Thursday, October 31, 2013

30th Year Reflections/60: Next Steps

“The Road goes ever on and on | Down from the door where it began. | Now far ahead the Road has gone, | And I must follow, if I can, | Pursuing it with eager feet, | Until it joins some larger way | Where many paths and errands meet. | And whither then? I cannot say.” — J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

On June 14, 2012 I posted the first of what quickly became a series of posts floating under the title “30th Year Reflections.” In that first post I noted that

Thirty years ago this October I entered the library profession. Over the course of those thirty years I have held five positions, four of them in an academic setting: instruction/reference librarian, library director, medical librarian, director of archives, and curator of special collections and rare books. The path I mapped out for myself at the beginning of my career was altered a bit along the way. But for the most part I ended up where I hoped I would end up: in a large academic research library. My initial career map thirty years ago did not get down to specific job titles or duties so it is still a bit of a surprise to me (and maybe to others as well) that I ended up where I am, in the world of archives and special collections as a curator of special collections and rare books. The question I’m facing at the moment is: will I stay here?

I went on and observed that this was a good moment for me to reflect on my career. “The time for such a reflection is perfect (for me if for no one else): by my reckoning I am about two-thirds of the way through my career; I have worked for thirty years and anticipate retiring after another fourteen to sixteen years of labor.” The calculus on my retirement date might change, but as it now stands I plan on retiring sometime between 2024 and 2027. Young whippersnappers with an eye on my chair can plan accordingly.

This is my last post in the series. I’ll continue to write and post things here, but will orient my gaze more to present and future concerns and less a remembrance of days past. For the most part, I met what modest goals I had for this series: to remember, reflect, and celebrate thirty years in the library profession; to energize a flagging blog; and to maintain a discipline of weekly writing. Along the way, I picked up another writing project that morphed into a book on the closing of the University of Minnesota library school. The manuscript for the book is finished. All I need now is a publisher.

I want to emphasize, as I did at the beginning, the celebratory nature of these posts. As I wrote over a year ago, “I am glad to be a librarian; I have no regrets. It is, to borrow from the religious world of my father (and also my second son) my ‘calling.’ This is the profession I was meant for, that I was created for.”

The opening quotation to this last post is from one of my favorite authors. Tolkien expresses, better than I ever could, my mind and being—professional and personal—at this moment in time. Like Bilbo of the Shire, a great part of my adventure is over. I’ve confronted dragons, riddled in the dark, seen many parties come and go. Also, like Bilbo, there are times when “I feel all thin, sort of stretched…like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” And yet, my days are far from over. “I want to see mountains again.” There is much still to do. “I must follow, if I can, | Pursuing it with eager feet.”

The question Tolkien’s song raises in my mind is: what is “it?” Is “it” my remaining professional ambitions and desires? If so, what are they? To see books or articles published? Yes. Participate in the work of professional association committees? Maybe. Continue teaching? Yes. Maintain a discipline of writing? Yes. Administer a larger unit? Probably not. Encourage and mentor younger professionals? You bet. I want to continue learning, retain my sense of humor, nurture friendships and collegial relationships. I am happy at my post (while even here there is more that needs to be done, in a better fashion). But I yearn for more.

What might this be? Is “it” an expanded vocational calling, of being stretched in new ways that grow me as both a professional and person, of joining “some larger way | Where many paths and errands meet?” I hope so. The digital world is in many ways a fearful place, full of challenges. Perhaps continuing to abide in such a world requires a hobbit’s heart: stout, brave, yet cheerful and optimistic. If so, I will cultivate those sensibilities (along with the occasional need of a “second breakfast”). I do not know what the remaining days of my professional life will bring. “And whither then? I cannot say.”

I would, in concluding this series, make one correction to an observation I made in the very first posting. There I wrote about “the path I mapped out for myself at the beginning of my career.” There was, indeed, a path and a map. But I had little to do with its making. The map was there long before I arrived on the scene. And as to the path, it was made apparent to me more by others than by me. I needed the counsel of the Wise, my own Gandalf, to help discern the way. Others in the fellowship went before me, others guided me on my way and joined me on the path. It was rarely a case of my forging ahead on my own, and when I did, more often than not it was a wrong turning. I am thankful for the companionship along the way that made this part of the journey so memorable and rewarding. I look forward to the future, until a breaking of the fellowship, and even beyond. Mára mesta! Namárië!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

30th Year Reflections/59: By Example

“The older I get the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.” — Andrew Carnegie

A few weeks ago I gave graduate students in my preservation management class an assignment. I asked them to watch a presentation given on September 30th at the University of Minnesota by Elliott Shore, Executive Director for the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and James Hilton, Dean of Libraries and Vice Provost for Digital Education Initiatives at the University of Michigan. This joint presentation was made possible by University Librarian Wendy Lougee (who also serves as ARL president), and appeared under the general title “Research Libraries at Scale: Moving from 19th Century Origins to 21st Century Solutions.” While watching this presentation, I asked my students to keep in mind three questions and to write a 1,500 word short paper based on answers to those questions. The questions were these: What did Shore or Hilton say that relates to preservation? Does it make sense? Does what they said give you a roadmap to think about preservation planning in the future? Perhaps not the most profound questions, but intentional all the same. I wanted my students to: a) have a chance to hear two influential professional leaders speak about the future of libraries, and b) pull out and assemble thoughts on a topic not immediately apparent in the theme of the Shore/Hilton presentation, i.e. library preservation programs and planning.

