Tuesday, September 30, 2014
I participated in the Emerging Leaders program as part of the 2011 cohort. I felt so strongly about being part of the program that I applied twice to be part of it after my application to be part of the 2010 cohort was not accepted. I wanted to be part of the program because I wanted to develop my leadership skills and I really valued the idea of being part of what I saw as a prestigious program. At the time, I felt like ALA was an impenetrable fortress of bureaucracy and I saw the Emerging Leaders program as my ticket to scaling the wall of that fortress.
If you're not familiar with it, the Emerging Leaders program is a leadership development group with two components: a small group project and a larger, online learning community. The year begins at ALA Midwinter where participants are oriented to the program in a day-long program. The time between Midwinter and Annual is taken up a small group (3-5 person) project as well as larger online learning opportunities. The program concludes at ALA Annual with another day-long program and poster session where small groups present their work during a reception.
My experience in the Emerging Leaders program was positive for the most part. I certainly grew quite a lot as a result of being part of the program. When I considered what I would tell others about my experience in the program, it boiled down to three things: every Emerging Leader has a different experience, not everyone who participates in the program becomes a star, and you can be a leader without being a graduate of the program.
1. Every Emerging Leader has a different experience:
The experience a participant in the Emerging Leaders program has is often directly related to the small team they're assigned to and the project they're assigned. If the team works well together and has a project that feels like it could have an impact, a participant will probably feel like the program gave them skills they can transfer to other areas of leadership development. If, however, the project feels more like busywork or the team doesn't work cohesively, a participant might feel like the program was not worth their time.
A participant's experience of the program also has a lot to do with how much they take advantage of networking opportunities. The size of the cohort has gotten smaller since I participated, and 50 participants is a much more reasonable size for getting to know other people. Participants have opportunities at the two in-person meetings to make connections with other newer professionals, but they also have the opportunity to meet people who have risen to prominent positions in the organization. If a participants doesn't take advantage of those opportunities, the program can seem isolating, especially they see colleagues becoming part of ALA's "in crowd."
2. Not everyone who participates in the program becomes a star
There are a handful of people from my cohort who have gone on to significant leadership roles within ALA. My guess, though, is that they would've found their ways into those leadership roles even if they'd never participated in the program. I didn't become more well-known in ALA or in my home library as a result of participating in the Emerging Leaders program. I already had a committee appointment when I participated in the program, so I'm not certain that participating in the program helped me in that regard either.
I suspect that as many people decide that participation in ALA isn't for them as decide to pursue leadership opportunities within the organization. While the Emerging Leaders program goes a long way to help make the association more accessible to its future leaders, the truth is that an organization with over 50,000 members is always going to be impenetrable to some degree. Some people choose to find a home in a division or round table. But some people also choose to go another way entirely.
3. You can be a leader in ALA without being a graduate of the Emerging Leaders program
It's true that the Emerging Leaders program does work to equip its participants with the tools to be effective leaders, both in their home libraries and in ALA. However, not every leader in ALA is a graduate of the program. There are many people who work tirelessly to advance the mission of the Association and its divisions and round tables who have no affiliation with the Emerging Leaders program and no interest in participating.
Participation in the Emerging Leaders program certainly opens paths to leadership within the organization. But participation in the program is not the only way in which fitness for leadership is measured. Or at least it shouldn't be. When promoting people to positions of influence, we should look at someone's character and capacity for accomplishing the work that needs to be done. Yes, some of those qualities are possessed by people who participated in the Emerging Leaders program. But not every emerged leader possesses those qualities. The bottom line is that participation in the program should not be a jump-the-line pass to leadership within the Association.
Leadership programs, by their very nature, attract high achieving people who want to be a Big Deal within their sphere of influence. The problems start when we give participants in, and graduates of, the program the implicit message they are are part of that admired, set-apart crowd by giving them coveted volunteer appointments or by including trading cards with their likenesses in our profession's publication. I really enjoyed being part of the Emerging Leaders program, but I also know that being among its graduates doesn't make me special. I hope that people in other cohorts can say the same thing.
Monday, September 29, 2014
1. Keep On The Sunny Side from Will The Circle Be Unbroken by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and featuring Mother Maybelle Carter.
2. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down from The Band by The Band
3. World Without Tears from World Without Tears by Lucinda Williams
4. Elvis Presley Blues from Time (The Revelator) by Gillian Welch
5. Midwestern Arms (live performance from REV 105 Radio Archive) by Dead Hot Workshop
6. Loneliness House from Slant 6 Mind by Greg Brown
7. Let Go from Born Under by Martin Zellar
8. Miles Davis' Funeral from Cure For Pain by Morphine (as outro)
1. Jubilee from Stones In The Road by Mary Chapin Carpenter
2. Somewhere Else from Back To Me by Kathleen Edwards
3. Tear Stained Eye from Trace by Son Volt
4. Life Ain't Always Beautiful from Tough All Over by Gary Allan
5. These Days In An Open Book from The Dust Bowl Symphony by Nancy Griffith
6. Boulder to Birmingham from Profile: Best of Emmylou Harris by Emmylou Harris
Friday, September 26, 2014
Happy 5775! So I live up in the mountains where we don't have things. One of the things we don't have is radio. Normally I jam to my ipod and podcasts when I'm in my car, but sometimes I don't have those things. For those occasions I keep two CDs in the car of the kind of music you can hear on my life's greatest work, this Groove pandora station. My favorite of those is Heat Wave. Y'all, y'all. there is so much I love about this jam. I love it on every level. But most especially on the back-up singers telling you to go get you some level.
I don't feel like dancing. No sir, no dancing today. But maybe you do?
Thursday, September 25, 2014
I was thinking about how Rosh HaShana fits into my professional schedule and I got to thinking about the plethora of new years that I get to experience. First, my personal new year, the fiscal new year comes in July. Then we have the New Year of the instruction librarian, the beginning of fall semester. Then I get Rosh HaShana. Then, a little later we get the new calendar year, the beginning of spring semester. So many new years!
Sometimes we can fall prey to a thought trap that goes: That Project Is Good For Next Fall, I Will Start It Then. But if you've got the time, you've got the desire, you could be doing it right now instead of thinking about how great it will be when you start doing it finally after you've wanted to for months and months. By "you" I mean "me."
I've been saying yes to all of the awesome things (personally and professionally) and now my life is full of terrifying, challenging, rewarding opportunities. I recommend it. It's not comfortable, but that's not what being your best is like. I want to be my best so I've got to keep pushing.
You don't have to wait for any one new year to start anything. There is always a new year. Each new month, new fiscal quarter, new week, always a reason. You don't have to feel bad if your plans go astray. I like an actual new year as a time to take a long look and reassess, but it isn't right to put off changes you know you want to and can make until that time.
Start every day. Start today.
L'Shana Tova and
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
The nomination period for Library Journal's Movers & Shakers award is currently open. Currently in its 14th year, the award coverage intends to "profile 50 up-and-coming individuals who are innovative, creative, and making a difference."
I really, really want you to consider nominating someone this year. I know that the nomination form requires you to put in the effort of identifying attributes your nominee possesses. I know that it requires that you find a second person who will co-sponsor the nomination. It seems like a lot of work and you're probably really busy.
Look, I know it's easy to dismiss the Movers & Shakers award as something that misses the mark. The awards are often criticized for ignoring certain parts of Libraryland. Depending on where you're situated in Libraryland, you can probably make compelling argument for why your particular area of librarianship is underrepresented. In the case of my peers, it often gets noted that many of the winners are people who have public-facing job duties. After all, it's difficult to see the impact of work which, when done well, doesn't get noticed.
The introduction to the 2012 awards describes the awards this way, "For 11 years now, LJ's Movers & Shakers has been spotlighting librarians and other in the library field who are doing extraordinary work to serve their users and to move libraries of all types and library services forward."
At their best, the Movers & Shakers award is a celebration of the people in libraries who are doing amazing work to serve their users. And I would argue that behind-the-scenes people do as much to move libraries forward as people with more front-and-center jobs. We each have a role to play in libraries and it's time to shine the spotlight on people who are doing amazing work outside of the public spotlight. Their contributions to librarianship matter. They move us forward and make us better.
So, let's do this.
Let's find the people who are doing innovative things to serve users, even if those people never see the users they serve. Let's find the people who are doing creative things to grow collections, describe collections, and preserve collections. Let's find the people who are using technology in new ways or whose work makes using library resources and services easier for end users. Let's take the time to write thoughtful nominations that connect the impact of behind-the-scenes work to the experiences of library users.
Let's do this.
Nominations are open until November 7, 2014.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Remember a couple of weeks ago when I posted a song from Jason Isbell's Southeastern and grumbled about how it didn't win a Grammy? Well, this past week Isbell cleaned up at the Americana Music Awards by winning Artist, Album, and Song of the Year for "Cover me up."
In honor of Isbell's big win, enjoy a live version of "Cover me up" that was recorded on Austin City Limits. Playing fiddle is Amanda Shires, Isbell's wife and an amazing singer/songwriter in her own right. You should totally check her out album Down Fell the Doves.
