ALA Emerging Leaders Reflections

As regular readers may know, I was selected as a 2011 ALA Emerging Leader, sponsored by the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA).  Part of my sponsorship was the opportunity to write for the quarterly newsletter, RUSA Update. This is a slightly edited version of a post that will be appearing in the Fall 2011 issue. 

During one of the excessively hot days this week, my ever-entertaining morning weatherman informed me that “five months ago today, the temperature was 23 degrees with a wind chill of 17!”  New York City weather swung from one extreme to another in little more than a quarter of the year.  Clearly change can be sudden and extreme – and take place in a short time.

Can this be applied on a personal level?  Indeed, and most definitely for me.  In the six months of the Emerging Leaders program I went from part time to full time employment, now serve on several ALA committees, presented two posters (one of which was my Emerging Leaders deliverable), been published in Computers in Libraries (and soon to be in Reference and Technical Services Quarterly), and unsuccessfully ran for ALA Council.  There’s been a laundry list of personal life changes, but listing them all would turn this into a 20 page article.

The goal of all change is to learn from it, and I have learned throughout these six months.  For starters, I have learned to work within a team again.  Four months of unemployment and six months of working in a small consulting firm as the solo office manager render team work skills a bit rusty.  There were times I did forget what it was like to work on a group project!  But with patience and gentle, constructive criticism from group members and self-reflection, I was able to get back on track.  It was like riding a bike – you may not get on a bike for years, but when you do, everything comes back.

Another lesson learned is the importance of reconnecting with your people.  The job search, unemployment, three family crises in the latter half of 2010, and other issues led some of my involvement within ALA and librarianship slide.  I made some time for certain events and projects, but lack of time and job search burnout led me to take a small sabbatical from professional development.  Those who are unemployed and underemployed will agree that it’s hard to be “Yay Libraries!” when you’re spending day after day in your pajamas watching The Price is Right and living off of cereal because you’re not working.  (I speak from 100 percent personal experience.)  Being an Emerging Leader, surrounded by like minded peers whose ambition matched (and sometimes exceeded) my own, re-energized my passion for information.  It was the kickoff workshop at Midwinter in San Diego that led me to run for ALA Council in the first place!

The third lesson on change is to accept its presence – to quote from one of my favorite movies, French Kiss, “swim in it until your fingers get all pruny.”  One of my colleagues in the 2011 cohort gave the simple axiom that “life happens” as her biggest lesson from the program experience.  Her group had several cases of personal and professional change affect the progress of their project (including, I think, someone affected by severe weather in the Midwest).  Rather than fight it, they learned to work with it. If someone was behind on a deadline due to a family member being in the hospital or a hectic week at work, it was best to just let it go – the work will still be there when everyone returns to it, hopefully rested and in better mind. Their acceptance of crisis mode and understanding that life can intervene in critical and severe ways allowed them to adapt better.  It’s nothing more than the old phrase, “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

A final lesson from my project experience – perhaps the most important – has nothing to do with change at all, and is quite counter to it:  Stand up for your beliefs.   Anyone who attended the Emerging Leaders poster session at the Annual Conference knew that my group (Team G), had a quite different, definitely edgy and potentially controversial giveaway with our poster.  I was on board with this idea…until I got a full time job in April.  I wasn’t comfortable handing this particular item out to co-workers or senior colleagues that attended.  I did not feel it would be appropriate for me to do so, not with such a short tenure at the company.  I advocated for having the more family friendly alternative of business cards, and successfully convinced my EL colleagues of same.  I could have kept my mouth shut and gone with status quo (again, accepting change!) but decided that certain issues and concerns were worth the fight.

