Thursday, March 5, 2015

Just for Fun: Buddhism


Sure, people say that you shouldn't bring up politics or religion in mixed company. But I've written about my politics on LtaYL in the past and had not a jot of backlash, so I decided to tackle religion. Besides, just as my politics inform my librarianship, my religion is part of who I am and to not be up front about it feels dishonest.

As you may have guessed from the title of the post, I'm a practicing Buddhist. I have been for about three years now, although I've only been comfortable labeling myself as such for the last two. I spent the first 40-ish years of my life in varying degrees of Judaism. My parents and I were somewhat desultory when it came to attending services regularly, but I was bas mitzvahed at 13 and we went to our synagogue on the high holy days. I even had a personal relationship with our rabbi and his wife. Judaism informed the person I am today, but it has been my culture instead of my identity for a long while now.

A series of things happened in my mid-late thirties, major life changes, that had me revisiting religion. I looked back at Judaism. Considered paganism. Then a friend introduced me to the work of Pema Chödrön, and something clicked. She's an American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun, and her books showed me a way to take the negative in my life and translate it into something positive. That's the basis of lojong, a series of tenets or aphorisms that are guideposts for taking our ingrained habits of negativity and using them for growth. The slogans give you practical ways to make mental room for the world as it is and not just as we see it through the filter of experience.

I may be light-hearted at times about it, but I do take my study of Buddhism very seriously - especially since I see it as something that informs my day-to-day. However, I was having a hard time keeping my studies on track, with all the other things in my life. I actually started another blog to help me keep up (crazy talk for someone who is as busy as I am, I know, but it made sense at the time). If you're interested, it's Lojong Ruminations: Musings of a Nascent Buddhist with Equal Parts Naiveté and Skepticism. I go through phases where I stick to a weekly schedule, but I sometimes go for weeks without writing. Each post considers one teaching/tenet/slogan. I share the research I did and the understanding I've gotten. Usually, since it is still me, I attach it to something popular culture oriented - such as the recent post where I pulled Bugs Bunny into the mix.

As I mentioned above, talking about my Buddhism has been a somewhat uncomfortably personal thing to discuss publicly. I've taken a lot of comfort from the fact that posts at Lojong Ruminations are left alone in relative obscurity, especially when compared to LtaYL. Most get 20-30 hits on average, and the most popular post only has seventy-something views. 

Like I said above, though, I thought it was time to bring Buddhism to my library blog. It's like when someone told me “you’re not fat” so I got angry and wrote a post about size acceptance. Recently, someone challenged my Buddhism and I find myself angry and feeling compelled to  go on the record on a topic of personal importance. It's just time to be more public about my Buddhism.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Job is More than a Paycheck

The Kentucky state bird: the cardinal

There's been a lot of talk on social networks about a recent job posting for a library director opening in rural Kentucky that will pay the successful candidate $7.25 per hour. I didn't get involved in the Twitter conversation, but I'll admit it: I had the same initial reaction of outrage that a lot of people had. "Minimum wage? For a job that typically requires not just a bachelor's degree, but also a master's?!!"

I'm admitting my gut reaction here so that you know I understand why some people said the things they did. I haven't made minimum wage in decades. To be honest, I don't know that I ever did. I've also predominantly lived and worked in fairly affluent parts of the country, with the exception of when I lived in a part of the Rust Belt that barely noticed the beginnings of the economic downturn in 2008 because things there were already a financial nightmare. I'm clearly biased.

And that bias is the thing I've been thinking about as I mull over how to add my voice to the conversation. For sure I want to show my support for the library and outgoing library director in question, but there are people who have already written better than I could. Further, I've been emailing and tweeting with Dolly Moehrle (who has written a guest post for LtaYL in the past) about ideas of how I can, more concretely, help. I highly recommend you click through to see what Dolly wrote at her own blog in a post called "The Kentucky Challenge," and if you can please add your voice. So rather than write a "me, too!" post, I decided to take a different tack.

Instead I want to talk to you about how you decide where you want to work. I don't mean public versus academic, although that is an important consideration. No, I mean where in the country (or world, even). I've moved a lot for school and for my career. Delaware, my current state, brings my total states up to seven, although I've lived in Massachusetts more than once. There have always been a lot of factors that go into how I decide where to apply, such as the politics of the state and access to nerd culture and how good is the hiking. But one of the most important things I research is how much it will take me to maintain a standard of living in the area near the library/college, and will the library/college be able to afford to pay me that much. And that's before I even consider the kinds of benefits provided by the institution, like educational opportunities and health benefits.

One other thing that is crucial to me: will I be valued and respected in my role? Funding is frequently out of the hands of the administrator, either within or above the library. Doing more with less is a fallacy, but fit and feeling like you contribute are values that are worth more than money most of the time. One of the best paying jobs I had in the past was dreary and unfulfilling and I felt utterly unappreciated.

