September 21, 2009

Inspiration from BBAW: Book Blogger Appreciation Week

This just in from one of my new favorite blogs, Color Online.

"Setting Goals! Write in 50 words or less…what do you like best about your blog right now and where would you like your blog to be a year from now?"

I like it that I write only when I have something to say and I do not reproduce what others have said without my own contributions and context.

A year from now I hope to be able to say something about my job performance since my graduation from library school. [50 words]

August 26, 2009

The Huff-And-Puff Syndrome

I was recently asked to speak to students in a reference class at the Catholic University of America, my alma mater. I had some talking points but I try to remember all the wisdom I absorbed from guest speakers in library school and it usually came in the form of one or two quippy pearls that either arose spontaneously or were stories whose morals were easy to grab on to and keep hold of. As much as I wanted to have good, well-planned and clear things to say about my job, I also wanted to give those students something they would remember, the way I remember the four most important things I heard in library school. (These are not necessarily the four most important things I learned, but things that I heard, and remember, almost verbatim.) Here they are:
  • Gary Price: "Find out who has that information and call that place; if I could only have one print source it would be the Encyclopedia of Associations. " (on the notion that the web will only get you so far)
  • Kimberly Ferguson: "Have a wish-list of 'shovel-ready' projects at the ready in case of a funding surplus. " (on being a good manager, and getting cool stuff sometimes!)
  • Susan Fournier: "When in doubt, ask another librarian. " (on what to do when you are stuck)
  • Bruce Rosenstein: "Know what you can do. Tell them what you can do. Do it. Tell them what you did." (on self-marketing)
If I had had more time with these students, I would have shared all this, but I was on a panel and trying not to monopolize, so I told them two things.

Thing #1 was the story of interviewing for this job and having the fortuitous opportunity to quote Susan Fifer Canby when asked what the role of a special librarian is. (I proudly - and probably with a bit too much enthusiasm - replied that special librarians "work in the white spaces of the organizational chart.") I hope the students remember this story.

Thing #2 was my introduction of a short article I handed out. "Libraries in a Digital Age" was written by Rita Evans and appeared in the March-April issue of TR News, a publication for transportation research professionals (it begins on page 12 of the linked magazine issue). I told the students that for them (as opposed to the typical audience of this publication) the points Evans makes in the articles would not seem revolutionary (especially given their excellent preparation at CUA's School of Library and Information Science!). Know your users, anticipate their information needs, have a service-orientation. What is notable is that we still have to, and will continue to have to, communicate this message to our users. This will never go away. And acting as if it has gone away inevitably leads us to what I am calling the "Huff-And-Puff Syndrome."

When I was a library school student, which was not that long ago, I found it easy to be optimistic and idealistic about our field. I rejected with disdain the "angry librarian" T-shirts that said things like "Librarians: The Original Google" in favor of more encouraging and entertaining slogans such as "Peace Through Librarianship" and "She blinded me with library science." But here I am, not four months past graduation, and I sometimes feel I am becoming a "Huff-And-Puff" librarian who laments the passing of print and resents my users' (occasional) lack of appreciation for my work. Huff, Puff, Don't You Know What Your Library Can Do For You?! Well, maybe they don't.

Flying solo? I think half our time might be spent explaining the business of the library and the other half might be spent actually conducting the business of the library. But as Evans' article points out, if done well, these can be one in the same. Sooooo......the next time someone asks me to set up the projector, I might Huff And Puff and want to scream that that isn't my job. Or I might use that opportunity to teach. And maybe I will even draw up a little instruction sheet on how to connect the projector and slip it into the case so that the technology always comes with instruction. Brought to you by your library!

July 31, 2009

Get Your Gardener On

In an earlier post I described this job as "shoveling and gardening," affectionately of course. Today I had one of those pleasant convergence moments when three sources of information (one human, one analog, and one digital) were all telling me the same undeniable thing: Trying to do it all is not heroic; it is simply ineffective.

The first source was librarian James A. Jacobs, whom I heard speak at ALA in a session on Obama's information policy. In addition to all Jacobs' wisdom on how the "new" information must be able to be not only retrieved but also "used, re-used, and re-mixed," Jacobs said this very important thing: "A focused collection is an information service; an unfocused or overwhelming collection is a disservice to the user." The former is my new mantra; I don't think the latter refers to any collection in particular, but it may as well.

