Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Look where all this talking got us

A call for proposals got me thinking about professional identity and about the specialties within librarianship that we choose. This is a genuine 'in my feels' post, so it's short on facts and figures and long on feelings. Your mileage may truly vary and you should just forget about the grain of salt and take this with the whole shaker.

One of the things I've been thinking about is why people choose which area of librarianship to specialize in. When thinking about which area of librarianship to specialize in, our best self wants to find a specialty that aligns with our skills and our values and which has the capacity to challenge us over the course of our career. Our more practical self looks for a specialty that provides long-term stability (to the extent that such a thing is possible) and the opportunity for growth and advancement. Either way, we choose something or it chooses us and we build a community of practise within that specialty.

I chose to become a cataloger because cataloging made sense to me. It didn't at first and I was often reduced to tears when doing homework for my cataloging class. I couldn't make sense of the rules and I couldn't make the connection between the rules and the user's experience of the catalog. At some point, it finally clicked for me. And thirteen or so years ago, when I chose cataloging, I felt like I was choosing a specialty that was both challenging and that could provide long-term stability and an opportunity for growth.

The other thing I've been thinking about is how our specialties are (or aren't) tied to our professional identities. I'm a cataloger, yes, but I wonder how much of my professional identity is tied up in cataloging. I sometimes think not much, especially in comparison to my colleagues who are much more passionate (and knowledgeable!) about the nuts and bolts of cataloging. I don't think it makes me a bad cataloger so much as it makes me a person whose passions lie elsewhere.

I would like to believe that while cataloging informs my professional identity, it doesn't dominate it. I like talking about well-formed metadata, sure, but I also like talking about relationship and skill building. And I like talking about how we should center the user's experience of the library as part of how we choose to do our jobs. My professional identity has its roots in my experience of cataloger, Knowing the value of well-formed metadata on user experience is one thing, but knowing the labor involved in creating that well-formed metadata is another.

For a long time, I conflated my area of specialization and my professional identity. I felt like being a cataloger is who I am and what I bring to librarianship. And I spent a lot of time feeling badly about the fact that some of my colleagues know a lot more about the nuts and bolts of cataloging than I do. I felt badly that I wanted to think about relationships and user experience and skill building and advocacy. At some point, I realized that people are vast and contain multitudes and the one's professional identity doesn't have to be just about the area of librarianship you choose to specialize in.

I'm known for being a person who cares deeply about relationships and user experience and skill building and advocacy, anyway. Why not embrace that as my professional identity and use my experiences as a cataloger to inform these professional passions?

I feel compelled to leave you with a nugget of truth that you can apply to your own work. So here goes: What is the thing about librarianship that you're most passionate about but that you're afraid to pursue because it isn't in perfect alignment with the specialization of librarianship in which you work? What would life be like if, instead of being afraid to pursue that passion, you embraced it?

Stay positive,

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Oh what a wonder, oh what a waste

Last week, I read an article in the most recent issue of dh+lib that presented the idea that the development of metadata standards for a particular project can, if we let it, be a kind of outreach. Emma Annette Wilson and Mary Alexander write, "DH projects require high-quality metadata in order to thrive, and the bigger the project, the more important that metadata becomes to make data discoverable, navigable, and open to computational analysis." The article goes on to urge that metadata librarians emerge from the back room in order to build relationships with digital humanities scholars. Wilson and Alexander write, "it is time to leave the backroom and partner with faculty and students on the frontiers of DH research, introducing them to metadata best practises and innovations, and sharing with them the creativity required to produce flexible, sustainable, and robust data for their projects."

I like the idea of including metadata librarians in the development of digital humanities projects. As the authors point out, digital projects require well-formed metadata in order to do the things scholars want to do. Inviting metadata creators into the conversation early on in the process will (hopefully) lead to decisions being made that don't end up with a library's metadata creation team remediating a significant amount of metadata later in the project.

I also appreciate the range of projects that Wilson and Alexander discuss in their article, as I think they show the range of digital humanities work and the metadata that supports it. From using a controlled vocabulary to describe fabric swatches in a fashion industry publication to contextualizing marginalia in digitized texts, the authors demonstrate the value of well-formed metadata across a wide variety of digital projects. The projects outlined in this article show what digital scholarship can be when metadata is considered early and often.

One thing that Wilson and Alexander don't explicitly address in their article is how the additional labor of consulting on digital projects from outside the library is accommodated within the existing workload of metadata creators. And, ultimately, this is the part of the situation that I find myself feeling concerned about. I have mixed feelings about asking metadata creators who are already taxed working on homegrown library initiatives to take on the work of instructing digital humanities scholars about well-formed metadata. On one side, I think it it's important to leverage the expertise that librarians have to provide the services that our users need. And if digital humanities scholars need help with metadata in order to create meaningful digital projects, then metadata creators should be in the middle of things helping them. On the other side, I think that we risk having our metadata creators suffer from burnout if we're not providing additional resources to help those metadata creators balance the demands from within, and outside, the library.

