Friday, May 01, 2015

JP Porcaro for ALA President

My fellow librarians,

Have you voted in the ALA Elections yet? Well, you officially have until 11:59pm tonight (CDT, of course, because the ALA has its headquarters in Chicago) if you haven't. Be sure to vote- you pay more than enough for the privilege of belonging to our esteemed professional organization, so it would be a shame if you didn't exercise your right to vote as an official dues-paying ALA Member. Despite making it easy to do so online, only 20% of the ALA Membership actually vote, so for the love of Ranganathan, take some time out of your Friday, read up on the candidates in your section, and make your voice heard!

Also, there's something special going on this election season. If you're not aware of this fact already, there are four candidates running for ALA President, one of whom is the first Millennial ever to run for the office: his name is JP Porcaro, and even if you don't know him you probably know of him. One of ALA's Emerging Leaders in 2010 and named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker in 2012, JP was also one of the founding members of the ALA Think Tank, a Facebook community with over 12,000 members which has been described as "social media's largest space for librarians." He is the Librarian for Acquisitions and Technological Discovery at the New Jersey City University Guarini Library.

I met JP when I was feeling particularly disillusioned about my career and my involvement with ALA as a whole. Although my employer at the time didn't actively discourage participation in ALA, like many large academic library systems they were always more inwardly-focused or more concerned with what was going on in our immediate peer group instead, so they didn't exactly encourage me to get more involved either.

Also, there was a certain amount of cynicism among our administrators about the value of ALA- in retrospect, I think this was more a function of where these librarians were in their own careers and not an objective assessment on their part of the potential energy and enthusiasm their entry-level librarians could find by meeting and interacting with other like-minded librarians in a conference setting...  but that's a screed for another day.

So let's just say that I was feeling somewhat adrift when I attended the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston back in 2010. That's when I stumbled upon JP while he was doing publicity for 8 Bit Library at the LITA Happy Hour. 8 Bit Library was the brainchild of JP and Justin Hoenke, and I found myself pulled in immediately to help explore the intersection of gaming and librarians. JP and I went to PAX East that Spring as members of the press, and that's when I started to get to know him as a person and not just the legend which always seems to precede him.

JP is always working overtime to bring his unique energy into whatever it is he is doing at the moment. I've heard him speak recently at the Connecticut Library Association Conference about emotional contagion as a key component of leadership, and I think he's absolutely spot-on in that respect. Here I was, a jaded young librarian with a tendency towards introversion when left to my own devices, suddenly finding myself wanting to dive back into my profession headfirst.

My relationship with ALA changed fundamentally as a result of meeting JP. Instead of being about libraries, ALA became about librarians (i.e., about people and not things), about making connections and sharing enthusiasm. While I became more active along my own professional track, I also went out of my way and out of my comfort zone to become more active with the organization as a whole, volunteering whenever possible- such as this last Midwinter in Chicago, when I co-hosted Library Camp for Monday conference-goers to decompress and reflect.

(And yes, I also did some stumping for JP's campaign).

I'm voting for JP not because of the hype, but because he made me a better librarian. I believe that he can make the ALA a better organization as well- one that is more inclusive, more passionate and engaged with the issues that really matter to our profession, and (dare I say it?) more fun. I encourage you to make the same choice, but even if you don't, I encourage you to vote nevertheless. Help us get the organization we actually want, and not the one that is handed to us by default through apathy and inaction. And thanks for listening!

Me and JP at the 2015 Connecticut Library Association Conference 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Through the Google Glass

It started innocently enough. When Google announced that it was looking for a cohort of early adopters for its shiny new Google Glass device, I answered the call with a nod back to my undergraduate years at MIT, where the Wearable Computing project was just getting underway. I have fond memories of spotting Thad Starner wandering around the Porter Square Star Market looking like he'd been assimilated by the Borg, and although my education ended up taking me about as far away from computer science and electrical engineering as one could possibly go, I never stopped being enamored with technology and its convergence with everyday human life.

