Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What Makes a Program Successful?


The new academic year starts in less than a month, so we are in the process of wrapping up summer projects and girding our loins for the fall. Part of that loin girding is figuring out what programs we're going to run - are we going to repeat what we've done in the past? Come up with something new? A combination of the new and the old?

In making decisions about the future, I of course have to think about the past: which events were successful, and which were unsuccessful? When thinking about the unsuccessful events, I try to consider what made them unsuccessful and whether or not there's something I think I can do to improve things in the future. And I always have to remind myself that sometimes success or lack thereof isn't something I had control over - weather and unexpected competition on campus have sunk my programs more than once.

In looking at my past successes and failures, I've come up with a few measures I use to judge:

  • What was the cost per participant? One of my best attended and most successful programs ended up costing less than $1 per attendee.
  • How many people attended? I always compare attendance with the size of my community. Events that might seem poorly attended somewhere else, based on numbers, might be a big success on my campus. I once attracted enough students that they represented just over 5% of our undergraduate population. That's a HUGE success for a dry event on a Friday night.
  • Did people enjoy themselves? Watching body language can tell you a lot, but nothing beats actually asking people if they had fun. Another way I know people have enjoyed themselves is when they ask if/when we'll be hosting the event again.
  • Did I achieve the goal(s) I had for the event? Sometimes the goals have nothing to do with attendance. For instance, my Banned Books Read Out isn't hugely popular - we only attract 20-30 students every year - but my goal for this event is political awareness and education. Talking about why people have challenged books isn't always fun, but it does always result in learning.
What about you? If you run events at your library, how do you decide if it is successful? Unsuccessful? And how about the other side of it? How do you decide that an event you attended was successful?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Taking Care of Yourself, by Yvonne Mulhern


Librarianship has always been a service profession. People attracted to service (nursing, teaching, etc.) want to help others, which is great.  On the other hand, those who are “helpers” can sometimes suffer mental, physical and/or emotional burnout. Hopefully some of the tips below will remind you treat yourself well. I know these have helped me. Because if you don’t do it, who will?
  1. Get optimal amounts of healthful food, sleep, exercise, and medical care*.   The mental and physical benefits of good food, sleep, and exercise are woefully underestimated by most people. Who hasn’t heard those “humble brags” from co-workers about the four hours of sleep they scrape by on, the piles of work that overwhelm them, or how they can’t remember their last decent meal? Continual exhaustion, physical pain, and/or stress are not “a part of life” or a sign of your indispensability. Rather, they are indicators that something is amiss.  Medical check-ups should help catch problems early, which saves time, anguish, and expense.   Block out appointments on your calendar for appointments with medical professionals. Visit one per week (or month, if absolutely necessary) until you’ve gone through them all.  
  2. Enlist support and technology.  Many, many people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, eat better, “get in shape,” etc. only to fall back off the wagon in a few months.  Avoid this fate with realistic goals, concrete deadlines, and visible reminders.  Decide what you need to do differently: center less of your social gatherings on fast food? Go to meet-ups with people who share your health goals? Don’t forget to seek emotional support, whether it is in person or online. 43things.com is a community of people pursuing goals like “lose weight and exercise more. If you have a mobile device, there is a plethora of health-related apps to choose from.
  3. Your health is not just physical. Although our society still stigmatizes mental illness, 1 in 4 people have an issue with it at some point.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of, any more than conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or allergies.  Get professional help if you can afford it, or talk to friends or look for support online if you can’t.
  4. No one is irreplaceable (at work).   Don’t push yourself to the point of no return. If you have a chronic condition that is interfering with your work performance, you may want to look into the Family Medical Leave Act (in America, at least).  If you are doing double duty because of budget constraints, try a tactful discussion with your supervisor about what is essential and what needs to be let go. Use concrete figures and mission statements to bolster your case. If at all possible, delegate. It will save you time in the long run, and your delegate gets some much-needed experience. Win win!

