Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I Tweet What I Tweet and That's All That I Tweet: Revisiting the Popeye Principal

Typically I don't like to revisit topics, not unless I have something new to say. However, after reading a couple of things from The Chronicle of Higher Education this past weekend, I feel the need to revisit the Popeye Principal - a post I wrote a couple of years ago - with little to no reinterpretation.

The first article I read was "Confronting the Myth of the 'Digital Native'". The article is about a university course that teaches students how to present themselves professionally on social media. (As a quick aside - knowing how to behave on social media has nothing to do with my understanding of digital natives, but maybe I'm looking at it differently because librarian or maybe it's just me.)

The second was "In Defense of Getting Personal on Twitter", written by someone who argues almost the opposite: she argues you should be tweeting things above and beyond whatever your professional identity might dictate.

Flash to this past Sunday, which I think is a nice microcosm of how I tweet...

I share those three here to make it obvious that I fall in the "getting personal on Twitter" camp. I tweet random song lyrics, overwhelmingly cute pictures of bats, fat activism articles, pictures of yummy libations, and so on. I always have. I hope I always will. I'm way more than an academic librarian, and my Twitter feed shows the multifaceted me. As it should. As yours should. Again, I know I'm pounding the same pulpit I did in that previous post, but it bears repeating. Not only is it something you all need to hear regularly, but it's something I forget, too. I sometimes get wobbly for a moment after tweeting unexpurgated Beastie Boys lyrics or similar. But I get over it. And just in case you didn't feel like clicking through to the original post I wrote on this topic that I linked above, here's what I think of as the money quote:
"Perhaps someone will judge me as unfit for a job because of an off-color tweet, or think me too political because of a blog post, or worry about my sanity because of my current obsession for all things Doctor Who. If that happens, then so be it. 'Life's too short' is a cliché because it's true. If someone doesn't want to hire me because of my eclectic interests, then why would I want to work for them?" 
Should you be dropping f-bombs every other tweet, sharing pictures of yourself engaged in illegal activities, or causing general mayhem on Twitter or other social networks? No. Should you be airing other's dirty laundry or calling people out personally? Nope. Should you be trolling people to make a name for yourself? Oh heck no. But neither should you be so focused on being milquetoast in order to keep from offending anyone and think yourself "employable". I know this is easy for me to say since I am currently gainfully employed in the industry I love, but let me remind you I'm also a person who hires in this industry now that I'm a library director. So, seriously... tweet on, mad tweeters, tweet on.

"On the internet nobody knows you're a dog"

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Break Down the Box: Serving Populations, not Clichés, by Jessica Smith


About six years ago I interviewed for a part-time position at a non-profit. I’d already been through one interview with the man who would be my direct superior—the interview lasted more than an hour and was congenial, so I had high hopes for getting the job. The second interview was with a woman from human resources. She seemed to have a list of questions from a “how to interview job candidates” book. She asked me what I would say about myself to convince her I wanted the job if we were in an elevator together and I had thirty seconds to sell myself. As someone with experience working in non-profits and academia, I’d never heard this question, so I said: “I wouldn’t talk to you about myself in an elevator; that would be awkward.”

Then she asked me, “Has there ever been a time when you had to ‘think outside the box’? Can you describe what happened?” …And I knew, even more clearly than I knew when I bungled the elevator question with my “outside the box” answer, that there was no way I would get the job. 

“Thinking outside the box” has become such a cliché that there’s really no easy way to answer the question. It seems to mean, “what kind of innovation can you bring to our company?” But the people who interview for jobs in libraries, non-profits, teaching, customer service, and similar humanities-heavy jobs are probably not great at thinking inside the box. Every day on the job requires synthetically rethinking the job and how to serve the patron/student/customer’s specific needs. There is no box. There are relationships between people.

When I interviewed for the librarian position I currently have, I knew it would be a good fit because no one asked me questions about my feelings vis-à-vis elevators or other boxes. There were sincere concerns about the way the library worked, or didn’t, and how I could help.  No one said “innovation.” No one said “tradition.” They indicated that the system was broken and needed to be fixed. I listened.

The library had been poorly maintained for almost three decades, although some serious innovations had occurred—one faculty member had spent a summer organizing the school archives, the previous librarian had weeded about 10% of the collection, and the librarian before that had converted the paper catalog and circulation to an electronic catalog. The collection was astonishingly out of date; the average age of the collection was 1977 and there were almost no books purchased after 2000 (I took over in 2011). No one checked out books, but hundreds of books were “lost” every year. It took a lot of listening to understand what the problems were and how to fix them. The budget had been inadequate for years, but the board of trustees was ready and willing to help. The faculty wanted to be able to use the library for research, but the collection was too outdated. The students wanted to check out traditional paper books to read, but the fiction collection didn’t have any of the books they wanted. The circulation system was difficult to use; the library wasn’t part of the school culture. The library needed to continue to be a fairly traditional library, but it needed to be a functional library. 

“Thinking outside the box” doesn’t necessarily mean “innovate.” It may be shorthand for “the system is broken and needs to be fixed.” By listening to the population I served, I established that the library itself needed to be “inside the box” – the straightforward book-based research library one imagines. I had to “think outside the box” by thinking about the complex web of relationships between faculty, students, staff, the current collection, the potential collection, the labor force I had, the labor force I needed, and the budget.

