Sunday, February 27, 2011

@ the Oscars

Hey, did anyone just notice that gifted children's book author Shaun Tan (just get off yer couch and read The Arrival already...) just won an Oscar? How cool is that? I actually clapped out loud.

More news from me coming soon, promise. It's just sometimes a girl needs a night off watching some TV.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

5 qualities someone interested in my job should have

The final post relating to my talk at the University of Ottawa....
(Part One: 5 best things about my job; Part Two: 5 most challenging things about my job)
  1. Patience
: Not just with the public, although that is certainly important in reference and readers' advisory work! Perhaps I put this quality first because I feel it is the one I most struggle with every day. You must have patience with yourself (ha!), with projects that fail and ideas that grow slowly, with staff dealing with change, with the system itself (your library, your city, your province, your country, your profession!).
  2. A genuine interest in people: Sounds obvious, but think about this a bit more deeply. Librarians in general tend to be curious about the world, but someone in a job similar to mine has to also be innately very curious about his or her neighbourhood, employees and colleagues. Who they are, what they are interested in, how they use the library (or don't use it), what they can contribute to the organisation, what they want to learn, what they have already learned that can be shared (expertise!), and so on. I was in the middle of writing this post when I saw a comment one of my colleagues had written after the 5 best things post, with respect to professionals and paraprofessionals, and I think it's applicable here: "The library and librarians would be well-served to remember that they have a wealth of knowledge within their own four walls and institutions." Indeed!
  3. An awareness of boundaries, and the ability to draw them: Man, if I could give every library school student a piece of advice, it would be to master this. I'm referring here to both personal boundaries (what is the level of personal information you are willing to share with a colleague? With a patron? How will you establish these norms so that everyone is comfortable and no one feels threatened / slighted? Will you make friends with your colleagues? Your employees?) and professional boundaries (what kind of an organisation can you work for? What are your workplace boundaries? How can you establish a kind of balance?)
  4. Sympathy across boundaries: ... And I phrase it that way not simply in homage to my thesis, or because of the name of this blog. Directly related to #3 above. You need to be interested in the people in your communitIES, and you also need to feel compassion and sympathy for them. That means everyone from the local city councillor to the resident of the local shelter.
  5. A strong set of your own personal and professional values
: Again, this one is applicable to anyone, but especially important if you are going to be working in an environment in which you might be the only professional. Articulating your values will help you when your boundaries are challenged at work, and also help you set the standard in your workplace (hopefully), and exhibit true leadership. So, decide now how you feel about, say, gaming in libraries, or whether your small community branch should carry all the classics, even if you are a 15-minute walk from the Central library...? Now explain your position on this, as it relates to your values, to an employee.
Here are some other words of advice, especially as a new professional, and if working in a branch setting or in a large system:
  • Learn to advocate for yourself: This was difficult for me to learn, but I realised that when I moved to Ottawa, to work in a somewhat isolated job in a big system, I would have to learn to speak up for myself or I would risk getting lost in the crowd. So, never waste an opportunity to share information with colleagues or other profesionals! Ask questions: about your organisation, about other people's jobs, about the jobs you want, about what's going on in the community. Share stories: about your workplace, your accomplishments, your organisation, your community. If you don't, who will?
  • Work for a terrible boss: Well, not deliberately, unless you have a very strong spirit. But you will learn a lot from a terrible boss, perhaps even more than you might from an excellent one.
  • Time spent "chatting" ≠ time wasted: Don't ever think that time spent chatting (I don't mean a half hour of gossip! More like a few minutes of personal time with a patron or colleague - however much you are comfortable with) is time you have wasted in your day. Schedule that time into your day! Soft skills are important, and in a profession with a reputation for not being terribly outgoing, we need to sometimes remind ourselves to go the extra mile to foster an environment that is friendly, approachable, and genuinely caring.
Many more words of wisdom are here, courtesy of a spectacular talk given by Wendy Newman for CLA-CASLIS Ottawa in 2009.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kindness Week

This is just to say that I will not be celebrating Kindness Week.

Kindness Week rankles me a little bit.... First of all, as with lots of things that get a "week," shouldn't every week be Kindness Week? Are we really such brutes that we need a week to raise awareness about a concept as basic to humanity as kindness?

