Thursday, September 22, 2016

Interview Post: Jacob Berg



Biographical

Name?

Jacob Berg

Current job?

Senior Librarian, Foreign Service Institute, United States Department of State, via The LAC Group

How long have you been in the field?

Off and on since 1996, but totally all the way on since 2007.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I've got a windowless office with some bookshelves, cork boards on two walls, and a sit-stand desk. I try to stand about two-thirds of the time. There's also a table and two other chairs for meetings, and there is almost always chocolate as well as trail mix on hand.

How do you organize your days?
It's a small library, and I know I'm going to be working the reference desk for at least an hour per day, so I try to work around that. For the most part, I try to handle internal library issues in the morning, and external in the afternoon.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Administrating, usually strategic planning, plotting a library renovation, marketing and outreach, and a bit of collection development.

What is a typical day like for you?
I'm training myself to be more of a morning person, and with enough cold brew coffee I can almost fake it. I get to work at 7:30am and scour social media and library listservs for good ideas to steal. Then I stand, check in with the other staff, check email, and start writing. Documenting workflows, strategic planning, brainstorming outreach... I'm out on the desk for an hour in the middle of the day, then I take lunch, and then I'm back at it, standing, often with collection development, and reaching out to schools and divisions within the Foreign Service Institute to see what they need, suggesting edits and editing the website, and the occasional cataloging. I leave around 4:30.

What are you reading right now?
Shadowshaper, by D.J. Older. Young adult fiction, thriller-horror set in Brooklyn. Authors take note: I am reading this primarily due to Older's excellent twitter presence, @djolder. I also enjoy longform journalism.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
I'm not going to declare something the best, but please, document everything. Write it down! I'll credit Becky Yoose, @yo_bj, for this through her use of #writethedocs. Also, this is a good time to mention that for librarians like me that don't have and/or haven't had mentors, peer networks are everything. Find your people, please. They're out there.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
I had no idea how much outreach to the FSI community I'd be doing. I'm not an extrovert or type A, so this has been interesting, to say the least.


Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
"Piglet." Just say it with me. Hard not to smile, right?

What is your least favorite word?
Cliché, but I am one of those people who really does not like the word "moist." <shudders>

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Working at a zoo. Poop aside, being outside, with animals... Cheese-mongering would be fun, too, plus it's another good word.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
There are so many. Acting. Lawyering.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Befitting an introvert, invisibility.

What are you most proud of in your career?
At a previous job I worked with a vendor to build open access into our discovery layer, raising awareness on campus and providing access to resources that would otherwise go unfound. Also, I've been able to take advantage of DC's job market, hiring, and training library staff from a wide array of backgrounds.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I am forever making mistakes. They happen. They happened. They'll happen again. If you can, please give people space to make mistakes, and to fail. I even have a tag for it on my seldom-updated blog: http://beerbrarian.blogspot.com/search/label/failure. Specifics are there.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Bemoaning the current state of the world online; gaming with my ten year old; talking about dinosaurs, Star Wars, and Legos with my four year old; petting dogs; gardening and cooking; reading and writing about beer; binge watching TV shows; and rooting in vain for the New York Mets, my favorite squadron.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Kenny Nero, Jr. (@kennynerojr).

Jake tweets at @jacobsberg and blogs at Beerbrarian. This is the third post he's written for Letters to a Young Librarian. The first was "Doing Research Lets You Justify Why You’re Doing What You’re Doing" and the second was Ethics, Copyright, and Information Literacy,