Oddly enough, I became a total Google fanboy at the same time that I'd become a librarian (or maybe this isn't so odd in retrospect, given that the digital revolution was fully underway in librarianship at the time I was finishing my LIS degree)- one of my professors had begun her seminar by exhorting us all to create Gmail accounts, as the service had just become available to the public earlier that year; and my final class in the program, the Literature of the Humanities, spend a great amount of time studying the Google Book Scan project and what such an initiative meant for our discipline, the academy, and the future of the written word.
Needless to say, as soon as I heard of Google Glass I knew I'd want to get my hands on one of them, so it was inevitable that I'd take part in Google's #ifihadglass competition.

It never occurred to me that I'd be selected as one of their 8,000 inaugural Glass Explorers, however, as although my desire to play with this new digital toy was surely as greater as the other gazillion people who Tweeted (or whatever the equivalent is called for Google+) their case to be included in the program. My answer was heartfelt, to be sure, but it was a little on the flip side, and more than a little lacking in specificity. So when I did get the nod from Google, I was flabbergasted to say the least...  then I was sad when I realized that, with Child #2 on the way, there was no way I'd be able to justify ponying up the $1500 I'd need in order to get my very own Glass device.  

At first I considered using a Kickstarter to obtain the necessary funds.  I was going to call it The Glass Library, and the idea would be that each backer would be allowed to "borrow" the device for a certain amount of prorated time, to do with it as they will. The mechanics of shipping the item from borrower to borrower seemed somewhat challenging, but certainly I had enough colleagues out there in libraryland who might be willing to contribute in exchange for some quality time with Google Glass. At this point it occurred to me that other librarians may have also been chosen as Glass Explorers, so I reached out on social media to see what they were doing with their invitations.  A few of colleagues responded that they'd approached their Powers That Be about funding their purchase, and that one or two of them had succeeded in getting approval to buy them for their library.

This was encouraging news, as at first it seemed that the Terms of Service for the Glass Explorers program precluded any such institutional purchasing. Emboldened by my colleagues' success, I asked my boss if he thought we might able to do the same for our undergraduate Bass Library, especially since it already had an ever-growing collection of circulating media equipment which could be checked out by Yale faculty, students, and staff. He liked the idea, but suggested that we bring our Instructional Technology Group and Student Technology Collaborative on board with the purchase as well, not just to share the cost, but to widen the pool of potential innovation and development as well.  Fortunately everyone was just as excited as we were about exploring the new technology, so we agreed to move forward as equal partners.

(I'm going to leave out the part where, in the process of putting this coalition together, we unfortunately ran out the clock on my original Google Glass invite. Despite much begging and pleading, we had to resign ourselves to being waitlisted, and although everything turned out okay I still feel somewhat chastened by the near-miss and resolve to keep it fresh in mind so as not to sit on any future similar opportunities. Awesomeness waits for no one, indeed!)

I got to pick up our device this past Friday, at Google's NYC offices in Chelsea Market (where Major League Baseball and the Food Network also hang their hats). To say that I was nervous about my Google Glass experience was an understatement, but despite my initial fumblings with the new technology, my patient  Google technician soon had me up and running with my "fitting" and out the door as a newly-minted Glass Explorer. Despite the fact that I opted to wear the device out, I quickly put it back away as soon as I got in the elevator, as I was deathly afraid of losing or breaking the Bass Media collection's latest acquisition. I was also somewhat self-conscious of being seen wearing Google Glass, which apparently is not an uncommon thing, even among Google employees. The good news is that it comes with a sunglasses attachment, which almost looks like a normal pair of shades and makes you feel much less like you're a walking, talking Borg drone as a result.


Glasshole...  or just wearing cool shades?

Although it does seem rather fragile, Google Glass is actually surprisingly rugged. It's basically a big plastic headband built around a titanium frame. Because it's designed to be form-fitting, the device does not fold compact like a conventional pare of glasses, which makes it a bit awkward to carry around, but it does come with a nifty bag that protects the eyepiece display when you stow it away. Now about that eyepiece.  I think one of the common misconceptions about Glass is that it's like looking through a computer screen, when in fact the display is only projected in the corner or your right eye.  Even I was surprised at how easy it was to tune the image out when I didn't want to look at it, and the screen times out quickly as well so as not to waste the onboard battery.