My students handed in their papers last Saturday. Before reading them, I thought of another experiment (akin to my MLA pre- and post-conference experience of the last two posts): commit my own thoughts to paper, post them to the blog, and see how they stand up against my students. This, like my MLA reflections, is a bit risky (for me and my students). But why ask my students to do something if I’m not willing to do it myself? In my piece I spend more time than my students might at the beginning summarizing the Shore/Hilton presentation; I think it is necessary for context. I then wrap up with some observations on preservation. Here, then, are my reflections on the Shore/Hilton presentation as they relate to preservation programs and planning.

* * * * * * *

The long-term preservation of culturally and educationally important materials is a core function of libraries. Shore—in setting the table for Hilton—argued “that how we are acting now (or trying to react to what we are seeing) is deeply and inexorably rooted in a period of human history whose foundations are now crumbling” and whose practices and habits, developed across all cultures of the world, “mark our habit of thought and continue to be present in how we make our decisions.” He further argued that “the library is the central institution that bears the most marks of the thinking of the last century and a half” and that it was his firm belief “that if we understand our habits of mind better, we may be in a better position to make choices among a seemingly infinite number” of possibilities. Preservation, as a core function, bears some of these marks and habits of thought.

Shore assisted us in this historical introspection by noting, in essence, our bad habits, i.e. the things we need to break. He observed: “The penetration of the dynamic, changeable nature of digital, web-based, linked information technologies to universities and to research libraries has shown the fissures and exposed the assumptions in some of the fixed structures into which we have organized ourselves and how we think about our work.” These habits include (but are not limited to) a propensity towards reducing problems to discrete parts and tasks; creating (and continuing)—through classification and sorting activities—information silos; organizing ourselves and our work hierarchically; assuming that items in our care are, by their nature, discrete and finished. By breaking these habits (and perhaps healing our scars in the process), we can move from a discrete, contained, hierarchical, rigid, single profession mode of existence toward something that engages us in a fluid, ubiquitous, diverse, collaborative, and interprofessional reality.

Beyond introspection (to continue a psychoanalytic or religious metaphor), Shore asks us ostensibly to perform a professional confession, i.e. to acknowledge our current state: We have lost control; we need to get beyond our “binary oppositions” of centralization versus decentralization, control versus openness, fixed versus shifting categories; we are jolted by the rapid appearance and aggressive behavior of commercial, social, and personal entities in “our” domain; we are not alone; there is a way out; we need to seek a middle ground.

The confessional ends with the realization that there is a middle ground, but even here questions arise, the principal being: “Where do we differentiate ourselves from one another and where do we work together?” Is it, as Shore seems to say, that this middle ground, this new place of professional identity and activity is in both these areas of difference and collaboration? For examples, he points to aggregators and cultural commons, e.g. the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and Wikipedia, and quotes Charles Henry’s observation (“Higher Ground”) that the next two decades “could witness an extraordinary fluorescence of activity among universities and colleges focused on repositioning, consolidation, and convergence.” Is this the middle ground of which he speaks? If so, what does this mean for the core function of preservation?

Hilton, in response to (or continuing) Shore’s presentation, framed matters another way, i.e. if Shore’s talk was classical music, then Hilton offered free-wheelin’, pickin’, kinetic bluegrass sprinkled with the blood of a Baptist preacher. His presentation, like a preacher’s sermon, included three major points: the emergent nature of change, irresistible forces, and opportunities/imperatives (aka celestial navigation).

On the emergent nature of change, Hilton noted that “our notions of change don’t serve us well.” We think of change as calm waters punctuated by rapids, when in fact it is really rapids all the time, all the way. Viewed this way, change is disruptive, messy, not orderly, planned, or predictable. While Hilton did not adequately define what he meant by emergence (as understood, for example, in systems theory) he did point to it as a strategy for dealing with change. In this sense we have a known starting point and desired direction, but an unknown end point. Part of this strategy involves identifying and adjusting “fundamental conditions” so that “new opportunities will emerge.” It also entails instilling “a discipline of ‘fine-tune as you go’ and refinement based on experience. Hilton likened the process to sailing.

Taking up the sailing theme we might quote Seneca: “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” Hilton might respond that the port is not important, just the direction. (We would hope he wants to hit land at some point, if for no other reason than to reprovision his ship—assuming the natives are friendly and their stores abundant.) We might also amend his earlier image of change (which included pictures of canoes or kayaks on calm water and rapids) to a sailing image that includes the natural forces of massive swells, towering waves, smooth seas, and doldrums. These maritime dynamisms would correspond (by name if not by nature) to the four irresistible forces, i.e. emerging conditions, outlined in his talk: higher education, consumerization/relevance, unbundling, and digital.

