Tuesday, April 25, 2017


I'm in the same situation I was about a year ago: a few things in various stages of written, but none that I think are ripe for finishing and publishing. So I'm once again looking for suggestions.


Here's what I'd like to hear about... do you:
  1. Have an idea for a topic that you don't feel comfortable covering yourself?
  2. Want me to revisit something I've talked about in the past?
  3. Have some other kind of question/idea for which you'd like to see my response?
  4. Want me to revisit a topic I've covered in the past?
Hit me up! Email me or @ me or comment here. I'm waiting to hear from you!


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Three Things That Worked for Me in My First Professional Librarian Position, by Emma Olmstead-Rumsey


I was hired for my first professional librarian position in March of 2016. The rash/generous institution that first gave me the ‘librarian’ title was the Cromaine District Library, a public library serving a small town and the surrounding rural area in the southeastern part of Michigan. Librarianship is not my second career, so this was the first time I’d been given any professional responsibilities, let alone ones that (theoretically) required an MLS.

I’m sure I could have taken it as a vote of confidence, but after brief trainings on the building, emergency procedures, administrative procedures, the ordering system, etc., my manager pretty much left me to my own devices to work out how best to spend my 20 hours per week. Here is what I found worked well for me in the first few months.

#1: Read a lot…
Unless you work in one of those rare libraries that is hands-on about training, you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands for the first few weeks. Keep yourself busy by reading everything you can about your new library and community. I read our Wikipedia page, the town’s Wikipedia page, and a bunch of demographic information from the U.S. census on my first desk shift. I also looked through all the brochures, quick reference sheets, etc. that had accumulated on the reference desk. I even spent an entire afternoon in the back looking over our staff intranet and opening any folder that sounded like it had information I should know about. It gave me a lot of useful context for my work, although obviously not everything turned out to be current or relevant. Which brings me to…

#2: …but don’t believe everything you read
Library workers are hoarders, of documents as well as items [Editor’s Note: Ain’t it the truth?!]. If a policy is updated, you can bet good money that instead of trashing the old one, the new one will be saved as “Policy revised mm-dd-yyyy” in the same folder, and the file name will only be changed if you are lucky. Also, the policies and procedures in practice never look exactly like their written versions. Accordingly, pay attention to what your coworkers actually do and say, not just to the written policies. I was fortunate enough to be in easy earshot of the circulation desk when I was at reference, so I spent a lot of time eavesdropping on the staff there to learn how it was normal for staff to talk to patrons, and vice versa. Similarly, it was what I focused on when I was shadowing my manager and colleagues on the reference desk, because I already know how to conduct a reference interview. This helped me a lot to learn which "rules" existed only on paper, and how the librarians and the clerks divided up responsibilities. It even helped me make educated guesses about who was the best person to go to if I myself had questions or needed help—whose response style would fit me the best.

#3: Get a project (I recommend weeding)
Although you’ll have a variety of responsibilities other than staffing the desk, a lot of them can be hard to pick up when you’re new. For example, my library schedules programs months ahead of time in order to advertise well. That turned out to be a good thing, since it was a big challenge for me to figure out what would and wouldn’t go over well with the community, and to do that I needed some experience and information that would take time to get. But if you don’t have anything to do but be on the desk, you might go a little crazy. The project that saved me was weeding. I was assigned my areas of collection management right away. I had a written collection development policy to reference, training in weeding tools, and familiarity with the principles of public library collection development. In short, I had everything I needed.

Making weed lists kept me entertained on the desk when it wasn't busy, and spending time in the stacks when I was off-desk helped me get to know my collection really well. I was a little worried that I would get a reputation for getting rid of library materials rather than adding to the collection, and I sort of did, but not in the negative way I was expecting. My librarian coworkers didn't pay much attention at all, but the clerks and the pages (who have to pull items on hold and re-shelve materials, and thus don't appreciate overfilled shelves) noticed my work and as a result I started out on good terms with them right away. Heavy weeding early on also left me in excellent shape later when I got busy with my other responsibilities. I could let weeding slide for a little while, knowing that I had plenty of space in my collection areas for new materials.

I have just passed the one-year mark in this position, and this approach continues to provide a good foundation for my work there.

How about you? Would you do anything differently?

Emma Olmstead-Rumsey fell into public librarianship as a fortuitous result of dropping out of a Ph.D. program in history and received her MLS in 2014. She is currently an Adult Services Librarian at the Cromaine District Library in Hartland, MI and a Public Services Librarian at the main branch of the Capital Area District Library in Lansing, MI. Some of her areas of interest are accessibility, collection management, and evidence-based practice.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Self-Care Revisited

