Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Fitting” into the Big Tent: The Role of “Fit” and Moving Between Library Types, by Becky Yoose


Library workers perform and specialize in similar core duties throughout different types of libraries: aiding patrons with their inquiries, organizing information, maintaining and preserving physical and electronic collections, providing services and programs, and so on . One would assume that, provided that the worker can perform the duties, the worker can work in a variety of library types in their career, including academic, public, special, and school libraries.

I am a firm believer of Andy Woodworth’s Big Tent Librarianship philosophy. No matter what type of library or information environment we work in, we all share a common core of beliefs and skills that we can use to benefit all library and information organizations. Outside of the common core, we all stand to learn from each other in terms of challenges faced by each organization type. Cross pollination is a sign of a thriving environment.

And yet the reality is much more... quirky.

When I applied for an IT manager position at The Seattle Public Library, I was concerned that my lack of public library experience would negate all the other qualifications and experience I gained in my many years in academic libraries. Why? A sizeable portion of that concern results from the well documented bias in hiring committees surrounding “fit”. Like tends to seek out like, which makes it harder for those who want to transition from one organization type to another. You’ve probably experienced this roadblock if, for example, you are a public library worker applying for an academic library position, and vice versa. The “fit” roadblock extends to within organization types, creating another level of frustration for workers. Community college transitioning to a four year research university, rural or small public library transitioning to an urban or large public library - if you haven’t experienced the difficulty for yourself, you probably know someone who did.

In short, you have your work cut out for you.

What can you, as an applicant who wants to make the transition, do to better your chances?

    Research. Obvious first step is obvious. If you come charging into a hiring process saying “I can do x, y, and z!” without any knowledge as to how x, y, and z would fit into the new environment, then you’re no better off than the applicant that hands in a generic cover letter and resume. If your mind glazes over when looking at the hiring library’s information, here are some starter questions:
     Which populations do they serve (along with major demographic factors)?
     What are their popular/prominent collections, services, classes, and programs?
     What is their strategic goal/mission and how does that fit in current operations?
    Create the crosswalk. Now that you have a sense of the hiring organization, your focus now is to see how you can take your current skills and knowledge and convince the hiring organization that those skills can benefit them. Organizing programs and classes in one type of library can transfer over to another: securing event space, working with organizations/individuals outside the library, marketing, and volunteer wrangling are some common threads in program/class organization. Organizing and managing information can be crosswalked as well, including tools and standards.
    Be prepared to answer “Why?”. Indeed, during my interviews with SPL, the question came up - “Why are you wanting to work in a public library when you’ve worked in academic libraries?” You will get this question on multiple occasions during the interview process. Spend time reflecting on this question before the interview process - if you need a starting place for your reflection, look at the hiring organization’s mission statement or the community they serve and work from there. The most important thing, in the end, is to be honest in your answer.

With some crosswalking of skills, additional research, and a concise answer to the inevitable question of “Why?” (and probably a good amount of luck), I managed to successfully make the transition from academic to public libraries.  Again, I could have done all those things and still not made the transition due to hiring committee factors, and you might find yourself in the same place. Many hiring committees are still unaware of the “fit” roadblock that they made for applicants in the hiring process. Because of this, the burden shifts to the applicant (you!) to prove that your skills are valuable and applicable to the organization, no matter which part of the Big Tent you worked in the past to gain those skills. It’s more work on your end, but until we see a more systematic way of addressing bias in library hiring processes, it’s what we have at the moment. Nevertheless, there is room to move under the Big Tent - go forth and explore all the corners of the Tent!

(“But wait,” you might say before going off to explore, “what can be done in hiring committees to address the roadblock? And how do I make sure I don’t fall into that same trap when I get onto a hiring committee?” Stay tuned for part two which focuses on the hiring committee part of the process!)

Becky Yoose is the Library Systems and Applications Manager at The Seattle Public Library. She tweets at @yo_bj.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What To Ask When You’re Given a New Project, by Zoe Fisher


Interview questions commonly begin with, “Tell me about a time when you…” In your answer, interviewers expect you to cite specific examples—such as projects completed, programs led, and classes taught. But when you’re a new professional or a current graduate student, how do you sniff out the best projects? How can you tell when you’re being given an initiative that will grow your career, or a task that will just pass the time? The following questions should be considered whenever you are charged with a new endeavor. If you can’t answer these questions at the time of assignment, be sure to ask your supervisor or the person leading the project. They should be able to answer these questions—and, in the best work environments, they will graciously invite your feedback and comments for improvement.

