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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.

Beyond the Middlemen and the Warehouse Business

No Hyperbole

Seth Godin recently wrote a blog post about the future of the library. His question is mostly directed to public libraries, and so many responses came out already. (Among many see the posts by Bobbi Newman, Nancy Dowd, Buffy Hamilton.) But the question applies about the same to academic libraries. Godin’s argument goes like this:

  1. Librarians and libraries’ value lie in playing the role of the middlemen between the public and scarce content (books/information ).
  2. Books and information are no longer scarce and rather abundant in the digital era.
  3. The public can now directly access books and information without mediation by librarians and libraries.
  4. Therefore, libraries and librarians may become no longer needed.
  5. In order to avoid extinction, libraries and librarians must change from being the middlemen and the warehouse of content.

A few objections can be immediately raised by library-insiders:

  • Libraries are more than warehouses of books, since they provide valuable services, programs, and physical space.
  • It costs to obtain information, which makes it, by definition, not abundant.
  • Information is not so easily accessible considering how much instruction librarians have to provide the public regarding how to use them.

While these objections may well have some points, would they make sense to library users?  Are library users convinced that these objections prove the sufficient value of libraries and librarians?  If you work at an academic library, you would have met at least one academic who asks why a library is still needed. They say everything is online. I bet you have immediately cited the objections above. Did those objections convince the person?  If you work at a library, you would have met a library user who thinks librarians are mere clerks who purchase and shelve books. Did bringing up the points cited above persuade the person to think differently? Or did you just get a shrug out of the person?

To the eyes of most library users, the most important benefit lies in books and articles, not in reference, instruction, or any other library services or programs. So they regard libraries as warehouses and librarians as middlemen. If the survival of future libraries depends on the users’ perception and judgment on the value of libraries, the concern Godin expresses is not necessarily hyperbole.  And this public perception of libraries and librarians as warehouses and middlemen signifies the failure of proving the unique value of a library in the digital era.

What now?

What will take to persuade users to become the advocates of the future libraries? I don’t think raising the objections cited above will do the trick because they have been failing for a long time. Despite our best efforts, reference volume is going down and the place of library instruction in a curriculum is mostly marginal. If the cost for information goes down sufficiently and users can get faster and easier access, they may be willing to pay content-providers directly than libraries (indirectly through tuition/tax).

Looking back at the past and picking up the things that already have been tried with little success will not take us very far. And we don’t want to bet the future of libraries entirely on the current states of academic libraries being an accreditation criterion or those databases having unfriendly user interfaces.

Let’s Dream an Infectious Library Dream Together

I think it is time to stop arguing about how valuable libraries already are and start building some new visions about the future library. One idea that frequently comes up is the library as a community center connecting people with information. It’s not a bad idea, but it needs more details. How are libraries going to connect people with information in the way the mediation of libraries and librarians is ‘welcomed and appreciated’? Do our current libraries have a seed of the future libraries that beyond doubt presents indispensable value to library users? While possibilities abound, we do not have many convincing and attractive visions of future libraries that make sense to our users.

Here are some random ideas to start with. Not necessarily daring, inspiring, and by no means exhaustive or revolutionary but just to ignite more conversation. It is not easy to imagine things that do not exist yet. But right now, we need more imagination than criticism or skepticism. I hope and believe that if we have a worthwhile vision, we will be able to work to obtain sufficient resources to make it happen.

a. Libraries as TechShops?

This idea can apply to not only public libraries but also academic libraries such as an engineering or a design/architecture school library.  Library users will go to libraries to check out technologies, learn and experiment, and collaborate on projects using the tools, learning resources, and staff knowledge that libraries offers.  See the details of this idea here:

“Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make “TechShops”?” – Make Magazine
http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2011/03/is-it-time-to-rebuild-retool-public-libraries-and-make-techshops.html

b. Libraries as Production Agencies?

The role of libraries has been traditionally focused on services that bring a third party’s product to users. But what if libraries place more weight on creating products of their own? Users will go to libraries to look for content that is curricular, educational, local, or for entertainment. Such content will not be simply curated and listed together but be produced as a complete stand-alone product. This will take libraries into the realm of content business.

c. Libraries as Institutional or Regional Knowledge Management and Preservation Agencies?