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How I Manage

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I know I still have plenty to learn about managing people, but after close to four years in this job I've learned a lot. And I realized I've talked around this topic, but never wrote a whole post about it. Decided it was time... For those of you who intend to go into management, or who are new to it, here are some of the most important things I've learned about being a manager:
  1. You need to individualize how you work with people. Some people like more guidance on projects, and others will want to make a task their own. After a period of getting to know each other, and knowing how people work, it's best to let someone work to their strengths. We can't all be good at everything, so letting people shine is more effective and makes people happy to come to work.
  2. You need to trust the people who work for and with you. If you can't trust the people you've hired, why did you hire them in the first place? Don't get me wrong, "trust but verify" is an important part of my management style, but people who feel trusted will also be happy to come to work.
  3. Trust is a two way street. You've got to keep your promises and admit your mistakes. If you have to say "no" to a proposal, tell people why. On a rare occasion, when you're in a management position, you'll be constrained by those above you, but you can at least say that: "We can't do that right now, and I've been told not to explain this just yet. As soon as I can, though, I'll explain this." 
  4. You need to check in regularly. Having meetings just to have meetings may sound like a waste of time, and it can be, but everyone who works for me gets a certain amount of guaranteed, individual time with me. Sometimes we have an agenda, sometimes we just chat. Part of it is that I have a glass office, and regular meetings will dispel any "oh, Jane's in the boss' office! What did they do wrong?" Another part of it is that sometimes people will have ideas that they want to share, but not in front of coworkers. Sure, we have monthly staff meetings as well, but one-on-one time, especially for people with whom I don't normally overlap on the schedule, is crucial.
  5. Be their umbrella and their foundation. A big part of my job is making it easier for my staff to do their jobs. When the circulation desk computer started to crap out, I was relentlessly cheerful and cheerfully relentless with IT. When the budget gets tight, I make sure to protect the things my staff needs. I require professional development and, when the opportunity comes up, happily give good references - even for current employees - when they apply for jobs that will make better use of their skills and knowledge. Strategic vision and guidance is what head cheese in charge library administrators are supposed to do, and helping the staff succeed is one crucial way to achieve that.

So how about you? For those of you in management positions, what other advice do you have? For those of you who are managed, what do you like to see?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Surviving Peer Review on Your Own Terms, by Alison Skyrme, Jane Schmidt, and Curtis Sassur

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A new librarian, an experienced librarian and an archivist got together to do a research project. What happened along the way was not quite what we expected. Maybe you’ve experienced something like it, or maybe you’ll face a similar situation in the future. We want to share our experience with the joy, excitement, trials, and disappointment in the world of academic publishing.

Why we did the research

For us, finding the topic was the easy part. We had decided that we would purposefully avoid supervising unpaid internships as a matter of professional integrity, and only take on students that our library could properly fund. During the course of this decision, it was clear that the topic had been neglected in library research and we wanted to take a close look at the institutionalization of unpaid internships within accredited library science graduate programs. There was (and remains) a climate of scrutiny on the misuse of unpaid interns in many sectors. Work-study programs are an accepted part of librarian education - we thought it was prudent to take a critical look at how well it’s working. We wanted to hear what the interns had to say. Are they really benefitting? Is their work valued? Is the experience worthwhile? So, with ethics board approval, a research plan, and a literature review in hand we were on our way.

Research: The good, the bad, and the anti-climactic

We thought a social sciences-based approach would best serve our needs, so we used survey tools and interviews to examine the value of the internships. Our background research went well: it showed a gap in the research, offered guidance in the form of similar studies from other fields, and highlighted issues to investigate. The dreaded ethics approval process was a useful exercise, even though it did feel a bit fastidious in the moment. Gaps in our survey tools, ethical considerations we’d missed, and practical issues were highlighted and remedied. With approval in hand, we eagerly sent our surveys and interview requests out into the world and waited for the data and volunteers to come flooding in.

Cue the crickets.

Sometimes, despite best efforts, all you get is a small sample size. In our case, very small. Tiny, really. Why? Some institutions may have been unwilling to participate, some individuals were perhaps afraid of giving negative feedback that may affect their future career, despite assurances of privacy. Others may have simply deleted the email. Still others may have had survey fatigue. There is no way to know why we got a a poor response rate, but we did. We re-sent requests, we widened our search, we ensured messages were being received, but we still only received a small amount of responses. What next? We sought the advice of our ethics review board to see if we should proceed. They told us that we could, but we would have to note that the sample size would have to be acknowledged in the final product. And so, we carried on - we’d gotten this far, right?

The interviews we did with former unpaid interns that did contact us were fascinating. They shared experiences we hadn’t considered and gave us a point of view we hadn’t anticipated. That’s what research is supposed to do, right? We became so immersed in the rich narratives before us, our concerns about the sample size were assuaged.

Putting it out there

When we had collected all the data we could, we found a journal that seemed in line with the kind of research we did. We followed the structure, formatting and submission instructions, and then we waited. And waited. By the time we received the good news that our publication had been accepted (with “extensive and comprehensive revisions”), the research was well over a year old, and we were starting to lose enthusiasm. But we rallied, and began to carefully review the required changes. Receiving negative feedback is never a hootenanny. We understand the process is designed to ensure high quality - and certainly there were changes that needed to be made - but upon reviewing the portions that were re-written as per the reviewers suggestions, we no longer felt the paper was meaningful enough to be published.

