Monday, December 15, 2014

Be Back in 2015

It's been a long, hard semester. Lots of good stuff accomplished, but I'm going to hold off publishing any new posts until 2015. Until then, I plan many naps and much relaxation.

See you all in January!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Adventures in Turning It Off and Back on Again, by Tegan Mannino

In a library, particularly public, “technology services” can be a bit nebulous to define. First off, what do we consider “technology,” and what role does it have in library services? You may officially have a shiny title such as “Technology Services,” “Systems,” or just be the reference librarian who’s better with technology. There are lots of things that can fall within this scope; I’ve found that if it even involves computers tangentially, I’ll be pulled in. Also, whatever that brand new tech thing is – expect questions about it. You are now the “expert” on it. If you’re new to this, or even if you’re not, I want to share a few things I’ve learned.

Areas of Expertise:
  • The Reference Interview
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • eBooks & Digital Content
  • Creation of Web Content
  • Emerging Technology

This is by no means exclusive or exhaustive, but more a touchstone. These are the everyday inquiries and issues that will likely arise when working in a library, even if you’re not the go-to techie. It is rare to visit a library without public computers, and circulating e-readers are almost common.


It’s been mentioned on this blog before, but it bears repeating: Don’t worry about knowing the answer to everything. Knowing how to find the correct answer is often just as important as knowing the correct answer. This is a big part of assisting patrons in research and with working on computers. Remember the “Reference Interview” from library school? This becomes the techie’s friend. It is a great tool for taking an original request for help and parsing it to figure out what the actual request is. Learn to explore, look for patterns, and sometimes go ahead and accept that you might mess up.

I had to learn to expect surprises and panicked reports of something gone wrong. You’ll also want to learn how staff and patrons talk about technology so that you can understand what they’re really saying and so you can help them better understand and communicate about technology. Plan for the weird and unusual; patrons will find unique and creative ways around policy restrictions.

Settling In:
  • What have you inherited?
  • How are patrons using technology?
  • How is the library using technology?
  • How can needs be better met?
  • What resources do you have?

Before going forwards you need to know where you are. There may be an IT department, a distribution of key responsibilities across staff, or there may just be you. Learn the set-up, including administrator accounts, and start from there. Dig up documentation if it exists, build documentation if it doesn’t already exist.

Why are your patrons coming in to use the library's technology offerings? Maybe they just want to play games on Facebook, or take an online class, or maybe graphic design and photo editing. Are those demands being met? Are there areas that patrons regularly need help that could be met by classes? How can you help increase digital literacy in the library and community? This is important for the now and for future planning. Do patrons bemoan the lack of certain digital resources that your library actually has? EBooks, for one come to mind. We all know that libraries have great resources, but we need to make sure that the resources we offer have both demand and awareness.

Both as part of settling in and as part of forward thinking, you should always be thinking about how to better meet community needs. Think small and think big. Learn what your resources are. What could the library offer? Maybe patrons what to edit images but Photoshop is too expensive for your library, so explore open source alternatives like GIMP. How can you upgrade or replace aging and malfunctioning computers within your budget? Would a low-cost option like a Raspberry Pi work for replacing sluggish Public Access Catalog stations? Learn about the historical funding sources for technology in the library (Friends of the Library, Kiwanis, grants?), meet the people involved, and search for new possibilities.


Going Forward:
  • Reach out to community groups
  • Keeping in-house technology up-to-date and in working order
  • Computer skills classes & workshops
  • Monitor emerging trends
  • Be a resource
  • Plan for the future
  • Take things one step at a time

Your focus should be on the library as a resource for the community, whether you actively work with patrons or support from behind the scenes. The technology services that libraries offer are immensely important to many library users across communities of every size. Reaching out to the needs of current users and potential users is part of your role as a Technology Services Librarian. Even if you’re not the final authority in the direction the library takes its technology services, chances are you will be involved in the planning. Stay informed about trends and innovations allows you to better support the library and meet patron demand.

No matter what, remember to take things one step at a time. Some days you will come into work with plans, you are going to get things done, and immediately are greeted with a panicked “_____ isn’t working!” and things cascade from there. Don’t Panic. Take a deep breath and work through it one piece at a time, doing triage as necessary to determine what needs fixing RIGHT NOW verses what can wait, and reassure people that you are on the job.

By your skills set, you are a resource. Your purpose in the library is to support staff and public.

Technology is changing, make sure to think ahead, and work with your library to meet future demands

Tegan Mannino is a librarian and geek from Western MA.  She spends far too much time reading and on the internet.  Her book reviews and (mis)adventures can be found at her blog, Libromancer's Apprentice.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pedantic Semantics: Why Word Choice Matters

I'll be the first to admit I can get a bit pedantic at times. I've even gotten in the habit of calling myself The Pedantic Panther when I get particularly picky in my writing group. But the thing is, words matter. Word choice matters. Here's one of my favorite examples of how that works in the broader world:

Here are a few words and phrases that are used a lot within library circles that bother me:

Free. Don't call the library's services "free." These things are not free. Not for us and not for the communities we serve. I don't have the biggest budget around, but even for my library the amount I pay for database subscriptions is not even close to free. Instead I say things like "included with the price of tuition," and when I talk about our consortium and the benefits it brings to my community, I say "our tax dollars at work." This might seem like splitting hairs, but then again there's that old saying "you get what you pay for" and I'd rather people think about their tuition and tax dollars with regards to the library than $0.00.