What are the expected outcomes for this project or program? How will you know that I’ve done well?
As with any project, you should feel confident that you know what is expected of you. If possible, ask to see examples of what’s worked in the past. Do your best to get a sense of what “successful” looks like in this situation. Maybe it’s weeding 10% of the fiction collection, increasing interactions with patrons from last year’s baseline, or organizing and scanning the mysterious contents of a recently retired colleague’s file drawer. Every task, no matter how big or small, should have a desired outcome, and the person assigning the task should care that the work is done well.

How does this project or program relate to our goals (as a department, library, etc.)?
If you’re in a new role, this question should help you get a sense of how your individual work aligns with your department and the library at large. What is the role of your department, and how does it work within the library? What is the library doing to improve and grow? With that in mind, how does your project help the library meet its goals? You want to know that your work matters to the organization, and the connection between your task and bigger goals should be clear.

What’s at stake in this project? What would be the impact if this project didn’t happen?
If you’re being asked to do several things at once, this answer can help you prioritize. In most cases, a project with low stakes can be put on the back burner in favor of projects that have an immediate impact on your coworkers, your patrons, and library operations. But don’t let a project with seemingly low stakes get you down—sometimes it can be difficult to see the big impact of a project until it’s finished.

What do I already know that I’ll be able to use in this project? Is there anything new that I need to learn or find out?
This is a good time to clarify what resources are needed in order to do this project. Do you need to call or e-mail someone you’ve never met? Use new software? Access files or materials you haven’t used before? Hopefully there are some new things to learn in this project—that’s the fun part!

If you can’t get answers to these questions, or you’re not comfortable with the answers you receive, proceed with caution. The project might still be a good opportunity, but you will need to do the extra legwork of figuring out what you need to do and why you were tasked with this in the first place.  Keep these questions in mind as you work--remembering what you achieved and why it mattered will help you immensely the next time you’re asked to talk about your contributions to your library.

Zoe Fisher is an Assistant Professor, Pedagogy & Assessment Librarian at the University of Colorado Denver. As an information literacy instruction librarian, she is very concerned with outcomes. She blogs at and tweets at @zoh_zoh.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Six Years of Letters

Can you believe I've been writing this blog for six years now? SIX YEARS? Every time my bloggiversary comes around, it startles me to think about the time I've invested in shaking my fist at the world. And, yes, I still think of this blog as me yelling into the void about things that are important to me.

Anyway, for this anniversary - beyond my giveaway contest (details below) - I thought I'd share a list of some of my favorite things I've written here. These are posts that I think really hit the mark on what I was trying to say.

So now it's time for the contest. This year all you have to do is tell me which LtaYL post is your favorite (so long as it's not something you wrote). You can comment here or on Twitter or Tumblr, just make sure if it's not here that you tag me in some way. Also make sure I know how to get in touch with you. You'll win a $50 donation to the book-based charity of your choice and a book for you of my choice (to be determined once I pick a random winner). The deadline for submissions is June 12, 11:59, Eastern Daylight Time.

And, as always, thank you so much for continuing to read my rants. I'd probably write this blog anyway without an audience, but having one makes it more fun.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Just for Fun: Copper and Cut Grass

I am firmly and completely head-over-heels in love with the October Daye books by Seanan McGuire. Some of why I love these books are tied to spoiler-y, things such as characters who I 'shipped early on getting together later in the series, but worry not if you haven't read these books yet because I've decided to make this spoiler free.

  • These are urban fairy mysteries. Urban fey stories mashed up with great mystery stories. The main character, Toby Daye, is a private investigator and she's also a changeling - half fairy and half human. Prior to the series, she worked for humans, but during the series she works exclusively within the local fairy population.
  • No rape, at all, not even as a plot point. Yes, there's murder - that's kind of the point of most mystery series - but no rape is a nice reassuring thing as I read books.
  • The world building is immersive and consistent and amazing. The stories are mostly set in and around San Francisco, both in the fairy worlds that touch on that part of California and in the human parts. The way magic works is consistent and the geography feels real.
  • This is a minor spoiler, but it's for something that comes up in the first book fairly early on so it's not going to ruin the books - I love the rose goblin Spike. He's an animate rose bush that is shaped loosely like a cat and that also acts like a cat. Love love love him.
  • I've mostly listened to these books, and the narrator for the series thus far - Mary Robinette Kowal - is absolutely perfect for the material.
And as proof of how much I love this series, let me submit the following two pieces of proof:
  • I named my home wifi network "Tamed Lightning" which is also the name of one of the counties in the books.
  • I wear this t-shirt on a regular basis:

So how about you? Have you read these books? What do you love about them? If you haven't read them, have I convinced you to give them a try?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Interview Post: Gillian Byrne

Staged Reenactment



Gillian Byrne

Current job?

