Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How do you make community?: Erin's ACRL 2015 post

One of my favorite songs is Histories by Erin McKeown. It's where the title for this post comes from.

I spent most of last week in Portland, Oregon for ACRL's 2015 conference. I'd never been to this conference before, but I was able to go because I won a mid-career scholarship. I have to pause this post to say that I am forever grateful to those of you who chose to donate money to the ACRL scholarship fund. You helped fund an experience that transformed me.

The reason I'd never attended ACRL's conference before is that, historically, ACRL has not really focused on technical services. A technical services interest group was started in 2013, but the majority of content at ACRL's conference is directed toward people in other kinds of roles in their library. It seems like both ACRL and ALCTS have come to the conclusion that technical services librarians in academic libraries are more active in ALCTS. And, since ALCTS doesn't have a division-specific conference like ACRL, many technical services librarians end up having to attend the ALAs in order to get technical services content.

The answer to the question posed in the blog titles is that you build community is by finding people whose values align with yours, have hard conversations, and get to work being the change you wish to see.

It is easy to stick to the places that make us feel comfortable and safe. But that's rarely where transformation happens. I learned so much, grew so much, and cultivated so many friendships by attending ACRL's 2015 conference. I met people and had conversations I never would've had if I'd stuck with my technical services friends and only attended programs on linked data or the future of cataloging.

We have so much work to do, friends. The first order of business is to build a reading list of books and articles mentioned at presentations. Watch this space in coming days when Rachel and I figure out the best way to do that.

In the meantime, if you attended ACRL's 2015 conference, how were you transformed?

Stay positive,

Monday, March 30, 2015

Post-ACRL Jams!

Last week the Unified Library Scene was unified at ACRL. Here are some photos of us.


After every conference I have the same jam. It's not that I don't like people, I love people. It's just that people exhaust me. So, after almost a full week of full-on people and things, it's nothing but Robbie Fulks' "I like being left alone"

You knew I couldn't do this without a song by The Hold Steady, right? For what it's worth, my favorite part of this song is the bridge.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday jams (03/20/2015)

It's Friday, friends of the blog! And ACRL is next week in Portland!

Rachel and I are going to meet in-person for the second time at ACRL--true story, we thought we'd never met in-person until fairly recently when Rachel realized that we had met once at a NASIG conference for like a second.

Anyway, let's have a pre-ACRL dance party!

I had never heard of Shamir until I heard him do an interview with Jenny Eliscu at SXSW for SiriusXM's indie rock channel. It is a-mazing and the hook is kind of ear worm-y.

As an aside, if you're interested in reading what NPR has to say about Shamir and about this song, here you go.

Look at Erin with her new music again.  I don't believe in that, as you know. I believe in old school jams. I was taking a dance party break last night and I watched this video for the first time (I didn't have The Cable as a youth, you see). This video is as good as this jam. ready? no, are you ready? GO.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On metadata and user experience

In addition to writing on the blog, I tweet. A lot. While Twitter is great for rapid fire conversations, the downside of Twitter is that 140 characters doesn't allow for a lengthy development of a thought. The upside is having a blog where you can expand on an idea.

Today, I tweeted the following tweets:

And based on the number of re-tweets they got, I can tell that I struck a nerve.

There seems to be a disconnect between the notion of patron's discovering information via the online catalog and the creation and remediation of the metadata that populates the online catalog.

Cataloging departments are often understaffed and underfunded. Positions in cataloging departments often go unfilled after they are vacated, their funding line reallocated to a different part of the library. The 'do less with more' meme is true everywhere in libraries, but it feels truer in cataloging.

The value that administrators place on the creation and remediation of metadata in their organizations is less than, say, the value they place on the experience of users in libraries. But one inescapable part of a user's experience of the library is discovery of library materials in an online catalog. Maybe your users aren't looking for the same kind of material now that they were a decade ago. And maybe the ways they search are different. But if someone is coming to your library to find something, chances are that an online catalog of your library's materials is often the first place they go.

You can't have a good online catalog without good metadata driving it. And the best way to get good metadata is to support the creation and remediation of metadata within your organization.

Yes, there are tools that can automate this process. And yes, there are ways that we can streamline the cataloging of materials. I am not opposed to outsourcing of cataloging or the purchase of vendor records. But a value has to be placed on the metadata that is created from these sources as well.

So why are we, as catalogers, so terrible at communicating our value to the people in our organizations who drive decisions?

