Access Services Conference

Thanks to having an employer who actually sees the value in investing in its employees I was able to attend the Access Services Conference for the first time, this year, in Atlanta. If you’re not aware, this is a smaller conference that is dedicated — not surprisingly — to the Access Services zone of academic libraries; an area of the field typically neglected at other conferences and occasionally maligned by other areas of the profession. This is everything from ready reference and circulation to emergency preparedness. A sampling of the sessions conducted include:

  • Re-Evaluating Library Space Usage AFTER a Library Renovation
  • Badges of Service: Engaging, Customer-Oriented Student Employee Training
  • Librarian or Emergency Responder
  • Accessing Virtual Reality: Challenges Met and Lessons Learned
  • Are daily fines effective in reducing the number of days an item is kept out past its due date
  • A Bibliometric Analysis of ILL Data at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

It’s management and practical advice from those of us really in the trenches of our profession.

Day 1

The conference ran from Wednesday, November 15, through Friday, November 17. The first night was an opening reception of drinks and finger foods. About half-way through awards were given to those who won the travel scholarship and one for excellence in Access Services Librarianship. There was a recognition of the committees and members, as well. Mostly, though the event was a social time for the school-reunion aspect that these conferences inevitably have. For my part, my only reunion was with my former supervisor who is now the University Librarian at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He introduced me around a little and suggested I get on one of the committees, myself.

Committee work is very important in professional academic librarianship. Most of them, I believe, don’t take too much extra work, and it shows potential employers — or tenure review boards — that you are engaged in the profession at more than a day-to-day level. I used to be on the RUSA: STARS ILL Committee, but had to resign after I’d a) missed several meetings because I couldn’t get to the conferences, and b) stopped working in ILL.

I made a joke at the time that the new guy always gets put on a committee — at least, that’s how it was at every church I ever went to — but it’s something that I really should consider doing. If for no other reason, it’s hard for your boss to tell you can’t go to a conference when your on one of the planning committees. Furthermore, it gets your name and face out in the profession and people can start to get to know you. The more you do that, the more you show up to these things and have friends and colleagues there with whom you’ve built a relationship and it makes conference much more enjoyable. Also, you could get a job or another exciting opportunity out of it.

Day 2

I started the day off right by oversleeping, only to follow that up by spilling an entire “tall” coffee on the floor of the front row right before the keynote speaker went on. Classy! The speaker, Brian Matthews, Associate Dean for Learning at Virginia Tech, talked about a variety of ideas, but the gist that I got out of it was that he encouraged the room to get out of our comfort zones and take risks in our leadership roles. Also, that sometimes break-dancing in the library is a good thing.

My first session was “Re-evaluating Library Usage AFTER a Library Renovation” (emphasis in original title), presented by Jo-Ann Cooley and Kari Mofford, which described a recent renovation at U-Mass Dartmouth’s library and how they made changes and improvements after the renovation was complete. From where I was sitting I feel that the most beneficial aspect of the session was the process they used to get the feedback to make those subsequent changes. There was a lot of open communication, survey’s, and focus groups of both students and staff that informed what needed to be done after the major changes that had already taken place. This reminds us of Raganathan‘s fifth law of library science, “The library is a growing organism.”

Next came “Badges of Service: Engaging, Customer-Oriented Student Employee Training,” by Bryan Feyerherm and Lori Hilterbrand of Oregon State University. This was one of the better sessions of the conference. OSU designed a standardized student assistant training and retention program that rewarded skills earned and time served with “flair;” colorful buttons that displayed achievements. Their training included a patron experience scavenger hunt that new employees do that ends in a pot of candy, and online quizzes to test knowledge and comprehension. This was one of the best sessions of the conference in my opinion.

…people were randomly walking around with ice cream treats…

After that was the most important part of the day: LUNCH. I haven’t said this yet. Wednesday night at the (complimentary!) wine social I was told that the food at this conference was awesome, and constant. Boy howdy! Was that correct! I’ve never had such good spreads at a library conference before. Plus, people were randomly walking around with ice cream treats both days. There was a constant supply of ice cream, people! Needless to say, no one went hungry.

