Can a little advocacy go a long way?

As has probably been obvious by my delay in finishing the CPD23 program, I have been struggling to find my voice on the topic of library advocacy (Thing 16). But I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately, as I’ve been gearing up for another round of operations planning and budgeting in my organization.

In this scenario, the library is one of approximately fifteen other programs fighting for its share of resources. In last year’s planning meeting, someone proposed that we completely zero out the library’s acquisitions budget for a year in order to help us reach our agency’s budget-cutting goals. While I appreciate that this was largely a hypothetical question, designed to get us thinking about the role the library plays within the organization and to our customers, I can’t say it wasn’t a little disheartening. Sure, we could zero out the budget, but then we wouldn’t necessarily have current resources to support the topics addressed by the agency’s other programs. Plus, skipping out on certain subscriptions for a year could mean a permanent gap in the collection. And probably most importantly, if there are no new materials, what’s to keep our patrons coming back? I’m on-board with the idea of a “stop doing” list, but stopping library acquisitions seems like a risky proposition. After all, as James LaRue wrote, “It’s easy to lose collection relevance. It’s very, very hard to get it back again.”

These arguments were enough to save our acquisitions budget, and now we’ve moved on to issues of library staffing. This is considerably trickier territory, considering one has to make the case for additional staff while not making current staff look lazy or incompetent. The fact is that our staff of 1.4 librarians does well enough with the day-to-day operations that our customers don’t seem to notice any issues, but we can see a huge backlog of cataloging, not to mention the weeding and evaluation projects that should happen more than once a decade. Management wonders if this is really a problem, or if we’re striving for some unattainable level of perfection. That depends. Do you want the materials you agreed we needed to purchase to end up on shelves where patrons can find them, or to sit on carts in the office waiting to be cataloged? Do you want us sending patrons computer books from the 1990s? You can’t always tell from the title, and I guarantee people don’t always look at the item description when they place their hold. Do you want us to modernize our services, or stick to being the keeper of the books and DVDs? If wanting to be relevant is perfectionism, then I gladly accept the label.

Perhaps I shouldn’t really complain, because I know that many other libraries have it much worse than we do, but I can’t help but feel there’s a certain point at which doing more with less is no longer feasible. Because I can only spend about 40% of my work time in the library, I’ve really tried to maximize it by streamlining our processes. While we’ve made some headway, even my non-librarian boss admits that my position is stretched nearly to the breaking point. Yet, I still find myself needing to explain what I do all day. My job isn’t flashy, and it involves a great deal of behind-the-scenes details that people are not necessarily supposed to notice, if I’m doing my job correctly. The challenge is to find some way to discuss the importance of these details without using library jargon or technical terminology. I’m working on it, but have yet to perfect my argument. If anyone’s managed to do this successfully, I’m open to pointers.

As you can see, I’ve got plenty on my hands with advocating for my own role in my own library. I don’t really have the personality of an activist, but I like to think that I do some small part in library advocacy as it feels natural to me. I use my public library, and make sure others know about the resources available. I’ve lost track of how many people’s jaws dropped when I told them they could download audiobooks and e-books for free. I even directed one friend who was looking for a free copy of Rosetta Stone to see if her library offered language-learning software.

This may not seem like much compared to some, but it’s what I feel comfortable doing at the moment. Does that make me any less passionate about libraries? I don’t think so.


Integrating things slowly but surely

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been taking the remaining “Things” out of order as they inspire me. I’m still determined to finish all 23, but I doubt I will achieve my goal of completing the program before the new year. I just survived the busiest time of the year in my job, and my free time has been occupied by volunteer commitments and holiday preparations. There simply hasn’t been much time for reflection and writing. While I’m somewhat disappointed by how far behind I’ve gotten with CPD23, I suspect I’ll be capable of a more thoughtful discussion about my remaining things (advocacy and job searching) after the holidays.

For now, I’ll briefly tackle Thing 19 and reflect a little on what I’ve already learned from the program.

