August 25, 2010

Notarizing in the White Spaces

Two years ago I became a Notary Public in the District of Columbia. While my husband chided that becoming a notary is "what nerds do when they grow up," I contended that this was a natural extension of my role as a steward of authenticated information.

As the District's Notary handbook attests, the role has evolved from that of designated notetaker to one "certifying the truth" by witnessing signatures on important documents. I knew that my organization often had a need for this service, and I correctly predicted that becoming qualified to fulfill this role would help me get to know my coworkers. It's a public service you can provide that fits well with other solo/embedded duties as part of working in the 'white spaces of the organizational chart.'

You may find that a member of your finance staff is already a Notary Public, but often the documents that need to be notarized are financial in nature and so a third, disinterested party is necessary to witness signatures. I've also been pleasantly surprised by all the non-work/personal business I have received in my office, now that people know I am a Notary Public. I have probably notarized documents for half our staff and only half of those were work documents. It's been a great way to get to know people, and for them to get to know me. (I have the "Notary Public" nameplate on my desk so people know when they walk by that I can provide this service.)

Requirements vary state to state, but you will likely have to go through some level of training, provide references, get bonded, and buy your stamp(s) before you register with your state and take your oath. And, yes, you will be offered many additional customized products when you buy your stamp. But, yes, you can write off your set-up expenses on your taxes, as well as any income you make as a Notary Public (in fact, you have to declare that). While this is not a huge money-making enterprise, it's a nice complement to other skills, talents and certifications that librarians naturally have, and it's a great way to enhance your visibility in the workplace. It could be the starting point for long-term work relationships, and when people see you as a competent and trustworthy agent of the state, they tend to think of you as a resource for other matters. It's also a great way to learn about local and state laws, legal documents, and other procedures handled by state government.

Although I moved to Maryland after starting my commission as a DC notary, my employer wrote a letter on my behalf to the Office of Notary Commissions and Authentications so I could continue notarizing in DC until my commission expires in 2013, noting that this was a valued service I provide to the organization.

August 18, 2010

Works in Progress

Two years ago I wondered "aloud" whether this position was really an "embedded librarian" position, and that is still up for debate. However, one of the characteristics of embedded librarianship that Shumaker and Talley (huge final report here; summary here) note is "providing specialized information services." If I judge my current position exclusively on that criterion then I am unequivocally embedded, at least as evidenced by my two current projects described below.

Thing 1:
For one of the teams I am "embedded" with I am drafting a training on "information overload," which I am modeling around Clay Shirky's idea that, "It's not information overload; it's filter failure." I am having a lot of fun with it. This was requested for a set of part-time independent contractors who work on our behalf in the field and receive tons of electronic information from our staff, in addition to memoranda from the project director.

(Click images to enlarge.)

I was asked to craft this presentation with the goal of explaining all our electronic messaging and how these contractors can strategically use it to help and not hinder their work. I am focusing the presentation around the topics of "Filtering" and "Filters," explaining the general approach and then the tools. I want to build on the idea that we are all already using some filters whether we know it or not, but the filters sometimes have to be adjusted for the specific types of information in our intake, that being the information I am to be the "specialist" on.

Thing 2: For another team I am "embedded" with, I am helping them draft what I am calling an "Overall Information Strategy" as part of a website relaunch and renewed marketing plan. It's not supposed to be a communications plan so much as a prerequisite for a communications plan--first documenting all the information sources and then outlining the appropriate outreach that matches each (and by "outreach" I mean to include internal staff communication).

To do this, I am first documenting the OIS for the team in Thing 1 (my primary project), and it has been just as much fun as the Information Overload presentation. These are both going to be tools I reuse and refine again and again.To start the OIS document, I just made a matrix showing all the types of information that come in on one axis, and all the possible actions and dissemination outlets on the other axis. And yes, there is strategic overlap: creating a new web page could be either the cause or the result of one of the other actions, and a new publication, if it's ours, would probably have dots filled in across the board.

August 11, 2010

31 Flavorful Months of

It's been 31 months since Gretchen introduced me to social bookmarking through (now, officially, "Delicious"). Aside from Google Alerts, this is the most important free tool that I use to organize my work. I consider my Delicious toolbar to be another appendage: I need it and use it all the time, and I usually only stop to appreciate it if it's impaired in some way.

When you get really good at tagging it can be seamlessly integrated in your work and can increase your speed and efficiency considerably, all the while creating a nice metadata record of the parts of your daily web traffic that have either caught or demanded your attention. It also acts as a great search engine later for an addled brain that remembers seeing "something" on a certain topic but then forgot about it. (When I was in library school and I would forget where I read something, I used to just ask Gretchen about those info-wisps. She seemed to have an almost clairvoyant sense of my own brain's organization and could usually figure out what I was talking about.) Nowadays, if I spend any time at all on a site, I tag it.

One of the things I like about how it works, or rather, how my work behavior has evolved since I've been using Delicious, is that having tagging fully-integrated with all my online behavior helps me know in a passive, low-effort way what the hot topics have been. Then when someone asks what theme we should focus the next newsletter on, I can contribute meaningfully by saying something like, "Gee, there seem to be a lot of things going on right now with women in transportation." It has also been very interesting to see my tags develop as new topics shape our field. My bookmarks for ARRA, livability, and Mobility Management have grown steadily as our projects and work plans have developed over the past year.

