Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Fitting” into the Big Tent: The Role of “Fit” and Moving Between Library Types, by Becky Yoose


Library workers perform and specialize in similar core duties throughout different types of libraries: aiding patrons with their inquiries, organizing information, maintaining and preserving physical and electronic collections, providing services and programs, and so on . One would assume that, provided that the worker can perform the duties, the worker can work in a variety of library types in their career, including academic, public, special, and school libraries.

I am a firm believer of Andy Woodworth’s Big Tent Librarianship philosophy. No matter what type of library or information environment we work in, we all share a common core of beliefs and skills that we can use to benefit all library and information organizations. Outside of the common core, we all stand to learn from each other in terms of challenges faced by each organization type. Cross pollination is a sign of a thriving environment.

And yet the reality is much more... quirky.

When I applied for an IT manager position at The Seattle Public Library, I was concerned that my lack of public library experience would negate all the other qualifications and experience I gained in my many years in academic libraries. Why? A sizeable portion of that concern results from the well documented bias in hiring committees surrounding “fit”. Like tends to seek out like, which makes it harder for those who want to transition from one organization type to another. You’ve probably experienced this roadblock if, for example, you are a public library worker applying for an academic library position, and vice versa. The “fit” roadblock extends to within organization types, creating another level of frustration for workers. Community college transitioning to a four year research university, rural or small public library transitioning to an urban or large public library - if you haven’t experienced the difficulty for yourself, you probably know someone who did.

In short, you have your work cut out for you.

What can you, as an applicant who wants to make the transition, do to better your chances?

    Research. Obvious first step is obvious. If you come charging into a hiring process saying “I can do x, y, and z!” without any knowledge as to how x, y, and z would fit into the new environment, then you’re no better off than the applicant that hands in a generic cover letter and resume. If your mind glazes over when looking at the hiring library’s information, here are some starter questions:
     Which populations do they serve (along with major demographic factors)?
     What are their popular/prominent collections, services, classes, and programs?
     What is their strategic goal/mission and how does that fit in current operations?
    Create the crosswalk. Now that you have a sense of the hiring organization, your focus now is to see how you can take your current skills and knowledge and convince the hiring organization that those skills can benefit them. Organizing programs and classes in one type of library can transfer over to another: securing event space, working with organizations/individuals outside the library, marketing, and volunteer wrangling are some common threads in program/class organization. Organizing and managing information can be crosswalked as well, including tools and standards.
    Be prepared to answer “Why?”. Indeed, during my interviews with SPL, the question came up - “Why are you wanting to work in a public library when you’ve worked in academic libraries?” You will get this question on multiple occasions during the interview process. Spend time reflecting on this question before the interview process - if you need a starting place for your reflection, look at the hiring organization’s mission statement or the community they serve and work from there. The most important thing, in the end, is to be honest in your answer.

With some crosswalking of skills, additional research, and a concise answer to the inevitable question of “Why?” (and probably a good amount of luck), I managed to successfully make the transition from academic to public libraries.  Again, I could have done all those things and still not made the transition due to hiring committee factors, and you might find yourself in the same place. Many hiring committees are still unaware of the “fit” roadblock that they made for applicants in the hiring process. Because of this, the burden shifts to the applicant (you!) to prove that your skills are valuable and applicable to the organization, no matter which part of the Big Tent you worked in the past to gain those skills. It’s more work on your end, but until we see a more systematic way of addressing bias in library hiring processes, it’s what we have at the moment. Nevertheless, there is room to move under the Big Tent - go forth and explore all the corners of the Tent!

(“But wait,” you might say before going off to explore, “what can be done in hiring committees to address the roadblock? And how do I make sure I don’t fall into that same trap when I get onto a hiring committee?” Stay tuned for part two which focuses on the hiring committee part of the process!)

Becky Yoose is the Library Systems and Applications Manager at The Seattle Public Library. She tweets at @yo_bj.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What To Ask When You’re Given a New Project, by Zoe Fisher


Interview questions commonly begin with, “Tell me about a time when you…” In your answer, interviewers expect you to cite specific examples—such as projects completed, programs led, and classes taught. But when you’re a new professional or a current graduate student, how do you sniff out the best projects? How can you tell when you’re being given an initiative that will grow your career, or a task that will just pass the time? The following questions should be considered whenever you are charged with a new endeavor. If you can’t answer these questions at the time of assignment, be sure to ask your supervisor or the person leading the project. They should be able to answer these questions—and, in the best work environments, they will graciously invite your feedback and comments for improvement.

