Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Shame and Reading: Some Thoughts on Popular Reading Materials

I've been thinking a lot about shame and reading lately. I had a conversation recently in which I started to feel a little ashamed of my reading habits, and realized I shouldn't. (This wasn't because of anything the other person said or did. Just fighting habits of years feeling like I was supposed to read "important" literature.) Feeling ashamed can transfer in so many ways, both personally and professionally. Sure, I am the director of library services at a community college that serves 4 different counties, have a deep and wide intellect and curiosity for learning, and seem to have an addiction to attaining advanced degrees. But I'm also a human being who lives in this culture that seems designed to degrade and depress (capitalism is the worst). Why shouldn't I read fun things?

Here are some books that I'm either currently reading or have finished recently (meaning within the last few weeks):
  • Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs. It's in the middle of two intertwined series - "Alpha and Omega" and "Mercy Thompson" - which are these wonderfully written books set in a world with werewolves and vampires and fae and magic, but with politics and history that is ostensibly the same as the United States in which I live. Reading these books is like slipping into a warm bath. They aren't particularly page-turner-y, with suspense and intrigue, but they are comfortable and soothing.
  • Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett. Oh, how I love the "Discworld" series. These books are expertly written parodies of sword & sorcery that still stay true to the tropes and functions of the genre it parodies. This one in particular made fun of Hollywood and popular culture. And I loved it.
  • The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. Part biography, part history of science (evolution), part science, and all rivetingly interesting. Everything from Darwin to a discussion of the arms race going on between bacteria and the makers of antibiotics.
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler. An African-American woman keeps getting pulled back to pre-Civil War Maryland to save a white ancestor of hers. Engrossing commentary on race and politics and capitalism and gender and a bazillion other concepts.
As you can see, my reading ranges from works that are more ephemeral and fluffy to books that some consider part of the American canon. What's more - I checked every single one of these out from a library, which is as it should be. And for those of you who work at public libraries, you're likely nodding your head and thinking, "Of course! How is this even a question? Why are you even writing about it, Jessica?" I'm not really talking to you. 

I'm talking, instead, to the academic libraries that are still holding out from buying popular reading materials. First of all, it is an entirely defensible expense: People are writing academic discourse on Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy and Amy Tan and a bazillion other so called popular authors. In the past, Jane Austen and Shakespeare and Horatio Alger were all popular authors who have been studied again and again in the intervening years. I'm sure you have a popular culture scholar or two on your campus who would add their voice to your argument. Second, even if you are down the street from a public library (which is somewhat rare), why are you passing responsibility ignoring the needs and wants of your community? Third, the ability to sustain attention reading is a transferable skill. 

In my life before academia, I worked in a book store, and I'll never forget a conversation I had with a regular customer. I was talking about some piece of fluff I'd read recently, and then I berated myself for not reading "good" books more often. Her response was, "a 'good' book is the one you enjoy."

I know that we in academic libraries are supposed to support the scholarly record and the curriculum and the research needs of our communities, but shouldn't we also support the other needs of our patrons? Why are we shaming them about their interests in reading by leaving fun books out of our collections? Even if we aren't shaming them on purpose, it is still shaming. Besides, if we're trying to get people to value the library, shouldn't we be providing materials we know they will appreciate? Buy some good books.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

10 Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School as a Then-Future Cataloger, by Jessica Schomberg

numbers counting down from 10 to 1

I went to library school to be a cataloger. There wasn’t an official cataloging track, but it was pretty easy to design your own. I also went to library school almost 20 years ago, in the midst of a massive shift in how library schools were structured – my first year I attended a Graduate School of Library and Information Science, my second year it was an iSchool! This is a mix of things I wish I’d learned in library school… and some things that I’m glad I learned later.

