Thursday, July 28, 2016

Interview Post: Jessica Schomberg



Jessica Schomberg

Current job?

Media Cataloger/Assessment Coordinator & Department Chair, Minnesota State University-Mankato

How long have you been in the field?
I got my first job in libraries as a student page in 1992. My first full-time, post-MLIS job was in 2000.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I actually have two offices, for two of my different hats:

My cataloging office (pictured first): the skull of Sam the super skeleton is in the foreground, my map table and some of my music backlog is in the background. *cue crying at the size of my music backlog*

The library department chair office (second image): the department chair role is a rotating position, so I haven’t done much to make this office feel like “mine” -- other than add a ginormous white board so I can track some of the major projects my library will be working on for the next few years.

How do you organize your days?
I try to put everything I’m working on in my Outlook calendar. If my calendar doesn’t tell me to do something, I am very prone to distraction.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Writing documents or reports and talking with people. While I love cataloging, I don’t usually get to spend much time actually doing it (hence the backlog).

What is a typical day like for you?
It varies a lot, but generally some mixture of formal meetings, impromptu conversations, and sitting in front of computers.

What are you reading right now?
I’m not quite as bookwormish as Yomiko Readman, but this question still always makes my head explode. The three things in top rotation at the moment, all by authors whose writing I adore:

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
I’m like a sponge in terms of soaking up advice, so it’s hard to pick the best. Um, maybe... try stuff, see if you like it; if you don’t, move on and try something else.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Going into library school, I knew I didn’t want to teach and I didn’t want to supervise. I now do both.

The other side of this, though, is that I never expected to love teaching. I enjoy making connections with students and, in a really good class, seeing them leave with a different perspective on the world. (Yes, that’s possible even in one-shots.)

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
Herstory. Sorry, but it makes me literally cringe.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Option A: in a world where universal health care and basic income were guaranteed, I would love to work in a bakery/deli again.

Option B: I would love to expand my knowledge of statistics and linguistics and do Cool Things with those areas of expertise.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Anything involving viscera and/or sales.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Well, my library superhero name is Lackadaisical Porcupine so maybe my superpowers would be taking naps and foraging for leaves and using my quills to fend off annoyances.

What are you most proud of in your career?
The peer network I’ve developed on twitter, maybe? IDK. This kind of question is hard for me.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I don’t really buy into the culture of nice [PDF], but I’m also not always very strategic about how I express that. This can have repercussions.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Snuggling cats, drinking tea, and either watching Star Trek: Voyager or reading.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Stephanie @sendaulas (her account is protected so I haven’t included her last name)

Jessica tweets at @schomj. This is Jessica's third post for LtaYL The first was "My (Library) Life with Invisible Disabilities," and the second was "The Power to Name."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What Makes It Real?

A friend of mine mentioned something about being "a real writer now" over the weekend, and it got me thinking. First, I already think of that person as a real writer since they've written for this blog and multiple articles and so on. But second, I understand what they're talking about. There's a big difference between being a thing and feeling like a thing. I believe the process of feeling real can be helped along, though, and here's some ideas of how I've helped myself (and others) move along.
  • Keep a list of your accomplishments. Got retweeted by someone you admire? Received a compliment from a tough to please patron? Finished a small but important project? Write it down or keep it in a special folder on your email. I literally have a folder called "happy making" on my main gmail account.
  • Speak kindly to yourself. Negative self-talk is such a hard habit to break. Believe me: I know. I've mostly broken this habit, however, by imagining I'm saying those things to someone I love. I'd never tell a good friend, "you'll never amount to anything because you made this mistake." Of course I wouldn't! Instead, I'd say something like, "well, you screwed up, but you're human. How do we repair the damage for you and move forward?" If you stop insulting yourself, maybe you can even start complimenting yourself and then believing in yourself.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. This is another idea that is easier said than done, but even a small victory with this can make a big difference. There are schools with bigger budgets and staffs; there are people younger than you with publishing contracts; there are blogs with broader readership. Besides, you only see the end result when you see the accomplishments of others. You don't see all the mistakes they made or the struggles along the way.
  • Get yourself a cheering section. Simply put, I have a great group of friends who aren't afraid to call me on it when I make mistakes, but who are also quick with support. They're peer mentors and sounding boards. Friendships like this take work, so I provide the same kind of support for them. In fact, when I was trying to figure out how to talk about this, a member of my cheering section said, "You have good friends because you are awesome, so maybe go w/ MLP and friendship is magic?" And they were right. If you're an aspiring writer, court friendships with other writers. Artist? Seek out other artists. Librarian? Find other librarians. I'm sometimes humbled by the support I get, but I'm always honored by their love.
This all comes down to learning to feel comfortable when you're not in your comfort zone. Being new at something, learning and trying new things, can be hard. It's also hard to feel "real" in those endeavors, but it is possible. Be gentle with yourself and keep working on it.

