Thursday, February 9, 2017

Interview Post: Jim DelRosso



Jim DelRosso

Current job?

Digital Projects Coordinator at Cornell University’s Hospitality, Labor, and Management (HLM) Library.

How long have you been in the field?

My first library gig was as a student assistant in 1998. My first full-time library job was as an interlibrary loan specialist starting in 2001. I’ve been at this library since 2006, first as non-academic professional staff, and then as a librarian starting in 2011.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I’m lucky enough to have an actual office, with walls and a door and everything. I’m located in the reference suite of the Catherwood Library -- one of the three library locations that are part of HLM -- along with five other colleagues who also have offices.

More specifically, my office tends to be somewhat unkempt (though I have a monthly calendar reminder to clean it), is lit by a $9 floor lamp from Target instead of the overhead fluorescents, and is decorated with labor posters and silly internet stuff I printed out. I used to have more explicitly geeky stuff, but I pulled that down after reading articles about how that could be off putting. The Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness is still up, though, as are these:

How do you organize your days?
I actually have a specialized way to use my email as a to-do list (which I described on Twitter). Between that and calendar reminders, I usually have a good sense of what I need to accomplish when I’m not in one of my many, many meetings.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
It’s tempting to say “meetings,” especially after that last answer, and some weeks really are dominated by them. I also spend a lot of the rest of the time on email. What both have in common, though, is that they involve me working with my peers here at the Cornell University library, with faculty, with colleagues from my professional organizations, etc., to move projects forward towards completion, or provide sustained service.

What is a typical day like for you?
I’ll let you know when I have one. :D This is my calendar this week:

What are you reading right now?
The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander. The Prydain Chronicles were the first books I ever read, and I revisit them periodically. Right now seems like a very good time to do so.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
“The actor’s underlying motivation should be to get the hell back offstage.” Paraphrasing the late Stephen Cole, from whom I was lucky enough to take an acting class during my undergrad years. This advice has served me well as a teacher and a librarian. It’s helped me as I try to find that important balance between remembering that my interactions with those I work with are not about me, and not letting myself or my profession be erased or undermined.

Do what you need to do, get them back to doing what they need to be doing, but don’t let them forget about you, either.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Learning Robert’s Rules of Order. Driving a van to New Jersey to pick up books (copies of which the library already owned). Contacting state agencies all over the country to ask about their collections of public sector collective bargaining agreements.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Acting. Every winter I grow a beard and tell myself I could play Henry in The Lion in Winter. Both help keep me warm.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Library consultant.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
That quasi-Akashic ability to tap into any piece of human knowledge that they had in the Matrix. Also super-strength and a healing factor, if I get to pick a whole suite of powers.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Probably contributing to DC@ILR, the open digital repository for Cornell’s ILR School. It’s really a peerless disciplinary repository for workplace issues, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

I’m also pleased with my contributions to the Academic Assembly Steering Committee here at CUL. The Academic Assembly is the self-governance body for Cornell’s librarians and archivists, and as such I think it’s one of the most important things I could have gotten involved with. I’m currently chair of AASC, and I’ve really believe that the work we’ve been doing will make the Assembly, and the library, stronger institutions.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
This is a tough one, because of the huge psychological distance between saying, “I mess up all the time!” and actually talking about a specific instance. Also, I have to be vague so I don’t put anyone’s name in the mix who doesn’t deserve it. So...

A few years back, I chose not to recommend someone for a leadership position due to aspects of their work history. If you’d asked me at the time, I would have been adamant that those issues didn’t matter to me at all, but that I was concerned it would upset people further up the chain, cause problems for the project, etc. etc. rationalize rationalize rationalize.

It was obviously a mistake, and even if the decision I made hadn’t caused problems for the project -- and it did! -- it would’ve been a mistake because I denied what I thought of as my better judgment to save myself some hassle. And because, ultimately, even if I really did believe what I claimed to, there was zero functional difference between the actions I took, and the actions that would’ve been taken had I believed otherwise.

It was a mistake, and a failure on my part. I still think about it a lot. And I like to think I’ve learned from it.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Playing some kind of game. Board games, RPGs, video games, these are very much my thing.

OK, that’s kind of a pat lie. I’m probably reading something on my phone. But there’s a decent chance I’m reading something about gaming, or wishing I was gaming.

And lately, more and more time has been spent reading and sharing stuff about politics. That’s always been there, but it’s getting more common, and I’m actually taking more action off of the internet in this realm, too.