Under these conditions—adjusting the tiller—we might expect nearly continuous evaluation or redefinition of the purposes and meaning of education, who participates in education, and how it is financed. We might also expect incessant gusts from port or starboard in the form of commercial blowhards (I mean entities) telling us how they can do it better, cheaper, more efficiently, etc. As an example, Hilton gave us a charming thumbnail portrait of his colleague at Michigan, Paul Courant, and the interaction between Courant and the Elsevier publishing company on the topics of preservation and digitization.

Elsevier: “Look, we were Galileo’s publisher. Trust us. We’re going to be fine.”
Courant: “We have the hubris to be unimpressed with your track record of longevity.”
Courant: “Where did you go to get your backfiles for digitization?”
Courant: “You’re going to go to your board of directors and propose something with a perpetual, binding liability with no revenue stream behind it?”

Hilton’s conclusions, his celestial navigation, led him to five final imperatives: 1) re-orient around durable access, 2) tie our fate to collaboration, 3) harness economies of scale, 4) be Switzerland on steroids (i.e. neutral and highly engaged), and 5) double down on audacity.

Let me return to the three questions I posed to my students as they relate to preservation planning in libraries. If the five major components of preservation planning are environmental control, emergency preparedness, security, storage, and handling/use, then at first blush Shore/Hilton said little in specific terms about this core library function. But in broad terms, and as a roadmap to the future, they gave us plenty to think about.

First, Shore challenged us to examine those habits of thought and work that have become embedded in our professional consciousness. In terms of managerial planning and conservators’ treatments we might question the amount of time, staff, space, and money spent on treating individual items in loco. If we are collaborating, i.e. practicing what Hilton called an “intentional interdependence between organizations,” and working to scale it would seem we would want to invest more of our resources on regional treatment centers to which numerous institutions could send individual items for attention. Something like the Regional Alliance for Preservation might provide a model or a vehicle for this type of work.

This also argues for active, real-time discussions across institutions and among staffs/faculties of what should be sent for treatment to such regional centers, what can be done in-house, or ignored. Such a discussion overlaps Shore’s concern for a middle ground and the question: “Where do we differentiate ourselves from one another and where do we work together?” If we differentiate ourselves, in part, through our special and rare collections, then we are long overdue for a conversation (let alone collaborative work) about physical and digital preservation planning for these materials. This conversation, among regional or consortial curatorial staff, needs to happen sooner rather than later. The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) have a number of initiatives that address physical and digital preservation: the Shared Print Repository, Hathi Trust Digital Repository, the Google Book Search Project. But almost all of this activity addresses circulating or journal collections, not rare or special materials. It is time for curatorial staffs (and associated faculty) to gather, talk, and act.

Some might argue that digital humanities initiatives or cultural commons projects like the DPLA meet this need. This may be the case on the digital front, but I do not think it adequately addresses Hilton’s call to re-orient around durable access. Here he pointed to “traditional content,” (books and paper) as being less problematic, i.e. put it on the shelf in an environmentally stable, secure, place and we’ll be fine for five hundred years. This may be so, but we do not, at present, have the necessary capacity for such storage. The physical is being shortchanged in favor of the digital. We need to be collaboratively audacious on both fronts.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

30th Year Reflections/58: MLA 2013--After The Gold Rush

“Bet you didn't think I knew how to rock 'n' roll / Lord, I got the boogie-woogie right down in my very soul.” — Eric Clapton

Forgive me the mixed rock and roll metaphors by using a Neil Young song for the title of this post and a Clapton lyric to open the set, but I wanted to capture some of the spirit (and fun) I had at the Minnesota Library Association annual conference last week in St. Cloud—and their conference theme: “Libraries Rock.” It was a most excellent show! (I even came away with a conference T-shirt.)

As promised, I’m returning to my pre-conference list of expectations to give a little post-conference analysis. A week ago I stated my hopes with the sessions I’d marked out for myself from the conference schedule. Here, then, is my assessment of those sessions:

All Facts Considered: a Conversation with an NPR Librarian (Kee Malesky and Sasha Aslanian)

This promised to be a conversation between Malesky and Aslanian and it was. I was a little surprised that Sasha turned the questioning over to the audience so quickly, but I’m sure those in the audience didn’t mind a chance to pepper Kee with questions. In her opening, Malesky nodded to the Minnesota crowd with references to Senators Klobuchar and Franken, the politics of the medical device tax, and our favorite son, Garrison Keillor. And we got a flavor for some of the nuts and bolts of the operation, for example:

• a snapshot of her office and surroundings
• dealing with “cataloging emergencies
• the systematic approach to digitizing NPR’s collections (back to 1971, confronting their backlog, public availability back to 2008)
• working with IT staff on designing news and music databases (Artemis and Orpheus)
• unusual reference questions (How much water in the Great Lakes system; answer: 6.25 quadrillion gallons)
• use of experts (“Whatever fact I’m looking for, there is someone whose job it is to know that fact, and they’re waiting for us to call them.”)
• size of the library staff (fourteen, all located in Washington, DC, servicing 17 foreign bureaus and 16 domestic. Minnesota Public Radio apparently does not have a librarian on staff.)
• professional pointers (“You’re an intelligent adult. Use the advance search option whenever possible.”)
• the fact that two jobs are currently open at the NPR library (watch the applications stream in)
• words of wisdom (“Libraries and journalists are essential for a functioning democracy.”)
• the amazing internal NPR wiki
• some of the weekend personalities, e.g. Daniel Schorr, Susan Stamberg, Scott Simon. Simon once asked Kee for “a list of blonde women who are not dumb.” Simon and Sylvia Poggioli are her favorites to work with; she would not “dish” on who was the “quirkiest.”

There were a few complaints about the sound system/acoustics in the large hall. It was hard, at times, to hear the commentary. My favorite quote from Kee was this: “Have you ever been stumped? No, we’ve never been stumped. But why did you call five minutes before going on air?” This opening keynote, despite the poor acoustics, delivered what it promised, and more. While I didn’t find out what might have been Kee’s greatest challenge (I didn’t ask) or what trends she sees for the future, Kee and Sasha kicked us off in great fashion.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Libraries Respond to the Aging of America (Diantha Schull)

Schull spoke to a packed room (many of them “boomers”), indicating an interest in her topic. She started out with an overview, observing that there are no codified best practices for this demographic group, the landscape is wide open, and that this was a period of “second adulthood” or “encore careers.” One of the big surprises for me was the growth in the segment of the population that will hit the age of 100 (or more), and the growing diversity of these older segments of the population. Getting into more specifics, Schull mentioned a number of programs (e.g. Fit for Life, Life by Design, Conversation Salons, and Wise Walks) while also pointing to model programs (e.g. Multnomah, Allegheny, New Haven). Surprisingly, only 3 of 31 MLIS programs she studied had courses related to older adults. My biggest take-away: Libraries are hiding senior adult programming, it is not apparent on their websites. Libraries need to get this stuff out front like they do for children and young adults. Schull also noted that senior adults are not as far behind the technology curve as we think; many are active with gaming and social media.

As with the opening keynote, Schull met most of my expectations. She did not say anything about challenges with search technologies, and most of her presentation seemed geared to a public library setting, but there was enough here to think about programming and outreach in an academic setting.

Legislative Update (Mark Ranum and Elaine Keefe)

In some ways this was a “no brainer,” i.e. we (a small group) received (and appreciated) a thorough briefing from Keefe on the past legislative session. We were treated to an additional panelist with Sam Walseth (also a lobbyist at Capitol Hill Associates with Keefe), who gave us a look at the upcoming session. The bonding bill, transportation, education payment shift, and possibly the minimum wage will be considered in a session colored by election year activities. There were no observations on the federal shutdown, but I did throw Keefe a bit of a curve with a question about who might be at risk for reelection.

ARLDapalooza (Meeting and Poster Session)

The business meeting of the division, including revisions to the bylaws, was swiftly dealt with. This left us more time to chat and enjoy the poster session. I’ll admit to being a bit distracted at this point (after a delicious lunch and time in the exhibit hall). I scanned the posters (kudos to those who prepared them) and got a glimpse of their interests. It was a good time to chat with colleagues (and also enjoy the beautiful fall air).

Future Focused—Trends Impacting Library Services: the Minitex Perspective (Valerie Horton)

This may have been my “home run” session of the day or conference (to mix baseball with rock music). Valerie was a whirlwind as she addressed various trends and spectrums (e.g. physical/virtual, individual focus/community focus, collection library/creation library). And she was very quotable and provocative.

• On describing the exponential expansion of information: “If you want to be afraid, now is the time.”
• On the authoritative nature of libraries/librarians/information versus the non-authoritative nature of mash-ups, crowd-sourcing, randomly created/organized information, etc.: “We’ve already lost. We cannot be the ‘heavy hand.’”
• On the march of technology: “Old technologies never die; they just find their niche.”
• On libraries and books: “If books are everywhere, why go to libraries?”
• On our own skill set: “Digital publishing is the next library skill.”
• This follow-up question: “Is the creation library our next great mission?”
• And this contextual observation: “The library story is a local story.”

There are more quotes, I’m sure. I was surprised by her observation that we are past the explosive growth of e-books; I’m not so sure. In the end, she gave us a picture of an anytime, anywhere library staff (mobile, embedded), enabling community research experts, local digitization and local publication. What will not change is access for all, in multiple formats, with abiding concerns for fair use, intellectual property, intellectual freedom, and privacy rights. We live and work in an individual place that is also a community place. I did not come away with a specific sense on how all this will translate into legislative action, but a roadmap was given all the same. These are exciting and interesting times.

