Tuesday, October 16, 2018

168 Hours

Just a small update today. I'm trying to respect my limits, after all. Keep reading to understand why I'm so interested in this...

You see, I've been thinking a lot lately, for many many reasons, about how I spend my time. There are 168 hours in a week and I know I spend too much of it focused on work as well as too much of it frittered away on nonsense.

I've especially been thinking about work/life balance, which is something I know most of us find a challenge. Someone suggested to me that I work out what I think a balanced week would look like for me - how much work, how much time with friends, how much time pursuing spirituality, and so on.

Here's what I've come up with so far (with help from a couple of friends) for my ideal week. Also, please note that this is in no particular order and that this is a work in progress.
  • Sleep - 56 hours
  • Work/Professional (including this blog!) - 55 hours
  • Friends/Social - 5 hours
  • Volunteering - 1 hour
  • Entertainment - 14 hours
  • Creating/Creative Pursuits - 7 hours
  • Chores - 7 hours
  • Health/Exercise - 7 hours
  • Spirituality/Buddhist Study - 7 hours
  • Cat Time - 3.5 hours
  • Learning - 4.5 hours
  • Uncommitted - 1 hour

And here's what I put in my bullet journal to help me keep track of how I'm doing:

There is already a lot of, and can be even more, overlap between categories. Going to a conference would be professional time but also learning as well as spending time with friends. Lately, I've been knitting while watching television, so that's creating and entertainment. And I've made a lot of friends at the place where I volunteer. I guess for me, this isn't as much about discrete categories and delineating my time as it is about being intentional and mindful with where I put my energy and attention.

I know this is a blog about libraries and librarianship, but I also know that most of us in helping professions tend to put too much of ourselves into the job and not enough into the rest of our lives.

Well, it may not be "most of us", but it is a huge percentage of the people I know in this field, so I thought I'd share. In part, I'm sharing as a way to keep me honest about this new goal of mine. However, I've also got an accountability buddy with whom I already shared this idea and we've decided to check in with each other about it on a regular-ish basis. So I guess mostly I'm sharing this as a way to help y'all, too.

Let me know what you think? Is this something you might try? Are you already doing something like this?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Be Back Soon

This hiatus has gone on much longer than I expected. Initially, I was working on a book - which is, admittedly, still in process - and told myself I'd be better able to concentrate if I put the blog on hold. The idea was that I'd have even more writing time, that I'd use that extra writing time to write the book. And that step may have helped if not for other things that came up (two separate medical things about which I plan to write blog posts in the future), and now I just want to get back into the groove of writing this blog again. I still need to work with my co-author for the book and figure out a new schedule to send to our oh-so-patient editor, but I miss LtaYL.

So, in the interests of getting things back up and running, here's a few things I'm hoping you'll help with:
  1. If you sent me a draft at some point, let me know if you're still interested in having me publish it? If I don't hear from you, I'll reach out.
  2. Same goes for anyone who reached out to me about possibly writing for LtaYL, or if I reached out to you in the past, can you let me know if you're still up for it?
  3. I'm also open to suggestions and/or requests for topics you'd like to see me cover.
  4. And suggestions of people you'd like to see write guest posts? That would be greatly appreciated as well.

Anyway, here's to getting back to the rhythm. Shoot me an email (librarianjessica at gmail dot com) or comment here or even @ me on Twitter (olinj). I'll be waiting!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Helping Patrons Ask For Help

I've been thinking a lot lately about patrons - specifically about how to make them feel comfortable asking us for help. This is an eternal struggle, I know, but thanks to a librarian here I've been having new ideas about it.

Here are some things I know for sure:
  • Even I sometimes have problems asking librarians for help. I recently had to ask for help at my local public library because the catalog system they use makes it difficult (impossible?) to request a specific volume in a series when they are cataloged together. I felt awkward and dumb because I couldn't figure it out on my own. I know better! And yet I still felt awkward and dumb.
  • Students feel more comfortable coming to ask for help if they have a friend along for the ride.
  • Asking a librarian for help is a last resort for pretty much everyone, from people who have never walked through the door to actual librarians.

Here are some things that I suspect are true:
  • Some patrons won't interrupt us if we look busy, but what "busy" looks like is different for each person. The conversation I had recently that got me thinking..? Was about how if librarians look like they are just chatting with a patron, such as a faculty member, they are more likely to interrupt than if they see someone sitting at their computer typing away. But I also believe that if we are always chatting with someone, patrons might think we're having a meeting and won't want to interrupt that either.
  • If patrons know a librarian in a different context, they are more likely to feel comfortable asking for help. This is where fun roving reference days - with guessing contests and similar - can help. This is also how being a club advisor or adjuncting or generally being visible outside the library can help.
  • Word of mouth marketing - patrons telling other patrons that they got help - is the most powerful tool we have, but it can be so hard to take advantage of that kind of network. Getting to know the influencers in your community can be difficult or impossible, especially if the only way you participate in that community is as librarian.

