Thursday, February 25, 2016

“The only people for me are the mad ones”: On Finding Role Models Where You Least Expect Them, by Shanna Hollich


There was a hashtag recently making the rounds on Twitter about the wayward, winding path so many of us have taken before becoming librarians: #BeforetheMLIS. Before deciding to go back to school for my MLIS, I had been: a linguistics and philosophy double major; an overachieving undergrad presenting at conferences/having papers published/teaching freshman-level courses/assuming I would be an academic forever; a cognitive science PhD dropout; a legal assistant specializing in personal injury and Social Security Disability; a tax consultant going toe-to-toe with IRS agents every day; and a worker of many, many odd jobs, from counting cash in a vault in Hersheypark to stocking magazines and trade paperbacks in Wal-Marts and drug stores all across the tri-county area.

Which is to say that I did not always know I wanted to be a librarian. I stumbled into it, as so many of us stumble into so many things. To be honest, I’ve never had any clue exactly what it is I’m doing here. So I looked to others as examples.

In graduate school, this was easy. I had awesome, engaged professors who really cared about their students. I had fellow students who were rock stars in their own right, scoring fabulous internships and working full-time jobs in libraries already and yet still willing to answer all of my questions. Having been an academic for so long, I was comfortable within the confines of school. These were my people. I knew how things worked here.

And then I graduated. And I had to get a job. And I did (lucky me!). And then… I had never felt so alone in my life.

I started my career as a school librarian, and I spent all day practicing solo. I was the only library professional in my entire building. Nobody knew what I was supposed to be doing except me. All of the sudden I was in charge, I was making the rules, and I would be held accountable for them.

Then, just as I thought I might be getting the hang of things, my family moved to another state, and I had to start all over. I transitioned into public libraries and thought: huzzah! I would be working in a whole BUILDING full of librarians! Librarians who had been doing this so much longer than me, who knew what they were doing, and who could lead and guide me towards new librarian adventures.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.

People are BUSY. My bosses and coworkers serve as role models as much as they are able, but they have jobs to do, too. Their jobs and their interests don’t always align with my personal goals. I’m focused on diversity initiatives, individual rights, social justice issues, and how to make the library a dynamic and passionate (and yes, political) community space. But I live in a rural area where we are doing the best we can with an aging and conservative population, and a view of librarianship that rarely strays from the traditional. It’s a great library, and I work with great people, but I found myself wanting more: more engagement, more passion, more creative thinking, more crazy ideas. Where were the really radical role models, the ones thinking outside the box, the ones trying outrageous things and sometimes failing, the ones for me, the mad ones?

I found them on Twitter.

I call these people my “role models,” but most of them have never even heard of me and would be surprised to find themselves listed in this blog post. Nevertheless, the ideas they write about, the causes they signal boost, and the library values that they champion influence me a great deal. They inspire my thinking, they assuage my doubts, and they show me that there are many, many different ways to be a librarian, and most importantly that someday when I least expect it, I may find I’ve even forged my own. A shortlist of my amazing Twitter librarian role models includes: @olinj (owner of this fabulous blog), @rdlankes, @jacobsberg, @michael_perry_7, and @flexlibris. They work in very different environments, they have very different views on librarianship, and they’re all rock stars to me.

So I encourage you to go off and find your own mad ones. Maybe Twitter isn’t for you. Maybe you’ll find your mad ones at conferences, at meet-ups at the pub, or (if you’re lucky!) in your very own office building. These mentors might be your bosses, sure, but they might be your peers, or your neighbors, or people you only know through words on a computer screen. The mentor relationship need not necessarily be a formal one. Everyone we meet has something to teach us about ourselves and the world around us. Keep your eyes open, ask for help when you need it, and find your mentors where you least expect them. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find ones who are mad in the same way that you are.

Shanna Hollich is a Technical Services Assistant at a public library in Gettysburg, PA and an Editorial Assistant for ALCTS News. She makes things. You can find her at or on Twitter @srhlib.