That’s likely to increase.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Amy Buckland. Emily Drabinski. Fobazi Ettarh. Aliqae Geraci. Gr Keer. Kendra Levine.

Jim is on Twitter as @niwandajones.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Writing (and Righting) Library Policies

One of the first things that I did when I started in my current gig was to ask about policies and procedures. It turned out that we had these for pretty much every situation, but almost none of them had been written down. (I'll pause here for a moment to let you get over your shock, or lack of.)

After I got over being flabbergasted, I asked that everything be written down and double checked by everyone involved in enacting/enforcing the procedures and policies. That's when I finally got them, and started to work my way through the pile. The very large pile. In between other events, it has taken me up to very recently to finally review and, when necessary, rewrite these documents.

So what am I doing to celebrate this momentous occasion? I'm starting over.

I'm sure at least some of you are asking why I'd do such a thing? Why aren't I happy with the completed work of years? Well, here's a few reasons:

  • Things change. Shocker, I know, but it happens. For instance, I've already revisited the circulation and fines policy, only to find not a single mention of our board game collection. Our board game collection that we've had for 3 years now. You could also be dealing with new laws or changes in your consortium.
  • Personnel changes. It's not ideal, but sometimes you have procedures in place that are tied to specific people. When someone leaves, it's a perfect opportunity to revisit existing documentation. An example of this is that change in administration had us revisiting our inclement weather policies.
  • You change. My library should have had gender neutral bathrooms and a preferred name policy for our OPAC all along, but we didn't. We do now. And it's not that I would have said, "no! no way!" if someone had asked in the past, but I realized recently that people shouldn't have to ask. It's incumbent upon me to be leading the way with making members of our community feel comfortable and welcome in my library.
The thing is, we should all revisit our policies and procedures on a regular basis. Our goals and values may be constant, but the strategies we use to achieve those ends are (and should be) open to change. Our documentation need to be open to change as well.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

On the Psychology of Librarianship: Finding a Center of Gravity, by Catherine Jane Minter


On one of my recent forays into European library history, I alighted on a piece by the Austrian librarian Franz Grasberger (1915-81) exploring the “Psychology of Librarianship” (LQ, 1954). Vintage as it is, Grasberger’s account of the multiple – and often conflicting – responsibilities of the academic librarian will surely strike a chord with others as it did with me:
“The librarian must be equipped to combine in himself almost contrasting faculties: a mechanical and administrative skill with an understanding of spiritual content. To be scholar, organizer, businessman, technician, and administrator and to create a harmonious entity out of these contrasting elements of one’s profession would seem to be no mean task.”
Memorably, Grasberger frames this problem as one of a lack of a center of gravity in the librarian’s work -- producing what he describes as “a relaxing of the psychic tension required for top performance.” This is essentially a mid-twentieth century neuropsychological way of saying that the librarian is often spread too thin to be able to do anything very well.
The problem articulated by Grasberger was not a new one even in his time. As far back as the early 1800s, other European librarians were also aware that the requirement for a good librarian to be a generalist was inimical to the development of depth in any one area. Some recommended that librarians should avoid pursuing scholarly work of any kind in order to avoid crumbling under the pressure of trying to reconcile their generalist jobs with their specialized academic interests. More recently, Blaise Cronin made a similar argument that because librarians (unlike the professorate) have day jobs, they generally lack the focus needed to produce profound scholarship (“The Mother of all Myths,” LJ, 2001). The fact that Cronin expresses his views unkindly should not blind us to the truth of many of them; I would only add that, in my opinion, it’s not so much the day job per se that’s the problem, but rather the scattered nature of the work that fills it – which dissipates one’s energies on the intellectual and psychological levels.
Some of us have it harder than others, I think; and public services librarians may be among the least fortunate. As a subject/liaison librarian at a large public university, my responsibilities include building library collections across seven subjects, and providing research assistance and instructional support across these same subjects – the majority of which I honestly don’t know much about. In my case, having a job that essentially consists of keeping a lot of people happy and dabbling in a host of things that I don’t know well and will never fully master has stymied the development of a sense of specialized knowledge or expertise, or indeed of any understanding of myself as a “professional” at all.
Now more than ever, the practice of librarianship seems to be about pleasing people, as libraries struggle to retain their relevance. This trend troubles me, since the people-pleasing impulse decidedly places the focus of the librarian’s work – the center of gravity -- outside rather than within the individual. Will the next generation(s?) of librarians be more vulnerable to “burnout” or – as Grasberger and his contemporaries would probably have put it – “enervation” than those of the past? Insofar as their energies and focus may be increasingly scattered by the demands of their work, and by an outside center of gravity imposed by a “service orientation” run wild, I would say that the answer may well be yes.
Grasberger’s solution to the problem of how academic librarians can give their work a center of gravity is one that may interest a newer generation of librarians:
"The focal point of this activity [i.e. of the librarian’s work] must be sought in the practical effort of acquiring, storing, and rendering a collection accessible, and this, in turn, must serve as a point of departure for theoretical evaluations. […] The unifying approach is the […] method of using practical experience as the basis for theoretical insights. The librarian’s goal must be a synthesis of theory and practice.”
Or, in other words, the librarian should aim to inject into the practice of librarianship a theoretical perspective that serves to give the practice deeper meaning. In recent months, I have been encouraged by the inclination I see in some MLS students at my institution to do exactly as Grasberger recommends – to use their practical experience as the basis for theoretical (and often critical) insights, thereby injecting meaning into experience that in itself may be lacking in depth. For my own part, I’m working on a change, but it’s proving harder than expected, since somewhere in the midst of all the scattered practice I seem to have lost my center of gravity – and, with it, my direction.
Catherine is currently an arts and humanities subject librarian at Indiana University Bloomington. Prior to this, she worked at the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty Library at the University of Cambridge, and at the library of the Warburg Institute in London. She holds a PhD in German from the University of Oxford, and became an academic librarian when her plans to be a German Studies professor didn't work out. She doesn't regret the decision too often.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Finding Hope

