December 15, 2008

Rethinking overthinking rethinking.....

It has taken me two months to decide that the most appropriate thing to post is this very simple tip, which I will share, and then I'll explain why it took me so long...

Do you find it hard to keep up on important issues if you have to regularly remind yourself to go looking for updates? Well, have the updates come to you! Want to anticipate your users' information needs, meaning know their needs before they do? Use Google Alerts as your foreknowledge. Suggested topics for alerts include the name of your agency, people or issues in the news you want to keep tabs on, and even your own name. Be sure to specify “Smith, Jane” and well as “Jane Smith” if you want a comprehensive list of what they are saying about you, as well as the acronym(s) for your organization. Google Alerts is a good way of keeping yourself up-to-date without having to “pull” information off the Web; instead, Google will “push” the information to you.

So, why did it take me so long to post this little tidbit? Well, suffice it to say that I was rethinking my role in the blogosphere, which led to overthinking it, and then rethinking it again. It's really no more complicated than my wanting to have something really important to say to other embedded librarians and failing miserably to squeeze anything out at the end of the semester (including the much-anticipated conclusion of my semester-long comparison of Digital Libraries with History of the Book). And then it occurred to me...

What is something simple I can share that makes my life easier here? In preparing for my annual performance review I wrote what I considered to be a risky but genuine paragraph about what I have contributed to our institutional knowledge simply by thinking to put Google Alerts on many phrases and names that we need to be "in the know" about around here. It is such a simple thing that makes such a big difference...and the feedback you get from people who think you're doing magic tricks is unbeatable.

There is a learning curve, too, to getting the most out of Google Alerts, even though it is immediately satisfying. After five months of practice, I am getting more savvy about which terms to follow, which items to pass along, which alerts to read more carefully than others. If you have used Google Alerts to your professional advantage, please share your experiences by commenting on this post.

And, as always, keep smiling!

October 29, 2008

Knowledge Management in Real Time

Flying solo? No documentation from your predecessor? Wondering if this job is for you? I know how you feel and I know what you can do about it. As a very structured thinker in a very unstructured job, I have a choice to make: do I love this place enough to continue when it is such an agitating challenge to my intolerance for ambiguity? (If I'm honest with myself, how much ambiguity do I really want to tolerate?) Do I want to commit to this place and these people long enough to make a semblance of order out of seeming chaos? Wouldn't my organizational skills be put to better user if I were a cog in a wheel somewhere managing metadata or creating MARC records all day? These were the questions I started asking myself after six months flying solo, as my MLS neared completion, and as job after structured job flew by on every list-serve I belong to. I took this job to get "experience" in information management while I work toward my MLS. And if experience is really what you get when you don't get what you want, then I'm getting it.

I have worked for five organizations since graduating from college and there never seems to be enough structure for me. This is what drew me to library and information science: STRUCTURE! ORGANIZATION! STANDARDS! The thought of taking a course called Organization of Information made my mouth water. Shortly after I began my MLS, I left a job working on No Child Left Behind. To my surprise, I had several offers (evidently there was a dearth of library students with other master's degrees in the marketplace). I turned down a highly structured and predictable copyright job to come here because I had such a strong instinct that I would love the people here--and not love the other guys--and I was absolutely right. (In fact the "other guys" were even going to pay my tuition, but somehow weren't going to allow me to have a schedule flexible enough to take classes.) I *knew* this job would be unstructured and that I would not have a master librarian to learn from.

Six months later nothing had changed -- still very unstructured, still loved the people. My uncertainties about how to do my job could no longer be attributed to my newness. My feeling that I didn't know what I was doing was not subsiding, even as my library skills developed and I completed more of my core classes. The bottom line is that I knew I wouldn't be magically more qualified for this job once I graduate. So.....I re-interviewed for my job to make my decision all over again. That's right. I asked my boss for a 2-3 hour block of time one Friday afternoon and said he didn't have to prepare anything but I was just going to ask him some questions about my job. I felt like I really needed some non-evaluative feedback in advance of my annual performance review in December. The meeting got delayed a couple of times for more urgent matters but I was okay with that, as it gave me a few opportunities to fine-tune what I was going to say.

We went to a coffee shop and I launched into a series of hypotheticals that my boss willingly entertained. First hypothetical: I leave after completing a year in this job - would they replace me? (Start small and don't assume anything.) The answer, of course, was yes, so I then asked a series of questions about how they would publicize the position, whom they would recruit, and what skills/talents/personality they would be looking for in the ideal candidate. That line of thinking confirmed that I was probably the right person for this job, but I had to ask tougher questions to really get the most out of this exercise.

Next hypothetical: I agree to stay beyond the first give-it-a-year year but I say to my boss, "I don't feel this job is structured enough for me; what would you recommend that I do or think about to change this? What additional support or perspective should I seek from my coworkers? From the special library community? From the blogosphere?" This one got pretty interesting...leading down a road that I had sort of predicted but was glad to have confirmed: "This is the nature of the beast. This work is chaotic at best and no apt candidate would view it any differently."

Third hypothetical: I am the person interviewing for this job in the first scenario. So I asked a bunch of questions that I probably did ask in my interview last year, but which I could not possibly understand or act on in my first nine months here because I had no context. I asked things I would probably hesitate to ask in the office, not so much because I don't have AN answer, but to see what THE answer is -- do we have a print library? is it cataloged? what portion of the job is taken up managing the print collection? is there downtime in this job? what would I do during downtime? what is our work exactly? how do I answer specific phone inquiries? which staff members do I go to for specific reference inquiries? The third scenario led my boss and me from a set of hypotheticals to a useful knowledge management exercise. The "candidate" in the scenarios slowly became "I" when I was talking and "you" when my boss was talking. Over the next hour we generated a list of twelve subtopics to transportation that our firm works on, and then a list of the top three staff members to go to for each topic, which will come in handy when I am doing triage with reference requests. We also had a "safe place" conversation in which I could ask all my dumb (or perhaps just overdue) questions about how our non-profit interacts with our federal funders and how that relationship works. As we were approaching Hour 3 of this voluntary re-interview, I was beginning to see a clearer picture of my role within the organization, albeit a still very unstructured set of tasks. I was also starting to accept that even those who have been here twenty years have to make order out of chaos, but that it does get easier if you commit to this being your work and your workplace.