Manager of the Toronto Reference Library, which is part of the Toronto Public Library system.

How long have you been in the field?

17 years as an academic librarian, 3 months as a public librarian.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

Pictures aren’t mandatory for this answer, right? [Editor’s Note: As you can see from above, I convinced the author to take a picture after all.] Piles of paper everywhere (and no, there’s no secret system where I know what’s in each pile). Not a lot of knick-knacks or personalization. I’d like to say that this is because I’ve just moved in, but in all honestly, I don’t pay a lot of attention to my work surroundings. I often don’t even notice that I’m working in the dark until someone comes to see me. If I have a computer and coffee, I’m usually good.

How do you organize your days?

My days organize me, really. Flexibility is a must. I keep a keen eye on deadlines, but don’t tend to block off time, use to-do lists, or in any traditional way optimize my efficiency. I do plan, but it tends to be opportunistic – “ooh look at that lovely free day I have next Tuesday, going to do all the things!”

What do you spend most of your time doing?

Sitting in meetings is an obvious answer, but what I do more than people generally realize is to, well, *think*. I spend a lot of time in my office or wandering around the building mulling over thorny problems/strategic approaches, etc. As a profession, I don’t know that we’ve built this into our work culture very well. Effectiveness is something more than busy-ness. And, in my experience, once I’ve thought a long time about something, I can move pretty fast.
What is a typical day like for you?
I’m three months into a new job, so that’s something I’m still figuring out. Over my career, I’ve been fond of getting an early start – that hour or so before anyone else is around is great for prepping for the day. From there I tend to mentally divide my days into “meeting days” – where 2 or more meetings are on the docket, and “free days” where I’m less scheduled. On meeting days my energies are devoted to preparing for meetings and following up after them. Days where I’m less structured I tend to look at my deadlines, then select the priority work that matches what I’d like to do. There’s always enough work, so for example, the days I’m feeling creative, I might work on long term planning, and the days I’ve feeling analytical I’ll work on policy development. That said, all of this will get quickly pushed aside when something comes up. And when you’re part of the team that runs the largest branch of the largest public library system in Canada, something always comes up!
What are you reading right now?
Confessions of a library worker: I go through phases where I just don’t read. I’ve got a bunch of articles on library space bookmarked for when I have the spare brainpower, and the new George Saunders novel on hold. It’ll right itself eventually.
What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Something along the lines of “your enthusiasm is great, but can be exhausting”. I’m not a linear thinker and when I get ideas, I can’t always communicate them in a way that’s understandable to others. At my worst I’m tripping over words, jumping from one idea to the next, barely allowing people time to breathe. [Look up any of my recorded conference presentations. I’ll wait.] After hearing this early in my career I’ve focused hard on ensuring my communication skills are equal to my enthusiasm.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?

Oh gosh, these days everything! I find myself continually amazed at the breadth of work public library workers do for – and with - their communities. I’m getting involved in emergency planning as part of my job; it’s this entirely new and complex world I’m excited to explore.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Professional wrestling (in an alternate universe where I wasn’t carrying all the injuries of my careless youth…and had some talent).

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Elementary school teacher. I can’t imagine having that much direct responsibility for children’s success, day in, day out. So much respect.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Patience. I was born without any and have managed to discipline myself into a little, but on my bad days I think I’m more likely to gain the power to fly than wait patiently.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Throughout my career, I’ve tried hard to be as transparent as possible as a manager. I think particularly in academic libraries, management is often seen as a black hole, or as oppositional to the work that goes on in libraries. It’s not always clear what management positions do, what the work is like, how decisions are made. So my proudest accomplishment is the people who have told me that they view library administration differently – or are even more interested in moving into management - because of something I’ve written or said (or ranted about). The thing about being a manager is that you’ll fail more than you succeed, most of the time. To be honest and open about that isn’t always easy, but so important.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
My very first management job was as head of circulation. The staff were fantastic and open to doing new things. I had this half-baked idea about rearranging the reserve stacks and carelessly mentioned it a meeting. I thought I was throwing out ideas, staff heard a directive. The staff being their amazing selves, went out and did the move in like a day! It turned out to be a terrible idea. I immediately apologized and we talked about expectations and communications. It’s been the major lesson of my career – when initiatives fail, it’s almost always because we haven’t taken enough time to ensure everyone involved has a shared understanding of what’s going on.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Exploring the many fine craft beers of Toronto and/or looking for neighbourhood cats to pet.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Oh gosh, so many people. Can I cheat and say I’d love to hear from an archivist or two, library workers in non-traditional roles, and librarians in their first couple of years on the job?

