Chris Zammarelli

The Sounds of Library Science

Be Who You Are

It’s been 10 years since I received my MLS from Maryland. Much of what I learned in library school has been supplanted by the progress of time, the faster progress of technology, and my ever-evolving duties at work. Like, does anyone still use AACR2?

It’s also been seven years since I took my current job. I was hired as a Cataloging and Metadata Specialist, but my title now is Program Evaluation, Applied Technology & Information Resource Contractor. It’s a bit of a mouthful and I am hoping we can make it more succinct on my next work order. But it does reflect how my job has evolved since 2010.

I probably have been a bit too over-eager to pick up new duties. My supervisors worry about burnout and, given my bouts of anxiety, I can understand where they are coming from. I can get overwhelmed and only manage the most humdrum tasks while I recover. Although proofreading spreadsheets is surprisingly relaxing.

But I am also happy to take on new projects because they keep me on my toes and keep me from being too complacent. (Not that it’s easy to be complacent these days.) They also give me new perspective on what I already do and inspire new ways to think about the tasks I already have.

It is easy for me to get bogged down in minutiae and worn down by day-to-day frustrations. I never want to lose sight of the fact that I am lucky to have the job that I have. Is it the same job I took in 2010? Nope, but I don’t mind one bit.

The Future Fades Away Too Fast

Did I just spend the better part of a week building a blogroll?

Yes. Yes I did.

I was feeling nostalgic for the days when librarian blogs were the newest in new, especially after reading Meredith Farkas’ terrific post, “Wayfinding and balance at mid-career.” It’s the type of thoughtful writing that blogs are made for. I risk sounding like an old fogey here, but a Twitter thread wouldn’t have done the subject justice.

My nostalgia was fueled further by reading “Small b blogging” by Tom Critchlow:

I think most people would be better served by subscribing to small b blogging. What you want is something with YOUR personality. Writing and ideas that are addressable (i.e. you can find and link to them easily in the future) and archived (i.e. you have a list of things you’ve written all in one place rather than spread across publications and URLs) and memorable (i.e. has your own design, logo or style). Writing that can live and breathe in small networks. Scale be damned.

Librarian blogs never were what he calls “big B blogging,” the type of blogs whose posts would populate Digg’s front page. Even if we sometimes made a splash on a site like Metafilter, we were always writing for a niche audience. You know, librarian blog people.

I lament that an era has passed where something like the Carnival of the Infosciences could thrive. More often than not, the blogs featured in the Carnival archives are either gone or long dormant. Hell, I contributed to the detritus myself.

So I hope that Critchlow is right and small b blogging is the wave of the future. Then the conditions would be right for the biblioblogosphere to grow again. Maybe I’m an old, sentimental fool, but I’ve got to keep writing just in case.


Just over 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a two-week study tour of Germany’s federal and state libraries. The tour was sponsored by the Initiative Fortbildung für wissenschaftliche Spezialbibliotheken und verwandte Einrichtungen e. V. and the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation. I was the webmaster for SLA’s Government Information Division at the time and was recommended for the tour by DGI’s then-chair Peggy Garvin.

I was still in graduate school at the time, but it was a pivotal moment in my professional career. Among the participants on the tour were Eileen Deegan from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Information Resources and Fran Perros from State’s Ralph Bunche Library. I stayed in touch with them after the tour (which was easy to do since I served as DGI’s chair-elect when Eileen was chair). Three years after the tour, they recommended me for a contract position at the Office of Information Resources. The office is now called the Office of American Spaces, but I have been there ever since.

While on the tour, I met with an Information Resource Officer named Sheila Weir. It was the first time I knew that there was such a thing as a foreign service librarian. (Or Regional Public Engagement Specialist, as they are now called. We like to change the names of things at State.) While I never did run off to join the foreign service like I thought I was going to, I am at least happy enough to live vicariously through the FSOs I work with now. Sheila eventually became my supervisor in the Office of American Spaces, because it’s a small world and Washington, DC is a small town.

Anyway, before the tour started, Dr. Curtis Rogers started up a blog to share information ahead of the trip. He was nice enough to make me an editor. I wrote recaps of the tour for my old website, but I eventually moved those recaps to the group blog. I had embedded photos from my old Flickr account into my posts. When I took the Flickr account down, I inadvertently broke all the photos on the site. So I spent some time this weekend uploading the photos to the blog. What can I say, I will look for any excuse to look through old photo albums. And old blog posts.

By the way, one of my favorite photos I took on the trip is the one to the left. It is a surfer in the Isar River. There was a bridge we walked over when we were heading to the Bavarian Parliament, and it just so happened that this spot acted like a little wave pool in the river. There were a group of surfers hanging out there and, fitting into certain German stereotypes, a couple of them had no problem changing out of their wetsuits in front of everyone.