Things I was already doing and/or using:

  • Reading blogs, mostly via RSS feeds and Google reader – though I did clean up my subscriptions thanks to CPD23
  • Some personal branding (consistent username, real name, profersonal approach)
  • Twitter – though I have been a little more active thanks to improved use of lists
  • Google Calendar – It’s even more helpful now that I can see it on my smart phone!
  • Evernote
  • Volunteering
  • Attending conferences
  • Dropbox

Things I probably wouldn’t have done without CPD23:

  • Started blogging – I had hoped to make this blog about  more than CPD23, but so far have only put up a few non-related posts. :(
  • Written about my library roots/routes – I struggled the most to find the words for these posts, but I think they have been the most valuable part of my CPD23 experience.

Things I’m happy to know about but probably won’t use:

  • Jing
  • Prezi
  • Citation software
  • Pushnote

Things I still plan to work on:

  • Finding a better avatar and visual identity for my personal brand
  • Communicating my skills/interests/achievements, then updating my LinkedIN profile (hoping Thing 21 will help with this one)
  • Commenting on blog posts – I’ve been doing better, but definitely haven’t met my one-comment-a-day goal.
  • Incorporating wikis (or some sort of improved knowledge sharing) in the workplace
  • Networking with other librarians, possibly finding a mentor

Seems I’ve got plenty to keep me busy in January! Despite my slow progress of late, I really have been enjoying this opportunity to try new things and reflect on old ones. Thanks for sticking with me.

I hope everyone has a restful holiday. See you next year!


Reflections on volunteering

Although I have never volunteered in a library, I credit volunteering with getting me where I am today.

I don’t remember volunteering much as a child, aside from the occasional project for Girl Scouts, but somehow I feel like I’ve always had the desire to help people. I really started pursuing volunteer opportunities in college, probably because it was an extracurricular activity that didn’t require a specific talent. It’s also a non-threatening way for even an introvert to meet people and get to know the community.

After college, I discovered a whole new passion for volunteering. Admittedly, this was part of a strategy to gain more experience and explore different opportunities that might help me decide what type of career to pursue. After undergrad, I moved to San Antonio to serve as a Senior Corps Member with a program called City Year. I led a team of other corps members, tutored children, coordinated an afterschool program, organized a science fair, painted murals, picked up trash, and a whole assortment of other projects. When I started considering graduate school, I came across the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and decided that I should get a degree in nonprofit management. But being my practical self, I thought I should get a job in Indianapolis first in order to gain residency for in-state tuition. I ended up finding an AmeriCorps VISTA position that was too cool to pass up, so I served for a year with College Mentors for Kids doing special events and volunteer management. While the AmeriCorps living stipend cannot begin to compare to a salary, I came away from those two years much richer in experience. I learned that it was possible to make a career out of helping others, I picked up many transferrable skills, and I began to develop my professional network.

I’ve already written about how my professional and educational goals have changed since finding full-time employment, but it’s clear to me that these two volunteer experiences set me on the right path. I’m confident that I wouldn’t have found my current job or pursued my MLS without them. Who knows where I’d be now and what I’d be doing? Of course, now that I have a “real job,” it would be extremely difficult to go pack to unpaid work or a poverty-level stipend. While I would love to have more and different types of library experience, I haven’t figured out how to fit professional volunteering into my schedule. Perhaps if the right opportunity came along, I would take it. But for now, I’m happy with volunteering as an usher with a theater arts group, occasionally assisting with black tie fundraisers, and pitching in with other one-time projects as I’m able.

As to Thing 22‘s question of whether volunteering is good or bad for the library profession, I can see both sides like many of my fellow cpd23 bloggers. I have previously used volunteer opportunities to gain experience, and I can attest to value of this non-financial benefit. However, both of my experiences were with structured programs explicitly designed to supplement an organization’s activity and provide a specific service. I wasn’t taking the place of a paid staff member. Had that been the case, I might not have accepted those positions.

