Skip to content

Tiptoe through the Tech Trends

Sony Walkman Due to a scheduling conflict I regretfully had to turn down a chance to make an encore appearance at LITA Top Technology Trends at ALA Midwinter 2013, though I was highly flattered to be invited, particularly with an invigorating new single-topic format. At this point my Midwinter schedule is like a set of nesting Russian dolls reflected in mirrors and circumscribed within Venn diagrams.

But the invitation did cause me to stop to think about technology trends — at least, the ones I’ve observed in myself and the people around me, a group that I do not claim represents any specific demographic other than The Republic of Me.

I’m also setting aside the topic of books, except to note my own behavior below, for what that’s worth, and to observe that the concept of shared print monograph repositories is rapidly gaining momentum. Colleagues in SoCal held a summit last month, and I’ll be at the PAN Forum at Midwinter (big thanks to CRL for their national leadership and to Robert Kieft at Oxy for leading the SCELC convos). I’ve also been invited to participate in Subgroup 5 of the Digital Content Working Group, Library Community Education and Outreach. So, you will hear from me.

Anyhoo, the following may strike a few chimes with my readers and their own republics:

Ed Tech and Higher Ed

MOOCs: According to the hype, Massive Open Online Courses are part of the “disruptive” “innovations” that are creating a new “synergy” by “reinventing” higher education. Lubricated by endless conference chatter and initially uncritical coverage from the media, MOOCs enjoyed close to a year of nonreflective enthusiasm, with any number of institutions contemplating how to “get into that space.”

Inevitably, MOOC backlash has already begun, with several articles cautioning that warehousing at-risk college students in online classes may not improve graduation rates. Can the people say DUH? As Carlson and Blumenstyck wrote in that great Chron piece, “Here’s the cruel part: The students from the bottom tier are often the ones who need face-to-face instruction most of all.”  Students are increasingly not ready for traditional college when they get there, both in what they know and in their study skills and habits, and vast online lecture halls aren’t going to close that gap. Like the all-volunteer army, MOOCs are a great solution as long as your own kids aren’t the ones signing up.

MOOCS and other online learning methods do have their place. I have a blog post series in work — MOOC Nation — that will track my progress through two math MOOCs this spring. Stay tuned.

Devices and Distractors

At home, we are assuming that 2013 will be the year we retire my 1993 Honda Civic, which Sandy drives to work, a half-mile from our apartment. This old car, purchased used in 1996, has required very little maintenance in its life, so I didn’t begrudge it a rather expensive repair that will keep it from bursting in flames while Sandy is driving, always a nice touch, particularly where parishioners are involved.

So commenceth a slow, deliberate search which may stretch all year, aided or encumbered (take your pick) by iPad apps, websites, chat rooms, online reviews… but if it’s a car I’m going to sit in up to three hours a day, my rump wants first-hand knowledge. In a Honda showroom, the second or third feature the saleswoman showed me in the Fit, after how to flip the back seats around to make more space for groceries, was the USB charger in the glove box. I suddenly remembered early ads for Palm products, which overwhelmingly featured men — and here was Honda touting the ultimate chick accessory, the all-purpose device charger. (Good location, too: I hide my iPhone in the console of my 2008 Civic where it both recharges and is away from temptation.)

On other fronts, our Comcast TV subscription is on death watch–something we have heard from other friends our age, which portends poorly for the networks if their commercials are any indication, with their well-creased actors imploring us to Ask Our Doctor about the latest geriatric nostrums. We keep planning to deploy an exercise where–armed with Apple TV, Netflix, Apple devices with Airplay, various apps, and a one-month subscription to Hulu Plus–we avoid using the setbox for several weeks to see if we miss it. The networks are wisely gambling on inertia, because we can’t quite cut the cord yet. Interestingly, the preparation for this experiment has already yielded benefits; we can resume our old (and old-fashioned) habit of watching NBC evening news together by streaming its app when I come home.

December 2012 was the month I made my first mobile bank deposit, though I had to “pose” the check a few times to get it right. I waited a day and sure enough, the check showed up in my account. Routine for some of you, but quite a plus for for me and those occasional small checks that show up, consuming gas, parking, and time (though I will miss the crew, and the free cookies, at the Irving Street branch of Wells Fargo).

2012 was the year I shifted as many magazines as possible to tablet apps; we also gave up our paper subscriptions to the New York Times and the SF Chronicle and went digital-only for both. The drivers were comfort, cost, and convenience: my periodicals are always with me now, with excellent backlighting, and most support fonts that are comfortable even when I’m walking fast on a treadmill. Journals that are PDF-accessible but not on tablets get downloaded to Dropbox for tablet access. I only regularly read paper magazines on airplanes, during  takeoffs and landings. I don’t miss filling a recycling bin with discarded paper or stockpiling address labels to shred.

Paper continues to be by far my least favorite format for books, to the point where if I can’t check it out from Overdrive from my library or SFPL, or I can’t buy it in Kindle, it might not get read at all. The one routine exception is for reading on the Muni, for which I pack any small, skinny, interesting book in my purse because I avoid flashing an iPad or iPhone on public transportation. (Hello, Just Plain Data Analysis!)

Apple has me in its grasp fairly tightly — MacBook, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Airport Express — but in 2012 I began to feel more provisional about using Apple products, as Apple changed charging adapters, poured more devices on the market, and not only frog-marched iOS users to a defective Maps product but took a while to repent.  My iPhone also isn’t a particularly good phone–and that’s after two phones and two carriers. Furthermore, some of the best, most essential iOS apps come from Google.

That said, the ability to use Airplay to stream almost anything not produced by Apple’s Mortal Enemies (such as Amazon Prime),  Apple’s sheer ease of use, and (here we go again) the induced inertia of owning so many Apple products, gives us reason to stay in the fold a while longer. I have lived through WordStar, Commodore, Sony, Gateway, Palm, Blackberry, and many other companies that ruled the earth until they didn’t; some new idea is always out there, ready to sneak up on us.

On the homebrewing front–brewing being a technology that has been evolving for thousands of years–I didn’t brew from July until December — a planned hiatus, due to New Zealand and the Pythagorean theorem and whatnot. (It is astonishing how useful that theorem is; I even used it to estimate the necessary range of our new wifi router.)

I brewed a small-batch stovetop oatmeal stout at the beginning of our winter break, which I gussied up with organic cocoa nibs and a cold-steeped extract of Philz french roast, and yesterday brewed a cream ale, the homebrew version of American “swill”–though like most things, when you make it at home it tastes so much better.

Each time I was reminded why the young’uns are all about crafts and maker-this-and-that these days: with so much “digital” in my life, it was so refreshing to engage with grain and hops and water and yeast, kettles and spoons and mash tuns, and best of all, my glorious 22″ whisk, which serves as a mash paddle, wort aerator, and personal defense weapon.

My most complex brewing tool by far is my beloved green Thermapen thermometer, which also serves me well when I am grilling or cooking, or even when I want to instantly check the temperature of anything from a wedge of cheese to a room. I now make my yeast starter in a large Erlenmeyer flask, which looks geeky but hails from 1861, if Wikipedia’s somewhat sketchy citations are to be believed. There are all kinds of apps and equipment for brewing, but in the end, the brewer herself is the most important device in the process (returning to the theme that technology can’t solve people problems).