Gillian is on Twitter as @gillmbyrne.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Leadership Transition

I'm winding down my time at my current institution - I've basically got 3 weeks left here, but I'm taking a week off in the middle to take care of all those details that need attention when you're moving states away. And in anticipation of my move, I've been co-writing a document with the person who will be interim director. This document is partially to help the interim director between when I leave and when the new director is hired, but also to help my boss (the provost) as well as the next director. We've spent hours so far on this document and will be spending more time between now and my last day. Thought I'd share with you all the kinds of things we're including.

  1. Who to talk to, and how, about what. Sure, people have job titles that are easy to find, but job titles and knowledge don't always correspond. There are always people in any library/college/government/etc., who are great but you really need to talk to their administrative assistant if you want action on something. Some people respond better to email whereas others you need to call. And then there are the people who will promise you the moon but won't deliver unless you can prove they made a promise. This transition document we're writing has things like who to contact when you need new keys or have questions about student workers, who to call about accounts payable and how to get changes made to the website. These are all little things I had to learn for myself, so I might as well pass on the knowledge.
  2. What ongoing projects will need attention soon. Because of the way things worked out with my job transition, I'm going to be able to handle pretty much all of the big projects that are in motion, but not all. Some things are sort of on hold because we're in summer session, for instance.
  3. Overview of what I do in an average month. Everything from "pay bills" to "biweekly staff update email" to "work with local and statewide library oriented organizations" is listed. I've also included a rough estimate of how much time I spend on each of these, but that is more for the higher ups so they know what the interim director will be trying to fit into their 35 hour work week.
  4. A list of projects I never got to. Of course, each person new to a job will want to come up with their own projects, however I did some preliminary work for some of these and wanted to share in case the interim, the powers that be, or the next director have the same ideas.
  5. My contact information. As exhaustive as we are trying to make this document, I know we're going to forget something. Some event I said the library would host or some DVD I said the library would buy or even the idea I had to handle a specific set of circumstances if they ever came up. I won't work here anymore, but I also want to make sure the transition is smooth.
So, what about you? Is there anything else you wish your predecessor (actual or future) would let you know?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why I Became a Director

I've talked a lot here about what it's like for me to be a library director, how I go about my daily work, and even about the path I followed to this stage of my career, but I didn't realize until recently that I've never talked about why.

Truth be told, I never expected to be talking about this at all. Back when I was a baby librarian, my director went on maternity leave and a couple of us split her duties between us... I took on her committee responsibilities. Let me tell you: I did *not* enjoy that. I was talked over and ignored, even in small meetings, and when my director came back I firmly told her that I thought she was a crazy person for taking that job and that I'd never follow in her footsteps.

And yet, over the intervening years, I set about gathering all sorts of knowledge and skills that equipped me to follow exactly that path. For instance, I became increasingly interested in how a library fits into the overall landscape of parent institutions, in assessment beyond information literacy and programming, and in building relationships beyond the library and even beyond the campus walls. I was preparing myself to become a library director, despite my repeated avowals that I didn't want that job.

Flash forward a bit to me attending a small, CLIR-sponsored symposium about the future of libraries at library arts colleges. If I remember correctly, it was geared more towards library directors but I was already going to be in Milwaukee for another conference earlier that week and my boss asked me if I wanted to go to two instead of just one. How do you say no to something like that? At that symposium, I was my usual loud self. I remember saying something along the lines of, "perhaps at your institution you can get away with doing things like that, but the culture is very different where I work." The person I said that to was this very self-important kind of guy, and a few other people in the room appreciated me confronting him. Afterward, I ended up chatting with someone I admired a lot at the time, and the fact that I wasn't a library director came up. The person I admired told me, point blank, that I should be one.