This week is LIS Mental Health week. There's so much I want to say, and could discuss. There's the specter of a completely unqualified candidate for Education Secretary and the reality of the Gaslighter in Chief and his unconstitutional executive orders. We also have the same problems as before, working in a field that is chronically undervalued and underfunded. And then there's the ish of being in the Northern Hemisphere and getting less sunlight than we need this time of year. Basically, this is a recipe for hopelessness. The best way to fight that is to make sure you take care of yourselves. This is too important a time, and we need every single one of you.

I really hope this doesn't come across as preachy, by the way. I know I need self-care reminders, so I'm sharing. Here are things we all need to do. Also, I fully acknowledge that I've covered some of these topics before...

Sleep. You are not going to do anyone any good, least of all yourself, if you are running on empty. And if you are having problems sleeping, talk to a medical professional.

Have a life. You can't just protest and worry about the fate of the world. You can't just work. You can't just any one thing. Spend 5 minutes a day with Duolingo learning a new language. Send a text to a friend.

Try to limit the junk food. This is one where I have problems. I know m&ms are going to make me feel like crap, but I still eat them. Instead, try to eat peanuts or an apple.

Get outside at least once a day. And don't just pass through it. Actually stop and look around. Say hello to the squirrel who is yelling at you as you park your car, or notice the exact color of the sky.

Laugh and cry. You need these releases. I cannot not laugh when watching Death at a Funeral (British version for me, thanks) and I cannot not cry when watching Lilo & Stitch (that scene at the end where he explains his family guts me every time), so when I need a release I'll watch these.

Take care of yourself medically. Don't ignore a persistent cough or a part of your body being sore. If your hopelessness (or anxiety, or mental numbness) gets away from you, go to the doctor - there is no shame in needing medicine.

Try to be self-aware. This can be extremely difficult, I know, so I recommend the tool I use - it's a checklist titled "Everything Is Awful and I'm Not Okay: Questions to Ask Before Giving Up on Yourself."

And most importantly, pay attention to your victories. Small victories like bringing your lunch from home or emptying the dishwasher. Big victories like speaking up for yourself or supporting a protest. Write them down and cherish them like the jewels they are. They're your best weapon against the dark.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Freedom of Library Speech

I've been struggling with how to write this post, and I'm still struggling with the concepts. The idea of freedom of speech is foundational, especially how it intersects with libraries and librarianship, but I'm still working to wrap my head around it. There are a lot of great pieces out there about library values, such as a post written by Meredith Farkas. Then there's the whole Operation 451 effort that is also along these lines. I admire these, and am - to some extent - using them as a springboard for this piece. However, the reason I've struggled with this is that freedom of speech, especially the library's role in that speech, is at best muddied waters. (Sorry for using such a cliched descriptor, but "muddied waters" is still the most apt phrase.) What I'm trying to say is that my writing here is my way of working through my thoughts.