I think it circles back to yesterday's post on creating compelling stories. As much as we want people to understand our point of view, we have to start talking about how our work impacts the experience of library users in a jargon-free way. We all say that cataloging is a public service, but do we explain how the metadata that has been created and remediated in the appropriate ways has a direct effect on whether or not a user finds what they're looking for? Do we explain how fields in the records we create effect facted searching and how incorrectly coded records show up under the wrong facet?

I don't think it's always that administrators won't listen. I think it's that administrators have limited resources and it's not immediately apparent how the creation and remediation of metadata impacts how users experience the library. When you're trying to be a good steward of funds, it's easy to allocate resources to the services that you can see directly and immediately impacting library users.

I'm going to take my own advice on this one. I'm going to work on coming up with a compelling, jargon-free elevator pitch in support of allocating resources to the creation and remediation of metadata. I'm not saying it will solve the problem. But maybe it will start the conversation.

Stay positive,

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My heart's the bitter buffalo

The 2015 ACRL environmental scan was published this month. The timing of the publication of this document is excellent, given that ACRL's biennial meeting is set to take place next week. In fact, there will be a panel discussion on this document on Thursday, March 26 at 8am. If you're going to ACRL and the Future of Libraries is your jam, you should think about going.

I'm not an expert on the future of academic librarianship, but it seems to me that the authors have a good grasp on both the higher education landscape and the place of the library within it. But I'll be honest when I say that the conclusion to the environmental scan is what has me feeling forlorn.

With higher education under increased scrutiny to demonstrate the value of a post-secondary degree, it is incumbent upon academic libraries and librarians to document and communicate the Library’s value in supporting the core mission of the institution.
I agree wholeheartedly with this notion. It is absolutely the job of the library to both document the value of the library in supporting the core mission of the institution and use the data collected to convey the value of the library to those who we wish to bring along with us as co-collaborators--namely administration and faculty.

So why are you forlorn, you might ask. This sounds like a great opportunity for academic libraries!

Academic libraries are great at generating statistics. We're great at measuring how many new holdings we acquired and how many reference transactions we've done. Basically, if you can quantify it with a tally mark on a piece of paper, we can measure it. But how do we move away from collecting tally marks on pieces of paper to constructing compelling narratives about how academic libraries help support the missions of the institutions they support?

Building these compelling narratives is not just a matter of changing what statistics we collect or the outcomes we assess. We also have to be better at talking about our services to our stakeholders in ways that they find both understandable and appealing. We have to craft elevator pitches that don't have anything to do with jargon.

This, I would tell you, is why I'm forlorn. Moving from tally marks to compelling narratives is a daunting tasks that requires not only libraries open to the cultural shift, but also people to teach us how to build these narratives.

I was heartened to learn about ACRL's Assessment in Action program. This program brings together teams of three people from a university--one librarian and two others people from the institution. These groups of three work in a larger cohort for a fourteen month professional development program that seeks to equip cohort members with the capacity to better measure the library's impact on student success. Each team, lead by the librarian, works on an action project to assess the impact of their library at their institution.

I think that these teams and this program are an example of how librarians begins to craft a compelling narrative about the impact of their libraries on the institutions they serve. Creating these narratives requires buy-in and support from the start by people who are not affiliated with the library. They serve as our partners and our advocates.

I think it will require a change in culture to move from tally mark making to storytelling. But I think the results are more rewarding and have the greatest capacity for impact. Start by crafting your jargon-free elevator conversation, so that you can recruit supporters with ever conversation.

Stay positive,

Thursday, March 12, 2015

You're All Alone

Last week I had and took the opportunity to meet up with someone I only kind of knew from twitter. I had a great time and now we're friends who have met in real life. I'm thinking about this because I also heard at that time, concerns expressed by a Young Person: Young People are concerned that colleges or areas where they may live have not have the interest groups that they desire to be affiliated with. So I got to thinking about how we create our communities and the hard truth that no matter what, you're all alone when it comes to creating your community.

You don't have to always be alone, your community is out there, but you're alone when you start to build it.  No matter how you move to an area where there are people like you, it's not like you automatically have known them for ten years. Every relationship takes work. Every community is a negotiation. So we have the same interests and desires? We still have to work out the details. As an academic librarian, I've been through this a few times, and succeeded to varying degrees.  As an introvert and a thinker, I have considered the process at length (there may or may not have been crying).  So, some tips for you personally, and us here at the Unified Library Scene.

