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library mgmt

on the #blossom2021 debacle

If you’re a Library Twitter person, you probably saw a good amount of stuff today about the closing panel at the BLOSSOM conference, which I mentioned in my last post. Alex Brown wrote an excellent piece on their blog that should catch you up to speed if you want more details than what I’ll share here, but the gist of it is that I was on this panel and Alex and I swore a few times. Instead of choosing to interact with us privately or directly, the conference organizer, Bobbi Newman, elected to write a blog post condescending and criticizing our language choice and when called out on it proceeded to block me and at least a handful of other supportive folks.

I wanted to share a few things from my perspective, not because mine is the one that should in any way be centered during this, but because it will be cathartic for me. On Friday afternoon, for two hours almost right before the panel started, I attended a memorial service for one of my students who unexpectedly died on March 14; he and I had grown close this semester. In a year already pockmarked by tragedy and loss, this has broken our little community, and less than an hour before I was scheduled to speak at BLOSSOM, I was on a Zoom call grieving with my colleagues. I could have stepped down from the panel given the timing, but I decided not to because it was a challenge to pull it together in the first place. Bobbi asked me to be on the panel almost two months ago and I loved the sound of it, but I did not want the panel to be majority white voices. I reached out for help to a colleague who initially intended to be on the panel and recruited Alex, but this person ultimately had to step down due to medical needs. I asked Ray Pun, who I know from Library Freedom Project, to join us as well, and he found our fourth panelist, Nicollette Davis. All in all, it took about a month and a half to get the panel pulled together. Ray was instrumental in writing our questions, and as Alex notes, we discussed other logistics like Alex’s preference for not speaking first. Bobbi was minimally involved in this planning, and she did not even add the description we came up with for our panel to the conference website (and before the recording of our talk was taken down at our request, the page it was embedded on only contained the title of the talk and a content warning).

By the time 4:35 rolled around on Friday and we got to the final question on the panel, I was exhausted and ready to blow off some steam. Alex had said two swears and I decided to validate their ability to do that, thinking there’s strength in numbers (and I hold privileges that they do not). Did I say “fuck” and “shit” a couple times each? Yes. Did I do it because I thought I was in a safe space where I could speak honestly? Yes. Did I do it because I was exhausted from grief and nerves? Yes. Was it intentional? Yes, because I felt as the sole white person on the panel that I should try to absorb potential criticism, and because I wanted to release some of my feelings. Were these things we could have talked about with Bobbi like colleagues instead of stumbling across the equivalent of a post-it note from a roommate indirectly telling you to put the dishes away? Yes. Did she give us an opportunity to do that? No.

I didn’t find out about Bobbi’s post until I saw an email from Alex about it. In the post, she writes about a separate instance of fatphobic comments made by another presenter but – intentionally or not – winds up likening that with the swear words used during our panel. She also makes a few comments that dismiss the expertise of me and my fellow panelists, and goes on to deny that she could possibly be engaging in tone policing despite how others might hear her message. After consulting some friends early this morning, I decided to reply to Bobbi’s tweet about the post to try to shed some light on how she was manipulating the truth: “I really appreciated all of your work last week & standing up about the fat talk–I was cheering for you. But re: swearing, I’m disappointed you made this public in your post and didn’t reach out to me and the members of the panel first with your concerns. We are all pretty hurt.” It wasn’t exactly guns-ablazin’, but I still didn’t get a response.

As the day went on, the other presenters and I decided to write a joint statement:

On Friday, March 26, we spoke on a panel at the BLOSSOM symposium titled Reframing Library Work: A Discussion on Centering Staff Agency, Advocacy and Well Being. While we were impressed by and appreciative of many of the other talks offered during the event, we were deeply dismayed to see yesterday’s blog post by conference organizer Bobbi Newman, On moments of courage and the lack thereof.

In the post, Bobbi likens the use of profanity (specifically the “s-word” and “f-word”) during our panel to the use of fatphobic language used during another talk earlier in the week. Instead of speaking to us privately, Bobbi decided to air her concerns about our panel publicly and implies in her post that she spoke to us about her concerns. This did not happen; she had a chance to speak to us privately after the panel and congratulated us, leaving us with no impression that we had done something “wrong.” She also writes, “[the swearing] wasn’t used to make a point, it was used because the presenter felt they could.” Both of the panelists who swore did so intentionally, which is something that could have been discussed during a conversation between colleagues, but we were not given the chance.

