Thursday, March 15, 2018

10 Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School as a Then-Future Cataloger, by Jessica Schomberg

numbers counting down from 10 to 1

I went to library school to be a cataloger. There wasn’t an official cataloging track, but it was pretty easy to design your own. I also went to library school almost 20 years ago, in the midst of a massive shift in how library schools were structured – my first year I attended a Graduate School of Library and Information Science, my second year it was an iSchool! This is a mix of things I wish I’d learned in library school… and some things that I’m glad I learned later.

  1. Diversity and inclusion. My advisor, the wonderful Allyson Carlyle, did introduce us to the work of Sandy Berman. But in general, taking a critical approach to librarianship wasn’t a concept to me at the time. There was no institutional expectation that anyone know anything about cultural issues other than “freedom of information” in a really narrow sense. And by narrow, I mean it didn’t even hint at the history of segregated libraries in the US, nor did it critique library workplace rules that forbid talk of unionizing. Why does this matter for catalogers? Because if we’re creating and applying cataloging standards based on a monocultural approach to the world, we’re inadvertently excluding or harming some of our patrons.
  2. Advocacy skills. We did have some discussions about how to respond to patron advocacy in terms of collection development, but I don’t remember any discussions about how to advocate with external agencies for the library, for library workers, or for patrons. I accidentally wound up at a library with strong unions, and it has overall been an incredibly positive experience for me as a worker. I’ve also been really impressed by the organizing work of librarians including Emily Drabinski. I still wish I’d had some training in how to act as an advocate for myself and others.
  3. Leadership and management. I could have taken a class. I actively didn’t want to supervise anyone at the time, so I deliberately didn’t take it. Looking back, I kind of regret that choice. But it probably would have been framed in a “how to be The Man” sort of way, so maybe it’s just as well that I avoided it. (Those of you who took library management classes, what did you think?) [Editor’s Note: My management class was completely useless.]
  4. Teaching and pedagogy. I was going to be a cataloger, I didn’t need to know how to teach! Insert crying gif here. This was the wrong choice. Real life led to me doing library instruction classes as part of my current job, and some training would have for sure helped. But also, and more importantly, if you’re a cataloger you’re probably going to end up teaching or training others how to catalog stuff at some point. For people who go the academic route, this might be during conference presentations. For people who choose public libraries, you’ll probably end up presenting information to coworkers or supervisors or community groups at some point. Learning how to do this in a classroom setting is far preferable to being dumped in front of people and told to speak.
  5. Technology can make you feel ambivalent. We had access to a range of technology classes -- how to build your own computer, website design, database design, etc. And I took all of these that I could, because they were so practical and because tech was cool. (This was the late ‘90s, people. It was a brave new world.) Anyway, since then I’ve occasionally tried to take coding classes because it seems like something catalogers should do. But frankly, I don’t find the topic interesting on its own. Give me stuff to organize and tell me what tools I need to do the job, and I’ll work through it. But learning tech for its own sake? Meh.
  6. Theory is important. You can get practical, hands-on experience at work, volunteering, internships, but you’re not going to have this kind of opportunity to have guided exposure to theoretical analysis outside the classroom. Your library school doesn’t offer those classes? Depending on your academic background, see if you can take an ethnic studies, disability studies, gender studies, or sociological theory course as an elective. Humans are the most important part of being a librarian, so it’s good to know more about them.
  7. Take statistics. You may not want to do formal quantitative research, but learning statistics is really helpful training for when you have to interpret data, make decisions, and create assessment and budget reports.
  8. Look around at your classmates. Who’s not part of your cohort? Who’s the only one of their kind in your cohort? Maybe you can’t do anything as a student to fill in these gaps, but pay attention -- and start thinking about how this will impact your professional network and professional practice.
  9. Patience. It doesn’t need to all happen right now. It took me several years after library school before I started coming into my own. By the time I figured myself out (thank you, therapy!), I was far outside of the eligibility period for any of those new professional opportunities. We don’t all have to pop out of grad school fully grown. It’s ok to be a slow bloomer.
  10. Reasonable expectations. You won’t learn everything you need to know in library school. This isn’t a bad thing. If all goes well, maybe you’ll be a person who creates new things for students to know in the future!

Jessica Schomberg is currently serving as Library Services Department Chair at Minnesota State University, Mankato, juggling other responsibilities including Media Cataloger and Assessment Coordinator. This is hir FOURTH post for LtaYL. The first was “My (Library) Life with Invisible Disabilities”. The second was “The Power to Name”. Most recently, ze wrote an interview post. Ze tweets as @schomj.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Why I Hate Quantitative Data

We've been talking about assessment a lot at work. More importantly, we're talking about meaningful assessment, which is good because if we were only going to discuss counting things - inputs and outputs - I'd roll my eyes so hard that I could possibly do damage to my ocular nerve. And then I'd pass out from boredom.

