Tag Archives: feats

NextGen to Middle Manager

There’s been a collection management changing of the guard and I’m back at the Weirdo Zeros, as I like to call them: UFOs, conspiracy theory, “hidden knowledge,” THE BOOK.

It’s also the Dewey home for Library and Information Sciences, where I ran across these gems while weeding:

Look at them baby librarians! So scrubbed yet so alternative, so edgy and keen, so very someone’s idea of the aughts that look more like the nineties, mall goths and awkward lady neckties. These titles bookend my time in library school: The NextGen Librarian’s Survival Guide was published in 2006 and You Don’t Look Like a Librarian was released in 2009.

The internet kept happening to the profession, and those of us who more or less grew up with it were learning what it means to be a librarian while simultaneously being forewarned and dazzled by something called Library 2.0—as if it were something separate, or new. We didn’t need a Second Life, it was all one thing. Why were we being sold something we already owned?

I remember class conversations encouraging navel-gazing, to challenge and embody stereotypes because raise your hand if you have a tattoo. What?! It was so weird, at the time and looking back now. I can hypothesize that I and others in our twenties weren’t actually the audience for those conversations or the above two books. But I think that we were. It’s confounding and delightful all at once.

Especially considering that now I am this:

Toward the end of 2017 I competed for and was hired as a Librarian III at Austin Public Library. Yes, this announcement is way late in coming. It’s also rather odd I haven’t said peep about our award-winning gonzo-bananas new Central Library yet. Honestly, I am still processing—what happened and what is still happening. It’s breakneck, burnout busy. It’s an amazing facility but it’s been a rough transition, even now, 18 months on, still doing triage and scrambling for our sea legs.

As Librarian III, I stayed with the same team of 18, and in many ways continue to do my previous job: all of the same reference activities and serving as the now official instead of de facto Technology Liaison with our IT group. I am the lead trainer and Troubleshooter in Chief for my team, stress-testing all the tech bits and wrangling documentation so everyone stays up to speed.

I have three direct reports, two of whom I hired and trained. With the sprawling tasks of supervision plus filling in at public service points after losing several positions, I had to give up most outreach and a few projects, plus get better at saying No—less the relaying it than feeling bad I can’t take on more.

In fact, one my largest challenges opportunities has been learning to delegate, despite having an interview prep card all about it:

While delegation remains a bugbear, I am getting better. It’s rewarding to watch my team grow and thrive, to serve as a sounding board and mentor, to celebrate success and practice diplomacy when engineering better outcomes or delivering bad news. I feel a genuine commitment to support them as professionals, wherever their careers may lead them.

That authentic deep caring, that empathy and trust makes it hard to serve up the occasional crap sandwich. In the end, I might make a better leader than a manager. My main goal is to hang onto being a librarian, to stay close to the work that still challenges and inspires me and (shucks, I’ll say it) changes people’s lives.

All three books are on display in my cube. They are certainly no longer shelf worthy, but I can’t bear to box them up to send to the pulper. “A library is not an archive,” or so goes the weeder’s mantra, and I fully agree. But this trio feels akin to personal history, a mushy warm spot square in my saccharine heart.

Adventures in APLTV

One of my favorite responsibilities at Austin Public Library is creating and managing APLTV. The Central Library has several LCD screens around the building and in the bookable meeting rooms. A subgroup of librarians on the reference team develops content for eight of these TVs, known as APLTV.

Here’s one of the screens on Floor 6.
This slide was in a sequence of several books about writing for November’s NaNoWriMo. When “live,” the video on the right plays continuously while the books show in a slideshow on the left.

I worked with an in-house programmer to create slide templates, which include a mix of text and slots for item covers and related videos. The backend is managed through Drupal. We plug in catalog records which pulls in the item images and metadata. A few description tweaks later, and we’re in business—curated slides of content display on the screens for the enjoyment and intrigue of our customers.

I coordinate the content themes with our APLTV Team of eight using a sprawling production schedule in a shared spreadsheet. My co-manager and I trade off months loading the team’s new content, which loops every 20 minutes or so, into two channels (we need not have unique content for all 8 TVs, oof!). We also select timely slides for What’s Hot, which repurposes the content for consumption through our website.

We highlight the official themes chosen by our marketing team—things like Banned Books Week and National Hispanic Heritage Month—along with the library’s strategic priorities, like STEM, Workforce and Economic Development and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Then we go to Weirdsville and let our imaginations run wild, weaving pop culture references with personal interests, promoting specific materials and broader resources, sometimes both at the time, like with my Bird Box slide:

Bird Box without the Wait slide

I even pulled this off with Clean Off Your Desk Day, directing visitors to check out our temporary paperweight display:

Clean Off Your Desk Day slide

We have some standard content that we refresh monthly, like our What We’re Borrowing series:

What Meg is Borrowing slide

Most content, though, is original each month, tied to our seasonal themes with creative hooks. I am particularly proud of this slide, which helped me win our traveling Triumphant Beast trophy in January, as voted on by the contributors of APLTV:

