Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Taking December Off

For a lot of reasons, mostly other scholarly/lis writing projects, I've decided to put the blog on hiatus for December. Be back in 2016!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

You Can Get Anything You Want...

I know that the audience for this blog extends beyond the borders of the United States, but here in the US it's a holiday week. One of my traditions for this week is that I must listen to "Alice's Restaurant" as many times as I possibly can. If you've never heard this song, I think it's time for you to fix that. (It's a true story, by the way.)

If you're in the US, I hope you have the holiday week that you want to have. If you're not in the US, sorry for the interruption in service. But really, listen to the song.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Working at an Overseas Library, by Kimberly Sweetman

If I ever go on Jeopardy I have a topic to guarantee some kick ass small talk with Alex Trebec during my introduction. “So, Kimberly, you have lived in a country that most people have never heard of…”

It all started when my phone rang one spring day in 1997. I was working in Washington, DC, at my first-ever real librarian job. The job was at a grant funded information clearinghouse with somewhat unstable funding, so I was kinda looking for a new job. Then a former colleague called and told me he had something for me if I wanted it.

Before library school, I had worked in the Health Sciences Library at Emory University. One of the great things about the job was my colleagues. Every last one of them was fantastic. One, John, was studying for his MLS at the time we’d worked together, and when he finished he went to work as the Associate Library Director at an offshore medical school. When my phone rang in the Spring of 1997, it was John telling me he was leaving this job, and if I was up for a little adventure it was mine. 

The school flew me down to Dominica for more of a meet-and-greet than an interview. I checked out the island and the campus and then got the inside skinny from John. He said it was an odd place, likening it to Rudolph’s island of misfit toys. While the natural beauty of the island was amazing there was no doubting it was the developing world. There was a lot of poverty and a significant lack of infrastructure. The roads were in disrepair and people drove like maniacs—as someone from Massachusetts I know rough roads and wild drivers, but this was beyond even my experiences. The campus was not beautiful—tin roofed temporary buildings that all looked identical. There was also the threat of hurricanes, tsunami, and volcanic activity.

But one thing stuck out in my mind: I could not think of a single reason not to take the job. Sure, the job I had at the time job was good but I was outgrowing it and who knew if it would even be there in a year’s time. I had no spouse, no mortgage, no kids. I didn’t even have a pet. I would be leaving lots of friends but even in 1997 we had email and phone service (although we wouldn’t have Skype for another 6 years). And there was one huge draw: the money I would earn. First there was the foreign earned income exclusion, the cap of which was higher than my salary. No federal income tax! And there was a seriously reduced cost of living. As someone struggling under $30,000 of student loan debt at the time ($5,000 of which I had already paid of thanks to cheap rent and a second job at Macy’s), this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The only obstacle that remained was telling my parents, who were surprisingly ok with it. I guess the moves I’d made to my first graduate school in Atlanta and the second, when I realized I wanted to a librarian, in Washington DC had prepared them. My mother’s reaction was perfect: “you’ll be able to say you spent your 27th year living in the Caribbean and you’ll have cocktail party conversation for the rest of your life.” She was right.

And so I moved to Dominica. It wasn’t always easy living there. Electricity failures were common, and I lost my water almost every day. Also, I had to start from scratch in almost every way—making friends, getting around, paying bills, buying groceries. I arrived on the Saturday of a holiday weekend to an empty refrigerator and shops closed for the next 36 hours. Thankfully my sister had sent me off with a generous portion of baked ziti that wasn’t confiscated by customs officials.

Socially it was hard. I had never before been the “other.” I grew up in a fairly homogeneous environment and living in Dominica was very enlightening for me. But eventually I learned to fit in. I made Domincan friends, friends I still have to this day. I also met plenty Americans and British, most of whom were a little unusual. A good friend—another American living on the island—described them as “two standard deviations from the norm.” The first was that they were academics, so somewhat odd already, and the second was that they were willing to move to a small island nation and work at an offshore medical school. It’s basically the same thing that John meant by “the island of misfit toys.” But in the end, that was part of the charm.

This experience changed me, and prepared me. I came home without any student loan debt and with a nice little bag of money. Because I was an assistant library director I was given management responsibility very early in my career that I never would have gotten in the US. I had to grow and adapt and change quickly, which helped me mature as an individual. I learned to appreciate what it meant to grow up in America which was something I had never considered before that point. Most importantly, now I know I can pick up and move to a totally new place and know that overall everything will be ok.

And you know what? I did it again. Four years ago my spouse called me and said, “I’ve got something for you if you want it: a transfer to Amsterdam.” Again, the only barrier for us was fear. Fear in the face of change is natural, but because of my experience in Dominica, I know fear isn’t reason enough to shy away. There may be legitimate reasons not to go on an adventure, but for me, fear isn’t one of them.