Glass syncs either with your smartphone via Bluetooth, or any existing wi-fi network. Wi-fi syncing is a breeze- you look at a QR Code on your computer screen and voila, you're in.

(WAIT!  Did I just say that Google Glass actually uses QR Codes?  And that it actually makes sense?  And it actually works?  The Apocalypse may in fact be nigh...)

The interface takes a little getting used to at first, as it involves a combination of voice commands and swiping up and down and side-to-side along the rim of your device.  I'm still getting lost when trying to visualize the right path in Glass' operating system, and find myself wishing that it recognized more natural-language commands. Still, it's pretty freaking cool to tell Google Glass to take a picture, and snap, there it is appearing in the upper right-hand corner of your eye as a thumbnail.  Glass has a 5 megapixel camera, so you'll be taking snapshots similar to your current cameraphone.  It is rather weird that you have to "point and shoot" by aiming your head at things, and I've yet to find a zoom function on the camera, but it is extremely liberating not to have to remove yourself from the moment by fumbling for your phone, activating the camera app, aiming and shooting.

I guess this is really the epiphany of wearable computing.  After wearing the device for a while, you really do forget it's there.  Think of Google Glass like a bluetooth earpiece for your eyes and you wouldn't be far off.  In fact, I couldn't help but notice that knowing I was wearing Glass made me less conscious of my smartphone. I didn't want to fiddle and stare down at my screen compulsively because I knew I could get whatever information I needed out of Google Glass by cocking my head and asking it a question.  ("What's the score of the Denver Broncos game?" I asked it as I was changing the baby this evening.  "The Broncos are currently leading over the Chargers 17-0 in the third quarter," the device dutifully replied).

They see me rollin'...

Right now the list of available applications for Google Glass- called Glasswear (get it?) -is somewhat bare-bones, but the promise of the technology can be seen in an app like Strava Cycling, which in addition to tracking your trip like the smartphone app already does using GPS and the onboard accelerometer, also feeds you a real-time heads up display of your speed, time, and distance traveled as you bike. There is also a Glasswear version of Google's Field Trip app, which I've yet to try out, but I'm very curious to see how wearable technology takes advantage and makes sense of location-based data. This is one of the respects in which I think devices like Glass will work really well with libraries, as translating the oceans of metadata on our shelves in the library stacks could open up brand new ways of visualizing our physical collections. We've always romanticized the "serendipity of the stacks," but imagine how much more powerful happenstance discovery could be if a reader could see subject headings, citation rankings, and cross-references just by glancing at the spine of a book!

Our partnership with the ITG and STC means that we will have many different groups of interested parties playing with the potential of Google Glass, so I hope this increases the chances of our seeing these kinds of applications being developed in the long run. On a more utilitarian note, over this Spring I'd like to work on a proof of concept for using Glass as a vehicle for fulfilling electronic document delivery requests via Scan and Deliver. Although the device's price tag is quite hefty for a wearable computer or smartphone, for a mobile scanning unit it's actually quite cheap- add to that the time savings of not having to lug books around the library to be scanned (during which time they are unavailable to other patrons), and I feel like there might just be something there beyond the simple gee-whiz factor.

So that's my two cents after a weekend with Glass. Despite knowing that I'd be kindly disposed towards anything so new and shiny, I was nevertheless still pleasantly surprised by how natural and unobtrusive it felt while wearing and using it.  But don't just take it from me- here's an assessment of Google Glass from my 10 year-old daughter Andriana, who naturally took to it like a fish to water.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

To Boston, with love

My heart has a home-sized hole in it right now.

I didn't just live in Boston, but I loved it as well. When MIT turned out to be The Wrong Place For Me it was Boston where I found safe haven, asked myself who I really wanted to be, and started to rebuild my life from scratch. It was Boston where I went back to school and finished my degree at Boston University. It was Boston where I met the woman who would be my wife. It was Boston where I realized that I wanted to be a librarian, and it was in Boston at Simmons College where I finally made that dream come true after many long years.  It was Boston where my daughter, who was born with a rare metabolic disorder, was treated for years by kindly doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and phlebotomists- the most wonderfully gentle of all hospital employees- at Mass General.

(When my daughter was born, I skipped out of work on my lunch hour and walked to the pro shop on Yawkey Way so I could buy my little girl a tiny Red Sox outfit- she wore that outfit to a game against the Philadelphia Phillies during that unforgettable 2004 season. I remember that I was so proud that she stayed for all nine innings; the rest of that year, of course, was history...)

Boston, I have walked your streets- so much that I feel that I know every crooked cobblestone by heart. How I loved nothing more than an urban hike along miles and miles of your glorified cow paths until I couldn't feel my feet anymore. Some days all I would do is walk- from Beacon Hill to Southie, from the Back Bay to the Arboretum- and back again, much to the chagrin of the poor unsuspecting friends who would visit from more car-friendly locales!  And as much as I loved to hate on your quasi-reliable system of public transportation, I was enchanted with the T ever since my first night at MIT, when a bunch of upperclassmen whisked us down to the Kendall Red Line station, pressing subway tokens into our hands, and took us out to dinner in the North End.  I remember seeing your skyline from the Longfellow Bridge at night for the very first time, and the magical sight of the Custom House rising above Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. From that early moment on, you had me, Boston. I was yours.

I have closed down the Crossroads, bowled candlepin beneath Fenway Park (and peed in your legendary troughs at my first Red Sox game), and laughed as people got 86'ed for trying to dance at the Black Rose.  I ate Chinese food for the first time in Boston's Chinatown.  I went to my first concert in Boston, when I saw Howard Jones play at the Paradise.  I remember camping out all day on the Esplanade for July 4th year after year to hear the Pops and catch the fireworks, and watching the man-made lightning storms and Laser Floyd shows at the Museum of Science. I have fond memories of going elbow to elbow with the tourists so that I could spend my last dollar on a gyro from Mykonos Fair at Quincy Market, getting lost in your museums- the MFA, the ICA, and the Gardner...  oh, the Gardner!- for hours on end and wishing I could stay for days instead, and playing in the fountains with friends at the Christian Science Church headquarters on a boiling hot day and ignoring the rude looks from the Nieman Marcus staff when we wandered around their store dripping wet afterwards. Even when I moved further and further away from you- first to Cambridge, then to Somerville, Lynn, Peabody and finally on to Gloucester- you were always close to my heart, and my wife and I eagerly seized any opportunity to bring our daughter down to Boston and introduce her to this city that we'd both come to know so well and love.

And of course, I remember the Marathon. I had the great fortune to watch the marathoners run by on many a Patriots' Day, that peculiar local holiday which grew on me even as it confounded me every year when I tried to figure out whether or not I should come to work and how to commute through a sea of a million-odd runners, fans, and curious onlookers. Funny, before we decided to move to New Haven last year, I remember suggesting to my wife that we take our daughter down to Boston to see the Marathon, as she'd never yet beheld that grand spectacle and we felt strongly that she was missing out on something special. As it was, I had many friends and colleagues who were there yesterday- some of them at Mile 26.  While the people I knew closely were all unharmed, I suspect that it will be quite some time before anyone who was in Boston that day will feel safe or whole. My heart breaks for the families who were injured or lost a loved one in this senseless act of terror on what has always been a day of celebration- of liberty, of sport, of the marathoners' courage, endurance, and triumph of mind over matter.

Yesterday I said that words failed, but I was wrong.  The words are there, and there are many more words out there that are more eloquent than mine. Words from people who experienced things that no one should have to live through, words from everyday people who witnessed selfless acts of heroism, or became heroes themselves. Words from Boston, whether they are from Bostonians or from people who traveled from virtually every other nation on earth to share in the magic of this quintessentially Bostonian day. The person or persons who perpetrated this heinous act may have thought their actions would destroy that magic, but if so, they gravely miscalculated, as the darkness of their deeds was quickly subsumed by the goodness of humanity and the big-heartedness of a city like Boston, my adopted home. My words feel empty and cheap right now as I type them, but I know that millions of people who have known and loved Boston as I have are out there feeling exactly the same way that I do right now.

Thank you for everything that you've given me, Boston. Twenty-odd years ago you took this Jersey boy in, and I will always be grateful for the time I spent living in the Hub of the Universe. I grieve with you now, but that just means I will be all the more joyous when you come back even stronger than before, like I know you will.

See you next Patriots' Day.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

So much for the extended warranty

Almost ten years and we've never had to take Andriana to the emergency room...  until yesterday.  Ten days before her tenth birthday, our daughter ended up getting ten sutures after falling off a trampoline at a friend's house and cutting her upper thigh badly on a protruding bolt. I was home when it happened, as my wife works the reference desk on Tuesday evenings. One moment I'm sitting at home answering some work email and feeling rather satisfied about a hectic but productive morning of meetings, then all of a sudden I'm riding in the back seat of our neighbor's car to the hospital, holding my daughter's hand, reassuring her, and trying not to lose my shit when I look at the gash on her leg.

"Am I going to have to get stitches?"  Andriana asks fearfully, already knowing the answer. The cut is almost six inches long and has split the skin on her thigh wide open. Fortunately my daughter's friend called for help immediately, and her father had a large clear trauma bandage on hand to stop the bleeding and protect the wound while he contacted me to tell me what had happened. I'm grateful that she is stable and not in shock, but whenever I see the blood and the exposed flesh under the plastic I feel nothing but panic. I want to look away, but I'm also afraid that Andriana will shift her leg and start bleeding again.

How deep was the cut, I wonder. Is it just the skin, or her muscle?  Spring soccer had only just started.  Was she going to have to sit the season out?  

Rather than default to the standard parental prevarication "We'll see," I tell her the truth. "Yes, you're going to need stitches."

"Will it hurt?"

"Only when the doctor gives you a shot. After that, you won't feel a thing."



I squeeze her hand extra hard, look away for a moment, and call my wife. Maria answers the phone at the reference desk and I fill her in on what's happened. She's a good half hour away without traffic, and of course it's already rush hour here in Southwestern Connecticut, so even though her boss lets her leave immediately it'll be a while before she can join us. When we get to the hospital, our neighbor runs inside to get us a wheelchair, then asks me to write his phone number on my hand so I can call if I need a ride later. I know he feels terrible about the accident, but I'm simply glad that he's able to keep me moving forward right now.

I'm holding Andriana's shoes when we get to the emergency room, while we check her in at the triage desk, and during the process of registering her as a patient. Thank goodness it's a slow day in the ER, but sitting in a chair and filling out forms seems surreal when your daughter is also sitting there with a hole in her thigh. No, she doesn't have any allergies. Her religion is Greek Orthodox.  No, she's not taking any medication right now, save for the protein formula she drinks for phenylketonuria. At this point I realize I'm still clutching her shoes because I'm fearful of putting them back on her feet at this point. She's been so composed through this whole ordeal, and I don't want to disturb that somehow.

We sit in the waiting room and wait. I tell Andriana jokes and try not to ask her if she's okay over and over again. She plays Subway Surfers on my phone until the receptionist- a kindly older man- brings her a big book of poetry, which she reads intently. I get her a blanket to keep her warm in the air-conditioned room and to cover up her leg from prying eyes, as my daughter is very self-conscious about her injury- I asked her if she wanted me to take a picture of her leg and she simply fixed me with a death stare. The waiting room is starting to fill up, and I notice that Andriana is doing her best not to be freaked out by the other patients and their various ailments.

"Can you call Mommy and ask her to bring Waddles?"

Waddles is her beloved stuffed pig that she sleeps with every night. I feel stupid for leaving the house without it in the first place, but at the time I had had just enough presence of mind to grab my wallet and my phone. I call my wife, who is still stuck in traffic, and she agrees to stop by the house and pick up Waddles on her way to the hospital. A minute or two later and they're calling us in.

Everyone is beyond nice- the nurse with the almost-impenetrable Slavic accent and the avuncular attending physician are as gentle as they can be, and they praise Andriana for being so brave as they examine the cut, numb it with lidocaine and clean it, then stitch the wound back up. She was so worried about the shot that she didn't believe me when I told her that they'd already given it to her, and aside from the curious sensation of feeling her flesh being tugged taut by the doctor's needle and thread she felt nothing. We talk while the physician works. I tell her about the times I went to the emergency room as a kid. We joke and say that she's just like Sally the ragdoll from The Nightmare Before Christmas, who stitched her leg back on after jumping out of her tower prison.

Next thing I know, the doctor is showing me his handiwork, then asking me to put pressure on the freshly-sutured wound before they wrap it up with sterile gauze. My wife shows up now. I'm glad she's here, but I'm also happy that she never saw the untreated cut, which I won't be able to clear from my mind for the rest of the evening. The neighbor also appears to check up on us, for which I'm grateful. Then another nurse comes in to give us post-treatment instructions. Keep her off her feet with her leg elevated for two days. Change the dressing once per day and give her antibiotics two times a day. Watch for bruising and signs of infection. Make an appointment with your pediatrician to take out the sutures in ten days. We thank everyone profusely, then we're wheeling Andriana back out of the hospital and taking her home.

Considering that our daughter spent every Thursday morning of the first year and a half of her life in the pediatrics wing of Mass General Hospital to attend a weekly metabolic clinic, it seems almost incredible that I can count the amount of times on one hand when we've had to call Andriana's doctor over the years. I think a remember a bad fever once, a rattling cough when she was still a baby, and a bout of pink eye from daycare- otherwise, that was about it. Whenever my wife and I discussed our daughter's health I tried not to call undue attention to her good luck, but superstition aside my wife and I both knew that for all of our early trials with Andriana's PKU, we had been extraordinarily fortunate.

And we still are. Frightful as Andriana's cut was, it will heal. I have a boss and colleagues who were more than understanding when I told them that I'd need to stay home with my daughter for a couple of days until she was back on her feet, so that my wife wouldn't have to miss hours on the desk for which she wouldn't get paid. And as for Andriana herself?  I wish I'd had such equanimity when I was her age. No tears, no complaints. She's simply delighted that she'll get her stitches taken out the day before her birthday, rather than on the big day itself, and that she'll only miss a couple of weeks of soccer at most. At the end of the day, we're home again as a family, for which we are thankful.

"Daddy, why do you keep looking at me like that?"

My daughter asks me this question when she catches me staring over at her later that evening with an expression that is equal parts relief and disbelief- relief that the day's ordeal is over, and disbelief both that it happened in the first place and that it wasn't something even worse. I tell Andriana that maybe she'll understand someday, if she chooses to have children of her own. But it's more than that. As rattled as I am, I'm proud to have a daughter like her. I tell her this and she makes a face, but I know that she's proud as well.  Despite all of the panic and emotional exhaustion, on Tuesday I got to catch a glimpse of the strong woman that Andriana will be, and this makes me happy.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Do you even code, bro?*

It's funny how ideas tend to percolate through the quintessence. After coming back from a fun and extremely knowledge-packed ILLiad International Conference in Virginia Beach last month, I was doing my best to digest all of the cool things that my resource sharing colleagues were up to and ruminating about coding, libraries, and how to foster a culture of innovation myself when I stumbled across Jenica Rodgers' excellent post "Considering the librarian tech skills gap."

In her keynote for the New Librarians' Symposium at the Queensland University of Technology**, Jenica said:
Or the best new idea requires skill sets we aren’t training for and don’t have, except for a dozen people who are all being hired by Google, and that one guy who can write his own ticket and you could never afford him anyway. Or even smaller scale: Griffey shows me his LibraryBox and enthuses about how straightforward it is, and I totally want to make one to take to every meeting I ever have and insist that people download the files we’re going to be working with instead of printing them out… and then my eyes glaze over when he starts talking about the code that you need in order to set one up. I, um, was hoping for a nice little point and click and stick the cord in the hole kind of interface and he’s talking about GitHub…
Oh, how much of this rings painfully true! As a librarian who openly embraces technological innovation, I am constantly running into examples of phenomenally bright people doing amazing things. For all of the hand-wringing about the future of libraries, there's an awful lot of inspiration to be found out there if you look for it. The tricky thing, as Jenica so rightly identifies, is taking that inspiration and transforming it into something actionable at your own library. In so many instances, the innovative spirit may be willing, but the coding flesh is just too weak.

When I got into the resource sharing business all those years ago, I don't think it ever occurred to me that interlibrary loan would be such fertile ground for the library hacker set. Never mind the fact that the predominant ILL management system, ILLiad, was the brainchild of a bunch of programmers in the Virginia Tech library system who were tired of doing things the hard way. In my mind, coding was something that vendors did. Even if you did manage to pick up some new and interesting stuff at a conference or elsewhere in the library blogopshere, your local IT department was usually too busy supporting all of the existing systems to commit resources to adding anything else to their plate.

Somewhere along the way, however, a tipping point was reached in the library world where frustration with waiting on vendors or systems staff to provide desperately-needed solutions met with a critical mass of programming skills in the latest crop of library school grads. This was nothing short of a revolution for librarians, but like all revolutions it has come with its share of turbulence, as disruptive technologies have pushed administrators, staff, and IT folks out of their comfort zones and into unexplored territory. And also like many revolutions, this one has not been equally distributed. While through the serendipity of fortuitous hirings and receptive management some libraries have transformed themselves into hotbeds of innovation, others find themselves scrambling just to keep the basic service points staffed and the library budget in the black.

Contrary to what many people might think, this isn't just about the money. I've seen library systems with deep pockets struggle to get themselves out of the 19th century, whereas libraries which have been financially challenged for years somehow find ways to cultivate and sustain a culture of innovation. In her subsequent blog post, Jenica explores the nature of this disconnect. Her conclusions, below, are of course spot-on:
  1. We aren’t taught crunchy tech skills. 
  2. We don’t know how to learn crunchy tech skills.
  3. It’s not our job to learn crunchy tech skills. 
  4. The technology headspace is openly hostile to most of the profession.
While all of these are true, I would submit that the following is also true:  We don't know how to manage librarians with crunchy tech skills.  And this is just as important as #1, 2, 3, and 4.

I will never have enough time or energy to learn how to code like a Mover and Shaker. And chances are, that if you're already a director, assistant/associate director, or department head, nor will you. But what we can do is focus on developing our skill sets so that we can effectively manage the innovators in our midst and create a work environment where future Movers and Shakers are not just happy accidents but an inevitable outcome.

How do we pull this off, exactly?  Well, that's what I've been trying to figure out. While this is by no means an exhaustive list of suggestions, here's what I've managed to come up with so far...
  • Learn to code. But wait, didn't I just admit that I'm never going to be able to code like Matthew Reidsma?*** Well, yes, but you can't manage what you don't understand. I may never learn how to write a script in Lua, but I sure as hell will have an easier time asking other people to code one for me if I know what it is I'm asking for in the first place. Managers are interpreters between the people with the skills and the people with the budget lines - if you don't learn how to speak both languages, something is going to get lost in translation.
  • Cultivate your talent. This is rarely about hiring people from the outside, especially in these times of shrinking library budgets and hiring freezes, but finding out how to develop what you already have and don't even know it. For example, student labor used to be about staffing the circ desk or reshelving books, but chances are these days that you're employing student assistants who have some l33t skillz (grad students can be especially useful trainers in this regard). I've had the good fortune of managing some talented student employees, some of whom I've been able to successfully hire as library staff. 
  • Challenge your staff to learn new things. At the same time, don't neglect the staff you already have. This one comes down to basic transformational leadership. If you want to foster an environment that is friendly to technological innovation, you need to encourage your staff to become managers of innovation themselves. Doing so means throwing out all of your assumptions about what your staff is or isn't capable of. This is often much harder than you think, but experience has taught me that it's almost always worth taking that leap of faith in empowering your staff to develop their own skills and tools to become the agents of their own continuous improvement. 
  • See what other people are doing. Steal from them shamelessly. Share your successes with others so that they may see, steal, and share in return. My favorite example of what all librarians should aspire to be is the IDS Project in New York State. If you are not familiar with the work they've been doing over the past several years, it's nothing less than extraordinary. The IDS Project has fostered a statewide culture of innovation predicated on a collaborative model of training, support, and mentoring which consistently puts them on the bleeding edge of the resource sharing world. Somehow they've managed to find that magic balance between tech skills, strategic thinking, and good old-fashioned librarianship, and I've done my damnedest to replicate this magic in my own workplace.
I'll admit, it's still a work in progress. And there's a lot more going on here that I think Jenica does a brilliant job of deconstructing in her posts about this topic, especially insofar as coding culture is still a hostile space to women in general and not the most accessible subject matter to our profession. But I hope that I've been able to contribute one library manager's perspective to how we can start to bridge the tech skills gap and incorporate technological innovation into the DNA of the library workplace.

** Note to self: I need to get my sorry librarian butt to Australia... 
*** Sorry, Matt, but I couldn't resist (congrats again on being a 2013 Mover and Shaker!)

Thursday, February 07, 2013

AL eh?

This conversation actually happened:


"How's it going? Great to see you at ALA."

"Great seeing you as well- thanks for sending that information, by the way."

"Sure, not a problem. Uh... what did I send again?"

"Umm... I don't remember off-hand... but I'm pretty sure it looked useful."

"Well, then- you're welcome?"

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Resolutions resolved

It's been quite a while since my last blog entry.  If you're reading this post, however, you probably already know me either through Facebook or Twitter, so you're well aware that even though I may not have had the time to document the remainder of my 2012 in long-form blogging I've been busy sharing my transition from Harvard to Yale - not to mention all of the other life changes along the way, like losing weight:

Nevertheless it was always my intention to end the year with some kind of reflection about how my resolution to Make It Happen turned out.  In the past I've always sucked at New Year's resolutions, and I think I finally understand why:  they've either been too specific and/or numerous, so that they ended up seeming like a giant "To-Do" list which I would inevitably resent and never get around to completing.  By opting for a thematic resolution this time around, I was able to avoid this trap.  Rather than worry about specific goals, I changed my attitude towards change instead and the details fell into place as a result.

There's more to it, of course, but as I'll be making a presentation on this very topic at the upcoming ALA Midwinter Meeting I'm going to wait until I've finished gathering all of my thoughts on the topic before I share them, though I do promise to share it here as well.  In the meantime, as December drew to a close I wondered what my next year's resolution should be.  Since a theme seemed to work so dramatically over the past year, I decided to adopt another thematic resolution this time around for 2013:

Keep Moving Forward.

If you're a Disneyphile such as yours truly, you'll immediately recognize the source of this phrase: Walt Disney himself, who wasn't just an entertainer, but a passionate futurist. At the end of the 2007 animated movie Meet The Robinsons, Walt is quoted as having said the following:
Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
Whether this is an apocryphal quote or not, I've always found it to be fairly inspirational stuff, but now that I've gone and successfully changed All The Things in my life this phrase feels even more appropriate.

(Okay, after having just returned from spending the holidays in Disney World I may still be a wee bit under the influence of pixie dust, as well!).

Changing my life was necessary, and I'm glad that I found the courage and motivation to do so, but how do I sustain this type of radical change?  As happy as I am right now with what I've accomplished, I want to ensure that the past year of transformation was not the exception but the new normal for 2013 and beyond. So I'm going to Keep Moving Forward.  Here's to the future!  I look forward to sharing my progress here and elsewhere, and hope that resolutions or no resolutions, your new year is more awesome than the previous one.