Tuesday, August 20, 2019

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

I wanted to believe that I had the head space to keep working on this blog when I published the last post. I thought if I published less frequently or something that I'd be able to sneak it in. But things haven't slowed down at all since early July, and there are a lot of things competing for my time and attention. My priorities have changed.

I need to express my thanks, regardless. I have gotten so much from the time I've spent on this blog. The relationships I developed would have been enough to be worth all the work, but it's no exaggeration to say that this blog changed my career and life. I will forever be grateful for your attention and support as I've worked through topic after topic. Also, all the guest authors who willingly gave me their time and thoughts have blown me away with their generosity. It was an amazing experience and an honor to run this blog.

All of this is to say that I'm not going to be updating LtaYL anymore, not for the foreseeable future anyway. I'm going to leave it up because the breadth of coverage is important. Also, there are posts that still get hits on the regs. But that's all from me.

So... so long, and thanks for all the fish (and trash). I may be back, but probably not for a long while.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Changes, Big and Small

This hiatus went on longer than I anticipated, but a lot of stuff came up for me personally and professionally that kept pulling my focus from this shouty little blog of mine. I even thought for a while about shutting down Letters to a Young Librarian. Then a few people said something about how they originally followed me on Twitter because they appreciated my voice on such a range of topics on my blog, and how they appreciated that I gave a platform to so many different kinds of library people. I also thought about how much joy I've gotten from this work (even if it's become more work than joy at times). And so, instead, I have decided to slightly rework how LtaYL functions.

First, I know I've been sitting on a few things that people have sent to me that were supposed to be on this blog a while ago. I'm going to reach out to everyone who submitted something to me that has not yet been published. I want to see if they're still interested in publishing those pieces over here.

Second, I'm going to significantly reduce how much gets published. Right now I'm thinking a piece every other week, with something from me in the mix every other month or so. This is a compromise between completely abandoning this soapbox of mine that has been a labor of love for so long and keeping going at my former pace.

Third, moving forward, I want this to be more of a platform for other voices than my own.

The tone will be the same; the subject matter will also be the same. Just a change of focus of who and how often.

So, what do you all think? I really want to know.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Another Hiatus

Y'all, I have too many forks and not enough spoons so this blog is gonna be on hiatus for the rest of May and maybe into June. Thanks for your understanding.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Interview Post: Violet Fox


Violet Fox

Current job?
As of June 2018, I work for OCLC as one of the editors of the Dewey Decimal Classification.

How long have you been in the field?
I started working as a library student worker in 1995 and worked as a paraprofessional for seven years, but I was outside of libraries for a while (buy me a drink and ask me about my job as an internet content moderator). I got my MLIS in 2013 from the University of Washington iSchool.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
The Dewey editorial team has been working at the Library of Congress since 1932, so in keeping with that tradition I work at LC, but in not the fancy Jefferson buildingthe boring building next door. I keep my cubicle pretty sparse. The two computers reflect the two organizations I work within: one belongs to OCLC, the other to LC.

How do you organize your days?
I use handwritten lists on scratch paper for daily tasks, color-coded Google calendar entries for longer term tasks, and text documents for ideas for future projects.
The Pomodoro Technique is a lifesaver.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
There’s a lot of research, especially researching topics that potentially need revision in the DDC schedules: recent subjects I’ve investigated include sewage systems, coloring books, eunuchs, and BASE jumping. The editorial team is only four people, so we work closely together to review each other’s work and bounce ideas off each other. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the editorial rules that govern the development of the DDC, so I refer to those frequently.

What is a typical day like for you?
Things I might do in a typical day: answer a question from a Dewey user, review another editor’s work, research one of my own projects, investigate the history of a particular Dewey number, reach out to one of our international partners for suggestions on how to address a particular problem. Sort through email. Lots of phone/video meetings, since my boss and most of my coworkers work in Ohio. I often have lunch or a coffee break with someone from LC; it’s difficult to get to know anyone outside my tiny department, so I try to be intentional about reaching out and making connections.
What are you reading right now?
I recently finished
Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science by Carol Kaesuk Yoon. I’ve been reading a lot about classification in a variety of fields; Yoon’s book is a popular science discussion of the history of scientific taxonomy and how it differs from folk taxonomy.
I just started The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth. Work is sending me to Stockholm & Oslo next month for a conference and it’ll be my first time overseas, so I’m reading up to alleviate some anxiety about that.
I’ve outsourced all my memory of books I’ve read to my GoodReads account, which leads to moments of panic as I totally blank when anyone asks what I’ve been reading.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
I’ve heard Dr. Nicole Cooke (@LibraryNicole) speak a few times and have walked away energized and inspired by her focus on figuring out what you want your legacy to be. Reflecting on that periodically helps me focus my energy on the things that matter to me (e.g., making the case for the value of metadata, being encouraging to new library folks, bringing transparency to my work).  