What are the expected outcomes for this project or program? How will you know that I’ve done well?
As with any project, you should feel confident that you know what is expected of you. If possible, ask to see examples of what’s worked in the past. Do your best to get a sense of what “successful” looks like in this situation. Maybe it’s weeding 10% of the fiction collection, increasing interactions with patrons from last year’s baseline, or organizing and scanning the mysterious contents of a recently retired colleague’s file drawer. Every task, no matter how big or small, should have a desired outcome, and the person assigning the task should care that the work is done well.

How does this project or program relate to our goals (as a department, library, etc.)?
If you’re in a new role, this question should help you get a sense of how your individual work aligns with your department and the library at large. What is the role of your department, and how does it work within the library? What is the library doing to improve and grow? With that in mind, how does your project help the library meet its goals? You want to know that your work matters to the organization, and the connection between your task and bigger goals should be clear.

What’s at stake in this project? What would be the impact if this project didn’t happen?
If you’re being asked to do several things at once, this answer can help you prioritize. In most cases, a project with low stakes can be put on the back burner in favor of projects that have an immediate impact on your coworkers, your patrons, and library operations. But don’t let a project with seemingly low stakes get you down—sometimes it can be difficult to see the big impact of a project until it’s finished.

What do I already know that I’ll be able to use in this project? Is there anything new that I need to learn or find out?
This is a good time to clarify what resources are needed in order to do this project. Do you need to call or e-mail someone you’ve never met? Use new software? Access files or materials you haven’t used before? Hopefully there are some new things to learn in this project—that’s the fun part!

If you can’t get answers to these questions, or you’re not comfortable with the answers you receive, proceed with caution. The project might still be a good opportunity, but you will need to do the extra legwork of figuring out what you need to do and why you were tasked with this in the first place.  Keep these questions in mind as you work--remembering what you achieved and why it mattered will help you immensely the next time you’re asked to talk about your contributions to your library.

Zoe Fisher is an Assistant Professor, Pedagogy & Assessment Librarian at the University of Colorado Denver. As an information literacy instruction librarian, she is very concerned with outcomes. She blogs at and tweets at @zoh_zoh.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Six Years of Letters

Can you believe I've been writing this blog for six years now? SIX YEARS? Every time my bloggiversary comes around, it startles me to think about the time I've invested in shaking my fist at the world. And, yes, I still think of this blog as me yelling into the void about things that are important to me.

Anyway, for this anniversary - beyond my giveaway contest (details below) - I thought I'd share a list of some of my favorite things I've written here. These are posts that I think really hit the mark on what I was trying to say.

So now it's time for the contest. This year all you have to do is tell me which LtaYL post is your favorite (so long as it's not something you wrote). You can comment here or on Twitter or Tumblr, just make sure if it's not here that you tag me in some way. Also make sure I know how to get in touch with you. You'll win a $50 donation to the book-based charity of your choice and a book for you of my choice (to be determined once I pick a random winner). The deadline for submissions is June 12, 11:59, Eastern Daylight Time.

And, as always, thank you so much for continuing to read my rants. I'd probably write this blog anyway without an audience, but having one makes it more fun.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Just for Fun: Copper and Cut Grass

I am firmly and completely head-over-heels in love with the October Daye books by Seanan McGuire. Some of why I love these books are tied to spoiler-y, things such as characters who I 'shipped early on getting together later in the series, but worry not if you haven't read these books yet because I've decided to make this spoiler free.

  • These are urban fairy mysteries. Urban fey stories mashed up with great mystery stories. The main character, Toby Daye, is a private investigator and she's also a changeling - half fairy and half human. Prior to the series, she worked for humans, but during the series she works exclusively within the local fairy population.
  • No rape, at all, not even as a plot point. Yes, there's murder - that's kind of the point of most mystery series - but no rape is a nice reassuring thing as I read books.
  • The world building is immersive and consistent and amazing. The stories are mostly set in and around San Francisco, both in the fairy worlds that touch on that part of California and in the human parts. The way magic works is consistent and the geography feels real.
  • This is a minor spoiler, but it's for something that comes up in the first book fairly early on so it's not going to ruin the books - I love the rose goblin Spike. He's an animate rose bush that is shaped loosely like a cat and that also acts like a cat. Love love love him.
  • I've mostly listened to these books, and the narrator for the series thus far - Mary Robinette Kowal - is absolutely perfect for the material.
And as proof of how much I love this series, let me submit the following two pieces of proof:
  • I named my home wifi network "Tamed Lightning" which is also the name of one of the counties in the books.
  • I wear this t-shirt on a regular basis:

So how about you? Have you read these books? What do you love about them? If you haven't read them, have I convinced you to give them a try?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Interview Post: Gillian Byrne

Staged Reenactment



Gillian Byrne

Current job?

