Browsing Perception

Mr. Rochester sent me an article from Tom’s Hardware this morning that discusses a marketer’s ability to make you love or hate a product for reasons not grounded in either fact or reality. Rob Enderle uses the Coke v Pepsi and the recent Vista v Mac commercials as examples to prove that we humans are just waiting to be told what we love/hate.

The educated marketer knows this as a fact and the term I use to describe this is that “perception is 100% of reality”, meaning that it generally doesn’t matter what actually is true. It only matters what you and I believe is true.

Perception is everything. We talk a lot about the perception of libraries and librarians as a whole. We are just books in moldy buildings and spinsters with buns, sensible shoes, and an unhealthy love of quiet spaces.

What about the perception of our particular libraries and librarians? For some of us,this discussion would go much better than if we stuck with generalities. For others, this discussion would sound the same or, sadly, worse. I am not sure whose job it is to help the perception of libraries in general (ALA perhaps? Lord, preserve us.) but we can influence how we market ourselves.

I think it would be worthwhile to ask some questions of our patrons to see how they view their particular library. Sure they may think libraries are old and boring, but their library may be doing something great. If we knew what our users really thought of us, maybe we could embark on a marketing campaign to make people love us. It worked for Macs. (Put an “i” in front of anything and suddenly everyone is willing to shell out money for it.)

For example: The perception is that everything is available on the Internet. People do not need anything else. We know this is not true, but people believe it and we are not going to change this idea. Sorry, Reference Staff, it is just not going to happen. The perception that all information is on the Internet has made some people question the need for libraries.

We have to create a perception that we are needed for something else besides just information because libraries are more than information. I know it and you know it. Our patrons should know it too. Your library could be a gateway for accessing information. A space to meet with community groups. A place to play games. A place where you can access different formats of books for free. A warehouse of technology. Better than Kinko’s. A bathroom. (only slightly joking on the last two)

Information is important. I do not think we should leave it behind. Information gathering happens in every part of the above list; it just may not look like someone browsing the shelves.

Find out what your users think about you. Choose one hate perception and change it or replace it with a love. Start small but think big. Bigger than your own perceptions.

–Jane, is marketed as a Geek

Back-up Plans, the A Team, and Flexibility

It is important to have a back-up plan when creating the plan you hope will work. Sometimes even the best laid plans go awry and then it is time to revamp, evaluate, call in the A-Team, or whatever is needed to keep the levy from breaking.

I recently gave birth in a Birth Center with a midwife. Because we were not at a hospital (the hospital was only a few blocks away) we had two birth plans: the everything goes normal and the emergency plan in case of, well, emergencies. It included what we wanted in a worse case scenario, who was to go where, and important numbers. Though we appeared prepared, we forgot to plan for the contingency that something might go wrong with the baby. Our back-up was great as long as the problem only resided with me.

Sometimes even the best laid back-up plans go awry.

The thing is that, though we may not be able to plan for every facet of a failure or problem, we should have some notion in our minds of what we will do if Bad Things happen to our plans.

How do you plan for the worst while hoping for the best? What does this look like when implementing technology?

When planning a new venture at your library, consider these things:
What if something (funding, staff support, technology, training, the weather, or other things governed by Murphy’s Law) goes wrong or simply does not work? Am I willing to scrap X entirely or in part? Am I willing to adjust? What is the ROI, loss or gain, if we change gears?

This all sounds entirely pessimistic, but flexibility is a pillar of Web 2.0. Flexibility is one of the things that makes Web 2.0 work the way it does. I think we tend to treat the flexibility of Web 2.0 like it is a new concept when really we are just creating things that have built-in back-up plans.

Perhaps this is the way we should have sold the flexibility of Web 2.0 technologies in the beginning, because back-up plans are a known idea. Of course, many back-up plans require committees and actual written plans. This is not the sort of path I would recommend. Perhaps simple discussion of flexibility as a concept of back-up planning is still a way we can start discussions with people who struggle with the idea of beta and flexible technologies.

We should still remember that not all plans, normal or back-up, will work for the situation as it presents itself. The technology that looked great on a small scale may crumble when scaled for the masses, but we will never know until we try. Taking chances, even with a back-up plan in mind, is still a chance, but the benefits can be sweet indeed.

