Sunday, March 30, 2008

Heathrow/Libraries

Anyone keeping up with the news about London's Heathrow Airport knows about the estimated 15,000 bags that have been separated from their owners. Unfortunately, one of those bags belongs to me, and as I sat on a bus between terminals anticipating this annoyance, I pondered this:

It seems to be a habit of organizations to focus on a glamourous exterior product rather than on a practical-but-invisible process. (I must admit here that I've been obsessed with this notion since working in decidedly unglamorous Interlibrary Loan.) So, British Airways's Terminal 5 is a gorgeous space for the airline to showcase, but with a 2.5 hour layover I still managed to almost miss a flight when traveling from one terminal to another. I suspect the same blindness exists in libraries.  Not to be too cynical, but I've already observed a number of cases where sensible priorities are marginalized in favor of showier options. 

I guess I'll fight for sanity until I'm too tired, or I become brainwashed and/or managerial. 

I hope my baggage shows up soon.  

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thoughts on Being a Young Librarian Part II: In Action

Another point to add to the post "Thoughts on Being a Young Librarian" is that 'my' generation is unable to disconnect from the technology we're using. We just can't put it down. It's around us and part of who we are, and if we think we need an internet connection to get where we're going and a cell phone to call someone when we get there, we have little patience with the alternatives. In fact we are indignant with how inefficiently things seem to have run before now.

I'm not sure where one generation ended & another began, because I feel I'm on the border somehow -- cell phones were just becoming widespread when I was in high school, and as a college undergraduate I accepted as natural a high speed internet connection and a personal computer in my dorm room. On the other hand I lived through the death of Napster & am on the tail end of the skeptical, slacker nostalgic-for-the-1980s generation that preceded me.

Anyhow, what I wanted to say was this: I'm in Scotland right now. On vacation, visiting my husband's sister. Writing this. So there.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Permissions and Passwords


I'm beginning to see this blog as a starting place for organizing random thoughts and ideas. Lately, one of these ideas has been about the limits of productivity when computing at work, due to restrictive use policies.

Every time I run into a situation where my access is restricted at my job, I'm surprised. Maybe in a couple of years I won't be, but before I was earning a paycheck at an institution I was used to doing whatever I needed/wanted to on a computer. Now suddenly I have to have someone else's explicit permission and approval to get my work done. I'm not trying to go on a rant here, as I sense that a locked-down mentality is here to stay in large organizations, but as a user I do find it really annoying. 

It's similar to carrying a big wad of keys around with you at all times. Every time you encounter a door, you are distracted from your task while you root around in your bag to find the keys, try and remember which key goes in the lock, and what the trick is to get the door open. 

I've heard theories about single sign-ons such as OpenID, but I can't imagine businesses catching on to this for their employees, in the same way that I can't imagine locksmiths agreeing on one key for all doors. The security risks are too great, so we're stuck with this model for now.

But really, there has to be a better way ... I'm sure IT employees dislike restricting access and use as much as I dislike being restricted ... at least, most of them. The ones who aren't trying to exaggerate their importance ... but hey, what do I know? Like I said, I'm just a user. But doesn't it seem a pain for an admin to have to download every latest Firefox update??

I wonder whether eventually there will just be better ways to verify identity when computing ... or maybe there'll just be enough irritated people like me to create a critical mass ...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

How an "Unconference" Works

Is it spring yet?

So I attended central New York's first library "unconference" this past Tuesday. It was part of a two-day Library Camp, with Tuesday being a day-long discussion of The Future of Libraries and the Wednesday focusing on Collection Development. 

This is how Tuesday's event went: there were 4 "tracks" -- leadership, technology, policy, and service. During each hour of the event, you could pick from four simultaneous discussions going on, one from each track. (16 discussions in all). Discussions were loosely moderated by one designated individual, one person took notes, and one staff person was there to supervise. At the end of the day, everyone joined together in one room to hear summaries of each of the discussions. 

Overall it was a neat experience. I won't go into detail here about the topics discussed, but I did want to comment a bit about the format & make suggestions for anyone thinking about organizing or attending an unconference: 

1) The first and perhaps most important thing to keep in mind is that attendees must come prepared to participate. Those who had the most to say had clearly been thinking about the topics ahead of time. 

2) In addition to being intellectually prepared, it is essential to be ready to pay attention to what other people have to say, to the benefit of the whole discussion. When attending a regular conference it's easy to tune in and out, and no-one's the wiser, but at an unconference you really have to focus and engage or you'll quickly be on the outside of the discussion. 

3) Personal experiences that may seem irrelevant or meaningless (or even embarrassing) to an individual may be interesting or illuminating to the group. The kind of honest, off-the-cuff reflections on experiences can save others hours of labor and thought. The informality of an unconference is ideal for this kind of sharing.

4) Some people didn't say much, and I wondered if they were naturally quieter and wanted longer to reflect than the format allowed. On the other hand, those less afraid to speak up contributed more -- even if it was not relevant to the discussion.  

5) No-one was anonymous. I know the name and institution of the person who was sleeping in two of the discussions I attended. On the bright side, because I got to listen to others I felt I got to know people more than I would have at a regular conference, which was great. 

6) The last (wrap-up) session of the unconference is tricky -- you want to bring everyone together and summarize everything, but people have been energetically contributing all day & don't want to suddenly revert to sitting in a lecture hall. Also, there's the risk of summarizing without concluding anything or calling for action. 

Well, that's all I've got for right now. 

The organizers did a great job, & I'm really proud to have taken part in the experiment. I hope this type of thing continues!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Thoughts on Being a Young Librarian


(Ho-hum, just an average week)

So it was my birthday this past week, and alongside that brush with mortality was the realization that I'm one of the youngest professional librarians out there:

I'm 27 years old. I had one year between my undergraduate degree and my master's degree. I finished my master's degree in August, 2006, and was working as a professional by January 2007.

In light of my somewhat unique status, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the good and bad of being a young librarian in 2008.

"good"

-Some of the students I serve are closer to being my peers than are my coworkers. I think sometimes the students feel comfortable talking to me because of this. Particularly about computer problems.

-I remember experiencing first hand some of those computer problems they're encountering.

-Diversity in any form is good, right? My youthfulness breaks the ranks.

-I never had to integrate technology into my life, because I grew up with it. Technology is my friend. So much so that I'm sometimes unimpressed by it. I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon in favor of the latest and greatest, but I am going to expect a lot from IT departments.

"bad"

-People think I know everything about computers. Hmmmm.

-I keep being mistaken for a student. Apparently librarians are expected to be old.

-Sometimes I feel like I'm representing youth in general, rather than having an individual opinion or perspective.

-I missed the boat on some traditional library common knowledge. I missed the experience of using books and paper to do everything, and paper processes are the basis for a lot of the electronic library processes.


Now really, I'm not self-conscious about being young all that much -- I'm at work to do a job and to do it professionally, and I think I've been doing OK so far. But maybe this will be interesting to read a few years from now, as more and more younger librarians find jobs in the field.

I'm sure I'll add more ideas as I think of them!

Also, I'll be attending an "unconference" in Syracuse, NY this Tuesday, and I may write about the event sooner than next Sunday.