Another change-related post, go where the things are broken

Meredith has some good things to say about dealing with change averse organizations. I particularly like reading what she has to say because 1) I work with many people who are culturally similar in terms of technology, so I learn from her and sympathize with her trials at her job, and also 2) I think sometimes analyzing what isn’t working is a better way to learn than just to celebrate what works and keep doing it.

I believe I’ve said this before, but one of the hardest things for me about working in the library/non-profit world is that when you work directly with patrons/clients, there’s often a teach-the-teacher aspect, either overtly or not. So, while I love working with librarians and patrons directly and helping them learn, there is often an organizational expectation that whatever I do can be transmuted into some sort of learning module or training program that can then be given to other librarians or educators who can take it and run with it like I run with it. In my two year outreach librarian contract as well as my first year of AmeriCorps, this was a stated expectation.

And yet, some of the things that make me effective can’t be put into an outline or taught in a class and I struggle with this frequently, as I’m sure Meredith does. I’m very good at my job in no small part because I’m ME. I’m enthusiastic and my enthusiasm is infectious. I’m supportive and even if I find that I can’t do something, my approach is “Well, let’s learn it together.” I have the patience of a saint and can tell when people come to drop in time mainly because they just want someone to talk to. I believe in what I do and I’m confident in my abilities and my approach, enough so that I’ll happily debate them with people, to a point. I can give someone else the slides for my basic email class, and they can watch me teach it, but they can’t be me teaching it and this is where things break down.

I’m in Brooklyn working on an article about technostress. It’s a little weird to walk out the door and see people who look and talk like me, hundreds of them. Where I live, this is not the case. However, where I live, there’s a need for people like me to help people not like me do things with computers, and libraries. People like me tend not to go to places like Central Vermont, or if they do, they don’t stay. This is one of the reasons why I am there, but it is also one of the reasons that it’s hard for me, and sometimes lonely, and frequently frustrating. I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think large-scale change — bringing a computer into your life or your library — isn’t going to be frustrating or difficult. I think the part we also need to remember is that it can be worth it, and then we need to learn to explain why.

freedom to share, social software and your library

I have no idea how Meredith writes as much and as cogently as she does. As I have been sputtering around thinking about DOPA, she’s helping solve the problem. Remember how I said you really need to learn about this social software thing, before they make laws that you don’t understand about tools you’ve never used? Go, right now, and read her well thought out and well-researched post about Libraries and Social Networking Software. If you’re on facebook or myspace, look me up and poke me.

ALA – value vs. return

My last Council meeting as an At Large Councilor is in New Orleans. When I’m at home, I say “Good riddance!” but when I’m in Council meetings, especially if something worthwhile is happening that I feel a part of, I feel proud to serve. The committment to service is one of the things that I really enjoy about my membership in ALA, but I think that’s more about me and my priorities than ALA. ALA gives me a good place to be a helper at a national level. Meredith was over for dinner last weekend and we talked about ALA, among other things. I can’t say that’s what sparked this long and passionate post of hers about ALA [with some follow-up by Dorothea here] , but I know that some of the topics ring very true to me as well. My issues in specific are what I perceive to be the relatively lax standards in library school accreditation and the misrepresentation of the current job market both of which are contributing to a glutted market and a lot of fresh-out-of-school students who are having a hard time finding work at the same time as ALA is hiking their dues by 30% over three years.

And, of course, the web site. I completely accept the “Mistakes were made.” reasoning for why the site is the way it is. What I don’t understand is the absolute lack of anyone seeming to try to make it better, now. Basic things like shorter URLs, accessbility issues like ALT and title tags, and clearer navigation don’t need to wait for a redesign to be slowly added and implemented site-wide. We’re still seeing URLs like this one for one of the main pages on the site, broken links like the ones down the side of this page (B Roll, Downloadable Photos, Contacts, Feedback) and a 404 page that refers to the “new” website and instructs you to email someone who will get back to you within a week. The Member and Customer Service center link in the footer to a sitemap page and the FAQ (which you can get to by going to ala.org/faq, but the “cite this page” link says otherwise) talks about the next conference occurring in January 2006. ALA does a lot of things right, don’t get me wrong, but their sites seem designed and populated with content by people who do not use the web. When PayPal is the dominant way of paying for things online, the ALA Online Donation form looks like this. Library 2.0 is all about continual feedback and improvement, not this sort of “let’s make a list of everything that’s wrong and fix it when we do the redesign.” It’s not normal for a lot of library professionals to be continually evaluating and tweaking, but that’s what maintaining always-on presence requires.

The question remains, how to you serve a completely diverse group of information professionals, some of whom don’t even own a computer and others who maintain elaborate online communities and are involved in creating the next generation of library technology? I have no idea. I can sort of gesture in an “Ug, ug.” way and point to who I think is doing it right, and similarly indicate who I think is doing things wrong. I can join governing bodies and try to put in my $.02 and hope that I see change in my lifetime. I live in a rural area, I’m not against change coming slowly. On the other hand, when you know change comes slowly and you see the lumbering steamship that is ALA coming to a fork in the road and teeter on the brink of, say, another bad website design, or more public statements about the librarian shortage, well I just feel that I have to say something.

advice on library school and learning technologies

Meredith and Jenny have both posted very astute summaries of technology competencies that either are or should be required for incoming professionals to the librarianship field. Meredith focuses on what you should think about learning while you’re at school and Jenny adapts a list of skills for educators into her 20 Technology Skills Every Librarian Should Have list. Not a surprise that there is more than a little overlap between these lists. If you’re already out of school and in the field, think of this as a laundry list of opportunities for professional development, or catalysts for librarian skillshares.

first days of ALA

It’s been really great seeing all the activity at ALA. Attendance seems to be up from last year and the convention center, though far from everything, is a nice place to comfortably hold over 10,000 people. Here is a photo of most of them as they listened to Barack Obama yesterday. Here’s a quickie rundown of some things I’ve been doing:

  • Membership meeting has a quorum, which was immensely gratifying. There were a little under 200 people there. They introduced and passed a Resolution on the Connection between Iraq and Libraries which spoke to the incredible disruptions both culturally and economically of the ill-supported invasion and occupation of Iraq. My chapter councilor Trina Magi spoke to the resolution and it again made me happy to say “rah rah Vermont!”
  • Went to a Radical Reference meeting in the Chicago Temple. They have over 180 volunteers now and even though I’m only tangentially involved, it’s great to see that project growing and remaining useful even after the immediate task of doing street reference at the RNC is behind them.
  • I got to meet incoming ALA President Leslie Burger and just-about president Michael Gorman at back-to-back events on Friday. I think Leslie is going to bring some really interesting panache and energy to the ALA presidency. She talked about turning ALA into an “army of 65,000″ to really make libraries relevant to people, and useful to themselves. Michael seems to be speaking for himself just fine lately, but I have to say that blog comments aside I’m interested to see what his connections and dedication to traditional scholarship mean for the direction of his presidential term.
  • The PLA Blog has been getting a lot of good commentary, though it still needs to crawl its way up the Google rankings [so link to the PLA Blog]
  • The LITA blog is up, running, and really a great looking and well thought out contribution to the profession. I really hope that both of these blogs, contrasted with blogs like mine, Eli’s, Andrea’s Meredith’s and all the others, will show people the wide range of what blogging does, and how it’s just a medium for delivering all sorts of content.
  • On a related note, it’s been great having people come up to me, say hello, say they read this blog and tell me [sometimes] about theirs. ALA for me is all about meeting people and passing the introductions around.

Last night Eli and Laura and I went in search of a place to watch the fireworks from. We were heading to Andrea’s, but I’d confused the Hyatt with the Hilton and we were in the wrong one. We went into McCormick figuring there had to be some lakefront space somewhere and wound up wandering through a completely empty convention center that was sparsely staffed by some sleepy guards. We wound up on some outdoor deck area, far away from everyone, where we could just make out sounds of the band [Chicago?] and had an unimpeded view of the explosions over the lake. It was a high point of an otherwise already excellent day.

Today I’ll just be hanging out at the McCormick Center and the Hyatt, doing governance work and hopefully having enough energy to hang out and have a good time with the bloggers at the shindig tonight.

congrats meredith!

Now it can be told: Meredith from Information Wants to be Free, and the ALA Wiki, is going to be my new [sort of] neighbor. She’s moving to Vermont to become a Distance Learning Librarian. We got to meet her and her husband this past week, and I’m really looking forward to having another tech-savvy librarian to pal around with.