Thursday, October 2, 2014

Just for Fun: A Panoply of Song

I've heard plenty of people cast aspersions on creative writing degrees. "What are you going to do with that? Almost nobody makes money with a creative writing degree!" However, the lead singer of The Decemberists, Colin Meloy, turned a creative writing degree into a mountain of highly literate and literary songs with the help of his bandmates. How could I not devote a "just for fun" post to this band?

For instance, look at the title of this post: "a panoply of song" come from the song "June Hymn," off the band's most recent album - The King is Dead. (In case you're curious, "panoply" means "a group or collection that is impressive because it is so big or because it includes so many different kinds of people or things," according to Merriam-Webster. Yes, I did have to look it up.) I mean, come on! Who uses words like that in a rock-n-roll song? The Decemberists, that's who.

Here are some more of their songs:



By the way, "The Crane Wife" is based on a fairly famous Japanese fairy tale.



Don't you just dig the cinematic awesomeness? Gorgeous stuff.



Rhyming "legionnaire" with "disrepair"? Seriously? How cool is that?

So how about you? Are you a fanboy or fangirl? If not, what do you think? You going to give this amazing band a chance?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ello? Nope.



This was originally going to be a long-ish post about the ins and outs of ello. I got an invite early last week and immediately started playing around with what seemed like a new toy. I spent time learning how to upload, how to post links and gifs and whatever else, and how to use ello. I had lots of notes and was gathering quotes from other newb users, but then I saw something that had me change my mind so much that I deleted my account.

What happened? Well, I learned about their business model (tl;dr is that the people behind the business took money from venture capitalists which means ello might not be selling our information now, but they will almost certainly sell us out later on). There's no mention of the almost $500k they took on their page about why they don't have advertisement on the site. The old truism of "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product," isn't always true, but it's something I keep in the back of my mind when I hear about "free" things. And it came back to me when I learned about the venture capitalism.

The truth is, I should check out these things ahead of time. However, the allure of an ad free, privacy oriented online social network was more than I could resist. I should have known better, really. And okay, I'm a bit of a hypocrite here... I've sold my soul to Android/Google and am 90% comfortable with that. I've also sold my soul to Twitter and Facebook, with varying degrees of comfort. I do have one frequent shopper card... I cringe every time I use it, but I still use it. And now I find out I bought the magic beans again? Again, I say, "nope." And, to quote one of my favorite movies, I say...


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Hospitality and Your New Staff Member, by Megan Brooks

Oh new manager, a staff member left your team and lucky you filled  that opening with someone new. New manager, you’re responsible for orienting your new staff member so they can begin doing their job as quickly as possible - moving from them knowing information to having knowledge. . And while it’s easy to forget to plan an orientation, don’t! You’ll cause your staff member unnecessary angst.

Image © gapingvoid and used after permission was secured by the author.


My philosophy for orienting new staff members revolves around the word hospitality. Blame my college education at Benedictine Catholic institutions and my exposure to the Rule of St. Benedict (particularly Chapter 53). I believe being hospitable and offering “warmth, acceptance, and joy” as I welcome new staff is the best possible way I can imagine to establish a mutually respectful working relationship. Plus, regardless how you feel about monks from the 6th century, it’s fun to be hospitable!
welcome.png


But hospitality takes effort. New manager, you must work hard to prepare for your new staff member. What you’ll find below is how I prepare for new staff member Taylor to join my workplace.

Pre-Arrival
Make sure Taylor fills out ALL applicable paperwork at Human Resources as soon as possible, well before starting work. Why? Taylor likely won’t be able to get any computer accounts, phone accounts, or paychecks until the paperwork is complete. To be without email or access to a computer on day 1 is a particular form of preventable torture, and not hospitable at all.

Have office keys ready. Make sure their computer is wiped clean, both physically and digitally. Clean their office and desk before they show up. Cleaning desks not your job? Pshaw. Put on some gloves, grab a trash can and some disinfecting wipes, and get to work. Would you expect a houseguest to change the sheets before getting into bed at your house? This is no different.

Fully prepare an orientation schedule and email it to Taylor a couple of days before they start. Also email:
  • information about where to park or how long it will take to walk to the library from public transportation
  • what normal working hours are and when you expect them to arrive on their first day
  • food: is there a fridge to store lunch, are there places to eat nearby, or are there vending machines available?

Finally, let Taylor know that you will eat lunch with them their first day, and will invite the search committee to join you. While brown bag may be your regular routine, I recommend going out that first day solely to save Taylor the stress of having to pack a lunch.

