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Free Range Librarian
K.G. Schneider: Techno-Librarian. Writer. Gadfly. Commentator-at-Large.
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I’m enrolled in a MOOC to prepare me for college math. Go ahead and laugh — then tell me the last time YOU solved a compound inequality problem. Of course, the other reason I’m in a MOOC is to explore the current state of online learning.
I have copious notes about my experience, in which, I am proud to say, I have advanced to graphing linear equations, and I had originally planned to begin this series with my observations on the class I’m attending. But once I began writing I realized I wanted to provide context for my foray into this wild.
I am not an e-learning newbie. I taught online library science classes a decade back, and even mentored other instructors in the art of managing classroom chat discussions. I’ve taught online workshops as well. I have taken writing classes online, including several from Stanford Continuing Education, and got a lot out of them. In 2011-2012 I also led a campus-wide pilot of Collaborate, Blackboard’s live elearning product, and Team Library recently authored a grant related to lecture capture (actually, I’ve been working on this development project for 18 months, in one version or another). On our library team, three out of five of us graduated within the last decade from a library school now fully online. This is not foreign terrain.
When I stopped teaching online, it was intentional. The most notable reason was that I was planning to go back to graduate school, and teaching full-semester courses on top of being a student as well as working full-time was far more than I could handle.
Still, it was easy to stop teaching. My satisfaction level as an instructor had been declining oh so gradually, but then went into sharp free-fall. Before I proceed, please heed me when I say the program in question changed a lot in the last decade, undergoing two major movements forward in leadership and concomitant transformations, and e-learning technology has improved as well (though not as much as it could).
Like many adjunct instructors, in both programs, I found the parent institution opaque; it was the source of my paychecks, the provider of my students, and the agency that housed my “classroom,” which at first was a small room with grubby walls so distinct in shape and size I can still see the unimproved windows in the back of the room. In the second program, my classroom became Blackboard. It was easy to teach myself how to twirl the knobs and dials in Blackboard — so easy that I did not ask myself if I fully understood online teaching or how to do it well.
In the new program, I soon learned that at least with the tools available at the time and my inexperience with e-learning, I wasn’t crazy about “asynchronous” instruction, that is, a teaching model without real-time lecture or discussion. I’ve had instructors insist that they are happy teaching this way, and mazel tov to you, but I missed that immediate real-time engagement.
I offered optional lecture sessions through chat and a number of students took me up on it, but overall the class felt too much like a correspondence course poured laboriously (my labor, mind you) word by word into a learning management system. Human speech, like handwriting, is an amazing efficiency, as you realize if you’ve ever written documentation for anything. Taking all my pedagogy and spelling it out letter by letter consumed a huge amount of time.
In the last class I taught, the class size had doubled from my previous course, and I also had to deal with plagiarism and a no-show. It’s amazing I taught for so long without dealing with any one of those three problems, but when they surfaced in concert, it was a lot to deal with, particularly in the isolated world of the online adjunct instructor.
I did my best with the no-show, but despite concerted efforts on my part, this student, who had shown up briefly at the beginning, only surfaced at the end of the class, wheedling to be given dispensation. According to the school, this was her modus operandi–something I wish I had known at the beginning of the class. I doubt this student understood how much money she was spending (or more likely, debt she was accruing) on not getting an education–a syndrome writ large across our country. E-learning didn’t turn this student into a no-show, but I am convinced it was an enabler.
Even with the challenges, I thrummed with a connection to many of the students. I loved how willingly they embraced my favorite Q&A: What’s the most important library database? The one between your ears. I reveled in how many of them took up the work of the class joyously, and I was rejuvenated by their newbie-librarian zeal. And of course, teaching is learning, and that was very satisfying too. I hear occasionally from my students, and what a rush of warmth to my soul when they reappear to tell me of their lives.
Again, the school has changed quite a bit since then, and tools for early intervention in online education have also improved; I’ll assume that attrition and student learning outcomes are now monitored assiduously. This is certainly not a technology issue as much as it is a program management issue, and online performance can in many ways be easier to monitor. As for the plagiarism — I believe it would have been dealt with much differently today. But all said and done, it was easy to stop teaching.
I tried graduate-level teaching once more. When I was between jobs in early 2007, I responded to a job ad for online adjunct instructors for a library school I had no prior experience with, fully certain they would at least explore the possibility that I would teach for them. Less than 24 hours later I received an email of rejection. I have to thank them for not leaving me in suspense. I will remain ever-curious why I was so swiftly eliminated from consideration, but I’d like to think part of the reason was that I didn’t have the level of online learning training and experience they were seeking.
A decade later, when online learning is criticized, its docket of concerns includes much of what I encountered the last time I taught:
- The idea that because a class isn’t limited by physical seats, it can scale without impact on the quality of instruction.
Students left academically adrift.
- The human overhead of creating and maintaining online courses.
- The question of fit: whether the material, the student, or the instructor are “right” for online learning.
- Teacher — and student — preparation. (On this last point, I know quite well that the school I taught in now has a highly intentional and excellent onboarding program for students — one I would emulate to a tee if I were to establish and lead an online learning program at my institution.)
My colleague Marcus Banks had responded to an earlier post of mine about online learning by stating,
Skepticism is always necessary in the face of the flavor of the month (or year, in the case of 2012 and MOOCs). That said, it’s always easier to defend what’s known than to embrace what’s new. Seems to me that MOOCs can be a democratizing force that reaches those struggling students who may not be able to afford or have any inclination to sit in the traditional lecture hall. Surely we can figure out how to build engaging, responsive and effective learning opportunities that are online only. We may have to regardless, depending on how student preferences evolve.
Marcus and I are actually synoptic in our understanding of major trends and only moderately less than congruent in our assessment of the state of e-learning today or the potential that MOOCs have to offer. Yes, the sunny side is that online learning can open doors for students. Look at me: as a child I was identified as a student who struggled with math, I’ve largely avoided math my entire life, beyond simple arithmetic and basic spreadsheet formulas, and in my current job I am in no position to seat myself in a traditional classroom for months at a time. Yet I plod along, week at a time, with my slow but steady success, much of it due to the benefits of a well-designed online class.
It’s also too easy to point to spectacular and highly-visible failures, such as the course on the instructional design of online learning so poorly designed it imploded in less than two weeks, or the frustrated professor who stopped teaching a course midstream, as condemnation of online learning or “proof” that we’re in a craze that will soon abate–an argument that reminds me of the librarian who told me in the mid-1990s he was “waiting for this Internet thing to blow over.” I’m sure many a course going forward will have absorbed many of the lessons-learned in those debacles.
Where Marcus and I part is in his assumption that my concerns about e-learning represent “defend[ing] what’s known” at the expense of “what’s new.” Based on my personal experience as an instructor, I’d prefer to observe that the path to innovation is paved with instructive lessons, and that the more experienced you are, the more likely you are to fold the Book of Fail into the iterative design process.
I know how much intervention goes into ensuring at-risk students succeed, and I also know that we, as a nation, are failing too many of these students. Online learning could be part of the solution, but not without full acceptance of the problems we need to solve and the effort it will take to solve them. And as an advocate for those who have the least and need the most, I’m going to cast a very critical eye any time techno-educrats propose tiered systems, including the model where at-risk students are poured into massive online courses. Without very careful and caring design, without sufficient resources, these run the risk of becoming the higher-ed equivalent of public housing projects.
Absolutely, let’s look for success. But there are patterns worth observing in e-learning, just as there are in higher education, and we owe it to students to temper our enthusiasm (or our sense of inevitability) with an intentional focus on the design — and significance — of failure.
I missed ALA Annual 2012, so it was with particular joy I reentered familiar terrain. I juggled the conference activities with a grant we were finishing, which was only possible because I spent four days navigating four square city blocks (my hotel, the Convention Center, meeting rooms in the Sheraton, and nearby restaurants), with only a couple of excursions beyond. I don’t remember Seattle being so deliciously compact, but it was a boon to this bifurcated traveler. So thereby follows my report… a wee dry.
8:00am – 9:00am LIAL11 Reunion Breakfast: met with dear colleagues. Collegial idea-share is a great way to kickstart a conference! Note: it is really bad form for a restaurant to have two restaurants with the same name. One of our party spent a while in the “other” restaurant due to this reason.
9:00am – 12:00pm PAN Print Archives Meeting. PAN is the CRL Print Archives Network, and that translates to librarians interested in shared storage for print collections — a very responsible, loving, strategic approach to the future of print books. Librarians packed a very large room; several years ago it was a handful of people around a table. This was mostly an update on local initiatives, but it was validating to see how many deans, executives, and other library leaders were in the room. I wasn’t able to attend any official “top tech” sessions at Midwinter, but I consider this meeting a de facto program in that genre, because shared print is one of THE key tech trends in higher ed.
1:30pm – 3:30pm Committee on the Future of University Libraries Meeting (ACRL ULS). I was curious about the work of this committee. This was a pleasant exchange.
(A little grant-writing…)
6:00 pm LITA Happy Hour. Caught up with colleagues I hadn’t seen in a year, followed by…
Ad hoc dinner with two old friends (a great closing bracket for the day).
Saturday was a day of scooting from meeting to meeting, concluding with a solo dinner of Washington oysters and a dessert reception among (mostly-) beloved colleagues. You know how some of you love baseball games — I mean, really, really love baseball games? This was that kind of day for me.
8:00am – 10:30am Council Orientation Session (ALA)
10:30am – 12:00pm Nominating Committee for the 2014 ALA Elections [Closed--I would share details but I'd have to kill you later. Nutshell: this committee recommends nominees for ALA president and Council.]
1:00pm – 2:30pm ALA and E-books: Prospects and Directions for 2013 – Panel talk: publisher, ebook broker, librarian. I need a Jamie LaRue action figure. He was fabulous. One thing I love about Jamie is that regardless of the talking points of the two industry wonks, he stuck to what he had to say about the role of libraries in coming up with our own solutions.
3:00pm – 4:30pm ALA Council / Executive Board / Membership Information Session – Brava, ladies of the dais, well-run.
5:30pm – 7:30pm Working Group on Digital Content and Libraries I (I am a recent appointee to Subgroup 5, so as a first cousin once removed, I attended to catch up).
8 pm I dined on pitch-perfect oysters at Shuckers, a restaurant in the Fairmont much more elegant than it sounds.
9:00pm – 10:00pm ALA Council Reception — I remember reading a complaint on some social network that ALA only served coffee at these receptions. Folks, the bar is downstairs and nobody cares if you bring a drink. Very nice mingling.
