Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Letter from a Mid Career Librarian to Their Younger Self

I'm 46. Of course if I had a time machine it would be a Delorean.

Yes, this is another post making good on a months old promise

This isn't exactly what Nick Schiller asked for when he said, "Letter from a young librarian to her mid-career self," but he got me thinking. I know the whole premise of this blog is advice for younger librarians, but what specific things would I tell myself if I could build a time machine and talk to my younger self at different points of my life? So here's what I've come up with:

LIS Graduate School Jessica:
Your ideas about what classes and experiences would help you in the future are all dead on - especially the idea of taking advanced cataloging, even though you know you're going to be public services - with one exception. You'll wish you'd taken the research class instead of the management class, mostly because the management class was useless but also because you're going to become interested in research later in your career.

First Professional Position Jessica:
Absorb everything your first director has to tell you. Remember how you said to yourself, "oh, so that's what I'm going to be like in my forties"? You were 100% correct. You even became a director! But you'll only have her for 6 months, so value the time with her. Also, be as respectful of the paraprofessionals as possible. You'll have a few missteps with this, and you'll learn to be better, but you'll wish you learned sooner.

Grant Writer Jessica:
You're not as bad at this job as you think you are, and your boss is actually much much worse. Your personal life has exploded, sure, but you're going to be so much happier at the other end than you ever were before. And the best part? This job is going to send you back to libraries just in time for a fantastic job that is perfect for you and you're perfect for it.

Information Literacy Coordinator Jessica:
You did this job right. You were good at trusting yourself and building relationships. Maybe reach out to Dee in Student Life sooner? The one thing you'll wish you'd done differently is to make friends with coworkers more as you go through your time at that school. Sure, you have some friends from that part of your life - even now, years later - but there are so many other lovely people at this school. You'll try to connect with those people after you leave, and in some cases you'll be successful (yes, I'm looking at you, Demetria), but it would have been so much nicer if you could have had more in person memories with them.

Brand New Library Director Jessica:
It's not you; it's them. You are not crazy (except in the more typical anxiety way), that place is. The best part of this place is how much you'll learn about yourself and libraries and every every everything. Oh, and the friendships that you have going into this job are going to be your lifeline. For instance, that weird guy, Jake, who makes you laugh sometimes is going to end up feeling like family. The most important thing I wish I could tell you is that you will survive this time in your life, and you will move onto a job and a city you love so much that it feels like home within 6 months.

And, to round this out, here's a message to future Jessica:
The biggest thing that you've learned is that you've got this - whatever "this" might be. Trust yourself and your process, and be kind to yourself when you aren't able to live up to an impossible standard. You really are doing the best you know how in every moment.

So how about you? Do you have any specific advice for your past and future selves?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Working with your CIO and IT, by Holly Heller-Ross

Note: This post is adapted from a talk that the author gave and the blog owner attended.

picture of sign that says "technology enhanced learning" with an arrow pointing in a direction.

My career in libraries has taken me from a public, to a hospital, and now to an academic library. Along the way, I’ve picked up some experience working with information technology (IT) and currently serve as both Library Director and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for a medium-sized public higher education institution - SUNY Plattsburgh.

The working relationship between library and IT at a higher ed institution can have a profound impact on the success of a library, so here are my thoughts on how to build and sustain one that is positive and productive.

First, recognize the CIO as a kindred soul with the same pressures library directors face. That will help break down any initial us vs. them thinking. Staffing, budget and time limitations, concerns about effective leadership strategies, the need to prove value and measure impact, insufficient space, inflationary expense increases well above any increases in higher education funding …all these things library directors face? Yeah, CIO’s face also and on a campus-wide scale!