If you attended the Emerging Leaders poster session, I wholeheartedly thank you for coming.  If you stopped by to talk with Team G about our poster, accept more thanks from me.   Whether or not you visited the Emerging Leaders at Annual, allow me to highlight some of my favorite projects:

  • Team B worked with ACRL to prepare ACRL 101, a “guide to enhancing the conference experience for first time attendees.”  I loved this project not just because one of the dearest friends I made from the group (Megan Hodge), served on it, but because it will be useful for me when I attend ACRL as a full fledged attendee in 2013.
  • Team I reviewed a favorite topic of mine, library website usability, showing off the “Seven Deadly Sins of Library Websites.”  Usability and design thinking are so important in our profession, and I predict that this will grow in the future:
  • Team J worked with the Information Technology and Telecommunications Division to create a “Virtual Guide to ALA Deadlines” – any and all deadlines within the organization in one interactive timeline:
  • Team K and Team L both worked on projects for the Learning Round Table (LearnRT) relating to training and staff development – Team K built a wiki for staff development day resources, and Team L looked at ways to build a webinar series.  I’m a semi-frequent guest on the T is for Training podcast and have sat through more than my fair share of subpar, weak training session at previous jobs.  Al l these experiences foster my interest in ways we can harness technology to improve training and staff development.
  • Team N, working with the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) worked to review LIS student recruitment to the organization within management courses.
  • And of course, there is Team G, my team project, a set of videogame collection development best practices prepared for the Games and Gaming Member Interest Group (which became GameRT, a full fledged roundtable at ALA Annual).

This is just a small sample of the projects from our cohort, be sure to spend time reviewing the full list.  If you or someone in your workplace is interested in the Emerging Leaders program, please get in touch with me; I would love to talk at length with you about the program.

As my reign as RUSA’s Emerging Leader is now over, this will be my last “News from Your Emerging Leader” column.  Consider this my final walk across the stage with the tiara on my head; it’s now time to crown my successor.   I wish to thank everyone at RUSA – President Barry Trott and the Executive Board, leadership from sections, and members – for the sponsorship, networking and professional opportunities.  You’ll still be hearing from me within and outside of the organization – I will be co-chairing the RUSA Structure Task Force, and if you’re active in the New Members Round Table, I’m working on two committees there.

I hope to see you all in Dallas and Anaheim in the coming year, and continue conversations in between conferences.  The dialogue is so important to keep librarianship alive.  After all, to quote Doctor Who, “”You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books,  best weapons in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!” I can’t think of a better calling.

 

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Random Literature Review

Now that my ALA Emerging Leaders tenure is done, I plan to try and get more professional reading in as a matter of course.  Below are some recent articles of interest.  All are available full text in Wilson’s Library Literature and Information Science Full Text unless otherwise notes.

ACRL 2011 Conference Paper: “When Interdepdence Becomes Co-Dependence: Knowing When and How to Let Go of Library Services.”

This conference paper attempts to solve the “ooh shiny” syndrome that leaves libraries with more new tools than they really need, offering up a workplan for “planned abandonment.”  Much like the “for every new piece of clothing you buy, discard one you no longer wear” (or is it just me that does this?), planned abandonment allows the library to critically and carefully look at new tools and services in careful, critical light of the library’s mission and its user population.  Sounds simple enough – but for various and sundry reasons (the “anxiety of endings” and a healthy skepticism of any school of thought originating from management or business circles) libraries do not want to get rid of things…but have no problem adding something new.  The researchers, two librarians from very similar colleges in Pennsylvania, use the planned abandonment practice in phasing out their old ILL systems to implement new ones. Their plans led them to develop two best practices for any planned abandonment plan: reliance on communication and commitment to active follow-up work with analysis (“analysis and examination is not a static affair….it must be accompanied by constant upkeep and improvement.”)

I’m not surprised by this paper.  Substitute “weeding” for “planned abandonment” and you have a critical issue facing collection development librarians.  What differs this from other literature on weeding is the care and detail given to why libraries do not abandon services and the best practices that arose from the research.  A fascinating study into librarian psychology.

Huwe, Terence K.. “How to Craft Social Media for Graduate Study.” Computers in Libraries 31.5 (2011): 25-7.

Can social media and academia play hand in hand, or never the twain shall meet?  There are academic-based social networking sites, like Quora and Academia.edu, but they don’t have the zeitgeist penetration of Facebook or Twitter.  Terence Huwe says yes, the two can walk hand in hand – with a little bit of tailoring first.  He calls for recognition that social media needs to fit into the existing academic model of “fellowship – direct, one-to-one, and person-to-person” – the advisor-apprentice model of communication, as well as the resources that academics and graduate students use.  Don’t build the academics’ equivalent of Facebook – make what is out there already, what students use for personal communication, part of the academic community (with a few tweaks to cater to the unique user needs). It’s design thinking, plain and simple.   He offers some tips to make this integration happen in the academic library:  simply dive in and connect, documenting the academic journey with Web 2.0 tools (Evernote? Zotero?), and sharing the wealth selectively.