Since I asserted in a recent post that one of my guiding principles is not to complain, I will try to frame my Delicious Dilemmas as questions rather than gripes. One of the things I wish I could do is bundle tags so that, for example, if I tag something "Rogoff" it automatically gets tagged "FTA" as well (but not vice-versa, or this would be a true redundancy...I just want to reflect subset-superset relationships). Is there a way to do that? I have finally learned how to search for tags within tags, but I would also like to have some kind of option to apply them that way, which I realize would require a lot of concentrated set-up time. (Or to search by what the first tag was that I used...yes, I know, this is starting to sound like a love song for actual taxonomies.)

I also wish you could bundle tags to apply to more than one resource while you have all those related windows open. For example, sometimes I follow a story or an issue and I have several windows open that I want to tag with the same ten terms, usually when I am doing research for a staff member and I do administrative as well as topical tags. Is there a way to do this? As a short-term work-around I have adopted a simple copy-and-paste method through Notepad so I can insert a string of terms in the Tags field as soon as the Save-a-Bookmark window opens.

I love my tag cloud. It's the best portrait of what I've been looking at and working on, and it's a good reflection of the strange slice of the transportation world that I am charged with researching. It also reflects the idiosyncrasies of how I think in this place, and how our vocabulary might diverge from a traditional controlled vocabulary. “Recommendations” means something like a GAO report or a policy proposal, whereas “Recommended” is my shorthand for all those links my boss sends me that I deem important but not urgent. Also, I am finally in the habit of using my "Ready Reference" tag for all those publications our staff quote all the time, have taken pains to post in strategic places on our website, but occasionally want to see links to all in one place.

My bookmarking is only marginally "social" although I am starting to use it in that direction, and now that I am very familiar with the "back end" I think I am ready to do more sharing of the "front end" with staff so they can find things they know I have without having to go through me if they don't want to. I have not experimented with Digg or Stumble Upon but maybe I will. (But I have a feeling that that comparison may lead to breaking, or at least bending, my 'Don't complain' principle.)

August 4, 2010

Transferable Skills Part 2: Getting to Know Your Government, or "A Librarian's Love Affair with the Government Accountability Office"

One of the best parts of this job is getting to know how our government works, and in particular how it works with non-profits.

My employer is a non-profit membership association, a 501(c)(3) operating on members' dues, conference and training revenues, publications income, and some federal funds. The federal monies are harder to understand and this requires several lessons in government I haven't completed yet, although I have begun my study. Some of the federal funding comes through earmarks, one of those words, like lobbyist, that some think connote waste or inappropriate spending until you find out all the different things they pay for and then you realize that the terms are just neutral: all kinds of groups and projects, including libraries and librarians, could be funded this way.

I have also heard a thing or three about "appropriations" and "authorizations" when it comes to how some of our projects are funded, and sometimes it depends on whether the project is funded by DOT, DOL, HHS or USDA. This part is a bit trickier and I won’t pretend I understand it yet.

Then there is the much beloved set of terms that describes the contractual relationship our association has with a given federal agency for a given project. This could be a “grant,” or a "contract" or a "cooperative agreement" or other type of relationship. Knowing the quirks of all these arrangements gives me great insight into how other projects run in Washington. Yes, it's all much more complex than I could have imagined growing up in the Midwest when the White House seemed like a strange majestic icon. Now that I work two blocks from it, and realize how much smaller it is than my office building, I have a much different perspective about what goes on there, at the other end of the Mall, and in all these buildings in between.

One great resource I have used to educate myself about the actual workings of government as they affect our association's work is the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and its stellar report services. Each week I get a handful of alerts of GAO reports, legal decisions and testimony before Congressional subcommittees. These resources cover topics I have chosen through the GAO alert service (transportation, education, and information management, to name three). I also get a Month-in-Review email that I pore over to find any great pubs I may have missed.Geek alert: I love reading GAO reports. This is great writing, folks. And it's not mystery writing: the report titles tell you exactly what the upshot of the report is, the highlights pages (always first after the title) are clear, consistent and readable, and these reports are expertly edited, formatted and abstracted (bonus!). They make reference to fantastic federal resources such as the National Youth in Transition Database, and each report comes with a list of relevant acronyms.

In addition to learning the actual subject matter of a particular report, you get to know how government accountability works in general and you begin to intuit what other processes and entities have been investigated so the GAO reports database becomes a go-to resource for many topics. You will find yourself thinking, "The GAO probably did a report on that; I will look it up and track it down."

The GAO site announced last week that it has gone mobile. This means I can spend even more of my free time reading reports like my July selection (which I did finish!), and this great one selected as my August must-read GAO report. I once posted a GAO report to my old apartment building's list-serve (about some topic that was pressing in our community at the time) and my neighbor said, "I work for the GAO and I know how much goes into those reports. I am so glad somebody actually reads them!" Well, I am so glad somebody actually writes them.