Just take service hours as an example. For the library director students are always asking for 24/7 open hours, and most libraries are not staffed or budgeted to provide that. And then there’s the question of when to put your top performers or most skilled staff on the front lines? Should your librarians be teaching or developing online guides, or both, but in what proportion? Now imagine the CIO, who is asked to provide network, helpdesk, telecom, and information security coverage…also without the staff or budget to really provide that. Also wondering whether to task the software trainer with group workshops or one-on-one faculty conferences? Surely that’s something to bond over with a cup of coffee or tea! [Editor’s Note: Or a nice imperial stout?]

I’m not suggesting the only commonalities are ones of insufficiency though. The joys of problem solving, assisting faculty with teaching and scholarship, measuring impact on student learning and showing positive correlations, getting a great purchasing deal with a vendor, and mentoring staff through career pathways you’ve helped create are some commonalities you and the CIO can celebrate together.

Second, appreciate their goals and tell them about yours. One good way to keep up on IT goals is to read the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues annual article. This will provide both a listing and some good contextual material for general understanding of IT priorities. Once you have the basics, start to match your library top issues with the IT issues your CIO is likely to already be thinking about.

Like in any relationship, shared values and objectives make all the work and effort easier to align. Information Security for example, has been a Top 10 IT issue for quite a while, and will likely remain so. It might be time to engage in an Information Security Review of library resources, including database access, patron record storage and security, login protocols, off-campus and proxy access, and library web pages. Any improvements here will be gains for the library and for IT. Other possibilities for common goals include improvements to login-times and quick print, switching from custom quoted staff desktops to standardized purchases and images, assignment of off-campus proxy admin rights to a technology minded librarian, and collaborative training of student employees for efficiency. I’m sure you’ll think of specifics for your library, it just takes a bit of effort.

Then, share your library goals with the CIO or other IT staff. Feel free to share ALA and ACRL reports and white papers, your own assessment results, and your own strategic plans with the CIO and others.  Executive summaries will certainly be welcome, but some folks will want the whole thing, and as librarians, we can be ready to provide that at the drop of a hat!

Third, be clear about your priorities and their impact on students and faculty. Clarity enables boldness, as the inspirational posters read! Once you have established your priorities, make sure all your campus partners know what they are. 

picture of clouds with a person paragliding through them with the words "clarity enables boldness."

Whether your priorities are facilities upgrades, green initiatives, patron or staff technology upgrades, improved technology support, library service enhancements for the teaching and learning environments, mobile technology improvements, or anything else, make sure people know what you care the most about.

Remember that your priorities are more likely to get attention when they fit in with an overall campus goal, and that timing matters! Like all of higher education, library impact on faculty teaching and scholarship, student learning and success, and institutional efficiencies, are what matters now. During the span of my career, higher education has shifted from input measures, to output measures, to impact metrics.  If your institution is focused on improving the learning environment and fostering student engagement and retention for example, my advice would be to also focus on that for your library. Let the other initiatives wait. Get in sync with your institution and that will make it much easier to get support from your CIO and all your other campus partners.

Fourth, keep the communication channels open and flowing at all levels of your organization. You probably already know how the library and IT intersect in the formal communication channels such as reporting, leadership teams, and organizational committees. Is this enough? Map it out and you’ll be able to see where there are gaps in substance or in timeliness. If there is an important committee that meets only once a semester, look for ways to supplement that information exchange with email updates or some other activity.

Then, dig a bit deeper to look for both informal communication channels as well as sub population channels that could be enhanced.  Do you have vertical and diagonal communication channels? Can you arrange for other affinity groups to collaborate and communicate? For instance, could you and the CIO put a group of recent hires together for a specific task? If you could, not only would you get a specific task accomplished, but you’d start to build the next generation of collaborative colleagues. Do you have group and one-on-one communication channels open and functioning? A greater variety of channels will yield a greater variety of information flow, and that’s exactly what you want! 

And finally, if things go wrong, don’t get mad… get curious! That’s not just good personal relationship building advice; it’s good for the workplace too!