After lunch, I attended “Accessing Virtual Reality: Challenges Met and Lessons Learned,” in which someone from North Carolina State University (his name is not noted in the program) presented an overview of VR technologies he’s piloting in his NCSU library. I went to this because a) I know next to nothing about VR and haven’t used it since my early teens (tweens?) in the early 90’s at St. Louis’ VP Fair. You might remember the giant headsets, circular platforms, and polygonal digital environments of those early setups. Or, you might not. And b) Lied Library has a VR setup we’re piloting in anticipation of our new Knowledge Production department which will begin full swing operations by next fall. This presentation was interesting and informative, but not practical based on my professional interests outside of giving me a basic introduction to the technology without the opportunity to use it.

Next was the poster sessions. I usually don’t pay too much attention to poster sessions, but this time I took photos of a number of them and talked to one of the presenters about how she communicates en masse with a bunch of student workers who WON’T READ EMAIL! ARRRRRGH!

But I digress.

All of the poster sessions over both days that I was most interested in were concerning managing, training, and mentoring student assistants. Reasons for this I should get into in a later blog post.

Last session of the day was an outlier for me: “A Bibliometric Analysis of ILL Data at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center,” by Brynne Norton. While I do have a fairly strong ILL background, anyone who knows me knows why I went to this, and it’s spelled N-A-S-A. I’m a life-long space nerd and just being in proximity to a NASA Librarian is enough to make me fanboy.

Another Digression: My friend Nick Fry, who’s now the curator of the Barriger Railway Collection at Mercantile Library in St. Louis is also a former NASA librarian. In short, I know some really cool nerds!

Brynne talked about measuring the impact of Goddard’s ILL service using title, keyword and regular expression searches, as well as tools like Openrefine.orgRegexr.com, and Sublime text editor. While I’m not sure I understood it all (I’ve never been a blood-and-guts librarian) I found her talk way more interesting that I thought I would have by the title and description. Good job Brynne!

Day 3

“Holding onto the values of the past is the quickest path to irrelevance.” — Katie Glaeser

Friday began much better than Thursday did. I got plenty of sleep, woke up on time, and still got breakfast at the conference. I chose another student assistant management session to start my day with. This time Christopher Bishop (of Agnes Scott) and Jalesia Horton (of Augusta University) talked about their parallel experience working in small academic libraries in which they included — and expected — their student workers to do so much more than shelve books and sit at the circ desk. Their students were active in outreach, advocacy, and marketing with an eye toward building student skill sets for transference to other later opportunities. They gave their students real responsibilities, and received buy-in from them. While much of what they talked about wouldn’t work in a large institution, they did say something I liked a lot, “The student employee who understands the big picture becomes the ideal student employee.” We have to include the students in what we are doing and thinking so they can understand their jobs in a larger context and perform to their highest degree.

The second session of the day was “User-centered Access: Planning and Implementing a Fine-free Policy” by Maryke Barber and Karen Ryan of Hollins University told us all how they went FINE FREE in their library; fantasy I have written about before. What a wonderful thing to do.

According to them — and why wouldn’t I trust a librarian? — there’s more an more data that says that fines do nothing to preserve a collection or encourage quicker returns for the average circulating monograph. Hallelujah! What does work is longer lending periods, more frequent communication, billing for replacements, and blocking accounts of the worst offenders. From my experience at UMSL I can say anecdotally that this pan’s out. One thing that they did that I thought was genius was to increase the undergraduate loan period to 120 days with a single renewal, just like faculty and grad students. Brilliant! Oh, how I want to do that at UNLV! The caveat to this is that it’s only standard overdue fines they stopped collecting. They’re still fining for reserves, tech, and replacements, but still, good on them!

Poster sessions, then another totally awesome lunch.

The last regular session of the conference that I attended was “Navigating the Storm: Leadership in Times of Crisis,” by Katie Glaeser (Sweet Briar College). Another fabulous session that provided my favorite quote of the whole conference, “Holding onto the values of the past is the quickest path to irrelevance.” OMG, I was so happy to hear her say that! The presentation was really about empathetic leadership during stressful transitions to manage not only the events, but the psyches of the people affected by that change. There was a lot in this forty-five minute presentation, but I’ll sum it up with Katie’s own bullet points.

