Friday, February 27, 2015

On Actions and Perceptions

On Wednesday, Erin's wrote that Words Can Get Weird while friend of the blog @winelibrarian wrote a post that is not so unrelated, It's My Library and I'll Cry If I Want To. Taken together, we get a conversation about effective leadership and perceptions, which seems to be impossible to divorce from a conversation about gender. It's true that especially in positions of leadership, perceptions of actions are highly colored by conceptions of gender. It's also true that the entire profession has been in a highly gendered position in regards to the nature of our work and professionalism. I want to complicate a tiny bit more with my thoughts on pragmatic actions.

Now, on a personal level, I operate along these lines where in my head I am also navigating space as a queer queer (as opposed to a queer man or a queer woman.) I say in my head, because it I can't speak to how people perceive me negotiating the space. I can make some assumptions about how people see me and I can try to influence how people view me as a person and a professional, but, frankly, I don't have the time or energy to engage in what is often a fruitless and frustrating effort. So I operate on the premise that we have very little control about how people perceive us.

What we do control are our actions. Now, surely we modulate our actions depending on the environment and people we are interacting with. For instance, I am wearing a sweatshirt today, because I have no meetings. This is something I might not do if I had a different job or for any number of other reasons. My perceptions of my role as well as my understanding of how others may be perceiving me plays a key role in my choices in what I wear (and in everything else).

So the question is "how willing am I to modulate my behavior in order to alter perceptions of me?" and the answer is "exactly the minimum amount necessary in order to accomplish my goals." The question of how I am perceived in a highly gendered culture and what I do to alter that culture is a separate (often concurrent, but separate) struggle. What determines the minimum amount is a consideration of whether some kind of behavior would actually change perceptions of me in a way that makes it easier for me to accomplish my goals. It is harmful and pointless to change my behavior, probably in ways that affect my self-perception, if the end result does not create a changed environment. However, if changed perceptions do help accomplish personal and organizational goals, we have a different story. This is a path much narrower for women and other marginalized groups.

I think we'll leave it at that for a Friday Musing.

Keep rockin'

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Words can get weird

First things first: Rachel put up two blog posts last week that are really fantastic. One is about our desires for Librarianship and what drives them and the other on what stops us from making those desires real. They are both really fantastic posts and I encourage you to read them.

Okay...on with the business.

I read this post from Harvard Business Review's blog this morning and it resonated so strongly with me that my next stop after reading it was to Constructive Summer to write about it. The gist of the post is that leaders are expected to be nice and that many leaders decide to to just be nice because being liked just makes everything easier. The author goes on to outline a few ways in which this instinct to Just Be Nice is detrimental both to the leader and those they are tasked with leading.

My favorite line from this post goes like this: Nice is only good when it's coupled with rational perspective and the ability to make difficult choices.

Most of the leaders I admire have the quality of being tough but fair. They have the capacity to do the thing that needs to be done or say the thing that needs to be said with very little concern with whether people like them. Respect? Yes. Like? Not so much.

The reason this post resonated with me is that I think that we worry too much as Future Library Leaders about whether or not we're liked and not enough about whether or not we're respected. And when I say we, I mean it. I worry about it, too. But I think the author of this blog post is right about nice. Nice doesn't work in our favor when it clouds our judgement and keeps us from making the decisions that, while right for our Associations and Libraries, cause people to dislike us.

But the unexpected side effect of tough but fair leadership is that the people who carry themselves this way in the world end up being people we like. We appreciate their capacity for frankness and the steady way in which they guide us. With tough but fair leaders at the helm, we rarely doubt the course of our ship. And if you've ever tried to exude this quality in your own life, you know just how difficult it is to pull off. It requires self-awareness, a thick skin, and the understanding that being respected is so much more important than being liked.

No matter your leadership role, every decision you make has a downside for somebody. And as hard as you try, as long as you're a leader there will always be someone who thinks you're a jerk. But choosing the fear of not being liked over doing the right, less lauded, thing doesn't do anybody any good. Even those--no, especially those, you mean to protect by your inaction.

I think that the key to choosing being respected over being liked is the network of people you surround yourself with. When Doing Hard Things, we have to surround ourselves with people who can provide feedback and support. Doing Hard Things is difficult enough when you have support. Going it alone makes it feel impossible.

It's not impossible to couple niceness with rational perspective and the capacity to make difficult choices, but it is hard. And if one of those has to go, it should probably be niceness.

Stay positive,

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Jams! (2/20/2015)

Just three words for you this Friday: Cold, Cold, Cold.