–Jane, all back-up plans should involve the A Team

Movers and Shakers 2008

I am very humbled to be included in this list for 2008 from Library Journal. I love that some of my very favorite librarians are receiving this award and I can not believe I am on a list with them.

Congratulations to everyone. May you all have continued successes and many blessings.

If you are looking for a list with actual names and blogs, Librarian By Day has come to the rescue.

–Jane, moving and shaking in 2008

I Can Has LOLjob?

This job ad, for a developer at I Can Has Cheezburger is one of the funniest I have seen in a long time. I wonder how many applications they will receive.

The web has made it possible for companies and libraries to advertise for new employees in many different ways. I have seen job ads for library positions posted on blogs, listed on LISJobs, and traded around on Twitter. Many librarians I know say the job searches at their libraries routinely receive a large number of applications, anywhere from 50-100. This is especially true for entry level positions.

Using the internet to circulate your job openings, will increase the diversity of your applicant pool and thus provide you with better choices. This seems simple, but there are many libraries who still only advertise in the same old places and then wonder why their applicant pools are so low.

Do you have a blogger on your staff? Someone who uses Twitter regularly? Ask them to post a link to the job opening at your library. Encourage them to write about your library in their own words. As prospective employees, people want to know about your library, so make information about your organization easy to find.

–Jane, use the great people you have to be your best recruiters

Thoughts on Academic Librarianship, part 2

General Disclaimer: My soon-to-be FPOW is by no means unique when it comes to academic libraries. After talking, and sometimes grumping, with librarians from many different academic libraries, I have come to the conclusion that MPOW is the middle of the pack when it comes to both good and bad organizational themes. It is not my institution that drives me insane at times, but they way academic libraries work in general. For many of these problems, it is simply the size of the organization that works against it. These observations are based on my experiences in my academic library. Your experiences may vary.

I have written this post so many times in my head that when I finally was able to write it, I could not articulate the words. I have always wanted to be more transparent about MPOW in this space, but I never felt like that was an option. I am leaving my library now and I no longer have to play the politics that keeps up outward appearances above all else. I do not see this post as bridge burning by any means. I think it is honest, fair, and I hope the administration accepts it in that spirit.

The introduction leads me right into the first issue: lack of transparency. One of the most frustrating things about this issue was that my administration was usually under the impression they were being transparent. As long as things looked ok from the top they must be ok. The problem was often a communication breakdown somewhere on the totem pole and the people on the bottom are rarely asked if everything is actually going OK. When you have an organization of any kind that is large, transparency is hard simply because it must travel through level after level of employees. We did receive meeting minutes from all the managerial type meetings, but they were bulleted lists of decisions and explained nothing about the why. I am not asking for a tome, but if the decision effects my work or me, I want to know why certain things were decided, not just the outcome.

Transparency can be a hit or miss affair. Sometimes things were handled fabulously. I think our original Strategic Directions process was very transparent with information coming out in many different formats and with many opportunities for participation from the library. However, I am sure there are differing opinions about it from someone who was displeased with the flow of information. Transparency is sometimes about perspective.

Transparency was even more complex when it involved a mistake or something was not going quite right. Then everyone was talking about it, except all the managers, and we peons were all left wondering why no one would just own up. The first step is admitting you have a problem. The second is actually addressing the issue.

Academic libraries want to be innovative, they think they are, but processes keep them from ever doing anything remotely cutting edge. In order start a new, innovative project you have to, at the very least, complete the following steps more or less in this order:

  • You have a brilliant idea, X, and you tell your boss about it.
  • Boss tells you to research X to see if anyone else has successfully done X because you need proof of concept and ROI first. (This immediately assures you that X is not a new idea since what you are conducting is a literature review of research articles.)
  • You present findings to managers/admin and argue for X being implemented.
  • Your managers/admin decide it might be worth trying so they create a Task Force to investigate the idea and write a report.
  • The Task Force does the research and writes a report.
  • The report goes to admin and they approve it.

  • Admin creates an Implementation Committee.
  • Implementation Committee goes over report, does more research, makes more plans, and writes their own report.
  • Report goes to admin.
  • Admin approves of monies to spend.
  • Implementation Committee starts the process of actually implementing X.
  • All these process often take a year at the very least. By that point, anything you wanted to do is so past being new that everyone is already doing it – except academic libraries. We make committees for everything and the committees are rarely efficient. It is also hard to have transparency when so much of the work of the organization is spread out in countless committees. Sounds a lot like ALA, yes?