Near the end of our time together I asked some tough questions about how this job would develop my skills as a library and information professional and why I should stay here as opposed to finding another more "library-like" position. I was aware while saying this that if there were any DC/SLA members in Corner Bakery that day they would have shouted, "This is what it IS to be a special librarian! You're doing it!" My boss concurred with the voices in my head and I started to feel rather optimistic about moving forward, finishing out my first year, and then having some substantive things to say in my upcoming performance review about how I am doing and what I need in order to continue to be successful. [I have a not-so-secret plan to ask for two-thirds of whatever salary increase I am offered to be dedicated to professional development funding for me (pre-tax), rather than being allocated to me in my paycheck.] It was almost five o'clock, and it was Friday. I wanted closure, and I wanted to capitalize on this good conversation without pushing too far and taking more of my boss' time than I truly needed. So in the last five minutes I proposed an exercise: I asked my boss to list off, without thinking too hard, all the things I do in this job (concrete tasks) and I wrote this down to get a sense of how he sees my priorities and what I should be doing with my time. We were pretty much in line on that one, which was a good sign. Then I asked my boss, "And what tasks, if I commit to this organization, can I look forward to doing in a twenty-year career here, given the scope of our mission and organization, and taking into account staff turnover, legislative changes, etc.?" We generated a list that ranged from magazine writing to data analysis to public speaking and training to marketing and layout/design of publications, and more in-depth content work with transportation issues should I so choose.

I can't imagine advancing here, or even in (or I guess out of) my own head, without this valuable conversation, so I encourage everyone to try it.

October 16, 2008

Back to School Series Part II: Confluence

In an earlier post I waxed poetic about the ways in which my two courses this semester, The History of the Book (taught at the Library of Congress) and Foundations of Digital Libraries, might collide or coalesce in interesting ways. They have, although not in ways quite as obscure or dramatic as I may have imagined. In a very practical way, my expanding knowledge of these two subjects would be more than challenged by the good folks at the Semitics/ICOR Library at the Catholic University of America where papyri and ostraca are being digitized and cataloged in CONTENTdm.

The Catholic University inherited a large collection of ancient documents from Monsignor
Henri Hyvernat, who founded the Semitics Department at the University, as well as the Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR). This collection forms the core of the current library, now boasting some 45,000 volumes. Scholars of Coptic Christianity and other early Christian practices in the Near East have used and added to this collection since the 1940s. Now this collection is being digitized.

In the basement of Mullen Library, down several halls and around several corners is the tiny Semitics Library. You would never know this treasure trove existed unless you were trying to find it, which my class was doing last week. Inside there are two small offices and a reading room filled with ancient treasures displayed in glass cabinets. To say it looks like something out of Indiana Jones would be spot on: Curator Monica Blanchard told us the Discovery Channel once filmed there for this very reason. Blanchard deftly handles the ostraca and papyri collection with soft white gloves as she explains the restoration and digitization process. The collections are being cataloged in CONTENTdm through a collaborative agreement with Brigham Young University, and their Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS) is made available online through Columbia University.

October 8, 2008

Tech Fair 2008: How to Get Users Excited about SEARCH

I am a proud member of my organization's technology team. In the past I have done trainings on Web 2.0 basics, advanced search strategy, and social bookmarking. I usually give out Google posters with search tips as prizes and incentives. Our team's upcoming training (which was supposed to be a "back to school" activity but will now have a Halloween theme) is a "Tech or Treat" afternoon with five tech stations and trainers throughout the office to help staff with various technology or research tips and strategies. Here is how we're planning it...

In late August, each member of the tech team decided on a specialty and then started keeping notes on FAQs about that topic among our 25 or so staff members, as well as popular shortcuts and tips. We will be covering web searching, Microsoft Office, preparing web-ready content, Blackberry troubleshooting (we do not have real phones), laptop tuneups and Constant Contact, our mass mailing software. 

Next, the tech team met to decide on a few key points to emphasize about each topic. In the coming weeks we will be doing informal "walk-around" surveys to ask staff what they feel their comfort level is (low, medium or high) with each topic, and we will use this information to group teams for the Tech Fair, which is now scheduled for October 28th. Luckily, we have the endorsement of the Executive Director, so we expect that all staff in town that day will attend. 

The event is scheduled for 2-5 PM. We will all meet together in our main conference room to kick off Tech Fair 2008 and introduce staff to our new tech wiki, which features links and FAQs for all equipment and software that we use. The staff will then split up into their pre-assigned teams and go station by station on the half hour. Each team will have to ask and answer key tech or search questions to compete for some final prizes, and we will have Halloween candy at each station.

By integrating search training into general tech training, and by having the librarian on the tech team, I feel that our office is growing toward being more savvy with information AND technology, and all of the various ways that they go together. It's an easy way to get people excited about search.

October 2, 2008

Reflections on the 2008 National Book Festival

On Saturday I attended the 2008 National Book Festival. Overall I found the Festival to be an event about inclusion more than reading, but with a good message that everyone should have access to books and authors, and anyone can write a book about anything. The most striking thing about this event is that it is the polar opposite of what some would think a literary festival would be. If one imagined the festival based on book stores, book reviews, book magazines, and people known to be bookish types, one might expect the Festival to have an air of affluence, scholarliness, seriousness, formality, entitlement, historical purpose and authority. (Read Heidi Julavits' March 2003 Believer piece as a case in point.)

Instead, the Festival seemed to me to be a big, muddy party on the Mall. It brought to mind Emma Lazarus’ 1883 poem The New Colossus, of Ellis Island fame and now in the Statue of Liberty. As I was walking the Mall Saturday, I thought of Lazarus’ words, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Instead of aloof, pensive, coffee-house intellectuals hanging on a writer’s every word, I felt I saw the diversity and breadth of American readers, and for that matter, American citizens. 

The Festival was casual, with people undaunted by three days’ mud on the walking paths. People ate during the presentations, stepped out of tents to take cell phone calls, or camped out in Harley Davidson T-shirts to get a glimpse of popular children’s authors. People got up to ask Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison questions without preparing their remarks or removing their hats or introducing themselves. I think this is great: the proximity, both literally and figuratively, that Americans have to great writers via the National Book Festival is generous and ingenious. ANYONE can ask a question of a U.S. Senator this way, or of Salman Rushdie. And when Daniel Schorr was asked about the role of the media in presidential politics by a less than nonpartisan attendee, the attendee was booed and yelled at from others in the audience screaming that he should ask his question and get out of the way. The Library of Congress organized the Festival, but the People were in charge. 