I'm still sometimes left scratching my head when it comes to who will and who won't come to a librarian for help. Breaking through and getting people's attention and trust is so difficult, but it is so important. I pick at this conundrum a little at a time, but I doubt I'll ever completely complete the puzzle.

How about you? What do you do to make patrons comfortable asking for help?


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Applying for Academic Library Jobs, by Sarah Wingo

The job market is tough and there are any number of reasons that an application may not make it through to an interview, and many of those reasons may be as simple as “did not meet minimum requirements.” My experiences are with applying for jobs and serving on search committees at academic libraries, but I believe a lot of what I’m going to suggest is applicable across the board… with one caveat: if any of the advice given below goes against instructions for a specific position to which you are applying, ignore my advice.

The Job Posting:

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the very first thing anyone should do when applying for a position is to carefully read over the job posting. Usually the posting will contain all of the vital information you need about the position and will help you figure out what they are looking for, and whether or not you want it.

Next, look more closely for clues about what the search committee is really looking for in a job candidate. The job title, description, required qualifications, and preferred qualifications are all areas to key in on, but what you really want to be looking for is anything that goes beyond general descriptions and requirements posted to most job postings.

For example “MLS/MLIS from an ALA-accredited institution, or an advanced degree in _______ with a willingness to pursue an MLS/MLIS” isn’t unimportant, and you could see some version of this requirement on any academic librarian job posting. That alternate degree tells you what the focus of the job will be.

Resume or Curriculum Vitæ

Although most job postings will usually refer to a “resume”, some academic libraries actually want is your Curriculum Vitæ (CV). A quick google of “Resume vs. CV,” will return plenty of results explaining the difference, but this one provided by theundercoverrecruiter.com is clear and concise.
“A CV is an in-depth document that can be laid out over two or more pages and it contains a high level of detail about your achievements, a great deal more than just a career biography. The CV covers your education as well as any other accomplishments like publications, awards, honours etc.
“The document tends to be organised chronologically and should make it easy to get an overview of an individual’s full working career. A CV is static and doesn’t change for different positions, the difference would be in the cover letter.
“A resume, is a concise document typically not longer than one page as the intended the reader will not dwell on your document for very long. The goal of a resume is to make an individual stand out from the competition.”
You should look at your CV or resume with fresh eyes every time you apply for a new job. You may not need to change much, but you might want to update descriptions or reorder bullet points to highlight experience that is most relevant to the particular job to which you are applying.

As a newcomer to the profession, the amount of experience you have may vary and that’s okay. If you don’t have a ton of jobs or internships to list you might also add large projects you did in library school that are relevant.

And if you don’t know where to start, try Googling “librarian resume sample” or “librarian CV sample” and use the categories you see there. You can also turn to the career center at the school where you got your master’s. They’ll be happy to help.

Cover Letter

While having a strong and coherent resume/CV is definitely important, having a good cover letter is what will make you stand out as a candidate and may even help you to get an interview.

Some of what makes a good cover letter is personal and it takes practice to learn to write about your experiences in a clear and concise way, but there are also pitfalls that are easy to avoid.
  • If the advertisement includes the names of the search committee address it directly to them, but if you don’t a general “To The Search Committee for [position title]” is fine.
  • Unless otherwise stated in the application instructions a good cover letter for an entry level position should be anywhere from 1-2 pages in length. If your cover letter takes up less than half a page, you’re probably not providing enough information.
  • Your cover letter should NOT just repeat information already shared in your CV. It should instead elaborate on what the search committee has seen in your CV by providing concrete examples you have had in your past work experience that relate directly to the job you are applying for. This is where your careful reading of the job posting comes into play. This is also where applicants can really shine, by highlighting the different ways in which they meet the job requirements and demonstrating their understanding of what the position is asking for.
  • Your cover letter should clearly address the specific job to which you are applying. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a general overall template that you use for similar positions, but you will need to make edits, especially in the introductory and summary paragraphs.
  • You also want to make it clear that you have some idea about the institution to which you are applying.  Do some basic googling, go to the university’s website and the library’s website. This doesn’t need to be anything elaborate, a simple sentence mentioning the name of the university and something that drew you to apply will be enough. You just don’t want your cover letter to be so generic that you could clearly send it to any job posting, because the search committee will be able to tell and may eliminate you because of it.

Some final thoughts

Never be afraid to ask for advice or guidance. When I was applying to jobs I reached out to a number of librarians at my graduate school. I had never met most of them I had never met before I simply found their email on the library’s website and contacted them explaining that I was a current student applying for academic librarian jobs in their area of specialty and asking if they would be willing to meet with me, they all were. I also had my boss at the time and a few of my former internship supervisors look over one of my cover letters, which really helped me to focus in on what was important and cut out what wasn’t. 

