Thursday, July 20, 2017

When Opportunity Knocks, or A Young Librarian’s Guide to Community College Librarianship, by Monique K. Clark

If you decide to make the leap, you might discover that a community college library is  the place for you. They combine the best of academic and public libraries, yet offer a unique environment that reflect value we hold dear as librarians. You never know what each day might bring and which one of your awesome talents might be called into action to help a patron, solve a problem, or come up with ideas to improve your library, your college, and ultimately, your community.

If you’re just starting your career as a librarian or you’re thinking of making a change, community college libraries might be the place for you. Community colleges address social issues that librarians support such as diversity, inclusion, and open access. They provide access to education for people of all backgrounds by offering classes that people need to meet their lifelong learning needs. As a result, community colleges tend to be very diverse in terms of the social, economic, racial, educational, and national background of the students and staff. However, this also means that community college libraries face unique challenges in meeting patron needs and supporting the institution's mission-- for example, ideas and strategies that work well at a four year college library or a public library won’t always be successful at a community college library. Librarians who thrive in a two-year setting must learn or strengthen skills that will help them serve our patrons and contribute to the college’s mission--attributes which can be useful in other contexts. Community college libraries are an excellent place for new librarians to develop skills such as teaching, collaboration, and management.

Although I’m no longer at one, it was a great way for me to start my career - even though it was mostly by accident. I didn’t initially plan to work at a community college, but like most people nearing the end of library school, I needed a job to pay the bills and I was lucky enough to land a full-time library specialist position at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) one month before graduation. Six months later, the library director encouraged me to apply for a library technology specialist position that had become vacant due to a promotion. I worked as a technology specialist for nearly three years and then I applied for and received a job offer for a campus library manager position at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC. The knowledge and skills that I gained at both places are integral to my work at a public university and I learned to keep an open mind when new opportunities become available.

The community college environment offers many opportunities to learn new skills and collaborate with people within and outside of the library. Community colleges libraries are insanely busy in the fall, slightly less so in the spring, and even slower in the summer. During the academic year, all hands are on deck which means that you may have shifts at both the reference and circulation desk (depending on your library’s policies) or you may be asked to do a variety of tasks such as shelf reading, selecting materials to purchase, teaching a one-shot class, fixing uncooperative printers, or serving on a committee within the library or elsewhere. Flexibility, a willingness to pitch in where needed, and a great deal of patience are essential to the overall function of a library; it’s also a great way to learn about other library roles and to gain skills in those areas. Committee work can offer another perspective on the library and its relationship to the parent institution. For instance, hiring committees aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but as a result of volunteering for so many committees, I learned a lot about applying for jobs, interviewing, hiring, and institutional values.   

In community college libraries, the summer is an ideal time to work on new or existing projects, do committee work, try new ideas, or engage in professional development activities such as attending conferences or taking classes. At NOVA, we piloted a single service point for reference and circulation interactions, something that couldn’t have happened during the academic year due to heavy foot traffic in the library. At CPCC, I co-chaired a strategic planning subcommittee which allowed me to work with my colleagues in the library and other departments to meet student needs, promote the library as place of learning and collaboration, and contribute to institutional success. If career progression is your goal, taking on projects and actively participating in committee work can be a good way to showcase your talents and demonstrate your value to the library.

Working at a community college can sometimes lead you to unexpected places. I told myself that there were certain things I would never do, but ended up doing them anyway thanks to working at a community college. I remember a comment I made to the library director at NOVA about how I would never want to be a manager. A year or so after having that conversation, I ended up applying to (and being selected for) a position at another community college that involved managing a small regional campus library and two part-time employees. Being open to taking on new responsibilities can be the push you need to challenge yourself and to flourish as a librarian.

Monique Clark is currently a reference and instruction librarian at the University of Baltimore. Prior to that, she spent five years working at two large community colleges on the East Coast. She can be found on Twitter at @wizardinglib.