Seven months ago, I wrote a post that was all about self-care. With the state of things in national/international politics, and the fact that today is National Library Workers Day, I figured it was time to write another self-care post. So, here are some things to bring you joy or smiles or hope or at least satisfaction.
  • Joy: Finding a new favorite author. A couple of years ago, I noticed a bunch of people talking about the work of Seanan McGuire, and after a couple of more pointed discussions (one with Jenica Rogers, I remember), I decided to give McGuire's books a try. And now she's my favoritest author.
  • Smile: Taking the plunge and hanging out with Science Twitter. I'd been flirting with this part of the Twitterverse for a while, but I saw a recommended list of STEM people of color and followed them all. Then I followed some more scientists. Among other things, I've gotten to learn about: bird identification, scat of all kinds, and awesome sharks. Bonus - they love librarians! (If you want a rec for who to follow, look at who I'm following on Twitter and search for "science".) The smiles are so frequent.
  • Hope: I'm planning to attend a March for Science on 4/22. I haven't decided if I'm going to DC or to Philly, but I'll be attending with a work friend - one of our science professors. 
  • Satisfaction: I've made some good progress on a couple of work projects that got held up by other work priorities.
  • Joy: Binge watching. I had to take a couple of sick days last week (not as joyful, I know), but I watched two whole seasons (that have recently been added to Netflix) of The Great British Bake Off and wow how I love that show.
  • Smile: My cats. There has been Puddy Wrestlemania levels of tussling lately, and a couple of days ago Viktor tried to hide behind my feet while Zephyr walked by me. She saw his tail sticking out, and pounced, but the whole thing made me grin.

So how about you? What is bringing you joy, smiles, hope, and/or satisfaction?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Just For Fun: Don't Dream It's Over

You know how it usually works when you revisit something you loved as a child? You read or watch or listen, and are deeply disappointed. Sometimes it's because you know better now, like oh my GOD, the casual sexism and racism of M.A.S.H.. Other times it's because you've moved on, such as how I'm embarrassed by how much I loved Garfield and Duran Duran. So when I recently decided to revisit the music of one of my earliest favorites, Crowded House, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only does their music live up to my early memories - I've actually got a deeper appreciation of their skills now than I did back in 80s.

Maybe it's the power of nostalgia, but I don't think so. I think this is just an amazing band that everyone should be listening to. When I listen to other acts that these people were involved with, such as Finn Brothers and Split Enz, I'm still completely enthralled. And here are some songs to get you going (or for you to enjoy again, if you're already a fan):

The song that made me fall in love with the band:

A favorite from their second album:

The song that most people have heard, and lots of people have covered:

And a bonus from the band they were before they were Crowded House:

So, what do you think? Love them, too?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

I was recently asked about the experience of future students walking into an academic library. At first, all I could think about was a building where I used to work that was completed in the early 90s but that was outmoded by the late 90s. The rise of mobile devices and the need for power outlets everywhere made a practically brand new building seem dated. That’s just one major change that completely altered the experience in a library. That kind of upheaval can and will happen again, so I know I can't specifically describe the academic library of the future. And I'm not the only one... I read an article last week that flat out stated: “The array of forces that impact upon the library’s operating environment makes any modelling of transformation during the coming years an almost impossible task.” That was written by someone at Carnegie Mellon University - if someone at a school that size doesn't feel up to predicting the future in a meaningful way, how could I?

So then... what are we to do? I mean, other than designing flexible spaces and hiring flexible people...? How can we be ready for the future? Here's how: we need to concentrate on the people. We need to work on making members of our community feel welcome in the library. And I mean all members. I keep thinking about something Verna Myers said at ACRL: "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance." And that feeling of being asked to dance, of truly belonging, should be our goal for the people who walk through the doors of our libraries.

So, how do we do this? How do we make members of our community, especially our students, feel like they belong in the library? We do it by meeting their needs. And by treating them as whole people, not just academic entities. We've already got them academically. Accommodating and supporting academic needs is the main mission of an academic library. Especially at small, liberal arts colleges like mine. We do course reserves, information literacy, shape our collections to support the research and curricular needs of our parent institutions. But that's just the beginning.

We also need to accommodate the social needs of our community. Yes, most (if not all) of us are giving our students places where they can talk or be quiet, as they choose, but I’d like to see it go further. It’s great to do a display for African American History Month or Women’s History Month, but we shouldn’t restrict it to just those months. Making sure to include writers of color in all displays, not just in February. Including nonbinary authors and women and beyond. We should spend time making sure visual branding is representative as well. We want students to have a sense of ownership of the space, and so partnering with them will be crucial. Making sure they see themselves reflected is crucial.

This is a place where some academics might balk, but providing ways to relax, beyond comfortable chairs, should also be part of our mission. As I said above, our students are whole people and we need to support the whole person. From popular reading materials to board and video games to fun activities sponsored by the library. Therapy dogs and gaming nights and arts &crafts and movie nights might seem on the surface like things only public libraries should be doing, but if we want our students to feel welcome and supported as whole people, we need to do these as well. Even if there’s a public library in town, they aren’t always open nearly as late as we are. Further, even if the public library is right off campus, students - particularly those who aren’t from the local area - aren’t always going to feel comfortable going off campus. Besides, letting our students see us in a social light will help us build the relationship so students will feel more comfortable coming to us for academic help.