I’m not young anymore. Now I do have a spouse, a mortgage, a kid, and even some pets. But my adventure became part of who I am and taught me not to be afraid of change. It taught me to manage risks. I remember the day I announced my move to Dominica , a friend from college called me as soon as he heard. He was excited for me and said,“sometimes you have to grab the brass ring.” The public at large probably doesn’t think of librarianship as a particularly adventurous career move, but like any career, it is what you make it. And we manage change and risk all the time. We grab the brass ring.

After spending 20 years in library public service, Kimberly Sweetman now works as a consultant and coach helping libraries and library people to reach their goals and develop superior service through exceptional leadership. She blogs at kimberlysweetman.com and tweets as @sweetcoachcons. This is her second post for Letters to a Young Librarian. The first was "Are Your Colleagues Dumb? Read This."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


There is a storify of our Twitter conversation from this afternoon, but here are the questions we asked:

Question 1:
Question 2:
Question 3:
Question 4:

As of this moment, the Storify is a bit messy. I had a hard time juggling between participating in the discussion and capturing it. I plan to go back in later this week to clean it up.

Moving forward:

We are exploring what to do next, but one thing we know for sure is that we will have another Twitter discussion in the future. If you were unable to attend and want to chime in, please do so in the comments or continue to use #libleadgender on Twitter.

Thank you all for not only participating, but for being so respectful of us and each other. Sometimes I really really love this profession.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Listening and Being Listened To, by Michele Santamaria


My former colleague, let’s call them "M," was completely baffled that someone could get a job recommendation letter from a person whom they had never met face-to-face. M was questioning the validity of a recommendation letter written by a library school professor who had only interacted with our candidate during online classes. The candidate in question was someone who had been hired in a temporary position at our library and whom I had never met. However, I knew that the candidate had alienated M by implying, either accidentally or intentionally, that M’s view of librarianship was hopelessly out of date.

In fact, I had been warned by someone who had worked at the library for a very long time that it was very important to show M respect. Which I did. But I also showed her respect by engaging her in real dialogue and occasionally challenging her preconceptions. This discussion about the recommendation letter was one of those moments.

When it came to discussing this lack of face-to-face contact, I pointed out that I knew several excellent librarians in an "In Real Life" context who had attended the same online program and that this was the way many people were becoming librarians in our geographic area. Given the number of library schools and the economic realities of life, this was the best way for most people. To riff on the language used by Jessica in a recent post, I created a bridge between online and real life, a rift that M didn’t like to traverse. M nodded cautiously; at this point, they didn't think that I was full of crap, so I took it as a good sign.

This particular conversation took place during the summer when there was less stuff to do. I sat down and spoke with M for about an hour. We would do this sometimes.  Though M was the most senior of the librarians and very set in some ways, I felt that M was willing to listen to me. Maybe part of the reason for this is that M felt the same way about me, hence the title of this post. These times with M resonate for me, given some recent commentary about newbies needing to do a better job of absorbing the institutional knowledge and context before showing up with brand-spanking new ways of doing things that may not be a good fit. Meredith Farkas’ fairly recent editorial piece in American Libraries comes to mind.  

I agree that listening to seasoned librarians is essential and that overzealous young librarians may favor change at all costs rather than smart change that is a good fit to their institutional context. However, in exploring my dialogues with M, I want to draw attention to the fact that there needs to be reciprocity between generations of librarians. Ageism cuts several ways. Or put in a less-like-academic-speak-way, I listened to M because they listened to me. M didn't necessarily agree. M would frequently advocate for their point of view. But at least M was willing to entertain that I had something to offer and that they might want to rethink their preconceptions. I felt heard by M and this made me feel less alone in that particular workplace.

I knew for sure that M listened to me when I made a comment about some strategic plan language sounding "outdated” during a meeting. Two librarians who had drafted this particular piece of language looked at me funny. It would not be a stretch to say that they gave each other a knowing look and then glared. M, who was the oldest by several years, said that what they thought I was trying to say was that the language had become so commonplace that it no longer sounded fresh.  Which was exactly what I was trying to say. Perhaps it would have been wiser, in a way, to say "clichéd" though I might have sounded more judgmental.  Honestly, I would rather sound harsh than ageist.

So I wish that the younger me had been more careful with my words, though it was kind of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't situation."  But mainly, the older me is grateful towards M for mirroring back what I was trying to say and grateful towards the younger me for at least being wise enough to sometimes realize the importance of listening. So listen, young librarians and seek out colleagues who are also willing to listen. 

