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Continuing Education

My Recent ALA TechSource Workshop Slides

I have recently given an ALA TechSource Workshop on “Improving Your Library’s Mobile Services.”

  • Did you know that now we spend 38 % of our Internet time on mobile?
  • And we spend more time with our smartphones than with our partners.

If you are interested in the changes that are taking place in the mobile Web and libraries, check out the slides below!

What to Do with a Professional Association (with LITA as an example)

From Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21232564@N06/2234726613/

Many of us – librarians – are members of some professional organizations. We tend to join one and pay dues every year but don’t do much about or with those organizations beyond that. But that would be probably not the best way to make use of your professional organization. In order to best utilize your organization, you need to know what it does first and see if their activities fit with your interests. So do some research to see if it is a good fit for you. Secondly, you need to figure out how the organization works, what structure it has, what is the mode of operation, etc.

  • What interest groups does it have?
  • What kind of programs does it put up at conferences?
  • What committees does it have?
  • Who belong to the organization and what do they do for the organization?
  • What is the procedure for being involved with an IG or becoming a member of a committee (and the timeline)?
  • Is there a mentoring program?
  • What are, if any, tangible benefits for being a member?
  • Is there a board?
  • What does the board do?
  • What is the relationship between the board and the members?
  • Who do I contact if I have a suggestion?

I confess that I do not know the answers to all these questions for all organizations that I am a member of. I only got to know about a few organizations a little, while I was doing things that were of interest to me. But I think that organizations need to make answers to these questions as clear and transparent as possible to current and potential members and that members should also demand that organizations do so if not.

That having been said, here are some thoughts of mine about the organization that I have been involved for a while: LITA (Library Information Technology Association), a division of ALA (American Library Association). Andromeda Yelton, who is running for the the LITA board of directors, is interviewing many librarians involved with LITA as part of her campaign. I think it is a great project for not just those who are in the LITA leadership positions but also those who are interested in LITA and want to hear from other people’s thoughts on LITA as an organization. I am recording the video interview with Andromeda tomorrow, but I thought Andromeda’s three questions would be interesting to many others as well.  So you can check out my answers here if you prefer reading a write-up to watching a video (as I do). If you are a member of ALA and are interested in LITA, hopefully this will be useful. If your primary organization is not LITA, you can think about that other organization instead and think about how your organization does compared to LITA.

How did you get involved with LITA?

I went to the 2009 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. That was my very first ALA conference, and at that time I had zero understanding about the structure of ALA such as a division, a roundtable, a committee, an interest group (IG) etc. But while I was planning what programs to attend, LITA kept popping up. And then I happened to go to this meeting of LITA Emerging Technologies IG, and there were maybe three dozens of librarians who were very much like me, early in their career, doing technology stuff, and was somewhat confused about this new title of Emerging Technologies Librarian and the job duties of this title. We had a fantastic conversation, and I ended up volunteering to put together the resources we discussed after the program. I eventually wrote a program proposal on the topic for the next ALA Annual conference with the vice-chair of that IG at that time, Jacquelyn (Erdman) after the conference. It got accepted, and so Jacquelyn and I put together the program for the 2010 ALA Annual, “What Are Your Libraries Doing about Emerging Technologies?” which was amazingly well received. So that was my first experience of getting involved with LITA at an active level. In 2010, I also volunteered to chair the quite new Mobile Computing Interest Group because the first chair, Cody (Hanson) was steeping down. So that’s how I started being involved with LITA.

At that time, I didn’t think that I was getting involved with LITA. I was just doing things that were interesting to me. But this is just my experience. There are many different ways to be involved with LITA. For example, I have a friend who joined LITA and then e-mailed to the LITA president asking to put him on a LITA committee. He was put on a committee almost immediately and then later also became an ALA Emerging Leader sponsored by LITA. So you can do that. Not many people would think of e-mailing the LITA president with a request for a committee spot. That’s out-of-the-box thinking! Some people also start by creating an Interest Group and/or by going to the LITA Happy Hour, which is also an excellent way to be involved with LITA.

What are the strengths of LITA?

LITA is a very big group because it is a division of an even bigger organization, ALA. So there are a great number of people who deal with technology at many different levels in many different types of institutions: public libraries, academic libraries, special libraries, small libraries, large libraries, system administrators, web masters, IT department heads, metadata librarians, etc. So you are almost guaranteed to meet fascinating people whom you did not know about and they always have interesting ideas and thoughts on the current trends of library technology.

Another strength of LITA that I see is its Interest Group(IG)s. There are a great number of them, and they are highly informal and welcoming to new members. If you cannot find a LITA IG you like, you can even start one yourself with not much effort. I know that many people gravitate towards bigger programs because IG meetings don’t always post a clear agenda in advance. But that is a mistake. You are more likely to learn about things you did not expect from IG meetings than from large programs.

I also think that the simplified program proposal process for the ALA Annual conference and the LITA Forum is a huge strength of LITA. It cuts down so many levels of bureaucracy, and this only has been implemented only recently (3 years ago or so I think). You just fill out a Google Form, and you don’t have to be even associated with LITA IG or even LITA (if I am correct) as long as the proposal is relevant to library technologies. (Now wouldn’t it be dreamy if we can simplify an organization’s structure just like that too? Just thinking…) The simplified procedure attracts more qualified potential speakers, thereby enriching the programs offered from LITA at conferences.