Scavenger Hunt. First of all, this particular kind of assignment is hard to pull off, pedagogically speaking. Learning doesn't stick if it's not contextualized. But that's besides the point. There's a pertinent quote from an old film that I saw when I was a teenager and on a classic movie kick. The movie is My Man Godfrey and the quote: 
"A scavenger hunt is exactly like a treasure hunt, except in a treasure hunt you try to find something you want, and in a scavenger hunt you try to find something that nobody wants."
So, if you must engage in that teaching approach, please call it a treasure hunt.

Customers. I know this is going to tick off some people, but thinking of the people who walk into our buildings as customers puts us on opposite sides of a transaction. Never mind the problematic aspects of "the customer is always right," (which they aren't... customers are frequently wrong). Let's focus on what it does to our thinking about those people: it turns the relationship into an Us vs Them kind of thing. And that's not what we want - not at all. Instead, think of them as members of your community. You're also a member of your community, right? In a lot of cases you live or work in the same municipality as your library, and at the very least you are a staff member of the institution. Also, if you think of the people who walk into your building as members of your community suddenly it's a partnership and you're on the same side. Working with instead of for, see what I mean?

Okay, so yes - I know I sometimes split hairs about words and word usage. Sometimes overly so. But other times word choice is important. Words frame our thinking about ourselves and our communities, so please do so carefully as you choose words both in what you say and what you write. The mindset you change just might be your own

So how about you? Do you have any pet peeves about library jargon? 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Black Lives Matter

Normally, I write these fun little blog posts once per month. The series began when I'd run out of guest posts and had to pinch hit. I write about comic books and funny animal videos and music. I had one of the last planned for today - a little homage to Neil Diamond with some of my favorite songs and a story about the time I saw him in concert.

But then the grand jury failed to indict the police who were filmed choking Eric Garner - a choke hold that eventually killed him. Garner's last words were, "I can't breathe." If you'll click the link earlier in this paragraph, you'll find a political cartoon that captures exactly how I feel right now.

Let me backtrack a bit. I know it's a manifestation of my privilege that when I first encountered the hashtag #blacklivesmatter my response was, "Of course black lives matter! How is that even a question?" But there is no denying that my feelings aren't common.

Like any good academic librarian, I've spent time studying at the students at my school, a minority serving institution. They are annoying and sweet and angry and dumb and smart. We sometimes have to call security because things get too loud in the library and the students stop responding to staff. Things are sometimes so quiet in the library I feel guilty not tiptoeing. But when I look at our students, our students who look more like Trayvon Martin and Tarika Wilson than they look like me, I get scared to a level I can't capture in words. Me, a pedantic little wordsmith, unable to communicate my grief and fright.

I know I might be speaking into an echo chamber by writing this post. But maybe, if I'm lucky, the echo will resound beyond this chamber. Because really, black lives matter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Recommended Reads

I realized it's been almost a year since I've shared my non-libr* reading with you, so I thought it was high time. Here are some things I've read lately that fall outside library science that I recommend highly.


The first up is Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind from 99u. I've written before about how  helpful I find that website and their blog posts, but this is a book with all that super practical advice for putting your ideas into action all in one place (well, not all of it, but a lot). It has short chapters with actionable advice for a variety of situations. I love this book so much I bought a copy for myself so I wouldn't have to steal the copy I borrowed from our library consortium. This is actually the first in a series of similarly practical books from 99u. I've been pushing Manage Your Day-to-Day on others already, and everyone has come back with good things to say.


The second book is more about emotions than the first but it can help practical decision makingThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are was hard to read in some ways, since the drive for perfection hasn't been an easy thing for me to abandon. On the other hand, letting go is worth it. After reading this book, I'm usually capable of believing that done is better than perfect. Also, playing to and working with my strengths is a much better use of my time than trying to be all things to all people. I know all fields have these issues, but I think embracing our mistakes is particularly hard for librarians. I recommend everyone read this. Really. Everyone. 


A new to me blog, Just Visiting, has me thinking lots of thinks since I discovered it. The author, John Warner, has the laudable (at least to a librarian) Twitter handle, @biblioracle. I find his observations about navigating academe as a visiting college instructor useful when applied to my own situation, despite the difference in our positions. In fact, there's at least one - if not two - blog posts I'm contemplating writing in response to his. 


Finally, this is one I'm still reading, but so far it's fabulous. Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food published by O'Reilly Media and written by Jeff Potter is exactly what you'd expect from a book with that title. There are lots of geek jokes - I laughed 4 or 5 times during the preface alone. There's also lots of good science. This book feels like a natural successor to Good Eats. That show taught me to cook by showing me the science of food and this picks up where the show left off. I'm loving this book so far.

