Friday, November 19, 2010

Listen. Just listen.

There is this meme that is currently circling the part of the Internet that is ruled by librarians: librarians get no respect.

People far and wide have linked to Molly Kleinman's blog post as evidence for their Dangerfield-ian cry.

It stings to read that the perception of librarians in academia is that they are risk averse.

If you're a cataloger, you feel this pain even more acutely when you read the part in Kleinman's piece where the computer science professor called author, title, and date information "useless metadata."

It feels really grim when you put these two arguments together, right?

Risk averse catalogers who are obsessed with metadata.


There has been a call-to-arms that catalogers will get street cred by being more outspoken among their colleagues about what they do. The logic seems (to me, anyway) to be that if we tell people why what we do is important, they'll value the services.

I heartily agree with the idea of getting out of our echo chambers. In fact, I advocate regularly for catalogers to get as much face time with public services staff and end users as possible. How else are you going to learn about the needs of the user?

I think that the best way for us to advocate is to join in the conversations that our front-line staffs are already having.

Maybe it's hard to see how user experience or assessment or information literacy affect you as a cataloger. But think about how much you can bring to these conversations. Who knows the catalog better than you? Who uses it more than you?

I would suggest starting by figuring out what is important to your front-line staffs right now. Maybe it's patron-driven acquisition or scholarly communication. Start by attending a meeting that you've never attended before and listen. Just listen.

Then, educate yourself on these topics so that you can speak intelligently about them with the staff you hope to connect with. You don't have to become an expert on the topic, but at least learn what the core issues are. Even if learning about instructional design won't make you a better cataloger, it will help you make in-roads with the reference librarian you've been hoping to work with.

We, as catalogers, own the perception that people have of us. And we have the tools to change it.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Goals and road maps

I spent about 30 minutes this morning mapping out my 12 month goals for a committee that I co-chair. And, as boring as it sounds, it felt kind of rewarding. This committee needed both a vision for the future and a road map for the "now," and I'd come up with all sorts of reasons why I didn't have time to do it.

I was tired of having this item languish on my to-do list, so I tackled it this morning. And in less than an hour, I had short-term, middle-term, and long-term goals for the committee.

As an aside: I feel like I could write an entire post about how to-do lists just don't work for me. I know that my life lacks focus and vision, though, when I require one to figure out what projects have parts still moving and what's coming up for me on the horizon.

The act of developing a plan for this committee got me thinking about how I should be doing this very thing for my professional life. I have to write goals as part of my self-evaluation process, and those are very useful. They give me a road map for what projects my supervisor and I have both agreed carry importance.

They're often very specific to my unit, though, and don't always encompass the ways in which I want to stretch myself in any given time period.

I don't know about you, but I get caught somewhere in between the daily minutiae (and not getting overwhelmed by it!) and the pie-in-the sky goals for my career. Rarely do I consider where I want to be, professionally-speaking, in 12 months and then craft a plan to get me there.

When I consider who I want to be at the end of the next 12 months, three questions come to mind:
What topic do I want to learn more about? What skill to I want to possess or hone? What organizations or projects do I want to get more involved in?

I feel like the answers to these questions can help construct a road map by which I can develop professionally.

There's no time like the present, I suppose.

I will reflect on these questions today, and use my answers to construct a professional development road map that exists separately from my self-evaluation goals.

Have a plan? Use it to be awesome! Don't have a plan? Join me in making one today!

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Creating change by directing elephants and riders

For some reason, I've been reading a lot of "business books" lately. I read Re:Work a couple of weeks ago and I just finished Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

My short review of both books: Both of them were well-written, thought provoking books that will change the way you perceive work and change respectively. Do yourself a favor and check them out, but only if you're ready to have your mind blown and your way of doing things forever altered.

In Shift, the Heaths talk about how our brains are divided into two distinct parts: the rational part (the rider) and the emotional part (the elephant). In order to create change that sticks, you have to make a compelling case for change to both parts of the brain. Additionally, the Heaths assert, you have to shape the path for both the elephant and the rider to be successful.

Change, the Heaths assert, doesn't happen until you can do all three things.

I thought of a lot of ways that I could apply this to my life. Then I started thinking about how this process works (or doesn't work) in libraries.

Despite how often you hear librarians complain about the glacial rate of change in libraries, I don't think that libraries are uniquely dysfunctional when it comes to change.

There area lot of people who have been doing certain things for a long time and are deeply invested in those processes--even when they don't work anymore. This is true in every area of the library, but let's focus on cataloging since this is a cataloging-related blog.

We've been doing the same process for at least 30 years, right? AACR and AACR2 have switched up the game some, as have advances in technology, but we've been producing bibliographic metadata for a while now.