Manager of the Toronto Reference Library, which is part of the Toronto Public Library system.

How long have you been in the field?

17 years as an academic librarian, 3 months as a public librarian.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

Pictures aren’t mandatory for this answer, right? [Editor’s Note: As you can see from above, I convinced the author to take a picture after all.] Piles of paper everywhere (and no, there’s no secret system where I know what’s in each pile). Not a lot of knick-knacks or personalization. I’d like to say that this is because I’ve just moved in, but in all honestly, I don’t pay a lot of attention to my work surroundings. I often don’t even notice that I’m working in the dark until someone comes to see me. If I have a computer and coffee, I’m usually good.

How do you organize your days?

My days organize me, really. Flexibility is a must. I keep a keen eye on deadlines, but don’t tend to block off time, use to-do lists, or in any traditional way optimize my efficiency. I do plan, but it tends to be opportunistic – “ooh look at that lovely free day I have next Tuesday, going to do all the things!”

What do you spend most of your time doing?

Sitting in meetings is an obvious answer, but what I do more than people generally realize is to, well, *think*. I spend a lot of time in my office or wandering around the building mulling over thorny problems/strategic approaches, etc. As a profession, I don’t know that we’ve built this into our work culture very well. Effectiveness is something more than busy-ness. And, in my experience, once I’ve thought a long time about something, I can move pretty fast.
What is a typical day like for you?
I’m three months into a new job, so that’s something I’m still figuring out. Over my career, I’ve been fond of getting an early start – that hour or so before anyone else is around is great for prepping for the day. From there I tend to mentally divide my days into “meeting days” – where 2 or more meetings are on the docket, and “free days” where I’m less scheduled. On meeting days my energies are devoted to preparing for meetings and following up after them. Days where I’m less structured I tend to look at my deadlines, then select the priority work that matches what I’d like to do. There’s always enough work, so for example, the days I’m feeling creative, I might work on long term planning, and the days I’ve feeling analytical I’ll work on policy development. That said, all of this will get quickly pushed aside when something comes up. And when you’re part of the team that runs the largest branch of the largest public library system in Canada, something always comes up!
What are you reading right now?
Confessions of a library worker: I go through phases where I just don’t read. I’ve got a bunch of articles on library space bookmarked for when I have the spare brainpower, and the new George Saunders novel on hold. It’ll right itself eventually.
What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Something along the lines of “your enthusiasm is great, but can be exhausting”. I’m not a linear thinker and when I get ideas, I can’t always communicate them in a way that’s understandable to others. At my worst I’m tripping over words, jumping from one idea to the next, barely allowing people time to breathe. [Look up any of my recorded conference presentations. I’ll wait.] After hearing this early in my career I’ve focused hard on ensuring my communication skills are equal to my enthusiasm.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?

Oh gosh, these days everything! I find myself continually amazed at the breadth of work public library workers do for – and with - their communities. I’m getting involved in emergency planning as part of my job; it’s this entirely new and complex world I’m excited to explore.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Professional wrestling (in an alternate universe where I wasn’t carrying all the injuries of my careless youth…and had some talent).

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Elementary school teacher. I can’t imagine having that much direct responsibility for children’s success, day in, day out. So much respect.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Patience. I was born without any and have managed to discipline myself into a little, but on my bad days I think I’m more likely to gain the power to fly than wait patiently.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Throughout my career, I’ve tried hard to be as transparent as possible as a manager. I think particularly in academic libraries, management is often seen as a black hole, or as oppositional to the work that goes on in libraries. It’s not always clear what management positions do, what the work is like, how decisions are made. So my proudest accomplishment is the people who have told me that they view library administration differently – or are even more interested in moving into management - because of something I’ve written or said (or ranted about). The thing about being a manager is that you’ll fail more than you succeed, most of the time. To be honest and open about that isn’t always easy, but so important.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
My very first management job was as head of circulation. The staff were fantastic and open to doing new things. I had this half-baked idea about rearranging the reserve stacks and carelessly mentioned it a meeting. I thought I was throwing out ideas, staff heard a directive. The staff being their amazing selves, went out and did the move in like a day! It turned out to be a terrible idea. I immediately apologized and we talked about expectations and communications. It’s been the major lesson of my career – when initiatives fail, it’s almost always because we haven’t taken enough time to ensure everyone involved has a shared understanding of what’s going on.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Exploring the many fine craft beers of Toronto and/or looking for neighbourhood cats to pet.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Oh gosh, so many people. Can I cheat and say I’d love to hear from an archivist or two, library workers in non-traditional roles, and librarians in their first couple of years on the job?