MLA Membership Meeting

As with the division meeting, the membership meeting went smoothly. The amendments to the bylaws were approved; and there was some discussion and slight tweaking of the legislative platform, but no food fights.

What Is This Thing Called Digital Humanities? (Bahnemann, Oberg, Schell)

This early morning second day session sparked a number of things for me to think about, especially with geo-tagging/GIS. As I listened to the panel, ideas kept spilling out, some related to collections I curate and others to my own research: linking GIS data with a biographical study I did of early Swedish-American ministers; digitally mapping Swedish immigrant settlements; more aggressive use of Omeka for digital exhibitions; geo-tagging scans from our postcard collection, medieval manuscripts, and cuneiform; crowd-sourcing our papyri fragments; even mapping locations in the Sherlock Holmes stories. This session delivered the goods in unexpected ways.

A Rock Band Needs a Roadie: Using Guide on the Side for Tutorials (Hootman, Lee)

This session did the least for me, not because of anything in the delivery, but because it became apparent that the kind of tutorial we might need for archives and special collections could not be met (at least at first blush) by “Guide on the Side.” It seems geared more toward tie-ins with periodical indexes or other research tools, but not in a more comprehensive approach to working with archives and special collections materials. I might explore this a little more, but I’m not sure this open source software will fit the bill.

Surviving the Public: Customer Service the Unshelved Way (Ambaum, Barnes)

Ambaum and Barnes gave me just what I needed: comic relief and a pick-me-up. Well done!

Rocked and Rolled: Lessons From Closing the U of M Library School

Others might offer comments on my session. I’ll simply note that thunder and lightning erupted during my presentation. It was nice of the divine (or Mother Nature) to add the special effects, all too appropriate to the topic at hand.

Off-Label Uses for Books (McKean)

I’ll admit that by this point my mind was mush and I was winding down from my presentation. I found a quiet seat in the back of the hall and soaked it all in.

Thanks to the program committee, MLA leadership, and everyone else involved in the conference. It was a great two days! My expectations were met or exceeded. You can recap the conference (or experience it vicariously/virtually, if you didn’t have the chance to attend) by following the Twitter feed, hashtag #mnlib13. Rock on!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

30th Year Reflections/57: MLA 2013 Expectations

“Checking the results of a decision against its expectations shows executives what their strengths are, where they need to improve, and where they lack knowledge or information.” — Peter Drucker

I do not know if what follows is a true thought experiment, following classic lines. But after the previous post here in which I talked about the upcoming MLA annual conference, I concluded that the post was not really a personal reflection that fit within this series of thirtieth year ruminations; it was an advertisement for the conference. And so I decided to come back to this drawing board and attempt something different: to list in advance all the sessions I marked out for myself from the conference schedule and state my expectations. Then, after the conference, I will come back to the list and make some judgments on whether or not those sessions met my expectations. I realize this is a bit risky, for me and the presenters. I’m publicly stating my hopes; in the week to follow I’ll offer my assessment. Here, then, is my session list and expectations:

All Facts Considered: a Conversation with an NPR Librarian (Malesky and Aslanian)

This promises to be a conversation between Malesky and Aslanian. What I’m hoping to hear are inside stories of what it is like to work at one of my favorite (and trusted) news sources, what might have been most challenging for Malesky during nearly three decades at NPR, insights into some of the individuals she’s met over her career, how her work has changed over thirty years, and what trends she sees in news reporting and her interaction with that reporting (including preservation and access to this record) in the future.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Libraries Respond to the Aging of America (Schull)

I’m in the demographic group Schull will address during her session. She will “review the changing landscape of services…highlight innovations in libraries…offer ideas and examples useful for professionals in both public and academic libraries.” Part of my curiosity with this session is how much Schull will look externally at patrons and internally at libraries. I’m especially interested to see how she sees 50+ folks interacting with technologies, especially search and social media. Also, I’ll be curious to see what she says about programming and outreach to this segment of the population.

Legislative Update (Keefe and Ranum)

This session is pretty straightforward, an update on MLA legislative activities “and issues of interest to all types of libraries.” Keefe and Ranum are pros when it comes to tracking legislative activity. What I’ll be looking for are issues I can track once the legislature is in session so that I’ll be ready to lobby when Legislative Day rolls around. I'm hoping they might also make some observations on the impact of the federal shutdown.

ARLDapalooza (Meeting and Poster Session)

This is an Academic and Research Libraries Division meeting. There are proposed revisions to the bylaws (which I need to review before the meeting) and perhaps other business to attend to in short order. The poster session is the main draw; I’ll be interested to see what my colleagues are up to.

Future Focused—Trends Impacting Library Services: the Minitex Perspective (Horton)

Valerie will have a list of trends which we’ll be invited to explore and a chance to “provide input on the strategic position of Minitex’s programs and services for the future.” I’m always interested in trends and will be attentive to what she focuses on. Our unit provides copies of rare materials for Minitex, so I’ll keep an ear cocked for anything that might relate on this front. Since Minitex is such a “player” when it comes to lobbying the Legislature, I’ll be listening for anything in the trend/strategic discussion that translates into legislative action.

