Category Archives: Library Culture

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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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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Understaffed : It’s not as bad as you think

I have written a number of posts on the disadvantages of being in an understaffed unit and/or library. Many of us work in understaffed and unfortunately underfunded libraries. So, many of us also know the difficulties faced with being a solo anything. In this post, I wanted to focus on the advantages of being a solo everything.

  • Job security: I thought I would start with something light and funny. Yes, being understaffed means there’s a lot of work that piles up. I’m not sure if this boils down to job security. However, when faced with numerous tasks and what seems to be an endless workload, one sees the work differently. In my case, as there is always work to be done, it is good to get away from the job and do what I need to and get re-energize for the next day. Of course, there are always priorities while other projects sit. I don’t always get to everything on my to do lists. I like to know that during my down time there are projects that are waiting and thankfully can wait to be finished.
  • Variety: In large cataloging/metadata units, you take care of an aspect of the process. Perhaps you’re the music cataloger, the serials cataloger, or digital humanities metadata specialist. In smaller libraries or libraries that are just understaffed, you might be the MARC cataloger and resident nonMarc metadata specialist. This means that your day is filled with different tasks. Perhaps you start with a streaming video, move on to TEI with a twist of linked data, followed by a dash of data for a data management plan. You might even end your day with regular expressions. This is definitely calls for a high level of flexibility to move from one system to the next. I have found that this type of variety inspires me to learn more about what I don’t know. This variety also helps me to better realize how metadata is really crucial for much of the research we do today. Whether it is publishing a data set, creating a digital collection or entering a bibliographic record into the ILS, metadata helps people contextualize what they are looking for and of course helps people access, discover and find what they’re looking for.
  • Independence: It is often the case that in understaffed units you are left to your own devices. This is simply because everyone in your small unit has the same problem as you, a lot of work. Everyone is pretty much very busy. As a result, you are left with the great advantage of thinking out of the box, on your feet, and taking on perhaps more leadership in roles than in larger libraries. This is not to say that in larger units staff on the ground don’t take on leadership roles. Of course not! However, in a small library, you are most likely the resident expert. If you’re like me, that’s a scary thing because I certainly don’t feel like an expert. But this means that you make decisions that affect library wide decisions. It also means that in addition to doing actually work on the ground, you also are more than likely developing best practices for your shop! What an experience.
  • Always learning: I spoke to a colleague who worked in a very small library before his current job. He did a little bit of everything and almost became the interim director. I’ve also had the opportunity to work in many areas of the library. This is great and invaluable experience. Because of that, I can help out at the iDesk or with reference questions where I work now. I think this type of experience is also helpful to understand what your colleagues do in a larger institution, which in turn creates more of a community of understanding.

Of course, there are limits to being a solo everything. Some libraries are so understaffed that some of the work just doesn’t get down or more critically the library closes. Thankfully I work at a medium sized library. Though I now work in a unit, I still get to help out in various other areas and continue to promote that community of understanding. And I still get to learn.

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Open Library

As you might have heard the relaunch of the Open Library is now complete. What does this mean? Well for starters, a really nice welcome page. Then, you can browse by author or subject. There is a pre-coordinated list to search from or you can do your own search. Basically these features and others are familiar to us because they show up in many websites from Amazon to our OPACs. What’s a little different is the Library Thing spin among others. Users can help build the library, participate on the blog, edit pages and more. It seems so far to combine several web 2.0 social tools that encourage users to participate and be active members of the project.

The goal of the Open Library is to create a webpage for every book published. I’m hoping that this project will expand to other formats and have a webpage for streaming videos, music, or even artwork.

Here’s the Open Library’s philosophy statement:

To build Open Library, we need hundreds of millions of book records, a wiki interface, and lots of people who are willing to contribute their time and effort to building the site.

To date, we have gathered over 20 million records from a variety of large catalogs as well as single contributions, with more on the way.

Open Library is an open project: the software is open, the data is open, the documentation is open, and we welcome your contribution. Whether you fix a typo, add a book, or write a widget–it’s all welcome. We have a small team of fantastic programmers who have accomplished a lot, but we can’t do it alone!

Open Library is a project of the non-profit Internet Archive, and has been funded in part by a grant from the California State Library and the Kahle/Austin Foundation.

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NETSL’S Spring Conference

Just posted from NETSL, their spring meeting at Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. NETSL’s spring conference always has something for everyone. This year the focus is on looking towards the future and the relationship between cataloging and metadata. The program looks great so far.

Mark your calendars for the NETSL Annual Spring Conference Program 2010: Crosswalks to the Future

When: Thursday, April 15, 2010

Where: College of Holy Cross, Worcester, MA

Keynotes:

*     Dr. Barbara B. Tillett, Chief, Policy and Standards Division, Library of Congress.

“Building Blocks for the Future: Making Controlled Vocabularies Available for the Semantic Web”

*     Jon Orwant, Engineering Manager for Google Books, Google Magazines, and Google Patents.

“Creating a trillion-field catalog: metadata in Google Books”

Watch for announcements with further program information and registration details coming after the first of the year.

Questions, suggestions, or other feedback? Contact Amy Hart at netslpresident@nelib.org.

NETSL: New England Technical Services Librarians is a section of the New England Library Association. For more information about NETSL see http://www.nelib.org/netsl/

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An Open Reply to Thomas Mann

Some time ago, Thomas Mann’s published to the web his article, “What is distintive about the Library of Congress in both its collections and its means of access to them, and the reasons LC needs to maintain classified shelving of books onsite, and a way to deal effectively with the problem of “books on the floor””. It has already made the rounds of many blogs and listservs; to access the PDF version, click here.