I should be honest, though. I don't actually hate quantitative data. It can be useful, especially when you're trying to make staffing decisions, to know when your busy times are. Also, some upper administrators like numbers better than stories. (I still think you need to know why people are coming into the library to understand the meaning of head counts.) Really, what I hate is the supremacy of the count-all-the-things mentality, which frequently rules supreme because people think it's easier. It's not actually easier, if you really want to do it right, but people think it is. Here's a list of things that people don't seem to consider:
  • Counting just to count doesn't accomplish anything, and actually adds to your workload without any kind of meaningful outcome. Counting just to count literally and figuratively is just a waste of time. 
  • You frequently end up gathering information you shouldn't have. I get angry when I think about all the surveys I've taken that want to know my gender or my age that have NOTHING to do with gender or age.
  • You will never have a consistent definition of anything you're counting. Want to know how many books do you have? You have to figure out what do you even mean by books. Titles? Monographs? Physical entities? Want to know how many people come into the library? Are we doing a door counter? Is it actually working? What about people who go out and come back in again? Want to know your circulation numbers? Should renewals be included? What about things that are pulled off the shelf but never checked out? And so on and so on... And this is exacerbated when you are talking about multiple institutions instead of just multiple people. Yes, I'm looking at you, IPEDS.

Instead of gathering numbers because "we've always done it this way" or "we need to give them some data", try thinking about why you want the information. If you're trying to make decisions about staffing levels, numbers are exactly the thing to do. But if you're trying to learn what gaps you have in your collection, you'll need to gather a different kind of information as part of reference interactions. Also try thinking about how you'll use the information. If it's a report that you've sent to the provost every month for years and years, maybe ask your director to check with the provost to see if they find the report useful.

There are so many good places to look for qualitative assessment tools in libraries. The Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project is a good place to start if you're new to the idea. I've used a lot of techniques I learned from reading that website and a book that came out of the project, College Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know. Also attended a talk given by one of the authors, Andrew Asher, a few years ago. And that's what you should do - look to see what resources you can find at conferences. Do a quick search in an education database for "qualitative assessment and libraries". If you're at an academic library, go talk to people in the sociology department or anthropology department or pretty much any social sciences.

I want to say this again: it's not so much that I hate quantitative data as that I hate our over-reliance on it as some kind of be-all-end-all method of assessment. We need to have more ways of looking at how we're doing than just counting inputs and outputs. I hope I've convinced you of that.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Just For Fun: Elizabeth Bishop


A long time ago (25-ish years) in a Galaxy far, far away (a Boston suburb), my parents gave me The Golden Treasury of Poetry. I think it was for Hanukkah, but it might have been for my birthday. It may sound like hyperbole to say this book changed my life, but it really did. In particular, the poem that is featured above blew my little mind. Up until I read "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop, I had no idea that poems didn't have to rhyme. I didn't know poetry could be so visual and symbolic and still feel good as you pronounce the words. Up until then, the poetry I'd read was probably nothing more than doggerel. Lines like "backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil" delighted me endlessly. I should say "delight" instead of "delighted" because "The Fish" is still, to this day, my favorite poem.

It started a small, but definite, obsession with the works of Elizabeth Bishop. Take, for instance, her sestina:
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house 
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.
The rules of a sestina are set and painstakingly particular and exacting. It's using the same words over and over again in a very specific pattern, and is sometimes seen as an intellectual exercise, but Bishop makes the intellectual exercise sing.

Then there's her poem "Casabianca." It is an homage to another poem by the same name, written by Felicia Hemans. The Hemans poem is shmaltzy and the kind of thing people are made to memorize (or at least used to be made to memorize) for public speaking classes. It's a poem about a boy's loyalty and love for his father. But Bishop's homage takes that idea and story to another place and punches me in the gut with its eloquence:
Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite `The boy stood on
the burning deck.' Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy.
I can pick up a collection of her works and open to any page and know I'm going to find something I love. Can't say that about any other poet, except maybe Shakespeare.

So how about you? Do you have a favorite poem? Poet? Please share!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Interview Post: Andrew Preater


Andrew Preater

Current job?
Director of Library Services at the University of West London

How long have you been in the field?
14 years, including my roles within libraries that were more IT-focused. I completed my LIS master's degree in 2011.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
I have the luxury of having my own office within our library, with a window that opens and a door that closes. I prefer my workspaces tidy without too much personalisation. I have some storage space for print books and reports, printed-out articles (for some reason I can only read scholarly work on paper), and those odds and ends that are useful to have around when you work in an office.

