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.
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
These days Sandy and I are working on estate planning, which with each new email or delivery from our diligent lawyer plunges us into gloom. How nice to know we have things wrapped up in every imaginable angle! If I die! If she dies! If we both die simultaneously! If we are dining with my sister and all three of us die at once! Not to mention all kinds of situations involving incapacity.
Estate planning makes us even more irritated because we’re not legally married. Sometimes people think we are, because we married in 2004, but those marriages were invalidated and will (almost undoubtedly) never become valid again. The additional expense is costly and irritating, and wouldn’t go away even if marriage were legal in California, because estate law is, in many respects, tax law, and that means the Feds.
Meanwhile, in a happy confluence, for actual real-world research purposes, I am looking into the laws surrounding the disposition bodies after death, including scattering of ashes, particularly in the aftermath of Allan Vieira, the Bernie Madoff of ash-scattering scams. What did I dig up from the LA Times? (Get it… DIG UP?)
“The outrage led Assemblywoman Lynne Leach (R-Walnut Creek) to introduce legislation last year that would stiffen regulations on people who scatter human ashes.”
Ok, yes, that was beneath my usual standards, but it’s Sunday morning and I haven’t punched my weekly blog post card, and I appreciate anything that relieves the gloom of estate planning. I admit I snickered like a 9-year-old who just saw her teacher’s bra strap.
Expect more tomorrow on the Random House ebook price hikes–a post written but embargoed for Monday’s delectation.
Last week the ever-interesting Barbara Fister observed over on Inside Higher Ed,
People are beginning to notice that big publishers are not really all that interested in authors or readers; they are interested in consolidating control of distribution channels so that the only participants in culture are creators who work for little or nothing and consumers who can only play if they can pay.
Barbara elegantly collapses into one sentence the last several years of the ebook wars and, even more importantly, identifies all stakeholders in the reading ecology: not just publishers and libraries, but authors and readers.
The Growing Crisis
Over the last year or so, there has been spluttering (sometimes from me) at individual publishers such as HarperCollins (they of “26 checkout” fame), distributor-packagers such as Overdrive, and of course, the idiot library administrators who sign contracts they obviously haven’t read, or they would never have entered into those agreements, right? (That spluttering definitely didn’t come from me, being one of those administrators.)
But Barbara is pointing out that while the problem has many moving parts, the entire reading ecology is at risk; we are, in her terms, in an “apocalypse.” It is really nothing less than an outright assault on fair use; the publishing-industrial complex won’t be happy until readers are paying, not just by the title, but by the page-turn.
Barbara and I have an interesting convergence: we are both librarians-authors-readers (except she can write entire books, while my attention span ends at the essay). By author, I mean (full disclosure: HUSTLE AHEAD!) non-industry writing, such as the forthcoming The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage (Roost Books, Fall, 2012; edited by Lisa Catherine Harper and Caroline Grant), in which you will find my revised and republished essay, “Still Life on the Half-Shell” (first published in Gastronomica) about oysters, the locavore movement, and how I came to terms with life in Tallahassee. My essay includes exquisitely clear instructions on eating oysters Southern-style (complete with a photograph), making Cassoulet an obvious “must buy” for all library collections.
But my point isn’t about whether I am expecting to make a living from essays such as “Half-Shell.” My day job is my income; I can’t even remember if I am getting a small one-time payment, though I had such good editorial input from Lisa and Caroline that the revision process was its own mini-post-grad workshop, and I have a food essay floating out there that is significantly better for the lessons learned for “Half-Shell.”
My point is that it’s important, both ethically and strategically, for advocates of the right to read to understand that creators should have the option and the right to make a living from their creations, and that our advocacy, right now, at this moment in history, is crucial to ensure that right.
It’s also the reader’s right to support creators, which they can do either directly (buy my book!) or indirectly (fund libraries, and they will buy my book). Some of us in society will “buy” books, by way of funding libraries, that we never read ourselves or that we choose to purchase on our own, but we understand that the town pump benefits everyone — a take on the world that is less popular in certain circles, but only underscores our value to society.
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Back in 2004 I coined a term, “biblioblogosphere,” that managed to catch on. I wasn’t trying to coin a term. (What an interesting phrase, involving smelting and mints and all that.) I was just writing, and that’s the word that came out–not a hyphenated expression, not a malapropism, just a word, intended to be humorous–long, pompous, a little retro, with a good “scan,” as the poets say.
