Novelty

I’ve recently shifted my perspective on the importance of consuming content as part of the creative process. This shift came as a result of my fledgling explorations of the world through poetry and with a cultivation of new friendships with writers. I’ve done quite a bit of blogging, and I see how this parallels my consumption of content – I read blogs and short articles more than almost anything else.

A new blog/site that I’ve been into is Medium. I was alerted to it because I read danah boyd’s blog, and she’s one of the contributors. The articles cover such a variety of subject matter that it would be impossible to summarize, however, I do find that many of them have applications in my work as a librarian. One recent entry by Clive Thompson titled “The Novelty Effect” was especially valuable.

It’s a short discussion on the adoption of new tools and technologies, and how the novelty effect impacts both tool users and makers. As libraries we often cater to both audiences, and certainly use various technologies to accomplish our work. Thompson argues that the novelty effect can be a good way to stimulate work on a project, and I think this is a way for libraries to sell their tools/technologies to users.

In my academic setting the obvious tie-ins are the midterm or end of semester projects in which students are engaged, and faculty research and writing activities. We need to stay abreast of what our users need and find ways to insert the library as a potential solution. I think we can also take advantage of the positive feelings associated with novel tools even if we didn’t create them or explicitly provide them.

For example, if I’m doing a workshop on presentation skills and introduce students to a new tool that helps them successfully complete a project, then I will gain esteem which might reciprocate for the next project – even if the tool is no longer relevant. It should be clear how this applies to all types of libraries. We may have lost our novelty, but we can still find ways to benefit from the novelty effect.

Of course there is the flip side in that much of what we show our users is likely to fall prey to this effect. They may enthusiastically use a database in the weeks following instruction, but forget it completely by the end of a semester or academic career. In those situations we have to trust that the positive feelings from the first use will encourage users to seek us out again.

In our non-public facing roles, we need to ensure that the novelty effect doesn’t color our decision making. I think this is especially relevant in the wake of ALA – I’m sure we all heard about or experimented with new tools and technologies, but we need to make sure any purchases will have a lasting impact on what we do, and that we aren’t investing in something new as a bandaid for an old problem. Awareness is always the first step in making change, and being aware of the novelty effect can have a big impact in our work.

Library Summer Camp

I’m hoping that anyone who reads this had the chance to go to summer camp as a kid, and to actually enjoy the experience. There’s something magical about time away from home with people you see infrequently, doing different things, learning together, and getting very little sleep. When I was leaving ALA’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas I felt like I was leaving summer camp.

This feeling may have been heightened by the fact that I was staying with seven other librarians in two suites, but I think the communal aspect comes through even when you are staying solo. I can (and will) talk about the sessions, meetings, and learning but what I found most valuable this year was the time to be around other librarians having conversations ranging from personal to professional and back again. The eight of us that stayed together came from Florida, Ohio, Texas, California, Utah, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Some of us had met in person, or online, or not at all.

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Most of the suite at dinner

We spent a lot of time together in the evenings and in spare moments. I took something from all of them, and from the myriad other librarians with whom I interacted. The most important outcome of this conference for me was a rekindling of my passion for what I do. It’s never been lost, and I am more thankful each day for the work I do, but I’ve had a rough year personally. I separated from my partner of 11 ½ years, and there were times when it felt impossible to focus on work. I am healing, growing, and changing from the experience and ALA felt like a confirmation that I’m ready and able to throw myself fully into librarianship again.

That being said, the rest of my conference was good although not as rich for learning from sessions as other conferences I’ve attended. This was primarily due to the things I had to do for committees and work projects that took away from the time I could spend in sessions, coupled with a frustrating experience traveling to/from events. My first big/important event was Saturday morning, when I moderated the ACRL DLS/ULS panel “Leading From the Side: On, Off, and Within Your Campus”. It’s interesting to be on the other side of the podium at ALA!

Doing my moderation thing!

Doing my moderation thing!

The room looked massive, and we had around 180 attendees. I got there early to make sure we were set up and that our speakers were comfortable. The session went well from what I could tell. I had to modify some of the language written on our outline to make the session flow better, but it was a good way to stay fully engaged while the panelists were speaking. As a side bonus, the information they imparted was useful! I got to catch up with some friendly faces and meet some new people after the session, and I felt a big weight lift off after we successfully implemented the panel session.

