Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Organizing your time when everything seems urgent

In my current job, I work almost exclusively with electronic materials and it's caused a problem for me that I never had in my previous job where I worked almost exclusively with physical materials.

The problem stems from the fact that these materials often come to me in the form of an email from someone in our Acquisitions Unit. For some reason, these materials seem more urgent than a physical item that has been ordered and which goes into our backlog until someone has the time to catalog it.

In short, electronic materials can't be put on a truck to get to them as you have time. And when "ordering season" is in full-swing, I can get as many as 10 emails in a day.

I sometimes let ongoing projects or low-priority projects languish for weeks on end while I deal with these electronic materials, mostly because I give the electronic materials priority when they aren't materials that are urgently needed by users.

Luckily, this is merely frustrating and not terribly harmful to our users. I hate being a slave to my email. I want to get out of the I'll do it later mentality and work on the things that I really need to get done in any given day.

I've identified three things that can help me do this:
1. Use the "work offline" feature in Outlook if I need to be in my email, but don't want to see new messages. I often find myself stopping what I'm doing when getting new messages while working on a task that arose from an email. It's easy, I think,I'll just dash off a quick response. What I've learned, though, is that dashing off a response is rarely quick. I end up jumping down rabbit holes and before I know it, I've worked on a problem for much longer than I expected. Using the "work offline" feature lets me be in my email, but also lets me address new messages when I'm not distracted.

2. Evernote. Oh how I love thee, Evernote. I love how seemlessly it moves from my work computer to my iPhone to my netbook. I can keep track of everything I want to do, read, blog about, or listen to. For work, though, my favorite feature is how I can make Notes out of emails and flag them as to-dos or as things awaiting a response from other people.

3. My week-at-a-glance worksheet. I made this worksheet that has boxes for each day where I can record meetings or appointments and my "Most Important Thing." The MIT is the one task that I really want to get done and which takes priority over all other tasks. I ususally work on that after checking my email in the morning. I put all of the to-dos from the morning's email in a cleverly named "To do" folder in Outlook. I do my MIT and then go back and work on things in my "To do" folder.

3a. I've started giving each day of the week a designation.
Monday = Plan your week
Tuesday = Electronic stuff
Wednesday = Committee work (non-cataloging work that I need to do)
Thursday = Junky stuff (these are projects that have landed on my desk which are...messy)
Friday = Wrap-it-up day (wrap up projects, update Evernote, send emails, etc.)

These daily designations are on my worksheet and govern how I spend my afternoon. I usually spend the morning answering emails, doing my MIT, and working on some urgent-ish to-dos. So I spend the afternoon working on projects that correspond with my daily designation.

This 3-part system has made all the difference for me. I'm able to do the most urgent task for every day and make sure that no project languishes for more than a week. It's made me more productive and less stressed out.

I think that whatever organizational system you use, it's important to find one that works for you. Having an idea of how you want to spend your time means you're less tied to email and less busy doing work that is important to other people, but not urgent.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Patron-Driven Acquisition, MARC records, and you

I'm going to be all Ranty McRanty-Pants for just a minute. But I've got a point, so stay with me.

You know how Patron-Driven Acquisition is the Big Thing now in libraries? If you don't, check out this post from June 2010 at Go To Hellman's blog for a thorough, yet entertaining explanation of the situation.

Here's the thing:
In order for a Patron-Driven Acquisition program to be successful, the books have to be found in your catalog. If the MARC records aren't good, they become a barrier to findability.

Here's the other thing:
As far as I can tell, Vendors aren't invested in giving us good MARC records. For them, the records are like one of those gift-with-purchase makeup bags you get when you buy $50 worth of cosmetics at a department store. You pay for access to the e-books and get the records with them. And since the records themselves aren't worth a lot to the vendor, the quality of those records is sometimes sketchy.

The idea that we can put sketchy MARC records in our catalog and expect people to find the books in our Patron-Driven Acquisition program seems misguided at best and seriously problematic at worst. And as libraries are considering implementing Patron-Driven Acquisition programs as part of their collection development budget, it seems like this issue is coming to the proverbial tipping point.

Before you accuse me of wanting "perfect" records, let me be clear. I'm not advocating that vendors give us lovely, hand-crafted records. I'm merely advocating for things like correct titles, correctly formatted authority records for authors, and reasonable subject access.

I know that, in many people's eyes, days are numbered for our friend the OPAC. But for many users, the online catalog is an important tool for finding known items and discovering new resources. To rest an acquisitions model on the shoulders of records that aren't the main concern of the vendor selling them to you does your users a great disservice.

So what can you do? Two ideas:

1.) If your library has a team or committee overseeing the Patron-Driven Acquisition project, volunteer to be on it. Educate your colleagues (in a nice way, of course) about the importance of MARC records as an aid in findability.

2.) Going to a conference? Make time to talk to vendors about MARC records and make quality MARC records a must-have item in any Patron-Driven Acquisition project you pilot.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Great expectations

When I read Seth Godin's musings about how the space where you do "what you do" impacts what gets done, I immediately thought of the room at MPOW where we have nearly all of our meetings.

We have informational all-staff meetings there. We have committee meetings there. We have brainstorming sessions there. We have big meetings there. We have small meetings there. Basically, if it happens at MPOW, there's a good chance it's happening in this room.

If you ask me to describe this room, I would say this about it's physical attributes: it's well lit with sturdy tables and reasonably comfortable chairs. It has a pretty good AV setup: computer, overhead projector, screen. I would also say that it's also usually always cold.

In the closing lines of his post, Godin says "I think we can train ourselves to associate certain places with certain outcomes."

I think Godin's right. If I'm honest, I associate this particular room with certain outcomes and that colors how I feel when I go there.

An anecdote:
One of the meetings that I attend regularly has met in this particular room, or it's Far Campus equivalent, for as many years as I've been going to the meeting. One day, we when we tried to use the Far Campus room, we found that we had been displaced by another event. The meeting moved to a "lounge" that had no tables and couches and wing back chairs.

You would not be surprised to learn that the meeting had an entirely different feel.

Godin's nugget about places and outcomes made me think about how when we want to innovate, we shouldn't meet in the same room where ideas go to die by committee.

So try a new space or a new place. Or, maybe take a baby step and start by rearranging the furniture in your meeting space. Shake things up and, in the process, change people's expectations about what the outcome will be.

Be proactive. Be visible. Be awesome.