Holly Heller-Ross is the Dean of Library and Information Technology Services, and CIO, at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What Libraries Are and Are Not

Last week I admitted that almost a year ago (well, 9 months) I asked for ideas and requests for posts I could write about on my blog and promised to make good on honoring the requests. Well, this week the suggestion/request I ignored came from Donna Lanclos:

Wow - that is a topic about which I could (and maybe should?) write a PhD dissertation, but I'm game to take a crack at it.

First, let me say: your mileage may vary. In fact, I'm almost certain it will.

picture of a fuel economy sticker from a new car.

So what, in my decidedly limited perspective (remember - academic library administrator, who has always worked at smaller schools, and almost exclusively at private institutions):
  • The biggest clue to realizing what a particular library is or is not..? Is what kind of community you are serving. This will determine the partnerships you form, the collections you build, the services you provide. It will determine most of what your library is and is not. Let me be a bit more specific:
    • Are you going to collect popular fiction? And I mean beyond the pop authors who have transcended to the point where there is sufficient literary criticism to warrant buying their books.
    • Are you going to provide access to social workers?
    • How about the kinds of databases you subscribe to, like WestLaw or WindowsWear Pro or NoveList?
    • Will you be open on weekends?
  • The next thing I really want people to think about is getting over the "we're not just books!" thing. Y'all...? We are books. Sure, I've worked at libraries that had unusual collections. I work at a school with a fashion program right now, and we are going to be offering sewing machines for check out really soon. And it's important that people know what else we have, but the book is our major brand association, so stop it.
  • The most important thing, though, when thinking about what a library is or is not...? LIBRARIES ARE NOT NEUTRAL. Let me say that again: libraries are not neutral. We have never been. We make decisions about what to collect, about what to offer, about who to hire. Even if you tell yourself it's because of space concerns and staff expertise and budgetary constraints, you are still choosing. WE are still choosing.

That brings me to the biggest takeaway I want you to get from this article. Leaving aside the "should" and the "could" and the "would" of the thing, everything libraries are and are not comes down to the people working there. They can be disturbingly conservative or so far left it might scare you. They can pretend that libraries are neutral and therefore come down on the side of the oppressors. They can be so well meaning that it's hard to fault them (and that is true of people across the political spectrum). Libraries might look like they are about computers or books or democratization or a host of other things, but they aren't. Libraries are the people who work and go there.

picture of a soap box.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Interview Post: James D’Annibale


James D’Annibale

Current job?
Currently my title is “Technology & Instructional Design Librarian” but that doesn’t really tell you what I do. I take care of all instructional design, instructional technology, and student/faculty technology training. I’m the administrator for our learning management system and our video hosting platform. In addition to those things, I do instructional coaching, help program directors make sure their online programs are of high quality, do reference work for students as well as helping to plan the library budget alongside our collections management librarian. I also did most of the work to establish our new library website. Now that it’s built, we all co-manage it (which means when someone remembers something needs to be done we take care of it).

How long have you been in the field?
I was a school librarian for 2 years right after my undergraduate work. I completed my Master of Library Science as I was working as a school librarian. I then took jobs outside of librarianship for 3 years, and now have been in my current position for 3 years. So I guess you could say on and off for the past 8 years.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
I’m told my office was a complete afterthought when they built this part of our library. They were near completion when the library director at the time told the construction team we needed another office. So they essentially put up 2 walls and a semi-circle of glass windows, fixed a countertop to one of the walls, and called it an office. I refer to it as my “fishbowl.” The countertop isn’t really the right height a desk should be and the edges are not smooth so it’s kind of uncomfortable to work at. Because of that, I asked my boss if I could get one of those sit/stand things you put on your desk and I like it a lot better. I try my best to be paperless in my work but there are still a bunch of papers all over the place. There’s also A/V equipment sitting out because I often forget to put things away.