Think about how many things have changed--shelf ready processing, programming languages that allow us to repurpose publisher metadata, web scale discovery systems--and then think about how resistant we, as a group, are to change.

This will never work. We can't do that here. It's too expensive. It doesn't meet our needs.

Sound familiar?

We are so invested in the way of doing things that work for us, that getting the elephant and the rider down the new path seems far beyond what we can do. Even if my elephant and rider say 'let's do this!,' I still have to convince the riders and elephants of everyone else in my department.

Change is hard. I know it, you know it, and the Heath Brothers know it. But that doesn't mean that change isn't worth doing. In fact, I would argue that change is the only way that we, as catalogers, are going to stay relevant.

Take the time to evaluate which changes make the most sense for your organization and then create a compelling argument for making that change. Make sure your argument appeals to both the rider and elephant of those you have to convince.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lifelong learning makes you valuable

I just finished reading Carlen Ruschoff's column entitled "Competencies for 21st Century Technical Services." Published in the Nov/Dec 2007 issues of Technicalities, it's an 'oldie but goodie.'

One of the cornerstones that Ruschoff suggests we need to build upon is the commitment to being lifelong learners in both formal and informal ways.

She writes:
The person who seeks out opportunities to grown and change is truly valuable, indeed. The person who integrates what has been learned into his or her work is priceless!

As the field of cataloging changes(and man, oh man, is the field changing!), the commitment to being lifelong learners increases in importance. We have to stay engaged in the conversation about the future of Technical Services, but we can only do that if we're in-the-know about current and future trends.

The good part is that webinars and other free resources like blogs and freely available journal articles make it easier than ever to stay informed. The bad news, for some anyway, is that this increased access to free information makes it harder than ever to disengage.

But don't just learn new things, put them into action! Change your workflow. Teach a class. Improve your cataloging. Ask your supervisor if you can incorporate a new format into your work.

Showing both the initiative to learn something new and the willingness to incorporate what you learned into your existing workflow raise your stock in your library. You become someone who takes initiative and someone who is not afraid of change.

Up until my current job, I worked exclusively with Dewey. Every job, from the shelving job I had as a teenager to the paraprofessional cataloging job, was in a public library. So when I started my current job in a library that uses LC Classification, I felt more than a little bit lost.

I love my work and I'm good at it, but using LC Classification has always been my weakest skill.

I got a new supervisor recently, and we started setting my goals for my six month evaluation. I told my new supervisor that I really wanted to be more comfortable with LC Classification. I came up with a plan on how I would do that and she signed off on it.

I'm working my way through Learn Library of Congress Classification (for the second time) and doing some copy cataloging to learn more about how LC Classification works. Hopefully, by the end of the six month period, I'll be a LC Classification-using fool.

My point is, there's always something new that you can learn and always some way in which you can incorporate these new skills and knowledge into your work. And doing both of those things make you more valuable to your library.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gorman's "Drift down" theory and Good Enough

I was reading an article and came across the "drift down" theory which goes something like this:

Librarians shouldn't do a job that a paraprofessional can do. Paraprofessionals shouldn't do a job that a student can do. No person should do a job that a machine can do.

I was curious about the origins of this "drift down" theory, so I tracked it back to Michael Gorman. Apparently he debuted it in 1982 in a book chapter entitled "A good heart and an organized mind."

Consider for a moment how terror-inducing this is for modern-day Technical Services librarians and then consider how scary it must've been in 1982. Moreover, think about how forward-thinking that must've been.

It seems like everyone these days is preaching how Technical Services Units need to shape up, slim down, and streamline as much as possible. This time of turmoil is a perfect place for the "Drift down" theory to take hold, right? The best way to streamline your bulky Technical Services Unit is to examine everyone's daily tasks and workflows and see where projects and processes can be whittled down and passed on to someone further down the line to do.

In some ways, I am totally on board with this. Why do the costly double checking of reports when you rarely find errors?

There's part of me too, though, that worries that this zeal for streamlining our workflows and processes has the potential to be costly for users.

I am a big fan of Good Enough. I am a fan of considering what else you could be doing with the time you spend making that catalog record 'just so,' when very few people will notice the work you did. I am a fan of uncovering hidden collections and of doing special projects.

But I'm also in favor of not cutting corners when the trade off between staff time saved and value for the end user is too large. Sometimes it makes sense to have a Librarian do what a machine could could do.

The point is, when you're making decisions to streamline your workflows, slash with a pencil and not a red pen. And keep your users at the center of all of these cost-saving and time-saving measures.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Becoming more visible: a 3-step plan

I just finished reading Bradford Lee Eden's article entitled The New User Environment: The End of Technical Services?

