Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Where Are the Research Based Social Media Practices?

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I've been reading a lot of research about the interplay of social media and libraries in preparation for something else I'm writing. As I've been making my way through the literature, one thing keeps coming to mind again and again: there's so much that's been written on this topic, but where are the research-based and proven-effective practices?

Don't get me wrong: I love my heuristic-rule-of-thumb approach as much as the next librarian. I've written about how I approach social media and social networking many times here, not least of which was the post in which I actively suggested my own rules-of-thumb for managing a Facebook page, and what I wrote is definitely in the category of "best practices." Further, people who share their opinions about social media can provide a lot of food for thought. There are two Medium pieces that made the rounds a couple of weeks ago, "A Teenager’s View on Social Media Written by An Actual Teen," by Andrew Watts, and "An Old Fogey’s Analysis of a Teenager’s View on Social Media" from Danah Boyd, for instance, that should be read.

But really, I'm so prone to shaking my fist - metaphorically speaking - at instruction and outreach that isn't at least partially research based, that I'm shocked I hadn't come to this conclusion about social media before now. I don't have the time to conduct research like this at the moment, but I'm hoping someone out there does. I've done basic action research myself in the paste, so I imagine a proof of concept study would be simple. Anyone out there interested in this idea? You don't even have to credit me if you want. I won't complain as long as I get to benefit from what you learn.

As for me, I'm going to try to read up on research done in other industries. I haven't even begun to look yet, so please feel free to share citations in the comments, but I know I always learn a lot when I look at tangential fields like how much I learned about wayfinding from looking at how hospitals arrange their signage and maps. It just seems like there's got to be research, even if it's in fields that are only vaguely related, like behavioral economics or human-computer interactions, about how to get effective results from your social media presence.

Or am I fooling myself?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Always Know Where Your Towel Toilet Plunger Is: How to Manage a Library Building, by Jennie Rothschild

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It was probably my second week in my first public library job, and my branch manager was wearing a very nice suit, holding a toilet plunger and marching towards the public bathrooms. “Never be a branch manager, Jennifer. That’s my career advice to you--never be a branch manager.” It was advice he frequently gave to anyone who would listen, usually while rushing off to deal with an issue, dragging a shovel, a toilet plunger, a garbage can, a ladder, or something along those lines.

While I didn’t follow his career advice, he still taught me a valuable lesson--most libraries are in buildings, and buildings have issues. Sometimes there are big issues (Flash floods! Earthquake damage! Fire!) Most mostly it’s the mundane (clogged toilet, broken door, someone threw up).

Sadly, not being a branch manager doesn’t make you immune. (Once, when all the managers were at lunch, a fellow children’s librarian and I were left to deal with the mess when someone tried to flush a shirt down the toilet.)

So, here’s my advice to everyone who works in a building:

1. Know who to call, and when. There are probably maintenance staff or facilities people to call when something happens. But they probably don’t work 24/7 and the people you call when the sidewalk didn’t get shoveled are probably different from the ones you call when a pipe bursts.

Related--know who’s in charge (of your branch during that shift, of your system that day, and of facilities in general).

2. Know where your keys and supplies are. You know there are sandbags around here somewhere. You know the branch has a toilet plunger somewhere. Oh good, the HVAC people are here to fix the heat! Now where’s the key to the mechanical room? (Or, as a colleague once experienced, where’s the mechanical room?) These are all important things to know before you need them. (That day someone tried to flush the shirt down the toilet, we couldn’t find the plunger. We ended up fishing it out with a coat hanger.)

Related-- do you know how to refill the soap and paper towel dispensers? Where’s the extra soap? Where’s the soap dispenser key? (Yes, they have keys).

Also related--know where your fire extinguishers are and how to use them.

3. Know how to turn off the water. Pipes burst. Water mains break. Know how to turn off your water. Also know how to deal with electricity and water. Did something flood and now the copier is in standing water? Do you have outlets in your floor for people to plug their laptops into near seating? Know how to keep yourself safe. (Further reading. )

4. Know where your fuse box is and which fuses control which parts of the building. Not just to keep yourself from electrocuting yourself during a flood, but you’d be surprised how many things will suddenly start working again if you flip the fuse a few times.

5. Know how to unclog a toilet. I mean, this is just a good life skill anyway, but a necessary librarian one--you never know when someone will try to flush a shirt.


Jennie Rothschild is branch manager with Arlington Public Library and her views her do not necessarily reflect those of her employer. Maintenance issues are her least favorite part of her job, but reader's advisory is her most favorite. She blogs at Biblio File, tweets @kidsilkhaze and likes to do crafty things while binge-watching TV shows everyone was into a decade ago, because she's forgotten all the spoilers. She just started The Wire.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Adventures in Administration

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My second anniversary as a library director is coming up. Anniversaries turn my thoughts to what I've learned and how I’ve changed. There has been a lot of both. More than I thought possible.