I’ve wanted to go back to Germany ever since, particularly to Berlin. Outside of layovers in Frankfurt and Munich, I haven’t had the chance yet. At some point I need to, though, because the t-shirt I bought at the Ramones Museum isn’t getting any newer.

We Want Qualitative Information

I am quite desperate for a way to manage and analyse qualitative data.

My main job task at work is managing quantitative data. If it’s a number we can plug into a spreadsheet, I know how to collect it. There is plenty of room for improvement and, to be honest, I am cursing the fact that I didn’t pay more attention in my Access class in grad school. But generally speaking, I have a good handle on the types of quantitative data we collect, the flaws and the needed improvements to our processes and to our datasets, and the ways we can use that data to tell our story to whoever asks.

But we have access to all sorts of qualitative data as well. For example:

  • Reports from foreign service officers;
  • Cables from posts;
  • Reports submitted to an internal reporting system;
  • Posts in the community forum on our website;
  • Posts in our Facebook group;
  • Newsletters and other activity reports that are either sent to us directly or shared via our email lists.

All of this is spread out over a variety of disconnected locations. We have troves of information stashed in mattresses all over our house and seemingly no good way to tie it all together.

So that is my holy quest: to research and compile ideas for managing qualitative data and figure out how best to implement those ideas. I am told that it better not just result in a word cloud.

Promise Me No Promises

If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I shouldn’t write mission statements or apologies or anything when I inevitably try to revive my blog. I’ve got almost 20 years of broken promises cluttering up my website.

I am aware that I am 44 words into my first blog post in just over six months and I am already drowning in self-loathing. It’s a thing that I do.

The thing is, this week is LIS Mental Health Week, and that is what inspired me to pick up the blog up again. I am working on managing my anxiety, so I would like to share a checklist that I devised to help me out.

  • Determine and prioritize goals
  • Block out time in a calendar to work on tasks
  • Make a daily mood check to assess how I am feeling
  • Write a daily diary entries or other forms of writing (blog posts, poems, etc.)
  • Do something enjoyable
  • Beware of the drink when stressed or depressed
  • No devices at bedtime
  • Deep breathing when struggling to fall asleep
  • Doodle more
  • Separate what you can control from what you cannot control

It’s not perfect and I am not perfect at sticking to it. (Boy, do I ignore that “no devices at bedtime” suggestion.) But frequently re-reading the list has been helping me get through my daily grind.

I have also taken to heart something I read by Tammi Kollinger on the Bullet Journal blog: “Humans are messy and make mistakes.” In my mind, it is a corollary of the Cult of Done Manifesto. I should tape it to the wall and re-read it every time my creative destruction tendencies creep up again.

Scrawled Down On a Cocktail Napkin

I am going through old notes, long-deleted blog posts, and various weirdly-titled docs on my hard drive to generate ideas for the blog, for work, and for whatever else may come my way. I’m a habitual note-taker, so I figure I have a lot of stuff to write about if I can just extract it from my notebooks. And also read my own writing.

I’m just getting started, but I wanted to share a couple of things I scrawled down during the 2016 Computers In Libraries conference. These are both good guiding credos for this site moving forward.

1. Always communicate your value. It is not self-evident.

I had a colleague once complain to me that I shouldn’t have to justify the costs of research databases in our budget because everyone knows how important they are. But that’s not true. Every librarian knows that, but we are not everyone. We are not our users and we are not our stakeholders. We cannot assume that everyone values what we do, so we need to explain our importance in a succinct and memorable way.

2. Keep it clean and make it findable.

If there is any sort of sweeping, broad statement that we can make about our users, it is that they just want to know where they need to go to accomplish what they want to do. It is our job to make that as easy as possible. And they will expect that from us, because we communicated our value to them.

A Post About Slack That Isn’t Really About Slack

There used to be a website called Meebo. It was a web-based instant messaging system that could be integrated with AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, and other IM systems. Users had the option to create their own rooms, which allowed groups of folks to chat in one place at the same time.

Meebo was a terrific little website. Then one day in 2012, Google bought it. Google integrated the Meebo team with its Google+ team, then quietly closed Meebo up.

There also used to be a website called FriendFeed. You could hook it up to all of your various social media accounts and blogs and so forth and all those accounts would feed into your FriendFeed account. You and your friends would be able to see and comment on everything you were populating the web with.

Over time, the function of collecting posts from your sundries became less important than just posting stuff directly into FriendFeed and talking with your friends and followers about it.

FriendFeed was a terrific little website. Then one day in 2009, Facebook bought it. Facebook took whatever code it needed for its Newsfeed feature and… well, let FriendFeed continue to exist. Gradually, FriendFeed began to deteriorate: features would stop working and the site would sometimes go down for awhile. For six years, FriendFeed users felt like it was not long for the world, but it only closed up shop in 2015.