  1. Diversity and inclusion. My advisor, the wonderful Allyson Carlyle, did introduce us to the work of Sandy Berman. But in general, taking a critical approach to librarianship wasn’t a concept to me at the time. There was no institutional expectation that anyone know anything about cultural issues other than “freedom of information” in a really narrow sense. And by narrow, I mean it didn’t even hint at the history of segregated libraries in the US, nor did it critique library workplace rules that forbid talk of unionizing. Why does this matter for catalogers? Because if we’re creating and applying cataloging standards based on a monocultural approach to the world, we’re inadvertently excluding or harming some of our patrons.
  2. Advocacy skills. We did have some discussions about how to respond to patron advocacy in terms of collection development, but I don’t remember any discussions about how to advocate with external agencies for the library, for library workers, or for patrons. I accidentally wound up at a library with strong unions, and it has overall been an incredibly positive experience for me as a worker. I’ve also been really impressed by the organizing work of librarians including Emily Drabinski. I still wish I’d had some training in how to act as an advocate for myself and others.
  3. Leadership and management. I could have taken a class. I actively didn’t want to supervise anyone at the time, so I deliberately didn’t take it. Looking back, I kind of regret that choice. But it probably would have been framed in a “how to be The Man” sort of way, so maybe it’s just as well that I avoided it. (Those of you who took library management classes, what did you think?) [Editor’s Note: My management class was completely useless.]
  4. Teaching and pedagogy. I was going to be a cataloger, I didn’t need to know how to teach! Insert crying gif here. This was the wrong choice. Real life led to me doing library instruction classes as part of my current job, and some training would have for sure helped. But also, and more importantly, if you’re a cataloger you’re probably going to end up teaching or training others how to catalog stuff at some point. For people who go the academic route, this might be during conference presentations. For people who choose public libraries, you’ll probably end up presenting information to coworkers or supervisors or community groups at some point. Learning how to do this in a classroom setting is far preferable to being dumped in front of people and told to speak.
  5. Technology can make you feel ambivalent. We had access to a range of technology classes -- how to build your own computer, website design, database design, etc. And I took all of these that I could, because they were so practical and because tech was cool. (This was the late ‘90s, people. It was a brave new world.) Anyway, since then I’ve occasionally tried to take coding classes because it seems like something catalogers should do. But frankly, I don’t find the topic interesting on its own. Give me stuff to organize and tell me what tools I need to do the job, and I’ll work through it. But learning tech for its own sake? Meh.
  6. Theory is important. You can get practical, hands-on experience at work, volunteering, internships, but you’re not going to have this kind of opportunity to have guided exposure to theoretical analysis outside the classroom. Your library school doesn’t offer those classes? Depending on your academic background, see if you can take an ethnic studies, disability studies, gender studies, or sociological theory course as an elective. Humans are the most important part of being a librarian, so it’s good to know more about them.
  7. Take statistics. You may not want to do formal quantitative research, but learning statistics is really helpful training for when you have to interpret data, make decisions, and create assessment and budget reports.
  8. Look around at your classmates. Who’s not part of your cohort? Who’s the only one of their kind in your cohort? Maybe you can’t do anything as a student to fill in these gaps, but pay attention -- and start thinking about how this will impact your professional network and professional practice.
  9. Patience. It doesn’t need to all happen right now. It took me several years after library school before I started coming into my own. By the time I figured myself out (thank you, therapy!), I was far outside of the eligibility period for any of those new professional opportunities. We don’t all have to pop out of grad school fully grown. It’s ok to be a slow bloomer.
  10. Reasonable expectations. You won’t learn everything you need to know in library school. This isn’t a bad thing. If all goes well, maybe you’ll be a person who creates new things for students to know in the future!

Jessica Schomberg is currently serving as Library Services Department Chair at Minnesota State University, Mankato, juggling other responsibilities including Media Cataloger and Assessment Coordinator. This is hir FOURTH post for LtaYL. The first was “My (Library) Life with Invisible Disabilities”. The second was “The Power to Name”. Most recently, ze wrote an interview post. Ze tweets as @schomj.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Why I Hate Quantitative Data

We've been talking about assessment a lot at work. More importantly, we're talking about meaningful assessment, which is good because if we were only going to discuss counting things - inputs and outputs - I'd roll my eyes so hard that I could possibly do damage to my ocular nerve. And then I'd pass out from boredom.