What are the challenges for LITA?

LITA members, particularly the new members, have an amazing amount of energy. I don’t think that LITA knows how to harness this energy to the maximum benefit to itself. I understand that there are existing structural and procedural practices, but those practices may be ill-suited for gathering and implementing the creative ideas from new members. A lot of times, what confuses and intimidates new LITA members are the structure and the operation of the organization. Now that I have been active with LITA for some years, it doesn’t seem too bad to me any longer! But this is probably what happened to many who lead LITA. They are probably too familiar to notice what barriers of entry exist to new members. You get used to it. So there needs to be a strong mechanism to get input from new members inside LITA and then do something about the input. LITA really needs to do more to reach out to new members to let them know what they can use LITA for and how to do so. It has gotten better over the years but it can still be much more improved.

Also, LITA has a few high-profile programs such as Top Tech Trends. So LITA is well-known at least to ALA members. But that popularity and recognition is connected to the strength of LITA only at a very abstract level. LITA needs to change that. I was one of the two LITA-sponsored ALA Emerging Leaders in 2010-2011, and my team did a big project about what to do to give a stronger brand and identity to LITA. And I am hoping to see that some of those ideas from our team project get picked up by the LITA leadership. I am also serving on the LITA Top Tech Trends committee and working on transforming the Top Tech Trends program into a more dynamic and participatory event. So far the idea was received with enthusiasm at the committee meeting last week. So we will see.

Overall, changes have been slow, and I think LITA members are not cut out for a slow process. They deal with very fast-paced information technology every day after all. So the speed of things getting done really needs to pick up to respond to the average high energy of LITA members.

Additional thoughts – Join or Not Join

I know that many people get put off by various things when they join LITA, or any other professional organizations. They feel that the organization is not welcoming enough, don’t do much for the benefit of individual members, seem to have an awful bureaucracy, have too many unproductive committees, and even have cliques. And probably all of these are true to a degree. But those cannot be changed immediately and it won’t help you in the mean time. Besides if you are interested in library technology and an ALA member, you cannot but cross paths with LITA at some point. So you might as well make the best out of it as much as you can. And that doesn’t necessarily entail being a member.

I think it is the best if people join an organization because it is actually useful to them. If you are interested in LITA, don’t just join and wait for things to happen. Start somewhere else instead. First check out the LITA listserv, go to LITA meetings and programs, meet with people in LITA, and see if something clicks with you, your interests, and what you want to do, learn, or try. If it does, then go ahead and do those things you want to do. While doing those things, if it turns out that you cannot proceed without joining LITA, then join it. Now you have something you are doing using the organization for your benefit. Consequently the membership will be worthwhile, and the organization will also benefit from your participation. This way the connection between you and the organization will be meaningful and concrete. And down the line after doing many things that excite you, perhaps when you get to care enough about the organization itself, you can also do some work for the organization itself to improve things that you did not not like much or to create things you would have liked to see.

 

Effectively Learning How To Code: Tips and Resources

*** This post has been originally published in ACRL TechConnect on Dec. 10, 2012. ***

Librarians’ strong interest in programming is not surprising considering that programming skills are crucial and often essential to making today’s library systems and services more user-friendly and efficient for use. Not only for system-customization, computer-programming skills can also make it possible to create and provide a completely new type of service that didn’t exist before. However, programming skills are not part of most LIS curricula, and librarians often experience difficulty in picking up programming skills.

In this post, I would like to share some effective strategies to obtain coding skills and cover common mistakes and obstacles that librarians make and encounter while trying to learn how to code in the library environment based upon the presentation that I gave at Charleston Conference last month, “Geek out: Adding Coding Skills to Your Professional Repertoire.” (slides: http://www.slideshare.net/bohyunkim/geek-out-adding-coding-skills-to-your-professional-repertoire). At the end of this post, you will also find a selection of learning and community resources.

How To Obtain Coding Skills, Effectively

1. Pick a language and concentrate on it.

There are a huge number of resources available on the Web for those who want to learn how to program. Often librarians start with some knowledge in markup languages such as HTML and CSS. These markup languages determine how a block of text are marked up and presented on the computer screen. On the other hand, programming languages involve programming logic and functions. An understanding of the basic programming concepts and logic can be obtained by learning any programming language. There are many options, and some popular choices are JavaScript, PHP, Python, Ruby, Perl, etc. But there are many more.  For example, if you are interested in automating tasks in Microsoft applications such as Excel, you may want to work with Visual Basic. If you are unsure about which language to pick, search for a few online tutorials for a few languages to see what their different syntaxes and examples are like. Even if you do not understand the content completely, this will help you to pick the language to learn first.

2. Write and run the code.

Once you choose a language to learn, there are many paths that you can follow. Taking classes at a local community college or through an online school may speed up the initial process of learning, but it could be time-consuming and costly. Following online tutorials and trying each example is a good alternative that many people take. You may also pick up a few books along the way to supplement the tutorials and use them for reference purposes.