How about you? What have you been reading lately that you think everyone should read? 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Publish or Perish, by Kaylin Tristano

Once upon a time a patron taught me a very important rule – if it’s not on the Internet, it must be by midnight. In other words, if you’re searching for something that doesn’t seem to exist, it becomes your responsibility to create it. The same is true for sharing knowledge in a professional context, whether by publishing in academic journals, writing for a blog, or presenting at conferences.
When you’re new to a role, a job, or even an entire discipline, you naturally have a lot of questions and all the answers are out there as long as you know where to look – professional publications, textbooks, conference sessions, social media, colleagues, etc. But as you gain experience, your questions get more complicated, the answers are harder to find, and you begin to notice that you’re on level ground with the people who used to have all the answers.
This is when you start creating your own solutions to the problems you’re encountering, and it’s also an optimal time to start thinking about publishing or otherwise sharing these experiences.
The first time I realized I had valuable things to share with my peers was at an academic library conference. I went to a session on utilizing iPads in the library – my school had been circulating iPads to faculty for some time and I hoped to learn new and better ways to facilitate learning on the tablets. The presentation was instead geared toward audience members looking to institute an iPad program - I was an advanced student listening in on a beginner’s lesson.
Finding yourself with more talking points than the presenter (or knowing the frustration that sets in after an intense and fruitless Google search) can signal a responsibility to start producing your own answers. But putting yourself out there for the first time, either in writing or quite literally by getting up in front of a crowd at a professional conference, can be a daunting or downright terrifying idea. The fear of public speaking, of potential embarrassment, of giving a 50 minute presentation on an idea that’s obvious to everyone else, may stop some from pursuing publication and sharing the valuable experiences they’ve gained on the job.
Many in academia – including librarians – are pushed to “publish or perish”, but librarians typically identify as information curators rather than creators. Besides,  the courage and motivation to share can be difficult to find. You may shy away from writing for publication out of the concern that your work is not groundbreaking enough to be worthy of an audience, because you’re not one of the ‘rock star librarians’ who regularly make the conference rounds and enjoy name recognition, or because what you want to say doesn’t have mass appeal, or even because you’re skittish about publicly disagreeing with a big name librarian.
 But all you really need to do in order to publish or present or share your ideas is say, “I had a thought and I believe some of my peers would benefit from hearing it.” It’s not a matter of revolutionizing the profession or synthesizing entirely new ideas – just do what librarians do best and make the answers you’ve found accessible. Gather, organize, create, and put it out there for everyone who might have the same questions you did before you created your own answers.
Share those answers.
And there’s no reason you can’t dip your toes slowly into the water before taking the plunge. If you have something you want to share and you’re not sure where to start, think small and let the idea snowball:
  • Talk about your topic with your colleagues or on Twitter;
  • Write a few blog posts for others in the field who accept submissions [editor’s note: Like this blog!];
  • Start your own blog if the spirit moves you;
  • Turn your idea into a poster session for a professional conference, then stand back and let your work speak for itself (bonus: fielding questions about a poster is a great ice breaker to help you work up to the idea of presenting a session);
  • Join a committee or professional organization and be active in it – having friendly faces and connections always makes sharing your ideas easier;
  • Partner with a colleague to present a session together – share both the work and the spotlight.

Just get your ideas out there so they’re not stuck in your head, benefiting no one but yourself. If nothing else, it’s your responsibility as a citizen of the Internet.

Kaylin Tristano is a writer and solo librarian/technology guru for a small career college in Akron, Ohio. She is the webmaster for ALAO and has written and presented on a variety of topics from library instruction to using Twitter as a networking tool. Her student worker provides the following testimonial: “Kaylin is not as funny as she thinks she is.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Living in My Discomfort: A Response to the Library Loon

The most recent post from Gavia Libraria (the Library Loon), "Silencing, Librarianship, and Gender: Confronting the Naked Emperor," resonated strongly and deeply with me. Some of the feeling was about the dissonance I experience when I juxtapose why I started this blog (as a way to tell the emperor that he has no clothes) with the fact that people are actually listening to me now. I'm worried about becoming the naked emperor.

I don't think I have become that naked emperor. Not yet, anyway. My trusted friends in the field are very likely to tell me if/when I'm deluding myself. There have already been a couple of times when I was ranting about something or other - privately, thank sweet Baby Buddha - when friends quietly and patiently corrected me about my misconceptions.

However, what I want to address is one part of the Loon post in particular:
"...the Loon asks of herself, and would ask of others, make more space in the soul for discomfort, for cognitive dissonance, for many kinds of difference, even for feelings of shame and inadequacy. This is hard—oh, is it hard; it’s the single most emotionally grinding aspect of teaching for the Loon. (Students and professionals do not often spare their instructors’ feelings; for many, instructors live in an Uncanny Valley between people and some sort of giant robot on a giant robot pedestal.) Hard though this is, it’s even harder to solve problems we won’t own."

Oh, man. As the saying goes, "I feel those feels."

My personal feelings of inadequacy come into play around how people have reacted to my blog and how I shake my fist and shout about the things that strike me as wrong. A strange thing has been happening where people tell me they admire me or even look up to me. This bothers me because I know all about the mistakes I've made. I know about the horrible stomach aches that ensue after I realize a mistake. Sure, I pick myself and dust myself off and learn from my mistakes. Of course everyone makes mistakes, but I worry that people who have told me how much they look up to me don't see the whole process. "Resilience over strength" is one of my favorite quotes for a reason - I don't seek failure, but neither do I resist it. Most importantly, I learn from my failures. And so, to live in my feelings of inadequacy, I'm going to try to be more public and honest about the mistakes.

How about you? What do you think of The Loon's call to action?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

So You Want to be a Catalog Librarian?, by Christine DeZelar-Tiedman

It may or may not be true that catalogers are born, and not made, but most catalogers I know naturally drifted toward it. For some it was through pre-professional work experience, for others it was in library school, where they were one of a handful of students who actually liked their introduction to cataloging class. However we got there, changes in technology, standards, and funding have all led to a radical evolution in what we professional catalogers actually do. This means there’s been a change in what skills are needed and desirable.

Caveat: My comments are from the perspective of a cataloging manager in a larger academic library, although a lot of what I have to say may also apply in other types of libraries.