(Note: I have forgotten to do these each of these things with different staff members in the past; learn from my embarrassment - it’s mortifying!)

The First Day
Unless you have an unforeseen emergency or a long-planned trip happening, be there for Taylor’s first day at work. Don’t expect to get anything else done at work that day - clear your schedule entirely so you can focus solely on Taylor (even though you won’t be together the entire day.)

  • Welcome them as they walk through the door.
  • Get them settled into their office, give them office keys, and make sure they can login to their computer and that email, phone, and any other accounts work.
  • As part of the tour you will give them, make sure they know where the all the bathrooms, kitchen, and emergency exits are located. Taylor may prefer to use a gender-neutral bathroom or require the use of a lactation room; ensure you know where those spaces are and show them as a matter of fact in the tour. Actions like this make an important, welcoming first impression.
  • Introduce Taylor to as many people as possible while you are on the tour. Not introducing your new staff member to people in the library is weird and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Don’t be weird.
  • Eat lunch with the search committee and Taylor, but as the person who will see the most of Taylor, try to be quiet and let others have the chance to get to know Taylor.
  • Give Taylor  time to settle into their workspace  and to start working on the to-dos on their draft orientation schedule.

Finally, on that first day, you and Taylor should have high-level discussion about their first few weeks in your organization. Go over the orientation schedule, update it if there are changes, and let them know that you’re available to answer any questions they have at any point.

After the First Day
My rule of thumb for scheduling Taylor’s first week is (when possible) no more than 3 scheduled things per day. MPOW requires staff to work at a busy, complex service desk, so much of our initial training revolves around desk operations. Your positions may be different, but make sure that operational training starts early and continues often.

This file contains a modified version of a recent staff member’s orientation schedule. They were hired as a research and instruction librarian, had never worked at our kind of service desk before, and started a month before the academic year began. The top part lists things I expected them to complete on their own; the middle lists daily meetings for their first two weeks, and the bottom lists other useful information. Feel free to use this as a template or guide for your new staff members, or to come up with something completely different that suits your needs. But, for the happiness of your new staff member, don’t just wing it! Prepare for them, welcome them with warmth, acceptance, and joy, and above all, show them hospitality.



Megan Brooks is no longer technically a young librarian, having earned her MLS way back in the 20th century. She is currently director of research services for Wellesley College’s Library & Technology Services. She’s on Twitter as @librarygrrrl. This is the second post she's written for Letters to a Young Librarian. The first was "Job Fit Revisited: What to Do When You Are the Square Peg."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's Data Got to Do with It?, by Elizabeth Psyck

Source

Let’s get one thing out of the way: While “data” is technically the plural of “datum”, colloquial usage has shifted to make the use of “data” as a singular acceptable. I have a Google frequency map that backs me up on this.

Whether you agree with me or not on the singular/plural use of the word data, it’s hard to argue that data is becoming more important to libraries and librarians. Whether you are collecting and analyzing your own statistics to see whether your library still needs a reference desk, or reading the latest ITHAKA report, it’s almost impossible to avoid. Like many librarians, I don’t come from a data or statistics heavy discipline and learned everything I’m about to share while on the job. Trust me, even if it looks scary right now, you can do it. With these 7 handy tips, you’ll soon be a data superstar! Or at least someone who can look critically at a report full of numbers and ask the right questions about what those numbers might mean.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative
Qualitative research involves descriptions, thoughts, feelings, opinions, and other things that can be observed but not measured. Quantitative research involves numbers and measurements and cold hard facts. Neither type of research is objectively better, but they do impact the questions you can answer and the arguments you can make.

Independent vs. Dependent Variables
Independent variables are the inputs or the things you do that influence (directly or not) the dependent variable/the results/the outcome. (For that to make sense, you also need a theory as to how and why these variables are related.) My personal (possibly unpopular) opinion is that it’s incredibly difficult to frame library work in terms of independent and dependent variables and we should be careful about getting too hung up on those terms, which can imply causation.

Causation vs. Correlation
Closely related to my last point, correlation is not causation. Correlation is when one variable changes consistently with another. Causation is when one variable causes the other to change. It’s really, really hard to argue causation in the real world because people and behaviors are complicated. That means it’s nearly impossible to isolate influencing factors. Did Student A get a better grade than Student B because A met with a librarian? Or is it because B had 3 papers due that week and is only taking this class for a general education requirement and was ok with getting a B-? I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever argue causation, but isolating the impact of the library in order to rule out all other possible factors (which is how you prove causation) is extremely challenging.