I should be honest, though. I don't actually hate quantitative data. It can be useful, especially when you're trying to make staffing decisions, to know when your busy times are. Also, some upper administrators like numbers better than stories. (I still think you need to know why people are coming into the library to understand the meaning of head counts.) Really, what I hate is the supremacy of the count-all-the-things mentality, which frequently rules supreme because people think it's easier. It's not actually easier, if you really want to do it right, but people think it is. Here's a list of things that people don't seem to consider:
  • Counting just to count doesn't accomplish anything, and actually adds to your workload without any kind of meaningful outcome. Counting just to count literally and figuratively is just a waste of time. 
  • You frequently end up gathering information you shouldn't have. I get angry when I think about all the surveys I've taken that want to know my gender or my age that have NOTHING to do with gender or age.
  • You will never have a consistent definition of anything you're counting. Want to know how many books do you have? You have to figure out what do you even mean by books. Titles? Monographs? Physical entities? Want to know how many people come into the library? Are we doing a door counter? Is it actually working? What about people who go out and come back in again? Want to know your circulation numbers? Should renewals be included? What about things that are pulled off the shelf but never checked out? And so on and so on... And this is exacerbated when you are talking about multiple institutions instead of just multiple people. Yes, I'm looking at you, IPEDS.

Instead of gathering numbers because "we've always done it this way" or "we need to give them some data", try thinking about why you want the information. If you're trying to make decisions about staffing levels, numbers are exactly the thing to do. But if you're trying to learn what gaps you have in your collection, you'll need to gather a different kind of information as part of reference interactions. Also try thinking about how you'll use the information. If it's a report that you've sent to the provost every month for years and years, maybe ask your director to check with the provost to see if they find the report useful.

There are so many good places to look for qualitative assessment tools in libraries. The Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) Project is a good place to start if you're new to the idea. I've used a lot of techniques I learned from reading that website and a book that came out of the project, College Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know. Also attended a talk given by one of the authors, Andrew Asher, a few years ago. And that's what you should do - look to see what resources you can find at conferences. Do a quick search in an education database for "qualitative assessment and libraries". If you're at an academic library, go talk to people in the sociology department or anthropology department or pretty much any social sciences.

I want to say this again: it's not so much that I hate quantitative data as that I hate our over-reliance on it as some kind of be-all-end-all method of assessment. We need to have more ways of looking at how we're doing than just counting inputs and outputs. I hope I've convinced you of that.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Just For Fun: Elizabeth Bishop


A long time ago (25-ish years) in a Galaxy far, far away (a Boston suburb), my parents gave me The Golden Treasury of Poetry. I think it was for Hanukkah, but it might have been for my birthday. It may sound like hyperbole to say this book changed my life, but it really did. In particular, the poem that is featured above blew my little mind. Up until I read "The Fish" by Elizabeth Bishop, I had no idea that poems didn't have to rhyme. I didn't know poetry could be so visual and symbolic and still feel good as you pronounce the words. Up until then, the poetry I'd read was probably nothing more than doggerel. Lines like "backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil" delighted me endlessly. I should say "delight" instead of "delighted" because "The Fish" is still, to this day, my favorite poem.

It started a small, but definite, obsession with the works of Elizabeth Bishop. Take, for instance, her sestina:
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house 
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.
The rules of a sestina are set and painstakingly particular and exacting. It's using the same words over and over again in a very specific pattern, and is sometimes seen as an intellectual exercise, but Bishop makes the intellectual exercise sing.

Then there's her poem "Casabianca." It is an homage to another poem by the same name, written by Felicia Hemans. The Hemans poem is shmaltzy and the kind of thing people are made to memorize (or at least used to be made to memorize) for public speaking classes. It's a poem about a boy's loyalty and love for his father. But Bishop's homage takes that idea and story to another place and punches me in the gut with its eloquence:
Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite `The boy stood on
the burning deck.' Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy.
I can pick up a collection of her works and open to any page and know I'm going to find something I love. Can't say that about any other poet, except maybe Shakespeare.

So how about you? Do you have a favorite poem? Poet? Please share!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Interview Post: Andrew Preater


Andrew Preater

Current job?
Director of Library Services at the University of West London

How long have you been in the field?
14 years, including my roles within libraries that were more IT-focused. I completed my LIS master's degree in 2011.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
I have the luxury of having my own office within our library, with a window that opens and a door that closes. I prefer my workspaces tidy without too much personalisation. I have some storage space for print books and reports, printed-out articles (for some reason I can only read scholarly work on paper), and those odds and ends that are useful to have around when you work in an office.

Otherwise, my office doesn't look that much different from when I moved into it. In the photo, my laptop is set up with an external monitor and the computer itself in 'tent' mode as a secondary display.

