Working Harder AND Smarter – Thursday Update

Did I say Wednesday?  That didn’t happen, clearly.  But, rather than let this blog become a bluesy litany of “where does the time go,” I’ll confine myself to a quick project update:

Collection development:  The one sane thing in my workday.  It’s nice to go through NYTBR and see you already have all the hot nonfiction either in the collection or on order.  Score!

Eleventh Stack:  Also holding steady.  Hit count is slightly down, but still above last year at this time.  It also mirrors last year’s slight decline.  I don’t mind fewer readers over the summer, as long as it’s part of a larger pattern.  Still, all the more reason to sit down and think of ways to kick it up a notch..

23 Things N’@:  Week 4 is all about wikis, and everybody’s happy!  The range of experience and abilities continues to educate me on how we can do this better next time.  Definitely a move to a tiered-activity system is in order, IMHO, something along the lines of beginner/intermediate/advanced, so that people have options to choose from according to their experience/comfort level. That being said, holy project success!

Twitter: I have mixed feelings about how this is going, and would like to write more about it at length.  Long story short, it’s an easily managed, low-maintenance project, but I don’t know if it’s achieving our objectives.  More time may be called for.  We shall see.

Database Stuff (CLP):  We haven’t met for a while because our new quarterly renewal schedule has made the committee process more efficient.  It’s time for 3rd-quarter renewals, though, and a look at 1st-quarter stats.  Plus, me being me, I have some wild and crazy ideas to throw at the committee to see what they think.  Secretly I want a database promotion task force.  I will pay for jackets that say “Database promotion task force,” if given free rein. :)

Database Stuff (EREC/ACLA): Good news!  The deal went through, and the county has purchased a subscription to Mango Languages.   Our patrons really miss Rosetta Stone, and for the life of me, I still don’t understand WHY they chose to stop selling the database to public libraries.  We are hoping, however, that Mango will fill this critical gap – language learning is very popular here, and the wait list for materials is very, very long.  We’re working out the hookup kinks as we speak – stay tuned, because you know I’m going to try to learn about seven languages myself. :)

Oh, and all that above about task forces and jackets?  Add a blog and multiply by ten, and you’ll get an idea of what I’d love to achieve at the countywide level.  Girl’s gotta dream…

Emerging Leaders:  You’re probably wondering why I have barely discussed this at all.  I’ve been meaning to, but now I don’t have to, really, because the fine folks at In the Library With the Lead Pipe have spread it all out for you in a nutshell.

Emerging Leaders has been like boot camp. I am getting a lot out of it. I am not sure that what I am getting out of it is exactly what the program planners intended, but such is life. :) It’s difficult to capture the zeitgeist of this kind of experience in medias res, so I’ll probably not even try until after annual, when it’s all over and done with.

Alternative Media Task Force/Event Planning: My other ALA project! The group process on this particular project has been amazing. We are putting together the Alternative Media Reception / SRRT 40th anniversary celebration, and it’s going to be awesome. Stay tuned for the official announcement, because you’re really not going to want to miss it.

And just because it’s not nearly busy or exciting enough around here, guess where the next G20 summit is going to be held? It’s going to be one crazy summer at Alchemy, so stick around…bonus points if you can identify the Sports Night references in this post…

work/life, and other challenges

As you might have gathered, I did not finish everything I was hoping I’d finish Friday, and thus did not post.  Given that I’ll be on vacation now, for a bit, I wanted to give my readers a touch of closure. :)

It’s hard for me to walk away from work undone, even though logically I know that, if my tasks don’t get done, there are no dire consequences.  It’s said we often teach what we most need to learn, and the things I think and write about over and over again reflect the areas I find most challenging:  balance, letting go, saying no.

When I ponder these things, I like the word “challenge” better than “failure,” because “failure” seems to imply irredeemable full-stop, no exit, game over.  “Challenge” indicates that while an area is a problem, you can always try something else and tackle it another way.

My biggest challenge right now is this:  is it possible to be a dedicated professional and aspiring leader while still having a life?  Can you slow down a little bit without giving the impression that you’re a slacker, or can’t cut the mustard?