*If you don’t have health insurance, good self-care is even more important.  In the meantime, you may want to take a look at some of Consumer Report’s tips for the uninsured.

Yvonne Mulhern is an academic librarian and co-director of the Texas Social Media Research Institute.  She wrote the guest post “Surviving Your Library Job Search” in 2011. She’s also a raw vegan. You can follow her on Twitter @MissCybrarian or circle her on Google+.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Social Media for Professional Development

A couple of weeks ago, I was the guest on the LiTTech Show. It was fun talking about how I use social networks for more than socializing. I shared it all around - Twitter, Facebook, Google+ - so you may have already listened to it. In case you missed it, here it is again. (Fair warning: the sound quality isn't the best.)

I'm posting it again for two reasons: (1) to make sure everyone got a chance to listen to it, but also because (2) there's a point that I didn't get to make while I was talking. I've seen a lot of talk about personal learning networks lately, and social media is the foundation of mine. Working at a small, liberal arts college has a lot to recommend it, but the relative lack of available budget for professional development can be a problem at times. That's why social media is crucial for me. Whether it's the blogs I read, or the Twitter streams I follow, or even the Pinterest boards in which I participate, there's always something to help me grow as a librarian.

So how about you? How do you use social media? Is it in a purely social (non-professional) way? Professional development? Both?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Understanding the Users and Their Needs Is Critical in the Library, by Melissa Doyle


There’s a schism between what they teach you in library school and what actually happens in libraries. It’s no secret; I’ve even had a professor mention reading articles and books about “what they don’t teach you” about working in a library.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have a part-time job at an academic library while in graduate school. I got the job from a classmate, and started working weeks after the program began. I am hyperaware that my situation is exceptional, and I do not take it for granted. That said, I am also in a position to constantly juxtapose the theoretical library of class lectures with that of the real world library.

The academic library I work for is small. The institution is a small liberal arts-based university in a rural area.  Our needs are pretty different from other academic libraries, and it’s created quite a challenge for me as a grad student. 

My experience has been that being aware of patron demographics is not a significant part of the curriculum.  However, it is a very important component of librarianship. If you don’t know who you’re serving, how will you be able to serve them? Seems to me an obvious question to address, yet it’s been largely ignored in my classes. 

Knowing who you serve is important on so many levels, from spending money wisely to communicating with the patrons. In my opinion (admittedly one of a student, but a student with work experience), it is the key to a successful library. There’s a common phrase used in writing and performing, “know your audience,” and it is absolutely applicable in other realms, particularly the library where we are entrenched in service and our community.

Yet it’s barely been mentioned in any of my classes. Sure, I’ve had projects where I had to give a general description of the library and the patrons, but never enough to impact the project itself. It was almost an afterthought to the assignment.

At my job, I have noticed that the concepts taught in library school are not always the best fit. For the most part, our students do not have a need for several hundred databases. I have learned this from interacting with the students, learning what their assignments are, and talking with the professors. On the contrary, my courses have shifted the focus to electronic resource providers such as EBSCOhost and ProQuest and all that they make available. I do believe these are wonderful for research and accessibility, however any more than a handful for each subject taught is definitely overkill. 

So here I am, weeks away from finishing my MLIS program, and I am contemplating how to approach finding out what the users’ needs are as a professional librarian. I’ve learned about needs assessments and surveys from the librarians, which are used to ask the faculty what they teach in class and to find out what the students want to read more of for fun. I encourage everyone to consider the importance of learning who is coming into the library, what they need, and how to find out their needs.

Melissa Doyle is a Library Assistant at Reinhardt University and she is about to graduate with her MLIS from University of North Texas.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Making My Office My Own

Warning: there are some pictures and words that qualify as "Not Safe For Work" in this post (blue language). Well, not safe for some work places. They are obviously safe for mine, since this week I'm writing about how I have my office decorated.