Let me backtrack a bit. We've all, at least once or twice, looked at the people for whom we work and thought we could do a better job. I'm no exception. I respected the library directors I knew up until I made the decision to become an administrator, but with each of them I'd had at least a couple of moments of "oh, c'mon! Are you kidding me?"

Now that I've been doing the job for a couple of years, I can see how off-base I was. It may seem odd, but I felt so silly once I realized my misconceptions that I actively thanked and apologized to directors I had worked for in the past. Now that I've been in the captain's chair for a while, I've learned how smart and forward thinking those directors were. The way they let me run with even my outrageous ideas, how there was never a piece of negative feedback without advice on how to fix the issue, how they respected not just what I did but also who I was.

So, thinking about my past directors and thinking about how I've changed made me want to share. One of the things that's changed most of all is my idea of the role of a library director. My ideas have evolved into a whole new species since I first came to this job. I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you all, since I know there are at least a few of you who are thinking about following in my footsteps.
  1. Working with Strengths. I'm a big fan of the Clifton Strengths Finder for identifying strengths, but you don't have to pay for an expensive test - you can just get to know your staff. The thing is, not everyone is cut out to do instruction or outreach or grants writing or whatever other things you need in your library. You need people with big ideas AND people who can spot potential speed bumps. And people will be much happier and more productive if you let them work to their strengths.
  2. Delegation is Your Friend. I can tell you the exact moment when I realized I could let go of being involved with every project in my library, and it came from an odd corner: our dehumidifiers. When we first got them, I would empty the tanks when I first got to the library in the morning. I did this for months. Then I had an early meeting and forgot to come in earlier, so I had to ask someone else to do it. I did a mental facepalm and asked myself why I hadn't done that months earlier. I asked the circ staff to add it to their morning duties, and that was that. I learned to trust my staff, and they responded to my trust.
  3. It's Not Just About My Success. This is huge. HUGE. Words cannot express how happy I get when I see a member of my staff - professional, paraprofessional, or student assistant - succeeding with something at work. My staff has gotten used to me saying things like, "Look, I care but I don't care. This is your project and if you want my help, I'm here. But I trust you and know you got this under control." This has led to both little and big successes for my staff, which makes everyone happier at work and that happiness shows to our community.
  4. Recognizing Success. No, I don't leave dead birds for my staff when they do a good job, but I do make sure to compliment their hard work. And not just to them, but also to others. One small example of this is how we built a tree out of green books, and whenever anyone said something nice about it, I responded with "really it was [staff member a] and [staff member b] that did the hard work, and didn't they do a great job?" 
I know there are lots of other ideas I've had and changed as I've gotten more comfortable in my role, but these are the biggest changes. 

How about you? If you are an administrator, of whatever level, what's the biggest change you've seen in your own approach to librarianship? If you're not, does anything I've listed here surprise you?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tales from Early Career Professionals: Planning a Leadership Summit, by Tyler Dzuba, Dan Trout, and Kourtney Blackburn

L to R: Matt Krueger, Dan Trout, Tyler Dzuba, Kourtney Blackburn, Lori Birrell and Marcy Strong. Phil Koyoumjian is missing from this photo.

The three of us had all attended conferences, and some of us had participated in planning one or two, but none of us had ever organized, planned, and executed a conference all on our own. Then an opportunity came up. We realized a leadership conference for early-career librarians was needed in our region (Upstate New York) and we decided to go for it. We are the Rochester Early-Career Information Professionals (RECIP) and this is the story of how we planned a one-day Leadership Summit.

Up front, flexibility was key. Where we ended up was definitely successful, but we had some changes along the way. Most of what happened was foreseeable, but we wanted to share the surprises:
In trying to avoid all the busy times of the semester, we landed the Leadership Summit on Yom Kippur! Panelists were in flux the week before the conference, but two super-gracious panelists stepped in at the last minute to save the day. We were also surprised at how our budget shook out. (Experienced conference planners are free to shake their heads at the naïveté that’s coming.) The space was donated in-kind, but aside from catering for lunch and coffee breaks, housekeeping and A/V staff were the biggest line items. Our keynote speaker graciously declined an honorarium, but we still provided travel reimbursement.

A few more lessons learned:
  • If you plan a conference, let people have built in social time to discuss items not on the agenda while they eat and drink. Let them be merry.
We thought we would have table talks during lunch. People could discuss a variety of topics and remain engaged in leadership topics through the entire conference. This didn't happen. It turns out, librarians like to chat with other librarians (shocker!), and they were wonderfully social. We planted ourselves at tables during lunch to try to guide the conversation, but we just ended up talking shop with other librarians. We learned and connected with other people more over those types of conversations rather than the topics we’d suggested.