    Academic libraries are very inflexible when it comes to traditional roles of librarians or allowing librarians to grow into different jobs. Once you get hired to do a job, that is your job. You may get work duties added to your position, but you will rarely get to recreate yourself, even if it meets an expressed need at YPOW. If you grow as a professional, the only way to move into a new position is to move up, often into management. There is no way to move sideways, to become more expert at something and be compensated or promoted in the same fashion as if you were moving up the ladder of the organization. Not everyone wants to or should be a manager.

    My work situation is a perfect example of this. I was hired as a Social Studies Librarian. I was hired to do collection development, reference, and instruction, but over time I became more interested in technology and training. There was no one on staff to do troubleshooting, exploration, and training of staff in regards to technology. We had a Systems Department, but that was not their job nor did they have time to train people. At first I did the extra stuff because I loved it and I argued that we needed a full time person to do this job. Training was added to my current job, for which I was compensated, but I still had regular duties to do. I was doing, in my opinion, two full-time jobs and eventually, I was doing neither well. I was only one person, after all. I declined a renewal of the training duties so that I could focus on my core job responsibilities. I told my managers that I was unable to do what I considered two full time jobs with limited time in a respectable manner. It was my way of telling them, I would be a band-aid for this problem no longer.

    There is still no one doing technology training at MPOW, nor will there be any time soon though the need is most definitely there. It is just not a priority. In my previous post, I said that there was always money in the bank and there was, for things. There was never money for people. We could always buy books, furniture, and shelving, but rarely new people. In my opinion, we need the people more and they are more important than things. Unfortunately, budgets do not work the way we would like and thus, no new positions. If my admin had moved me into a different position, they would have had to hire someone to replace me in my old position. I am assuming that there was just not money for everything and admin made a hard choice.

    In the end, I just do not think my personality and big bureaucracies are a good fit. I am continually frustrated by the red tape, the sacred cows, the lack of transparency, lack of flexibility, and the politics. My library was great for me because it allowed me to find something I love, technology and teaching. With monetary support to go to conferences with infinite networking opportunities, I was able to make enough contacts to enable me to seek my own career path. I will be eternally grateful to my first professional job for the fostering I received. I have outgrown my position and so it was time for me to move on. Baby or not, I have been considering my options for a long time.

    –Jane, needed a little more room to fly

    Thoughts on Academic Librarianship, part one

    I have decided to write this post in two parts because it may end up being a wee bit long for one gigantic post. I wanted to write about the positives of working in an academic library first because starting out on a positive note is nice. This post could be subtitled: Why academic libraries are good places to work.

    I became an academic librarian for two reasons: 1) I love academia and thus wanted to stay in higher education without staying in graduate school and 2) it was the first job offer I received, I desperately needed a job, and I was bound geographically to Houston. Technically, that is at least four reasons, but go with me here. The job was an answer to many prayers, hopes, and dreams. In many ways, it lived up to my expectations and in some ways it did not.

    I have condensed the good into five themes.

    There was always money in the bank. In many places, library budgets, including academic library budgets, have been slashed to ribbons. However, the larger universities in Texas have not had this problem. We still compete heavily with other departments on campus for money, but I have a dean who has excelled in getting money for the library and our budget goes up every year. As a result, I have always been able to buy almost anything in print I wanted. I was able to get some very nice electronic resources for my subject areas, the ethnic studies areas, even though they are small and interdisciplinary. We also had money for new computers, renovations to our building, and many other things.

    As a result of having money, collection development has never been a headache. I do think, with the way approval plans work these days, librarians should be spending a lot less time doing collection development. I have actually said in a meeting, “Any monkey can buy books.” It won me some raised eyebrows, but I was being honest. When you have the money you need, choosing books is not hard. That is a discussion for another post. In general, academic libraries are well funded and that is definitely a good thing.