It's all well and good - and a bit fun, I have to admit - to think about how technology will shape the future of libraries. Will we be more Starfleet Academy or more Johnny Mnemonic? Gattaca or Jetsons? But, no matter which direction the tech takes us, we will be fine if we remember to focus on the people.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Interview Post: Stephanie Sendaula



Stephanie Sendaula

Current job?
Associate Editor, LJ Reviews at Library Journal
How long have you been in the field?
Since 2010.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I try to make my cubicle as inviting as possible. Many of the decorations are items I picked up at conferences. I love pins and rotate the pins above the lamp on a regular basis. There are also Walking Dead passes from NYCC and lots of ribbons from ALA, although many ribbons are hidden behind other things. Of course, I always keep the 741.5 ribbon visible, and the I Have No Purchasing Authority ribbon is on the left side of my monitor. It gives me a good laugh during stressful days. The “S” in the left corner is stationary from Virginia Alexander Cononie (@sketchlibrarian); I thought it was too pretty to mail to someone else. Although it isn’t picture, to the left of my monitor is also a diagram of opening lines from novels from Pop Chart Lab. It’s always a conversation starter.

How do you organize your days?
I still use a paper planner. I find that I can better organize and schedule my days if I write everything down. That said, I also use Google Keep for last-minute notes and reminders when I’m on the go.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Sending and replying to emails. I’ve learned that written communication skills are essential in our field.

What is a typical day like for you?
It varies. Some days are mostly editing (either reviews or articles) while other days are filled with meetings. Some days are spent browsing incoming books, while others are spent writing articles and/or conducting Q&As with authors. And, as those who follow me on twitter know, I go to a lot of book buzzes and I tweet about upcoming books.

What are you reading right now?
This might win the award for the longest book title: The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6' 4", African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian. Seeing him speak at ALA Midwinter was a conference highlight.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
It’s been said several times before, but being reminded that many people are nervous or afraid to come to the library, and a little kindness can go a long way. Also, always plan for interruptions and the unexpected because life (personal and professional) rarely goes according to plan.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
When I was a public librarian, I never expected to be designing and distributing handouts on how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It was surprisingly fun, and a great way to connect with patrons who ordinarily wouldn’t stop by the reference desk. In my current role, I never expected to receive so many press releases on a regular basis.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
Encyclopedia, if only because it was the first “big” word I learned how to spell.

What is your least favorite word?
I’ve never been a fan of the term, guybrarian.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Sometimes I wonder about selling candles professionally again, but running your own business is tough (and exhausting).

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Anything involving sales.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
I’ll have to borrow Megan’s answer of instant healing from injuries.

What are you most proud of in your career?
As a librarian, it was often the little things people would say: a teen geeking out with me after learning that I like comics too, a student stopping by the library to say that they aced their report after we helped them find databases on a given subject, or even someone saying they were no longer afraid to come to the library thanks to our warm welcome. Those moments have always meant a lot to me. I know that many other librarians have similar stories too. It’s moments like those that help us know that what we do makes a difference.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I think my biggest work-related mistakes involve saying yes to everything, becoming overwhelmed, and being afraid to ask for help. Now, I’m no longer afraid to reach out when I need additional support.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Besides reading? Usually candle making, jewelry making, cooking, baking, or developing recipes. (In a previous life, I ran a baking blog.) I’ve also been returning to embroidery after a long hiatus. I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts of almost any type.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Stephanie (@stephestellar), Stephanie (@bookavore), Elizabeth (@lizinthelibrary), Carli (@CarliSpina)

Stephanie is on Twitter as @sendaulas.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

All the Hugs and (Sometimes Problematic) Social Justice: Preliminary Thoughts on ACRL 2017

I'm sure there's a better way to organize my thoughts about attending ACRL in Baltimore, but chronologically seems the best way right now:

Wednesday, March 22.
First thing I did when I got to Baltimore was to head straight to the Critlib Unconference. And the first thing I did, after getting registered and finding a place to sit, was to hug someone I adore.
Seriously, the best thing for me about big conferences is the social aspect. Yes, there's the learning. Yes, there's the exhibit floor and connecting with vendors. Yes, there's the sightseeing. The thing is, I can learn more easily in the comfort of my own office or apartment; I can connect with vendors via email or on the phone; and I do better sightseeing when I'm not trying to fit it in between sessions. For me, conferences are all about the people.

If you were unable to attend, the Critlib organizers set it up so you could still benefit from the conversations. Attendees took notes and uploaded them to some Google Docs linked from the Program page on the website for the 2017 Unconference.

Sessions I attended:
  • Neoliberalism and Libraries
  • Intersectionality
  • Challenging Whiteness
  • LIS Education/Mentoring
There were so many great moments, like when I learned the term "recovering racist" (like recovering alcoholic, you're never 100% recovered) or when someone went on a long rant about how our classification systems are an example of white supremacy. I walked away from these sessions wishing I had some practical next steps I could take, but I did a lot of learning and listening so I'm well satisfied with the time I spent. Highly recommended, if you ever have the opportunity.

I skipped the opening keynote in favor of getting registered and settled in my hotel room, and then headed back to attend the opening reception. I have to admit that I mostly attended this to get some free eats, and once I'd filled my belly with hummus, fried mac & cheese balls, and a very yummy salad, I headed out for more socializing. The Alewife Gastropub was everything I'd been promised, and we had a great time hanging out and drinking yummy beer.

Thursday, March 23
The first thing I did on Thursday was to attend my own panel, “Library Leadership and Gender: Expectations and Lived Experiences." There was a lot of talk on the session hashtag, #libleadgender, and the room was pretty full, but the best part of this for me was how interactive the session was. We wanted it to be a conversation, and that's exactly what we got. The article that Michelle Millet and I wrote was intended to be the beginning of a conversation, and we were both absolutely chuffed at how well it went. Being nice shouldn't be a requisite for leadership, nor should it be a prohibition.