Even though libraries are already assuming this role to a certain degree, envisioning the future libraries as mainly a knowledge management and preservation agency will bring a significant shift in the library operation. Libraries will actively collect, curate, and provide access to the knowledge asset generated by an institution or a region that it serves. It will also function as a support center and a hub for those who create and produce such knowledge asset.

d. Libraries as a Competitive Intelligence Center?

Librarians could be trained to specialize in collecting, comparing, and analyzing data, which will only increase in volume in the digital era. Offering competitive intelligence service and products can significantly increase the value of libraries to the decision makers whether administrators in academia or small business entrepreneurs. The service and product offered in this case may be similar to those of corporate libraries through fee-based services.

e.  And many many more…

Add you own ideas here.

Do you have your own vision of future libraries? Let’s dream an infectious library dream together until we get to have multiple convincing pictures of the future library. Only two rules:

(i) Do not restrict your vision by current library structure, services, programs,  staff, funding, or other existing conditions.
(ii) Imagine the value of a library that will appeal more to ‘users’ than to librarians.

 

 

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!



Library and IT – Synergy or Distrust?

In my previous blog post, I asked why libraries are not actively encouraging those who are novice coders among library staff to further develop their coding skills.

I was surprised to see so many comments. I was even more surprised to see that the question was sometimes completely misunderstood. For example, I never argued that ‘all’ librarians should learn how to code (!).  Those who I had in mind were the novice coders/librarians who already know one or two programming languages and struggle to teach themselves to build something simple but useful for practical purposes.

On the other hand, all comments were very illuminating particularly in showing the contrasts between librarians’ and programmers/IT professionals’ thoughts on my question. Below are some of the most interesting contrasts I saw. (All have been paraphrased.)

Librarian (L)
– I am interested in learning how to code but I lack time. Most of all, it is hard to find guidance.

Programmer/IT professional (P)
– There are lots of resources online. Don’t make excuses and plunge in.

L is lost in learning how to code while P thinks everything needed can be found online! Interesting, isn’t it? Ls and Ps are likely to be coming from two completely opposite backgrounds (humanities vs. sciences) and cultures (committee and consensus-driven vs. meritocratic and competitive).

Librarian (L)
– IT distrusts the library staff and doesn’t even allow admin privileges to the staff PCs.
– IT people are overprotective over their knowledge. Not all but many IT tasks are relatively straightforward and can be learned by librarians.

Programmer/IT professional (P)
– Librarians require an MLS for even technology positions. That is crazy!
– You are arguing that librarians can learn how to properly program in their spare time without gaining the proper theoretical understanding of computer science and training in software engineering. That is crazy!

L thinks P should recognize that library staff do work in technology just as IT does and wants P to be more open and sharing instead of being mysterious.  On the other hand, P wants to see L value programmers and IT for their expertise and thinks that an MLS is an unreasonable requirement for a technology position at libraries. I think both parties make excellent points. About the over-protectiveness, I think perhaps it is half true but half likely to be a communication issue.

And here are some of the most valuable comments:

  • Librarians tend to miss that there can be an overlap in the role of IT and that of librarians and regard them as completely separate ones.
  • The management buy-in is important in promoting technology in a library. A nurturing environment for staff development can be quite helpful for the library staff.

I think these two comments are very close to answering my question of why libraries don’t actively encourage and support those among the library staff who know how to code albeit in a rudimentary manner to further develop their skills and apply them to the library context. Although almost all libraries today emphasize the importance of technology, the role of librarians and that of IT, librarianship and technology are often viewed as completely separate from each other. Even when there is an interest in incorporating technology into librarianship, both libraries and LIS schools seem to be puzzled over how to do so.

It is no doubt a tough problem to crack. But it explains up to a certain degree why there is not much collaboration found between librarians and programmers (or IT in a wider sense) at most libraries. Why don’t the library and the IT at a college/university, for example, form a closely-knit educational/instructional technology center?  While reading the comments, I kept thinking about the story I heard from my friend.

My friend works at a large academic library, and the university s/he works at decided to merge the university IT and the university library into one organization to foster collaboration and make the two departments’ operation more efficient. Two departments came to reside in the same building as a result. However, there was so much difference in culture that the expected collaboration did not occur. Instead, the library and the IT worked as they had done before as completely separate entities.

The university administrators may have had the insight that there is an overlapping role between the library and the IT and seen the potential synergy from merging the two units together. But without the library and the IT buying into that vision, the experiment cannot succeed. Even where a library has its own IT department, the cultural difference may hinder the collaboration between the library IT and the rest of the library staff.