If you’re no longer in school or if you’re a distance learner, it is okay to contact a librarian at a university near you. Since taking my current job I’ve spoken to a number of people who don’t go to the school I work for, but wanted to talk to me about librarianship and I’m always happy to speak with them. We all remember what it was like to be new in the field, and we all want to help if we have the time.

Sarah is the liaison to the departments of English, Theatre, and Romance Languages at Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library. Her library degree is from the University of Michigan and prior to doing her MSI she did an MA in English at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute. She tweets at @SgWingo.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Office Decorations of a Director

A while back, before I became a library director, I had a very particular way of decorating my office. It was nerd central, but also it was occasionally vulgar. In fact, I wrote about it back in the (almost) beginning of this blog. Almost six years later, I have definitely changed the way my work space is decorated.

The thing about decorating your office is that it really does send a certain message to the people who visit you. Yes, you want it to reflect your personality, but that's not the only consideration. You want to make sure you are sending the message with your decor that you actually want to send, instead of something you're sending by accident. When I was an instruction coordinator (which was my job at the time I wrote that first post, if not my title), I wanted to be seen as irreverent and yet intelligent. Hard working and yet able to have fun. The truth was, though, that my office was likely a bit off-putting. I'm 99% sure it was Jim DelRosso who told me his office decorations are consciously not as nerdy as he is because he wants to make sure people feel welcome in his office. That comment really stuck with me. I still stand by the prevalence of vulgarities in that office - the word "fuck" is really just a word and I wish people would see it as such - but I haven't used that decorating style again in my current circumstances. As a director, I'm supposed to be setting a tone not just for myself but also for the rest of the department. So now, I have just as much nerdy vibe as before, but it's subtler and, in a way, prettier.

As you can see from the pictures I have below, I am not hiding my nerd in any way. I am still Nerd Supreme - a fact that is evidenced by being the advisor for the nerdy student group on campus. I'm just not as vulgar and my displayed tastes are slightly more diverse.

The love rat is still there. As is Fake Roy. But there's also a Benjamin Franklin quote and my tail from my Halloween costume.

My boy, Usagi Yojimbo. It wouldn't really be my office without Usagi, and this is the signed poster that Ranti Junus got for me years ago.

Yes, that's a stuffy elephant. If you squeeze it, out comes the most obnoxious imitation of an elephant trumpeting. Also, the poster from ACRL 2013 - Henry Rollins is a beautiful man and he had us all eating out of the palm of his hands at that keynote.

Guster is my favorite band, so of course I have a poster of theirs up in my office. Having this up in my office helped me bond with my union president - Guster is his favorite band, too!

Yes, that's my "Detective Comics" #643. And a Chewbacca Pez dispenser. But also the library's mission, vision, and values statements; the 2017-2018 academic calendar; specifics of the standing pizza order I place occasionally for the club I advise; my mini Sarah Donner shrine; and so much more.

Is it obvious that it's the same person? Even if you couldn't see so many of the same items, I think it's obvious. Just a more welcoming version.

How about you? Do you have any rules for how you decorate your office? Please share in the comments!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

10 Things I Didn't Learn in Archives School, by Sara Allain

1. Papercuts are a job hazard.
And they really, really hurt. And at least once I got blood on the archival material.

2. It can be lonely.
Archival work can be solitary. I don't mean the kind of loneliness that comes from hanging out in a basement vault all day, though that’s part of it. Being physically alone is one thing, but perhaps more difficult was feeling like I was the only one who cared. It was hard to keep the value to future researchers in mind when no one seemed to care about the collection right now. Developing a supportive network of archivist pals (on twitter, for example!) really helped.

3. You have to talk to people.
A lot of people. I didn't get into archival studies because I thought I'd get to be a hermit, but I wasn't prepared for the amount of talking I'd need to do. Even working in a closed university archive without a reading room, I talked to my colleagues and my manager, of course, but also our chief librarian, the head of special collections, and the dean on a regular basis, not to mention the recruitment department, the student newspaper, and the committee in charge of planning anniversary celebrations for the institution. I lost whole days of processing work (on a deadline!) because I had to handhold an administrator through finding appropriately diverse historical photos of celebrations past.

4. You become an obsessive about your piles.
When I worked as a processing (arrangement & description) archivist, I became a neat freak. I've never been a particularly tidy person, but I would be in the middle of sorting a collection of letters when suddenly I realized it was 5pm and I needed to go home. I'd have a conference room-sized table covered in discrete piles of ephemera, peppered with little folded notes to my colleagues: PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH. IF YOU NEED THIS TABLE, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. PLEASE, PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH MY BEAUTIFUL PILES OF STUFF.

