Thursday, December 15, 2016

Interview Post: Daniel Messer


Daniel Messer

Current job?
Integrated Library System Administrator for the Maricopa County Library District

How long have you been in the field?
I’ve worked in libraries for 21 years.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
Well, here’s a picture!

As a systems librarian, it’s no surprise I’m a computer geek. I’m a slider, a term coined by Knightwise, which means I easily work on any computer and any operating system to get things done. I try to work in a way that makes me mobile, so I can easily work off-site or in branches. It’s a Microsoft environment and the library was awesome enough to provide me with a Surface Pro 4. This is my primary work machine, though I do have an older Dell Latitude at my desk that provides a remote computer inside the network if I need it. I work on Windows 7, Windows 10, various versions of Windows Server, and on Ubuntu Server.  Beyond that, I typically use a MacBook Air, an iPad Air 2, an iPhone 6s+, and a first edition Apple Watch to get things done.

Outside of the tech, I’m an image junky and I have pictures everywhere. Some of them are funny, some of them are of things dear to me, and some are just beautiful and that’s all there is to it. I’ve got a few of my favourite fictional characters in toy form just to make me smile, like there’s The Question (Vic Sage, but I’d love to get a Renee Montoya version), Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, and Optimus Prime (he was a librarian!). There are tech books, a coffee maker, boxes of tea, and a thin veil of chaos.

How do you organize your days?
I use a modified version of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system. If you’d like to read the book, go ahead, but I think Lifehacker can save you some time. While I’m working, my email, the Polaris ILS Staff Client, Slack, Typora, and Firefox are open constantly. Firefox is running our trouble ticket system, TweetDeck, Wunderlist, and a self-hosted Unmark system.

I start the day around 7 am by checking our websites to make sure everything's running smoothly, and then I hit up email. I manage email with ruthless efficiency and before mid-day, my inbox is empty. If a task comes in that I can do right now and it’ll only take a few minutes, I do it. If I need to set something aside, I’ll add it to Wunderlist which is perfect for my task management needs. I almost always set a date due and it’ll ping me via the app on my iPhone and Watch along with sending an email. I’m terrified of missing something important, so I try to have redundant systems in place to remind me when something is due.

After that, I dive into tasks. No two days are the same. There are staff to manage in the ILS, issues to fix, tickets to work, meetings to attend, messages to respond to, training to plan, and branches to visit. I try to get out of the office on a regular basis to visit branches because, when it comes to using the ILS, the branches do far more than our administrative office.

Throughout the day, I use Typora to keep a log of what I’ve worked on. I write in MarkDown, and Typora is an excellent MarkDown editor. Mostly I log the date and then bullet-point my tasks and accomplishments. Whenever I need to know when, if, or why I did a thing, I can easily refer back to my log and cross reference it with Wunderlist and my Sent Items folder in Outlook.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
A little bit of everything. ILS management tasks are a pretty big part of my day along with planning for an ILS upgrade and the staff training that will involve. I’m starting to visit the branches more frequently, so I hope that I’ll spend most of my time where the action is really happening with the ILS and seeing what I can do to solve problems and make things better.

What is a typical day like for you?
I honestly don’t have one! Today I’m writing this from a branch on the east side of the County. Tomorrow I’ll be in Phoenix. Next week I’ll be in Surprise, then Anthem, then Gilbert, and so on. One of the best parts of what I do is that I don’t have a typical day. Sometimes I’m crazy busy and sometimes I’m looking for a project, either way, each day is its own.

