Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This Is How I Work

So it's come to this, I'm participating in what's basically the chain letter of blog posts. First Megan Brooks called me out on twitter, then Jessica Olin tagged me in her blog post. So, here goes. I'm Jacob Berg, and this is how I work.

Location: Washington, DC.
Current Gig: Director of Library Services at My Place of Work, a small, Masters degree granting university.
One word that best describes how you work: Width.
I'll explain. At present I am the sole full-time library staff member, and we have six part-time staff members, three of which are librarians. The other three are in MLIS programs. For the fall 2014 semester, I've been a solo librarian, solo staff member, for more than half of your average "normal" 8:30am-5:30pm, Monday-to-Friday work week. We're hiring, so help is on the way, but in the meantime, I spread myself thin. Circulation/Access Services, Reference, Instruction, Systems Administrator, Cataloging, Webmaster, and more. Thus, width, not depth.
Current Mobile Device: iPhone 4S.
Current Computer: An HP Compaq tower at work, a MacBook at home.
Current Tablet: Second generation iPad.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
  • Google's suite of apps comes in very handy. We use the calendar to schedule part-time staff; g chat to keep each other up to date in real time; forms to record reference and circulation statistics; and docs to collaborate. 
  • Outlook. Our students have gmail, and for some strange reason, faculty and staff continue to use Outlook. Emails, scheduling, creating tasks,... it's useful, but I bet I could live without it.
  • Dropbox. Very useful for moving documents and other digital items around from one place to another, making it easy to work from multiple computers. 
  • Evernote. Pretty much anything I read that I think will be useful at a later date gets saved in Evernote with tags. As a librarian, I have an impressive controlled vocabulary. I also use Evernote to digitize pen-and-paper note taking at meetings, though sometimes I take notes on a phone or tablet. The paper must be yellow. Always has been, always will be. 
  • Twitter. I can't afford to go to every conference I'd like to. Library twitter is like a 24/7/365 conference. Articles, blog posts, and other useful items get shared. There's networking, there's inside jokes, there's gifs. 

What’s your workspace setup like?
I have a wall-mounted second monitor and when combined with a hospital bed table, they turn my workspace into a standing desk. I get to work just before 8:30 and sit until about 10, then I stand until lunch, and stand again after lunch.

My office is just off the main room of the library, with close proximity to the reference desk (yay) and copier/printer/scanner and fax machines (boo).
I have a white board that is very useful for planning and mapping.

I grew up taking the 1 to the 7 to go to Mets games. That's my happy place, even if the team is a never-ending source of frustration. Plus people bring their kids in to the building, and they can play with the trains.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
Can I take a moment here to note that I abhor the term "life hack?" It's awful.
Anyway, as soon as you find something that's useful, do something with it so that you can find it later. In library-speak, make it discoverable. Evernote does the job nicely for me. Your milage may vary.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I use the native Notes app on my phone and tablet, as well as tasks and flags in Outlook. I get satisfaction from crossing stuff off or checking it off.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
I have a 160GB iPod classic. I had dreams that maybe Apple would come out with a 320GB version, but instead they're killing it off. I like music, a lot.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I like to think that because of the wide array of roles I've had in libraries and my interest in both theory and practice, I do a good job of seeing the big picture and focusing on the details.

What do you listen to while you're at work?
Our local National Public Radio station, WAMU, in the morning, at least up until about 1pm or so, and then music after that, either via Spotify or my iPod.

What are you currently reading?
Longform journalism, because truth is stranger than fiction.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is meaningless, but I vacillate between INTJ and INFP. I think I was more introverted ten years ago than I am now.

What’s your sleep routine like?
I try to be in bed by 10:30 and I get up at 6:30am.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
Public librarians, people with non-traditional, flexible hours; people who work from home; and fellow library directors. If that's you, please share.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I write a fair amount about the interplay between structure and agency in librarianship. I wonder if it started with my dad telling me it was better to be lucky than good. Now you know where I get my sardonic wit from. I think about luck, what it means, who has it and who doesn't, a lot.

Friday, November 7, 2014

American Libraries Live: Open Access

On Thursday, November 6th I participated in a live Google hangout put together by American Libraries Magazine on open access publishing and libraries with Emily Puckett Rodgers from the University of Michigan and Melanie Schlosser at The Ohio State University Libraries. Here's a program description.
Scholarly journals are increasingly becoming digital, experimenting with new publishing models such as Open Access (OA) and incorporating multimedia into their formats. In addition, the process of research continues to evolve because of mandates from funding agencies to publicly share research findings and data. For a candid discussion of what OA is (and isn’t), join us for “Open Access and Libraries,” the next broadcast of American Libraries Live. (Source)
The gist of what I said:

  • I like the Budapest Initiative definition of open access, "unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly research," but would add that in order for something to be open, it must be found. "Discoverability" should be a concern here. 
  • There was a question about "corruptability," shady practices involving author's fees and the like, and while those issues exist around lesser OA journals, those same issues are present in lesser paywalled journals as well. I don't think there is an "OA problem" as much as there is a "peer review problem." 
  • While open access is seen as more of an issue for academic libraries, people use public libraries for research as well, and many public library systems don't subscribe to packages of peer-reviewed journals and articles. OA is a tremendous help here. Also, people use public libraries to reskill and open educational resources (OERs), be they Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or open textbooks, are no-cost solutions, provided public librarians are aware of these resources. 
  • Regarding educating people on open access, I again discussed how zoos and aquariums transitioned from being places to see animals to having conservation and environmental awareness embedded into their institutional fabrics. I want to see libraries do the same thing. At my place of work open access is one of the first things you see on the website, and we've worked with faculty to bring OERs into the classroom, replacing more expensive textbooks. We can, and will, do more. 

Puckett Rodgers and Schlosser had very smart, important things to say as well, and not just about what I discussed above. Below we talk about promoting resources, federal policies, integrating OA into traditional library work flows, discoverability, and more.

My caption contest submission: "The Infinity Gauntlet will be mine!"Also, about two-thirds of the way through the hangout I made a joke about not apologizing for cross-posting on listservs. See if you can find it.

There was a lively discussion on twitter using the hashtag "allive," which I've Storified. Enjoy.

Elsewhere on this site:
More Thoughts on Discovery, Plus a Poster
From Here to Discovery
Open Access: A World Without Vendors
The Price of Scholarly Materials, Politics, and Access
Another World is Possible: Particle Physics Goes Open Access
The Library as Aquarium, or The SOPA Post
There's more under the open access tag.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

On "Pitching" and What Goes Unmentioned

I'm not sure if a few recent articles constitutes a trend, but I have noticed pieces imploring librarians to get better at "pitching" ideas to their funders, be they administrators, boards, or communities, among others.

While I understand that asking for things is a skill, I, like many librarians, find it somewhat unseemly. In no small part, this is because I view libraries not just as a public good, but as being, morally good, even though there's ample evidence that as an institution, institutions, they, we, are not.

Nonetheless, in the current political and economic climate, at least in the United States, funding is often hard to come by. Public libraries face shrinking budgets while institutions of higher education are subject to the same whims if they are public, and, when taken as a whole, continue a dangerous dalliance with neoliberal policies.

These pitching articles are very much agent-based, and are within the neoliberal locus. They focus on the need to pitch, without taking into account the structure, the political and economic milieu in which libraries and library staff find themselves. Given this structure, sometimes even the best pitches can fail and fall short, and that should be noted by authors.

So if you're writing one of these articles, I want to know details. What did you pitch, to whom did you pitch it, and what strategies and sales tactics did you use? Moreover, have you pitched something at a given time and failed, only to retry it later and have it work? What changed? Again, I get that pitching is a skill we library staff should have, but I want to move past it being "good," I want to know when it works, why it works, where it works, and how it works. I want to know who has had success with it, and who hasn't. Is there something like best practices for this? Can it be replicated? Can pitching move from anecdotes to social science?

Here, I'll start:

I have some experience with pitching, having successfully advocated for a discovery layer and link resolver. It took me well over a year to from the time I started lobbying the administration, our IT department, the university president, some deans and faculty, and the business office. I first brought it up to our then-provost at a time when my place of work sought to expand enrollment by more than thirty-three percent (33%) over five years. I mentioned, and cited, the library's role in student success and retention and led people through how our community went about using the library for research, and how that would change (in short, fewer clicks, less friction) under a discovery layer and link resolver. I invited stakeholders to meet with vendors, giving our campus partners some ownership of the process. I used powerpoints. And it worked.

But sometimes it doesn't. I ask for more full-time staff in much the same way; how I pitch is how I pitch. We're still in that five-year plan. Student success and retention remain concerns. Armed with memos and data from other libraries, I presented, and continue to present, my case to the administration. And I fail. But it's not me, and I write this as much for myself as anyone else. It's because full-time staff are more expensive than a discovery layer. Much more expensive. And that's structure. And it's missing from too much of what's written in and about libraries.

There's too much agency, too much bootstrapping, too much of what is basically the respectability politics of library advocacy ("if only I had pitched better!"). And while that's important, sometimes it doesn't matter how well you pitched, because it's not up to you. And if you want to wallow in nihilism about it, I understand that impulse. I've done it. I'll do it again. But I'll also get back up, and try again.

So what works for you, dear reader? Think about not just how you pitch, but when and where as well, and please let me know, because I always want to be able to navigate structures, when possible.

Elsewhere on this site:
Libraries as Structure, Libraries as Agents: Late Capitalism Edition
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty in the Academic Library
Toward a Unifying Field Theory of Librarianship, Or Not