Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Networking Thoughts, Or, I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends


The first time I tried to write this post, it was about my conversion from a big conference naysayer to true believer. You see, I've planned my schedule for ACRL based purely on "people I want to see" and have left "things I want to learn" aside. But then, with a lot of help from my writing group partners, I realized that what I was really writing was a post about how I network.

Because of Twitter and Facebook and my blog, I've made connections with librarians from around the country and even around the planet. I know, without a doubt, that these very real friendships are the main thing that sustained me as I traversed the learning curve of my transition from instruction librarian to library director. And I'm really looking forward to reaffirming those bonds in person.


I had no idea that I was doing that fabled thing all librarians are admonished to do at conferences and other professional outings. My thought process went something like, "Oh, so-and-so is cool online and they are going to be at the same conference/in the same city/attending the same workshop as me. I'm going to ping them and see if they're available for coffee or drinks or whatever." And then, somewhere along the way, professional collaborations started to be a fun thing I could do with my new friend.

So, it turns out that networking, for me at least, is an offshoot of gravitating towards like-minded librarians. By chatting with some, I've gotten presentation opportunities and partners. By being friendly with others, I've gotten publication opportunities. I'm not saying that it was easy, or that everyone can/should follow the same path. What I'm saying is a reiteration of what many others have said before me - find your people in this field, the people you like, and be yourself. Have fun, and don't worry about the rest. Get by with a little help from your friends.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Constant Vigilance, by Galen Charlton


Constant vigilance! CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

Mad-eye Moody’s catchphrase in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire expresses his view of the primary requirement to defend against the Dark Arts: continually paying attention to potential threats.
Moody’s dictate is something I keep in mind as I do my job. Many of us run catalogs and discovery systems and are audacious enough to put them on the web, for anybody to search. Absolutely anybody – including the script kiddies, crackers, and botnet operators could take our servers over for their own ends – or simply vandalize them for the lulz.

That’s a threat that the people behind every public-facing server must either attempt to prevent or ignore, of course. But in libraries we’ve also taken upon ourselves a greater responsibility: to safeguard the privacy of our patrons.

Reader privacy isn’t something to take lightly, unless we choose to take our profession lightly. The freedom to read, one of our core tenets, is curtailed if the reader has to worry about somebody looking over their shoulders or judging them. The freedom to read can sometimes be a life-or-death matter. I’m not just talking about readers in war zones or politically unstable areas: a teenager trying to figure out their place in life, or their very sense of self may find succor in a library; to have what they are reading to find themselves be revealed to the wrong people can be deadly. It’s not always a life-and-death matter, of course, but it’s sufficient to recognize that what a patron is reading is nobody ’s business but their own.

Here are some ways to protect patron privacy that I, a library technologist who also wears the hats of programmer, system administrator, and manager, have learned along the way. (There’s a lot more to each of these ideas, but I wanted to give you an overview.)

There’s no point in giving up. It’s commonly expressed that privacy is either dead, impossible to protect, or unwanted. No! It has become more difficult to protect; modern software and the urge to automate all the things and store all the data makes it easier to gather and collate information about people and their activities. Libraries can resist that, though. And if you think that teens don’t care about privacy, you’re wrong. (For research, click the danah boyd link below.)

Think carefully about what data you collect. For instance, U.S. libraries should never be in the business of collecting Social Security Numbers. If a public library’s policy for establishing proof of residence requires gathering SSNs, it’s time to go to the library board and get that changed.

Protecting confidential data – or losing it - depends on people. There are lots of technical and software measures that can hide, destroy, or encrypt patron information -- but they can be for naught if a clerk isn’t trained to refer every law enforcement request to the appropriate administrators.

There is a lot to learn. Here’s one example: it’s a terrible, no good, very bad thing if a patron calls up the circ desk, tells you that they’ve forgotten their password, and for you to be able to tell them what it is. Don’t know why? Read up on “password hashing.”
There is a lot to teach. Like it or not, one of the roles that many libraries serve is as community tech support. This is also an opportunity: via programs, classes, and one-on-one interactions, you can help patrons learn to better protect themselves online.
You will mess up. Some libraries have had their patron databases breached; many others have had their OPAC servers get pwned. Some libraries have kept too much circulation data and had to hand it over to law enforcement for dubious fishing expeditions – and worst of all, they can be legally bound to say nothing.