It was Sweater Vest Sunday, an initiative to wear sweater vests to show our support for intellectual freedom, and I was feeling sad because my vest wasn’t plaid or cable, which is what I think of when someone says “sweater vest.” But apparently my plush animal print vest fit the bill, as it garnered praise at Council, which ran exceedingly smoothly, though there were two resolutions which would have fared better had they been shared over the Tubes several weeks before Council–I know, a new-fangled idea; call me Judy Jetson. The real trick of this day was spending an hour with one group of friends I only see at ALA and then getting to another, somewhat inconvenient location to see another group of friends I only see at ALA.
8:30am – 11:00am ALA Council I Governance/Membership Meeting
Lunch at the Atheneum, then worked on the grant
6:00pm – 7:00pm Dinner with friends
7:00 pm – 8:00 pm GLBTRT Social
So to wrap up the next two days, it was business of the association, grant-writing, an amazing Ovaltine latte with one friend, and then a strikingly delicious grilled cheese sandwich with another friend. Tuesday afternoon was yet more grant-writing, a lot of it in the original Starbucks. Did I mention that I realized while people in Washington State wear those knit caps? I should have bought one my first day, because it was damp and chilly the whole time — but sunny inside, where it mattered.
10:00am – 12:15pm ALA Council II
Exhibits, grant-writing, and an Ovaltine latte with dear friend MJ
6:00 pm Awesome grilled cheese sandwich with another dear friend VN
8:30pm – 10:00pm Council Forum II (ALA)
9:30am – 12:30pm ALA Council III
Due to a scheduling conflict I regretfully had to turn down a chance to make an encore appearance at LITA Top Technology Trends at ALA Midwinter 2013, though I was highly flattered to be invited, particularly with an invigorating new single-topic format. At this point my Midwinter schedule is like a set of nesting Russian dolls reflected in mirrors and circumscribed within Venn diagrams.
But the invitation did cause me to stop to think about technology trends — at least, the ones I’ve observed in myself and the people around me, a group that I do not claim represents any specific demographic other than The Republic of Me.
I’m also setting aside the topic of books, except to note my own behavior below, for what that’s worth, and to observe that the concept of shared print monograph repositories is rapidly gaining momentum. Colleagues in SoCal held a summit last month, and I’ll be at the PAN Forum at Midwinter (big thanks to CRL for their national leadership and to Robert Kieft at Oxy for leading the SCELC convos). I’ve also been invited to participate in Subgroup 5 of the Digital Content Working Group, Library Community Education and Outreach. So, you will hear from me.
Anyhoo, the following may strike a few chimes with my readers and their own republics:
Ed Tech and Higher Ed
MOOCs: According to the hype, Massive Open Online Courses are part of the “disruptive” “innovations” that are creating a new “synergy” by “reinventing” higher education. Lubricated by endless conference chatter and initially uncritical coverage from the media, MOOCs enjoyed close to a year of nonreflective enthusiasm, with any number of institutions contemplating how to “get into that space.”
Inevitably, MOOC backlash has already begun, with several articles cautioning that warehousing at-risk college students in online classes may not improve graduation rates. Can the people say DUH? As Carlson and Blumenstyck wrote in that great Chron piece, “Here’s the cruel part: The students from the bottom tier are often the ones who need face-to-face instruction most of all.” Students are increasingly not ready for traditional college when they get there, both in what they know and in their study skills and habits, and vast online lecture halls aren’t going to close that gap. Like the all-volunteer army, MOOCs are a great solution as long as your own kids aren’t the ones signing up.
MOOCS and other online learning methods do have their place. I have a blog post series in work — MOOC Nation — that will track my progress through two math MOOCs this spring. Stay tuned.
Devices and Distractors
At home, we are assuming that 2013 will be the year we retire my 1993 Honda Civic, which Sandy drives to work, a half-mile from our apartment. This old car, purchased used in 1996, has required very little maintenance in its life, so I didn’t begrudge it a rather expensive repair that will keep it from bursting in flames while Sandy is driving, always a nice touch, particularly where parishioners are involved.
So commenceth a slow, deliberate search which may stretch all year, aided or encumbered (take your pick) by iPad apps, websites, chat rooms, online reviews… but if it’s a car I’m going to sit in up to three hours a day, my rump wants first-hand knowledge. In a Honda showroom, the second or third feature the saleswoman showed me in the Fit, after how to flip the back seats around to make more space for groceries, was the USB charger in the glove box. I suddenly remembered early ads for Palm products, which overwhelmingly featured men — and here was Honda touting the ultimate chick accessory, the all-purpose device charger. (Good location, too: I hide my iPhone in the console of my 2008 Civic where it both recharges and is away from temptation.)
On other fronts, our Comcast TV subscription is on death watch–something we have heard from other friends our age, which portends poorly for the networks if their commercials are any indication, with their well-creased actors imploring us to Ask Our Doctor about the latest geriatric nostrums. We keep planning to deploy an exercise where–armed with Apple TV, Netflix, Apple devices with Airplay, various apps, and a one-month subscription to Hulu Plus–we avoid using the setbox for several weeks to see if we miss it. The networks are wisely gambling on inertia, because we can’t quite cut the cord yet. Interestingly, the preparation for this experiment has already yielded benefits; we can resume our old (and old-fashioned) habit of watching NBC evening news together by streaming its app when I come home.
December 2012 was the month I made my first mobile bank deposit, though I had to “pose” the check a few times to get it right. I waited a day and sure enough, the check showed up in my account. Routine for some of you, but quite a plus for for me and those occasional small checks that show up, consuming gas, parking, and time (though I will miss the crew, and the free cookies, at the Irving Street branch of Wells Fargo).
2012 was the year I shifted as many magazines as possible to tablet apps; we also gave up our paper subscriptions to the New York Times and the SF Chronicle and went digital-only for both. The drivers were comfort, cost, and convenience: my periodicals are always with me now, with excellent backlighting, and most support fonts that are comfortable even when I’m walking fast on a treadmill. Journals that are PDF-accessible but not on tablets get downloaded to Dropbox for tablet access. I only regularly read paper magazines on airplanes, during takeoffs and landings. I don’t miss filling a recycling bin with discarded paper or stockpiling address labels to shred.
Paper continues to be by far my least favorite format for books, to the point where if I can’t check it out from Overdrive from my library or SFPL, or I can’t buy it in Kindle, it might not get read at all. The one routine exception is for reading on the Muni, for which I pack any small, skinny, interesting book in my purse because I avoid flashing an iPad or iPhone on public transportation. (Hello, Just Plain Data Analysis!)
Apple has me in its grasp fairly tightly — MacBook, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Airport Express — but in 2012 I began to feel more provisional about using Apple products, as Apple changed charging adapters, poured more devices on the market, and not only frog-marched iOS users to a defective Maps product but took a while to repent. My iPhone also isn’t a particularly good phone–and that’s after two phones and two carriers. Furthermore, some of the best, most essential iOS apps come from Google.
That said, the ability to use Airplay to stream almost anything not produced by Apple’s Mortal Enemies (such as Amazon Prime), Apple’s sheer ease of use, and (here we go again) the induced inertia of owning so many Apple products, gives us reason to stay in the fold a while longer. I have lived through WordStar, Commodore, Sony, Gateway, Palm, Blackberry, and many other companies that ruled the earth until they didn’t; some new idea is always out there, ready to sneak up on us.
On the homebrewing front–brewing being a technology that has been evolving for thousands of years–I didn’t brew from July until December — a planned hiatus, due to New Zealand and the Pythagorean theorem and whatnot. (It is astonishing how useful that theorem is; I even used it to estimate the necessary range of our new wifi router.)
I brewed a small-batch stovetop oatmeal stout at the beginning of our winter break, which I gussied up with organic cocoa nibs and a cold-steeped extract of Philz french roast, and yesterday brewed a cream ale, the homebrew version of American “swill”–though like most things, when you make it at home it tastes so much better.
Each time I was reminded why the young’uns are all about crafts and maker-this-and-that these days: with so much “digital” in my life, it was so refreshing to engage with grain and hops and water and yeast, kettles and spoons and mash tuns, and best of all, my glorious 22″ whisk, which serves as a mash paddle, wort aerator, and personal defense weapon.
My most complex brewing tool by far is my beloved green Thermapen thermometer, which also serves me well when I am grilling or cooking, or even when I want to instantly check the temperature of anything from a wedge of cheese to a room. I now make my yeast starter in a large Erlenmeyer flask, which looks geeky but hails from 1861, if Wikipedia’s somewhat sketchy citations are to be believed. There are all kinds of apps and equipment for brewing, but in the end, the brewer herself is the most important device in the process (returning to the theme that technology can’t solve people problems).
Last musing: a couple of weeks ago, while perambulating through the Embarcadero with Sandy, we saw a well-coiffed woman about my age in exercise gear, carrying a yellow Sony Walkman cassette player, and I almost stopped her to ask her about it. I just didn’t know what to say, other than “I used to have one of those, in the Reagan administration” or “You can skip the CD model and go directly to an iPod shuffle.” If she had been younger and dressed less conservatively I would have assumed it was a playful container for an MP3 player, but it really looked like a working Walkman. I guess it was working for her, but I was fascinated. I wonder what was on the tape!
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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This is a smattering of lessons I keep rediscovering in management, which I felt like summarizing as I tick into a new calendar year. A lot of it is obvious, very little of it is new to me (and some of it has been said here before) — but management seems to consist of relearning the same things repeatedly, each time in new ways.
Hire in haste, repent at leisure. As I noted in my American Libraries article on branding, hiring is enough of a chimera anyway; rushing the process will just make things worse.
Every once in a while I find myself the lone defender on an issue. Sometimes I check in with myself and decide that I’m wrong. But other times I remember two examples of a lone holdout. The first is a case study of Donna Dubinsky, who at Apple championed a change in distribution methods. The second is a friend of mine who successfully led a complex political/technical challenge. He remarked recently that at times he was the only person who believed in his direction. But he was clearly right, in retrospect. (Note: sometimes I will be the lone holdout, and I will be wrong. So it goes.)
Eat sensibly and get regular exercise.
“You only get one chance to make a first impression.” The sensemaking that happens when a patron walks into a lobby, the first interaction with service points–these are crucial. I’ve been a member of the UCSF fitness center for several years, and I was startled to discover a poster on the lower level listing the “management team” — I didn’t recognize any of them. But the cool factor is that the level of customer service at the center’s front desk is so exceptionally, consistently high no matter when I visit or how busy it is, and the lobby is so intentionally welcoming, that I sense I know them anyway.