The second source was Bruce Rosenstein's new book, Living in More Than One World, in which Rosenstein quotes Peter Drucker as having said, "People are effective because they say "no," not because they say "yes."" The third, which I cannot quite connect the dots on yet, was a song by Adrienne Young and Little Sadie called "Plow to the End of the Row." But maybe I just like that song and I happened to be listening to a licensed digital copy of it when this all came together for me. The weeding is just as essential as the planting and don't let anyone tell you different!

Flying solo? Choose a focus. Better yet, ask your users what you should focus on. I spent a little time weeding our print library today and was trying to think of an interesting way to write about it for the "Library Day in the Life" initiative. The print library usually leaves me uninspired and daunted because I have never devoted the time to it that I think it deserves. Plagued by the notion that my predecessors kept the print collection in tip-top shape, I often wonder why I have relegated it to something I only do on overcast Friday afternoons when I need to get up from my desk and do something physical to make it to five o'clock. But while I was in there I realized that there is no way I could maintain that collection perfectly and still be out and about in all the ways that have helped me get to know my users. There are entire weeks when I never even go in the library because I work in my office, in other people's offices hearing about their projects, and in my team's weekly meetings and conference calls.

If I had one piece of advice for another solo librarian it would be this: Know your users. If the print collection does not serve them (or if they are just not interested) then you are not only allowed to "neglect" it a bit; you probably should. Be where they are. I have never shied away from asking people, "So, what are you working on?" and my boss tends to think this is a strength! Figure out which things you need to say no to today and it will reveal the YES opportunities very clearly. Lee LeFever wrote about this in terms of "being lightweight" and contemporary Buddhist writings often refer to this as having more "white space" in one's life. There is also a great passage in Romancing the Ordinary where the author recommends "losing something every day." I highly recommend it!

July 21, 2009

A Word of Warning About Web 2.0

Librarians are agog about Web 2.0 and this is a double-edged sword. Yes, we should embrace these tools for what they are worth, but that requires knowing what they are worth. Try everything, but be a skeptic. In other words - be a skeptic, but try everything. (Put the emphasis wherever you like.)

Don't like Twitter? That's fine, but find out about it in case someone asks you how it works or whether your organization should be using it. The same goes for Facebook and the like. Blogs are a technology that have finally been seen as independent of the content they were first used to communicate (i.e. rants). "Blog" is no longer a loaded term that sends people into fits. I think we are in a similar transition with Twitter, and it takes longer in some communities of users than in others. Twitter has enormous potential, especially for use in conferences, but we will have to get past the initial enthusiasm and opposition, listen to the skeptics, and then all sit down together to say, "Yes, this is cool, now what?"

Flying solo? Do not take it upon yourself to single-handedly convert your organization into a Twittering mass or to set up a Facebook presence without a clear goal in mind and a plan to sustain your page's activity. What you should take upon yourself is the responsibility of knowing that these tools are considered "the new books" by some - a way of transmitting information, so by all means the librarian should be knowledgeable about them.

The best way to be a resource to your organization is to know your organization, know these tools, and then be able to explain all sides of the application of these tools to your organization's mission. In our case, I am drafting a proposal for using Twitter heavily at our next annual conference but I will be sure to include all the potential disadvantages, such as how to appropriately launch this with our rural audiences for whom broadband access and mobile devices are not as ubiquitous as they are in DC (and how to establish Twitter etiquette in conference sessions).

Remember, don't use a Web 2.0 tool if it's not the best tool for the job. Also, make sure all your social networking tools are fully accessible. See the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s white paper on this topic for model policies.

June 30, 2009

Knowledge MicroManagement

Welcome to Knowledge MicroManagement 101! I don't know about you, but the "unit of analysis" of the information I organize is not usually at the book or journal article level. It is very often at the level of an email, a conversation, and sometimes even a Tweet!

Flying solo? Add value by tracking and documenting everything. If your mantra is, "I am here to make people's job easier,"** then you will find tons of ways to make lasting contributions. Just remember that the knowledge you are managing is often bite-sized.