Secondly, many of the activities I have heard people mention that they are doing to observe Kindness Week seem to be charitable activities. There is a difference between kindness and charity, you know!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What are you doing?

Hey! It's Freedom to Read Week! Here's what I did (documents here; previous display pics here).

What are you doing? Tell me in the comments.....

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

5 most challenging things about my job

If you read closely, you will notice that these 5 are more or less each the flip side of their companion number from the previous post.
  1. Isolation
: So, here's the thing. In a community branch, or anywhere where you work alone-ish, it can be fun for awhile but it will get lonely pretty quickly. I was really fortunate to realise this before I even moved to Ottawa. A mentor of mine, from my pre-Ottawa life, observed that I would have to work to make sure I don't get isolated in my new job, and she was right. The best antidotes I can find are to stay connected to colleagues in other physical locations but in the same system (sit on local committees, attend library board meetings, visit other branches on the weekend, chat during breaks at meetings), get involved in library associations (local, regional, and/or national), and actively seek out professional development opportunities, even if you have to do them on your own time and with your own money. The investment will be well worth it in many, many ways, some of which you probably can't even imagine at first, and, as a bonus, you won't feel so alone.
  2. De-professionalisation
: Big word about feeling "little." When it sometimes feels like you spend your day fixing printer jams, it can be hard to remember that you're a librarian. As a community librarian, you probably will spend a lot of time “on the floor” at your branch; that helps make you that trustworthy community contact, but it also helps continue to confuse the public about what a librarian does (everything? Anything?). Spending all this time on non-professional tasks is also an Express lane straight to burn-out. I don't have any easy answers here, kids: the most I can suggest is that anyone in this position use every opportunity to promote the library's services and collections like the professional they are. Every request for help is an invitation to have a more meaningful interaction with someone visiting the library. That being said, it can be tough. I sometimes spend a few seconds explaining what a librarian is, in certain situations (eg. "Anyone sitting at this desk can help you with homework questions, research, or recommend a good book. Over there is where you can check out the stuff you want to borrow, and they can also check your account for you.") It all depends on the patron, and the situation, and you have to use your judgment about that. If you find you are getting frustrated, or under-stimulated, on the floor, look at everything from schedules (can you break up your Reference desk time?) to architecture (can the printer be moved any further away from your desk, to cut down on the crazy traffic and incessant questions?) to staffing. This is also a great time to take on a special project that will stimulate you, and revive your passion for public librarianship, in all its shapes and forms.
  3. Lack of resources
: In a big system, like the one in which I work, you have a lot available to help you (colleagues, best practices, policies, tools, reference material, and even a shared collection of puppets!), but you can also get cut off from central departments if you are working in a branch. Sometimes, in any large organisation, it's easy to feel like one octopus leg, and every leg seems to be acting independently... Why are you re-inventing the wheel, only to find out that last month Librarian X at a neighbouring branch is piloting a Wheel Study? Similarly, if you are the only librarian somewhere (anywhere!), you might find that the person who had your position previously wasn’t great at succession planning, leaving you to wonder what on earth he/she did with their time and what you should be doing. The best piece of advice I can give about dealing with this is: if you don’t speak up, you can get lost. The more you share about what's going on chez toi, the more you will hear about what's going on alentours (especially if you, um, ask). Make friends: stay in touch with them, if even just to say, "Is anyone having problems with..." or "Has anyone created a guide to..." There's "working from the ground up," and then there's Sisyphean labour.
  4. Feeling overwhelmed: with the diversity of experiences/opportunities/tasks on your plate, you might find yourself spending a lot of time “putting out fires." It's easy (ha! Relatively speaking, that is) to move from crisis to crisis; harder to take a step back and analyse the direction in which you and/or your library should be heading. Essentially, you need to stay calm, and be organised: you might even want to set aside time (monthly? Quarterly?) for looking at and thinking about higher-level issues, if your institution doesn't have any regular set of checks and balances in place.
 You might find that you need to work in an environment that has goals for the year that are measurable and are followed up on, or else you might want to spend time doing this yourself. In my experience, neglecting this neglects your own professional development, and affects the contribution you are able to make to your institution.
  5. Balance: With everyone clamouring for your attention, and all the responsibilities you face, it can be difficult even to prioritise the needs of each group. You have to judge pretty quickly what can wait until later, what should be a priority this year, next year, this month, this week, depending on your responsibilities to each group you interact with. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you have enough responsibility at the moment, and you have to refer to your friends "No" (he and I aren't that close these days...) and "Can I delegate this?" You just can't do everything, or, at least, you can't do everything well.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

