Thursday, September 14, 2017

Interview Post: Maria T. Accardi

3-year-old ponytailed Maria with her great-grandma, great-grandpa (Papa Charlie),
her older sister, her cousin, her dad, and her dad's perm. It was, after all, 1980.



Maria T. Accardi. I insist on the middle initial, because this is how I carry my beloved late great-grandmother Mama Teresa with me.

Current job?

Coordinator of Instruction and Reference at Indiana University Southeast, a regional campus of Indiana University, located in New Albany, Indiana. New Albany is just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, where I live.

How long have you been in the field?

11 years

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

An embarrassing mess. Lots of clutter--books, papers, folders, scribbled notes. Most of my file cabinets are filled with leftovers from my predecessor--and I’ve been in this job for 10 years. Whoops. I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning up and so I make occasional small dents into the mess to take the edge off. I have windows with trees and grass in view, as well as a parking lot. I have photos of my wife, my niblings, my late mother-in-law, my grandmother. I have a desktop computer with dual monitors, and poems taped to various places on my desk--I read and re-read “Cake” by Noah Eli Gordon multiple times a day. A print of a map of Sicily that I bought at the Vatican Museum is framed on my wall, which depicts Sicily in completely the wrong way, flipped upside down.

How do you organize your days?

Outlook calendar. I block off everything. 30 hours of email admin. 60 minutes of teaching prep. 30 minutes for lunch. Yes, I put lunch on my calendar, even if it’s just eating a sandwich in my office while watching The Golden Girls on Hulu. I call my wife at around noon-ish so we can say midday prayer together (we do an abbreviated variation of the Daily Office in the Episcopal tradition) and this helps mark the division between morning and afternoon. Putting everything on Outlook calendar helps me protect, prioritize, and value my time.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
This time of year: teaching, preparing to teach, reference desk shifts, alone time, committee work, library instruction program admin.

What is a typical day like for you?
I like to get to work at around 8 or 8:30, because I seem to be more focused and able to get stuff done in the morning. I spend a lot of time with my office door closed because this also helps me focus and also because I’m strongly introverted. Instruction and reference are my thing, but I also find it very draining, so I need to spend a lot of time alone not talking to anyone. I take walks around campus if I have a window in my day big enough. I have 15-minute, 20-minute, and 30-minute routes, depending on how much time I have. I am usually at work until 3 pm or 4 pm.
What are you reading right now?
I just checked out The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue from the public library but I’ve not started it yet. Honestly, these days I’ve only had bandwidth and brainspace to read magazines about home decorating or cooking. Shorter pieces of writing with pretty pictures soothe and comfort me, and they provide ideas and inspiration for my cozy domesticity goals.
What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Have a rich and interesting life outside of work. This comes from my library director, who practices what he preaches. He is the former dining critic for the local newspaper, and now he’s the theater reviewer for the alternative weekly paper. He also has a band and can be found strumming the guitar in Saturday farmer’s markets. He is a role model for finding meaning and purpose in library work but not allowing it to consume you, instead using it as a vehicle for subsidizing the aforementioned rich and interesting life outside of work.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Listening to and soothing students in distress. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, I’m always kind of surprised, like why is this person crying and why is this happening? I am happy to do it, though. I’m not happy that they are in distress, but I am happy to support them. Students are stressed out and being the friendly helper person at the reference desk means that sometimes they need care beyond helping them learn how to find scholarly articles. Providing this care is important to me, especially because I was once--more than once--a crying college student seeking care from a friendly helper.

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?
Something completely creative and that involves making pretty things. A florist, maybe? A painter, a sculptor. Or making delicious things, like baking. Also, my wife and I fantasize about running a gourmet popcorn shop. It would be called Popz! (including the exclamation mark).

