Tag Archives: work

APL+ Video Star

At the start of the pandemic, Library Land was in a mad scramble to meet the moment with online content. Austin Public at first shied away from live virtual programming and especially anything that could be construed as an unauthorized use of an unauthorized platform (sorry, Zoom). Early asynchronous video singalongs for kids on Facebook morphed into the push for video content across all audiences. APL+ was born—video book talks, crafts, cooking demos, Virtual Library promos and more.

I’m not gonna lie. I was skeptical of this “multifaceted digital solution for creating and offering digital content for the public,” and I remain concerned about our efforts to ensure that these videos reach their intended audiences. But we’ve come a long way and I am proud of our accomplishments as a group and especially of my own achievements. I am a member of the Adult Content Team system-wide and the lead for coordinating videos within the Reference Team (our group has a 6 video per month quota).

What exactly do I do? Pretty much everything:

  • Produce content guidelines
  • Brainstorm and develop ideas
  • Define roles, processes and expectations in extensive documentation
  • Write and edit scripts
  • Act on camera
  • Film the dang things (we primarily film on our phones)
  • Create voiceover
  • Make screencapture videos for database and app demos
  • Source image assets
  • Create rough cut edits
  • Learned basic audio cleanup with VLC and Audacity
  • Learned how to use Shotcut video editor

Basically, I do everything up until post-production, for which we have a wizard. Regarding the above, I also help staff contributors do all of these things, reviewing scripts and footage and providing feedback for clarity, continuity and quality. This aspect has been unexpectedly taxing, akin to emotional labor, providing compassionate constructive criticism and coaching to get the results we want while keeping staff creators encouraged—folks who might not be writers, who are definitely not actors, and who might not be particularly technically savvy. 

With my role as Reference video coordinator, I now spend most of my time helping other people create videos rather than making my own. But here are a couple examples of my work, start to almost finish (our post-prod guru does the fancy animations, image overlays, etc.). Click through to Vimeo:

One of my largest undertakings was the We Miss You video. Though not technically under the APL+ banner, the workflow was much the same. It was shared on social media in June, shortly before we launched our curbside service. For this project, I:

  • Wrote and pitched the script to the Communications Manager and Assistant Director. They loved it.
  • Wrote instructions for filming and provided a sample video clip of what I was looking for. Most of the video was scripted with sections for participants to improvise and share personal tidbits.
  • Recruited 17 staff participants across divisions.
  • Created the video, selecting the best takes from each submission and cutting it together. There were ~75 total clips for a video of about 2.5 minutes. The editing process took about 16 hours.
  • On Instagram, over the course of one weekend, the video received over 3400 views, over 400 likes and 40 customer comments, including:

Thank you all! We miss our libraries, but it was so nice to see some familiar faces! ❤️ 

Our family misses the library! Thank you for the ❤️❤️❤️  

This made my day!! Can’t wait to see Martha and the other Howson Library branch librarians as soon as it is safe to!!! So much love for APL!!

We miss you too! Thanks for this!💙📚  

Miss y’all too 💖 Thanks for everything you do.  

That got me teared up! My family misses our librarians and we appreciate all your doing to keep us reading! 

Beautiful, thank you Austin Public Library!

You guys… my heart is exploding. Thank you so much for all you do #ImNotCryingYoureCrying  

We love you and miss you but we want you to be safe!  

We miss the library and our librarians so much! Thank you for reopening the book drops and making curbside pickups possible. We are so grateful to the Austin Library! 

While the community goodwill felt great, I didn’t anticipate the equal outpouring from staff who were thrilled to participate and heartened by the effort. Logistically it was challenging. Thematically it was complicated, and it still is. But I’m proud to have captured the pandemic zeitgeist and give my colleagues a voice. Check it out on Facebook!

 

Screenshot of We Miss You video on Facebook.

2020 Tidbits

What a crazy year, amirite? I got a headstart with general insanity by giving birth a month early in December of last year, followed by several days in the NICU with my tiny, fierce son. After this nerve-wracking ordeal, we spent the next 10 weeks getting to know each other.

Here’s Lucien, aka Louie, doing his first shelfie at 7 weeks:
 

Baby Louie and his books

The days blurred, every hour the witching—my first taste of 2020 time being meaningless. As my FMLA wound down, I returned to work on a reduced schedule, trying to catch up during my 4-6 hour workdays while routinely on 4-6 hours of fractured sleep.