What a week.
In times like this it takes a man of such style you can not often find.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
I make lists. I'm a list maker. I don't think I could quit if I tried. Here's a variety of lists that help me get through the busy times:
Simple To Do List
However, it can be hard to get the right level of specificity on a simple to do list, especially at work. A simple to do list that goes on for pages is more a reminder of the endless suffering you're enduring. See, above, how washing the dishes and putting the dishes away are separate items? When I make my to do lists for home, I list each individual action associated with the laundry; start laundry; change loads; change loads; fold laundry; put clothes away. Otherwise, it doesn't actually happen and/or I don't feel like I've really done anything.
A subset of the Simple To Do List is the Completed Items list, which doesn't really work for me but I've heard good things from other people.
So much of my day is spent answering little questions and putting out fires that I can lose focus on some of the larger things or easily find a way to avoid simple tasks that I don't want to do. In the past few weeks, I've been listing five substantial things that will make me feel like I've accomplished something meaningful during the day. Here's what that looks like:
Now, once upon a time about five or six years ago, I was put in an extremely uncomfortable position that resulted in a lot of feelings in addition to a lot of complicated things to do in a very short time. I had to get my thoughts together about exactly what needed to happen, and I wrote them down in a very, uh, frank manner. I think I averaged two and a half epithets per list item. This list was on a private forum, and when I had completed items, I would strike them, exclaiming in all caps, "done, bitches." Which is how that sort of list is referred to by a certain set. It was very popular as a cohort were completing and defending their dissertations. I recommend using this sparingly, but when you need it, it is extremely effective.
So, what kind of lists do you make? How do you keep yourself on track in a busy time of year? Talk to me in the comments!
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Friday, September 12, 2014
It's Friday! Time to kick out some jams! Let's do this...
My jam for this week, and stay with me here, is Iris DeMent's "Hide Thou Me" from her album Lifeline, which is full of amazing gospel tunes. I was really deep into this album when I was finishing library school. More specifically, it was the soundtrack to me writing my comprehensive examinations. Part of her version of "Leaning on Everlasting Arms" was in the finale to the 2010 True Grit, which you should totally watch tonight. Hide Thou Me is a beautiful tune, and we all need a reminder that our troubles ain't too much in the grand scheme. Get it done. This beginning of the semester is a lot of stuff going on all of the sudden and I needed that reminder all week. Well damn. Now I wrote all that and it isn't on youtube. internet, you're letting me down. Another selection, then. And if you need an actual jam, here you go.
Monae's performance of this song about "the power of yet" was making the rounds on social media this week and I was instantly charmed. But Rachel posted a Janelle Monae song a couple of weeks ago, so I was worried that maybe it was too soon to post another. Rachel assured me that there is no such thing as too much Janelle Monae on the blog, so please enjoy Monae's trip to Sesame Street.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
I'm Jewish and I'm queer, which are both identifications where, arguably, I can pass. There are definitely instances where not saying anything puts me in a position of privilege that would be much more tenuous if I would have been more overt about those identities. I tend to think that from my appearance people will assume that I am queer (I do have what Cecily called an "alternative lifestyle haircut"), but that's not always the case. Religion is definitely something that is easy to avoid, hide, and play along with.
I won't speak about the kind of self-harm that would come from deciding to actively hide these parts of my identity, but know that I have felt keenly aware of my otherness many times in many places, and that there was a time when my default was to be quiet and to let people assume that I was like them. And I know I can perpetrate the same wrongs done me.
Two things I've been thinking about recently, and I'll just put them out there as a start to this exploration:
The first was about how important my visibility was to students as a young queer faculty member. Representation matters. I had never considered the fact of my being, and being in a place, nothing more, could have such an impact on young lives. I really don't know how to explain that realization. It is something I'm too sure our colleagues of color also understand. Seeing the power of representation and the impact it has on students makes me more willing to stand up and be vocal and visible. Looking at them gives me the courage to do it when I might otherwise pass quietly into a position of privilege.
Secondly, I've been reflecting on how we in colleges and universities especially don't meet the mark in terms of treating diverse colleagues humanely. I mean, as humans. I can't tell you the number of times I've had discussions with nice white ladies who are fully intent on inclusion and diversity which are marked by their excitement to meet me! I really do want to believe their intent, and I know that often their experiences are limited by circumstance as well as individual choice, but I walk away feeling like, "if you're really excited to meet me, why do you treat me like a pokémon?"