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Anything involving funeral homes or cemeteries. I’ve had very very unpleasant encounters with this profession, unfortunately.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
I wish I could be omnipresent, something maybe along the lines of Hermione’s Time Turner.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I wrote a book that people seem to like a lot. And I won an award for the book! I’ve edited other books that also seem to have had an impact on people. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little kid, and it still kind of amazes me that I’m actually doing it.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
During a very bad time in my life (an episode of major depression), I let a lot of things slip through the cracks. I scheduled two library instruction sessions for the same time in the same room. I made it work somehow, and it involved lots of apologizing and doing less-than-ideal teaching. It was horrible. It was also a wakeup call for how I was in a really bad way and needed to address my depression.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Spending time in cozy domesticity with my wife: cooking, eating dark chocolate, watching General Hospital, sitting on the porch swing while drinking iced coffee, enjoying our garden (vegetable and flower). I also have a daily journal practice. As of today, I’ve journaled for 611 consecutive days. Also, these days, after two knee surgeries, I seem to spend half my life at physical therapy. But it’s working and I’m doing lots better! See the aforementioned campus walks.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Emily Drabinski, Donna Witek, Raina Bloom

Maria is on Twitter as @mariataccardi.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tell Me About Yourself: How to Handle the Dreaded Elevator Speech

It's something I've heard so many times and kind of thought was bunk - that you need to have an elevator speech ready to go whenever you meet someone who could help your career and/or has power over your job. But as I've been introduced to different parts of my new community, I realized that the "bunk" of elevator speeches isn't that you need to have one - it's thinking that you need just one.

This all came to a head last night as I was introducing myself to our board of trustees, who are essentially my boss' boss' bosses. They have hella power over my building, my department, and my job. When I spoke to that group, I talked a little about my previous job and how I came to be here, but focused more on why I'm happy to be at my new job. "I've been nothing but impressed with this school since the moment I came for my interview all the way to today." On the other hand, when I've had get-to-know-each-other meetings with peers like deans and associate deans and similar, I've spoken more about my passion for student success and spent more time talking about my education. Another group I've spent time with recently is peers at nearby libraries. With them, I spend a lot more time talking about my path to my current job and have even been talking about leadership training I've done.

What I'm doing in each instance is establishing my credibility.

Here is how I decide what to say to whom - I...
  • Ask myself, "who is this person to me?" If they are a possible partner it's a very different speech from how I'd speak to someone who might be working for me, and both of those are very different from how I introduce myself to people who have power over my budget. 
  • Highlight appropriate accomplishments. The fact that I've been a librarian for 14+ years or my second master's degree might be important, but other times it will be the path I took to an administration job. If you're newer to the field, it might be a project you accomplished in your graduate program or the particular focus you took with your classes.
  • Keep it as short as possible while still getting across needed information. With the BoT, there had been time to mingle before the actual meeting started, so I was able to abbreviate my introduction to about a minute. When I attended a meeting of all the math, science, and career education faculty...? It was five minutes.
  • Make it stick. A good turn of phrase will take you so far with these things. One I've used over and over again, because it's so true of me, is, "I'm persistently cheerful, but also cheerfully persistent." It captures, in seven words, a main tenet of my approach to librarianship. It's not to say that I never get mad or anxious, but that over all I can turn on the happy face. Also, I am stubborn when I have an idea I want to see in action.
  • Make it resonate. When I can do a little recon about someone ahead of time, I try to figure out what works best with that person or group. Sometimes numbers works best, other times stories. Smiling and positivity work with almost everyone.

I can come up with these things mostly off the top of my head at this point in my career, but thinking on my feet and being able to communicate clearly are two of my biggest strengths. Don't be afraid to practice these things with peers or even with close friends (who will be willing to give you honest feedback). One of the first questions you get asked in every single interview process is, "Tell me about yourself," and you want to be ready.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Just for Fun: Death

No, this isn't a plea for help or even a "Suicide is Painless" kind of thing. Nope, I want to talk to you about fictional portrayals of death - namely, sharing my favorites. And which is my most favoritest of all of them? I don't even know. Ask me again tomorrow and I might have a different answer.


Death of the Endless (Mostly from the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman)

In this universe, the personifications of ideas have pretty much always been there. They are perceived differently by different species, but each of them - Destiny, Dream, Delirium (originally called Delight), Desire, Despair, Destruction, and Death - are essentially the same being throughout. Though  I love each of the Endless, I think Death is my favorite. She is never cruel, but is instead always kind. However, she is not to be denied. When she takes an extremely long lived person in the course of the story arc, and he starts to complain, Death responds, "You get what anybody gets - you get a lifetime."

Incarnations of Immortality

This series has a similar idea - that these abstract ideas are actually a person - but with a very different twist. The book about Death is the first in a series that also encompasses Time, Fate, War, Nature, The Devil, and God. (For those of you who've read the series - I refuse to acknowledge, except in passing, the book about Night.) In this series, these roles are jobs that each pass on in particular ways. Death has to kill the previous incarnation to get the job.