Michele Santamaria is the Learning Design Librarian at Millersville University. She is also happy to say that she is the Subject Librarian for English, foreign languages, and Latin@ Studies. While she has published in other genres, this is her first real blog post. She tweets at @infolitmaven.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dealing With Self-Important Concern Trolls

"I believe that we owe our fellow human beings a certain amount of compassion and courtesy and respect, and to listen to their complaints and grievances. We should ask ourselves whether those complaints and grievances are valid, and whether we can help - and in some cases, ask whether we are the author of those grievances, and if so what can we do to resolve them.
But I also believe that after a certain point, it may become obvious that some people just want to complain, to to be angry, or to be an asshole, or whatever, and that nothing a reasonable person can do will ever make those people happy or satisfied. So you give them a quarter, metaphorically or otherwise, and tell them to call someone who cares. Because you have other things to do. And then you go on doing those things you need to do."
~John Scalzi, from "Here's a Quarter
I know I'm a little behind with reacting to the above quoted piece. I can show you my work calendar some time if you want an explanation. Regardless, I was glad of the serendipity of finally getting a chance to read that blog post from John Scalzi last week, because I really needed that advice. You see, In the Library with the Lead Pipe published the article I wrote with Michelle Millet last Wednesday, and as happens whenever anything about gender and empowerment is published, we had a few "but what about the mens?" type comments. In short, while we were discussing the disparity between the gender breakdown of librarianship as a whole (roughly 80% women and 20% men) and our leadership (roughly 60% women and 40% men), someone was upset that we weren't talking about how librarianship is only 20% men.

There was some discussion, but best response came from one of the Lead Pipe editors:
Even if I'd wanted to discuss numerical disparities, there's only so much one can fit in a short article... especially one in which my coauthor and I specifically stated that we were speaking specifically from our frame of reference. But here's the thing: this happens every time an article on a controversial topic or even a marginally controversial topic comes out. Write an article about the experiences of indigenous people and you'll get some self-important concern troll asking why the author hadn't mentioned the experiences of other people of color. An article about transgender men will inevitably get angry comments about how hard it is to be a cisgendered gay man. Any piece about the problems of existing within Community A gets at least a couple of responses yelling about what a crime that the authors ignored Community B. Of course this happened to us. I was glad that Ian responded, but I barely engaged with the naysayers. It's not that I'm going to quiet myself or try to pretend that I'm a meek woman (can you imagine?), but I only have so much energy for problem solving.

And that brings me back to the quote up at the start of this post. I'm not advocating that you turn the other cheek. Definitely defend yourself if attacked. But remember that some people - like the "what about the mens" concern trolls - aren't ever going to be satisfied. So offer them the proverbial quarter so they can call someone who cares, and then show them the exit.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Just For Fun: Movie Quote Lexicon

That tweet up there got me thinking about how often movie quotes work themselves into my lexicon. Some of them I use so much that I have occasionally forgotten where/how I started using them. I thought it would be fun to follow Rebecca's lead, and come up with a list of my most frequently used movie quotes. (I could probably write an equally lengthy post about language I've borrowed from books and another one about television shows, but not yet.)

"It must be indicative of something besides the redistribution of wealth."

This quote is from one of my all time favorite movies (that was based on a play by Tom Stoppard): Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I used it as shorthand for things that don't make sense but feel like they should make sense. And let's be honest: in higher ed and libraries, that feeling comes up a lot.

"This ain't my first time at the rodeo!"

When I tell people that I quote Mommie Dearest on the regular, everyone always thinks wire hangers. How is that useful in everyday conversation, huh? On the other hand, I have frequent opportunity to respond to someone who thinks I'm a newb when I'm not. What better way to express that than...

"It's a moral imperative."

Real Genius is one of my favorite movies from the 1980s. Like many movies from that era, I know it practically by heart. There are lots of other times I quote this fantastically 80s movie, but this comes up most often.

This quote comes up when I'm trying to talk someone into something they really want to do anyway.

"Who the f*** are you, man?"

There are so very many quotes from The Big Lebowski that are part of what I say daily. That comes up most often, but I've also been known to say:

"Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

"Obviously you're not a golfer."

"You're not wrong, Walter. You're just an a**hole."

"Hey, nice marmot!"

But the most frequent quote is definitely from the scene where The Dude meets Knox Harrington. It's a useful internal dialogue I have with myself when random vendors cold call me.

"So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."

One of the all time most quotable movies, am I right? Caddyshack is also a guaranteed cheer up, feel good movie, even with all the misogyny and classism.

That line, though. So useful in so many circumstances, but most especially helpful when things are kinda crappy and I'm trying to make a joke of it.

So how about you? What movie quotes do you use regularly?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Interview: Derrick Jefferson


Derrick Jefferson

Current job?

Communication Librarian in Research, Teaching, and Learning. American University, Washington, DC

How long have you been in the field?

Started library school and service hours at various libraries as part of my program in 2010, completed MLIS in 2012.
How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I have a corner cube where I can spread out a bit, phone, pens, books, headphones, etc., all at an arm’s reach. The bulk of my instruction colleagues, as well as the supervisors of our Research, Teaching, and Learning unit, are nearby. I often will pass through the admin office to say hello and check in with technical services. I may do this a couple times a day as a reminder to get up and away from my desk, and to encourage and maintain dialogue with other departments and units for which I have the utmost respect; there’s no way that I can do the job I do without the efforts of others who work so well and seamlessly with myself and others in research and instruction. At my actual workspace? Headphones, tunes, water bottle, post-its.

