Archive for the ‘professionalism’ Category.

On authors and hissy fits

I always get a kick out of reading about authors’ overreactions to negative reviews, but it’s been a while since I’ve read some great ones. (See all the fun from last April for more along these lines!)

So, I was pleased to see some new rantiness appear. Here is just part of a mind-boggling example:

In last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Caleb Crain reviewed Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. While regular NYTBR watchers like Levi Asher welcomed the spirited dust-up, even Asher remained suspicious about Crain’s doubtful assertions and dense prose.

But on Sunday, de Botton left numerous comments at Crain’s blog, writing, “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.”

You don’t see a lot of schadenfreude in blog comments these days! Maybe it’s all moved to Facebook and twitter, too. :) Oh wait — something has! Check this out — Alice Hoffman (although she later apologized and deleted) got mad enough to post the private email address and phone number of one of her negative reviewers to her twitter feed. Hmm. Maybe I should finally get myself a twitter account after all, apparently I’m missing all the fun…

Yes, we have no bananas

So I was flipping through the March issue of American Libraries (yes, I still like the paper version) and came across a letter that reads:

Your Inside Scoop blog posting, “Obama Invokes Libraries at Governor’s Conference” (Dec. 3, 2008) was a total tear-jerker. It made my day.

It made me not mind having to work another holiday weekend to get ready for another busy week of supporting my school’s awesome students and their talented teachers.

It made me not care that I had to share a banana with my husband at breakfast this morning because we had to dip into our meager monthly food budget to buy extra supplies for the library. [emphasis added]

It made me proud to be a librarian and it made me proud to be an American. Thank you.

Taking pride in your job, good! Going the extra mile for kids? Good! Not having enough money to buy a second banana? Double plus ungood.

Part of taking pride in our profession involves recognizing our own value. Yes, it’s important to have a well-stocked library. Yes, sometimes we do have to go above and beyond, work weekends, bring work home, do work outside our normal “jobs.” But when we’re going the extra mile and don’t have enough money to buy food? Something has to give.

No offense intended to the letter-writer, who’s clearly devoted to her job. However, libraries are more than their collections — if we’re going to argue that we add value above and beyond a room full of books (or a site full of databases), then we need to actually appreciate our own value.

Blogging and writing and professional presence

If a blog turned book = blook, does blogging as writing = blighting?

Over at Confessions of a Science Librarian, John Dupuis says that if you don’t have a  blog, you don’t have a resume. Read part 1, part 2, and part 3. Hyperbole? A little — in part 2, he includes a quote from another blogger changing “your blog is your CV” to “Google is your CV,” which probably sums things up a bit better. But I liked (from part 2):

And if you don’t have a professional development plan, I have to say that blogging will help you define and refine your goals and interests. Believe it or not, just writing a little about a lot of different things really will help you figure out what’s important to you.

Exactly! I’d add that thinking or talking about a lot of different things will also help you figure out your priorities, but blogging is a relatively easy way to begin going about it.

I also nodded all the way through Dorothea Salo’s “Writing and Blogging,” which says, among other things:

Blogging took away the rules, allowed (even forced) me to leave myself in my writing, made me conscious of audience, and made me learn to convince. Without those things, I’d still be mired in bad presenting and worse writing.

This reminds me very much of Julia Cameron’s admonition to do “morning pages” and the general standard advice to aspiring authors: Write every day. Although blogging, unlike morning pages, is very much for an audience, it can veer between the brain-dump of “morning pages” and writing that could easily transfer to “the professional literature.” Every bit of blogging serves as that same practice that morning pages provide: Seeing what works for you, what works for your readers, and what works when you come back to it later; finding the nuggets of usefulness among everything you have to say; finding your own voice.

And, coming back to the idea of blogs — or of Google — being “your CV.” The perennial complaint about employers Googling candidates has popped up again, this time on jESSE. (Access the archives, and read the “if wikipedia is problematic, then what do we think about library employers who google their candidates?” thread from February.) The main argument this time is that this enables employers to engage in discriminatory hiring practices by finding answers to questions they would otherwise be prohibited from asking (with the usual side arguments about “how do they know they have Googled the right John Doe,” etc.).