How can the gap between librarianship and IT be bridged? As I have already said, I don’t think that the problem is to be solved by ‘all’ librarians becoming coders or IT professionals. That would be implausible, unnecessary, and downright strange.

However, I believe that all libraries would significantly benefit by having ‘some’ library staff who understand how programming works and so all libraries should support and encourage their staff who are already pursuing their interests in coding to further develop their skills and deepen their knowledge. (This is no different than what libraries are already doing regarding their paraprofessionals who want to pursue a MLS degree!)  Even when those staff are not themselves capable of developing a complicated, production-ready software system, they can easily automate simple processes at libraries, solve certain problems, and collaborate with professional programmers in troubleshooting and developing better library systems.

So, my question was not so much about librarians as individuals as about the strategic direction of libraries whose primary concern is providing, packaging, disseminating, and maintaining information, resources, and data. And I am glad I asked my half-baked question. You never know what you will learn until you ask.

Why Not Grow Coders from the inside of Libraries?

How fantastic would it be if every small library has an in-house developer? We will be all using open-source software with custom feature modules that would perfectly fit our vision and the needs of the community we serve. Libraries will then truly be the smart consumers of technology not at the mercy of clunky systems. Furthermore, it would re-position libraries as “contributors” to the technology that enables the public to access information and knowledge resources. I am sure no librarian will object to this vision. But at this time of ever-shrinking library budget, affording enough librarians itself is a challenge let alone hiring a developer.

But why should this be the case? Librarians are probably one of the most tech-savvy professionals after IT and science/ engineering/ marketing folks. So why aren’t there more librarians who code? Why don’t we see a surge of librarian coders? After all, we are living in times in which the web is the platform for almost all human activities and libraries are changing its name to something like learning and ‘technology’ center.

I don’t think that coding is too complicated or too much to learn for any librarian regardless of their background. Today’s libraries offer such a wide range of resources and services online and deploy and rely on so many systems from an ILS to a digital asset management system that libraries can benefit a great deal from those staff who have even a little bit of understanding in coding.

The problem is, I think, libraries do not proactively encourage nor strongly support their in-house library staff to become coders. I am not saying that all librarians / library staff should learn how to code like a wizard. But it is an undeniable fact that there are enough people in the library land who are seriously interested in coding and capable of becoming a coder. But chances are, these people will have no support from their own libraries. If they are working in non-technology-related areas, it will be completely up to them to pursue and pay for any type of learning opportunities. Until they prove themselves to be capable of a certain level of coding, they may not even be able to get hands-on experience of working in library technologies/systems/programming. And when they become capable, they may have to seek a new job if they are serious about putting to use their newly acquired programming skills.

It is puzzling to me why libraries neglect to make conscious efforts in supporting their staff who are interested in coding to further develop their skills while freely admitting that they would benefit from having a programmer on staff. Perhaps it is the libraries that are making the wrong distinction between library work and technology work. They are so much more closely intertwined than, say, a decade ago. Even library schools that are slow to change are responding and adding technology courses to their curriculum and teaching all LIS students basic HTML. But certainly libraries can use staff who want to move beyond HTML.

At the 2011 ALA Midwinter, I attended LITA Head of Library Technology Interest Group meeting. One of the issues discussed there was how to recruit and maintain the IT workforce within libraries. Some commented the challenge of recruting people from the IT industry, which often pays more than libraries do. Some mentioned how to quickly acclimate those new to libraries to the library culture and technology. Others discussed the difficulty of retaining IT professionals in libraries since libraries tend to promote only librarians with MLS degrees and tend to exclude non-librarians from the important decision-making process. Other culture differences between IT and libraries were also discussed.

These are all valid concerns and relevant discussion topics. But I was amazed by the fact that almost all assumed that the library IT people would come from the IT sector and outside from libraries. Some even remarked that they prefered to hire from the IT industry outside libraries when they fill a position. This discussion was not limited to programmers but inclusive of all IT professionals. Still, I think perhaps there is something wrong if libraries only plan to steal IT people from the outside without making any attempt to invest in growing some of those technology people inside themselves. IT professionals who come from the general IT industry may be great coders but they do not know about libraries. This is exactly the same kind of cause for inflexible library systems created by programmers who do not know enough about the library’s businesses and workflows.