Management often feels like navigating by flashlight. I’m groping just a few feet ahead of myself, trying not to fall into holes, listening for sounds. A slow and methodical footfall helps.
Ultimately you rise and fall by the quality and quantity of your human capital. A small team of really great people can do amazing things.
Every team has limits on what is doable, and it’s a good thing to learn how to delicately communicate that. Nobody outside the library is sitting around asking, “Does the library have enough people to do what needs to get done?”
Message management is key. Much in library work can be delegated… but keep a firm grip on external communications, from signage to interaction with other agencies to who gets to pull the trigger on campus-wide messages.
Speaking of communication, it’s always a work in progress–but a very worthy cause.
You are the metronome. You set the pace.
Much as I disagree with Woody Allen’s life choices, I fully agree with him that “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” This is one of several management jobs in my career where showing up at work and being a presence has been crucial to success. If you think I don’t go to as many conferences as in some previous positions, you’re right.
That said, I’m going to begin working from home at least one day per month (I’ve been saying this for three years, so take it with a grain of salt) because the mindset for being an active presence is not the mindset conducive to editing grant narratives or finishing NCES statistics. Yes, I do take work home (though not obsessively), but even better is having a dedicated, hard-to-interrupt work day dedicated to the task–a nice mixture of urgency (I won’t get another day like this soon!) and luxury (home in my jammies, counting the stats!).
I also make sure I get to just enough conferences, and visit just enough peer directors, to get some Vitamin Colleague. Your staff can’t be that for you. They need you refreshed, balanced, and with your sense of humor intact–and there are things you shouldn’t share with them, no matter how tempting.
Take care of your boss. Meet deadlines small and large without prompting; don’t force your boss, or his or her staff, to be your administrative assistant. Be open to ideas. Come prepared to meetings. Cut your boss some slack–he or she puts up with your imperfections, after all. Remember to thank and praise your boss from time to time–you will never be privy to some of the hardest things they have done. (Yes, I have had bosses it would have been hard to do this for, but I still wish, in retrospect, I had tried harder.)
Show respect for the other departments you work with. I pride myself on a 100% on-time submission of my monthly credit card bill because it is one less thing for the finance department to worry about. If I think I’m going to be late, I tell them in advance. If I am having invoice issues with a vendor, I settle them as promptly as possible. Again, this isn’t about them being likable–though they are a likable bunch–but because it’s the right thing to do, morally and politically.
It’s worth wangling the library into the key discussions on campus — online learning, student success, etc. There is always a library tie-in, even if it’s not self-evident at first. The catch is to remember that the library can’t solve all problems.
One of the most delicate dances is the use of your facility by other agencies. There are no easy answers. It’s a case of balancing finite space with a distinct purpose with the political capital of resource-sharing. But a space once shared can rarely be reclaimed.
Build and maintain a strategic map. You need good relationships everywhere on campus–and not just with the people you feel at ease with.
Student workers do not set library policy. From time to time they will complain that one or more library users Did Something Bad and therefore some new library-wide draconian rule must immediately go into effect, optimally reinforced with a plethora of scolding signs printed on bright orange paper in all-caps Bold Comic Sans — yes, I speak from experience — but see above, message management.
Checklists are your friend. Campus Safety loves that we use opening and closing checklists–and so do I. Despite clear evidence that checklists save lives and improve processes, we may be their only friend, but that too is ok. (Policy and procedure are your friends, too.)
This is easily the fifth job in my life where I’ve implemented a key locker and insisted on key management. As with checklists, life is better when your keys are organized. Plus I find it too weird to work in a LIBRARY that can’t organize keys. (Bully for you if you have access cards, but we ain’t there yet.)
Consistent service is key. It is tempting to give a different level of service to the patron with the winningest charm. But ethically and strategically, we should provide the same level of service to all users. That doesn’t mean ignoring problem patrons or never being flexible, but for your typical patrons, there should never be a gulf of service between the patrons who are chummy and those who are simply there to get the job done.
In a similar vein, some of your best workers may not be one of the Cool Kids. I remember a conversation several years back about why so-and-so in another library was promoted to Head of Reference over another, sparklier employee. I’m guessing that from the director’s perspective, So-and-So was a reliable worker who showed up, did the job, got the administrivia done, knew how to keep a ship sailing, and (quoting Dr. Johnson) had a bottom of good sense, particularly in dampening the inevitable Library Melodrama.
There is a natural tendency in libraries to lean toward fees and service limits as governors on behavior and methods for mitigating demand on human capital or other resources. But I recall asking a peer library why they charged for a specific service, and their response was they didn’t know why and therefore they were eliminating the fee. Other times a limit can be packaged more attractively — such as asking a user which of the umpty-ump books she has suddenly requested she would like first rather than “no, you can’t request that many books at once.”
Periodically review your successes as a team. Remember the “olden days” and celebrate where you are and where you are going.
Additionally, review your organizational worldview, and if need be recalibrate. I am almost finished reading Tribal Leadership, and one of the “click” moments I had was realizing that though I was good at lifting up our own successes, I was starting to fall into the trap of being too critical of other departments–that nasty Us vs. Them habit that paves the way for siege mentality, pitypottism, and other unprofessional and counterproductive syndromes. Ick! Bad juju! I will allow myself the luxury of that level of criticism when I am absolutely sure my personal leadership has achieved absolute perfection (in other words, it will never happen).
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage
So, about my writing. I mean my literary-essay writing, not blog posts or journo-style magazine writing or academic writing.
I’ve spent the past year:
- Moping over the breakup of my writing group,
- Pursuing several professional goals that required intense study of un-fun stuff but were also convenient excuses for not writing, and
- Feeling sorry for myself whenever I see another writer’s good fortune posted on Facebook or Twitter, and
- Making resolutions about writing that I then fail to follow through on.
On the first point, it’s like a break-up, as a writing colleague told me a few months back. Go ahead and mourn for a little while, but get back in the writing saddle without them and keep on writing. They were a good thing while they lasted, but nothing lasts forever. After a while, the breakup moves into lame-excuse category.
On the second point, that stuff is done, so no excuses there, either. I have always had that stuff, and will continue to do so. Besides, for 8 years I managed to have a writing life alongside many other responsibilities.
On the third point, for a writer with a full-time-and-then-some day job, I have a pretty good publishing record. Almost every essay I felt was ready to send out in the last eight years has been published, and by very respectable publications. I’ve had essays republished in commendable anthologies, had an essay nominated for a Pushcart, and am looking forward to “Still Life on the Half-Shell” being republished in 2013 in The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, edited by Lisa Catherine Harper and Caroline Grant.
Obviously, I can write publishable work. Yet in the last year I have sent out only two essays, to the same publication, and took that editor at face value when he said the essays weren’t worth publishing, lambasting myself for my bad writing. How amateurish of me!
On the fourth point, I know how I write. I schedule the time and announce I am going to write. Then I find a generic coffeeshop (as a writing colleague noted, nothing “too hip”; the Tallahassee Panera still ranks as my perfect writing location), sit down for three hours with Vivaldi or Boccherini pacing my work, and I write, stopping only to divest and replenish herbal tea.
I do not write by sitting in my home office. I can do library work in that home office, but it is not separate enough to do literary writing–yes, not even when I am home alone. And yet for almost a year I claimed I can write in that space, and then I did not write there, and so I did not write.
I do not write by scheduling an hour here or there for writing. An hour is just about time for me to stretch out my writing muscle until I’m truly focused. The real writing happens in the next several hours. The last 15 minutes are spent worrying that my writing session is almost over and watching the baristas wipe off the tables as they close down shop for the night.
I also do not write by taking literary writing time and using it for other, non-literary writing tasks. Allowing that work to encroach on my literary writing has not been good for me. I pursued an MFA because I wanted to go somewhere else with my writing. Some people talk about where a good book takes them: that’s just one planet over from the place my writing takes me.
So attention has been paid. The habit has been resumed. I have a writing evening, a writing place, a pile of manuscripts to dust off, and a few flabby writing muscles to tone up again. The baristas and I, we are one with the night.
O brave rose
This past week we had a visitor in the library who (completely without guile) commented that the library felt very dated and dowdy. He didn’t use the word “dowdy,” but it hung in the air nonetheless, while I shrank in my seat.
I had just finished bragging about how much space we had opened up by eliminating all the unbolted, unbraced shelving on the main level, and how we had a cool writing studio and a new education curriculum section and some new couches and easy chairs and rolling whiteboards with trim that match the furniture in the writing studio, plus all the art exhibited around the library, and the scary metal desks on the lower level had been replaced with serviceable hand-me-down wooden desks, and for heaven’s sake, since he last saw the place every wall had been painted…
So I gulped a bit, but had to agree. My spectacles had been re-adjusted to the correct prescription: the library is dated and dowdy. What was a smart-looking library in 1958 became, after more than five decades without a renovation, that house where the realtor keeps reiterating how cute it is, with great potential.
It was as if I had rocketed back in time to my arrival, three years ago, when I thought, my goodness, that library needs help — and no one disagreed with me, and in fact pointed out that it was my job to address this. Because if you have seen attractive, well-updated libraries, you would not place this library in that category. If pushed, you would agree it has a beautiful arched ceiling and tremendous daylighting, plus a great sense of space on the main level. And it is clean and well-maintained; in poetic terms, it is no longer quite so Theodore Roethke, and even has a dash of Billy Collins.
But my visitor did me a great favor, as I reflected earlier this afternoon, when the clouds pushed north of our freshly-washed city and brilliant late autumn light bathed our neighborhood. I stood on our deck visiting my six rosebushes, inspecting for damage and enjoying the last buds of autumn. The storm had pelted many of the buds into sagging brown clumps of matter at the end of rain-lush branches, but several flowers hung in there gamely, doing their best to unfold.
Rather than cut these buds to bring into the house, I admired them in situ so they would die a natural death and let the bushes form hips, the fruit of the plant. From spring to early fall, the trick to abundant flora is to cut rose blooms early and often enough that hips do not form; but by late fall, a kind and thoughtful gardener allows her roses to consider their work done for the year and go dormant until spring (which around these parts is February–a rather short nap).
The last buds of autumn are not the prettiest flowers. They are smaller, pinched from the cold, and bruised by rain; often — using the delightful language of rosarians — they develop “confused centers,” in which petals and stamens are jumbled together pell-mell rather than whorling outward with that lovely mathematical logic found in flowering plants.