MLA Membership Meeting

More proposed amendments to the bylaws, including a change to the dues structure. My expectations are generally fairly low for a business meeting; I’ll walk away happy if the meeting was well-run, meaningful business efficiently conducted, with no food fights.

What Is This Thing Called Digital Humanities? (Bahnemann, Oberg, Schell)

I’m surprisingly a bit out of the loop on DH so I’ll look forward to what two of my colleagues from the U (and a former colleague, now at Macalester) have to say in their panel discussion that will get me back up to speed. Since I’m keeper to a wealth of material relevant to DH, I’ll be especially attentive to what technologies I might employ and the types of material of interest in curricular support.

A Rock Band Needs a Roadie: Using Guide on the Side for Tutorials (Hootman, Lee)

We’ve talked for some time within our department about tutorials. I’m not sure, for all our talk, that we’ve ever launched something successful online that might be useful in the area of archives and special collections. We do have a web page with pointers to external tutorials and other useful links. But I think our own product is still “in the can.” So I’ll be interested to see what “Guide on the Side” might have to offer.

Surviving the Public: Customer Service the Unshelved Way (Ambaum, Barnes)

This is another “headliner” in our two day biblio-rock festival. Given that this falls sometime around lunch, I’ll be looking for some comic relief and a pick-me-up.

Rocked and Rolled: Lessons From Closing the U of M Library School

I’m offering this session so my self-expectation is to be at the top of my game and provide a lively and informative presentation to those attending.

Off-Label Uses for Books (McKean)

The final “headliner” performance before the conference ends. I’ll be coming down from my session so my biggest expectation here will be something that sends me on my way with a bit of zip and energy. My hope is that I’ll be pleased with what I experienced over the last two days, excited to be in this profession, and eager to take what I learned back to work and share it with others.

This is the "meat and potatoes" of the conference; I've not mentioned any of the social times or "fun" activities scheduled for early morning, midday, or in the evening. I'm looking forward to those as well, but I'll spare them any post-conference analysis. See you in St. Cloud!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Libraries Rock! MLA 2013

“This premier educational event equips library staff with new ideas and tools to stay up-to-date, innovate, and succeed in their careers, and attracts more than 400 library professionals, Friends of the Library, and library trustees from across Minnesota.” — Minnesota Library Association

On Thursday and Friday I will be in St. Cloud, Minnesota, site of the 2013 Minnesota Library Association Annual Conference. This year’s conference theme is “Libraries Rock!” The program takes its cues from a multi-day rock music festival, complete with headliners, sets, jam sessions, intermissions, and after-parties. Headliners and featured presenters include: Kee Malesky, National Public Radio librarian, with Sasha Aslanian, Minnesota Public Radio senior reporter; Overdue Media’s Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum; Erin McKean, founder of Wordnik; The Geek Girls; and authors Mary Sharratt and Laura Salas. (I first met and worked with Sasha Aslanian from MPR years ago—I can't remember the exact date—I think on a documentary related to Eugene McCarthy. It will be good to see her again.) According to a recent Twitter “tweet” over 550 folks will be attending. If you’re unable to attend, you can follow the conference hashtag on Twitter: #mnlib13. You can also join the festivities on Facebook or follow the blog. Check out the MLA website for additional information. I’m presenting during “Set 6” (Rocked and Rolled: Lessons From Closing the U of M Library School) and looking forward to a great time.

The MLA news release (from which I quote below) gives a little more information about “Libraries Rock!”

New for 2013 is the Talkin’ ’Bout My Generation mini-conference focused on library services for older adults, featuring hands-on activities, displays, and breakout sessions with:

• Diantha Schull, author of 50+ Library Services: Innovation in Action
• Brain Fitness – Keeping brains sharp; public libraries and the Alzheimer's Association working together
• Maura O’Malley, presenting Encore: Libraries, the Arts, and Older Adults
• Joyce Yukawa, presenting Finding the Fires that Burn Within: A Community-Based Framework for Developing Older Adult Services

The 2013 Annual Conference offers more than 60 sessions across nine simultaneous tracks (Administration & Leadership; Authors, Literature, and Programming; Children & Young Adults; Collection Management & Technical Services; Digital Information & Technologies; Diversity; Professional Development; Public Services; Library Trustees & Friends), Appy Hour breakfast showcase, a silent auction fundraiser, countless networking opportunities, and an exhibit hall with more than 40 vendors showcasing library products and services. New features this year include a Battle of the Bands Trivia Night and a member directory photo booth.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to me at the MLA conference is a chance to converse with colleagues I don’t see every day, to hear about their lives in the trenches, to pick up a few new tidbits of information that will assist me in my work, and to be provoked toward longer, more contemplative thoughts. Not every conference does this for me, but I’m full of hope that this year’s MLA offering will give me some things to bring back home and chew on. This year MLA also offers a conference “app” for creating a personalized schedule. I’ve plugged in sessions of interest into the app and am ready for the first headliner on Thursday morning.