I will ponder these things in my comfortable-casual clothes, with a full mug of a very nice French roast. :)  And I’ll definitely be making time to continue reading 2666, which is, quite possibly, the best book I’ve read in years.  I never want it to end, though of course, eventually, it must.

We’ll try to return to what passes for normal on Wednesday.  Enjoy your holiday, if you get one.


I’m calling them. Specifically, I’m calling them on the Pennsylvania Senate, which passed S.B. 850 and its draconian library cuts. S.B. 850 now goes into a steel cage match with the House and its version of the budget, H.B. 1416.

You can compare the two versions of the budget by clicking on this .PDF. The top portion of the chart outlines the cuts under H.B. 1416. The public library subsidy cut is unpleasant, but relatively miniscule, at 2.3 percent. Its ugly stepsister, S.B. 850, however, calls for a 51.2% cut to the public library subsidy. If that flies, PA’s libraries would also lose $1 million in federal funding.

Sometimes it’s a real challenge staying classy when you read things like that. Everyone I’ve had the privilege of working with tries so hard to advocate for his/her library. I’m having a hard time at the moment seeing what we could do better or differently.

*deep breath*

Good thing we don’t work alone, isn’t it? Each of us does his/her little part. If you are a Pennsylvania resident who would like pitch in, too, please visit this page to learn more, and get contact information for your elected officials.

I may, or may not, get a chance to post before I quietly slip away for a much-deserved vacation. If I do, I’ll bring you up to speed on the usual passel of projects, as well as a brain-breaker of a book I’m reading.

(Approximately) 88 Lines About 29 Bloggers.

This week on 23 Things ‘N @, the ultimate library reality show, our intrepid participants created blogs. Some were blogging for the first time, and others were taking the opportunity to add depth and breadth to their prior blogging experience.

In what may seem like a surprise twist to some, but not to me, a number of participants chose not to create a blog at all. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, part of the course does require starting a blog. On the other hand, folks who have concerns about privacy–and yes, Virginia, they do exist–have the right to opt out of any activity that makes them uncomfortable. And on that third hand, which most of us have not got, the sad truth is that between Pennsylvania’s library budget woes and the insane crush of increased activity the consortium’s seen since the economy went south, some of the participants simply don’t have the time to finish the exercise.

All that being said, those who did rise to the blogging challenge demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that Allegheny County is full of creativity, talent, wit, and humor. The blogs featured below are well worth a visit, and if you’d be willing to encourage the bloggers with a comment, well, that would be right kindly of you.

Suzy, The Little Librarian asks an excellent question about blogging.

Cathy Behm is having fun with fonts…

Kara’s Universe is off to a thoughtful, yet still creative, start.

Don’t Panic is not just good advice, it’s a great blog!

The tech-savvy bibliokaren goes to bat for Allegheny County teens.

Regina’s Reactions is off to a strong start with an interesting observation.

i’d rather be quilting is an excellent 23 Things metaphor!

Nonsenssikl Skript makes excellent use of the letter “K.”

Dani’s 23 Things Adventure demonstrates depth (and cool design).

Marilyn Jenkins poses the excellent question, Where in the World are we Going?

Flying Monkeys With ADD wins at blog naming…

…as does Lost in the Future.

You can Just Add Text with Megan Fogt…

Or get your Penny Arcade references fresh off the griddle at meg’s 23 things.

Team Celery Stick gets into the act with Daughter to College….

…and I Heart String Cheese.

Debi’s Readit Blog looks like it’s going to be about books (woohoo!).

23 Things for Dinosaurs tells it like it is…

scottkids continues the motif…

and Sharon’s 23 Things shows signs of relief!

Helen’s Garden provides yet another lovely analogy (leafy green!).

Sha-poopie multi-tasks and works it.

Inside the Stacks is thoughtful and literary.

Natalie’s 23 goes above and beyond.

For a proud declaration, see I’m a Lifelong Learner.

