Friday, August 28, 2009

Three Years Out of the MLS

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly life moves. While talking (well, commenting within a Friendfeed thread) with a fellow librarypal, I noted that as of this month I am three years out of the MLS. My trajectory to date:

Colleen's Timeline

August 2004: Became third shift Circulation supervisor at the University of Kentucky's William T. Young Library.

January 2005: Entered UK's School of Library & Information Science.

August 2006: Received the MS in Library & Information Science from the University of Kentucky.

August/September 2006: Became second shift Reference supervisor (still parapro).

August 2007: Became reference and instruction librarian on the tenure track at Assistant Professor rank at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

January 2009: Became Associate Head of Access & Delivery Services at the North Carolina State University Libraries.

Looking at this surprises me for a number of reasons. First, I enjoy being a creature of habit. While I don't mind change at work, it takes me a very long time to settle into a place and a personal routine, so I don't like moving all that much. Which is interesting, since I do so darn much of it. Secondly, some of the jobs I've left to get where I am were jobs I genuinely enjoyed, and it was an even shoot as to whether I should leave or stay. It always surprises *me* when I make the decision to move on, since I consider myself someone who prefers to be static, but my friends usually assume I'm moving on, when given the choice.

Finally, it surprises me because while getting my MLS, my intent was to get a reference and instruction position, be good at it, keep it until I died or retired, and spend my free time working on other master's degrees for fun. It looks like I've strayed a bit in the career area, if not the further schooling area. I can't even say "Oops," as I'm enjoying the crazy rodeo that is ADS at NCSU.

I wonder what the next three years will look like...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Who has a Library of Congress Authority Record?

Who has two thumbs and a Library of Congress Authority Record?

I Have a Library of Congress Authority Record! *points at self with thumbs* (You knew that was coming, right?)

Available for viewing here, but I'm just going to post the darn thing, as it is a personal triumph. One of those goals I said I wanted to hit by 30. (As I'm only 2 months into 30, I'll fudge it and consider this achieved.)

LC Control Number: no2009123584
HEADING: Harris, Colleen S.
000 00387nz a2200145n 450
001 7981489
005 20090812005457.0
008 090810n| acannaabn |n aaa c
010 __ |a no2009123584
035 __ |a (OCoLC)oca08199861
035 __ |a (DLC)7981500
035 __ |a (DLC)no2009123584
040 __ |a ViU |b eng |c ViU
100 1_ |a Harris, Colleen S.
670 __ |a God in my throat, c2009: |b t.p. (Colleen S. Harris)

Big thanks to Anne, the Cataloging Goddess at NCSU who has not only kept me updated along the way, but delivered me printouts of my MARC record, of my book's display in NCSU's catalog, in WorldCat, and today emailed me about the authority record. Every writer should have their own personal cataloging angel to let them know when they've achieved immortality ;)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

God in my Throat Hits the NCSU Library Shelves!

I am tickled to death to report that God in my Throat: The Lilith Poems, my very first book, has been fully processed and is available at the NCSU Libraries! If you really want to, you can view my NCSU Libraries record here, or my WorldCat record here. (Okay, I realize no one but myself will likely get a kick out of that *grin*).

I do plan to get my MARC record printed on parchment and framed (beware: dork on display!) sometime in the near future.

If you've managed to escape my many posts of how to get your hands on a copy, you can snag your very own by ordering here. A number of my very favorite library peeps have sent me pictures of themselves holding a copy - expect those to start being peppered through posts. Want to be featured? Just toss me an email with your pic (if you don't know it, send me a comment). No real fame or reward involved, just the good vibes that come with making me happy *grin*.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tackling Some Library Management Fallacies

Let's debunk some common misperceptions about library management. These are relatively simple ones that I think I'm qualified to tackle given my recent 8 months as a midlevel manager and my years as a librarian and a parapro before this position. Here's hoping some lessons I've learned will help out some other folks.

Fallacy 1. You will be able to run all of the committees that impact your work.

It's just not feasible. There's so much overlap in library work, there's no way you'll be able to prepare for all contingencies, nor are you qualified to do so. In my own instance, my department works quite closely with Metadata & Cataloging, Collection Management, Acquisitions, Research & Information Services...okay, let's not kid ourselves. Access works quite closely with everyone since we're usually the spot the patron hits first. But *all* library departments impact the patron. And no, I'm not interested in staging a coup so I can run the whole library. It's nice to have a department rep on committees that impact you, but sometimes that's not feasible. At times you'll just have to trust that others on those committees that will impact you will let you know the info you need. If you find that's not happening, mention it to your manager or department head. It can't be fixed if no one knows what's wrong. But the solution isn't you running everything, unless you're the director. (And even then, you're managing resources at a completely different level.)

