Monday, December 29, 2008

Farewell 2008

A fare-the-well to 2008. The past week has been hectic. Along with the move (the movers came today and my mom is now sitting at home in an empty apartment), my wallet with my entire life in it (including social security card, credit cards and cash to tide me over to next payday) was snatched on the eve of Christmas Eve. I'm slowly getting my identification back, bit by bit. After the initial freakout and extraordinary display of righteous anger, my mother (who is the anti-crisis) reminded me that she has a birth certificate for me, cards and ID can be replaced, and money is just money. I'm still stinging from it, but mom's right. In the scheme of things, a small annoyance, really.

Tomorrow I'll be driving to Raleigh, and I start the new job on Monday. In effect, I'm leaving behind reference and instruction for a bit and starting the new year getting back to my access roots at NC State. I will show up on Monday ready to rock and loaded for bear. I'm really looking forward to the challenge, as this is completely different from what I've been doing the past two or three years, with room for both extraordinary success and huge failure. Good thing I don't truck with failure, eh?

My new year's resolutions - usually, these are a way to express-guarantee that I will not accomplish said resolutions, but I'm taking a different approach this year. A low-stress realistic approach. My resolutions, in no particular order, for those who care:

  • I will continue the fitness path I started in May. I've been doing well about eating healthy and working out, and I feel healthier and stronger than I ever have. Having an outside physical activity helps keep me moderately sane when my mental and work life go haywire. I know it's not something "new" for the new year, but it's a good habit that I want to continue to cultivate.

  • I will hit the ground running at my new job and do my utmost best to be a Bearer of Awesome. It helps that I will be working with other Awesome Folk, and I will not hesitate to ask them for help or advice when I think I need it.

  • I will stick to my Excel budget and climb out of debt. I have a budget, and it is completely possible. I will do this.

  • I will finish my second book of poetry this year. (Not much of a resolution, since it's sort of required for the MFA, but I like to know there's something on the list I will definitely be able to cross off!)

  • Speaking of, this year I will finish my MFA. Not rain nor sleet nor driving wind nor blizzards nor a severe case of lazy-ass will prevent me from getting this degree, and I am excited. November 2009, y'all.

  • I will not let work compromise my mental health. I am at my best both at work and at home when I am clearheaded. There is nothing so dire - even at work - that a little deep breath and perspective can't keep under control.

  • I will write more letters (actual handwritten letters) and send them to my friends. I miss my friends, I love them, I do not tell them this enough, and email is cold and impersonal.

  • I will go to New York and see my family more often. Easier now that I'll be closer anyway, but hearing the holiday horrors from other people, and seeing my mom for the first time in a year and a half reminds me of how lucky I really am to have been born into *my* family, and I need to spend more time with them.

2009 will be a good year. I can feel it in my bones. I wish you all the merriest and safest of holidays - here's to 2009 being better than 2008.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Guardienne's Voice

For those of you who haven't met me, spoken with me on the phone, or heard me on my occasional call-in (with Otto in the background) to Uncontrolled Vocabulary, I figured I'd link to an interview I did with a local radio station, WUTC. It was focused on my poetry-writing, so it's not actually very library-related since they edited out the parts where I waxed poetic about how creative writers should do research and use their libraries (curses!), but hey. The audiofile is here and you can either click it to play or right-click to download. Mondo thanks to one of my favorite library systems dudes, Infosciphi, who didn't laugh at me when I revealed that I have no way of hosting this and offered to both host it and send me the link when I revealed my inadequacy. He didn't even laugh, though there may have been snark to the effect that I should ask NEWLIB *wink*.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sad State of Affairs in Higher Ed

These are rough times for everyone, and higher education is taking a huge blow right now. Decisions on cuts need to be made, and more and more institutions of higher ed are looking at cutting faculty, staff, removing certain degree programs, and even reducing the amount of scholarships and merit aid they offer. I figure this is as good a spot as any to air some of my issues about this, since I'll be losing my seat on the Faculty Senate here at UTC when I leave, and will have no greater body to pester for a bit with efficiency and annoying common sense.

You know, automaker management decided that if they needed to take the bailout for their companies, they would draw a single dollar a year in salary until the crisis was over (thought what they say and what they do may differ. Funny, I haven't heard anything about looking at former administrators who fell back to regular faculty with no more administrative duties, but are still drawing a six-figure salary while their colleagues are doing the exact same job and making $45k a year. for higher ed administration, I have heard very little in the whirlwind of proposed cuts about *not* paying out the remainder of contracts for which fired folk don't work. For instance, Fulmer was fired as UT's head football coach, and gets a six million dollar contract buyout over 2 years, and I haven't heard too many folks who are mortally offended that $6 million over two years is more than our UTC library budget for two years. In fact, it's more than our library budget for *three* years. For a university of about 10,000 students. Actually, our budget was just cut by about $50,000 which we didn't have to lose, but a single person makes millions for not going to work.

