Thursday, April 25, 2019

Interview Post: Violet Fox


Biographical

Name?
Violet Fox

Current job?
As of June 2018, I work for OCLC as one of the editors of the Dewey Decimal Classification.

How long have you been in the field?
I started working as a library student worker in 1995 and worked as a paraprofessional for seven years, but I was outside of libraries for a while (buy me a drink and ask me about my job as an internet content moderator). I got my MLIS in 2013 from the University of Washington iSchool.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
The Dewey editorial team has been working at the Library of Congress since 1932, so in keeping with that tradition I work at LC, but in not the fancy Jefferson buildingthe boring building next door. I keep my cubicle pretty sparse. The two computers reflect the two organizations I work within: one belongs to OCLC, the other to LC.

How do you organize your days?
I use handwritten lists on scratch paper for daily tasks, color-coded Google calendar entries for longer term tasks, and text documents for ideas for future projects.
The Pomodoro Technique is a lifesaver.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
There’s a lot of research, especially researching topics that potentially need revision in the DDC schedules: recent subjects I’ve investigated include sewage systems, coloring books, eunuchs, and BASE jumping. The editorial team is only four people, so we work closely together to review each other’s work and bounce ideas off each other. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the editorial rules that govern the development of the DDC, so I refer to those frequently.

What is a typical day like for you?
Things I might do in a typical day: answer a question from a Dewey user, review another editor’s work, research one of my own projects, investigate the history of a particular Dewey number, reach out to one of our international partners for suggestions on how to address a particular problem. Sort through email. Lots of phone/video meetings, since my boss and most of my coworkers work in Ohio. I often have lunch or a coffee break with someone from LC; it’s difficult to get to know anyone outside my tiny department, so I try to be intentional about reaching out and making connections.
What are you reading right now?
I recently finished
Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science by Carol Kaesuk Yoon. I’ve been reading a lot about classification in a variety of fields; Yoon’s book is a popular science discussion of the history of scientific taxonomy and how it differs from folk taxonomy.
I just started The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth. Work is sending me to Stockholm & Oslo next month for a conference and it’ll be my first time overseas, so I’m reading up to alleviate some anxiety about that.
I’ve outsourced all my memory of books I’ve read to my GoodReads account, which leads to moments of panic as I totally blank when anyone asks what I’ve been reading.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
I’ve heard Dr. Nicole Cooke (@LibraryNicole) speak a few times and have walked away energized and inspired by her focus on figuring out what you want your legacy to be. Reflecting on that periodically helps me focus my energy on the things that matter to me (e.g., making the case for the value of metadata, being encouraging to new library folks, bringing transparency to my work).  

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Defending Dewey (the classification, not the man)

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
I love learning new color words. Recent favorites are corbeau (a very dark shade of green, almost black) and eau de Nil (a pale green).

What is your least favorite word?
Every single word that comes out of the mouth of the man currently living in the White House.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Throughout the years I’ve taken a few personality tests that suggest likely careers based on my temperament. Usually number two is librarian, and for whatever reason, number one is always X-ray technician. So I should probably give that a go if this library thing doesn’t work out.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Marketing.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Just the regular power of not having to struggle with depression. That’d be neat.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Whatever I’ve been able to contribute towards building communities of generous and compassionate people in the overlapping circles of librarianship that I inhabit.
If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Honestly, I don’t evenwhere would I start? I’ve had entire jobs that were mistakes.
Most of my mistakes are the result of procrastinating, which is absolutely my worst trait. Not wasting time putting off small tasks is the life lesson I never seem to learn.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Often organizing zine librarian stuff or, occasionally, critlib stuff. Occasionally writing Wikipedia articles. Thinking about the next issue of my zine about roadside attractions. Sending snail mail. I moved halfway across the country for this job, so a good amount of my time is spent traveling to visit my spouse, or counting the days until our next visit.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
A few of the amazing folks from my grad school cohort: Alyssa Jocson-Porter (@itsuhLEEsuh), Elizabeth Brookbank (@elizabethbrookb), and Eli Gandour-Rood (@eliganrood).


Violet tweets at @violetbfox.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Teach Yourself Twine: How to Create a Catalog Search and LC Call Number Review Game, by Jillian Sandy

My problem was this: after depending on a shelving tutorial borrowed from another institution for training purposes, suddenly the URL changed or the site no longer hosted this excellent (and free) resource. I thought I’d never have the time or the coding skills to make my tutorial. I was so wrong. I ended up creating a fun, low-stakes game that helped student employees a way to practice catalog searches and using the Library of Congress system, and I want to share with you!

The game additionally allows student employees to further explore catalog searching and to nudge them toward using the catalog to search for books--I created this game at the University of Dayton, where the default search option is UDiscover (OneSearch at many institutions), a tool we do not recommend for looking up books.