How do you organize your days?
As much as I love a nice pen and notebook, my university uses Microsoft Office / Office 365 so I organise my work using Outlook for calendaring, OneNote for note taking, and OneDrive and SharePoint for sharing and collaborating on documents. My calendar is open so everyone I work with knows my whereabouts and availability.

My method for organising work is modified from Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). My iron rule is not using my email inbox as a to-do list. Though I prioritise using software and systems hosted or subscribed by my employer for work one concession is Trello, which I use for a high-level overview and prioritisation of things and a to-do list.

For the record my preferred text editor is Vim.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Meeting and talking with people takes up much of my time, as does preparing for and planning for upcoming meetings, following up on them where necessary, and ensuring I've not missed anything that I need to be involved with. Such is the library director life. I've really come to appreciate good habits in meetings, from both organisers and participants.

One thing I spend time on that was understated to me by senior colleagues is time dedicated to thinking about both individual issues and the bigger picture. That is to say, although experience and deeper expertise helps develop the ability to make decisions quickly and accurately, you really do need to take time to understand things from different perspectives and think deeply.

What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day sees me arriving around 8.30 am, having already checked my calendar and to-do list so I have an overview of the day. There is no typical structure to my day, but there are always meetings, collaborative project work to attend to, and email to deal with.

During a normal week, I tend to compartmentalise days into those with more meetings, especially those with longer or more formal committee meetings, and those with fewer into which I deliberately build additional unstructured time. This means I can avoid too many days with meetings back-to-back over the whole working day, and ensure there is unscheduled time for those inevitable issues where you need to drop everything.

Our library senior management have settled on our own meetings running mid-week, and one-to-one catch up meetings with my direct reports at the end of the week. We also meet for a brief conversation at the end of the week to note and reflect on the main achievements and issues.

Whatever I am doing, I try to ensure I walk around the library a few times during the day, to gauge how staff and students are using the space, and to say hello and catch up with library staff in passing.

What are you reading right now?

I read a fair amount of scholarly work within and beyond LIS for professional development, so I usually also have an article or two on the go and a highlighter pen to hand. Alongside the rewards of learning in encountering new, challenging ideas beyond my experience, I have found this extremely good value for the time invested.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Taken as a whole my professional mentor's advice has been incredibly helpful and I am immensely grateful to her for sharing it with me. One thing that sticks out is the importance of seeking understanding beyond the limited perspective of your team or department when dealing with difficult problems, and fully considering different viewpoints before making decisions.

In higher education I've found there is great depth of knowledge embodied in the multi-professional teams I’ve worked with, but focusing that knowledge for transformative change is easier said than done. You have to actively work at seeking out and understanding each others' viewpoints.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
A previous line-manager once advised me that at a senior level, much more of the volume of work than you expect is about personnel or human resources issues. What wasn't explained to me was the extent to which emotional labour, relational work, and care work is implicated in these aspects of management roles. One thing I value a great deal in my current role is being able to place recognition and reward appropriately for emotional labour. 

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
I have some I know I over-use. Interesting, subjective, discourse (especially 'the discourse'), wonderful, problematic, fab.

What is your least favorite word?
I don't have any particular least favourite.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
At one point, I would have loved a career in Unix / Linux system administration. Happily I ended up doing a little of this in systems librarian roles.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Anything that involves working at a height.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
The ability to manipulate time while remaining unaffected myself. In saying this, I am just wishing for more time…

What are you most proud of in your career?
Personally, it is affirming to see those I've been able to support and mentor in their professional practice go on to achieve the goals they set for themselves and to fulfill their potential.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Years ago, I was a technical lead on a systems project that was ultimately reworked into a completely new project under new leadership. My mistake was thinking that stakeholder engagement and communication wasn't within my role but was that of the overall project lead, as I knew they had the political influence and capital required to get people together and engaged.

It turned out this wasn't enough. I learned such engagement works at multiple levels, and from an advocacy point of view is most effective when it comes from a position of an existing trusted working relationship. Leadership from the 'project executive' is needed, but is not the foundation.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Spending time with my wife and with friends. We value time in the countryside, and try to combine that with as much bird watching and cycling as we can.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Rosie Hare (@RosieHare), Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos), and Anne Welsh (@AnneWelsh).