Next, I attended "Resilience, Grit, and Other Lies: Academic Libraries and the Myth of Resiliency." In a nutshell, the panelists (Angela Galvan, Jacob Berg, and Eamon Tewell) showed us that this false narrative makes it the individual's fault, and not the system's, because if the individual fails then they weren't resilient enough. 
After that was Roxane Gay's keynote. Wow, wowee, wowzers, did I love this keynote. This is my third ACRL, and I didn't think anything was ever going to top Henry Rollins' talk in Indianapolis. There have been other great keynotes, at ACRL and ALA, but Henry Rollins' had us all halfway in love with him. And Roxane Gay absolutely blew him out of the water. She knew her audience, too, as was evidenced by her joke:
Gay spoke to us about how she doesn't want our guilt or our shame, but instead she wants our fight. She also spoke to how there is no high road with the current administration, so we need to go "subterranean." I was so charged up that I was a little in tears - this was the kind of hope giving moment I needed from ACRL. The line on which she ended both gutted me and recharged me for the coming fight:
As empowering as her speach was, the Q&A was just as disheartening. April Hatchcock getting up to show (and these were her exact words) "her little black face," made up for some of it, but it was still kind of a Nice White People Trainwreck. However, I and others already critiqued the way people talked to Roxane Gay, extensively, on Twitter. Long story, short: a bunch of nice white people were looking to her for forgiveness and didn't get it - instead we got called to do the work.

After the keynote, I moved onto more socializing! I had lunch with the three other members of the Frye Leadership Institute, Class of 2012, who were at the conference. I hadn't seen most of them since 2012, so it was nice to catch up. I went to see a friend's poster, did some arts & crafts, met with my coteacher for the LITA class I taught last year & will be teaching again this year, hung out with other College Library Directors Mentor Program alums, and finally went to the Conference Chair's Reception. The reception was at the Peabody Library, which is a building that looks a lot like my idea of heaven (cathedral of books!).

Friday, March 24
My first session on Friday was "Who Steers the Boat? On women in a feminized profession," with Roxanne Shirazi, Emily Drabinski, and Nicole Pagowsky. A quick side note, that echoes something I think Emily Drabinski said - what was up with the organizers scheduling the heaving hitting feminist sessions first thing in the morning? Don't they know we need our sleep? Anyway, this session felt like the perfect counterpart to my own panel the day before - these panelists talked to us about the history of gender in our profession. The room was absolutely packed, and rightly so.

After that, I spent more time socializing. First, I caught up with a friend who was the one to get me to start presenting, and then had lunch with my CLDMP mentor (who will also be my co-presenter at the Maryland Library Association / Delaware Library Association annual conference in May).

After lunch I went to one of the most practical sessions of my conference - Verna Myers' talk, "What If I Say the Wrong Thing: Interrupting Bias in Ourselves and Others." I could write an entire post about what Myers said during the hour she had us in that room, and I can tell you she said a lot, but this post is getting a bit long already. Instead I'm going to urge you to look for her writings elsewhere. I've not watched it yet, but she also has a TED Talk. Two key takeaways that I had, that are immediately applicable:
  • Micro-affirmations. Notice people. Notice who isn't in the room and who isn't being included. Notice the time of day and day of week when things are being held, because it might be leaving people out of the conversation.
  • Acknowledge and interrogate your biases. We are all biased. It is literally in our genetic make-up to make snap decisions, but we can expand our comfort zones if we are intentional.
After Myers' talk, I finally took time to walk around the exhibits floor. I also managed to fit in more socializing while walking around, and I also picked up some swag for student contest prizes. Also picked up some chocolate.

Next up was Nicole Cooke's invited talk, "How would you like to be remembered? Expanded your pedagogy and professional practice." Cooke spoke about how she's worked to integrate diversity studies at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 
For those of you who saw me tweet a plea for someone to talk me down from the ledge because I'm once again considering a PhD, it was listening to this talk - and hearing about the impact Cooke is having - that has me thinking this way. And no, all the talk of (a) intellectual hazing, (b) where will I find the money, and (c) the job market, hasn't stopped me from thinking about it. Being able to help, and shape, the next generation of librarians is a big draw for me.

Up next was...? You guess it: more socializing. A small group of us went to the aquarium where I made a new friend, who I named Steve:

I also got to pet a ray, a horseshoe crab, and a jellyfish! And we decided to have dinner at the aquarium, where I ate one of the tastiest black bean burgers I've ever had.

Then it was on to the All Conference Reception at the B&O Museum. There were too many people. The drinks were hard to get, and I ended up drinking Heineken (the horror!) at one point. The band was a perfect nightmare of a bar mitzvah/wedding band that played everything from Journey - which was okay - to Whitney Houston - which was just so awful I can't even speak to how awful it was. And the acoustics in that space made their music even worse. If the Peabody Library was my idea of Heaven, then this place was definitely my idea of hell. The party was so bad that it ended up being funny and we had a good time complaining to each other about it.