If you’d like to do something similar, here’s how: you will need to choose a free, relatively easy-to-use platform. I recommend Twine, open-source software created to build interactive stories. Though you can use this in-browser, I would recommend downloading the program for Windows, Mac, or Linux. You’ll have a lot more storage space for your game this way--important if you’d like to include adorable pictures of cats, gifs, or video to add some visual appeal.


Twine very easily lets you create a beginning and end to your game. You can also link pages to each other--for example, the pages student employees will see when they answer a question correctly or incorrectly, as well as links to the next question on their adventure.


Now for that pesky coding part of the process. You will need to do some coding to change font and image sizes, and perhaps to add images or create links (for example, when giving attribution for images). The good news: you can Google all of these things! I have very little experience with coding and managed to create this game--you can too!


One additional consideration with Twine is the use of images; first, you will need to find images that are out of the public domain, licensed by Creative Commons, or otherwise unencumbered by copyright restrictions. I found many images requiring attribution only at Vecteezy and Pixabay. I also like Unsplash for this kind of thing.


Unlike a blog or another site where you can upload images, images in Twine will need to be encoded. Again, you’re in luck--there are many sites where you can encode images for free! ou will need to turn your image into a rather lengthy line of code. I used a site called Base 64, which allows you to drag and drop images to transform into code. Below is an example of an image and the beginning of its code.





Another option in lieu of images are gifs. On sites like Giphy, the embed code is provided! All you need to do is copy and paste the embed code and the whole ordeal of encoding images can be avoided. 

When you have completed your game, you can export the file as an HTML file. This will lead to another consideration: hosting. Luckily, there are several places where you can host your Twine creation with no cost. I use Philome.la, which does require a Twitter account to sign up. If you do have an account, you will simply upload the HTML file you have created. No need to worry about the URL changing or the content suddenly disappearing! Be aware that you cannot change your game once you’ve uploaded it; if you need to make changes, you will need to edit the HTML in Twine and then re-upload as a new game (with a new URL). 

The game I created is pretty low key, requiring student employees only to complete the game and print or screenshot their “Purr-tificate of Completion.” However, the Twine Cookbook does outline the process of adding or subtracting points based on student responses (and provides some other helpful codes). Using a points system does provide an assessment tool for the game, though may feel more like a test to students than the interactive practice game I set out to make. 

In addition to training for student employees, I see the potential of this activity to be used as pre-work for library instruction sessions. Covering some search strategies ahead of time could give librarians more time to dive into information literacy concepts during class. 

If you’re feeling adventurous, play the game here: 
http://philome.la/JSandcat/searching-ud-catalog-a-roesch-library-adventure. You may need to search the UD Catalog to avoid any negative consequences from the game’s disgruntled cats: http://flyers.udayton.edu/search/X. (I've had some problems with Twine going down temporarily every now and then...but since it's free I have made do.I also have it hosted on Text Adventures here: https://textadventures.co.uk/games/view/aSyZJWezq0qdEwErOY11BQ/searching-the-ud-catalog-a-roesch-library-adventure) 


Jillian Sandy is a Visiting Research & Instruction Librarian at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She can be reached at jssandy at smcm dot edu. Find many pictures of her cat on Instagram as jsheilas.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

One on One Meetings with Library Faculty and Staff



The most valuable thing we all have is time. As a mid-level administrator, my time is definitely at a premium with all the meetings I have that take me out of the library. And yet, I make sure to take time to meet one-on-one with every single person who works for me regularly. For those of you who may not know this, I'm the director of library services at a small/medium community college, and I have 17 direct reports according to the organizational chart. Yes, you read that right - 17. Sure, that's a lot of meetings, but it's important to me.

It's so important to me that I meet with everyone at least monthly, but more often if they'd prefer. So far, it's turned out that I meet with 3 of the people who work in the library on a weekly basis, 1 person bi-weekly, and everyone else monthly. Now, to be clear, these are the formal, sit down in a room with the door closed so we won't be interrupted kind of meetings. I have plenty of impromptu meetings and try to be as available as possible. But I sit down with everyone at least once a month.

Why do I do this? Let me say right away that it is not so I can be a control freak. I do not micromanage (well, mostly I don't - I do get a little huffy about self-care and trying to encourage work/life balance). It's because I want to know what's going on so I can be as helpful and supportive as possible. It's also because I want to make sure I have face time with everyone. Sure, I have opportunities to talk with full time library faculty and staff on a regular basis, but I really don't have that with part time people - with the exception of the adjunct librarian with whom I do my weekly reference desk shift. So these meetings are a way for me to give my time and attention, but they are also selfish because I wouldn't get a chance to talk with lots of my direct reports otherwise.