Anything helpful I forgot that you've done in the past?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Prolegomena to Any Future Organizational Frustration, by Brian Rogers

[Editor’s note: “prolegomena” means prefatory remarks.]

Upon beginning my first full-time professional librarian gig, I was neither young nor did I consider myself a librarian (hold onto your dreams, aspiring archivists!). I had been dabbling in different industries, each of which required varying work ethics, displays of organizational prowess, and feats of mental determination. Oh, how I dabbled. Thus, being a full-fledged adult worker, bearing an advanced degree and all the gumption of a novice, I unwittingly hauled along some tacit assumptions about how to get s*#^ done.

And then came that first year.

You will want to do things. You will be excited and you will want to summon forth that energy to prove your mettle and efficiency. You will want to tackle project after project. You will want to advocate for the library’s value in your effectiveness and passion as a worker. You will want to help and you will want to improve.

Then you will hit that first organizational brick wall. And once you’ve picked yourself up from that, you will trip over a smaller, second brick wall. And once you’re done cursing brick walls, you’ll scurry through a dust storm, step a little too deep into that mud puddle, and wonder why the hell there are so many traffic cones surrounding you.

Welcome to the odd and wonderful, oft infuriating and anachronistic, world of libraries. We fidget at a nexus of competing energies and agendas, goals and stakeholders, timelines and budgets, purpose and value. There are never enough of us; there’s rarely enough time; we can never please everyone; and we choose our battles the best we can.

If you aren’t careful, frustration can and will become your norm. To the purpose of preserving yourself, your energy, and your enthusiasm, I vaguely offer the following:

Librarians are an idiosyncratic lot. Our personality types run the gamut, but there is a steadfast, determined and stubborn quality about us, as a collective, that I admire. We each stand up for what we deem important to the mission of the library. The quicker you come to appreciate the commonality of intent, independent of the temperament of expression, the easier it will be for you to recognize when your interests and goals may need to recede to whatever good the library (or its governing entities) deems as priority.

The politics of managing a library are unavoidable. We each have our say and our perspective, but few of us will ever be in the position to maintain a holistic awareness of the effort it takes to keep this particular ship afloat. Patience and fortitude, and all good things in time, is the outlook you need. It may take years to push through an initiative you are convinced will only take weeks to finish, and it may take minutes to decide on a project that takes years to complete. You may or may not have a say in either scenario. Adjust your sense and scale of time to be more expansive. Consider your projects and goals, your intent and wishes, from the macro. Libraries tend to not function like industrial behemoths, chugging along at an ungodly pace and churning out service after service after service. We live and work and thrive in an ecosystem that is delicate and sturdy, demanding and lackadaisical.

Purely from anecdote, no two libraries seem to be alike. Talk to one person and you’ll get the rigid, hierarchical, bureaucratic, slow-moving sloth of burden. Talk to a second person and you’ll get the mental whiplash of an overworked, agile, change-oriented… gazelle of delight? Talk to a third person and they’ll hover somewhere between the two, an uncertain and unholy hybrid. Probably don’t talk to a fourth person or you’ll have difficulties generating conclusions.

Wherever you happen to end up, take the time to understand the organizational culture you just stumbled into. Understand its history, the folks who have worked there since time immemorial, and the ones with but a mere few years of existential weathering. Understand where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re trying to go. This is an elementary, but crucial, first step.