A good example, albeit outside of higher ed, is the knitting/crocheting social networking site Ravelry.  Slate’s recent piece on what Ravelry does right (and why it’s better than Facebook) cites ways that the social network notes the fiber community’s wants, needs, and preferred resources – and in turn, builds their network around those resources.  The introduction of Google Plus and promises of integration with other Google services leads me to hope that we will see this on a more mainstream level very soon.

I’m very keen on Huwe’s idea of “sharing the wealth selectively,” particularly with the analogy of conferences.  Librarians are heavy social networking users at conferences (I note that the number of librarians joining Twitter spikes a few weeks before ALA Midwinter and ALA Annual), and the official ALA Annual and Midwinter Twitter accounts do great jobs of sharing information and responding to attendee issues.  If I had a question about a session or just needed to tell someone the wifi was down or that the printer in the Internet cafe needs paper, I tweeted the message – with the confidence I would receive a response or at the very least, my need would be read and recognized.  Clearly we’re adopters of this tenet, and if academics want an example of effective social media in the conference setting, they only need go and talk to their academic librarian…who just might have been tweeting his/her favorite ALA Annual conference sessions and library service updates.

Abram, Stephen. “Recognizing Innovation.” Computers in Libraries 31.5 (2011): 12. 

There’s no guidebook for spotting innovation; the practice of trend watching is highly subjective.  Developing a toolkit appears futile, but Stephen Abram takes this on, and offers suggestions for finding The Next Big Thing.  Trend spotting requires a healthy dose of trusting your gut, frequent scanning of what is out there, and careful examination of potential trends.  He cautions the trend spotters to look for that change that incites argument, comes from outside the industry bubble (echo chamber, if you prefer), solves problems, spurs transformation on a global scale, and spurs human rather than technological change (among others, Abram provides about ten questions to ask oneself when looking for innovation).

Of all the tips and tricks presented in this very short piece, it was the third one in my list (spurring transformation on a global scale) that I find most important.  Librarians have a bad habit of sticking in their silos, only going to certain conferences and certain conference presentations under the guise of “it’s closest to where I live” or “it’s the most relevant to my work.” One of the best conference tips I read was to attend a session out of your comfort zone – if you’re a school librarian, go to a session at ALA geared for academic librarians.  If you’re an academic librarian, attend something for public librarians.  You might discover a Next Big Thing that works in your library.

I put this in low-key practice at the ALA Annual Meeting in New Orleans last month.  While looking to fill an hour, a fellow librarian suggested I attend the ALA Learning Round Table Training Showcase.  I’m not in any position to do staff training now or in the near term, but as he was a friend and colleague with an opinion I respect (hi Maurice!) and I really couldn’t think of anything else, I decided to attend.  It was worth the effort!  I had the chance to talk to two Emerging Leaders from my cohort about their projects related to training and staff development, and learn about succession planning in libraries. I wasn’t specifically in trend-spotting mode (in fact, Abram might caution me against trend-spotting at a session like that, where the information presented is more for internal than external use), but for stepping out of my comfort zone and only sticking to things I wanted to hear, it was a good start.

Badke, William. “Google Scholar and the Researcher.” Online (Weston, Conn.) 33.3 (2009): 47-9.

Before reading the last article in this list on Google Scholar user behavior, I found it wise to get a good primer on Google Scholar itself, and this article fit the bill.  I had basic knowledge of how Scholar worked, but never dug deep into details, preferring to conduct research in library databases.  Google Scholar looks like a library database with a Google logo slapped on it, but it’s vastly different.  It has some useful tools, such as “Library Links” (connection to a local library catalog via proxy), a rough citation counter and some bibliographic management.  Yet it is far from an ideal database. Most results are not open access full text (you can search full text, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get access to full text!), formats are limited and not easy to distinguish and users cannot sort/filter results. These limitations make it a difficult source for teaching and learning, but it does provide teachable moments.  Scholar works well for “citation hopping,” finding citations from other articles, teaching recognition of format from citation and the use of good search terms, and tends to be a good backup source when other library sources failed.    A fine overview of Google Scholar (and how to teach it) for librarians looking for more information on Scholar.