 Let Go Of Your Ideal

You know you have it: a picture of the kind of life you could have if you just had x, y, and z. Community has things, but they're not quite like the things you'd like. Thing is, you're here now, and if you wait for something perfect you end up with nothing. So let go of what you're looking for exactly and you're left with an open hand to what will work for you right here. So don't even look for something that's absolutely perfect. Look for somewhere you can belong that is something you can work with.
Be Willing To Do Work

So you want a community that does a certain thing. Say, a certain type of religious observance. And you're lucky enough to be in a community with a religious group that you think will work for you, and you're like "oh if only they'd do this thing, that'd be great!" You know what? You're the community, it's on you. It may just be you, or when you start others will follow, but nothing happens from dreams alone. So get up.

Manage Your Introversion/Extroversion

It works both ways. If you're introverted you need to both push yourself to go and find people and places that will be your community. You also need to take care of yourself and not get overwhelmed or stressed. (This happens to me, where I find a great place but then get too involved too quickly and end up shutting the whole thing down.) If you're extroverted, same story. You need to take time to think over what you're up to and assess if these places are really the right ones for you. Don't get too caught up in all the excitement.

Be Ready For The Best To Come From Unexpected Places

You never know. What passing introduction is going to lead to a life-long friendship. Same with professional connections, same with everything. Be open.

Value All Communities

It's really important to have communities that work for you. We've talked about how finding colleagues online can help when you're isolated in the type of work you do or your approach to your work. Meeting up with folks at conferences and working with them is invaluable. Old friends who know you well are important. It's essential to make a friend that you can call in the middle of the night who lives where you live. All of these communities can be essential. You don't need to build them all at the same time, but remember that each has it's own role in your life.

It's kind of a bummer that there isn't already a perfect place that's waiting for you, but it's reassuring to know that everyone is out there looking for community, too. So let's build it.

Keep Rockin,

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday jams (03/06/2015)

It is Friday, which means it's time for Friday jams. Rachel is off giving a presentation, and I have commandeered Friday Jams without her permission.


Oh, the dashboard melted, but we still have the radio...

Bonus Erin jam:
Some days just call for Tegan and Sara bonus jams. You're welcome.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Remember when it mattered

My husband and I went of town over this past weekend, to different places, so we carpooled to the airport. He arrived back into town before I did, so he decided to move our car from long-term parking to hourly parking. He kept his long term parking receipt because he intended to submit it for a work expense. When we left the hourly parking garage, he mistook his long-term parking receipt for his hourly garage ticket and tried to give it to the parking attendant. The attendant pointed out my husband's mistake and, after searching his wallet and his pockets, he finally found the hourly ticket. He gave it to the woman and we were able to get out of the garage.

Sounds like a perfectly reasonable exchange, right?

Hardly. The woman's reaction to my husband's mistake was...overwhelming. She snapped and snarled, snatched the money out of his hand, and made the interaction really unpleasant.

Really bad customer service experiences stick with me and this particular experience made me think about how we in Libraries deal with the people we encounter every day.

Some of our users are difficult, either on purpose or because it's who they are. The truth is that there are just people in this world who require more patience to deal with than others. And as long as there are libraries, there will be difficult patrons.

But it's not just our users. Our colleagues can be challenging, too. We're never fast enough at answering email or finishing our portion of a project. And when our workplaces have cliques, the alienation we might feel at the hands of our colleagues can cut us to the quick.

I believe that how we handle difficult situations (and the people who present them) is unbelievably important. Some days it feels like Librarianship is full of the kindest souls with the best of intentions and other days it feels like it's full of the meanest, snarkiest people. How we present ourselves has a direct impact on how our users view us. Is our library a friendly, welcoming place? Or is it full of cranky people and passive-aggressive signage? Do we work together to put the needs of the user first? Or are we a library of silos, looking out only for ourselves?

This is not to say that libraries or the people who staff them should have to smile in the faces of people who threaten or harass them. Libraries should be welcoming, but they should also be safe. People who threaten or harass library workers, or otherwise create unsafe environments, should not be welcome in our spaces.

But we should strive to be kinder to those who pose no threat to us, but who try our patience. Our attitudes and actions makes as much of an impact on our users as do the collections and services we offer. And when we are kind to our colleagues, I think that shines through to our users too. Even if it's not immediately apparent, I think it shows in how seamlessly a library functions.

Being kind to our patrons and to our colleagues matters.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Friday Jams! (2/27/2015)

So, I flaked out on Friday jams. So now Friday jams are Monday jams. Hooray, Monday jams.

Apropos of our posts this week (Erin: now last week. Rachel didn't flake out on Friday jams like I did), a little Joan Jett.