On Saturday I also attended the inaugural Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) board meeting. I went to a meeting for SustainRT at ALA in Chicago and agreed to be their webmaster, a role that I am still committed to. I’m also the unofficial social media person. The meeting was fantastic, there was a lot of energy in the room and I think we made some great decisions about how to move forward. If you have any interest in sustainability in libraries (environmental, collections, architecture, outreach, instruction, really anything!) it’s a great group to join.

After that I attended a session on training from the Learning Round Table that was interesting but not applicable to what I’m doing, however it did pique my interest in that RT. After a “quick” trip back to the hotel, several of my suitemates and I attended the joint ULS/DLS social. It was good to see more familiar faces that I met in Chicago and meet some new librarians. After that most of our suite went to see the V variety show and spent some time taking in the ridiculous Strip.

Sunday morning I met a colleague at the Springshare booth where we spent about 90 minutes talking through our LibGuides V2 migration that happened yesterday! He and I are leading the effort to migrate and hopefully revamp our guides. I spent a good bit of time in and out of the exhibits area this year and I thought it was very well done. I also held out for the best swag!

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After my meeting I caught the Sunday Ignite sessions and got to see a friend from NC do a presentation. I enjoyed every single one and took some short but good notes on marketing and design. I attended the SustainRT lightning rounds in the early afternoon. It was great to see the cool sustainability work going on in libraries around the country. I hope SustainRT can continue to hold the lightning round sessions at future conferences. It’s a great format for sharing.

After the lightning rounds I made my way to the Starbucks to meet my Hyperlinked Library MOOC instructor Michael Stephens in person. I ran into my panel co-chair John Jackson in line and the three of us had a great conversation.

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That evening I attended the LearnRT social at the LVH pool with some of my suitemates and a UCF colleague/friend. We met librarians from around the US and Canada, and enjoyed our time by the pool. After that we had dinner in the LVH and then spent a bit of time on the Strip before returning to the hotel. We all had early Monday meetings!

Monday morning we spent the hour getting to the Convention Center and then several of us attended the meeting for the ACRL Innovations Committee that is working on several events/opportunities/things for the 2015 conference in Portland. It was a busy 90 minutes but we got a lot accomplished. I like being able to meet with my committee members in person, it makes it easier to communicate virtually after you have a chance to get to know people. In the afternoon six of us drove out to the desert to hike Mary Jane Falls in the Mt. Charleston area.

PicMonkey Collage 2

Even the hike was educational! At some point during the 3 mile round trip I paired off with each person for a while and had discussions about programs, instruction, imposter syndrome, career development, publishing and research (among more personal topics!). That night I attended a burlesque show with some colleagues. Tuesday morning was time to say goodbye. My flight was at noon and I was blessed to have one of my suitemates on the same first leg of the flight! We didn’t plan it and figured it out once we were in Vegas. I love when life works out that way.

If you’re still with me or TL;DR: great trip!

Scenes from the trip

Scenes from the trip

Human Interaction

I do my best to consume content from a wide range of sources and on varying topics. I often find myself reading a book about a topic like meditation for personal development, and find ways to connect that to my work as a librarian. Similarly, I’ll read articles on librarianship that give me ideas for working on my personal goals and creative tasks. One topic I follow is higher education in general. I think as librarians we need to be engaged with our greater institutions and the challenges they face.

I read an article on a psychology blog I follow titled “Attending a Better University Doesn’t Make You Happier, Here’s What Does…”. This title is clearly clickbait, but it’s important to what I do so I checked it out.  The article reported on a Gallup survey of almost 30,000 college graduates. Here’s the passage that struck me:

“For example, college graduates were more likely to be engaged at work if they’d…

  • had a mentor to encourage them.
  • had a professor who genuinely cared about them as a person.
  • had at least one professor who made them excited about learning.
  • been to a college which was passionate about the long-term success of its students.

The same factors above also predicted when graduates were more likely to thrive in life in general.”