I'm in the midst of a reread of the early books in this series. I had been putting it off for a while, not wanting to run out of Terry Pratchett books, but I did it for so long that I forgot enough details that later books weren't 100% for me. Regardless, I'll never forget how much I love Pratchett's Death. He is fascinated by humans, and cats, and is kind when needed but also ruthless when it is called for. One of my favorite things about him is that after a particularly nasty problem that caused a bunch of different little deaths to start roaming around, he reabsorbed all of them except Death of Rats.

So how about you? Do you have a favorite fictional portrayal of Death? What should I read or watch next?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Welcome to the Library, Now Put Together Your Career, by Amelia Rodriguez

I have a bad habit of letting other people’s opinions overshadow my own. I get so focused on not making a stir that I get swept along in what other people think or feel and lose myself in their ideas. This can clearly be seen by my choices in my undergraduate study. I changed majors three times and with each change came a new school. The first two majors were influenced by what other people thought would be good areas of study for me. My mom, ever the voice of reason, asked me what I wanted. She was also the one who guided me towards library school.

By a lot of accounts I’m rare for a librarian and one of those people who was like, “I love books. Being a librarian sounds fun.” I didn’t work in libraries as a teen; I don’t have family who worked in libraries; and I didn’t come into librarianship via another profession. Anytime I hear someone mention how these are good reasons to become a librarian not just a love of books/reading, I feel a little hurt because it's how I chose this profession.

Because of my tendency to listen to other’s opinions over my own feelings, I left myself open when I started school. We didn’t have to pick an area of study and could build our own curriculum as long as we took certain classes or so many in a given area of study. I took a variety of classes from archives to cataloging to digital libraries. When presented with the opportunity to work in one of the libraries on campus, I jumped at the chance to work the reference desk and teach library instruction. Lucky me: I found what I wanted to do with my degree!

I got a great first job in a small branch of my local county library system. I got to learn about all different aspects of the running of a library. I worked the circulation desk, re-shelved books, pulled holds, processed new books, ordered books, fixed books, and so many more things that I didn’t learn in library school. Three years ago the branch started to go through a period of transition and it seemed like it might be a good time to consider a transition for myself. A lot of my friends (both librarians and non-librarians) had already moved jobs a few times, advancing their careers and I got swept up in the idea of it all. I worked on my resume and reached out to some co-workers within the system to ask about being a reference.

One of those people was in the IT department. She asked if I wanted a change from the library system or just in job because there was a possibility of an internal move. I said I was happy with the system but felt like I needed something different. That sounded perfect to me, since it would give me time to decide what I really wanted next.

It was even more perfect because I had related experience. One of my duties at that time was to serve as the IT Liaison. I did small troubleshooting and updates for the IT Department, and my responsibilities grew over the years. As the liaison I learned how to do so much with a computer that when this possible opportunity became a reality, it was an easy transition. I’ve been in the IT department for a little over a year now and I’ve learned a lot. I’m in a really good place, too. It may have seemed like an easy transition but it was filled with anxiety and doubts. So many of them were based on things other people have said to me, about me, and just around me.

There was a manager who believed that people shouldn’t spend their whole careers in one job or with the same library or system. Over the last year I’ve learned more about some of the librarians at other branches, and just how wrong that manager was. A lot of them have spent a number of years working in this system. It was refreshing to learn that it was okay to stay put and keep a job for more than 2 or 3 years. Libraries are all about growth and change, and I’ve learned you can grow in the same place. There is so much focus on the larger picture of the profession but sometimes you need to look at your community and what they need. I can see that in my current position there is going to be growth. Further, with the variety of communities that our county system serves, there will always be opportunity for change. Being with the IT department puts me on the front lines of seeing the system through the growth spurts. It’s a good place to be.

Amelia Rodriguez is an IT librarian for the Mercer County Library System. In her free time she geeks out over a lot of things including Jane Austen, James Dean, and prison/cop shows. If you want to read tweets on these topics you can find her at @LitJrzyGrl

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Everyone Else Is Already Taken


A while back someone (I'm sorry I don't remember who!) asked me if I'd revisit some old posts. Since it came up last week, I thought now was a good time to jump in my wayback machine and reconsider "Free to Be... You and Me," a post all about letting my nerd flag fly.