    Faculty are fun and challenging. Working with faculty was one of my favorite things because they were almost universally thankful for the help. In addition, the research they were doing was always interesting, thought provoking, and challenging. Their questions were the kinds of things I envisioned answering when I was sitting in my “how to do reference” class in graduate school. I have been lucky to work with some wonderful faculty and I will miss hearing stories about their research, their classes, and their families. My faculty were delightful people, who treated me like a colleague, and I will be sad to leave them, even in good hands.

    This is not to suggest that all faculty interactions are easy. Sometimes they are frustrating, especially when you are trying to convince a faulty member that the assignment they gave their classes can not be completed because research has not been conducted that way for at least 15 years. Semester after semester of dealing with the same stubborn faculty member, giving the same assignment that does nothing but set students up to fail and be frustrated by research can be deflating. These interactions only count for a small portion of what you encounter, hopefully, and all the good interactions more than make up for that one curmudgeon.

    Even if you have pseudo-faculty status, you have a great amount of flexibility with your time. I call this status Pretend Tenure. At MPOW, we are not faculty, we are not staff, we are somewhere in between with our own tenure process (much less rigorous than what faculty go through) and governance documents. With faculty or pretend faculty status, you have more flexible hours than librarians who are simply staff at their institutions. We were eligible for time off to write or sabbaticals to do research. This status also means that there was no clock punching. If you needed to come in late one day, you did or if you needed to stay late, you did that too. This flexibility is nice when family obligations suddenly spring up, you need a mental day at home, or you just need to stay at home to get work done. (by work here, I mean work related to your job) I am twice as productive at home then I am in the office. It is one of the reasons I am such an advocate of virtual or blended teams (teams with both virtual and f2f components) in the workplace. I think it is the combination of home comforts and the flexibility that I like when I am at home on my laptop.

    In addition to having flexibility with your time, pretend faculty status usually means a requirement for participation in professional organizations. MPOW pays about 45-48% for us to go to 3 conferences a year. While we always groused about wanting more money, that is far and above what most librarians receive to travel every year. This money has allowed me to attend many conferences and meet fabulous people, both for which I am very grateful. This is also a by product of having money in the budget.

    Teaching students. Students, like faculty, have their *headdesk* moments, but teaching students is incredible. I have been lucky and have been able to teach classes in many subjects and on many different levels. It has been fun and challenging to keep the students engaged, active, and learning the things that will help them complete the research before them. I loved their questions, especially when they asked me to demonstrate something I had not planned on showing that day. This most frequently occurred in drop in workshops and only occasionally in course related classes. I had no formal teaching experience before I started this job and yet teaching has become one of my favorite things about my job. In fact, there were days and weeks, that it was the only thing I liked about my job. I love to teach and this job, crediting mostly talented colleagues and an amazing former boss, taught me how to be a great instructor. I owe them so much.

    Being on a campus can be invigorating. I loved college and not just because the beer was cheap and we drank it often. I love the atmosphere of higher learning. Sometimes the intellectual conversations I overhear at MPOW make me long for the classes and professors I adored. There is plenty of inanity, but you can almost hear people learning and pondering Big Thoughts. It makes my geeky heart swell.

    These are the things I will miss the most about being an academic librarian. I think I have learned a lot of positive things from my time in this aspect of librarianship. I am curious to see how these lessons will play out in other library related endeavors. I have my whole life ahead of me to find out.

    –Jane, packs up her knowledge learned to use later

    Fish4Info, an Interview at TechSource

    I have an interview with Christopher Harris over at the TechSource Blog today. We talk about his new project called Fish4Info.

    The vision behind Fish4Info was a desire to create a positive library experience. I wanted to change the typical library catalog which is often used as a pass through to information into a destination where students would stay and interact. This means that the catalog had to become more social.

    Chris, who writes Infomancy, is a friend who I think is doing some really fabulous stuff for school libraries. Hooray for school librarians!

    –Jane, hooray for Friday

    Why Quitting for Kids is Not So Bad

    Penelope Trunk wrote a great post on why women are not as concerned with “taking time off” to have kids as some people think.

    I am not expecting “time off” from anything. Raising kids is a full-time job. I do not agree with everything Penelope Trunk has to say on her blog, but much of it resonates with what I have observed and what I feel to be right.