Before my absence, as hiring manager I’d just selected a candidate to join our team—I hadn’t even made her the offer yet. The hiring committee proceeded on my behalf and the team trained her without me, which was necessary but also a bummer. In theory I like hiring but the laundry list of logistics, requirements and paperwork tends to suck out all of the fun. Onboarding, on the other hand, I genuinely love. Ya know. Spending the first 10 weeks getting to know each other.

Also in my absence, a completely new hiring process kicked off without me in search of another librarian who would become my direct report. I admit I was not thrilled about this but recognized the necessity of pushing forward. Our open positions tend to face undue delays—I didn’t want my leave to present another obstacle or let my ego stand in the way.

And then the pandemic struck. The Austin Public Library shut down to the public March 16. A week later, we were sent to work from home. With a four-month-old baby, it was challenging to say the least. Given his erratic work schedule at the Dell Medical School, my husband Arthur is the primary caregiver. After my return to work, naps had been a struggle. And then I was back! …Sort of. In those early days we floundered a bit a lot until we figured out Louie’s sleep, both a semblance of doing it through the night and, critical for workday focus and continuity, his learning to fall asleep without nursing.

(Aside: Sleep training is a uniquely American phenomenon embraced by desperate working parents who lack the family-friendly generous leave policies of other developed nations. In that sense, it’s gross. But I will fight anyone who claims I damaged my kid. We are all so much happier and healthier with solid (brain-building for him and restorative for us) SLEEP OH PRECIOUS SLEEP!)

Before then—and sure, occasionally after—I’ve felt forced to choose between being a crappy mom or a crappy employee, and often experience both regardless of effort and intention. But by and large our family has found its rhythm, and I’m thankful that Arthur can stay home with our son and that we don’t have the nightmare of simultaneous distance learning with school-aged children.

So! What have I been up to?

Despite us no longer providing in-person service at the library, our frontline work never ceased. Answering customer emails, chats and texts from home was seamless. It took more technical legwork to resume fielding calls. We started by accepting voicemails and returning calls with work-issued iPhones previously assigned to each floor at Central, primarily used for their panic button app. Later we transitioned to live calls using VOIP on work-supplied laptops, of which there was a shortage. Eventually our full team received laptops; I helped facilitate this roll-out, creating documentation, tracking technical issues and providing troubleshooting for staff before handing them off to IT when necessary.

I also trained the new librarian from home. Fortunately she joined us from an APL branch; she knew the organization and ten million library bits about accounts, policies, the catalog, and so forth, and wasn’t subject to the barrage of New City Employee training. Onboarding remotely certainly had a different feel, but it worked—I shuffled priorities to meet the pressing needs, carved out a new language of caveats and pulled it off. The rest of the fun stuff—the insider building tours, tech orientations, customer anecdotes and more, it’s all waiting for us when we get back. (…Right? We are going back someday… right?)

My largest undertaking during the pandemic has been creating videos for the newly created APL+ . I helped build this enterprise from the ground up—read all about it in the APL+ post.

As one of the last librarians to receive a laptop—I’d been using my personal home setup instead—only recently have I started answering calls again. I’d done plenty of troubleshooting and issuance of assurances through email and chat, but it’s different over the phone—sensing the anxiety in a caller’s voice and hearing it thaw to optimism, the deep satisfaction of real-time problem-solving, then the thrill of shared triumph and rush of effusive gratitude. 

 

People rely on the library for so much: entertainment, information, transformation, escape—a remedy for isolation, a third place (and for those without a home or steady work, it may be the first and only). We’ve been doing curbside service for awhile, now, and are finally exploring live virtual programming. But it pains me to know how much we aren’t doing and the continued uncertainty of our altered reality.

I’m grateful for my family’s health, for my union for advocating for our livelihoods and safety, for the City of Austin for keeping us on and its commitment to flattening the curve. I am amazingly blessed to spend more time with my beautiful boy, behind closed doors down the hall but able to swoop in when he’s having a rough time. At 11 months already (11 months!!) he’s been in the throes of separation anxiety. I can’t tell you how much it kills me to walk away from his heartbroken mamamas.

