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?