There are many things I find fascinating in this quote. First, graduates who were more engaged at work were more likely to thrive in their lives. This strikes me because it affects my own life in that I do enjoy my life more now as a librarian than I did before. I also try to engage any student I interact with in a conversation on their passions and future goals. I do my best to help them navigate the difficult choices they face if they are willing.

In my last role I had a student tell me about her passion for art therapy and was able to connect her with a good friend who is an art therapist to get more information. It didn’t take much of my time, and it could have had a big impact on that student.

The second thing that resonated in that quote was how important it was for students to have someone from their institution who is passionate about helping them learn and succeed. The article specifically mentions professors, but this is a role that I can see librarians filling. Many of us who work in higher education can identify a few students who make heavy use of the library and reference librarians while they are attending the institution. These students are easy to reach and we should strive to treat them with respect and full attention, even when they might annoy us!

We can also facilitate these relationships with students in shorter interactions by communicating our passion to help them succeed. When I teach classes and workshops I do my best to let students know that I like learning about the work they are doing. I hope they will come to me with their assignment so I can look up the information and increase my own knowledge. When we’re doing reference work or are out on the floor, we can take steps to make the environment more conducive to learning. Last week I was helping a student format a paper, and her son was fidgeting anxiously next to her. She apologized for bringing him as she said she had no other option for childcare. I chose to offer to help her find some books from our children’s literature collection to keep him engaged. She accepted, and we were able to keep him engaged while she finished her task. This only took an extra minute of my time, and made it easier for her to complete her task.

The more work I do in libraries, the more I realize that communication and customer service are the key aspects of the work we do. It doesn’t matter if we work with the public, with businesses, with administrators or with colleagues – we can always be cognizant of how we interact with other human beings and do our best to make it a fulfilling experience for everyone involved.

Admitting Ignorance

I’m a podcast junkie. I started with health and fitness podcasts but quickly expanded my library to include a wide range of shows. I listen while I drive, while I exercise, and sometimes while I cook or do chores. I still can’t make the leap into audiobooks, but I have very much enjoyed the opportunities to learn while engaged in other tasks.

This week I listened to an episode of the Freakonomics Radio Podcast. Many of you are likely familiar with the book Freakonomics and its authors Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. The podcast is billed as “telling stories about cheating schoolteachers and eating champions while teaching us all to think a bit more creatively, rationally, and productively.” I like this podcast because each episode is on a wildly different topic, is short, and is never boring.

The episode I linked to above is titled “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language”, and this concept is explored in more detail in their newly published book Think Like a Freak. It took a while to get to what the words were. I’ll spare you that agony here, they are: I Don’t Know.

As soon as I heard that it was like lightning going off in my brain. I immediately resonated with this because it’s something I struggled with mightily in my first few jobs after college. The podcast discussed the implications of this in children and in the business world, but I think it’s a cultural phenomenon that affects all of us. It’s incredibly scary to admit that you don’t know something, and it can be a blow to your ego.

In my first few jobs I would get confronted with situations where I knew I might have been trained on how to handle them, but couldn’t remember the preferred method or procedure. Instead of asking for help, my instinct was to act like I knew and wing it. Fortunately this worked in a majority of cases, but there were a few times where my work suffered and I had to admit later that I wasn’t confident in that task. I’ve found that it’s much more comfortable to admit your lack of knowledge at the start, get assistance, and move on.

When I started my first library job I committed myself to this principle, and had far fewer moments where I felt out of my depth. Saying “I Don’t Know” is crucial to receiving feedback and ultimately growing as a person or professional. Recognizing and reflecting on moments where we say “I Don’t Know” is a practice that can help us to recognize patterns in our work and to discern areas of potential improvement in our skill sets. These moments have become sparser as I move past one year of service in my current position, but I have learned to appreciate them when they come.

Learning and Generating Ideas

Last week was a momentous one professionally. May 10th was my one year anniversary of working as a Regional Campus Librarian for the University of Central Florida. It’s been a year of great change for me personally, and I’ve grown quite a bit professionally as well. Working for a larger institution has given me the opportunity to interact with a larger group of librarians on a regular basis. This has helped me develop a better sense of who I am professionally and what my interests are within librarianship. I also had the opportunity to attend the Florida Library Association Annual Conference last week, which furthered my learning and helped me to generate some new ideas.