But at least it’s to return to meaningful work.  

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.

The Library Bike is Here!

After over a year of planning and unexpected setbacks, a few months ago we finally got our book bike, Unbound: sin fronteras! It turned into two builds, actually:
 

Zane, Conor, Andrew and Sarah on our rainy inaugural ride.
Zane, Conor, Andrew and Sarah on our rainy inaugural ride.

No. 1 is a front-end unit on an attached bike created by Haley Trikes in Philadelphia. They’ve done a handful of library bikes now and got it down to a (library) science. No. 2 is a custom trailer to attach to a personal bike made by Austin builder Saila Bicycles. Both have ample room to hold books and materials, plus a laptop, wifi puck and all the swag you can stand.

Each has its idiosyncrasies but nothing unmanageable. The trike is slow going but steady (winning ALL the races!) and the trailer is so smooth you almost forget it’s there… until you turn too tightly into a parked car. I haven’t crashed either yet. After making it down the hill of Guadalupe on the trike during rush hour without dying, I’m confident I can handle anything.

Administratively we’re still figuring things out—where to store it, how to streamline all the bits and most importantly, how to staff it. We have willing riders but staff shortages at the branches keep people on the desk instead of in the Austin wilds. This is understandable but still. Sad face. I’m fortunate to have more flexibility with my schedule.

So what do we do with it? Community outreach, of course! We’ve shown up at Movies in the Park, Books and Beer and random farmers markets. We tailor a mini-collection to the theme and vibe of the event and check out books and DVDs, sign up new members and demo the Virtual Library. Many who get their library cards from the bike are newcomers to the city. What an awesome introduction to the Austin Public Library.
 

Unbound:si fronteras is hanging out at Palm Park for Movies in the Park #aplunbound #aploutreach #austinparks #moviesinthepark

A photo posted by Austin Public Library (@austinpubliclibrary) on


 
I led the proposal team to get the project greenlighted then took a more passive role on the task force. I’m super impressed with and proud of the research and tireless diligence done by Conor Walker, Betsy Evans and Andrew Murphy, the chair and deputy co-chairs of the team, to make both builds happen.

Unbound: sin fronteras
is a fun, fresh take on community engagement that will be enjoyed by Austinites—and us!—for years to come.

Tech Toy Time

Anticipating the post-holiday crush of customers with new devices they don’t know what to do with, I proposed a designated drop-in time for hands-on help downloading ebooks from the library. Tech Toy Time was born! Throughout Sundays in January at the Austin Public Library, dozens of people brought in their iPads, tablets, phones, Kindles and Nooks to get set up with OverDrive. They even put me on the teevee! The initial program was a great success, and we’ve rolled it into our regular repertoire of computer/tech offerings.

However ubiquitous such devices are becoming, digital literacy is still at a premium. If you don’t have a grandkid or a niece to walk you through it—or if the genius bar cats terrify you, or Amazon phone support gives you the vapors—what do you do? You never turn on your $200 paperweight. It’s a huge gap the library can fill, at least when it involves accessing our materials (ebooks, e-audiobooks, digital magazines and more). If only there were time and staff to push it to the branches….

public librarianship is go

Believe it or not, I’ve been working at Austin Public Library for nearly four months. For all our epic plans, day-to-day it’s a position of minutia, unraveling policy, battling torpid interfaces and remembering a million acronyms, passcodes and who’s who.

But it’s also a delightful realm of Real Live Collection Development, spending real money making a real difference updating my areas (Computers and Religion) to reflect community needs and cultivate curiosity. On top of that, weeding is a joy. Too long my preconceptions have been clouded by milquetoast librarians for whom deselection gives the vapors.

I could weed all day, especially when such treasures await:

 

Who knows how many times the collection had been shifted till at last stars aligned and mind and no mind met Arizona highways?

It seems crazy to say I’m still discovering what my job is. I have things I do—always! ever!—but figuring out where I fit has taken more finesse. I’m thankful to have the freedom to self-direct and -select the projects and priorities of interest to me.

I am on the Databases Team and the Internet Advisory Committee in tireless pursuit of intuitive user experience. I also developed a library class syllabus and am helping strong-arm our information guides. But the wheels of assimilation turn slowly, and weirdly. I’ve taken training for cybersecurity, active shooters and blood-borne pathogens but not the official module for how to use our catalog. I just hope I can take the class before I teach it, which I know I’ll be doing eventually.