Take a deep breath. Let go of the control freak inside for a little bit. If you were on all the committees that impacted your work, you'd have no time to do your actual job for all the meetings you'd be in. This requires trust in others and accepting that yes, occasionally mistakes and miscommunications will happen. But like my bosslady says: we are not in an emergency room. No one is going to die if we screw up a bit in an academic library.* Take the experience, learn from it, move on. You are a *manager*.

This doesn't mean to get to run the whole show, it means that you manage your relationships, you manage change, you manage your staff and you manage fallout from mistakes. Shit happens. The library will still open tomorrow, so its best to deal with it.

(*Note: medical librarians *can* kill people, so do be careful!)

Fallacy 2. Librarians come before staff.

Nope. Not in the sense of prioritization, and not in the sense of information flow. Staff are generally the folks getting the work done, and while they may be directed by librarians, they are by no means less capable, less skilled, or less hardworking. In fact, in most cases if there was a library rapture that took only the MLS-holders to that Great Library in the Sky, most libraries would continue to function just fine. And in the interconnected environment described above, nothing is cleanly top-down in a library. Info goes from patrons to staff to librarians, librarians to staff to patrons, and every combination you can think of. (Toss in university administration and faculty and various other stakeholders and you can see why there's no definitive prescribed pipeline format for info sharing.)

Creating an artificial workaround so that staff info has to be piped through another librarian (or anyone else) before it gets to you is harmful in a number of ways, not the least of which is in service. The longer info about changes or dissatisfaction takes to reach you, the longer it takes you to address it, and this is BAD SERVICE to your community.

I think this fallacy is a direct relation of Fallacy 3.

Fallacy 3. Librarians are librarians and professionals, parapros are parapros and staff, and not only never the twain shall meet, but the MLS means I'm more important.

I would love to know where this one came from. I've worked in academic libraries my entire career (since I was 18 if you count my workstudy in college), and this view seems pervasive, especially at larger libraries. I can say from experience that my staff and non-MLS supervisors are some of the hardest working folks I know (and I can also attest I've known quite a few librarians who seem to get by just fine hiding in their cubicles beneath the fireproof tenure cloak). A few points on this: increasingly, parapros are doing the work previously done by librarians. How many of you work at libraries where staff and even students work the reference desk? I thought so. And if all your staff walked out, would you be able to run your library? I didn't think so. And, what gets my goat most of all, if that most of the librarians I know **started** as parapros! I know *I* did, and I think it gave me a great advantage - I knew exactly what I was getting into, and I had a form grasp of how library underpinnings worked before I became a "professional" librarian.

Yes, our work might be slightly different, but it's no more or less important. At this point in the economic downturn, unimportant jobs have been cut or consolidated and none of us are useless. Unless, that is, we're not doing our actual jobs. The MLS qualifies you for certain positions requiring the degree, it does not make you more important or a better person. Get over yourself. You want me to be impressed? Shuck your buns at work. Implement new services. Help your staff deal with change productively. Create a great working environment. Clean up the problem spots and messes in your department. Do not waggle your professional status at me and expect me to be impressed. All you'll manage to do by insisting on this divide between your self and staff is piss off a large contingent of the useful library workforce. Staff/parapros/whatever you want to call folks who work in libraries *do not have cooties*. The lack of an MLS is not catching, if that's what you're worried about.

In fact, what *are* you worried about? That folks will stage a coup and take over your work? Well, if you can't demonstrate why you are better equipped to handle it than they are, then the MLS doesn't seem to hold it's weight or deserve the importance you place on it, does it? I know, ouch. I'm sorry, that's harsh. But it's true.

Fallacy 4. People should be able to read my mind and know what I need and when I'm unhappy with things.


This one gets my panties in a bunch. Unless they've been teaching mindreading in school with NCLB, you cannot expect people to know when you're displeased with something unless you speak up about it. Don't mope about and expect us to guess. (It's like having a relationship with a teenager!) If it's a topic that tends to get you upset, I recommend making some notes or an outline of what you want to discuss to help keep you from getting sidetracked. Find the person who can actually make the change you need (bitching to colleagues doesn't do anything but poison the work environment if it's someone else who has to make things happen). A good rule of thumb: if you're not doing anything about fixing it, you can't complain about it. If you complain about it, you should have a workable solution in mind to bring to the table. And this rolls into #5:

Fallacy 5. Everyone hates their job. Some just suck less than others, so I'll deal with it.

