Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On radical hospitality

For me, the Unified Library Scene means a lot of things. It means collaboration across functional areas in libraries. It means putting library users squarely in the center of any decision you make about how your library runs. It means leaving Librarianship better than you found it.

But mostly, the Unified Library Scene means being the change you wish to see in both Librarianship and in the world.

Today, in the wake of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, the Ferguson-Florissant School District is closed. But the Ferguson Municipal Public Library is open. And from 9-3, they're inviting teachers and volunteers into the library to work with kids.
The Ferguson Municipal Public Library also opened its doors to kids, teachers, and volunteers back in August after the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests delayed the start of school in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

This. This is what a library does. A library opens its doors to the community and meets its needs. Maybe that means building collections. Maybe this means building a makerspace so that users can dream and build and create. Maybe this means teaching classes on any number of topics relevant to the needs of the community. Maybe that means opening your library so that children in your community have a place to go and process their feelings and where teachers can continue the work of helping the children in your community grow.

The how looks different for every library in every community. But the why? The why is always the same. It is the job of a library and its staff to be hospitable in the most radical way possible to the community it serves.

It's possible that you didn't go into Librarianship to practice this kind of radical hospitality. Too bad. This is your job now, in a world that is increasingly and unequally unsafe for members of your community. It's possible that you think that Libraries are only for collections. Too bad. As R. David Lankes put it in this blog post, great libraries build communities.

Being the change means standing up and meeting the needs of your community. It means putting yourself at risk to ensure that your library is a safe space for the most vulnerable in your community. It means thinking critically about the collections you build and the services you offer. It means putting the needs of your users ahead of your own comfort.

So, here's the question: What is one thing that you can do today to practice radical hospitality to the community you serve?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday jams (11/21/2014)

I was on vacation last week and was woefully under prepared for jams-time. Not so, this week!

I was listening to the Lydia Loveless album this week and the last track is a cover of the Kirsty MacColl song "They don't know." I didn't know it was Kirsty MacColl song, let alone that it had been covered by Tracey Ullman. For those of you who are too young to remember, Tracey Ullman's sketch comedy show is where the cartoon The Simpsons got its start.

Anyway, here is the Tracy Ullman version of the song:

And the Kirsty MacColl version:


Have I ever told you about the Cher Index of Personal Wellbeing? It's a scale I use to measure the level and nature of stress that I am under.  It uses a scale of 1 - 10, with 1 being not stressed at all.  I'm pretty sure that's on a logarithmic scale. Levels 1 - 7 can be measured by how much Cher you're listening to on your daily use personal device.  It's not normal to listen to no Cher, as it is unhealthy to have no stress.  But when you start to seek Cher out, to listen to large chunks of Cher, things might be getting bad.  Levels 8, 9, and 10 are all videos, and, well, maybe another time.  I'm rocking about a 6 or a 7 on the Cher Index of Personal Wellbeing, so we're going to watch the most hilariously bored horse of all time. Yeah, I know, I know, but Cher.


Friend-of-the-blog Jessica Olin responded to Rachel's post yesterday with her go-to jam for psyching herself up, and we share it here with you.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

An Abundance of Whelming

I have recently taken on some new administrative responsibilities. It's been about a week and literally a thousand emails. (possibly more. there is a lot of email.) I'm really honored that I was chosen to do this work, I take it very seriously, and I want to do it right. Dealing with the idea of moving closer to being a full-time administrator is different than dealing with the reality of additional administration duties.  There is a lot of whelm involved.

I have great mentors, including our friend Jessica Olin from Letters To A Young Librarian, who are always there if I need a quick vent or a longer chat. I have faith in my skills, I know what I'm doing. There is this other level, like how I need a bigger container in which to store my whelm.  We all encounter it at some time or another.  Earlier in the week, two poems came to mind as thought devices for reflecting on my current whelm-excess.

The first to consider is Things to Think by Robert Bly. This is possibly the only poem by Bly I really like, as he's guilty of a lot of broetry, but I like this one quite a bit. Here goes:
Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time, or that it's
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.
This is for a feeling of yes, yes I can do this. I can do all of the things and do them well and make a real change. It is possible. Anything is possible. Anything at all.
I like the frame of impossible things as well: things you have never thought; impossible improbable things; important things.
A poem for when you've got a nice warm cup of whelm with room for cream.

But let's be honest, it's not like that. Not most of the time. It's like this:
Nobody heard him, the dead man, But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
If Not Waving But Drowning by Stevie Smith isn't already one of your favorite poems, I am sorry for you and I feel like maybe you weren't raised right. Thankfully we've remedied that now.

I think about this poem every time I am overflowing with whelm. It says everything I feel and everything I need to hear.

What do you turn to in your times of stress, what helps you get through transitions? Let me know, especially if it is a modernist poem.