Rachel's right. Cold, Cold, Cold. Let's have a dance party and dream about getting away from it all.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

On Desire 2: Why Don't We Get What We Want?

On Tuesday, I talked about examining the nature and roots of our desires.  Today, I want to look at the more functional part of the question "if we really want something, what is stopping us from achieving that goal?"

Is it... competing desires?  The way that my desire to stare out the window and sip coffee is nearly equal to my desire to answer my email right now?  When we look at the actions it takes to build the unified library scene, our desire to make that happen in its many little parts is only one set of desires. In my work-life I also desire to be well respected, not misstep politically, achieve tenure, and sometimes sip coffee while staring out the window. All of these desires are occurrent at the same time, and some matrix results in my actual actions which bring about some combination of those desires.  I may be able to achieve some of my desires concurrently, but probably not all, as my inability to speak French and Hebrew fluently should attest. And this competition is messy, with different things gaining the upper hand at different times.  Sometimes I really want to get through my emails, who knows why, and I delete the CFP, and sometimes my strongest desire is to achieve tenure and I send in a proposal.

Is it... the nature of the desire? Am I more likely to work toward something I desire intrinsically? It surely seems like that may be the case, but I'm really not sure. How much power does a second order instrumental desire have? I desire to go to work because I want to pay my rent, that's surely the case, surely that plays into how willing I am to engage in activities that I think will make my desires real but also deem to be risky. Occurrent desires also need not be conscious to influence activity, so I don't even have to be aware of my fear of change for it to stop me from doing something I desire.

Is it... the source of the desire? Some sources of desire allow for desires to be externally imposed, and these are the ones I am specifically thinking about. An attention-based desire could be like my desire to promptly complete annual evaluations so I don't have to think about them any more. Organizational priorities can create the same kind of desires in employees, which seem like they would be disadvantaged in a competition among desires.

I am a person who is interested in getting things done, but I think that examining things like our desires can help us see where we're going, what we want to get done, and what kinds of road blocks we might run into. Having examined the desires and the barriers, we may be more able to fuel appropriate desires, map a course around or deconstruct barriers, and get to where we want to go.

What do you think?

Keep Rockin'

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On Desire

While we're building our better world, we're keen on thinking about what it will look like. Once we know what we want, we have to build it. So I've been thinking about desires. I even read up on the subject (I recommend the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for some cozy reading on a snowy night).  The functional question we want to address is: if we really want something, what is stopping us from achieving that goal? Let's start with the first half of that question: "if we really want something" and follow up on the second half in a later post.

There is a quote from the Simpsons where Bart says to Lisa, "I can't promise I'll try, but I'll try to try."  In library life, we try to try quite a bit. When we try to try and we end up not trying it's a failure that seems acceptable. I mean we didn't try, but we did TRY to try.  Second order desires, such as my desire to care more about improving the instruction program, or wanting to want to read more library blogs and journals, are a kind of instrumental desire, a means to an end. I want to want to read more library journals because I want you to think I'm smart and know what is going on. Wanting something for its own sake or at least partially for its own sake is intrinsic desire.  As my father has told me, "if you really wanted to, you'd already be doing it."

Two questions arise about our work building the unified library scene. First: are our desires intrinsic or instrumental? Which is which? I want a library community focused on the library users because I believe this is good. I want a library community where all kinds of work are valued by all workers because I want to be valued, because I think this is good, because I believe that will result in the most productive environment. We could go on. In fact, I think it would be a fun twitter experiment to look at our desires about our field and take them one or two steps deeper.

The second question is how directly do our desires drive our actions? Is our desire to build the unified library scene always occurrent, always at hand and having some influence on our actions whether we are aware of it or not? Or is our desire to build the unified library scene a standing desire, more like our desire to pay off our student loans, there but not really having a huge impact on our daily life?

What can we gain by reflecting on our desires in life or in our professional environment?  As I mentioned in my post on personal vision, when we are clear on our opinions and our reasons, we are better able to argue for our side. When we examine our beliefs and our desires, we can add another layer to our understanding. We can bring more people along. We can build this.

Let us know what your desires are for the profession, and what you think drives those desires. In fact, answer all of these questions! I'm dying to know the answers!

Hey keep rockin'

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Message in a bottle

Rachel asked me to take over blogging duties today and I asked what I should write about. The writing prompt I received was to write about being along in a job and the importance of being able to geek out once in while. This might not be what Rachel would've given you on the subject, but this is my take on the topic.