If you decide on self-study, make sure that you actually write and run the code in the examples as you follow along the books and the tutorials. Most of the examples will appear simple and straightforward. But there is a big difference between reading through a code example and being actually able to write the code on your own and to run it successfully. If you read through programming tutorials and books without actually doing the hands-on examples on your own, you won’t get much benefit out of your investment. Programming is a hands-on skill as much as an intellectual understanding.

3. Continue to think about how coding can be applied to your library.

Also important is to continue to think about how your knowledge can be applied to your library systems and environment, which is often the source of the initial motivation for many librarians who decide to learn how to program. The best way to learn how to program is to program, and the more you program the better you will become at programming. So at every chance of building something with the new programming language that you are learning, no matter how small it is, build it and test out the code to see if it works the way you intended.

4. Get used to debugging.

While many who struggle with learning how to code cite lack of time as a reason, the real cause is likely to be failing to keep up the initial interest and persist in what you decided to learn. Learning how to code can be exciting, but it can also be a huge time-sink and the biggest source of frustration from time to time. Since the computer code is written for a machine to read, not for a human being, one typo or a missing semicolon can make the program non-functional. Finding out and correcting this type of error can be time-consuming and demoralizing. But learning how to debug is half of programming. So don’t be discouraged.

5. Find a community for social learning and support.

Having someone to talk to about coding problems while you are learning can be a great help. Sign up for listservs where coding librarians or library coders frequent, such as code4lib and web4lib to get feedback when you need. Research the cause of the problem that you encounter as much as possible on your own. When you still are unsure about how to go about tackling it, post your question to the sites such as Stack Overflow for suggestions and answers from more experienced programmers. It is also a good idea to organize a study group with like-minded people and get support for both coding-related and learning-related problems. You may also find local meet-ups available in your area using sites like MeetUp.com.

Don’t be intimidated by those who seem to know much more than you in those groups (as you know much more about libraries than they do and you have things to contribute as well), but be aware of the cultural differences between the developer community and the librarian community. Unlike the librarian community that is highly accommodating for new librarians and sometimes not-well-thought-out questions, the developer community that you get to interact with may appear much less accommodating, less friendly, and less patient. However, remember that reading many lines of code, understanding what they are supposed to do, and helping someone to solve a problem occurring in those lines can be time-consuming and difficult even to a professional programmer. So it is polite to do a thorough research on the Web and with some reference resources first before asking for others’ help. Also, always post back a working solution when your problem is solved and make sure to say thank you to people who helped you. This way, you are contributing back to the community.

6. Start working on a real-life problem ‘now.’ Don’t wait!

Librarians are often motivated to learn how to code in order to solve real-life problems they encounter at their workplace. Solving a real-life problem with programming is therefore the most effective way to learn and to keep up the interest in programming. One of the greatest mistake in learning programming is putting off writing one’s own code and waiting to work on a real-life problem for the reason that one doesn’t know yet enough to do so. While it is easy to think that once you learn a bit more, it would be easier to approach a problem, this is actually a counter-productive learning strategy as far as programming is concerned because often the only way to find out what to learn is by trying to solve a problem.

7. Build on what you learned.

Another mistake to avoid in learning how to program is failing to build on what one has learned. Having solved one set of problem doesn’t mean that you will remember that programming solution you created next time when you have to solve a similar problem. Repeating what one has succeeded at and expanding on that knowledge will lead to a stronger foundation for more advanced programming knowledge. Also instead of trying to learn more than one programming language (e.g. Python, PHP, Ruby, etc.) and/or a web framework (e.g. Django, cakePHP, Ruby On Rails, etc.) at the same time, first try to become reasonably good at one. This will make it much easier to pick up another language later in the future.

8. Code regularly and be persistent.

It is important to understand that learning how to program and becoming good at it will take time. Regular coding practice is the only way to get there. Solving a problem is a good way to learn, but doing so on a regular basis as often as possible is the best way to make what you learned stick and stay in your head.

While is it easy to say practice coding regularly and try to apply it as much as possible to the library environment, actually doing so is quite difficult. There are not many well-established communities for fledgling coders in libraries that provide needed guidance and support. And while you may want to work with library systems at your workplace right away, your lack of experience may prove problematic in gaining a necessary permission to tinker with them. Also as a full-time librarian, programming is likely to be thrown to the bottom of your to-do list.

Be aware of these obstacles and try to find a way to overcome them as you go. Set small goals and use them as milestones. Be persistent and don’t be discouraged by poor documentation, syntax errors, and failures. With consistent practice and continuous learning, programming can surely be learned.

Resources

A. Resources for learning

B. Communities

 

Making Years of Service Meaningful – My thought on #hlth

By now, I believe almost everyone in the library-land would have heard about the Harvard Libraries Town Hall meeting debacle. (If not, see this post by Tom Bruno.) Like everyone else, I don’t have an inkling about whether the reorganization going on at Harvard is going to succeed or not.  But the news somehow made me think quite a bit about this :  As the library staff work at the same library for many years, how can ‘____’ make the years or service meaningful as their contribution to the library beyond mere loyalty?

This is a tough question as years of service doesn’t necessarily equate with how much contribution you make to the library you work at.  It’s a tough question because improving on whatever you learned already is almost always more difficult than learning it first time. This is also a tough question whether you are a library employer or an employee (fill the ‘____’ above with either library or the library staff) as this is something both an employer and an employee should work together.