(quote in title from On the Road, by Jack Kerouac)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Working For (And From) My Values

Short post today, but I'm hoping to start a conversation instead of espouse a specific view, so bear with me...


Lately I've been thinking a lot about what I value in librarianship, and why. I'm in the middle of reading The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal, and one of the things that's stuck with me was about how attaching our day-to-day activities to our value system can make the annoyances of day-to-day activities less annoying. Or, put more simply, things done purposefully - even the horribly annoying ones like driving to work amidst wretched traffic - make a big difference. So I'm thinking about my values and intentionally tying my day-to-day into those values. The goal is to get to a point where I'm doing things more purposefully and less like a proverbial chicken running around with my head cut off.

Here's what I've come up with so far:
  • While libraries can perpetuate power differentials, when done right libraries can be democratizing. And I've long owned that my library agenda is to graduate well informed voters.
  • Equal treatment and acceptance are hugely important to me. It's why we did a display about protest culture and Black Lives Matter. It's why we have gone out of our way to add materials about different religious practices and cultures (especially books by and about Islam). It's why I've reached out to the LGBTQIA+ group on campus.
  • Fostering curiosity is another thing I love about libraries. You can't have lifelong learning - a value every public and academic library lists as important - without curiosity.
  • But most of all, I want people to know libraries can be fun. Maybe it's a bit "a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down," or maybe it's just "all learning and no entertainment makes you a very dull person." Whatever my motivation, I value the whole patron and not just their academic needs.

This list is a work in progress, as I said, so I'm curious what you value about libraries. Please comment here or elsewhere. Also, please join me in leaving the headless chicken brigade behind. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Going It Alone, by Sara Kelley-Mudie

I have been a solo librarian for my entire career working in school libraries. For the most part I like it (department meetings are super efficient), but there are definitely moments when I wish I had someone else in working in the library with me. As much as I value my professional network (and I do! I would be lost without them) I often wish I had a coworker who understood the culture and nuances of libraries AND of my school. It’s the difference between “how to collaborate with a reluctant colleague” and “how to collaborate with this reluctant colleague.”

Then there’s the practical aspects of how it would be nice to have another librarian. The first time I ordered new books, I looked at the supplies my predecessor had left behind, some covered books, and tried to reverse engineer the process. With practice (and YouTube) I refined the process. Even now, every time I’m processing new books, I hear this voice in the back of my head asking, “is this the right way to do this?” I am almost a decade into my career as a school librarian, and I am still not sure I’m doing it right.

There are a lot of things in my day-to-day work life like that, and ranging from the small (those pesky book covers) to the far more significant (does the scope and sequence of skills I’m trying to integrate into the curriculum really prepare students to be independent researchers?). This vague insecurity has definitely motivated me to stay engaged in my professional network, and those connections help me grapple with the big questions about my work. On the other hand, there aren’t really professional development workshops for how to cover a book, how to manage shelving, how to not to be driven to your wits’ end by being asked “where’s the stapler?” for the umpteenth time. Nothing strikes dread in my heart quite like the words “the laminate roll needs to be changed.”

All that being said, I do have some words of (what I hope is) wisdom for life as a solo librarian:

You will figure it out.
And even if you do it wrong, it’s okay. Really. Also, document your work along the way. It’s good for you. If you do make mistakes, you’ll be able to track down where it happened. Also, documenting helps you remember how to do those “every once in awhile” tasks (hello laminator, my old friend). Besides, it’s also good for whoever takes over your work for you. I have taken over from someone who left great notes, and someone who did not. Those days/weeks/months of trying to figure out passwords, contracts, and unlabeled keys made me a compulsive documenter--I never want someone else to have that experience.

You don’t have to be good at everything.
You can be awesome at some things and meh at others. If the things you’re not good at bother you, make a plan to improve your skills in one area at a time. Pace yourself. Resist the urge to compare your work to that of non-solo librarians. One of the things I love about our profession is that so many people are so generous in sharing work and ideas. But don’t feel like you need to accomplish the same things that librarians who have colleagues who help with programming and instruction and unjamming the student printer.