Andrew tweets at @preater.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

LIS Mental Health Week: Palliative Cute Edition

In the past, my contribution to LIS Mental Health Week was deep and important feeling. I talked about emotional labor and I still know that is an important topic, but this year I decided to go in a very different direction - palliative cute. The world is a nightmare right now, but there is still so much beauty in it, and I just want to remind you of that.

Let's start out with a long time favorite of mine - an ibex who wins an argument about politics:

And next, an arctic fox thief:


How about a globe trotting chicken?

And let's finish it with the best picture on the internet:

If you ever need more cute to bolster yourself, remember that I have a semi-curated collection of cute things over on my pinboard account. (Semi-curated in this instance means that I try to label what the animals are so if you don't find snakes adorable, you won't get any nasty surprises.)

Hope this cute therapy helps.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Interview Post: Spencer Brayton


Spencer Brayton

Current job?
Library Manager at Waubonsee Community College. We have campuses in Sugar Grove, IL, Aurora, IL and Plano, IL (all about 50 miles west of Chicago, IL). As Library Manager, I am responsible for day-to-day library services and operations for the three campus libraries, in addition to strategic planning for the future of our campus libraries.

How long have you been in the field?
7 years

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
Fish bowl. Not a lot of privacy, but I have a nice view of the library. It's great to be able to see students studying and working together. I like having an open door policy, so it works well. Also, we just installed some new technology in the study space next to my office, so I am eager to see how it is used.

How do you organize your days?
Calendar and post-it notes (a lot!). I think it's also important to block some time out for reading, especially about our profession, technology, and leadership. We sometimes are so busy dealing with what comes up on a daily basis. It's helpful to take a step back and reflect on your work and opportunities/possibilities.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Supporting staff and colleagues. Budgets and planning as well of late. I also spend a lot of time on professional develop work and writing. As I am still fairly new in my position (7 months!), I like to get around and visit each campus library location. This spring, we are embarking on a process to update our library mission and visions statements.

What is a typical day like for you?
Meetings, email. I'm focusing on building relationships internally and externally with other departments (academic and non-academic). Still learning about my institution as I settle into my new job!

What are you reading right now?
Re-reading Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Slow-down! Patience is important. Each institution has its own culture and it takes time to learn that. I value this advice as it allows me the time it takes to build good working relationships.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Supporting multiple campus library locations. I really enjoy visiting the different locations- all are great learning spaces with their own unique feel. 

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?
Being a chef. I always wanted to attend cooking school.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
K-12 teacher- I don't think I'd be very good at it. I have a lot of respect for these professionals and the time they put into their work.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Seeing the future (although I also recognize the importance of being present).

What are you most proud of in your career?
Being able to present and publish research with some great colleagues. This collaborative work has allowed me to travel and visit different countries and cities. I am also most proud to be a part of an awesome profession and great mentors and colleagues!

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I've moved too quickly with change in the past- which is why the professional advice above is so important for me! I value the importance of supporting colleagues I work with and working hard to be transparent and admitting when I make mistakes.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Reading, watching my favorite sports teams, being with family.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Christian Lauersen, Shirley Lew, Lauren Pressley

Spencer tweets at @brayton_spencer.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Revisiting the Dread: Public Speaking


The thing about speaking in public is... I still hate it. Loathe it. Get stomach aches over it. But I also still seek out opportunities to do it on a regular basis. So, despite the fact that it's been almost 6 years since I last wrote about speaking in public, and how important a skill it is, talking in public is still a stumbling point for me.

I have come to accept that my process is:

  • Agree to give a talk (sometimes I submit proposals, sometimes I'm invited);
  • Futz and futz about topic and title for an inordinate amount of time;
  • Write furiously and generally hate what I've written;
  • Pay way too much attention to the slide-deck, perfecting the flow of the memes and dumb jokes - sometimes to the exclusion of the content;
  • Practice and edit my remarks even more until I absolutely loathe them;
  • Leave the talk alone until the day before;
  • Edit again the night before until I only mildly hate what I've written;
  • Panic and breathe funny right before I speak;
  • Semi disassociate while I'm talking (honestly, it feels a little like an out of body experience) but somehow make complete sense and never seem nervous;
  • Relax, because it's over.

How do I know I made complete sense? By looking at Twitter. I'm actually sometimes amazed when people quote me in a tweet... "I said that? Really? Wow, that's kind of brilliant." Here are a couple of examples:

I had only vague memories of saying both of those things when I read them on Twitter. And these weren't the only positive things said. People mentioned the memes and jokes. People mentioned that I gave good advice. Even more, I've been invited to speak other places because of how well my talks have been received. So... I must be doing something right?