Wilkinsburg/Marc sends you to a print source for clarification…

Take a peek at a normal day in the life of a librarian with library life, shelflisted.

In case you were wondering, Here’s Waldo!

Learning really is lifelong at Techie Grandma’s Blog.

I can’t even tell you how much it bugs me that time constraints forbid linking to some of the other fabulous blogs that bloomed this week. Feel free to drop by the 23 Things Blogs page on our official program wiki and do some exploring on your own.

Next week, the alchemist calls shenanigans! Stay tuned.

ETA/NB: There was a whopper of a lulu in the above, which I have since changed. This is yet another good reason not to try to tackle long posts on a busy day! Mea culpa, and my apologies.

Booktalks and Boundaries

Welcome back to the wild world of Alchemy!

Yesterday I gave a presentation called “New, Now & Next:  A Road Map for Contemporary Fiction” for Pittsburgh OASIS, the local branch of a national program for seniors with an emphasis on lifelong learning. This was the same presentation I gave at Pitt and CMU, and I stubbornly maintained my position of having no slides or visual aides, save one handout. Nope – I like giving this presentation because it’s good old-fashioned booktalking. Swap out your titles and it’s a whole new ballgame every time.

Titles I booktalked included:

This Is Chick Lit, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, ed.

This Is Not Chick Lit, Elizabeth Merrick, ed.

Tales From the Farm, Jeff Lemire.

Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware.

2666, Roberto Bolano.

You Poor Monster, Michael Kun.

The Icarus Girl, Helen Oyeyemi.

Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris.

The Raw Shark Texts, Steven Hall.

The Coldest Winter Ever, Sister Souljah.

Flash Fiction Forward, James Thomas and Robert Shepard, eds.

And You Invited Me In, Cheryl Moss Tyler.

Kind of all over the map, those picks, but that was part of my point: fiction these days is more exciting and diverse than ever before, and there are many new things to try. The audience was wonderful, chiming in with titles they liked, and observations of their own, so the presentation was free to go in wonderful directions I hadn’t planned for. I rather like that in a presentation!

Goodness knows I had more than enough material as it was, so much so that I deliberately moved some things around – the last time I gave it, for example, we never got to urban fiction, graphic novels, or the GLBT collection, and I definitely wanted to highlight those.  I also made sure to stress that you don’t have to like everything, and invoked Nancy Pearl’s 50-page rule.  Based on the feedback I got from the attendees and the organizers (another fine partnership brought to you by ACLA!), all went well. 

After I agreed to speak for OASIS, I quietly made the decision that it was the last speaking engagement I would accept for 2009. This is not because I wasn’t having a wonderful time – far from it! It’s a privilege to be able to speak to people, and, INFP on the Meyers-Briggs aside, there’s enough of the performance ham left in me that I get a big kick out of public speaking. And yet, a librarian’s got to draw the line somewhere.

What I’d realized was that, somewhere in the flurry of book reviews and other committments, that I’d already promised to do enough library service work above and beyond my regular duties that it will take me the rest of 2009 to fill my committments! Add the Emerging Leaders committee work for 2010/2011, and, well…something had to go.

This is sad, in a way, because of course I’m interested in everything, and I want to do everything. But I would also like to be a person of integrity, who delivers on the things she promises in a timely fashion. If that can be without all-nighters and hair-pulling, so much the better!

So, how do you say no when your plate is full, and the invites keep coming? Here are some strategies that have worked for me.

  • Ask the person if you can get back to them.  Then wait 48 hours and rehearse your no.  Or drop a few other committments so you can say “yes” if you really want to.
  • Explain that you are doing X, Y, and Z, and that to take on Q you will have to drop something.  Then put it back on them to choose what is a higher priority (very effective with bosses, though I think mine is on to me. :) ).
  • Recommend a colleague in your place.  NOTE:  This is not open license to get revenge on a co-worker who has done you dirty.  It is, however, a great way to give other people an opportunity to shine, especially if they are more skilled in the task than you are!  Remember:  you’re marvelous, but nobody loves a praise hog.
  • Negotiate a reduced assignment.  Maybe you can team up with a peer to give the presentation, or write one article instead of two, or get a longer due date/deadline.  Most people who need your help will be more than happy to work with you on a win-win solution.