Last musing: a couple of weeks ago, while perambulating through the Embarcadero with Sandy, we saw a well-coiffed woman about my age in exercise gear, carrying a yellow Sony Walkman cassette player, and I almost stopped her to ask her about it. I just didn’t know what to say, other than “I used to have one of those, in the Reagan administration” or “You can skip the CD model and go directly to an iPod shuffle.” If she had been younger and dressed less conservatively I would have assumed it was a playful container for an MP3 player, but it really looked like a working Walkman. I guess it was working for her, but I was fascinated. I wonder what was on the tape!

Rediscovered Management Lessons

This is a smattering of lessons I keep rediscovering in management, which I felt like summarizing as I tick into a new calendar year. A lot of it is obvious, very little of it is new to me (and some of it has been said here before) — but management seems to consist of relearning the same things repeatedly, each time in new ways.

Hire in haste, repent at leisure. As I noted in my American Libraries article on branding, hiring is enough of a chimera anyway; rushing the process will just make things worse.

Every once in a while I find myself the lone defender on an issue. Sometimes I check in with myself and decide that I’m wrong. But other times I remember two examples of a lone holdout. The first is a case study of Donna Dubinsky, who at Apple championed a change in distribution methods. The second is a friend of mine who successfully led a complex political/technical challenge. He remarked recently that at times he was the only person who believed in his direction. But he was clearly right, in retrospect. (Note: sometimes I will be the lone holdout, and I will be wrong. So it goes.)

Eat sensibly and get regular exercise.

“You only get one chance to make a first impression.” The sensemaking that happens when a patron walks into a lobby, the first interaction with service points–these are crucial. I’ve been a member of the UCSF fitness center for several years, and I was startled to discover a poster on the lower level listing the “management team” — I didn’t recognize any of them. But the cool factor is that the level of customer service at the center’s front desk is so exceptionally, consistently high no matter when I visit or how busy it is, and the lobby is so intentionally welcoming, that I sense I know them anyway.

Management often feels like navigating by flashlight. I’m groping just a few feet ahead of myself, trying not to fall into holes, listening for sounds. A slow and methodical footfall helps.

Ultimately you rise and fall by the quality and quantity of your human capital. A small team of really great people can do amazing things.

Every team has limits on what is doable, and it’s a good thing to learn how to delicately communicate that. Nobody outside the library is sitting around asking, “Does the library have enough people to do what needs to get done?”

Message management is key. Much in library work can be delegated… but keep a firm grip on external communications, from signage to interaction with other agencies to who gets to pull the trigger on campus-wide messages.

Speaking of communication, it’s always a work in progress–but a very worthy cause.

You are the metronome. You set the pace.

Much as I disagree with Woody Allen’s life choices, I fully agree with him that “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” This is one of several management jobs in my career where showing up at work and being a presence has been crucial to success. If you think I don’t go to as many conferences as in some previous positions, you’re right.

That said, I’m going to begin working from home at least one day per month (I’ve been saying this for three years, so take it with a grain of salt) because the mindset for being an active presence is not the mindset conducive to editing grant narratives or finishing NCES statistics. Yes, I do take work home (though not obsessively), but even better is having a dedicated, hard-to-interrupt work day dedicated to the task–a nice mixture of urgency (I won’t get another day like this soon!) and luxury (home in my jammies, counting the stats!).

I also make sure I get to just enough conferences, and visit just enough peer directors, to get some Vitamin Colleague.  Your staff can’t be that for you. They need you refreshed, balanced, and with your sense of humor intact–and there are things you shouldn’t share with them, no matter how tempting.

Take care of your boss. Meet deadlines small and large without prompting; don’t force your boss, or his or her staff,  to be your administrative assistant. Be open to ideas. Come prepared to meetings. Cut your boss some slack–he or she puts up with your imperfections, after all.  Remember to thank and praise your boss from time to time–you will never be privy to some of the hardest things they have done. (Yes, I have had bosses it would have been hard to do this for, but I still wish, in retrospect, I had tried harder.)

Show respect for the other departments you work with. I pride myself on a 100% on-time submission of my monthly credit card bill because it is one less thing for the finance department to worry about. If I think I’m going to be late, I tell them in advance. If I am having invoice issues with a vendor, I settle them as promptly as possible. Again, this isn’t about them being likable–though they are a likable bunch–but because it’s the right thing to do, morally and politically.

It’s worth wangling the library into the key discussions on campus — online learning, student success, etc. There is always a library tie-in, even if it’s not self-evident at first. The catch is to remember that the library can’t solve all problems.

One of the most delicate dances is the use of your facility by other agencies. There are no easy answers. It’s a case of balancing finite space with a distinct purpose with the political capital of resource-sharing. But a space once shared can rarely be reclaimed.

Build and maintain a strategic map. You need good relationships everywhere on campus–and not just with the people you feel at ease with.

Student workers do not set library policy. From time to time they will complain that one or more library users Did Something Bad and therefore some new library-wide draconian rule must immediately go into effect, optimally reinforced with a plethora of scolding signs printed on bright orange paper in all-caps Bold Comic Sans — yes, I speak from experience — but see above, message management.

Checklists are your friend. Campus Safety loves that we use opening and closing checklists–and so do I. Despite clear evidence that checklists save lives and improve processes, we may be their only friend, but that too is ok. (Policy and procedure are your friends, too.)

This is easily the fifth job in my life where I’ve implemented a key locker and insisted on key management. As with checklists, life is better when your keys are organized. Plus I find it too weird to work in a LIBRARY that can’t organize keys. (Bully for you if you have access cards, but we ain’t there yet.)

Consistent service is key.  It is tempting to give a different level of service to the patron with the winningest charm. But ethically and strategically, we should provide the same level of service to all users. That doesn’t mean ignoring problem patrons or never being flexible, but for your typical patrons, there should never be a gulf of service between the patrons who are chummy and those who are simply there to get the job done.

In a similar vein, some of your best workers may not be one of the Cool Kids. I remember a conversation several years back about why so-and-so in another library was promoted to Head of Reference over another, sparklier employee. I’m guessing that from the director’s perspective, So-and-So was a reliable worker who showed up, did the job, got the administrivia done, knew how to keep a ship sailing, and (quoting Dr. Johnson) had a bottom of good sense, particularly in dampening the inevitable Library Melodrama.

There is a natural tendency in libraries to lean toward fees and service limits as governors on behavior and methods for mitigating demand on human capital or other resources. But I recall asking a peer library why they charged for a specific service, and their response was they didn’t know why and therefore they were eliminating the fee. Other times a limit can be packaged more attractively — such as asking a user which of the umpty-ump books she has suddenly requested she would like first rather than “no, you can’t request that many books at once.”

Periodically review your successes as a team. Remember the “olden days” and celebrate where you are and where you are going.