Defending these buds as representative of the best of my garden is pointless. If these wizened gnomes were what roses looked like year-round, I wouldn’t bother. I have grown truly grand roses, in which buds big as a lumberjack’s thumb unfurled with triumph, their immaculate petals sheened with color, the flowers, at full bloom, big as my fully-flexed hand, their fragrance a seductive force-field. I also grow miniature roses, whose proportionate beauty, at their peak, is even more astonishing for their minute scale. These experiences are why I bother growing anything as fussy as a rose in a setting as challenging as a wind-swept deck. (I have bought, grown, and given away roses at least ten times in the last thirty years, always in less-than-desirable locations — too shady, small, cold, hot, windy, humid, or dry.)
My love for the last buds of autumn is strong and deep. In their improbable appearance in the sturm und drang of fall-to-winter, their pluck and their lust for life are inspirational. My challenge — and my responsibility — is to remember what a truly great rose looks like, and to accept that the last buds of autumn, however much I love them, live primarily as commas between the truly grand flowers that came before them, and the amazing flowers yet to be.
New library in Levin, NZ
I took gobs of photos in New Zealand with both my iPhone and my unwieldy quasi-prosumer Kodak (sometimes cantankerous, sometimes great photos). But except for the rare Antipodean posting, only in the last 24 hours have I moved these pictures from devices to cloud storage, and at that, with only the barest metadata and organization. Flickr is yet to come (bar for the one picture included here, from a library in Levin).
New Zealand was wonderful, and all there were amazing. I was treated to astonishing hospitality by absolutely everyone, from the conference organizers and attendees to my open source colleagues at Catalyst, as well as Jane at Booklovers’ B&B (tearing through her final edits on a book even as she tended her brood of B&B’ers). As I was cautioned, there was Much Singing, in fact, at the end of every major presentation the entire conference broke out into song, in Maori no less — an experience at once impressive and touching and sui generis.
I returned to plunge back into a deep work zone–the usual stuff, with an additional helping of Many Focus Groups for our architectural program, and a top-secret project that has involved many hours of research and study, thereby neatly consuming all available “off-time.”
I had to fly to LA six days after I returned for a SCELC board meeting, and I remember nothing of the ensuing weekend, other than sleep.For several weeks after my big-trip-followed-by-little-trip I was tired, time-addled, and haunted by a persistent tummy bug no doubt picked up from “airplane air” on the gruesomely long flights to and fro (though Air New Zealand is a gracious courier). I wanted to sit somewhere for at least a half-day and think about New Zealand, but hurtling as I was through my own private Fall Funnel of Fun, all I could do was slip my hand into my slowly-dwindling supply of licorice allsorts and have a quiet nibble (once my tummy was again up to having licorice).
Now the licorice is gone, the focus groups are over, I feel the antic nature of the first 2/3 of the semester yield to the quieter pace of November (for the library, anyway), and this morning I have a tiny bit of time because we were asked to close the library and stay away from it this morning while wiring was completed. NO PROBLEM, I said.
So in this brief interlude let me back up a little and provide the highlights of experiences and discoveries:
Licorice is well-regarded in New Zealand. Because of that, turnover is vigorous, which means I had the freshest licorice I have had in my entire life. (I picked up the licorice habit from my dear departed dad–he taught me to like even the serious stuff, that hard Danish licorice with a dash of salt in it.)
Hokey pokey is a flavor. It seems to mean something like butter brickle, only with a stronger caramel flavor. (Now my NZ friends are asking, “What’s butter brickle?” To which I respond, “it’s like hokey pokey, only milder.”) Hokey pokey is found in ice cream but also as an addition to chocolate.
English is not an official language of New Zealand, which like Oz is a country that appears to have acquired a respect and appreciation for its multicultural heritage. Note: English is spoken universally as far as I can tell, but it’s not a designated official language of NZ.
Wellington is like San Francisco (is like Melbourne, is like all my favorite European-feeling cities…). Hills and gardens and a bustling downtown and a gorgeous waterfront and people with important expressions striding to work in dark clothes and pointy shoes, and good beer in many places.
McDonald’s sells lamburgers.
Cell phone plans are ridiculously expensive–and I don’t mean temporary plans for travelers (see below, connectedness), I mean cell phone coverage, period.
I saw a brand-new library two days before it opened (in Levin, a suburb of Wellington)! Can’t wait to share pics.
Lamingtons are served with an exaggerated wink. The conference fed us nonstop and Lamingtons were featured at one break, and I was told it was on my behalf! Think very upscale Sno Ball (but without marshmallow).
I was able to get by for a week with two wifi-enabled devices and a hodgepodge of free and pay access, but I have become so accustomed to being fully connected that it was disorienting to wayfind through a strange city with static maps. Where was my blue Google Maps dot to guide me? I found myself under- or over-estimating walking time and distances and walking in strange loops (in other words, my pre-device life).
Whitebait fritters, rocket salad, and a Epic beer on draft: oh yeah!
LIANZA has absolutely the best conference banquets, ever: costumes and skits and games and dancing and great food and FUN. I apologize in advance to any NZ librarians who have to attend a library conference banquet out of country and find themselves nodding to sleep over plates of tepid chicken-with-a-pile-o’-rice while dignitaries drone. DISCLAIMER: I am sure some banquets are fun. I speak only from personal experience.
Pavlova! Why don’t we serve that more often in this country? (Hmm, perhaps because Americans are as conflicted about meringue as they are about licorice?)
Palmerston North was its own fine introduction to New Zealand, considering I was tired, jetlagged, and preoccupied with a conference. The conference took place at a racetrack during the off-season, and every morning we were treated to a view of horses being exercised on a racetrack against a backdrop of colossal mountains.
Te Papa is like the Metropolitan Museum: you cannot see it in one, two, or three visits. Amazing and infinite. Thanks again to my Catalyst friends who scored me a private tour.
My first night our conference hosts had us to one of their homes for a home-cooked meal. It was a great way to ease into the trip.
The last meal I had with colleagues was with developers. I had forgotten how endearing they can be.
I’ll do a photo essay before Thanksgiving and talk about what I learned about libraries and librarians (other than we are a magnificent bunch).
I set aside my pre-LIANZA preparation to note that the theme for the past several weeks in LibraryLand is: be bold. (Warning, the following blog post is a babblish mish-mosh; I’m so busy I had to abandon plans to brew the White House beer for a local competition, let alone structure or revise this writing.)
Last week, Hachette Book Group announced it would “hike the price of backlist ebooks to the library market by 220% starting October 1″ — this, after ‘agreeing’ last May to re-enter the ebook market.
ALA President Maureen Sullivan organized a prompt and bold response, stating that librarians are “weary of faltering half-steps” and commenting, “‘Now we must ask, “With friends like these …’.” (To which Jamie LaRue added, “Maybe what we need is a smarter group of friends.”)
Sullivan has tasked ALA’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group to develop “more aggressive” strategies — a great call to action, in keeping with her presidential focus on advocacy. This isn’t to suggest that anyone, including Sullivan, believes an ALA working group is the only response to an issue, or that the rest of us don’t have work to do, but it’s important that our association take swift, formal, and bold action.
Given that, it’s sad that one of the last editorials from Francine Fialkoff before her departure from Library Journal after a highly distinguished career was a meandering swat at ALA committees. Most of us understand that committees are part of the larger landscape of advocacy and action–not solutions in themselves, but nonetheless contributing to solutions.
I remember being told, ages ago, that 85% of information transfer among scientists is informal, and I’d be willing to agree that applied to library leadership, as well. Many a library leader germinated leadership skills, ideas, and powerful connections within the world of professional organizations. Look at the truly significant thought leaders, and most cut their teeth through organizational participation. To simply write off the role of committees is to encourage learned helplessness toward organizational action — to give up in advance.
Does ALA drive us crazy sometimes? Are there committees — even entire divisions — mired in dysfunction? Does a bear poop in the woods? All human endeavors are destined to be flawed and somewhat crazy-making; “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Work through and around the flaws (and if need be, shift your efforts away from the fully dysfunctional), and experience the usefulness.
Speaking of work to do and the faith and skills to make it happen, Jenica Rogers and peers in the SUNY network have spoken truth to the powerful journal publishers and their — no other phrase for it — price-gouging behavior: “SUNY Potsdam will not be subscribing to an American Chemical Society online journal package for 2013.”
To underscore just how radical this is, Jenica spells out that the American Chemical Society “is in the unique position of both approving programs and selling the content necessary for approval” — an egregious conflict of interest. (I’m wondering how unique this is, actually.) For this, the ACS extorts free labor from faculty who have no choice but to publish (or perish) — free labor to the ACS, but certainly not free to the supporting institutions — then turn around to charge increasingly high prices for their product. Jenica notes that “the ACS package would have consumed more than 10% of my total acquisitions budget, just for journals for this one department.”
N.b.: this also points to the importance of including librarians — or at least librarian-informed judgment – in the university program approval and review process; some universities understand this, while others do not. It is to Jenica’s credit that she has built the organizational relationships to make possible the necessary conversations to do what elsewhere would be unthinkable.
These collection conversations are being held in an interesting space of tension and change. Last Friday we held library design sessions all day, led by a professional library space planner. At one point, in a conversation about reducing print collections to provide more study space, the planner commented that accreditors need to understand that the assessment of the value the campus library has to reorient itself from being heavily collection-focused to the services libraries provide.
In some ways I believe (or perhaps hope) this is happening. One clue to that is the workshops our regional accrediting agency is holding: I don’t see one on collection strength in libraries, but I do see one on information literacy. But to see how far we across LibraryLand have to go, look at the standards for elite research libraries. Of course the collections in these libraries are important. But in isolation, these statistics are not much more than collection-focused bean-counting. Would you really want to brag that your library was number one in microfilm holdings? The statistics may provide some insight into the readiness of any university to support skilled research, but there are no meaningful indicators, beyond what can be inferred from personnel capacity, about the library’s ability to produce researchers.
And yet! As Barbara Fister keeps arguing (and as I wrote earlier this year in An ebook and a hard place), shifting the focus from beans to soup (as it were) isn’t an excuse for abandoning our responsibilities to the memory work that has been core to who we are for thousands of years. We are in tension with all of this: the shift from print to digital; the battles of ownership and access; the transformation from box-of-books to vital commons.
Imagine if the university accreditors showed up and asked how many journal holdings were open access — or secured by LOCKSS — or published by libraries or universities. Imagine too if the ALA LIS program accreditation committee held schools’ feet to the fire for producing graduates who understood (as much as any of us do) the complex publishing landscape and our roles in it as advocates and defenders — measurable with a four-hour closed-book final exam. If I’m going to imagine, I might as well be bold about it.