The Festival mirrored the same inclusion and acceptance that Lazarus spoke of, which I believe is the most treasured value of Americans. The fact that this value is manifest at a book festival was a bit surprising, but it makes me hopeful for the future of books and democracy in America—two freedoms that are inextricably linked.

September 25, 2008

Banned Books Week - Cause for Celebration?

Why do we celebrate Banned Books Week? Well, it's a worthy celebration, but a more apt title would be "Freedom to Read Week" or "Freedom of Ideas Week." I think this topic is more complex than most readers acknowledge. It's no fun to celebrate a negative thing, but if that injustice is still pervasive in many parts of the world, then it's important for those of us who have the right to read as we choose to do so and to celebrate this right.

I learned this lesson through the lens of another issue: gay rights. I remember having a college professor look me in the eye and tell me he was not against gay rights but then he said unequivocally, "What I am not in favor of is gay pride!" He was a professor I respected and I think this really mixed me up for a while. I think what he meant was that this is a difference we're entitled to, so why focus attention on it as if it's a virtue?....sounds a bit like Banned Books Week.

In the ten years since I graduated from college I have thought of that conversation many times and have come into my own in terms of challenging that professor should our paths meet again: so long as gay rights are not universal, I applaud any and all celebration of the rights that are secure for the gay community (which, by the way, are not if we didn't know). Gays in Israel and Palestine need to see Americans celebrating this difference so they can at least have a distant glimmer of hope for their own situation. (Sorry for this diversion into non-library matters. I just watched Freedom on the Rocks.)

But when I promoted this post last week I called it "I can think of worse things than banning books..." and I can. What is the real problem with banning books (there is one, this is not a rhetorical question)? The problem is that the people for whose supposed benefit the books are burned do not see the power play in progress: if a book is banned or burned, it's probably a book I want to have. So the real injustice is either people not knowing that or not having any recourse to obtain the information being banned.

In this month's Harper's there is a great article that finally confirmed for me that I am not the only one thinking along these lines, although I admit it is totally unconventional. [I also highly recommend (for what that's worth) the article entitled The Western Cannon by Jason Armagost.] John Leonard, in his review of A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, brilliantly points out that, "The fact that 15 million books were destroyed in Poland from 1939 through 1941 is not the most important thing to know about the Holocaust."

Celebrating the freedom to read is fantastic, and working for greater freedoms everywhere is even more fantastic. From where I sit that means increasing access to transportation for the sick, elderly, working poor, veterans and people with disabilities. So I think there are greater lessons to be learned from Banned Books Week than those contained between the covers of a codex. What do you think?

September 16, 2008


Okay, I have avoided this topic long enough. For several months my "Coming Soon" sidebar has promised a post on whether I am embedded or not. While I am not ready to reconstruct my blog with a new address (I originally tried for "Sassy Librarian," but that was taken), I am ready to open myself up to the possibility that, as many have suggested, I am not, in fact, embedded, but "only" a special, solo librarian in as traditional a sense as that job can be.

I have tried to remember where I originally heard the term "embedded librarian" and why I grew to see this position that way. I remember that the first time I heard Susan Fifer Canby's brilliant notion that "special librarians work in the white spaces of the organizational chart" was when her colleague Karen Huffman addressed my Information Systems class last fall. Perhaps I have confounded the terms "special librarian" and "embedded librarian," and perhaps the latter term is too young to warrant a full-on debate of my status.

Mary Talley and Dave Shumaker are currently researching this topic through an SLA research grant. Their survey takes into account organizational structure, proximity to physical library resources, administrative reporting requirements (i.e. is your boss a librarian?), and other criteria that will eventually lead to an operational definition of embeddedness, or at least a cogent spectrum of models of embeddedness. While the vast majority of my Google alerts on "embedded librarian" return tales of academic instruction librarians embedded in Freshman Composition courses and accounts of media librarians embedded with subject specialists, I still feel a pull toward the moniker because of the structure of my position within this organization.

I work with transportation people. We have a dozen or so technical assistance specialists, a webmaster, a finance department, and me. I do manage a print library but that is a very small part of my job. I am not exactly part of the "program staff," but I am more involved with the substance of what we do than the accountants and the webmaster. My boss has tasked me with becoming a "content generalist." So far, maybe I am just a solo special librarian in a very small organization that is going digital. But consider this....

My salary comes from three separate federal grants, each of which calls for a part-time information specialist to carry out its strategic goals. My primary project, which determines who my supervisor is and how I spend most of my time, is to provide information services to a National Resource Center that is housed at our organization. The National Resource Center team consists of six staff people: five program staff and me. While in our team meetings, I feel I am the quintessential "embedded librarian." I am a full-fledged member of the team, but I have funding through them because they need an information specialist. Parts of what I do may not be considered library-like, but all my tasks can be improved by drawing on my library science education.

So where does that leave me? We may have to wait for Shumaker and Talley to publish their study before making an informed decision. In the meantime, I hope this topic will encourage the blog-comment-activity I have tried unsuccessfully to encourage on this site, but which will be a nice primer before I draft my "Controversial Topics" posts later this fall.

September 3, 2008

Back to School Series: Part I

Over the next few weeks I will be chronicling the juxtaposition of my two fall courses, History of the Book and Foundations of Digital Libraries. So far, the overlap is clear. Both professors, in different buildings, on different days, in different quadrants of the District--and they have different native languages and home countries--uttered this maxim: "There is nothing new under the sun." Professor Delfino drove this message home by tearing up a copy of From Fields of Gold by Alexandra Ripley, and then having us narrate our reactions as he pulled the pages from the spine. We learned that our feelings about destroying an "old" medium would likely not be replicated by watching him delete an electronic text file, but there would still be some analogous loss. There is nothing new under the sun. The issues we are dealing with with e-books are not so different from the issues we dealt with when transitioning from orality to literacy. We also learned that we are still in said transition (and we got to play with a Kindle!). Perhaps the most important moment in class was when Professor Delfino said, "Wikipedia is a fact of life." Later in the semester each student will fact-check and enhance the content of a Wikipedia entry about publishing.

