited our Darien Does Gangnam Style video here. I finalized the video and came back the next day to grab the edit files. Someone had deleted it. Sad for me, but at least a patron had not lost anything.

Looking Ahead
I recently gave a tour for some visiting librarians. They hit me hard and fast with, “If you had unlimited funds, what would you add?” I said that I wanted a $3,000 slide scanner. The current scanner does four at a time, but the one I’m looking at can digitize 100s per hour. I’ve sat too often by someone who realizes the process is slow and then will just choose a few slides per stack to scan instead of scanning them all. It hurts me when I see them give up on those places visited, friends made, and jokes shared. Next I would soundproof the space, but it’s impossible since we would have to close down parts of the adjoining rooms to do it. My colleague suggested a sound booth. Maybe, but the room is small.

Conclusion
I’m immensely proud of bringing my boss’s vision to life. It does more than just create digital experiences. For example, I’ve held around 300 one-on-one tutorial sessions in it when it was not otherwise preoccupied. The flexibility of the space and equipment gives you room to grow as your community’s interests change. However, a DML also needs more staff time than you can likely give it. When planning your space, invest time in creating tutorials and training staff. Keep in mind that people have different learning styles, so make your training resources as variable as you can afford to do so. Most of all, have fun and enjoy what people can create.



Amanda L. Goodman is the user experience (UX) librarian at Darien Library in Connecticut. When not teaching classes, building websites or creating publicity materials, she tweets as @godaisies. She wrote a Library Technology Report on DMLs, which you can download for free.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On Bias

cartoon; panel one, person one says: "Define bias." Person two says, "A careful review of the facts..." panel two, person two leaning into person one angrily, says, "...which results in any viewpoint other than my own!"
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When I teach undergraduates (or anyone, really) about assessing websites for academic use, I start by asking them how they judge websites for themselves. "Pretend this has nothing to do with a class. Tell me how you decide to trust, or not trust, the information you get from the web." Inevitably, the first thing I hear is something about looking at the URL. Every class always talks about the upper-level domain name. Of course, they don't put it in such technological terms, but they talk about .com and .edu and such. I love this for a lot of reasons, but best of all it makes a perfect segue to the point I want to make: that all websites are biased.

Let me say that again: All. Websites. Are. Biased. Websites are created by people, and all people are biased. I repeat: All. People. Are. Biased. We all think we can escape our biases, that somehow *we're* the one who can be truly and completely objective. But that's not how human brains work. Let me lay some science on you... Depending on where and who you are, estimates say that your are receiving millions of distinct pieces of information, and your unconscious brain makes decisions about which ones are important enough to merit attention. If you're really smart and really aware, the things that merit attention can be measured in dozens. The average bear can pay attention to far fewer. And what do our brains do with all the other millions and millions of bits of info? That 3 pound chunk of meat in your skull looks for patterns so it can maps new things onto prior experiences. That lady ahead of you at the grocery store who aggravates you and you don't know why may remind you of that horrible teacher's aide from kindergarten who embarrassed you in front of your friends. Your new coworker about whom you have warm feelings before even getting to know him could bear a resemblance to your childhood best friend's uncle who bought you a second ice cream cone after you dropped your first. You'll dismiss the lady at the grocery store as "rude" and embrace your new coworker as "kind" without even realizing that something about them maps onto your childhood image of "rude" or "kind."

All this came back to mind when I read about a big company that is trying to do to control for unintentional biases in their efforts. It's a short read, but here are the highlights that felt pertinent to libraries:

  • "Focus on skills and eliminate distractions." I've done this by creating interview scripts and listing required skills and knowledge before starting an interview process. There are other ways this could work as well. 
  • "Acknowledge microaggression." Microaggressions are real. Microaggressions happen in libraries all the time. I know I've perpetrated some and I know I've been subject to others. I work hard, every single day, to eliminate them from my spoken and written lexicon and from my actions.
  • "Talk about it." To some extent, I talk with my staff and colleagues about bias. I have also worked to beef up our materials about Islam. We created a display about protest culture and civil rights leaders when #BlackLivesMatters first started to make national headlines. These aren't comfortable conversations to have, but they are important so we work on it.

That last point is so important. To bring this back to how I started today's post: when working with undergraduates, or anyone really, about assessing information sources, I talk to them about how they really need to do what they've already been doing - looking at authority, content, origins, timeliness, and bias (or who, what, where, when, and why) - but doing it intentionally. That's how I think about bias in libraries. I want to keep learning and improving. Intentionally. So should we all, don't you think?

And, by way of parting, here's one of my favorite jokes about acknowledging bias and privilege:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Power to Name, by Jessica Schomberg

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Note: This post is related by a conference proposal I submitted to ACRLNY’s 2016 Symposium Money & Power.