As a library employee, I think about this more and more as I am getting out of the new librarian phase. Being a professional librarian for more than 3 years now, it is hard to argue that I am still new at this point. I try hard not to settle in the everyday work that is familiar to me and not to get comfortable with the status quo. I try to keep taking up on a new project that would improve library’s services and operation even if no one is asking for it. I try to learn new things even if that would not affect the work I do immediately because I know that in the long run, there is a good chance that the stuff I am teaching myself today would be come in handy.

What I am trying to is to meet the challenge of how to make my years of service meaningful. I want it to represent the amount of experience and knowledge I have as a librarian, not the mere number of years I was staying at one place.  That is a tough call.  Many librarians face this challenge in one way or another, as they gain more experience at their workplace unless they are continuously hopping from one job to another for higher rank/salary, which will also make it inevitable to learn some new skills and assume new responsibilities).

Now shifting the focus from employees to employers, even to observers who do not know the internal workings of the Harvard libraries system, what made the librarians and library staff at Harvard most upset about the town hall meeting seems to be the feeling of betrayal, aside from the unclear meeting agenda and the lack of answers to obvious questions. It appears that many Harvard library staff were loyal to their workplace (legitimately perhaps considering its collection size and scale of service) and took pride in working there, which is reflected in many staff’s long years of service (i.e. low rate of staff turnover). However, the unclear messages from the top and the impending layoff announcement seemed to have demoralized them, as shown in one of the comments in this LJ article “After Furor, Harvard Library Spokesperson Says ‘Inaccurate’ That All Staff Will Have to Reapply” :

“I acknowledge that change is inevitable, but what I feel, after yesterday’s meeting, was the unnecessary devaluation of the librarians and library assistants, many of whom have worked at Harvard for decades and are experts in their particular field or have particular skills. I didn’t feel we were valued as employees or as persons. So many of us asked after the meeting yesterday, what was the point of the it? Why call a meeting when there are no answers ready for our biggest questions? Was the purpose of it to instill fear? Because, sadly, that was the main result. Fear for ourselves and for the future of one of the best library systems in the world.”

In her blog post “on #hlth and bearpoking,” Jenica Rogers pointed out why the years of service argument would work against the library staff in the re-organization situation rather than in favor. As she correctly notes, effectiveness, relevance, skills do not correlate to years of service by themselves. To the management, this argument has no real merit.

This is a valid point. In times in which permanent jobs are a joke, asking loyalty for employees is an absurd idea. The flip side of it is, however, that it would be equally silly for employees to think that loyalty itself would have any significant meaning (beyond maybe the fact that the low staff-turnover rate will save operating costs related to hiring replacements), particularly when the employer goes through re-organization (based upon the belief that the ‘past’ operation was not optimal ).

But nothing is ever so black-and-white. As a 100% observer, I would have liked to see what systematic incentives and measures Harvard libraries are creating in order to help its staff to continuously improve their skills and knowledge in their jobs. More so when they are planning a big layoff and asking all their staff to submit a summary of their skills and qualifications. (I am not even going to comment on how bureaucratic and utterly ineffective this sounds like. )

I believe that experienced library staffs are not just employees with the long-years-of-service tag on them. Some of them may be chair warmers. (Yes, we have all seen chair warmers!)  ‘But’ many of them are the precious enablers in library operation and the best deliverers of quality library service.  This is not a ‘sentimental’ argument. Losing these people will cost the organization no matter how hard it is to quantitatively measure its impact.

You may say those people with good performance will be saved one way or another. But what I am saying is that an organization has the responsibility to beclear about what it values in its employees.  As an employer, an organization may ask for and demand whatever qualifications it sees fit for employees to be equipped with. But it would help employees if an organization can state them clearly and, if possible, provide concrete steps to take to actually attain that goal.

So looking forward, I suggest any library that goes through re-organization should ask this question: What kind of system do you have in place to help and enable for your staff to stay relevant, skilled, effective, and efficient over the long period of time? What are the standards you would like to see in your staff in terms of skills and knowledge? Why are those relevant skills and knowledge in your organization in light of its mission and vision? What kinds of initiatives and activities would you like your staff to work on and be engaged in on a daily basis?  Communicating clear answers to these questions alone would greatly alleviate the concern of library staff during any reorganization process.  I hope that Harvard libraries staff would use this reorganization as an opportunity to ask these questions and get satisfactory answers.

Reorganization can be painful. But reorganization without a clear vision and goal and the road-map to achieve the goal would be disastrous. I am worried about the possibility of library re-organization done in the absence of clear vision and strategies. I am concerned about the possibility that libraries may dive into reorganization in lieu of establishing first assessing clearly where they want to go and how they plan to get there.

Sadly, the data from Ithaka S+R Library Survey 2010: Insights from U.S. Academic Library Directors doesn’t make me feel so optimistic. (See this blog post “My peers are not my tribe” by Jenica Rogers and despair. 65 percent of US academic library directors confirmed that their library does NOT have a well-developed strategy to meet changing user needs and research habits!)