Professor Choi wisely made us go all the way back to Vannevar Bush's As We May Think to ground our study of digital libraries and prepare us mentally for the digital collections project that will account for most of our semester grade. We got one hell of a history lesson from her on Day 1, which occurred conveniently less than 24 hours after Delfino's dramatic spectacle. There is nothing new under the sun. As humans we will continue to create and synthesize content, and then automate access to that content, whether our medium be digital libraries, hypercard stacks, or compact shelving.

Stay tuned for more confluence and collision as I navigate my penultimate semester of library and information science!

August 25, 2008

Transferable Skills Part 2: From Linguist to Librarian

In my former life I was a linguist, or at I least aspired to be. I wouldn't describe this as a complete waste of time (even though I hurried back to school to get my MLS after only two years on the job market with my MA in linguistics). Au contraire...studying syntax got me into programming, and programming got me interested in information science.

One of my favorite topics in linguistics, and the fastest way to explain the field to those who think it is the work of William Safire, is to describe the interplay between prescriptive and descriptive approaches to language use. In a nutshell, look up the word unique in the American Heritage dictionary and compare what you find there with the Oxford English Dictionary's entry for the same word. Not all dictionaries are created equal. Linguists can create a whole curriculum based on dictionary comparisons...but does the average person even know who wrote his or her dictionary?

The same can be said of search engines. People like to claim that their information came from an authoritative source, without knowing much about that authority. "Google said so" is not a far cry from "it says so in the dictionary." Get to know your sources. There is more than one way to write a dictionary and build a search algorithm and to the lay person these distinctions are often overlooked. There are ways of diplomatically explaining this and reaping the benefits of all sources. It starts by acknowledging that there is more than one place to go for information.

But it begs the question: is there truth, or is there only information? What do you think?

August 13, 2008

Guest Blogger Steve Jeffery: How Job Hunting is Different for the Non-Traditional Librarian

Steven Jeffery is an embedded subject specialist librarian at a state agency who is finishing his MLIS at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. His interests include information architecture/organization as well as web development.
As I was looking at signing up for my last three classes in the fall I decided to take a bold step and start looking for a full time job prior to graduating. I did this for two important reasons. The first was cost. As I calculated it I would be far better off financially to find a full time job and spread out my last few classes than to continue in grad school full time through the rest of the 2008 calendar year. The second reason was that I could. I was enrolled in a program that offered both on-site and on-line coursework, making the transition completely seamless. From there I had to decide what I was going to do. I am something of a self-taught IT generalist and I wanted to work in an environment where those skills would be utilized. Along with this I recognized that most library environments were not dynamic enough to hold my interest. Beyond this I was really not at all certain what I wanted to do or where I wanted to work.

My first step in my job hunt was to get advice from my professors and to work on my resume (which you can find if your Google-fu is strong). The immediate problem that I encountered in getting advice is that most professors in my program had been in academia for at least five years and few had any experience with non-traditional librarianship. This is not to say that they were not able to provide advice (and a couple of them were fantastic) but I had to disregard much of it as being not applicable in the corporate world. One example of this would be volunteer service. Public librarians in particular will emphasize the importance of having experience in a library setting. In the public environment this may be true, but in special libraries (and the corporate environment in particular) its value is much degraded. While doing this I was also trying to improve my resume. I recognized that most jobs I would be applying for would be at larger corporations and so I attempted to tailor my resume to this. The largest issue I ran into was that few people could fully understand my background. People in IT would ask where my programming skills and project management background were emphasized, because to many of them that is the extent of IT. Librarians would ask about my volunteer service and cataloging work. Those in business would read through it and not understand more than every few words (and miss the concepts entirely). I never did find a good solution to this, but I think the final result was acceptable. After this I began my job search.

Living in a major city at the time I used a number of different job boards. My list of these and comments are below:
  • Indeed – Probably the best as well as the easiest to use.

  • Monster – Overall it was pretty good but failed in many cases because the more entry-level/early career jobs tend not to be posted here (probably due to the cost of posting)

  • Milwaukee Jobs – Terrible sorting of results but was overwhelmingly the best for local jobs

  • CareerBuilder – I believe the only thing I ever got out of here was spam

  • Dice – Helpful but most of the jobs are heavily programming oriented

Once I had my list of sites I then conducted regular searches based on a keyword list (developed from my resume). I tried to do the searches twice a week, usually on Wednesday and Sundays. I would conduct the search for the keyword and open all of the jobs that were a possibility in a new tab. When I was done with the site I would quickly browse through every listing and print* all of those that were a strong possibility. Finally, I would thoroughly go through each and apply to those that I was interested in. This also helped when interviewing so that I could know exactly what had been communicated. In addition to this I kept a spreadsheet containing the company, job title, posting date, submission date, submission format, etc.

There are daily stories in the news about the state of the economy and the difficulty in finding jobs but from what I saw this is not true for this industry. Those businesses that recognize a need for these skills are unlikely to not hire for them because of an economic downturn. Once someone begins and demonstrates their success, their position is much more secure both because of the niche factor (nobody is available to cover for the position) and hopefully the outcry from other employees that depend on the position. The position which I eventually took was not in the corporate world but in a government library. This was for a number of reasons but the most important was the challenge. The position was as a subject specialist at a library where none had ever been in any kind of similar role. And while the pay is low by most standards the opportunities and the challenges make it worth it.

* I would keep printed copies of all job postings and correspondence as postings tend to disappear after a few days to weeks.

August 1, 2008

Librarian as Patriot

I am patriotic. I am liberal. I am anti-war. And in what I feel is in no way contradictory, and in every way a natural outgrowth of these traits, I am a librarian. Libraries and librarians are two of the most enduring manifestations of American values and the American dream: inclusion, opportunity, free enterprise, freedom of information, education, free speech. Some things in life are free. Be one of those.

Sixty-six years ago, in a letter to SLA president Laura Woodward, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt heralded the work of special librarians as being "on America's front line." We can be. Are you? An oft-quoted part of that letter says special librarians do their work "anonymously and unsung." While this is a fitting tribute to many, there is no reason the anonymity has to continue. Express your librarianship, and your patriotism, with pride.