Additionally, review your organizational worldview, and if need be recalibrate. I am almost finished reading Tribal Leadership, and one of the “click” moments I had was realizing that though I was good at lifting up our own successes, I was starting to fall into the trap of being too critical of other departments–that nasty Us vs. Them habit that paves the way for siege mentality, pitypottism, and other unprofessional and counterproductive syndromes. Ick! Bad juju!  I will allow myself the luxury of that level of criticism when I am absolutely sure my personal leadership has achieved absolute perfection (in other words, it will never happen).


The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage

The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage

So, about my writing. I mean my literary-essay writing, not blog posts or journo-style magazine writing or academic writing.

I’ve spent the past year:

  1. Moping over the breakup of my writing group,
  2. Pursuing several professional goals that required intense study of un-fun stuff but were also convenient excuses for not writing, and
  3. Feeling sorry for myself whenever I see another writer’s good fortune posted on Facebook or Twitter, and
  4. Making resolutions about writing that I then fail to follow through on.

On the first point, it’s like a break-up, as a writing colleague told me a few months back. Go ahead and mourn for a little while, but get back in the writing saddle without them and keep on writing. They were a good thing while they lasted, but nothing lasts forever.  After a while, the breakup moves into lame-excuse category.

On the second point, that stuff is done, so no excuses there, either.  I have always had that stuff, and will continue to do so. Besides, for  8 years I managed to have a writing life alongside many other responsibilities.

On the third point, for a writer with a full-time-and-then-some day job, I have a pretty good publishing record. Almost every essay I felt was ready to send out in the last eight years has been published, and by very respectable publications. I’ve had essays republished in commendable anthologies, had an essay nominated for a Pushcart, and am looking forward to “Still Life on the Half-Shell” being republished in 2013 in The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, edited by Lisa Catherine Harper and Caroline Grant.

Obviously, I can write publishable work. Yet in the last year I have sent out only two essays, to the same publication, and took that editor at face value when he said the essays weren’t worth publishing, lambasting myself for my bad writing. How amateurish of me!

On the fourth point, I know how I write. I schedule the time and announce I am going to write. Then I find a generic coffeeshop (as a writing colleague noted, nothing “too hip”; the Tallahassee Panera still ranks as my perfect writing location), sit down for three hours with Vivaldi or Boccherini pacing my work, and I write, stopping only to divest and replenish herbal tea.

I do not write by sitting in my home office. I can do library work in that home office, but it is not separate enough to do literary writing–yes, not even when I am home alone. And yet for almost a year I claimed I can write in that space, and then I did not write there, and so I did not write.

I do not write by scheduling an hour here or there for writing. An hour is just about time for me to stretch out my writing muscle until I’m truly focused. The real writing happens in the next several hours. The last 15 minutes are spent worrying that my writing session is almost over and watching the baristas wipe off the tables as they close down shop for the night.

I also do not write by taking literary writing time and using it for other, non-literary writing tasks. Allowing that work to encroach on my literary writing has not been good for me. I pursued an MFA because I wanted to go somewhere else with my writing. Some people talk about where a good book takes them: that’s just one planet over from the place my writing takes me.

So attention has been paid. The habit has been resumed. I have a writing evening, a writing place, a pile of manuscripts to dust off, and a few flabby writing muscles to tone up again.  The baristas and I, we are one with the night.

The last rose of autumn

O brave rose

O brave rose

This past week we had a visitor in the library who (completely without guile) commented that the library felt very dated and dowdy.  He didn’t use the word “dowdy,” but it hung in the air nonetheless, while I shrank in my seat.

I had just finished bragging about how much space we had opened up by eliminating all the unbolted, unbraced shelving on the main level, and how we had a cool writing studio and a new education curriculum section and some new couches  and easy chairs and rolling whiteboards with trim that match the furniture in the writing studio, plus all the art exhibited around the library, and the scary metal desks on the lower level had been replaced with serviceable hand-me-down wooden desks, and for heaven’s sake, since he last saw the place every wall had been painted…

So I gulped a bit, but had to agree. My spectacles had been re-adjusted to the correct prescription: the library is dated and dowdy. What was a smart-looking library in 1958 became, after more than five decades without a renovation, that house where the realtor keeps reiterating how cute it is, with great potential.

It was as if I had rocketed back in time to my arrival, three years ago, when I thought, my goodness, that library needs help — and no one disagreed with me, and in fact pointed out that it was my job to address this. Because if you have seen attractive, well-updated libraries, you would not place this library in that category.  If pushed, you would agree it has a beautiful arched ceiling and tremendous daylighting, plus a great sense of space on the main level.  And it is clean and well-maintained; in poetic terms, it is no longer quite so Theodore Roethke, and even has a dash of Billy Collins.

But my visitor did me a great favor, as I reflected earlier this afternoon, when the clouds pushed north of our freshly-washed city and brilliant late autumn light bathed our neighborhood. I stood on our deck visiting my six rosebushes, inspecting for damage and enjoying the last buds of autumn.  The storm had pelted many of the buds into sagging brown clumps of matter at the end of rain-lush branches, but several flowers hung in there gamely, doing their best to unfold.

Rather than cut these buds to  bring into the house, I admired them in situ so they would die a natural death and let the bushes form hips, the fruit of the plant. From spring to early fall, the trick to abundant flora is to cut rose blooms early and often enough that hips do not form; but by late fall, a kind and thoughtful gardener allows her roses to consider their work done for the year and go dormant until spring (which around these parts is February–a rather short nap).

The last buds of autumn are not the prettiest flowers. They are smaller, pinched from the cold, and bruised by rain; often — using the delightful language of rosarians — they develop “confused centers,” in which petals and stamens are jumbled together pell-mell rather than whorling outward with that lovely mathematical logic found in flowering plants.

Defending these buds as representative of the best of my garden is pointless. If these wizened gnomes were what roses looked like year-round, I wouldn’t bother. I have grown truly grand roses, in which buds big as a lumberjack’s thumb unfurled with triumph, their immaculate petals sheened with color, the flowers, at full bloom, big as my fully-flexed hand, their fragrance a seductive force-field. I also grow miniature roses, whose proportionate beauty, at their peak, is even more astonishing for their minute scale. These experiences are why I bother growing anything as fussy as a rose in a setting as challenging as a wind-swept deck. (I have bought, grown, and given away roses at least ten times in the last thirty years, always in less-than-desirable locations — too shady, small, cold, hot, windy, humid, or dry.)

My love for the last buds of autumn is strong and deep. In their improbable appearance in the sturm und drang of fall-to-winter, their pluck and their lust for life are inspirational. My challenge — and my responsibility — is to remember what a truly great rose looks like, and to accept that the last buds of autumn, however much I love them, live primarily as commas between the truly grand flowers that came before them, and the amazing flowers yet to be.

The Fall Funnel of Fun

New library in Levin, NZ

New library in Levin, NZ

I took gobs of photos in New Zealand with both my iPhone and my unwieldy quasi-prosumer Kodak (sometimes cantankerous, sometimes great photos). But except for the rare Antipodean posting, only in the last 24 hours have I moved these pictures from devices to cloud storage, and at that, with only the barest metadata and organization. Flickr is yet to come (bar for the one picture included here, from a library in Levin).

