Library Day in the Life: Round 8, Day 1

Super Librarian? It was a little tricky to get a big monument, big Roman numerals, and my big head in the same picture, but you get the idea.

It’s time for another round of Library Day in the Life!

I enjoyed participating for the first time this summer, so I thought I’d give it another shot. Basically, the idea is that librarians from all over the world are using social media to provide a glimpse into what the profession is really like. The wide variety of jobs and workplaces is fascinating, so I’d encourage you to explore. Pick someone whose job or library sounds interesting, or use the #libday8 visualizer to see what librarians near you are doing this week.

As I’ve mentioned before, I really only spend about 40% of my full-time job working in a library. The rest of the time, I’m hopefully fine-tuning transferrable skills in databases, program management, and customer service.

I cannot physically be in the library on Mondays right now, since I have to share the only workspace with our intern. I don’t really mind, though, because she’s helping us do a serious weeding and shifting project! I’m looking forward to the big purge, and finally getting everything where it belongs after the summer’s renovation.

My morning was a little rocky, as they often are when returning from a three-day weekend. I was mostly dealing with e-mails from Friday and sorting out some last minute details so that we could open spring training registration today. I tracked down one article for a colleague using INSPIRE, but struck out on finding free full-text for the other one she wanted. I passed the request off to our library director who pulls the strings for any searches that may require purchasing an article. The same colleague who’d requested the articles has also asked for a couple of bibliographies to share in upcoming meetings and communication about our mentoring initiative. There were already existing bibliographies on the topics, but they were definitely in need of an update. I fixed one on mentoring last week, so today’s focus was college/career/life skills. It’s fun for me to see what items in our collection are applicable, and I really hope people find the lists useful. Our website stats say they are downloaded quite a bit, but I’m not sure how that translates into checkouts.

I spent most of the afternoon reading grant proposals. Every month, I have the pleasure of giving youth workers money for professional development. It’s interesting to see what types of conferences people plan to attend. Every once in awhile, a librarian applies, and I have to try not to be biased! But seriously, even my volunteer reviewers say that librarians write some of the best proposals. :)

The last thing I did before leaving the office was change the status on a few items to “held,” so I can mail them tomorrow. I had brought them up to my office on Thursday, considering I’d be out on Friday and not able to access the library today. I didn’t want to delay those requests any longer than necessary. I also noticed a large stack of returned mail, so I guess I know what I’m doing in the morning!

After work, I left the car at the office and took a walk downtown to check the Super Bowl festivities. I’m not particularly fond of football or big crowds, but it’s cool to see how the city has managed to pull this off. Playing tourist was a great way to unwind and shake off this moody Monday.

How was your day?

Advertisements

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.


Happy Code Year!

I’m not much for New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I am determined to develop some strategy around my professional development. I’m interested in directing my career toward the more technical types of library jobs, but am finding that even seemingly entry-level positions prefer a level of expertise that I’m not comfortable claiming in some areas. Chief among these is programming. While I taught myself HTML in high school, and have expanded on those skills with CSS in library school, that’s about the extent of my knowledge at this point. I also have some experience in fiddling around with whatever code necessary to set up digital libraries in Greenstone (some sort of hybrid of HTML and I’m not sure what else). I’m reasonably confident that I could pick up other programming languages given the opportunity, but can’t foresee that happening serendipitously in my current position.

Enter Code Year. I was really glad to notice the #codeyear hashtag in my Twitter stream, as it led me to this interesting and interactive resource for learning to code. Each week, a new interactive lesson is e-mailed to participants. There are also opportunities to work ahead a little, if you’re so inclined. I’ve completed the “Getting Started with Programming” lessons, only stumbling over a handful of instructions. But although I was able to follow directions well enough to pass, I’m honestly not sure I understood the point of what I was doing. It’ll be interesting to see if the pieces fall together as the lessons continue.

If you’re interested in learning more about programming, I would suggest giving it a chance. If nothing else, it might be a good bonding experience for us librarians participating. There’s a group forming at ALA Connect, and I am surely looking forward to the moral support!


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!