To those who know me it comes as no surprise that in my library office I have a large American flag, on the North wall, to its own right, as specified in flag code. Not only am I a patriot, I am a patriot who is not afraid to show it, and not afraid of those who think the flag, particularly since 9-11, belongs to the right or to those who openly support the current war(s). I have flown my flag since long before it was commonplace, and I will continue to do so even when the contemporary yet precarious popularity of flying it fades.

FDR's tribute is as timely as it is timeless, even if it means different things to different people.

Access to a transcription of FDR's letter appears in "Selective Publication of Information" by John Sherrod, on page 387 of the 55th Anniversary issue of Special Libraries, July-August 1964, volume 55, number 6.

July 28, 2008

Information Empowerment

What are you doing to empower others to access and use information for the benefit of your organization's mission? Consider asking to be included on various work groups' conference calls, ask for a "spotlight" in the organization's newsletter, or request five minutes on someone's meeting agenda. Add a "Meet the Librarian" blurb to your organization's website and/or the intranet. Keep it short and sweet: describe the information products and services you offer, be open to feedback, and solicit training suggestions (keep in mind that some employees will prefer group training and others will prefer one-on-one training). Let them know you are there! And smile....

July 21, 2008

Ready About? Transferable Skills for the Embedded Librarian

Yesterday I sailed for the first time in my life. And I mean, I sailed. My boss, whose boat I had the pleasure of sailing on through the Chesapeake Bay, let me steer for a while. All I had to do was choose a fixed point on the horizon and pretend I was guiding the boat toward it. Easier said than done, but it worked. And with a little more practice, the feel of the delay and the muscle memory will help me steer much better. Knowing yoga proved to be an excellent transferable skill for steering a sloop (and spending a few hours with sailors transfers well to crossword puzzling). Guiding the steering wheel was very much like learning tree pose (vrikshasana): choose a fixed point; breathe in; remember your objective; breathe out.

Object, inhale. Objective, exhale.

If your job description is fluid, know what you know, and be ready to demonstrate it if asked. Most librarians have had other careers, and so they have other skills. Use them. Bruce Rosenstein uses this model for marketing specifically, but it works for librarianship in general:
  • Know what you can do.

  • Tell them you can do it.

  • Do it.

  • Tell them what you did.
Yesterday I steered my boss' boat, and although I was only able to maintain this for five minutes, he was watching, so he knows I am capable. He also knows that I have been trained on advanced layout techniques in Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, just to give one concrete example, so if the opportunity arises for me to get into more publication work here (or publish my own library newsletter!), I'll be ready, and he'll know that I'm equal to the task.

Will you be ready if your boss asks you to steer?

July 14, 2008

Beyond 2.0: The Internet Librarian Conference 2008

Get ready for the 2008 Internet Librarian conference! This year's theme is Beyond 2.0: User-Focused Tools & Practices. Pre-conference workshops offer everything from advanced search techniques and social networking for libraries to a two-day K-12 track for school librarians.

The conference, to be held in Monterey, California, will feature many of the biggest names in the Library 2.0 world, including SLA President Stephen Abram, Information Broker Mary Ellen Bates, and Sophia Guevara of the Kellogg Foundation. Special sessions include webmetrics exploration using Google Analytics, and library automation (a hot topic this year)! Also, don't miss the exhibit hall with representatives from top vendors and i-schools. A great place to network and pick up some S.W.A.G. ("stuff we all get").

Be there or.....attend virtually, by following the conference wiki and blog.

June 28, 2008

Postcard from Copyright Camp

This week I am attending the Institute on Intellectual Property Issues in Library and Information Centers at the Library of Congress. We are learning from such reknowned experts as Kenny Crews, Donna Ferullo, Marybeth Peters, Georgia Harper, Seth Watkins, Scott Bain, Cindy Weber , Dave Shumaker, Kim Kelley and Beth Winston.

Thursday's Supreme Court ruling regarding the DC handgun ban, in addition to coming from within shouting distance of LC, set an interesting backdrop for our discussion of DRM and fair use. Shall we go with what we think the framers intended two hundred years ago or shall we interpret the law in today's context? Some contemporary issues in which the fair use doctrine, section 107 of USC 17 (The Copyright Act), impacts library and information services include digitizing public domain works, preservation of library materials, the TEACH Act, and section 1201 of the DMCA regarding anti-circumvention technologies.

We also visited the Institute for Museum and Library Services where we heard from Kaydian Smith about the inherent tension's between WIPO's stance on protected cultural expresions from indigenous communities and UNESCO's draft provisions for preservation and dissemination of those expressions.

June 17, 2008

A Tribute to Iowa Libraries

During the two years I lived in Iowa, I probably spent half my waking hours at one of three local libraries: the main library on the east campus of the University of Iowa, the downtown Iowa City Public Library, and the Coralville Public Library, which was three blocks from my house. Both the campus and the community are blessed to have a very strong library system with competent, caring people behind the reference desk.

At the campus library, I spent hours in the east wing of the 4th floor, near the P118s and such...tracking down books for the professor I served as a research assistant. When you are that high up in the library, especially on the far east side near the windows overlooking the education building, the Iowa wind can be so strong, whipping as it does on the old campus buildings, that you can barely concentrate. Rows of study carrels give way to doctoral students' cubicles (a little nicer, with cabinets), and at the end of the wing you'll find small offices with closing doors for visiting scholars. Near the central corridor of the 3rd floor are the bound theses and dissertations that always greeted me with a rather foreboding presence as I made my way toward the serials starting with "J."

At the Iowa City Public Library, which opened a completely remodeled branch while I lived there, I attended a City forum in which citizens were asked for public comment on proposed redevelopment of the downtown area, specifically looking at mixed-use buildings. The community rooms in this library probably get as much use as the stacks and newspapers. Active civic engagement is a big part of Iowa City life, and the library--located in the center of the pedestrian mall--is a huge part of that lifestyle. From the main reading room you can look out over the ped mall summer concerts, Marco's Grilled Cheese stand, and a group of Hacky Sackers playing and skating in front of the Tobacco Bowl.