What are you reading right now?
I read a lot of everything so no judging! I’m a historian of science and, while remaining skeptical, I have a fascination with the paranormal and I love a good ghost story. So with that in mind, the things I’m leafing through right now are:

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Don’t be so busy making a living that you forget to have a life. My dad told me that when I first moved to Arizona and it stuck with me. I’m not a workaholic, but I’m constantly connected. I can triage email from my watch for god’s sake… and I do. So while I love my job, I try not to let it become the Sauron’s Eye of my existence.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
This job! I started out my career in circulation and I absolutely meant to stay there. I’ve got a decent background in computers and technology and I thought that circ was the place for me because, at least where I worked, circulation was the most technologically advanced department in the system. Sure, IT has servers and PCs to manage and all of that. But at one point, I was managing a department with eight self-check-out machines and two different self-check-in machines, each using lasers and radio to move materials through the library!I never wanted to leave, but a position in web content came open and, while I’ve done some web work, I mostly just applied to see just how far I could get through the process. Besides, I thought, after 17 years in circulation, a change might be good.

And I got the job.

I worked for just under four years in web content before a position opened up for an ILS Administrator. I’ve used Polaris ILS for almost the entirety of my career and I went for it and got it! I’m incredibly grateful and very lucky to have such a position seeing as how I started out as a page and planned on a career in circulation, not systems.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
Spizzerinctum. It means vim, vigour, and/or vitality or someone/something with those qualities. My dad is from North Carolina and my mom is from Missouri and I’m inclined to think it’s a word from the American South.

What is your least favorite word?
Moratorium. It’s rarely a good thing when a moratorium is imposed upon something. It also sounds like a place you go to buy dead things.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
I wish I had more time to write and make podcasts. I listen to a lot of podcasts, typically going through three or four per day. When I listen to Cortex and hear Myke and Grey talking about how they quit their jobs to become podcasters and YouTubers, I often dream about doing the same. So if I wanted to do something else, I’d love to become a professional podcaster.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Politics. Not even once.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Do you know how many problems would be solved for me if only I could fly? I’m not even talking about a putting on a cape, saving the day, superhero descending from the heavens kind of flight. I’m talking about no more morning commute, running errands in a fraction of the time, getting to places without driving sort of flight.

What are you most proud of in your career?
This may sound weird, but I don’t take a particular pride in anything specific. I’m thrilled with some things I’ve done, like speaking at Computers in Libraries or at the national Polaris Users Group conference. But in the end, I’d like to just be able to look back at my career and say, “You know what? I’m proud of the career, not just certain parts of it.”

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Like Mary Poppins, I’m practically perfect in every way. Except for that one time I forgot to put all of the branch’s money back into the safe one night. That sucked, and while everything was fine and nothing was stolen, I felt bad about that for months.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
I write quite a bit for my podcasting. It could be easily said that I’m either recording a podcast or working on a podcast. Besides that, I’m an ambient and space musician and I’m usually listening to music or trying to make some. I play videogames too, at least when I have some time.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Seriously? Dr. Carla Hayden. But if you can’t get her to do it, then Holly Paxson. She’s fantastic!

This is Dan's third post for LtaYL. His first was "Managing Change" and his second was "Library R&D". He tweets at @bibrarian.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Adamantly Pro-Truth in a Propaganda-Recast-as-“Post-Truth” Time, by Michele Santamaria

Dahlia Shevin, 2016, "You belong/ TĂș perteneces."

In the Italian theatrical genre of commedia dell'arte--picture motley characters with names like "Harlequino" and "Punchinello" and broad farce--there is a constant tension between servants and masters, more precisely, the audience is left questioning which is which. As a librarian, I am constantly thinking about how the servant-master dynamic is central to our profession. Since I have chosen a field that is service-oriented, I ask myself: in what ways am I servant? And what is it that I am servant to or to whom? Are there ways that acting like a servant betrays my other core ideals? Are there ways that I can use my status as a "servant" to subvert oppressive power?

At the current political moment, I find these questions particularly inescapable and much more situationally specific: as I ponder whether or not to send a check to renew membership in an organization that "hastily" sent out a statement supporting initiatives of our President-elect, as I ponder the rush to formulate information literacy plans that tackle fake news and filter bubbles, as I ponder safety pin initiatives. Respectively, the questions that are raised for me with each of these examples are the following: Are librarians to be "neutral" servants who curry to power, no matter how much that power repudiates what we claim to be some of our highest ideals? Are we to be servants to the latest way to be on topic, ambulance chasers running after the victims of the fake news story? Are we to be, as one skeptical librarian put it, "Becky with the pin" by remaining silent while displaying our safety pin as a symbol of our goodness while someone with a marginalized identity gets attacked?