The Cataloging Life
If you have a romantic notion in your head of spending your day with a stack of books, carefully crafting MARC records, think again. Although monographic cataloging tends to be the default in introductory cataloging classes and training sessions, in many libraries a large portion of books are received shelf-ready, and the batchloaded vendor records receive at most a cursory glance by a copy cataloger or acquisitions staff member. Also, larger and larger proportions of acquisitions budgets are going toward ebooks and electronic journals. Professional catalogers are much more likely to be managing copy cataloging staff, editing and loading records in batches, ensuring access to online resources, or providing cataloging expertise in a specialized format, language, or subject area. If you are an academic librarian, you will also be expected to serve on library and campus committees, be active in professional associations, and do research and publication. While many of us find cataloging relaxing and meditative (as well as intellectually stimulating), you’ll be focusing on item-level original cataloging far less often than you might expect.

Cataloging or Metadata?
Job postings for Metadata Librarians sound an awful lot like cataloging positions. Many libraries (including my own) use Metadata as an umbrella term to encompass traditional cataloging and metadata creation in other schema, such as MODS, METS, EAD, and Dublin Core. The most common model for a Metadata Librarian is to provide consultation regarding metadata standards for digital collections or other units or departments creating metadata, though some metadata postings seem to be traditional cataloging positions with a little bit of metadata thrown into the mix.

Desired Skills
The current library job market being what it is means there are a lot of aspiring catalogers out there looking for work. When hiring, there are particular job skills I’m looking for (and rarely find) that would help an applicant rise to the top of the pile.
  • Programming skills. Linked data is getting more and more important. Add to that the development of BIBFRAME, and you can see why catalogers who know how to code and can speak the language of IT staff will have a leg up in helping us use and transform cataloging data in multiple platforms.
  • Batch editing skills. Know how to use MarcEdit or OpenRefine? If you haven’t had the opportunity to use these tools, I recommend you start playing around with them. The ability to analyze data sets, and to see the big picture, rather than thinking record by record, is what’s needed.
  • Foreign language proficiency. If there are monographs sitting around my department waiting to be cataloged, chances are they are in a language that no one on staff can read. The tricky part is that the default languages taught by most colleges and universities are Western European languages such as French, Spanish, or German. We have numerous staff who can deal with those. I’d love to find someone who can handle Russian, or Arabic, or Hebrew, or South Asian languages like Bengali and Gujarati.

The good news is that there are fairly inexpensive ways to acquire most of these value-added skills. MOOCs, online tutorials, and open source software abound. Although cataloging has never deserved its reputation of being rote and rule-bound, the life of a cataloger today is dynamic, challenging, and at the center of cutting-edge technology. In fact, I’d say there’s no better time to be a cataloger than today.

Christine DeZelar-Tiedman is Manager of the Archives and Special Collections Metadata Unit at the University of Minnesota Libraries, and has worked as a cataloger in academic libraries since 1995. She received her MLIS from the University of Iowa, and is active in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ACRL. You can follow Christine's musings on books and reading on Twitter @Place4Readers and on her blog The Reader's Place.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wherefore Art I a Librarian?

Megan A. Brooks recently wrote a blog post about how she decided to become a librarian. Seeing her story made me think about my own path to librarianship, and I realized I've never told my story publicly. Since I'm not ashamed to steal/borrow ideas from people I admire, I figured why not?


Really, it was one of those too often maligned career tests. But let me back up and tell you what led me to that test.

Pretty early on in my undergrad days, I came up with what I thought was practical plan: to double-major in education and history, and to teach high school when I got out. Everything went according to plan until I actually got in a classroom. You see, I loved teaching, but watching my pre-practicum (a fancy term for a pre-student teaching gig) host teacher interact with his students made me realize that that kind of teaching was more than I was ready for at that age. So I dropped the education part and finished with a single major, in history. This left my path a bit less defined.

After graduation I caromed from job to job. I was a residence counselor for an autistic teenager. I was an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant. I was the senior bookseller at a now bankrupt national bookstore chain. I even sold shoes for a while. Not the most direct or obvious path to librarianship, I know.

Then I landed in the most "grown up" job I'd had yet. It was also the job that made me more miserable than I'd ever been: I was a secretary for an insurance salesman. I'll admit I wasn't the best secretary - I still had some growing up to do - but he was among the worst bosses I've ever known. He cursed me out semi-regularly, disrespected me, and treated me generally like crap. When I finally got up the nerve to say something to the owner of the insurance agency where we both worked, my boss' father (yes, a family business) excused the horrid behavior with some throw away line like, "Well, you know he's under a lot of pressure."

To say I was miserable at that time would be an understatement. Luckily I still lived near my undergraduate alma mater and I reached out to the career counselors there for help. I really had no clue what to do with my life, but I knew I needed to change. And that's when I met the career test that changed my life.

I went in to the career center and they sat me down at a computer. This was so long ago (early 90s) that it was one of those amber on black screens and everything was command based and typed in - no point-and-click version to be had. The test asked me some expected questions like "What are you good at?" and "What do you like to do?" But it also asked me permutations that were less expected, at least to me, like, "What do you wish you were better at?" and "What things are you good at but you don't like doing?"

I don't remember how long the test took, we are talking about an event that took place almost 20 years ago after all, but I do remember at the end I had a list of 4 or 5 careers that would supposedly fit me. I only remember two of the things it listed: landscape architect and librarian. While those two things might seem like they have very little in common besides me, let me point out one important thing: both have art AND science. (Important side note: I got the exact same score on the math portion of the SATs as I did on the reading/verbal portion.)