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Defending Dewey (the classification, not the man)

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
I love learning new color words. Recent favorites are corbeau (a very dark shade of green, almost black) and eau de Nil (a pale green).

What is your least favorite word?
Every single word that comes out of the mouth of the man currently living in the White House.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Throughout the years I’ve taken a few personality tests that suggest likely careers based on my temperament. Usually number two is librarian, and for whatever reason, number one is always X-ray technician. So I should probably give that a go if this library thing doesn’t work out.

What profession would you never want to attempt?

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Just the regular power of not having to struggle with depression. That’d be neat.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Whatever I’ve been able to contribute towards building communities of generous and compassionate people in the overlapping circles of librarianship that I inhabit.
If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Honestly, I don’t evenwhere would I start? I’ve had entire jobs that were mistakes.
Most of my mistakes are the result of procrastinating, which is absolutely my worst trait. Not wasting time putting off small tasks is the life lesson I never seem to learn.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Often organizing zine librarian stuff or, occasionally, critlib stuff. Occasionally writing Wikipedia articles. Thinking about the next issue of my zine about roadside attractions. Sending snail mail. I moved halfway across the country for this job, so a good amount of my time is spent traveling to visit my spouse, or counting the days until our next visit.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
A few of the amazing folks from my grad school cohort: Alyssa Jocson-Porter (@itsuhLEEsuh), Elizabeth Brookbank (@elizabethbrookb), and Eli Gandour-Rood (@eliganrood).

Violet tweets at @violetbfox.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Teach Yourself Twine: How to Create a Catalog Search and LC Call Number Review Game, by Jillian Sandy

My problem was this: after depending on a shelving tutorial borrowed from another institution for training purposes, suddenly the URL changed or the site no longer hosted this excellent (and free) resource. I thought I’d never have the time or the coding skills to make my tutorial. I was so wrong. I ended up creating a fun, low-stakes game that helped student employees a way to practice catalog searches and using the Library of Congress system, and I want to share with you!

The game additionally allows student employees to further explore catalog searching and to nudge them toward using the catalog to search for books--I created this game at the University of Dayton, where the default search option is UDiscover (OneSearch at many institutions), a tool we do not recommend for looking up books.

If you’d like to do something similar, here’s how: you will need to choose a free, relatively easy-to-use platform. I recommend Twine, open-source software created to build interactive stories. Though you can use this in-browser, I would recommend downloading the program for Windows, Mac, or Linux. You’ll have a lot more storage space for your game this way--important if you’d like to include adorable pictures of cats, gifs, or video to add some visual appeal.

Twine very easily lets you create a beginning and end to your game. You can also link pages to each other--for example, the pages student employees will see when they answer a question correctly or incorrectly, as well as links to the next question on their adventure.

Now for that pesky coding part of the process. You will need to do some coding to change font and image sizes, and perhaps to add images or create links (for example, when giving attribution for images). The good news: you can Google all of these things! I have very little experience with coding and managed to create this game--you can too!

One additional consideration with Twine is the use of images; first, you will need to find images that are out of the public domain, licensed by Creative Commons, or otherwise unencumbered by copyright restrictions. I found many images requiring attribution only at Vecteezy and Pixabay. I also like Unsplash for this kind of thing.

Unlike a blog or another site where you can upload images, images in Twine will need to be encoded. Again, you’re in luck--there are many sites where you can encode images for free! ou will need to turn your image into a rather lengthy line of code. I used a site called Base 64, which allows you to drag and drop images to transform into code. Below is an example of an image and the beginning of its code.

Another option in lieu of images are gifs. On sites like Giphy, the embed code is provided! All you need to do is copy and paste the embed code and the whole ordeal of encoding images can be avoided. 

When you have completed your game, you can export the file as an HTML file. This will lead to another consideration: hosting. Luckily, there are several places where you can host your Twine creation with no cost. I use Philome.la, which does require a Twitter account to sign up. If you do have an account, you will simply upload the HTML file you have created. No need to worry about the URL changing or the content suddenly disappearing! Be aware that you cannot change your game once you’ve uploaded it; if you need to make changes, you will need to edit the HTML in Twine and then re-upload as a new game (with a new URL). 

The game I created is pretty low key, requiring student employees only to complete the game and print or screenshot their “Purr-tificate of Completion.” However, the Twine Cookbook does outline the process of adding or subtracting points based on student responses (and provides some other helpful codes). Using a points system does provide an assessment tool for the game, though may feel more like a test to students than the interactive practice game I set out to make. 

In addition to training for student employees, I see the potential of this activity to be used as pre-work for library instruction sessions. Covering some search strategies ahead of time could give librarians more time to dive into information literacy concepts during class. 