All of this is my way of saying that you're never as bad a public speaker as you think, and don't worry if your process doesn't look like what other people do. Yes, plan ahead. Yes, edit. Yes, practice. But beyond that, know you'll be okay. I absolutely dread public speaking, but I keep doing it because I know I have things to say. I also know you have things to say, so no matter your experience - keep talking. We'll listen.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Connecting Research to Practice and Practice to Research: A Brief (Fun!) Introduction, by Abigail Phillips

scrabble letters spelling data across the face of an open book

Back when I was in library school, I had few expectations concerning what I would learn or how it would apply to my previous experience work in libraries. (I didn’t plan on beginning this post the way it happened, but here we are.) I started my MLIS program in what was then the School of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University with the goal of becoming a librarian, learning whatever I needed to learn to become that librarian. I wish I could say that I had an interest in LIS scholarship beyond what an instructor required me to read as part of a course. But I didn’t. That’s why I think it’s a bit funny that I ended up with a PhD in Information Studies.

Looking back, I didn’t even have a solid understanding of what “research” meant, how it worked, or why it is important for practice. Our field is not alone in an often perceived divide between research and practice. Between academics and practitioners. In my postdoctoral fellowship, I work within education where there are similar discussions about this division. Now that I spend the majority of my day researching, writing, and reading about LIS and related fields, I have an improved perspective on the impact of research on practice and practice on research. I’ve also taught MLIS and professional development courses where I’ve introduced research principles, approaches, and examples in practice. For instance, the following two paragraph could be one example.

In an IMLS-funded study I’ve been contributing for the past year and a half, we’ve worked with school and public librarians to develop an understanding of what supports they need to provide STEM-oriented Making in their libraries. We began by observing librarian practices as they went about everyday responsibilities in their libraries and then used what we learned to develop professional training materials, potential library design hypotheses, and a framework for library teen program development.

What we observed in the library, supported by our understanding of LIS, education, and learning science scholarly literature, aided us in developing early findings and possible directions for additional research. Later formal interviews with the librarians participating in our study helped clarify the needs, constraints, and opportunities within their daily jobs that may not have been as clear during observations. A mixture of research methods, librarian supplied materials (such as program flyers and school newsletters), and participation in library program development added to even more data to analyze and make sense of for sharing.  

With an example of research supported practice in mind, I want to return to talking about the divide between research and practice. Others have explored the communication challenges between LIS researchers and librarians, describing librarians as indifferent to conducting or participating in research, unknowledgeable about conducting scholarly research, and focused instead on the day-to-day activities of library work (something I completely understand as a former public librarian). The piece I read suggests that researchers make more of an effort to publish in practitioner publications. This makes sense on the surface, but usually the tenure push is for publishing in traditional peer reviewed journals.

It is part of the culture and norms of academia that hinders communication between LIS researchers and those in the field. But the question I have is whether or not librarians will actually read articles in trade publications or see the value. Thinking back to my librarian life, I had little time or energy to read about research or discussion seemingly unconnected to my work. This post will not end with an answer but instead, encouragement more continued conversation.

There are no easy answers here. I think about this a lot, but even I struggle sometimes communicating to librarians the research I do and how it relates to real world librarianship. This should be an easier conversation because we both, researchers and practitioners, benefit from sharing discoveries, practices, and understandings.

Abigail Phillips, PhD is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University. Her research interests include digital youth, cyberbullying, empathy, libraries, librarianship, information ethics, and making. She can be found by email: abigail.phillips@usu.edu, Twitter: @abigailleigh, or website: abigailleighphillips.com

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Revisiting Difficult Patrons


I've discussed difficult patrons in the past, but in that post I was talking about people who are awkward or emotionally overwrought or out-of-sorts. My context then, as it is now, was an academic library. The advice I'm about to give might not apply in other kinds of libraries. Heck, it might be expressly against the rules, so check with your boss(es) before you do anything I've suggested.

Before I get into my advice, though, I want to tell you a couple of stories about difficult patrons I've had in the past, over the course of my career. Also, and this may go without saying but I'd rather be upfront about it, I've changed and/or left out personally identifiable details where possible.

