Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Getting Better

I've been thinking about a lot of things. If you know me well you know that I have a penchant for speaking through parables. So as I'm thinking through the change that's going on in my life personally and professionally, thinking about current events in Baltimore, thinking about change in libraries and in the profession, all that comes to mind is my Tuesday acupuncture session. So I'll just tell my parable and let you take from it what you will.

I love acupuncture, it's my favorite kind of magic: old magic that works REAL GOOD. Most of the time when I get acupuncture, we're working on a realignment, a little course correction, and it feels good. If you've known acupuncture, you've known the zen space that it creates. Time for a little deep breathing, a little visualization, just sorting things out. You leave that appointment feeling fantastic, and you feel better and better after the treatment. Getting better is fun and easy it's magic with no cost. Okay a little cost, but not too much really. That's how it works, right? That's how it should be?

This week, though, what happened at acupuncture was this: what we found was an old issue that was possibly the cause of a bunch of other stuff. So we went to work on it. I did not get 20 minutes of meditative visualization. There was twenty minutes of pain and suffering. Incoherent moaning even. It just hurt. The whole time. A lot.

In fact, it still hurts. The the exercises that I am supposed to be doing, they also hurt. My shoulder? it hurts. It'll probably hurt when I go back next week. Because it wasn't working right. I didn't hurt when it wasn't working right. But it hurts now. And it's gonna keep hurting for a while.

I guess I could ignore it and hope it goes back to mostly not hurting and not working right. We could do that. But I won't, and we shouldn't.

I want to get better and I want us to get better and I want to believe we want to be better.

Sometimes it hurts.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Relationships matter: on #mashcat and building the unified library scene

I moderated the second #mashcat Twitter chat last week and it was really fantastic. You can read the Storify of this chat here and poke around the site a little more to learn about the #mashcat movement.

I wanted to talk about building relationships between catalogers and library technologists. Because if you give me the chance to talk about any topic, I will want to talk about building relationships between the major players.

I felt like the conversation was really constructive, but the downside was that I was too busy moderation to answer my own questions. So...I'm going to document them on the blog. 

Q1: What do you see as areas for mutual concern for catalogers and library technologists?

Creating an encoding standard for bibliographic data (by which I mean any data that lives in your ILS) to replace MARC; creating better user experience by building systems that better leverage metadata; finding ways to migrate library-created metadata into the wider world of the Web.

Q2: How can we build consensus in these areas? What stands in our way to building consensus in these areas?

I think that the 'us vs. them' mentality that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago can definitely stand in the way of building consensus. The perceived scarcity of resources can also stand in the way of building consensus.

I think we can build consensus by creating safe spaces to have difficult conversations and to learn from each other. Creating safe spaces often means setting ground rules and creating boundaries about what is (and isn't) acceptable. Becky Yoose pointed people to social rules section of the Hacker School Rules.

Q3: Terminology is often a barrier. How can we move past our specialty’s jargon in conversations with our colleagues? What strategies have you found effective when communicating with your colleagues on the “other side of the house?”

Someone in the chat pointed out that jargon itself isn't the problem. It's the confusion it causes. 

An effective way to eliminate confusion created by jargon is to always offer a definition or explanation of a word or acronym you use in conversation, even if it seems unnecessary or redundant. Don't assume that someone else knows what you know. Even more, don't assume that someone who doesn't know what you know will feel comfortable enough to ask for clarification.

On a related note--check for understanding when you're talking before moving on. Make sure that you're on the same page with the person you're speaking to.

Q4: What technical skills do you think are important for both catalogers and library technologists to possess?

A rudimentary understanding of both cataloging rules and library software; data literacy/data modeling; logical/algorithmic thinking; project management; communication; creating documentation.

Q5: What is the most effective way to share those skills? What would an effective skillshare program look like to you?

I think it would be cool if there was a skill share wiki for people in libraryland. I know that ALA Connect has an Opportunities Exchange, so maybe that's one way to share skills? Anyway, I think it would be cool to have a place where you list what you know and what you want to know. You could find your skill share match. In the absence of that, I think that free or low cost workshops and webinars are a good way to share skills.

Q6: What are the particular challenges for people with feet in the cataloging and library technology worlds? How can the #mashcat community support them? 

I suspect that people with feet in both worlds end up translating the concerns of one side to the other a lot. When it goes well, I suspect it facilitates a lot of productive conversations. When it goes poorly, I suspect it ends up doing nothing to end the 'us vs. them' mentality.

I think we can help support people with feet in both worlds by not pushing back against them and wanting them to be more like us. Instead, let's listen with open minds.