Reference has become a completely different animal. Unlike the online, for-profit education world with 30 minute phone calls of intensive remedial information literacy, tech support, assignment interpretation and life coach cheerleadering, the public library phone call averages 30 seconds. And yet so many wonderful, off-the-wall questions, requests and misinformation about how things work.

I still encounter a handful of rude, frantic, mentally ill patrons, with the added tension of much of it in person, but it’s still leaps and bounds less nerve-wracking, and that goes for the rest of the job, too. I haven’t torn the velcroed head off Stress Kitty once.

 

And it’s fun. In June I volunteered at Yomicon (“reading con”), the annual manga cosplay event for teens. There were costume and art contests, geeky crafts, games, drawing workshops and more. I staffed the photo print station, arranging shots into fake photobooth strips, like so:

Horsehead was a hit and my efforts were well appreciated. In fact, I won an award:

 

Here’s what my nominator had to say:

Not even out of probation yet, and accolades already! Not bad. 😀

Farewell, Walden University… Hello, Austin Public!

I have a new job! Next month I extend my career as a Librarian II at Austin Public Library—yes, that Austin, the People’s Republic Of. Stationed at Faulk Central, the main library building downtown, I will do reference, instruction, collection development, adult programming, web- and word-wrangling and more.

While much of my experience overlaps or translates, I have not worked in public libraries before. I am ridiculously, ecstatically excited. For all I thrive online, the thought of wandering stacks and teaching face to face makes me downright giddy. I’m eager to engage with a different kind of patron, collection, mission, everything—all of this on top of the adventure of moving, immersing myself in a fun, new city.

With this opportunity, I leave behind Walden University—but not without accolades. At the start of March I was awarded the Frondie, an employee of the month recognition in the library.

What the heck is a Frondie? Why, it’s a creepy Green Man statue/plaque/thingy:

My nominator colleagues said about me:

“I would like to nominate Meg for all the work she does and has done to make the website and guides be fantastic and seamless. Yes, there are working groups for these things but it seems that Meg has often done beyond what is expected.”

“Our successful, on-time launch of the library website re-design may have been neither without Meg’s involvement. She asked insightful, hard questions about the project, but also dedicated extra time to researching and drafting possible solutions to any issue she raised. Meg communicated with her colleagues throughout the project, both sharing progress from the team and collecting feedback from others. She has also stepped up to create resources and support for her colleagues, such as workshops on SnagIt image editing and the content and style guide.”

“Meg has a history of supporting her colleagues and helping us all do quality work (offering SnagIt image workshops, all the crazy work on the content and style guide, etc.) She has also had openness to being flexible to bring success to the library (think all the twists and turns of the website redesign). Once again, we are grateful to Meg for her adaptability and strong support of the team: just recently she has agreed to let us all experiment with her role as a liaison. In order to help meet the ever changing workloads from College of Health Sciences and RWR College of Education and Leadership, Meg is now flexing back and forth between the two schools and collaborating to take care of business. This pilot project is very important to all of us as we explore more ways to keep up with new programs and projects.”

“She doesn’t hesitate to call shenanigans and is great at providing detailed feedback with examples. She’s blazing a trail and taking us with her. Bravo, Meg!”

HOW MORTIFYING! I knew the Austin Public offer was coming—I was trapped in criminal background check limbo for nearly a month and half. Then I find out that people like me and think I do rad work! Can’t say I don’t feel a little guilty, but it’s equally awesome to be recognized and appreciated.

On my last day of work, my Walden colleagues presented me with this wondrous gift:

May my new colleagues in time understand me so well. 😀

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.

Minneapolis moved! and into the work fold

I forget I can write asides with this blog… updates without the hassle of premeditated depth. In short: I’ve moved back to Minneapolis, MN, and am currently doing contract work with Augsburg College to create subject guides using the all-hailed LibGuides. The software isn’t bad, but it definitely has its foibles and limitations, resulting in fist shakes and many “Guh!” exclamations. More on this, perhaps, later&#8212given all the hype, I am definitely pleased to start playing around with them, not to mention grateful to have so quickly found library-related employment in this bled-dry job market, even if only short term.