Recently, Jim Weinheimer, from the Cooperative Cataloging Rules and an active participant on the NGC4LIB listserv, published a reply to Thomas Mann called “An Open Reply to Thomas Mann”. The pdf can be found at: http://eprints.rclis.org/17331/1/OpenMannDistinctive.pdf.
Jim offers delivers some good replies to Thomas Mann. Two that stand out are:

  • Jim explains that Mann argues that: “We cannot do new things because we are too busy doing old things.”
    • Here, Jim objects to the view that librarianship is experiencing a small “bump” as he calls it. After this curve in the road, things will return to normal. I agree with Jim. Librarianship is not experiencing just a bump in the road. Librarianship is radically changing in ways I don’t think we even understand yet. Sticking to the routine or to how things have always been done will not help us prepare for these changes.
  • Jim argues against libraries and librarians being “custodians of the printed materials”
    • Libraries have long since regarded themselves as solely in the print business and storing print materials. For one, it is extremely expensive and not many institutions have a budget that would allow to buy, maintain, and store a host of printed materials. Also, in order to serve their communities, it has long been known that libraries need communities services, outreach programs, services for computers, wi-fi, etc. This means that libraries are more than storage units for printed materials. What makes them come alive is their array of services that include print materials and much more.
  • The old days of librarianship are over.
    • Technology is changing ever so rapidly. The way people interact with that technology to inform themselves is also changing. It is not that print materials are not a way to become informed. But it is not the only way now. Given the variety of how people seek, gather, and obtain information, libraries need to be thinking of how to meet these needs, namely how to change to meet these needs.

Jim’s reply is not long (7 pages). It is worth reading.

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Thomas Mann on LC’s Distinctive Role

Thomas Mann’s article, “What is distintive about the Library of Congress in both its collections and its means of access to them, and the reasons LC needs to maintain classified shelving of books onsite, and a way to deal effectively with the problem of “books on the floor””, has already made the rounds of many blogs and listservs; to access the PDF version, click here. As always, Thomas Mann presents a good read and persuasive arguments against transforming the Library of Congress into something it isn’t.

To back up, the mission of the Library of Congress is:

The Library’s mission is to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.

This is from their mission and strategic priorities 1997-2004. The document goes on to list four priorities that touch primarily on how LC is to acquire, organize, preserve, maintain, secure, sustain, make available to Congress and the American people for present and future use the collection of human knowledge and creativity.

It is unprecedented in human history — and a uniquely American offer — to open public access to an institution that is in many respects the working library of a government and a de facto national library.

—-

What does Thomas Mann suggest the Library of Congress is turning into? In short, he is criticising a report by Deanna Marcum called “The Meeting on Digital Strategy”. His argues that Deanna compares LC to Google, newspapers and their for-profit business model, and Amazon and their business model of making a profit rather than promoting scholarship. In this sense, Thomas Mann suggeststhat Deanna Marcum is one of many who want to turn the Library of Congress into a for-profit business that purports to provide “easy” digital access to current and quick information. It is a striking commentary. However, Thomas Mann provides some persuasive arguments about why LC cannot do this.

  • Preservation
    • From reading LC’s mission statement as well as Thomas’ summary of it, it is clear that LC strives to preserve past and current knowledge and human creativity. It receives as part of this goal millions of free books thanks to the mandate that all copyright books in the US be deposited in LC. In terms of providing access to these resources, LC is unique in that it provides sometimes the only copy of that item. Because not everything has been digitized and items still in copyright are not digitized, this means that LC is the only place to consult these materials. If this stopped, then access to these resources would no longer be available. As Thomas Mann points out, this would be a serious blow to scholarship.
  • Scholarship
    • LC has in its mandate to provide resources for scholars as well as Congress and US citizens. In this sense, it is not just a question of finding quick and easy information that may or may not be relevent. The one stop search box and search results based on keywords is not practical. Thomas Mann gives a good example. What is a person is looking for a document about square footage and population statistics. But the document does not have such keywords as square footage, sq. ft., population, statistics, stats, or some variation of those words. Then any search with these keywords will not yield the wanted document. However, with the amount of results that such a search on Google would turn up, the person probably wouldn’t know the existence of such a document. The key to LC’s way of organizing information is that it does not rely on keywords but a classification based on a hierarchy of subjects as well as a classification alpha-numeric string denoting the primary subject. So if the document does not have any keywords of population or statistics, this would be reflected in the subject headings. Thomas Mann argues that this type of information allows scholars to find relevent information.
  • Access to scholarship and quality of cataloging
    • Given the last example, Thomas Mann points out that easy access to information depends on the quality of cataloging. He was able to find the resource needed because the catalogers at LC put in subject headings and a call number. Unlike Google or Amazon, LC describes each resource and provides several ways of accessing that resource (author, subjects, title, …).
  • Non commercial
    • Another aspect that Thomas Mann sees as separating LC from other libraries is that it is non commercial. Given its mandate to preserve and provide access to human creativity and knowledge, LC is going to collect and make available resources that simply are not current, do  not fit into any business model, and will not make a profit for LC. In fact, Thomas Mann says that without the help of taxpayers money, LC would have folded years ago because it is not in the money making business.

Thomas Mann asks us to question the drive to digitize collections in terms of what is being digitized and the type of access provided with online resources. He also asks us to look at what libraries are and what the Library of Congress means to the United States. If it is a de facto national library, should this be clearly stated in its mission? This is an interesting article and well worth reading whether or not you agree with Mann.

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