Samples Matter
Convenience samples – a research group chosen because they were available and easy to get involved – are bad. Don’t be a bad researcher. Ok, that’s probably a little harsh, but I do think that libraries rely way too much on convenience samples. I understand why, but research involving convenience samples don’t support sweeping arguments that they are often used to make. Example: asking the people in your library whether it’s a welcoming environment tells you whether people who are currently using your library at that time/on that day find it welcoming. It’s a biased sample because many people who don’t find your building welcoming just won’t come in the front door. A random sample in this case would help you find those people who study in a coffee shop or the student center instead of the library.

Age Matters
Data goes stale. Your library’s last large survey on information literacy might have taken place in 2008. That doesn’t seem so long ago to many of us (myself included), but to give you context I was still an undergraduate in 2008. My undergraduate classmates have finished law school and are assistant district attorneys. Old data doesn’t represent current students. Think of data as a snapshot that represents a single moment in a rapidly changing environment.

Anecdata
Humans are storytellers, which means that stories are more meaningful to many of us than numbers. Just because a story feels meaningful, doesn’t mean it actually is. Don’t fall into the trap of anecdata, giving more weight to the stories we tell (patron X writes a letter about how important a service is) than the numbers (only 10 people used the service in the past 6 months). Remember, each anecdote is a single data point.

Be Consistent
Whatever you do – be consistent about the questions to ask and how you interpret results. If you aren’t consistent, your results aren’t comparable.


Elizabeth Psyck is the government documents librarian at Grand Valley State University. If you’re extremely angry about her use of data as a singular, you can reach her at psycke@gvsu.edu or @psyckology. She finds writing biographies in third person weird, but not quite as weird as writing them in first person.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My (Incredibly Awesome) Writing Group


First, before explaining my writing group, I want to give credit where credit is due. The inspiration for how we run things came from a lot of different places, not just one. Part was inspired by a workshop I attended at ALA Annual, "Get Writing! Overcome Procrastination, Remove Roadblocks and Create a Map for Success." Part comes from the book Publish and Flourish by Tara Gray (a book that a previous writing group brought to my attention). Part comes from How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia. And finally, part comes from the weird and wonderful confluence of the three members of the group - me, Michael Perry, and Nicholas Schiller.

Second, if you're having a hard time getting yourself to the keyboard, having to answer to someone else can be a huge help. I've participated in writing groups before, and I recommend it very highly. I'm going to tell you how my current writing group works, but there are lots of other permutations you can explore. I especially recommend looking at the handout available at the "Get Writing!" link above for other suggestions.

Third, here are the rules of our writing group:
  1. We must bring at least 500 words of writing to the group every week. This writing can be almost anything related to our professional lives, such as blog posts, book proposals, or grant narratives. (500 may not seem like a lot, but there have been weeks when it's been almost impossible.)
  2. We set goals from week to week and hold each other responsible. Example of goals: "I'm going to revise the blog post I brought last week;" "I'm going to write an outline of the chapter I have due at the end of next month;" "I'm going to find some outside reviewers to give me feedback."
  3. If we don't bring the 500 words and meet our goals, we suffer the wrath of the disincentives. Yes, you read that correctly: instead of using incentives to encourage writing, we use disincentives to discourage slacking. We have chosen two organizations that we all find abhorrent, and if we mess up we have to donate to one of these places. $5 for a first infraction; $10 for a second; $20 for a third; etc. And yes, we've got rules about one "Get Out of Jail Free" card per year and special dispensations for "acts of God."
Finally, here is how our meetings go:
  1. In case you didn't already know, my writing group doesn't live near each other. Mike is in the Chicago area; Nick is in the Portland, WA area; and I'm in Dover, Delaware. This means we meet via Google Hangouts.
  2. We meet for an hour every week, come hell or high water. (Well, there was that one week we were all so swamped with work that none of us could see straight...)
  3. We stick to this agenda every week (which really does take the whole hour):
  1. Quick check in to see if we’ve met our goals for the last week;
  2. Each person takes turns getting feedback;
    1. 9 minutes for everyone to read & make notes;
    2. 3 minutes each for the other two to give verbal feedback;
  3. Goal setting for the next week and emailing the electronic version of the document to the author.
There's something about this combination that really works for us... so incredibly well that I wanted to share. What do you think? Could this work for you?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Don’t Believe the Myth, You Can Change Library Types, by Maribel Castro

Source

After 14 years, it was time for a change.