If all else fails, here are 100 easy ways to say no you can try. Something that could be fun would be to roll a few dice to determine which excuse you should use…or, if you’re feeling confident, you could just set your default to #9. :)

The rest of my week has been the usual, with a nice big scoop of keeping up with 23 Things ‘N@ on top! A lot of the participants are really getting into the spirit of exploration – I’ll be back on Friday with some examples of cool blogs they created this week.

Where I Blog, and What I Blog For

Week two of 23 Things ‘N @ is off to a strong start. Responses from participants have run the gamut from “No way am I blogging, I’ll sit this week out” to some really creative, fun blogs. Team Celery Stick has learned once again that some things that are very obvious to us frequently need to be explained in a different way, or done differently. We’ve also discovered that a number of participants retain a fondness for Douglas Adams, bless his soul, wherever he may be. But who doesn’t, really? :)

I feel like I can’t really take a CE credit for this week’s exercise, because I’ve been blogging for a long, long time, starting in my pre-librarian life, with one personal blog, and working up to now with, heaven help us, a personal blog, a professional blog, and two group blogs. Mercy.

But just because you’ve done something for a long time doesn’t mean you don’t have anything more to learn. And professional blogging is very different from personal blogging. So I thought I’d give my reasons for professional blogging and muse aloud a bit about it.

To demonstrate that it can be done

Given my workload, there is absolutely no way I could write every day, or do justice to half the things that go on around here.  That being said, I wanted to demonstrate to skeptics that it really is possible to keep a professional blog and still get all your other work done.  From the day I started until now, I’ve managed to balance collection development, refdesk time, database stuff, and more meetings than you can shake a very big stick at with, on average, twice-weekly entries.  Keep your fingers crossed that I can keep that up, and rest assured that, if I can’t, I’ll take breaks. :)

To keep track of my professional accomplishments

Writing and tagging has been really helpful when writing up my self-appraisals, updating my resume, applying for programs like Emerging Leaders, etc.  It’s also something public that my boss and peers can look at when they wonder, “What’s she doing when she’s not at the desk?”

To explore things that don’t make sense to me

As the quiz in last week’s 23 Things ‘N @ activity revealed, I’m a verbal-linguistic learner.  Writing things out helps me make sense and understand them.  Blogging about projects I’m working on, or making observations about other 2.0 issues, has helped me clarify for myself what I need to do now or next in any given situation.   I also get feedback from my CLP/county colleagues and other library professionals, which is awfully nice, and helps me reframe my thoughts and get over “stuck” places.

To become a better writer

Given how easy it is to blog, why not up the ante?  It’s simply not enough to have opinions – one must express them artfully if one is to make an impact.  I’m not foolish enough to believe that the ramblings of one librarian mean a hill of beans in this crazy world, but I think that if you’re going to speak publicly at all, you might as well take the opportunity to hone your craft so that the people who stumble across your work have a better chance of benefiting from it.  When I blog, I try to say things in such a way that my reader will be left with, at the very least, a smile on his/her face, if nothing else.

To express an under-represented point of view about Library 2.0

I ddin’t set out to do this on purpose, and I certainly don’t fancy myself some sort of Scarlet Pimpernel.  However, I started noticing, as I was reading Library 2.0 bloggers, that my experiences and opinions weren’t exactly lining up on the same page.  So I figured I’d better engage with that.  I find myself disagreeing with the “rock star bloggers” more often than not, not to be a pain, but because my experiences here–and those of my peers, and those of our patrons–are often so radically different from what’s presented as “normal” that I can’t, in all good conscience, NOT say something sometimes.

Print, for example, is far from dead, especially here in Pittsburgh.  Teaching folks about blogging and RSS is laughable when many of them are still annoyed that we got rid of our floppy drives and went to USB drives.  And don’t even get me started about Twitter when we spend so much of our time teaching folks what a URL is, how to sign up for e-mail, and how to apply for jobs online.  If I had a dollar for every expression of techno-confusion and bewilderment I’m met with, I could retire tomorrow.