So why don’t libraries work to change that?

One of the topics frequently discussed in librareis these days is open source software. At the recent 2011 Code4Lib conference, there was a breakout session about what kind of help would allow libraries to more actively adopt open source software adn systems. Those who have experience in working with open source software at the session unanimously agreed that adopting open-source is not cheap. There is a misconception that by adopting open source software, libraries will save money. But if so, at least that would not be the case in any short tem. Open-source requires growing knowledgeable technology staff in-house who would understand the software fully and able to take advantage of its flexibility to benefit the organization’s goals. It is not something you can buy cheap off the shelf and make it work by turning a key. While adopting open-source will provide freedom to libraries to experiment and improve their services and thereby empower lirbaries, those benefits will not come for free without investment.

Some may ask why not simply hire services from a third-party company that will support the open-source software or system that a library will adopt. But without the capability of understanding the source and of making changes as needed, how would libraries harness the real power of open-source unless the goal is just a friendier vendor-library relationship?

In his closing talk at the 2011 Code4Lib conference, Eric Hellman pointed out the fact that many library programmers are self-taught and often ‘fractional’ coders in the sense that they can afford to spend only a fraction of their time on coding. The fact that most library coders are fractional coders is all the more reason for having more coders in libraries, so that more time can be spent collectively on coding for libraries. Although enthusiastic, many novice coders are often lost about how certain programming languages or software tools are or can be applied to current library services and systems and need guidance about which coding skills are most relevant and can be used to produce immediately useful results in the library context. Many novice coders at librareis who often teach themselves programming skills by attending (community) college courses at night at their own expenses and scouring the web for resources and tutorials after work can certainly benefit from some support from their libraries.

Are you a novice or experienced coder working at libraries? Were/are you encouraged to further develop your skills? If a novice, what kind of support would you like to see from your libraries? If experienced, how did you get there? I am all ears. Please share your thoughts.

——————————

N.B. If you are a formally trained CS/E person, you may want to know that I am using the term ‘coding’ loosely in the library context, not in the context of software industry.  Please see this really helpful post “after @bohyunkim: talking across boundaries and the meaning of ‘coder’” by Andromeda Yelton which clarifies this. Will K’s two comments below also address the usage of this term in its intended sense much better than I did.  I tried to clarify a bit more what I meant below in my comments but feel free to comment/suggest a better term if you find this still problematic.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts! (2/22/2011)


Surprise – a Personal Brand is a By-product!

At the 2011 ALA Midwinter Meeting at San Diego, I moderated a panel discussion about personal branding sponsored by ACRL New Members Discussion Group. The program aimed at providing new and budding librarians with an opportunity to think about personal branding and have a lively information discussion with an excellent group of panelists who shared their experience and thoughts on the topic of personal branding.

I won’t summarize the discussion here as I wasn’t able to make very detailed notes. So the following is more of my own take-aways, what I have personally learned from and got to think further after the discussion. (If you are already interested in personal branding, see Further Resources at the end of this post.)

What personal branding is all about

Although a large number of new and budding librarians engage in personal branding in one or another way and some succeed brilliantly at it, many others also struggle or fail. Whether we call it a personal brand or online presence, we recognize those who are successful at having one. While personal branding may seem easy and effortless when seen from the outside, it is certainly a time-consuming endeavor that cannot be taken lightly. As a result, new librarians are often unsure about how to begin, how to keep up, and how to manage one’s own personal brand.

Unfortunately, the term “personal branding” has a negative connotation and gives the impression that personal branding is about having huge egos and/or simply moving up on the career ladder at the expense of others. But this is not what personal branding is about. Personal branding is about acknowledging the fact that, whether we like it or not, information about us online – regardless of its inaccuracy and incompleteness – will inevitably represent us and consciously deciding to take charge of that mass of information about us.

After all, a personal brand is no more than others’ perception of you based upon available information gleaned (nowadays more and more from the internet). In today’s world in which people google others for all sorts of purposes ranging from dating to a job interview, almost everyone has a brand whether they are aware of it or not.

The matter is whether one will consciously manage that brand and build a positive online presence for oneself or will be simply affected by it.

A personal brand is a by-product, not an end itself.

It’s a mistake to think of personal branding as an end itself. A successful personal brand is a by-product of the successful pursuit of one’s own interest, contribution, and networking in librarianship.