How do you organize your days?
I’m ruled by my calendar. I have a Google calendar widget on the home screen of my phone. It’s typically the first thing I look at when I wake up. I like to know the quantity and type of meetings I’ll have before I even get in the shower. A lot of my time is spent in meetings, consultations, or trainings, so it’s important to know what I have going on and what I can possibly fit in between those meetings, etc. Many people I’ve talked to about work-efficiency type of stuff tell me that it’s bad to be ruled by your calendar because you’ll take too many meetings, but I actually book time on my calendar to work on “real” work. For example, today I had 2 hours blocked off on my calendar to work on some video tutorials I owed to some students. If someone wants to schedule a meeting with me, it looks to them that I’m already in a meeting for those 2 hours so I actually get the time to do my work.

Other than that I don’t know that my days are really organized. Every day is different for me based on who needs to work with me. Faculty and students all have their class schedules pretty set so it means I have to be the flexible one.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Listening to music. I’m serious with that too. I keep Pandora going pretty much all day every day except for when I have a meeting. I have pretty sweet stations centered around Eminem, Macklemore, Jay Z, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, a station that mixes Jesus Christ Superstar with Les Miserables, a good Simon & Garfunkel station, and sometimes I even mix in the Disney station I have for my kids.

As far as what I spend my time doing with the music on, it certainly feels like I spend most of my time answering tech questions and making video tutorials because words don’t always do the trick. However when I look at my calendar there’s no way my feeling there is accurate. Most of my time is spent working with faculty to help them teach better (face to face or online).

What is a typical day like for you?
I’m going to split this into 2 sections. You’ll see why when you get to the 2nd part.

Part 1: The Workday
After waking up, I check my calendar for the day, get a shower, get dressed, and make empty threats to ground my children or take away their toys if they don’t get ready for school. At work I make it a point to greet my coworkers right when I get in. Some of my coworkers come in after me and I make sure to say hi to them later on. When I get to my office I check my email. I try my best to answer everything that can be answered in a few words or sentences first. I figure it’s better to get the easy ones out of the way. Then I work on the rest whenever I have time. I’ve found that, especially here, if you answer emails quickly people are super-appreciative because there are other people that take forever to get back to people. Solving problems efficiently makes you look like Superman if everyone else will wait a few days. Besides the email thing, like I said before it’s all about my calendar and no 2 days are the same.

Part 2: Post-workday
I get in the car with my wife (we work together and often drive together) and unless she brings something up, I don’t even think about work. It’s as if there’s an ocean between my house and the college. I used to be a work-a-holic. I used to answer work emails whenever they came in. Then I realized that I’m not an Emergency Room Surgeon and nobody’s going to die or be harmed in any way if I let those emails wait until the next morning. My boss and many other people on campus have my cell phone number and personal email. If it’s super-important, someone will find a way to contact me.

What are you reading right now?
I’ve been working through the “Jack Ryan” series via audiobook for what I’m thinking is the last 2 years I listen when in the car by myself and when I run. I typically run between 20-45 minutes and, with 3 girls and a wife, I’m hardly ever driving by myself - so it’s slow going. I’m currently on Command Authority.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Can I do 2?

First...It is perfectly fine to say “I don’t know right now; give me a few days to think about it.” I know seems to go against what I said earlier with solving problems efficiently, but the right answer after a few days is more efficient than a wrong answer right away.

Second, and more importantly… Family comes first. Never lose sight of your family to get ahead at work.  

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
I never expected people from other departments (including faculty) would ask me for advice with stuff that has little or nothing to do with my job description or duties. I totally welcome it, as I will help in any way I can, but I definitely didn’t expect it. I usually end up running things by them that I’m wondering about, too. It’s pretty good brainstorming and we’ve all benefited from it.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
PopSeeKo...Google it.

What is your least favorite word?

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Some sort of Front Office Executive for the New York Yankees

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Jobs that involve being covered in poop or other undesirable substance. Pretty much anything on that Dirty Jobs show.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Time travel--I’d go forward to get lottery numbers and then come back to win a gazillion dollars. I’d only even have to use the power once. I wouldn’t want to mess with something crazy in the past and end up with dinosaurs still roaming the Earth.