I do so hope that this is not the whole story. But are you surprised at this finding?

Apply or Not: ALA Emerging Leaders Program

ALA is now receiving applications for the 2012 class of the Emerging Leaders (EL) Program, and I saw many new librarians considering applying to the program in Twitter, Facebook, etc. Applying for this program requires some paperwork. You have to write an essay and get references sent. You also have to commit yourself to attending two conferences in person.

So the question is whether the program would be worth all these. As a member of the 2011 class, I have some thoughts about the program from which I just graduated. Hopefully this post will help you decide whether the program is a right fit for you or not.

What the EL program is really about

The first thing to know about the EL program before applying is that its purpose is to develop leaders “in ALA” not just anywhere.  Of course, what you get to learn from the program about leadership will be useful in other organizations. But my experience is that this program is definitely focused on helping new librarians to get familiar with the organizational structure of ALA and to get involved in ALA divisions, roundtables, or even the ALA Council. It is not a program about leadership in general.

So if possible, attend the ALA conference a few times before applying for this program. See if you are interested in becoming active in ALA. The EL program itself won’t necessarily help you determine whether you would like being involved in ALA and  which ALA division is right for you. You should know answers to these questions first. If they are YES, then apply for the program.

Remember that the EL program is not the only way to become involved and active in ALA. Often it is easy enough to find the right place to meet librarian peers in the field of yours if you stumble into a right Interest Group, Discussion Group, or Section. You can volunteer to be a chair, organize or present a program, and form a great personal network of mentors, colleagues, and friends without ever stepping your foot into the EL program.

This also means that these are things that ‘you’ still have to do whether you get into the EL program or not. The EL program may open some doors for you, but you will be the one who has to take the opportunity and make it work for you if you decide to be active in ALA.

What you get to do if selected as an EL

  • You get to choose a project you want to work on. If you get to be sponsored by any unit, division, section, or other library organization, you will be asked to work on a project from that group. Otherwise, you are free to choose the project that interests most.
  • You will meet your team members and the mentor(s) at the Midwinter and plan how you will spend the time from the Midwinter to the Annual conference to get the project done.
  • When the project is completed, you will give a poster session with other EL project teams.

How do I get sponsored?

The EL program requires you to attend two conferences in person. But you can be sponsored. To believe or not, there are many units, divisions, sections, and regional library associations that sponsor an EL candidate that meet their criteria.

This is one of the reasons why it is good to apply for the EL program after having some exposure and experience with ALA rather than being completely new to it. If you are a member of any group that sponsors an EL candidate, make sure to indicate that in the application. If there is a unit that you want to be active in, and that unit sponsors the EL program, it might be a good idea to be active in the unit first, to get to know better about what you can contribute to and what you can learn from, and then apply to the EL program expecting the sponsorship from that unit.

It is an investment for any organization to sponsor an EL program participant. So it is fair for the organization to expect you to contribute back to the organization. So think about what you want to do professionally and how it may align with what you can give it back. Try to make it a win-win situation for both you and the sponsoring organization.

The benefits of the EL program

People will have different opinions on this depending on their personal experience of the program. But for me, the best thing about the EL program was the opportunity to meet and work with peers who are extremely intelligent, talented, driven, and ambitious.  It is also an opportunity to get to know and work with colleagues in a completely different library setting and area of specialization than yours. Because of this, you will get valuable experience no matter what project you get to work on and even if the project was not of your first choice.

I want to point out that working in an EL project team is likely to be very different from working in any other project team at your workplace. You will be surrounded with high achievers, and it is likely that you won’t have a slacking and/or unreliable team member problem. Instead, you may get the experience of your brilliant idea (in your opinion) being brutally rejected for a good reason.  You may spend hours on a heated discussion without coming to any conclusion. You and your team may have to invent the project itself because the project idea is vague at best. You may learn where and at which point to make the best contribution and when not to be in the way. You might have been a leader in one way or another in all your life but soon find out that you now get the invaluable opportunity to play the role of a good follower in the group (which is just as important as the role of a leader).

So I think that the great benefit of the EL program (for me) was to work in the EL project team I was assigned to. The actual work with my team taught me more than any book, article, talk, and discussion about leading and being led effectively, harmoniously, and gracefully. (I have to warn you though that these lessons would be probably coming after you finish the project not while working on the project.)

No drawbacks?

No program lacks some drawbacks or disappointments. The ALA Emerging Leaders program has some too of course. In case you get selected, I will tell you a few that I noticed. (But bear in mind that this can be relative to my experience.)

  • You won’t be changing the world or ALA by the one project you get to work on.
  • The fact that you get to work on an EL project doesn’t give you the secret weapon to melt all the bureaucracy in ALA.
  • You may request but not hear what came out of your team’s project work as a result after a few years.
    (I hope this gets changed.)
  • You might feel still somewhat lost in ALA. (But now you are lost with some friends.)
  • You may even decide that ALA wasn’t for you. (But hey, now you know!)
  • You will now have a new question to ponder – “Have I now emerged?”

I hope this post is useful to some of you and wish the best of luck to all EL applicants!

My EL Team (M) Poster with Dre and Lauren (Pearl and Emily not present in the photo) at the 2011 ALA Annual Conference.