What I first found interesting here was this argument from the original post:

If a manager makes hiring decisions based on a medium that librarians, by and large, universally disparage as an unreliable source of information, then it calls into question the manager’s core competencies as an employer. Does the manager have the skills to conduct a successful job search without resorting to sources of information that are not verifiable (such as facebook or myspace)?

I’d actually argue that it’s incumbent upon managers — especially librarian managers — to gather as much info as possible on potential candidates, including information on how they interact online (although I’d move a bit beyond Facebook and MySpace). How we present ourselves online, especially in our professional interactions on blogs or on lists, has carryover to how we’ll interact in the workplace. I would very much hope that any hiring manager would Google me, because what I have to say online and how I choose to say it translates very closely into what my workplace priorities would be. The OP also asserts that:

Finally, it is also important to note that librarians are going to look hypocritical and ineffectual if they make a stand to protect the privacy of their patrons and ignore the privacy of their employees, even if they are only potential employees.

Here’s what we tell the highschoolers: If you post it online, you don’t have an expectation of privacy. This includes the listserv message excerpted above, which I had deleted out of my email, but found again in about 10 seconds by Googling “jESSE” and accessing the archives. Look, there it is, and if I found it, potential employers (or anyone else who happens to Google that topic, that person, her institution) might well find it as well. What you say online is not private. You can quote me on that, because I’ve said it online, and here it is for all to see.

Shuffling back from Buffalo

Do you ever have that DOH! moment hours or days after a conversation, where you realize just what you could have said? That happens to me a lot after presentations and Q&A sessions.

I flew to Buffalo on Monday to give a talk on alternative careers for librarians at the University of Buffalo, and one of the questions in the Q&A portion was whether nontraditional careers were generally open to new grads, or whether they require you to build up more experience first. My answer at the time boiled down to “it depends,” some careers being very open to new grads, while others, like, say, striking out on your own as an info broker, require some pretty solid experience and contacts. What I should have added was: “But you can, and should, start working towards that goal now” – whatever that goal might happen to be. You can do a lot of things right out of school (or while in school), ranging from the simple (researching the industry/ies you’re interested in moving into) to the next steps along the road (volunteering, taking classes, going on informational interviews, spearheading projects, building up contacts, writing…). At ITI, I’ve worked with people who are writing books just a couple of years out of grad school. (It took me until 3 years out, way back when, but I’m a slow bloomer :) !) Any career goal, alternative or otherwise, will be easier to meet the earlier you get started.

On another note, while we’re talking about presenting, a couple of weeks ago Steven Bell posted Too Much Presentation Pressure over at the ACRLog. He posited that

Perhaps we’d be better off to lower our expectations for our conference presenters. We absolutely have a right to good presentations, to be engaged, and to participate. We should be the recipients of well thought out, well planned and well coordinated speeches (I still recall a presenter who had five minutes of time left, was on slide 42 of 67 slides – we had a slide handout – and cheerfully mentioned it was his first time using PowerPoint and it looked like he wouldn’t finish all his slides – in a way a big relief). On the other hand, most academic librarians might do one or two presentations a year at most; many do less. Like so many other things developing as a great presenter requires practice. One or two presentations a year just won’t get you there.

Anyone who’s sat through a bad — and I mean bad presentation might argue on the side of pressure. But there is a LOT of room between Steven’s example of Stephen Covey and being a decent library conference or workshop presenter, between awful and “great.” I pity the poor people who sat through my first talk oh-so-many years ago, but learned from that and moved on — I’m no Stephen Covey (or Stephen Abram, for that matter!), but I won’t bore you with droning PowerPoint bullet points, either. I think we should be able to agree on a bare minimum floor for conference presentations: 1) Don’t read your bullets, and, 2) Present on something you’re excited about, so you can share that excitement with others.

Bell talks about pecha kucha and other similar trends in toward more informal, interactive presentations, which can work well for some topics — he also suggests

…we can rethink what it means to deliver a library conference/program presentation. I’ve been thinking it should be more like blogging. Blog posts aren’t expected to be highly polished and edited forms of writing. They should be rough around the edges. It’s a way to get out ideas that are just forming, and to allow the community to react through commentary – which helps to better shape the ideas in the long run. Why can’t our presentations be somewhat the same. Let’s encourage librarians to focus on getting out the ideas, telling the story and getting audience reaction, rather than emphasizing the quality of the slides/visuals and presentation style.