I think one reason “biblioblogosphere” caught on is that it was immediately challenged. I am not a linguist (though I do like the occasional tongue taco–and what a glorious city that I live in, that tongue tacos can be had at a whim). But I suspect once upon a time (now I am going to be very ahistorical, so no need to correct me) a caveperson sitting around a fire said, “Heyyyy… let’s call this: FIRE,” and several other cavepeople nibbling on bones left over from their Humongasaurus roast said “Yo, whatev” and began using the term, while three other cavepeople immediately said “That’s a terrible term!” and offered their own suggestions, like furor and fur and floober, which they then used at every opportunity (although only two of which eventually caught on, though for other use), and then the “Yo, whatev” crowd had cavepeople who became indignantly protective of their choice and said, “No, really, it’s a good term,” and that cast more light on a term that otherwise could have floated away as yet more flotsam and jetsam on the stream of self-published writing.
N.b. I have observed that on occasion, some genders are more reluctant than other genders to let other genders create new terms. But I will not dwell on that.
(Incidentally, that 2004 post referenced “weblog,” a term since shortened to “blog,” perhaps because “weblog” was hard to pronounce? When did it die, or do I care?)
I didn’t get serious or weepy about being challenged (at times, in lengthy and indignant tomes), or even about the long-term viability of “my” word… though it made me laugh at the nature of people. I didn’t have a lot invested in seeing my neologism push its delicate tendril through the soil and establish mighty trunk and roots. (Aside from this strange offshoot, which I just discovered.)
At the time, I had spent several years as senior editor on a weekly newsletter, and I was steeped in words in a way that (oddly enough) is not true in higher ed, unless you think the following are real words: promulgate, synergy, utilize… which I do not. I had a quotidian attention to words that fertilized my brain at both conscious and unconscious levels.
That attention emerged again last week, at least briefly, when after an hour of mission-statement exercises with our cross-campus Vision Task Force (more fun than it sounds, especially since we served lunch) I stepped back and announced, to a collective gasp, that our verbs were flabby. I then rushed in to assure everyone that we had done very very good work and so forth.
There was some energetic thinking done that day, and we are on the road to a real mission statement, but — and I mean this very seriously — my leadership includes the awareness that I am “good with words,” and that something good can almost always be forged into something much better. Part of writing (and this comes from the MFA workshop experience, as well) is to understand that I am obligated to be merciless with my writing. When I am absolutely sure an essay is ready to be submitted for publication, I then send it to several more people for comments, and give it
This week was a bit wild and wooly, so my “Monday” post is happening on Thursday at the Oakland airport. But as squeezed as I am for time, I am enough of an iPad junky that when I realized I had left my iPad at home–for a one-day trip to a SCELC board meeting in Riverside–I said to myself, no problem; I’ll swing by my house on the way to SFO.
Then I doublechecked my reservation and realized I was flying out of Oakland…
And I drove back to SF, grabbed my iPad (and with a little wiggle room sealed the deal on my SuperShuttle res from ONT to the hotel and printed a boarding pass… if only to dignify the trip, as if I couldn’t have done that at work), drove back to Oakland, and am now writing this post on said iPad. (Using a Verbatim folding keyboard which has a white case almost identical to a purse I owned in the first grade.)
The guy next to me watched me pull out my iPad, keyboard, and iPhone and said, “That’s a lot of electronics.” “Mmmm-hmmm!” I responded.
But while it is a “lot of electronics,” all of it fits easily in my purse, which also has print copies of The Atlantic and Harper’s for those agonizing minutes during takeoff and landing when I must reenter the analog lifestyle. And beyond its portability, the iPad is its own well-designed perfect universe, as immaculately tempting as a Martha Stewart kitchen.
I’m mindful of the recent press about Apple’s labor practices. The best coverage–which I haven’t seen referenced in the shocked-and-indignant Big Media articles that followed–was the audio essay on This American Life, “Mr. Daisy and the Apple Factory.” I listened to it twice, mesmerized and disturbed. I cannot reconcile these perfect, addictive devices with the inhumane practices that produce them. I cannot reconcile my own complacency with the urgency of that story. I don’t know exactly how to proceed. I do know that I can’t turn away.
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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So let me begin with a quote from a Project Information Literacy interview with Jeffrey Schnapp about the ongoing debate about the future of academic libraries:
As far back as the libraries of Pergamon and Alexandria, libraries have combined functions of storage, sifting and activation. They have been places of burial, preservation and worship of a certain past, where retrieval, resuscitation and animation of dormant/stored knowledge was integrated into the shaping of the present and future. It is the access, animation and activation pieces that are now moving front stage and center, while the storage and burial functions move offsite even as they remain just as essential as ever.
Back in November I held the first of three sessions of a Library Vision Task Force. This group (and do we have fun), composed of representatives from nearly every department on campus, is charged to develop a mission statement and then a vision statement for our library. This vision statement will play a crucial role in driving development efforts for a library that has largely not been “re-thunk” since construction completed in 1958.*
Some of the re-thunking can’t wait for The Vision Thing, most specifically our 10-year-old, heavily-used computer classroom that is receiving development attention as we speak. But the “bigger things” can and must wait for broader direction; as much as I and Team Library might have all the bright ideas in the world, and as eager as we are to move “forward,” it is crucial that the library reflect the will, direction, and zeitgeist of the entire campus.