I’m not saying we don’t have power users, and I’m not saying librarians shouldn’t learn about these things, because we do, and we should.  What I’m saying is that the professional digital divide is starting to really scare me, and now I know how the kids in the so-called “lower” reading groups must have felt, back in the day:  the “Cardinals” were frustrated with the “Robins” because the former wanted to charge ahead, and the latter still needed some time.  The “Robins,” meanwhile, felt like there was something wrong with them because they weren’t “Cardinals.”  And it ain’t necessarily so.

So I’m committed to continue speaking about what’s true for me and my peers and patrons, and I’m really hoping that 23 Things ‘N @ will encourage other Allegheny County librarians to do the same.   The more diverse the library blogosphere becomes, the better off we will all be, as professionals.  And more speech–provided it is responsible speech–is always better than no speech.  Long maywe all discuss, debate, and ruminate!

I’m sure my reasons for blogging will grow and change as my career does.  I have no idea where I want to go from here as a librarian, and I suspect I’ll probably be writing about that in months to come – for example, the next logical step “up” from where I am now is (eek) management, but “up” is certainly not the only direction there is (I’m secretly hoping that, like a quark, my next position will be “charmed”).

Later this week, the post-play on the presentation I’m giving tomorrow, coupled with some thoughts on the diplomatic art of setting boundaries and saying “no.”

Tech Playground Videos. Also, resiliency.

If you’d like to see some of the footage we shot at the Technology Playground program, check out the CLP YouTube channel. The wizards in our Communication and Creative Services department are going to edit footage from these into one longer video, to show our legislators just how much of an impact the library has on Pittsburghers’ lives.

If you’re pressed for time, try just watching this one. It’s my favorite because it’s short and poignant:

In other news, t’s nearly 5 p.m., which is the time of day when I, as a morning person, have long since scaled the top of BrokeBrain Mountain and am once again contemplating goatherding for a living. So I reread Beth M.’s wonderful slideshow on resiliency, and got some much-needed fortification. Honesty forces me to admit that I also got a cup of coffee and a chocolate peanut-butter brownie from our cafe on the ground floor, but you go with what works. :)

But, I digress: I don’t think we can talk about resiliency enough, because–and I fear I’m starting to repeat myself, or enter a recursive loop, or something–public service is hard, hard work. And yet, it’s not something we talk about much in library world. I’m not sure why.

Of course, occasionally people do. In a conversation taking place elsewhere in the blogosphere, concerning librarians who talk smack about their patrons online, a commenter who identifies simply as “Sarah” has this to say:

The actual underlying problem here, the big elephant in the profession is that public service is becoming increasingly more stressful and the divide between those who do it on a regular basis and those who don’t is becoming increasingly wider (just like the wage gap). The profession isn’t dealing with it but instead issues statements, documents, and all sorts of meaningless stuff castigating those who supposedly can’t deal with “change”. People will talk, and vent, period. If they don’t have any constructive help in dealing with the stress, and if there isn’t respectful two-way communication, and if they are crapped on for their public service skills by those who don’t want to realize that there are also INTERNAL customers to be served, then this will just continue. Most people don’t get pats on the back for being “so 2.0″ when they are doing their job, over and over again. How about making sure that public service people have the resources they need to do their jobs – after all, they are customers of library management. Would they take their business elsewhere if they could? So instead of getting all snotty about “negative energy” and customer service, how about cross-training yourselves to ensure that public service people can get off desk and take vacations? How about designing jobs which are 50/50? I’ve had an offer out for 25 years that, if anyone has a problem with my public service skills, they can do my job for a week and I can watch and take notes on how a REAL professional does it. Nobody has yet taken me up on my offer.

I wish Sarah had included an e-mail address, so I could thank her personally for her honesty and bravery. It’s not cool to snark about patrons online, anonymously or otherwise, if only because everybody really is always doing the best they can. However, it is also decidedly not cool for us as professionals to turn on each other during these horribly stressful times when we all need each other more than ever. Librarians should be helping each other out, supporting each other, not taking each other to task in their blogs.