This sounds more to me like what the unconference model has been doing, but I haven’t been lucky enough to attend one — anyone else? At Librarian by Day, Bobbi L. Newman references Bell in Presentation Pressure? Too much? Not enough? in noting

So do I think there should be more pressure for good presentation skills?  In a perfect world where we all had all the time we need to do all the things we want to – yes.  But in the world we have where, we’re all doing too much and struggle to keep up – my answer is no.  If I have to choose, I’ll choose that brilliant, innovative, and forward thinking people keep doing the brilliant, innovate, forward thinking things they are presenting about,  rather than spend their time polishing their presentation skills.

What I’ve found is that the brilliant, innovative, forward thinking presenters have a leg up anyway — it’s a lot easier to present on something you’re passionate about, and if you think of presenting as giving you the opportunity to share that with others, it becomes a lot less scary.

And, while we’re still talking about presenting, another thing that struck me at Buffalo is this: One of the students I was talking to mentioned that at least one librarian presenter type was unwilling to come to the university to talk to students, serve on panels, what have you. This is something I’ve run into before — places where I have presented have started off with an apology, or mentioned they’re glad I was willing to come, because so-and-so other person “won’t talk to students” or “won’t present to paraprofessionals.”

I can’t think of any response to that but: WTF? What is wrong with this profession when this sort of elitism is seen as either natural or acceptable? For the record, you all, I love talking to student groups. And paraprofessional groups. And LTA classes (Hi, CoD!). And, anyone who sees speaking to a given group as beneath them? Probably not worth listening to in the first place.

Librarian by ethnicity

I quite enjoyed this “Ethnically Librarian” post over at Library Avengers.”

There are librarians who work in libraries, and there are librarians who just Are.

It’s the difference between being a Jew by Religion, and being a Jew by Ethnicity. Both groups contribute to the cultural whole.

While a Librarian by Profession is inherently a Librarian by Ethnicity, the opposite may not be true. A trained librarian can sport a different job title, but  her clarity and understanding will still contribute to her work.

My own answer to this question is still evolving — I had to look back to see what I said several years ago, but talking to so many libraryfolk working outside libraryland while writing What’s the Alternative? has helped bring my thinking on the subject closer to the “ethnically librarian” camp.

Authority and control

Meredith Farkas has a thoughtful post up about what makes an expert. She says, in part:

I have a lot of friends who are knowledgeable about various topics who I would certainly trust if I needed advice in that area. Some are considered experts and some are not. The only difference I can really see between those who are and aren’t experts is how they have positioned themselves. The ones who are considered experts often speak at conferences or write articles or teach classes on their chosen subject. Because of this, their name becomes associated with that subject, making them an “expert”. It’s like me and wikis or Greg Schwartz and podcasting or Rachel Singer Gordon and career stuff. We created some stuff, wrote some stuff, talked about some stuff, and suddenly, we were authorities on the subject. And, for some of us who are now considered experts, it’s a title we’re rather uncomfortable with.

I find the “how they have positioned themselves” observation particularly interesting. Part of writing articles or speaking or teaching classes or what have you about a given subject really involves collecting insights, experiences, and stories from others: gathering and analyzing information. (How librarian-like!) When I talk or write about “career stuff,” I’m in large part talking about other people’s stories: What’s worked for them, how have people experienced the job hunt, what epiphanies prompted them to take a dramatic step that changed their career path. Note also: if you’re willing to get up in front of a group of people and talk on a given subject — and especially if you’re willing to accept money for doing so — you’re inherently claiming some sort of expertise; that’s why you’re there.

Meredith talks about teaching people to be critical of information, but we also as librarians are able to find answers because we know who to turn to, we know who might be more credible on a given topic. If I were building a wiki, I’d probably ask Meredith for advice — not because she is the foremost worldwide expert on wikis that ever lived, but because she knows more about wikis than I do, because she speaks and writes about wikis, and because I have a previous connection with her. She’s not the only person I’d ask, but she’d likely be the first, and then I’d investigate her advice, talk to other people working with the software, and so on. “Expert” can also mean “starting point;” help me get started on my path; help me figure out where to begin and how to move forward from here. Whenever someone emails me for career advice, I’ll give advice if I have any, but will also suggest that they post their question to a list or the forums or that they email the Library Career People columnists to garner further opinions.