    At least one person online and multiple people off, have expressed sadness/concern that I am not staying to climb the traditional ladder or that getting back into “regular” librarianship will be harder then I realize. I do not want the traditional ladder. I want to build my own. The traditional ladder looks incredibly boring from where I am sitting and I do not have the patience for boring. Scenery aside, I am also smart enough to know that I am not cut out to be a full-time 9-5iver and a full-time Mom. That situation would make for a very unhappy and crazy Jane and an extremely unhappy family.

    As to the concerns about getting back in, as Penelope Trunk points out, starting one step below where I left or taking a different kind of job is not such a bad deal. It just means I will have diverse experiences. Having those formative years at home with my kids is more important then the job title I end up with when I retire. You can’t take it with you. Besides, I may end up doing something completely different then what I am doing at this very moment (which is sitting at a reference desk, answering directional and simple reference questions). I dare say that something will likely be much better then telling people where the stapler is located.

    –Jane, the corporate ladder, ur doin’ it wrng

    “The Last March of the Ents”

    Leaving Letter

    (picture inclusion with a nod towards Helene Blowers)

    This post has been a long time coming. If all works out accordingly, this post will be published directly after or right before I hand the interested parties my letter of resignation from the University of Houston Libraries where I have worked for three and a half years. I am sad to be leaving my friends and colleagues behind, even though I will see most of them often enough. Those who know me or have been paying attention will not be surprised at my departure. I have needed, searched for, even longed for a change in work scenery for quite awhile.

    I am trading my crazy, traffic filled commute for domesticity and working from home. Instead of a Social Sciences Librarian, I will be a stay at home wife, mother, and Geek Librarian At Large. In addition to changing diapers and walking around with a baby attached to my chest, I plan on engaging in the following professional activities:

  • Blogging in this space and over here
  • Writing for ALA Techsource Blog
  • Working on a book on Strategic Planning for ACRL
  • Writing a chapter for an upcoming book on Millennials
  • Serving on Jim Rettig’s Presidential Advisory Committee
  • Serving in LITA in various positions
  • Possibly working with SOLINET as an adjunct
  • Consulting
  • Rabble-rousing from afar
  • Friends and long time readers will surmise correctly that I am going to continue to do the things that I love the most about being a librarian, teaching and advocating for technology education in librarianship. Due to the impending arrival of Baby Rochester, I am placing a hiatus on most professional travel for almost a year and half. I expect my next conference to be ALA Annual 2009, though one never knows what life will bring you. Box of chocolates, anyone?

    I plan on writing at least one more post reflecting on working in an academic library, based on my experiences in the one that fostered me these last few years, and the kind of job I would love to have some day. Those should be coming along shortly.

    Until then, I am excited about this new phase of my life, happy for the change of pace, and pleased to be able to finally tell you, gentle readers and friends, my plan.

    –Jane, tickled baby boy blue

    Midwinter Round-up, the not so good bits

    The not so good bits being two things I did not see but heard a lot about about one thing for which I was present and accounted for.

    Most of my complaints about ALA Midwinter are about things having to do with the division in which I spend most of my time: LITA. As we say down South, Bless your heart. Bless your heart, LITA, I know you try, but let us consider the ways in which the brain was left behind in the planning of some of the aspects of ALA Midwinter 2008 and how your members have lost touch with reality and the word leadership.

    In the past, LITA sponsored a Blogger’s room, which has become more popular as more people found out about it’s existence. At Annual 07, there were always people hanging out in the room, chatting, blogging, and surfing the internet whenever I chanced by. The room had multiple tables, chairs, wifi, and many power strips. BIGWIG usually has its meetings in this room because it is available, convenient, and has all the equipment we needed (wifi and power strips). At Midwinter 07, the room was bumped back to only be a couple tables in the back of the ALA office, but it still included power strips and wifi. Members of LITA have been thinking of ways we could use this service of a plug and wifi as a way to market LITA as a technology provider guru to ALA at large. I think this is a wonderful idea and an even better service.

    (As a disclaimer, I did not see said table, but I did hear about it from multiple people. I wanted a picture, but ran out of time on Monday. If anyone snapped a picture, please share it in the comments.) This year the idea of the room or properly equipped tables seems to have gone awry somehow. This year, we again had a Blogger’s Table at Midwinter in the ALA office. But it was one table with two chairs, no power strips, and no wifi. Welcome bloggers, you would be better off sitting on the floor by a plug in the hallway instead of using this service we have not put much thought into providing. I am not sure who thought this would be a good idea, but clearly it is not useful and a waste of space besides.