I may have more to say after the conference. For now, I’m concentrating on making sure I have my act together for my presentation on Friday. With my book still in search of a publisher it has been a while since I’ve given a close look at the manuscript. But I’ll have facts and figures, stories and personalities at the ready on Friday afternoon. In the meantime, I’m trying to cram five days of work into three. The weather promises to be clear and warm, perfect autumn days in central Minnesota. I hope to see many of you there!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

College Football—And Libraries—Live Here!

Sometimes an opportunity to promote collections drops into our lap, out of the blue. Occasionally such chances link our materials with surprising partners, those we’re not used to dealing with on a daily basis. Such was the case when I received an e-mail note from Cathie Hunt, an associate director for the global cable/satellite sports television network ESPN in mid-September. The University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football team was scheduled to play the San José State University Spartans that coming weekend. As television broadcaster for the game, ESPN had an interest in things beyond the stadium. (The title for this post is a takeoff on the ESPN College Football tagline.) As I soon discovered, this Saturday gridiron contest provided new venues of exposure for our collections and the Libraries, invited new connections with the University’s Athletic Department, and confirmed the importance of our online presence.

Cathie’s initial note was short and to the point: “I am the Associate Director for ESPN's football broadcast this weekend. When we come to a University we like to show something that is different and unique about the school and the campus. The Sherlock Holmes collection is something that I am sure our viewers would love to see. If it is possible, I would like to have our photographer come to the library on Friday morning and shoot some of this collection. He would only need an hour at the most to set up and shoot. Please let me know if this is feasible.”

My first response, before answering Cathie, was to check with the Libraries’ Director of Communications, Mark Engebretson. We are encouraged to contact Mark whenever an approach is made by media outlets to ensure we’re following correct protocol (and to keep him in the loop on these various contacts). Mark quickly responded and urged me to go ahead and make the arrangements. He alerted the University’s News Service about ESPN’s interest. I also notified Wendy Lougee, University Librarian; Kris Kiesling, Andersen Library director and head of the Archives and Special Collections department; and Rob Strnad, our building manager.

Having taken care of all internal notifications, I enthusiastically responded to Cathie: “We'd be delighted to have an ESPN photographer come on Friday to shoot some of the collection. Just let me know what time your photographer would like to set up and shoot and I'll be sure to be available.” Cathie thanked me for a quick answer and added a thrilling response. “I am extremely excited that you will be available for our photographer on Friday. We are setting up the schedule for shooting things tomorrow so I will be able to give you an exact time for him to arrive….I will call you tomorrow and we can discuss the specifics.”

Cathie and I worked out the details. I was to meet “Dutch,” the ESPN photographer, and his assistant in front of Wilson Library at 10:30 Friday morning. Cathie also asked for additional information that might be useful to the producers and game announcers. “It can be as generic as you want or if it correlates with what Dutch is shooting that is good too. If there is a couple of ‘rare’ collectibles that he can shoot that would enhance the montage of pictures that also would add to the uniqueness of the collection.” I sent her specific blurbs on the Holmes Collections and more generic material on Special Collections/Archives and the University Libraries. I also threw in one other possibility that might interest her. “If we have time, we can walk a couple hundred feet to Andersen Library where the collection is housed 90 feet underground in environmentally controlled caverns. Dutch might be interested in some cavern shots.” Pitching her a further idea (after getting permission), I whipped off a quick note: “crazy idea for the shoot, if you want to pursue: the underground caverns are about 2 football fields in length, 24 feet high, 70 feet across. Maybe a couple of players tossing the ball amidst the stacks?”

Both Cathie and Dutch were intrigued by the caverns. As for players tossing a football underground, she replied: “I'll throw it past my producer.” In the end, we didn’t get the players or tossed footballs. But Dutch seemed pleased with his shots. After shooting Holmes items in Wilson Library—including our permanent exhibit of the sitting room at 221B Baker Street—we ambled over to Andersen Library, stopping briefly at the head of the pedestrian bridge running across to the East Bank campus to capture footage of students walking to and from classes. Once in Andersen, Dutch shot a few items from the Holmes exhibit before descending via elevator to cavern level. In one of the caverns Dutch was able to capture some exciting “dolly shots” of the stacks. The entire shoot, as promised, lasted about an hour.

After parting with Dutch and his assistant, I informed Cathie that we’d finished the shoot, that I had some still images of the caverns (if needed), and that Dutch thought the cavern footage might work well as another segment, aside from the Holmes material. I also sent her additional information about Andersen Library and the caverns, for use by the announcers. She thanked me for all my help with the shoot and also let me know that one of their “tape guys” was “a huge Sherlock Holmes fan” and was coming over to the library on his lunch break to take a look at the collection. I followed with one last request for a copy of the raw footage taken by Dutch. Happily, she said a copy could be provided and that I could stop by the production truck that evening to pick it up.