My 2011 ALA Conference Schedule

To believe it or not, I haven’t still finalized my ALA schedule.  The ALA Annual Conference is so big and offers so many different programs, presentations, and discussion meetings that it is hard to pick in advance exactly what schedule one will follow. Below is a list of programs that I am likely to attend plus a few programs in which I am participating.

Am I missing any great program? (It is very likely.)  If so, please let me know!

June 24, Friday

9 am -3 pm  Emerging Leaders Training

3 pm – 4 pm  Emerging Leaders Poster Session
http://connect.ala.org/node/138674
: I am doing a poster session with my colleagues in Team M of the 2011 class of Emerging Leaders. The project we have worked on for a year is “Branding LITA: A Market Identity for the 21st Century” Come check out what ideas our team came up with. If you are active and/or interested in LITA, you may drop by and throw us some ideas! More information on the project: http://connect.ala.org/node/146019

5:30 pm – 8 pm  LITA Happy Hour
Howlin’ Wolf Den, 907 S. Peters St. New Orleans, Louisiana

10 pm – Midnight  ALA Dance Party
http://connect.ala.org/node/140642
: I am planning to go only if I find some company who will focus more on drinking than dancing. So hopefully there would be non-dancing but dance-watching librarians…

June 25, Saturday

8 am – 12 pm  LITA Board of Directors Meeting
: Of course, I am not on LITA board of directors.  I am going with my Team M of the 2011 class of Emerging Leaders to present our project outcome to the LITA board of directors.  They will eventually decide what ideas and suggestions in our proposal LITA will adopt and implement for LITA branding and marketing in the future. We are going to be there probably not for an entire duration of the meeting.

So some other things I can run to when I am out of the board meeting are:

10:30 am – 12 pm LITA IG Chairs Meeting
: I am hoping to get some ideas about how to make an IG meeting more active and open to virtual participation at this meeting.  I am chairing Mobile Computing IG and  have been experimenting with an IG meeting as a venue for short presentation and informal discussion that is not restricted by the strict ALA program proposal deadline which usually requires submitting a topic almost a year in advance.  Maybe there are more ways to make an IG meeting fun and useful. We will see. I am also kind of hoping to catch up with what  some of other LITA IGs are doing. Because of time conflict, I rarely can attend more than a few LITA IG meetings.

But I may not survive too many business meetings. So I may go to:

10:30 am – 12 pm  ACRL President’s program “President’s Program: From Idea to Innovation to Implementation: How Teams Make it Happen (ACRL)

or

10:30 am – 12 pm  “The Discovery Payoff: Are discovery services increasing ROI and the library’s prominence in academic institutions .

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm ACRL New Members Discussion Group
http://connect.ala.org/node/137451
: This is an excellent place for library school students or new librarians. It’s a small group discussion and the atmosphere is very informal. You can ask any dumb questions about ALA, ACRL, academic libraries, job market, and any and everything else that budding and new librarians care about.  This year, ACRL New Members Discussion Group has a panel discussion program “Learn about Tenure: what does faculty or non-faculty status mean for new librarians?” http://connect.ala.org/node/144880

4 pm – 5:30 pm   Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Information Science
: I find it fascinating how the interests of library and information science seems to overlap somehow with the imagination of sci-fi. And of course, it helps that I read certain sci-fi authors or series quite avidly such as Olson Scott Card’s Ender series.

I will be writing a short blog post for American Libraries after attending this session.

7 pm – 9 pm Newbie & Veteran Librarian Tweet-Up
http://connect.ala.org/node/140971
: It’s a party time! Come to the Newbie & Veteran Librarian Tweet-up. It’s one of my most favorite social activities at ALA. If you are new and knows no one, this is a place to start! No invitation, no RSVP required though appreciated (http://twtvite.com/ala11twtup).  Just come and join the library crowd. Everyone fits right in.  :- )

9 pm – 11 pm Facebook After-Hours Social
https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=209816775714013
: Even more fun continues from the tweet-up to the Facebook After-Hours Social.

June 26, Sunday

8 am – 10 am  Lost in Translation: the Emerging Technology Librarian & the New Technology
http://connect.ala.org/node/137555
:  I will be serving as a panelist on this panel discussion program. This program was planned as an extension to the last year’s ALA program that I have moderated “What is Your Library Doing about Emerging Technologies?” We will talk about four common problems and issues that libraries often encounter in adopting and implementing emerging technology projects, solicit opinions and thoughts from attendees, and come up with solutions and helpful ideas together through open discussion between the panel and attendees.

10:30 am – Noon LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group Meeting
http://connect.ala.org/node/137605
:  I am chairing LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group and very excited about this meeting.  Four wonderful presentations are lined up as well as interesting discussion topics. This is not an official ALA program but you can see the presentations and discussion ideas here: http://connect.ala.org/node/142438.  If you are interested in mobile computing, you must check this out.

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm  Top Technology Trends

4 pm – 5:30 pm Where We Are, Where We Are Heading: The Presidential Task Force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content Update
http://connect.ala.org/node/138504

5:30 pm -6 pm ALA Advocacy Flash Mob and Freeze at Jackson Sq.
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=227290740618104
: You are not going to miss this. Are you? Wear the Librarian T-Shirt!

