Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Five Years of Letters


Can you believe it? I can't believe it, even if you can. Five years of this blog. Five years of advice and working through my thoughts and building relationships with new guest authors and old. To celebrate, I'm going to give away books! Of course books. While I was playing around with different ways to mark the anniversary, I decided the books I mentioned in my post from last week, "The Case for Theoretical Eclecticism," are a perfect fit for this kind of occasion. In case you've forgotten, here they are again:

You will get two copies of your pick of one of these books (except the Kuhlthau, since it's pretty pricey) - one for you and one for a library of your choice! All you have to do in order to enter the contest is let me know that you want to enter and let me know which book you choose. You can comment here (just make sure to include a way for me to contact you), @ me on Twitter, or email me. I suppose you could send me smoke signals or a carrier pigeon, but I'd probably just call the fire department about the smoke and show the pigeon where I keep the bird seed without noticing the message on its leg.

The contest will run from the day I publish this post (May 31, 2016) until the end of the day on the actual anniversary of the first ever post on Letters to a Young Librarian (June 8, 2016). I'll try to pick and announce the winner by the end of that week.

This is my way of saying thank you. I am grateful for the conversations and the ideas and the people I've had come into my life because I got angry and started to blog. Really so grateful.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Interview Post: Tim Hensley

Biographical

Name?
Tim Hensley

Current job?
Director of Collections at the Virginia Holocaust Museum.

How long have you been in the field?
I’ve been in the profession since 1995.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
My position oversees the archives, library, and exhibits, so I wind up working throughout the museum. My office is in the library section of the collections department overlooking our reading room. This is where I do both administrative work and all the server-side digital preservation work for the video, audio, and photographic collections.  


 How do you organize your days?
I tend to work through my day based on a floating priority list. As the primary reference person, I attempt to field as many of the incoming questions as possible. This means I’m often pushing information to people outside the organization or digging for something for our staff. The bulk of our internal work is project based, so what we might be doing at any given time depends on the deadline. I tend to stagger my workload between physical and mental tasks to keep from getting bored.  

What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend the majority of my time fielding requests for information during the academic year and teaching during the summer.

What is a typical day like for you?
It depends entirely on what projects are on my calendar. Since we are an embedded collection within an institution, our work is shaped by the needs of the organization. What often happens is that Monday and Tuesday are spent working through piles of information requests from the weekend while long and short-term projects become the focus of more work as the week progresses. Collection development and processing take place constantly and serve as a nice diversion throughout the week.

What are you reading right now?

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
It’s not one thing that I’ve been told but rather a collection of things I learned from having a couple of fantastic mentors. I worked with a reference librarian early on in my career – Anita White-Carter – who is incredibly gifted. As a graduate student, I always went to her when I was struggling with a question or some part of a process; she’s really the reason I took the route I did professionally. The second was a professor from grad school – Jim Carmichael – who stressed us weekly with research questions that grew progressively more complex throughout the semesters. His tactic worked well as it gave me a framework for how to think about answering questions (any questions!) even if you have no background in the subject.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Working with mannequins. Not the sort of thing most librarians would ever have to know I imagine. 


Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
Syncopation.

What is your least favorite word?
Stupid.

What is your favorite curse word?
Asshat.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Auditor.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?

What are you most proud of in your career?
Not eating my young -- I say that flippantly but this profession can have a toxic bent I didn’t expect when I was coming out of grad school, so I’m most proud of serving as a mentor to young librarians and archivists. I think paying back to a profession that has given me a talent for research a purpose beyond writing unread academic articles is likely the most praiseworthy thing I’ve done.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I’ve made them all. It doesn’t matter what realm we’re discussing – collection development, customer service, material processing, reference services – I’ve fumbled in a variety of ways both minor and spectacular over the years. I have no intention of stopping.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
It could be anything but I tend to get the most enjoyment out of reading, drumming, hiking, traveling, cooking, and long, rambling conversations. I also have an affinity for pie and whiskey.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I’d love to see how Anita White-Carter and Jim Carmichael would answer these.