While we are appreciative of our many fellow panelists and speakers during the event, Bobbi’s words feel very underhanded and hurtful, undermining the community vibe that BLOSSOM had seemed to so successfully knit together. We understand that this was posted in Bobbi’s own personal blog and although we acknowledge that she has a right to share what she feels on her own page, we disagree with how this situation was handled. As a result, we have asked that the recording of our panel be removed from the conference website. We apologize to folks who were looking forward to catching it later, but we felt this was our only choice given how things were handled.

Not long after this was posted, I found myself blocked by Bobbi. I have to say I was surprised and disappointed by this, too – I’ve worked with her twice in the past, most recently jumping on a panel at the ER&L conference she was moderating at the last minute. I would not expect this kind of behavior from her or anyone else I’ve worked with on multiple occasions. As Alex writes, “To discover Bobbi’s post by chance was hurtful and frustrating to me personally. If we’re going to talk about professionalism in the field, then this is a good example of what not to do.” Blocking me and other folks who backed us up is another shining example of what not to do.

While I was driving home from campus on Friday evening, I remember thinking “wow, that felt so great; I hope we can do this again next year and I can be involved again somehow.” It was so affirming to go to a conference where being frustrated about the administrative failures of our field and unreasonable expectations for each other and ourselves were being aired out in such a frank, solidarity-building way. Now, though, I feel like I was tricked into believing this event to be a safe space where if I did legitimately step on a rake, someone would talk to me about it and try to understand my perspective before passive-aggressively taking me to task on a blog post I may not have even seen if it weren’t for my co-panelists.

Today, I spent most of my waking hours being stressed out and anxious about the ramifications of all of this, having already experienced potentially devastating tone policing in the form of a letter written to my employer last summer. I also had to do my job, and right now that includes consoling grieving students and helping them deal with the last slog of an academic year that has felt like traversing the circles of hell. It was kind of a classic situation of the sort I at least thought we were trying to steer away from at an event like BLOSSOM. I thought we were focusing on the whole self, preventing over-extension, fostering empathy and clear communication, and recovering from the trauma we’ve all experienced since the pandemic began. But thanks to this unnecessary kerfuffle, I did not have a day where my morale, outlook, or well-being were in anything resembling a good place. We have a long fucking way to go if we can’t even make good on these things during the confines of a conference.

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library mgmt

normalize accountability

I went to two conferences I very much enjoyed this month – the Conference on Academic Library Management and BLOSSOM (Building Life-long Opportunities for Strength, Self-care, Outlook, Morale, and Mindfulness). Both of them had a ton of great information and ideas to unpack around being a better manager with a more holistic, empathetic approach. Both had sessions that dealt with how “burnout” narratives are framed – i.e., usually the blame for them falls on the individual rather than underlying concerns, power imbalances, or other systems that lead to worker struggle. I learned a ton and I am eager to rewatch the sessions that were recorded when I have the time. We had a great time commiserating about the myriad failings of our top administrators. But I couldn’t help but notice there was something that didn’t really get covered: what do we do with problematic colleagues or reports?

I bring this up because we have a serious toxicity problem in libraries. There’s a Green Book that exists for BIPOC library workers to help them avoid the most racist workplaces. I’ve been in several conversations lately where folks have said we need a whitelist of places that aren’t miserable, filled with drama, or under-resourced to the point of constant crisis. I am all about treating every staff person as a whole human being deserving of dignity and safety, but we need to talk about what we do with the individuals that actively add to the toxicity, whether that’s in the form of the -isms, chronically shirking responsibilities (and therefore sticking more work on the plates of their already overworked colleagues; a surefire way to get that resentment going), or being socially destructive, manipulative, etc.

Early this morning, because–to be frank–I am stressed out about work to the point where it’s interfering with my ability to sleep, I posted some semi-related thoughts on Twitter; I’m going to gently reword them here.

I think some of us library folk put up with dysfunctional, if not toxic, situations because we care so much about our patrons. And certain…architects of dysfunction know this and take advantage of it. This can go for caring about your colleagues, too. I’d say it’s not even intentionally malicious from the powers that be at times, and I’d expand this dynamic beyond libraries and to education as a whole. I think the blame for this is not on individual “carers,” but on patterns of neglect (lacking accountability for problematic colleagues, deficit logic, devalued work/life balance, lack of direction & vision, failure to acknowledge the importance of the library or congratulate its accomplishments, and territorial or siloed behavior). This is something different than vocational awe, although it’s a compounding factor. It’s maybe more like vocational exploitation: it’s not only our vision of ourselves as carers or helpers but the ways that makes us vulnerable (in a way that’s not our fault) to dysfunction.