Herrera, Gail. “Google Scholar Users and User Behavior: An Exploratory Study.” College & Research Libraries 72.4 (2011): 316-31

With some familiarity of how Google Scholar works, I was well prepared to review and comment on this University of Mississippi review of library user behavior with Google Scholar. The librarians used a combination of proxy server access, ILL record review, keyword analysis and click through link analysis to find out the following about their users’ behavior in Scholar:

  • Sciences and Social Sciences were disciplines most searched for in Scholar, in both keyword analysis and click through reports. Keyword analysis showed the preference for Scholar’s currency over other resources, as popular keywords turned up in business and health science disciplines. (The analysis was done in 2009 when health care reform and business/economic reform were hot topics.  Humanities ranked lowest in many categories, but this is indicative of the behavior of humanists – reluctant to embrace change (perhaps they should skim the planned abandonment article I reviewed first?) and content with books and print resources.
  • Graduate students and faculty use Google Scholar the most, and subject areas trend the same as above.  Undergraduate students had low usage – unless they were off campus (as discovered when the library added click through access via proxy.  However, these were often one time users.
  • Google Scholar users considered it the “resource of last resort” – 76 percent of ILL/GS users were also using library resources, and 52% used it after checking another library resource.

Information literacy researchers should be pleased with that last finding; the fears of over-reliance on Google for library research may be just that – fears. There is recognition that Google Scholar is not to be the be-all end-all for library research.  I would like to see more work on Google Scholar user behavior in undergraduates; graduate students and faculty tend to have strong research skills, so they would know the power and limitations of Scholar.  And bringing this back to Google Plus…assuming that Plus integration with Google services fully comes to pass, will Scholar use increase or decrease?  Will there be changes in user behavior demographics?  These are worthy of future investigation.

 

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Where Are We Going to Watch the Lotto Now?!*: Are We Seeing the Death of Public Television?

This week marked the end of three longtime public television stations, one in New Jersey and two in Florida:

As a student of information, these developments sadden me.  Our news media has become so partisan and polarized, and while there was a time of restraint shortly after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot, these divisions in the media rear their ugly head once more (and will with the 2012 elections approaching).  The loss of unbiased (well, as unbiased as news media can get – there is inherent bias as not every station can cover every story) outlets of information, available over the air, is a loss for the citizenry.  These were not the first this year – KCET in Los Angeles went independent earlier this year, and WTTW (home of the infamous Max Headroom hacking incident in the 1980s) nearly lost its affiliation.   I am pleased that two more stations in Orlando are stepping up to the plate to provide public television coverage and that we will have the same in New Jersey.

Should librarians be concerned?  Of course!  A loss of an information portal is a loss to our profession and our beliefs in free information to all.

However…

As a New Jersey native and resident, I do not like that WNET (the public TV station serving New York City) and WHYY (the public TV station serving Philadelphia) pick at the NJN carcass.  Depending on where you live in the state, your community can receive little to no media coverage – an acute problem in my part of the state, Mercer County, as we are in the center of both media markets and rather than fight over who gets what, the NYC and Phila media seem to have opted for a “hands-off” policy.  New Jersey-centric news is available on News 12 New Jersey….which is only available via cable and satellite.  The loss of over the air television and radio that focuses on state issues is a loss for our unique identity.

I hope these are the last losses for public television. It is needed today more than ever.

 

 

* Actual comment to my father this morning upon reading of NJN’s last broadcast day in our newspaper.  NJN was home to the New Jersey Lottery drawings for as long as I can remember – in fact, when I was a kid, lotto drawings at 8 PM were followed by bedtime shortly thereafter.  Rumor has it that the drawings will only be available as webcasts, a great disservice to those who do not have/do not use Internet (like my dad and his mother).

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