I'm not saying you should apply for the Kentucky job that caused all this furor. Actually, I think that search might be closed now, but when it was open people immediately saw the minimum wage and disregarded all the other factors. I'm just saying that before you write a job opportunity off because of money, do your research. A job is more than a paycheck. We're librarians, after all. Research is what we do.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pretty Please Write for Me?


I posted the above picture on Twitter, and have since gotten a few offers of posts from fantastic people. I even got a draft of a somewhat delayed post from someone who had previously promised to write! I will follow up with everyone, but I want to cast the net a little wider.

These guest posts are definitely favors people do for me. Please, those of you who have offered to write in the past but who have not sent me anything yet, this is not any kind of condemnation. We all have busy lives in this field. Even big university libraries run into the "do more with less" mentality, so I'm not even vaguely upset.

But please, all of you - graduate students in the field, paraprofessionals, university librarians who are about to retire - you do have something to say. Some small piece of advice you could pass on. Please use the link above to learn about what goes into a guest post, and contact me (use Twitter or the email address at the page about guest posts).

So, please consider writing for this blog? And, for just considering it...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Circulating Ideas Interview

I recently spoke with Steve Thomas for his fab podcast, Circulating Ideas. Steve has been kind enough to write for LtaYL twice in the past ("You Are Going to Fail (But That's Okay)" and "One Small Step"), so I figured I should return the favor.

So here it is: "Episode 61: Jessica Olin"

Like I said on Twitter, I hope you all enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed recording it. I think Steve made me sound a lot better than I have a right to sound, but I'll take it.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Letter to the Liaison Librarian, by Rebecca Carlson


Communicating the value of the library to university administration, communicating library resources and services to faculty, staff, and students, communicating with other librarians and library staff, with vendors… In the library, it’s all communication all the time. In particular, building relationships and trust with faculty through ongoing communication is crucial for community engagement, budget support, library use, administration buy-in, relevant resources, and about any other part of my job that I can name.

And yet, for all that I am a strong believer in the value of ongoing communication, it has been one of the skills I have worked on most as a young librarian. (The other has been managing my library budget, can I get an amen?). As I think critically about what helps and what hinders my communication with faculty, I have identified a few key strategies for continued improvement.
The biggest thing for me is to build that metaphorical bridge. Both psychologically and physically, the library and I are separate from the departmental faculty. Physically, the library is at one end of the building and the faculty offices, workrooms, and lounge are at the other end; psychologically, I do not belong to any of the close-knit groups of faculty who are teaching the same course or teaching in the same program. To cross these distances, I find ways to meet faculty where they are and create opportunities for open conversation.  

For instance, early on in my current job one of the IT staff told me she never ate lunch with the faculty because she couldn’t get through 30 minutes without having to answer question after question. I heard that and thought that was exactly where I wanted to be. Bring on the questions! I asked where and when most faculty ate lunch on campus and I followed them there. We sit and eat and talk and most of the time nothing related to the library comes up; it’s stories about kids and pets and plans for the weekend. But when then conversation moves to students struggling with a research assignment or a question about a library resource, I’m there.

Just being there can help you to foster relationships with individual faculty; each problem you solve over lunch or in other informal situations is one more board that is building a bridge between you and the faculty.  

In those conversations, I am the new kid in the neighborhood. Many of the departmental faculty have been here for 15 or 20 or more years, so I don’t know the details of their past relationship with the library and librarians. Not having a personal knowledge of that history means working harder toward building relationships from the very foundation. But, instead of focusing on the lack of history, a young librarian has the opportunity to use their newness as an opportunity for meaningful change.

I tell the faculty that it’s not my library, it’s their library and it should be what they want it to be. I want to help make the library what will make it most useful for their students, research, and learning. Learn what your faculty think is most important in their work: their teaching, research, advising, professional development. Then, your role as the librarian is to provide to meet what faculty need. Take the time to be involved in curriculum discussions, ask about their research, etc. etc., and then follow up on these conversations by tailoring library budget decisions, collection development, and service priorities toward what matters to the faculty. You have the opportunity to frame the relationship in a way that will help everyone; showing that the library can adapt, can change, and can be more relevant will have a lasting impact. It starts and ends with you as the liaison librarian going outside the library and moving outside the library box to improve communication.

Rebecca Carlson is the Director of the Mercy College of Nursing and Health Sciences Library and the Personal Librarian to the Mercy College of Nursing and Health Sciences. She tweets at @CaptainLibraria.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Spilling the Milk and Other Metaphors for Messing Up, by Marti Fuerst

Photo by Lisa Brewster, used under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

At some point in your career, you’re going to screw up. You’re going to drop the ball. At some point, this screwed-up-ball-dropping is going to happen right before you leave for vacation, are sick, or for some other reason are unavailable to immediately fix it.

For instance, say you didn’t record some statistics for a report. It happens. Other things cloud your vision, like answering patron questions, or trying to get one more cart of discards done so you can claim the newly available real estate on the volunteer deprocessing shelves before someone else does, or scrambling to get things ready for the seasonal reading program that starts tomorrow, ordering the patron requests in Overdrive, or even managing your to-do list for the next week you’re back. With all the balls you’re juggling, you forget one. It drops. It doesn’t get done.