Otherwise, my office doesn't look that much different from when I moved into it. In the photo, my laptop is set up with an external monitor and the computer itself in 'tent' mode as a secondary display.

How do you organize your days?
As much as I love a nice pen and notebook, my university uses Microsoft Office / Office 365 so I organise my work using Outlook for calendaring, OneNote for note taking, and OneDrive and SharePoint for sharing and collaborating on documents. My calendar is open so everyone I work with knows my whereabouts and availability.

My method for organising work is modified from Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). My iron rule is not using my email inbox as a to-do list. Though I prioritise using software and systems hosted or subscribed by my employer for work one concession is Trello, which I use for a high-level overview and prioritisation of things and a to-do list.

For the record my preferred text editor is Vim.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Meeting and talking with people takes up much of my time, as does preparing for and planning for upcoming meetings, following up on them where necessary, and ensuring I've not missed anything that I need to be involved with. Such is the library director life. I've really come to appreciate good habits in meetings, from both organisers and participants.

One thing I spend time on that was understated to me by senior colleagues is time dedicated to thinking about both individual issues and the bigger picture. That is to say, although experience and deeper expertise helps develop the ability to make decisions quickly and accurately, you really do need to take time to understand things from different perspectives and think deeply.

What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day sees me arriving around 8.30 am, having already checked my calendar and to-do list so I have an overview of the day. There is no typical structure to my day, but there are always meetings, collaborative project work to attend to, and email to deal with.

During a normal week, I tend to compartmentalise days into those with more meetings, especially those with longer or more formal committee meetings, and those with fewer into which I deliberately build additional unstructured time. This means I can avoid too many days with meetings back-to-back over the whole working day, and ensure there is unscheduled time for those inevitable issues where you need to drop everything.

Our library senior management have settled on our own meetings running mid-week, and one-to-one catch up meetings with my direct reports at the end of the week. We also meet for a brief conversation at the end of the week to note and reflect on the main achievements and issues.

Whatever I am doing, I try to ensure I walk around the library a few times during the day, to gauge how staff and students are using the space, and to say hello and catch up with library staff in passing.

What are you reading right now?

I read a fair amount of scholarly work within and beyond LIS for professional development, so I usually also have an article or two on the go and a highlighter pen to hand. Alongside the rewards of learning in encountering new, challenging ideas beyond my experience, I have found this extremely good value for the time invested.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Taken as a whole my professional mentor's advice has been incredibly helpful and I am immensely grateful to her for sharing it with me. One thing that sticks out is the importance of seeking understanding beyond the limited perspective of your team or department when dealing with difficult problems, and fully considering different viewpoints before making decisions.

In higher education I've found there is great depth of knowledge embodied in the multi-professional teams I’ve worked with, but focusing that knowledge for transformative change is easier said than done. You have to actively work at seeking out and understanding each others' viewpoints.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
A previous line-manager once advised me that at a senior level, much more of the volume of work than you expect is about personnel or human resources issues. What wasn't explained to me was the extent to which emotional labour, relational work, and care work is implicated in these aspects of management roles. One thing I value a great deal in my current role is being able to place recognition and reward appropriately for emotional labour. 

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
I have some I know I over-use. Interesting, subjective, discourse (especially 'the discourse'), wonderful, problematic, fab.

What is your least favorite word?
I don't have any particular least favourite.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
At one point, I would have loved a career in Unix / Linux system administration. Happily I ended up doing a little of this in systems librarian roles.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Anything that involves working at a height.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
The ability to manipulate time while remaining unaffected myself. In saying this, I am just wishing for more time…

What are you most proud of in your career?
Personally, it is affirming to see those I've been able to support and mentor in their professional practice go on to achieve the goals they set for themselves and to fulfill their potential.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Years ago, I was a technical lead on a systems project that was ultimately reworked into a completely new project under new leadership. My mistake was thinking that stakeholder engagement and communication wasn't within my role but was that of the overall project lead, as I knew they had the political influence and capital required to get people together and engaged.

It turned out this wasn't enough. I learned such engagement works at multiple levels, and from an advocacy point of view is most effective when it comes from a position of an existing trusted working relationship. Leadership from the 'project executive' is needed, but is not the foundation.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Spending time with my wife and with friends. We value time in the countryside, and try to combine that with as much bird watching and cycling as we can.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Rosie Hare (@RosieHare), Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos), and Anne Welsh (@AnneWelsh).

Andrew tweets at @preater.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

LIS Mental Health Week: Palliative Cute Edition

In the past, my contribution to LIS Mental Health Week was deep and important feeling. I talked about emotional labor and I still know that is an important topic, but this year I decided to go in a very different direction - palliative cute. The world is a nightmare right now, but there is still so much beauty in it, and I just want to remind you of that.