Tim tweets at @geistweg.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Case for Theoretical Eclecticism

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I'm disgustingly well-rounded and balanced in my talents and in my interests. Back when the SATs were comprised of two tests, verbal and math, I got the exact same score on both halves. The reasons I got a tattoo of a blue morpho were as much about the science of tropical butterflies as about the symbolism and beauty of that species. This kind of balance plays itself out all through my life. In fact, one of my favorite things about being a librarian is that I am a professional generalist. The fact that I've always worked at small, liberal arts colleges - where I have to be at least somewhat well versed in a broad range of topics to do my liaison/outreach duties - has always suited me well.

This tendency also shows itself in the theories I turn into praxis. I hinted eclectic approach at this in a post I wrote last summer, down in the section where I list books I've already read that inform my librarianship. There are books by a Buddhist nun, a community organizer, a behavioral economist, a (misogynistic) philosopher, businessmen, and a folklorist. In the last year, I added one more book to the list of things that influence my day-to-day both in and out of the library: The Upside of Stress, by Stanford University psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal. Trying to make friends with stress has changed how I perceive my life as a librarian and as an administrator. And finally, there's a book I should have included in my original list: Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services by Carol Kuhlthau.

If anything about that list stands out to you, it should be the fact that there's no overlap in the professions or the perspectives of the authors. Sure, there is more than one academic on the list, but even they come from a broad range of disciplines. There are books written for popular audiences, for academic audiences, and for niche audiences. Admittedly, I am prone to being idiosyncratically eclectic or even iconoclastic. Maybe someday I'll write a Just for Fun post about how I consciously eschewed all the "popular" things in high school and in college. Even if it makes me weird outside of my career, when it comes to librarianship I know this is an approach that has benefited me and my communities. I also know that this approach would benefit anyone who adopts it.

Here are a few specific benefits of this approach:
  • I've got a lot of different lenses through which to examine situations and opportunities to figure out the best way forward.
  • I'm not stumped when the first thing I tried doesn't work. 
  • Valuing this multiplicity of views in my theory translates over to valuing different perspectives in other people. 

One of my favorite parables is "The Blind Men and the Elephant." Using only one theoretical perspective is like being one of those titular blind men who only felt the leg or the ear or the tail of the elephant. I'm not going to pretend that I never get stuck; I'm as prone to falling victim to confirmation bias as the next person. But at least with my multiple ways of approaching a situation, I'm more likely to see the whole. What do you all think?

(I wrote the bones of this post a while ago, but I know there have been some scuffles on social media the last week about critical theories. This isn't a response or comment on that, but I will say this again: a multiplicity of views only adds to the conversation.)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

How to be a Good (Library) Boss, by Baharak Yousefi

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I am in the business of encouraging librarians to apply for library management jobs. When I come across smart, awesome, politically progressive librarians (which happens with delightful frequency), I try to convince them to consider management. This is not because I think management is the only path forward for these wonderful humans, but because I want more smart, awesome, and politically progressive folks at those tables. I want them there because libraries need to be changing in big, fundamental ways, and right now, as things stand, that’s where the power to push for those changes resides. Often, the librarian (aka my target) will ask me what I think it takes to be a good library manager and my answer, without fail, is “be a decent human being.” Now, as true as that may be, I appreciate that it is not very specific. What follows is an attempt to expand the list, in no particular order: 
  1. Be a decent human being (still #1).
  2. Be the kind of boss that tells employees about their rights and then helps them claim and exercise those rights.
  3. Be absolutely committed to transparency. Do not assume that you know what others need/don’t need to know (of course, be mindful of all the legal and ethical stuff).
  4. Have a vision. Care very, very passionately about something and make sure everyone knows what that is.
  5. Make absolutely sure that people who work for you have the resources to do their work. If resources are scarce, then change their work. Do less with less and more with more.
  6. Humanity before productivity. This means sometimes you have to stop working and be human beings with doubts and emotions and everything.
  7. Practice justice and inclusion and empower others to do the same. If need be, demand that others do the same.
  8. Acknowledge the labour of others (this includes their emotional labour, their generosity, and their kindness).
  9. Sometimes you have to ask your employees to do things that are frankly bullshit. That’s ok. Acknowledge that you’re asking them to do bullshit work, thank them for doing the bullshit work, and try your best to decrease the level of bullshit over time.
  10. If you ask people for their feedback, be genuinely open to hearing it. It’s fine, and sometimes necessary, to choose a different path but be prepared to explain your decision. If you don’t have the time or inclination to engage with folks on this level, then do not waste their time.
  11. Ask people about their hopes and dreams. They may not want to do the work they are doing for you forever. Do what you can to get them to the next place.
  12. Give clear instructions, have clear expectations, make room for self-determination and agency, and expect the best from people.
  13. Take every opportunity possible to interrogate the very systems and structures that gave you the aforementioned seat at the table.
  14. And this last one is included with credit to one of the best library bosses I know: “forgive yourself your failures, and measure success not by what you have won or lost, but by the integrity, honesty and humanity of your fight.”