If I interview again in the future and someone from HR asks me about a box, I will take a deep breath. Then I’ll ask: what is the box and what do you need it to do? What do your patrons want out of the box? In what ways is the box broken, and how do you expect someone in this position to help?

Jessica Smith earned her B.A. and M.A. in Comparative Literature and M.L.S. at SUNY Buffalo. In addition to teaching Composition and German literature, she worked as a freelance archivist for the Poetry Collection and Charles Bernstein's correspondence for the Mandeville Special Collections Library; she also archived materials for NYPL through Internet Archive. She currently works as the librarian at Indian Springs School, a private school near Birmingham, AL. Learn more at about.me/jessicasmith.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wanna Play?, On Integrating Play into Work

A black Labrador in "play stance." (Source.)

I read an interesting quote this weekend: “The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression.  Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform.” (Although it's not what I was reading at the time, this quote was taken from Dr. Stuart Brown's book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul - a title I immediately added to my To Read list.) That quote got me thinking. It got me thinking about a lot of things, but about libraries and librarianship in particular.

The thing is, I already work to integrate play into how I serve my community. I have run social and fun events and added popular reading materials to collections. This is something I've been doing ever since I learned about need states. Libraries should not be joyless places where people only do work - not even the stuffiest, dustiest research libraries are well served by focusing solely on the academic needs of their community. That kind of exclusivity does nobody any good.

No... what I'm thinking about is how to integrate the idea of play being so essential into how I operate as a librarian and a manager. I feel like I'm already doing some things right. Anyone who follows me there knows that my Twitter feed is only about 25% librarianship and academia - the rest is a mixture of size acceptance, silly animals, and general things that made me smile/think/happy. And then there's my office... I have toys, goofy pictures, and much nerdery all around my small space. Further, I try to do fun things for/with my staff. I've brought/ordered food on multiple occasions, added fun activities to retreats/meetings, gave everyone holiday gifts, and I try to have the atmosphere be as fun and relaxing as possible while still moving forward with projects and such.

But I need to think on this some more. Bringing play into the work place can be such a powerful motivator, so I need to figure out a way to do this intentionally, both for myself and for my staff.

How about you? What do you do, if you're a management type? And the rest of you - what would be your ideal for bringing play into the work place?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Three Bins: My Strategy for Getting the Most Out of Library School, by Andromeda Yelton


In September 2008, I’d just quit my teaching job and started library school. In October 2008, the bottom fell out of the world economy, and suddenly I wondered if I’d ever have a job again. I knew that when I graduated I’d be facing not only my very capable classmates, but a lot of unemployed librarians with more experience, and for a small pool of jobs. I figured I’d better be strategic about my library school experience to make myself as good a candidate for that job as possible. Here’s what I did.

First, I read a whole lot of job ads for anything that sounded interesting. I included ads that were out-of-date or in parts of the country I couldn’t move to, because the point wasn’t to apply: the point was to make a list of all the skills that showed up over and over. Then I divided those skills into three bins:
  • skills I had, and could prove that I had;
  • skills I had, but couldn’t prove;
  • and skills I didn’t have yet.

I then spent the rest of library school generating proof for things in the second bin, and (provably) picking up skills in the third. The proof is critical here - I didn’t want anyone to have to take my word for it that I had those skills. I wanted prospective employers to be able to evaluate externally verifiable evidence with their own critical thinking skills.

Some specific examples of choices I made to develop or substantiate specific skills:
  • Teaching: I could already point to my resume lines about teaching middle school, but I also taught some workshops for the Simmons GSLIS Tech Lab. Campuses are great for this; there are a lot of people who are happy to say yes and give you a venue if you volunteer to do something.
  • Writing: I knew I could do this but I couldn’t prove it, so I started a blog.
  • Integrated library systems experience: Simmons had an ILSes class, so I took it.
  • Coding: I didn’t know much, but I learned more by taking a databases class that included some PHP. Then I developed those skills further by building a database-backed web site as a final project for another class.

As you can see, proof comes in many forms: concrete resume items; your transcript; letters of reference (e.g. from professors or internship supervisors or the like); anything you can put online. Different skills lend themselves to different kinds of proof. The key, in all cases, is you don’t have to take my word for any of this; you can look at my web site or resume or transcript or letter of reference and make your own decisions.

There were, of course, skills I wanted to get that I couldn’t. I could learn about the open source integrated library systems but not the proprietary ones (as it’s hard to get exposure to them outside a workplace). I wanted to develop my leadership skills through activity in student organizations, but my childcare situation didn’t allow for that. I kept telling myself we all have both strengths and constraints; having a strategy let me make thoughtful choices within those constraints.

So I walked right into a job post-graduation, right? Well, no...the economy was still pretty terrible, and I was still geographically constrained. It took the better part of a year to land that job. But in the meantime, I got some contract work doing library things, and I got to meet a bunch of those people that we’d talked about in my library classes - and I actually had something to say to them. And when I did get that job, it was a strange and marvelous one that hadn’t even existed when I graduated.  It took a while for my work to pay off, but it when it did, it snowballed into much bigger things.

Andromeda Yelton does freelance software development; speaks and writes on library technology issues; and teaches librarians to code.  She is on the Board of Directors of LITA and the advisory board of the Ada Initiative. She blogs at  Andromeda Yelton: Across Divided Networks and tweets at @ThatAndromeda.

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?