So what I’m saying here is because I am able to self-motivate with things that are relatively consistent and separate from institutional whims that may or may not have my best interest in mind, I can get pretty far on the energy and reward I get out of helping students. Most of the time, that’s enough to take my mind off the underlying issues, but is that how we should be handling this? Should we continually be running down the lists of pros and cons in our heads and trying to find ways to justify sticking around when things are bordering on or crossing over into toxicity? There are situations where that may legitimately be the best option, like when you’re unable or unwilling to leave a job and need to actively compartmentalize things, but can we even measure how much energy that sucks up?

It pains me to try to write this because there is nuance beyond what my brain is capable of right at the moment, but if we’re going to deal with how rampant toxicity has become in this profession, I think we need to balance whole-self management with accountability. There are unfortunately people in this field who reproduce poisonous, outdated, and/or hateful ideology. They can be malicious; they can thrive on drama and undermining their colleagues instead of what keeps many of the rest of us going (helping patrons). We should not be trying to open the hearts and minds of absolutely everyone we work with, particularly if they’re xenophobes, but also if we’ve tried to do that for a long damn time and gotten exactly nowhere with it. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as “the boss” in the last almost-two-years is that management is a two-way street. The person being managed has to, on some level, want to be managed. If that’s not the case, I feel like it’s a Top Chef/Project Runway situation where they sometimes let people go when they don’t feel like they can impart any new knowledge or mentorship to them.

It’s an incredibly delicate balance to strike. I want people to not lose their jobs and livelihood, but I also don’t want them to stay working in places where they are miserable and shittily taking it out on other people. And it’s clear that the toxicity is out of control. In no way do I fault CALM or BLOSSOM for not covering this – they were excellent experiences, and both were free. But I’d like to see a lot more discussions about this, because the situation has got to change.

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library mgmt

review: “Resolving Liberal vs. Conservative Conflict in the Workplace” webinar, 1/14/21

The would-be logo for this talk.

In Season 4 of the early 2000s HBO series Six Feet Under, one of the protagonists, David, is carjacked by an unassuming hitchhiker who winds up exploiting David’s generosity and tortures him before covering him with gas and leaving him beaten and bruised in a Long Beach alley. A few episodes later, David, suffering from PTSD, goes to church and watches a sermon encouraging the congregation to forgive and love their enemies. He imagines the reverend being brutally assaulted by the carjacker, thrown to the ground and a gun pointed to his head, and David leaps up to help before things snap back to reality.

I happened to watch that chain of episodes this week right after I saw the astonishingly bad “Resolving Liberal vs. Conservative Conflict in the Workplace: Lessons from the Rwandan Genocide” webinar sponsored by HomelessLibrary.com. I’d seen the concept of it getting dragged on Twitter some weeks back, and signed up to watch it because I felt it was important to catch what looked like a trainwreck unfolding on a library education platform that has a good deal of influence. Ryan Dowd’s “Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness” has swept the profession in the past few years, mostly with the best of intentions and in some cases with positive results. But there’s also been a significant amount of criticism of Dowd’s approach, including alarmingly sexist language in some of his recommendations. I hope that library leaders take the time to consider the other ideas and advice he’s peddling on his platform, especially after the jaw-droppingly bad session this week.

Dowd wasn’t the main speaker at the talk, but he did share a good amount of the spotlight with the presenter, Carl Wilkens. Wilkens was a missionary working in Rwanda during the genocide and authored a book about being the only American who stayed in the country during it. I don’t want to belittle Wilkens’s pain and trauma, both made very clear in his introduction to the talk, but he should have spent more time interrogating his positionality and privilege before deciding to sell his particular experience as a learning opportunity for others. He kept encouraging us to take a look at what we could learn from Rwandans about forgiveness, but proceeded to talk only about how he leveraged his secure status as a white male American to establish a relationship with some of the most powerful leaders committing genocide. The only Rwandans we heard anything substantial about were the people doing the killing.