    The Blogger’s Area should be something, by now, that LITA leadership and admin have realized is a “good thing” for their image, but BIGWIG has to ask and advocate for it before every conference. It should be something that LITA wants to provide, not something they must be cajoled and prodded into doing.

    At Annual, LITA, I will not be there to enjoy it, but please provide a real room, with numerous tables, chairs, power strips, and wifi . We know it costs money, but think of it as much needed advertising to all the techies hiding in other ALA groups that see you not as a technology leader or innovator, but as an innovator and leader that has forgotten what it means to do so.

    I again must write a disclaimer as I was not present at the following meeting, but I did hear about it after the fact from multiple people. At Midwinter, the Top Tech Trends Panel holds an open discussion meeting in which they throw out ideas about new trends and the audience is able to comment on the panel’s assumptions. Other then the President’s Program, the TTT Panel at both Midwinter and Annual are the most popular LITA events. The thing that makes the Midwinter program stand out is that, instead of the panel talking to the audience, as they do at Annual, the panel talks with the audience about tech trends in libraries.

    You would expect that such a largely attended and well received program would not have the problems getting the right room and equipment they need from LITA to hold their events. Indeed, they should not have the kind of problems a little IG would have, say getting a blogging area, but the TTT Committee had similar connectivity and set-up issues. It is possible that these issues were a problem with the conference staff and not LITA. If I am wrong in my assumption, I want to be corrected. Someone, please correct me!

    Instead of a large room, set up for a lively discussion and debate, the room TTT was given was small and set up for a traditional committee meeting with a table in the center and chairs around the table. The chair of the committee, Maurice York, had to run around, fetching as many extra chairs as he could cram into the room. During the discussion, the room overflowed into the hall. LITA – we do not have room for you.

    The connectivity in the room was not wonderful. One of the committee members, trying to participate virtually on Skype, had issues connecting to the group because of the wifi. Wifi can be problematic, so I am hesitant to really lay that on LITA’s door. I applaud the committee for trying Skype. Who says ALA does not have virtual participation?

    Lastly, the LITA Town Meeting ended in a debate over which we should be: Innovative Leaders of Technology (in which we often blaze the trail as the first) or Leaders in Technology (in which we do not care about innovation but instead create best practices and know the best tools in hopes that others will seek out our expertise). The conversation made me want to cry, scream, and rip my hair out. It is the conversation I hear repeated in MPOW and in libraries all over the nation. It is the reason a lot of libraries talk about doing something but never actually get around to doing anything at all and thus never lead anyone anywhere.

    Why try to be first, when you can be last? I have a news flash for the people in LITA who think we should give up trying to be first and be the ones who make great policies and practices. All those groups who blazed the trail we are sauntering down, already created all the policies and best practices they need because shortly after being first, they realized they needed some guidelines. When you wait for others to do all the dirty work and then step in later to save the day, you only look like an attention grabber and no one believes you have anything to contribute that is worthwhile. If you did have something meaningful to say, you would have said it at the beginning, when the innovative group was hacking through the jungle, not later when the road is built.

    I am not bringing this up to say that age is the factor, but someone asked all of us under 30 to raise out hands and there were less than 5 of us in a room easily holding about 60 or 70 people. I know LITA used to be the leader back when they had the Internet room for people to use and you were all young. I know because you tell us about it all the time. I am proud you blazed that trail and it is part of our history. You know what though, you are the only ones who remember that and that remembrance is not enough for the rest of ALA to keep believing you are a leader of anything. One good idea will not ensure your status as an innovator. It just means you had one good idea.

    People no longer see LITA as a leader in technology because we are not. Not in innovation, policies, or best practices. If we really want to reclaim our position as a leader in technology we have to actually lead the way to be taken seriously. I want LITA to be great. I want us to blaze a technology trail others can walk down. I want us to partner with other divisions who are also using technology in innovative ways so we can be leaders again. We do not always have to be the first ones down the trail, but we should try to be in the lead group, leading.

    –Jane, not ready to sit back and let others have all the innovative fun