In my first job out of library school, I was the only person in my Department who cataloged serials and electronic resources. There were other catalogers in the Department, of course, but I was on an island. It was really hard because I was both new at being a librarian and new at being a serials cataloger. And while there were support systems in place to address the part about me being a new librarian, I was pretty much on my own to figure out the new serials cataloger part.

The first professional conference I attended was a small, serials-specific conference. The programming was top notch and I learned a lot. But more importantly, it's where I met the person who would become my mentor. That conference was transformative because it taught me that I wasn't alone. I might've been on an island at my own institution, but there were other people on nearby islands who were willing to lend their time and their talents to help me figure out how to be a good serials cataloger.

I have really benefited from spending time in-person with my colleagues at conferences. Those lunches, happy hours, and hallway conversations have inspired me in good times and kept me afloat when times were more challenging. And with the development of Twitter, I've developed an online community of like-minded librarians with whom I can connect in real time. In fact, that's how Rachel and I met and started the blog.

I'm now almost ten years into my career. And while I'm not struggling so much with being a new librarian, I'm struggling with being a new manager. And I know I'm not alone on that journey as well. I have a support system to rely on and like-minded people with whom I can exchange ideas and get advice.

So if you feel like you're on an island, look around and put some messages in bottles. You're probably not as alone as you feel.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Our work and our worth

If there was one theme that emerged for me from ALA Midwinter, it was The Invisible Technical Services.

I am certain that this feeling of invisibility isn’t new. I’m also certain that this groundswell of support for finding our collective voice is in some way tied to the fight for resources inevitable in an era of shrinking budgets and doing less with more.  Add to that vendor-provided services like MARC records and shelf-ready books as well as patron-driven acquisitions of new materials and you start to see how Technical Services staff could believe that their contributions go unnoticed.

I think advocacy for the importance of Technical Services in the life of a library is unbelievably important. Our administrators are often tasked with being good stewards of too-small budgets and have to allocate resources in the way the best serves their users. So it’s important for Technical Services leaders to gain the support of their administrators for the work that they do. My belief is that facts do more to win the support of those we report to than any impassioned speech could. If you can demonstrate that you understand the needs of your users and provide data showing how you’ve met them, you’ve increased your credibility with your administrators and made it much easier for them to justify giving up some of their budget to help you meet your goals.

I think that when people discuss making Technical Services visible, they don’t just mean advocating for the work done in Technical Services Departments. I think they also mean affirming the value of the people who do that work. When we talk about The Invisible Technical Services, it is uncomfortable because invisibility is such a fraught feeling. Being heard and seen by our colleagues is empowering, while invisibility is demoralizing. Being invisible makes us doubt our worth and our contributions.

I would argue, though, that there’s a difference between being made to feel invisible, and feeling like you’re not given enough credit for the work that you do. Credit is about your work and visibility is about your worth. So when we consider The Invisible Technical Services, we have to think both critically and realistically about whether we’re talking about our work or our worth. I want to be clear: everyone deserves to be treated collegially and with respect by those with whom they work. Your contributions matter. You matter.

I think that it is unrealistic to believe that we will earn the admiration of our colleagues by doing the job we were hired to do. And if we’re being honest, do we admire our Public Services colleagues for helping problem patrons or unjamming printers? I think probably that we don’t consider it very much. Just like we probably don’t consider the fact that when the catalog fails to produce the results a user is expecting, they complain to our Public Services colleagues and not to us.

Technical Services colleagues: let’s use data to advocate for both the importance of the work that we do and the people who do it. But let’s also do our jobs to the best of our ability without worrying who's noticing. After all, even if nobody gives us the accolades we believe we deserve, people notice the impact we have.

Stay positive,


Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday jams (02/06/2015)

We could spend hours talking about how much I adore Matt and Kim. I can't figure out how a band composed of a just a keyboardist and a drummer manage to make so much awesome music. Their music is so complex, but manages to sound so simple. It's amazing.

Anyway, I love this video because who wouldn't love to just block traffic in the middle of the street and have a Friday Dance Party?

I was going to put up some old school Taylor Swift up here and then I listened to it. So instead, I have this very first single from Big & Rich. I don't believe in guilty pleasures, so let's enjoy it as a pleasure alone of chords uncommon in popular music.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Personal Vision

When I got my first professional job, my number one joy was that I wasn't going to have to move again for a while. After a lot of changes, I was so excited to settle in to a place and build a space of comfort. That was my goal at the job, as well: figure out what I'm doing and do it.