Editor's note: this post presents one person's experience with working in community colleges. For other people, community colleges are their end goal. Personally, I recently moved from a small, liberal arts college to a community college. The point of this post is to encourage librarians new to the field to be open to all opportunities.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Letter From a New Job

This is the beginning of my third week at my new job and wow I'm overwhelmed. But that's as it should be - if I weren't overwhelmed it would be a sign that I wasn't paying attention. I joked about it on Twitter at the end of my first week:

I still feel that way, for the most part - just a little less brain fried. One of the benefits of feeling overwhelmed is that it's making me go slow. There are lots of tired clichés attached to new jobs, but one of my favorites is that it's a marathon not a spring. I have a lot to do and I need to give myself the time to do it. Another benefit is that going slow gives me time to absorb and really think about things like the ramifications of our collection development practices and how we staff the circulation desk. Going slow also gives the staff time to get to know me and (I hope) trust me, so that if and when I do make changes, they'll realize the change is coming from a place of understanding the way the library has run up until now.

Another way the "marathon and not a spring"cliché plays out is that things take time. As long as you think it's going to take - even if you're really pessimistic and/or circumspect - it will probably take longer. In my first director position, it took me three years to finally realize one of my earliest ideas: getting a link to the library in the top navigation on the school's website. Sure, somethings came quickly, but it's my feeling that you should count on things taking forever long and making promises accordingly. Going slow allows me to have the energy to keep working on projects.

Despite my expectations that things will take forever, I'm trying to get myself up and running as quickly as possible - and a lot of my expectations have been crammed into my first three months because of the book I'm using to guide myself through onboarding: The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded. This book was my pathfinder the first time I was a director and it did not steer me wrong at all. In fact, the biggest mistakes I made at my last job were when I ignored the books' advice. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's especially helpful if you are taking on a leadership position for the first time, but I know it helps anyone in a new job.

And that's me - a new job. Still has that new job smell! My biggest goal right now is what I'm calling the Three Ps: People, Processes, and Projects. I've started by trying to learn the 3 Ps of the library. I'm sitting down with every single person who works for my department and am discussing things like how often they want to meet with me and where they see opportunities for the department. Also on the agenda is learning about how we handle purchases and birthdays and information sharing and... and... and... Intermingled with those is learning about ongoing and upcoming projects - we're migrating to a new version of our OPAC/LMS soon; and we have to do something called a Functional Area Review; and we're hiring a part time reference librarian; and so on. I'm hoping for a few easy and early wins, so I can build momentum and start to give more back to the institution than they are giving me.

I know this post is somewhat disjointed, but that's what being new in an administrative position is like - so many things to learn and think and do all at once. This means self-care is even more important. The impulse to Get. Stuff. Done., and at any cost, is strong. But I'm making myself take lunch pretty much every day (although my lunch hour today got eaten up with a visit to the DMV). I'm trying to make local friends - had lunch with the director of the public library in town, using, and socializing with people I knew before moving up here. I asked about and got a mentor who has worked at my new college for a while. I've also reached out to people I know who are directors at SUNY schools and other community colleges - including one person who's recently made the same transition from liberal arts to community college! - to make sure I have people who can help with the professional self care.

More than anything else, I know I need to be patient with myself. And I know I got this.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Unpacking to Move, by Angela Galvan

“Just move for a job” is advice The Profession enjoys doling out from positions of relative stability, a living wage, a healthy body and mind, and an established support system. As an MLIS student in Columbus, Ohio, I heard it from day one of my program: if you want a career you’re going to have to move away.

I have some experience with this.

Back in 2009 I fled a small town in southern Oregon for Columbus, Ohio, with two bags and only the clothes on my back to move in with people I’d met over Craigslist. What the Craigslist ad couldn’t have told me was I’d managed to install myself in a group of friends with no less than five librarians. Again, the job market in Ohio is a little saturated with MLIS holders. They convinced me librarianship was a good fit for someone with the combination of “curious about information and how it works” and “professional boxer” which is to say I used to be in the service industry.

I was happy in Columbus for years. I had a community, a mentor who was the big brother I never knew I needed, and a boss I could communicate with exclusively in emoji. I got Midwest winter bragging rights by walking to work during the vortex. All of this would change when I started getting campus visits out of state.