Meanwhile, my brain is a jumble of PowerPoint, workshop handouts, Convocation, pants-hemming, two weeks of meetings to be squeezed into one, and packing lists, while visions of Lamingtons dance through my dreams.
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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Potato Chips (Kettle Brand)
In a week I turn 55.
Turning 30 was delightful; stationed in Germany, I took myself on a tour of the Benelux, and on the Big Day, wandered enchanted through the Kroller-Muller museum. I was thrilled to leave the twenties behind.
Turning 40 was sweet; we were in New Jersey, Sandy threw a party, and all had fun. I look back, and there were people at that party who no longer walk this planet, and I am so glad for every celebration behind me.
The big deal at 50 was not where we were (Florida–wow, did we really live there once upon a time?), but that I had reached an important goal: to be writing again by 50. It meant so much to me to see my essay about my friend David published in White Crane–my first literary publication. Only people who have published literary writing understand the hurdle (and the effort behind it) of that first piece, first drafted in 2005.
(An aside, writing-humor-style: the person who replied, “Oh yes, I’ve been meaning to write a short story one of these days,” as if short-form literary writing were an unskilled project of a long morning, like cleaning a gas grill. Yup, you try that. Send it in to the New Yorker–the go-to submission for people who know nothing about writing.)
But 55 is freaking me out!
I suspect the problem is the way I absent-mindedly do “birthday arithmetic,” which is probably a holdover from a very early job as a records clerk at San Francisco Juvenile Court, where we filed records by the Soundex system, which had my brain doing small calculations all day long.
My birthday algorithm is this: double the age and decide if I’ll be alive.
I could easily see turning 60, as far away as it seemed. 80 was definitely within reach, given my hale family. 100 was remotely feasible, given advances in medicine, even though no one in my family had lived that long. But 110 — that seems entirely out of reach. I know people who are nearly 100, but I don’t know anyone who is close to approaching 110.
I realize birthday arithmetic is completely illogical. The arbitrary doubling of my current age is a ridiculous exercise. But it makes as much sense, or lack of sense, as grown men weeping over an athletic team, or Canada releasing a stamp featuring the Kraken (which if anything hale from England), or anything about Justin Bieber.
My solution to birthday-arithmetic-angst is to double down on the life ahead of me: personally, professionally, spiritually.
I’m excited about New Zealand and plan to use next Friday as a work-from-home day (after 11 days of going to work, the natural rhythm of fall Orientation) to work on my presentation and my workshop. The former will be about radical optimism (I just finished Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism and highly recommend it) and the latter will be based on Reframing Academic Leadership.
At some point I’d like to collect my published essays into a book and offer it for sale. That’s a project where I wish I had a Life Intern (or one of those old-fashioned wives). I also greatly enjoyed writing an article for the library trade press (big thanks to Valerie and Karen at ALA!). At one point I didn’t want to do that any more because I wanted to reserve time for literary writing, but the latter is not happening. It isn’t demeaning to journalism to say it doesn’t lean as hard on my right brain. I found myself enjoying the rhythm of research, interview, synthesis, and writing–a pair of old slippers that fit perfectly after I dug them out of the back of the closet.
I’m occasionally attending an Episcopal church on Wednesday evenings, because I appreciate Sandy’s church leadership and yes, I attend many services, but she cannot be my pastor and her church is not my denomination. (Other pastor’s spouses will “get” what I mean.)
I’m also thinking strategically about the next 25 years of my working life: 15 in the regular full-time workforce, 10 as a consultant. Given my family’s lifespan, I will have another 5 to 10 years after that (if not more, due to aforesaid advances in medicine) where, oh, I don’t know, I can spend mornings writing, and in the afternoon emulate the woman on Packanack Lake in New Jersey who sat on her front porch in a rocking chair, eating potato chips and hollering at passers-by (Sandy and I agreed many years back we’d like to be like her someday). In the meantime, as I focus on the pre-potato-chip era, I am enjoying the sense that I’m not just rolling in every day but have a map in front of me and a bright flashlight shining on it.
Onward, the dreaded march!
Saturday morning I’m headed in to do a little training in cataloging. My friend Zoe laughed her guts out when I told her I’m the de facto chief cataloger at my library. She said that in small institutions such as ours, the oldest librarian in the library usually has that role these days. Guilty as charged.
I love cataloging. No, I absolutely love it. The minutia. The conflicting rules. The endless attention to detail. The spine label printing. Ok, so I don’t love cataloging–I put up with it, since you can now graduate from library school without a grounding in the equivalent to programming in our profession, the structured language of bibliographic information. Note: when I was in library school, I took cataloging AND programming (PASCAL). Kids these days… But I do love transforming a shelf zombie into a discoverable, usable book, by my own hands or even better, by others, and we have a lot of zombies.
On other fronts, I haven’t written in several weeks because we went on vacation and I don’t like to advertise that in advance. I’m concerned people will steal our 32″ 6-year-old TV or our 15-year-old couch. Or kidnap our cats, who became so despondent at our absence they pooped in several inappropriate places, ensuring that my first two hours at home were not chillaxing with our unread mail and writing leisurely blog posts but crawling behind furniture with towels and warm Oxiclean to dab away the doo. A very hard crash landing.
We spent our vacation with things and people both familiar and comfortable: friends, Hearst Castle, the Madonna Inn, a favorite hotel in Cambria, a favorite resort in Guerneville, more friends. It was the kind of vacation where the days are very full and yet slip away like quicksilver, where hours are spent adventuring and other hours are spent quietly reading entire books from page 1 to the end.
Like most people in higher ed, right now I am staring down the beginning of the semester, roaring toward us like an unstoppable freight train. But I am cupping our vacation in my hands, feeling its wings beating against my fingers, remembering.
In the few spare moments I am allotted, I’ve been working on an article (a weekend project, as my weekday pattern is commute-work-work-work-commute-gym-eat-sleep-repeat), but in the back of my brain I’ve wanted to follow up on OCLC’s un-hire of of Jack Blount, particularly in light of my “I am the man” post several weeks back.
The article is about librarians and image — depressingly, one of those topics that, the literature underscores, is only assigned to library administrators of a certain age, though I appear to be one of the few women to weigh in on this ancient topic. I promise not to be a jerk: no railing about Kids These Days; no grotesque generalizations; a goodly amount of evidence — though when a Facebook colleague asked me if I was writing a book, I decided it was time to begin wrapping up the research end of things. (Were you aware of the Special Libraries Association Presidential Task Force on the Image of the Librarian/Information Professional, established in 1989 with representatives from a number of library associations?)
Like most of my writing projects, I started out with some working ideas. Some were irrelevant, some were validated, and several are being proven entirely wrong. I love this part of the process — like most librarian-writers, perhaps a little too much; it’s the phase where I begin learning something new.
My writing activity ties into my ruminations about the non-hiring of Jack Blount, because here is a case where an employer was absolutely convinced of the right person for the job, until the employer wasn’t. (Not for a moment does anyone believe that Jay Jordan strolled into a meeting and said he was wrong, he didn’t want to retire.)
I don’t know the reasons, and am not even that interested; but I was intrigued that there was no hue and cry to keep Jack Blount. After the initial pop of interest, everyone moved on. Had OCLC continued with the hire, and Blount turned out to be wrong for whatever reasons they uncovered, that would have been the defining information about OCLC for a good long time to come. As it stands, the un-hire became a non-event disappearing into the swirls of time.
So, good for OCLC. I cannot over-emphasize what I have said elsewhere about hiring: it’s a chimerical process, and if you have any doubts, even doubts you can’t entirely pinpoint, don’t hire. Pick up your skirts and flee.
The Sixth Sense
Then there is the flip side: for all we know, Jack Blount woke up one morning in a cold sweat and said to himself, “I should not take this job.” I cannot tell you how many colleagues have confessed that they accepted a new position — relocated to it, sold homes, took their families — and within days or weeks realized they were not merely not in Happyville but had been dragged into its Dante-esque antithesis, complete with howling wraiths and massive workplace dysfunction. (I recall a colleague describing university staff meetings, rife with discord, where one librarian would take off her shoes and clip her toenails–and this was a uni of size and reputation.)
I’ve not once heard anyone say they later had second thought
Library Admin is Fun!
Sarah has a great post about her transition to library administrator. Because she feels awkward in that cloth she’ll likely do great.
Naturally, being The Man myself (a few times over), I have my own twist on her observations.
There’s a fine line between being transparent and over-sharing. I don’t believe in transparency so much as translucency. My own boss is a great example of how to share just enough. She’s frank and informative and helps place the world in context, and she finds the positive spin on things or the right solution for the right time. And there are things she doesn’t share with me at the time that I’m glad she withheld (and equally honored that she later shared) — and I’m guessing that’s the tip of the iceberg. I follow her lead.
A lot of my role as The Man is about managing communications: internal, external, whatever — from the signs on the wall to the emails to the masses. I recall a thread on Facebook where a librarian fumed (in a post phrased as a question — not too passive-aggressive, eh) that her director insisted on reviewing all external communications.
Well, yeah, I hope so (though of course in larger institutions that’s managed by a marketing person or an entire department). This is one area where you will need to recommunicate your message frequently. Let me take it farther: I set and enforce expectations for how we will engage with our constituents one-on-one. I do not apologize for being the chief my-friend-what’s-in-charge of message management, from the signs on our printers to how we communicate computer outages to the flyers distributed to the masses. I’ve walked into the alternative several times in my career and had to undo a lot of damage. You need a united and clear voice.
The Man must be mercilessly optimistic. I’ve flogged that horse so much it found a lawyer and is suing, but I’ll say it again. I can tell it’s time for vacation because it’s becoming a little difficult to be perky and upbeat, but you know what? I’m being paid to be perky and upbeat. Once I walk in the library, that’s my assigned take on the universe. I try very hard to share “good news” as often as I can.
Not only that, it’s my job to ensure that the “optimistic spin” pervades the workplace as much as possible, and to honor and uplift the good moments while deflecting, or at least delaying, the inevitable buzzkill. There are people on this planet who in the name of “just being realistic” have a knack for popping party balloons before the cake has been served; it’s their world-view. Sometimes you will need to sit on them. There will be time to fix the inevitable glitches or problems. People — and that includes you, dear Man — deserve the right, and have the need, to bask in a good moment–to feel a little joy.
Sarah is also right about developing a suit of armor for the people who will never Approve of you… or who project situational Disapproval when you make an unpopular decision. We all want to be liked, but you can’t be the Man and always be liked. Get on that chainmail vest and get over it.