When considering how to balance competing interests in the area of metadata creation, two possible solutions come immediately to mind:

1. Allocate positions (or portions of positions) to digital projects that come from outside the library. By including this work in the position description or job duties of a metadata creator, a library acknowledges both the importance of supporting user-created digital projects and the labor necessary to do this work.

2. Embed a metadata creator in the library's digital humanities program. By doing this, you not only address the importance and the labor of supporting user-created digital projects, but you give the metadata creator the space and time necessary to collaborate with both the digital humanities library and the user community. The metadata creator has time to answer question and give their full attention to the project at hand without significantly compromising the progress on in-house digital projects.

In the end, I am not against the idea that metadata creation can be an outreach tool. Digital humanities research provides an opportunity for academic libraries to engage with our users and that opportunity can't be ignored. But I do think that we have to take seriously the question of labor and of workload when we ask metadata creators to add consultation to their already full plates. If well-formed metadata is as important as the authors of this article suggest that it is, we have to ask ourselves at what point the challenge we've placed in front of metadata creators is no longer sustainable. Ultimately, I don't think academic librarianship can support digital humanities work while also applying the 'do less with more' tactic to metadata creation. Our metadata creators, and our users, deserve better.

Stay positive,

Friday, August 5, 2016

Friday jams (08/05/16)

My friend was talking on Twitter about Goodnight Tender, an album by Amy Ray. Heather McEntire, of Mount Moriah fame, contributes pretty significantly to Ray's album. 

I am like 51% sure I've posted this song by Mount Morah before, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to it. "Lament" is really great. Enjoy.

I am still on a pretty frequent ANTI jam. It's just, so, you know, Rihanna. Plus she was in the news because some silly white people were saying silly white people things. So, today, we're gonna listen to "You Needed Me" again, possibly on repeat, even though we already know it. I don't link the video because it is super intense and we don't need that.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The time to rise had been engaged

I am always a little bit cheered when someone outside of the metadata creation universe champions a metadata or metadata-adjacent cause. A lot of what I write about is about the value of well-formed metadata in the larger library ecosystem--especially as it relates to a user's ability to discover things in a digital environment.

So given my soapbox feelings about well-formed metadata and its role in discovery, I was interested to Chris Bourg's blog post about the role of serendipity in the research process and browsing in the online environment. I was even more interested to know that Chris gave this talk to members of the IviesPlus group as part of IviesPlus Discovery Day, because I feel like those are the people and institutions with the resources to really dig into these issues.

The part of Chris' blog post that really caught my attention was this:
What we are hearing are scholars who want us to build tools, or facilitate the building or deployment of tools, that will allow them to see connections to their work and their teaching and their interests that they cannot see now. They want to discover articles and books and data and images and maps and primary sources and teaching objects and people on the fringes of their own areas of focus, but that are otherwise kind of in their blindspots. They want to make happy & unexpected discoveries; and they want it not to be by accident, but to be because the library has provided the tools, the data, and the metadata to make it so.
What I appreciate about this statement is the acknowledgement of the fact that creating this kind of world, this kind of future, requires well-formed metadata. Researchers want to be able to discover the things they didn't know that they wanted to discover and I believe that library would love to make that experience available to users. But, as Chris points out, that requires a different set of tools than are currently available to users. It also requires a commitment to understanding what metadata those tools require to provide the kind of experience that users want and, once those needs are assessed, the commitment to developing that kind of metadata.

Creating the descriptive and subject access to library materials that will facilitate the kind of user experience Chris describes is costly. Yes, metadata from other parts of the supply chain can (and should) be used. And yes, linking to authoritative source outside of the current authority ecosystem will help cut down one cost. But at some point, libraries will have to take on the task of creating and remediating metadata in order to make it useable by the tools that are necessary to facilitate true, serendipitous discovery. And that creation and remediation is timely in terms of time and in terms of personpower.

I am grateful that Chris put forth this vision for the future of discovery. And I'm doubly grateful that metadata was mentioned in the same breath with tools and data. It isn't enough for metadata creators to talk ceaselessly about the value of well-formed metadata in the discovery process. We need for administrators to talk about it, too. I am inspired by the ideas that Chris put forth in the talk that lead to the blog post. And I hope that we, as metadata creators, have the resources we need to create the well-formed metadata that will lead to those ideas becoming reality.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I never want to be anyone's enemy

At the end of June, I wrote a post about how I thought that people with reference and instruction duties should spend time working with metadata creators in order to help enhance access to the collections they curate. My thought process is that having a holistic view of the library helps everyone become better at their jobs and that the burden to cross-train shouldn't be placed exclusively upon the shoulders of technical services librarians.

I got a really great comment on this post that made me pause for a moment in self-reflection.

It's a great question, right? How do you actually implement a cross-training program when everyone feels stretched so thin that they can't take the time to work with someone from another department? 

After thinking about it a lot, I identified three things I've seen work at various places that I've worked. 

