Multiple job titles

For the past three years, I’ve had 2 job titles. This is nothing out of the ordinary. Many of my colleagues where I work and elsewhere have more than one title. Some of these titles represent aspects of one job. Others are two or more jobs that have been assigned to that person. I wanted to address the latter or having more than one job title and jobs.

There was this trend several years ago about doing more with less. Thankfully this phrase more or less disappeared. I think unfortunately it morphed into its favorite cousin of finding efficiencies. The problem of doing more with less is that really if you have less, you are most likely going to be able to do less. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. Workflows can be made more efficient thanks to technology or rethinking the process as a whole. This reflects another trend of doing less with less, which was also a trendy presentation topic some years back.

These trends are related but not what I want to address. The trend I see as having potentially serious work satisfaction effects is when an organization is downsized and jobs are then assigned to the remaining employees. This is what happened at my organization. The reason for being downsized relate to a bad state economy really. It’s nothing new. The other reason was until recently we gave back, i.e. closed positions, instead of reducing the collections budget. And of course people leave for other jobs and their positions simply aren’t renewed or continued.

What happened when these people left? Many of these services faded away and we just don’t do them anymore because there’s no one there who can. It is great when the work just doesn’t need to be done anymore. However, when there is still work to be done, yes the responsibility for that task(s) fades away but the work still remains collecting dust until a person can be hired to take care of it. Other services are deemed too important to be stored away out of sight, out of mind. There’s an attempt by supervisors to split up tasks of the job among those who are still here. What happens when a party refuses to take on that task or it involves skills that only a very few have? In general, the job falls to the person who can’t refuse to take it on and/or who has some of the skills. This means that person is now doing two or more jobs.

The problem with this last scenario is that now you have one or many people with two or more jobs. One might think that this is a convenient way to keep vital services going. However, it is a sure fire way to de-energize, demoralize, and overwork staff. This is especially true if these staff are asked to perform these jobs over a long period. The problem is essentially that it is unrealistic that one person perform jobs done by two people. And yes, some people might think of exceptions. When I refer to jobs here, I am referring to full time jobs that take time, skills, dedication, and engagement to complete the tasks of the job.

Ultimately, the person with more than one job has to weigh the importance of the tasks of both jobs. This triage allows to address the highest priority tasks. If there is down time, the person is looking into the medium or low priority tasks that have become more than likely high priority because they were neglected. What happens when this person is running from priority to priority over a long period of time is that they become tired. Hopefully there is a way for this person to re-energize themselves. And yes vacation is good. But here I’m referring to their employer who needs to recognize the toll of doing more than one job. The employer needs to be asking how they can support this person. If no one can be hired or the extra job’s tasks split among many, then it might be worth seeing to stoping these services. If not, there’s risk that this person will be run down, tired, or even ill.

You might say that there are services that can’t be stopped. For example, we always need someone at the circulation desk.  There are always options before closing a desk entirely. You can take away services. You can look into less hours. At what cost? If you have only 1 person doing the job of 5, more than likely there’s high turnover at this organization and low morale. I’m all for serving our community and users. And our community and users have to understand what it takes to provide these services.

It really is the question of cost as in the physical and psychological toll of the employee where the employer needs to take a stand. The employer needs to support these employees. They need to ensure that these situations of doing more than one job are truly short term. It is my experience that many employers don’t take on this type of accountability. There’s always employee assistance programs, human resources, vacations, and personal days…right. In many cases, the employer is seen as a third party. Is it all up to the employer? Obviously not! It’s crucial to ensure work and life are balanced. It is also important to ensure that your employer is doing their job of being held accountable. Perhaps, you have a union on hand to help you out. And then of course, there’s always another job.

After this post, you might want to ask why I do two jobs. Once, I told my employer that I would not take on all the responsibilities of the second job. I kept the tasks that align and help me with my other job. It’s not perfect but what job is. In retrospect, it is important to fully weigh the pros and cons when an employer asks you to take on a second job or even tasks from another job. Look at it from the perspective of having time, will it help your career, can you be compensated for taking on more work, and have an agreement with your employer that clearly states what each party has agreed to.



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Returning to blogging

It has almost been a year since my last post. Much has happened. What started as a break became a long adventure that certainly isn’t over. What brings me back to the blog-o-sphere? There are several topics that come to mind: managing large projects, dealing with bullies, how to engage students, assessment, and so many more. Today, I want to talk about my interns.

