Tuesday, June 28, 2016

With love and trust and friends and hammers

One of the sessions I attended was about the different relationships that technical services librarians and public services librarians have with continuing resources. It was a lively conversation, but there was one thing that stuck with me and that I've been turning over for a couple of days. One of the proposed solutions to the problem of technical services librarians not understanding the challenges that users face with continuing resources was for them to work the reference desk.

I got a lot of answers to this question that helped me better understand this, but I'm still not sure I understand. There was a sense in the responses I received that while cataloging requires an understanding of complex ideas, the barriers to being able to work the reference desk were lower. Many people who work in public services expressed a hesitancy about 'screwing up' when it came to working with metadata that seemed to preclude cross-training in technical services.

I agree that nobody should be sent to cross-train in a functional area of the library without proper training. This is as much, I think, for the person's comfort as it is to keep the person from 'screwing up.' But I think that if public services people feel too self-conscious about working with metadata because they won't get it right, metadata creators have to reflect upon why. Are we too rigid? Do we expect too much? Are we too tied to the perfect at the expense of the good?

Don't get me wrong. I think that metadata creators should assume some public-facing duties. Teaching a couple of classes each semester has taught me a lot about pedagogy and about how our users find the resources they need to do their work. And those practises have informed my experiences as a creator of metadata. And I absolutely believe that people who do reference and instruction could benefit from getting their hands dirty with metadata. I think that understanding how records are created and what goes into describing resources would help inform their practice as people who help users access information.

But just like I work with people whose primary focus in librarianship is reference and instruction to hone my teaching skills, I think it would be valuable for people with public-facing duties to work with metadata librarians to hone their metadata creation skills. I don't think it's fair to expect a public services librarian to instantly be a great cataloger in the same way that I don't think it's fair to expect a metadata creator to instantly be a good teacher. But I think if metadata creators work with public services librarians, there is room for cross-training and development for long-term growth and increased understanding.

So let me float an idea past you. If you're a public-facing librarian, consider how you could work with enhancing the metadata that describes the materials in the collection you curate. How could subject access be improved? What information could be added to catalog records to help your users decide if an item is worth their time or not? Pull a few records from your subject area and make some notes. And then instead of telling the metadata creators at your library how they could change the records to make it easier for your user to find information, offer to work with them to do the work.

At its core, I think the Unified Library Scene is about building relationships. I think there is room to welcome public services librarians into technical services in the same way that public services librarians have welcomes technical services librarians into their spaces. I think that having a more holistic view of the library makes it easier for everyone to be successful in their jobs. It's the responsibility of public services libraries to cultivate an interest in metadata creation and it's the responsibility of metadata creators to take that interest seriously. Let's help each other build the library we want to see.

Stay positive,

Thursday, June 16, 2016

We'll leave the figurin' to those we pass on our way out of town

A while ago, Rachel wrote about how the isn't a map for the future. It's one of my favorite posts on our blog, so you should read it. So here's what I'll add to what Rachel wrote: beware the person who is selling you a map for the future of libraries and/or librarianship.

The future is mostly a pretty contextual thing--especially when it comes to identifying the needs of your users and how you might respond with new or evolving systems or services. What works at my library might fail spectacularly at yours because the information needs of my users are different than yours, even as there might be some overlap in our particular contexts.

So if the future is contextual, what are we to make of people who are trying to sell us universal truths about the future of libraries and/or librarianship? Or, to expand on Rachel's metaphor--the people who are selling us maps?

Let's be clear: everyone who has a vision to share about the future of libraries and/or librarianship has something to gain by your buying into that vision. And those people feel very strongly that you need to drop everything and get to work on implementing their version of the future. Libraries need to do this!, they say. Librarians need to behave like that!, they say. It's all very important and it all needs to be done right away.

Because there isn't a map for the future, there are lots of people who have found success in developing the future within their own contexts. While it's good for us to share ideas about what has worked for people, it is our individual responsibilities to take the success stories of other people and think critically about how we might apply them to our own situations.