These are just two thoughts I've been thinking recently. I want to take these and put them out there from my own perspective knowing that they are only representative of my experience, but also knowing that there are many more individual and collective stories. To realize a holistic profession, we need to recognize whole people, and to do that we need to constantly work on how we relate to each other, our institutional colleagues and students, and personal stories can be an important part of that. They have been for me as I struggle with how I relate to myself and to others.
So, tell me what you think. What do you think about representation, about tokenism (pokéism as I will now call it), about how to get better as people and as a profession? What do you think about the new iPhone? What do you think?
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
I am so tired of arguing about Rockstar Librarians.
— Erin Leach (@erinaleach) September 6, 2014
Rachel wrote this great post a couple of weeks ago about how using shorthand is both lazy and dangerous. In it, Rachel suggests that we should "take the time and energy to be clear about who we mean when we're speaking."
So, here goes:
I think that Rockstar Librarian is shorthand for someone who has become someone that we, as a profession, have put in a position of influence. Often, when used as a pejorative phrase, we mean that we think that the person didn't really do anything to earn that influence.
Librarians spend a lot of time worrying about how other people see us. And we have opinions about every article written by the mainstream media about the future of our profession. Remember this 2007 article from the New York Times that called us hipsters? Or how about this 2011 blog post from Seth Godin about the future of libraries? Or this recent piece in the Wall Street Journal calling librarianship a "shrinking profession" that was in danger of having a shortage of workers? I would bet that for each of these articles, you could find dozens of indignant blog post rebuttals.
I think part of the reason we spend so much time arguing about who gets put in positions of influence in librarianship is related to this desire to refute every argument about how libraries are becoming an outdated, unnecessary relic of an analog age.
Here's what I believe: arguments about Rockstar Librarians and who should be given influence in librarianship distract us from our real work: serving the people in our communities who use our collections and services.
We, as a profession, should acknowledge people for doing the work to transform librarianship. I think we should continue to have programs that prepare people with leadership potential for service in the profession. And I think we should give awards to people who have done extraordinary work.
But I also think we should look critically at why we have elevated our peers to positions of relative power. I think that we should ask ourselves at the end of every Libraryland award season: have we given influence to people who have shown they deserve it through their words and actions?
Look, I know it's not easy to reframe the discussion when you feel like your Libraryland Affinity Group is overlooked when the accolades are being distributed. I'm as guilty of throwing around Rockstar Librarian as anyone reading this blog post. I know how easy it is to be snarky as you lash out when you feel overlooked or left behind. But let's do the hard work of nominating our heroes for awards--even if it means submitting a nomination for many years--instead of the easy work of tearing down our colleagues who win awards for doing things we don't necessarily consider noteworthy.
I challenge all of us to agree to stop arguing about who deserves to be called a Rockstar Librarian and, instead, focus on the people who deserve accolades for demanding that we be our better selves.
Friday, September 5, 2014
I know we've been thinking all about the future and sometimes that's a little scary and sometimes it can be a little depressing. But let's take a moment to reflect on the true nature of the future. It's looking up. Where the sun is, up there in the sky. It's bright. So bright that we'll need some protective eyewear.
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin is one of my favorite bands. If you've never heard of them, you should take this opportunity to listen their entire catalog and to follow them on Twitter.
This song is on my running playlist, but I'd never seen the video until today. And it's amazing and includes them running through a library. How could you not love that?
Thursday, September 4, 2014
When I got my very first job as a librarian at a small liberal arts college, one of the orientation steps was sitting down with the provost. He was a very smart guy. He sat me down, asked me how everything was going, and then said, "you need to think about whether you want to go into administration." It wasn't a reflection on my vast potential, but a reaction to the climate of higher education.
In higher ed, we have a weird kind of career ladder which makes sense when you go assistant professor, tenure, associate professor, full professor. All of those are the same kind of job. But somewhere in there is dean. It's not a promotion from associate or full professor. A dean is a completely different job. One that we need people who are good at and want to do.
The same is true in libraries. Especially true for the kind of "traditional" library jobs like reference and cataloging. Dean or Director is a fully separate job than that. One that there is no clear path toward.
The dynamics of a professional class with a bimodal age distribution (many boomers, many young folks) is that the jobs aren't where the applicants are. They are in middle and upper management. What my provost was trying to tell me when I was a tiny baby librarian is that, decide now if leadership is for you because things will happen fast.
If we need quality people in leadership roles, we need to ask all new librarians the question that I was asked. The answer may be "no," that's okay, but when the answer is "yes," we need to work with that so that we can create the kind of leaders that we need. Great leaders are going to rise quickly from the ranks of new librarians who have an aptitude and a desire to lead.