Vampire Movies That Don't Suck slide
This is the Triumphant Beast award, initiated by my co-manager Betsey and I to motivate our team and celebrate creativity. Only now do I realize it looks like it says Content of the Mouth. 😛

Here are a few more favorites. All examples in this post are my own:

This was in a sequence of four books about sharks, each with its own short shark video uploaded from YouTube.
National Bookmobile slide
This was in a set of four slides, showing off archival photos of APL bookmobiles interspersed with shots of our current vehicle.
Put a Bird On It slide
National Donut Day slide
Grisly Texas: Movies filmed in the gory heart of Texas slide
Jesus Christ Superstar slide
We Need Math, STAT! slide

It’s so much fun, and there’s so much to love—the piles of dumb puns and irrepressible passion for books, films, music, information and community.

user testing and style guides, oh my!

meg in action

Here I be in my staged-tidy cube in Walden University Library. Contrary to my pastiness in this photo, I did see the light of day this summer, I swear! But it’s been a breakneck speed, productive past several months, with two major accomplishments:

1. Website user testing

I’m on a team that has been developing a reorganization for the library website. The design will stay largely the same, but the current site has significant usability problems, mostly due to poor labeling and non-intuitive categorization—legacy decisions that leave us with loads of library jargon and way too many assumptions about user know-how.

Inspired by user experience discussions at MinneWebCon and Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy, I advocated for user testing and won—to my delight and terror. Without a user testing precedent in the library or elsewhere in the university as far as I could determine, I was on my own. Though some decisions were less than ideal, like using other staff as participants instead of actual students (it’s an online university, hey… can’t exactly post fliers by the washrooms), the pilot test proved most useful.

I designed and conducted the tests with input from two colleagues, also on the website team. We opted to get feedback on the existing site to confirm our suspicions about things that are confusing and to uncover new problems we hadn’t considered. The data collected was largely confirming but with plenty of the unexpected to keep it interesting.

Data was used to justify design decisions, to incorporate additional ones and to make a few emergency changes to the current site immediately—critical facepalms not fit to print. User testing overall was thrilling and embarrassing and yes, time-consuming, but at the same time so important, and despite the initial timesink, it wasn’t terribly complicated. With a process in place, future testing sessions can hopefully happen with greater frequency, and with our other user groups, like students and faculty.

2. A comprehensive style guide for all library content

The new website requires loads of revised and new content, the majority of which will be pushed through LibGuides, of which we already have a ton. A metric ton. An expletive ton, and honestly, sadly, they’re all over the place when it comes to consistency.

Consistency is quality—inescapably. But with incomplete guidelines and several librarians producing content, the guides as a whole lack cohesion.

Now was my chance to reign in our over 2,500 guides, exploiting my English degree and proofreading background to the fullest. After investigating the university style guide and APA style (the university-wide standard), plus considering deeply the merits of common use and sense (e-hyphen-mail? really?), I created a content style guide governing every aspect of content creation, including:

  • Grammar, spelling and usage
  • Screenshot creation and specs for annotations (call-out boxes, arrows, highlighting, etc.)
  • Link names and image descriptions (“alt tags”) that are mindful of screen readers to ensure all content is ADA compliant, or as close as we can get given tech constraints

The style guide applies across all platforms: the main site, LigGuides, LibAnswers, the blog, Facebook, YouTube, and all things to come. With the help of an instructional designer colleague, instructional best practices are included throughout.

The style guide is a thing of beauty—and was a wonderful exercise in choosing the fights worth having. I tend to lean toward the minimal. Serial comma?—hate it. But I let it go and let it inside. Two spaces instead of one between sentences? I knew enforcing a rule either way would cause a war, and didn’t even bother.

But killing the capital “I” on internet? Now that’s worth fighting for.

birth of the death reference desk

Death Reference Desk

A few months ago, once fellow Minneapolitan John Troyer, now a professor of death and dying practices at the University of Bath, England, approached me with a vision. Well, it was more like a statement: “We need a blog.” He and his colleague Kim Anderson, a public librarian in Portland, Oregon, were in the habit of swapping death-related news stories via email, sometimes posting them on Facebook. Ever the helpful information consumer and conduit, I too occasionally passed along to John death links I knew would be of interest—think less shock schlock morbidity than the culturally nuanced and historically intriguing bits of death and dying lore and lunacy.

John and Kim wanted an online space where they could share ideas and information with a wider audience. Recognized for my web prowess (and later, praised for the happy surprise of actually being able to turn a fuzzy idea into a solid, slick reality), I was courted to build and contribute to such a joint-venture website with the promise of zero dollars and uncertain outcomes all around. Ain’t that the way of it? But I loved the idea and signed on. After countless hours of WordPress hacking, tracking down permanent WorldCat URLs and trying to determine the best way to organize a collection that doesn’t yet exist, the Death Reference Desk was born.

The blog portion of DRD focuses on death and dying in the news. Topics range from death industry trends, new discoveries in anthropology and the effect of social networking on mourning and memorializing, to name a few. We also function as an email-the-librarians reference desk for death and dying subjects. We’ve only had a couple questions so far, so it’s hard to predict the range of questions we’ll receive and the magnitude of research required; we don’t track down obituaries nor do in-depth research, but we are more than happy to help with search advice and places to get started. DRD also has search term tips and a few research guides, and we hope to add more in the future.