How do you organize your days?
There’s a lot of email wrangling. I’m sure that’s prevalent for many folks, not just those of us in libraries. I check in regularly with my faculty to make sure books, resources, course reserves, and so on, are up to snuff or if there are new titles/products that should be on my radar.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend a lot of time planning and working on my instructional load for the School of Communication students and performing other liaison duties for that school. Between that and prepping for classes, and individual appointments with my students, that’s the bulk of my day! I’ve been surprised in the time I’ve been here at AU that many of my appointments are working with graduate students. Some are working as GA’s for faculty and their respective research and others are just returning students who’ve been out of school for ten or twenty years so research and libraries are different from what they remember. Getting them back on track and familiar with the resources we have is important.

What is a typical day like for you?
I’ve been here at AU for a little over two years, and now that I’m settled in, I focus primarily on instruction with students, supporting my faculty, and tending to the research needs of both within the School of Communication. With that, my typical day is rather atypical. But there is email, meetings with various teams and colleagues, collection development, and staying on top of new trends and things happening in the field. I also keep one foot rooted in diversity and inclusion issues on campus and in the profession as well.

What are you reading right now?
Everything! I used to be a very dedicated reader because it helped me with my writing, but after returning to school and reading mostly textbooks and academic articles, I had to abandon it. I’m really excited about writing again and reading good work gets me there in terms of inspiration. I just read the most fantastic short story called “Charity” from a short story collection by Charles Baxter called, There’s Something I Want You to Do. There’s this amazing shift in the narrative halfway through the story that I just loved. Masterful. I’ve also really enjoyed Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and I’m nearly done with Morrison’s God Help the Child. She is just so powerful and skillful with how she uses language and voice. I miss the verve of her earlier work, but I feel like I see a lot of it in this new novel. Lots on my to-read shelf: Purity, Americanah, Drown, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, A Brief History of Seven Killings, A Little Life, and in non-fiction Between the World and Me, Ghettoside, and Negroland.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Someone told me once, essentially: What makes you a good librarian was already in place before you ever thought about becoming a librarian. All the tools were already there. In hindsight, I think that’s true. I try to be kind but firm, honest but real, exercise compassion and consideration because we all know what it’s like to lose, to suffer, to be on the outside looking in. It sounds cliché, but I chalk it up to my parents who worked so hard so that I could have the life I’ve had. I mean, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain,” to quote James Taylor, but I love what I do; I honestly do. 

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Buying games. Board games, video games, old consoles and cartridges from eBay, Ticket to Ride, Game of Thrones games, Twister. It’s cool and I love being able to support our new gaming master’s program. I’ve had to learn a lot rather quickly with how our program approaches gaming which isn’t say, designing games to be a game designer, but looking at how something like Pandemic can be seen as an analog and teaching tool to say the recent Ebola outbreak from last year. It’s pretty great.

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?
Part of me still thinks I’m somewhat of a pastry chef. I enjoy cooking and am very ambitious once I’m ready to make things happen in my apron. I thought about culinary school but I don’t know if I want my enjoyment of food things to extend beyond my current hobby status. I went to film school before I became a librarian and in many ways having that kind of insight into something can alter your perception and enjoyment of it. With that, I always thought I’d be a great pharmacist. I enjoy working with and helping people and I think working with people in that capacity...kind of like a doctor, but not a doctor would be pretty awesome.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Prison guard.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
The ability to take away someone’s pain.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Interestingly, it’s not one big thing or event, though there have been some great moments and achievements. I honestly am proud of the opportunity to engage with someone in the midst of a research dilemma and to witness when they “get it”. Something clicks and you can see it in their eyes. People come to you in crisis, right? At the last minute and feeling like they’re painted into a corner, which is awful. But even then, seeing someone back down from the ledge a bit when they realize that they’ve figured out how to make the assignment or capstone or dissertation happen; how to find the citations and articles and books that will ensure the literature review is going to work, or their term paper. I think people have a pretty set definition on what a librarian is, and I’m probably not that at all. We can do a lot of things and helping people? I’m pretty proud of that. 

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
This isn’t really a mistake, but almost four years out from my library degree, there’s still so much I don’t know much about. Scholarly communication, governance issues, open access, grants, impact factors; some of it is just the nature of higher education, but there is a lot of crossover with academic libraries. In some ways I feel woefully ignorant of how that aspect of the job works and I owe it to myself as well as my faculty, to stay current on these things as it certainly informs the work we do. [Editor's Note: I'm almost 13 years out from my degree program, and there's still so much *I* don't know. I think most of us feel that way, at least if we're being honest.]

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
I love music. So I’m almost always cruising around either in real life or online for used records. I grew up on hip-hop, just as it was springing forth as a cultural art form. But I can’t keep up with a lot of the new stuff, so I listen to 80’s and 90’s golden age stuff. Also, a lot of soul, funk, and groove tunes. Lately, I’ve been in a big jazz frame of mind getting lost in Miles and Coltrane and Monk. And Nina. Always Nina Simone. I do love the physical act of playing a record and playing it through.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Shawn Calhoun, Eamon Tewell, Gina Murrell. Three people I only really kind of know through social media circles, but admire and would love to know more about.

