Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I never want to be anyone's enemy

At the end of June, I wrote a post about how I thought that people with reference and instruction duties should spend time working with metadata creators in order to help enhance access to the collections they curate. My thought process is that having a holistic view of the library helps everyone become better at their jobs and that the burden to cross-train shouldn't be placed exclusively upon the shoulders of technical services librarians.

I got a really great comment on this post that made me pause for a moment in self-reflection.

It's a great question, right? How do you actually implement a cross-training program when everyone feels stretched so thin that they can't take the time to work with someone from another department? 

After thinking about it a lot, I identified three things I've seen work at various places that I've worked. 

1. Start small:
I don't think it's necessarily realistic to show up in another department and ask to be cross-trained, especially if it's not the culture at your library. Start by bringing genuine questions about how things work to someone in the department you'd like to learn more about. Are you a public services librarian who wants to learn more about metadata? Start by asking a friendly cataloger about why a search you did in the online catalog produced different results than you thought it would. Are you a metadata creator who wants to know more about how library users access information in the online catalog? Start by asking a friendly public services librarian about what complaint they hear the most during one-on-one transactions or during instruction sessions. They don't have to be long, in-depth conversations. But do enough to start building relationships with people in departments outside your own and showing interest in the work that your colleagues do.

2. Focus on fixed-term projects:
Sometimes the slow season for one department will align with the busy season for another. Or sometimes the workload of a person in a particular department ebbs and flows. These natural changes in the rhythm of the library make space for people to cross-train on projects. Is there a project in your department that nobody has time to do or a project that requires an extra set of hands? This would be a great opportunity to find people in other parts of the library who are looking for skill-building opportunities outside of their own departments. Bonus points if the project you're looking for help with utilizes talents that the person doing the project doesn't get to use in their day-to-day work. You don't have to give a person working on a fixed-term project enough training to be a full-fledged member of the department, which helps if you feel like you don't have time to spare with a programmatic cross-training initiative. 

3. Make the first move:
Not every person in every department is going to be open to cross-training or collaboration. Some people don't want to learn more about metadata creation or information literacy because they'd rather focus on the work they're actually assigned to do.

And that's okay.

But I feel like libraries have to create a culture where people who do want to collaborate or cross-train are supported in doing so. Yes, it takes time to teach people. Yes, it is hard when you're already stretched really thin. But libraries should reward people who want to learn more and do more instead of treating those people like burdens. 

Sometimes, you have to be the change agent in your library and decide that you're going to be the person to make the first move and give up your time in order to change the culture. Ask questions and make it clear you're willing to answer questions. Be friendly and curious--someone that people in other departments want to approach with questions--and use the capital you've earned to ask people questions. If you want to talk to people, try to approach them on their terms. If they prefer emails to a phone call or a drop-in conversation, respect that. If they'd like for you to make an appointment so that they have time to give your question the time and attention it deserves.

Final thoughts:
In my first job out of library school, two things happened around the same time. First, I developed an interest in library instruction because I felt like it would be my best chance (based on the climate and culture of my library) to learn more about how students accessed information. Second, I became the go-to person in the cataloging department for a couple of instruction librarians just by being friendly. Luckily for me, one of those people was the instruction coordinator and she believed in me enough to mentor me in instruction and to allow me to teach a library orientation class each semester. By being curious about what she did and friendly when she asked questions, I was able to help her and to grow my own skills.

Look, I get it. It's possible that you'll try all of these things and people will still be stretched too thin to cross-train you. In which case, you might have to find opportunities to learn more about other parts of librarianship from people you don't work with. If you're a person working in public services who feels like there is no one in metadata creation that you can talk to, feel free to reach out to me. While I can't give you work to do, I'm happy to answer your questions and to serve a sounding board for ideas you might have.

Stay positive,

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Jams! (07/22/2016)

I, for one, defer to Erin's jam whole heartedly.  But rules are rules and I am required to provide my own jam. So.

This week's jam is from the epic Carpool Karaoke featuring Michelle Obama. It is the two minutes of pure perfection where James and Michelle are joined by Missy and the three of them perform "Get Ur Freak On."

Friday, July 15, 2016

I'm doing all right, getting good grades

So, I was accepted into the 2016 cohort of the ALA Leadership Institute. I am very honored to be selected, excited to attend, and just so eager to make connections with the folks in this group. On the application, one of the questions was regarding the Future Of Libraries. I thought I'd share my answer, the Unified Library Scene in a very small nutshell.