I eventually accepted a position at a college town in New York with Population: Some Folks. This was a Big Fancy Librarian Job, the thing we’d hoped would come. My partner would follow me in spring and I would learn to drive—a remnant from my Portland upbringing—and we were headed for a future with Pinterest boards until we weren’t anymore.

The everyday of my personal life was hit by a landslide. I could recognize some of the world I inhabited, but it was now fundamentally different. I lived alone with the cat who was not outpacing crawly things, in a shoebox apartment where I made soap and taught myself guitar until I lost sensation in my fingertips. Something about the fret action. The dream of gentrification without a surrounding city.

I formed an armistice pact with the spiders, who became confident, gun slinging assassins in the increasingly rich fantasy life my brain produced to deal with isolation. The payroll spider who lives in the sparse kitchen cupboard is named Perry. He has an eye patch and smokes. Worse, I couldn’t drive and the only school available to remedy the issue closed. A creepy clown allegedly appeared near campus and I became convinced I was living in the lite version of a Stephen King novel without a fun curiosity shop. Unable to leave town under my own power, I threw myself into my new job for a distraction. This kind of worked until I went home and there was nothing to do but unpack boxes for a life that felt distant to the point of invoking dig markers, stakes, and string. Most of my carefully packed possessions went to Goodwill. I spent many hours learning silence. Stillness felt uncomfortable for me after such a long period of searching, applying, and moving.

If I had the choice I would still move, though I can’t say I would have picked a rural area without addressing the mobility problem. While work/life balance in reality means periods of time where work takes priority, being a whole person who isn’t consumed by my job makes me a better librarian.

If you’re looking to move, here are some things to consider I haven’t seen in the usual discussions of relocation: 

Practical issues 
  • Will you or the people you care for have access to adequate healthcare? If your insurance is good but your nearest specialist is hours away, is that going to work?
  • Can you function if there isn’t public transit?
  • What is the political climate like? Are there “bathroom bills” and similar in the legislature?
  • What workplace protections exist at this employer? What about the state?
  • If the life you’re imagining vanishes tomorrow, how will you cope?
  • Does the employer offer relocation assistance? This is something you should ask about if you receive an offer. Make sure you understand what is and is not covered.
  • Is there a long delay between your hire date and first paycheck?
  • What is the rental market like? Many of the leases in Small Town New York are on the academic year which makes housing a challenge.
  • Where do the rest of the library people live? If you’re rural, is everyone commuting or do employees live in town?

Finding your people

Librarians—as most service/helping professions do—tend to gain significant swatches of their identity through work so while it’s tempting to lean hardest on coworkers for emotional labor and support, there’s a whole host of other things to try. Many of these are from the advice blog Captain Awkward:
  • Volunteer.
  • Take a class that isn’t academic. Spending all day looking at a screen or teaching sometimes means recovery is elsewhere, often in physical activity or making stuff.
  • Find a local meetup for a hobby you enjoy.
  • Join a low pressure recreational team.
  • Find gamers and start a town-wide version of Humans versus Zombies.
  • Be part of a virtual community you’re already familiar with or find a new one. This could range from a Twitter chat to online games.
  • Join a community choir. Singers are often like librarians in that they are extroverted in specific situations. Choir practice is one of those.
  • Attend town meetings and city council events.
  • Go to trivia nights. You don’t have to partake of alcohol if that’s not your thing and most teams will be delighted to have you.
  • Try a Brand New Thing! 

In the absence of people, a critter helps. Here’s mine:

It’s hard to know what a place is really like until you’re living there. It’s hard to know a job until you’re in the minutia of things, first encounters with ‘other duties as assigned’ or have a true understanding of the workplace culture from a campus visit. Moving feels final because of how exhausting it is under the best conditions. Adjusting after a move like this requires time, patience, and most of all kindness. Feel the feelings. Hug the animal, person, or thing.

What do you wish you’d known when you moved? Share in the comments!