Derrick Jefferson is on Twitter as @geekandahalf.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Little Bit About the Importance of Peers


Only a short post this week, but it's a bit of a do-over. Yes, I'm going to revisit a topic. But it's been on my mind again, so I want to write about mentoring. Specifically I want to talk about peer mentoring. I've found my groove at work this semester, and I never would have been able to do that without a broad group of people who supported me in one way or another. Lately, I've been relying a lot on fellow library administrators. Before that, I had a good network of instruction librarians. 

Yes, we need the support of those who've gone before. The last library director I worked for prior to becoming one myself helped me take this step, and still helps me sometimes. But as important as that assistance was, in some ways the people who tell you to be gentle with yourself are even more important. And that's what peers do for you. When you make a mistake, peer mentors are the ones who remind you that you really were trying your hardest. When you have a triumph, peer mentors are the ones who stop you from denigrating your accomplishments. We need peer mentors because they keep us honest.

What about you? What have your peer mentors done for you? 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Letter to a Young Alt-Ac Librarian: Yes, We’re Out There!, by Laura Braunstein


Note: While I had been working on a guest post to send Jessica for some time, I was inspired to respond to a recent post from Abigail Phillips, who wrote, “Librarians with PhDs have so much to offer the practitioner world of librarianship. We just have to figure out how to promote our degree as an advantage not a disadvantage. It sounds weird to say that having a doctorate opens a lot of doors, because it closes almost as many. I wonder if there are other LIS PhDers like me out there.”

For many young librarians — young at heart, if not young in years — librarianship is a career change. Pursuing a library career may come after years committed to academia — perhaps the young librarian has completed a master’s or PhD, and has heard about or experienced too much misery on the dismal job market to invest a single additional second looking for a tenure-track faculty position. That’s what happened to me shortly after the beginning of this century.

Flash back nearly fifteen years: I finished my doctorate in Victorian literature and, after years as a student, I was burned out. I had taken an interesting job with a scholarly non-profit, but I wanted to be back on a university campus. One day I stumbled upon a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Todd Gilman, then as now the English librarian at Yale. In a series of posts, Todd extolled the benefits and challenges of librarianship for PhDs who were looking for a career change. This was a revelation — I wanted to work in higher education, but not as a professor. I wanted to teach, but not to grade. I wanted to work with information, knowledge, and research — but also with people. Within hours of reading Todd’s column, I signed up for an open house at a library science program that was tailored to the schedules of working professionals. In a year and a half, I finished my master’s degree (I was privileged, in a sense, to have had a decent credit rating and to qualify for loans that I’m still paying off.). After a reasonably challenging but not disheartening job search, I began working as a librarian in a position where I support and engage with teaching, learning, and research. 

What has changed since then for recent PhDs who are interested in librarianship? What is now known as the alt-ac (for “alternative academic”) movement has reared its desperately needed head. While PhDs in the sciences have always had non-academic opportunities, faculty are now more willing to advise doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences regarding alternative careers, and to direct students to campus resources for “versatile PhDs.” These days, many LIS programs are now wholly or partly online, opening access to far more potential students.

So, if you’re a recently minted PhD, ABD, or MA, and you’ve decided to pivot over to librarianship, what should you do?

Informational interviewing. Ask the librarians you know (and I hope you know them if you’re in a PhD program) about their career paths. Find out how many different kinds of librarianship there are — something I didn’t know when I started. Your doctoral program activities may suggest a career path. Did you teach first-year writing? You may find many of your interests shared by information literacy programs. Did you do descriptive bibliography? You may want to be a cataloguer. Did you edit an open-access journal of graduate student scholarship? Look into being a scholarly communications librarian. Did you develop a digital humanities project? Many libraries are hiring not only DH librarians, but programmers and data visualizers. 

Research. You’re good at that. Find out what LIS programs are available in your area. Can you get credit for your PhD coursework? Are you eligible for scholarships from ALA or other professional organizations? Look into opportunities at your current university. Can you job-shadow, intern, or volunteer on a library project? Can you take a temporary or support staff position to learn more about how libraries work as organizations?

Read. You’re very good at that. Read articles in the Journal of Academic Librarianship, Portal: Libraries and the Academy, and C&RL News. If you’re here at Letters to a Young Librarian, you’ve already found a great source of advice, but there are many more blogs out there. A few of my favorites are Hack Library School, In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Library BabelFish, ACRLog, and Beerbrarian

Join and Socially Mediate. What was your specialty in graduate school? There is probably a branch of librarianship focusing on that subject, with its own professional community, including the ACRL Literatures in English Section, SALALM, and (the other) MLA. Many of these groups have their own Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and provide formal and informal mentoring programs. Your state library association or ACRL chapter could provide networking and grant opportunities. Twitter is a great place to start library-career conversations; every Tuesday evening at 8pm EST is #libchat, and the #altac community is well represented.