Up first, the sportsball team. I've actually had similar interactions with football, basketball, and soccer teams, so saying "sportsball" is as much about protecting identities as it is about an umbrella term to capture the experience. If you've worked on an academic campus with a popular sports team, you can probably predict what I'm going to say. The athletes came into the library on a regular basis. Study hours are frequently a required thing for student athletes - after all, student is the first and more important part of that phrase - and the library and/or tutoring center is a good place for this to happen. Only problem with this is that they didn't always have work to do even though they always had to do the hours. With nothing else to do, they talked. They got loud. They collected people the way an electromagnet collects spare paperclips.

This led to:
  • Discussions and reminders that if they wanted to talk, there are other parts of the library available where that wouldn't disturb others. Verdict: completely unsuccessful. Had to do this repeatedly throughout the same evening or afternoon.
  • Sending a staff member who read as male to have the same conversations. Verdict: more successful than when I did it, but still not a true solution.
  • Jokes about, "don't make me call your coach." Verdict: this would usually quiet them for the rest of the time period - afternoon, evening, etc. - but it wasn't a permanent thing.
  • After a particularly difficult day, when even sending a male staff member only quieted them for 5 minutes, actually contacting their coach. Verdict: this was a permanent solution. Getting to this point was kind of a nuclear option, but we'd gotten repeated complaints from other students and hadn't found anything else that worked.

Up next, the angry teaching assistant. I'll tell you up front that it turned out to be a miscommunication between the professor and their teaching assistant - a minor one, at that. The TA came to the front desk of the library, and I'm not sure how the conversation started, but I was walking by and overheard this individual getting aggressive, so I inserted myself.

This led to:
  • "Is there something I can help with?" This is how I insert myself when I sense a tense situation anywhere in my library. Verdict: successful in that it brought the TA's attention off of the (if memory serves) student worker and onto the full-time staff member.
  • A lot of back and forth with the TA where I tried to pin down exactly what it was they wanted, to inform them it was not something the library did, and to suggest another department at that school that would be able to fulfill that need. Verdict: very unsuccessful. Even though I remained calm, used open body language, and stayed on topic, the TA got increasingly agitated and even started cursing at me about things.
  • "I won't talk with you unless you can be civil. And if you can't be civil, I'll also have to ask you to leave the library." The TA walked off in a huff. I would have called security, but I didn't need to go that far. Verdict: Very successful. The TA came back later to apologize and explain the miscommunication. Please note I might not have been this direct if I hadn't already known the TA.

Finally, the community member. I've worked at multiple libraries that allowed computers to be used by people who aren't attached to the school in any way other than they live in the same municipality. In this case, the difficulty was not as overt as either of the two cases above. This person was having difficulties with a particular thing on our network, and they weren't satisfied with the speed at which our IT department was addressing the issue so they asked to speak directly to me, the director.

This led to:
  • Vague threats about appealing to someone above me. I responded by making my own vague threats about changing the policy that gave this patron access to our space and resources. Verdict: partially successful. I needed to let this person know that I cannot be bullied, and this was the first step.
  • Walking away as soon as the initial conversation was over. I gave this person's concern attention, but not a single drop more than was warranted. Verdict: partially successful. Sometimes these kinds of things end up being attention seeking behaviors, and I didn't want to feed into that.
  • Communicating with appropriate staff both in and out of the library. Of special importance was that I spoke with my boss, since she was one of the people the patron had threatened to contact. Also of importance was that I brought security into the loop. Verdict: very successful. I took these steps mostly to help my own piece of mind. 
  • Documenting everything. If this person escalates, I need to have a paper trail to support the need to have this person banned from campus. Verdict: very successful.

In each of these interactions, I took responsibility for what was happening. As the director, it's my job to deal with the angriest of the patrons, but you won't always have someone higher up around to help. Common themes from each of these incidents:
  • I did my best to diffuse without backing down.
  • I had and was willing to fall back on contingency plans. 
  • I never took it personally, even though in each instance there was definitely a moment of the difficult patron making some sort of personal insult/attack.