New Zealand was wonderful, and all there were amazing. I was treated to astonishing hospitality by absolutely everyone, from the conference organizers and attendees to my open source colleagues at Catalyst, as well as Jane at Booklovers’ B&B (tearing through her final edits on a book even as she tended her brood of B&B’ers). As I was cautioned, there was Much Singing, in fact, at the end of every major presentation the entire conference broke out into song, in Maori no less — an experience at once impressive and touching and sui generis.

I returned to plunge back into a deep work zone–the usual stuff, with an additional helping of Many Focus Groups for our architectural program, and a top-secret project that has involved many hours of research and study, thereby neatly consuming all available “off-time.”

I had to fly to LA six days after I returned for a SCELC board meeting, and I remember nothing of the ensuing weekend, other than sleep.For several weeks after my big-trip-followed-by-little-trip I was tired, time-addled, and haunted by a persistent tummy bug no doubt picked up from “airplane air” on the gruesomely long flights to and fro (though Air New Zealand is a gracious courier). I wanted to sit somewhere for at least a half-day and think about New Zealand, but hurtling as I was through my own private Fall Funnel of Fun,  all I could do was slip my hand into my slowly-dwindling supply of licorice allsorts and have a quiet nibble (once my tummy was again up to having licorice).

Now the licorice is gone, the focus groups are over, I feel the antic nature of the first 2/3 of the semester yield to the quieter pace of November (for the library, anyway), and this morning I have a tiny bit of time because we were asked to close the library and stay away from it this morning while wiring was completed. NO PROBLEM, I said.

So in this brief interlude let me back up a little and provide the highlights of experiences and discoveries:

Licorice is well-regarded in New Zealand. Because of that, turnover is vigorous, which means I had the freshest licorice I have had in my entire life. (I picked up the licorice habit from my dear departed dad–he taught me to like even the serious stuff, that hard Danish licorice with a dash of salt in it.)

Hokey pokey is a flavor.  It seems to mean something like butter brickle, only with a stronger caramel flavor. (Now my NZ friends are asking, “What’s butter brickle?” To which I respond, “it’s like hokey pokey, only milder.”) Hokey pokey is found in ice cream but also as an addition to chocolate.

English is not an official language of New Zealand, which like Oz is a country that appears to have acquired a respect and appreciation for its multicultural heritage. Note: English is spoken universally as far as I can tell, but it’s not a designated official language of NZ.

Wellington is like San Francisco (is like Melbourne, is like all my favorite European-feeling cities…). Hills and gardens and a bustling downtown and a gorgeous waterfront and people with important expressions striding to work in dark clothes and pointy shoes, and good beer in many places.

McDonald’s sells lamburgers.

Cell phone plans are ridiculously expensive–and I don’t mean temporary plans for travelers (see below, connectedness), I mean cell phone coverage, period.

I saw a brand-new library two days before it opened (in Levin, a suburb of Wellington)! Can’t wait to share pics.

Lamingtons are served with an exaggerated wink. The conference fed us nonstop and Lamingtons were featured at one break, and I was told it was on my behalf! Think very upscale Sno Ball (but without marshmallow).

I was able to get by for a week with two wifi-enabled devices and a hodgepodge of free and pay access, but I have become so accustomed to being fully connected that it was disorienting to wayfind through a strange city with static maps. Where was my blue Google Maps dot to guide me? I found myself under- or over-estimating walking time and distances and walking in strange loops (in other words, my pre-device life).

Whitebait fritters, rocket salad, and a Epic beer on draft: oh yeah!

LIANZA has absolutely the best conference banquets, ever: costumes and skits and games and dancing and great food and FUN. I apologize in advance to any NZ librarians who have to attend a library conference banquet out of country and find themselves nodding to sleep over plates of tepid chicken-with-a-pile-o’-rice while dignitaries drone. DISCLAIMER: I am sure some banquets are fun. I speak only from personal experience.

Pavlova! Why don’t we serve that more often in this country? (Hmm, perhaps because Americans are as conflicted about meringue as they are about licorice?)

Palmerston North was its own fine introduction to New Zealand, considering I was tired, jetlagged, and preoccupied with a conference. The conference took place at a racetrack during the off-season, and every morning we were treated to a view of horses being exercised on a racetrack against a backdrop of colossal mountains.

Te Papa is like the Metropolitan Museum: you cannot see it in one, two, or three visits. Amazing and infinite. Thanks again to my Catalyst friends who scored me a private tour.

My first night our conference hosts had us to one of their homes for a home-cooked meal. It was a great way to ease into the trip.

The last meal I had with colleagues was with developers. I had forgotten how endearing they can be.

I’ll do a photo essay before Thanksgiving and talk about what I learned about libraries and librarians (other than we are a magnificent bunch).












Hachette Job, and Other Pre-LIANZA Musings

LamingtonI set aside my pre-LIANZA preparation to note that the theme for the past several weeks in LibraryLand is: be bold. (Warning, the following blog post is a babblish mish-mosh; I’m so busy I had to abandon plans to brew the White House beer for a local competition, let alone structure or revise this writing.)

Last week, Hachette Book Group announced it would “hike the price of backlist ebooks to the library market by 220% starting October 1″ — this, after ‘agreeing’ last May to re-enter the ebook market.

ALA President Maureen Sullivan organized a prompt and bold response, stating that librarians are “weary of faltering half-steps” and commenting, “‘Now we must ask, “With friends like these …’.” (To which Jamie LaRue added, “Maybe what we need is a smarter group of friends.”)

Sullivan has tasked ALA’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group to develop “more aggressive” strategies — a great call to action, in keeping with her presidential focus on advocacy. This isn’t to suggest that anyone, including Sullivan, believes an ALA working group is the only response to an issue, or that the rest of us don’t have work to do, but it’s important that our association take swift, formal, and bold action.

Given that, it’s sad that one of the last editorials from Francine Fialkoff before her departure from Library Journal after a highly distinguished career was a meandering swat at ALA committees. Most of us understand that committees are part of the larger landscape of advocacy and action–not solutions in themselves, but nonetheless contributing to solutions.

I remember being told, ages ago, that 85% of information transfer among scientists is informal, and I’d be willing to agree that applied to library leadership, as well. Many a library leader germinated leadership skills, ideas, and powerful connections within the world of professional organizations. Look at the truly significant thought leaders, and most cut their teeth through organizational participation. To simply write off the role of committees is to encourage learned helplessness toward organizational action — to give up in advance.

Does ALA drive us crazy sometimes? Are there committees — even entire divisions — mired in dysfunction? Does a bear poop in the woods? All human endeavors are destined to be flawed and somewhat crazy-making; “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Work through and around the flaws (and if need be, shift your efforts away from the fully dysfunctional), and experience the usefulness.

Speaking of work to do and the faith and skills to make it happen, Jenica Rogers and peers in the SUNY network have spoken truth to the powerful journal publishers and their — no other phrase for it — price-gouging behavior: “SUNY Potsdam will not be subscribing to an American Chemical Society online journal package for 2013.”