Keep Rockin',

P.S. also, this song is a good one for the subject:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On being the change you wish to see

There's a really great thing happening on LibraryTwitter in November called #BeTheRainbow. The brainchild of @winelibrarian and @sarainthestacks, #BeTheRainbow asks librarians to identify the good things that are going on in their professional lives instead of complaining about the awful stuff. It's amazing to see the really neat things going on that people are proud of and it's fun to see a redirection of energy, as people focus on positive things instead of negative ones.

Look, let's be clear. We all have unpleasantness in our daily lives in the form of problem patrons or problem colleagues or problem policies. And social media makes it easy to put a rant off the tips of your fingers into the ether of the online world. But it's not just the ether. People read it and not only does it reflect on the kind of person you are, but it also creates an energy around the profession.

I'm not suggesting that you refrain from venting. Dashing off a quick tweet or Facebook post is often cathartic and helps us make space to get back into a positive place. Goodness knows I've done my fair share of venting. But if venting is all you do in online spaces, maybe it's time to put things back into perspective. It's easy to forget to say the things we're grateful for aloud because it's easier to find the bad things than it is to find the good. We shrug off the positive things in favor of wallowing in the bad ones and it makes us into certain kinds of people: sadder, more cynical, snarkier.

LibraryTwitter and LibraryFacebook can sometimes seem like an echo chamber of negativity and snark. But if we want to leave librarianship a better place than we found it, we have to flip the script and focus as much on the things we're doing to better the lives of the people we serve as we do on the things that they do that make us mad.

What is that one thing that's happening in your professional life that you can be grateful for? What's that one thing that's going right in a sea of things going wrong? Focus on that for a second and feel how that gratitude makes you better at being not only a human being but a librarian.

Stay positive,

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Jams (11/14/2014)


I've got several jams for you to illustrate how my mind works.  We start off the week with my post conference jam:

This song by Robbie Fulks is everything to me after a lot of social interactions.  And from there we go to Robbie singing an old standard:

And from there we get to the original, my real Friday Jam.  oh my god this video, it is everything.

Now Erin seems to be still on vacation or something, so I'll go ahead and post this, I'm sure she won't mind at all:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Conference Power

Academic libraries can be lonesome, especially for folks in areas where there are not a lot of people (like my field of acquisitions). When you're already in a place like that, and you're trying to build the constructive summer, it can be, you know, a little

There are so many paths of new doctor who references I could follow from here, but I'm not going to follow any of them! Admire my restraint!
Just like Erin talked about earlier this week, we gotta take care of ourselves.  Part of that is recharging personally in things like vacations, or playing games, or building elaborate blanket forts, or building elaborate cakes to share with me. Another equally important part of recharging is taking a break professionally.

Stepping away from our daily duties to think big thoughts about what we do, to see what other people are up to, to meet and talk to people who are both as tired of the day to day and excited about the possibilities that exist, to drink new and exciting beers in new and exciting towns.  Yes, my friends, I'm talking about going to a conference.  While it is possible for a conference to be hard work, I also find them extraordinarily rejuvenating.

I just got back from my conference, the Charleston Conference, and I have a TON of new ideas, and a TON of leads to follow up from vendors, and a TON to share with y'all and maybe even a new research project or two. And I'm excited about it all. Again. It happens every year.

The level of interaction with other people can be overwhelming, and the lack of sleep can wear, but I suspend all rules at conferences because the returns on fully engaging are so high. If I wish one thing professionally, it would be a way to get a real conference experience to folks who don't have the means to regularly get to regional or national conferences.

 Go Conferences!

Here's a bonus song about feeling alone and how that's true and not true.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gone fishin'

I am on vacation this week. In fact, I am composing this post while looking for Key Deer, so I'll keep it brief.
We've talked about self-care on the blog before. Taking time to do the things that make you happy and healthy make you a better you: a better friend, a better librarian, a better difference-maker. Self-care gives you the energy to come back to the things that matter to you with fresh eyes and a fuller heart.
Whether it's a trip out of town or a day to yourself, take some time taking care of you. It'll make all the difference.
In the midst of writing this, I saw four Key Deer grazing in somebody's yard. I am appropriately amazed.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Jams! (11/7/2014)

I'm conferencing at a conference. When you're conferencing at conferences, you need the most powerful of energy-providing-jams.  ENERJAMS. When you're getting ready to present at a conference your conference presentation, you need the kind of jam that you would use in a fight walk-out. For me, there is no question about what that jam would be. When they turn that knob at 1:30, I am reborn.

You might remember this from the Teddybears version which was featured on the television show Chuck whenever something kick-ass was about to happen, you huge nerds you.  If you see me in Charleston totally rocking out, this is what is playing.