Sure, each situation is different, but you have to have a way to approach difficult patrons. How about you? Have you had any difficult patrons? Had to anyone banned from your library?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Forget About Professional Development (For Now), by Sally Turbitt

Two words: Professional development. Talk of professional development starts in library school, with LIS students encouraged to volunteer at conferences, attend local events and generally “get involved” to accrue professional development points or hours. Maybe your workplace gives you opportunities to attend events on the proviso you come back to work and share your learnings. Or perhaps, like me, you realise that professional development activities are a way to learn and meet people in the industry, something that is really useful if you’re a library ‘outsider’ (e.g. not working in libraries).

Where do you start? How do you find the right activities and opportunities for you? You’ve got to start by answering, “who?”

A wise person once said “know thyself” and yes, that’s what I’m talking about. We are all, as another wise person once said like an onion, and when you start to peel back your layers and know yourself better, you will be a better professional and it will be easier to find the right professional opportunities that suit you. Plus you might surprise yourself by taking bigger leaps and accepting challenges you would have run away from before.

Knowing yourself is hard and uncomfortable work, BUT, here’s the thing. If you’ve invested heavily like me (financially, personally, emotionally), in going to library school and carving out a new career for yourself, you want to get this right and be a great librarian, advocate for your community and co-worker. You want to be resilient and have the stamina and skills to stay employed right? Many of us work with a huge variety of people every day, and being a resilient and reflective librarian is a good thing! This is why I want to encourage you to peel back those layers and find yourself first.

I’m a deeply curious person, always exploring ways to understand myself and others and I like to use a variety of tools to do this. It did take me years to discover those tools and be brave enough to listen to what I discovered. Years ago, I read What Colour is Your Parachute?, took the Myers-Briggs test at a work conference, and went to a career counsellor. I tried to ignore everything I learned, but it didn’t work. Part of me was paying attention and each time I explored something new and uncovered a kernel of truth about myself, an onion layer fell away and I got closer to who I really am.. Acknowledging personal biases, privilege, weaknesses, and figuring out how to celebrate and make the most of your strengths are all challenging. It’s hard to acknowledge who you are and find ways to change and do better at living and working.

As an ENFP, I am always willing to find solutions, so here are some of my personal tools for digging deeper and being brave. At one point or another each of these has got me through a rough patch and opened up doors to understanding myself and other people.
  • Listen. TED talks, podcasts, online radio shows - there are so many ways to listen and learn. Don’t stick to just library related content, branch out and explore new topics! (An added bonus is that you’ll be absorbing good and bad storytelling - how many times have you heard how about important storytelling is for library advocacy and promotion?)
  • Explore personalities and preferences. Try 16 Personalities, The Four Tendencies or read What Colour is Your Parachute?. You don’t have to agree with all the results, but they will give you some insight that you can explore (or ignore, but really, I bet you find one useful nugget of truth).
  • Ask friends and family what they think. (Awkward yes, useful, YES). You’ll be surprised at what people see in you and it’s more insight for you to reflect upon. Remember that how you see yourself is completely different to how everyone else does.
  • Be really honest with yourself about things you could be better at, and then find ways to improve. Written communication not great? Offer to write a newsletter article at work or start a blog. Jump on Twitter and practice writing in short concise sound-bites. Write book reviews for your library or just your friends. Feel like your tech skills need a refresh? Find out if your organisation or local library has a Lynda.com subscription or ask a colleague you know has great tech skills to show you their tips and tricks.
  • Spend time getting to know the people you work with, and how your personality and behaviours fit (or don’t). Read up on teams and communication. Start a conversation with co-workers or ask your boss if there are any short training courses you can take to expand your knowledge of teamwork and strategic communication.
  • Seek professional help if you need to. Sometimes we need to dig further to find ourselves and a professional counsellor or therapist can help.

Most importantly, discover your “who” your way. Extrovert, introvert, ambivert - there’s a way to do this that will suit you. Just try to extend yourself a little from time to time, try something new, and you could surprise yourself.

So, new librarian, this probably seems like quite a lot of ‘work’. Well, it is. However, you don’t need to do it all right now! Take small, achievable steps, and be kind to yourself and choose topics and activities you enjoy. Spend ten minutes a day reading an article or blog post, ask a colleague to show you how to do something that seems easy to them. Send that email to five close friends asking them that difficult question. Think small, it all adds up.

Find your who and the rest will follow.

Sally is a librarian who doesn't work in a library. Instead she supports library and information professionals for ALIA and co-hosts a podcast about libraries, galleries, museums and archives. Talk to her on Twitter @sallyturbitt.