Wilkens went whole hog with this idea of reaching out to and forgiving your enemies, presumably even if those people happen to brutally murder your family members. Throughout the talk, he (and Dowd) not only encouraged finding empathy for abusers and murderers, but also telling victims that the onus is on them to re-establish relationships with those that have hurt them (“the victim does well to examine gratitude and cynicism”). Wilkens talked about considering the relationship between God and a man who had murdered multiple people during the genocide, musing about the importance of considering what the murderer was going through. I asked a question that was answered live on air about how safe it is to advise a room full of public servants to “reach across the aisle” or “sit at the table” with violent people, and Dowd informed us that violence is overblown by the media and we shouldn’t be as worried about it as we are. This would have been a tough hang even if it hadn’t happened a week after January 6 and we didn’t currently have National Guard troops sleeping on the floors of the Capitol, but this kind of dismissal coming when it did was shocking.

There were several times when wearing a MAGA hat and having a BLM pin or “being antifa” were equated with one another. There was a lot of “good people on all sides” talk – the whole “there are no good guys and no bad guys” sort of thing. Wilkens and Dowd, two white men, agreed it’s cynical to say someone is a racist, and apparently that all of us who are distancing ourselves from harmful, hateful people (especially if they’ve directly hurt us) are “cynics.” Dowd said the words “it’s not okay if you yell at people; it’s not okay if you commit genocide” while he was describing why we should separate our judgment of a person’s “goodness or badness” from their behavior. At one point, Wilkens suggested we engage in a service project outside the workplace with colleagues we disagree with. As a friend quipped, “oh great, an MLK service day with your racist co-workers.”

Wilkens had a multi-step methodology he was trying to explain during the webinar, but it was exceedingly difficult to pay attention to it given the constant gaslighting, victim blaming, and white privilege. We got “sent home” with a booklet that advises us to stop being so cynical, journal about our emotions, avoid defining people with the one thing we don’t like about them (even if it’s that they murder people or want to destabilize the government), find the good in everyone, focus on shared goals, and “find the deeper why.” This was targeted at resolving workplace conflict among colleagues and some of it is fine within that limited context–considering the most significant workplace conflicts at libraries are often not the ones between coworkers–but why was it wrapped up in the Rwandan genocide? Why was the graphic for this a jacked up blue donkey and a ripped red elephant threatening fisticuffs?

Some of the audience members were eating it up, if the Q&A was any indication. One person quipped that their friends and colleagues “seem to take pleasure in popping people for racist or insensitive remarks.” A handful of participants kept saying we needed to show this training to everyone in the U.S. government. The organizers turned off the chat on Zoom, but people were still using the Q&A function to express this appreciation.

I felt exhausted and ashamed to be in the field after I watched this. Some folks on Twitter called it “peak male whiteness in the library” and I’ll say it probably was, and I’m only saying probably because there’s enough of this baseline logic, plus rapid reproduction of shitty ideas, in our profession that there may well be something worse out there. If anything comes out of this “training,” I hope it’s what I said before, that libraries look a little harder at what Ryan Dowd is selling before they buy it. Turning the other cheek no matter what seems like a good way to eventually get shot in the face.

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library mgmt

building solid ground for constant change

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on condensing the ideas of the book into a 5-minute lightning talk for the Babson/Olin/Wellesley consortium. The slides and a pretty-much-final script of my talk are below. It was interesting to target this beyond just libraryland–I hope the ideas resonate with other educators as well.

Btw, if you’re thinking this all sounds an awful lot like strategic planning, that’s because it is. 🙂 On one hand, I’m trying to make the idea sexier for people who roll their eyes at the term; on the other, the process I’m describing will make for a great strategic plan.

You might be asking yourself, “Okay, why is a librarian talking to me about change?” Well, does anyone know where this is?

old boston public library johnson building

That’s the Johnson Building of the Boston Public Library, and this photo was taken in 2010 or so.

This is the same area of the library today. You can orient yourself with the dome-shaped windows.

boston public library children's room

This kind of huge transformation has been happening in libraries all around the world. Libraries don’t just change their look and feel–they also have been keeping up with changes in technology and their communities, which have grown increasingly rapid in the last 30 years.

Libraries that have succeeded in adapting to change have one thing in common: they are continuously asking and seeking answers to these three questions, all while keeping their communities at the heart of the process:

what do we aspire to do and be? what do we value? how do we make it happen?