You get an email at home from your boss. The boss is, understandably, upset and disappointed with you. You apologize profusely. You too are upset and disappointed with yourself. If you have a small midwestern-town-style upbringing like me, the fact that your boss is upset and disappointed is actually more devastating than the screw-up.

Then you move to the next phase. You try to mitigate some of the guilt. Yes, you should have done the thing. You should not have dropped the ball - but there were procedures that outline how to do the thing so that anyone can do it. They were written so that if the “regular person who does the thing” was unavailable to do the thing, the thing would be done. You still should have done the thing. This mitigation doesn’t really work to ease the guilt weighing on you. Neither does the reply to your email from your boss expressing disbelief that you forgot to do the thing. I know, Boss. I can’t believe I forgot it either.

So where do you go from here?

One screw up isn’t going to land you a bad reference when you move from this library to another one. It hardly outweighs all the awesome things you have done. Yes, it feels like a monumental failure now because it is staring you straight in the face. When you get back to work, you’ll do the thing. The statistics will get recorded within the first hour that you’re back. It will get reported next month. It’s not that big a deal. Yes, you embarrassed yourself, your department, and your boss. The world didn’t end. The doors still opened and people still got access to the materials and services the organization provides. Everyone got a bit of egg on their face, but people are not dry-clean only.

There is a placard I have seen that is intended to be humorous: To err is human - to forgive is not library policy. It is funny in a bun-headed throwback or Conan the Librarian kind of way, but not very conducive to building rapport with patrons or a cooperative, trusting, team-centered workplace. Am I reading too much into a placard? Probably. Should people be held responsible for their mistakes? Of course. My point is not to dwell and stew on it, whether you have to wait a day before you can do anything productive to fix it, or you can fix it as soon as it is discovered. Forgiving yourself won’t go against library policy.

It will be okay.

Depending on the mistake, you can analyze it and make changes to your workflow, habits, etc. to try to ensure it won’t happen again. It’s likely that you will never, ever make this mistake again. That ball, of all the balls you’re juggling, will never touch the ground.

But another one might. In fact, another one probably will.

Marti Fuerst is currently a Librarian at Large as she relocates to Omaha, Nebraska. She is into emerging technologies, board games, zombies, and medieval history. She’s screwed up before, but she dusted herself off, popped a chocolate truffle in her mouth, and soldiered on. She tweets at ZealofZebra, blogs at Biblionalia, and posts library stuff to Google+, and has her portfolio at

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Even For Academics, Selection Is Privilege

I try to keep abreast of what is going on in other spheres of the library world besides my own, especially the awards like the American Library Association Youth Media Awards. We have children's literature collection in my current library, a collection that supports an education major among other things, so you can see why it's a no-brainer for me to pay attention to these things.

So... when I learned about this year's list of winners, my first thought was about the purchase order request I was going to have to fill out soon. My second thought was elation because When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds was recognized for the awesomeness it contains. My final thought was that I really have to get around to reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson because holy guacamole it keeps winning awards. And that was where my thoughts ended... until now.

What happened? I learned that there are people - librarians! - who are upset at the fact that the winners were more diverse than they have been in a long time. My reaction:

Amy Koester wrote about how this all happened in a piece titled "Selection is Privilege." Her argument is a good and important one. Of course, Koester's focus is, understandably, on best methods for serving her public library community. Her perspective is somewhat different from how I've worked in the past, but the truth is, this focus on diversity is no less important for those of us in the academic library business. Diversity in my children's literature collection that we maintain to support the education department? Crucial. Diversity in our popular reading materials? Equally important. Beyond that, providing access to a broad range of authors and topics is key to the role of a library at a small academic library that serves the community at a liberal arts college. The materials we have here absolutely must be both broad and deep. Our budget is small, but I've made sure that we spend at least a small portion every year on books about and by underrepresented groups. It's important to my community and to me, and it has been important for a long time.

I'm grateful to Koester for making me think about this and for starting the conversation. Part of me had started to take it for granted that everyone thinks this way, especially since I tend to surround myself with like minded people. But I know this approach has been an evolution in the way I do collection development. I have to admit I wasn't as thoughtful in my approach when I was a new librarian. Ms. Koester helped me remember that not everyone has had the same realizations and opportunities I have.

I'm not sure what else I want to say about this because, to me, it's not a matter for debate. However, it seems that public libraries are sometimes as resistant to diverse books as the publishing industry. I'd like to hear about how other academic libraries handle diversity in their collections. Is it a conscious effort? Or is it a catch-as-catch-can kind of thing where you just buy what you buy without any kind of thought about representation? Or, worst of all, do you find your collection development is dictated by the same kind of cop-outs Koester quoted in her post, such as "We have a copy, but I can count the number of black patrons my library has in two weeks on one hand."?

I know I'm often preaching to the choir here, but more than most posts, I hope this has given you something to think about.