First, we have that infuriating but also beautiful document, The Bill of Rights, that established - among other things - the idea of freedom of speech. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Holy heck, yeah! Give us, the people, the right to yell at our Government, to speak up and out. And let us be exceptionally and explicitly clear here: this prohibits the government, not your neighbor Bob, from curtailing your speech. Bob can stuff it, anyway.

But whenever I think about the first amendment, I think about the fact that there are legal and just exceptions to that freedom. Child pornography is not covered by the first amendment, and neither is hate speech. That makes sense, though. Things that will lead to or are included in committing a crime are generally indefensible, right? But then we come to community standards and who's writing the laws. Things that are legal aren't always right or just.

Add to this the fact that libraries do selectively censor - no matter what anyone says to the contrary. I know of one big library that has some porn, but it's in their special collection and is tied to an alum, but your average library doesn't have Debbie Does Dallas in their DVD collection or Penthouse in with their periodicals. We spend our money as best we can to support the efforts and needs of our communities, and sometimes whether by purposeful or unthinking omission, things get left out. No matter how much students at my school might joke about wanting Playboy, we don't have it (somebody added it to a poll we ran asking students which popular press magazines they wanted here).

Even with all this, I still believe providing access is one of the most important things a library can do. Like it says in Article V. of the Library Bill of Rights: "A person's right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views." At my library, we serve our community to the best of our ability, but it's a balancing act. Yes, all students and faculty and staff are welcome, but if someone is being overly disruptive, violent, or is caught destroying library property, they will be escorted out of the building.

It's not easy to find my way through this issue, but something this important shouldn't be easy. We do need to think about those who are holding the purse strings, but we can't always bend to their dictates. We do need to consider community standards, but sometimes the community is flat out wrong. We do need to protect and provide access to speech, but not hate speech.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm still trying to suss out where I stand on all of this, on the interplay of community and legality and access. I'm trying to figure it out both personally and professionally. I know believe in freedom of speech, but not as an absolute. I know it seems like a lifetime ago, but really it was just two year past that we were saying:

I hope you all will join me in a careful consideration of what we mean by library core values, but most especially what we mean by freedom of speech.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Practicing Library Love


I have a few other posts in the works, including some timely political stuff, but I woke up this morning thinking about the farce that will likely be the senate confirmation hearings this week, and realized I need to write something else instead. At best, the next four years are going to be grueling and perhaps even thankless work for those of us in education and libraries. I wanted to write myself a reminder - and to share it with all of you - of why what we do is worth the work. We need to keep our eyes and minds on the why so I can keep rolling the boulder up the hill.

  1. The moment the light bulb goes on. This is my absolutely favorite thing about working in a library. That moment when you see a student/patron/member of the community get it - it being whatever you're trying to teach them.
  2. Getting the book (or article, or film, or whatever) in the hands of a reader. Ranganathan's rules are still my jam, and finding the reader their book and the book their reader is a fantastic feeling.
  3. The mix of intellectual and fun. Working at a library that supports the curriculum of a liberal arts institution with both traditional liberal arts majors and professional programs means that on any given day I could be talking about board games or about the finer points of research strategies for intensely academic programs - or both. This is a great way to make a living.
  4. Community building. I love working with people in our community, both on and off campus. It's a direct reminder of why this work is important.
  5. Books, books, and what was that other thing...? Oh, yeah: books. Libraries are primarily a people business. I am very much against the fetishizing of the physical containers and am I big believer and practitioner of weeding. But my oh my, I do love working in a profession that is associated with books. Love it.

So, how about you? What are the reasons you get out of bed and go to work every day? What makes librarianing your thing?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Just for Fun: Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016

