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.