  • Plan, plan, plan (and always have snacks).
The conference planning process took a year. We met once a month at coffee shops, the nearest Chipotle, and committee members’ homes. We always made sure we had snacks to keep us moving during those long conversations!

  • Good leaders acknowledge when help is needed and accept it when offered. 

We are blessed to have a wonderful local library council, the RRLC, who provided advice and planning support. The council saw a need for this conference and worked with us through the entire process. Early on, we met with the executive director and the member services librarian for breakfast at a local diner (see Lesson #2) to get their input and continued this relationship throughout the whole year. They provided website hosting, administrative support for registering guests and coordinating refreshments, and even support in administering the grant funds. We didn’t set out on this planning process with all the answers, but with an understanding that we could look to leaders and experienced professionals for help in getting them.

  • Always keep your goals in mind. 

One of the main goals for the conference was to put on a low-cost conference that many people could attend without institutional funding. We had originally intended to use some of our fiscal resources to provide travel scholarships to attendees. We began to work on scholarship criteria, scholarship amounts, and so on, but we soon realized we could increase the number of attendees if we focused on what we could provide with our budget to people who did attend. We wanted many people to be able to attend, and a free conference would make that possible. We decided to remove travel scholarships and focus on the conference logistics instead. Keeping it simple was important as we did not have any guidelines. Thankfully, we were allowed to deviate from our original grant proposal, which included setting aside funds for travel scholarships, and make this conference free to all, saving us much time and energy in the process.

What’s next?

Riding the momentum from the conference, we published a call for more volunteers to help with planning monthly events for our group and developing a formal leadership structure. As we work on our plan for the next year, we’re taking care to share our success with those who helped us along the way. Ours is an unmarked path in Rochester: unmarked paths are best with friends to share the trailblazing.


Tyler Dzuba is the Head of the Physics-Optics-Astronomy Library at the University of Rochester, River Campus Libraries. He has enjoyed the Rochester library community since 2012 and is passionate about early-career leadership across the profession. This is his second post for LTaYL: his first was "What Did I Do? Keeping Track of Accomplishments Without Going Crazy". Tyler would be happy to discuss librarianing, conference planning, or the magic of coffee by email (tdzuba [at] gmail) or on Twitter (@silent_d).

Dan Trout is the Nursing Liaison librarian at Edward Miner Library at the University of Rochester Medical Center.  He previously worked at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Syracuse University. Dan is interested in open access, information literacy, helping early-career librarians find their voice, cooking and altmetrics. You can contact him on twitter @512dot72.

Kourtney Blackburn is currently the Access Services Librarian at St. John Fisher College’s Lavery Library. Previously, she worked as the digital initiatives librarian at the Rochester Regional Library Council. Kourtney is interested in issues relating to resource sharing, open access, and outreach.


RECIP’s Leadership Summit was made possible by generous support from the Harold Hacker Fund for the Advancement of Libraries, the Rochester Regional Library Council, and the Friends & Foundation of the Rochester Public Library. Besides Kourtney, Tyler, and Dan, the Planning Committee included Lori Birrell, Phil Koyoumjian, Matt Krueger, and Marcy Strong. For more information on the planning committee, please visit: http://rrlc.org/recip/conference/planning-committee/

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Not Mutants nor Ninjas nor Turtles, but Teenagers



It's that time of year again. A few new students just showed up on campus along with all those returning for the Spring semester. While we do have our fair share of nontraditional students, we do have a lot of traditional undergraduates. This has me thinking, of course. And what I've been thinking about is how traditional undergraduates are teenagers, even if we don't always think of them that way.

I know I make a big thing about how our students are not us at that age, but consider the fact that I was seventeen when I started college. (I didn't skip any grades or anything. Just the vagaries of the cutoff date for entering kindergarten where I grew up. I've got a December birthday.) This may be atypical, but it's not unheard of even today. Also, you can never forget the fact that their brains are still maturing, even after they turn 20. For most people, until they reach their mid-twenties, they have more in common with teens than they do with us.

We need to act and plan accordingly. I've talked before about the emotional responses of students, and how they really aren't us at that age, but it goes beyond that. We assign books for common read that are tough for adults to get through, program for our own interests, and use vocabulary that may or may not have any traction with this audience. We market to them on Facebook instead of taking advantage of word-of-mouth networks. We forget about their needs and think about how they "should" do this or that, instead of looking at what traditional undergraduates actually do.

I'll admit I don't always hit the mark with our programs and other efforts, but I've learned a lot by watching teen and youth services librarians. That's why I've built graphic novel collections wherever I've gone. That's why I've included gaming in my programming efforts. It's why I've spent so much time in my career building relationships with the students. If you build relationships, you build trust. When you build trust, you have an opportunity to do all the things we academic librarians want to do.