Don’t do more with less.
I have, on more than one occasion, written up proposals for increasing the staffing in the library, documenting what isn’t getting done or what could be done better if there were more help. I’m still a solo librarian, but I feel less guilty about the things I have to let go. If you’re a solo librarian, you can’t do everything. This is a hard one for me, and something I still struggle with, but when I’m torn between different priorities I ask myself “what does the community need?” Sometimes it’s not what they would identify as a need, or even something they’ll notice right away. When I made the decision to interfile my reference collection it wasn’t something my community was clamoring for, but the change in usage showed me that it was worth the time. No matter what, time invested in understanding your community and its needs is time well spent.

I don’t know if that voice in the back of my head will ever go away, but I do know that it’s gotten quieter over the years. If nothing else, I know I’ve learned to serve my community and take it one day at a time. Even with the laminator.

Sara Kelley-Mudie is the librarian at the Hawken School. She puts her motto of “Relentless Optimism” on as many things as possible, both as a reminder to herself and as fair warning to everyone she interacts with. She tweets at @skm428

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Do's and Don't's Of Asking For References


A local business called me recently. They called to ask about someone who used to work in this library. "[name] listed you as a reference. Do you have a moment to talk?" After a brief pause while I shifted mental gears, I happily spoke with the caller. The former employee was someone we'd been sorry to see go. But after I'd hung up, I was left feeling a little awkward. I said lots of good things, but coming out of the blue like that - with no idea exactly what the job entailed - I didn't do as good of a job as I could have.

This was the most recent instance, but this isn't uncommon. I'd say I get calls like that five or six times each semester. I've only been a director for three years, so I can't imagine how often people who've been bosses longer get those kinds of calls. I can pretty much always come up with something helpful to say, but these calls that come with no warning always leave me feeling caught flat-footed.

In the interest of cutting down on this feeling, or at the very least helping other people to not be caught out the way I was, here's my advice for how to handle references.

When you want someone to serve as a reference (for whatever circumstance)...
  • Ask them well ahead of time. "Graduation is coming up fast and I'm going to start looking for a job. May I list you as a reference?"
  • Be professional, but polite, when you ask. 
  • Warning people again when you apply for a job - each and every time you do, not just at the beginning of a job search.
  • Always let your references know as much as possible about the job(s). Sometimes all it takes is, "I'm applying to be a substitute teacher while I look for more permanent gigs," but if you can I recommend including a link to the job advertisement.
  • If it's been a while since you talked to/worked with/took a class from the person, let the know how you've changed and what you've done in the intervening time. Send them a recent resume/CV, a transcript, etc.
  • Even after all this prep, you need to be prepared for people to say no. You obviously want to ask people who you think have a good opinion of you and will help your case (different application processes ask for different kinds of references, such as coworkers or direct supervisors). However, the biggest reason you need to ask ahead of time is what if this person doesn't like you after all. True story: I've turned down more than one person who asked me to be a reference.

When you need a letter of reference...

  • All of the above still applies.
  • You should also offer to write a draft letter for them to use. If you're unsure what to include in a letter like that, turn to your friendly neighborhood search engine and look for "[grad school/job/etc.] recommendation letter." Alternatively, a lot of college/university career placement centers have samples you can use. Most people will turn you down, but some will take the letter you wrote and sign it.
  • Give the person you've asked for a reference as much warning as possible. Being available for a phone call is one thing, but writing a letter can be a serious time commitment.

In general...

  • Keep in touch with professors and former employers and anybody else who could serve as a reference, when you can. This can be hard, but since these people are likely past mentors, you might already be in touch anyway. Don't force it, though.
  • When you decide who to ask, remember that you'll want them to be able to speak to your qualities and experiences with the people (person) in charge of hiring decisions. I have a list of a group of people who I can ask, and not all of them are former supervisors. Letting your references know why you've asked them, such as "Jeff, I'm asking because you and I were part of the team that rewrote that part of the core curriculum, and faculty collaboration is a big part of the job description."
  • Be respectful of other people's time. 