6 pm  ACRL-Health Science IG Social

7 pm  ACRL-STS Dinner

June 27, Monday

8-10am One of these will be the place I will end up with after much agony of choice:

Coffee and Conversation with Experts

Emerging Technologies Interest Group

Innovation in an Age of Limits (ACRL STS)

The Business of Social Media: How to Plunder the Treasure Trove

1:30 pm -3:30 pm Public Awareness Committee

Then flight back home!

Tech Skills for New Librarians & Me (seeking advice)

I was recently asked to write a short piece on what kinds of tech skills new librarians will need to have before going out to the job market.  So I got to put together a list of some of the basic skills for librarians regardless of specialization. While compiling the list, I was most surprised at how many technology skills I have counted as basic and how much more there is to learn beyond them.

Basic technology skills for new librarians

  • Computer operating system
    • Downloading and installing programs
    • Connecting an auxiliary device to a computer such as a printer, scanner, etc.
    • Understanding the system settings
  • How to troubleshoot anything
    • Knowing what to ask a library user who reports a technology-related problem whether it’s a hardware or software issue
    • Knowing how to replicate a problem
    • Knowing how to research a solution on the Web
  • How electronic resources work
    • Understanding what a persistent URL is and being able to tell a URL is persistent or not
    • Knowing what authentication and proxy means in the library setting
    • Understanding how an electronic resource is set up for access from a trial to the link placed in different library systems such as OPAC (Open Public Access Catalog), ERMS (Electronic Resources Management System), Open URL Link Resolver,  and the library web site
    • Knowing  how to troubleshoot remote access issues to electronic resources
  • Systems
    • Knowing what different library systems do and how they work together to provide users with access to information resources. (e.g. Integrated Library System (ILS), OPAC, discovery service, openURL link resolver, ERMS, digital repository system, content management system, proxy server, etc.)
  • Web
    • Proficiency in research tools available on the Web
    • Knowing how to properly use the WYSWYG editor in a blog or any content management system
    • Understanding  the difference between HTML and MS Word document
    • Understanding what a web browser does
    • Knowing how to make screencasts (video tutorials) and podcasts
    • Knowing how to create and edit images and video for the Web
    • Knowing what usability is and how it applies to a library
    • Knowing how to write for the Web
    • Knowing how to utilize social media such as Facebook and Twitter
    • Understanding the mobile devices and related technology that are applicable to a library

For those more adventurous:

Here is a random selection of cool technology skills one may want to check out:
(NB. Don’t be overwhelmed. This is by no means a list of required skills)

  • Markup languages such as HTML, CSS, and XML, XSLT, etc.
  • Programming languages such as JavaScript, PHP, Python, Perl, Ruby, etc.
  • JQuery and other similar JavaScript libraries
  • Relational database and SQL
  • Unix
  • Open source CMS (e.g. Drupal, WordPress, Joomla, etc.) installation, customization, upkeep, etc.
  • Proprietary ILS systems
  • Open source digital repository and indexing systems
  • APIs and Mash-ups
  • Semantic Web and linked data
  • Web analytics and statistics
  • Data mining and data visualization
  • And many more as you see the need for problem-solving…

Further reading:

Then vs. Now – some thoughts:

When I was a LIS student a while ago, I couldn’t wait to learn whatever new skills and to apply what I learned to work. I volunteered for all sorts of work to just test things at a real library setting: I made a foreign newspaper database after taking a relational database course, worked on the library’s digital repository system after taking the Digital Library course in which the whole class built a small digital library on the Web from the scratch, made podcasts and video tutorials, etc, etc.  Back then, I was interested in finding out what I needed to learn more. I was never too concerned about what I will do with what I learn. I assumed that I would use whatever I learn.  (Well, that isn’t always the case. And when you have little time to spare, picking what to learn becomes a very important matter. )

Now that I have been a librarian for close to three years being the technology manager of my small library, I realize that my wide-eyed enthusiasm of this kind has somewhat died down. Not because I do no longer love to learn new things but simply because the time I can spare for pure learning has become increasingly scarce. I have learned that often the technology you want (for the reasons of elegance, power, etc.) cannot simply be  brought into your environment because of many local conditions that cannot be changed. I also have learned that one has to be very strategic in managing time that one invests in learning.

One of the many mistakes I made and still make is to pick up random stuff I want to learn and invest time in doing so for a few weeks. All is good up to that point. But the problem occurs when the work gets very busy or some life changes happen.  I get completely swamped by other things. Unless there is a related project at work or an immediate need either personal or work-related, my learning takes a back seat and when I get back to it later on, I find myself starting all over again from the beginning. And of course, as a librarian, my technology-related work can be not-so-hands-on. Imagine writing reports, applying for grants, making inventories, supervising students, etc. Unused skills get rusty fast.

I still haven’t found any good way to deal with this problem. Information and resources for learning new stuff are almost abundant. Finding out what new coll tech stuff is out there to learn is not so difficult either. But setting up priorities and effectively managing my time is now on top of my To-Master Skills list above any particular technology. Many cite Google Time and say to invest at least 20 % of work time to a pet project. But in practice, this is easier said than done.