Part of optimism is persistence; a sense of humor helps too. For the last year I have led a “small” project involving an interactive whi
A friend of ours, Rachel Dowell, died last weekend after a long and dignified battle with cancer. Rachel was able to hold on long enough to witness an important life event, and then Cancer won out.
Friends, relatives, even pets who depart leave not only ghostly trails of their presence in our lives, faint footprints left in photographs and Facebook postings, but at least for me, also generate crucial moments of reflection and inventory.
Sandy will officiate at Rachel’s memorial service, and I’ll be there too; I can hear my cousin Craig at my uncle Bob’s service saying, “These are the good times.” Of all the honors we have in life, being part of the communal experience of mourning is one of the most significant and memorable.
It was easy enough to hit the Undo button for ALA Annual, transferring my registration to a friend who needed one, canceling the hotel, deferring road trips, excusing myself from meetings. I fly Southwest so much on business that the ticket will be used by October if not earlier. I’ll be at ALA in Seattle next January. Of all my ALA happenings, I miss breakfast with Steven Kerchoff and the road trip with Skip Auld the most, but I’ve asked Skip to be my Friday date for Midwinter — and the libraries we would be visiting will be there all year round — and I’ll have breakfast with Steven in Chicago next summer.
But I had another moment of clarity, the sort of epiphany where I wake up with a fully-formed realization hovering in front of me like a dragonfly, and when I shared it with Sandy we were in agreement. Not a big or momentous deal, but just that I’m dialing back the New Zealand trip to be a pleasant professional activity of not longer than a week, just me solo flying to NZ, doing my conference thang, seeing a couple of libraries, a couple of extra days in Wellington.
Meanwhile, Sandy and I will take trips this year and next that are on our “bucket lists,” from a train trip in Canada at leaf-peeping time — something Sandy has talked about for as long as I’ve known her — to my humble but real hankering for a return trip to Cambria and Hearst Castle. We are mutually agreed on visiting a growing list of friends and relatives we haven’t seen enough in the decade, visits we can’t do once people leave this earth. Plus I need more writing time, just for myself, and I would like a few more San Francisco “staycation” days.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about the New Zealand trip (especially the librarians, the libraries, and the beer), but I had been spinning it out into a family vacation neither of us had prioritized, when as a librarian and minister we do have to pick and choose our grand adventures. And in the end taking one week in September is about as much as I feel comfortable doing that time of year. I am (to echo a post I’ll write about in the future) The Man, and as The Man, have responsibilities.
Do I have advice for you? As it happens, yes. Have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding, and do it now, before things get set in concrete.
I blogged in 2008 about dropping out of a PhD program. There’s another part to that story, which is that the morning after my arrival, I woke up with the unshakeable conviction I should immediately turn around and go home–not one of those brief moments of insecurity common to many endeavors, but a flashlight-bright understanding of my circumstances, like those brides who, standing at the altar, pick up their skirts and flee.
I cried on the phone; I felt it in my heart, even though I could barely explain my anxiety. (There were “circumstances,” not worth reciting here, but some of my concern turned out to be unnervingly premonitory.) But I stayed, out
As this month’s personal hobby, I am working on finalizing our travel plans to New Zealand. Things are starting to swing into focus. My goal is: have a wonderful experience at LIANZA; meet many fantastic librarians; see libraries; see a wonderful country; get some quality time with Sandy; chill out…
I realized as I was putting my plans together that some parts of my life have become very oblique to anyone not following me on FaceBook, now that I am flying through the Tunnel of Academic Library Administration, hanging on to my seat for dear life. (Overheard at an event today: “Oh, that’s Karen Schneider–I don’t see her too much any more.”) I recently realized I had been losing vacation days for several pay periods and wondered how I got in that predicament (which I promptly addressed by taking a couple of days off, and will take several more over the summer, though we’re being prudent about travel and other expenses so we can enjoy New Zealand).
Part of it was hospice care for a wonderful tabby we adopted in early 2011 after our old tabby died and Emma, our elderly tuxedo cat, was clearly lonely. Prada, the new tabby, was healthy when she arrived, and quickly fit in, but right before the fall semester (my life now being driven by the academic year) was stricken with a fast-moving, highly pernicious oral cancer. She soldiered on, a brave and uncomplaining lass, but needed much TLC on a day-to-day basis; and when Prada finally left this world early this year, we couldn’t bear leaving Emma alone again, but of course, we wanted to be careful about not just rushing out to get any new kitty. So the vacation count crept up me, and then it was spring, and honestly, there’s no time for vacation during the regular semesters. (Prada’s successor is Samson, a hearty 8-year-old ginger cat who loves all of us and approves of our generous meal plan.)
Anyway, these rough plans are driven by a few things, such as our preference for cities and sedate activities, my wish to do my talks before my personal travel, the KiwiRail schedule (which in an effort to “to transform the service into an internationally recognised tourism product” has reduced service to an awkward several days per week), my unwillingness to drive on the other side of the road (I did that for a year in 1984–my very first car, a junker purchased on the RAF Lakenheath “Lemon Lot”–but I wouldn’t risk it now), and my vague sense that we should have footfall on both islands, even though I would not suggest that a Kiwi visiting the continental US should also travel to Alaska and Hawaii. Because it’s the semester and there is Much To Do, as well as a busy time for Sandy’s job, and yet we are also cognizant this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we’re trying to balance this trip so it is neither too long nor too short.
But it’s a draft — not a final plan. Input welcome!
First Draft, NZ Itinerary
Friday, 9/21 (pm): Depart California
Saturday 9/22: Arrive Palmerston North, check in, decompress/de-lag. We will look terrible and behave strangely, so probably an in-room night.
Sunday: more de-lagging. Church somewhere? A stroll on PN’s Square? Possible conference event in evening.
Monday, 11:30-12:30: Lead workshop on change management (working title: “Change is Easy, You Go First” — thank you, George Needham)
Tuesday night: Conference dinner
Wednesday: Closing keynote
Wednesday: driven to Welli
First, context. On April 27 I attended DPLA West, and let me take it from the horse’s mouth:
DPLA West—which took place on April 27, 2012 in San Francisco—was the second major public event bringing together librarians, technologists, creators, students, government leaders [including IMLS and the National Archives], and others interested in building a Digital Public Library of America. Convened by the DPLA Secretariat at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society [John Palfrey] and co-hosted by the San Francisco Public Library [Luis Herrera was there--I mean, is this guy triplets or what? He's both amazing and ubiquitous], the event assembled a wide range of stakeholders in a broad, open forum to facilitate innovation, collaboration, and connections across the DPLA effort. DPLA West also showcased the work of the interim technical development team and continued to provide opportunities for public participation in the work of the DPLA.
The best part of the event for me was communing with and among so many nerds, including friend-nerds, acquaintance-nerds, celebrity-digerati-nerds, and even biblio-celebrity-digerati-nerds. My library school advisor Jana Bradley was even there, and how wonderful to meet up with her again. She was a terrific adviser, a real mentor, and she continues to do great stuff.
The second best part of the event was the sheer electricity of the day. There we were, at the Internet Archives, all excited about the nascent Digital Public Library of America! The speakers were lucid and interesting, and the event was well-captured in text, video, and even artistic renderings. The weather cooperated, and at lunch we fanned out into the sunshine and kibitzed while noshing on lovely box lunches. I had never seen the scanning operation at the IA, and it was fascinating and even touching to see beautiful old books carefully scanned for the world to know and share.
However, when I tried to synthesizing the event later on, I found myself agreeing with Peter Brantley’s assessment that the event displayed “a cacophony of wildly disparate visions.” Stakeholders were not in agreement on “the whatness of the thing,” to use an old literary expression, nor were they aware of this.
The DPLA has had this problem from the outset, beginning with such fundamental issues as what a “library” is. Nicholas Carr, writing earlier that month, noted that “Chief Officers of State Library Agencies passed a resolution asking the DPLA steering committee to change the name of the project” — since the DPLA’s goal, though it doesn’t quite understand this, is really to be the Digital Public Stacks and ILS of America — and then observed, “The controversy over nomenclature points to a deeper problem confronting the nascent online library: its inability to define itself. The DPLA remains a mystery in many ways. No one knows precisely how it will operate or even what it will be.”
As became clear in the discussions, what public libraries (ahem — real public libraries) want, for the most part, is the ability to purchase/license and share current ebook titles: the much-coveted product of the Big Six publishers. They want Hunger Games, not someone’s pre-1923 travelogue. The think-tank nerds want government documents digitized (and who can disagree with that, even though it’s not the top priority for public libraries). The developers want an amazing tool
It’s almost time for the March of the Librarians! Friday at ALA starts with an ol’ pal picking me up at SNA and then heading out for a road trip to see libraries (or at least, given area traffic, “library”). I’m thinking West Hollywood, even though it’s an hour from the airport. Recommendations welcome.
As always, my schedule has some dueling appointments, overlap, gaps, and things I should probably be doing but don’t remember. I conclude my term as interim GLBTRT secretary after this conference and then swing into ALA Councilor responsibilities as of Midwinter 2013, so I’ve blocked out some time at this conference for getting reacquainted, as I can’t make the Saturday orientation for new and returning councilors.
I very much appreciate all the suggestions for my work on Council. The big issues do seem to be ebooks, ebooks, and ebooks.
Friday June 22
11-5 Road trip!
4:00pm – 5:15pm Opening General Session, Rebecca MacKinnon
Saturday June 23
8-10 a.m. GLBTRT Steering Committee I, Hyatt Regency Orange County – HYATT – Garden 1
10:30 – noon GLBTRT All Committees’ Meeting Anaheim Marriott – MAR-Grand Salon G-H
1 pm – 3 pm: Exhibits
3:30pm – 5:00pm ALA Council / Executive Board / Membership Information Session Anaheim Marriott Platinum 1-6
6 – 8 pm LIAL11 Reunion dinner
Sunday, June 24, 2012
8-10 am Publisher’s focus group; “A Very Nice Breakfast” at the Anaheim Hilton. CH organizing.
9:00am – 12:00pm ALA Council I Anaheim Marriott Platinum 1-6
10:30am to 12:00pm OCLC: Our Digital Future Hilton Anaheim, Huntington Room (n.b. I owe you all a post about DPLA West)
1:30pm – 3:30pm LITA Top Tech Trends, Anaheim Convention Center, Ballroom A
4:00 pm – 5:30 pm The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Research, Digital Scholarship and Implications for Libraries (LITA President’s Program)
6:00 – 8:00pm GLBTRT Social Tortilla Jo’s, 1510 – Disneyland Drive, Bldg A
Monday June 25
9:30 Breakfast with SK
10:30 – 2:00pm Stonewall Book Awards Brunch Anaheim Marriott – MAR – Grand Salon A-D
Yet more exhibits
5:30 – 7 Battledecks!