(N.b. I adopt an air of Yoda-like mystery when I am asked if we should renovate or rebuild; honestly, until the facility assessment is funded, how the heck would I know? The building appears to have lovely bones, but I don’t have X-Ray vision or a degree in seismic engineering, architecture, or accessibility design.)
Floating Conference Room (Brisbane, AU)
The pre-work for our meeting were observation exercises — their call whether they did them in our library or in a new or newly-renovated library (of any flavor). I left the observation activities wide open. All they had to do was observe.
Most of that first meeting centered on sharing those observations, some of which surfaced during a slideshow I presented , which was not so much a talking-head presentation as a call-and-response — my favorite and most unexpected moment was the sheer horror the Visioneers expressed at that suspended conference room in Brisbane, Australia; a thing of beauty, yes, but emotionally uncomfortable to people living in an earthquake zone–something that mirrored my initial reaction when I saw that room, though I thought I was being a sissy.
One key finding from the observations was that people often use the library out of context of library-owned materials. They bring their own books, or they tote laptops, or they simply sit and “be.” Some study in groups, some read, some meditate, some stroll. In fact, though I have incontrovertible proof this activity still takes place (and in our library is anomalously on the rise), the only recorded observations of users retrieving books from library shelves came from public libraries.
So I posed the questions: We observe all these people coming into the library with their own m
Sutro Tower and Moon
That’s what I’m doing right now, ensconced in my window seat in coach on my flight home, playing Aretha Franklin’s “Young, Gifted, and Black” tuned up loud enough to drown out the food-smackers behind me while I tidy up trip reports and budget forecasts and put the buff on a small preservation planning grant.
But it was also what I did at ALA…
… When I picked up my badge and began my peregrinations through meetings and exhibits
… When I met up with old and new colleagues over dinner, coffee, lunch, walks down the street, hugs in the hallways
… When I walked into the Council chambers at ALA Midwinter to hustle up a few signatures for my petition to run as an at-large Council candidate.
I felt it was time to get back into ALA governance. I had been puzzling over whether this was, in fact, the right thing for me to do (in addition to LITA Nominations and GLBTRT External Relations and the occasional panel, such as the “ROI in Academic Libraries” Springer hosted last Friday) until I walked into the Council Chambers.
When I push open our door tonight, I know what to expect: Sandy, our cat Emma, my favorite spot on the green couch, a pile of unopened mail, the Sutro Tower twinkling on the hill. I am not being arch when I say I had a similar (if not quite as numinous) experience in the Council chambers today, when I tweeted that I had a petition and within minutes it was overflowing from signatures from Councilors both fresh and well-aged.
I sat a spell, watching the text transcripts unfold on the wall, watching Councilors debate and stand up and stretch and fill out ballots and knit and scoot onto the Web. (A colleague asked me how anyone could “stand” to be in Council for all those hours, and I replied, “These days, the Internet.” By gum, when I was in my first term we sat there in our analog misery, front and center!)
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since my third term on Council. Financial downturn for my job (Librarians’ Internet Index). The move to Florida. The Florida Era. The move back to California. I’m still me, six years later, but I have that slightly smudged patina of accumulated experience.
We don’t get an Undo button in life, however useful that would be. We’re blessed and cursed with our history. One truth I have had to learn is that for some of us — many of us? — our sense of place looms large in that history.
For many years I preached — and lived — the mantra of “geographic flexibility.” Education, jobs, other opportunities: first I, then we, could follow the wind. I have repeatedly counseled librarians that they had to have geographic flexibility for their careers. I judged them for not seeking jobs far and wide. I looked to myself as an example–I, who had lived worldwide.
Yet it took the Florida Experience to teach me why some people — and I now realize I am in their numbers — have an allegiance to the place they call home so powerful that it is on the other issues in life that they compromise.It’s not that Florida was insanely horrible; it’s that experiences that were less than stellar (and life always has them) took place in a context of alien other-ness — and it was this alien experience that made them sad, at times overwhelmingly so.
There’s an expression, generally condescending: “She knows her place.” It’s too bad it’s never intended as a compliment. I do indeed know my <
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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Part of that heading, attributed to Yogi Berra, is how I think about the research process, as I dig into all things New Zealand.
The over-abundance isn’t so much about raw materials (books, articles, movies, websites, etc.) as the vast and discordant array of vehicles for all this stuff–a world that is also more contradictory, spotty, motile, and “analog” than many think these days. This isn’t new to librarians; it’s our life. But it’s good to actually walk the walk once more (and outside of the area of library science).