My opinions on this matter are heavily colored by the recent news of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 850, which pretty much ambushes library service in a dark alley, takes its wallet and credit cards, and then beats the living snot out of it. You can read the specifics here, but the paragraph that made me sick to my stomach was this one:

Library programs under S.B. 850 are hit hard. The Public Library Subsidy would be cut 50% to $37 million. The Library Access line (POWER Library, statewide borrowing, interlibrary delivery) would cease operations as this year’s $7 million appropriation would drop to zero. The Electronic Library Catalog (Ask Here PA, Access PA database) would have only $1.7 million next year compared to this year’s total of $3.7 million. Funding for the State Library (50% cut to $2.4 million) and Library Services for the Visually Impaired and Disabled (2% cut to $2.9 million) are the same in both the Governor‘s proposal
and the Senate Republican bill.

Emphasis mine. These are only possibilities, but terrifying ones.

So, resiliency and professional courtesy become more important than ever now. If we do not hang together, well…you know how it goes. Here’s hoping we can all look past our own cares and worries for a few moments and take time to check in on our peers, see if they need a sympathetic ear, a cup of tea, a walk around the building for a private vent session…

Tomorrow and Friday are kind of eaten up with NetLibrary trainings and preparation for a presentation I’m giving next week. I’ve been so busy, I’ve been forced to delegate my next Eleventh Stack post to one of my cats. Those of you who know my cats won’t be too surprised to learn it’s the Smoky grey one who will be doing the guest honors. :)

More next week, probably. Until then, keep the faith…

Fashionably Late to the 23 Things Party

The big day has finally arrived: 23 Things N’@ went live today, and as of right now over 280 people have registered. Not only that, but 44 folks have already started their week one assignment.

You might be wondering why I’m so giddy. After all, didn’t everybody already do this last year, or the year before? Haven’t we all moved on to the next splendid, shiny thing?

Well, no, not so much. Something I’ve tried to point out over the course of this blog (sometimes gently, sometimes not) is that Pittsburgh and Allegheny County are different.  We have power users, but we also have a lot of patrons who are still functioning at a less-than-basic level.  And although the unwritten code of the library blogosphere states that we’re never supposed to say this out loud, sometimes we really are too busy to incorporate emerging technologies into the workday, especially when we’re up to our eyeballs in reference questions that require multiple trips to the stacks, and simply cannot be answered in 48 hours or less.

[Yes, that means I haven't checked our Twitter account today.  I shall hold out my wrist for the wet noodle-lashing I so richly deserve. It also means I'm willing to put my MLIS on the line that the Stravinsky question I spent two days working on could NOT be easily Googled. :)]

What that means is that, professionally, we’ve really had to slow down and think about what Library 2.0 means in a patron population where there are still a lot of 1.0 needs to fill.  As librarians, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves in all areas, which is why Team Celery Stick worked so hard to pull this off.  However, we also have a responsibility to make sure that, while we are leaping boldly forward, that there is No Pittsburgher Left Behind.

So, while I still like the image of us sauntering in the room a little bit late (clad, of course, in our fetching little Chanel suits that we scored at the thrift store on Ellsworth), I prefer to think of us as being right on time for ourselves and our patron needs.  If we’d done this when everybody else did, we would’ve deprived ourselves of the year of discussion and debate around these issues.  Now that we’re ready to move forward, I honestly can’t see anyone or anything stopping us.

Those of you who have never visited our fair city might be wondering what’s up with the ‘n@” part of 23 Things.  ” N’at” is a lovely little phrase peculiar to the Pittsburgh speech pattern, and I couldn’t begin to explain it to you if I tried.  You can, however, click here and here for, respectively, a scholarly and a fun explanation of why there’s no linguistic place on the planet quite like Allegheny County. :)

At any rate, while the program is going on, this blog is going to be quite Things-centric, but I promise I’ll try to write about other stuff too. See you later this week…


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