Making the hard choice

So, now what? When you have annual reviews pending and research is expected, it’s difficult to say “no” to a publication, even if the final product would feel inauthentic. While our paper was technically accepted, the required revisions would have nullified any conclusions we made, and we honestly wondered why they wanted to publish it. We concluded that we didn’t need to shoehorn our research into a box that didn’t fit. We also decided we didn’t want to let it go, and opted for Plan B - alternative dissemination.

Plan “B” doesn’t have to be Bad

This must be prefaced with an acknowledgement that we are lucky enough to work for an institution that takes a relatively broad view of publishing. Poster presentations, self-publishing, and blog posts are all reasonably considered. This isn’t the case for everyone, of course. But if librarians are meant to be at the forefront of a bold new world of scholarly dissemination, we need to walk the talk. This project may not have gone exactly as planned in the traditional sense, but even with its shortcomings, there is value to its existence. We are sharing it now, for the wisdom to be gleaned from its (limited) results and to talk about the experience we had from idea to peer review. We feel privileged to be able to take this approach and hope that it helps inspire others to explore a similar path if they find themselves in a similar situation.

Alternative dissemination is ok. [Editor’s Note: I’m obviously a fan of alternative dissemination.] We don’t need to publish in an academic journal to have our voices heard, to start a discussion, to make people think. Certainly the traditional peer-review model has its place, but it is not always the best way to reach your audience. We cannot expect scholarly communications to evolve if we aren’t willing to take the lead by example.

Sounds like a great research opportunity….


Alison Skyrme is the Special Collections Librarian at the Ryerson University Library and Archives, and an instructor in the Film + Photographic Preservation and Collections Management graduate program at Ryerson. Alison holds a Master of Information from the University of Toronto, 2015, and specializes in the management of photographic collections. She is currently the Image Arts liaison librarian. She tweets at @A_Skyrme.

Jane Schmidt has worked in collections management at Ryerson University in Toronto since she graduated from University of Alberta in 2004. She has previously presented and published on issues related to monograph acquisitions including weeding, demand driven acquisitions and budget management. She is presently the Engineering liaison librarian. Her current research interests include Little Free Libraries, public libraries, political economy and dinosaurs, thanks to her 5 year old son Elliott. She tweets at @janeschmidt and blogs at The Incidental Academic Librarian.

Curtis Sassur currently serves as the Archivist and Coordinator of Archives & Special Collections at Ryerson University. Curtis holds a Masters of Information Studies (MISt) from the University of Toronto, and a BA in philosophy from the University of Guelph. Curtis' current research interests include the Canadian cultural donation/tax credit system and the increasing encroachment of private sector paradigms and practices into the library sector. He tweets at @RU_Archivist.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Life Got The Better of Me

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Because I know how important work-life balance is, and I know how crucial it is to be gentle with ourselves, I'm going to have to skip another week.

Be back soon.

-Jessica

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What I Wish Library School Had Told Me About Government Contracting, by The Beltway Bandit

During my library program, I often heard about classmates’ post-graduation career goals. I remember plans to become public librarians, academic librarians, archivists, anywhere-so-long-as-I-___ librarians, a few corporate librarians, and even sometimes civil servants. What I don't recall, except in occasional references a few professors made to "Beltway bandits," was anyone talking about government contractors. As someone who became a government contractor after graduation, I soon realized I had not learned to ask the right questions for academia but not contracting. This post is my way of helping others benefit from what I learned as a government contractor.

Your Employer May Follow Small Business Rules

There are a lot of players in the contracting game and they vary in size. If your employer has fewer than 50 people, they follow small business labor rules. Seems obvious, but when an interviewer tells you they have employees in 10 different states, they may only mean 20-30 people. Easy to remember at a small historical society, less so at an agency of 5,000 civil servants + contractors.

I have been very lucky that I haven't needed to use FMLA, because that's something my employer doesn't offer as a result of being so small. Additionally, I buy my health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange because my employer is a small business located in another region of the country and they did not have the staff or investment to negotiate good coverage or plan options that work in my region.

Advice: Ask. Not "hey, will I get FMLA?" but "So tell me more about ____. How many librarians do you have? What other contracts do you have?”

You Work for Two Different People

You work for your employer. You also work for your agency. At times, your agency will treat you as an outsider. Your employer may not always act in the best interests of your agency. Many contracts also have a subcontractor. My boss and I work for different contractors. It gets a little weird. I might get put on his contract next time or he on mine.