Which brings me to Slack. The bureau I work for licensed Slack a couple of years ago with an eye towards improving telework. The idea our Bureau’s leadership had was that we would use Slack to get quick responses to short questions and to converse with coworkers about projects rather than bogging down inboxes with emailed conversations or interrupting a telework day with unnecessary phone calls.

At first, I didn’t really get it. I have been teleworking regularly for years, so I already had a routine down. (In other words, I’m a bit stubborn.)

And then light dawned on Marblehead: Slack is like a combination of Meebo and FriendFeed, except for work. It takes a lot of what I liked about Meebo (channels here instead of rooms) and a lot of what I liked about FriendFeed (integration with other resources, private group discussions and archived direct messaging) and packages it up for a work environment.

Granted, it lacks things I liked about Meebo and especially FriendFeed: for example, the threaded conversations in FriendFeed were unique in a way that even Slack’s threads don’t quite capture. But once I made the connections between resources I had used before to this resource, I could start to think about ways I could work it into my job.

The lesson here is that everything you have learned informs everything that you are going to learn. Just making some simple parallels can be the cognitive breakthrough you need to understand how something works and how it can work for you.

Things That Might Go Click With Me

I have to admit that my mind is a bit of a swirl right now. It’s hard to explain why yet, but perhaps I am dropping hints below. Or I am just summarizing three interesting reading materials that I recently pored through.

Tanya Golash-Boza. “Writing a Literature Review: Six Steps to Get You from Start to FinishWiley Exchanges (2015).

Golash-Boza lists steps to help dissertation writers organize and write their literature reviews. The post summarizes the literature review section of Sonja Foss and William Walters’ book Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation.

Katherine Brown and Chris Hensman (editors). “Data Driven Public Diplomacy: Progress Towards Measuring the Impact of Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting Activities (PDF)” U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: Reports (2014).

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy report names five areas of public diplomacy evaluation at the U.S. Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors that need to be changed and makes recommendations on how to modernize and systemize evaluation in those areas.

Kylie Hutchinson. “The Demise of the Lengthy Report.” AEA365 (2017).

Hutchinson describes how “layering” (her term) data into different types of reporting formats, such as newsletters, infographics, presentations, et cetera, can expland the value of data, extend its reach, and replace an ominous final report. The post is a bit of a promo of Hutchinson’s new book, but it also succinctly encourages you to think about different ways to present your data to different audiences.

Where Do I Begin?

Here is as clear a mission statement for this blog as you are going to get:

This blog will explore how librarians use data to understand audiences and improve services.

What does that specifically mean? I don’t know. We’ll see.

To start, I’ve written brief summaries of a few articles and reports that have been influential in my work over the past six months or so.

Pip Christie. “Are Librarians Becoming Data Analysts?Vable (2016).

Christie points to potential opportunities librarians have to market themselves as data analysts and discusses ways to use data analysis tools to one’s advantage. Useful from the perspective of identifying ways librarians can put their skills to use in new ways.

Mahesh Kelkar, et al. “Data-driven Decision Making In Government.” Deloitte Center for Government Insights (2016).

A team from Deloitte Center for Government Insights describes best practices in U.S. government data-driven decision-making and outlines techniques government offices can use to improve their analytics capabilities. Really nice report that offers a thoughtful road map for building program evaluation capacity.

Bill Pardi. “If You Want to Be Creative, Don’t Be Data Driven.” Microsoft Design (2017).

Pardi discusses potential problems with being too reliant on data to drive decision-making. Reminiscent of Darrell Huff’s “How to Lie with Statistics.”

One Little Room & the Biggest of Plans

My duties at work have shifted a bit recently. I still have my old duties for now; I’m supposed to be handing them off, but so far I have been pretty terrible at delegation.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to wrap my ahead around what is now on my plate. I have a big project on my hands, and at first glance, I thought my main task would be to tie together seemingly disparate resources. Because of that, I got bogged down in a lot of legacy details and I gave myself a headache trying to sort them all out.

At some point this morning, though, I got fed up with looking at all the minutiae and went for a walk. I wanted to just go outside and dream for awhile. And also buy a crepe.

When I got back to the office, I wrote up a few paragraphs describing the ideal result of the project. I probably missed a few details here and there, but I figure my colleagues will fill them in for me. The point is, I got something down on paper to get the ball rolling and now my path is a bit more clear.

For a long time, I had the Cult of Done Manifesto pinned to a wall in my cube. I took it down because I’ve moved a couple of times in the last few months. I feel like it’s a good time to put it back up.

6. The point of being done is not to finish but
to get other things done.

Crochet that on a pillow.

« Older posts

© 2018 Chris Zammarelli

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