Summary:

  • Focus on Mission
  • Clarity precedes competence
  • Lead with Care
  • Information & Communication

And…

Emergency Toolkit:

  • Remain Calm
  • Focus on the Mission
  • Prioritize the Welfare of Others

Like I said, that was the last regular session I attended. There was one more, but instead I spent that time networking with my former boss, Paul Sharpe.

The last event of this wonderful conference was a panel discussion with Paul (UTRGV), David McCaslin (Cal Tech and editor of the Journal of Access Services), Krista Higham (Millersville Univ.), Brad Warren (Yale), and Trevor Dawes (Univ. of Delaware). Each of whom have been associated with the conference for all or most of its nine-year history. It was great to hear these very successful people talk about what access services has meant to them throughout their careers. Cheers, all around!

Takeaways

I’ve been going to conferences since 2011. I’ve been to big conferences and small ones, national ones and regional ones, but this is the first time I’ve really been to a conference focused on a particular service area — most importantly, mine. I was a pilot fish at this conference. I was to go there and report back to my AD whether or not it is worthwhile to send others in the future. Indubitably, it is! I had always heard wonderful things about this conference (mostly from Paul), but had never had the opportunity to come, myself. The way that I’m feeling right now. For anyone who works or aspires to work in access services, this is probably a far more enriching experience that even going to the big 20,000 librarian-strong ALA Annual every June. ALA has it’s own charms and it’s own value, but for area-specific content and the best camaraderie you can’t beat what happens in Atlanta every November.

book and red wine on a marble table

Obligatory Weekly Update

Not much has been going on. The second week of the semester is over and I feel like we’ve settled in.

DeLyle was here for about twenty-four hours on Tuesday and Wednesday for a job interview on campus. Our fingers are crossed but her would-be supervisor said outright that she’d never supervised anyone older than her and was looking for someone to mentor,* so our hopes aren’t up too much.

My sister is in Florida in the run-up to Hurricane Irma, but last I heard from Mom was that they’re going to be leaving before the storm gets there**.

Oh, my sister got married and went to Florida for her honeymoon. I wasn’t able to attend.

I have two employee evaluations due in the next few weeks. This is something that I’m still learning how to do. I’d done one last month, but as the sidekick. This next one I’m the leader and my boss is the sidekick, then the third one is all me.

It’s less than a month before I go back to St. Louis for the MLA conference and visit with my family.

Somewhere in the back of my brain I’m putting together a post about communication and mentoring from supervisors. It’s still percolating, though. I’ll have something more substantial to post in a few days, I hope.

I’m sorry this post is so lame.***


*This is probably illegal ageism.

**She just posted on Facebook that they’re on their way home now.

***No, really, I am.

Free Speech and Free Societies, Pt. 1

Just over three years ago Michael Brown was shot dead on the streets of Ferguson, MO, by a cowardly police officer. Was Michael Brown completely innocent of any crime? Probably not, but that’s not the point. As far as I can tell he was guilty of petty theft, jaywalking, and assaulting a police officer, none of which are crimes that typically result in the death penalty. After the officer shot Michael Brown dead for failing to comply with whatever order was being shouted at him he was left out on display in the street for no less than four hours. That night, crowds gathered to protest the police violence. The evening news quickly began defaming Michael Brown, as if anyone deserves the treatment he received before or after his death. For the next several weeks peaceful, if loud, protests were mounted. Anarchists and those who did not know how else to channel their rage turned to violence and property destruction.

I was not aware of any of this the first night. I had stopped watching local news years before due to their insistence that I fear the city I lived in. I knew nothing about it until my mother phoned me worried about our safety, especially mine, since my workplace was in the vicinity of the event — one town over, actually. She explained to me what was happening and I dismissed it rudely saying, “It’s not Chicago ’68, Mom!” It wasn’t, and my mother didn’t deserve that treatment, either, but it was as close as I ever want to see in my life. Protests and violence went on night after night. People I knew, including clergy and professors, got arrested for being protesters, and the news media painted all of them as rioters.