Saturday, March 25
Yes, I was on a second panel. Yes, it was also first thing in the morning. But I didn't really mind, because "More Than Just Play: Board Game Collections in Academic Libraries" was a fun way to start the day. We had an amazing turn out for first thing in the morning on the last day of the conference, and people who came to our panel really seemed to have fun. Which was what we'd intended, since we set the thing up like a game of Jeopardy.

And after that, I went home. I did not sleep well and, since I drove to the conference, I didn't have to wait for a plane to take me. Oh, boy, did I need the nap I took when I got home.

How about you? What were the highlights of the conference for you, if you attended? If you didn't attend, which sessions looked great from the Twitter stream?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My Milk Bowl Brings All the Cats to the Yard: Some Thoughts on Faculty Outreach

You know that phrase, "herding cats"? I sometimes think it was invented to describe what it's like to work with faculty when you're an academic librarian. Please don't misunderstand. I have some amazing faculty colleagues (and plenty of them read my blog regularly). Further, and I know this next thing sounds like a joke, my best friend is a member of the faculty at a college where I used to work. Regardless, faculty are as diverse and hard to round up a group as cats. So, working on that idea, I'd like to share some of the ways I've metaphorically put a bowl of milk out in the yard and made working with me and with the library more appealing to members of the faculty.

First things first: get to know them. Find out about their interests, both professional and personal. Bonus points if you find out you have something in common. I got my foot in the door with a communication professor because of a shared love of Godzilla, and with a political science professor because of a shared love of a particular director. I made serious points with a provost because I was the one to let him know that his favorite poet was coming out with a new collection.

Next, be the first or one of the first people to make contact with new faculty. If you go out of your way to make them feel comfortable and welcome at your institution, they'll start to come to you for things they need - even non-library things. Also, if you build a relationship with the junior faculty in a department, you can sometimes parlay it into relationships with senior faculty. That political science professor I mentioned above? He helped me to get his department chair to answer my emails finally.

Another thing you need to do is show up to their events. Is that creative nonfiction writing instructor giving a reading of a new essay? Go. The biochemistry professor is hosting an open lab period? Go. If you really want to get on their good side, try hosting faculty events in the library. We had a faculty scholarship series at a previous job, and I'm starting to work on plans to create something similar here.

Those three ideas can be boiled down to one theme: be a good colleague. If you want to collaborate with faculty, show them that you are connecting with them for more reasons than fulfilling library needs. Faculty outreach needs to be about the connection, and then you can build it into collaboration. You want to demonstrate that you have a lot to offer.

By the way, I first got to know my best friend when I expressed interest in her research. She teaches animal cognition (among other things) and she had a rat lab when she first started at that institution. I asked some questions and next thing I knew, I was helping her socialize a litter of rat babies (pictured below). The library at that institution already had a good relationship with the psychology department, and our connection strengthened it even more.

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What do you think? Could you use these techniques? If you've had successful faculty outreach, did you use techniques similar to what I have listed above? Something I didn't mention? Please share!

p.s. I know it is probably bad form to use a picture of cute baby rats in a post that has cats in the title, but oh well. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Coffee is Not Just for Closers: Tips from a Recovering Salesman, by Matt Bird

The term “salesman” conjures negative emotions and stereotypes: sleazy mustachioed Glengarry Glen Ross slicksters, lying through their crocodile smiles, and grabbing Grandma’s last penny. We have all met these salespeople. We dislike these salespeople. Yet these salespeople take our money. How? I can tell you, because I used to be one of them.

In my eleven years of sales experience—mostly management—I was exposed to an array of training sessions on closing sales. It isn’t mysterious; it is a process of connection. Salespeople convince you to part with your cash/credit limit, for items you probably don’t need, because they connect with you—putting you at ease, gaining your trust, and ensuring you feel empowered.

The “art” of connection is a necessary need for better customer service in public libraries. It retires the stereotype of the stern, unapproachable, introverted librarian. It also increases library usage statistics. Higher usage statistics hopefully translate to your facility and job staying funded.

To clear up a misconception: “introverted” does not equal “lack of soft skills.” However, that is the association. If you are looking toward job fields where you interact with people and are worried about your interpersonal skills, here are things I do on a daily basis, acquired from my time in sales, to connect with co-workers and patrons in the public library where I work.

Smile. Smile. Smile. Smiling puts other people at ease. It doesn’t trigger the evolved spider-sense our brains developed to recognize danger. Smiling de-escalates and creates calm. Keep control of your emotions and how they are displayed in the professional setting. Do not bring your baggage to work. Smile and say hello to every co-worker you pass during the day and to every patron who walks into your department.

Understand Code-Switching. In linguistics, code-switching signifies shifts in language, usually from a form of dialect to a standard variation. Hence, you don’t talk to your friends in the same way you address your grandparents. Life isn’t Gilmore Girls. In the professional world, address others professionally. No cursing, no commonly objectionable conversations, and never demean someone else.

Connecting. Asking someone for help is intimidating. It is easy to assume that patrons understand we are here to help. They do not and will not unless you connect with them. Speaking as the manager of a department where customer interactions can take up to an hour or longer, the initial connection is highly important. Greet people. Assess them. What does their mood seem like? What are they wearing? Make general, obvious, non-offensive statements. If it’s winter and they are bundled up, a simple, “Cold out there, isn’t it?” will go a long way to put the patron at ease. When they leave, tell them thanks for stopping in. Throw a, “If you need anything else, you know where to find us” out there. As long as you never set yourself up for an argument, these types of interactions will ensure that the patron enjoys their time and gets the most out of the help you provide.