This can help in many contexts: in classrooms, businesses, and for individual use as well. I want to note that I am saying the word “user” as a catch-all for community members, students, co-workers – all the kinds of people we do things with and for.

What do we value and aspire to be? This is high-level, conceptual stuff – your vision and mission. What do you care about and why? This isn’t just a time to praise yourself. What are you not doing? What’s not working and how can you fix it? Social infrastructure, to be welcoming & safe, and to be inclusive & do outreach are library examples; I would guess some of these resonate with you as fellow educators as well.

What do our users want? Where are you putting your energy–does it connect to what they want? In libraries, people want our help accessing information, community space, and creativity and learning opportunities. Even if we think we know what our users want, we still need to ask them.

How do we make stuff happen? The following steps are what I’d tell librarians to do, but I’d be willing to bet the same advice would work in many other types of situations. As I mentioned, we need to ask our users what they want, and we need to involve them in the process of creating and embarking on our goals. We stop doing more with less, meaning we figure out what we value, who we are, and what our users want, and use that to allocate our resources more appropriately. Last but not least, we need to view this process as continual – it’s not linear, it’s circular.

With self-awareness, we know how, where, and what to change. Even if we don’t know what will come next, or know what the long-term impacts of the current change and uncertainty we’re in right now will be, we can figure out who we are, what our users want, and what we mutually value.

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library mgmt

a few thoughts on change stuff

I’m giving a talk for the Babson/Olin/Wellesley consortium in a couple weeks, and it’s a lightning/ignite style presentation: just five minutes to pack in an introduction to a concept or idea. I’ve been working on trying to dump the key lessons of the recently published book I co-authored, Responding to Rapid Change in Libraries: A User Experience Approach, into this five minute chunk. I’m also trying to retool the content for non-librarians. It’s been tricky, but ultimately it’s helping me see the stripped down version of the book’s thesis, which I think is encouraging people in the field (and beyond) to ask themselves the following questions:

  1. What do we aspire to be?
  2. What do we value?
  3. How do we make it happen?

Can a thesis be questions? Probably not, so maybe it’s more like what’s at the core of what we’re prompting people to try to do. Change is inevitable, but if we can get ourselves to a place where we can answer those questions without racking our brains, we’re going to do a good job responding to it.

1. What do we aspire to be?

This question comes first so the answer to #2 (hopefully) doesn’t reshape it. Here’s where you don’t just recite the ALA Code of Ethics or buy into the general “libraries are and have always been emblems of democracy” self-praise. You think about what you’re not doing. You think about what’s not working and how you can fix it. If you’re saying you’re a welcoming safe space that’s free and inclusive to all, are you really providing that, or is it only an aspiration at this stage? #2 and #3 will help you make it real.

2. What do we value?

What are you spending time and money on? How does that relate to what you identified as what you’re aspiring to above? Libraries are continually being asked to “do more with less,” but it’s time to stop doing some things and start doing other things strategically (see #3). Now’s your chance to think about the Library Bill of Rights, intellectual freedom, and social responsibility. Which of these ethics and positions help us advance what we say we’re aspiring to do? As hinted at in describing #1 above, this isn’t a time for self-celebration; this is a time to think critically and deliberately about what is important to us and why.

3. How do we make things happen?

You need a strategy. How do you get one? Co-design with community feedback. Surveys and focus groups. Post-it notes. Bulletin boards. Get community experts on staff, or foster a culture of creating that expertise. That isn’t to say “keep everyone forever;” rather, hire and train people who connect with your aspirations and values and want to stick around long enough to help you get there. If you think you don’t have time to make your aspirations happen, unpack why that is. You can likely find things you can stop doing. Don’t think of it as sacrifice if you stop doing something because the feedback says you should be doing something else.


I’m just starting to explore this perspective, but I think I’ll get there. The bottom line is we need a mission, and we need self-awareness, if we’re going to endure change.

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library mgmt

weeding thoughts, part 3

(Continued from parts 1 and 2.)

OK, so, I’m ready to stop writing about this, not least of why being that I scanned over 3,000 items for removal yesterday and my hand kind of doesn’t work right now…? But yeah, I was able to remove about 6,000 items from the collection in the last two and a half months. Unfortunately, it wasn’t before we did our ILS migration (which means we had to pay to migrate items over that wound up getting deleted a couple months later…womp womp). There was no way I could have done that much if we were regularly open, though.