You see, when I got my first professional position, I played it super safe with decorating my office. No toys to speak of, posters that anyone anywhere would post, and nothing of consequence (other than my name plate) on my door. My current office couldn't be more different. I can always tell when someone hasn't been in my work abode before, even if I don't remember. Eyes get big. Sometimes mouths drop open. It's so much fun to watch people who have never been in here before. As you can see from the pictures below, there's a lot to look at in my office. Truth is, there's plenty more that I haven't shown you, but I figured this would be enough to give you an idea.

You see, my office really does reflect me and my personality. As I've said before, and as I'll probably say again, letting my personality show (read: letting my nerd flag fly) enhances my relationship with my community.

Here's the sight that greets people as they approach my office:

Yes, you do see multiple representations of Chewbacca. And of Barbara Gordon.

I also have a couple of bulletin boards that are worth sharing:

Read a Fucking Book
Honk If You're a Believer

I've also got toys...

Love Rat FTW!

And comic books...

Pride of place (middle slot) goes to my favorite comic publisher.

So, why am I sharing this with you? Other than showing off my rad collection, I mean. I'm sharing it to once again exhort you to be yourself. I work in a place where I'm not only allowed to be myself, I'm valued for who I am. You don't have to be as extreme in your decoration. After all, I have posted six instances the f-bomb, or derivations thereof: three on this picture, one on this, one in this comic, and then the lovely bumper sticker that was a gift of a member of our communication department.

And that's what I wish for you. Even if you don't have it now, I hope you eventually get to work in a place that doesn't just value your librarian skills, that values you as a whole person.

For those of you who have an office (or cubicle), what kinds of stuff do you have in there? Toys? Posters from a fantastic concert? Pictures of your pet ferret?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Loving the Questions, by Andy Burkhardt

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

The above quote is one of my favorites. It is from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, the collection of letters for which this blog is named. It stresses the importance of questions themselves, as opposed to seeking only answers. Good questions send you on a quest, and arriving at a single answer puts an end to the quest.

Some of the best advice that I can give to new librarians is an echo of Rilke’s guidance: love questions and questioning. Even when you have an answer don’t stop questioning. Ask questions purposefully.

One of the biggest strengths that a new librarian brings to their position and their new team is their fresh eyes. A new librarian may not have the same level of knowledge as one who is more seasoned, but that is not always a bad thing. Knowledge can at times be a curse. New librarians are unencumbered by the view that “this is the way we have always done things.”

New librarians should be asking questions and challenging what has always been done. Perhaps a service was originally implemented to fulfill a user need, but that need has since changed and the service needs to be dropped or updated. It is difficult for librarians with a lot of experience and institutional memory to see that a change is needed because it has become routine. Asking “why” gives people the gift of fresh eyes and helps the library to move forward.

When asking questions though, it’s important to ask them in a purposeful and helpful way. Instead of asking “can we get rid of this reference collection?” it would be exceedingly more helpful to ask “is this reference collection getting a lot of use? Is it still serving our users?” Instead of asking questions that tear down, ask questions that encourage and allow others to create. “Can you tell me about a time when you had a really amazing reference interaction? What made that successful? How can we build more of that into our reference service?”

Developing a knack for asking questions regularly and purposefully is one of the most important things new librarians can do. We can’t continue to do the same things we always done. But by staying curious and asking questions, new librarians can help us all create the future of libraries.

Andy Burkhardt is the Emerging Technology Librarian at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. He tweets @vonburkhardt and blogs at Information Tyrannosaur.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To Facebook or Not To Facebook, That Is The Question

Is it bad that I like seeing the Fail Whale? S/he's too cute & happy to hate.

I don't quite remember how we got on the topic, but I had a long conversation with a coworker last week about the approach I take to managing my library's social networking presence, and about the successes I've seen with our Facebook page. She shocked me by suggesting I offer a workshop for the campus on the topic. I balked at this, since I don't think of myself as an expert on social networking, especially since we've really only had an active presence since the beginning of this year. However, social networking does seem perfect topic for a blog post, so here we are...