To use Rachel's metaphor: You could draw your own map, you could rely solely on a single map you purchased from someone, or you could buy a bunch of maps and take something from each of them in order to find your way--discarding what doesn't serve you or your users.

Sticking with this metaphor a little longer: if you do decide to buy maps from other people, I would suggest thinking about the mapmaker and what they stand to gain from your using the map that they drew. Is the person sharing their success story a person who's written a book they want you to buy? Does that person make a substantial living from giving keynote speeches? I would also suggest thinking about whether the mapmaker lives out the mapmaker's values and they way they live them out. What does a particular mapmaker believe about the world and is this person giving you a version of the future that is incompatible with how they seem to live in the world?

There is nothing wrong with needed a little help figuring out how to get from the present to the future. But there's also nothing wrong with making sure you know who you're buying your version of the future from either.

Stay positive,

Thursday, June 9, 2016

All these things I've let go

At the end of June, I'll pass along the Chairperson role for an ALCTS section to someone else. And while I'll be sad to not be leading this group of amazing people, I'm here to admit that I will feel the smallest bit of relief at the end of this year's ALA Annual Conference. I have been active in this group since 2008 and I will continue to serve in a leadership capacity through 2017/2018. So while I'll still have a say in the future direction of the group, I won't be ultimately responsible for making sure everything gets done.

My Chairperson role affords me the privilege of serving on the ALCTS Board which, along with the ALCTS Executive Director, helps set the current and future course of the division. I have really enjoyed getting to see how the association runs and to have had a voice in some of the conversations about it's future. My time on the ALCTS Board has really given me clarity about what I hope will be my future involvement in the division and for that I am really and truly grateful.

Maybe it's shameless, but I'll just say it: I want to be ALCTS President some day.

I want to help shape the current activities and future direction of the ALCTS. I want to find ways to better engage with the division's stakeholders. I want to help bring a future generation of leaders into the ALCTS and give them the tools that they need to change technical services librarianship for the better. I believe in technical services work and its impact on library users and I believe in ALCTS. I want to build on the amazing work done by past, current, and future ALCTS Presidents to make the division be a tool for education, empowerment, advocacy, and innovation.

I wrote this short piece for ALCTS news talking about why the division has been such a valuable part of my professional career. It also features me wearing a clown nose, so it's worth checking out if only for that.

But here's why I'm relieved to be handing off the Chairperson role: being a leader is hard and I can feel myself teetering on the edge of burnout.

The thing that everybody tells you about being a leader but you don't understand about it until you experience it firsthand is that engaging people and solving problems is hard work. Because even when I'm not actively doing those things, I'm thinking about those things. And on top of that, there's never a time that I'm not thinking about how to tweak things to make it easier for the people in my section to do the work that is meaningful for our stakeholders.

Don't misunderstand me, I love this work. I believe it is worthwhile and even when it's difficult, it energizes me. But doing this work and doing it well leaves me little time to do the other things in my life that I love because I give it everything I've got--the proverbial 110%. And at the end of the day, I often don't have space in my brain for the other things that I also love and that I also find worthwhile.

But in some ways, I think that's how life works. We constantly are moving toward, and then away from, opportunities that challenge us and cause us to grow. And boy howdy did I grow during this past year! I'll gladly take this time to transition back to being a worker bee, under the direction of someone else, resting and recharging and devoting my energies into the other work that I love. And when the time comes for me to move back into a leadership role, I'll have the energy to devote to that again.

This year as Chair of my ALCTS section has been difficult and wonderful and challenging and messy. It has asked more from me that I thought that I had and when I dug deeper and gave more, I was richly rewarded by the graciousness of the people I worked with. The volunteer leaders in my section have done amazing work during this past year and I am so proud of what we've built. But now it's time for someone else to have a turn to shape the direction of the group. And I can't wait to see what it becomes!

Stay positive,