I looked at the list of prospective fields/jobs for a while, and then I thought about my godmother who was a librarian at a hospital. I also thought about how much the librarians at my public library growing up had helped and taught me so much. I remembered being initiated into the mysteries of the archives, the (mostly) cut-and-dry parameters of the Dewey Decimal System, the variety of programs and things I'd seen librarians doing at that public library and at my college. And finally I thought about how, out of all the miserable grunt jobs I'd had after college, that bookstore had actually been a good job that turned sour when new management came on board.

That's when I made up my mind to become a librarian. I started looking at schools and studying for the GREs shortly thereafter.

How about you? How did you decide to enter this field? If you have a blog, maybe you could write a whole post about it?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

So You Want to Work in a Foreign-Language Library?, by Chrissy Bellizzi

Confession time: I didn’t always want to work in a German-American library. Frankly, I didn’t know such a thing existed until I was a grad student looking for ways to get experience. That’s when I stumbled across my now-employer. But here I am, two years into being the part-time special collections librarian for a 250-year-old cultural institution, fielding research requests and pulling together exhibits from our vast archive.

What advice would I offer to someone considering work in foreign language special collections?
  • Know the language. This may seem obvious, but you’ll need at least a working knowledge of the language your materials are in. By no means would I consider myself a Deutchmeisterin (master of German), but after studying German through high school and college, I’ve got enough vocabulary and grammar to reckon with our 22,000+ books, pamphlets, and manuscripts. It’s also enough to correspond with the occasional German-speaking remote researcher.
  • Know your collections. This one is harder and takes time, but it’s worth exploring your collections beyond what catalogue records and inventory lists tell you. Like many an archive, we have a serious backlog of uncatalogued materials, and if I relied on our OPAC alone, I’d be overlooking all of the “hidden” books and ephemera of potential interest to my patrons. It’s very satisfying to be able surprise a researcher with an “invisible” item, especially if it turns out to be valuable to their work. Plus, taking the time to occasionally leaf through a scrapbook or remind myself what’s in that flat oversized box just makes the job more fun!
  • Learn when to be nice and when to say “nein.” Working for one of the oldest German-American organizations can be pretty cool, but with great power comes great responsibility. That is to say, EVERYONE wants to give us their German books, and that’s not much of an exaggeration. (Seriously, an unsolicited box of mass-market German translations showed up on our doorstep last week. The return address? California. We’re in Pennsylvania.) Sometimes this is a good thing, like when the donated items complete a partial set of books already in our collection. However, more often than not, the materials in question may be dear to the potential donor’s heart, but they have little scholarly or monetary value. After the first dozen or so instances, it gets a lot easier to thank someone for wanting to give us their father’s paperback Goethe collection while tactfully explaining why we can’t accept the books and suggesting some alternative recipients.
  • Those who can’t do, refer. Thanks to the wonders of internet searching, anyone doing any sort of research pertaining to German-Americans and the state of Pennsylvania finds me. This is mostly a great thing, especially on the rare but exciting occasion that I’m able to facilitate a major durchbruch (breakthrough) in someone’s research. (One of my proudest moments: helping a sweet older gentlemen finally locate the burial site of an ancestor as recorded in a Civil War-era local newspaper. Geil!) Yet at the end of the day, we’re a cultural society, not a genealogical library or government archive, and thus our resources for tracking down specific people are limited. As a result, I’ve built up a great referral list of other local organizations and individuals that may be better equipped to help patrons track down their long-lost great-grandfather. I never want to leave a researcher hanging, but at the same time I know my collections’ and my personal limits.
  • Network, network, network. This goes for any line of work, but I’ve found it especially vital in the small, eclectic world of special collections. Schmoozing is not something that comes naturally to me, and I was admittedly pretty awful at it for the first year or so of this gig. However, as you attend various meetings and functions, you start to get a sense of how to talk to your counterparts at other institutions and how to approach them for help. While large-scale collaborations are great, I’ve found some of the most beneficial boons of networking to be discovering who will help promote our events and will appreciate us promoting their events in return. A little mutually beneficial back-scratching goes a long way in this business!

It’s not the most glamorous job (pro-tip: don’t wear anything in the archive that isn’t red rot-proof), but it’s inarguably interesting and pretty unusual. If you happen to have both an MLIS and multilingual faculties and are looking for an unconventional workplace, give working in a non-English repository a try!

Chrissy Bellizzi splits her time between the reference department of a public library and the 1888 reading room of the German Society of Pennsylvania.  When she’s not rummaging through 19th-century manuscripts or deciphering Fraktur, she can often be found testing a new recipe, competitively watching Jeopardy!, or supporting Philly’s local music scene.  She tweets as @marimbamaiden18

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

This is How I Work

More than one person has pinged me, challenging me to write one of these "This is How I Work" pieces. Every time it happens, I hear RuPaul saying "You betta work!" and then I have "Supermodel (Of the World)" stuck in my head the rest of the day. Not that I mind. It's a good ear worm as ear worms go.

And now that I've downloaded RuPaul into all of your brains, let's move onto my answers to the survey.