You can read it here (you need a username and password):

This isn't actually a post about Eden's article, though. What really resonated with me was a quote that he used that came from a 2007 article by Sheila Intner.

She wrote:
Part of the trouble is that the rest of our colleagues don't really know what technical services librarians do. They only know that we do it behind closed door and talk about it in language that no one else understands. If it can't be seen, can't be understood, and can't be discussed, maybe it's all smoke and mirrors, lacking real substance.

I think that Intner points out a real weakness for people in Technical Services. We often end up sequestered in back rooms, removed from both library users and our colleagues. When we do get face time with our front-line colleagues, the burden is on us to show them the impact of our work. It's hard to do if, when we have the chance, we bore our colleagues to death with jargon.

For better or worse, I think it's the job of Technical Services Librarians to make their work seem relevant and important. We need to take away the smoke and mirrors and show the substance of what we do in a way that anyone can understand.

To that end, I offer you a three-point-plan:
1. Be more visible
Attend as many meetings as your schedule allows without neglecting your primary job duties. Does you library have an all-staff meeting? Go! A brown bag lunch series? Go! Use the opportunities to network with your colleagues, especially if your back-room office is at a remote part of the library where no one ever sees you.

Being more visible means that people know your name when you call or email them with a question. It also helps you seem more well-rounded, especially if you attend meetings on topics that don't seem to immediately connect with your work in Technical Services.

2. Create an 'elevator speech' about what you do
Say you sit down next to a Reference Librarian at one of those meetings and you have a few minutes before the meeting starts. If you've taken the time to craft a short explanation of what you do and how you can help that person, the time before that meeting will be more productive than any all-staff email or presentation you might give.

When you're coming up with your elevator speech, lose the jargon. Don't assume that the person you're talking to knows--or cares about--the acronyms that are second nature to you. Your elevator speech should be easy to understand and should focus on how you can make a difference in the life of the person you're talking to.

3. Find an front-line ally who is willing to help you raise your visibility with front-line staff.
In my experience, making a difference in the life of a front-life staff person is the easiest way to forge the kind of alliances that I'm talking about. If you can work a miracle for someone, they'll likely sing your praises to their colleagues.

I think that if you are willing to be visible and to forge relationships with front-line staff, the smoke and mirrors will dissipate and your true value to your organization will shine through.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Technical Services Librarians and the theoretical user

I just finished reading Rick Anderson's op ed from September 2005 about the Patron-Centered Technical Services Librarian.

Even though it's nearly five years old, I highlighted most of it and kept shouting 'yes! That!' in my head to nearly everything he wrote.

Anderson's premise is that the ultimate goal of libraries should be "to get the best possible information to our patrons as quickly and effectively as possible, and to do in a way that works best and makes most sense for our particular patrons."

He goes on to say that because of the day-to-day tasks that Technical Services staffs perform, it is easy to think that the ultimate goal of librarianship is a well-managed collection.

I suspect that most front-line staff would say something to the effect of 'well...duh' to Anderson's assertion about the ultimate goal of librarianship. I also think that one point that Anderson doesn't make is that Technical Services Librarians often lose sight of this 'ultimate goal' because they rarely see a library user. Being at least one step removed from end users has the potential to cause the kind of myopia that Anderson discusses.

When you work in Technical Services and don't have day-to-day (or even more intermittent) contact with end users, they start to become theoretical. I know that I have the tendency to start guessing what's best for users when I don't spend time with them. And since I'm a librarian and have librarian-strength searching skills, I probably shouldn't being going all Lorax on our users.

Let me tell you a story...
For the past two semesters, I've worked as one of the class librarian for my University's Freshman Composition program. I am one of about 25 librarians from across our library who volunteers to do this. There are subject librarians, paraprofessional staff who are in library school, and Technical Services librarians who offer a few hours of their time over the course of a semester.

Serving as a class librarian is a low intensity way for me to spend a little time with library users. It's not explicitly listed as one of my job duties, but it's some of the most rewarding work I do.

I teach Freshmen how to search for articles and books on their paper topics; they teach me how the user's mind works. It's awesome.

This past Spring, both of the instructors I worked with asked me to have one-on-one sessions with their students. Over the course of two weeks, I spent 30 minutes with each student.

Boy howdy did I learn something about library users!

That face-time with end users was invaluable to me. I learned how they think, how they search, and what they value. They were no longer theoretical but were, instead, real people with real problems.

My point is that Anderson is right about it being easy to lose sight of the fact that our goal should be to get good information to our users in the way that makes the most sense to them.

The good news is that there are concrete ways to stop yourself from falling into that trap:

Offer to work a shift at your library's reference desk, sit in on a colleague's library instruction session, offer to teach an introductory library instruction session yourself.

Be visible. Be proactive. Be awesome.