5 best things about my job

I recently gave a talk to students in the University of Ottawa's School of Information Studies about being a public librarian. They were a pleasure to talk to, and I only wish I had more time to stay for additional questions and discussion. They did have some wonderful ideas, questions and comments.

I thought I would share some of the thoughts I prepared for them. After giving them a bit of background (Rideau Branch statistics, OPL statistics, my career path), I decided to structure my talk as:
  • The 5 best things about my job
  • The 5 most challenging things about my job
  • The 5 qualities someone interested in my job should have
I'll be blogging these in the next few days, starting with the 5 best things about my job today.
  1. Autonomy
: My job has a certain degree of autonomy by virtue of the fact that I am the most senior person in the building at most times. Another degree of autonomy comes from specifics of my own circumstances: I have a great manager, who works with me to give me the freedom to pursue or create projects that I am passionate about. All this autonomy results in great conference presentations, a shelf-talkers pilot, outreach
 initiatives, and fun programs. Furthermore, as senior person at the branch, I get to "set the tone" of the branch in some ways: decide what's going to happen and how they are going to work.
  2. Bond of trust with the community
: In any community branch, the branch librarian is fortunate to get to know regular patrons, community groups, program partners, local book clubs, and other kindred spirits. Building and maintaining these relationships, often over the course of several years, is incredibly fulfilling for me. On a more subtle level, simply being seen working (well, I hope) in the community on a daily basis fosters a certain sense of trust for some more reticent members of the community, and gives me "social capital" in the community, which can sometimes prove (in the short or long term) to be pretty valuable.
  3. Working from the ground up:
 In a community library, the world can be your oyster sometimes: you may implement new initiatives, new programs, new partnerships: so many things haven't been done before in many cases that you have a lot of fertile ground to work with.
  4. Variety / diversity of experiences/opportunities/tasks:
 I can unequivocally say that in the past week I have answered both reference and readers’ advisory questions, as well as questions about homework help, and computer/Internet training (today, a woman argued with me about why she couldn't type in to get to Google. "Are you sure?" she asked...). It's also possible that I prepared children's programs, acted as a part social worker, broke up an altercation or two, set up a display, helped at the circulation desk, picked up garbage on the floor, removed expired posters from the community bulletin board, and yes, to cite the cliché, dealt with something sketchy in the washroom (or, frankly, elsewhere). No two days are the same!
  5. Responsibility:
 A community librarian might supervise staff
, either directly (as I do) or indirectly, and be responsible for training, guiding and overseeing their work, as well as offering feedback on their performance. Of course, I also interact with many other groups, from building and city maintenance staff to library senior managers, from the library board to the general public, and from colleagues at OPL to librarians across Canada. I have the privilege of watching people I have trained learn and grow
; I have had the privilege to represent Rideau Branch or OPL or professional librarians as a whole within the community. The responsibilities of a community librarian are all interwoven, in a weird and wonderful way.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Library Day in the Life Round 6 wordle

I'm sad that "time" and "work" are so big, but happy that "patron" and "book" are pretty big, too!

Monday, February 7, 2011

McSweeney's: The State of Publishing

McSweeney's has a great series of articles (thanks for the link, Lorie!) about the state of publishing, including some good news from the world of books, as well as separate pieces about the state of libraries, the state of book production, and the state of global literacy. While the statistics are very U.S.-based, they are interesting, and, in many cases, hopeful. More articles on this topic will appear on McSweeney's in the coming days and weeks, so stay tuned.

*Frieze at right from the Westmount Public Library newspaper room.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Since these have safely travelled to (and now arrived) at their new home, I think it is safe to post a picture of the penguins custom-made for the winner of the *first-ever* Felt Friday contest! Congratulations again, Sonia!

As you can see, one of the colony was eager to meet his new mistress...