This is why I say protecting reader privacy is an ongoing, continuous improvement project. Aim to get better incrementally, learn from your mistakes, and take heart: even Mad Eye Moody’s vigilance failed him, but in time he was freed and able to continue his fight against Voldemort. Don’t take it just from me. Some folks to read on the topic: Alison Macrina of the Library Freedom Project, danah boyd, Barbara Fister, Gary Price, Eric Hellman, and as well as folks outside of the library profession such as Latanya Sweeney. Want to join the discussion? Subscribe to the LITA Patron Privacy Technologies IG’s mailing list. There are also numerous resources available; a good starting point is ALA’s Privacy Toolkit.

And remember... constant vigilance!

Galen Charlton is a developer and manager at Equinox Software, where he spends his time helping libraries to use and improve the open source integrated library systems Koha and Evergreen. He was named an LJ Mover & Shaker in 2013, which he took as an opportunity to sneak Tux the Penguin onto the pages of Library Journal. He can be found on Twitter as @gmcharlt; if you want to send him an encrypted message, check out https://keybase.io/gmcharlt.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

White Board Polling

I work at a small library at a small school, so everything we do needs to be the epitome of "bang for the buck." Truth be told, even at bigger libraries and library systems, librarians are expected to pinch every penny. One of the best returns on time invested I've ever gotten is with white board polling. (Not original to me, but I don't remember where I first encountered it so I can't cite my source. My apologies to whomever introduced me to this.) I've been doing this for a while now. I thought it was time to write about it, so here's a quick overview of what we've done and how we approach white board polling.

We try to have fun with it, first and foremost. Here's what we did during a recent cold snap and I know lots of other people recreated it at their libraries:

We balance out our fun/goofy ones (examples are a recent poll pitting chocolate vs. lollipops and further back we asked where everyone was going over a school break) with more serious polls like when we asked for student input on popular magazines to add to our collection:

The plea for Playboy aside, you can see we got great response to this poll, as we do with all the simpler polls where the only response needed is a check mark or a hash nark. This poll did shape our periodical collection - we added the top vote-getters to our annual order.

More recently when we asked for feedback on our new mission statement:

We don't get near the number of responses to substantive questions as we do with simple ones, but the answers we get are just as valuable. This is such an easy way to test ideas that I'm considering doing it with any major changes.

Here are, in no particular order, the rules I use when deciding what to put on our board:
  • Must be interactive;
  • Polls where respondents just put a check mark or a hashmark should be used more frequently than ones with substantive answers (you'll get a higher response rate);
  • Fun polls should be done frequently (we try to have the goofy ones be every other poll);
  • Room for other answers should be given;
  • Polls should be run for a week of classes at most;
  • You need to do something with the results.
Sure, there are times when we need to reach out beyond the walls of the library (and trust me, I did solicit feedback far and wide on our new mission statement), but other times it's fine to tap people who are already using the library regularly and have a vested interest.

I know we aren't the only library to use these polls. Do any of you have advice to add to mine?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Don't Let the Old Guard Get Ya Down, by Amy Diegelman

When you start a new job, especially early in your career, you may have to face the dreaded ‘Old Guard.’ The Old Guard are the librarians who have been in the field or institution you’re entering, for a long, long time. They resist all your ideas, brush off your opinions, and scorn your enthusiasm. (Please note that I know not all experienced librarians are the Old Guard. Heck, some new librarians act that way.)

It can be crushingly frustrating, but it isn’t insurmountable. There are a few things you can try:

Give them their due - Most (though not all) people aren’t actually evil, malicious, sabotaging monsters who want you and/or the library to fail. So, regardless of your personal feelings about your Old Guard, it's important to recognize the work they have done. Maybe 10 years ago they championed a needed library remodel. Maybe they were the first in the library to institute some change in service that we consider a given now. At the very least, they have probably shown up and done their job with some level of success. They know the library and the community, even if they feel differently about it than you. Acknowledge these things, give the Old Guard credit. Not only will this make them more willing to work with you, it will make you a little less miserable. Hating people is super exhausting.

Take it slow - It’s easy to get wrapped up in new ideas and possibilities and want to jump right in. That’s great! But you have to remember that you’re the new kid and this team existed before you got here. Your coworkers probably don’t know much about you, so it will take a little time for them to trust your judgment and see your strengths. They also need time to integrate you and your ideas into their normal processes/routines at work. This is the time to learn, get the essential parts of the job locked down. If you push huge new ideas and changes before showing that you’re willing to learn and work, the people who’ve been busting their butts for 20 years aren’t going to be very interested in investing their time and energy in you.