Good luck in your career transition. We need you at the library.

Laura Braunstein is the Digital Humanities and English Librarian at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. Find her on Twitter at @laurabrarian.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ode to My Guest Authors

Something weird happened to me recently, and I wanted to talk to you about it. But first, let me show you what I mean:
That tweet from the author of the last guest post... it startled me. I guess it never occured to me that I have an option of not supporting and assisting someone who is willing to write for my blog. Yes, I've had some success, and this blog has become somewhat of a platform for me, but I wouldn't have made it past that first year if not for the guest bloggers. LtaYL is well over the half million views mark (about 200k of those in the last year alone), but those stats are more a testament to the people who give me their time and words than they are to me. Each and every one of those guest authors have done me a favor, so why wouldn't I support them?

I've been writing this blog for a long-ish while now. When I started, I had one goal for Letters to a Young Librarian: "to break down the barriers between library schools & students and professional librarians." Somewhere along the way, that goal expanded to breaking down other barriers: between kinds of libraries, between administration and frontline librarians, between professional and paraprofessional, and those barriers we somehow build between and among ourselves.

It's that last goal that has become my most important focus. Collaboration and cooperation are crucial for libraries, no matter the communities we serve. The key, though, is not just talking but also listening. It really needs to be a conversation. Besides, I learn so much when people write for this blog. I get to listen to their experiences. I get to give them a venue so that others can listen.

So, you're welcome Jessica Schomberg, but also thank you.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My (Library) Life with Invisible Disabilities, by Jessica Schomberg

My first job in libraries was as a page in a public library. Shortly after I started, a librarian tried to have me fired because I have diabetes. This isn’t speculation, this was the actual reason given. And while this occurred after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, it was well before the passage of the 2008 Amendments, which explicitly covers people like me, who can mitigate our condition with medication. Fortunately for me, the library director had been diagnosed with diabetes the week before, or my life story might have gone in a very different direction.

(Are you wondering, dear reader, whether I got diabetes because I’m an “innocent victim” or because I “deserved it”? You’re not the first. Keep reading.)

This blog post was prompted by several things. By Ta-Nehisi Coates’s  Between the World and Me, which presents an embodied view of discrimination. By a blog post by Netanel Ganin (@OpOpinions) in which he talks about disabilities as a social construct rather than a medical one, a post which has caused me to completely rethink who I am in this world. But it was mostly due to Jessica Olin’s use of anime eyes in her call for blog posts. Who can resist anime eyes?

How do you cure a social ill? How do you define people with disabilities? How do you make libraries accessible to people with disabilities? I have struggled for a long time about whether or not to identify as disabled. By calling myself disabled, am I being disrespectful to my sister, who has very visible disabilities and whose economic and career prospects are impossibly constrained? I have a job that I enjoy: I can accumulate savings: I can “pass.” And after all, it’s only when my body doesn’t work “normally” that I feel disabled… or is it?

About a decade after I was not fired from my first library job, after receiving my shiny MLIS, I was looking for full-time library jobs (like you do). And one of the people who worked at one of the places I interviewed told me not to disclose my medical history or I wouldn’t be hired. Not because I wasn’t qualified (I was), not because I didn’t have a good performance record (I did), but because I occasionally need to take time to keep my body working in its ideal condition and that makes people uncomfortable.

(No, dear reader, I’m not going to name that library. Just imagine it’s where you work, because that’s close enough to the truth.)

Now, fast forward another decade, and I am employed in a satisfying career and now also supervise, mentor, or otherwise provide leadership to a team that includes other people with disabilities. Knowing what I know about living with my own disabilities, living in a world where I am/we are repeatedly identified as sub-optimal, what does that mean for me-as-leader? It means:
  1. Recognizing that control is an illusion.
  2. Recognizing that different people with disabilities are first and foremost different people. Not all people with disabilities are magically going to get along. Not all disabilities are the same. I try to go into conversations by asking what people need to succeed, what impediments they’re dealing with, and by discussing work expectations of ourselves and others. If someone doesn’t trust me enough to share that, I try to work with people they do trust to make sure they have the resources and support they need even if it’s not coming from me. To re-state: making sure that the people on my team have what they need to do their jobs is more important than being either rule-bound or being recognized as their rescuer.
  3. Recognizing that many of us have swallowed the idea that productivity is more important than people. [Editor’s Note: Yes!] This sometimes means explicitly pointing out when work expectations are unreasonable, or harmful, or cause us to miss opportunities. If we’re not willing to examine how some of our practices exclude co-workers from full participation, how are we going to be mindful of our users? And vice versa.
  4. Recognizing that I’ve swallowed the same delusions that non-disabled people have. From another angle, recognizing that I’m part of my team. My energy level varies greatly depending on what’s going on with my body or how untenable I’ve let my schedule become. I have spent decades trying to “pass” or “overcome” my disabilities. I’m not sure that the profession  would have let me in if I hadn’t done those things, but now that I’m in a leadership position I feel an obligation to call out that expectation. That means letting my coworkers who have emotional leadership skills do that work without feeling the need to be Mr./Ms./Mx. Amazing Perfect Leader. It also means allowing myself to take the breaks I need without beating myself up. Because I’ve internalized those messages about normality and productivity, this is sometimes incredibly hard for me. It is thanks to many kind, generous, and sensible library folk on Twitter that I’ve been able to make progress on this.
  5. Resisting the urge to bop people on the nose when they say “everyone has a disability.” No. They don’t. I suck at math, but I haven’t been almost fired for sucking at math. I haven’t had to fight with insurance companies for the medicine that keeps me alive because I suck at math. I haven’t had to restrict my activities and monitor every aspect of my daily life because I suck at math. I have to do all that because my immune system killed my pancreas.