5. You don't have to like all of it...
I learned about archiving as a holistic endeavour - arrangement, description, appraisal, conservation, and access as many aspects of one job. In large or well-resourced institutions, this is patently untrue, of course - there are departments for acquisition, appraisal, and description, with staff members who rarely cross over into other areas. Lots of workplaces, though, are small enough that everyone wears multiple hats. I was, for a time, the only archivist, so I got to wear all the hats. It was during this time that I realized a core truth about myself: I hate writing descriptions. Recognizing and being honest about the parts of the job that appealed to me and the parts that didn't gave me a chance to grow as an archivist in productive ways, and it opened a lot of doors to the world outside of our tiny profession.

6. ... and you don't have to live it.
Being an archivist is a job. Fobazi Ettarh's “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: the Lies We Tell Ourselves” applies to archivists too. Some people live their work, at the workplace and outside it, and that's great if it works for them. But I’m not a lesser archivist because I prefer to have a solid work/personal life divide.

7. You have to justify your work.
In my first job as an archivist, I had to have one particular discussion over and over again: why did the archival collections need specific description software? I ran out of ways to say, "Because archival data is different than [library/digital humanities/scholcomm] data" in a way that made a lasting impact. It was frustrating, and it taught me a sobering truth: my colleagues who weren't archivists didn't know much about archives. I learned to be patient. I learned to repeat myself. I learned to stick to my belief that our collections deserved to be properly resourced. And I learned to do it with a smile on my face… most of the time.

8. You can do something else.
The archival world is small, and we're all competing for jobs, and there isn't enough work for the number of archivists who are graduating every year. I lucked into a good job as an archivist, but soon realized that the day-to-day work of a lone arranger just wasn’t for me. I was able to convert my diverse experience into a totally different kind of library job (communications!), and then moved right out of archives altogether and into software development. Look around and you'll find that lots of professions are looking for smart, passionate stuff-organizers.

9. No one has the answers.
Email, social media, digital preservation - we're still figuring it out. I regularly feel lost when it comes to these topics, but I’ve realized over time that it's okay to feel lost because we're all lost, as a profession. It's easy to focus on the small majority of people and institutions that are making headway - they're the folks who present at conferences and write papers and tweet about their amazing work. They’re wonderful! They're truly doing some exceptional work. But it's also okay to be the person who is doing the little things. You want to be ahead of the game on digital preservation? Make sure that your content isn't stored on a hard-drive and you'll be doing more than many. As we continue to push the boundaries of what archiving comprises in the 21st Century, it's okay to take an inch rather than a mile. Positive incremental change can be as powerful as the big leaps.

10. There's this moment.
I've talked to a lot of archivists about The Moment: the first time you realized that you were, as an archivist, responsible for something magnificent. My moment was holding a field book that was owned by Frank Urquhart who, along with his wife Norah and local Mexican guides, discovered where monarch butterflies migrate in winter. It wasn't the most exciting piece of archival content I'd handled, but it had a deep resonance for me, a kid who loved bugs and nature documentaries and was fascinated by the story of monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico. Holding that field guide, I felt connected to the Urquharts, to scientific discovery, to something outside my archive. That moment is the one I think about when I'm downtrodden about lack of funding or bad policy. It's a moment that will always stick with me. And it’s a moment I’ve taken with me, even as I walked away from a traditional archivist role, as a reminder that my work has enduring meaning.

Sara Allain still calls herself an archivist and librarian, even though she decamped from the profession to work for a company that makes free and open source archival software. Spending her days frolicking through METS-XML files, format policies, and the vagaries of the software development lifecycle, she's never been happier. She's on twitter at @archivalistic.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Shame and Reading: Some Thoughts on Popular Reading Materials

I've been thinking a lot about shame and reading lately. I had a conversation recently in which I started to feel a little ashamed of my reading habits, and realized I shouldn't. (This wasn't because of anything the other person said or did. Just fighting habits of years feeling like I was supposed to read "important" literature.) Feeling ashamed can transfer in so many ways, both personally and professionally. Sure, I am the director of library services at a community college that serves 4 different counties, have a deep and wide intellect and curiosity for learning, and seem to have an addiction to attaining advanced degrees. But I'm also a human being who lives in this culture that seems designed to degrade and depress (capitalism is the worst). Why shouldn't I read fun things?