To underscore just how radical this is, Jenica spells out that the American Chemical Society “is in the unique position of both approving programs and selling the content necessary for approval” — an egregious conflict of interest.  (I’m wondering how unique this is, actually.) For this, the ACS extorts free labor from faculty who have no choice but to publish (or perish) — free labor to the ACS, but certainly not free to the supporting institutions — then turn around to charge increasingly high prices for their product. Jenica notes that “the ACS package would have consumed more than 10% of my total acquisitions budget, just for journals for this one department.”

N.b.: this also points to the importance of including librarians — or at least librarian-informed judgment –  in the university program approval and review process; some universities understand this, while others do not. It is to Jenica’s credit that she has built the organizational relationships to make possible the necessary conversations to do what elsewhere would be unthinkable.

These collection conversations are being held in an interesting space of tension and change. Last Friday we held library design sessions all day, led by a professional library space planner.  At one point, in a conversation about reducing print collections to provide more study space, the planner commented that accreditors need to understand that the assessment of the value the campus library has to reorient itself from being heavily collection-focused to the services libraries provide.

In some ways I believe (or perhaps hope) this is happening. One clue to that is the workshops our regional accrediting agency is holding: I don’t see one on collection strength in libraries, but I do see one on information literacy. But to see how far we across LibraryLand have to go, look at the standards for elite research libraries. Of course the collections in these libraries are important. But in isolation, these statistics are not much more than collection-focused bean-counting. Would you really want to brag that your library was number one in microfilm holdings?  The statistics may provide some insight into the readiness of any university to support skilled research, but there are no meaningful indicators, beyond what can be inferred from personnel capacity, about the library’s ability to produce researchers.

And yet! As Barbara Fister keeps arguing (and as I wrote earlier this year in An ebook and a hard place), shifting the focus from beans to soup (as it were) isn’t an excuse for abandoning our responsibilities to the memory work that has been core to who we are for thousands of years. We are in tension with all of this: the shift from print to digital; the battles of ownership and access; the transformation from box-of-books to vital commons.

Imagine  if the university accreditors showed up and asked how many journal holdings were open access — or secured by LOCKSS — or published by libraries or universities. Imagine too if the ALA LIS program accreditation committee held schools’ feet to the fire for producing graduates who understood (as much as any of us do) the complex publishing landscape and our roles in it as advocates and defenders — measurable with a four-hour closed-book final exam. If I’m going to imagine, I might as well be bold about it.

Meanwhile, my brain is a jumble of PowerPoint, workshop handouts, Convocation, pants-hemming, two weeks of meetings to be squeezed into one, and packing lists, while visions of Lamingtons dance through my dreams.

One of those birthdays

Potato Chips (Kettle Brand)

Potato Chips (Kettle Brand)

In a week I turn 55.

Turning 30 was delightful; stationed in Germany, I took myself on a tour of the Benelux, and on the Big Day, wandered enchanted through the Kroller-Muller museum. I was thrilled to leave the twenties behind.

Turning 40 was sweet; we were in New Jersey, Sandy threw a party, and all had fun. I look back, and there were people at that party who no longer walk this planet, and I am so glad for every celebration behind me.

The big deal at 50 was not where we were (Florida–wow, did we really live there once upon a time?), but that I had reached an important goal: to be writing again by 50. It meant so much to me to see my essay about my friend David published in White Crane–my first literary publication. Only people who have published literary writing understand the hurdle (and the effort behind it) of that first piece, first drafted in 2005.

(An aside, writing-humor-style: the person who replied, “Oh yes, I’ve been meaning to write a short story one of these days,” as if short-form literary writing were an unskilled project of a long morning, like cleaning a gas grill. Yup, you try that. Send it in to the New Yorker–the go-to submission for people who know nothing about writing.)

But 55 is freaking me out!

I suspect the problem is the way I absent-mindedly do “birthday arithmetic,” which is probably a holdover from a very early job as a records clerk at San Francisco Juvenile Court, where we filed records by the Soundex system, which had my brain doing small calculations all day long.

My birthday algorithm is this: double the age and decide if I’ll be alive.

I could easily see turning 60, as far away as it seemed. 80 was definitely within reach, given my hale family. 100 was remotely feasible, given advances in medicine, even though no one in my family had lived that long. But 110 — that seems entirely out of reach. I know people who are nearly 100, but I don’t know anyone who is close to approaching 110.

I realize birthday arithmetic is completely illogical. The arbitrary doubling of my current age is a ridiculous exercise. But it makes as much sense, or lack of sense, as grown men weeping over an athletic team, or Canada releasing a stamp featuring the Kraken (which if anything hale from England), or anything about Justin Bieber.

My solution to birthday-arithmetic-angst is to double down on the life ahead of me: personally, professionally, spiritually.

I’m excited about New Zealand and plan to use next Friday as a work-from-home day (after 11 days of going to work, the natural rhythm of fall Orientation) to work on my presentation and my workshop. The former will be about radical optimism (I just finished Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism and highly recommend it) and the latter will be based on Reframing Academic Leadership.

At some point I’d like to collect my published essays into a book and offer it for sale. That’s a project where I wish I had a Life Intern (or one of those old-fashioned wives). I also greatly enjoyed writing an article for the library trade press (big thanks to Valerie and Karen at ALA!). At one point I didn’t want to do that any more because I wanted to reserve time for literary writing, but the latter is not happening. It isn’t demeaning to journalism to say it doesn’t lean as hard on my right brain. I found myself enjoying the rhythm of research, interview, synthesis, and writing–a pair of old slippers that fit perfectly after I dug them out of the back of the closet.

I’m occasionally attending an Episcopal church on Wednesday evenings, because I appreciate Sandy’s church leadership and yes, I attend many services, but she cannot be my pastor and her church is not my denomination. (Other pastor’s spouses will “get” what I mean.)

I’m also thinking strategically about the next 25 years of my working life: 15 in the regular full-time workforce, 10 as a consultant. Given my family’s lifespan, I will have another 5 to 10 years after that (if not more, due to aforesaid advances in medicine) where, oh, I don’t know, I can spend mornings writing, and in the afternoon emulate the woman on Packanack Lake in New Jersey who sat on her front porch in a rocking chair, eating potato chips and hollering at passers-by (Sandy and I agreed many years back we’d like to be like her someday).  In the meantime, as I focus on the pre-potato-chip era, I am enjoying the sense that I’m not just rolling in every day but have a map in front of me and a bright flashlight shining on it.

Onward, the dreaded march!

The Reluctant Cataloger

Saturday morning I’m headed in to do a little training in cataloging. My friend Zoe laughed her guts out when I told her I’m the de facto chief cataloger at my library. She said that in small institutions such as ours, the oldest librarian in the library usually has that role these days. Guilty as charged.

I love cataloging. No, I absolutely love it. The minutia. The conflicting rules. The endless attention to detail. The spine label printing. Ok, so I don’t love cataloging–I put up with it, since you can now graduate from library school without a grounding in the equivalent to programming in our profession, the structured language of bibliographic information. Note: when I was in library school, I took cataloging AND programming (PASCAL). Kids these days… But I do love transforming a shelf zombie into a discoverable, usable book, by my own hands or even better, by others, and we have a lot of zombies.