If you’re feeling adventurous, play the game here: 
http://philome.la/JSandcat/searching-ud-catalog-a-roesch-library-adventure. You may need to search the UD Catalog to avoid any negative consequences from the game’s disgruntled cats: http://flyers.udayton.edu/search/X. (I've had some problems with Twine going down temporarily every now and then...but since it's free I have made do.I also have it hosted on Text Adventures here: https://textadventures.co.uk/games/view/aSyZJWezq0qdEwErOY11BQ/searching-the-ud-catalog-a-roesch-library-adventure) 

Jillian Sandy is a Visiting Research & Instruction Librarian at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She can be reached at jssandy at smcm dot edu. Find many pictures of her cat on Instagram as jsheilas.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

One on One Meetings with Library Faculty and Staff

The most valuable thing we all have is time. As a mid-level administrator, my time is definitely at a premium with all the meetings I have that take me out of the library. And yet, I make sure to take time to meet one-on-one with every single person who works for me regularly. For those of you who may not know this, I'm the director of library services at a small/medium community college, and I have 17 direct reports according to the organizational chart. Yes, you read that right - 17. Sure, that's a lot of meetings, but it's important to me.

It's so important to me that I meet with everyone at least monthly, but more often if they'd prefer. So far, it's turned out that I meet with 3 of the people who work in the library on a weekly basis, 1 person bi-weekly, and everyone else monthly. Now, to be clear, these are the formal, sit down in a room with the door closed so we won't be interrupted kind of meetings. I have plenty of impromptu meetings and try to be as available as possible. But I sit down with everyone at least once a month.

Why do I do this? Let me say right away that it is not so I can be a control freak. I do not micromanage (well, mostly I don't - I do get a little huffy about self-care and trying to encourage work/life balance). It's because I want to know what's going on so I can be as helpful and supportive as possible. It's also because I want to make sure I have face time with everyone. Sure, I have opportunities to talk with full time library faculty and staff on a regular basis, but I really don't have that with part time people - with the exception of the adjunct librarian with whom I do my weekly reference desk shift. So these meetings are a way for me to give my time and attention, but they are also selfish because I wouldn't get a chance to talk with lots of my direct reports otherwise.

And what happens in these meetings? Well, that depends on who is in the meeting and what's going on in the library and at the college. These meetings are usually very informal, with shared responsibility for agenda items. I aim to have my agenda items to people ahead of time, but I fail way more often than I accomplish this. I definitely give time to think if it's a thinking thing. Some topics that come up on a regular basis:
  • Work goals and projects;
  • Career goals;
  • Stress levels and workload.

The way I see it, it's my job to make things go smoothly for everyone who works in the library since they are the ones taking care of our patrons directly. I can't do that if I don't know what's going on, and everyone has a different perspective in the library.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

National Library Workers Day

I've said it before and I'll say it again: my job, as an administrator, is to make things good for my direct reports. One of the simplest ways I can do that is to occasionally let them know how much I appreciate the work they do. I get everyone a little something for the winter gift-giving season, speak up about their successes in broader meetings, bring macarons regularly, and so on. One thing I've done every year since becoming an administrator is to acknowledge National Library Workers Day. I've also started trying to remind others:

The thing is, you don't have to spend a lot of money to do this. Last year I bought everyone a zipper pull that says "READ" and this year, I bought everyone cute magnetic bookmarks I found on Etsy.

I also made cards for everyone! (For the record, I wrote individual messages to accompany the Target gift cards everyone got for the winter gifty. It's not always a one size fits all approach.)

The important thing is to mix it up. I have a lot of variety in dietary restrictions and preferences among the staff. It's easy to get gluten free macarons, but I also have someone who works for me who is vegan. I probably do overdo it with the cute things (I gotta be me), but even that balances out with highly practical Target gift card. Even the Target gift card was a thing that took conversation and consideration to pick. It's the one store in the area to which everyone has access, and I asked a few people for feedback before the first time I did it.

The gifts I give are never expensive, and I make sure to balance them out with real and specific praise for people's strengths and triumphs, but National Library Workers Day is an important holiday in my part of the world and I suggest other library administrators celebrate it in some way if they can.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Just for Fun: Cute Gifs Galore

First, the G in "gif" is pronounced like the G in "girl".

Second, thought I'd take this just for fun post and share some of my favorite and most used (perhaps abused?) gifs. Just a quick little fun post to serve as a respite before you plunge back into the void that is contemporary culture. Also, I feel the need to balance the heavy post I published earlier this week.

Not feeling sure of yourself? This cat knows that feel.

Feeling exceptionally sure of yourself? Like you could take on a monster many many times bigger than you? This cat is right there with you.

So excited about something good that you can't stand it? Monsieur Wigglebutt is on your wavelength.