Another example of connection is my opening paragraph. I explained a common scenario to align your interest with mine so you will continue reading and become more open to advice. Devious, I know.
Personal space. Invasion of personal space is terrible. I dislike it. You dislike it. It’s a trap easily tripped if you aren’t careful. Working side by side with someone is a reality. Just like at the dinner table, never reach across. Ask for materials to be passed or switch places. If you happen to work with a group, ensure that you give attention to all members to ensure inclusion. A simple glance while you speak to quiet group members traverses miles.

Coffee. It isn’t just for closers. Help yourself, but always use breath mints.

An MLS is a degree in adaptation. It will not teach you all the skills you need for any given library job. Most library schools will leave you woefully unprepared for interpersonal interaction. It is your job as a future information professional to find ways and people to help you to bolster your soft-skills. Process the aforementioned connection techniques and you will develop better work environments and relationships with patrons and coworkers.

Matt Bird is the Special Collections Manager at Vigo County Public Library in Terre Haute, IN. Between sales and librarianship, Matt taught classical literature at Indiana State University. He still teaches in the ISU Honors program on the subjects of book and library history. He can be reached at mebird@indiana.edu or on Twitter and Instagram: @bird_point9186.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

“Fail Better” -- But How, Exactly?, by Laura Braunstein

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
                                          -- Samuel Beckett, “Worstward Ho” (1983)

“Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
                                          -- Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

I’m learning something new this year. (Never mind what it is.) I’ve been struck by how this process has an emotional dimension that throws me right back to my early 20s, when so much in my adult life was new, professionally and personally. Now that I’m apparently middle aged, I thought that I wouldn’t get discouraged anymore, or so quickly fall into self-doubt. But I was wrong: every frustration brings back the same emotional experience of those earlier frustrations, half my life ago.

And yet -- I am finding it easier to move past the setbacks, and more satisfying to persist. What’s the difference between then and now? I believe it’s because I now know a few ways to get through it, to have the discipline to work at the constant slog of improving, to keep going. I’m better at what Beckett called “failing better.” And I finally believe that failure – both the small, incremental failures along the way and the potential failure of a great investment of time, focus, and energy -- is not a referendum on my worth as a human being.

This may be sacrilege for someone of my generation to say, but I think Yoda was wrong. Sure, in a literal sense there is only doing, or not doing; but sometimes trying and doing badly – very badly -- is a way of getting better at simply doing.

Maybe you have already heard that. [Editor’s Note: I have quoted Jake the Dog on this website.] What you might be missing are the actual concrete strategies to help you keep doing badly in the face of warnings, explanations, the damnation of faint praise, and other discouragements. How, exactly, does one “fail better”? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Commit to failing for a given amount of time, or a given amount of tries. For instance, spend 10-15 minutes, every day, failing. Have no goals other than spending that time. The objective is not, “I’m going to knit a sweater by the end of the month” but “Every day I’m going to spend 15 minutes with this yarn and these needles, and knit some crap.” If you’re trying a Couch-to-5K, understand that the program is predicated on your failing, for weeks, to actually run a 5K. You may be miserable at times, and you’ll just want to quit. Don’t.
  • Save or record your failures. Write down how many minutes you spend each day squawking on the clarinet or writing crappy code. Have a folder called “Shitty First Drafts” and put a shitty first draft in it every day. Even if you never ever look at them again, your early failures may contain ideas to expand upon once you feel more confident. Documentation of the specific places or processes where you tend to screw up or get frustrated is also valuable information.
  • Ask for help from mentors, but be very realistic about your expectations of their time and energy, particularly if they are volunteering (as opposed to someone from whom you are taking paid lessons). Getting a quick email that says, “This works, do more of it; this doesn’t work, try something different” is valid and useful feedback, and more likely to foster your eventual independence. Beware of mentors who seem to have ulterior motives, or who seem to be overly invested in your success -- or, sad to say, who interpret your request for help as having ulterior motives. (A whole ‘nother guest column could be written about effective ways to be a mentee.)
  • Share the fact that you are trying, even if you don’t share your failures. Make sure -- and this may be counterintuitive advice -- to share with people who are not experts in the thing you are trying to do, but rather are experts in supporting you. Ask your partner, not a published poet, to read your first few pathetic poems. Eventually you’ll want an expert opinion, but the point of sharing early failures is not to get feedback but to get the support to keep trying in the face of the drudgery of failure. These are the people in your life to whom you can say, merely, “I did this and I failed” and they will say “yay, go fail at it again.”
  • Or, don’t share. Fail privately if that’s what works best for you. There’s no reason that you have to broadcast your attempts. Failure does not have to be a social process, or be out there on every social media account. It is okay to take some time alone and apart to work on something that only you know about. Failure can be very humbling and it can demand a lot of humility. You may feel more comfortable keeping those feelings to yourself.
  • Find something to inspire you to keep failing -- a song, a quotation, a book, or an activity like running or meditating or wandering in the woods or singing loudly and off-key while alone in your car. Every time I know I’m going to fail at something new, I play a song that was recorded the month that I was born: “The first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry anymore.”