I do think it is unfortunate that so many libraries are so pressed for resources that they must replace paid professional positions with volunteers. While the volunteer experience is good for new professionals, what does it say about the field they are trying to enter? My employer has recently begun hosting AmeriCorps VISTA members, and my boss has asked me a couple times whether there’s potential for a VISTA project in the library. Each time, I have felt like I must say “no.” VISTA positions cannot replace regular staff duties, and it’s highly unlikely that a VISTA will have an MLS. So, while there are a few “new” projects we’d like to do, I can’t in good conscience offer them to a recent college grad, however capable he/she might be. If it doesn’t take an MLS to do these jobs, then why did I spend my money and free time pursuing the degree? Luckily, my boss has agreed with me so far. But not so luckily, we still don’t have the human resources needed to support even our small special library. Perhaps this is a conversation best “to be continued” when I get back around to Thing 16.

Whatever your thoughts on library staffing, don’t stop volunteering for causes you care about. It’s one of the most rewarding ways to gain valuable experience and give back to your community. We just need to choose our opportunities wisely!


“Capturing” my momentum…

I haven’t been looking forward to Thing 18, but I think it may be one of the easiest to cross off my list. Quite simply, I don’t really need either of the tools mentioned. I already have some reliable screenshot tools at my disposal, and I’m not currently in a position where I need to create instructional video or audio resources. Someday, I’d like to try my hand at a screencasting tool like Jing, but it’s just not something I have time to explore without a true purpose. As we saw in my previous post about Prezi, I’m not much good at pretending. So, instead of messing around with tools that I won’t use in the foreseeable future, I’d like to use this opportunity to tell you about similar things I already do use.

The boring stuff…

Whatever happened to good old “Print Screen” and “CTRL-Alt-Print Screen” for capturing screen shots? Many times, that’s really still all you need. However, I must admit that I loved finding out that Command-Shift-4 on my Macbook would bring up little crosshairs I could use to focus my screenshot! The Windows 7 snipping tool isn’t too shabby, either.

So why do we feel like we need all of these other tools? I guess it’s because we often like to annotate our screenshots, and we want to be able to do it without opening up an image editing program. Here are a couple of tools I’ve found useful.

Skitch (for Mac)

SkitchI’m not sure where I first heard about Skitch, but it’s a handy little free Mac app (Android also available, iOS coming soon) that makes capturing, annotating, and sharing screenshots quite simple. I used it to create images for PowerPoint presentations when I was in library school, and I’ve even used it to spruce up a blog post. I wouldn’t say I’m a Skitch expert, but it has come in handy for me. My main complaint so far is the cutesy pink heart logo. I’ll be interested to see what happens to this little utility now that it has joined the Evernote family.

LightShot (for Firefox on Windows)

I got tired of using Paint to crop and/or annotate screenshots on my Windows XP computer at work, but I also can’t download any additional software like Jing. I went in search of a Firefox add-on that could do the job. I used to like Screengrab because it would allow me to copy just a selection rather than the entire screen, but unfortunately development has not kept up with the newest editions of Firefox. Luckily, I found an alternate extension that does even more than Screengrab. LightShot not only allows you to copy and/or save a selection of the screen, it has quick sharing tools and a fairly powerful online editor.

And one more thing…

Earlier this week at the Indiana Library Federation (ILF) Conference, I learned about a unique screencasting tool that’s more about troubleshooting than training. ShowMeWhatsWrong.com creates a link that you can send to a confused family member, friend, or customer. Once they click on it, it will record their screen so they can show you what’s happening. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but I can see loads of potential!


Putting off Prezi, among other things…

I really can’t believe it’s been almost a month since my last post! I hate to think about how far behind I am on CPD23, which is probably part of the reason I’ve still got so many things left to do…

My new goal is to finish the program by the end of the year. That gives me eight weeks to do seven things. While that will be a much faster pace than I’ve attempted over much of the last few months, I think the deadline will be a big help. And if I still have any readers left, please help hold me accountable!

Now, onto Thing 17. Believe it or not, I created my first Prezi about a month ago. I don’t have a good reason for why it has taken me so long to write about the experience, other than that I really have no use for Prezi in my life. I was curious about the tool, but currently have no need to prepare any presentations.