What are you most proud of in your career?I’m most proud of my diversity of talents. This particular job has me doing a bunch of different things on top of the other things I’ve been good at in prior jobs. Each of the 3 prior jobs I’ve had have been very different from one another. School librarian, classroom teacher/football coach, project manager at a manufacturing firm, and now the litany of things I do as a librarian. I think it’s cool that I’ve been able to have so many experiences.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
This was back when I was a project manager at a manufacturing firm. I took a meeting with a client’s architect and some others at a time when my engineering and design team was unavailable. I thought I could handle it myself and I was wrong. I ended up wasting everyone’s time in the meeting. It’s kind of like I said before with saying “I don’t know”. It’s better to delay the meeting than it is to have a meeting with the wrong people.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
There’s really only 3 possibilities. I’m either doing something with my kids, bringing my kids to their activities like dance and soccer, or playing Playstation. After the kids go to bed you can find me working on my MBA coursework. I have 2 more semesters.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Scott DiMarco, Mansfield University of Pennsylvania. He’s one of the best men I know and I think we could all learn a lot from him.

He tweets sparingly at @James_Dann2006.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Professional Development Readers' Advisory for the Perpetually Behind

A while back, I asked people what topics they might like me to cover, then I promptly forgot that I'd asked. Over the winter break, though, I saw some tweets that I'd favorited and thought I'd get back to answering those questions/requests.

Up first?

In some ways, this plagues me, too. In fact, that's how I responded to Valerie's response. I'm hoping that others will chime in both here in the comments and in response to the places I'll post this on social media. I really want this to to be cooperative and collaborative.

Ahead of that, though, here are the things I try to watch:
  • I don't read every post, but I try to pay attention to what both John Warner and Barbara Fister publish on Inside Higher Ed. Warner's blog, Just Visiting, comes from the perspective of someone who adjuncted for a long time. He believes - rightly - that there are better ways to teach writing, and is very loud and shouty on this point. Fister's blog, Library Babel Fish, is billed as "a college librarian's take on technology" but it's so much more than that.
  • There are a few titles that I have access to in print or digitally that I always at least look at the table of contents for each new issue, and a lot of them are open-access:
  • Finally, I have a subscription to Informed Librarian Online, which aggregates a lot and picks out a short list of really interesting articles and books and publications that came out during the previous month.

I've got to be honest - I still have a hard time keeping up with it all, but this cross-section is how I try to keep abreast of what ideas are filtering up and getting published. As ever, Twitter is usually more in the moment, but I try to pay attention to what gets considered in long form.

How about you all? How do the rest of you keep on top of new LIS research and publications?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Just for Fun: No Resolutions, Only Intentions

I'm pretty sure that panel from Calvin & Hobbes was meant to make Calvin look silly, but the joke's on Bill Watterston because Calvin was perfect the way he was. In fact - hold onto your hats - we are all perfect just the way we are. We are all as we need to be in any moment. Sure, your brain chemistry might not be where you want it to be and you might have more adipose tissue than is condoned by mainstream culture. You probably have less money than you'd like and more books on your to read list than you'll ever have time to complete. But really - REALLY - I know in my heart that you are doing the best you know how. So am I. So is everyone.

People make and then break resolutions every year, me included, so this year I'm going to do something different. I'm going to try my hardest to love me as I am. Right now. Sensitive stomach and occasional acne. Bad back and fat legs. Even going to try to love my anxiety. (For those who've been paying attention, yes - this intention is shaped by How to be You.)

The first step in this will be to stop as much negativity as I can. I know this may seem contradictory - I just said I'm going to love me as I am, and then I immediately talked about something I'm trying to change. Not actually a contradiction, since I know my negativity has served me well in the past and if I'm going to love me as I am, I have to love all of me. Kindness is my highest aspiration, however, and I want to make it a habit.

Please take a moment to tell yourself some things you like about you as we move into this new year, with all the wonder and terror it will probably entail. You're a pretty great person. And so am I.