Angela Galvan is the Digital Resources & Systems Librarian at State University of New York, Geneseo. She tweets at @panoptigoth.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Net Neutrality: Day of Action

Once again the neutrality of the internet is at risk, so a lot of people are trying to come together to try to do something about it. Here are two images that I've seen around that capture the whole of it:

And here's some language from Battle for the Net, because they've said it better than I ever could:

"On July 12, 2017, websites, Internet users, and online communities will come together to sound the alarm about the FCC’s attack on net neutrality. Learn how you can join the protest and spread the word at

"Right now, new FCC Chairman and former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai has a plan to destroy net neutrality and give big cable companies immense control over what we see and do online. If they get their way, the FCC will give companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T control over what we can see and do on the Internet, with the power to slow down or block websites and charge apps and sites extra fees to reach an audience.

"If we lose net neutrality, we could soon face an Internet where some of your favorite websites are forced into a slow lane online, while deep-pocketed companies who can afford expensive new 'prioritization' fees have special fast lane access to Internet users – tilting the playing field in their favor.

"But on July 12th, the Internet will come together to stop them. Websites, Internet users, and online communities will stand tall, and sound the alarm about the FCC’s attack on net neutrality.
The Battle for the Net campaign will provide tools for everyone to make it super easy for your friends, family, followers to take action. From the SOPA blackout to the Internet Slowdown, we've shown time and time again that when the Internet comes together, we can stop censorship and corruption. Now, we have to do it again!"

Learn more and join the action here:

This is too important. I know there have been so very many calls for action lately - 45 and the rest of the kleptocrats have made it so we have to fight for our lives almost every day - but this idea of net neutrality underpins all our other fights. Please join. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Just for Fun: Nothing More Hazardous to My Health Than Boredom

There's something so compelling about the show Elementary. It's not as quotable as other shows I've discussed on here, but then again it's not populated by archetypes and stereotypes. As much as I adore every other television show I've discussed on LtaYL, there's just a bit more when it comes to Elementary. Normally I try to avoid discussing specifics because I'm trying to get you to watch a show with me, but when it comes to this particular show I can't make any promises. Basically, what I'm saying is spoilers abound.

So here's your last chance to turn around, leave the post, and avoid having the show spoiled.

Still with me?

Okay then...

The first thing that I love about this show is how real everyone feels - even the "bad" guys, but especially the "good" guys. (And yes, I used those quotation marks on purpose: I do mean "so called bad guys" and "so called good guys," since nobody is purely one or the other.) Kitty Winter is damaged by what happened to her, but she is more than that damage. Marcus Bell takes a very very long time to forgive Sherlock for getting shot. And Sherlock's relapse into drug addiction... Also there's the fact that people grow and change and evolve. Maybe not Sherlock himself, because he's frighteningly brilliant (the quote in the title is something he says), but everyone else feels like someone you know or could know.

Next, I love how perfectly Sherlock it is. Not that I've read every Conan Doyle story in existence, but I've read enough to love how this series (like most Sherlock-based series) plays with the original stories. Of course, Elementary avoids the Anglo-centric angries that were attendant upon Conan Doyle's writing... which makes it even better.

Then there's Aidan Quinn. I had such a crush on him when I was younger (Desperately Seeking Susan, anyone?) and he's aged nicely. He's a pretty pretty man, and his acting is exceptional. I know there's a real Lestrade in this series, someone who Sherlock left back in London who occasionally comes back into his life, but Captain Thomas Gregson is fantastic in the Lestrade role. And did I mention how pretty I think the actor is? Oh, those eyes...

Next? The gender flipping of crucial roles. Instead of Professor James Moriarty, we get Jamie Moriarty (who is also Irene Adler?!?!) the art restoration specialist. Instead of Dr. John Watson, we get Dr. Joan Watson - both still veterans of a sort, only Joan is a veteran of the war on drugs. It's the kind of twist I like to think Conan Doyle might have liked, if he hadn't been so busy hating Mormons.

Finally, speaking of Joan Watson, can we talk about how amazing Lucy Liu is in this? I've always liked whatever she's done, but with Elementary, I finally saw what an amazing actor she is. Sure, I've had a bit of a crush on her since Kill Bill, but her performance in this series just blew me away. Plus, her character kicks ass.

And one last word before I ask you what you love about this show: please don't say anything if it's about the last three episodes of the most recent season. I haven't watched them yet, so... no spoilers for me.

So, if you've read this far... what do you love about Elementary?

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.