Catalogers establish and/or apply names to library materials as part of their work. After reading a lot of Hope Olson’s work, I realized that power to name has me questioning even more. Who actually does have the power and authority to name? Does literary warrant privilege the naming protocols of certain communities over others? Is a professional reliance on the Library of Congress, which relies on Congressional funding for its continued existence, the best idea if we really want to question the power to name in our application of theory?

Two things that I am mindful of when I think about this sort of thing are the role of Imposter Syndrome and Dunning-Kruger (thanks to Jessica Olin for prompting me on the latter).

Imposter syndrome describes the phenomenon in which high-achieving people can’t recognize their own achievements because, in their view, their flaws loom too large. Research points to some common characteristics in those who experience this. As children, they were often either told that their social skills compensate for their intellectual deficiencies, or told that they don’t have to work hard to learn new things, which is eventually contradicted by reality. As adults, there are lots of things they do that keep them feeling this way: diligence, hard work, and a tendency to over-prepare that often leads to burnout; a need to please their supervisors and avoid conflict, which enhances their self-perception as fake because their ideas aren’t tested and because of their dependence on others’ approval; and avoiding displays of confidence, fearing that they’ll be found out or receive societal disapproval. For people in historically oppressed populations, this is enhanced by a double-bind dilemma.

This leads to a fear of challenging the status quo, even when we are negatively affected by it. To make it more personal (and therefore a bit more real): when I interact with certain areas of the Library of Congress Subject Headings and Classification schedules - about sexuality and illness/disability - it sometimes feels like I’m on the receiving end of microaggressions both as a cataloger and a patron. I remember similar feelings when I was a high school student using the religion section of my public library to research Buddhism, which in Dewey Decimal Classification, was relegated to a tiny number with odd neighbors.

The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when people overestimate how much they know. (It may also lead people to overestimate how easy a particular task is for others.) This results in a pattern in which, because people can’t recognize their own lack of skill, they also can’t recognize when others are skilled in that area. With training, people can recognize their past ignorance, but the problem is most people won’t voluntarily undertake training in an area in which they think they’re already competent.

This can lead to well-intentioned people mistakenly making decisions about areas with which they’re not as familiar as they think they are. In a cataloging context, this means creating subject headings that maintain oppressive perspectives and creating classification hierarchies that place things in areas where they don’t belong. This may also mean not creating subject headings or classification numbers for things that are effectively invisible to the cataloger, or contrary to (Congressionally) established norms.

What now?
I don’t really know. How do we as a profession help each other overcome Imposter Syndrome, so we can feel confident – and safe – enough to challenge oppressive systems? How do we as a profession help each other to recognize Dunning-Kruger at play?

I’ve learned a lot by watching baby-brarians question things on twitter. (Seriously, follow a few MLIS students on social media if you’re not already. They question everything. It’s wonderful.) I’ve also learned a lot by deliberately following librarians who work in libraries that aren’t like mine, librarians who don’t work in libraries at all, library workers who aren’t “credentialed” librarians. Seeking out this kind of learning is one reason I follow many librarians of color, librarians with disabilities, and GLBTQIA+ identifying librarians who ask a lot of questions and point out a lot of problems that I didn’t notice before I engaged in social media. They are helping me question things I had become too accustomed to. And things I was too scared to question. This post = a knees-rattling attempt to overcome my own Imposter Syndrome and Dunning-Kruger tendencies.

How about you? How do you combat these tendencies?



Jessica Schomberg is currently serving as Library Services Department Chair at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where her other hats include Media Cataloger and Assessment Coordinator. This is her second post for LtaYL. The first was “My (Library) Life with Invisible Disabilities.” She tweets as @schomj.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

National Library Week Musings: Patron Agency

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Warning: this is another post where I'm doing the blog post version of throwing spaghetti at a wall to see if it sticks. 

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of agency lately, and I'm still noodling things about (pun intended). People write about having agency, about giving agency, about teaching other people to use theirs, and so on. Since it's National Library Week, I thought it'd be a good time to talk about the role that libraries play in patron/community agency.

Before I get into the body of what I want to say, let me give you a definition of "agency" that fits, mostly, with what I've been thinking. This is from "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy":
In very general terms, an agent is a being with the capacity to act, and ‘agency’ denotes the exercise or manifestation of this capacity. The philosophy of action provides us with a standard conception and a standard theory of action. The former construes action in terms of intentionality, the latter explains the intentionality of action in terms of causation by the agent’s mental states and events. From this, we obtain a standard conception and a standard theory of agency. There are alternative conceptions of agency, and it has been argued that the standard theory fails to capture agency (or distinctively human agency). Further, it seems that genuine agency can be exhibited by beings that are not capable of intentional action, and it has been argued that agency can and should be explained without reference to causally efficacious mental states and events. (source)
So agency is both the ability to form an intention and the ability to take an action. And whenever I read something about libraries and agency, whether it's an academic library talking about information literacy or a public library talking about computer skills, I think about the power dynamic implied when someone says they are giving agency. Libraries are intended to be a democratizing kind of institution, and that's how many of us still see them - or at least that's how we want to see them. We see ourselves as lifting up the members of our communities. But more and more lately, I see that traditional vision of libraries as patronizing and paternalistic claptrap.