At my saddest, darkest, smallest, I am afraid that we might be all of these things already & that the current political and historical moment is just throwing a particularly harsh light on our profession's flaws.  I am afraid that no amount of information literacy is going to save us from the powerful and apparently intoxicating draw of fascism. But most of all, I am afraid for our students, the black, the brown, those wearing hijabs, those who go by they/theirs, the disabled, the students whom I protested alongside with fifteen days ago and who reacted so passionately when a Native American staff member told them about the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

When I saw a young black woman wearing a "Black Lives Matter" pin, I thought she might be headed to the student protest. I didn't have full details. I talked to her as he walked towards the Student Center. She had no clue about Steven Bannon.  But while the students chanted about their local context, their local struggles, it was clear that the current political moment had prompted this feeling of urgency. It was also clear that they wanted to know what was going on, that they believed in the power of information and communication.

So for now, I'm going to set aside my doubts about safety pins, LibGuides on fake news, and official statements. I'm going super-super local to be there for all the students who were at that protest and all the students who were not there but are also legitimately scared. Post-truth might have been designated the word of the year, and on some level, that terrifies me. On another deeper level, though, I understand that as a librarian I am ultimately a servant to the truth. I suppose other librarians might say "knowledge" or "information." What I care most about is the truth. And one of the most important truths sustaining me right now is that my brown skin and lived experiences tangibly help me to connect with some of these students. The truth is, as one autistic student yelled at the student rally, "I am not broken," though it has felt that way, at times, since the morning of November 9.

And yet, there are moments that give me hope. Last week, a Latina who had come to me during the most stressful point of her spring semester last year, came back with a group. At the end of our appointment, she asked me a question about study abroad and we laughed about how much she trusted what I had to say. And she said that she could tell that I was the sort of person who would tell her the truth, who would just say what they really thought. Truth and trust--I will be a servant to those and I guess also to love though I'm not the kind of person who hugs readily. But to be truly present for these students is one thing I can give and that, I think, is no small gift in a political time that seems hell bent on repudiating human connection along with its "no facts/post truth" significations.  Tell it like it is, especially to students.  Love them & call the post-truth that endangers all of us, especially the marginalized, by its proper name--call it and denounce it as propaganda.

Michele Santamaria is the Learning Design Librarian at Millersville University. Aside from #alwayslibrarianing, she is a year-round poet and advocate for social justice.  She has a chapter forthcoming in an ACRL autoethnography publication and a chapter forthcoming in a Library Juice publication about being a poet-librarian. Apparently, there are a bunch of them.  She is happy to interact over social media via Twitter @infolitmaven.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Information Literacy as Liberation

There's been a lot of discussion of what role librarians can/should play to fight the ongoing maelstrom of suspicious information sources. I agree: information literacy is a powerful tool we have at our disposal, but we have to be smart about this. LibGuides, while useful in some circumstances, are not the way to go. Our constituents barely use our websites when they are required to do so, never mind about when they are out in the wilds of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., looking at the title of an article that was just posted by a friend. And as clever as the CRAAP test is, and as funny as the acronym might be, I sometimes have a hard time remembering what each of the letters mean even though I'm in this field - imagine how often our students forget it.

No, we need to use a tool that the members of our community can take with them anywhere and easily remember at any time. I've written about this before, but I'm writing about it again because it's timely and important: we should be teaching our constituents to look at information sources using the 5 Ws.