The conference spanned three days, and was attended by librarians from the entire state. It’s always interesting to interact with new people. I find myself having conversations with other academic librarians facing the same challenges, and also with public and school librarians who have a very different daily experience but who are rooted in the same core values. I find both to be valuable in my quest to provide the best service possible to my institution. The first day of the conference I presented a poster with two of my colleagues.

 

My colleagues and me with our poster. (L to R) Kelly Robinson, Carrie Moran (me), and Michael Furlong.

My colleagues and me with our poster. (L to R) Kelly Robinson, Carrie Moran (me), and Michael Furlong.

Our poster was titled “Mythbusters: The Digital Native”. We addressed the common myths about digital natives, provided evidence from our various reference desks, and offered some solutions to address the technology challenges all libraries face. I’m happy to send the PDF to anyone interested in the topic. The poster sessions were the first experience for most people as they took place immediately before and after the opening session. It was my first poster session and I enjoyed having the opportunity to discuss our work with multiple people in a more intimate setting than a presentation.

The keynote was fantastic. It was a talk titled “The Art of Perception” by Amy Herman. Herman developed a training program to teach police officers to enhance their observational skills while working at the Frick Museum in NYC. Her program uses art and imagery to teach these concepts and she was fantastic, so fantastic that I attended the follow up session later in the day. Her website The Art of Perception has more details, and anyone who works with the public should check it out.

On the second day I attended a great lightning round session. There were seven mini sessions and each one gave me something to ponder. One group of librarians used GoPro cameras to track user behavior in the library, another group used theater students to make library instruction videos, and one librarian discussed a project where he was embedded in a class who had to edit Wikipedia as a course assignment. After that I went to a session on retooling a reference program, and although I didn’t find what they did especially relevant, it did spark me to spend 10 minutes writing ideas for things I can do in my library.

The final session I attended that day was on project planning and it was fantastic. The speaker used a model from the “Getting Things Done” method, and gave us time to work in small groups to discuss projects we felt stuck on. One thing I am going to do as a direct result is make sure to start all meetings with a statement of purpose. I already do this frequently, but I think it should be the first step on any meeting agenda. The learning I did on day two inspired this tweet:

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The final day of the conference was a half day but still packed with good stuff. I got to see a Twitter friend present in real life on library web performance and user expectations. I also attended a session on social media that focused entirely on public libraries, but still had some good takeaways. I think our library can do better about having conversations on social media and at making our posts more fun – even those that ask our users to do something. The closing keynote was from J. Jeff Kober from Disney. His talk was on customer service and creating excellence, and he was one of the best speakers I’ve ever seen live. The biggest takeaway from Kober was to make sure everyone in the organization knows the greater mission and cultivates that in his/her daily work.

I’m blessed to work for an organization that supports professional development and new learning opportunities. I am looking forward to applying some of the knowledge I gained to new programs and outreach efforts at my library. Attending this local conference also got me excited for ALA Annual in Las Vegas, hope to see some of you there!

Search vs. Discovery

Search vs. discovery is a phrase seen often in library circles. I’m sure there have been hundreds of conference session, poster presentations and articles on the topic. I try to read widely and broadly to see where knowledge from other areas can creep into what I do in the library. One of the blogs I read for that purpose is Seth Godin’s blog, and he posted an entry with the same title at the beginning of the month. You should go read it, it’s short.

He ends with a challenge “Are you working to help your clients, patrons, customers and colleagues find what they already know what they want? Or teaching and encouraging them to find something they didn’t know they needed?”

This seems to be a key shift in our new information economy. Users think they can find what they need online, and often see libraries solely as storehouses or providers of online content (if that!). I think we have an opportunity to use this to our advantage and show our users how the library can enhance discovery. Many public and school libraries get to do exciting things like story time and makerspaces that cater to this role, but it can be trickier in academic libraries.

Academic libraries often have the mission of supporting the research needs of the university/college, and it can be hard to justify more creative ideas that are difficult to assess. I’m currently reading inGenius by Tina Seelig as an attempt to foster creativity both within and outside my library work. I think discovery is akin to a creative form of searching – we are still trying to meet an information need but may not have the words or tools to communicate that need.