So I mentioned at the end of Part 2 that I’d talk about how I got through this stuff so quickly. The number one way was that we weren’t open to patrons this semester, and there wasn’t much else for me to do on the days I was on campus other than paging for delivery. I initially had been trying to do things pretty conventionally, to pull things off the shelf that looked sus and scan them into a spreadsheet that would identify if it had circulated in the past 4-5 years or not. Given that no weeding happened in this library for the first 20 years of its existence, though, that wound up being a ton of stuff – just scads of things that would never be consulted in paper form anymore, and books that probably seemed like they had five years of shelf life back in 2003. To save myself time, I flipped the script a bit.

I started pulling lists of books that had actually circed in the last 4-5 years (we don’t have data for any earlier than that) and placed them on carts flagged for keeping, while clearing off the contents of the shelves that we weren’t keeping on separate carts. This required a crapton of carts; I had 16 at my disposal. It helped me speed up selection for weeding as well as shifting, and helped me get a good idea of how much space the newly decreased collection would take up on the shelves. Another benefit of doing it this way was being able to figure out which classes were just overwhelming non-circulators and could be eliminated more or less entirely. These aligned with subjects we don’t teach (army/naval history, agriculture and forestry, etc), but might have been most useful in the most popular classes where we really needed to do some culling (computer science and physics, in particular).

The biggest problem that came out of this was how quickly the carts filled up with discards. I saw a couple different ways to handle this, but ultimately wound up cycling through a process of filling up carts, scanning everything on them, and emptying them onto tables (and eventually the floor) so student workers could come in and take the final steps (crossing out barcodes and boxing them up for Better World Books donation).

I want to stop here to point out how much physical work it is to do this kind of weeding. I’ve had to take epsom salt baths, use a massage pillow, and get extra liberal with the Advil to be able to do this. I’ve thrown my back out more than once, one time badly enough that I could hardly use stairs for a couple days. My scanner arm/hand is still kind of weirdly numb over a day after I stopped my marathon yesterday. Be careful out there if you’re doing this, especially when getting massages and chiropracting might not be on your covid activities list.

This might seem like too much for some libraries, and that’s probably true. But the fact is, our circulation rate of books was so low that even if I wound up getting rid of things people still want – and I’m sure there’s no way that didn’t happen, considering over 6,000 of them got weeded – it will be very easy for me to replace them. I think a collection of well under 10,000 print volumes makes sense for a library serving a student body of 330, and in our strategic planning, we asked about how space should be allocated in the future. Students overwhelmingly asked for fewer books (not none!) and more study and group work space, and that’s what they will get…once I can buy new furniture to remove the shelving we’re getting rid of. I also changed our shelf ranges from having five overstuffed rows that looked messy and uncared for to three nice and neat rows that leave ample room for adding titles, and will make browsing and paging easier.

This week, I decided to hire a few more student workers to help lighten the load – we were trying to get by with just one before. There’s a few too many steps for one person doing it to be able to do it all that quickly, so now we have people working assembly line-style: specifically on building boxes, crossing out barcodes, packing boxes, and moving them to the pickup location. I’ve been passing them into this production line as soon as I’m done scanning them, and I finished scanning yesterday, which means I can let the students do their thing with minimal supervision. This frees me up for my time on campus, so I’ll be working in the archives next, and while it’s going to be a dumpster fire of a different variety, I’m so excited to have something else to focus on.

I wish I’d taken more photos to document all of this, but I think we had about 21,000 items at our peak last summer and now we’re down to about 9,500. A bunch of shelving on both floors is gone now and we don’t have any shelves that are full of so much crap that you can’t easily browse through it, and we don’t have anything so close to the floor that you have to get on your hands and knees to grab it. Back when we did our strategic plan survey last fall, someone described the library as having “old man garage sale vibes.” I really hope we’ve moved beyond that now, lol.

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library mgmt

weeding thoughts, part 2

(Continued from part 1.)

Alright, so let’s talk about moving the art, design, and photography books first. I mentioned last time that the photography books moved to the quiet reading room (at one time called the “photography room”) and while I still am not sure I am completely on board with an engineering college having nearly one thousand photography books, it’s a pretty awesome collection, so given how many garbage books about globalization and outdated ones about internet culture from 2002 I also had to contend with, I more or less left this stuff alone. We got the photography shift done right before students were sent home in March and we had to start working remotely. I’m still trying to play around with different ideas for shelving it a little more sustainably and in a way that’s browsing friendly, but this has been tough because another issue I inherited is that the shelves in that room are just long, expensive pieces of wood. They look nice, but they also mean it’s dominoes time if you don’t divvy up the collection with bookends.