Tuesday June 26
9 – 11:00am GLBTRT Steering Committee II Anaheim Convention Center – ACC – 212A
I’m going to focus on some highlights, rather than rehashing the entire Library Journal Design Institute, but overall it was a timely, highly worthwhile event, a solid mix of panel sessions and interactive problem-solving sessions. Most of the attendees were from public libraries, but there were a few academics, and the ones I spoke with were in agreement that academic librarians can learn a lot from studying public library design (not just facilities, either, but services as well).
The informal theme of this institute — I think I heard LJ has done about 20 of these? — is, in Joseph Sanchez’s terms, “library as question mark.” Sanchez, from the Auraria Library at the University of Colorado, was on an opening panel where he and Matt Hamilton from Anythink Libraries talked about the impact of changes in the reading ecology on how library space is used, with a lot of conversation about users creating digital content. Traci Lesneski from MS&R talked about the library as extrovert: more transparent, more visible — a point that resonated as I thought about our library becoming more proactively welcoming.
Nevertheless, for all the talk about content creation, library gardens, gaming, and so on, implicit in all the sessions that day was the idea that when users walk into a library, they want to see people and products (versus wandering into an empty space – I saw this at a fairly new university library where my first thought was that the first-floor lobby was a missed opportunity).
Those products will probably include books, but can also include DVDs and other media. In some cases, the users themselves may be the attraction, on display as they create, browse, and read (not unlike watching the pizza maker twirl his dough). And build in a visible location for a helpful human presence — call it a librarian or library worker, but I hear the word “concierge” a lot these days (waving at West Hollywood!), and think that’s a good fit for that role.
There were tours the previous day which my travel schedule didn’t let me attend, but I did get the tour of Denver Public Library, which for me had several ah-hah moments. As one librarian, a facility manager, observed, I got the tour I needed. It’s a midcentury building about the same age as my library, and it had a renovation and expansion in 1990 led by Michael Graves. So their challenge was to preserve an iconic look and feel while bringing the library into the technology era. I don’t have those challenges per se, but renovating a pre-technology building with “good bones” is certainly relevant.
Two Benches, Paired
Plus I saw Michael Graves benches scattered about DPL, and thought, Perfect. Benches. Which leads (rather loosely, like a dog galloping ahead of its owner) to a point made at the Institute: the project lead for a library design need to be outgoing and friendly, but also firm. That describes me to a tee on my best days. (I will refrain from commenting on what I’m like on my worst days.)
The leader must also have strong and well-communicated ideas and opinions–like, those benches are a great fit — but be flexible. One strong idea I had early on (courtesy of Linda Demmers, a bit more on her below) is that our library would absolutely need a thorough facility inspection before any other design activity moved forward (with the exception of the computer classroom), and that’s wrapping up as I write this. (By the way, who knew there were so many ways to use asbestos?).
I was right, and sticking to my guns was the right thing to do. It do
I’m humbled to be reelected to ALA Council for what will be my fourth term, and congrats to Barb Stripling (ALA President), Trevor Dawes (ACRL President), Cindi Trainor (LITA President), and everyone else elected yesterday. As a sign of the times, I first learned this yesterday from a dear colleague’s post to my Facebook wall. So this is an unusually short post from me, because I’d like to shut up and listen: how can I be part of the change you want to see in ALA?
As many of you know, last week Random House raised its Overdrive ebook pricing a lot. Not 20-percent-a-lot. More like 300-percent-a-lot. Enough so that a cart of 9 ebooks I had in Overdrive, only some of which were Random House, suddenly bloated to nearly $500 before I deleted the RH titles… dropping the total to $78.
Here’s how this price increase impacts the reading ecology:
If librarians fill demand for RH titles, we have to buy fewer books from other publishers… not to mention fewer RH copies. If you’re responding to user demand for the most popular titles, that means more small publishers go on the chopping block. (Adios, Cassoulet!)
If you reduce the number of RH copies you purchase, your users now have much longer hold waits for these books. Like everything else in life these days, something that is a public good is rationed through an increasingly narrow funnel.
If librarians do as I did and stop buying RH ebook titles (because I’m not running a public library, and our popular-reading is important but not our top-tier priority), readers who want these books only have the paper option. You may say that’s perfectly fine, but stay with me while I detour to discuss in brief one of the less-insightful commentaries that emerged.
Over on TechCrunch, a writer opines that this price increase is a necessary evil. Devin writes, “These companies are faced, after all, with the prospect of selling one book and having it lent to a hundred people at once (though that is not the case here)” — my emphasis.
Right, it’s not the case here. The way Overdrive works, books are “checked out” just like paper books. These books can’t be renewed, and they can’t be loaned to others. One person, one book. We’re all aware it’s a horseless carriage of a workaround based on a known model, but all the players do get how it works.
Furthermore — and this is where the comment about paper comes in — for all the enormous, sparkling crocodile tears trickling down the face of Random House, as Bobbi Newman pointed out on Twitter, they had a boffo good year last year in re profits, and a lot of that was due to ebooks.
Why shouldn’t they have had a good year? They now have a supply channel that (to turn the publishing industry’s own NewSpeak back on itself) is almost frictionless. They don’t have to print, predict, ship, store inventory, ship it back when it’s not sold, or pulp it. I’m no tax lawyer, but I also suspect that publishers get a major revenue boost by no longer having taxable inventory sitting in physical warehouses.
And of course, publishers aren’t turning any of this revenue over to the people who make the books worth reading — the authors.
If you read the ensuing comments on the TechCrunch post, you’ll see that the author subscribes to the publishing-world-is-going-away model (or at least backpedals to that idea, in the face of indignant responses). In this model, if I’m reading him correctly, the publisher’s behavior is rational (if not appropriate) because they’re raking in money before Everything Changes and the current publishing model disappears — which I suppose we could label as thoughtful behavior for publishing execs whose children expect to go to college.
I won’t spend more time guessing what this writer believes, but what I believe in is nothing less than Ranganathan’s First Law: Books ar
I realize this is old news for many of you by now (a full 24 hours after the story broke) but I waited until I was home and — donning my writer’s hat — could compose my thoughts about the discovery that Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory is composed of lies, damn lies, and even more lies.
This isn’t about what is or isn’t journalism; it’s about the larger genre of nonfiction, so called because IT’S. NOT. FICTION. Daisey not only undermined what has been an important assessment of a major tech company’s practices, he sullied the creative nonfictioneers everywhere who work hard to stay within the bounds of truth.
Creative nonfiction is hard to pull off. Assuming you aren’t Mr. Daisey or James Frey, you’re challenged (I almost wrote “stuck”) with creating a smooth, compelling narrative from the messy details of real life.
I have workshopped with fiction writers who became impatient with CNF’s demands and suggested, repeatedly, that the work either be recast as fiction or that fictitious details be added to “improve” it. But a great piece of nonfiction cannot simply be labeled fiction and done with; quite often what is powerful about the piece is that it really happened. And making stuff up is lying pure and simple.
What grieves me most about this incident is that Daisey didn’t need to do it. He had many options for putting the truth on stage. He could have stayed within the boundaries of his own investigation, leaving out the wholesale lies and downsizing the exaggerations to their truthful contours. He could have reached out to an investigative reporter or researcher for assistance. But he chose the lazy path.
At noon today I’m going to listen to This American Life’s retraction (titled, very humbly and directly, Retraction). I could listen to it right now on one of my many devices. But I feel somehow that radio honors the occasion.
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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Last week, investigative reporter Thomas Peele gave a talk at my library (Holy Names University) about his book, Killing the Messenger.
I re-read the book this weekend to remind me of the details. In doing so, one of the key ‘details” that made my reacquaintance was the life and death of Chauncey Bailey.
Bailey wasn’t a perfect person. Gunned down at 57 while walking to work in Oakland, his best years as a reporter were behind him. After a solid career at several major dailies, he’d had a few reversals of fortune before ending up at the tiny community newspaper where he was editor-in-chief. If Bailey had been murdered for anything less than being the first U.S. reporter in over thirty years to be intentionally silenced in the line of duty, none of us might remember him.
But in 2007, Bailey was still in the saddle, doing his best to speak truth to power — to unveil the decades of crime and dysfunction inflicted on Oakland by Yusef Bey and his cotillion of thugs, sycophants, and wack-jobbies.
Killing the Messenger isn’t a perfect book. (Nota bene: there is no perfect book. Books are by people, and people are imperfect.) I agree with the Columbia Journalism Review that the first three chapters unnecessarily sensationalize Oakland.
But after that, the book hits its stride. We move back in time, to the origins of the splinter group of the splinter group once loosely associated with Islam. We see the great migration to the North and the great disappointment of African-Americans who learned that racism was endemic in our culture, not just the South. We see the movement westward. And in bits and pieces we learn about Chauncey Bailey.
I connected with Chauncey Bailey’s story. I know what it’s like to be 50-something and not be at the best place in my life. Right now I’m in a redemption curve. I’m the director of a incredibly small university library and we’ve done some great stuff. Chauncey didn’t get that opportunity, but in the right scenario, it might have played out that way.
Chauncey also reminds me of Warren, a smart and knowledgable contractor we worked with in New Jersey who was in his line of work because his high-powered industry began laying off 50-something men during a lean phase–and if you aren’t young, you don’t know what it’s like to be aging and jobless (a male friend of mine, turning 50, commented that he now knew what it meant to be female). Warren did well with his life — he died a few years back playing tennis, God rest his soul — , but I assume Warren had more than a few days when he woke up wondering what the hell happened.
After I finished re-reading Killing the Messenger, I played the what-if game for a while. What if the Oakland Post hadn’t spiked the story he wanted to publish. What if his killers had a different timetable. What if he had taken a different route to work that morning.
But in the end, there were no what-ifs. Chauncey was murdered. Thankfully, eventually, his death was brought to justice. With the help of his peers, he was able to file his last story.
I work in a small religious institution, which gives me latitude. At the beginning of our talk, I began with a moment of silence for Chauncey as well as for journalists everywhere. Not just to honor their deaths, but their lives. As we paused, the library filling with our breathing and our silences, I thought about Chauncey, putting on his suit,
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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During Holy Week, I am making a short pilgrimage to the ER&L Conference in Austin to participate in a panel on leadership with Bonnie Tijerina and Char Booth. We met last week to explore this panel and review possible questions we’d field.
