Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Revisiting Purpose: Still a Rebel Yell

Something strange has been happening to me lately. Occasionally, when I approach someone about writing a guest post for this blog, they tell me that they feel honored. When this happens I'm more confused than a litter of puppies going "baroo?" all at once. The purpose of the blog back when I started hasn't changed. I still see Letters to a Young Librarian as a kind of underground radio, a rebel yell. Those things that inspired me to start a blog are still happening - outdated curricula, misplaced emphases, disconnects between some library science graduate programs and what I (and a number of my colleagues) do every day. If you'll forgive the somewhat grandiose and decidedly nerdy metaphor, I see this and similar blogs as a kind of Rebel Alliance - and if you write for me it's like I'm asking you to fly an X-Wing  into battle.

I know that LtaYL is no longer just me shouting into the wind. As this blog approaches both the three year anniversary and the 300k views marks, I know it's become a bit of a thing. I've found a niche, have given others who don't blog regularly (for whatever reason) a place for their voice. But I picked the Star Wars analogy for a reason - just like Admiral Akbar wouldn't be an admiral without a fleet, LtaYL wouldn't be a thing without you all.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm honored that you're honored, but guest posts are the thing that makes LtaYL great. I'm a good librarian, and I'm also pretty good at this writing a blog thing, but you don't have to feel honored. We're all fighting the good fight and we're all human. Most importantly, we're all people who care passionately about the present and the future of libraries. As for me...? See below.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Power of Mentors, by Ryan Claringbole

photo by Niall Kennedy

In the beginning

After graduating with your MLIS, you might be a chaotic mixture of fear and naïveté. You just finished getting trained and taught on what to expect in libraries. You are ready to take those lessons, apply your own spin on things, and get things moving! Yay! And yes, you realize that getting a job will be very difficult, but you think once you get a job then the fun would begin!


Batman #404 (1940) by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli

This is not to say that actually getting a job in the profession is easy, because I’m pretty sure most of us realize the high degree of difficulty it is to go through the long, arduous task of applying, interviewing, and finally be offered a position. I was lucky enough to be offered a position a few months after graduating, and upon arrival I was raring to go, ready to take on the world. To my surprise, I found that working in a new job is like being thrown into the deep end of a pool (your new institution) that is located in the middle of an ocean (the profession)...and I didn’t know how to swim. The results are similar: lots of flailing about, gasping for air, and the doggie paddle works for only so long. The scariest thing about this to me? It’s that it is cyclical and happens with each new position. [Editor’s note: Cosigned.]

Who to turn to?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird

What saved me was going back and talking to those that used to supervise or advise me. My mentors. Not official mentors; they do not rock badges with “mentor” on them (I don’t think), but they provided me with the advice and steady counsel I needed. Mentors are those that I trust and offer me guidance; they provided context, strategies, tips, and access to more contacts that I should talk to. What’s more, they don’t judge me for ignoring their advice and support my decisions.

Over the years, I have been able to take what they taught me and apply it to other positions and situations. I have also added to the list of people I consider mentors. To this day, I still talk with the person that I consider my first mentor, and also talk with someone I recently started corresponding with to get advice. The thing is, many people I talk with are so generous in offering their guidance and advice. Maybe it has something to do with the profession. When you boil it down, a librarian’s job is to help others, right? All I know is that I’ve had a few different positions since that first one, and with each step those that I’ve consulted with have offered invaluable advice for me to follow. In fact, looking back I’ve learned the following: the positive parts of the product of my work are mostly a result of taking what I’ve learned from my mentors - either their offered words of wisdom or watching them work - and not a result of my formal learning. This is partly why I believe we should incorporate apprenticeship into library programs.

For those of you that are new to the profession or are planning on joining, please look for people you respect and talk with them. I don’t mean badger them relentlessly, because frankly many people are not able to help everyone. There are people that I’ve encountered that were not able to share their advice with me for one reason or another, and that’s more than fine... it’s expected. What you need to keep in mind is to not hesitate and not be intimidated by your own insecurity to reach out to someone you admire for the occasional question. You might receive an answer back stating that they can’t help you out at that moment, but possibly might share someone they know who can. Also remember that when you ask for an opinion on something (why didn’t I get this job, did you like the report I sent you, etc.) be prepared for an honest answer. Mentors are not meant to stroke your ego or be a “yes” person. They will offer you their honest thoughts, and often these are the thoughts we need to hear the most whether we know it or not. 

And then…? 

How to repay your mentors? I honestly don’t believe you can. I mean, common courtesy is always essential. You don’t call up a mentor, ask them for advice, and just slam down the phone without saying a simple thanks. But how does one repay someone for sharing their knowledge and experience? I haven’t found it yet. What I think, and I emphasize think, is that it is a “pay it forward” system. You can repay by taking the time and offering advice and counsel to those that ask it of you. We eventually fill up with knowledge and experience, and there might come a time where someone asks for your help on it and, gosh darnit, you might be the one that can help them! Eventually, there will be a network of professionals, each with their own wisdom and experience - their own skill set, if you will - and they can continue to pass down their advice to the future generations.