When we were moving the photography books and when we initially got the art books downstairs, I still had student workers to help me, but that didn’t last long (I only have two working physically on campus this semester for various reasons, mostly having to do with safety and staffing). One of my student workers did an amazing job reshelving the Ns in a place where they’ll be far more browsable, and she played around with shelf heights and facing to make an appealing display. This was so much better than their previous relegation to rickety ersatz moveable shelves where they barely fit and couldn’t be even so much as thumbed through without creating an enormous headache. But when I started coming in regularly again back in September, I had the NAs, NBs, NCs, NDs, NKs, and NXs awaiting me, as well as a bunch of music scores that are not the most appropriate element of our collection but also not a hill worth dying on at the moment.

With our print periodicals collection culled between my efforts in the past year and the obvious money-saving choice to cancel those while we’re closed to foot traffic, I wound up with a periodicals shelf that lent itself very well to smushing a ton of music scores in a relatively small space. I put a handful of well-known composers’ works on the display side (the part that lifts up so you could see back issues of magazines, if that’s what we were using it for). On the other side of the shelf, I moved the contemporary music scores and started the NAs in the next range over. The other Ns are on the shelf across from this one; there’s a large work table in between these shelves, and our workroom (pseudo-makerspace) is right next to the place where the NBs through NXs now reside. I like the thought of the art books being right next to the art space. The design books in TS will ultimately wind up close to that room as well, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

I didn’t get rid of a ton of the Ns for reasons similar to the photography books – there’s just so much more elsewhere in the stacks that needs to go before we target these, and I think putting them in a more sensible and patron-friendly space will increase their usage for sure. I did weed some that were in crappy condition or didn’t fit in the space I had allocated for each of the N subclasses. I also did my best to split things up so it’s much easier to know when NA ends and NB starts, for instance. This was not how things were shelved before.

There’s a temptation when you’re shifting to just cram things in where they’ll fit, because you’re forever worrying about running out of space as you keep going. Resist that temptation and think about the person who is going to be browsing and searching these shelves – that includes you. You will save yourself and patrons so much time if you can shelve books in a way that helps you easily know where QA76.76 starts and ends and QA76.9 begins, etc. If you have a job where you’re not routinely working in the stacks or pulling or finding books, which was how my previous job was, you still really should take the time to figure out where everything is, and I swear you’ll find that simpler if you don’t have shelves crammed to their limits and starting willy-nilly with classes and cutter numbers. If you’re worried about space, weed more stuff, or depending on your space considerations, consider getting more shelves instead of jamming things in wherever they’ll fit.

Now, most people who’ve done shifts before know that when you start moving things around, you tend to trigger a chain reaction of other things that need to move, too. In the case of moving the Ms and Ns to the two shelves I mentioned, this meant dealing with the tail end of the collection because of the bizarre way the stacks had been arranged before. On the lower level of the library, there is a built-in shelf along one of the longest walls in the space, and then the free-standing shelves are lined up in parallel lines starting from across from the built-in shelf and extending to the opposite end of the library. The now-home of the Ms and Ns is across from two of the long rows of shelves in this parallel line area. (I’ll put a floor map in this post at some point, since this is tough to explain verbally.) So they’re not after the other shelves; they’re lined up with what now houses P through T. Anyway, the main point here is that the books displaced by the Ms and Ns were the back half of the TKs (electrical engineering, a large collection for us), TLs (motor vehicles and astronautics, another large collection), TNs (mining and metallurgy; we only have a handful), TXs (cookbooks, mostly), U (military science), V (naval science), and good ol’ Z (library science).