I decided to explore Prezi in a somewhat formal way, by participating in one of their “Getting Started” webinars over my lunch hour. While I feel like I gained a sufficient grasp of the basics, my efforts at playing along and putting up random text and images to keep up with the presenter resulted in a rather horrendous first Prezi. This thing seems simple enough at first, but I really think you need to have a certain type of brain (or hours and hours of free time) to create a decent Prezi. The zooming in and out and bouncing around was a little too much for me to handle without a goal in mind. I wanted to come back to this and try making a Prezi around a real topic, but I’ve been putting it off so long I have decided to let myself off the hook for now.

If I ever find myself in need of a presentation, I may consider further experimentation with Prezi. But honestly, I think I would be frustrated by the trial and error it would take to set up a presentation I could be proud of.

I don’t have much to say about Slideshare, either, considering I haven’t done a presentation since grad school. I’m not sure if any of those would make sense outside the context of a class project, but I am tempted to go back through my files and see if any could enhance my online portfolio somehow. In the meantime, it’s nice to have Slideshare available for tracking down other people’s presentations. This has helped me avoid frantic note-taking and given me a taste of conference sessions I was not able to attend. Also, while I agree that Slideshare can provide some inspiration for creating one’s own presentations, there’s a pretty significant drawback. Typically, the best presentations are the ones with the least text and the most captivating images. Coupled with dynamic speaker, these slides would be awesome. But on their own, they mean almost nothing. And that’s frustrating.

I wish I had something more profound to offer about presentation tools, but this is about as much as I care to think about them right now. It’s time to cross this one off the list and move onto bigger and better things!


Library roots, routes, and routines

Considering that this is the last official week of CPD23 and I am sill about eight things behind, I’m going to go ahead and skip around a little. It’s somewhat out of character for me to deviate from sequential order, but right now it feels more important for me to regain some momentum with this project. And what better way to get another thing under my belt than to tackle something I’ve basically already written? That’s right. Thing 20 is about library careers, with special focus on the Library Day in the Life and Library Roots/Routes projects.

Don't you wish you could see a day in the life of this library route?

I participated in my first round of Library Day in the Life right here on this blog in July 2011. I had fun documenting my week, even if it wasn’t 100% library-related. I’d like to think that my posts are an example of the diversity of opportunities available in our profession. I know many librarians are unemployed or under-employed these days, so I hope at least some of you can relate to my experiences with making the most of a part-time library experience. I look forward to contributing to future rounds of Library Day in the Life, hopefully with a little more library activity next time!

I also wrote about my Library Roots/Routes for Thing 10. It took me forever to find the words for that post, and I’m not really going to try to elaborate on it now. Instead, I’ll try to reflect on a theme I noticed when reading other posts before and after publishing my story. The one thing most of us seem to have in common is that we never expected to be a librarian when we grew up. It was simply not something we thought about as a child or young adult, no matter how much we might have loved books. I wonder if this is is because we encounter so few librarians in our day-to-day lives. I remember a couple of librarians from the children’s department at my hometown public library, and I can almost visualize my elementary school librarian. But for all I knew as a kid, these were the only librarians around, which would not make librarianship seem like a career with realistic job prospects. I realize there’s still room for debate on that last part, but I think we’d all agree that there are more than three librarian jobs in the world. Not only that, there are many other types of library jobs outside the children’s department and the school media center. I guess we just tend to learn about the other professional possibilities by chance encounters. I definitely had never thought about special libraries or corporate libraries before stumbling into my job, and now I think that’s the likely direction of my career.

The Library Day in the Life and Library Roots/Routes projects are truly inspirational, as they demonstrate the power of online collaboration as well as the strengths of our diverse professional ranks. Whether or not we originally intended to become librarians, it seems that most of us truly feel as if we’ve found our calling.

Image credit: Crossett Library Bennington College


As much as she has learned, Nicole still wants to learn more…

About six years ago in a previous job, we took a little test to discover our workplace motivators. For whatever reason, one of the takeaways I still remember is that I’m highly theoretical and like to attend trainings. Of course, I didn’t really need a quiz to tell me that, but sometimes it’s nice when such results match my self-assessment.