Exhibit A: It occurs to me that I never blogged about one of my shining moments, because it seemed lackluster at the time and because I was not blogging very regularly. I was helping one of our workteams edit some documents and they had been comparing color samples side by side on sheets of paper (!). I taught them about RGB color recipes (skipped the hexadecimal web safe color lecture because people don't always want to know all that), and looked up what the exact color balance was in their logo. Then I made a document for them (at left, click to enlarge) with the color values, sent it to everyone, saved it in a logical place, and inserted the filename and path on the document itself so anyone finding a print version of it in a pile somewhere would be able to instantly call up the electronic version.

Exhibit B: I mentioned last week that I was helping with a file management survey to help plan a tech training. This type of survey would vary greatly from one organization to the next, but here is an image of what I was using. (Click to enlarge or email me for a copy.)

The big stuff: Our accessibility statement is up! I am happy to report a BIG VICTORY FOR THE WHITE SPACES! I successfully navigated the revisions and approval process for this statement and its linked web accessibility resources page, and I am helping to adapt it for use on other sites we manage. It is not perfect, so please let me know if you notice anything that could be improved.

And keep smiling!

**There was a long discussion on the SLA Solos list-serve about "other duties as assigned." More on that later.

June 18, 2009

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

SLA motivated me to recommit to this blog and perhaps make my second attempt to restructure it to facilitate a more regular posting schedule! What have I done as a solo lately?

1.) I helped eliminate some of the administrative tasks I resent by volunteering to restructure our phone tree, with the miscellaneous calls ("Dial 0 for assistance.") being rerouted to someone other than me; this was in the works - either as a complaint or a legitimate request for the higher-ups to approve - for quite some time, but I finally sat down, listened to the outgoing announcements over and over and mapped the current phone tree, then made a chart of "Current and Proposed" routing of calls by topic and got it all approved. Today we began recording the new announcements so that true reference questions still come to me but I no longer have to deal with employment verifications, sales calls, and various and sundry other secretarial business that NO ONE should have to deal with, especially not the information specialist, even if she be flying solo.
2.) I continued to revise the accessibility statement I hope to have posted on our websites; reviews and various approvals are still pending.

3.) I made "Display copy only; for information on how to obtain a copy please contact..." stickers for our information booth at our annual conference; small but significant. I was horrified by how many vendors at SLA had scribbled "last copy do not take" on their display copies. This is a situation that should be anticipated, so I found myself thinking, "C'mon, a little class, please!"

4.) I successfully got 3 staff members Tweeting at our annual conference to demonstrate the rich potential this has for experiencing an event virtually. I am going to submit a Twitter proposal for our next annual conference mapping out exactly what the costs and benefits are and what we should think about in terms of training and publicity between now and next May to make it happen.

5.) I led "Finding Your Way Through the Internet Wilderness," a tech training session at our annual conference and even managed to fit in screenshots of the previous days' tweets to show people its potential for conferences (and real-time transit updates for that matter!). Google Alerts were also heavily encouraged in this session.
6.) I am experimenting with "lists" in Facebook so I can appropriately integrate my professional contacts into my personal space without subjecting them to, for instance, "Eileen had applesauce for breakfast and is listening to Morrissey." Does anyone know how to do this?? (The lists, I mean, not applesauce and Morrissey.) I now have four lists I can add friends to, but I cannot figure out how to make varied security settings correspond to each list.

7.) I have learned how to add and arrange content in our web system.

8.) I am taking an online course called "The Power of One: Information Professionals Working Alone" and I will definitely report back!

9.) I made a file management quiz for staff in preparation for a training I am organizing on file naming conventions and file management best practices in order to find out what they are currently doing before I plan the training.

10.) I am now tracking my "Google Alerts Sent," thanks to inspiration from Jim Byerly, Electronic Resources Librarian, at the Minnesota DOT Library. Thanks, Jim!

May 1, 2009


By popular demand, I am resurfacing. I may not be embedded, but I am still solo and going strong. Stay tuned for more news from the "Fourth Corner." Grassroots knowledge management, tagging experiments, budding web development skills and more Task Management 101 tips coming to you soon from!