Our most effective form of encouraging discovery is likely to happen when we are actively engaged with a user in a classroom, at the reference desk, in the stacks, or in communications online. I like to explain the LCC Classification system by selling students on how great it is that books on the same subject sit near each other on the shelf. I’ve found that at least half of my trips to the stacks with a student result in them checking out a book we didn’t start out looking for – either to fill the requirements of their expressed need or to fill a need they discovered when they saw that book on Buddhism or quitting smoking as they walked by.

This experience is hard to replicate online, but it is still doable. I am embedded in several Nursing research classes who have to find research for very specific questions with very specific requirements. I spend a lot of time crafting emails to students explaining the importance of going from broad to narrow and in being flexible with their queries. When I run into questions that aren’t being addressed in current nursing research I often point them to systematic reviews or articles from other fields to introduce citation searching. This kind of lateral discovery is often new to them and even if they don’t replicate my steps I know they at least have been exposed to a new way of solving their information need.

A library’s strongest selling point may be that it offers a central location for people to work alone or in groups in a space that is dedicated solely to assisting them. Libraries are not trying to sell anything or push an agenda. Libraries are simply dedicated to helping people meet their needs through whatever means we can reasonably provide. One way we can do this is to find those opportunities to foster discovery.

Customer Service

My first job after finishing my undergraduate degree was a customer service representative for a company that sells comic books and comic paraphernalia from the major publishers to the stores. Depending on your level of interest in comics, this may or may not sound like a great job. I have limited interest in that world (although I am glad now to have learned about the industry), and for me the job was pretty miserable. It was high pressure and there were a lot of silly corporate rules to follow.

It did teach me a lot about interacting with people and with making quick decisions about which tasks were a priority and which could be tabled for later. I made great friends and looking back I am glad for the experience. My next job was as a crisis coordinator for a domestic violence resource center. This job required a more intimate level of customer service, and took priority management to a new level. Working with people whose lives were literally in danger has permanently shifted my outlook on what defines a crisis.

These past lives have made an enormous impact on how I approach librarianship. In fact, I’m talking about this in an upcoming presentation at my institution for MLIS Information Day 2014. I think our ultimate goal as librarians is to meet the needs of our users. This is a simple statement but it can be applied to all libraries and all users. Their needs may have nothing to do with a traditional view of what a library does, but I think it’s our responsibility to provide users with information about how to meet their needs even if we are not the answer.

Aaron Schmidt wrote about a similar concept in his blog post this week titled “Earning Trust”. He discusses the premise that our users must develop a level of trust (that we can meet their needs) in order for us to be useful. He then discusses a few key areas in which we can make that happen. My goal is always to leave each person I interact with during my library hours with a sense that the library is a helpful place. If I can meet their actual need while they are there it’s icing on the cake. This translates well to online interactions and doesn’t change if I’m interacting with students, faculty or staff.

This doesn’t mean we always have to be sweet or go over the top, but simply that each person who comes to me feels like they could do so again. I watched the recording of a webinar from ASERL that took place on Tuesday called “Successful Faculty Outreach Strategies in ASERL Libraries“. The focus was on scholarly communication, but each example given by the panel was really about getting people comfortable with you and showing them how you can meet their needs. Many of the presenters viewed their success in terms of who reached out and how that initial meeting/workshop/interaction led to more of the same.

I feel more fulfilled when a student comes to find me after a workshop than when I get them to show up for extra credit. I recently had a faculty member send me a PowerPoint file to ask me how the authors put together their slides. This is something I’m fairly skilled in so I offered to sit down with her and show her how to do something similar. It may not be filling the traditional librarian role, but it’s meeting my goal of being helpful and providing excellent customer service. That interaction could easily lead to in class library instruction or an invitation to a faculty meeting.

Customer service is a term that’s been over used, but at its core it’s meeting people’s needs to the best of your ability for the context. It’s easy to forget how important the concepts of good customer service are within the library setting because they become automatic. I hope that as a profession we can continue to focus on helping our users and providing value to our communities because we wouldn’t exist without their trust and support.