Location: Delaware
Current Gig: Director of the Robert H. Parker Library at Wesley College
One word that best describes how you work: Broadly
Current Mobile Device: Galaxy s4
Current Computer: At home, a Samsung NP-QX411 laptop. At work, I've no idea beyond the fact that it's a Dell desktop that gets cranky in the late afternoon.
Current Tablet: Nexus 7

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
  • Outlook. Everywhere I've worked has been an Outlook shop, and I've gotten really good with it at this point. I live and die by when my Galaxy chirps at me to remind me I need to be somewhere.
  • Excel. At work, I use it to track everything from how much I've spent on ink for the big public printer to how many times my students have contributed to class. I can make it do fancy dancy formula gymnastics, too. 
  • Pencils and spiral notebooks. Every single work day (and most weekend days, too), come snow or sleet or dark of night, hell or high water, I write myself a schedule/To Do list for the following day. I do this in a spiral notebook and I keep them after I've run through all the paper - that way I can look back to see what I've done. Also, no mechanical pencils for me. I love seeing how stubby my pencils become over time. It's like a built in measure of my productivity.

What’s your workspace setup like?
  • At work, I've got a tiny office that has two walls of windows. It's maybe 8'x12'. With so little floor space and even less usable wall space, it means I have to make every centimeter count. One of the best things I've done was to get an adjustable standing desk. The item I bought from Varidesk Pro makes it so I can sit when I need to sit and stand when I need to stand. Can't recommend it highly enough. There's a cork board right next to my desk that lots of things pinned to it, such as favorite quotes, pictures of owls, project lists, and business cards. Also, it wouldn't really be my office without a few toys scattered around the space.
  • At home, I work at my dining room table and face the sliding glass door. This is, bar none, my most productive work space.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
I like to drink green tea daily since it's got so many health benefits, but I don't have a reliable way to make tea at work. Even if I could brew tea easily at work, green tea always tastes like pond water to me. My answer is to brew iced green tea, one quart at a time. Instead of 4 bags of green tea, I use 2 green and 2 flavored herbal tea to cut the pond flavor. I put the tea bags in the quart container and leave it out on my kitchen counter over night. Lately I've been using Yogi Tea's Ginger tea, but I also like Traditional Medicinals' Throat Coat for that great anise flavor. No sugar needed and I get all the health benefits with almost no time investment and absolutely no pond water.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I actually use two. I love love LOVE HabitRPG for encouraging good habits and for tasks that I perform daily. If you're not familiar, HabitRPG turns your To Do list into a roleplaying game with monsters and quests and classes and everything. Also, the old fashioned video game graphics are a hoot. My only problem with HabitRPG is that it isn't good with anything besides daily tasks and habits. For everything else, I use ToodleDo. The name makes me cringe, but the functionality ties into Getting Things Done methods and I like that. Also, both ToodleDo and HabitRPG have a web presence and apps that connect to your account. Best part is that both are available for iOS and Android.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
Electric pencil sharpeners. I have one at home and in my office. I've been thinking of investing in one that will fit in my purse. As for why, see my above paragraph about the importance of pencils in my life.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I'm great at thinking about things without actually thinking about them. What I mean by this is I won't even realized that I've been puzzling over a problem, or even realize that I've noticed a problem, when suddenly a solution will come to me. I'm not sure what my secret is, though, since this is something I've been doing for years and years. It's only within the last few years that I noticed other people don't seem to think the same way.

What do you listen to while you're at work?
Depends on what I'm doing. If I'm engaged in something that needs a lot of focus and creativity, I'm all about ambient music. For this, I love Steven Halpern's music. If I'm doing day-to-day things answering regular emails or paying bills, I want something where I can hum along like Neil Diamond or Guster. And if I'm doing something fairly mindless, like filing, I turn to hip hop and old school rap

What are you currently reading?
Quick answer? Too much. Longer answer:
  • The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management. It's slow going so far because the authors are busy explaining why I need project management skills in my life. I already know that, so I'm probably going to start skimming soon.
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I read about and became familiar with Friere's theories when getting my MAEd, but I've never read the actual book. This is also slow going, but in this case it's because the ideas are thick and rich and I need to take my time to digest them.
  • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. I listen to audiobooks on my commute, a habit I picked up when I had a much longer drive. It's also one of the only ways I read fiction lately. I'm enjoying this book a lot. The author really knows the area where I grew up, North of Boston, MA, and that means there's added depths for me.
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle. Not my usual thing, but it ties into my National Novel Writing Month project.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Neither and both. The fancy word for it is "ambivert." For instance, I really really need my alone time but an entire day of teaching usually leaves me feeling more energetic than when I started. For those of you who might be contemplating following in my footsteps, I've found that being a library director accentuates the extremes of my ambivertedness and I'm not alone.

What’s your sleep routine like?
Usually in bed by 10 pm on weeknights, and up at 6 am weekdays. I shift that an hour later on weekends. Oh, and I have a fantastic fan by Vornado that is better than any white noise machine I've tried. I don't sleep well without it.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Jake Berg. Anyone else who has been waiting to be challenged to answer these questions can consider themselves challenged, but Jake has no choice.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Three things, told to me by my dad when I was 11 or 12. These save me so much hassle, both personally and professionally:
  • Never force anything mechanical. That time our compressed shelving got stuck and I was the only one around to fix it? Yeah, this piece of advice saved me and my organization a lot of time and money.
  • Things don't fall off the floor. Obvious, I know, but crucial. I sometimes have to transport fragile things from work to home or vice versa, and I'm sure you know where I put them.
  • When all else fails, read directions. Especially crucial when trying to get some piece of software or another to do what I want it to do.