However, there are some inherit tensions in this situation. The first is that leaders (or even just managers) are going to be "promoted" into those wholly different positions past the folks who said "no" to administration. Just because you don't want a job doesn't mean you're not going to resent the person that got it for any number of reasons. We need to work on that individually and collectively. Perhaps the "do you want to administrate" question was only asked tacitly, and creating an environment where it is an honest discussion would help.
Additionally, in many institutions, there is not much room for advancement and most of the staff stay in their positions or desire to remain in the same institution. In these situations, developing leaders can often mean investing in staff only to see them leave your institution for opportunities with greater responsibility and long term advancement. The worst form of this is seeing someone with a great potential and (perhaps unconsciously) hamstringing their development so that they will stay at their current position. No. We need to understand that our field will benefit from the best leaders in the positions best suited for them, and we should help our colleagues in their professional development because it is the right thing to do by them as professionals and for our profession. As managers, you need to be flexible and advocate for what they need for advancement.
I think if we confront those two tensions, if we help each other think about leadership and our own professional goals, we can make libraries way more awesome for everyone who already works here and everyone trying to get a job in a library. What do you think?
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
According to the chart in the article, librarianship is not in as poor a position as occupational therapy or home health care aides. But I suspect that if you're a new graduate from a LIS program, you might find yourself objecting to the notion that librarianship is suffering for young workers to fill vacant positions.
It seems like the reaction to this piece has mostly been that there are, in fact, too many young workers trying to fill too few positions. This 2011 In the Library with the Lead Pipe piece by Brett Bonfield lays out a lot of interesting data about graduation rates from LIS programs. Bonfield also points out some of the challenges associated with this data--namely that identifying the number of people who graduated with an MLS from an ALA-accredited program in any given year is really challenging.
Given all of that, my hot takes on this article aren't related to whether or not there aren't enough young workers to fill positions vacated by retiring librarians.
I want to focus, instead, on this notion that librarianship is a shrinking profession.
It's my sense that when librarians retire, administrators are either not filling the positions or are rewriting job descriptions to fill gaps in skills. This might mean that in an academic library a reference librarian position gets rewritten into, say, a data curation position. Or, when a cataloger retires, the position is not filled at all and the work gets done through outsourcing or shelf-ready processing.
So you have a lot of people who want to be reference librarians and catalogers, but a lot of libraries who need data curation specialists or programmers with specific programming language skills.
Which is great, if you have the skills to fill these positions. But what if you don't? What then?
I suspect that this need for people with niche skills isn't going to go away any time soon. So how do we prepare ourselves for this new reality?
One answer is to find employment outside of librarianship. It's absolutely true that your information organization skills are transferable to the world outside of libraryland. But what if what you really want is to stay in librarianship?
Andromeda Yelton wrote this really great piece for Letters to a Young Librarian about skill building to equip you for life after library school. And I think it's great advice for wherever you are in your career. What skills do you have now and how can you demonstrate them? What skills do you need to deal with the new reality of a shrinking profession and how can you acquire them?
I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging how challenging this new reality is. But I also think we can equip ourselves for it.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
You can read the Storify of the #critlib chat here. It was storify-ed by the fantastic Anna-Sophia.
Rachel asked this question during the chat and it has stuck with me:
Q3: Where should library services be located on a range from palliative to transformative during and after events? #critlib
— M is for Motorized (@RachelMFleming) August 27, 2014
I think the answer to this question is "everywhere." We owe it to our users to provide them with services that both enable self-care and help them move forward social justice movements.
I think, at its heart, Rachel's question should compel us to consider how libraries might be more user-centered. What would happen if we asked our users where library services should be on that spectrum of palliative to transformative? How would their answers change our spaces and services?
That's what stuck with me: this notion of how radically librarianship might be transformed if we became truly user-centered.
I think it's hard to considering asking our users this question. We're comfortable with certain processes and changing our priorities might mean that our jobs become obsolete. And if we're being honest, providing services on the transformative end of the spectrum is not without risk for the institutions and people providing these services.
But I don't think that should stop us. I think that we owe it to ourselves and our users to ask them the question about who they think we should be and what they think we should do for them. And I also think it's acceptable to be uncomfortable with their answers. But where I'm not sure it's okay is when we sell our users short because we're not comfortable with what they require from us.
As a profession, let's resolve to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Let's resolve to put users first, even when it means disrupting our current way of doing things. Let's agree to take on the risk to provide tranformative services. And let's find out what transformative services mean to the people we serve.
And if you get scared, ask yourself what Sandy Berman would do.