The best way to build a successful personal brand is therefore to pursue one’s own interest. The more practical and exciting one’s pursuit is to oneself, the more active, engaging, and passionate one would be.

Looking to connect with other budding librarians and exchange tips about the stressful job-seeking process? In need of advice from more experienced colleagues because you just got your first professional librarian position and you found yourself to be a solo-librarian? Seeking to network with other colleagues in your narrow field of specialization? Just starting to build virtual reference service at your library and would love to find out what the best practices are?

All these interests are completely practical. None of these interests seems to have anything to do with personal branding. If anything, they seem to be completely selfish in the sense that they directly come out of one’s own tangible needs.

However, if one pursues these interests with passion, successfully learning from and sharing/communicating with others and truthfully and accurately representing oneself in the process, it will be only a matter of time for the person to be known and recognized among others with similar interests.

Personal branding doesn’t mean giving up privacy.

Whatever one’s brand is – whether online or off-line, the brand is never the same as an actual person. While one should be true to oneself in interacting with others online, it is a mistake to think that our online persona can represent us one hundred percent or to think that having a personal brand implies giving up privacy entirely.

The fact that the social media allows one to share immediately almost everything with others in an instant does not mean that you must share everything with everyone nor that everything you can share is worthy of sharing with everyone.

Rather, the social media gives you the power of sharing and communicating only the things that you decide to share and communicate. One can still have a strong online presence /personal brand while remaining a private person.

A brand is what represents you, often, as X. What would be that X? A cat lover, a web services librarian, a metadata expert, a PHP maven? a interlibrary-loan specialist? Pick your own X and keep your privacy in all matters other than X.

Personal branding is what you make of it.

In the ACRL New Members Discussion Group panel discussion I moderated, I asked each panelists the following five questions.

  1. What comes to mind when you hear the term, “personal branding”?
  2. What is wrong with not being engaged in personal branding at all?
  3. How and why did you start your own personal branding? What did you do and what did you learn?
  4. How and why did you pick the personal branding channel of your choice (e.g. Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc.) and what do you think are the pros and cons of those channels?
  5. What are the values/benefits of personal branding to you?

If the tense of 3. and 4. are changed from the past to the future, these can be easily used for those who are interested in becoming more active online in the librarian community to pursue “specific” interests. Do you see the values/benefits in investing time and energy in pursuing your interests in certain social media platforms? If the answer is yes, try to answer the five above questions clearly and make your plan accordingly, keeping in mind that your personal brand is not an end itself but a by-product.

I tried to dispel some of the misconceptions about personal branding such as it is all about marketing oneself shamelessly without really deserving it or about giving up one’s own privacy. But eventually personal branding is something different for each and every individual. It is what one makes of it.

Further resources

If you are interested in the details of what was discussed in the actual panel discussion, see this live tweet archive: http://twapperkeeper.com/hashtag/nmdg.

At the end of this post, if you are ready to embark on your personal branding, feel free to check out this handout from the ACRL New Members Discussion Group and follow up on the further discussion with other new librarians here at ALA Connect – New Members Discussion Group.

Also check out a great write-up and thoughtful comment by Steven Bell about the panel discussion “The WHY of Your Brand” in the Library Journal.

Practically Speaking – about Streaming the LITA Board Meeting

As many librarians know by now, on Saturday January 8th at the ALA Midwinter, there was a LITA board meeting. Jason Griffey, one of the LITA board members live-streamed the event. Having not been notified of this in advance, the board voted to stop the streaming once they realized that the meeting had been being broadcast in public.

Many librarians have written thoughtful posts on this including Karen G Schneider, Michelle Boule Smith, and Meredith Farkas. I am not going to argue about ALA’s open meeting policy or the legitimacy of the reasons given by the LITA board since I simply do not know much about those matters as a relatively new member of ALA.  (Those blog posts and comments have great information about them.)  But I wished that LITA -the division that I deem to be my primary home at ALA- were the first division to stream a board meeting for the members who could not attend the conference. And I still hope it would become the case at the upcoming Annual.

I am in favor of streaming open meetings and making more programs virtually available. The reason why I love to attend a library conference is that I get to meet and hear from so many different librarians. All of them have so much energy and great ideas, which help me do my job better and enrich my thoughts on librarianship. So the more people add their thoughts and ideas to the discussion, the better the conference experience becomes. So why not invite more ALA members to join the conference in the virtual space?