My first intentional “reading” was a viewing last night of the movie Samoan Wedding (known in New Zealand as Sione’s Wedding), which introduced me to the rather slim oeuvre of Samoan New Zealand Bromances (Twitter friends tell me the sequel debuts this very week).
Like most bromances, Samoan Wedding was crude in all directions, but I liked it very much — for a bromance, the women were exceptionally varied, and the story kept us laughing and involved. There were some interesting sartorial moments; I am trying to identify what the men wore to the wedding (lava-lavas?).
We watched Samoan Wedding because it was available through Netflix instant viewing. I queued DVDs for a few more movies I found via these two Wikipedia pages (which in true Wikipedia fashion overlap and contradict one another, and yet are very useful). I put a few more DVDs unavailable through Netflix into my Amazon queue, with a note to self to purchase a region-free player, since the DRM for DVDs is managed through an inexplicable geopolitical system which presents all manner of obstacles to access for honest viewers (and based on the web chatter, little problem for the dishonest).
What I wanted to read first was The Penguin History of New Zealand. I requested the book as a pickup at my local SFPL branch (after paying my fines…), since I see the 2012 edition is due out in February and I am too cheap to buy a waning edition. Meanwhile, I’ll slake my Kiwi Fever by using my Kindle app on my iPad to purchase the Lonely Planet guide while I start digging up books to request via interlibrary loan (I loved the back-and-forth about Lonely Planet vs. Rough Guide — a fine customer debate).
Using WorldCat Local, I have also been browsing contemporary and wartime narratives, both of which I find a window into understanding the world. I see that the closest print copy of New Zealand at War is in… New Zealand, which is also true of New Zealand servicewomen, World War One, and so forth.
I found an interesting title about mariners in World War II — Hell or high water : New Zealand merchant seafarers remember the war — and will buy it for my Kindle app, but it is here I must pause to ask my fellow writers to stop using the phrase “Hell or High Water” in their titles. The fact that copyright law generally does not apply to book titles does not make you any cleverer for forcing searchers to page through piles of identically-titled books (just as I was going to call this post A Fine Bromance until I Googled it–I’m several years late to that party. And yes, my Yogi Berra title isn’t all that clever, either).
At any rate, I’m at that early point in the research process, well before the refinement period, where research is inchoate because I&r
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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My first ALA was Midwinter 1992 in San Antonio. It was the usual First ALA: immersive, bewildering, awesome, wonderful, daunting, and fun.But it was also an experience where I began learning and practicing my best conference etiquette.
I have had some bad habits in my life: being too hard on others and myself; rushing to judgment; piling on too much at once. And that, of course, is just a start. But I’ve also learned some good habits, learned from good people, and they port well to our era:
Be kind to TSA agents. Keep smiling. Say thank you and I’m sorry. Nobody grows up wanting to smell your dirty socks or rummage through your suitcase or be hollered at by snotty first-world businessmen. Make it easier on everyone.
Make airline travel easier. Not long ago I agreed to move so that a mom and kid could be seated together, and the flight attendant comped me my glass of wine because “I didn’t hassle her.” Geepers. I am not a particularly virtuous person, but who wouldn’t let a mom and kid sit together–seriously? If the plane gets stuck, if the baby cries, if the mom and kid need to sit together–this isn’t a 20-year prison sentence, it’s a few hours in your life, and a chance to do the right thing. Do it.
Tip. Tip waiters, and the cabbies, and the hotel maids. Tip the guy who drags your suitcase to lobby and carries it upstairs; tip the room service (above and beyond what’s built in). Go ahead and be a little generous. Note: I probably don’t have to tell you this, because I’ve heard librarians are generous tippers. But unless you really have a reason not to, please give service workers a little extra sugar.
Attend someone’s award ceremony. Anyone’s. I haven’t ever been at any awards ceremony that was over-attended, and even when I don’t really know the people being awarded, I end up crying as if I’m at my best friend’s wedding.
Praise a presenter. ALA is still largely a “stone soup” operation, which is remarkable when you consider that tens of thousands of librarians are stirring that soup-pot. There’s always time for constructive criticism, but if someone does well–especially a junior someone–tweet it, blog it, or just run up to that podium and do a little happy-dance.
Attend the exhibits. Give the vendors some love. Having spent a little time being a vendor, I have huge sympathy and respect for most of those in Vendorland.
Help a colleague. There will come a time sometime during your conference when you can show a little tenderness to a fellow librarian. You will know it when you see it. You will never regret doing the right thing. It could be a little help getting somewhere, or it could be a sit-down at a coffeeshop where you hear whatever is going wrong with their life/marriage/job. As a dear colleague says: “ALA: Come. Bitch. Be Renewed.” They may not be in a place where they want to hear YOU… that’s where karma comes to play. Your turn will come around.