There is no last word on failure (until, of course, you die -- which in itself is not a failure: think of how long you got to live!), but eventually you’ll feel like you’ve failed enough that one of your efforts might represent something approaching a qualified success. By all means, share it. Let it go out into the world. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished. But remember to honor the failure that got you there, the missteps and the shitty first drafts crumpled in the wastebasket and the stupid ideas that finally led to the ones that might not have succeeded, exactly, but at least failed better than all of the other ones.

Laura Braunstein is the Digital Humanities Librarian at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. She has two children, two cats, one husband, and a hell of a lot of stuff to get done. She would like either Rachel Bloom or Julia Louis-Dreyfus to play her in a movie. Follow her on Twitter at @laurabrarian.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I Was Wrong, But I'm Trying to Learn

The tweet up there is the beginning of a long-ish thread. Each tweet (I highly recommend reading it in its entirety) made me catch my breath. I have been wrong about so many of the same topics. I'm sure there are a lot of us who can identify. I was originally planning to write something about community building for today, but then I saw Crocker's thread and knew I had to write something similar for LtaYL.

So, here are some things about which I have been wrong, oh so very wrong wrongity wrong, with a focus on library-centric ideas.

It's my job to make libraries better for marginalized populations and people of color. Oh, the arrogance in that thought. It makes me cringe just reading it, but I really believed that a few years ago. The idea that I was a knight in shining armor, no matter how well intentioned, still centered my experience and my role in fighting racism in higher ed and in libraries. Further, it ignored the voices of people already in the room. Yes, I do need to fight racism and sexism and transphobia and other prejudices whenever and wherever I can, but one of the most important things I can do as a librarian - and as a library administrator - is to shut my mouth and listen.

If there is nothing in my library's collection that makes my skin crawl, then I'm not doing my job. I can't be a first amendment purist anymore. Sure, the first amendment doesn't strictly apply to the work I do since it discusses government restricting speech, and I've always worked at private institutions. The thing is, I still took it as my job to represent culture in all its various expressions on my shelves. No, we can't ignore the Nazis - either in the past or in our present - but I can no longer blithely buy the kinds of books that represent Holocaust Denier theories as fact. I now know I've given a platform to hate speech, and that bothers me more than I can ever explain. I know this may be a little confusing to read, so let me put it in concrete terms for you: this change in philosophy is why I bought Glenn Beck in the past but refuse to buy Milo Yiannopoulos now.

Diversity initiatives are the answer. This is another complicated mess of an idea, but the core of why it is problematic is that the initiatives are just the beginning. In fact, Harvard Business Review has written about how diversity programs fail. Inclusion and acceptance are not the same thing. By putting all our emphasis on creating diversity, we end up working hard to get people on campus or in the library without considering making people feel welcome and heard and part of the conversation once they arrive. Even more, we need to stop putting the onus on the people around us who are members of one or more minority groups. I was raised Jewish and I'm a practicing Buddhist, and have repeatedly been expected to be the voice of "my people" in professional circumstances, so you'd think with my experiences I'd have grasped this sooner. However, my conditional whiteness (I'm in a minority but I don't read that way at a glance) has made things smoother for me. And one of my favorite definitions of privilege is that the biggest benefit you gain is the ability to be blind to the benefits it affords you.

Back to the thread that got me thinking in this way:

I'm with you, Katherine. Writing this post was hard, knowing the mistakes I've made in the past and knowing the mistakes I'll make in the future.

Despite frequent accusations that I am really a Time Lord, the truth is I'm human. I'm going to make mistakes. The important thing to remember moving forward is that I need to learn from them.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Just For Fun: Yippie Kayak, Other Buckets

I know I'm late to this particular party, but wow I'm in love with this show. I'm going to try to write this with minimal spoilers, and as a result I'm not going to be able to write about some of my favorite things about the show.

My favorite thing about this show? How intersectional it is. There are two Hispanic women characters, Diaz and Santiago, and neither are a stereotype. Also two African American men, also not stereotypes. In fact, the only stereotypical cop behavior - donut eating anyone? - comes from two older, white men. Later on in the series, one of the characters says something like "I liked that movie up until the end when it got a bit transphobic." A character on a prime time, network television show that says the word "transphobic"? Sign me up. (One caveat: this series is fatphobic at times, but that's the only drawback for me.)

Another thing to love is that characters are allowed to grow and change. They are so relatable! The relationship between Amy Santiago and Jake Peralta is one, small example of this growth. I adore watching Gina grow up and yet not grow up. Some characters soften over time, and others harden (but in good ways). Even secondary characters have growth! Detective Lohank, anyone?

The fact that they don't shy away from hard issues also pleases me. Subjects like police brutality, racism, sexism, and homophobia are in the mix on a regular basis. Best part? The show also doesn't rely on stale and boring tropes to make these topics fit the comedy of the show... like the time there was a joke about same sex marriage, but the joke was that they were so worried it wouldn't stay legal that they rushed through the ceremony.

When I first announced on Twitter that I was going to watch this, someone (I don't remember who - sorry!) asked me to let them know my favorite running gag. I also have a couple of favorite characters to share:

Favorite running gag: Die Hard. Jake Peralta's obsession with this movie series is beyond over the top, and it reminds me so much of how obsessed I get about things - like Brooklyn Nine-Nine for instance. The title of this post comes from an episode where Jake's obsession gets to be the basis of an entire episode.