On other fronts, I haven’t written in several weeks because we went on vacation and I don’t like to advertise that in advance. I’m concerned people will steal our 32″ 6-year-old TV or our 15-year-old couch. Or kidnap our cats, who became so despondent at our absence they pooped in several inappropriate places, ensuring that my first two hours at home were not chillaxing with our unread mail and writing leisurely blog posts but crawling behind furniture with towels and warm Oxiclean to dab away the doo.  A very hard crash landing.

We spent our vacation with things and people both familiar and comfortable: friends, Hearst Castle, the Madonna Inn, a favorite hotel in Cambria, a favorite resort in Guerneville, more friends. It was the kind of vacation where the days are very full and yet slip away like quicksilver, where hours are spent adventuring and other hours are spent quietly reading entire books from page 1 to the end.

Like most people in higher ed, right now I am staring down the beginning of the semester, roaring toward us like an unstoppable freight train. But I am cupping our vacation in my hands, feeling its wings beating against my fingers, remembering.



OCLC’s un-hire

In the few spare moments I am allotted, I’ve been working on an article (a weekend project, as my weekday pattern  is commute-work-work-work-commute-gym-eat-sleep-repeat), but in the back of my brain I’ve wanted to follow up on OCLC’s un-hire of of Jack Blount, particularly in light of my “I am the man” post several weeks back.

The article is about librarians and image — depressingly, one of those topics that, the literature underscores, is only assigned to library administrators of a certain age, though I appear to be one of the few women to weigh in on this ancient topic. I promise not to be a jerk: no railing about Kids These Days; no grotesque generalizations;  a goodly amount of evidence — though when a Facebook colleague asked me if I was writing a book, I decided it was time to begin wrapping up the research end of things. (Were you aware of the Special Libraries Association Presidential Task Force on the Image of the Librarian/Information Professional, established in 1989 with representatives from a number of library associations?)

Like most of my writing projects, I started out with some working ideas. Some were irrelevant, some were validated, and several are being proven entirely wrong. I love this part of the process — like most librarian-writers, perhaps a little too much; it’s the phase where I begin learning something new.

My writing activity ties into my ruminations about the non-hiring of Jack Blount, because here is a case where an employer was absolutely convinced of the right person for the job, until the employer wasn’t. (Not for a moment does anyone believe that Jay Jordan strolled into a meeting and said he was wrong, he didn’t want to retire.)

I don’t know the reasons, and am not even that interested; but I was intrigued that there was no hue and cry to keep Jack Blount. After the initial pop of interest, everyone moved on. Had OCLC continued with the hire, and Blount turned out to be wrong for whatever reasons they uncovered, that would have been the defining information about OCLC for a good long time to come. As it stands, the un-hire became a non-event disappearing into the swirls of time.

So, good for OCLC. I cannot over-emphasize what I have said elsewhere about hiring: it’s a chimerical process, and if you have any doubts, even doubts you can’t entirely pinpoint, don’t hire. Pick up your skirts and flee.

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

Then there is the flip side: for all we know, Jack Blount woke up one morning in a cold sweat and said to himself, “I should not take this job.”  I cannot tell you how many colleagues have confessed that they accepted a new position — relocated to it, sold homes, took their families — and within days or weeks realized they were not merely not in Happyville but had been dragged into its Dante-esque antithesis, complete with howling wraiths and massive workplace dysfunction. (I recall a colleague describing university staff meetings, rife with discord, where one librarian would take off her shoes and clip her toenails–and this was a uni of size and reputation.)

I’ve not once heard anyone say they later had second thoughts about leaving as soon as humanly possible.  If it’s that bad, then GO. And if your sixth sense tells you not to take that job — heed those feelings. Boy howdie do I have that teeshirt.

What I don’t understand about OCLC’s process is why they are not using an interim director. This role is not a placeholder who warms a chair; the interim is a very intentional position designed to help the organization determine its needs, reorient itself along the lines of the new reality, and position itself for its next long-term executive. There’s even a saying in church work: if you don’t have an intentional interim, you risk having an unintentional interim. That’s particularly true where the executive has been there a long while, has a strong personality, or has left under difficult or problematic circumstances. Jay Jordan clearly fits the first two categories.

A good interim is not an insider; he or she is never a candidate for the permanent position or any other position inside the organization. The interim has enough industry experience to have a well-tuned nose for bullshit; is in a position to be fearless; is willing and able to make decisions where needed; but is also compassionate toward the people in that organization and the transition they are going through.

As Leslie Morris wrote in 2004,

The Outside Interim, because she has no ties to the current staff, can make needed, even though unpleasant, changes in staff and procedures. … An Outside Interim has the ability to make needed changes without long-term repercussions and worrying that the staff may not come to her annual spring party where hats are required and the food is vegan only.

Many organizations muddle along without interims, not realizing that the first year or two for their new executive is preoccupied with pre-work, in lieu of any real strategery. They “clean house.” They “restructure.” They find the hidden budget mess. They let people mourn. They dress wounds. They steer the organization toward its new directions. (In a sense, John Palfrey was a sotto voce interim at Harvard’s law library: he came, he saw, he rejiggered, he moved on.) And if the organization survives, then it’s assumed that process works. But that’s like assuming that applying leeches is good because it didn’t kill the patient.

The next time you hear of a CEO who whirled through a revolving door, ask yourself if that organization would have been better-served with an interim. For that matter, watch OCLC — which whether it likes it or not is a very public diorama for leadership transition.

I am The Man — and you can, too!

Library Admin is Fun!

Library Admin is Fun!

Sarah has a great post about her transition to library administrator. Because she feels awkward in that cloth she’ll likely do great.

Naturally, being The Man myself (a few times over), I have my own twist on her observations.

There’s a fine line between being transparent and over-sharing. I don’t believe in transparency so much as translucency. My own boss is a great example of how to share just enough. She’s frank and informative and helps place the world in context, and she finds the positive spin on things or the right solution for the right time. And there are things she doesn’t share with me at the time that I’m glad she withheld (and equally honored that she later shared) — and I’m guessing that’s the tip of the iceberg.  I follow her lead.

A lot of my role as The Man is about managing communications: internal, external, whatever — from the signs on the wall to the emails to the masses. I recall a thread on Facebook where a librarian fumed (in a post phrased as a question — not too passive-aggressive, eh) that her director insisted on reviewing all external communications.

Well, yeah, I hope so (though of course in larger institutions that’s managed by a marketing person or an entire department). This is one area where you will need to recommunicate your message frequently. Let me take it farther: I set and enforce expectations for how we will engage with our constituents one-on-one.   I do not apologize for being the chief my-friend-what’s-in-charge of message management, from the signs on our printers to how we communicate computer outages to the flyers distributed to the masses.  I’ve walked into the alternative several times in my career and had to undo a lot of damage. You need a united and clear voice.

The Man must be mercilessly optimistic. I’ve flogged that horse so much it found a lawyer and is suing, but I’ll say it again. I can tell it’s time for vacation because it’s becoming a little difficult to be perky and upbeat, but you know what? I’m being paid to be perky and upbeat. Once I walk in the library, that’s my assigned take on the universe. I try very hard to share “good news” as often as I can.