And so commenceth my 20-year anniversary schedule…note: I am interim secretary of GLBTRT, hence the GLBTRT-y focus.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Presenters’ dinner, 7 p.m.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Academic Library Summit (hosted by Springer Publishing) 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM, Joule Hotel. Note: I’m a panelist, “ROI on Campus (Proving the Library’s Worth Internally,)” 11:30 AM to 12:15 PM
LITA Happy Hour 5:00pm – 8:00pm City Tavern, 1402 Main Street (I’m thinking I’ll be there 6-7, plenty enough time to be “happy”)
Dinner with CLH and LN, 7:30 PM, TBD
Saturday, January 21, 2012
GLBTRT Steering C
From: Karen G. Schneider, Cupcake U. [note name change; not that I don't like peanuts, but cupcakes are more strategically aligned with MPOW's current direction]
Subject: ALA Annual 2011 (aka #ALA11): The Highlights
To: The World
Date: July 10, 2011
Flickr sets: Assorted Photos from #ALA11; Tour of St. Charles Parish Library
ACRL President’s Program: From Idea to Innovation to Implementation: How Teams Make it Happen
James Young, a workplace systems consultant and the author of “Culturetopia,” gave a sparkling talk about what motivates people and what builds teams. He pointed out that Southwest is 85% unionized and yet their union contract has “warmth and friendliness” written into the company vision statement, enabling the company to hold employees to that standard. In turn, the company mission includes a commitment to the employees for a stable work environment and opportunities for growth.
Other key concepts Young delivered were the need to appreciate differences (especially work style, detail attention, and source of energy), soaring with your strengths, and watching the “emotional message”—55% of which comes from gestures.
Books to purchase: Jane Elsea, The Four Minute Sell; Donald O. Clifton, Soar with your Strengths; Jason Young, Culturetopia
Battledecks is a competition geared toward librarians who present and train as part of their responsibilities. Contestants present extemporaneously to a deck of PowerPoint slides (often with unrelated and nonsensical images) which they have not previously seen, on an assigned topic such as “library of the future.” Judges (influenced by an active and noisy audience) rate the presenters on their presentation skills.
The results are hilarious, showcase the best presenters in the profession (as well as the worst), and are also a subtle lesson in how to handle the occasional public failure that happens for all instructors.
Two minutes before the competition began, Daniel Ransom of MPOW was volunteered by his colleagues to be an audience “volunteer,” and despite the last-minute notice and the fact that his boss was sitting in the audience, he performed admirably.
I attended “Designing a Specialty Commons,” sponsored by LLAMA. Seven panelists shared their building and renovation stories. There was nothing hugely new, but it was worth noting that all panelists talked about beginning the process by identifying specific, local requirements for a library, key stakeholders, and the major question they were trying to address – such as supporting curiosity, better understanding of emerging technologies, collaborative computing, statistical work. One (inevitable) caution: adding technology increases the need for back-end support.
Joe Agati of Agati Furniture spoke about the need to consider “technology, comfort, and cooties” (the latter being the personal zones for library users), and noted that most furniture has a tendency to dramatically outlive technology–a theme emphasized by Linda Demmers in a site visit to Cupcake U last January. As noted in the day-long ALCTS building seminar at ALA Midwinter 2011, panelists described using color and interesting furniture to make their spaces appealing.
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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Crying in your beer
This is a bummer of a job market for librarians, and if you’re fresh out of library school you are probably crying in your beer, wondering why you didn’t get a degree in something practical and career-oriented, like medieval cookery. But a few months back a newish librarian asked me in frustration why she was having a hard time getting interviews — let alone job offers — and we chatted back and forth on Facebook. Let me attempt to sum up what I shared.
The job market sucks. Did I mention the job market sucks? This will sound crass, but TJMS creates a buyers’ market for employers, including organizations that normally wouldn’t have access to seasoned candidates.
Employers seek a known quantity. This may sound hard–”give me a chance, I can do the job!” — but bringing in an employee (by far the most expensive resource in most organizations) must be done as carefully as possible, and this is even more true in a small organization. Someone with proven experience in the core responsibilities of the position, as well as general career experience, is going to have an edge over the give-me-a-chance crowd. The bottom line is the need of the institution. Plus, see above, TJMS.
Your c.v. and cover letter need work. In a bad economy, employers are deluged with c.v.s, which in some organizations may be first filtered through a human-resources department who is helping the job-search team by excluding applicants who appear to not meet basic requirements. That’s two hurdles to get over. So your c.v. and cover letter need to directly answer the question: why are you highly qualified for this job?
