Tuesday, November 24, 2015

You Can Get Anything You Want...

I know that the audience for this blog extends beyond the borders of the United States, but here in the US it's a holiday week. One of my traditions for this week is that I must listen to "Alice's Restaurant" as many times as I possibly can. If you've never heard this song, I think it's time for you to fix that. (It's a true story, by the way.)

If you're in the US, I hope you have the holiday week that you want to have. If you're not in the US, sorry for the interruption in service. But really, listen to the song.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Working at an Overseas Library, by Kimberly Sweetman

If I ever go on Jeopardy I have a topic to guarantee some kick ass small talk with Alex Trebec during my introduction. “So, Kimberly, you have lived in a country that most people have never heard of…”

It all started when my phone rang one spring day in 1997. I was working in Washington, DC, at my first-ever real librarian job. The job was at a grant funded information clearinghouse with somewhat unstable funding, so I was kinda looking for a new job. Then a former colleague called and told me he had something for me if I wanted it.

Before library school, I had worked in the Health Sciences Library at Emory University. One of the great things about the job was my colleagues. Every last one of them was fantastic. One, John, was studying for his MLS at the time we’d worked together, and when he finished he went to work as the Associate Library Director at an offshore medical school. When my phone rang in the Spring of 1997, it was John telling me he was leaving this job, and if I was up for a little adventure it was mine. 

The school flew me down to Dominica for more of a meet-and-greet than an interview. I checked out the island and the campus and then got the inside skinny from John. He said it was an odd place, likening it to Rudolph’s island of misfit toys. While the natural beauty of the island was amazing there was no doubting it was the developing world. There was a lot of poverty and a significant lack of infrastructure. The roads were in disrepair and people drove like maniacs—as someone from Massachusetts I know rough roads and wild drivers, but this was beyond even my experiences. The campus was not beautiful—tin roofed temporary buildings that all looked identical. There was also the threat of hurricanes, tsunami, and volcanic activity.

But one thing stuck out in my mind: I could not think of a single reason not to take the job. Sure, the job I had at the time job was good but I was outgrowing it and who knew if it would even be there in a year’s time. I had no spouse, no mortgage, no kids. I didn’t even have a pet. I would be leaving lots of friends but even in 1997 we had email and phone service (although we wouldn’t have Skype for another 6 years). And there was one huge draw: the money I would earn. First there was the foreign earned income exclusion, the cap of which was higher than my salary. No federal income tax! And there was a seriously reduced cost of living. As someone struggling under $30,000 of student loan debt at the time ($5,000 of which I had already paid of thanks to cheap rent and a second job at Macy’s), this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The only obstacle that remained was telling my parents, who were surprisingly ok with it. I guess the moves I’d made to my first graduate school in Atlanta and the second, when I realized I wanted to a librarian, in Washington DC had prepared them. My mother’s reaction was perfect: “you’ll be able to say you spent your 27th year living in the Caribbean and you’ll have cocktail party conversation for the rest of your life.” She was right.

And so I moved to Dominica. It wasn’t always easy living there. Electricity failures were common, and I lost my water almost every day. Also, I had to start from scratch in almost every way—making friends, getting around, paying bills, buying groceries. I arrived on the Saturday of a holiday weekend to an empty refrigerator and shops closed for the next 36 hours. Thankfully my sister had sent me off with a generous portion of baked ziti that wasn’t confiscated by customs officials.

Socially it was hard. I had never before been the “other.” I grew up in a fairly homogeneous environment and living in Dominica was very enlightening for me. But eventually I learned to fit in. I made Domincan friends, friends I still have to this day. I also met plenty Americans and British, most of whom were a little unusual. A good friend—another American living on the island—described them as “two standard deviations from the norm.” The first was that they were academics, so somewhat odd already, and the second was that they were willing to move to a small island nation and work at an offshore medical school. It’s basically the same thing that John meant by “the island of misfit toys.” But in the end, that was part of the charm.

This experience changed me, and prepared me. I came home without any student loan debt and with a nice little bag of money. Because I was an assistant library director I was given management responsibility very early in my career that I never would have gotten in the US. I had to grow and adapt and change quickly, which helped me mature as an individual. I learned to appreciate what it meant to grow up in America which was something I had never considered before that point. Most importantly, now I know I can pick up and move to a totally new place and know that overall everything will be ok.

And you know what? I did it again. Four years ago my spouse called me and said, “I’ve got something for you if you want it: a transfer to Amsterdam.” Again, the only barrier for us was fear. Fear in the face of change is natural, but because of my experience in Dominica, I know fear isn’t reason enough to shy away. There may be legitimate reasons not to go on an adventure, but for me, fear isn’t one of them.