I also maintain a DeathRef Twitter account; the lastest tweet appears on the homepage, with tweets announcing new DeathRef content or linking to articles that lack sufficient weight to warrant their own posts. While (*ahem,* in my humble opinion) Twitter is the most annoyingly hyped and often pointlessly appropriated web doodad of the year, for DRD it has proven surprisingly effective for identifying and making connections with unexpected audiences, namely, genealogists and obituary enthusiasts.

So far the Death Reference Desk journey has been a challenging and gratifying experience for me as a web designer, librarian and writer. I approached it first as a project manager, defining and predicting what we wanted to achieve and how to get there, including our purpose and possible trajectory, scope, audience and value (…both to others and ourselves—I plainly admit I hoped to improve my web skills and expand my portfolio, which I’ve definitely achieved).

Melding knowledge of blog management with information organization, I attempted to translate subject classification and indexing theory and best practices to the category and tag functions of a blog. This has been no easy feat, especially with multiple contributors adding content and metadata and not knowing what our “collection” might ultimately contain. As such, categories and tags shift and evolve. The tag “crime” has become its own category, “Death + Crime.” Given thus-far limited content, the categories “Death + Art” and “Death + Architecture” should perhaps be combined. I scowl nonstop at having both a “Monuments + Memorials” category plus a “memorializing” tag, but I’m not sure what to do about it yet, and so it remains, redundant and confusing.

Naturally, my aim is to make navigation and drill-down terms as logical and useful as possible from a user’s perspective. But it’s also difficult to know how exactly a visitor will and wants to use the site, and I fear usability studies at this point would be, to put it lightly, exceptionally silly. DRD, while interesting to others for its content, has been especially interesting to me as a vehicle by which to explore professional issues, but that doesn’t mean it always requires professional insight and application, nor that such things are feasible. Sad that it matters, but true, I can expend only so much effort while not getting paid, plus I am probably the only person in the whole WWW who cares whether our small-fry blog makes total sense all of the time.

Nevertheless, I am having a blast with it, and what I’ve been learning falls well beyond information organization and design. In addition to that and the requisite web-hashing, I view and work on DRD in terms of its branding, marketing, promotion and outreach (I’m considering delving into and answering relevant Yahoo! Answers and WikiAnswers questions); its editorial policy and the various means of locating and developing relevant, engaging content (thank you, RSS alert services!); researching and creating an appropriate privacy policy and disclaimer; and my personal quest to swallow my disgust and experiment with the grossness of online advertising.

Though I’ve maintained personal websites for nearly a decade, I’ve never considered myself a blogger, in fact, I’ve resented the term. I see blogging as quick and dirty—not necessarily thoughtless but with certainly less mental and emotional investment than the creative nonfiction of my prior web engagements. But whaddya know: finding, writing about and sharing things that I find interesting for people who will also find them interesting is fun as well as deeply satisfying—not to mention a pretty darn librarian thing to do.

The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. While it’s impossible to predict its long-term sustainability, I’m definitely enjoying it right now—for what it is, and in imagining what it might become and how to make it happen.

degreed!

diploma

It is official; I am a graduate of the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia with an MLIS. Hooray! Actual commencement was May 21. Having missed the inordinately early and devilishly well-concealed cap-and-gown deadline, I was not in attendance and thus have no capstone photos of me in full graduation regalia. (Awww.)

In addition to degreed, I am the honored recipient of the Beverly Maureen Becker Memorial Prize for outstanding work in courses related to reference and information services. Strangely, I only took one reference course, the core course required of everyone (I would have liked to take more but scheduling did not allow for it). I believe the criteria were expanded to include actual reference desk experience, of which my co-op jobs at UVic and my Graduate Academic Assistant position with Art + Architecture + Planning and the Science and Engineering Libraries at UBC provided me a great deal. The award includes a schnazzy certificate and a cheque for $500. Thanks, SLAIS! I most definitely appreciate it.

As for jobs… though I’d originally planned to search far and wide for a librarian position, after much consideration I have decided I would like to be in Minneapolis/St. Paul, still home in my heart and closer to family. I’m hanging out in Vancouver to enjoy one last (…for now? who knows!) BC summer of beaches and bike rides along lush seawalls. I plan to be back in the States toward the end of July then concentrate my job search in the Twin Cities area.

In the meantime, I have been entrenched in a handful of creative writing and other projects. One exciting bit of news is that my work, You Are Not Dead: A Guide To Modern Living, a free ebook released in Spring 2008, caught the interest and inspiration of a local live performance production company. Over the past couple months I have been working with the director to turn the guide, perhaps best described as a satirical cross between self help and propaganda, into a script, with some revisions to reflect Canadian content and context. The play will open late October 2009 in Vancouver.

…Which I guess makes me a playwright. Which I am still wrapping my brain around. Though eager to start my library career, this is a welcome and fun change of pace from a grueling semester, and it’s excellent to get some recognition in a regrettably neglected area of my life. Stay tuned!