Feeling the opposite? Hate the entire world? Here's a different kind of canine who agrees 100%.

And one more emotional spectrum... are you feeling bad about something you did wrong? Like this cat?

Or know you did wrong, but don't care at all?

I hope this string of relatively nonsensical gifs has put a smile on your face. If you need more cute, please remember I have a semi-curated collection of cute and distracting gifs over on my Pinboard account, ready at a moment's notice to help you find a smile.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Unexpected Manager: 8 Lessons Learned from Being Made a Library Manager Right Out of Library School, by Peter Shirts

Gif of person spinning 6 different plates at the top of wooden poles.

[Editor's Note: This post is good reading for anybody in charge of something, not just for those just out of their graduate programs who are unexpectedly put in charge of something.]

After finishing library school, I accepted the first job offer I received as an academic subject liaison. I soon found out, however, that a major part of the job was not quite clear in the official position description—after a short, 9-month training period as co-manager, I would become the sole manager of an academic branch library with 8.5 full-time positions and around 20 part-time student workers. All of the full-time staff were older than I was, and some had been working at that location for over 20 years. While I would not wish a similar situation on other recent graduates, I gained valuable experience. Should you find yourself as an unexpected manager, here are 8 key lessons I learned:

1. Spend time listening. When learning about your new organization, listen more than talk. Acknowledge staff members’ feelings, strengths of the current way of doing things, changes desired by staff, and feedback about your new management.

2. Remember that change takes time. Ingrained procedures are not always a bad thing, but sometimes it is important to revisit why a procedure or policy was adopted and assess whether the conditions that led to its adoption are still the same. Try to frame discussions in terms such as “let’s think about this another way” or “I’ve heard it is done differently elsewhere…what do you think?” instead of “now we’re going to do it my way.” When change is needed, make sure all the stakeholders are consulted and find ways to honor the past while forging ahead.

3. Learn to translate others’ productivity for supervisees and supervisors. Because each member of your team has a different function and area of expertise, communicating work accomplishments to each other can be difficult. Most people want to do their job well, but conflicts between staff can arise when one person’s idea of “well” is different from their coworkers' or your ideas. Because of this, you may need to explain a staff member’s output to their coworkers. If an employee really is not working up to par, translate what the employee is doing (or not doing) to your supervisor, and allow the underperforming staff member to supply their own perspective. You are not exempt from reporting, so find ways to communicate the work you are doing to your staff, also. For instance, I both produced and requested monthly reports. Finally, praise your staff in public and private for what they do well.

4. Run meetings efficiently. People want to feel that their opinions and concerns are heard, but they do not want their time wasted. Here are some strategies I used:
  • Make an agenda, invite new agenda items well before the meeting, and during the meeting keep to the agenda as much as possible.
  • Have someone (besides you) take notes and archive these notes in a shared drive
  • Follow up on unfinished items from past meetings.
  • Keep announcements brief and make as many as you can via email outside of the meeting.
  • Keep the tone light and fun (by making on-topic but not demeaning jokes or acknowledging a situation’s humor), while still keeping the meeting brief.
  • Make sure everyone understands what decisions have been made.
  • Avoid doing creative things, such as writing or workflow analysis, in a meeting.
  • Instead, use the meeting to gather opinions on writing or workflows that have been drafted already outside of the meeting.
  • Everyone enjoys an early dismissal or even a cancelled meeting—but do not overuse these options.

5. Make connections with your staff. Keep relationships professional, but also find out what makes your staff tick. Sometimes you can use staff members’ hobbies or interests to enhance the library’s offerings or collections. Relying on staff members’ unique expertise helps them feel needed, too.

6. Keep good notes. When juggling management of many people doing many different tasks, it is easy to forget what happened even a few days ago. Keep a paper trail of meetings, conversations, and decisions. For instance, when you make an assignment orally, confirm the assignment in an email. You never know when you will need to review decisions again or remind someone of an assignment.

7. Be smart about delegating. My staff had a lot of experience doing their jobs, and I tried not to stop them from using that experience. Most of the time, they could perform their jobs skillfully without my intervention, so I kept out of their way. If someone had expertise in a certain area, I would assign tasks in that area to them instead of tackling them myself. However, when the staff looked for me for leadership, I prioritized learning about and dealing with the relevant issues.
8. Set boundaries for yourself. In almost any professional library position, there is more work than one person can possibly complete; this can be an even more acute problem for a first-time manager. Instead of working yourself to burnout, stick to a reasonable work schedule with only occasional extended hours. Include a dedicated lunch break in your schedule.

Peter Shirts is a little less stressed than he used to be, now working as the Music Librarian at Emory University. He shares occasional musical thoughts at www.signifyingsoundandfury.com and on Twitter @SignifyingSound.