The most important thing for libraries to focus on in order to maintain relevancy in the future is to maintain focus on how our core mission of connecting users to resources is unchanging amidst any technological or political changes. Librarians and library management need to address the ways in which librarians continue to accomplish the core goals of libraries in both traditional and new ways. As a profession we tend to get hung up on specific tasks or processes which become reified as “what librarians do,” when the tasks should be continually put in the context of our larger mission. This is true both of more technical aspects such as cataloging and metadata services which remain vital to creating access to resources, and to public facing services such as developing information literacy in all library uses that addresses the varied ways in which library users access and use information. Addressing emerging technologies and societal pressures from a grounded perspective continually focused on an unchanging core mission allows for a greater level of flexibility in the ways which all library staff address their work. Listening closely to our users and our communities with our core mission in mind rather than our daily work in mind allows us to be responsive to deep needs in society rather than simply do what “what librarians/libraries do.” As leaders in the profession, our goal should be to make the connection between what is being accomplished in our field with the core mission both to outside constituents and to other leaders and workers in the field. Together, focused on our mission, we will continue to be a vital driving force in society.

What do you think? How'd I do?

Keep Rockin',

Friday Jams! (07/15/2016)

last night erin reminded me about jams and then told me not to be tardy with my jams this morning but then I didn't do them first thing but here they are now.

The most powerful thing about this song is that it uses the word "no" more than 50 times, which is what I am feeling. no. no. no. no.

That story that Rachel just told is 100% true. I even used the word "tardy."

New Wave by Against Me! has this lovely little number in the middle that features Tegan Quin. It's not particularly dance-y but it's still an awesome jam.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

There's gonna come a time when the true scene leaders forget where they differ and get big picture

I think you wouldn't have much trouble convincing people that technical services departments are losing positions and having resources reallocated leading to the dreaded "do more with less" directive from administrators. I think you also wouldn't have much trouble convincing people that people working in technical services would do well to partner with their colleagues in technical services as well as their colleagues in other areas of the library  to identify and solve big-picture problems in order to help users more successfully find the resources they need to be successful. In fact, one of the foundational idea of the Unified Library Scene is building relationships between functional areas of the library in order to improve the experience of library users.

In the article "Creating solutions instead of solving problems: emerging roles for technical services departments," Sally Gibson argues technical services staffs should move from being problem-solvers who view their work as transactional to being solution-creators who identify and address the underlying issues that emerge in the course of doing one's work. Gibson describes solution-creators this way:
Solution-creators recognize patterns, anticipate needs, and translate those solutions in a way that can be understood by faculty, students and staff. They focus on skill sets and ability rather than rigid roles and organizational procedures. They ask "why" and "how." Issues are addressed as a whole rather than examined at the individual level (149).
Gibson believes that technical services staff see their work as production-oriented and that this kind of work attracts people because it is detail-oriented and relies on the adherence to local and universal standards. Gibson also points out that work in a production-oriented environment is problematic. "Traditional library services are transactional in nature, which translates into real possibilities of its traditional services becoming automated or experiencing decreased importance" (146). Gibson suggests that a combination of technical ability and soft-skills will help technical services staff make the pivot from problem-solver to solution-creator.

Gibson also addresses the kind of environment needed to foster the development of solution-creators. Gibson addresses the fact that departmental leadership needs to establish a growth mindset which Gibson describes this way: "A growth mindset believes that intelligence can be developed" (151). She also writes that ideas much come from all levels of the department and that technical services staff must have permission to experiment with different ideas and different processes.

I should start by saying that there is a lot about Gibson's various arguments that I agree with. Technical services librarians need to think more holistically about the work that they do and how it aligns with the overall mission and vision of the library. And there definitely needs to be more flexibility in how we apply local and universal practices--especially when what we're doing makes it harder for our users to acquire the information they need to be successful. I agree that identifying and centering the 'how' and the 'why' is important--maybe the most important thing technical services staff can do.

But there are parts of Gibson's arguments that don't work as well for me. I am not on board with the idea that technical services is the safe haven in the library for people who love detail-oriented work and that our technical services departments are full of people who see their jobs as solving a single problem in front of them without regard for identifying emerging patterns and without the desire to solve them. While some us do need to change from problem-solvers to solution-creators, there are already solution-creators among us. The problem is that many of them don't have the resources or the administrative support to solve the problems they've identified. Technical services librarians love identifying and fixing problems and very few of the people I've met in technical services librarianship aren't looking for bigger patterns, aren't looking for emerging themes. While fixed-growth mindset and problem-solving persist among technical services librarianship, they are as much a story we tell ourselves as they are the reality of a situation. If you don't have the resources or support to create solutions, you can't solve the big-picture problems. And if you can't solve the big-picture problems, you're not going to receive administrative support. It's a really vicious cycle and one that persists in technical services librarianship.