A few key points from that original post, for those of you who don't remember it and/or don't have time to read more than one blog post right now:

  • I am a nerd of the first water. Played Dungeons & Dragons in the early 80s. Owned a ColecoVision. Doctor Who. Ad infinitum.
  • I used to try to hide that fact.
  • I stopped hiding that fact, and started being myself.
  • Hilarity, and better connections with members of my community, ensued.
  • I think everyone should do the same.

Flash forward two jobs and almost exactly 6 years, and I still feel like bringing myself - my whole self - to work is one of the best professional decisions I've ever made. I'm still a big ol' nerd, even though my current nerdy obsessions are "Lost Girl" and the Eric Carter series and hunting through thrift stores to find choice vinyl.

But being myself in my professional life is still working the same magic. You see, I have a Guster poster up in my office. They're my favorite band, after all. And when the union president stopped by my office to discuss the benefits of joining, he remarked on it. Turns out he loves Guster, too. So in between discussing the form and the money parts of joining our union, we gushed about the times we've seen our favorite band perform live. It was an unexpected bonus that made what could have been a stilted conversation go smoothly.

All of this isn't to say that I think everyone should be a nerd, or be like me. I'm just saying you should be your whole self at work if possible. Wear your Peggy Carter inspired jewelry. Listen to Ukrainian folk on your headphones or in your office. Put that picture of your pet ball python up in your work space. Make the dumb joke that gets people to laugh. Being yourself will help other people be real with you, too.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Promise and Pitfalls of Openness by Default, by Galen Charlton

an open window

Some of the keynote speeches I have seen were inspiring. Others were thinly disguised sales pitches. The worst were simply boring. However, a couple evoked record-scratch moments for me -- and those are the ones I remember best.

Earlier this year, Catherine Devlin of 18F spoke at the conference of the Evergreen open source ILS project. 18F is a group within the U.S. Federal government that aims to solves technology problems in collaboration with other government agencies. Among 18F's principles is a commitment to open technology, including the use and development of open source software, and a commitment to working in the open. Devlin's talk about openness and how to encourage government agencies to adopt open software meshed well with values and practices that the Evergreen project strives for.

Devlin's thesis went well beyond the technology. She suggested that the key contribution of open source will ultimately not be the technology, but a way of working: building things, be they software or laws, in the open where anyone can suggest improvements. Viewed with humility, criticism becomes a gift; moreso when inclusion is actively sought. Openly communicating about building something while it is being built can lead to better results.  As Devlin has put it,

Imagine a world where laws are edited and commented [upon] online — where lobbyists must make public pull requests, and any one of us can file public bug reports.

Compelling, no? (For more on Devlin’s keynote, look at Tanya Schlusser's summary of a previous one.)

I promised a record-scratch moment. During her Evergreen keynote, Devlin said something to the effect that for her, the open source process extended not just to technology and managing collaborative projects, but also to herself. She's accepting pull requests for herself -- i.e., requests to change her habits and interactions with other people. One thing to emphasize about the metaphor is that a pull request doesn't just ask for a change: it gives precise instructions on how to do it.

This is radical openness and radical transparency. I have worked in free and open source software projects in libraries for over a decade and advocate for free software principles -- and yet I recoiled at the notion of announcing that anybody was free to file pull requests on… me. Wow.

Let's unpack my reaction. On the one hand, I believe that open source is a good ethical fit with several key library values. If libraries are to promote access to information and entertainment to as many people as possible, our tools should be openly available and developed. If we want to protect the privacy of our patrons, being able to directly inspect every aspect of the technology we use is crucial.

There are also pragmatic reasons for librarydom (and I'm using the collective term advisedly) to embrace open source. For one thing, credible development and use of open source software by libraries can counterbalance the power of proprietary software and content providers who seek to extract as much economic rent as they can from closed systems. Furthermore, since very few libraries field large teams of developers, working in the open provides a way for libraries to collaborate.

Openness and transparency are also virtues in other aspects of library management. A department or a director who develops policies in the open and invites critique and collaboration can be much more effective than an organization full of silos.

However, it is hard to adopt a stance of being open by default. Thinking about the notion of accepting pull requests on one's own person can help highlight some of the pitfalls.

Who gets to make the pull requests? On the one hand, one should be able to accept critique, especially if one has positional power, privilege, or both. Humility is often mentioned as an open source ideal for exactly that reason. On the other hand, people are also entitled to maintain personal boundaries; a workplace where everybody is expected to quietly take criticism on every aspect of their work and personality would quickly turn abusive. Not all criticism is valid; the bug trackers of any large open source project are rife with irrelevant, picayune, or wrong-headed critiques. Nor can all valid criticism and suggestions be acted upon in a software project -- or in a library; time is not infinite and priorities must be set. A significant portion of the emotional labor in open source projects revolves around managing critique.