This disconnect is something you will have to live with. From knowing plenty of other contractors, I can say that it's more prevalent at some places and less at others. But it's still there.

Advice: Ask whether you want to do job X or whether you want to work at agency Y. If this job matches the kind of work you want to do, take it. If your motivation is that you really want to work at ____ agency and you think the job's good too, great. If it’s a great job but you’re not keen on the agency, take a step back and ask evaluate how you’ll feel about being slightly outside. If you don't like the job, take 30 steps back. You don't want this unless truly desperate. In which case, I can relate, I'd been on the market for quite a while when I finally got this job.

It's Not in The Contract

If I had a nickel… Contracts thoroughly spell out the work they do and don't include. That awesome new reference service or cool digital project idea you came up with? Sorry, that’s probably outside the contract. Some offer flexibility. Mine's fairly rigid. It protects me from new tasks I’m not getting paid for but it limits me, too. You can hit limitations in any library, but it’s quite painful when everyone agrees with you, you have the resources and even the time to do it, and you’re still told to twiddle your thumbs instead because of The Contract.

Advice: It’s not unreasonable to ask your interviewer to describe what’s covered in the contract, how they handle changes, etc. Or, if nervous, ask whether they've done any special projects recently or what new service excites them.

Conclusion

At this point, I feel compelled to point out that there are upsides to working on a government contract. Many agencies contract most of their library jobs, so if you want to do a particular kind of library work for a particular kind of agency, this may be your only opportunity. Some contractors pay more than the civil service (find them!). Many manage multiple contracts and may be amenable to giving you internal candidate status for a job that comes up at an agency where you'd rather work.

Beyond what I shared above, I have three more pieces of advice for people considering a job in government contracting:
  1. Put some time into research. It can be hard to research the company, so I'd suggest researching contracting in general.
  2. If you've been looking primarily at academic jobs with 10-15 days of sick leave alone, be aware that the contracting world follows corporate norms. 15 days combined sick and vacation is normal. When considering a salary, take this into account. Academic salaries are not comparable, as you have less buffer for illness. Any additional sick time comes out of your salary, and your sick leave may not roll over. Mine doesn’t.
  3. Figure out why you want to work for a government contractor. It won't necessarily get you closer to a civil servant job or make you really a part of that agency. But it may allow you to build skills and gain that experience you really needed coming out of library school—and that's a perfectly good reason.

The Beltway Bandit is an obvious pseudonym, for obvious reasons.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

I Stand With Faculty at LIU Brooklyn #LIUlockout

Rather than me telling you how to do some part of your job better, or how I learned to do my job better, I'm going to ask you to spread the word about what is currently happening and support the faculty of Long Island University, Brooklyn.



Here's an excerpt from the Long Island University Faculty Federations' press release:
Long Island University informed the LIU Faculty Federation (LIUFF) that it plans to lock out faculty at midnight on Friday, September 2, on the eve of a no confidence vote in President Kimberly L Cline. The faculty contract expired on August 31. Picketing to protest the lockout and use of replacement workers will take place on Flatbush and DeKalb Avenues at 10 a.m., Wednesday, September 7, the first day of classes. The LIU Faculty Federation/NYSUT/AFT represents fulltime and adjunct faculty.
That lock out happened. Many are calling this action on the part of the administration at LIU Brooklyn "unprecedented." It is, without a doubt, unmerited and unethical.

So what can you do? You can send a letter to the administration via actionnetwork.org, demanding that the lockout end immediately. You can also send email directly to the president of LIU Brooklyn: Kim.Cline@liu.edu. But most importantly, you can pay attention to what is happening by following the hashtag #LIUlockout on Twitter - you don't need an account to read the tweets.

And if you already have a Twitter account, follow Emily Drabinski there. She's the secretary of the union. She wrote that press release and is keeping the community up to date via her Twitter:

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Seven States (So Far)

There's an ice breaker game called "Two Truths and a Lie." There are variations on this game, but I always stump people when I play. One of my truths that people think is a lie is that I've lived in seven states so far in my life. Once people find out that I have indeed moved around that much, they start quizzing me about what I liked and didn't like about each place and about which is my favorite. Truth is, I don't have a favorite. Everywhere I've lived has had good and bad. Here's the list, in (mostly) chronological order, of where I've lived and a few things I really liked about living there.