About a year and a half ago, I began an internship program for the program that I work on, which is a state-wide digital repository. I consulted other programs and institutions that have internships. I looked to my own institution to see what we have. I also took into consideration my own internship experience when I was at Simmons. There are a surprising number of resources on the topic. Many where helpful in charting how to define an internship program, setting up parameters and scope for the internship and interns, assessing and measuring success, and how to make an unpaid internship attractive to students. Content was created on our programs website outlining the internship with documents and guidelines. And our first intern started towards the beginning of 2016 with our local GSLIS program in the area on metadata creation and enhancement!

The focus of our internships are on the student. Of course, we seek to have some work done as sort of our freebie moment of glory. More importantly, our internship program aims to allow the intern a view into the day to day activities of working on a digital repository program and the tools used for that work. Each intern designs their internship and the tools they want to focus on. We’ve now had interns work on learning how to make harvesting more efficient, just creating metadata, creating an xml site map, automating workflows using Python, applying tools to manipulate data, designing outreach and marketing materials, or creating asynchronous online learning objects (aka video tutorials). Our interns now come from as far as Florida!

The internship program takes work. Each intern is interviewed. If accepted, we help the intern design their internship that include tasks, hours to complete those tasks, and key dates. There’s various housekeeping items to take care of like setting up weekly check-ins, explaining the terms of the internship, ensuring that interns stay on track, and the like. There is a lot of administrative overhead that accompanies each intern. However, it is worth all the work. It is amazing to work with these students and see them grow professionally. As for myself, working with interns has allowed me to develop better supervisory skills as well as being more flexible in adopting a learning environment that fits each intern. This has helped me to better supervise my employees. It also is a way to give back to the library community and help support future colleagues.

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Research Data Services

I was able to attend a regional round table of librarians working in research data. Some librarians were the research data librarian at their institution. Surprisingly or not, the majority of librarians had a variety of job functions of which research data was a component. Many came from institutions that didn’t have a dedicated team solely for research data. In this case, these librarians offered services for digital scholarship broadly speaking that included research data activities. Several common themes came up during the round table. I would like to highlight two in this post.

The first topic concerned liaison programs at various institutions. Many participants because they are offering a wide variety of services rely on liaisons for outreach and marketing of these services. Several gave examples of liaisons who jumped on board and took on the task of helping marketing services and getting in touch with their constituents about research data. In fact, many librarians in the room were liaisons or continue to be subject liaisons with new duties. However, there was some concern about the role of outreach as well as how to handle fear of changing job duties for those liaisons unfamiliar with research data and services. Outreach is a difficult task. You have to go where your users are. And it is not always the case that librarians are welcomed wholeheartedly into research groups or departments. Further, there are several groups of users: faculty, graduate students, PIs, research centers that might have external researchers. Within these user groups, there’s a whole variety of thoughts and views on libraries and librarians’ role in research data management. Beyond this, research data is still a relatively new task for subject liaisons as a whole. As with any topic, research data consists in a number of complex topics that involve different groups in and outside an institution. Take for example storage. Where I work, this is not one streamlined service for researchers. Central IT provides what is called a P drive with a minimum amount of storage for staff, students and faculty. This is of course backed up and comes with the minimum amount of security but nothing spectacular. It is meant just as a temporary storage place. There is email and Google apps. But as this is linked to Google, even though it is provided by the institution, it would not be a good idea to store data linked to research projects in particular those that have sensitive information. The health center has been set up with a high computing system that includes measures to handle sensitive information. Engineering departments always have access to a high performance computing system. However, what about researchers in other departments? Further, these storage options provided by central IT don’t have an archiving component or provide a citable link. This is just an example of what researchers typically face. Learning the ins and outs of what your library and institution offers can be daunting and often a frustrating experience as their might not be solutions are nonexistent or inconsistent. With the move to have subject liaisons learn about research data management has come a fear of having to learn something new and taking on new responsibilities. It is a fear of change. The majority of people at the round table encountered this fear at their institutions. This is nothing new. Fear of change is unfortunately a theme in any workplace. So how do you mitigate this fear? There is a lot of literature that speaks to this. But many in attendance mentioned that they hold workshops and consultations for their fellow colleagues to help them get a handle on topics and services offered in research data management. Is this the way to go? Should all liaisons and subject specialists know about research data management?