Q7: What do you want to say about building relationships between catalogers and library technologists that I haven’t asked? 

It's hard but important work. We can't build the future of bibliographic description and encoding in silos, which is what I feel like we're doing now.

Stay positive,

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Jams! (4/24/2015)


The other day I was talking to my friend about our Queen, Janelle Monae. She said that she appreciated Ms Monae's entire thing, but that maybe, you know, her music is sometimes weird. I was all, I KNOW RIGHT! HEART EYES EMOJI. (not really because it was real life). So I give you some Janelle, and I want you to think about, while you listen, think about how weird this music is.


It's possible that you think you've never heard a song by The Refreshments. But if you've ever watched King of the Hill, you totally have. They do the theme song. Anyway, I have had thing song stuck in my head since I heard it yesterday. If pressed, I would probably make the argument that it is the perfect pop song. Please enjoy this live version from Late Night with Conan O'Brien. It features a young Conan at the beginning of the clip.

I've got the pistol, so I'll keep the pesos. That seems fair.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Dangers of Vocation

I've talked before about how words matter, and I want to talk today about a trope not specific to library work, but one that is used heavily in library work, library education, and professional discourse. This is the talk of our work as a calling and as a vocation. This language is dangerous.

If you know me, you might assume that my major opposition is based on the religious connotations of this language. It is, but not because of the christian-centric world that created this language, although using language steeped in religious tradition is something that we should avoid. While the religious background of the language has faded, it remains quite strong.

What actually bothers me about the language of "vocation" or "calling" is the way that it impacts how we view our work, its value, and our own value.  While there isn't anything particularly wrong with feeling specifically drawn to a field that matches your demeanor and particular expertise, the sense of vocation that we use in relation to library work or education and some other fields is overlaid with a sense of service for the sake of service.

Vocation in this sense indicates that people are called to certain types of work not only based on their skills but based on a call to service. The call to service is even more specifically christian, implying a kind of drive toward good works that are valuable as good things, not necessarily having other types of value to society. Indeed, the history of library work in the United States looks a lot like mission work. I want us to push against language that has connotations that our work isn't essential to society, and I believe that our work has become more and more valuable over time.

Language that frames library work as a call to service also opens a door wide open to devalue the labor of library work. If we are called to do service in the sense of a vocation, and that work is good work, the calling is one that pulls us apart from general life, from business life. Why then would one called to this work demand to be appropriately compensated for labor? Think of the fields other than library work where this language of vocation is used. Notice anything?

Let's talk more about how this language frames our understanding of our own work and our profession. Let's be more careful about the words that we use because the impact of how we speak is far more broad than we imagine.

Keep Rockin'

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A thousand compromises (don't add up to a win)

I often find that when I am uncomfortable with something, I need to pause and think about what it is about that thing that makes me uncomfortable beyond my initial knee-jerk reaction.

So it was when I read this this essay from Inside Higher Ed. (hat tip to Jacob Berg, noted BeerBrarian).

I agreed with much of what Ward had to say about how envisioning the future a campus library has to be a collaborative effort between the library’s leadership and campus-wide stakeholders.

Ward writes: 
It will take a university community to shape a future library that meets the specific needs of learning and research at that institution. This transition is not just about libraries. It is about how colleges and universities come together to solve a collective challenge. Libraries cannot puzzle out their future alone.

And as much I as I agreed with Ward on this, something didn’t sit right with me. After writing and deleting several blog posts worth of material, suddenly I was confronted with what made me uncomfortable about Ward’s essay.

Ward is right in that academic library leadership must understand the decision-making process of key university stakeholders and he is correct that that process is both “complex and ambiguous.”  Understanding what faculty and administrators value is important when considering what areas of collections or services you need to develop. Are members of your science faculty working more on securing grants? Great—work on developing a plan to build up your data management services, including better understanding grant requirements. Are members of your humanities faculty working more on incorporating geospatial components to their research? Great—maybe it’s time to consider investing in a GIS Librarian!

Ward writes:
At the same time, librarians will be unsuccessful in planning for the future on their own. They possess much expertise about libraries, but less about trends in research and curriculum. Moving forward, the process of recreating the library must be one that involves many people in many roles on campus.

But I feel like it goes both ways. The academic library plays a unique role on a college campus, but I feel like its leadership is not always invited to participate in conversations in which it possesses expertise. Does someone from your library serve on your college’s curriculum committee? Is your library represented on your college’s committee on rank and tenure?