Massachusetts

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This is where I was born and raised. This was and will always be my home. Telling you my favorite things about this state would take up pages and pages, and even then I'd probably forget things. Instead, I'll tell you about the things I absolutely have to do and places I have to go when I'm in Massachusetts:
  • Kelly's Roast Beef : The sauce they put on their sandwiches makes it hard for me to eat roast beef anywhere else.
  • Museum of Science: Not only did I grow up going to this museum, which had a commercial I can still recite almost by heart, but I also got to sleep there overnight more than once with my Girl Scout troop.
  • Bearskin Neck: I always have to clambor out to the very end of this promontory. Always.
  • Rebecca Nurse House: Growing up, their Strawberry Festival was a required part of my summer.

Maryland

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I did my undergraduate degree in Maryland and ended up staying for a while. Massachusetts may be my home, but Maryland is where I grew up. I lived there from when I was 17 to when I was 25. For this state, I'm going to share where I formed some of my best memories.
Virginia

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I only lived in Virginia for a year, and mostly what I did while I was there was work. Two different restaurants at the same time to make as much money as possible. This is nothing against Virginia. It's just that I knew I wouldn't be staying. I planned to go back to Massachusetts to attend Simmons for my MLIS program, and that's just what I did.

New Hampshire

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I was lucky and found a job at an academic library a few months after I graduated from Simmons. I was working in southeast Vermont, but lived in southwest New Hampshire. I loved it there at the time. Here are some of my favorite things from when I lived there:
  • Monadnock State Park: Again, hiking. No matter where I've lived as an adult, I've found places nearby to go hiking.
  • Keene Pumpkin Festival (without the rioters, please): When I lived in New Hampshire, I always contributed at least one jack-o-lantern to the festival each year.
  • The Restaurant at Burdick's: The most amazing chocolate I've ever had was at this restaurant.
  • Saks Thrift Avenue: This was the best consignment store ever, but it's now closed and I am sad.
Vermont

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Life threw a bump in my road, so I moved closer to work. Vermont is the closest I've ever come to feeling comfortable and like I was at home. I loved the politics there. I loved the fact that my apartment was a 20 minute drive from two different food coops. And I loved the art scene. It's hard to pick my favorite things, but here's an attempt:
  • Chelsea Royal Diner: They have homemade bread that I still dream about.
  • Vermont Country Store: Yes, it's a bit of a tourist trap, but it's still fun.
  • Connecticut River Valley: I drove along the river every day for my commute, and it's still the best drive I've ever "had" to take.
  • Mocha Joe's: Think of a popular culture representation of a Vermont coffee shop, and you'll have a good idea of what this place is like.
Ohio

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As much as I loved Vermont, there was an amazing professional opportunity that pulled me to Ohio. I was nervous about living so far from an ocean, but I needn't have been. I loved Ohio almost as much as I loved Vermont and have gone back to visit more than once. Here's some of what I loved:
  • Hot Dog Shoppe: If you ever go, get two dogs with sauce and share fries with sauce and cheese with your fellow diner(s). You won't regret it.
  • West Side Market in Cleveland: It's like a farmers' market, only it's year round because it's inside. Great fresh made pickles there, plus the best soba noodles I've ever had are sold there.
  • Mosquito Lake State Park: Again, hiking. But don't let the name of the park confuse you. I was always more worried about the Canada Geese territories than the mosquitos.
  • Taco Tontos: It's a bit of a hole in the wall of a restaurant, but they make some of the best guacamole I've ever had.
Delaware

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This is my current home, and yes - I moved once again for professional reasons. So many people tout our proximity to DC and Philadelphia as a selling point, but I think that sells Delaware short. We're the "First State" and have a lot of great things to offer:
  • Killens Pond State Park: More hiking, yes. The hike around the pond is one of the most perfect paths for a nice moderate hike, and I've gone hiking a lot.
  • Bethany Beach: I know people make a fuss about Rehoboth, and Rehoboth is nice, but I prefer Bethany Beach. Besides, Bethany has the cutest little bookstore right near the water.
  • Charcoal Pit: They serve milkshakes as big as your head - do I really need to say more?
  • Flavor of India: This isn't the kind of thing you'd expect from Delaware, I know, but some of the best Indian food I've had in this country is in Dover, DE. 

What about you? Did I miss one of your favorite things about one of these states? I'd also love to hear some of your favorite things about the places you've lived.