Here are some books that I'm either currently reading or have finished recently (meaning within the last few weeks):
  • Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs. It's in the middle of two intertwined series - "Alpha and Omega" and "Mercy Thompson" - which are these wonderfully written books set in a world with werewolves and vampires and fae and magic, but with politics and history that is ostensibly the same as the United States in which I live. Reading these books is like slipping into a warm bath. They aren't particularly page-turner-y, with suspense and intrigue, but they are comfortable and soothing.
  • Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett. Oh, how I love the "Discworld" series. These books are expertly written parodies of sword & sorcery that still stay true to the tropes and functions of the genre it parodies. This one in particular made fun of Hollywood and popular culture. And I loved it.
  • The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. Part biography, part history of science (evolution), part science, and all rivetingly interesting. Everything from Darwin to a discussion of the arms race going on between bacteria and the makers of antibiotics.
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler. An African-American woman keeps getting pulled back to pre-Civil War Maryland to save a white ancestor of hers. Engrossing commentary on race and politics and capitalism and gender and a bazillion other concepts.
As you can see, my reading ranges from works that are more ephemeral and fluffy to books that some consider part of the American canon. What's more - I checked every single one of these out from a library, which is as it should be. And for those of you who work at public libraries, you're likely nodding your head and thinking, "Of course! How is this even a question? Why are you even writing about it, Jessica?" I'm not really talking to you. 

I'm talking, instead, to the academic libraries that are still holding out from buying popular reading materials. First of all, it is an entirely defensible expense: People are writing academic discourse on Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy and Amy Tan and a bazillion other so called popular authors. In the past, Jane Austen and Shakespeare and Horatio Alger were all popular authors who have been studied again and again in the intervening years. I'm sure you have a popular culture scholar or two on your campus who would add their voice to your argument. Second, even if you are down the street from a public library (which is somewhat rare), why are you passing responsibility ignoring the needs and wants of your community? Third, the ability to sustain attention reading is a transferable skill. 

In my life before academia, I worked in a book store, and I'll never forget a conversation I had with a regular customer. I was talking about some piece of fluff I'd read recently, and then I berated myself for not reading "good" books more often. Her response was, "a 'good' book is the one you enjoy."

I know that we in academic libraries are supposed to support the scholarly record and the curriculum and the research needs of our communities, but shouldn't we also support the other needs of our patrons? Why are we shaming them about their interests in reading by leaving fun books out of our collections? Even if we aren't shaming them on purpose, it is still shaming. Besides, if we're trying to get people to value the library, shouldn't we be providing materials we know they will appreciate? Buy some good books.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

10 Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School as a Then-Future Cataloger, by Jessica Schomberg

numbers counting down from 10 to 1

I went to library school to be a cataloger. There wasn’t an official cataloging track, but it was pretty easy to design your own. I also went to library school almost 20 years ago, in the midst of a massive shift in how library schools were structured – my first year I attended a Graduate School of Library and Information Science, my second year it was an iSchool! This is a mix of things I wish I’d learned in library school… and some things that I’m glad I learned later.

  1. Diversity and inclusion. My advisor, the wonderful Allyson Carlyle, did introduce us to the work of Sandy Berman. But in general, taking a critical approach to librarianship wasn’t a concept to me at the time. There was no institutional expectation that anyone know anything about cultural issues other than “freedom of information” in a really narrow sense. And by narrow, I mean it didn’t even hint at the history of segregated libraries in the US, nor did it critique library workplace rules that forbid talk of unionizing. Why does this matter for catalogers? Because if we’re creating and applying cataloging standards based on a monocultural approach to the world, we’re inadvertently excluding or harming some of our patrons.
  2. Advocacy skills. We did have some discussions about how to respond to patron advocacy in terms of collection development, but I don’t remember any discussions about how to advocate with external agencies for the library, for library workers, or for patrons. I accidentally wound up at a library with strong unions, and it has overall been an incredibly positive experience for me as a worker. I’ve also been really impressed by the organizing work of librarians including Emily Drabinski. I still wish I’d had some training in how to act as an advocate for myself and others.
  3. Leadership and management. I could have taken a class. I actively didn’t want to supervise anyone at the time, so I deliberately didn’t take it. Looking back, I kind of regret that choice. But it probably would have been framed in a “how to be The Man” sort of way, so maybe it’s just as well that I avoided it. (Those of you who took library management classes, what did you think?) [Editor’s Note: My management class was completely useless.]
  4. Teaching and pedagogy. I was going to be a cataloger, I didn’t need to know how to teach! Insert crying gif here. This was the wrong choice. Real life led to me doing library instruction classes as part of my current job, and some training would have for sure helped. But also, and more importantly, if you’re a cataloger you’re probably going to end up teaching or training others how to catalog stuff at some point. For people who go the academic route, this might be during conference presentations. For people who choose public libraries, you’ll probably end up presenting information to coworkers or supervisors or community groups at some point. Learning how to do this in a classroom setting is far preferable to being dumped in front of people and told to speak.
  5. Technology can make you feel ambivalent. We had access to a range of technology classes -- how to build your own computer, website design, database design, etc. And I took all of these that I could, because they were so practical and because tech was cool. (This was the late ‘90s, people. It was a brave new world.) Anyway, since then I’ve occasionally tried to take coding classes because it seems like something catalogers should do. But frankly, I don’t find the topic interesting on its own. Give me stuff to organize and tell me what tools I need to do the job, and I’ll work through it. But learning tech for its own sake? Meh.
  6. Theory is important. You can get practical, hands-on experience at work, volunteering, internships, but you’re not going to have this kind of opportunity to have guided exposure to theoretical analysis outside the classroom. Your library school doesn’t offer those classes? Depending on your academic background, see if you can take an ethnic studies, disability studies, gender studies, or sociological theory course as an elective. Humans are the most important part of being a librarian, so it’s good to know more about them.
  7. Take statistics. You may not want to do formal quantitative research, but learning statistics is really helpful training for when you have to interpret data, make decisions, and create assessment and budget reports.
  8. Look around at your classmates. Who’s not part of your cohort? Who’s the only one of their kind in your cohort? Maybe you can’t do anything as a student to fill in these gaps, but pay attention -- and start thinking about how this will impact your professional network and professional practice.
  9. Patience. It doesn’t need to all happen right now. It took me several years after library school before I started coming into my own. By the time I figured myself out (thank you, therapy!), I was far outside of the eligibility period for any of those new professional opportunities. We don’t all have to pop out of grad school fully grown. It’s ok to be a slow bloomer.
  10. Reasonable expectations. You won’t learn everything you need to know in library school. This isn’t a bad thing. If all goes well, maybe you’ll be a person who creates new things for students to know in the future!