Well, I'll say it. I am offended. And I know arguments crop up often about athletics budgets versus academic budgets even in the best of times, but when, according to UTC's Chancellor Brown, the University of Tennessee system is preparing "for cuts to our state funding a deep 15 percent for next year" and goes on to share that "Vacant faculty positions totaling $200,000 are being eliminated, and $500,000 in operating and vacant personnel lines is also being lost. More than $1 million in enrollment growth dollars will be eliminated from the permanent budget" - I expect an outcry.

When the Associated Press reports that a $6M Illinois tutoring center assists only athletes - "...about 550 of the school's 37,000 students" - where is the group to stand and protest that universities are for learning? I happen to think that athletics are an important part of the college and university experience, yes, but they are still subordinate to the provision of an education, and when it is time for the axe to fall, athletics simply isn't the number one priority of these institutions. At least, it shouldn't be the number one priority.

A question this brings up, other than "omgwtfbbq how are people letting these sort of ridiculosities slide??", is: how low does state funding have to fall for state university systems and other public colleges and universities to not really be considered "public" anymore? I've already mentioned the dire straits Tennessee higher ed finds itself in. For the University of Kentucky, according to the Lexington Herald Leader, "State funding has dropped from about 30 percent of the university's revenue to less than 15 percent in 10 years." Thanks, there, state government. Not that you legislated that UK become a top 20 research institution or anything.


Much of this is likely due to the fact that I went to Centre College, a tiny private liberal arts school where, while we had athletics teams and were very proud of them, we focused on academics. Club sports were extremely popular and well-attended audience-wise, but there was none of this building a $20 million structure for basketball practice while academic programs took a hit. Never happen. Centre's President John Roush recently sent an email out to the college and alumni community letting us know what building projects were going forward, which were on hold, and that aid to students would not be impacted and they were not really looking at faculty layoffs seriously just yet. Thank goodness for generous donations from alumni.

And yet, although alumni and community giving is becoming a larger percentage of even public college and university funds, these are the very people being disenfranchised by cutting academics before sports. Sure, you can come watch a UK basketball game, but don't think that your English major is going to serve you extremely well after spending 4 or 5 years in overcrowded classes with overworked part-time faculty with no benefits teaching. Sure, you can enjoy your Mocs football game - at the expense, again, of what you're actually paying tuition for: an education.

It amazes me that the administration of higher education today can actually go out in public and look people in the eye with their shiny suits and shoes and merrily announce tuition increases and academic cuts when things are run so damned inefficiently. The UC system, at least, is trying to get a handle on one of these ugly inefficiencies: giant severance packages to those officials leaving one then work on another in the same system. Again, embarrassing, but at least someone got up the nerve to publicize it enough that they *had* to be embarrassed and do something.

My charge to you? Go ahead and look at the measures being taken by your academic institution. Some will be sane and useful. In other spots there will be glaring omissions, like forgetting to mention that perhaps your Teaching Resource Center completely duplicates the mission and some of the materials of the campus library, and that an organizational shakeup could help both in terms of long-term efficiency and service as well as budget-wise. You don't have to be as in-your-face as I know I can get, but do *something* other than pontificate how bad it's going to get, and huddle under your desk. Consider this, if you will, the war on education. Not as sexy as WMDs, admittedly, but where are our protesters? Or does nobody care?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Librarian's Take on "Freedom of Speech"

This may be quite the unpopular post, but since when have I worried about being unpopular? My last post (which discussed not being ass-ish on a public non-anonymous list) was taken by some on the NEWLIB-L email list as an attempt to muzzle new librarians posting to the list, and as an attempt to infringe upon freedom of speech, which is, of course, anathema to the entire idea of librarianship. I figured it would be useful for me - if no one else - if I worked through my thoughts on this here.

You can join the list and scour the archives (an unfriendly task if ever I saw one the way NEWLIB is set up - pitiful for librarians who are supposedly into the whole "access" thing), but comments were made to the effect that my chastisement of unprofessional behavior on the list was an attempt to "muzzle" the young librarians (of which I consider myself one, as I haven't quite hit 30 yet), stomping all over their right to free expression in the name of my own interpretation of professional behavior, and encouraging them to be "obsequious followers" as opposed to the courageous, intelligent risk-takers employers are looking for.

I would argue that putting on a stream-of-consciousness display of insulting someone on a public and non-anonymous list is certainly within your rights. When I say "not" to do something in this venue, because we are all adults I assume folks are taking it as strong advice and not an order. (Far as I know, I'm still not a despot with any authority over internet conduct.) So partly this is my fault for giving orders, I suppose. I assume everyone already knows they're free to make an ass of themselves if they so desire. *BUT*, as I posted in a later reply to the list, I don’t think that means I should also have to attach value to people freely expressing themselves as incompetent. I fully expect that many will not heed my warnings/advice/muzzling attempts, and that’s fine. What I had hoped to do was make it obvious that a public professional list is not some anonymous online forum with zero real-life repercussions. I think it’s inappropriate and irresponsible to allow people to feel like they can say/do anything and not expect certain consequences that will indeed affect them - especially those new librarians who, it is occasionally claimed on list, just don't know any better and are learning the ropes.