Though an accomplished school librarian, I had hit a plateau and needed a whole new set of challenges. The choices for me were to either seek these challenges within the world of school librarianship or to look to a whole other area of the library profession. As it happened, a move to a new city resulting from my husband’s job change served as the perfect opportunity to pursue try something new.

I had always held a deep interest in academic librarianship and polled a number of my academic librarian friends regarding their work. I was excited about the new possibilities and applied for two research and instruction positions in my new home town. My ego took a hit when I received two rejection letters. I had assumed that because I had name recognition as an active member of our state library association that I would magically receive an interview. Since I needed a job, I accepted a position as a high school librarian working with an incredible team, but still held on to my goal.

I continued to eye every academic librarian job that was posted and continued to seek advice of friends who are academic librarians. I periodically updated my resume to highlight my most recent jobs, duties, and titles. I had no idea that it would be three years before I would see the perfect posting for an academic librarian. This time, I took a whole different approach.

Doing an Honest Self-Inventory of Your Skill Set

I began objectively assessing my challenges in applying for this position. My strategy was to emphasize my skill set through my years of instructional experience, my expertise in electronic resources, and my experience as a systems librarian- areas where my academic librarian competitors might be at a disadvantage. I printed the job description and became intensely familiar with it. I placed check marks next to each of the required and preferred job qualifications and listed my skills separately. I stayed honest and did not “inflate” any of my skills.

I also agonized over every single word of my cover letter, particularly since my academic librarian friends informed me that hiring directors and search committees “weed” out applicants based on the cover letter. There are many online resources to help librarians who are in the job market write the perfect cover letter. Additionally, online resources are valuable tools to assist in “selling” yourself, as well as avoiding the tendency to sound prefabricated and indistinguishable from the pack.

In essence, my self-inventory served as the guide for my cover letter. It provided me with the foundation I needed to stress my qualifications.

Getting “The Call”


After the intense work of looking at my skills through a new lens, I was thrilled to receive an email from a library director requesting a “time to talk” about my candidacy. It happened very fast- I answered the scheduled call that was, indeed, a phone interview. After I hung up, believing I did not do well, I felt it was pretty much over for me. However, as I pulled up to our home, I received the call inviting me to a face-to-face interview. I was still in the game!

While I did not yet have the credentials as an academic librarian, I knew that my mission would be to demonstrate my confidence in my abilities during the job interview. By the time I got to the job interview I had committed the job description to memory. In addition, I had spent countless hours becoming intimately familiar with the university’s library site, its resources and usability. The library website, I determined, was in need of an overhaul.

From my instructional experience, I had a keen sense of how students interacted online when seeking information. I would leverage this skill in the interview. Furthermore, I planned to constructively utilize my perspective as an “outsider” to delicately critique areas of need. For example, the job description specified duties pertaining to electronic resources, but what improvements would I recommend?

When asked by the library director toward the end of my interview if I had any questions, I asked, “Are you happy with your online interface and presence?” The exchange between us for the next hour clearly indicated to both parties we were the right fit for each other.

It’s Been a Year!

Just last week, my library director mentioned to me that I had simply “jumped into the deep end of the pool” when I started my job, now over a year ago. It was a challenging first year to say the least. I conducted 82 research classes, migrated our library site and guides to LibGuides CMS, learned to code to a much more sophisticated level, and took over the duties of managing our electronic resources within the first term. Becoming a subject specialist, understanding tenure, publishing, university committees & politics, outreach, are next on my plate, but I was right! I knew I could do this job and I’m so thankful to my library director for taking the leap with me.


Maribel Castro is the Electronic Resources & Instruction Librarian at Lubbock Christian University Library. She tweets @eatdrinkbooks.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Planning to Plan 2: Middle States Draft Standards




Please read the first part of this two part series for background about the Middle States Draft Standards and why I'm writing about them. Seriously, I'll wait while you get caught up if you haven't yet read last week's post. 

You ready to move on? Cool. Now, onto the remaining standards.

Standard V: Educational Effectiveness Assessment

I cannot recommend Nicholas Schiller's piece about value and values and assessment (published on this blog) highly enough. When you read my comments on this standard, please know that I have his ideas in mind. 

I could easily copy and paste everything from this standard into this post since it's pretty much all pertinent. However, I'm going to highlight a few choice phrases to concentrate on the pieces that are most relevant to libraries and librarians in higher ed.

From the standard itself: "Assessment of student learning and achievement demonstrates... appropriate expectations for institutions of higher education."