I am rocking out especially hard today because I'm on vacation next week. Sometimes it's hard to combat Vacation Brain Creep when there's so much to do, so you need ENERJAMS for a whole different reason. One of my favorite thing is A.V. Club Undercover, where bands come to the A.V. Club offices and do a cover of a pop songs from a list of choices generated by A.V. Club readers. Constructive Summer reader, Ethan, pointed out this amazing Reggie Watts cover of Van Halen's Panama. Which led me down the rabbit hole of A.V. Club Undercover performances. This cover of R. Kelly's Ignition (Remix) is probably my favorite A.V. Club Undercover performance ever.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

For Fun: My Favorite Flash Games

I don't play classic video games because I am terrible at them. They make me frustrated to the point of destructive rage (issues, I know).  Well, I do play Tekken and Doctor Mario pretty religiously still, and I probably spent about 30 hours a week playing tetris as a child.  Anything else? I'm terrible. I'm even terrible at Mario Brothers and Sonic.

I do love some flash games though. I'm going to share them with you because I feel like it and because I've got conference brain.

First, I absolutely adore the Shift series, available in one, two, and three. The Shift games are probably my favorite online games in the history of forever.  Similar games that I enjoy because their conceits are appealing to me are the series This Is The Only Level (in four parts), and Achievement Unlocked (in three parts). These games please me because the conceit is simple and adorable, they are mildly challenging at times, but just plain fun. I don't care! It's FUN! Look at the little elephant dude!

I also like a life-sucking insanely leveled tower defense game to keep me warm all winter. I will not hear your suggestions, I have GemCraft. I will play the labyrinth over and over again, same as I will delete the memory on my Tekken game and play it all the way through on each character in succession. 

You may have noticed that these are all coming from the same place. I found it years ago and have had no cause for other game-sources.  There is a plethora of other weird stuff there, too.  Like I mentioned on twitter earlier this week, a game called Ignite People On Fire, which is pretty self explanatory and exactly as enjoyable as you think it is right now.  Another game, Every Day The Same Dream, I find so compelling and artful (it is kind of depressing and possibly triggering).

And if you just need to do something while you drink alone, get yourself a distance game. I am partial to Into Space and Learn To Fly, but Fisher-Diver takes a very strange and existential turn and will blow your mind.

I like to play these games for the same reason I like to do jigsaw puzzles. The goal is simple, and the path is fairly clear. You develop an algorithm and execute it and you get to the goal. I get enough highly complex problems at work. Sometimes I want to do a thing and see a result. If there is something pleasing about it, all the better.

What do you look for in a time-waster game? What about a game do you find the most relaxing? Let me know in the comments!

Keep Rockin'


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's a beautiful day in your neighborhood

I keep the Harvard Business Review's blog in my Twitter feed because it often has posts whose messages can be easily transferred from the business world to libraryland. So when this post entitled "Coworkers should be like neighbors, not like family" showed up last week, I tweeted that I wanted to spend a lot of time thinking about this idea.

In the continuum between strangers and family, Art Markman suggests that colleagues should have relationships akin to that of neighbors. He writes:

Strangers are people with whom we do not have a close connection; if we need their help, we pay them to provide it. Families are people with whom we have a close bond and for whom we do whatever is needed, often expecting nothing in return. In between strangers and family are neighbors — people with whom we have a reasonably close relationship, who offer us help, and expect help in return.

Markman goes on the state that neighborly relationships between colleagues work because everyone has a clear understanding of the organization's goals and a belief that the organization has their best interests in mind. In this type of environment, he posits, people are willing to go out of their way to help each other be successful.

I find the idea of a library as a neighborhood really compelling. Each functional area is like a house in the subdivision. Imagine if Reference lived next to Access Services and one street over from Interlibrary Loan. And Metadata and Cataloging live on the same block and one street over from Preservation. It makes sense to me that each functional area is both independent and interdependent. And if Reference's basement floods, Metadata will be there with towels and mops. Or if Cataloging's dog goes missing, Interlibrary Loan will help put up Lost Dog fliers. Basically, the library is working toward a common goal: Providing users with the information and services they need to be successful. And in this context, it makes sense that each functional area would go out of its way to assist the other.

In this library-as-neighborhood illustration, I can see how certain functional areas would have closer relationships with each other as their interests overlap. Metadata and Cataloging might be closer neighbors as they consider how evolving standards for description affect their work. Or Access Services and Reference might be closer neighbors as the consider the most effective way to assist students with locating and checking out library materials. And cross-departmental teams give members of every household the opportunity to work together to achieve a goal.

The only way our libraries can function as neighborhoods is if we keep firmly at the forefront of our minds our shared goal. When our focus starts to slip toward other things, like the minutia of our daily tasks, we start to become strangers. And, Markman suggests that strangers consider every interaction a pay-for-services interaction. And when working relationships feel more like family, Markman suggests that people become resentful when certain family members don't pull their weight.

Building that neighborly environment requires commitment from both a library's staff and its leadership. It takes effort to ensure that everyone has a common goal in mind and feels like their concerns are being heard and addressed. But, I think it's also really valuable for morale to have a neighborhood that is running well and moving toward a common goal.

I guess, for me, this feeling of neighborliness is what the Unified Library Scene means to me. It's a place where we're all tending to our functional areas and working together across those divides to create the best experience for users. So...won't you be my neighbor?