Involve them - One of the biggest problems you can run into with the Old Guard is making them feel (probably unintentionally) like they’re being ousted. Ask for opinions, run ideas by them before taking it to the boss, ask if there are things in their departments/interests that could be incorporated into your ideas. This is good for you, too. They can help you navigate things that would take years to learn otherwise - community priorities, trustee preferences, administration policies, etc. Plus, if you have an idea that is going to shake things up, getting even one member of the Old Guard on your side is going to help sway others. 

Reciprocate - You don’t have to make back-room deals or secret alliances to get the Old Guard on your side, but you can be supportive. Support people on things that they clearly feel will be a benefit your organization, even if you are not particularly passionate about them. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the Old Guard wants, but when you agree, say so. It will make the times you disagree easier for them to stomach.

Remember they were you once, and you might be them - Everyone was new once, including the Old Guard. So cut them some slack. Remember that things you want to change may be things that they had to fight for against their own Old Guard. And someday you may be someone’s Old Guard. We all hope we can retain an openness as time goes on, but the truth is that everyone gets tired, everyone gets a little set in their ways, and everyone grows attached to their projects. Consider how you’ll want to be approached when that time comes. Hopefully any of us who reach these points will have fresh colleagues come in and shake things up - and hopefully they’ll remember that we’ve been in their shoes. 

Amy Diegelman is a young adult librarian in Massachusetts. You can find her shouting about libraries, teens, and being a big geek on Twitter at @amydieg.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Managing Difference

I recently had someone ask me about the difference between managing employees with the MLIS/MLS and those without. The thing is, I couldn't quite get my head wrapped around the words to express my thoughts properly. At first I talked about respecting the distinct contributions that the master's degree holding employee can make because of being immersed in the culture during their degree. But really, that idea of "distinct contribution" based on background and prior experience is something that's true of everyone in the library.

My inability to put that into words got me thinking that maybe I should write about it here, that maybe I'm not the only one who might need to think about the differences between managing these two groups.

After a lot of thinking, I've finally come up with the perfect way to express it: I know there are differences between the MLIS-holding and the non-MLIS-holding, but really you need to treat all of your employees the same general way. The best way to describe my approach to management is also the name of a book from which I learned the basics of this approach: Strengths Based Leadership. The idea here is that you figure out what the strengths of your staff are, such as strategic thinking or communication, and have people work to their strengths. The same idea extends to MLIS versus non-MLIS versus whoever else might be working in a library.

My staff is relatively small. I have one MLIS-holding employee (and one unfilled librarian position), a group of non-MLIS staff, and a group of student workers. We've had graduate assistants in the past, but not at the moment. Each and every person who works for the library is crucial to our success. I won't devalue what one person does just because they don't have the master's degree. It's an old theme on this blog, but I'm writing about it again because it's so important to me. Sure, there are different roles for us all to play: I wouldn't expect a student worker to lead an instruction session for a senior biology capstone research project. Similarly, while there have been times that the degree holders have shelved books in a pinch, I want to make sure to best use the degree holders' time on the job. Let me put it this way: I'm not going to put the MLIS holders in charge of making sure the printers are always full of paper, but I expect them to be willing to refill it in a pinch. (Just like I'm willing to do check the paper or clean up after a flood or whatever.)

Everybody who works in the library has a distinct set of experiences and qualifications, and everybody should be respected for what they do.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Just for Fun: Buddhism


Sure, people say that you shouldn't bring up politics or religion in mixed company. But I've written about my politics on LtaYL in the past and had not a jot of backlash, so I decided to tackle religion. Besides, just as my politics inform my librarianship, my religion is part of who I am and to be anything less than up front about it feels dishonest.

As you may have guessed from the title of the post, I'm a practicing Buddhist. I have been for about three years now, although I've only been comfortable labeling myself as such for the last two. I spent the first 40-ish years of my life in varying degrees of Judaism. My parents and I were somewhat desultory when it came to attending services regularly, but I was bas mitzvahed at 13 and we went to our synagogue on the high holy days. I even had a personal relationship with our rabbi and his wife. Judaism informed the person I am today, but it has been my culture instead of my identity for a long while now.