Gillian is on Twitter as @gillmbyrne.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Leadership Transition

I'm winding down my time at my current institution - I've basically got 3 weeks left here, but I'm taking a week off in the middle to take care of all those details that need attention when you're moving states away. And in anticipation of my move, I've been co-writing a document with the person who will be interim director. This document is partially to help the interim director between when I leave and when the new director is hired, but also to help my boss (the provost) as well as the next director. We've spent hours so far on this document and will be spending more time between now and my last day. Thought I'd share with you all the kinds of things we're including.

  1. Who to talk to, and how, about what. Sure, people have job titles that are easy to find, but job titles and knowledge don't always correspond. There are always people in any library/college/government/etc., who are great but you really need to talk to their administrative assistant if you want action on something. Some people respond better to email whereas others you need to call. And then there are the people who will promise you the moon but won't deliver unless you can prove they made a promise. This transition document we're writing has things like who to contact when you need new keys or have questions about student workers, who to call about accounts payable and how to get changes made to the website. These are all little things I had to learn for myself, so I might as well pass on the knowledge.
  2. What ongoing projects will need attention soon. Because of the way things worked out with my job transition, I'm going to be able to handle pretty much all of the big projects that are in motion, but not all. Some things are sort of on hold because we're in summer session, for instance.
  3. Overview of what I do in an average month. Everything from "pay bills" to "biweekly staff update email" to "work with local and statewide library oriented organizations" is listed. I've also included a rough estimate of how much time I spend on each of these, but that is more for the higher ups so they know what the interim director will be trying to fit into their 35 hour work week.
  4. A list of projects I never got to. Of course, each person new to a job will want to come up with their own projects, however I did some preliminary work for some of these and wanted to share in case the interim, the powers that be, or the next director have the same ideas.
  5. My contact information. As exhaustive as we are trying to make this document, I know we're going to forget something. Some event I said the library would host or some DVD I said the library would buy or even the idea I had to handle a specific set of circumstances if they ever came up. I won't work here anymore, but I also want to make sure the transition is smooth.
So, what about you? Is there anything else you wish your predecessor (actual or future) would let you know?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why I Became a Director

I've talked a lot here about what it's like for me to be a library director, how I go about my daily work, and even about the path I followed to this stage of my career, but I didn't realize until recently that I've never talked about why.

Truth be told, I never expected to be talking about this at all. Back when I was a baby librarian, my director went on maternity leave and a couple of us split her duties between us... I took on her committee responsibilities. Let me tell you: I did *not* enjoy that. I was talked over and ignored, even in small meetings, and when my director came back I firmly told her that I thought she was a crazy person for taking that job and that I'd never follow in her footsteps.

And yet, over the intervening years, I set about gathering all sorts of knowledge and skills that equipped me to follow exactly that path. For instance, I became increasingly interested in how a library fits into the overall landscape of parent institutions, in assessment beyond information literacy and programming, and in building relationships beyond the library and even beyond the campus walls. I was preparing myself to become a library director, despite my repeated avowals that I didn't want that job.

Flash forward a bit to me attending a small, CLIR-sponsored symposium about the future of libraries at library arts colleges. If I remember correctly, it was geared more towards library directors but I was already going to be in Milwaukee for another conference earlier that week and my boss asked me if I wanted to go to two instead of just one. How do you say no to something like that? At that symposium, I was my usual loud self. I remember saying something along the lines of, "perhaps at your institution you can get away with doing things like that, but the culture is very different where I work." The person I said that to was this very self-important kind of guy, and a few other people in the room appreciated me confronting him. Afterward, I ended up chatting with someone I admired a lot at the time, and the fact that I wasn't a library director came up. The person I admired told me, point blank, that I should be one.

I have to admit that got me thinking. I, like so many people, had moments of "I could do a better job than that" when watching my directors. I'd also learned about the gender disparity in academic library leadership (women make up an estimated 80% of academic librarians, but only 50% of administration roles). But still I resisted. I love instruction and I don't love meetings. Then one day I mentioned the conversation with the Much Admired Librarian™ to a couple of friends, both of whom were and still are library directors. Both of them said "yes, you definitely should be a library director." I talked about it with my director at that time, who also agreed, and I started applying.

So, why did I become a library director? 30% natural progression; 30% feminist agenda; 30% thinking I could do a better job; and 10% peer pressure.