Academic library leaders should absolutely involve campus stakeholders in the planning process. Have summits, run focus groups, host strategic planning days to better understand the needs of constituencies.  Develop relationships with your stakeholders based on areas of mutual concern. I have written before about how important it is to develop relationships with stakeholders by crafting compelling stories about our services and collections.

But academic library leadership shouldn’t stop there. They should be active in their college’s community, offering their expertise on issues where their library is uniquely qualified to comment and offer solutions.

So, I guess the question is—what is it that the academic library is uniquely qualified to do that no other department on campus can? And how do we include stakeholders in developing our future without giving that away?

Stay positive,


Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday jams (04/17/2015)

With the exception of No One's First and You're Next, an album of unreleased tracks and B-Sides, Modest Mouse hasn't had a record our since 2008. They came back strong in 2015 with Strangers to Ourselves. I always enjoyed Modest Mouse, but I feel like going to Portland made me appreciate them a little bit more. I had a weird week, so it felt appropriate to share this weirdly jaunty tune. Enjoy!

I went and saw the Indigo Girls this week. They're doing a tour with orchestral arrangements. Having come up in classical music I can be pretty snobby about it, so I won't share my feelings about the concert other than I thought it was good.  I did manage to get a few songs in my head. Being that my friend and I who saw the show are Old, we got to talking about R.E.M. on our way out. Don't be shy don't lie, you know you love it:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I grew up in denial

The 2015 edition of the American Library Association's State of American Libraries document was released on Sunday and is worth your time if you're interested in learning about the issues facing academic, school, and public libraries.

I was struck by the infographic in the school libraries section entitled "The good, the bad, and the ugly." The two figures in the "ugly" section that gave me pause:

51% of college freshman have a hard time learning to navigate new tools and 43% have trouble making sense of information once sources are found. 
College freshman have the most difficulty conducting research:
coming up with keywords (75%)
sorting through irrelevant search results (57%)
identifying and selecting sources (51%)
integrating writing styles from different sources (43%)
Take these facts and juxtapose them with this information in the "Experiences with information literacy" section of the 2014 National Survey of Student Engagement entitled Bringing the Student into Focus.

...about nine in ten first-year students said their instructors discouraged plagiarism and stressed appropriately citing sources. Additionally, large majorities of first-year students reported that their instructors emphasized using peer-reviewed sources (81%) and questioning the quality of information sources (74%). Two out of three first-year students frequently received feedback from instructors on how to improve their use of information resources. 
It seems like both the students and the librarians who serve them at both the school library and academic library levels must be frustrated.

What students learn before the reach college with regards to information literacy seems largely dependent on the state of the school libraries that support them. Budgetary constraints mean that libraries close and positions are slashed. Every time that you think you have to do less with more, think about a school librarian. Currently friends of school libraries are lobby to get school library funding included in the Elementary and Secondary School Act, but it doesn't seem a sure thing.

On the other side of the equation, ACRL just released the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. This framework is anchored by six frames, or core concepts. These frames cover the entire process from information consumption to information creation.

I was struck by how closely these two situations sat in the State of American Libraries document, but how far apart they seem in real life. It is important for college students to be good consumers (and creators) of information, and the Framework seems to give them the tools to do that. But when I look at what the Framework expects information literate people to be able to do, I end up back at the figures about how college freshpeople have a hard time conducting research. And I wonder how we, as academic librarians, can expect college students to become information literate if they come to college without the skills to participate in the larger conversation because of the preparation they received before coming to college.

I don't know the answer to how you take college students who (at least according to ALA's figures) are ill prepared to be good consumers and producers of information and turn them into information literate people. But I think the first step is to acknowledge that strong school library programs create a good foundation for information literacy. And that cutting those programs puts college students in a compromised position when it comes to being college students navigating the world of finding, identifying, selecting, and obtaining information. Which, by the way, are the FRBR user tasks.

Look, I get that shaping students into information literate people while in college is a process that happens both inside the library and inside the classroom. And that information literate students aren't created in a day, or a semester, or even in four years. And I get that you have to have the Framework because it gives you signposts for where you are in the journey.

But I can't help but feel like, from my perspective anyway, these two worlds exist independent of one another. And I also can't help but feel that maybe they shouldn't.

I will admit to feeling ill-prepared to write about this topic, since I'm not in a public services position. I teach a few one-shot classes every semester, but that's the extent of my interaction with information literacy and with students. But I feel like it's important for me to think about (and talk about) this issue. I feel like thoughtful engagement with the ACRL Framework will make me better able to support my public services colleagues in shaping college students into information literate people. Admittedly, there are nuances in this argument that I'm certain I'm not aware of. So I'm sure I got it wrong. And if I got it wrong, tell me in the comments!