I have to admit that got me thinking. I, like so many people, had moments of "I could do a better job than that" when watching my directors. I'd also learned about the gender disparity in academic library leadership (women make up an estimated 80% of academic librarians, but only 50% of administration roles). But still I resisted. I love instruction and I don't love meetings. Then one day I mentioned the conversation with the Much Admired Librarian™ to a couple of friends, both of whom were and still are library directors. Both of them said "yes, you definitely should be a library director." I talked about it with my director at that time, who also agreed, and I started applying.

So, why did I become a library director? 30% natural progression; 30% feminist agenda; 30% thinking I could do a better job; and 10% peer pressure.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Interview Post: Cecily Walker



Cecily Walker

Current job?

Assistant Manager for Community Digital Initiatives, Vancouver Public Library

How long have you been in the field?
I've worked as a librarian for just over 8 years now. I worked in user experience for about 3 years before making the switch.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

Sparse. Even though I've had this job for awhile, I was temporary for two years and moved around a lot. Boxing up desk toys and office accoutrements lost its allure. I have a single monitor setup, an L-shaped desk that gives me additional writing space (even though the L is facing the wrong way) an ergonomic chair, and an office with a window that opens.

How do you organize your days?

There's no real rhyme or reason to it. I usually start with email, and then I handle questions with my direct reports, as needed. I have semi-weekly meetings with the Community Digital Initiatives team, and a weekly meeting with the supervisory team in my department. The rest of the day is spent either on administrivia, project management, or keeping my door open in case anyone wants to stop by for a chat/with questions.

What do you spend most of your time doing?

Procrastinating. ;-)

Officially I'm a supervisor, unofficially I'm a project manager, and both of those things require that I spend the lion's share of my day removing obstacles, facilitating discussions, and helping my direct reports be successful. I also do a fair amount of email/Slack chatting, so there's rarely a moment that I don't have fingers to keyboard.

What is a typical day like for you?
Mostly quiet, with infrequent bursts of fussing about/keeping projects on track. Nothing terribly exciting.
What are you reading right now?
Joan Didion's South and West. I don't know why I'd never read any Didion before now, but better late than never. I love the way she paints pictures with her words, and I'm intrigued by her assertion that the notes in her notebooks aren't always true, but over time they become more true than the original story. The pieces in this collection were written over 40 years ago, but the people and situations she describes sound similar to the political circumstances we find ourselves in today.
What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
I don't have a pithy aphorism to share, but it has meant a lot to me to meet and connect with librarians of colour, especially Black librarians, and to lean on them when I find myself experiencing difficulties that arise from cultural differences. These women and men have helped me understand that no, I'm not imagining things. They've also encouraged me to look outside my workplace to find inspiration and opportunities, particularly speaking opportunities. As a result of their gentle encouragement, I managed to give a keynote at the LITA forum this year, which thus far has been the height of my career.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Working with community partners to build a digital collection of the Women's Memorial March Quilt. Even though my library places a premium on community-led librarianship, I wasn't prepared for the emotional labour involved with working with a community that still lives through the trauma of Vancouver's Missing and Murdered Women.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?
A tie between squid and custard.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
A pyrotechnics engineer. Whenever I get frustrated with library work, I find myself looking at the explosives and pyrotechnics program at one of the local polytechnic schools. I think blowing things up would be cathartic, and I imagine I'd never go home in a bad mood at the end of the day.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Surgeon. Bodies are gross. Well, not the fact of bodies, or when they're intact, but I can't even stand to watch the surgery scenes on Grey's Anatomy, so I'm clearly not cut out for this.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Teleportation, though I suppose that might have to go along with invisibility. If I could teleport, I'd never have to worry about not fitting into airplane seats, and I could see my friends/loved ones whenever I wanted.

What are you most proud of in your career?
That I'm still here, even though health challenges and a lingering suspicion I'm not cut out for library work make it difficult to stay in this line of work.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
My chronic illnesses mean I live under a near-constant mental fog, and I don't read closely/comprehensively on the best of days. The biggest mistake I made was convincing a boss to upgrade a product we used based on features I thought were offered as part of the upgrade, when they would cost us more on top of the upgrade. I'm glad I don't have to worry about this anymore in my current position.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Tweeting, marathoning shows on various streaming services, hanging out with my cat, or having a few pints with friends.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Tara Robertson

Cecily is on Twitter as @skeskali.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How I Interview