Batman #1 (2011) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo

tl:dr - Find mentor(s). Realize that people in this profession want to help others. Goal is to acquire enough knowledge, experience, skills, and patience to eventually mentor others in the future.

Ryan is a Digital Services Librarian at the Chesapeake Public Library System, and is always looking to learn more from others. This is his second post for LtaYL; his first was You Are Paid in Smiles.” Please contact and/or share your thoughts with him on Twitter @librarianry.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When the Answer is Always No (or at least it seems to be)

Last month I wrote a post about how I got management experience. That post resonated, but people wanted more:

Before I give you advice on dealing with human embodiments of NONONONO Cat up there, I want to remind everyone of the big ol' caveat that comes with every piece of advice I give. All tips and tricks that I give here, on Twitter, via email, or even in person, are all colored by my past experiences. Sometimes they are things that I tried that worked for me. Other times I share things I wish I'd tried, because whatever technique I did employ did not work. No matter the flavor of my advice, however, you must always remember: your mileage may vary.

Okay, on to dealing with "a 'no' culture." Truly, the best way of getting stuff done in this kind of atmosphere is to do your work ahead of time.
  • Take time to think about all the possible reasons someone - a coworker, a boss, a colleague at another library - will say no. Do this ahead of time and come up with counters for every possible reason someone could turn you down. Think of it as doing a mini-SWOT analysis (or a major one if you're proposing something at the level of a program change).
  • Consider when and who is most appropriate for you to ask. More than once in my current job I realized long after starting a process that I'd asked the wrong people to begin with. The most startling example of this was when I called advice about what kind of information to include in a proposal, only to be told, "You don't have to write a proposal. I can do that for you. I do that for other people around campus, so it's no big deal."
  • Find examples of similar things that have worked at other institutions and/or look at the research related to the topic. That's how I got to incorporate gaming into our outreach efforts at one institution, and how I got permission to build a graphic novel collection at another.
Sometimes those won't be enough. You could get a question/concern that you didn't anticipate, or the money really isn't available, or maybe Professor Doe is just ornery and curmudgeony and doesn't like the cut of your jib. What should you do then?
  • Wait and try again. "I know you didn't have time last semester, but could we talk about it again?" I don't want to be specific, but this worked with a former colleague. He was always too busy. Always. But I never gave up. I smiled whenever I saw him. Asked about his research and the classes he was teaching. Cookies may have entered into the proceedings at one point. Eventually he cracked.
  • Find someone else to ask. That's how I got my cultural literacy series off the ground back at my last library. Asked person A, got a "no, thanks." Person B? "Great idea, but I'm too busy." Person C? "I can't, but you should ask [person A]." Person D? "I'd love to, and I can squeeze you into my schedule, but I don't have a lot of spare time and can't take a leading role." Person E? "Oh! I'd love to!"
  • Realize that you won't be able to get every idea off the ground.
Finally, I want to discuss one of my biggest pet peeves. Lots of people espouse an attitude of, "it's easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission." I'm not saying you should never do this, but I don't recommend doing it at the beginning of your career (or during early days of a new job), and you should only do it sparingly if you are later in your career or in your tenure at a particular institution. Do this early on or too much, people will think they can't trust you. 

How about the rest of my audience? What are some things you've tried that have worked for you?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Just for Fun: Meega, nala kwishta!, or My Love Letter to Lilo and Stitch


I could easily publish an entire post with nothing but gifs of my favorite moments from Lilo and Stitch, but it would end up being pretty much the entire movie in gifs. As much fun as that would be, it might overwhelm the servers at Blogger and it still wouldn't capture everything I adore about this movie. You can see there are still plenty of gifs, but I'm also going to try to describe why this movie has so captured my heart.


Even now, sitting here writing about this movie, I'm having a hard time not giggling at these gifs and videos. As many times as I've seen it (and I've lost count at this point), Lilo and Stitch still makes me laugh.


I love that there's a size acceptance theme running through Lilo and Stitch. Lilo is obsessed with taking pictures of big male and female tourists, and she is enraptured by them - she thinks they are beautiful. Some may laugh at those moments and think there is something wrong with this fictional little girl. Not me. Even the two most prominent female characters are built like real people and not like the typical Disney heroine.

I also love that it's a redemption story. Stitch is created to destroy, pure and simple. In the words of his creator, "His destructive programming is taking effect. He will be irresistibly drawn to large cities, where he will back up sewers, reverse street signs, and steal everyone's left shoe." But through luck (landing on an island without large cities throws a wrench in the works) the acceptance and love of a little girl, Stitch becomes a model citizen.