And what happens in these meetings? Well, that depends on who is in the meeting and what's going on in the library and at the college. These meetings are usually very informal, with shared responsibility for agenda items. I aim to have my agenda items to people ahead of time, but I fail way more often than I accomplish this. I definitely give time to think if it's a thinking thing. Some topics that come up on a regular basis:
  • Work goals and projects;
  • Career goals;
  • Stress levels and workload.

The way I see it, it's my job to make things go smoothly for everyone who works in the library since they are the ones taking care of our patrons directly. I can't do that if I don't know what's going on, and everyone has a different perspective in the library.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

National Library Workers Day

I've said it before and I'll say it again: my job, as an administrator, is to make things good for my direct reports. One of the simplest ways I can do that is to occasionally let them know how much I appreciate the work they do. I get everyone a little something for the winter gift-giving season, speak up about their successes in broader meetings, bring macarons regularly, and so on. One thing I've done every year since becoming an administrator is to acknowledge National Library Workers Day. I've also started trying to remind others:

The thing is, you don't have to spend a lot of money to do this. Last year I bought everyone a zipper pull that says "READ" and this year, I bought everyone cute magnetic bookmarks I found on Etsy.



I also made cards for everyone! (For the record, I wrote individual messages to accompany the Target gift cards everyone got for the winter gifty. It's not always a one size fits all approach.)



The important thing is to mix it up. I have a lot of variety in dietary restrictions and preferences among the staff. It's easy to get gluten free macarons, but I also have someone who works for me who is vegan. I probably do overdo it with the cute things (I gotta be me), but even that balances out with highly practical Target gift card. Even the Target gift card was a thing that took conversation and consideration to pick. It's the one store in the area to which everyone has access, and I asked a few people for feedback before the first time I did it.

The gifts I give are never expensive, and I make sure to balance them out with real and specific praise for people's strengths and triumphs, but National Library Workers Day is an important holiday in my part of the world and I suggest other library administrators celebrate it in some way if they can.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Just for Fun: Cute Gifs Galore

First, the G in "gif" is pronounced like the G in "girl".

Second, thought I'd take this just for fun post and share some of my favorite and most used (perhaps abused?) gifs. Just a quick little fun post to serve as a respite before you plunge back into the void that is contemporary culture. Also, I feel the need to balance the heavy post I published earlier this week.

Not feeling sure of yourself? This cat knows that feel.


Feeling exceptionally sure of yourself? Like you could take on a monster many many times bigger than you? This cat is right there with you.

 
So excited about something good that you can't stand it? Monsieur Wigglebutt is on your wavelength.


Feeling the opposite? Hate the entire world? Here's a different kind of canine who agrees 100%.


And one more emotional spectrum... are you feeling bad about something you did wrong? Like this cat?


Or know you did wrong, but don't care at all?






I hope this string of relatively nonsensical gifs has put a smile on your face. If you need more cute, please remember I have a semi-curated collection of cute and distracting gifs over on my Pinboard account, ready at a moment's notice to help you find a smile.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Death of a Staff Member

Just before the beginning of the semester, I had to handle the fallout and ramifications of losing a staff member suddenly and unexpectedly. It was hard and I found myself wishing someone could help me with how to move forward. The person who died was very dear to everyone in my library and at my school, had worked here a long time, and had even graduated from this institution, so what I'm writing about how I handled it is coming from that perspective. Every post I publish has a little YMMV to it, but the differences between your experience and mine could pretty vast, so please don't take what I've written here as gospel. Also, I've made this as general as possible - there are a few things I've had to do that are pertinent to this situation that I doubt I will ever have to do again. I'm leaving those bits out of this out of respect for him, his family, and everyone who was touched by this death.

Also, please note that I'm going to present this in as coherent a manner as possible, and generally in chronological order in which things occurred/were important. I don't think I've left anything off the list, but I may have. If there's something you think would be on this list that isn't, please ask. Also, since this is a bit longer than I normally write, I'm going to put some important things in bold so they stand out.

The very first thing that happened was that my boss came down to the library to let me know what had happened. It was before the start of the semester, during a period where faculty and staff are generally on campus and professional development is being offered. We have hosted morning coffee in the library the last few semesters, so I thought my boss was coming down to take advantage of free coffee. She pulled me aside, though, and gave me the news. I'm not someone who is easily shocked, I don't think, but I had to sit down and couldn't breathe for a moment. But my usual MO is to take care of others before worrying about myself (yes, this approach bites me in the ass on a regular basis, and I'm working on it), so I pushed my own grief down and moved onto the next step.

Which was to gather all the staff together and let them know immediately. I asked my boss - the provost, mind you - to kind of hang out and stay with the coffee for 5 minutes or so while I did this. I felt weird asking the person who is in charge of all of academic affairs to babysit the coffee station, but I needed to tell every person who was working that day at once but also didn't want to completely abandon our continental breakfast offering. I pulled everyone out of their offices and asked them to go to one specific area. When I got push back from one person who was in the middle of something, part of me wanted to say, "aren't I normally the 'when you have a moment' kind of boss? Don't you think if I say now, it might be important?", but I didn't. I just insisted.