Last night, I went through my files to find the report (see an example), and I had to laugh at some of the observations listed under my theoretical value:

  • “The chief aim in life is to order and systematize knowledge…”
  • “Likes to go to trade shows and conventions in her area of interest and expertise to find new ideas and tools for the team and organization at large.”
  • “Classes, courses, and conferences: Send Nicole and let her learn.”
  • “Realize that as much as she has learned, Nicole still wants to learn more.”

Seems like Thing 15 was tailor-made for me, doesn’t it?

Learning AND free stuff? Sign me up!

True to form, I have attended as many conferences as I could afford in the three years since I began library school.

  1. ALA 2009 (Chicago) – made possible by student registration fee, approx. 3 hour drive from Indianapolis, aunt and uncle’s guest bedroom in the ‘burbs
  2. SLA 2010 (New Orleans) – made possible by student registration fee, partial funding from our library student association, not having to use vacation days to attend
  3. SLA 2011 (Philadelphia) – made possible by student registration fee, sheer luck of winning four-night hotel stay in survey drawing, not having to use vacation days to attend
  4. Indiana Library Federation (3 of the last 5 statewide conferences, I think) – made possible because our organization always has a booth in the exhibit hall. The years I did not attend were because it’s the busy time for one of my other programs, and it’s tricky to get out of the office. Even when I do attend, I’m often manning the booth rather than attending sessions, but it’s still a nice way to be in touch with local colleagues.

Aside from ILF, I didn’t get a free ride (or funds from my employer) to attend any of the conferences, but I found enough discounts and funding assistance that the remaining personal investment seemed reasonable. Admittedly, I also justified the trips to New Orleans and Philadelphia by making time to be a tourist in these two cities I’d never visited before. This summer, I essentially doubled the value of my airfare by tacking on a couple days to visit a friend in DC before catching a train to Philly for the conference.

Too much conferencing meant this is as close as I got to the Liberty Bell.

I’ve already written a little about how I’ve made the most of conference attendance for Thing 7 about face-to-face networking and Thing 8 about Google Calendar, so I won’t go into detail here. Aside from using Twitter to turn online connections into personal connections, I would say that it’s important to spend some time reading the conference program to locate sessions that will be most valuable either to your current work or future goals. I realize that’s not mind-boggling conference advice, but sometimes the simplest things bring the best results, right?

I have yet to speak at a professional conference, and I’m not actively pursuing such opportunities at this point.Public speaking has never really been one of my favorite things, though I’m not nearly as uncomfortable with it now as I was growing up. I suppose right now, I’m just not sure what I would have to present about at a conference. The library I work in is pretty unusual, yet I’m not sure we do anything that other libraries would want to replicate. And personally, I know a little about a lot of things, so I don’t see myself as an expert on any particular topic. I still feel like there’s more for me to learn than there is for me to teach. Am I being too humble? Probably. My workplace motivators report also scored me high in the social/altruistic value, meaning that I like “helping, teaching, and coaching others.” While it’s certainly true that I like to be helpful, I’ve never really felt like I had the patience for teaching in a formal sense. This really is something I’d like to work on, but I’m not totally sure where to start.

For now, I can probably be most helpful when it comes to organizing conferences. I’ve been involved in this type of work for the last five years, to varying degrees. While there are two other staff at my agency with primary responsibility for organizing our annual conference and regional trainings, I have somehow become the registration guru. This includes setting up our registration system(s), maintaining the databases, troubleshooting with customers, running reports, etc. I’ve received more e-mails and attended more event planning meetings than I care to recall, so I’d like to think I have a good understanding of what it takes to pull off conferences of varying sizes and scopes. I’m not currently planning any library-oriented conferences (unless you count our tweetup!), but I suspect that this may be a good way for me to put my diverse skills to use in the future.

Working hard at on-site registration...

So far in my library career, I would say that I’m doing the best I can to nurture my theoretical side and attend conferences and trainings that will help me become a better information professional. It seems that my next challenge is to attend to my social/altruistic values and look for more opportunities to teach and help others.