Let's start out with a long time favorite of mine - an ibex who wins an argument about politics:

And next, an arctic fox thief:

How about a globe trotting chicken?

And let's finish it with the best picture on the internet:

If you ever need more cute to bolster yourself, remember that I have a semi-curated collection of cute things over on my pinboard account. (Semi-curated in this instance means that I try to label what the animals are so if you don't find snakes adorable, you won't get any nasty surprises.)

Hope this cute therapy helps.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Interview Post: Spencer Brayton


Spencer Brayton

Current job?
Library Manager at Waubonsee Community College. We have campuses in Sugar Grove, IL, Aurora, IL and Plano, IL (all about 50 miles west of Chicago, IL). As Library Manager, I am responsible for day-to-day library services and operations for the three campus libraries, in addition to strategic planning for the future of our campus libraries.

How long have you been in the field?
7 years

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
Fish bowl. Not a lot of privacy, but I have a nice view of the library. It's great to be able to see students studying and working together. I like having an open door policy, so it works well. Also, we just installed some new technology in the study space next to my office, so I am eager to see how it is used.

How do you organize your days?
Calendar and post-it notes (a lot!). I think it's also important to block some time out for reading, especially about our profession, technology, and leadership. We sometimes are so busy dealing with what comes up on a daily basis. It's helpful to take a step back and reflect on your work and opportunities/possibilities.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Supporting staff and colleagues. Budgets and planning as well of late. I also spend a lot of time on professional develop work and writing. As I am still fairly new in my position (7 months!), I like to get around and visit each campus library location. This spring, we are embarking on a process to update our library mission and visions statements.

What is a typical day like for you?
Meetings, email. I'm focusing on building relationships internally and externally with other departments (academic and non-academic). Still learning about my institution as I settle into my new job!

What are you reading right now?
Re-reading Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Slow-down! Patience is important. Each institution has its own culture and it takes time to learn that. I value this advice as it allows me the time it takes to build good working relationships.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Supporting multiple campus library locations. I really enjoy visiting the different locations- all are great learning spaces with their own unique feel. 

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Being a chef. I always wanted to attend cooking school.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
K-12 teacher- I don't think I'd be very good at it. I have a lot of respect for these professionals and the time they put into their work.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Seeing the future (although I also recognize the importance of being present).

What are you most proud of in your career?
Being able to present and publish research with some great colleagues. This collaborative work has allowed me to travel and visit different countries and cities. I am also most proud to be a part of an awesome profession and great mentors and colleagues!

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I've moved too quickly with change in the past- which is why the professional advice above is so important for me! I value the importance of supporting colleagues I work with and working hard to be transparent and admitting when I make mistakes.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Reading, watching my favorite sports teams, being with family.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Christian Lauersen, Shirley Lew, Lauren Pressley

Spencer tweets at @brayton_spencer.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Revisiting the Dread: Public Speaking


The thing about speaking in public is... I still hate it. Loathe it. Get stomach aches over it. But I also still seek out opportunities to do it on a regular basis. So, despite the fact that it's been almost 6 years since I last wrote about speaking in public, and how important a skill it is, talking in public is still a stumbling point for me.

I have come to accept that my process is:

  • Agree to give a talk (sometimes I submit proposals, sometimes I'm invited);
  • Futz and futz about topic and title for an inordinate amount of time;
  • Write furiously and generally hate what I've written;
  • Pay way too much attention to the slide-deck, perfecting the flow of the memes and dumb jokes - sometimes to the exclusion of the content;
  • Practice and edit my remarks even more until I absolutely loathe them;
  • Leave the talk alone until the day before;
  • Edit again the night before until I only mildly hate what I've written;
  • Panic and breathe funny right before I speak;
  • Semi disassociate while I'm talking (honestly, it feels a little like an out of body experience) but somehow make complete sense and never seem nervous;
  • Relax, because it's over.

How do I know I made complete sense? By looking at Twitter. I'm actually sometimes amazed when people quote me in a tweet... "I said that? Really? Wow, that's kind of brilliant." Here are a couple of examples:

I had only vague memories of saying both of those things when I read them on Twitter. And these weren't the only positive things said. People mentioned the memes and jokes. People mentioned that I gave good advice. Even more, I've been invited to speak other places because of how well my talks have been received. So... I must be doing something right?

All of this is my way of saying that you're never as bad a public speaker as you think, and don't worry if your process doesn't look like what other people do. Yes, plan ahead. Yes, edit. Yes, practice. But beyond that, know you'll be okay. I absolutely dread public speaking, but I keep doing it because I know I have things to say. I also know you have things to say, so no matter your experience - keep talking. We'll listen.