Should I be worried about my enthusiasm dissipating?  How do you manage to keep learning new things that are not directly related to your work? How do you keep your self-learning and pet project going continuously and persistently?

Personal Branding for New Librarians: Standing Out and Stepping Up

Tomorrow, I will be giving a webcast for ACRL 2011 Virtual Conference with Kiyomi Deards and Erin Dorney. The webcast is open to all attendees of either ACRL 2011 Conference or ACRL 2011 Virtual Conference. I have moderated a panel discussion program at ALA 2011 Midwinter on the same topic. But in tomorrow’s webcast, we will discuss more in depth about the right fit between one’s own personality / preferences and personal branding tools and practical tips to develop and  manage one’s own personal brand.  We will also have a lot of time dedicated for questions from the webcast attendees.

One thing that I have written before and want to re-emphasize is that personal branding is not an end itself.  It is more of a by-product of the successful pursuit of one’s own interest, contribution, and networking in librarianship. Many doubts and suspicions about personal branding stem from this misconception that personal branding is all about promoting oneself as if it could be an end itself. And it is not.

What the message of personal branding boils down to is: Be engaged in the profession, share your thoughts and ideas with peers, and contribute to the ongoing dialogue of librarianship. The new twist is that now with the rise of many social media tools, this can be done much faster and more effectively than before and even on the cheap (without even attending a conference physically).

Here are the slides for the webcast.  If you are attending ACRL 2011 conference, join us. Otherwise, share your thoughts!



Magic is more in your staff than in technologies

Roy Tennant recently posted “The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology” in TechEssence blog. Among the ten things, what I like most is No. 4: “Maximize the effectiveness of your most costly technology investment — your people.”  In the other post, “Your ideas for “Top Ten Things“” a similar suggestion appears: “Allow your staff time and resources to experiment – even if nothing comes of it. Innovation comes with risks.”

I wholeheartedly agree with these as a solo web services librarian. One of the challenges for solo web-services librarians is the scarcity of R&D time. It may be true that technologies are getting easier and cheaper all the time. But that doesn’t mean that there will be less things that the staff should learn and experiment with every day. Actually, more technologies usually require more human efforts for maintenance.

As a librarian who work in e-resources management (ERM), I am often surprised by the fact that most people are simply unaware of how much maintenance is required to make those electronic resources to be accessible by one-click as many library users expect. There is no magic in online resources that would make accessing them more easy and efforless than in print resources. There are systems to be configured, maintained, and updated on a daily basis, and there are people who are configuring, maintaining, updaing those systems every day. If a library user is clicking one link and is taken to the full-text page of an article immediately, that means that a lot of people spent a lot of time on making that happen wihtout an error. Technologies do not necessarily cut down on the work that the library staff have to do in order make those technologies work as expected. Many users take it for granted that links in OPAC records work. But they rarely think about how many times catalogers have been updating those links over and over again in order to keep them up-to-date.

In a similar way, technology librarians have the burden of learning new technologies, deciding on whether they would be a good fit for a given organization, implementing them the way they would get widely adopted, tweaking them in the way that they would fit better with either users or staff’s workflows, and supporting and maintaining them so that they would continue to be tools that boost productivity. Even if it were true that technologies get cheaper and easier all the time, it isn’t true that technologies simply work and work better and better all the time.

Most solo web services librarians know too well that they have to continuously train themselves and learn new things. But not often are they given sufficient time to do so. And that is because there are many more urgent day-to-day tasks to be taken care of.  It is important to complete those tasks in a timely manner. However, without sufficient time for R&D, learn, and experiment, technology librarians are likely to be either burned out or become less effective. On the other hand, they are likely to blossom when encouraged to experiment and take initiatives in new technologies. After all, they are the ones who love to work with technologies and want to show how those technologies can improve everyday work.

Imagine a library that can afford best technologies all the time regardless of costs. Still, that library won’t be the best unless it has techie librarian staff who would work on how to make those technologies fit and work in the way that would best benefit library users and staff. One can buy technologies any time, but dedicated and knowledgeable staff cannot be established in a day. The magic is in staff, more than in technologies.

ALA 2009 sessions attended

Here is the sessions that I have attended at 2009 ALA annual.  I am already forgetting to the order of the sessions and the discussions that took place in each session.  Hopefully, the presentations would be soon posted at ALA Connect so that I can take a look.

I also wish the detailed content and presentations/presenters of each session were available in advance.  That would make it much easier for  attendees to select sessions of their interests.

7/10 Friday

  • Creating Library Web Services: MashUps and APIs
  • E-Resources Management Interest Group

7/11 Saturday

  • ACRL 101
  • ACRL New Members Discussion Group: “The Publication Process: Getting Published in LIS Journals”
  • LITA BIGWIG (Blogs, Interactive Groupware Wikis Interest Group)
  • LITA Emerging Technologies Interest Group

7/12 Sunday

  • Top Technology Trends
  • ACRL Health Sciences Interest Group (HSIG)
  • LITA President’s Program: Make Stories, Tell Stories, Keep Stories

7/13 Monday

  • ERMS: the Promises and Disappointments
  • Social Software Showcase
  • Ultimate Debate: Has Library 2.0 fulfilled its promise?
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