We're getting ready to do another round of hiring for a library associate position (works at the circulation desk with other assigned projects), so I'm revisiting how I've hired in the past. One thing I'll never change is that I don't look at an applicant's name until I've looked at their resume - it's one way I've found to fight unconscious bias against names that don't sound Caucasian. Another thing I'll never change is to have someone besides me (aka the boss) give candidates a tour of the building. But, as much as I like the questions we've asked in the past, I'm considering changing them up. Below is a list of the questions along with a brief explanation of why we ask them:
  1. Can you tell me why you’re interested? I'm pretty sure we've asked this because everyone asks this. I think I'm going to cut it, actually.
  2. How do you handle a bad customer service interaction? (Give example.) Students, faculty, and staff don't always act their best when they are stressed, and the person working at the front desk is the front line. I need to know that they aren't going to take it personally when people get angry.
  3. When you use libraries, how do you use them? To be honest, this is more of an intro to something I want all candidates to know - that this library is an academic department and a physical location and that we do plenty of things that are traditionally seen as student life. I want to give them a head's up about the things that aren't necessarily in the job description.
  4. How do you like to learn new work skills? We give preference to people who have either experience in a library or in a public facing role in higher ed, but regardless of what they bring to the job - there's a lot of learning for them. We need to know how to tailor what we teach to how they learn.
  5. How do you handle projects you’ve been given? This is a way to get at how they approach things when they aren't supervised. 
  6. Tell me about a previous job — what did you love and what didn’t you like? This is another question we ask as a way to introduce a topic I want to discuss, namely my management style. 
  7. How do you respond when you don’t know the answer to a question? We need people who are willing to admit they don't know everything and know how to handle that.
  8. What is good customer service? We're looking for people to talk about respect. Most of our students are first generation college students, so making sure our students feel comfortable coming in the building is important.
  9. How would you handle it if the phone rang right as a line formed at the circulation desk? Trying to figure out how they handle stressful situations - hypotheticals are good for that.
  10. How do you handle it when you disagree with coworkers? How about with a boss? This is important information, but yet again it's an opportunity to talk to them about my management style - about how I want people to let me know when I've made a mistake.
  11. What questions do you have for me? You can learn so much about a person by the kinds of questions they ask.
What do you all think? Anything you'd change? (Feel free to borrow these questions if you like them.)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Just for Fun: In Case of Emergency (Cute Therapy)

I talk about this occasionally on Twitter, but I have an entire tag on my Pinboard account that is just cute/funny things: InCaseofEmergency. I've tried to label all the animals, because I don't want there to be any surprises like a snake I think is cute but you're an ophidiophobe. I offer this up because this is a crazy-inducing time in politics, and I think we could all use some gratuitous cuteness today. Here are some of my favorites, but please @ me on Twitter or comment here with others and I'll add them to my files... to my little mental health public service.

If you don't know about the adorableness that is the fossa, time to learn:

Then there's this ridiculously cute creature:

A squeaky baby fruit bat (not sure why there's no image here, but the video does work):

And perhaps my favorite of all my saved links, an argumentative ibex:

So how about you? What makes you laugh no matter what? What helps you calm down? Please share!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How I Lead

Donna Lanclos published a short piece yesterday about being a leader. It's a great. short read if you have time to read it. In it she talks a bit about the JISC Digital Leaders program, and says that during the program she "will be resisting any requests for to-do lists, or top-tips around practice." And while I agree that approach is sound, I'm still going to offer a list of things I've learned - some of them the hard way.

Here are some leadership traits and behaviors that I think should be universal:

  • You should have responsive leadership/management style. This is my phrase for how I describe adapting my style to the needs/strengths of each member of my staff. There is no one size fits all way to lead and manage. You'll have people who are amazingly self-directed and you pretty much just need to get out of their way, with occasional check ins. You'll have people who *think* they're amazing, but they aren't, so you'll have to keep them focused without killing their enthusiasm. You'll have people who have been treated badly in the past and you'll need to help them find their enthusiasm again. You need to tailor your management style to each person.
  • I've talked about this before, but you need to be able to admit mistakes. You're going to make them. It happens. I made a joke that someone took seriously, and I was absolutely mortified later when I realized what I'd done. I apologized and we found a way forward, but it all started when I admitted the mistake.
  • It's all well and good building consensus and getting people on board, but sometimes you're going to have to be able to make unpopular decisions. Maybe it will be money. Maybe it will be lack of personnel. Maybe it will be something coming down from administration. Maybe you'll even have to fire someone. I'm as transparent as possible, explaining everything that leads up to a decision. And let me tell you - this was a hard lesson to learn.
  • Another hard lesson was learning to own my strengths and weaknesses. I cannot be all things to all people, but I tried at first. I really tried. I cannot recommend the Gallup Strengths Quest enough for this, because not only did it help me understand my strengths but it also gave my staff a common vocabulary.
  • One thing that wasn't as hard for me was being able to handle change. Yes, I'm kind of talking about this in a generic "things always change" kind of way, but I'm also talking about change as in a specific "people move on" kind of way. At my current library, there are only two full time employees - and I'm one of them. Everyone else who works here is a part time employee, which means no benefits and no more than 29 hours per week. And that means I have a fair amount of turnover. Is it inconvenient when people move on in the middle of the semester and leave me scrambling? Sure it is. But it doesn't mean I take it personally. In fact, I've helped more than one person in my employ find a better gig when it was better for them.
  • This phrasing comes from Jake Berg, but it's so important: the chain of yelling goes up, not down. It's not that you'll never correct people (I wrote about that previously), but when things go wrong I take the blame and if it's not my fault it goes up the ladder. 
  • Your most important duty as a manager and leader is to run interference so your people can get shiz done. That's why I picked the gif above to accompany this post - it's the thing I spend most of my time doing. Making things easier for our students and for our faculty, for the staff outside of this department and most especially for the staff inside of this department. One thing from Lanclos' post that really stuck with me was the title of her post: "Being a Leader Isn't About You." The reasons I became a library director are complicated, but I always knew it wouldn't be about me once I got in the captain's chair - and I was right.

If you're considering moving into a leadership role, whether it's leading from the middle or from an administrative role, you have to be yourself - but be the best version of yourself. The things I put in that list are general qualities and skills, but I really believe they make me a better leader. That and the fact that I never give up trying to improve.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


I'm in the same situation I was about a year ago: a few things in various stages of written, but none that I think are ripe for finishing and publishing. So I'm once again looking for suggestions.


Here's what I'd like to hear about... do you:
  1. Have an idea for a topic that you don't feel comfortable covering yourself?
  2. Want me to revisit something I've talked about in the past?
  3. Have some other kind of question/idea for which you'd like to see my response?
  4. Want me to revisit a topic I've covered in the past?
Hit me up! Email me or @ me or comment here. I'm waiting to hear from you!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Three Things That Worked for Me in My First Professional Librarian Position, by Emma Olmstead-Rumsey


I was hired for my first professional librarian position in March of 2016. The rash/generous institution that first gave me the ‘librarian’ title was the Cromaine District Library, a public library serving a small town and the surrounding rural area in the southeastern part of Michigan. Librarianship is not my second career, so this was the first time I’d been given any professional responsibilities, let alone ones that (theoretically) required an MLS.

I’m sure I could have taken it as a vote of confidence, but after brief trainings on the building, emergency procedures, administrative procedures, the ordering system, etc., my manager pretty much left me to my own devices to work out how best to spend my 20 hours per week. Here is what I found worked well for me in the first few months.

#1: Read a lot…
Unless you work in one of those rare libraries that is hands-on about training, you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands for the first few weeks. Keep yourself busy by reading everything you can about your new library and community. I read our Wikipedia page, the town’s Wikipedia page, and a bunch of demographic information from the U.S. census on my first desk shift. I also looked through all the brochures, quick reference sheets, etc. that had accumulated on the reference desk. I even spent an entire afternoon in the back looking over our staff intranet and opening any folder that sounded like it had information I should know about. It gave me a lot of useful context for my work, although obviously not everything turned out to be current or relevant. Which brings me to…

#2: …but don’t believe everything you read
Library workers are hoarders, of documents as well as items [Editor’s Note: Ain’t it the truth?!]. If a policy is updated, you can bet good money that instead of trashing the old one, the new one will be saved as “Policy revised mm-dd-yyyy” in the same folder, and the file name will only be changed if you are lucky. Also, the policies and procedures in practice never look exactly like their written versions. Accordingly, pay attention to what your coworkers actually do and say, not just to the written policies. I was fortunate enough to be in easy earshot of the circulation desk when I was at reference, so I spent a lot of time eavesdropping on the staff there to learn how it was normal for staff to talk to patrons, and vice versa. Similarly, it was what I focused on when I was shadowing my manager and colleagues on the reference desk, because I already know how to conduct a reference interview. This helped me a lot to learn which "rules" existed only on paper, and how the librarians and the clerks divided up responsibilities. It even helped me make educated guesses about who was the best person to go to if I myself had questions or needed help—whose response style would fit me the best.