But most of all, I love Lilo and Stitch because it's about making your own family. Lilo's parents died prior to the start of the movie, and Lilo's older sister is having a hard time with keeping what's left of their family together. Then along comes Stitch, who seems to make things worse for a while, but in the end makes things so much better. My favorite quote from the whole movie, and one of my favorite movie quotes of all time, is in the first thirty seconds of this clip from towards the end of the movie:

"This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good."

How about you? I'm assuming you have affection for this movie otherwise you wouldn't have made it all the way to the end of the post. What do you love about Lilo and Stitch?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Down Wit OPL, Ya You Know Me!

While trying to find a picture for this post, I stumbled on one by someone I know, so I stopped there.

What's OPL? Other People's Libraries, and I've been in a couple of them lately. We're working on a kindness audit in my library right now (an idea I got from Joe Hardenbrook), and my reference librarian came up with the idea of comparing our space to the public library in town using those means. Then, as part of my participation in the College Library Directors' Mentor Program, I finally got a chance to visit my mentor's library. Mostly I talked with her staff and a few colleagues, but we did spend some time touring the building.

Once I got past the jealousy that both visits induced in me (well-staffed, beautifully lit, gorgeously furnished libraries, both of them), I took lots of notes. The thing is, I always learn so much when I visit other libraries - even if it's in the category of "What Not To Do." Sometimes when I go visiting, I have a specific agenda, as when I was working on a wayfinding plan back at my last library. Usually, though, it's more of a general perusal. Even when a visit falls into the second category, I try to look at specific things:

  • Staff
    • How are people dressed? Staff, student workers, etc.
    • Does the staff make eye contact with patrons when appropriate? Does the staff smile?
    • Are staff interacting with patrons? If so, in what capacities?
  • Collections
    • Where are the new books?
    • How is the collection organized?
    • What does it look like? Do I get a feel of old and musty? New and shiny? Some mixture?
  • Furniture
    • Is there graffiti on furniture?
    • How out of date/up to date is the style?
    • What kinds of furniture are provided?
  • Space
    • Is there a variety of spaces for patrons? (Small study rooms, large study rooms; reading nooks; tables; study carrels.)
    • What is the color scheme?
    • What kind of art?
  • Signage
    • Is there lots of jargon on the signs?
    • What kinds of fonts and colors are used? (And is it ADA compliant?)
    • Are there maps available?

I also look for how ADA compliant and otherwise accessible libraries are even beyond the signage, but that's a post unto itself. I know lots of MLIS programs require students to visit multiple libraries as part of their course of study, but that visiting shouldn't stop just because you graduated. Nothing is an exact substitute for an in person visit, but if you don't have other libraries nearby, you can always try to visit virtually. When you are in the same library all the time, you can forget that there are other ways of librarianing. Even if you don't have the budget that your destination libraries have, you can still get ideas. 

So, you down wit OPL? If so, how do you approach it?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Achievement Unlocks: Lessons From Grad School I Use Every Day, by Sara Bryce


Graduating with my MLIS in 2010 marked the end of an era: prior to that, I had been a higher education student for ten straight years. I had also been working full-time since 2004; school was my hobby, of sorts, in the sense that I had no time to do anything else for fun. It had to be my fun.

It stands to reason, then, that I am in fact one of those people that believes in school and professional development as a way to make myself a stronger librarian. I know for certain that I use everything I’ve learned every single day.

Similar to Giso Broman, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do with the degree (I knew I really didn’t want to work with kids, which is pretty laughable now as a Youth Services Librarian), but I found that getting a general degree worked best for me.

Despite being a generalist, I decided not to write “general studies” on my questionnaire for my Emerging Leaders trading card when asked what my “specialization” was, for fear I’d look somehow lesser. But I shouldn’t have been embarrassed, and current non-track students shouldn’t either: I was able to take a variety of classes, and I still got an MLIS and, perhaps more importantly, a job!

Here’s some of the best classes I took, and the skills I picked up that made me into the librarian I am today:

1. Marketing of Library and Information Services
: Not a single day goes by that I do not use everything I learned in this class. I learned how many bullet points are too many (5), how many words each phrase on a sign should have (3), and basically how to keep library information  from getting relegated to the TL;DR category.

Also, the final project was about mission statements and objectives, and whether an organization is doing what they set out to do, and weighing internal versus external perceptions of an organization’s value. I can’t say enough about this course. Please take it if it’s offered at your graduate school, future librarian. [Editor’s note: there are great books, articles, and more – both in and out of the lis literature – if you’re out of grad school or are working in the field but have no interest in the MLIS.]

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: I create informative signage and have an elevator speech prepared for people who say, “Librarian, huh? Why are there still libraries anyway?”