The Coralville Public Library is where I tutored an African friend who was learning to read and trying to make it as an immigrant in Southeast Iowa. The librarians always helped us find a quiet corner where we could work together and still be able to talk at normal volume. The video collection and large print chapter books were great literacy aids that were offered to us. We also spent a great deal of time across from the reference desk, learning how to use an atlas one week, an encyclopedia the next, and always looking up a few words in various dictionaries before leaving each time. The reference desk greets you right as you walk in, and they have a great view of the community display case which, in the time I lived there, featured such important community groups as La Leche League, a local cancer support group, and of course, information on the local farmers market, which met just behind the library, often with live music in the summer. My husband started a magazine writing class with the help of the Coralville Public Library, and was still dependent on their assistance and their Internet connection when he had his first short story published. We will forever be indebted to Iowa Libraries!

Hold a good thought for the people, and the libraries, in these communities.

June 10, 2008

Postcard from New Orleans

At our annual conference last week, I proudly introduced myself as "the librarian," since our staff is pretty small and newcomers were easily spotted by members and board members. I was told more than once that I did not look like a librarian, but never during my session on social bookmarking, which garnered much interest, enthusiasm, and yes, praise (that's just for me to keep in mind for my performance review)!

The link between and our members' notions of what the company librarian does was easy to forge-I began by saying that librarians organize information and, based on the system they use to organize it (be it a card catalog or a account), they use that system to find the information later. So far, so good. The presentation came through almost more easily than the wiki presentation, so needless to say we sent a message. The best part was being able to tell the audience, some of whom were just learning to use Google, that we are only one step ahead of them so we will continue to reach out to them and help them expand their skills as we expand ours.

Key to both presentations were the Common Craft videos expertly produced by Sachi and Lee Lefever. And during a session I was attending, I was lucky enough to receive an email from Lee Lefever himself! Thank you, Lee Lefever. We couldn't do it without you.

May 28, 2008

Work your Wiki Magic

I cannot say enough about how Sachi & Lee Lefever's Common Craft Show has enriched my start as an embedded librarian. It takes a genius to explain things so simply! I don't think anyone had ever even whispered the word "wiki" before I came and now the office is abuzz with ideas on to integrate this very simple technology into our daily routines to manage even the most complex of federal grant projects. Wiki-wiki! It's all happening so fast.

Next week I get to present this and other Web 2.0 tricks to our Association's membership at our annual conference. To all those who said this place would never let me do more than "shake people's hands," beware...I am taking Louisiana by storm and changing the world one wiki at a time!

Don't worry, I will definitely send a postcard! Keep smiling and get those wikis up and running...

May 21, 2008

Embedded, for Better or Worse

Has being an embedded or solo librarian got you down? Try using your natural personality and characteristics to enrich your performance. I find that so much of how to do this job comes from how I can do it differently from how anyone else would do it. Not better or worse, but it's a strange phenomenon to be a librarian sans library, so figure out what it will mean for you and be that.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting many young librarians, some of them solo and/or embedded, at DC-SLA's new member reception. We compared notes on what it means to be embedded with the content people but not be one ourselves, and on the challenge of getting to know each staff member's individual needs to be able to deliver appropriate results. Although it is cliche, it is always good to remember that one size does not fit all, and probably never will.

I imagine there is another way to do the job I am doing, but the longer I stay and the better I fit, I find it hard to imagine doing another job quite so well. The likelihood of there being a better fit for me is waning. And while I know that lunchtime euchre and practical jokes are not in my job description, I cannot imagine doing this job quite so well without those daily opportunities to enrich office relationships.

Take advantage of outreach opportunities - however informal - so you can be YOU where you are, and in so doing, hone the most important skill you bring to your job. As Andrew Pace posted yesterday, "Knowing others well has always served me better than being well known." And smile!

May 13, 2008

Meeting of the Minds

Three tips for running an effective meeting:
  • have an agenda with a goal printed at the top of it;
  • have a time limit for the meeting, if not for each agenda topic;
  • make sure all attendees are clear on the action items they are leaving the meeting with.
Three tips for being an effective participant:
  • limit your notes to your own to-do items unless you are the designated notetaker;
  • if you are one who tends to say too much in meetings, limit your contributions to three comments or questions; if you are one who tends to say too little, try to make at least three contributions, however small, before the end of the meeting
  • listen! listening is a form of participation that counts twice as much as speaking if you do it well; as an active listener you may be called upon to restate what has or has not been said if the conversation goes in circles.
Three tips for being an effective meeting observer:
  • listen! be aware of the group dynamics;
  • be aware of where the conversation is going with regard to the stated goals or agenda for the meeting;
  • take detailed notes from a "stranger's" perspective; make sure your notes are clear with regard to what has been decided, what action items were assigned and to whom, and what issues remain unresolved.
Planning and running a good meeting--even a short team round-up or regroup--is an art! Running a bad meeting is SO EASY. Have your meeting be a good one!

May 9, 2008


It's been a delicious week! After feeling that my lack of hardware and networking knowledge were keeping me from making a significant contribution to our tech team, I offered some training on the "softer side" of technology, the human-computer interactions that I feel more confident talking about than server interruptions....and they bought it! Our webmaster got very excited about social bookmarking and added the following tools to each page of our website:, digg, reddit, and StumbleUpon. We are also planning to do staff training on next week, and I was asked to give a training about search tips and Web 2.0 basics at our annual conference. In just my fifth month here I have been able to share my skills and win the respect of the major players. And I smiled throughout!

I am only really one step ahead of everyone on using, but taking that first step--especially for some of our staff and partners who may not be very comfortable with technology--is the most important step so I can help them along the way, provide support, and empower them. So far I have been tagging as many sites as I can, which is easy since I probably access upwards of one hundred sites on a typical work day. I started with the basic categories one might expect, but I am also finding it useful to tag sites with staff members' names so I can later go back and find the sites I used for a particular research request. I am also going to suggest to staff that they tag sites with the date they are using them in case they work better by thinking chronologically. Another good tip is to tag a site by the format of the document, such as PDF or PPT.

By tagging sites with how YOU will be most likely to try to retrieve them later, you are in essence creating your own search engine. Tags are not the only way to create your own search engine, though. Google actually has a tool that allows you to do this. Stay tuned to learn more about it!

April 30, 2008

Report from the Joint Spring Workshop

Yesterday I attended the DCLA/SLA Joint Spring Workshop at the Library of Congress. This year's topic was "Knowledge Management: What is the librarian's role?" After a keynote address by Susan Fifer Canby on what the National Geographic Society has done in the realm of knowledge management (or "KM" as we were all saying by the end of the day), we heard from a variety of librarians doing KM in a variety of settings, with different degrees of buy-in from non-library staff.