(We’re at the end, dear reader. And going back to the first question, I’m not a victim unless you make me one. And no one deserves diabetes, or any other type of chronic illness.)

For more on this topic, see Susan Wendell’s The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability.

Jessica Schomberg is currently serving as Library Services Department Chair at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where her other hats include Media Cataloger and Assessment Coordinator. She tweets as @schomj.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Continuity or Revolution: Choose Your Own Adventure

A little while ago I saw this tweet:
I shared that with a friend who then introduced me to the idea of "Kuhnian Paradigm Shift." Thomas Kuhn was a philosopher who looked at scientific development. He proposed that, unlike what had been conceived previously (and what I mostly learned in k-12, decades after his most important work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was published), that scientific progress is not a steady thing. Rather than being an inevitable march forward, science goes through longer periods of tinkering and refinement, interspersed with major upheaval.

This strikes me as deeply relevant to libraries and librarians. Bringing this idea down to the day-to-day level, I don't think continuity is the worst thing in the world. We librarians are human (well, most of us are) who are supporting the needs of our community, who are also human, and humans tend not to like change. I'm including myself in this category. Unexpected change can bring both sleep and tummy troubles. And yet, I also consider myself an innovator. Practical innovation is a particular passion of mine. Seeing that tweet and subsequently learning about Kuhn has me thinking about change in libraries and higher education, and about how it happens both quickly and slowly. It also has me thinking about how we bring about how we and our communities react to them.

So what am I trying to say here? I guess it's that we need to be mindful of our own practices and preferences, but also recognize that not everyone feels the same. I've heard "because we've always done it that way" used in so many different ways. For some it's, "but I'm open to other ways of doing it." For others it's, "and I'm really afraid of changing because I'm a slow learner and I know how to do it this way." And yet others mean it to say, "and can we please change it yesterday?" Whether you're a stalwart champion of the status quo; or a tinkerer who makes things incrementally better; or are the Galileo of the library world who is going to cause upheaval on an inconceivable level... think about that question up there every once in a while. Think about our preference for continuity - not as a bad thing nor as a good one - before you choose the next step.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Just For Fun: Fire Bad, Tree Pretty

Here's the thing about being a fan of BtVS: it's a kind of equalizer. People who watched it when it was originally broadcast as well as people who are just finding it now have this lovely thing in common. It's not just the memories of Cordelia hating then loving then hating Xander, no. It's also about a common vocabulary. I once said, "Fire bad. Tree Pretty," to a friend, and he knew exactly what I meant (which was that I was too tired from doing hard but important work to have a coherent conversation). That's the best part of being a member of a fandom: the common vocabulary. I'm not going to try to convince you to watch this show. If you've clicked through to read this, I'm assuming you've already seen it. I'm assuming you love this show, too.

Now, let's talk about what makes it so fab:

Rupert Giles

He's a librarian. He's British. He's hilarious.

William the Bloody, a.k.a. Spike

Let's be 100% clear: when it comes to all of Buffy's many love/sex interests, I have always been and will always be Team Spike. He's more fun than any of the rest. He values her for her, plus let's not forget that fantastic leather coat.


Also, I adore Anya. From her fear of bunnies to her love of capitalism, she was a great part of the show.

Once More With Feeling

And then there's the music episode. Yes, I know all the words to all the songs by heart. Yes, even "They Got The Mustard Out."

So how about you? Did I include your favorite thing about the show? If I missed it, let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lifting One Another Up

I was recently asked to describe my ideal job, and the first thing that came to mind was that I want to work somewhere that I can help support and promote and lift up others, but especially other library professionals. I was fortunate to work for some amazing library directors and with some truly supportive coworkers, so I know this isn't a unique perspective. I'll never forget the time my director at my immediate past job sat me down and said something like, "We've talked before about how I can help you do your job better, but today I'd like to ask you how I can help you progress in your career." It blew my mind, really. And that conversation was fortunately timed, because it was shortly after I'd started to get the inkling that I might want to be a library director myself. I confessed to that ambition and he responded along the lines of, "okay, let's get you ready to apply for those jobs," and gave me a specific lists of things I needed to cultivate. He even pulled me into meetings with vendors so I could get an idea of what to expect.