We don't give people agency. We give them tools to exercise the agency they already had. We give them a vehicle for its expression. Libraries can and should be a nexus for agency, but you've got to stop thinking of it as a gift we give to our patrons. The day I'm publishing this post is National Library Workers Day, so I feel the need to remind you all that our community members are our partners and they deserve our respect, not our paternalism.

Or, in the words of one of my favorite Twitter accounts...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Just For Fun: "Let Life Be Like Music"

The title of this post comes from a short poem by Langston Hughes. That line fits so perfectly with this month's topic: songs I use for specific purposes in my life. I was listening to my comfort song (see below) last week, and it occurred to me, after I'd explained the reason I was listening to that one song again and again, that everyone who likes music should have songs like these that they can pull out at a moment's notice. Here are my categories, and the songs I use.

A Song that Always Makes Me Happy
I'm sure I'd heard "Ode to Joy" before I saw The Money Pit, but I know that movie is what made me fall in love with the song. There are lots of versions of this song out there, including one performed by Beaker (singing all the different parts), but my very favorite - the one I turn up as high as my speakers will go when nobody else is in the library and I'm working late, is below.




A Song that Comforts Me
The music part of this song is right up my alley - a style of music I call "whiny white rock/folk" - but it's the lyrics that touch me most when I listen to "All Will Be Well," by The Gabe Dixon Band.



My Psych Up Song
I love Jamiroquai. There's something about the combination of funk and jazz, with some pop and rock and disco thrown into the mix, that has always struck a chord (pun intended). Of all their songs, though, "Use the Force" is by far my favorite. I love the lyrics and the music and the beat and... well, I love everything about this song. "I must believe I can do everything."



A Song I Love to Sing
I grew up in the 80s, so there was no escaping the voice of Stevie Nicks on the radio. And I loved her voice. Still do. Best of all, my vocal range is very similar to hers, which means singing along to her music is natural and fun for me. A few years back, I heard "Landslide," a song she wrote and performed with Fleetwood Mac on my ride to work. It wasn't the first time I'd heard it, but something about that time made the lyrics feel fresh and new. It's been my favorite song to sing ever since.



A Song that Makes Me Dance
Just press play and you'll hear why I cannot be still while this song is playing. Well, since this is the official video, you have to wait for the initial dialog to pass. (I love the production quality of Outkast videos.) But really, even as I type this sentence, listening to this song is making typing hard because I'm dancing in my seat. Love Outkast. Love "Hey Ya!"




How about you? Do you have a psych up song? A comfort song? A different category that I didn't cover here?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Telling the Story


A while ago, I want to say it may have even been months, someone asked me to write about how to use storytelling to convince people to change things within a certain part of the library. I've tried to write that post about a half dozen times, and each iteration left me feeling even less convinced that I knew what I was doing. I have used storytelling to make my case. Many times, actually. Recently, even. But putting it in a specific context, especially one with which I'm not as familiar, felt awkward.

Add to that awkwardness the fact that storytelling might not always be the best tool. Sure, it's one I use most often. Then again, I'm a good writer and I can be very convincing with other communication as well. I'm quick with jokes. I'm fantastic at finding analogies to explain myself. All my rumination helped me come to a conclusion, a way to write this post.

I tell stories to convince people of my perspective because you need to work to your strengths. I've talked a lot, maybe on this blog and definitely when talking in person, about figuring out the best methods to convince your audience of your way of thinking. I've talked about how if your boss, or your prospective collaboration partner, or whomever, is more of a numbers person then you should use numbers. The same goes with stories. That's important, yes, but I think it's more important to work to your strengths. And storytelling is definitely my strength.

Having said that, some key points of my storytelling techniques could help you:
  • Don't abandon numbers completely. Talking about how "1 in 5 of our patrons will run into this problem" after you've painted a compelling picture of wireless connectivity in a specific location will add weight to your claims.
  • Avoid talking about how this proposal will help you. Sure, the new software will make life easier for you, but who else will it help? Instead of "this will make my life so much easier because I won't have to do needless busy work," try: "If you give us this support, it will minimize our turnaround time for students who use this service."
  • Make it personal. "Jane Patron told me, just the other day, about how hard it is for her to [do this thing]. You know Jane, right? She's in here all the time. Well, this program would be perfect for Jane Patron and others."
  • If you know the person you are trying to convince is more easily swayed by numbers, get help. The best proposals really do combine both, so if you're doing something formal, try to use a mix. 
How about you? What storytelling techniques do you recommend? Or, if you're more of a numbers person, how do you envision persuasion getting easier or harder if you tried to incorporate storytelling?