#3: Get a project (I recommend weeding)
Although you’ll have a variety of responsibilities other than staffing the desk, a lot of them can be hard to pick up when you’re new. For example, my library schedules programs months ahead of time in order to advertise well. That turned out to be a good thing, since it was a big challenge for me to figure out what would and wouldn’t go over well with the community, and to do that I needed some experience and information that would take time to get. But if you don’t have anything to do but be on the desk, you might go a little crazy. The project that saved me was weeding. I was assigned my areas of collection management right away. I had a written collection development policy to reference, training in weeding tools, and familiarity with the principles of public library collection development. In short, I had everything I needed.

Making weed lists kept me entertained on the desk when it wasn't busy, and spending time in the stacks when I was off-desk helped me get to know my collection really well. I was a little worried that I would get a reputation for getting rid of library materials rather than adding to the collection, and I sort of did, but not in the negative way I was expecting. My librarian coworkers didn't pay much attention at all, but the clerks and the pages (who have to pull items on hold and re-shelve materials, and thus don't appreciate overfilled shelves) noticed my work and as a result I started out on good terms with them right away. Heavy weeding early on also left me in excellent shape later when I got busy with my other responsibilities. I could let weeding slide for a little while, knowing that I had plenty of space in my collection areas for new materials.

I have just passed the one-year mark in this position, and this approach continues to provide a good foundation for my work there.

How about you? Would you do anything differently?

Emma Olmstead-Rumsey fell into public librarianship as a fortuitous result of dropping out of a Ph.D. program in history and received her MLS in 2014. She is currently an Adult Services Librarian at the Cromaine District Library in Hartland, MI and a Public Services Librarian at the main branch of the Capital Area District Library in Lansing, MI. Some of her areas of interest are accessibility, collection management, and evidence-based practice.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Self-Care Revisited

Seven months ago, I wrote a post that was all about self-care. With the state of things in national/international politics, and the fact that today is National Library Workers Day, I figured it was time to write another self-care post. So, here are some things to bring you joy or smiles or hope or at least satisfaction.
  • Joy: Finding a new favorite author. A couple of years ago, I noticed a bunch of people talking about the work of Seanan McGuire, and after a couple of more pointed discussions (one with Jenica Rogers, I remember), I decided to give McGuire's books a try. And now she's my favoritest author.
  • Smile: Taking the plunge and hanging out with Science Twitter. I'd been flirting with this part of the Twitterverse for a while, but I saw a recommended list of STEM people of color and followed them all. Then I followed some more scientists. Among other things, I've gotten to learn about: bird identification, scat of all kinds, and awesome sharks. Bonus - they love librarians! (If you want a rec for who to follow, look at who I'm following on Twitter and search for "science".) The smiles are so frequent.
  • Hope: I'm planning to attend a March for Science on 4/22. I haven't decided if I'm going to DC or to Philly, but I'll be attending with a work friend - one of our science professors. 
  • Satisfaction: I've made some good progress on a couple of work projects that got held up by other work priorities.
  • Joy: Binge watching. I had to take a couple of sick days last week (not as joyful, I know), but I watched two whole seasons (that have recently been added to Netflix) of The Great British Bake Off and wow how I love that show.
  • Smile: My cats. There has been Puddy Wrestlemania levels of tussling lately, and a couple of days ago Viktor tried to hide behind my feet while Zephyr walked by me. She saw his tail sticking out, and pounced, but the whole thing made me grin.

So how about you? What is bringing you joy, smiles, hope, and/or satisfaction?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Just For Fun: Don't Dream It's Over

You know how it usually works when you revisit something you loved as a child? You read or watch or listen, and are deeply disappointed. Sometimes it's because you know better now, like oh my GOD, the casual sexism and racism of M.A.S.H.. Other times it's because you've moved on, such as how I'm embarrassed by how much I loved Garfield and Duran Duran. So when I recently decided to revisit the music of one of my earliest favorites, Crowded House, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only does their music live up to my early memories - I've actually got a deeper appreciation of their skills now than I did back in 80s.

Maybe it's the power of nostalgia, but I don't think so. I think this is just an amazing band that everyone should be listening to. When I listen to other acts that these people were involved with, such as Finn Brothers and Split Enz, I'm still completely enthralled. And here are some songs to get you going (or for you to enjoy again, if you're already a fan):

The song that made me fall in love with the band:

A favorite from their second album:

The song that most people have heard, and lots of people have covered:

And a bonus from the band they were before they were Crowded House:

So, what do you think? Love them, too?