Not only that, it’s my job to ensure that the “optimistic spin” pervades the workplace as much as possible, and to honor and uplift the good moments while deflecting, or at least delaying, the inevitable buzzkill. There are people on this planet who in the name of “just being realistic” have a knack for popping party balloons before the cake has been served; it’s their world-view. Sometimes you will need to sit on them. There will be time to fix the inevitable glitches or problems. People — and that includes you, dear Man — deserve the right, and have the need,  to bask in a good moment–to feel a little joy.

Sarah is also right about developing a suit of armor for the people who will never Approve of you… or who project situational Disapproval when you make an unpopular decision.  We all want to be liked, but you can’t be the Man and always be liked. Get on that chainmail vest and get over it.

Part of optimism is persistence; a sense of humor helps too. For the last year I have led a “small” project involving an interactive whiteboard in a conference room we created (my former office — I moved next door, and prefer my smaller abode, plus it’s great to have a meeting room /classroom/study room/whatever room).  I could go on with the many lessons I have learned from this seemingly easy, now inadvertently hilarious project (in the meantime, we have seen an entire writing center rise up in our library — a collaboration with the English department — among other achievements).

Every single thing about this seemingly innocuous whiteboard project has involved more trial and error, more surprises (not of the good kind), more do-overs, and more unpredicted expenditures than I would have anticipated. I’m not new to projects like this one, but from time to time it came close to besting me.

But it’s all good. No one has died, and lessons have been learned. I feel if nothing else that when we are done I and our IT person, not to mention Jennifer, our kindly rep at CDW, will have earned a Certificate in Audio-Visual Implementation. Go ahead, just ask me about short-throw projectors and controller boards for second-generation interactive dry erase boards — I dare you. And I keep saying: we will get there.

On modesty: I speak here from a higher-ed perspective, and also as a woman. Though I agree it’s my job to make people look good, I would advise caution on deflecting all praise. It’s one thing to hog the limelight and take credit for your team’s good work. But I have found, over the decades, that the response from some people when a woman habitually defers credit for work well done is to take her at face value and agree with her: yes, my dear, you really are full of fail!

Plus, quite honestly, if you are any good, you probably played a role in your team’s ability to succeed (though there are many instances of people succeeding in spite of incompetent bosses).  Not only that, the Man soon learns that there are many quiet victories that you cannot share with anyone beyond your boss or another higher-up.

The Man is the Great Protectorate. As much as you have the fiscal latitude to do so, make your staff as comfortable as possible, and make their jobs easier. I do not have the funds to implement true environmental management; our 55-year-old facility is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. But I used year-end reserves to install very nice blinds on the west wall of our library that abate heat in the summer and help retain heat in the winter (and really class up that wall). I also can’t pay staff what they are really worth, but I can ensure they attend conferences, have decent equipment, get the books and training they need, recognition for their efforts, and so on.

Hire very, very carefully. Our uni’s head of HR told me once that when we hire, we hire for life.  When we bring someone on board we are impacting their family, our team, the organization. To come to work for your organization is often a huge decision.  Even after employees leave, we “own” their history — and they can return in unpleasant (and expensive) ways. Furthermore, they not only follow the organization, they follow YOU. This is stuff I sort of knew (and learned by trial and very unhappy error), but it was still eye-opening to hear it summed up that way.

A bad hire will create havoc in an organization, either immediately and visibly, or incrementally and pervasively. You will make bad hires under the best of circumstances, since the hiring process is one huge chimera and none of us are perfect. But if you know, deep down, this person isn’t right for the job, do not yield to the impulse of hiring anyway so you can fill that job or your head of whatchamacallit can finally go on vacation; and do not bend to any begging or frowning or pouting whatsoever.

This is one area where you really, really are The Man. STOP. DO NOT HIRE.  If you are still tempted to ignore your best instincts, remind yourself that every hire is one more ingredient in your succession planning. Do you really want the bad Juju of your successor saying to herself, “What the hell were you thinking..?”

Bad hires are also extremely expensive. I can think of one bad hire (not mine…) at another institution where after the person was paid off to leave, ten years in, the total cost of ownership was easily over a million dollars, salary, benefits, and etceteras included, for someone who was high maintenance and minimal output for the entire period of their employment. That’s not a big salary, by the way, if you factor about 30% for bennies.

You need a mentor, or even Team Mentor. These people are rarely in your chain of command. They may not be other directors (though you do need some experienced director-mentors).

Get out of the library. When people ask me about the value of library conferences, the first thing that comes to mind is the inevitable one-on-ones with cherished friends who will either affirm me or slap me upside the head, depending on what’s appropriate; the second is the ability to stay fresh — to walk back into my library with new ideas and a renewed commitment to the cause.

But stick around the library. I do fewer conferences than at other points in my career, and that’s fine by me. In several positions, I’ve followed administrators who were long-absent for various reasons, and each time I learned that the very best thing I could do is simply “be there.”

Leadership training can be useful. One reason the interactive-whiteboard project became so epic is that I bought the actual whiteboard itself before LIAL (one of a number of good leadership programs), then returned with a renewed awareness of my habit of taking on far more than is realistically doable within a given timeframe. So the whiteboard sat in a box for six months, and when I resumed work on this project, it had Dusty Project Syndrome, which compounded problems. But the insight that I take on too many things and needed to be more intentional was worth it. So was developing a peer group, learning the Harvard case study model, building strategies, and getting “up on the balcony” for a valued perspective.

Take advantage of your current situation. That sounds broad, I know. Where I am now, we are very small and resource-challenged, which has its own baggage. But I’m given a huge amount of latitude and am entrusted to define what library service is; plus I have essentially built Team Library hire by hire. That’s massive.

Most directors walk into organizations with a majority of legacy staff. If you do not have a critical mass of employees who buy into your direction and vision, you’re going to spin your wheels until you change attitudes or people (or both). I’ve met directors at very well-funded institutions who even when they could hire some good people, were simply outnumbered — so both they and their new people could at best crawl very slowly in the trenches toward necessary change, while the forces of stasis chunked rocks at their butts. Many directors also get a lot of external input on what a library should be or do. We have great latitude. I’m mindful of that.

Don’t give up too easily. Don’t give up too early. Beat on problems with sticks (or at least with Red Vines, which are softer and tastier).

I  have spent two and a half years delivering the message, “facility improvements in libraries should be informed by professional space planning.” At a low moment, I was helped immeasurably by a nun who commented that  a design planning project in the 1980s for a new library wasn’t driven by an articulate vision. It was more “want a pretty building” than “we need X.”

That project fell through — and I’m grateful. We’d all be working in a library built on the brink of the Internet, accessibility awareness, and heavens knows what else, and we’d be the newest building on campus — and therefore the lowest priority.