Stay positive,

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday jams (04/10/2015)

A short play about why Friday jams are important.

Rachel: Stress yelling
Erin: I'm down. Meet me in the parking lot in 5? I mean, the proverbial [edit: I think I meant metaphorical] parking lot.
Rachel: Yep. By the yelling rock.
Erin: I'll be the one yelling. That's how you'll find me.


Anyway, on with the business. The business of jams.

The danger of Courtney Barnett's song, Pedestrian at Best, is that it gets stuck in your head. It's pretty earworm-y.

Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit is getting a lot of buzz about potentially being the album of the year. I'm not ready to give her the award just yet because I feel like there's still a lot of good stuff to come in 2015. But I would definitely agree that Barnett's album is in the running.


I STILL have 150 emails, a million work projects, and a paper due at the end of the month. I am not dug out from ACRL at all. I do not even know, friends, I do not even. Various things are killing me. I wish there were a so-- oh!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

There Is No Map

Here's the thing about the future:
There is no map.
There is no telling, there is no knowing.
It is out there and you have to go whether you like it or not.

You have to get used to this. You need to work out your feelings about it, about how nobody is going to tell you if you got the answer right because nobody knows if you got the answer right. You need to work those feelings out now because you are already late because the future is always out there and you have to go whether you like it or not.

You can't argue the fact. You can't say that the future isn't out there, you can't say you don't have to go. The future is out there and you have to go whether you like it or not. If you argue the fact, the future will still come and you will be more and more certain you are correct while you are more and more clearly wrong, and the future will still be out there and you will still have to go. Whether you like it or not.

You have to get used to this.

You have to.

There may be a map. You may be able to draw a map. You stand slightly ahead, you can see a little farther. Describe what you can see through the rain to someone who has a pen. Describe what you can't see. They will draw what they hear, they will draw what they think they hear and what they don't hear. The future is out there and you have to go. You find yourself standing at the edge of the map you've just drawn. The future is farther out, and you have to go farther, we have to go farther. Whether we like it or not.

There may be telling. You may tell a story about the future, the one that you want. We all tell a story about the future that we want. Together, we make a story about the future that we want together. We're agreed on a story, we tell a story. The future is out there and we have to go whether we like it or not. Telling has not changed that. The future we tell may not be the future that is out there. Telling is not going. You have to go.

There may be knowing. You may know where you have been, you may know what you can see. We may know what we can't see. When you stand slightly ahead, we may trust you. The future is out there, and if we have been out there together enough, we may trust each other without a map, without knowing.

Let's go.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

All my friends

I've written before about how change is scary but that we're headed toward what I have fondly dubbed the post-MARC future and, well, we need to embrace it. Or, if not embrace it, at least show up for it.

In those previous posts, I've written about how change is difficult, but we need to embrace the discomfort we feel in the midst of change and not let that stop us.

I stand by what I've said, but I've started to notice an "us vs. them" mentality when developers and catalogers start talking about the post-MARC future. Catalogers are the worst, developers say, because they're holding onto an antiquated way of working and thinking.

Oh yeah, say the catalogers. Well, developers are the worst because they want to cut us out of the process of metadata creation.

I couldn't be your friend, even if I tried again.

I really enjoyed this post by Galen Charlton that attempts to humanize the different points of view of the various players. It paints an unflinching picture of both sides of the "us vs. them" divide. And Charlton's post resonates with me, I think, because I believe that discussions about the post-MARC world break down so quickly is that each side forgets the other's humanity.

It's possible that a library technologist can automate bibliographic description to the point that a machine can describe an item in my library's collection better than me. It's possible that library technologists will create workflows that make traditional cataloging obsolete.

Even so, catalogers are people who do jobs. Not obstacles to be overcome.

I feel like there is a subset of catalogers who have tried to engage with the library technologist community. There was a push for catalogers to learn coding through Code Academy and home grown initiatives like CatCode and Libcatcode. In 2012, a joint ALCTS/LITA interest group was formed to address this desire to improve coding skills. For this year's ALA Annual Conference, there is a ALCTS pre-conference on coding for efficiencies in cataloging and metatadata as well as an ALCTS pre-conference on linked data in the "real world."

Yes, there are both fearful people and fear mongers among us. And yes, those people derail meaningful, constructive conversations about the post-MARC future. But I also think that there are enough catalogers trying to meet library technologists halfway for them to return the favor.