The second topic concerned education. Offering workshops is the easiest entry point in providing services for research data management. Almost everyone in the room provides workshops. Some have general research data management workshops. Others go into lab groups and offered short presentations on one topic to graduate students and the PI. Others have online tutorials. Pretty much everyone offers consultations services. Is education and are consultations effective? For example, offering workshops on the data management plan help researchers write a DMP. However, one you know how to write a DMP,, then you pretty much can write one in the future, meaning that the research won’t go back to a workshop or ask for a consultation on this topic. This is actually a good thing because that workshop was effective. Will there be a need for such workshops in the future? I don’t know. However, this gets to the crux of one of the issues discussed at the round table. Digital scholarship and research data management are in flux. It is necessary to be flexible and be willing to change based on your users and what is happening at your institution. In this sense, continuing education is necessary especially for those offering services.

This was a fantastic opportunity to get together with colleagues across the area. Discussions were frank, open, and helpful. What was interesting is that independent of the size and funding of the institution, the majority of us were in the same boat, namely learning and adapting to the evolving needs of researchers on campus.

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It’s all about time

Do you know Sally Gore and her blog, “A Librarian by any other name”? Her blog is one of my favorites. Sometimes, it takes me a couple of weeks just to think about the different ideas that she addresses in her blog, which tend to be dense. Recently, she posted, “Taking Inventory“. This is an extremely positive post about transformations and transforming oneself as a librarian. Too often, change is seen as an obstacle. It causes fear, disruption, and sometimes a lot of grief. One of Sally’s points is that during her times of transition, she experienced a period of inspiration and skill learning and building. Not only that, the skills she learned in her many positions as a librarian over the years has value to her community. This brings me to another important point. These variations transformations lead up to the person she is today and the skills that she can offer her community. These changes took time. To quote Sally,

Nobody makes “The Flying Wallendas” varsity team without years and years of practice (and good genes).

This is very true. During a period where people often seek instant gratification, this might seem counter-cultural. It is not only doing our job but also re-inventing ourselves. One of my supervisor’s favorite motto is to fail fast and often. Thinking of this motto in the context of Sally’s message, this could be interpreted as “change and grow often”. I would definitely recommend reading this post. It is positive, upbeat and a much needed happy outlook on change and transformation.

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The Problem with Records

In the past several weeks, I’ve been fortunate to have attended several one day conferences. In this post, I want to highlight a presentation by Diane Hillman called “Moving to the Open World: It’s not as scary as it sounds”. This presentation was on how linked open data can work for library data in terms of making our data accessible and discoverable by others. This was a fantastic presentation and one of Diane’s best. Out of all the information in the presentation, I want to highlight an important theme that not only Diane spoke about but that has come up before in reading about library data. This is that using xml to describe items is not very different from MARC records. To put it differently, with xml, we create records or documents that are hard to share, expose and provide relationships for the pieces in the xml record. On slide three of Diane’s presentation, she explains that xml assumes a closed world and the xml record is the equivalent to a metadata record or MARC record. What does she mean? For library data and when xml is implemented, the large majority are implemented according to what is called a schema and written in XSD or extensible schema definition. A XSD outlines the requirements that an XML needs to follow to conform to that XSD. Let’s take the analogy of languages and dictionaries. To write effectively and clearly in German, it’s good to know how to spell words and basic grammar. This is syntax and semantics, which is outlined in an xsd. To return to the world of libraries, to implement the metadata standard of MODS or Metadata Object Description Schema is to create an xml file that follows the requirements outlined in the MODS xsd. And we are familiar with this type of analogy. To create a record in my ILS, I have to follow the MARC and RDA standards. Just like a MARC record, one in XML has text in it. For example, a Dublin Core record has the elements in the angle brackets and textual information between the opening and closing angle brackets. We can move these XML records around through harvests or data migration. We can transform them into different XML files according to different metadata standards. We can display the information in the XML. This is no different from what we do with MARC records. And this is the closed system. We need to break out of this closed system. Of course, RDA attempts to do that with its focus on relationships. Another way is to use linked data. To varying degrees of success this can be implemented in XML. There is the MODS RDF ontology. Though there are a few linked open data projects mostly by large research universities like Stanford and Cornell, I am not aware of any institution using MODS RDF ontology. However, MODS RDF along with BIBFRAME express the need to make data open and shareable on the web. I would definitely recommend Diane’s presentation.

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