Every one of us, irrespective of rank or position, whether by design or accident, has a deep influence in how our library runs and how we serve in its mission. But you cannot use brute force to wield that influence, however subtle or overt it may be. The hope, of course, is that you find a library that places reciprocal diligence into getting to know and appreciate you, and that it is a co-evolution of personal and organizational growth. To that end, never cease to advocate for yourself and your professional intentions, while preserving the congeniality of open dialogue.

Brian Rogers is the Director of Library IT at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Prior to that, he worked as a Web Design and Instruction Librarian. Prior to that, he worked as a software tester and copyeditor for the tech industry. Prior to that, he’ll tell you over drinks. He holds a BA in English from Emory, and an MLIS in Archives, Preservation and Records Management from the University of Pittsburgh. Everything clearly, clearly worked out precisely as he imagined it would. He tweets @bhar0.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Information Literacy Wrestling Spectacular


If you've been doing information literacy instruction for any length of time, you've had to deal with the faculty member who wants a laundry list of skills and websites shown to their students. If you're especially lucky, you've also gotten "teach them everything they'll ever need to know ever about the databases" with a heaping side dish of "oh, and can you do it the first week because I'm sure they'll need it." Of course, there are variations on this theme, like faculty who see you as a substitute teacher who want you to come when they're at a conference or others who wait until you're in the information literacy session to ask for yet another thing... It's enough to make you sigh dramatically just thinking about it, right? The thing is, librarians know the laundry list isn't going to work. By the time students need the skills we've taught them, sometimes years later, they will have forgotten everything including the librarian's name.

It's all very frustrating. Feels like a wrestling match at times, and if you're at an institution that considers librarians staff instead of faculty, it can feel like a very mismatched sumo match.

The truth is, though, that it's been years since I've had to consciously think about this kind of issue. I have my arguments and responses so firmly in place that it's become second nature to me. But then I saw a string of tweets from Carolyn Ciesla, and I started to think about it again. I realized it would be a good thing to share on my blog, so here is how I approach the situation, including some of the phrases I use over and over again:
  • Start early. I email all the first year seminar faculty, and anyone else who incorporates librarian led info lit, way ahead of time so I can be the one to start the conversation. This way I am more likely to be the one steering it to make sure my outcomes are in the mix. I use phrases like "we want to partner with you" to bring that thought home.
  • Make sure there's an assignment involved. This helps with faculty who want their students to see all the things now because I can tailor my suggestions to what the students will actually need. When there isn't an existing assignment, I offer to help them design one. "It will help cement the lessons, if your students have to use the skills right away."
  • Establish a pedagogically sound timeline. Make sure your instruction happens between the students getting the assignment and when it's due. I admit I stole this line, but I tell faculty "it's better that the instruction be just in time instead of just in case."
  • Have a pre-established information literacy curriculum. This can be hard to establish, but nothing has helped me push back against the laundry list approach more than this answer. "With first year seminars, we teach X, Y, and Z, and since your class is on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, there isn't a lot of time left over." Also, "Since this is a senior seminar, most if not all of them will have already seen X, Y, and Z, but to be safe how about I breeze through that before moving onto A, B, and C." (How to establish a curriculum for your information literacy program is a whole other kettle of fish.)
  • Be willing to say, "no." This is the most difficult thing, and you might want to check in with your boss before you do it, but it is possible to decline and come out alive. "We want to establish the basics for the students before we go onto something as advanced as that." This can be harder when faculty plop a request into your lap in the middle of the session, but it's still possible to tell them no, but kindly, at that point. "Your students will be able to find everything they need using the database I'm showing them now, but if we have time at the end I'll try to fit that in" is especially apt.
  • Know when to give in. I once worked with a faculty member who wanted to teach databases and web analysis on their own, and they wanted me to show their first year students how to use our citation management software. I still think citation management software is a bad idea for first years. Using that kind of software for a paper that will have five citations is overkill and useless since first students won't use it again for months or even years. When this particular faculty member came to me (at a previous job), I complained to my director. "Do I really have to do this? Can I tell them no?" He told me it was my choice, but then wisely pointed out that I could embed my own agenda in the larger lesson and show them how to assess websites in the midst of teaching them how to use the software to create a citation. Smart man, and his idea worked perfectly.