If you work in the open, your failures will also be open. In a healthy organization, failure should be expected and learned from. However, being free to fail is often a privilege reserved to, well, people who already have substantial privilege. Even if an organization is equitable about responding to failure, it can take a leap of faith to be willing to fail openly. Do you trust your library to let you fail?

An open by default stance can be useful -- but it can also be subverted. Consider 18F: an organization that aims to transform government IT by introducing open source thinking is one thing in the context of an administration that believes that government can be effective. In another context, though, a government department taking the leap of faith into openness could be swiftly punished by its destruction.

Libraries should be open. They should be as transparent as possible. However, openness is not enough; in fact, a poorly-conceived or unbalanced mandate to be open can backfire. Openness can only thrive with a foundation of trust, respect for boundaries, and inclusiveness.

I’m still working through my thoughts on this, but I know one thing for sure: want to promote openness in your library? Start by promoting trust.

Author bio: Galen Charlton is a developer and manager at the Equinox Open Library Initiative, where he spends his time helping libraries to use and improve the open source integrated library systems Koha and Evergreen. This is his second post for LtaYL. The first was “Constant Vigilance”. He can be found on Twitter as @gmcharlt.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Little Libraries, Big Ideas

It's something that's been apparent to me almost my entire career: little libraries have just as many - if not more - big ideas as do big libraries, but our budgets and personnel constraints make it so that we have a hard time getting the word out. I remember distinctly attending ALA Annual in DC back in 2010, walking over to have a conversation with someone at the Dark Horse Comics booth (we'd emailed before, and I wanted to say hi in person, and then later overhearing a remark about how cool it was that librarians were adding comics and graphic novels to their collections. I was flabbergasted. I'd been in charge of a graphic novel collection for most of my career - probably about 6 years - at that point. How was it that people thought libraries didn't do that thing?

And that's not the only instance I've seen in the 14 years since I started my first job in a library. Necessity sometimes truly is the mother of invention, so when your choice is between some fancy new expensive thing and keeping the lights on... you get creative. Small libraries - particularly small public libraries from whom I've shamelessly stolen ideas for years - are hot beds of creativity. Gaming in libraries. Maker spaces that go beyond a 3D printer. Outreach at places you'd never expect it, like a book club that meets in a brew pub. Art shows. The list goes on and on.

Now I need you to bear with me as I try to make this next point, because I'm not exactly sure where this will end up. I know a few things, though. I know that the cost of attending conferences, even smallish local ones, is cost prohibitive for too many people. Further, there are only so many slots for online presentations. I know that a lot of you are going to talk about the amazing connections you can make and enhance when you go to conferences in person, and you're not wrong. I've spent literally thousands of dollars out of my own pocket over the last 5 years to attend conferences, so I know. But I also know that my situation isn't common and not everyone can afford to do what I did.

Further, what about publications? I've tried to make LtaYL a bit of a platform for sharing ideas and innovation. There are plenty of other publications that do the same - The Journal of Creative Library Practice and In the Library with the Lead Pipe come immediately to mind. But what about the people who are so busy keeping their libraries open and running that they have no time to write?

It's hard to think about the kinds of things we're missing because of the disparity in finances between different kinds of libraries. And let's be clear: this isn't just a problem of academic and public libraries. Think about the teeny museum libraries that are run by curators who are also the librarians. Think about the small corporate libraries that have one librarian splitting their time between multiple locations. Think about librarians who work solo in the libraries of small city hospitals. What innovations have they dreamed up that could solve major problems at bigger libraries?

This isn't the first nor will it be the last time I discuss this problem, but it's gotten so much more frustrating lately. Admittedly, part of it is because I see big name/big school libraries getting lauded for doing things those of us at smaller libraries have been doing for years, and it stings. It really stings. Beyond the selfish aspect of this, though, is the fact that we really are missing out on some amazing ideas.

So, how can we solve this problem? Scholarships are good, but don't go far. Can we get more committees - particularly committees that are part of national organizations - to go digital? I'm not sure how to answer this issue, since my own solution was to dig into my own bank account. So, really, what ideas do you have?