I learned that much of what I am doing here can be considered knowledge management. I am doing it at a very grassroots level -- trying to figure out who knows what, who needs what, how knowledge is shared within the organization, and how to think about capturing and systematizing some of these implicit policies for the benefit of the organization and beyond. I learned that KM is more about people and processes than it is about technology. I also learned that you can do information management without doing knowledge management, but not vice-versa.

The highlights of the workshop were interacting with area library professionals (and realizing that I am starting to know people at these events!), participating in a KM case study of the Department of State's Bunche Library KM efforts, and of course, meeting Susan Fifer Canby. I even worked up the courage to introduce myself and share my blog address.

The more I meet librarians, especially in the federal sector, and hear people talk about the imminent wave of retirements, the more blessed I feel to have chosen this field. Events such as the Joint Spring Workshop are key for us as librarians to do our own knowledge management to train the next generation of library and information professionals.

April 11, 2008

Was Burnham Wrong? (Or "These Things Take Time")

Daniel Burnham is known to have said, "Make no small plans." (This is a paraphrase. See Bartleby for the full reference.) In an urban planning context (Burnham's) I do not disagree, but what about for libraries? This week marks the end of my fourth month in this position and, while my dream of starting a digital library here looms large, I think the smaller the plans the better in my situation.

As my readers will agree, I entered bright-eyed and gung ho....diving headfirst into the white spaces on Day 1. Don't get me wrong--I have no regrets about this, but I have come to find that my foray into the white spaces has to be taken more deliberately. This organization has been around for a while and most of its employees have been with it for the long haul. So I have decided that I ought step back and learn what has come before a little more intensely and intently before charging ahead with my hopes and dreams. This comes as much from bruised naivete as it does from a confirmed desire to stay in this position for as long as I am able to. I have time, and I should use it.

In an earlier posting I proudly announced my intention to convert our library into a sacred space by the end of my first year. It is still my goal to make the resource room wheelchair-accessible, and to request some furniture to make the room more user-centered. The rest can wait, or can grow slowly. I've found that it's far more important for me to invest my time in the people here than in that room. It's easy to immerse myself in the seemingly endless flow of acquisitions and emails, but I now have the challenge of quiet networking, day by day and person by person, to better customize my services for each of our dozen or so technical assistance specialists. I seek to change one thing at a time, slowly, rather than find a panacea and shout it from the rooftops.

Anne Lamott has said of writing (I think she may have attributed it to someone else) that it's like driving at night with your headlights on: you can only see a few feet in front of you, but you can make the whole journey that way. I'm going to try it that way for a while and make no large plans.

April 3, 2008

There and Back Again: From Microscope to Telescope

The librarian's been busy!

The scope of my responsibilities here is very well-defined. I am a content (read CON-tent, although I am most definitely con-TENT, as well) generalist and since I have virtually no background in the subject matter we deal with, I can remain neutral, and focus on the process of information management. This is telescopic in nature as often as it is microscopic: I have to take a broad view of where we are going with our information products based on the minutiae of individual reference calls, research requests, and email complaints.

An ophthalmologist will tell you that the health of your eyes relies to some extent on the frequency and duration of your eyes' transition from far sight to close-up focus. When driving long distances, check your mirrors and speedometer at regular intervals, not just because this is a good idea, but it also gives your eyes a break from the sometimes monotonous and all-too-regular view of a low-traffic highway (I'm imagining driving West on interstate 80 from Chicago to Iowa City).

In my job I have to take these breaks when they come and recognize the importance of that transition. Some days I sit on my floor stuffing packets of materials for our representatives in the field. Sometimes I think a particular brochure should really be reworked to cater to a different audience. Other days I sit in meetings where we talk about our "web presence" and where we are going with information architecture.

My ocular health, as well as my integrity as an Information Specialist, relies on this back and forth rhythm from microscope to telescope. Myriad views provide myriad perspectives. I know all jobs probably have aspects of this, but as a librarian in the digital age I cannot imagine a more important job qualification than being able to oscillate between the close-up and far-away views and weaving it all together while riding the tide of the information flow. Keep your eye on the horizon and you won't get seasick! And smile.

March 14, 2008

Week 13: One Thing Led to Another...

Trust your intuition. But listen also to your counterintuition when it nags. My counterintuitive prospect of the week was this: enhance your job performance by volunteering elsewhere! I responded to an SLA solicitation for librarians to do volunteer data entry on the GoLocal project and, as you may have guessed, one thing led to another and I found myself in the white spaces again, making connections that were just waiting to surface.

GoLocal is a service for finding local resources for health-related issues. I answered the call for volunteers simply to get experience in librarianship outside the workplace, but as it turned out my GoLocal trainer, who had no idea my organization existed (nor I hers) was so interested in what we do here that I introduced her to some people here and everyone started trading contact names and URLs that will advance both our missions.

Spontaneous networking happens. Be open to it.
And smile!

February 28, 2008

Week 11: Perfection will not be tolerated!

In his book Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Marketing, Harry Beckwith devotes a whole chapter, albeit a two-page chapter, to the idea that perfection is not perfect (and another to the idea that failure is not failure). This idea has applications in fields as diverse as marketing, music, carpentry, and...librarianship! Beckwith introduces this idea in the context of sales and marketing: your clients do not necessarily want "the best" or perfection, but what they do want is competent, thorough work done. My brother who is a music teacher once said to parents in the midst of a concert, "Be proud of your children's is very hard to work toward something that you know you will never be able to perfect." My husband who is a carpenter said in his business the conventional wisdom has been, "Don't let the perfect get in the way of the very good," with the implication being (in each of these cases) that if you do, you will never move on.

My experience as a librarian so far has shown me that not only is perfection not expected, but it is often quite counterproductive. As I expressed in Week 6, much of this work is shoveling information. I use the word "shoveling" not to liken information to dirt (it's soil!) but to express the volume of it, as well as its granularity and precarious containment. You can do a great job shoveling, but there will always be residual spills, even tiny ones, and that's the bit that makes the difference between "perfect" and "very good."