People turn to Meredith for advice on wikis (or me for career stuff, or Greg Schwartz for podcasting) because they’re now able to broaden their pool of “experts;” people “know” Meredith from her blog or me from At Internet Librarian, I attended a talk by Laura Crossett on “How I built a website for $16 worth of chocolate,” in which she talked about being able to ask technical questions of people she’d met in a librarian-related chat room or elsewhere online, and get answers enabling her to create her small library’s website without previous programming or web design knowledge. Expertise here involves knowing enough about something (PHP, Wordpress) to help someone else, which is all most of us really need, and either having a connection with the person asking (Facebook, LinkedIn, and twitter do count!) or seeming approachable enough to be asked.

All in all, I wouldn’t get hung up on the “expert” title. As librarians, we’re good at collaborating and sharing what we know, as well as knowing who to ask; we share our expertise with each other as a matter of course.

As California goes…

In honor of gay marriage now being legal in California, I present to you a conversation I had yesterday with my 5 year old:

5yo: Hey mom? Do men marry men sometimes?

me: Yes, sometimes they do.

5yo: Well then can they combine their 2 sperm cells and make a baby?

me: No, you need sperm and an egg to make a baby, so you need a man and a woman.

5yo: Well how do they have a baby then?

me: Well, sometimes they adopt a baby who grew in someone else’s tummy, just like we adopted Sam. Remember, there are a lot of different ways that babies join families.

5yo: Well, I’m not going to marry a man. I’m going to marry Saffron so she can grow a baby in her tummy.

me: OK.

5yo: And then when I go to astronaut school, she can stay home and take care of him! And his name will be Henry. Like the neighbor’s dog in Jack and Annie.

me: I thought you said Saffron was going to be an architect?

5yo: She can do that job later.

Despite the fact that I may be raising a mini chauvinist, at least he’s open minded about the marriage issue. (He later came up with: “Well, girls can marry girls, then, and then you’d have two moms!”) OK, but you’re thinking “stop blogging about your kids already — what does this have to do with libraries?” Simply this: a lot of kids in his generation are growing up thinking of things like gay marriage and adoption and multiethnic families as natural, just another way to do things. This should be a wakeup call for librarians to continue standing on our principles in terms of the way that we provide services to all.

I feel the same way about librarians who refuse to work Harry Potter parties, who won’t purchase materials on homosexuality (or witchcraft, or what the heck, even “intelligent design”) — or who block MySpace — as I do about pharmacists who refuse to dispense contraception: You’re in the wrong profession, folks.

Random links Sunday

It’s my anniversary today, so I’m using this as an excuse to be lazy and just briefly post a few random links I’ve had sitting open in browser tabs forever:

While many library staff do not hold an MLS their contributions are essential to making libraries a success. When I first began working in libraries 9-years-ago I was put off by the terminology used to designate between MLS/non MLS, professional/paraprofessional, librarians/support staff. Coming from the business world I was not accustomed to this segregation. In the business world employees are valued for their unique abilities and contributions to the team. No one ever asked me what my degree was or if I even had one.

Enjoy and click through — these folks more than make up for my brevity here.

Another take on the MLS

I was reading LJ the other day and came across this article on “Diversity and the MLS,” which states in part that:

One possible solution to the diversity problem in libraries would be to put the entry-level library degree at its proper level: the bachelor’s. Removing the MLS requirement could not only ease the financial burden that contributes to racial imbalance but many of the profession’s other problems as well, such as proper training given at the proper level, salaries commensurate with education, and greater accessibility to the profession for the population at large. The MLS would still be available for people interested in management or advanced study.

As the author notes, this doesn’t seem likely anytime soon, but the article’s worth a read.

How (not) to respond to negative reviews

[Disclaimer: I haven't read this book, nor do I intend to.]

However, if someone wrote a blog post like this about one of my books, I don’t think this is the way I’d choose to respond. (Give it a minute, the comments get more … shall we say… pointed.)