Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Looking at life through the eyes of a tired hub

Like many libraries these days, my library is planning a migration to a new integrated library system/library management system. And, like many libraries these days, the software we're migrating to moves us from a module-based system that puts an emphasis on functional areas to a system where functionality is more process-based.

This movement toward process-based functionality has me thinking more and more about systems thinking and how libraries are, generally speaking, not great at it.

When I think of systems thinking in libraries, it is helpful to me to think of a system as a set of component parts that interact in a dynamic way. There are a lot of projects and ongoing processes in my library whose component processes "live" in different functional areas. A systems thinking approach would suggest I should look at the whole of a process or project, rather than only looking at the processes that make up the components of the system I'm responsible for. By looking at the system as a whole, I can work more flexibly and collegially with the people who are responsible for other component parts of the system.

I think that moving toward seeing the whole of a process or project rather than just the component parts that make them up is not always a natural inclination for people who work in libraries. We often tend to see the world as processes that are our job and those that aren't. It feels so unnatural, I would argue, that libraries are starting to hire project managers to help coordinate the component parts of a project or are designating someone to serve as project manager. Having someone serve as the hub of a project or process from which all of the component parts flow in and out is helpful when it comes to time sensitive, deadline-based projects. But I would argue that adopting a systems thinking mindset should be the responsibility of everyone in the organization.

One of the goals of the Unified Library Scene is to build better relationships--especially between functional areas within libraries. It's hard to do that, though, when you have a 'this is my job and everything else isn't' mentality. Having that mindset makes establishing areas of mutual concern really difficult and it makes having a shared understanding about the relationship between component parts of a process. Yes, cross-departmental projects and processes can run smoothly and efficiently without a commitment to a systems thinking approach. But there's only so far those projects and processes can go if those responsible for the component parts aren't interested in the work happening in other component parts.

As I've been thinking about how my work will change as a result of my library's adoption of software based around processes, I've been thinking more about how I can move out of a "component parts" mindset. One thing I've found valuable as a starting point is looking at a process that I'm involved in that crosses into multiple departments and talking to people about their component part tasks. Who is responsible for the process before it gets to me and what are the choices they make that impact my work? Who picks up the process where I left off and how do the choices I make impact their work? I don't need to be the center hub of the wheel from the very start, but a good place to start is understanding the spokes closest to me.

The ways that our libraries work best is when we aren't ruled by the silos that our functional areas create for us. Instead, we work best when we think of not only our place as component parts in the system, but when we think of the system as a whole.

Stay positive,

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'm sick of all this waiting

A thing I think about a lot is the next generation of technical services leaders. I have met a lot of wonderful early career librarians who are choosing to make technical services their career. And I return home from each ALA Midwinter and Annual feeling energized by their interest in, and enthusiasm for, moving technical services librarianship forward. But when I think about the future of technical services librarianship, I worry that collectively, we're not doing a great job of recruiting and retaining the kinds of people we need to propel acquisitions, collection development and management, cataloging, and preservation into the future.

I feel like the first year as a librarian is full of challenges for all kinds of librarian, especially for people without previous library experience. Not only are you figuring out how to succeed in your job, but you're also thinking about how (and whether) you want to make an impact in your organization and in the larger library world. This can be compounded if your first position is in an academic library and you suddenly find yourself on the tenure track with the directive to publish and present. If you're moving into a technical services position, your challenges may be compounded by the fact that your coursework did not prepare you for the kind of work you do as a technical services librarian.

Helping early career librarians of all kinds grow in their first year requires intentionality on the part of those who supervise them. For those who supervise technical services librarians, there is an added layer of helping early career librarians who may also require an additional level of support in understanding the specific culture of technical services librarianship and work. When I think about my own experience and about what changes technical services librarians could make to better recruit and retain early career technical services librarians, a couple of ideas come to mind:

1. Library administrators should provide newly hired technical services librarians with mentors from other parts of the organization. 

Yes, a lot of professional organizations have mentoring programs, and that's great. Those kinds of programs are wonderful for helping early career librarians learn more about what it means to serve in a professional capacity. But you also need to pair your new hires with people in your organization to help mentor them through issues specific to your organizational culture. A formalized mentoring program that starts during onboarding need only last a year--time enough for a new hire to feel comfortable in the organization. But I can say from firsthand experience that those conversations over coffee will help your new hires feel more confident and comfortable in their jobs and in your organization.

2. Technical services supervisors should meet regularly with newly hired technical services librarians to ensure that growth goals are established and progress toward meeting them is made.

I think that growth requires intentionality. And setting aside the time and space to talk about where a person is, where they want to go, and how they plan to get there is so important. These conversations are especially important in an academic library where a new hire is on the tenure track and expected to meet certain benchmarks. A component of these conversations should also be what kind of training and tools an early career technical services librarian might need to meet established growth goals, because directives become so much more difficult to meet without material support.