The morning after the first protests I received a call from the mother of my student worker (a young black woman dependent on public transportation) to make sure that she had arrived to work that day. I had to tell this poor worried mother that, indeed, her daughter had arrived safely and was busy working, as usual. I shouldn’t have had to do that.

"hands up"

What I came to know about the media coverage on television, radio, and in print was very clear. The protesters were violent thugs and the police were justified in treating the protest area like a war zone. All of the white people in my social media thread who were not in the immediate area, and some who were, took that as gospel truth and the concept of protesting anything took on a negative connotation.

There were bright spots. There were stories about parents bringing their children to the protest sites the morning after to clean up what damage had been done as an object lesson in taking responsibility for one’s community; about showing what good communities do. Some police joined the protesters in full uniform. The Ferguson Public Library made headlines by providing a safe space for all and, since the protests took place the same week as the start of school, provided space for volunteer teachers and aides to give educational opportunities to the kids whose school was delayed starting and whose parents couldn’t afford the additional daycare. These activities brought Ferguson’s public librarian, Scott Bonner, national attention and won him the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity. I was fortunate enough to meet Scott on a few occasions and he always humbly claimed that they were only doing what public libraries do everyday. Maybe, Scott, but many would not have done it under those circumstances out of fear for their own and everyone else’s safety.

I’m not too proud to admit that prior to this event I’d been tucked away in my white male privilege bubble. I “got woke” by my proximity to these events. Prior to these events I would have said that race didn’t matter; that I never thought about race; that paying attention to race is what made it real, etc. After Ferguson I could no longer stay in my Midwestern white male shell anymore. I was changed.

Time went on and I stayed woke. I voted for Bernie, then I had to settle for Hilary — whom I believe would have been a great president in her own right. I marched for women, against DAPL, and for science. I voted for Tishaura Jones, whom I believe should have been the the first black woman to be mayor of St. Louis, instead had to settle for the first white woman who represented the status quo. I didn’t do these things because they were trendy. I did these things because I thought they were best.

Now, two years have passed since Ferguson. I’m in a new job in a new city. My new city is much more integrated than my old city and my workplace is the most diverse I’ve ever been a part of, but never have I forgotten the change in me. Now, in the wake of Charlottesville I’m brought back to these feelings.


 

Continued in Part 2

thoughtful man

Taking Stock at Two Months

This week marks two months in the new job, and two weeks from the start of the fall semester. Let’s take a step back and see how things are going. In and earlier post I talked about how I was adjusting to the idea that I’m the boss of unit now and how difficult it was for me to make that transition. In the eight weeks since I started this position I’m feeling much more, if not fully, confident in my position. I’m beginning to take charge more and lead less by following and more from the front. That is going to be a longer process to complete and I don’t believe anyone should only lead from the front. I’m not a monarch or a dictator, so taking my lead from my employees is always something I will do.

In another post I questioned the wisdom of socializing with employees and colleagues. There is not a hard-and-fast universal rule to answer that question. Your employer may even strictly prohibit it. You’ll have to find what works for your work environment. So far, I’ve only spent social time with my any of these people in group settings. These are all fun and smart people and we all seem to understand where the lines are, so that helps. I’m building strong work and friend relationships that I hope will continue once we no longer work so closely together.

I’ve also announced that in October I’ll be facilitating a session at the MO Library Association Conference. I got official word today that I’ll also be attending the Access Services Conference in Atlanta in November. It is very heartening that someone so new to the organization would not only be allowed to attend professional conferences, but encouraged to do so. It’s possible that the MO conference will make it hard for me to go to ALA next June, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Not only am I feeling more confident in my leadership role, I’m also feeling more confident in my practical role and a circulation desk supervisor. It will take me a long time to learn everything, but I am certainly competent enough for most day-to-day activities at my circ desk. This is important because in two weeks we’re going to have up to 30k students come through this building every day, I’m told. The tradition here is that for the first two weeks of the semester between 08:00-17:00 the chairs behind the desk are removed and everyone has to stand at their stations because we are too busy to sit, anyway.

dudeist logo
Dudeist Logo

I really don’t know how to prepare for this semester anymore. I’ve never worked in a library that is that busy and the only analogy I can think of is Xmas season at the shopping mall. Even then, I don’t think I was ever that busy. I think I’m just going to have to go with the flow and take a Dudeist attitude about it. I fully expect to be exhausted at the end of my days for a while once it all starts. Hopefully, I’ll lose some weight at the same time. I’ll try to take it all in stride and enjoy being busy as much as possible.