I think particularly for women, the hardest part of leadership is owning it. This is in part because there are still so many messages in society that men lead and women follow (look at the disproportionate number of men holding high-level library administration positions).
But for all leaders, the more experience we have leading in any role — internal or external to our official organizations — the more nuanced our approach to leadership and the more we are aware of what leadership actually takes. We get smarter, we ask ourselves harder questions, we see more angles to every issue, we want to examine things more closely. We have closets full of “lessons learned.”
And quite often the most powerful leadership is happening invisibly around us, in ways we will never know or understand. There are many moving mountains in ways that will never be officially recognized, and not always out of modesty. Some of the best leadership needs to happen very quietly, tiptoeing in with little cat feet.
Some parts of leadership are simply quite boring. Yes, you heard that: leadership involves doing things that are dull, annoying, even stupid. I think of the public library directors sitting in town meetings year after year, listening to reports about dog bites and minor rezoning requests. Yet they do it to ensure that the library has one more soupcon of visibility.
I think of me, volunteering as secretary to Faculty Senate this year (ONLY this year, I keep reminding them…). Is it leadership to spend my personal time formatting minutes? Yes, because building and maintaining strategic relationships is part of leadership. (This role also ensures that I’m paying attention to what’s going on at Faculty Senate–not a bad idea, as I’m a voting member.)
So I’ll go ahead and claim my situational leadership, both externally (as in my leadership with Internet filtering in the 1990s — which I did without official blessing from any internal or external organization) or internally (with several libraries and library organizations that needed coherent vision and a push forward).
That Certain Someone
When we reviewed the questions we might consider, I particularly liked, “Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?”
It’s interesting that people (and I include myself) always read this in a positive way. I rarely mention my first full-time job, in a juvenile court system, where my boss’s boss staggered in roaring drunk every morning to create havoc in a department that was already frantically busy handling the overnight intake. Or the “leader” of that court system, who I naively visited (I was all of 19) to report the situation, as if he didn’t know it. He sat there in his fancy suit fiddling with his watch band, waiting for me to leave. After I had moved on, that woman had a heart attack one morning, driving into the court’s parking lot, and before she died at the wheel of her car she injured several people, one badly.
Then there was the captain at the airbase in Germany who sexually harassed two young female airmen every day, leering at them and talking openly of their breasts and so forth. He did this in front of me, knowing that in a corrupt system I had nowhere to go — and by this, I refer not to the military at large, but to the private hell of that sad location. I reported him, and in time he was duly promoted. Your tax dollars at work.
I’ve had other lame jobs, but in comparison, most of those have been silly-lame, no
I had been patiently waiting for the new edition of the Penguin History of New Zealand. I had the impression that a sparkling updated edition would be published this March – I can’t remember why I thought that. Then I did a little research and realized a new edition was likely not forthcoming, at least not one written by the original author.
With that in mind, I’m updating my friends on my goings-on for the next few months, in case we overlap on this side of the heavenly divide. And here’s a link to a summary and audio of the panel discussion I was on last month at the Independent Book Publishers Association meeting in San Francisco with Peter Brantley and Sarah Houghton. As fun as that was (the room was packed!), the best part of my morning there were the one-on-ones with authors I did after the panel — how satisfying in a biblish manner to connect with authors and answer questions.
April 3-4, ER&L: As noted last week, whooshing in and out of Austin to participate in a closing panel.
April 12, OCLC member webinar: “Join us for a live, one-hour Web session and hear from Karen Schneider of Holy Names University as she discusses how WorldCat Local transformed her users’ library experience.” Wait, that’s me! And I need to do my slides! It should be fun. Standard disclaimer: no software by itself can tranform user experience — but combined with an awesome Team Library, WCL has played a key role.
April 27: DPLA West, by Digital Public Library of America (San Francisco). I didn’t realize this event was happening until I saw a travel scholarship for it. Since it’s $4 round-trip for me, I passed on the scholarship, but I am looking forward to rubbing shoulders with the bibliodigerati.
May 4: Library Journal Design Institute (Denver). “This one-day educational seminar brings together leading architects, librarians, and vendors to address the challenges and opportunities we face in building anew, renovating, or upgrading existing buildings…” LJ’s institutes are generally quite good, and I chose this one as part of my DIY effort to learn about building projects. The orientation tends to be public libraries, which in my book is a plus — lots of emphasis on curb appeal and user comfort.
June 21-26: American Library Association, Anaheim. Speaking of digerati, I’m going to make every effort to attend the Opening General Session, featuring Rebecca MacKinnon, global information activist and author of Consent of the Networked. What an outstanding choice! I’m also pondering attending the ACRL Standards workshop, particularly given its utility for accreditation self-study.
September 23 – 26: LIANZA, Palmerston North, New Zealand. See this earlier post. I am thinking I will need to take two or three personal retreat days after Commencement to work on my presentation, catch up on reading, and wrap my head around both the travel logistics and the event. But I’m thrilled to be attending and glad that I am being ch
Hard to believe, right? I associate American with slightly tired upholstery, old planes, no plugs (on the planes or in the waiting areas), long flights without food to be had, and a web presence that proudly shouts 2002.
So Wednesday mid-day, as we were supposed to be descending into Dallas — I was planning to hoof my way to a tight connection to Austin — I realized that the cloud mass to my right seemed all too familiar. I had seen it before, more than once, I was sure. Sure enough, the pilot’s voice announced, very calmly, that we were circling, due to tornadoes on the ground.
Tornadoes on the ground?
This was a plane without wifi (of course), though I saw some folks surreptitiously fire up their phones to try to find a signal (and I can’t fault them, though I decided to wait until we were somewhere on terra firma). So we circled a while, and then diverted to San Antonio, where we all sat on the tarmac listening to the same phone recording telling us to call back later because the lines were tied up.
At 2:25 pm it occurred to me to tweet my plight to @AmericanAir. At 2:26 pm I got a direct message (private tweet) in reply.
Tweeting with American Airlines
In the next 36 hours, I had to decide whether to fly back to DFW or deplane in San Antonio (I deplaned, later catching a Greyhound bus to Austin, more about that below); figure out when and how I was returning to SFO; and otherwise navigate an unexpected turn of events caused by 12 tornadoes suddenly scudding across Texas. The whole way I had The @AmericanAir account on Twitter as my wingman.
Some Twitter accounts are staffed by marketing shills; some by empathetic but not particularly adept company reps. I got the 20-year company veteran. She (we eventually talked by phone) was professional, caring, smart, expert, and full of good ideas. Knowing I really wanted to make my talk in Austin the next morning, she didn’t push me to return to DFW. When my record locator vanished from the airline’s website, she reassured me my reservation existed. When my flight was canceled (as I learned from an airlines robocall), she assured me I would be rebooked soon–and I was. When my flight details didn’t show up in my account, she tweeted them.
I only had one time when I felt unnerved: when after deplaning in San Antonio I realized there were no rental cars left, the airport’s cell signals were weak or nonexistent, and the airport’s “information centers” were staffed by cranky good ol’ boys who couldn’t be bothered to help me find a way to get to Austin from San Antonio. “You’ll have to look that up online,” sniffed one of them. For ground transportation I had no angel on my shoulder. I finally found a spot where I could get on AT&T and bought a Greyhound ticket online, then cabbed it to the station.
Now, about Greyhound. I got almost a 50% discount for buying my ticket online. But I can tell you this: most of the people in the dilapidated station were on the analog side of the digital divide; they weren’t in a position to buy tickets online. I demonstrated how an iPad worked to no less than three people; as the bus pulled out (close to an hour late, due to a flat tire — it was definitely not my day for travel karma) I brought up videos of the tornadoes on request of the woman sitting next to me. I am certain the fellow in front of me, who shyly told me he was on his way to another halfway house, could have used the $12 I saved more than I. That online discount only b
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I missed a weekly post due to the blowback from my wild travel experience, which not surprisingly, given my exhaustion and my exposure to so many travelers, was followed with a monster head cold which stubbornly clung to me during a Very Important Week that broached very few opportunities to rest. (I am already worrying that on the flight to New Zealand I will get appendicitis, even though I have never had a problem with my appendix and am overall in excellent health. Perhaps I should pre-tape my talk, if nothing else than to ease my mind.)
I feel unprepared to write this post, but I urgently need to write about something other than work (let alone tend to any of the “small” work-and-professional chores continuously piling up like dirty laundry), this being the part of the semester where we stumble about with dead-man stares, fantasizing about the week after Commencement, which while full of its own responsibilities, will feel like a spa experience compared to the annual end-of-year crush.
So consider this the first of occasional posts about my fair city. N.b. If you’re planning a trip, don’t feel you need to leave Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf, or pass up a trip to Alcatraz or the redwoods for my suggestions. My San Francisco is a homebody’s place, and you’ll enjoy your visit even if you never discover the Vietnamese crab at Thanh Long (a mouthwatering meal there a decade ago inspired me to take a cooking class for Dungeness crab, now our favorite winter “home cooking”), nosh on warm piroshki from the Cinderella Bakery, stroll down Irving Street on a sunny afternoon, or climb up the steep, steep stairs of Grand View Park for a stunning 360 view of the city (a walk I took daily until we joined the Millberry fitness center at UCSF, where I treadmill and read with an equally stunning view of SF’s nicest hilltops).
It’s just so wonderful to live somewhere that the ordinary rarely is!
Things-to-do: One of our favorite Sunday-afternoon activities is to head to Crissy Field, in the Presidio, where I sedately jog and Sandy strolls. It’s an inconvenient drive from the Inner Sunset, where we live, but it’s so extraordinary to cavort directly under the Golden Gate Bridge, and the convenience of the lovely and eponymous Warming Hut and the seductive fragrance from the Let’s Be Frank hot-dog stand make it all so civilized.
Food and Drink: Caveat: our prandial excursions to be convenient, price-smart, and not a drawn-out affair. We only rarely get to a fancy restaurant for a signature meal out, preferring small plates and more casual experiences. So take that in context when I say some of my favorite restaurant/bar experiences from the past couple of years include Manna (small neighborhood Korean joint, inexpensive, terrific ban chan, and I can get my favorite dish, duk bok gi), Magnolia (food and beer are nothing spectacular, but it’s a comfy place with great people-watching, and it’s on the 6 line), Marnee Thai (numinously delectable Thai food right down the hill from us), Hog Island (good oysters for sure, but also best grilled cheese sandwich EVER–courtesy of a lunch treat from a friend), the hash browns at Art’s Cafe, the chowder (and just about everything else