As the sun set Friday evening, I walked across campus and found the production trucks parked east of the football stadium. Cathie was not there—she had a production meeting—but in communications later that evening we arranged to meet early Saturday morning at the truck. At 5:30 on game day morning I returned to the production trucks and soon found Cathie at her desk, facing a wall of television monitors and other production equipment. I was tickled to see, if ever so briefly, this side of preparing for a football game and was amazed at all the people up and about so early on a Saturday morning: television crews, security personnel, vendors, and even fans setting up to tailgate before the game (with kickoff scheduled for 11am).

I couldn’t watch the game as I had a previous engagement to speak at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts later that morning, and so relied on social media to keep me informed if and when the library footage was used during the broadcast. During the shoot, Dutch told me that the clips were scheduled for the second quarter of the game, but that this could change depending on how the game unfolded. My Facebook and Twitter informants later confirmed the appearance of two short clips during the game. I was thrilled.

This experience reminded me of the important roles played by our Internet presence and with social media as part of our outreach toolbox. ESPN discovered our Holmes Collections online. Web-available text and images provided producers and announcers with important contextual information as they prepared for the game. From the time of my first encounter with Cathie and ESPN, I posted comments on Twitter. Some of my “tweets” were “re-tweeted” by others, including Sherlockians, the Athletic Department, other libraries, and colleagues. This gave us even greater exposure; the re-tweets amplified our message. And what is that message? The University is home to Golden Gopher football and world-class libraries, archival, and special collections, housed in state-of-the-art facilities. College football is a huge and powerful enterprise, gathering many fans. We were pleased to be a part of that energy on game day and thankful to ESPN for the opportunity. Perhaps those brief clips, played during a break in the action, along with my “tweets,” gathered a few more Libraries/Archives/Special Collections supporters. Go Gophers! Go Libraries! Game on! Ski-U-Mah!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

30th Year Reflections/56: Shutdowns and Strikes

“A wide range of academic research across the country, from sophisticated biomedical experiments at the National Institutes of Health to undergraduate political science essays, was being interrupted Wednesday as the federal government shutdown continued for a second day -- with no clear path to a resolution.” — Michael Stratford, Inside Higher Ed, October 3, 2013.

I have lived through few strikes, lockouts, furloughs, or shutdowns during my career; I can count the number on one hand. The only time I have been a member of a union was one summer during college, when I worked for a large rubber company known for its tires, belts, and hoses. During that summer, one of the company’s factories experienced a strike. As a member of the union, I was expected to contribute to a strike fund in support of workers at that factory. I reluctantly paid some of my future tuition money into the fund. I considered the payment, and my experiences over the summer, part of my education. The one time I experienced a furlough (of just a few days) was a year or two ago, the result of a tough economy. I’ve lived through a couple of strikes, and may live through one or two more. But I’ve always been on the “management” side of the equation. My job under those circumstances has been to prepare in advance of the strike and keep the lights on once the strike is underway.

All of which is to say that I cannot fully imagine what my colleagues working in federal government libraries are experiencing right now. What does one do when shut out from their place of work? Are personal finances robust enough to make it through the stoppage? I know I don’t have enough in the bank to make it for very long, if I was locked out and not receiving a paycheck. I’m sure some of my federal colleagues are in a similar position. All of a sudden a host of uncomfortable questions arise: How will I pay my rent or mortgage, my student loans, and other obligations? Will we have enough money for groceries? What do we do without? How long will this last?

My colleagues should not have to ask these questions. If those who govern truly understood our shared social contract, they would never jeopardize the health and security of fellow citizens, especially those in public service. To use an old-fashioned term, our elected officials should be ashamed of themselves. But shame, alas, is out of fashion. It is no longer a prime factor in our common enterprise. And so we turn to other means to declare dissatisfaction. If social media is any indicator, there is an immense amount of frustration among the populace with the government shutdown. The last one of these we lived through was eighteen years ago. I—along with others—voiced my concerns on Facebook. I also wrote and called my Congressman. I will also let my Senators know my perturbations. Informed advocacy is my hammer in the toolbox.

There is another aspect that comes to mind as I think about this disruption in our social fabric: how we relate to those in opposition, on the other side of the table or strike line. If I’ve learned nothing else during my professional career, I have come to value the importance of respect. It is a small but freighted word, one deserving serious consideration and vigilant attention. For some, respect needs to be earned. And in a way this is true. But for me the word has deeper roots. Even before it is earned, respect is there. It has a transcendent quality, connected to our very being. If one takes seriously, as I do, that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, then the very fact that another exists—outside of myself—commands an attentiveness to who and what they are, their needs, desires, dreams, and toils. Respect is born with the beginning of time. But as with shame, I understand that such a view of the cosmos is out of fashion, not useful in our technologically driven, gadget-filled world. We have little or no place for any being higher than ourselves. We are left to squabbling, finger-pointing, name-calling; the worst of who we are. I will seek a more excellent way and continue to live and work within a cosmology and metaphysics that makes sense to me and which never, of its own accord, shuts someone down or out.