Good luck! You’ll be great. <3



Baharak Yousefi is Head of Library Communications at Simon Fraser University and a Director on the Board of the BC Libraries Cooperative. She received a Master of Arts in Women's Studies in 2003 and a Master of Library and Information Studies in 2007. She lives on the unceded traditional lands of the Musqueam, Skwxwu7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh people in Vancouver, BC. She tweets at @BaharakY.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Popular Culture in the Academic Library: Community Building

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When I was a fresh out of grad school librarian, I didn't realize that embracing popular culture things - I use "things" for lack of a better umbrella term - as outreach and community building was in anyway abnormal. 13+ years into my career, I know it was very unusual back then and is still sadly uncommon now. Here are some of the things I currently embrace and/or have embraced in the past:

  1. Gaming events in the library. In the past I've hosted Humans vs. Zombies, a Super Smash Brothers tournament, and board game events at more than one library. The video game tournament wasn't as successful for relationship building, but every single other event I've listed was a huge success for the library. We got to know the students/faculty/staff of the school and they got to know us.
  2. Graphic novel collections. My first library job in higher ed was at a college that specifically worked with students who have learning differences (ADHD/dyslexia/etc.). For so many of those students, and students I've worked with since, the library represented what they couldn't do well. Sequential art, on the other hand, uses different parts of the brain for processing than what we use for reading just words. My first graphic novel collection was a way to reach out to students and to get them in the library. It worked so well that I've created similar collections everywhere else I've worked.
  3. Popular press fiction and nonfiction collections. I've been lucky to work with a lot of popular culture scholars in my library career. From the biomedical humanities professor who studied film to the Cormac McCarthy scholar and beyond, I was responsible for collecting works of and about popular appeal "things." That's the traditional reason for academic libraries to have such collections. But I saw the crossover appeal to pleasure reading/viewing/etc. in those collections at a school with no other source of books/movies/etc. in walking distance. 
  4. Service to consortia. Two of my three library jobs in higher ed were at libraries that participated in large consortia: OhioLINK and Delaware Libraries. Smaller schools are typically net borrowers, so having popular music or movies or books can help even out the imbalance.
  5. Board game collections. This is my most recent endeavor, and it's still fairly unusual for an academic library to have a circulating board game collection, but it's one of my favorite things I've done. It started out purely as an outreach maneuver. We have a group on campus called "Campus of the Nerds," and I was seeing them in the library a lot anyway. Creating the board game collection was a way to support a new student club, but it's also been a great tool for getting to know faculty and staff and other students. We've even gotten suggestions for board games to add, and getting any kind of request from our community is rare even when we solicit requests.
I know I've beaten this particular drum before, but it's a big thing for me. Community building is key to all libraries, and it's not just about the services we provide. Academic libraries of all makes and models could easily add these kinds of collections and this kind of outreach. You know what? Let me fix that sentence: all libraries should embrace these kinds of collections and outreach.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Interview Post: Annette DeFaveri

Annette's Desk


Name?
Annette DeFaveri

Current job?

Executive Director, British Columbia Library Association

How long have you been in the field?

MLIS, 2002

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

Small, shared, cramped, messy, and turquoise. The space is also happy, collegiate, supportive, progressive, and intellectual.