Yes. You read that correctly: my library only began our active engagement with Facebook at the beginning of 2012. It might seem odd, since libraries have been on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and MySpace (remember MySpace?) for a very long time now. I'll own it: I'm the reason we hadn't done anything yet. You see, I think very few institutions do social networking right, and I didn't want my library to be yet another example of what not to do. That's how I felt for a long time. Then I read this blog post by Steven Bell and this one by Brian Mathews, and it opened my eyes. Between these two giants of academic librarianship, I found a reason for my library to embark on a social networking journey: it was another venue to talk with the passionate library users in my community. So, instead of pushing my and/or my library's agenda out through Facebook and Twitter, I mostly post things that I think will make our followers think or smile or even laugh. Also, and I'm not sure where I got this idea, but I once read or someone told me that the reason people follow a Twitter stream &/or like a Facebook page is because they want to hear from that entity, so I post every weekday - without fail. 

Here are some examples of what I've posted:
  • Important information like when the library has a change in hours;
  • Interesting new acquisitions (almost exclusively popular materials);
  • Relevant news items such the death of a famous author/musician or award announcements;
  • lots and lots of pretty &/or funny pictures that are at least tangentially related to the library;
  • every once in a great while, something just for the fun of it.

Admittedly, I'm still experimenting with different ratios of this kind of post to that, with time of day, and so on, but I know I'm achieving my aim. How do I know it's working? I've seen a slow but steady growth in our  following, and that tells me that I'm doing something right. More importantly, though, people "like" our posts - people who don't work in the library. I've even had people seek me out in person to tell me how much they liked something I posted. That tells me that I'm reaching those passionate library users, and that's what I wanted.

So how about you? What makes you like &/or follow a institutional account? What are your pet peeves? What makes you unlike/unfollow? If you are in charge of an institutional account, how do you pick what you're going to post?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

First Thursday's Just For Fun: Firefly & Serenity

I've been spending time, recently, introducing someone to Firefly. I've been obsessed with this show for such a long time that watching it through his eyes - seeing him encounter all the wonders of that "crap hill 'verse" for the first time - has reminded me of why I fell for this show in the first place. I suggest IMDB for details about the series, since I'd rather spend my time writing about the top 5 reasons why I love Firefly (and the subsequent movie, Serenity):

  • Firefly is eminently quotable. From "we are just too pretty for God to let us die," spoken by Mal in the first minutes of the first episode, to the captain's final exchange with River Tam in the last minutes of the movie - River: "Storm's getting worse." Mal: "We'll pass through it soon enough." - there are so many quotable moments that it's hard to keep track.

Picture Source
  • Joss Whedon's storytelling reaches a new high. I've adored Joss Whedon for a while. I've watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and of Angel multiple times. Which series did I buy, though? Only Firefly.
  • It's a story about a group, not about the individuals in the group. Sure, Malcolm Reynolds is the glue that holds the rest of the group together, but the story itself is no more about Mal than it is about Zoe or River. When my Firefly neophyte asked me, in response to me laughing long and hard over something that Wash says, if Wash is my favorite character, I had to think about it. For sure, I identify most closely with Wash, but I couldn't really pick a favorite. I love Kaylee's eternal optimism; Mal's pragmatism; Jayne's self-assurance; etc. But I can't imagine the series without every single character, since they're each crucial to the whole.
  • The cast was amazing. I had seen most of the cast in other roles before I found Firefly, but it took me a long while to realize it with most of them. In fact, it wasn't until I watched Death at a Funeral shortly after one of my periodic rewatchings of Firefly that I realized I'd been loving Alan Tudyk in both without making the connection that it was the same actor.
  • Despite everything else that happens in the post-war, post-post-apocalyptic 'verse, the crew of the Serenity never gives up. That's what I want from dystopian literature/movies/television series: a sense of hope. Even in the midst of the worst moments, they keep on keeping on. Actually, I suspect it's that underlying optimism that has made such rabid followers of all of us Browncoats. In the words of the theme song, "you can't take the sky from me."
How about you? I'm assuming you're a fellow Browncoat if you read this far, so tell me why you love Firefly  and Serenity so much.