As for librarianship and the freedom of expression - yes, I consider the support of freedom of expression a mantle you take up when you join this particular profession. If we had a creed, it'd be in there. And while I support the freedom of expression and protests and the airing of unpopular and underappreciated views, I still believe that free expression should be an *educated choice*, not just an excuse to say whatever crosses someone’s mind with an expectation that there won’t be challenge. Yes, I believe in free expression, but that doesn't mean I'm going to support what you say, just your right to say it.

I think what got many people up in arms was that I mentioned that conduct on these public lists could factor into later hiring decisions, since the library world is small and rudeness and inappropriate public response is generally remembered (I think this was the idea that had the most muzzling potential). It wasn't intended as a threat - it was intended as a warning to those who think that because they can post to these lists via email from home in their jammies with a kitty or pup in their lap that they can also be that informal when they post. *buzzer sound* Wrong. It's a librarian list, not a Fark forum or something similar. You're attaching your name and reputation as a professional to your initial posts as well as your replies, and I think I would be remiss if I didn't let new folks know that.

The great - and horrible - thing about the internet is that pretty much everything out there is fodder for inspection. I've had employers let me know during the interview stage that they had already googled me, and I don't think it's too much to assume that employers - especially in the face of increasing applications and evenly matched candidates - might check to see what your activity is on professional lists. Not so much in an attempt to be Big brother-ish as to get a sense of how you contribute to such lists. (Note: I haven't done this, but it's not a bad idea *grin*). As for myself, I've not got a problem with my future employers knowing that I'm occasionally an opinionated bee-yotch who isn't afraid to piss people off if I think it's necessary. They'd find that out about me pretty quickly anyway both by my interview and from my former administrations. I'm aware of it, and I'm aware it may impact me in a not-great way. (Sort of like my very obvious tattoo habit.) But it's a decision I made consciously, and for that reason alone - if we're assuming that NEWLIB is to provide info for those who really are new - I think it's important to share that I think folks should make these decisions consciously. Whether you agree with me on that - or even care at all - well, that's for you to take or leave.

So please, feel free to make a nuisance and a rude ass of yourself on library lists. I just want to make sure that when you do so, you're aware of possible consequences and don't come crying later that you had no idea it would be a factor in your professional future.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

More NEWLIB-L Drama-Llama Goodness

Le sigh. Le groan. I logged into my work email to cull it a bit near the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, and woo-hoo, NEWLIB flamey goodness. A soon-to-be MLS grad posts a question asking how to convert a Word file to PDF. Some make suggestions. Some make fun of that person for not googling the answer. Some flame the fun-makers. The fun-makers flame general idiocy. Delicious holiday goodness, including folks who decide it could be fun to post as different people (but, alas, from the same ISP and identified. D'oh!)

I swear I tried to keep my mouth shut and my typing fingers still. I did. And then people who expected to use the list as a professional resource started leaving the list. This happens occasionally when things get too Romper Room-esque, it's natural. This prompted yet others to snark at those who couldn't handle the capricious nature of internet commenting. And then, of course, I jumped into the fray. You knew I would, didn't you? You were hoping I would. One last hurrah before heading to NC and trying to be all decorous and managerial-like.

And so, the e-mail.

Okay, I've tried to keep to myself on this whole thing, and can't help myself. (Surprise, surprise, I know.)

"If you get spooked by the dust bunnies that get kicked up on this list, I suggest you cancel your ISP too because you can't handle "teh interwebs"."

That would be fine if we were talking about a flamewar on Fark, except this list isn't "teh interwebs." It is a professional tool and resource that is intended to answer questions for those entering the field and to point out what is inappropriate and what is appropriate as a professional. For instance, while asking what programs are available for free file conversion would seem appropriate, asking a general question of "omg I've never done this how do I convert to pdf?" demonstrates that you didn't even attempt to search the web for an answer before asking a giant list. One question is more appropriate than the other in a professional setting.

Flame wars that result from nasty comments or ignorance aren't just anonymous hiccups - they're a great way of culling the herd when it comes to hiring time. And believe me, this list is used for that, and people make note of names and attitudes. NEWLIB being a list for "new" librarians does not exempt those new librarians, experienced librarians, or about-to-be-librarians from being chastised for displays of willful ignorance, impoliteness, and general idiocy when it happens. In fact, we should *expect* to be chastised for such behavior on this list, since it's supposed to help you know what to do - and what *not* to do - as a professional. And if you make egregious mistakes, you'll be called out on them.

The library world is small. I may not know your face, but I likely know your online handle, your avatar, or your name and place of employment. And because the job market is a tight one, don't think that your informal interactions "don't count" just because you don't have your suit or heels on when you have them. Those are, in fact, the most *important* interactions, since folks can see just how you function when push comes to shove or when The Boss isn't around.

Make a note.


Colleen S. Harris
Assistant Professor, Reference & Instruction Librarian
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga