Chris Zammarelli

The Sounds of Library Science

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Forever to Him You’re Tied

Last month, in the introductory post to my Library Day In the Life series, I wrote, “The longer I have been at this job, the more I’ve struggled to do connect what I do with what librarians do in general … this is an opportunity for me to lay out what I do and then see where it all fits into the broader profession.”

Since then I went to Computers In Libraries, which came after a particularly intense stretch during which I was focused on one specific aspect of my job. I needed some time to decompress.  (Sort of. I mean, I did check my BlackBerry a lot.)

Computers In Libraries gave me a chance to hear from and talk to my peers and learn about what they were doing. I recognized aspects of my job in these presentations and conversations and I could relate to a lot of what I saw.

And it wasn’t just the newfangled stuff (like makerspaces). It was also about the oldfangled stuff (like training). I realized that while I may feel like I am moving into new areas at work, I am still using a lot of my traditional skills. And I am expected to use them.

For better or worse these days, the word librarian means something. I wouldn’t say it’s a dirty word to people outside of the profession, but it is a word that carries some historical weight that some people think of as outdated. Yet those same people still value our ability to train, to research, to bring order out of chaos. They just don’t realize that’s a librarian thing.

And that’s okay. I need to communicate my value, and I think I can do it. Does it mean speaking two different languages, as it were, librarianish and bureaucratish or something like that? Sure, and it’s on me to do the simultaneous translation. I just need to make sure I understand how to translate one into the other.

Computers In Libraries 2016: Day Three – The Newest In New

During his Computers In Libraries presentation on podcasting, Maurice Coleman said of his podcast, “[T Is for Training] has been my professional development. It has been my advanced degree.”

I love that. It reminds me of a quote attributed to Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher: “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” It also dovetails nicely on Stephanie Petruso‘s advice to her staff at Anne Arundel County Public Library that if they come across a new tool or service, they should try it out on their own first to figure out if it is a good fit for the library.

It seems odd to me that my biggest takeaway from a professional conference that the best professional development often comes from just trying stuff out. But I’ve been thinking a lot about alternatives to conferences. I overheard that attendance at Computers In Libraries was down this year. That and the continuing decline of SLA makes me wonder if the conference model is still viable.

(To be fair, a sample of two conference is by no means conclusive, but bear with me here.)

SLA made a big deal in recent years about how it is your own responsibility to tend to your professional development. In other words, you shouldn’t skip the conference just because your employer won’t pay for it. But a $500+ conference, plus transportation and lodging fees and meal costs make a serious dent in any librarian’s bank account. You’re only going to save so much money sharing hotel rooms and pigging out at receptions.

If my professional development truly is my own responsibility, then I am going tend to it responsibly and look for alternatives. I will get active in local associations and leverage my social media connections. I’m going to look for new things to do and play around with them to see what I can learn from them.

I don’t mean to sound so down on Computers In Libraries: it was a terrific conference this year and I learned a lot. (See: the first sentence of this post.) I would be missing out if I found myself in a position where I couldn’t go to it. (Versus just opting not to go to it.)

But my advanced degree curriculum is all around me, not just at conferences. I just need choose my electives wisely.

Computers In Libraries 2016: Day One – Keep It Going Full Steam

The first day of a conference usually feels like a family reunion because there are always a slew of people you only see when you go to a conference. So today was as much a day for catching up with old friends as it was a day for catching up on new trends.

Trendspotting wasn’t really on my agenda today anyway. What I really wanted to spot were ideas that I could bring back to my office. As I mentioned before, my job is not exactly a traditional library job, so I am hoping that I can bridge some gaps this week.

What I learned today is that it is easy to see my place of work as some kind of “special snowflake,” to borrow the words of Jeff Wisniewski during UX Practices & Patterns. But while I may face some unique challenges (“Shoot, when I said Macedonia, did I mean Montenegro?”), I am also facing a lot more challenges that my peers are already attacking head on.

I’ve found it is way too easy form me to dismiss stuff by saying it wouldn’t work where I work. But what would I be expecting, to implement an idea in the exact same way that a conference presenter did at their place of work? Of course not. So what am I really rejecting? Probably the work I would need to do to implement an idea, even though implementation is always the hardest part. I don’t want to say I’m too lazy or too scared, but there has to be some sort of fear-based laziness or laziness-based fear going on here.

So now I have a notepad filled with ideas.  My challenge is to take those ideas and try to make them work. Some of them may come to fruition, some of them may die on the vine, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Also, I may not have eaten enough for dinner. The point is, regardless of how out of touch with the library profession I’ve been feeling, what I am doing is not so unique that I can’t take inspiration from my fellow librarians and run with it.

Computers In Libraries 2016: Kicking It Wall to Wall

I am going to be attending the Computers In Libraries conference next week and I’ve registered to be a conference blogger. It has been a while since I’ve actually attended the conference (versus just meet friends for lunch while they are in town for the conference) and I am really looking forward to it.

I packed my schedule with sessions, but I know from experience that I will probably not attend all of them. This is not meant as a slight to presenters, but sessions sometimes are not as interesting as network opportunities. If I get involved in a good conversation with someone, I am not likely to cut our discussion short to rush off to a session.

In the past when I’ve blogged at conference, I’ve usually taken a reporter’s approach: take notes, take pictures, write up a summary, and pray that the quotes are accurate. That’s not my plan for next week though. To be sure, I will be taking lots of notes as I am expected to report back to the office when Computers In Libraries is done. But I plan to take a more impressionistic approach to the conference, looking for themes and talking about the conversations I have while I’m there. I really just want to capture the vibe.

I have to admit that I’ve not been particularly enthusiastic about going to any conference for a while (PTPL Annual Meeting excepted). The expense and the planning had kind of worn me down. To be honest, I wasn’t planning to go to Computers In Libraries until just a few weeks ago. I knew that sales reps from two of the electronic resources providers we work with were going to be in town, so it made sense to attend.

But the more I thought about it, the more excited I was to go.  Granted, daily access to Dolcezza had a lot to do with that excitement.

By coincidence, I happened upon an article by Abbie Digel on Syracuse’s Information Space blog called “Why you need to go to a library conference.” It’s addressing library school students, but it could also be targeted towards jaded old-timey librarian types like me. It helped me take a step back and remember why I liked going to conferences in the first place.

So if you happen to be at Computers In Libraries next week, I will see you there. Or at Bistrot Du Coin. I love that place too.

Library Day In the Life: 2/26/2016

Today was another telework day and probably the least interesting day of my week. Fridays usually end up being an administrative day, during which I organize files, go through my notes from all the week’s meetings to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, and archive emails that have been completed.

I never aim for an empty email inbox because it’s an unattainable goal. You enjoy an empty inbox for just a few moments until a new email comes in. Instead, I treat my inbox like a task list. Once the tasks have been accomplished, the emails get filed, and if I still have work to do or am still waiting for a reply, the emails stay put. During particularly busy weeks at work, as this one was, a lot of emails that are finished end up lingering until Friday.

When I take notes in meetings, I will put a check box next to things I need to follow up on. I number each page in my note pad and then create a table of contents on the back cover as I go along. Then I put a check box next to the meeting info in the table if I have anything to work on. For example:

24 – Office meeting 2/25/16 [ ]

Although I usually try to complete those tasks as soon after the meetings as I can, the things that don’t seem urgent will usually be ignored until the end of the week.

I also write up a telework report using Google Docs for my boss, which is part of my telework agreement. I started to write an onsite work report as well, less for my boss and more for me to keep track of what I’m doing while I’m in the office. There are no tasks in them, but I review them to check on the week’s progress.

Like I said, Friday is not usually the most exciting day of my week. But it’s a good day to take stock and get ready for what’s to come on Monday.

That concludes my Library Day In the Life project for the week. I hope it was interesting. I’m planning to come back to this in a week or two as I start working on my original goal of seeing where or if all this fits into librarianship as a whole.

Until then, cheers!

Library Day In the Life: 2/25/2016

The Office of American Spaces in Washington is comprised of foreign service officers, civil servants, and contractors. Foreign service officers serve stints in Washington like any other post, so one of the guarantees is that change is going to be a constant. People come and go so quickly here.

Even so, the amount of change we are about to go through feels a bit overwhelming. Retirements are pending, tours are ending, and other opportunities have presented themselves. The Office I work in now is different from the office I worked in six months ago, but it is going to be really different six months from now.

Couple that with a new Administration and the whole Department is going to be very different this time next year. Our Bureau is lead by a political appointee who has said he is sticking around until the end of the President’s term. Depending on how the election turns out, maybe we can expect him to stay, but in reality, a new President usually means new people.

We engage in public diplomacy in our Office and the message about the United States we present to the world will be altered when the new Administration starts. To be sure, we stick to certain themes about the United States that sell well abroad: English language learning, business and entrepreneurship, American culture, and science and technology. But each Bureau leader puts a different stamp on how we present our message.

I’ve worked in libraries for over twenty years now and the profession has undergone unprecedented change in that time. The technology we have used in that time has evolved even more quickly. It’s hard to feel settled in this day and age because things happens so fast it feels almost impossible to keep up.

You can change or you can resist change, but the world will change anyway. Someone’s wise old grandmother said that in a clickbait article my wife read a few months ago. Darned if I can find it, so I guess I’ll just reference Stephen Sondheim again: “Stop worrying where you’re going, move on.”

I look at what I’m doing now at work and compare it to what I was doing when I started. There are a few constants, but so much of it is different. I wouldn’t change a minute of it.


Library Day In the Life: 2/24/2016

Yesterday was a telework day and given the rain and the tweets from Metro about Red Line delays, I was happy to be home.

My routine hasn’t changed too much since the last time I wrote about telecommuting, but I’ve added a second telework day to my work week and I’ve gotten used to the additional tools that the Bureau has added to our arsenal of software.

I’ve thought about adding a third telework day, but to be honest, two is about right. It’s hard enough to schedule meetings around our Office without trying to cram them into the two days I would be in Washington.

Conference room space is limited (more than usual as there is construction on a couple of the floors in our office building right now) and people’s schedules are even more limited. Stuff like Slack and Basecamp could be used to bridge that gap, but I feel like it has been hard to articulate that to everyone.

I can be wherever my co-workers can be: on Slack, on Basecamp, on email, on Lync, around our water cooler. Be where the users are, right? But having a glut of communication options can make it harder to communicate, only because people are probably going to stick with the tools they are most comfortable with. Some folks have embraced the new stuff and some folks stick the old stuff.

So if I want to use Basecamp for a project, and no one else on the project is really using it, then I need to decide if I should push for it or try to find another way to organize the project. If I push for it, I need to come up with a strategy to explain why I think it’s the best tool for the job, and I’ve been struggling with that. If only I could get a meeting scheduled to talk to everyone about it!


One last note: we got lucky yesterday when the SharePoint developer who designed the workflow and the email template that we needed to update took some time out of her schedule to fix it for us. When I get into the office today, I can test it out and we can get those emails sent out and everyone in the world will be happy. My heart is full of music now!

Library Day In the Life: 2/23/2016

Yesterday was a weirdly stressful day, and as usual, I exhibited that stress by talking non-stop. I am aware I am babbling on as I am doing it, yet I can’t seem to control myself. I’m sure Fast Company has written a thousand articles on how to shut up, so once I finish this post, I’m going to do some research.

The thing is, in hind sight, it shouldn’t really have been stressful. I had to finish up the regional reports I had been working on. During our team meeting, I found out that I was racing to finish the wrong report; I had it in my head that there was a meeting with one region yesterday, but it was actually a different region. I had plenty of time to finish, but I still jumped into panic mode.

After our meeting, we met at a colleague’s desk to test out a SharePoint workflow that we needed to execute. This workflow would automatically generate an email that would provide a status update to users who made a request to our Office using a SharePoint form. We just had to update a few fields in a list, click on a couple of buttons, and then WOOSH the email would be sent out.

The problem started when one of my colleagues noticed that the fields in the list we needed to update didn’t match the fields in the original request form. I know enough about SharePoint at this point to fix that easily. But the bigger issue turned out to be that editing those fields did not update the template of the email. I have access to SharePoint Designer and SharePoint InfoPath, but I am relatively new to those programs, so I could not for the life of me figure out how to fix the template.

The template was designed by SharePoint developers who, unfortunately for us,  have since left for other jobs. They’ve been nice enough to answer questions from us from time to time, but we can’t expect them to reply to our requests for help on a regular basis.

So I went back to my boss with an update and apologies. Of course, she had a back-up plan in mind. I am not saying I was stressed out for nothing, but I will say that I got so into the weeds trying to resolve the problem in front of me that I didn’t take a step back to think about the other options that were available. Fortunately, when I can’t solve a problem, there’s always someone else in our Office who can.

Now if I can just clam up long enough to hear what they have to say.

Library Day In the Life: 2/22/2016

Yesterday was about how difficult knowledge management can be.

Some quick background: I work as a contractor for the Office of American Spaces, which supports the corps of Information Resource Officers and the American Spaces program. American Spaces are a network of over 700 U.S. embassy-based libraries, U.S. government-run resource centers, State-affiliated English language schools, and partnerships with local libraries and other institutions to promote U.S. culture and society.

One of the ways we support the Spaces is through funding. The Office embarked on a project a couple of years ago to increase funding for a handful of Spaces so they could redesign work areas, upgrade equipment, add wi-fi, and accomplish other general renovation tasks.

My boss asked me to compile reports about the status of these renovations that she can give out in meeting with other offices. Nothing too detailed, just a snapshot of how the renovations are going with some supporting documents to give a flavor of what is changing and what has been completed.

So yesterday, I printed up a bunch of stuff, three-hole punched them, and put them in binders.

Okay, there was more to it than that, and this brings me back to my point about knowledge management. I needed to gather all the information we wanted to include. Each bit of information was stashed in a different place across three separate folders on a shared hard drive, three separate sections of a SharePoint intranet site, notes fields and attachments in our contact management resource, and in floods and floods of emails.

Given how the project has developed and changed since we started, it’s actually pretty easy to see how we ended up with places all over the place. One folder became the dominant folder and one SharePoint section became the dominant location on the intranet. Much of the older information never moved to the most popular locations and sometimes new information ended up in the older locations.

Then there is the task of capturing the information in the emails. Key bits of information can be casually thrown into correspondence and it can be surprisingly hard to disseminate that information to everyone. But it’s actually not hard to find someone who knows what’s going on in any given place. We have our experts in the IRO corps and we have our field experts in Washington. So I just need to know who to ask and how to ask.

The thing is, systematically collecting what everyone knows would be a huge undertaking in the best of circumstances, so we get information when we get it. Which is why I try not to ask, “Why didn’t someone tell me that before?” Instead I ask, “Okay, now that we know that, where do we put it?”

The main thing I often need to remind myself is that there is no mythical perfect resource to do manage all of this. I can complain that the contact management resource is flawed or SharePoint is flawed, and I can talk about how we need to have that one perfect thing to handle it all. But waiting for a unicorn to arrive is not productive. We can use the tools we need now and at least make them functional enough and manageable enough to accomplish what we need while we try to find something that can do the job better. And if a unicorn shows up, great.

But in the meantime, the first thing I need to do is get all of this stuff into as few well-marked boxes as possible.

Library Day In the Life

Next week, I am going to be writing a series of Library Day In the Life posts. It’s not necessarily out of a sense of nostalgia for biblioblogsphere days past, although I suppose that is part of it.

But I was inspired by something Bobbi Newman wrote when she introduced the original project back in 2008 (and that she referenced in the post announcing the end of the project):

If I post about this and get others to do it too, it will allow librarians to share amongst ourselves (our positions are changing so rapidly) and also to let the public know what we do.

Jumping off from that, I want to write about what I am doing as a librarian in a non-library environment. I’ve always found it hard to describe what I do to other librarians, and my previous attempts in participating in this project focused too much on minutiae and less on the broader context of my work.

The longer I have been at this job, the more I’ve struggled to do connect what I do with what librarians do in general. While I do have certain traditional library duties (electronic resources management, for example), I also do a lot that falls into the “hey I didn’t learn this in library school” category. And, to be honest, a lot of what I read in library magazines and journals goes over my head these days. So this is an opportunity for me to lay out what I do and then see where it all fits into the broader profession.

My other goal in doing this project relates to personal productivity. I am a bit obsessed with articles about productivity, even though I think about three quarters of them are bunk. But there is one bit of advice that comes up frequently that I can relate to:

You can even build time for unconscious thought into your schedule. Ellevest founder Sallie Krawcheck blocks out the first 90 minutes of her day for that purpose. “I head to the kitchen, get a cup of coffee, and sit in front of the computer and just start writing,” she says.

“I tend to wake up with ideas, and I try to get them all out of my head and written down before my conscious mind starts to censor itself.” The point isn’t to mine for brilliance, just to shake everything loose and sort through it later.

10 Expert Tips To Be More Productive In 2016
Fast Company, 12/31/2015

I want to get into the habit of writing every day to help me get a better handle on everything I have on my plate at work. If I get my thoughts in order first thing in the morning, I can set an informal agenda for my day.

So that’s what I aim to accomplish next week. Of course, there’s always a chance that a random snowstorm will shut down DC, so you may find that by the middle of the week my posts are more about Mario Kart and playing board games with my son. I will probably struggle to connect Alhambra to what I learned in library school, though.

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