I hope this post helps. I know I said, "yes! sure!" to everything early in my career, and don't beat up on yourself too much if you aren't comfortable turning down faculty requests and demands. As for the more experienced info lit instructors reading this, chime in with ideas that have worked for you in the past.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Interview Post: Emily Thompson



Emily Thompson

Current job?

Studio Librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

How long have you been in the field?

Almost 5 years.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I have a desk that wraps around to a table. If I need to focus, I can turn to the desk and face my bulletin board. If I’m feeling tired or stressed, I can put my laptop on the table and look out on the big tree next to the University Center.

How do you organize your days?
My job entails desk shifts, instruction, and individual appointments; so every day is a little different. I try to spend a few minutes in the morning figuring out where I have to be and at what time. Then I can see which hours are free to work on projects or research.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend most of my time teaching students how to make videos and other multimedia. It might be in a class or 1-on-1 or answering questions at the Studio Desk.

What is a typical day like for you?
People have typical days? There’s usually a combination of Studio desk shifts, 1-on-1 appointments, and classes. All of them involve helping students with various media projects, so my brain keeps the Adobe Suite on constant rotation.

My favorite days are when I actually get to see the finished projects that the students have been working on. The head of Sculpture (Lauren Ruth, MFA) lets me be a guest critic in the Performance Art class for the assignment I help them with, and it’s my favorite two days of the spring semester.

What are you reading right now?
I somehow keep grabbing books without finishing them, so I have two going right now: Salamander  by Thomas Wharton and  The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
“You cannot control other people.” Betty Burton told me this back in my first career as a costume designer. I also once had an Esoteric Buddhist Master tell me that I should stop dwelling on old thoughts because they’re like old gum. And like old gum, I should spit them out.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
We always talk about how dynamic librarianship is, but I didn’t expect to end up in a position that requires so much constant learning. Every single day a student will get one of our software programs into a new knot, and we have to help them untangle it. Either that or a professor will ask, “Hey, so could you maybe teach my students X?” and we figure out how to do it. I am never bored.

That and fixing a 3D printer. Those things are evil, but my life would be much worse if I couldn’t fix it myself.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
Gah! Jaleh Fazelian already said “defenestrate.”

I used to live in Taipei, Taiwan and my favorite expression was O-bu-okay. In Chinese, the word “bu” basically means “not,” and it gets inserted between two of the same verb to basically add an “or not” to the end. For example, “Yao-bu-yao?” is “Do you want it or not?” So they’ve taken the english word OK and added their own grammar. “O-bu-okay” is literally “OK or not OK?” and they run it all together with a delightful lilt.

What is your least favorite word?
I don’t have a word that bugs me. I feel like all of them have their place, but should be used carefully.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
I wish I knew how to be a really good carpenter. I like patterns and puzzles and I would love to be able to apply that to wood.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
I am the least detail-oriented librarian you’ll ever meet, so anything that involves data entry. I always have to do everything three times to make sure I haven’t missed or added anything by mistake.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Teleportation. I’ve moved around so much that I don’t get to see all my favorite people nearly often enough. If I could teleport, I would be able to have coffee with whomever I want without the travel time.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m really proud of the network I’ve built. I genuinely like to meet new people and I try to keep them in a mental file cabinet. Then I can introduce them to each other and spread the network further. The Aquarius-Pisces cusp in me wants everyone to be successful and I like connecting the people who can help each other.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I have a lot invested in being “fine.” Most of my big mistakes revolve around being fine to the point of breaking and then exploding. I’m very grateful to be in a position that will occasionally tell me “no.”

For a more specific example, while I was trying to build out my position at my previous job I tended to be a bit over-enthusiastic as to what I could handle. My “Sure, I can teach your students how to make videos.” was interpreted as “Awesome, we don’t have to learn this thing that’s now required for all 900 of our seniors. We can just send them over to the library.” It required not one but two interventions from the library director explaining that if it’s required of everyone in your department, the department may have to support it. It taught me to ask more questions, say no, and be assertive in reminding colleagues that I’m only one person.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
I’m really a homebody. I tend to be at my house working on some sort of fiber project (knitting, cross-stitch, or sewing clothes) while my cat cries at me to let her go outside. (She’s not allowed outside.)