Favorite regular character: Captain Ray Holt. Here is a man who is open and honest about who he is - a gay, African American police officer - and does not let it stop him from going after his dreams. The moments when he can admit his own mistakes and grows as a result are some of my favorite moments in the series. I recently took a Buzzfeed quiz, "Which Brooklyn Nine-Nine Character Are You?" and even though I didn't game the quiz in the slightest, I got Holt as my result:

Favorite recurring character: Doug Judy. If you've watched this show, you can probably guess why I adore him. He's got charisma and charm and is all about playing into your stereotypical expectations while also flouting them. By the time I got to his most recent appearance on the show, I actually clapped when I saw him come on screen. And oh wow when he sings...

Okay, so if you already know this series, what's your favorite thing? And if you haven't watched it yet, have I convinced you to give it a go?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

When Things Go Wrong: Giving Correction

It's clear that they've never had to correct someone's behavior from how laid back this pud is.

One of the hardest things for a new boss to learn is how to give feedback to staff. If anyone tells you they had an easy time with it, either they are lying or they had a lot of coaching ahead of time. Well... I didn't have lots of coaching ahead of time, and I'm not going to lie to you. The truth is that I've had some missteps while talking to employees about their mistakes. And like I always try to do with my failures, I want to use it to help you avoid the same pitfalls

One major caveat: I have consciously waited to write this post until enough time has passed since the last conversation like this with someone who works for me. I know some of them read my blog regularly (*waving hello*), and I wanted to make sure none of those interactions were fresh in my mind while writing. This is very much written from a general perspective.

Without further ado, here are my rules of thumb for giving corrections:
  1. Avoid correcting someone when you're angry. I try to wait at least 24 hours, or longer if I'm still not calm. There will be times when I can't wait that long, so when that happens I take a deep breath and count to ten before starting. A bonus here is that waiting will give you time to think through what happened and consider alternatives.
  2. Avoid correcting someone in front of others. Most times the problem that needs addressing won't concern anyone else, and therefore won't be anyone else's business. Also, since you're trying to wait until you're calm to address an issue, it will be easier to arrange a time to talk one-on-one. If you absolutely cannot wait and cannot talk to the person away from others, be as respectful as possible.
  3. Don't just pull people into your office when there is a problem. You don't want to signal to others, in any way, that the conversation you're having is about correcting your employee's behavior. I make a point of taking to people in private about good things as well - especially important because my office walls are glass.
  4. Concentrate on behavior, not on personality. I've never done this to an employee because I've been on the receiving end of it way too often. You want to help them improve, not just make them feel bad about themselves. An example of behavior is "so I heard you said this thing," whereas an example of personality is "why are you so mean to John?"
  5. Explain why the behavior is a problem. Arbitrary rules are a no go for me, and should be for you. Same goes for "well, we've always done it this way" rules. Sometimes people won't realize why something is a problem, and will ignore a rule they don't understand.
  6. Understand that you may not (probably don't) have all the facts. If you walk up in the middle of a moment, you have no way to know what happened before. Even if you witness the whole incident, you don't know what lead to it. This admonition is especially true if someone is reporting a problem well after the fact.
  7. Always document these interactions. Even if it is the first such incident, even if you are sure it will never happen again, you need to be able to prove that you've had the conversation. You really never know when something is only the first of many problems to come. I learned my lesson with this the hard way. I recommend a follow up email to the person you had to correct, immediately after you meet, so that you also have a date/time stamp.
This is so important to me that I'm going to take another step and demonstrate all of the above in a made up conversation, with a very basic kind of problem, so you can see more of what I mean. (Imagine that our boss and our employee are already in a private space, and that both are relatively calm.)

Boss: I need to talk to you about what happened yesterday. When I got back from my meeting at the end of the day, your friend was behind the circulation desk with you and quickly left when they saw me. Can you tell me what happened and why?
Employee: I needed to show them something on my computer screen.
Boss: I can understand that, but we sometimes have private information showing behind the desk and privacy is very important here considering the sensitive information libraries sometimes hold. If this comes up again, please just turn the computer screen so that the patron can see.
Employee: I tried to do that, but I think the monitor might be broken because I couldn't get it to turn.
Boss: We'll reach out to IT today. From now on I need you to let me know about computer problems right away, okay?
Employee: Okay.
Boss: So, just to be clear, nobody but library staff or IT should be behind the circ desk, and you'll let me know about computer issues as they come up instead of later. Do you have any questions?
Employee: No questions.
Boss: Cool. I'm also going to email you a note about what we discussed. I am confident that this won't be an issue in the future, and I want to make sure we're on the same page about it. Thanks for your time.

One last thing: when you have your inevitable misstep with this kind of interaction, apologize when you're wrong and be sincere about it. How can you expect your staff to learn from their mistakes if you don't? 

How about you? Anything you would do differently? 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Interview Post: Jim DelRosso



Jim DelRosso

Current job?

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

How long have you been in the field?

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

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

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

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

Everything Else

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s likely to increase.

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

Jim is on Twitter as @niwandajones.