This question is important not only for what you say, but how you say it. I recently found a c.v. on my hard drive I hadn’t looked at twice during a job search, and was startled to connect it to someone I know who is both highly skilled and highly underemployed.
Take your c.v. and cover letter to a mentor or friend and make sure they really sing to the position you are applying for–and that they are typo-free. Speaking of typos and formatting issues, here are some I’ve seen recently:
- A cover letter with a gross grammatical error in the first paragraph.
- A cover letter where the author had left in the Word track-changes edits (if you’re going to send a Word doc–and PDF is a better bet–save changes, email it to yourself or better yet, a friend, and make sure it reads ok)
- A cover letter in an itsy-bitsy, fancy-ish font.
Probably the most frequent issue I see in cover letters is a failure to address the responsibilities of the position. Most jobs include things you know how to do, things you really like to do or think you would if you knew how, and things you aren’t all that interested in. But while there are institutions where people are allowed to cherry-pick their work, gravitating to only those tasks they like or can do well, most of us have to actually fulfill all of our responsibilities, and your cover letter should reflect that.
You are not the main event. If you’re miffed because you sent in a c.v. and no one responded, consider that job searches are something done on top of everything else an organization is trying to accomplish. You sent in a c.v., one of perhaps hundreds the organization received. Based on what they had in hand, they didn’t think it was a match.
See it from their point of view: they need to fill a position while they continue with their other responsi
Early in August I attended the Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I returned just in time to get out my Orientation surfboard, on which we ride the waves of a new school year, heroically finishing summer projects (hi, WorldCat Local! Hello, Overdrive! Howdy, new website!), welcoming new students with classes and events (including a successful Gaming Night that hilariously featured Colossal Playing Cards), welcoming a brand-new librarian (an entire new position!), and so forth.
LIAL 2011 (Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians)
Even during those long, exhausting, wonderful days, I felt confounded by my lack of time to blog about LIAL–I so yearned to capture the event before it faded.
Fortunately, John Dupuis of York University wrote a post that has firmly pinned LIAL 2011 in place and time, capturing it both logistically and as an actual experience we lived through, from the late nights frantically choking down the next day’s homework assignments to the Beer Affinity Groups where we quaffed a brew or two. It was a powerful analog experience–with chalkboards, no less–where in John’s words, we were “too damn busy and too damn engrossed” to be distracted by technology.
We were advised to “unplug,” but I had to temper that advice by the realities of running a tiny university library, so I did check work email first thing in the morning, at lunch, and again in the evening, and take action as needed. But overall, I spent that week in a mindset I remember from my MFA classes–where I was fully and corporeally present, luxuriating in that 21st-century indulgence, the completely face-to-face learning experience.
(Oh, irony: I write that as the politically-attuned administrator who in post-LIAL mindfulness took a deep breath and volunteered to run a campus-wide, semester-long online learning pilot of Collaborate [nee Elluminate].)
Most of the instruction was through the Harvard case study model. I would choke down case studies the night before (sometimes finishing them first thing in the morning, after waking face-down in my readings, my tongue glued to the paper), and then arrive at my most excellent front-row-center seat wearing an invisible dunce cap. The instructors were brilliant, and moved at a snappy pace; my brain, not so much. There were a couple of moments when I realized my conclusions and judgment were actually spot-on. Just a couple, but that helped.
I arranged two “directors’ dinners,” and it was good to break bread with people in similar institutions. I used the walk to and from LIAL, the breaks, the lunches, and other opportunities to graze experience from my peers. I ran on a path beside the Charles River several mornings, when the sun was striking broad golden bands on its surface; I lunched with a charming poet-librarian; I scooted into bookstores; I let the stroll to campus become familiar to my feet. I stayed up too late, got up too early, stretched too far in all directions, and was tremendously sad when it was all over, and yet happier than ever to return to my home, my job, and my life.
So six weeks in, what is LIAL’s legacy
Two years ago today I started my journey as a library director at Cupcake U (as I sometimes call My Place Of Work). These first two years have been exhilarating, challenging, growth-inducing, hair-graying, mind-bending, mirth-generating, and never boring. (I’m always surprised when librarians say budgets are boring. There’s nothing boring about money! Yum, yum, money!)
I have the following 15 reflections. Many are not new revelations for me–not in this job, not even in this career. But they are the reflections that resonate with me when I think about where I’ve been since October 30, 2009.
- It’s worth repeating: it’s my job to stay positive, and to build that point of view in others in and out of the library. Plus staying positive feels good. That doesn’t mean I can’t see or respond to problems; it just means that I intentionally hold at bay what Karen Armstrong calls our “reptilian brain.” My proudest moment was when someone referred to me as “Pollyanna-ish.” Radical optimism? Bring it on!