The funny thing about victory is that sometimes it just sneaks up on you. Suddenly, we were funded for a very high-quality facility assessment.  This fall we will do an architectural program with a library space planner.  There is now a growing awareness that we can do interesting things with our university’s library space (helped by our carefully-projected message of hospitality and collaboration) — after we gather the facts. It was like water on stone — eventually, water won out, helped by other things, like administrator turnover, our good efforts, and a general mindset change on campus. Having the patience and good grace to let people come around to where you are is key as well.

The facility assessment surfaced an interesting example of taking advantage of our current situation. Our building is very sturdy, and many of the interior walls — and there aren’t too many of them — are nonstructural. I’m sure that was intentional; Milton Pflueger knew his stuff. For space-planning purposes, that kind of flexibility is home-cranked peach ice cream with raspberries on top.

Also work on your instinct for when to set a problem aside for a while, to marinate in the collective consciousness (or perhaps wait for personnel changes). There is a huge gulf between “no” and “not now.” Sometimes Ensuing Events will make a problem much easier to solve; sometimes the problem moots itself, and you can fix other things.

But — save your bullets. Not every issue, or every person, is worth falling on your sword for. Be very choosy. I went to the wall to save the staff sink, and I am still proud of my “win.” I have had other moments, of the kind not reportable, where I have stood my ground (generally place-at-the-table issues). I believe I achieved in part because I saved my bullets for the really important moments. (In terms of personnel, I can recall a time, when I was new to library administration, when I expended several bullets to defend an employee who really wasn’t worth it. Lesson learned.)

Stairwell, 10-29-2009

Stairwell, 10-29-2009

Metal study desk, October 2009

Metal study desk, October 2009

Finally, because it is so crucial, I want to pick up on Sarah’s point about the small details. These things really make the difference — and they accrue very quickly. I point to Exhibit A, a stairwell, which on the night of my arrival at MPOW sported a peeling poster, patched plaster, and a jumble of library graffiti, as I think of locally-produced signage.  The stairwell led to a lower level that was largely deserted because it was dark, dirty, and scary (see Exhibit B: nasty old metal study desks lined a filthy wall; some desks were piled with mysterious junk).

It’s not a gorgeous learning commons (yet…), but it’s now a clean, well-lighted place; see Exhibit C, below.  A paint job, new shades, hand-me-down office desks (battle-weary, but pleasantly huge), and $60 lamps from a motel supply store have transformed the west wall on the lower level into a tolerable (if not exactly beautiful) quiet zone. Repainting study rooms and rezoning never-used print journals helped greatly, as well.  It’s not the end of what I see for this library, not by a long shot, but it was an important interim fix — a beginning, as it were.

Lower Level Study Desks, September 2010

Lower Level Study Desks, September 2010

Convincing Campus Services to replace occupancy-sensor lights with regular switches was crucial to the success of this project — this was make-or-break.  Bringing Campus Safety in on the conversation helped; once we had working security cameras installed (yet another milestone), Safety wanted to be able to monitor the lower level. In fact, most of this interim makeover was about communication and collaboration, and commitments of sweat equity, not hard cash.

Campus Services didn’t set out to make the lower level scary — they had simply followed a sensible edict, a few years back, to be environmentally and fiscally conscious. Just as the small stuff became a problem, one issue after the other, so the rehab of this area happened one solution at a time — with a lot of communication mixed in.

And that stairwell is filled with artwork from one of our artists-in-residence; and one project this summer is to work with campus marketing to grow our signage so that this stairwell will guide and tempt users by pointing out that it is, indeed, a decent place to bide a wee, laptop or book in hand. This is just one of many similar “paint and Windex” projects we’ve accomplished. Again, paint-and-Windex is not the destination; it’s important prepwork for the journey, and a reason all of our key indicators keep rising.

It is in fact one of the Man’s responsibilities to teach employees not to “satisfice” — in which they get by with a cumbersome, laborious workaround, or with a miserable situation, rather than solving the underlying problem. Part of that involves making it clear that it’s important to spell out your needs to the Man. A lot of satisficing happens under the guise of “we’re poor” or “it’s not a big deal” when it’s really about discomfort or unfamiliarity with communicating.

Often the Man is delighted to help. Indeed, the Man desperately wants to avoid the accrual of small problems (like the second door into the classroom we didn’t use because it was “broken” — took me a year to investigate — it was actually just sticking a little) — because taken together, these problems are their own message, and like weight gain, after they sneak up on you, it takes a while to undo the damage.

You can get some perspective on satisficing and small stuff through MBWA (Management By Walking Around).  Not just in your library, but in the area surrounding it. I rarely take back-door shortcuts into other offices because I use visits to intentionally scan for people I should bump into now and then, and I’m always rewarded. We acquired our first laptop security/charging cart for free when a year or so ago I was walking around campus distributing event flyers, not because we didn’t have people to do that or I was out of things to do, but because it was time for me to put my finger on the pulse of the campus — and someone walked up and said “need this?”

Note: new employees are a boon for pointing out the small stuff. They will ask questions or point out things the rest of us have become inured or blind to. Customer complaints should be heeded too, of course. A customer who complains about the variety of potato chips in the vending machine is one thing. A customer who complains that a printer-copier is making a racket to wake the dead deserves praise for pointing out something we need to know. (Loose Cannon Librarian had a great post about this a few years back, but I can’t dredge it up.)

Finally, money. I too am resource-challenged. Sarah is right about the impact of money, both for people and for stuff.  There are thresholds below which you cannot accomplish certain things.

But you may be able to afford other things. Before we were able to offer iPads and laptops for checkout, we began circulating adapters and cables. The adapters make faculty very, very happy, much happier than 3D printing ever would. That’s because that adapter is the last mile to their ability to use a classroom projector, and because libraries are naturally strong at resource management, we nearly always have one on hand.

And once in a while, the fiscal constraint is in my head.

I’ve been working on the funding for replacing the ten-year-old computers in our classroom since I got here; it’s a long, private story. But it dawned on me this spring that while the computers are a serious issue and the replacement project has become epic in its own right, in a kind of higher-ed, how-did-this-become-such-a-snafu manner, I have always, in my grimmest hours, had the funds to replace the computer projectors, which were so dim as to be near-useless. Doing so made a stunning difference in the ability to project in that room, even before the arrival of the light-abating shades.

I was preoccupied with a Big Problem, and (though I’m generally good at this) I didn’t see the molecular components for a while, even though it was obvious that the projectors made instruction challenging. But (to quickly give the Man a little credit, before someone says, “yes, you should have thought of that earlier!”), I did eventually think of it, act on it, and see it through to completion (even in the midst of “breaking up” with one vendor and starting up with another), and let me tell you, 3500-lumens HDMI-capable projectors with zoom and multiple aspect ratios are worth every penny (which is not too many pennies these days, particularly compared to million-dollar bad hires or the cost of a facility so scary it’s never used).

Being the Man is wonderful. Exhausting. Never-ending. All-encompassing. Scary and exhilarating. Addictive, even. And yes, insomnia-producing; I recently proposed to another campus administrator that we hold online meetings at 3 a.m. since it’s obvious from our email traffic that we’re up anyway. Like parenting, you don’t get a time-out from it; once you’ve signed on, you’re all Man, all the time. But quite often, at least for me, that’s more than all right.