3. Technical services supervisors should identify areas within an organization for cross-training and cross-departmental collaboration and support newly hired technical services librarians in taking advantage of those opportunities.

Sometimes the hardest thing about working in a "back room" position is understanding what opportunities exist for collaboration with departments outside of your own. Supervisors of newly hired technical services librarians should identify and facilitate this kind of cooperative work. One idea that immediately comes to mind is setting up short rotations through each department within technical services so that a new hire can learn how the work of those departments intersects with their own. Additionally, technical services supervisors should identify important cross-departmental committee work where a new hire's expertise might be needed and ensure that the new hire is invited to join in the work.

I think that recruitment and retention of early career technical services librarians is so vital to the future success of technical services both on a large scale and within individual libraries. As librarians at individual libraries, we owe it to our future leaders to intentionally develop plans to help them grow rather than tossing them into the position and hoping that they find their way. What other ways do you think libraries and their administrators could support early career technical services librarians? Drop your ideas in the comments!

Stay positive,

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It's getting kind of hectic

I spent the better part of January trying to get my paper for ACRL 2017 into shape for submission and I am only now returning to the things I was doing before that. One of those things is working my way through Frances E. Kendall's Understanding White Privilege. This book has really helped me think about the privilege I have and how it has helped me advance in ways I am not always aware of.

In one of the chapters, Kendall talks about our natural inclination to see the places where we don't have privilege instead of the places where we do. She writes:
Because we measure our own privilege by looking at what other have received that we haven't, rather than at what we have that others don't, frequently it is hard to believe that we have access to power and influence because we belong to one identity group when we are so clear that we don't have power and influence because of our membership to another (108).
I immediately put this quote into conversation with the fact that as of 2009/2010, 87% of female librarians are white, according to some number crunching I did from this table off the ALA Diversity Counts 2012 report. There are certain intersections that this table hides, of course. But think about what kind of access to power and influence white librarians have, and then recognize how this statistic reflects what many of our marginalized colleagues already understand to be true about librarianship.

Because we measure our privilege against what others have that we don't, I have often looked at what I lack as a female librarian. My male colleagues have access to leadership opportunities and opportunities for advancement that I don't. And surfacing the difference in expectations for male and female leaders is absolutely a valuable conversation to have--and one that the LibLeadGender community has coalesced around. But what reading this passage in Kendall's book reminded me of is that when I think about this, I also have to consider the ways in which my whiteness and position in the middle class give me access to power and opportunities.

Memberships in professional organizations are expensive and yet they are often a requirement for volunteer service. I am able to pay those dues, so I have access to those volunteer opportunities. And as I look around at in-person meetings, I see a lot of people who look like me. Traveling to conferences is often costly--between registration fees, flight costs, and meals. I am fortunate that my library pays a portion of the amount that it costs me to attend multiple conferences in a year, but I am also able to pay the amount that isn't covered out-of-pocket. When I look at who is in the room with me at conferences, I see a lot of people who look like me.

It is worth acknowledging that certain parts of library professional associations shape policy and practice within librarianship. One such body that comes to mind is CC:DA, the Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access. Housed within the Cataloging and Metadata Management Section of ALCTS, this committee serves as ALA's voice in the international conversation about cataloging policy. Being able to serve on that committee is contingent upon one's ability to afford to be a member of both ALA and ALCTS. Those who cannot afford to pay association dues or travel to conferences are excluded from important conversations about the future of librarianship.

The Unified Library Scene is about building relationships within libraries. As part of that work, I am committed to learning how to be an ally. One of the places where I have started in this process is honest self-reflection about the places where I benefit from my power and privilege. Anything I do before an acknowledgement of how I have benefited from my whiteness, my able-bodied status, and my middle-class status make my actions both inauthentic and oppressive of those I wish to be allied with. I would invite you, friend of the Unified Library Scene, to also engaged in honest self-reflection. If the idea of power and privilege is new to you, there is a body of work that exists on this topic and reading more about this should definitely be part of your self-reflection process If you're interested in understanding more about the intersection of privilege and librarianship, I would offer two articles as a starting point: April Hathcock's piece in Library Lead Pipe on diversity initiatives in librarianship. I would also recommend Angela Galvan's piece in Library Lead Pipe on the perpetuation of white, middle-class values in librarianship. If you have additional recommendations, drop them in the comments!

Stay positive,

Friday, February 3, 2017

Friday jams (02/03/2017)

It's Friday! Time for some Friday jams, friends of the Unified Library Scene!

In 2016, Drive-By Truckers put out a really great album with political and social themes that are more...overt than on previous records. The political and social themes have always been there, but DBT usually weaves them into stories instead of confronting you with them directly. My favorite part about this jam is the way all four of the singers harmonize on the chorus in a way that feels both hopefully unified and angrily defiant.

Actually, it's Erin again--posting on Rachel's behalf. I have no commentary for this jam except to say that it's a great song to put in your ears on a Friday.