  • Who? Who wrote this? Can you even tell? Are they an authority in this topic? Credentials are important, but first hand accounts are also important. Most importantly: who stands to benefit if you believe this source?
  • What? What kind of resource is this? Is it an advertisement? Newspaper article? Scholarly research article? Also, what kind of information does it present? Does the content accurately match up with what you already know about this topic? And another thing: are there a bunch of advertisements, either related or unrelated to the topic of the article?
  • When? How up-to-date is the information? And how soon after an event was this published? (We've all seen false reports and misinformation happen shortly after major events like school shootings.) Also, how up-to-date do you need the information to be? Looking for reviews of classic movies that came out shortly after the cinematic debut versus critical acclaim that came years later can make a big difference.
  • Where? Country of origin? (And yes, I teach students about country codes and how to figure out origin when it's a .com or other three letter extension.) How different is the information provided by CNN versus BBC versus Al-Jazeera? Also, where is this information in relation to the structure of the website? Is it on the front page? Is it buried?
  • Why? What's the purpose of the source? Is it trying to sell you something? Convince you of something? Share facts? Also, why are you looking at this source? Entertainment? Medical research? Academic need?

This is something I've used for years, and it sticks to students. It sticks because they already have the 5 Ws as a tool in their mental toolbox, and I'm just showing them another way to use it. The thing about information literacy is that it's how we teach our constituents to think for themselves. We need to be as efficient and effective as possible in this war against propaganda, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and click bait. Don't you think?


Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Lifetime of Antisemitism

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I'm a Buddhist now, but I was raised Jewish. And I still identify that way culturally. So when the tweet up there showed up on my timeline (retweeted by April Hathcock), something started to bubble up inside. I'm guessing, if demographic statistics are anything to go by, that most of the people reading this post are not Jewish. In the past I know that my gentile friends are astonished at the experiences I've had, but it's important to know these things, so I decided to share a sampling of my experiences with antisemitism. I'm going to share small ones and big ones, because Sarah Hamburg is right - most people don't encounter real, live antisemitism.
Small: In high school, I was called "kike" by the younger brother of one of my closest friends. He thought he was being funny, and other people laughed. I know I didn't cry, and I'm pretty sure my friend made their younger sibling apologize, but I knew I could never trust that person - or anyone who laughed - again.
Large: The synagogue I attended when I was a child, the building where my father's funeral service was held, was desecrated with swastikas. I felt so safe, so loved, in that building when I was young. The rabbi and his wife embraced me and my family when we joined the synagogue, and it's one of the few places where I've ever felt like I actually belonged and was welcome. Those swastikas took that from me.
Small: When I was 7, my parents bought a house in a nice suburb of Boston. I immediately set out to make friends with kids in the neighborhood - I'm a gregarious person, after all - and I ended up meeting a girl close to my age right next door. Success! However, a couple of weeks later, the little girl who lived in the house next door yelled at me when she found out we were Jewish: "I never would have wasted macaroni and cheese on you if I'd known you were a Christ killer!"
Large: If I want to visit my father's grave, I have to contact the board that is in charge of the cemetery because they have to keep it locked up with a chain link fence. They have to do this to keep people from desecrating the graves because it's a Jewish cemetery. And to drive the point home: he's buried north of Boston, in Massachusetts, where people are supposedly liberal and open and accepting.
Small: At a previous library, I was told I was over-reacting, and that a work party wasn't just Christmas, because they played "White Christmas" (which was written by Irving Berlin, who was Jewish). I don't know if the person who said this to me actually believed what they were saying, but I'll always remember that almost nobody else spoke up to correct that person.
Small: I've been called "[word]-nazi" multiple times in my life. "Grammar Nazi" mostly, and some "Table Nazi" when I worked in a restaurant. It's ridiculous to compare anyone to a fascist, genocidal regime for things like a predilection for correcting grammar or wanting the tables to be done according to spec at the end of a shift, but it stings extra hard for someone who is Jewish.

As hard as this all may have been for you to read, please know that this is only a sampling of things I've experienced. Never mind the ever-present micro-aggressions - things that are easily brushed off by people who aren't on the receiving end.

One other thing: I didn't publish this to make you feel bad. I published it to let you know that racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate, have always been a part of the culture in the US. It's going to be worse now, so you need to believe people. And you need to speak up when you witness this kind of hate.