Are library technologists committed to learning more about content description standards and encoding standards for both MARC and non-MARC metadata? Is there a push for library technologists to learn the mechanics of building records using RDA? Is there going to be a joint ALCTS/LITA interest group for address the need for library technologists to improve their cataloging skills?

Building systems and structures that leverage metadata in meaningful ways is important both for libraries and their users. But I don't think it's fair to exclude catalogers from the discussions on how to build those systems, either explicitly or implicitly. Especially when catalogers will, most likely, be the people using those systems to do their (radically different) jobs.

I can tell that we are going to be friends.

I'm totally in favor of constructive conversations about how to build the post-MARC world. And I believe that part of the Unified Library Scene is partnering with people in different areas of librarianship with whom you share mutual interests and concerns. You can't achieve your goals in a vacuum, and relationships matter.

Becky Yoose lays out some of the challenges in this blog post of establishing such a dialogue. I think Becky's right. I think we start to work toward change, but hit The Wall and lose momentum. We get busy and worn down, revert to thinking in terms of stereotypes, and retreat to our respective corners.

I also think that Becky is right about metadata creation and coding being secret siblings. We certainly argue like siblings, anyway.

As I wrote earlier, it's possible that library technologists will automate bibliographic description to the point that traditional cataloging becomes obsolete. If we're being honest, I think it might happen at some point during my lifetime. But how different would those systems and structures look if catalogers and library technologists worked together to build them?

The answer, I think, is that those systems and structures would have the best of traditional bibliographic description and the best of coding.

But in order to do that, catalogers and library technologists need to find common ground and a safe space to have hard conversations, where both sides get an equal say in how the post-MARC future gets developed, and where meaningful work can be accomplished. I am hopeful that the revival of #mashcat might be that space.

Stay positive,

Friday, April 3, 2015

Friday jams (04/03/2015)

Maybe it's the time change or the amount of stuff I packed into a few days, but I'm still super tired from my trip to Portland and ACRL 2015. Here is one of my favorite songs about not sleeping.

Here is my jam I don't want to talk about it. Other than to say classic Top Of The Pops videos are a particular favorite genre of youtube videos.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Caring About People is Revolutionary: Rachel's ACRL 2015 post

It's been a long while since I've been to a national conference like ACRL. I've worked at small schools that don't have the funding and never had enough funds to send myself, and I've worked at institutions that could only fund one conference and never prioritized ACRL or ALA above a national conference in my area of specialty. So it was amazing to see so many people from my current internet world as well as people from my previous positions together talking about important things.

I was absolutely jazzed to be able to talk about diversity and leadership for the better part of three days, let's be honest, I was really surprised that I could. I had more amazing times at the #critlib15 unconference, my first unconference experience, with more great discussions and connections. In fact, I fit my whole conference experience into the little notebook we got!

Reflecting on all of the sessions I went to and discussions I had, the theme of my conference was attention to individual people and their humanity. I want to draw your attention to this because a lot of the contexts this came up in were relating to the normal course of business and how to get the best outcomes from your employees and yourself. However, the notion of attending to a person as a person and not as someone who produces something is quite revolutionary.

The American context is one that is built in response to industrialism. (Also true of many other places, but the United States is the only context I know first-hand.) Our systems of employment are all based on industrialism. Even our systems of education, including higher education, grew out of industrialism (both during the period of industrialization and during periods of post-war growth). Librarianship itself is based on creating a sort of ideal citizen, which turns again toward a certain kind of productive member of society, a worker. These structures that underlie our work all attend to creating workers, not people.

To turn one's attention to a whole person, either as a student or as a coworker or employee, undercuts the notion that one's value is related to one's productivity in society. To determine to grow as an individual because of or in spite of the conditions of your work is revolutionary. To work to help others grow in the same way is also revolutionary. Library work has always had a certain predisposition towards the revolutionary labor of growth (I think more of Carnegie's tale of youth rather than prairie librarians shaping the rural poor into what they considered a good citizen). Because we've been predisposed to thinking this way and have told ourselves stories about how it has always been our mission, I don't know that we have reflected appropriately on the revolutionary nature of this work.  Further, when we do one kind of revolutionary work and acknowledge it as such, it helps us look at the other things we do -- are they in concert with what we're working towards? are we working on all fronts presented to us? can we do more professionally and personally?

ACRL really raised these questions for me and I'm glad it did. It's one of the pillars of the Unified Library Scene that I hadn't thought about in those terms. And I'm glad I got to see the faces of so many people I admire and respect and I look forward to working with you all more closely.

Keep Rockin',