I’m not young anymore. Now I do have a spouse, a mortgage, a kid, and even some pets. But my adventure became part of who I am and taught me not to be afraid of change. It taught me to manage risks. I remember the day I announced my move to Dominica , a friend from college called me as soon as he heard. He was excited for me and said,“sometimes you have to grab the brass ring.” The public at large probably doesn’t think of librarianship as a particularly adventurous career move, but like any career, it is what you make it. And we manage change and risk all the time. We grab the brass ring.

After spending 20 years in library public service, Kimberly Sweetman now works as a consultant and coach helping libraries and library people to reach their goals and develop superior service through exceptional leadership. She blogs at kimberlysweetman.com and tweets as @sweetcoachcons. This is her second post for Letters to a Young Librarian. The first was "Are Your Colleagues Dumb? Read This."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


There is a storify of our Twitter conversation from this afternoon, but here are the questions we asked:

Question 1:
Question 2:
Question 3:
Question 4:

As of this moment, the Storify is a bit messy. I had a hard time juggling between participating in the discussion and capturing it. I plan to go back in later this week to clean it up.

Moving forward:

We are exploring what to do next, but one thing we know for sure is that we will have another Twitter discussion in the future. If you were unable to attend and want to chime in, please do so in the comments or continue to use #libleadgender on Twitter.

Thank you all for not only participating, but for being so respectful of us and each other. Sometimes I really really love this profession.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Listening and Being Listened To, by Michele Santamaria


My former colleague, let’s call them "M," was completely baffled that someone could get a job recommendation letter from a person whom they had never met face-to-face. M was questioning the validity of a recommendation letter written by a library school professor who had only interacted with our candidate during online classes. The candidate in question was someone who had been hired in a temporary position at our library and whom I had never met. However, I knew that the candidate had alienated M by implying, either accidentally or intentionally, that M’s view of librarianship was hopelessly out of date.

In fact, I had been warned by someone who had worked at the library for a very long time that it was very important to show M respect. Which I did. But I also showed her respect by engaging her in real dialogue and occasionally challenging her preconceptions. This discussion about the recommendation letter was one of those moments.

When it came to discussing this lack of face-to-face contact, I pointed out that I knew several excellent librarians in an "In Real Life" context who had attended the same online program and that this was the way many people were becoming librarians in our geographic area. Given the number of library schools and the economic realities of life, this was the best way for most people. To riff on the language used by Jessica in a recent post, I created a bridge between online and real life, a rift that M didn’t like to traverse. M nodded cautiously; at this point, they didn't think that I was full of crap, so I took it as a good sign.

This particular conversation took place during the summer when there was less stuff to do. I sat down and spoke with M for about an hour. We would do this sometimes.  Though M was the most senior of the librarians and very set in some ways, I felt that M was willing to listen to me. Maybe part of the reason for this is that M felt the same way about me, hence the title of this post. These times with M resonate for me, given some recent commentary about newbies needing to do a better job of absorbing the institutional knowledge and context before showing up with brand-spanking new ways of doing things that may not be a good fit. Meredith Farkas’ fairly recent editorial piece in American Libraries comes to mind.  

I agree that listening to seasoned librarians is essential and that overzealous young librarians may favor change at all costs rather than smart change that is a good fit to their institutional context. However, in exploring my dialogues with M, I want to draw attention to the fact that there needs to be reciprocity between generations of librarians. Ageism cuts several ways. Or put in a less-like-academic-speak-way, I listened to M because they listened to me. M didn't necessarily agree. M would frequently advocate for their point of view. But at least M was willing to entertain that I had something to offer and that they might want to rethink their preconceptions. I felt heard by M and this made me feel less alone in that particular workplace.

I knew for sure that M listened to me when I made a comment about some strategic plan language sounding "outdated” during a meeting. Two librarians who had drafted this particular piece of language looked at me funny. It would not be a stretch to say that they gave each other a knowing look and then glared. M, who was the oldest by several years, said that what they thought I was trying to say was that the language had become so commonplace that it no longer sounded fresh.  Which was exactly what I was trying to say. Perhaps it would have been wiser, in a way, to say "clich├ęd" though I might have sounded more judgmental.  Honestly, I would rather sound harsh than ageist.

So I wish that the younger me had been more careful with my words, though it was kind of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't situation."  But mainly, the older me is grateful towards M for mirroring back what I was trying to say and grateful towards the younger me for at least being wise enough to sometimes realize the importance of listening. So listen, young librarians and seek out colleagues who are also willing to listen. 