- Practicing radical hospitality in a library is spiritually profound. It makes me a better person to constantly ask, how can we serve our users better? How can I go the extra mile for them? How can I surprise them with better service than they expected? How can I grow our extravagant welcome? (That can mean everything from improving the foyer signage to adding a fantastic new service to communicating better to dealing with difficult people and enforcing reasonable guidelines.)
- I am getting a fresh lesson in the signs of a welcoming organization: people sleep in our chairs, eat at our tables, hang out just to hang out, ask to hold events in our rooms and spaces, joke with us and at us, run into my office to ask if I have any pain reliever (or a pen or a piece of paper or whatever), respond in droves to our surveys, sign up for our Vision Task Force, and above all, use our services. Print circulation — which I had written off as dead, and frankly wasn’t focused on — has tripled from a year ago, with no one single driver responsible. Everything else–walk-in traffic, e-resource usage, event attendance–is growing.
- With all that, I still have to remind myself that I’m working in a library that has had almost no updates in over 50 years, has a computer lab with 9-year-old PCs, is hot in the summer and cold in the winter, etc. I continually force myself to step back and see the library with the eyes of prospective students or faculty (as well as the eyes of a librarian who has toured countless libraries, often with camera in hand).
- Building and maintaining relationships is my core library service. I think of it as a bus. I am always asking, who’s on board? Who needs to get on board? Who’s moving toward the door?
- The buck really does stop here. A stopped sink or a student worker who doesn’t show up is my problem. It may not be something I solve directly, but I own it.
- Success is never owned; it’s shared among many. It takes a village.
- Higher education is fascinating. I mean that sincerely. It’s also extremely predictable, and again, I mean that sincerely. You can bet that any time you see a situation or observe conflict between agencies, or note a pattern of behavior in a particular species (Homo Facultus, for example), it’s not even close to sui generis.
- It is easier to problem-solve around enduring traits than to try to chang
Yes, I Eventually Do Explain The Parrots
Here is a very interesting question others have posed: are libraries that license ebooks through Overdrive violating state patron-privacy laws because Amazon retains user data?
(For context, Sarah Houghton-Jan, who last spring proposed an eBook User’s Bill of Rights, recently taped a video recording her thoughts about the Overdrive-Amazon deal enabling Overdrive books to be checked out on Kindle devices and apps. To save time and skip over the f-bombs, fast-forward to the 4-minute section, where Sarah talks about the complicated privacy issues.)
Full disclosure: I am a happy Overdrive customer. I do not, unlike Sarah, feel “screwed” by Overdrive. As a customer, I knew (most of) what I was getting into with Overdrive’s Kindle deal with Amazon. I knew in advance that Amazon keeps a fair amount of information about its Kindle book customers. I’m not surprised that they keep this data regardless of how the money goes in the pot – through a direct customer purchase, or an indirect library-purchase transaction.
At the start of the deal, the Overdrive-Amazon deal benefited people who already own Kindles, and presumably librarians don’t nanny the world. But that conversation changes with the first person (or library) who purchases a Kindle in order to check out “free” (to them) library books.
My “what next” thoughts: my take is that this is a prime time for libraries to work with eBook vendors, publishing and library associations, and standards groups to nail in some basic rights for readers AND authors AND publishers. It’s also a good time to review the mishmosh of issues and organizations related to accessibility and eBooks. And finally—and this is a librarian task—we should all look at state patron privacy laws and ask if they provide enough protection and the right protection.
I am setting aside other complaints. There’s a moment during the Kindle eBook check-in where Amazon nudges me to buy a book. Perhaps that should bug me. But I don’t see this as The Man. As a writer, I wouldn’t be offended if after checking out one of the books I’m published in, you then chose to buy it. And that’s because I want people to buy my books (whether through the agency of a library or strictly on their own). I would be even happier if they actually read them.
Is this a bad thing? As a librarian, I partner with our small university bookstore, which is invited and encouraged to sell books at our readings—the same books available for checkout. I rejoiced at recent readings when our bookstore manager sold a few copies of a professor’s book—two of them to our library, to fill requests. Isn’t this how it should work?
I see Overdrive as a company brokering a useful but transitional technology for placing current reading in the hands of mobile-technology users, leveraging known processes and practices. Overdrive is quaint—designed around the way fair-use works with print books–but it works for now. When things change, weeding will be a breeze!
However, if Overdrive’s current approach is transitional, eBooks are with us for good. (Am I allowed to again note that I was heckled in the late 1990s when I said the paper-based book would be an anachronism in my lifetime? Oh, and I do want stuff from Overdrive, but that
Jenica has a post about applying to academic library jobs well worth reading by anyone in the job market. But in my head I’ve been writing the following post for a very long time… so out with it.