And let me leave you with this video of some of the best quotes:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Frye Leadership Institute, Class of 2012, Or, Finding My Tribe

I can admit it now, especially since it’s in the past, but I was a bit intimidated when I saw a list of the company I’d be keeping as a member of the Frye Leadership Institute, Class of 2012. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m not confident in my skills. I received my Master’s in Library and Information Sciences in 2003 and I’ve been a librarian long enough to feel I usually know what I’m talking about. Heck, people seem to listen when I speak. I love what I do and I’m pretty good at it. It’s just that there’s something about the prestige of big name schools and impressive sounding titles that gave me pause.

Pause or no, I reminded myself that I was selected to participate for a reason. Perhaps it was to balance administrators and managers with a few people lower on the organization chart. Perhaps it had something to do with how outspoken I can be. Perhaps it was to balance the prestigious, research institutions with a locally-respected-but-not-nationally-known, small, liberal arts college. Regardless of the reason, I wasn’t going to let my momentary trepidation stop me. I packed my bags and off I went to DC.

My fellow Fryers are probably going to be surprised to read my admission of nervousness because by the second day, I was over it. That’s also when I noticed that we were becoming a cohesive group. Despite our varied backgrounds, institutions, career stages, it quickly became apparent that we all cared about the same things: thoughtful innovation and collaboration, the success of our institutions, and the success of our communities. That age-old cliché of saying the same things but talking about them with different vocabularies? We were living examples of that, but instead of being divided by those differences, we found ways to communicate and to balance and encourage each other.

If that had been it, just spending time with the other Frye Fellows would have been an amazing experience. But there was much more. We also got to listen to and speak with a cross-section of thought leaders and influential figures in higher education. Our deans were Joanne Kossuth, Vice President for Operations and CIO at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, and Elliot Shore, CIO and Director of Libraries at Bryn Mawr College. In addition to spending time with our deans, they arranged for us to hear from and speak with:

Even more impressive than the fact that we had the opportunity to speak with these people was the way that every single visitor was open, frank, and honest in their discussion. Even when we asked them tough questions (and we did ask them tough questions), these people answered. Best of all, spending time talking about the issues facing higher education, in roleplaying exercises and small group discussions and even out at dinner, completely shattered our stereotypes and preconceived ideas about people in these roles.

That’s the point of Frye. These experiences taught us to let go of the prejudices and stereotypes we had about the people who don’t inhabit our particular silos in higher education. That was one of my biggest take-away from the week I spent at the Frye Leadership Institute. I wasn’t alone in these impressions. Whenever I looked at the Twitter backchannel, I saw these ideas popping up again and again. (And don’t worry if you missed all our Twitter chatter. It’s been captured and I’m working on making it accessible.)

Even though we’ve all returned to our institutions, our work is only beginning. We’ve already done preliminary work on some amazing, collaborative, and innovative projects. I’m sure you’ll hear more from the Frye Leadership Institute, Class of 2012, in the future. In the meantime, if you want to keep tabs on us, you can always follow us on Twitter (a list which represents 34 of the 41 fellows).

I have to laugh now about that initial sense of intimidation, but I can still understand it. If you’re considering applying to a future iteration of the Frye Leadership Institute, but are hesitating for whatever reason, let me reassure you: please just apply. If you don’t think your small institution can afford it, there are scholarships. If it’s a feeling of confusion about whether or not you’ll belong, don’t worry. You will. Innovation is why the Frye Fellows came together, and innovation is something that cuts across school type and size and the roll you play in your institution, and even across the academy writ large. I went to Frye a little unsure. I came away not only knowing that I belonged, but also with the feeling that I had found my peer group. As I said to my fellow Fryers on our final night together, I feel as though I’ve found my tribe.