I don't think I will ever find all the information I need, and even of what I find I may miss a link or two when I try to disseminate at the speed of light. It will never be perfect. Our goal should be "very good" - timing, coverage, depth, and attitude. We're capable of that, and it's a good goal. So put on a good smile, not a perfect one, and keep shoveling!

February 20, 2008

Week 10: Librarian Out and About

I've been away, but for good reason. My organization has seen fit to send me to the same professional development trainings offered to other staff. Last week we learned effective methods of focused conversation, action planning, consensus building, and other facilitation skills expertly packaged and taught by the Institute of Cultural Affairs. This training is part of the "Technology of Participation" training curriculum, a fitting phrase for anyone committed to both service and cutting-edge technology, as librarians tend to be. In addition to the great opportunity to spend more time with co-workers (extending my white space endeavors "off campus"), I was glad to be included in this training opportunity. My supervisors saw the value in this, so they can be congratulated for not trying to keep me in the library, but rather out "there" with everyone else in our office environment. The leaders of the training session, on the other hand, wondered what the librarian was doing out and about...I guess our efforts at redefining the profession's image have to happen always and everywhere.

I've also been asked to be deputy webmaster, another nod toward getting me involved and recognizing the contribution I could make to our web presence. Although I will not name my employer for reasons of anonymity, I want to salute their forward thinking in affording me so many important opportunities! I will continue to blog, if for no other reason than to serve as an exemplar not just for new special librarians, but also to chronicle what the ideal organization does to onboard a special librarian. Take this to your employer and demand inclusion! (And smile when you do.)

February 1, 2008

Week 7: Spinning Webs

What does it mean to process library acquisitions in a world of free information? My regular readers (I'm ever the optimist) will note that my Acquisitions Processed count to the right doesn't climb nearly as fast as my Research Requests count. So how do I deliver research results?

My organization's constituents want and need free, web-based information almost exclusively. In the rare event that we possess a document not freely available on the web, we put it on the web and then publish the URL, as long as the document is not confidential or proprietary. So, needless to say, this is not your grandmother's library!

My job is not so much acquiring documents as it is knowing what exists "out there" and then making sure others who need to know about a given topic get the appropriate resource alerts. Of course, URL listings periodically need to be checked and updated, so my responsibilities are much more in the realm of spinning and maintaining webs of information than tending to the physical library -- so much so that I feel our physical library should be renamed the "Resource Room" toward the aim of thinking of our "Library" as a set of services. This week those services included suggesting a webcast as one of the best ways to coordinate outreach to our partnering organizations on an issue for which they are desperately looking to us to provide leadership and guidance.

Spinning these web often feels like spinning plates. It takes a lot of energy but it is also energizing. Keep spinning and smiling!

January 24, 2008

Week 6: Shoveling and Gardening

You'd be amazed what you'll find when trolling the AARP discussion boards! This week I provided some key information to our overall efforts by noting a somewhat buried comment posted months ago and then politely inquiring if my boss or his boss or "we" as an organization were aware of it. As it happens, this was not on anyone's radar and I got to deliver the news personally to some of our board members. This week I have earned the title "Information Specialist."

Much of what I do feels like shoveling and gardening. I probably get as much mail as the CEO and accounting department combined. I categorize it, I pore over it, then I dissect it into web blurbs, resource alerts, quick updates in the hallway, and notes to file away in the white spaces. As librarians we need keen radars, need to cast a wide net, and need to be able to zero in quickly, accurately, diplomatically, and instinctively. I shovel newsletters from one inbox to another, to another, to the library throughout this process. I had to weed flowers a lot growing up (and hated it!), and the best parts of this work feel like weeding. There is so much information out there, and we have to pare down all the useless bits so the flowers will bloom.

Keep weeding, keep shoveling, and smile.

January 18, 2008

Week 5: Other Duties as Assigned

This week I was invited to be a member of the Tech Team here, which is a victory for special librarians everywhere. I have wanted to be on it since I heard about it, and would have invited myself after about 6 months, but I am very glad I was invited by the Team leader. I will be helping with software decisions and training, and any other tech issues that come up in our 30-person office. One of the major roles of the Tech Team is to keep our Blackberries running. We all have Blackberries, and there are no real phones here. It's a very interesting way of communicating both in and outside of the office.

There is a certain amount of meeting planning involved in my job. I don't mind this. I feel it is a natural outgrowth of being service-oriented, forming relationships with all the key players (and the lesser-known worker bees), and making sure that information flows freely. Just being in charge of the sign-in sheet is a big advantage in my quest to know who's who and keep the right people informed on the right topics. This week I attended a federal meeting as notetaker and was just as captivated by the content as I was by the dynamic among feds and non-profits coming together.

The research requests keep on coming and I am happy to help. I have also started a Strength/Weakness/Opportunity/Threat marketing analysis of the library on my white board in my office. I'm a bit sheepish about it, just in case someone who comes into my office asks what it's all about, but I know they need to be included and I have to open up my thought process to everyone else's ideas and scrutiny. After all, it's their library!

January 11, 2008

Week 4: Library Matters

This week I have had the opportunity to do many things I am learning about in library school including many annotated bibliographies, intelligent web research, processing TONS of acquisitions and tracking down an article when all you have is a vague idea of the date, author and subject (this one was my favorite)! So far it feels very much as my professors have told me: I have to be flexible, alert, polite, patient, a counselor at times, a hostess at times, and always "at your service."

I had the opportunity yesterday to participate in my first webcast for librarians in my subspecialty. It's a "roundtable" that shares ideas, tips, and materials requests through a list-serve and also holds monthly presentations online to showcase various work in this area. I intended to just be a lurker, but it's a pretty tight-knit group, so they knew I was new and asked me to introduce myself. I was warmly welcomed and several people followed up with me "offline" to introduce themselves and see if they can be of assistance to me. Based on my limited time in the profession, I would have to say that in general, librarians are kind people!

I continue to develop good relationships with new people in the office and have so far succeeded at every random task and goose chase I've been asked to undertake. The Easy Button hits just keep on coming. The physical library is also taking shape as I gradually remove materials that don't belong there and wade through the ones that do. My vision for making it a user-centered and handicap-accessible library is slowly forming and I made several new year's resolutions in this vein. Stay tuned for news of a planned needs assessment and soliciting input from the white spaces! And, of course, smile.