The only thing that disrupts my productivity at home.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Just For Fun: Why I Am a Feminist

Why do I call myself a feminist? I know part of it was because I was raised that way, and because of the Women Power! of being in Girl Scouts for forever and a day. But I'm 41 now - long out from under the influence of my parents and of the GSUSASo why do I still consider myself a feminist? Because I started paying attention. Rape culture and microaggressions are real things that I witness every day in higher ed. There was the overheard conversation in which a male student tried to assert that women become overly aggressive, too. (I butted in and asked him if he ever felt afraid when a woman came on too strong. Yes, this made him admit the difference.). Also consider the fact I'm tied into the much discussed whisper network that warns women in our profession against being alone with certain men. And how about the way that students are more likely to respond to my male employees when told to keep their voices down than they are when my female employees make a similar request. Further, I call myself "feminist" instead of "egalitarian" because women have been second and third class citizens for so long that people get upset when we even talk about wanting equal treatment.

Now, let me tell you why I decided to write this piece. An online acquaintance of mine disparaged feminism to me recently, and I got angry. As I started to think about my reaction, I remembered my own conversion from White Feminist to a feminist who happens to be white. It wasn't an easy shift, and it included a lot of self-recrimination. It hurt to realize how wrong I'd been, and how I'd hurt others with my ignorance, but I shut up and started listening and made it through. I realized I had to start respecting other people's experiences. I realized my own privilege at some point, and I suspect that the person who inspired this piece hasn't really realized that he is playing on "the lowest difficulty setting there is."

A quick aside: thank you to all the people who were patient with my "but not all whites! but not all cisgendered women!" b.s. along my path from White Feminist to white feminist.

"anyway quit complaining. YOUR kids voted for me"

And that's the thing. I can respect someone who critiques Second Wave Feminism, but that's not what he was doing. No, he was basically saying that feminists make a big deal out of everything, and if you make a big deal out of everything then nothing is a big deal. Patently ridiculous and hyperbolic to the point where I should have just ignored his comment and him, but it stung. A lot.

Things my feminism encompasses: #GamerGate, "Fake Geek Girls", #teamharpyJian Ghomeshi, the seemingly unending list of transgendered people who were murdered pretty much because they exist... and this is a list just off the top of my head mid-rant.

To say I'm a feminist is to say that I want everyone to be treated equally, because there is so much inequality it makes me want to cry or scream or something. For me "feminist" encompasses socioeconomic and gender and sexual orientation and race and all the other ways in which we are sorted into categories that make us some how "less than." Yes, I'm angry about this a lot of times, but can you really blame me?

But I wanted to make sure it wasn't just me, so I polled my connections on social networks:

It's worth clicking through to see all the responses, since I got some great ones, but this post is getting longer than I like, so I'm only going to share a few:

And from Facebook:
"Because women have traditionally been oppressed (and continue to be in many ways), it makes it necessary to make an effort to ensure that women have equal footing to men. As Amber mentioned, it has to do with areas of career, but also in a million other ways--representation in the literary canon, etc." ~Nicole Wolverton 
"I respect and admire so much the work of others who are known feminists that if I am going to read and emulate and teach their work that I would like to be considered the same thing as them. So I kind of think of the word as an associative term, if that makes sense? I've sort of tried to deal with that in class because I know that many times I come across young women who think of feminism as a dirty word or a word that they don't want to be associated with and I've said things like look, this is what feminists stand for, and wouldn't you rather be associated with people who stand for these issues than people who do not?" ~Susan Bobby
And perhaps my favorite answer:
"Because I refuse to let the label be co-opted by people who want to use it to attack people. The dictionary definition is very simple and contains nothing about tearing others down." ~Sarah Pavolko

So, there you have it. I'm a feminist because how could I not be? And please forgive the abundance of gifs - I needed something to cut the serious tone a bit.

How about you? Why do you use this word? Or not?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Talkin' 'Bout Weeding


This post outlines the approach I use when weeding a library's physical collection. I'm going to assume that you already have established criteria for your own weeding projects. If you want more on that, there are lots of helpful articles and texts out there. Also, I've written about how I weeded my reference collection if you want an overview from me. However, that's not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about how I involve members of my community in the decisions.

Before I begin, let me lay all the caveats on you. My methods for communicating with faculty about deaccessioning/weeding books and other materials have always worked for me. The one time I had someone get fussy, it was super minor and I headed it off by making a small concession. Even though I've had no real problems with this approach, I also know that it is not a cure-all. As you look through what I've written, know that I've worked exclusively at academic libraries that were part of small colleges where I have/had personal relationships with the faculty (we weren't always on the best of terms, we did at least speak regularly). Also, I have never had to weed a collection with a super-quick turnaround time. In other words: your mileage may vary,

Now, onto the good stuff.

The first part of my process is to go through the criteria established by the library and pull all the books I/we want to weed and set them aside. How much I do at a time has always been determined by space constraints. Usually it's one or two carts. It's crucial to make sure I have room to leave them where they won't get in the way because they may be there for a while. You'll see why in a moment.

Second, I contact the faculty who use the books that we're weeding. When we weeded the 800s (yes, I'm at a Dewey library), I contacted all of our English faculty for feedback. There have been times that I've contacted just the chair of a department, but usually I contact everyone. 