Jessica Schomberg is currently serving as Library Services Department Chair at Minnesota State University, Mankato, juggling other responsibilities including Media Cataloger and Assessment Coordinator. This is hir FOURTH post for LtaYL. The first was “My (Library) Life with Invisible Disabilities”. The second was “The Power to Name”. Most recently, ze wrote an interview post. Ze tweets as @schomj.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Why I Hate Quantitative Data

We've been talking about assessment a lot at work. More importantly, we're talking about meaningful assessment, which is good because if we were only going to discuss counting things - inputs and outputs - I'd roll my eyes so hard that I could possibly do damage to my ocular nerve. And then I'd pass out from boredom.

I should be honest, though. I don't actually hate quantitative data. It can be useful, especially when you're trying to make staffing decisions, to know when your busy times are. Also, some upper administrators like numbers better than stories. (I still think you need to know why people are coming into the library to understand the meaning of head counts.) Really, what I hate is the supremacy of the count-all-the-things mentality, which frequently rules supreme because people think it's easier. It's not actually easier, if you really want to do it right, but people think it is. Here's a list of things that people don't seem to consider:
  • Counting just to count doesn't accomplish anything, and actually adds to your workload without any kind of meaningful outcome. Counting just to count literally and figuratively is just a waste of time. 
  • You frequently end up gathering information you shouldn't have. I get angry when I think about all the surveys I've taken that want to know my gender or my age that have NOTHING to do with gender or age.
  • You will never have a consistent definition of anything you're counting. Want to know how many books do you have? You have to figure out what do you even mean by books. Titles? Monographs? Physical entities? Want to know how many people come into the library? Are we doing a door counter? Is it actually working? What about people who go out and come back in again? Want to know your circulation numbers? Should renewals be included? What about things that are pulled off the shelf but never checked out? And so on and so on... And this is exacerbated when you are talking about multiple institutions instead of just multiple people. Yes, I'm looking at you, IPEDS.

Instead of gathering numbers because "we've always done it this way" or "we need to give them some data", try thinking about why you want the information. If you're trying to make decisions about staffing levels, numbers are exactly the thing to do. But if you're trying to learn what gaps you have in your collection, you'll need to gather a different kind of information as part of reference interactions. Also try thinking about how you'll use the information. If it's a report that you've sent to the provost every month for years and years, maybe ask your director to check with the provost to see if they find the report useful.

There are so many good places to look for qualitative assessment tools in libraries. The Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project is a good place to start if you're new to the idea. I've used a lot of techniques I learned from reading that website and a book that came out of the project, College Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know. Also attended a talk given by one of the authors, Andrew Asher, a few years ago. And that's what you should do - look to see what resources you can find at conferences. Do a quick search in an education database for "qualitative assessment and libraries". If you're at an academic library, go talk to people in the sociology department or anthropology department or pretty much any social sciences.

I want to say this again: it's not so much that I hate quantitative data as that I hate our over-reliance on it as some kind of be-all-end-all method of assessment. We need to have more ways of looking at how we're doing than just counting inputs and outputs. I hope I've convinced you of that.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Just For Fun: Elizabeth Bishop


A long time ago (25-ish years) in a Galaxy far, far away (a Boston suburb), my parents gave me The Golden Treasury of Poetry. I think it was for Hanukkah, but it might have been for my birthday. It may sound like hyperbole to say this book changed my life, but it really did. In particular, the poem that is featured above blew my little mind. Up until I read "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop, I had no idea that poems didn't have to rhyme. I didn't know poetry could be so visual and symbolic and still feel good as you pronounce the words. Up until then, the poetry I'd read was probably nothing more than doggerel. Lines like "backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil" delighted me endlessly. I should say "delight" instead of "delighted" because "The Fish" is still, to this day, my favorite poem.

It started a small, but definite, obsession with the works of Elizabeth Bishop. Take, for instance, her sestina:
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house 
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.
The rules of a sestina are set and painstakingly particular and exacting. It's using the same words over and over again in a very specific pattern, and is sometimes seen as an intellectual exercise, but Bishop makes the intellectual exercise sing.

Then there's her poem "Casabianca." It is an homage to another poem by the same name, written by Felicia Hemans. The Hemans poem is shmaltzy and the kind of thing people are made to memorize (or at least used to be made to memorize) for public speaking classes. It's a poem about a boy's loyalty and love for his father. But Bishop's homage takes that idea and story to another place and punches me in the gut with its eloquence:
Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite `The boy stood on
the burning deck.' Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy.
I can pick up a collection of her works and open to any page and know I'm going to find something I love. Can't say that about any other poet, except maybe Shakespeare.

So how about you? Do you have a favorite poem? Poet? Please share!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Interview Post: Andrew Preater


Andrew Preater

Current job?
Director of Library Services at the University of West London

How long have you been in the field?
14 years, including my roles within libraries that were more IT-focused. I completed my LIS master's degree in 2011.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
I have the luxury of having my own office within our library, with a window that opens and a door that closes. I prefer my workspaces tidy without too much personalisation. I have some storage space for print books and reports, printed-out articles (for some reason I can only read scholarly work on paper), and those odds and ends that are useful to have around when you work in an office.

Otherwise, my office doesn't look that much different from when I moved into it. In the photo, my laptop is set up with an external monitor and the computer itself in 'tent' mode as a secondary display.

How do you organize your days?
As much as I love a nice pen and notebook, my university uses Microsoft Office / Office 365 so I organise my work using Outlook for calendaring, OneNote for note taking, and OneDrive and SharePoint for sharing and collaborating on documents. My calendar is open so everyone I work with knows my whereabouts and availability.

My method for organising work is modified from Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). My iron rule is not using my email inbox as a to-do list. Though I prioritise using software and systems hosted or subscribed by my employer for work one concession is Trello, which I use for a high-level overview and prioritisation of things and a to-do list.

For the record my preferred text editor is Vim.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Meeting and talking with people takes up much of my time, as does preparing for and planning for upcoming meetings, following up on them where necessary, and ensuring I've not missed anything that I need to be involved with. Such is the library director life. I've really come to appreciate good habits in meetings, from both organisers and participants.

One thing I spend time on that was understated to me by senior colleagues is time dedicated to thinking about both individual issues and the bigger picture. That is to say, although experience and deeper expertise helps develop the ability to make decisions quickly and accurately, you really do need to take time to understand things from different perspectives and think deeply.

What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day sees me arriving around 8.30 am, having already checked my calendar and to-do list so I have an overview of the day. There is no typical structure to my day, but there are always meetings, collaborative project work to attend to, and email to deal with.

During a normal week, I tend to compartmentalise days into those with more meetings, especially those with longer or more formal committee meetings, and those with fewer into which I deliberately build additional unstructured time. This means I can avoid too many days with meetings back-to-back over the whole working day, and ensure there is unscheduled time for those inevitable issues where you need to drop everything.

Our library senior management have settled on our own meetings running mid-week, and one-to-one catch up meetings with my direct reports at the end of the week. We also meet for a brief conversation at the end of the week to note and reflect on the main achievements and issues.

Whatever I am doing, I try to ensure I walk around the library a few times during the day, to gauge how staff and students are using the space, and to say hello and catch up with library staff in passing.

What are you reading right now?

I read a fair amount of scholarly work within and beyond LIS for professional development, so I usually also have an article or two on the go and a highlighter pen to hand. Alongside the rewards of learning in encountering new, challenging ideas beyond my experience, I have found this extremely good value for the time invested.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Taken as a whole my professional mentor's advice has been incredibly helpful and I am immensely grateful to her for sharing it with me. One thing that sticks out is the importance of seeking understanding beyond the limited perspective of your team or department when dealing with difficult problems, and fully considering different viewpoints before making decisions.

In higher education I've found there is great depth of knowledge embodied in the multi-professional teams I’ve worked with, but focusing that knowledge for transformative change is easier said than done. You have to actively work at seeking out and understanding each others' viewpoints.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
A previous line-manager once advised me that at a senior level, much more of the volume of work than you expect is about personnel or human resources issues. What wasn't explained to me was the extent to which emotional labour, relational work, and care work is implicated in these aspects of management roles. One thing I value a great deal in my current role is being able to place recognition and reward appropriately for emotional labour. 

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
I have some I know I over-use. Interesting, subjective, discourse (especially 'the discourse'), wonderful, problematic, fab.

What is your least favorite word?
I don't have any particular least favourite.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
At one point, I would have loved a career in Unix / Linux system administration. Happily I ended up doing a little of this in systems librarian roles.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Anything that involves working at a height.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
The ability to manipulate time while remaining unaffected myself. In saying this, I am just wishing for more time…

What are you most proud of in your career?
Personally, it is affirming to see those I've been able to support and mentor in their professional practice go on to achieve the goals they set for themselves and to fulfill their potential.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Years ago, I was a technical lead on a systems project that was ultimately reworked into a completely new project under new leadership. My mistake was thinking that stakeholder engagement and communication wasn't within my role but was that of the overall project lead, as I knew they had the political influence and capital required to get people together and engaged.

It turned out this wasn't enough. I learned such engagement works at multiple levels, and from an advocacy point of view is most effective when it comes from a position of an existing trusted working relationship. Leadership from the 'project executive' is needed, but is not the foundation.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Spending time with my wife and with friends. We value time in the countryside, and try to combine that with as much bird watching and cycling as we can.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Rosie Hare (@RosieHare), Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos), and Anne Welsh (@AnneWelsh).

Andrew tweets at @preater.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

LIS Mental Health Week: Palliative Cute Edition

In the past, my contribution to LIS Mental Health Week was deep and important feeling. I talked about emotional labor and I still know that is an important topic, but this year I decided to go in a very different direction - palliative cute. The world is a nightmare right now, but there is still so much beauty in it, and I just want to remind you of that.

Let's start out with a long time favorite of mine - an ibex who wins an argument about politics:

And next, an arctic fox thief:


How about a globe trotting chicken?

And let's finish it with the best picture on the internet:

If you ever need more cute to bolster yourself, remember that I have a semi-curated collection of cute things over on my pinboard account. (Semi-curated in this instance means that I try to label what the animals are so if you don't find snakes adorable, you won't get any nasty surprises.)

Hope this cute therapy helps.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Interview Post: Spencer Brayton


Spencer Brayton

Current job?
Library Manager at Waubonsee Community College. We have campuses in Sugar Grove, IL, Aurora, IL and Plano, IL (all about 50 miles west of Chicago, IL). As Library Manager, I am responsible for day-to-day library services and operations for the three campus libraries, in addition to strategic planning for the future of our campus libraries.

How long have you been in the field?
7 years

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
Fish bowl. Not a lot of privacy, but I have a nice view of the library. It's great to be able to see students studying and working together. I like having an open door policy, so it works well. Also, we just installed some new technology in the study space next to my office, so I am eager to see how it is used.

How do you organize your days?
Calendar and post-it notes (a lot!). I think it's also important to block some time out for reading, especially about our profession, technology, and leadership. We sometimes are so busy dealing with what comes up on a daily basis. It's helpful to take a step back and reflect on your work and opportunities/possibilities.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Supporting staff and colleagues. Budgets and planning as well of late. I also spend a lot of time on professional develop work and writing. As I am still fairly new in my position (7 months!), I like to get around and visit each campus library location. This spring, we are embarking on a process to update our library mission and visions statements.

What is a typical day like for you?
Meetings, email. I'm focusing on building relationships internally and externally with other departments (academic and non-academic). Still learning about my institution as I settle into my new job!

What are you reading right now?
Re-reading Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Slow-down! Patience is important. Each institution has its own culture and it takes time to learn that. I value this advice as it allows me the time it takes to build good working relationships.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Supporting multiple campus library locations. I really enjoy visiting the different locations- all are great learning spaces with their own unique feel. 

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?
Being a chef. I always wanted to attend cooking school.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
K-12 teacher- I don't think I'd be very good at it. I have a lot of respect for these professionals and the time they put into their work.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Seeing the future (although I also recognize the importance of being present).

What are you most proud of in your career?
Being able to present and publish research with some great colleagues. This collaborative work has allowed me to travel and visit different countries and cities. I am also most proud to be a part of an awesome profession and great mentors and colleagues!

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I've moved too quickly with change in the past- which is why the professional advice above is so important for me! I value the importance of supporting colleagues I work with and working hard to be transparent and admitting when I make mistakes.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Reading, watching my favorite sports teams, being with family.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Christian Lauersen, Shirley Lew, Lauren Pressley

Spencer tweets at @brayton_spencer.