How do you organize your days?
Every day is different.  As a result I prioritize, or re-prioritize, almost every morning. I keep lists that articulate short-term and long-term priorities. From these lists I extrapolate my activities. I used to have a “mid-term” list but noticed that the mid-term list was a black hole.  I’d put things on the mid-term list that I hadn’t thought through or was confused about. So really, what I have currently is a “right now” list and a “later” list. Professional organizers are horrified.  

What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend way too much time doing email. I’d rather be doing the planning, organizing, thinking, and writing parts of the job. In fact, I’d rather do almost anything than answer email.

What is a typical day like for you?
I schedule between 1 and 3 meetings per day. The purpose of the meetings differ, but I try to mix meetings that have an overall strategic component, an advocacy aspect, and meetings that focus on building relationships and partnerships. In between times I work on a variety of projects that support the association’s strategic goals and objectives. The work is intense and varied and suits my need to have several disparate things on the go at once.

What are you reading right now?
Portraits: John Berger on Artists, by John Berger
Game of Mirrors (an Inspector Salvo Montalbano book), by Andrea Camilleri
The Horrors: An A to Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things, by Charles Demers

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Without a doubt the most important piece of advice I ever received was to always have three answers to any question. This influenced every aspect of my work from how I approach a problem, how I think about strategic planning, how I engage in advocacy work, to how I define my professional aspirations.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Event planning. I start every story about my new experiences with event planning by saying, “I’m not making this s**t up.”

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
overarching

What is your least favorite word?
traditional

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
I daydream about being an innkeeper, a chef, a painter, a poet, or a political speech writer! (The alliteration is accidental!)

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Nurse

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
I wish I had the singing power of the Sirens, not to lure sailors to rocky shipwrecks, but to lure traditionalists and new traditionalists to progressive thinking, a passion for social justice issues, an inclination toward taking risks, and a focus on challenging the status quo.

What are you most proud of in your career?
The friends I’ve made.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
It took me a long time to understand the role of “compromise” when working toward larger goals and objectives.  Not understanding “compromise” meant that I made mistakes because I thought I had to fight every fight to the death for the principles and politics that I believe in. This meant I was exhausted most of the time. I felt as if I lost every significant battle. Learning to compromise -- in a considered and intentional way -- helped me understand that fighting for what I believe in was a long term commitment and I needed to be strategic in both my approach and the fight.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Reading, cooking…can I say making love with my partner??...learning to meditate (I keep trying to learn, but never seem to get there). 

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Tara Robertson

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Just for Fun: 5000 Candles in the Wind

It's laughable, but at one point in the not too distant past I disliked Parks and Recreation. Of course now I know it's just that I disliked the first season (although even that makes me laugh now). It's laughable because I love this show so much that I made that cross stitch below for myself


What Would Leslie Knope Do?

I'm sure I'm preaching to the converted with this post, since I was late to the P&R game, however, I still want to share some of the things I love about this show. Be warned: thar be spoilers ahead!

Actual Positive Portrayals of Fat People
I mean, seriously, can we talk for a moment about how beautiful Retta is? And how they never use her size as a punchline? Also, can we talk about her fashion sense? And how sought after she was as a date? F'reals, she gets to marry Keegan-Michael Key. It doesn't get much better than that. And did you notice her wedding dress? Dang.


Relatable Characters
Once I realized how fantastic this show is, I tried to get everyone I know to watch it. I finally got my best friend to take the plunge by explaining that she is the Ann Perkins to my Leslie Knope. After my friend had watched a bit of the series, she admitted the comparison was dead on. I think the characters are as relatable as they are because the writers don't use all those tired tropes we've seen a bazillion times before.

P.S. Yes, I also made my best friend watch all 8 Harry Potter movies, but she did like them.

Making Fun of Librarians
It's part of being in this profession: everyone makes sure you know about popular culture representations of librarians. (Do other professions get that?) Usually when it happens it's a shushing nightmare of a stereotype, but in the case of Parks & Recreation, librarian representation is a good thing. A lot of librarians have taken to calling ourselves "punk ass book jockeys" in honor of this show.



So how about you? What's your favorite thing about the show? Megan Mullally? Ben's nerdery? Champion the tripod dog? Or is your favorite the same as mine: that people grow and change and evolve in this show in ways that make the characters feel like family.