This contact is the contact crucial step. I've crafted my words carefully and I'll explain why after I share the text of an email I sent recently - on 10/20/14 - as we started weeding the 900s.
"One of the biggest complaints we get from students about the library’s collection is how old and out of date it is. (Based on results of the exiting senior survey from last academic year.) We take those comments with more than the proverbial grain of salt, of course, but there is some truth to their concern. We add newer materials as our budget allows, and that will help, but we are also trying to cut down the existing collection to make room for the new materials.

The two professional librarians here have 33 years of library experience between us. Add to that the fact that we've also gotten our graduate assistant to help since he is a recent graduate of the history department. The thing is, though, we’re not experts in your fields of study. And that’s where you come in:

We’ve pulled books from the 900s (history) section of our collection that don’t seem to fit the current curriculum or your areas of research, but would love if you could double check. [Name of librarian] has a cart in her office right now with the books we’ve pulled. This will be an ongoing process, so there will be more books to check in the future, but if you could stop by sometime before 10/31 we’d appreciate it. After that point we’re going to assume that you trust our judgment, and move on.

Thanks ahead of time,

Things I included:

  • Citing student satisfaction, or lack thereof. This is another way to use the data you collect: to help you tell your story.
  • Citing library expertise. 
  • Appealing to faculty expertise.
  • Being up front about the fact that this process will take a while.
  • Giving them a deadline.
Things I did not include:
  • Any mention of specific criteria.
  • Specific numbers relating to how many books we'll weed, how many books we'll buy, or how many complaints we received.

Third and final step is to make sure someone is present when the faculty members come by to look at the books. This is the point at which we answer questions about our criteria, but I have to tell you that is a rare event. I also make sure to tell faculty that we're happy to keep any and all of the books we've set aside, but that most of them will have to be replaced with newer editions that aren't falling apart or stinky or whatever else.

There have been a few times I've deviated from this method, such as the time I begged the Victorianist to come help me go through that part of our fiction collection. But this is the method I've stuck to for a while now, with variations on the themes in that letter above being the crucial part of the process.

How about you? How do you communicate with your patrons about weeding? I'm especially curious about how non-academic libraries approach this.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Project Management: The Skill Everyone Wants, Everyone Just Doesn’t Know It Yet, by Michael Perry


Project management is a growing profession and the importance of its skill set has created demand for it across a variety of industries. Librarianship is no different; a recent search on ALA Joblist for “project management” returned 36 current listings. Project management is mentioned in library school curricula (at least it was in mine), but I’m not aware of entire courses devoted to it. In fact, if you asked me back in library school if I thought one day I’d be a ‘Collections Services Project Manager’, I would have asked you what that even meant. I can’t help thinking if these skills are in demand but aren’t being taught, where will other future librarian project managers come from?

My project management skills are a result of being in the right place at the right time with the right attitude. I was fortunate enough to have a non-library job during library school that provided me excellent opportunities to not only manage employees but also manage projects. Coupling this with my study of knowledge management and some outside reading on the subject I was able to pull together enough experience and knowledge that I feel comfortable in my job. Like I said, there was a lot of luck involved, so this is not a model that will scale.

So where do we librarians turn? The project management community does an incredible job of recording their professional knowledge. There are thousands of books, included the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) produced by the Project Management Institute (PMI) which is the primary project management professional organization. While informative, these often aren’t the most engaging reads and often describe theory in a vacuum without real world context.

There are also many certificate programs there that will supplement reading with classroom and group exercises and instruction. PMI has a list of registered education providers. I completed the certificate program at Northwestern University and it was great experience both in class and online. Unfortunately these programs are often expensive and the prospect of an additional certificate program after library school may seem daunting.

I’d like to suggest a third option that is probably realistic for most situations: wing it. Even if it seems scary or impossible, you are at the same point where everyone else was when they started. Here are some tips for how to do that:

  • Read a book. We’re librarians, after all, and we have access to written materials. I started with The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management which is accessible and well-written.
  • Pick a tool. There are countless project management tools out there. I like Trello, but you can accomplish the same with a white board or post-it notes on a wall. The key is to be able to track work and make it transparent. If everyone knows who is doing what, you will encounter far fewer problems.
  • Plan and then plan some more. People often think planning is a waste of time that could be spent doing. I could not disagree more. Planning helps you identify potential risks and how to handle them, stakeholders that might have been overlooked, and redundant and unnecessary work.
  • Communication is key. If this is a project team they should be talking all the time. The project manager should have a clear plan for talking with stakeholders in a manner that they expect and works for them. It is impossible for me to envision a scenario of too much communication.
  • Close out projects. Often when the work is done people simply want to jump to whatever is next. Take some time to let the team or users talk about what went well and what can be done better next time. You can often uncover something that will make the next project much smoother.

There is no magic bullet. Some techniques work better in some situations than others. Never put a process or technique above the people or results. If it isn’t working try something else, you will find something that does.

I hope this provides a starting point for people who may be asked to take on project management responsibilities, but who are unsure about how to get started. Project management can be tricky, especially for libraries which are not always known for their agility. But if the goal of a project is clear, project management will help you achieve it.

Interested in learning more about project management? I’ve started a blog about project management and libraries. I will be posting about the ins and outs of project management weekly at LibraryProject.Info, focusing on how I’ve applied these skills at my own library.

Michael Perry is the Collection Services Project Manager at Northwestern University. He is currently working on the migration to a new ILS and a switch in classification scheme use. He holds a BA in Political Science from DePaul University and received his MLIS from Dominican University. He tweets at @michaelrperry6 and can be found on Google+ here.