Those of you who are asked to be references: did I leave anything out?

And good luck with your job searches.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Interview Post: Lisa Hinchliffe

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Current job?

Professor and Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction, University Library & Affiliated Faculty, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

How long have you been in the field?

In Fall of 1989, I started college at the University of St. Thomas and took a library tour. The librarian mentioned that they were hiring work-study students. I applied on the spot – it seemed like a great job given my intention to go to law school. A year in, I had changed my career aspirations and prepared to head off to library school after graduation. I started my first librarian position in the fall of 1995 at Parkland (Community) College.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

My first response is “presentable” – though at this point in the school year it could stand some tidying up. I’m fortunate to have a great office in a historic library building. It has a Dutch door and a large window that brings in a lot of light. Of course, along with that charm comes odd corners and a radiator, but I hope I never have to give my office up because I love it.

How do you organize your days?
Though I use an online calendar (Outlook) at work, I’m dependent on my paper Weekly At-A-Glance Calendar for keeping me organized overall. This isn’t just for recording meetings but also notes, to-do lists, etc. I keep trying to migrate to an online system but so far have not found one that works better than my print system!  

What do you spend most of your time doing?
As the Coordinator for Information Literacy in a large and very decentralized research library, I spend most of my time creating and extending infrastructure – the tools, resources, communications systems, workflows, campus collaborations, information sharing, etc. – that support my colleagues and the information literacy programs that they create for their user communities.

In addition, I am involved with a number of library-wide projects where my role is to bring the lens of teaching and learning to the work at hand (e.g., What are the teaching and learning considerations as we develop our discovery systems? How does the website design impact our instruction programs and what re-design would enable better student learning?).

Finally, as a faculty member, professional engagement is expected, and I work on my research every week. Building and achieving a research agenda is a lifelong task!

What is a typical day like for you?
I typically have 4-6 meetings each day, and the remaining time is spent on email, writing, and collaborative projects. I am also taking coursework for a PhD in Global Studies in Education/Educational Policy, so I have class and homework many evenings.

What are you reading right now?
I just started A History of American Higher Education and Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century. I’ve also been re-reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I subscribe to a long list of magazines about travel and am always in the middle of an issue of National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR, etc.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Pick your battles.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Standing as a candidate for President of the American Library Association. It was such an honor to be nominated for the ballot – to be trusted to step into the role of representing the profession, libraries, and our values and principles.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Travel writer. I absolutely love to travel and read about travel. I dipped my toe into the writing side last year. It was a challenge to write in a non-academic mode, but I had a great editor who mentored me through 5 – yes, 5! – drafts through to publication: “An Inner Place.”

What profession would you never want to attempt?
There are a lot of jobs that I would not want but I’m not a “never” sort of person.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Teleportation. Though I’d like to be selective about using it. Sometimes the journey is part of the destination but much of the time it would be really useful to save the time spent en route.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of library school students – mentoring, supervising assistantships/practicums/independent studies, co-presenting, co-authoring, teaching, etc. It is a privilege to be part of their learning and to learn from them. I’m so proud of all of them.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I won’t tell the specifics because I need to honor the privacy of others who were involved in the situation but I’ll share a lesson I learned very early in my career. The lesson is that, even when a situation seems obvious, you should investigate and confirm before taking action. You’ll avoid damaging relationships and save time in the long run.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Traveling or planning travel. (Notice a theme?)

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Courtney Young

Lisa is on Twitter as @lisalibrarian.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Time for Lunch

"Time for Lunch," by Finn Frode 

I've been having lunch about once a month with a few local public library administrators. It started out just me and the director of my city's public library, then we ran into the county librarian at that restaurant another time, and now the assistant director of my city's public library is coming along as well.