February 23, 2009

Get to know ASCLA

Since its inception thirty years ago, the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) has sought to provide outreach to communities that may not already enjoy equal access to information, as well as to individual librarians in need of professional development and networking. While these two important goals may seem too different from one another as to constitute one association’s purpose, they are unified in terms of ASCLA’s commitment to consolidate and coordinate the many library networks that exist at both the state and national level, and streamline these networks for the benefit of all library user groups.
ASCLA accomplishes its dual purpose through the following action areas: standard-setting for state library agencies and consortia regarding professional development of librarians, advocating for special needs populations, and publishing and disseminating information about the specific needs of these populations. Special needs populations include individuals who are blind, deaf, or physically handicapped; non-native English speakers; individuals with cognitive impairments and/or learning disabilities; the incarcerated and imprisoned; and people who are elderly or homebound. By providing leadership to library professionals, ASCLA ensures that training on inclusivity permeate the professional development materials of many library associations that look to ASCLA for guidance and best practices.

ASCLA’s mission as formally stated is, “to represent state library agency employees, staff members in multitype library cooperatives, special-population librarians, and librarians who work outside of traditional library settings.” ASCLA has four professional divisions which represent various aspects of its mission: the Interlibrary Cooperation and Networking section (ICAN), the Independent Librarian’s Exchange (ILEX), the Librarians Serving Special Populations Section (LSSPS), and the State Library Agencies Section (SLAS). Additionally, online forums such as the Virtual Library Discussion Group help round out its offerings to the field of librarianship.

ASCLA completed a large-scale project last year wherein they collected data on library networks, cooperatives and library consortium organizations. This project was undertaken with the ALA’s Office for Research and Statistics through a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Studies (IMLS). Another significant contribution to the field is ASCLA’s joint task force, which it co-facilitates along with the Public Library Association (PLA) and the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA), to develop a list of nine professional competencies that delineate the recommended skill set for a post-MLS management-focused curriculum.

In its most recent strategic plan, ASCLA highlighted its ongoing commitment to continuing education for library professionals, standard-setting for outreach to special populations, and collaboration with other library agencies. The plan stipulates that ASCLA’s leadership embrace inclusivity at all levels, and that its officers, programs and policies seek to help individual librarians “navigate the profession” by developing the leadership potential of ACSLA members. These endeavors are key to realizing the vision of current ALA president James Rettig who, in his address to the Bridging the Spectrum research symposium January 30, 2009 at the Catholic University of America, noted the sometimes disparate organization of state and national library agencies, as well as the need for leadership that unifies and motivates the profession as a whole.
ASCLA gives several coveted annual awards including the Exceptional Service Award, the Leadership and Professional Development Award, the Cathleen Bourdon Service Award (named for ASCLA’s past Executive Director), the Francis Joseph Campbell Award (for outstanding library service to the blind), and its well-known diversity initiative – the Century Scholarship – for students with disabilities. The Century award is intended to “promote the entry of individuals with access needs into the library and information science profession.” ASCLA also partners with the National Organization on Disabilities to give the Keystone Library Automation System Award.

To address the evolving roles of librarians, ASCLA administers the Certified Public Library Administrator’s licensure, as well as coordinating other continuing education opportunities for librarians and sponsoring numerous events at professional library conferences. Last year at the annual conference of the American Library Association, ASCLA hosted an intensive day-long preconference session titled, “Sustainability Means Never Having to Stay the Same.” ASCLA is currently promoting its upcoming online professional development course entitled, “Selecting Spanish-Language Materials for Adults.”

ASCLA’s quarterly newsletter Interface recently featured an accessibility toolkit consisting of fifteen tipsheets focusing on different aspects of how to better serve library patrons with special needs, such as how to assist a visually-impaired patron using a screenreader, and how to appropriately interact with a hearing-impaired patron. Its other noteworthy publications include Library Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions (1992), The Americans With Disabilities Act: Its Impacts on Libraries (1993), Guidelines for Library and Information Services for the American Deaf Community (1996), Multitype Library Cooperation: An Annotated Guide to Working Documents (1996), Library Services for People with Disabilities (2001), Standards and Guidelines of Service for the Library of Congress Network of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (2005), and Library Accessibility—What You Need to Know (2008). These titles are available for purchase through the ALA Store.

February 2, 2009

Do the white spaces have wheelchair ramps?