It is also not clear to me how a solution-creator oriented technical services department would be run. Even if we work to identify and resolve emerging problems, there are still daily tasks to be done. We need to order materials and make sure they are findable, even as we evaluate and retool our current processes to meet the needs of users. But Gibson believes that we should move beyond rigid roles to focus more on skills, writing "Someone can be defined by their combination of technical and soft skills rather than their job title and description" (149). And while I agree that a combination of technical and soft skills are necessary for a person to succeed in technical services librarianship, there is also some need for people to take ownership of specific processes.

So let's agree to think more critically about the work that we do in technical services librarianship. Let's let go of the things that no longer provide value to make room to take on new tasks that help our users. Let's work more closely with each other and with our colleagues in other areas of libraries to identify and solve problems. And let's stop perpetuating the idea that there is a dearth of people working in technical services librarianship who are either not capable of or not interested in looking at the bigger picture is a big problem. Instead, let's talk about how a lack of resources keeps solution-creators from making the kinds of changes in workflow and practices that will benefit the user.

Stay positive,

Work cited:
Gibson, Sally. "Creating solutions instead of solving problems: emerging roles for technical services departments." Technical Services Quarterly. 33:2 (2016). 145-153.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

I don't have a clue (and neither do you)

During a meeting at the 2016 ALA Annual conference, the ACRL Board decided to rescind the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. To its credit, ACRL has been working on developing infrastructure to help people move forward in the post-Standards world. And from what I can tell, it's going to be a long road in getting from where people in the information literacy world are now to where they need to/want to be.

I've heard a lot of chatter from the information literacy librarians I follow in various online spaces about this move by the ACRL Board. One theme I find kind of...worrysome is the number of people who feel blindsided by this decision. It seems like the consensus has been that at some point ACRL would have to move on this, but a subsection of people in the information literacy community seemed not realize it was happening at this particular moment, at this particular conference, until it was done.

I want to be clear--this is not to suggest that ACRL or its Board did anything wrong. I honestly don't know enough about these issues to know if people's feelings of being caught off guard are reasonable or not. It's possible that the rescinding of the Standards was advertised to people well in advance of the meeting where it was done. It's possible that people in the information literacy community had adequate time to give feedback on this move. And it's likely that ACRL and its Board could've done all the right things and people would still be upset.

While I'm probably not as well-informed on these issues as perhaps I ought to be, I feel like this move by the ACRL Board and the fallout that has followed is a good sneak preview of what the metadata creation community might face when moving into a post-MARC world. About how people are feeling left out during the development phase and how people's feelings will be hurt when the governing bodies of the metadata creation community decide, officially, to transition from one standard to another.

As practitioners, we put a lot of trust in the governing bodies that we believe have our best interests in mind. It's really hard when we find ourselves on the outside of a decision that we believe we should've been on the inside for--especially when we find ourselves on the side of the argument that didn't win. And there's a compelling case to be made about whether or not we should continue to put our trust in those governing bodies--but that's not the case I want to make. What I do want to say is that I hope that ACRL and its Board take seriously the feelings of those among its membership who feel...betrayed by the way in which this decision played out.

In the absence of a true U.S. National Library, ALA and its divisions make decisions about various parts of the information ecosystem. And as a body with that much perceived power, trust between the association and its members is really important. Whether or not you choose to be a dues-paying member of the association, it speaks for you if you work in the field of librarianship. So when a segment of the membership of a division have real trust issues with how a particular issue played out, that division needs to address the breach of trust and work to repair it quickly and thoughtfully.

I hope that ACRL and its Board take seriously the hurt feelings of the segment of their membership. I hope that the information literacy community finds a way to move forward and work through its feelings. And I hope that the metadata creation community is using this situation as a teachable moment for the storm that I imagine is brewing just off the horizon.

Stay positive,

Friday, July 1, 2016



Y'all. It was so good to see you if I saw you. Double jams. Look don't worry about it. Don't think. Just.... jams.

Do you know about Anderson .Paak? I didn't until Rachel and I were watching the BET Awards and I spent his entire performance with my hand covering my mouth because it's rude to sit with your mouth hanging open. Anyway, here is Anderson .Paak performing at SXSW 2016.