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I would love to hear what Meg Hixon has to say, although I worry she’ll get stuck on the superhero question.

Emily tweets at @librarianofdoom. This is actually her third post for Letters to a Young Librarian. Previous posts: "Pushy Polite" and "The Seven Phases Related to Building My Job from Scratch."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Captaining the Ship

A while back, a library science graduate student said something like, "did I tell you I've decided I don't want to be a library director?" to me. I'm pretty sure my response was, "Nobody in their right mind does." After we both laughed, I followed up with, "I felt the same way when I was new in the field. Goes to show you never know."

I remembered that conversation when I read a piece on The Chronicle of Higher Ed: "Don’t Cry for Me, Academia!" by Kevin J.H. Dettmar. In it, Dettmar speaks eloquently about his path to administration, and about how much he loves being a department chair. I found myself nodding along as I read each paragraph. Like Dettmar, I never envisioned a career that would lead to administration, but here I am.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of headaches involved with being in charge, but there's a lot of good in administration as well. In case you're considering moving to library administration, here are some of my favorite aspects of my job:
  • Having a voice/seat at the table. It's not that people didn't listen to me before this job, but there's something nice about the extra weight people both at my college and in the community give my words because I've got the word "director" in my job title. 
  • Setting the agenda. I've got a lot of strong feelings about the direction academic libraries should pursue, and being in administration gives me a way to follow that path. I'm not a dictator; I do listen. But I'm the one captaining the ship and I get to stear. (Sorry/not sorry about the mixed metaphor of paths and ships.)
  • Helping staff grow. I am still a bit shy of the word "mentor," but it's something I've really grown to love. As the director, I can require professional development and help people work to their strengths. I get to guide people through things they don't think they can do, just like Hamlet the Minipig up there. And that kind of opportunity is worth all the budget headaches in the world.

How about the rest of you? I know a lot of directors/managers/administrators read this blog. What do you like about being an administrator? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Just For Fun: Bugs!

I love insects and spiders. Really, I do. I talk to moths that land near me, telling them how pretty they are. No, I don't get or expect answers. I'm careful to step over ant processions. They have as much right to exist as I do. I capture jumping spiders in my bare hands to escort them out, and anything bigger gets removed with a cup and a piece of cardboard. I think they're fascinating and a lot of them are adorable to me.

Don't get me wrong: I'll still swat a mosquito or spray a wasp nest if it's being built on my porch, which both my cats and I use. But really, I love bugs. And thanks to a friend, I recently found out that there's an insect museum just up the road from me in Philadelphia. So of course I took myself there. Here's some of what I saw:

That's a White Spotted Assassin Bug. They're native to West and Southwest Africa. Bonus for those of you who don't like bugs: they prey on cockroaches!

Lubber Grasshoppers are native to parts of the United States, so if they look familiar that's why. According to the sign at the Insectarium, they are named for the weird way they walk.

This Orchid Mantis was playing peekaboo with me. They're from Southeast Asia. Doesn't it look like it could be part of the plant?

The tank with the Macleay's Spectre Stick Insects caught my attention for a while. They come from Australia, and can grow up to EIGHT INCHES LONG!

I fell a little in love with the Giant Black African Millipedes. I like cucumbers a lot, too. They are native to a large part of Africa. They have a life expectancy of 5-7 years and are often kept as pets!

This was the best part of the day. These are Tanzanian Giant Tailless Whipscorpions. You'll find them both in Tanzania and in Kenya. They're harmless to humans, and I got to HOLD ONE! It was delicate and light and completely unfazed by me.

I left out most of the insects that I knew would really bother people, like the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (although I did get to pet one!). I find insects and arachnids, like my friend the whipscorpion, fascinating. Yes, I even like wasps unless they insist on building in spaces where my cats go. I figure if you've made it this far in the post that you like 'em, too, so share yours in the comments?