Once you have interviewed for a library position, you have established a relationship with that institution and its interview team that stays on your permanent record–yes, the one you were warned about in the first grade. Your paths may never cross again — at least that you are aware of — but you’ve now had an intimate encounter with a number of people who spent an awful lot of time asking themselves if you were the right person for that position.
Perhaps you walked out of the interview and thanked Baby Jeebus you had the common sense not to work for those nut jobs. Perhaps you downed a quart of Rocky Road in a convenience-store parking lot on the way home, just so you’d stop crying, because you knew you blew it.
(Note: herein I break the narrative to state that I have never once believed I nailed the job interview–not ever.)
Perhaps you just had a big ol’ bucket of meh when you walked out of there — nice people, but not a fit for you or for them. Or maybe you immediately had another interview for the AMAZING LIFE-CHANGING JOB, and the other position pales in comparison.
Regardless, do the following:
* Write a thank-you letter, immediately. You can do it by email or you can do it by hand, but write that note and thank the head of the interview team (at minimum) for the opportunity to interview. Yes, even if you think they are all devil-worshippers, or even if you are completely dazzled by that AMAZING LIFE-CHANGING JOB. Write it. Now.
* Exercise patience. Everyone who interviewed you now has to recoup that time to catch up on whatever they didn’t get done during the interview process.
* File away your interview errata where you can tap it later. Like, possibly, decades later. Because they have it on file, too.
* Follow the guidelines for inquiring about the status of the position. You do not have to sit on your hands, but if they say email but don’t phone, then DON’T PHONE.
* Understand that in today’s litigious environment, the interviewer may not want to help you understand where your interview could have been better (I do get asked this question).
* Look for signs of an open door. If the head of the interview committee invites you to apply for future positions, take that at face value. You would be surprised how often interview teams see a quality candidate who isn’t a fit for a particular job and hope they can invite them back someday.
* Sometimes interview teams behave badly. Sometimes paperwork is lost or misdirected. Sometimes major life events interrupt the process. Regardless, under no circumstances should you write the interview team to berate them for not following up. (Yes, I have witnessed this.) If before you were forgotten, now you have made yourself completely unforgettable, and not in a nice way. If a polite inquiry or two doesn’t do the trick, thank your lucky stars you aren’t working there, and press on.
By: K.G. Schneider,
Blog: Free Range Librarian
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Sometimes we go in search of our New Year’s goals. Sometimes they are gifted to us.
I will be one of the keynoters at the 2012 annual conference of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA). The conference is to be held in Palmerston North, New Zealand.
I am thrilled not only to be speaking at this conference and traveling to a country I’ve never seen, but also to use my best librarian skills to embrace the theme of the conference, which is: Ipukarea: Celebrate, Sustain, Transform.
(I borrowed and reworded the following language from the keynote invitation.)
Ipukarea (from the Māori language – Te Reo Māori) refers to the ancestral homeland, a significant water or land feature which relates to identity and source of livelihood. It is a place that represents New Zealand history and emotional attachment, a place to go to be rejuvenated, a place that represents the hopes and aspirations of the people and the life-giving waters from which they drink.
Within this broad theme there are the following strands:
Manawa: the heart of the community; library as place, physical and virtual
Returning home: holding to core values and principles in a time of change
Telling our stories: celebrating the great things happening in the libraries of New Zealand Aotearoa
Renewing the heart: experiences that refresh, revitalize and refocus
Transformation: embracing and shaping change, moving forward
These are all great themes for a library conference in 2012, and they also represent the strands of my best keynote presentations from the last fifteen years–as well as the renewal I am part of where I work now.
I adore how these themes are both forward-leaning and reflective, and fully positive. The tenor of these themes reminds me of the discussion about Appreciative Enquiry led by Maureen Sullivan at last summer’s LIAL. I am also reminded of the great team I work with–their ability to provide full-on librarianship unblinkered, unbowed, relentlessly positive, full of good humor–an A-Team all around.
(Sidebar: It would really be all right if I never attended another keynote address where librarians were chided and mocked for their seemingly backward ways.)
I know almost nothing about New Zealand, which is rather convenient, as it means I have no misconceptions. (I do know three things: it is near Australia; there are over 40 varieties of kiwi fruit–not all indigenous to New Zealand; and some of the best hops come from the land of Ipukarea. I hope for on-ground research on the latter two topics.) So January will be devoted to building a bibliography of key readings on the history, geography, and current issues related to New Zealand. Suggestions greatly appreciated. I’m still mulling over the organizational tools I’ll use to manage my research.
One of my other goals for 2012 was to post more frequently. At first I thought “I’ll blog every day!” But then I had a reality check with myself… right, that’s not happening. However, I can establish a weekly deadline for posting where I am with my Ipukarea journey… and, consider that deadline established.