From criteria: 1. "clearly stated educational goals;" 2a. "define meaningful curricular goals with defensible standards for evaluating whether students are achieving those goals;" 2c. "support and sustain assessment of student achievement and communicate the results of this assessment to stakeholders;" and 3. "consideration and use of assessment results for the improvement of educational effectiveness... consistent with the institution’s mission."

As I read through the draft CHE standards, I kept thinking about the ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education and the assessment plan I've written about in the past. I also thought a lot about the draft Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education, another topic that's been discussed on LtaYL. The phrase "defensible standards" in 2a is the tie to these other documents, but it's still problematic for me. I, for the most part, agree with the Standards for Libraries in Higher Education, but I have serious misgivings about certain parts of the draft Framework. This means that those of us who are involved with instruction at my current library are going to have to have a conversation on this topic. See the above linked post (written by Jacob Berg) about the draft Framework for background, but I'm not entirely convinced that every part of the Framework is defensible.

Regardless of the source of the "defensible" aspect, it is clear that this standard and these criteria have bearing on all campus units that are involved with the educational efforts of the institutions. It's about using both internal (school mission) and external (relevant professional organization) markers to assess and evaluate. It's also about making changes based on those assessments. 

An example of this can be seen in our information literacy program. Since the college has a new core curriculum, we are trying a new approach to information literacy instruction. We piloted our new approach last semester and are going further with it this semester. We're assessing this time. With the one session I've run already, the professor created an assignment based on my suggestions (yes, you read that right - love him for being so open). The best part is that he's going to let me see copies of the finished assignments, with the student's personal information removed, so I can judge the efficacy of the info lit lessons. The librarians here will look at the results and make decisions about how to tweak, or not tweak, these sessions in the future.

Standard VI: Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement

This standard and its criteria are still about assessment, but more on the side of connecting budget to the results of assessment and planning. Are our financial decisions being made to support the goals of the institution, and can we prove it?

While much of this standard is at least tangentially related to the library, there are three in particular that are highly related: 1. "institutional objectives, both institution-wide and for individual units, that are clearly stated, assessed appropriately, linked to mission and goal achievement, reflect conclusions drawn from assessment results, and are used for planning and resource allocation;" 2. "clearly documented and communicated planning and improvement processes that provide for constituent participation, and incorporate the use of assessment results;" and 9. "periodic assessment of the effectiveness of planning, resource allocation, institutional renewal processes, and availability of resources."

Again, not only are you assessing and planning in line with the goals and desired outcomes, but are you putting your money where your mouth is? 

To remind you, we recently wrote a new mission statement: "The Robert H. Parker Library at Wesley College supports the academic and research success of our students, faculty, and staff, in the true liberal arts tradition." It's that last phrase, "true liberal arts tradition," that I keep in mind when I create purchase orders for things like board games and write check requests for vendors like the therapy dog organization. "Liberal arts" is more than job training. It's about the joy of learning, and about learning for learning's sake. Further, "success" takes more than just hitting the books again and again. I can even tie my argument for getting a graduate assistant in my department's budget to our mission statement, too. And that's what Middle States wants to see.

This standard also made me feel like a bit of a slacker since I haven't gotten the library committee together in over a year, but that's a horse/post of a different color.

Standard VII: Governance, Leadership, and Administration

While it's clear that this is mostly about the board of trustees (although some schools have a board of regents) and upper administration, part of the standard and one of the criteria still jumped out at me as relevant to the library. From the standard, "The institution is governed and administered in a manner that allows it to realize its stated mission and goals in a way that effectively benefits the institution, its students, and the other constituencies it serves." And the first criteria: "a clearly articulated and transparent governance structure that outlines roles, responsibilities, and accountability for decision making by each constituency, including governing body, administration, faculty, staff and students."

As an administrator, even if I am middle management at this school, I need to keep our mission and goals in mind in an obvious way. I also need to articulate how I am doing this to our constituencies. Further, I (and the rest of my staff) need to be part of the decision making process on a campus-wide basis. We are working to get librarians and library staff better integrated into committees beyond our walls, and have had some success. There's still a way to go, but that I can document our progress is important.

----

And that's the whole point of accreditation/reaccreditation. Yes, do the things, but also be able to prove that you do the things. We met last week to talk about this draft document. Talk revolved more around how to tie this document to our existing assessment plan than anything else, but we also spent a bit of time discussing how to have this inform our strategic planning process. Our vision statement is next up, but as we articulate our vision of the future for this library, we will keep this draft document in mind. Our vision will be of an institution that proudly lives up to both internal and external expectations of what a college library should be.