Nay, nay, nay! Yes, there are craptastic jobs. (Personally, I don't think librarianship is one of them.) Mostly, though, there are craptastic environments. Again, I say: fix it. Create the space/attitude/culture you want to work in. No, it doesn't always work. If it doesn't work and things are still miserable: you. Need. To. Leave. Do not reward that workplace with your labor if it is so awful. Yes, job hunting is a pain. But so is vomiting every day before work. And if you are going to spend 40-plus (and usually plus) hours in your work environment every week - a large chunk of your life - it had better be someplace that doesn't make you want to commit seppuku. I say again: leave toxic environments after making good-faith efforts to change them. Life is too short. There are other libraries. And if you're miserable, the people around you at work and at home are likely picking up on your misery vibes.

Oh, I'm sure there are more. So let's make this just the initial post, and see what you all have to say...

Centre College for the Win!

Forbes just ranked my alma mater #14 among all institutions. Pardon me while I cheer for that tiny little Kentucky college that helped make me the person I am today. *grin*

I'm proud to be a Centre College alum - the individual attention I received there, the ridiculously small classes (I think my largest class during my undergrad career was freshman humanities, which had a whopping 21 students in it), and the dedicated faculty and staff make it a real gem. It may not make sense to put out for that sort of price for an undergraduate education, but Centre would be my first recommendation for any student who goes for their bachelor's with the intent to move on to any significant graduate work. I enjoyed myself, but the academics were extremely rigorous. (To the point where a number of the graduate programs I've completed since have been slightly anticlimactic.)

I can also say that after having worked at a number of colleges and universities since graduation, that personal attention and stellar customer service make an impact. (Not that Centre would ever use so cold and corporate a term as "customer service" - the terms we used were "community" and a "genuine shared interest in student success," and so forth.) I graduated in 2001, but when I go back, my professors ask about my life and how my parents are doing. President Roush still works out at the gym beside the students. Jan St. Pierre from the Registrar's office greets me by name at the Homecoming football game. (In my day, we registered for classes in person with registration forms signed by our advisors. We would take our sleeping bags to be close to the front of the line to get the sections we wanted and camp out. Thus is life at a college full of nerdtastic goodness.) I know that sounds silly, but when the registrar remembers you 8 years later? That's ridiculous, in the most fabulous sense.

Centre is a great example of how "customer service" isn't something that's done grudgingly to keep folks from complaining, it has been embraced as a way of life in all aspects of the campus community. It's not thought of as part of anyone's "job," but as an integral part of the academic and social community. I refuse to believe that this is only possible at very small institutions. (I am realistic enough to know that it is likely more difficult to develop at a huge institution, though.)

Anyway, these are just random thoughts. Yes, Centre may be the best value out there, and the best education out there, but what I remember most is it being the best *experience* - I made some of my best friends there, and that is where I saw professors being the sort of faculty members I wanted to be - nurturing and challenging, friendly and energetic.

I believe I would have walked a very different path if I had gone to another college or university, and every time someone at the University of Kentucky, Emory, StonyBrook, or North Carolina State University asks me my student number, I feel a pang of homesickness for Centre. Because my roots are where everybody knew my name, and where "customer service" wasn't a face people put on at work, it really was the way life was conducted. This is what I want to figure out how to accomplish in my library. That sense of welcome, of camaraderie, of 'we are all a part of this.' That is the challenge. Hooray for Centre for giving us a great example.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Help the Louisville Public Library

As reported in the Courier-Journal, Louisville was hit hard by rain on Tuesday morning, devastating the main public library.

I happen to have a particular affection for the LPL as a Kentuckian at heart (I lived there for a number of years, getting my MLS from UK and currently completing my MFA at Spalding University, which is right across the street from LPL), and as a pal of Greg Schwartz. (Check out that Schwartz link for his pics of the damage, which are devastating.)

Steve Lawson has put out a call to help the Louisville Public Library. Donations of any amount are welcome to help offset the damage that was done to the collection.

Steve's 24-hour update put the collection at a whopping $1295 - not a bad one-day take in the pursuit of the $5000 goal. After so many of you helped me to save Otto's eyes with your generosity and donations towards his surgery, I thought it couldn't hurt to pass this along. Every little bit helps, and a thousand people giving $5 each creates a whopping donation.

If you are interested in giving, but would rather donate directly to the library without any intermediaries, the address is:

The Library Foundation
Attn: Flood
301 York St.
Louisville, KY 40203
(502) 574-1709