And when I told them, I didn't pull any punches. I front-loaded the news: "[Name] died last night. Here is the little that I know, and this is how we found out." After a few brief moments, I shifted again into figuring out how to handle what was immediately in front of us:
  • I asked people who were newer to the library and/or who didn't have as close of a relationship with the person who died to staff the service points and to go watch the coffee set up;
  • Those of us who were able to hold it together emotionally divvied up informing current library faculty and staff who were not in the library that day and people who worked for the library until recently;
  • I touched based with the person who coordinates the part of the library where this person worked to figure out how to cover the hours this person was supposed to work that week, since this person staffed a service point.

After I knew everyone who is currently employed in the library knew, we reached beyond the library and let a few others know. A message was posted on Facebook that day by the staff member's family, so we were able to reach a lot more people that way. People who worked for the library in the recent-ish past and people who work in other departments with whom this person had a close enough relationship.

It was at that point - the point where news went beyond the library - that I was contacted by the person who is over our counseling department who all offered help. They offered to do a debrief/group session, or to talk to people individually. I hadn't thought about that aspect at all, I have to admit. I was so worried about keeping myself together and my emotions under control and keeping things running. To have that offer come in unsolicited was a huge help to me. Some of us have therapists, sure, but the immediate needs and grief were a bit more than some of us could handle. Also, while talking about the counseling department's offer, I reminded everyone that we also have an Employee Assistance Program here, should people not want to talk about their grief with someone who is basically a coworker. People decided not to do a group session, but a couple did ask for details about the EAP.

It's been a few months at this point, so the specifics of what happened the day we got the news and what happened the next couple of days is blurry, but I'm fairly certain the only other thing I handled that day was to begin the process of hiring a new staff member to take that slot on the schedule. I know it may seem a bit callus, and I felt that way at the time, but I was open about this coming from a place of kindness with the staff who were working that day. They actually reassured me that the prospect of working all those extra hours on top of trying to grieve was daunting, and to a person they all thanked me for being prompt with taking the first steps towards hiring a replacement.

I know we had some discussions about how to alert the campus community - both the employees of the institution as well as the students. I pushed for and got a quicker than normal email announcement to the community of this person's passing. They'd been a student at the institution prior to working here, and this person had worked in the library for close to 20 years - a lot of lives touched. We also posted a small memorial at the service point where this person worked. I was so grateful to my past self for pushing this person to get an updated photo taken for the library's staff page, because it was perfect.

Then there was the hardest part, for me: communicating with the family. I wanted to make things as easy on them as possible, and so I offered to come to them to do things like pick up keys and any other library property as well as delivering a final paycheck and bringing this like their coffee pot and other miscellaneous personal items.I was so thankful that one of my direct reports came with me. That would have been impossible to handle, with all the nuances of detail that needed to be communicated and the heavy emotional lift of listening to them talk about how loved this person was and how this person had loved working at the library.

The family decided on a closed, small funeral service, but I wanted my library's community to have more of a way to grieve, so we held a memorial in the library. Before I get to how we handled that, there are a few, scattered things that I want to make sure you know to think about:
  • Changing the voicemail so it didn't have the deceased staff member's voice;
  • Taking their picture off the staff page;
  • Removing their name from places like their mailbox, the org chartk and the birthday list that were posted in the staff room - not to erase them, but to remove the daily unexpected reminders of their absence;
  • Figuring out if I could give out a mailing address for people who wanted to send a condolence card (I checked with Human Resources about this).

I did not plan the memorial. I know it was a bit selfish, but I'd already done a lot of emotional heavy lifting around this death, and knew I couldn't do more without breaking even further. Further, there were three library employees who I asked who were happy to have something to do to help their grieving process. The details of the memorial, and how we paid for it, ended up being fairly specific to our context and the person who died - we had their favorite cookies available, for instance - but the really important thing was that it allowed for a final moment of catharsis. The person's family showed up in force, as did a lot of administrators and faculty. It ended up being a very informal event, but I know it helped us all.

It's been three months since that morning when my boss walked into the library to let me know about the death. I'm just starting to feel myself again, and I think the rest of the library staff are, too. We've even made an offer and had it accepted to someone who will be taking the slot on the schedule, though we'll never be able to replace the person who died.

I hope that this helps you if you ever have to live through a similar circumstance. When I mentioned to people on committees that I serve on outside of my own institution that this was why I was behind on things, people were nothing but kind and a few even mentioned that they had gone through something similar. I got a few pieces of advice that helped me, and I hope that if you're someone who's gone through something similar, that you'll add your own advice below.

One of the things over which I bonded with my now deceased employee was music, so I'm going to leave you with a video from the artist we discussed most - Elvis Costello.