When I started this blog I built on the inspiration of Susan Fifer Canby and Karen Huffman of the National Geographic Society's Library and Information Services division who taught me that special librarians work "in the white spaces of the organizational chart." After a year in this position I have arrived at what I think the white spaces here need: wheelchair ramps. I mean this metaphorically, as the wheelchair has come to be known as the international symbol of accessibility. I have developed a special interest, in web accessibility, that seems to be enough within my organization's mission that I can spend work time on it, but enough outside the realm of my stated responsibilities that I consider it a move into the "white spaces" that Canby said are always in need of attention from special librarians.

Try not to get into anyone's way (at least not impolitely), but find out what your organization is doing. Do you have a designated web accessibility compliance officer? Is accessibility a priority for your organization? I hope to share resources and tips for how to approach this if the answer is no.

I have recently worked with two other staff members to try to put together a Web 2.0 working group. Our first tasks are drafting a disability/accessibility disclaimer for the wikis we work on, drafting an accessibility policy for wikis and other Web 2.0 initiatives here, and comparing different wiki platforms to evaluate them for inclusive design and universal access features.

The resources on the sidebars of this wiki represent the beginnings of this journey, and hope to hear from readers who have more ideas!

January 26, 2009

Begin Where You Are

Accessibility is like that journey of a thousand miles that begins with one step. Daunting, yes, but not impossible. Begin where you are and take small steps toward your destination.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the DC Public Library's orientation to their Adaptive Services Division. This is a great local resource with state-of-the-art assistive technology and friendly staff who were very willing to share their expertise. This division is home to many attractive and sophisticated devices that enable users with disabilities to use a computer, scan and read paper mail, check out Braille and audio books, and share literacy materials in all formats with friends and family members who have special needs.

First we had a tour of the division's newly renovated space on the second floor of the downtown (Martin Luther King, Jr.) branch. We learned about their training programs for users and librarians alike who would like to become proficient in using screen reader software, accessible keyboards, and many other important tools.

The Adaptive Services division is available to train you and your patrons on using assistive devices. They hope to eventually develop a curriculum to certify users of this technology. They are also always in need of volunteer readers for their audio books program. (As part of our tour we had the opportunity to see and enter a soundproof booth for recording audio materials for the blind.) More information on this volunteer opportunity is at

January 9, 2009

Will the Revolution Have Wheelchair Ramps? Web 2.0 and the Illusion of Inclusion

For some time now, librarians and others have been touting the "new web" as the means to social inclusion, participation, and collaboration -- a means of building new communities that are prepared to take on the digital revolution. Indeed, Web 2.0 tools are characterized by their emphasis on contributions from those who are consumers of the content. Experience the content, and then share your experience with others. This happens through Facebook, wikis, blogs, webinars, social bookmarking, video- and photo-sharing, tag clouds, and many other forms of interaction that are enabled by web-based technology. Web 2.0 is a whole lot of fun, and has become second-nature to many who do not even know the term "Web 2.0" or who wouldn't notice that the web is now "new" or different from the old way of doing things.

I hope that Web 2.0 is truly the means by which the people's voices get heard and the promise of democracy and digital revolution that many foresee. My concern is that many of the barriers to entry of the old web persist, and the new web may come with its own set of challenges. Who might be left behind in this digital revolution, and what can we as librarians and information professionals do about it?

The library community in general has a strong history of outreach to under-represented groups, populations with limited English proficiency, and people with disabilities. We have demonstrated a commitment to service, and to providing access to information for all who want it, even before they ask or know it themselves. We have also demonstrated a willingness to jump into Web 2.0 with both feet and ride the digital wave lest it come crashing down upon us. My hope is that these two traits of the library world will converge to help us all tackle the old challenges of web accessibility, and the new issues that Web 2.0 presents. What is the experience, for example, of a visually-impaired person posting to a wiki, or of a hearing-impaired person participating in a webinar? What other questions should we be asking about Web 2.0 and accessibility?

I have struggled a bit throughout the last year to find my purpose and focus for this blog. I have decided that web accessibility should be my new theme -- to motivate me to keep this blog going, to keep it fresh with a wealth of helpful resources, and to garner more focused attention from my colleagues. I certainly hope I can deliver, and that this too shall be a forum for collaboration, contribution, and participation among all users.

Happy New Year!