I think that's a goal we all have in our positions: to figure out what we're doing and do it, and do it well if we're lucky.  It is easy to make that the end goal. After I know this I will know it, done done let's go hiking this weekend. For me it happened so fast out of library school that I hardly noticed how I wasn't thinking hard about the long-term, strategic consequences of my decisions or about the my field generally or librarianship widely.

I think of library work (we do here at Constructive Summer) as highly responsive service based work. The trick comes where there is a lot of daily work, where sometimes we confuse the responsiveness of our actions to the responsiveness of our ideas. We can think that because we've figured out our jobs and are good at them that we're operating at our peaks. Really what we need to do when we've got it figured out is to look forward.

Looking forward in our fields and in our profession has to start with having a vision for yourself. From yourself. We're all too happy to react to other ideas, suggestions, theories or whatever, but if we don't have a real idea of what our position is all of our reactions are basically worthless reflexes without substance. If you're just reacting, you're just reacting. When you have a reasoned position that you're coming from you can have a real discussion, one that can result in your own mind being changed, one that can result in moving your workplace and our profession forward.

So how do you have a vision? The first step is to take care of the basics, yes knowing the job and being good at the job are important. It's okay to focus on that where necessary. We need to read up on the literature and keep an eye on what's happening (a particular recent failing of mine). We need to allow ourselves the time to step back and think about issues when they arise to see what kind of strategic importance they might have.

If you can't manage the time in your day to day, take a week and jot down all of the issues you run into broadly, and pick one to consider on your commute. What have I worked on this week? ebooks, streaming media, budget, weeding, format migrations in AV, next drive I take, I'm going to think about what I really think about streaming media. Where is it going in our library, where is it going generally, what might change in the next five years, what kind of things do I wish were different, what do we need to do today and what do we need to do to get ready for the future?  That's the kind of thinking that will make it easy to have an in depth conversation with someone about the future of our collection, way more than a recitation of just what I've come across in my work.

It's also important to have a good long think about what YOU want to be doing. When I first heard someone tell me this, I was in the midst of being so happy about not moving, 26 and in my first professional job and I was not ready to hear it. Now I know it is important. I refer you to Erin's recent post for a little bit more. There isn't need to make a five year strategic plan (as I was instructed to do), but sit and think (or run around and think) about what is in store for you.

In building to strategic planning we're on step two: Personal Vision
Step One was Introverts and Introspection, assessing our natures.

keep rockin'

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Innovation and being brave: redux

Since part of what we're about here in the Unified Library Scene is learning and growing, I wanted to follow up a post that I wrote with some new insight I stumbled across during my time in Chicago at ALA Midwinter.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how transitioning from MARC to a post-MARC world would require us all to be brave. I still believe that, by the way. I still believe that being innovative means sitting with our discomfort and moving forward with it.

But even after I wrote it, I didn't feel like it entirely addressed the hum of anxiety I was feeling in the cataloging community. Yes, change is hard. Yes, innovation requires discomfort. But I didn't feel like I'd gotten to the heart of what that anxiety was in my post.

I went to a session at ALA Midwinter and heard a presentation on BIBFLOW. The BIBFLOW project seeks to understand the academic library technical services environment and how the move away from MARC has the potential to impact any number of technical services workflows.

The presenter, Xiaoli Li, made an excellent point that quantified that anxiety that catalogers feel about what lies beyond the edge of a post-MARC world. She asked us to consider how many applications and workflows are reliant on records created in MARC.

Think about that: How many applications and workflows as your library are reliant on records created in MARC? Chances are, it's a lot. And this is why the move from MARC to BIBFRAME is more of an evolution than a simple data conversion. It means rethinking everything.

In that moment, a light bulb went on and I suddenly understood that hum of anxiety I'd been sensing in the cataloging community. It's hard to consider changing those workflows and changing those applications. Those things are difficult and require time and money that you may not feel you have. And what if things aren't perfect? What then?

I guess this is where we circle back to the earlier post about innovation and being brave. Reconsidering how and why you do what you do isn't a bad thing. Yes, it's time consuming. Yes, it's frustrating. But you get to have a lot of amazing 'aha!' moments along the way. And you get to figure out where the pain points are in the processes you often run without considering them.

So, yes. Sit with your discomfort and bravely and boldly move forward. But maybe that first step for you is smaller. Maybe your first step is analyzing a workflow or cleaning up some data. Maybe it's identifying obsolete MARC fields and converting the data. Or maybe it's finding a book that explains Linked Data concepts in language you can understand.

Whatever it is, start today.

Stay positive,