I've tried to live up to their examples as best I could, to support and build up the people who work for me and who turn to me for advice. I've always felt this was important, this is what we're supposed to do. This ideal is so much a part of my day to day that I frequently forget it's not everyone's ideal. I was abruptly reminded by a recent post from The Library Loon, "Building One Another Up." It's worth a read, but I think the most important passage is:
"It is so easy to tear people down. So easy. It is so hard to build them up, not least when that option hardly seems to be on the table."
So let's do it. Let's put this option on the table. Let's talk about ways administration can support their staff:
  • Making sure everyone has professional development opportunities, even if it means giving up our own opportunities on occasion.
  • Not taking credit for the ideas of others when things go well.
  • Taking some of the blame when things don't go well.
  • Working to and with people's strengths.
Let's talk about ways to support coworkers:
  • Offering help as often as we ask for it.
  • Being open and friendly about things when we disagree.
  • Concentrate on behaviors and not personality traits when things go wrong.
  • Sharing the spotlight.
  • Phrasing things kindly and honestly when giving feedback.

Am I always a paragon of these kinds of behaviors? No. I'll admit to that time I basically told a coworker to shut up. I'll also admit that communicating with different kinds of people within the realm of libraries was a learning curve for me. But my instincts are to be kind and supportive.

What are some ways you've built people up?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Long and Winding Road to Librarianship, by Natalie DeJonghe

Once upon a time, in a land far away, I was a high school English teacher. At the ripe old age of 22 I was convinced I had my life plan all worked out. Teach long enough to work off my fellowship, get my MA and then my PhD in literature, teach college, and live happily ever after in academia. I really enjoyed teaching and was lucky enough to have student taught in a school with a great staff and administration, so this plan seemed completely feasible.

I like to think I was a fairly decent teacher and that I did some good in the world. But that wasn’t the whole story. There was a teacher in my department that I did not get along with; we will call her Ms. PITA. She had a tendency to run students out of her class which left her with classes of 11 or 12 students while other teachers were handling classes of 35. I was not subtle about the fact that I thought this was complete and utter crap that placed an underserved burden on me and my colleagues. My colleagues told me they appreciated my willingness to say things no one else would. My principal, on the other hand, told me I wasn’t a team player. Five years of repeatedly being told I wasn’t a team player and that I had a bad attitude. Five years of listening to that while absolutely nothing was done about the fact that Ms. PITA wasn’t pulling her weight and was bullying kids out of her classes. So I left.

I moved back home and through a series of very fortunate events I ended up in librarianship. I was excited for a fresh start in a new career. Only this time, I was determined to be more of a team player. And what my principal had taught me was that being a team player meant keeping my mouth shut and my head down. So that’s what I did. I went to work, I did my job, I didn’t volunteer for things and I didn’t want to be involved. I was my own little island of librarianship. So I had a great new career plan, go to work: answer reference questions, get my MLIS, and spend the rest of my days as a librarian. 

There was, however, one small snag in my plan. One of the problems currently plaguing librarianship is that there are a whole lot of librarians and not a whole lot of full-time positions. With many libraries receiving less funding, full-time positions are decreasing in favor of having multiple part-time staff. This was the situation in my library. We had five reference librarians, one full-time and four part-time. Our full-time librarian was a middle aged guy who had no intention of leaving anytime soon so my chance of advancement was zero.

After I got the degree,I started looking for full-time jobs and was very fortunate to come across the position I now have. When I first started, I referred to myself as a “sort of” librarian. My job involves doing a lot of training for library staff and deals exclusively with e-books. I have zero contact with print books in my job and work in an office building instead of a library. I had my degree and I worked with libraries but didn’t really feel like I was a librarian and, to a certain extent, I felt like I was trespassing when trying to find my place in the field. But to be honest, this didn’t bother me a great deal at first because I was happy being my own little island.

This has changed for the better over the last two years as I inadvertently became less and less of an island, mainly through the influence of my boss and Twitter. I’ve met a lot of people, many not working in traditional library positions, and became involved in a number of projects and committees. After five years of being in the field, I finally feel like I’m a legitimate part of it. I think this is something that many people in the field struggle with, especially those coming to librarianship as a second career.

There is no short and simple checklist of what makes a librarian. No one size fits all job description or clearly marked path from start to finish. These are not bad things but they are things that can make it difficult for people to feel like they have a place where they belong in the field. It’s important to remember that just because your job doesn’t look like someone else’s idea of what librarianship is, doesn’t mean you don’t belong. 

Natalie DeJonghe is the e-book trainer/coordinator for the eRead Illinois project where she enjoys smooshing her education and librarianship backgrounds together in all manner of entertaining ways. She tweets as @InkyLibrarian.