1. Start small:
I don't think it's necessarily realistic to show up in another department and ask to be cross-trained, especially if it's not the culture at your library. Start by bringing genuine questions about how things work to someone in the department you'd like to learn more about. Are you a public services librarian who wants to learn more about metadata? Start by asking a friendly cataloger about why a search you did in the online catalog produced different results than you thought it would. Are you a metadata creator who wants to know more about how library users access information in the online catalog? Start by asking a friendly public services librarian about what complaint they hear the most during one-on-one transactions or during instruction sessions. They don't have to be long, in-depth conversations. But do enough to start building relationships with people in departments outside your own and showing interest in the work that your colleagues do.

2. Focus on fixed-term projects:
Sometimes the slow season for one department will align with the busy season for another. Or sometimes the workload of a person in a particular department ebbs and flows. These natural changes in the rhythm of the library make space for people to cross-train on projects. Is there a project in your department that nobody has time to do or a project that requires an extra set of hands? This would be a great opportunity to find people in other parts of the library who are looking for skill-building opportunities outside of their own departments. Bonus points if the project you're looking for help with utilizes talents that the person doing the project doesn't get to use in their day-to-day work. You don't have to give a person working on a fixed-term project enough training to be a full-fledged member of the department, which helps if you feel like you don't have time to spare with a programmatic cross-training initiative. 

3. Make the first move:
Not every person in every department is going to be open to cross-training or collaboration. Some people don't want to learn more about metadata creation or information literacy because they'd rather focus on the work they're actually assigned to do.

And that's okay.

But I feel like libraries have to create a culture where people who do want to collaborate or cross-train are supported in doing so. Yes, it takes time to teach people. Yes, it is hard when you're already stretched really thin. But libraries should reward people who want to learn more and do more instead of treating those people like burdens. 

Sometimes, you have to be the change agent in your library and decide that you're going to be the person to make the first move and give up your time in order to change the culture. Ask questions and make it clear you're willing to answer questions. Be friendly and curious--someone that people in other departments want to approach with questions--and use the capital you've earned to ask people questions. If you want to talk to people, try to approach them on their terms. If they prefer emails to a phone call or a drop-in conversation, respect that. If they'd like for you to make an appointment so that they have time to give your question the time and attention it deserves.

Final thoughts:
In my first job out of library school, two things happened around the same time. First, I developed an interest in library instruction because I felt like it would be my best chance (based on the climate and culture of my library) to learn more about how students accessed information. Second, I became the go-to person in the cataloging department for a couple of instruction librarians just by being friendly. Luckily for me, one of those people was the instruction coordinator and she believed in me enough to mentor me in instruction and to allow me to teach a library orientation class each semester. By being curious about what she did and friendly when she asked questions, I was able to help her and to grow my own skills.

Look, I get it. It's possible that you'll try all of these things and people will still be stretched too thin to cross-train you. In which case, you might have to find opportunities to learn more about other parts of librarianship from people you don't work with. If you're a person working in public services who feels like there is no one in metadata creation that you can talk to, feel free to reach out to me. While I can't give you work to do, I'm happy to answer your questions and to serve a sounding board for ideas you might have.

Stay positive,

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Jams! (07/22/2016)

I, for one, defer to Erin's jam whole heartedly.  But rules are rules and I am required to provide my own jam. So.

This week's jam is from the epic Carpool Karaoke featuring Michelle Obama. It is the two minutes of pure perfection where James and Michelle are joined by Missy and the three of them perform "Get Ur Freak On."

Friday, July 15, 2016

I'm doing all right, getting good grades

So, I was accepted into the 2016 cohort of the ALA Leadership Institute. I am very honored to be selected, excited to attend, and just so eager to make connections with the folks in this group. On the application, one of the questions was regarding the Future Of Libraries. I thought I'd share my answer, the Unified Library Scene in a very small nutshell.

The most important thing for libraries to focus on in order to maintain relevancy in the future is to maintain focus on how our core mission of connecting users to resources is unchanging amidst any technological or political changes. Librarians and library management need to address the ways in which librarians continue to accomplish the core goals of libraries in both traditional and new ways. As a profession we tend to get hung up on specific tasks or processes which become reified as “what librarians do,” when the tasks should be continually put in the context of our larger mission. This is true both of more technical aspects such as cataloging and metadata services which remain vital to creating access to resources, and to public facing services such as developing information literacy in all library uses that addresses the varied ways in which library users access and use information. Addressing emerging technologies and societal pressures from a grounded perspective continually focused on an unchanging core mission allows for a greater level of flexibility in the ways which all library staff address their work. Listening closely to our users and our communities with our core mission in mind rather than our daily work in mind allows us to be responsive to deep needs in society rather than simply do what “what librarians/libraries do.” As leaders in the profession, our goal should be to make the connection between what is being accomplished in our field with the core mission both to outside constituents and to other leaders and workers in the field. Together, focused on our mission, we will continue to be a vital driving force in society.

What do you think? How'd I do?

Keep Rockin',