A series of things happened in my mid-late thirties, major life changes, that had me revisiting religion. I looked back at Judaism. Considered paganism. Then a friend introduced me to the work of Pema Chödrön, and something clicked. She's an American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun, and her books showed me a way to take the negative in my life and translate it into something positive. That's the basis of lojong, a series of tenets or aphorisms that are guideposts for taking our ingrained habits of negativity and using them for growth. The slogans give you practical ways to make mental room for the world as it is and not just as we see it through the filter of experience.

I may be light-hearted at times about it, but I do take my study of Buddhism very seriously - especially since I see it as something that informs my day-to-day. However, I was having a hard time keeping my studies on track, with all the other things in my life. I actually started another blog to help me keep up (crazy talk for someone who is as busy as I am, I know, but it made sense at the time). If you're interested, it's Lojong Ruminations: Musings of a Nascent Buddhist with Equal Parts Naiveté and Skepticism. I go through phases where I stick to a weekly schedule, but I sometimes go for weeks without writing. Each post considers one teaching/tenet/slogan. I share the research I did and the understanding I've gotten. Usually, since it is still me, I attach it to something popular culture oriented - such as the recent post where I pulled Bugs Bunny into the mix.

As I mentioned above, talking about my Buddhism has been a somewhat uncomfortably personal thing to discuss publicly. I've taken a lot of comfort from the fact that posts at Lojong Ruminations are left alone in relative obscurity, especially when compared to LtaYL. Most get 20-30 hits on average, and the most popular post only has seventy-something views. 

Like I said above, though, I thought it was time to bring Buddhism to my library blog. It's like when someone told me “you’re not fat” so I got angry and wrote a post about size acceptance. Recently, someone challenged my Buddhism and I find myself angry and feeling compelled to  go on the record on a topic of personal importance. It's just time to be more public about my Buddhism.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Job is More than a Paycheck

The Kentucky state bird: the cardinal

There's been a lot of talk on social networks about a recent job posting for a library director opening in rural Kentucky that will pay the successful candidate $7.25 per hour. I didn't get involved in the Twitter conversation, but I'll admit it: I had the same initial reaction of outrage that a lot of people had. "Minimum wage? For a job that typically requires not just a bachelor's degree, but also a master's?!!"

I'm admitting my gut reaction here so that you know I understand why some people said the things they did. I haven't made minimum wage in decades. To be honest, I don't know that I ever did. I've also predominantly lived and worked in fairly affluent parts of the country, with the exception of when I lived in a part of the Rust Belt that barely noticed the beginnings of the economic downturn in 2008 because things there were already a financial nightmare. I'm clearly biased.

And that bias is the thing I've been thinking about as I mull over how to add my voice to the conversation. For sure I want to show my support for the library and outgoing library director in question, but there are people who have already written better than I could. Further, I've been emailing and tweeting with Dolly Moehrle (who has written a guest post for LtaYL in the past) about ideas of how I can, more concretely, help. I highly recommend you click through to see what Dolly wrote at her own blog in a post called "The Kentucky Challenge," and if you can please add your voice. So rather than write a "me, too!" post, I decided to take a different tack.

Instead I want to talk to you about how you decide where you want to work. I don't mean public versus academic, although that is an important consideration. No, I mean where in the country (or world, even). I've moved a lot for school and for my career. Delaware, my current state, brings my total states up to seven, although I've lived in Massachusetts more than once. There have always been a lot of factors that go into how I decide where to apply, such as the politics of the state and access to nerd culture and how good is the hiking. But one of the most important things I research is how much it will take me to maintain a standard of living in the area near the library/college, and will the library/college be able to afford to pay me that much. And that's before I even consider the kinds of benefits provided by the institution, like educational opportunities and health benefits.

One other thing that is crucial to me: will I be valued and respected in my role? Funding is frequently out of the hands of the administrator, either within or above the library. Doing more with less is a fallacy, but fit and feeling like you contribute are values that are worth more than money most of the time. One of the best paying jobs I had in the past was dreary and unfulfilling and I felt utterly unappreciated.

I'm not saying you should apply for the Kentucky job that caused all this furor. Actually, I think that search might be closed now, but when it was open people immediately saw the minimum wage and disregarded all the other factors. I'm just saying that before you write a job opportunity off because of money, do your research. A job is more than a paycheck. We're librarians, after all. Research is what we do.