There are a number of reasons why I'm excited about this:
  • It's a simple but effective way for me to contribute to bettering the town-gown relationship - which is one of our stated goals in my college's recent strategic plan. (This is common in higher ed, but is especially important for small schools like mine.) 
  • Our jobs are much more similar than you'd think. I work to further integrate information literacy into the curriculum while they work to make sure storytime has some educational substance and not just flash. I work with my school's administrators to best use our financial resources, and they work with city/county/state officials. Heck, our staffs even overlap (one of my library associates also works at the county library and another also works at the city library).
  • We also have a fair amount of overlap in the constituencies we serve. Set aside the fact that we're in the same consortium, there's also the fact that we have plenty of students who grew up in the local area. Add to that how many of our faculty live in this county and it's clear we have overlapping missions as well.

I don't know if these kinds of relationships are possible in bigger cities and/or at bigger schools, but it's got to be worth a look. We're starting to talk about small scale partnership plans, too. It's nice to think that we're doing something substantive as we chat over food at the local Indian restaurant, but if nothing else: it's nice to have conversations with peers who understand what my job is like.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Just for Fun: Would You Like to Play A Game?

I know the title of this post could lead you to think I wrote about War Games this month. It's true that would be a worthy post, if for no other reason than to goggle at how young Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy were in that movie. But in this case I really *am* asking you if you'd like to play a game, because I have fallen deeply and madly in love with independent board games.

The games listed here aren't in any particular order (except I left my favorite for last), nor is this list an exhaustive representation of games I've loved and played. To be honest, this is more a way to flush out other board game lovers among my readers and followers than anything else.

photo borrowed from the successful Kickstarter campaign

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I attended Unpub 4 - an annual unpublished games festival. While I was there, I got to meet Daniel Solis who makes great board and card games. I haven't played all of his games yet, which makes me feel a bit of a slacker since he's since become a friend, but of the ones I've played thus far, Belle of the Ball is my favorite. The point of the game is to throw a better party than the other players, and there are things you can do to both make your party better and to muck up other parties. It has elements of luck (card draw) as well as strategy, which is a winning - pun intended - combination in my mind. Also, the art, by Jacqui Davis, is perfectly suited to the theme.

picture borrowed from the publisher's website

Imagine if the Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey were turned into a storytelling card game, and you'll have a good idea of what Gloom is like. Each player has a family and the point of the game is to make your family miserable and then eventually kill them off. Along the way you can make your opponents' families happy as well. The fun of this game isn't necessarily in the winning or the losing, however. The best part is the stories you tell to make the cards you play make sense. Did your opponent just give a member of their family a likely terminal disease? Well, if you have the right cards, you can tell a lovely tale of a miraculous cure culminating in marriage to the doctor who cured them. Of course, it's possible that your opponent will in turn have that same doctor fail to show up at the church. To be honest, this is a mild story compared to some I've told and/or heard when playing this game.

Martin Fivebones supervises a game of Takenoko between me and my boyfriend.

Pretend you're a gardener for the Emperor. Sweet gig, right? But then the Emperor is given a giant panda who is allowed to wander around the gardens, eating whatever bamboo he wants to eat. You're still expected to tend and expand the garden, but you can't harm the panda. That's the perhaps overly twee premise of my favorite game, Takenoko. The learning curve on this game is pretty steep, something that is true of a lot of independent board games I've played, but after that first game it's all good. You have quests to fulfill, such as growing a bunch of pink bamboo to a certain height or getting the panda to eat one pink and one green and one yellow section of bamboo, and the first person to complete enough quests also gets honored by the Emperor. Yes, it's hella complicated. Yes, it's worth learning because there is something so satisfying about it - win or lose.

How about you? Do you like board games? Which are your favorites?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Information Today Interview

I was one of three people interviewed for an article on Information Today, Inc. Take a look!

The whole thing makes me feel very cool (see below for how cool), so thanks to Brandi Scardilli for approaching me about it.