I was even more surprised to see that the LITA meeting in question was not even a program. In my mind, yes, one may want to block a program since it should be ‘technically’ only available to the attendees who paid for the conference. (Actually, I will try to counter this later too.)

But a business meeting? If someone is going to sit down and watch a board meeting for three hours discussing policies and bylaws not even physically attending the meeting, I would say that that someone should be commended. When I attended my first-ever LITA board meeting as an observer on Monday, there were only two (!) people including me who were not on the LITA board. And even I (a LITA-sponsored emerging leader) didn’t stay for the whole meeting. That is a small number to be present considering that there are thousands of LITA members.

I understand that having a meeting while knowing that every word you speak is being broadcast can be extremely difficult. There may well be some people who would even avoid physically attending a meeting. And I completely sympathize with them. (I myself hate to have a webcam pointed at my face when I have an online meeting with colleagues although I like to see their faces!)

However, we live in times in which people’s attention and time are hard to come by and probably worth much more than any content online. Content is not scarce nor particularly precious. Even if a board meeting is indeed publicly broadcast, I would be shocked if that suddenly draws in hundreds of people. The LITA board may have to sacrifice their discomfort at public broadcasting whether they like it or not if getting LITA members’ feedback and ideas broadly from as many LITA members as possible is a top priority to the division.

We often act as if by putting certain content online, suddenly we create this great danger of having that content exposed to ‘everyone’. Theoretically, yes, it is true that by putting something online, it will be accessible to everyone on the Internet. But the reality is that the content will be accessed only by those who ‘decide’ to give their time and attention to the particular content. Just think about how hard politicians campaign to get voters’ attention. ALA is lucky to have many members who are eager to participate online if an opportunity is given. Streaming a business meeting may be well worth the effort “and” the discomfort of the meeting attendees at a physical meeting if that will allow many eager members to participate further in ALA.

Lastly, I want to say a few things about why even ALA programs should not be ‘strictly’ restricted to those who registered for the conference. I organized and moderated a panel discussion at ACRL New Members Discussion Group (NMDG) at this year’s ALA Midwinter. The panel discussion was great success thanks to the NMDG team who diligently prepared for and organized the program virtually. Some of those members could not attend the conference, but they generously donated their time, thoughts, feedback, and ideas to the program that they could not attend over a few months’ period.

If (hypothetically) this NMDG discussion were to be streamed, I would have thought that it should be streamed to everyone or at least to all team members whether virtual or not. Actually, in the case of NMDG, all team members were virtual members until the day on which the program took place. As we benefit from our colleagues’ generosity, why shouldn’t we be able to return it in a way? Since all our labor was freely given to create a program and all panelists also served for free, why can’t it be made available freely (or at a small cost for a virtual conference registration)?

While ALA encourages all its members to participate and be actively involved in the ALA conferences, I hope it’s not ignored that those who are willing to contribute to ALA virtually should be “provided with a means to do so.”

Some thoughts about “The Desk Setup”

One of my favorite blogs written by a librarian(s) is In the Library with the Lead Pipe. This blog consistently addresses issues that are not usually discussed either openly or in-depth but are nevertheless of many librarians’ interests, such as burnout, librarian identity crisis, or upward mobility, to name a few.

So I was, of course, over the moon when Brett Bonfield, one of the bloggers at In the Library with the Lead Pipe, requested a written interview with me about my computer and gadget setup. Brett’s idea was to write a blog post similar to The SetUp, which is a site that features a series of interviews of people who work closely with the web in one way or another, that is, technologists. The people who have been interviewed for The SetUp include Paul Graham, Jakob Nielson, Stephen Wolfram, Danah Boyd, Jeffery Zeldman, Dan Benjamin, and many more well-known people. If you are interested in the web but haven’t read The SetUp, I highly recommend reading it.

And now, thanks to Brett, we have the librarians’ version of The SetUp: The Desk Setup.  It is not only cool but also quite informative to know what kinds of technology tools today’s librarians use to get their work done as well as at their leisure. Many cool gadgets and interesting software are mentioned along with iPhone and iPad apps that librarians use. But beyond those, the interviews also show that there is still a wide variety of set-ups that librarians have at work. Some librarians battle with old computers at work while some librarians work with a machine with 8 GB(!) RAM (yes, I am jealous).  Some librarian is running most of the library computers on Linux, while other librarians don’t even get the full admin rights to her/his own work computer.  If we (meaning ‘the society’) expect our librarians to be on the vanguard in the areas of information, technologies, and digital literacy, the full admin rights shouldn’t even be an issue. Don’t you think? So we (meaning ‘librarians’) might just have to double up the effort of doing “the job of making clearer connections between libraries and technology.”