So, that’s where I am right now. Things are looking up. My wife is starting to get interviews for local jobs, and here remote-working experiment is off to a good start. We should be together sooner than later. In the meanwhile we’re doing well and are optimistic about the future.

 

Announcing, Live, and In Person…

JobSeekersSupportGroup

ME!

Today, I confirmed that I will, indeed, be appearing at this year’s Missouri Library Association Conference moderating the JOB SEEKERS’ SUPPORT GROUP.

The description I submitted to them reads as follows.

Librarianship is a very competitive field to break in to. There are many more applicants than open positions and the struggle to achieve one’s career goals is extremely stressful. This breakout session is a round-table discussion opportunity for soon-to-be or recent graduates, or anyone else on the job market to come together to ask questions, commiserate, or share stories about their experiences. We can share stories about our success and failures, frustrations and hopes. It will give job seekers a place to show that they’re not alone in their search and hopefully provide helpful information to shorten their search. Questions that may be addressed: What happens in an all-day academic library interview? How soon should thank-you’s be sent? What is the difference between a CV and a Resume? What does “pay commensurate with experience” mean? What constitutes “professional experience”? How do you handle awkward moments? Etc. This will be an open forum for anyone to contribute to in a safe environment.

While I’ll be able to regale the room with stories of my own failures and lessons, as well as the positives of my 2.5 year job search, I’m hoping to provide some insight*, yes, but mostly I’m hoping to provide a safe space for people to come together and openly discuss their fears, frustrations, and experiences. It is an opportunity for us to learn from each other. If you’re attending the conference, this year, feel free to stop me and say “Hi.” I’ll be there all three days and can’t wait to see some familiar faces.

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*DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed therapist. I have no degrees in psychology or any behavioral science. I have no experience working in human resources. I’m simply a librarian who was extremely frustrated when he had the idea for this session and saw the need for it.

Life Is Funny, Sometimes

Last year, while attending the Missouri Library Association’s (MLA) annual conference in Springfield, MO, on the last day I had an idea.

There should be a session for job seekers to come together and share their experiences. It could be support group for people to share the struggles and encouragements of the job searching process.

I tweeted this idea out using the conference hashtag and got the largest positive response to anything I’d posted over the course of the conference. Clearly, I was on to something.

Missouri is peculiar in that they have two state-wide library conferences. MLA’s is in October, and the other one, the MOBIUS Annual Conference, happens in June. When the call for sessions for the MOBIUS conference came out in the winter I jumped on the chance and submitted my Job Seeker’s Support Group idea to them, only to be denied the chance. Later, in the spring, I submitted the idea again when MLA called for sessions.

Then, I forgot about it.

Then, I moved to Las Vegas.

Then, yesterday, I received notice that my session proposal for MLA has been accepted.

Yay!

130e8o

and Hah!

giphy

The good news is that I can present a session at a professional conference, and that since I’ve recently taken a better job after years of searching I will have some authority on the matter.

The bad news is that since I’m new to this job and it’s 1,600 miles away from the St. Louis conference location I don’t know that I’ll be able to do it.

I’ve opened talks with my superiors to see if this is possible, and I suspect that it might be. I don’t think there is a downside to me attending a non-Nevada statewide conference as a UNLV representative. It’s good for me to get the experience and CV line, and it’s good for them as a function of outreach. My biggest fear is that I’ll have to choose between doing MLA in October and the Access Services Conference in November. I really want to do both but don’t know if that will be possible.

So, fingers crossed for getting to add to the fabulous experience that is MLA.

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