Like a lot of people, I did the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge last year. I finished the book for my last required category on December 30, 2016, just in the nick of time. I'm so happy with myself for completing this challenge. I stretched myself with some of these books, but mostly I was looking for a way to knock things of my forever long To Read list. It didn't quite work out that way, but I still had fun. Here's what I read for each of the categories, and what I thought of each.
  • Read a horror book: Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss. This was fun. It had the slow burn, slow build rhythm of a gothic horror novel, but with a talking cat and a contemporary setting. 
  • Read a nonfiction book about science: Alex & Me by Irene M. Pepperberg. This ended up being more of an animal memoir than a book about science, so I found myself wishing for more science, but I still enjoyed it for the most part.
  • Read a collection of essays: Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. I got about 1/3 of the way through this book before I gave up. Yes, there was a lot of promise in these essays and stories, but I doubt this book would have been published if the author hadn't been a pretty, white, cishet young woman who died just after her graduation from an Ivy League school.
  • Read a book out loud to someone else: Mee-Yow by Lee Priestly. I love this goofy book that is basically a build up to a goofy pun. Read it to my boyfriend who rolled his eyes almost the entire time.
  • Read a middle grade novel: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Some middle grade novels work well for anyone, no matter the audience, but this one didn't quite do it for me. I liked the idea, but the end was a bit too schmaltzy for my tastes.
  • Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography): Notorious R.B.G. by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik. I enjoyed learning about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but the writing style was a bit off. 
  • Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I had a little bit of a hard time getting the gist of this book at first, but once I did... wow, it grabbed me and never let go.
  • Read a book originally published in the decade you were born: Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. This book was deliciously strange and convoluted. Loved it.
  • Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. This memoir audiobook was one of the best things I listened to last year (and I listen to audiobooks all the time). 
  • Read a book over 500 pages long: Digger by Ursula Vernon. I'm somewhat obsessed with Vernon's writing and with her art, so this forever long graphic novel about the adventures of a wombat and Ganesha was the perfect combination.
  • Read a book under 100 pages long: Four Eyes v. 1 by Joe Kelly. A kid, during the depression era, gets involved with a dragon fighting ring. I always enjoy Joe Kelly's work, so of course I had fun reading this.
  • Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. This was an important book, and I'm glad I read it, but Mock's writing style shows her professional origins (popular press magazines) and was not to my taste.
  • Read a book set in the Middle East: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. I loved this book. Loved it. Rich world building; relatable, flawed characters; and an engaging story line.
  • Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia: Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan. The characterizations of women in this book made me put it down shortly after I picked it up. Sexist nonsense.
  • Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900: Salamander by Thomas Wharton. This was another slow build kind of book, and a convoluted story, but so lovely.
  • Read the first book in a series by a person of color: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. This was, perhaps, my favorite thing I read last year. It was also the last thing I read for the challenge, so it's fresh in my memory, but dang I loved this book. Great characters; a surprising plot; and rich language.
  • Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years: Mae #1 by Gene Ha. I was not a fan. It was too slow to start and the characters didn't grab me.
  • Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better: Skellig by David Almond. Nothing to debate here - the movie was horrible because they changed too much about the story. Ugh. No. Just read the book.
  • Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes: Shrill by Lindy West. I liked this book, but I didn't love it. I did identify with a lot of what she said, but... Yeah.
  • Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction): Getting Unstuck by Pema Chodron. Ani Pema's writing is what sent me down the path to embracing Buddhism, and this was a helpful book for me.
  • Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction): BioGraphic Novel: The 14th Dalai Lama by Tetsu Saiwai. Learning more about the Dalai Lama was nice, but as sequential art goes this was kind of meh.
  • Read a food memoir: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I know it's not just about food, but the first third of the book is about her eating her way through Italy so I think it counts. And I loved this book so much that I bought a copy for my own collection.
  • Read a play: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling. This reads like mediocre fan fiction. Don't do this to yourself, even if you are a fan of the series.
  • Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I also gave up on this book. I just can't handle books where women are more object than subject.
I had so much fun doing this challenge. Even the books I ended up hating weren't wasted effort. For instance, I've always thought I *should* read Eugenides, and now I know I don't have to.

In 2017, I'm going to do a different challenge - something I've designed for myself. Like so many other people, I buy more books than I read... and I put even more books on my GoodReads To Read list than that. So for 2017, I am going to make myself stick to the unread books I have already decided are worth reading - whether by purchasing them or by putting them on a list. I'm going to allow myself a loophole, however: if one of my favorite authors publishes a book, I can buy and/or read those books, too.

I'm claiming this goal publicly in hopes that you'll help me stick to my goal. I have so many unread books on my shelves and on my To Read list that it would take me around 17 years to read them all if I read at my current rate. I know I'll give up on and/or change my mind about some of those book, but I'm never going to get through the list if I keep adding to it.

So, I've got a lot of reading to do. Feel free to give me this look if you find out I'm breaking my promise to myself.

How about you? What are you planning to read this year? Or are you just going to take it as it comes?