Michele Santamaria is the Learning Design Librarian at Millersville University. She is also happy to say that she is the Subject Librarian for English, foreign languages, and Latin@ Studies. While she has published in other genres, this is her first real blog post. She tweets at @infolitmaven.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dealing With Self-Important Concern Trolls

"I believe that we owe our fellow human beings a certain amount of compassion and courtesy and respect, and to listen to their complaints and grievances. We should ask ourselves whether those complaints and grievances are valid, and whether we can help - and in some cases, ask whether we are the author of those grievances, and if so what can we do to resolve them.
But I also believe that after a certain point, it may become obvious that some people just want to complain, to to be angry, or to be an asshole, or whatever, and that nothing a reasonable person can do will ever make those people happy or satisfied. So you give them a quarter, metaphorically or otherwise, and tell them to call someone who cares. Because you have other things to do. And then you go on doing those things you need to do."
~John Scalzi, from "Here's a Quarter
I know I'm a little behind with reacting to the above quoted piece. I can show you my work calendar some time if you want an explanation. Regardless, I was glad of the serendipity of finally getting a chance to read that blog post from John Scalzi last week, because I really needed that advice. You see, In the Library with the Lead Pipe published the article I wrote with Michelle Millet last Wednesday, and as happens whenever anything about gender and empowerment is published, we had a few "but what about the mens?" type comments. In short, while we were discussing the disparity between the gender breakdown of librarianship as a whole (roughly 80% women and 20% men) and our leadership (roughly 60% women and 40% men), someone was upset that we weren't talking about how librarianship is only 20% men.

There was some discussion, but best response came from one of the Lead Pipe editors:
Even if I'd wanted to discuss numerical disparities, there's only so much one can fit in a short article... especially one in which my coauthor and I specifically stated that we were speaking specifically from our frame of reference. But here's the thing: this happens every time an article on a controversial topic or even a marginally controversial topic comes out. Write an article about the experiences of indigenous people and you'll get some self-important concern troll asking why the author hadn't mentioned the experiences of other people of color. An article about transgender men will inevitably get angry comments about how hard it is to be a cisgendered gay man. Any piece about the problems of existing within Community A gets at least a couple of responses yelling about what a crime that the authors ignored Community B. Of course this happened to us. I was glad that Ian responded, but I barely engaged with the naysayers. It's not that I'm going to quiet myself or try to pretend that I'm a meek woman (can you imagine?), but I only have so much energy for problem solving.

And that brings me back to the quote up at the start of this post. I'm not advocating that you turn the other cheek. Definitely defend yourself if attacked. But remember that some people - like the "what about the mens" concern trolls - aren't ever going to be satisfied. So offer them the proverbial quarter so they can call someone who cares, and then show them the exit.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Just For Fun: Movie Quote Lexicon

That tweet up there got me thinking about how often movie quotes work themselves into my lexicon. Some of them I use so much that I have occasionally forgotten where/how I started using them. I thought it would be fun to follow Rebecca's lead, and come up with a list of my most frequently used movie quotes. (I could probably write an equally lengthy post about language I've borrowed from books and another one about television shows, but not yet.)

"It must be indicative of something besides the redistribution of wealth."

This quote is from one of my all time favorite movies (that was based on a play by Tom Stoppard): Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I used it as shorthand for things that don't make sense but feel like they should make sense. And let's be honest: in higher ed and libraries, that feeling comes up a lot.

"This ain't my first time at the rodeo!"

When I tell people that I quote Mommie Dearest on the regular, everyone always thinks wire hangers. How is that useful in everyday conversation, huh? On the other hand, I have frequent opportunity to respond to someone who thinks I'm a newb when I'm not. What better way to express that than...

"It's a moral imperative."

Real Genius is one of my favorite movies from the 1980s. Like many movies from that era, I know it practically by heart. There are lots of other times I quote this fantastically 80s movie, but this comes up most often.

This quote comes up when I'm trying to talk someone into something they really want to do anyway.

"Who the f*** are you, man?"

There are so very many quotes from The Big Lebowski that are part of what I say daily. That comes up most often, but I've also been known to say:

"Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

"Obviously you're not a golfer."

"You're not wrong, Walter. You're just an a**hole."

"Hey, nice marmot!"

But the most frequent quote is definitely from the scene where The Dude meets Knox Harrington. It's a useful internal dialogue I have with myself when random vendors cold call me.

"So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

One of the all time most quotable movies, am I right? Caddyshack is also a guaranteed cheer up, feel good movie, even with all the misogyny and classism.

That line, though. So useful in so many circumstances, but most especially helpful when things are kinda crappy and I'm trying to make a joke of it.

So how about you? What movie quotes do you use regularly?