I'm not sure what else to say here, but I want to plead with people to please please please stop treating traditional undergraduates like they have the same reactions and sensibilities that we do. Yes, treat them like adults because they need to learn how to act like adults, but don't expect them to react like adults because they aren't.

You take away the mutant, the ninja, and the turtle, and you've got teenagers. That's exactly what a traditional undergraduate is: a teenager. We need to act accordingly.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Just for Fun: Resolved


I made some professional resolutions last year. Some I kept. I... got to know a few more academic librarians in my area; read more professional literature (although not as much as I'd hoped); made new mistakes and learned from them; and spent more time concentrating on my strengths than on my weaknesses. The one piece I haven't accomplished, write more professional literature, is understandable considering the year I've had at work.

Since being public about my resolutions helps me keep them and helps me be more honest about them, I thought I'd do it again this year. And, since this is technically a first Thursday (the first Thursday I'm posting this year, anyway), the day when I post more personal things on Letters to a Young Librarian, I'm going to mix my personal and professional goals for 2015.

Cook more. I'm not quite as bad about this as I used to be, but since I used to be similar to pop culture's idea of a stereotypical bachelor when it came to what I ate, there really was only room for improvement. I have in mind to try at least two new recipes per month, but I'm not promising anything.

Write more. I participated in National Novel Writing Month this past year, mostly because of peer pressure (I'm looking at you Susan and at you Barbara), but it was so much fun. Even when it was a slog, it was still something outside of librarianship and higher ed and it was goal oriented. I want to keep it up. Professional writing will be part of this goal, but writing in general is a source of joy for me.

Get outside more. One of the things that happened when I took my first administrative position is that my professional responsibilities blotted out everything else. The thing is, though, I live near some choice hiking spots and some fab parks. Even in inclement weather, so long as it's not a blizzard, I enjoy being outside.

Complain less. I'm not saying I won't point out injustices and errors and problems and the like, but there's a difference between noticing the bad and whinging about it. No whinging for me - or at least less of it.

Be kinder to myself. I may not have the rampant bouts of imposter syndrome that I did at the beginning of my career, but I still get down on myself sometimes. Why aren't I publishing more like [professional contact X]? Why isn't my library doing awesome things like [professional contact Y]? I'm not going to stop being inspired by X and Y and the rest of the library alphabet. I'm just going to stop - or slow - the "woulda coulda shoulda" spiral.

Read more women and people of color. I'm a feminist, and yet I've fallen into the habit of reading lots of cisgendered white European and American men. I've gotten better over the last few years, climbing from 18% up to 38%, but I want to do better.

How about you? Any things you want to change this year, professionally speaking or otherwise?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

When the Interview is Over

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We recently had a couple of part time openings in my library. If you've never been the interviewer, you have no idea how much work it is. Even more than interviewing, in some ways. For us, the openings were both circulation aide positions. That means the interviews are more about the kind of person they are and the energy they put forth than their qualifications. Circulation aides are the first - and sometimes last - people who are seen by members of our community. They are also the first and last to be seen by prospective students and their parents while on a campus tour. It's easy enough to help someone learn computer skills and library culture, but you can't really teach an outgoing, calm personality. 

It doesn't stop there, either. Sometime you end up feeling like you interviewed one person but then end up working with their evil or lazy twin, the behavior and affect can be that different. This means you need to dig deeper: you need to check their references. I've skipped that step before, and let me tell you: it's a big mistake. We got left, high and dry, when a night person quit with no notice. We close relatively early as academic libraries go, but I still feel incredibly uncomfortable having someone close the library alone at midnight. I don't even like leaving people alone in the building if I can help it. So more diligence ahead of time is a must.

Now that I am on the other side of a round of hiring, I thought I'd share the questions we asked of the reference given by our recent slate of applicants:

I did solicit input on this, both directly from colleagues and on Twitter, but a lot of this was the work of me and my reference librarian (who is helping me conduct the interviews):
  • “What kind of employee was X?”
  • “Are they good at asking for help? Can you give me an example?”
  • “Would you hire X to work for you?”
  • “How would you describe your relationship with them in terms of management?”
  • “What one thing could they improve upon? What one thing would you tell her/him to keep doing?” 
  • “Are they a good team player?” 
  • “How are they at working unsupervised?”
  • “Is there anything else you could add that would help us to understand X?”
The truth is, if someone is bad enough, current employers might be tempted to lie to you in order to get rid of them. It's unethical, but I know people who have done it. There is no real way to 100% protect yourself from someone who ends up not working out, but you can do a lot while building up to the job offer. 

If you're an employer, what kinds of questions do you ask when you call references? If not, what kinds of questions do you think you would ask? (Or, if you are at an organization where human resources does this part, what kinds of questions to you send to them?)