The Desk Setup was posted today. Go check it out. Add things that weren’t mentioned there but you use and love in the comments. Share your thoughts!

What is your management style?

Jenica Rogers wrote a thoughtful post today about management at her blog, Attempting Elegance. In her post, “Lessons Learned: Micromanaging,” she reflects on her management style as a new library director. She talks about how her personal strength and talent at project maangement has unexpectedly become a problem in her work as an administrator.

I think it would be a good practice to reflect upon one’s own management style whether one is a manager or not as we all have to manage at least our own time and work. Furthermore, as professional librarians, we are also often put in a position to manage temporary, hourly, and student employees or even volunteers.

My own management style is actually a complete opposite to Jenica’s. I love delegating and long to delegate more of my work, so that I can focus on and spend more time on certain projects that really need me. Just unfortunately, right now I don’t have many people to whom I can delegate some of my tasks.

I confess when I was in library school, I didn’t pay great attention in my management class. I figured I would be a lay librarian and I wouldn’t have much need for management sorts of things. I soon realized that that was a pretty wrong assumption. I recruited a couple of students in my first year as a professional librarian after I realized that I could not keep up with all the tasks by myself. Since I worked with students before and it worked so well at my previous workplaces where I was a paraprofessional, I thought it would be a piece of cake. How wrong I was! (And also that made me realize how great a manager my boss was.)

A Very Young Dancer

"25/365 from 'A Very Young Dancer' by Jill Krementz" Photo from Dream Diary in Flickr

The problem I had was that, unlike Jenica, I didn’t do enough micro-managing. For example, I expected my students to read up stuff that I gave them and then to apply what they learned to work, which I showed how to do just a few times in front of them. Of course, I supposed that they would ask me any questions as they arose, work and behave professionally, and appreciate the freedom and trust I gave them. And by all means, the tasks that I assigned them were the simplest ones, at least in my mind.

What I was doing wrong was to treat my student assistants in the way I like to be treated. Not that there is anything wrong with the Golden Rule, the mistake I made was to think that my student assistants would have the same kinds of needs and work styles as I do. I love working independently and excel at setting up projects and getting things done without much direction or guidance. Whenever I spot a problem, I am happy to do my own research, solicit feedback without being prompted,  make decisions to fix the problem, and accomplish goals that I see as my responsibilities. On the other hand, I do not enjoy spot-checking others’ work or writing reports about things that have been done.

Now this tendency of mine would work great if I were to supervise someone exactly like me. However, you can guess this wasn’t the case with my student assistants. Now that I think about it, the freedom and the trust that I placed upon them could have been baffling and confusing to them. They may not have fully understood exactly what the tasks were and, more importantly, how meticulous their work had to be for it to be useful to others. A lot of things that I expected my student assistants to be able to do themselves and apply to their tasks may well have been simply beyond their capabilities. In retrospect, they would have benefited from personal attention and lots of directions and guidance as well as frequent check-ups to ensure that they were on the right track. But as a complete newbie manager with the natural tendency of macro-managing (if that is a word), I completely missed all of this for a while. The result was, well, not quite great. Some of the work that was done by student assistants had to be redone by me, and some of the projects didn’t get finished.

It took a while for me to realize that the failure came from me just as much as from my student assistants. I wasn’t managing them in the way that they needed me to. I treated them as if they were just like me. While this may well be a good rule in ethics, it certainly is not so for a manger.

I read somewhere that treating everyone equally is not a strength of a manger. A good manager treats everyone differently because everyone is different (with different strengths, needs, and work styles). I would probably never be a micro-manager as I believe that everyone should achieve a certain level of expertise (i.e. independence) in their areas by learning their work and doing it well through practice and that all of us do our best work when we are internally motivated, not externally. However, we all need different things at different times in different projects. A good manager is someone who can see the needs of those who s/he manages and can offer what is needed for each individual at a given time. And there, the distinction between micro-managing and macro-managing may well be irrelevant. That I now know from my mistakes. What is your management style?

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