2. Project Management: This is definitely one of those classes I was sure I wouldn’t use until I had a “manager” title. BUT… 8 months into my first (and current) librarian job, I became project manager of our second grade library field trips. I helped write a grant, scheduled all classes (11 schools total), wrote a tour, and reported our evaluation of the program. Bringing all second graders into the library was seen as so valuable that we’ve since added kindergarten and 7th grade versions of this project.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: By keeping our main objective at the forefront of our plans, I avoided multiple epic freak outs and became a successful project manager as a first-year librarian.

3. Digital Tools: This class was the foundation for my entire online presence. I was introduced to professional uses of social media, and it was where I created a Twitter account. Every student in the class had posting access to a Wordpress blog, and we took turns writing about ourselves and about library issues we researched. I learned how a professional post online was different from the LiveJournal that I kept, and how comments can steer a conversation (for better or worse). Also, Digital Tools taught me about the wonder that is open source software, like Open Office and GIMP!

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: While I’ve never been someone with a “brand,” I’m definitely better off than I would have been had I not learned about being a librarian on social media.

4. Behavioral Psychology/Brain Development: These were classes I took for my OTHER master’s degree, in reading education. I’m telling you, though, that if you can take electives outside your program, look for ones that will help you get where you want to go.

Behavioral psychology is a great class to take for anyone who works with other people (basically, everyone). I’m not just talking about the public, here; many librarians work on a team or in a hierarchy, and understanding what makes other people tick can help those “dreaded” group projects and meetings work in your favor. Knowledge about brain development helps anyone who deals with children [Editor’s note: It’s also super helpful when dealing with college students.].

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: This definitely helped me be a better librarian. I know now that an adult’s attention span isn’t that much longer than a child. So my school tours are 7 minutes, and presentations to the Library Board will be 10.

I can’t say that these are classes I planned to take, knowing their desired outcomes. I took classes that sounded interesting or challenging, and didn’t even know when or how I would use them in the future.

What were some of the most valuable classes you took in school?

Sara Bryce is a youth services librarian for La Crosse Public Library. She was a 2013 ALA Emerging Leader and a 2012 Wisconsin Library Association Rising Star. She blogs at Bryce Don’t Play and tweets at @PLSanders

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Night Librarianing is Good for Your Soul

I had an experience last week that is something all directors of small libraries dread: I had a night person quit with no notice. We are fairly much a skeleton crew as it is, and then to lose someone with no hint ahead of time...? Not the worst thing that can happen to a small library like mine, but it's up there on the list. Since we're also lightly staffed with student workers – I opted for quality over quantity, and don't regret it – that was going to leave me with only one person on a couple of shifts, including a night shift. 

The neighborhood where we're located isn't horrible, but we are in a small city and campus is only a couple of blocks away from the little bit of a bad area we do have, so even if I weren't concerned about leaving someone alone for logistical reasons, it's just not safe to walk out alone that late at night. With nobody else available, what did I do? I stayed and closed the library. There really wasn't anybody else who could do it at such short notice, and my staff's safety and comfort is crucial to me.

I've worked nights here before, but never until close. I don't work nights regularly because as short staffed as we are at night, things are even tighter during the day, but I need to figure out a way to stay late at least once per month. Sure, I paid for it for a couple of days: I'm not a kid anymore. However, I saw much at night that I miss during the day, and learned lots about the way our students use the building late at night  learned first hand things I had guessed at previously.

Things I saw:
  • The library is quieter at night, so much so that I never had to police noise levels – students were self-policing. (We share the building with an academic department that has a couple of classrooms, so less noise at night because nobody is tromping through going to or from class. That's not all of it, though. It seems students come to the library at night to get work done.)
  • Quieter, that is, with the exception of the group study space in our basement. That's louder. A lot louder. But not so much that we can hear them on the first floor, so it's all fine.
  • There are just as many, if not more, students in the library at night than during the day.
  • Security guards are more noticeable at night and circulate more. (Our security department is made up of some great people, but I especially appreciate the evening shift.)
  • This was a Wednesday night, but we were pretty full. It's one thing to see hash marks on a tally sheet indicating how many people were in the building, it's something else to see the students jockeying for the comfy chairs and study carrels.
As I was leaving, a little muzzyheaded from being up way past my bedtime, I couldn't help thinking of that scene from Dead Poets Society I posted above. Looking back at that movie now, it seems a little corny and obvious, but when I first saw that movie I was 17 years old and it made a big impression. That idea of looking at things from a different perspective – sometimes literally, other times metaphorically – to better understand it is important, and I sometimes forget that. I need to not forget it, so I'm glad in a way that I had to work until close one night last week. It forced me to do something I should be doing on my own, and I learned a lot.

How about you? How do you keep things in perspective? Look at things from different angles?