I moved all of these books onto trucks so I could get the Ms and Ns where I wanted them to go, and I let them sit for a while as I moved alphabetically through the classes, but I got sick of people from other libraries requesting random stuff from the TKs, so I wanted to get that stuff out of the collection as quickly as possible. I figured it was a good time to prioritize what to target next, since that initial push of getting stuff downstairs was behind me. So, I turned to good ol’ Sierra’s Create Lists reporting function. I knew from our previous ILS that we had 14,000+ items that had never circed. The circ data did make its way over in the form of “total checkouts” in Sierra, so I was able to run a report to show me only the things that had circed (we’re talking about a collection of about 16,000 items, so that was between 2-3,000). I used Excel to arrange the circed items by classes and figure out which had circed the most, and which items in particular, and used the lists to do the following:

  1. determine which classes should be targeted for extreme weeding
  2. determine which classes could/should get by with less weeding
  3. separate the wheat from the chaff and keep only the books that had circed in the last 4 years, which is what I have data for

This seems like a good place to end for today, but next time I’ll talk about how looking at things from this angle vs. the more traditional “cull things with zero circs” angle is saving my sanity and helping me move through the rest of the collection in warp speed. Ciao!

Categories
library mgmt

weeding thoughts, part 1

Oh, hello there. I have been very bad about doing this whole NaBloWriMo thing, but I came home so bodily exhausted last night (and so in need of finishing Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys) that I just didn’t even bother. I’m still worn and stressed out af, but I figure I can hack an entry here while I’m half-watching the Leonard Betts episode of The X-Files. Mulder and Scully have some excellent face shields on as they’re poking through Leonard’s vacated morgue locker.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how training and knowledge transfer in libraries is utter garbage and how this impacts new managers/directors. I almost added “most of all” to the end of that sentence, but I don’t think that’s really true. I think the way it impacts people in leadership positions a little differently than folks in other positions is that there is a greater assumption that managers/directors will know how to do “everything” the minute they show up. That’s not to say that assumption doesn’t exist for new staff members at other levels; it’s just to a different degree. This is a big challenge for new leaders who are trying to establish their trustworthiness and competence with colleagues. While I’d say the most ideal situation is one in which the new manager can ask the existing staffers for help and training without negative consequences, that’s not always how it shakes out. In those cases, the manager has some other options for getting the knowledge they need–consulting peers in the field, professional development, personal research, etc. I’ve done all of these things, but what I probably default to more often than not is just winging an approach together based on my own instincts and trial and error.

Before coming to mcpow, I only had cursory experience with weeding when I was trying to scrunch a collection into a renovated building with reduced shelving, and I had to do my best at getting rid of old Russian romance novels for a couple days. But one of the most obvious things that needed to be done in my new library was maaaaassive weeding. We decided to switch ILSes a few months after I arrived and the collection has never been weeded in the 20 years it’s existed. There is a boggling amount of outdated technology and education books from 2000-2005, and because of…interesting choices made by leadership, not much was added between 2015-2019. As I started to evaluate the collection even without easy access to custom reports and data (part of the reason why we switched ILSes), I saw so many wtf choices on the shelves – 45 books on origami, two dozen on ancient art in China, at least a hundred about teaching online (all from before 2008). Looking at a report of the 14,000+ items that hadn’t circed in over three years, it became clear we had a huge task in front of us, and we decided to start with low-hanging fruit.

The first thing to go was our thousand-odd CDs that had been crammed into the two lower ranges of a bookcase housing a DVD and…shudder…VHS collection. Now, keep in mind, our students all receive a school-issued laptop, and it’s been several years since it was a model that had a disk drive. This stuff was worthless – not findable and not usable. We went ahead and removed everything from our collection and then invited the community to come and take what they wanted (obviously we didn’t get many takers, since our community is mostly people born in the early 2000s). I offered up the remains first to a few local libraries that expressed interest, then sent the rest off to the amazing godsend business that calls itself Better World Books.

Around this time, it became clear that we needed to shift the collection to better suit the way our space is used. When I arrived, we had about ten shelves on casters stuffed with books on the first floor. The idea was that they could be moved around to accommodate flexible space use, but they were full of art. photography, and design books – y’know, big, oversized, chonky coffee table books. That means they weighed hundreds and hundreds of pounds and required multiple people to shove around. This infuriated me right away, and it didn’t make sense to me to have the stacks as fractured as they were (Ns and some Ts upstairs with all other nonfiction books on the lower level). Our highest-circulating collection is fiction, even at an engineering college, so I decided to move the fiction from downstairs in a weird random corner to the first floor and to shift all of the art and design books downstairs. The photography books shifted over into our quiet reading room, which I just found out is where they originally were before there was an attempt to interfile the oversized books of all classes in that room.

Bringing the art and design books downstairs meant that if they were going to be shelved in a way that was appealing for browsing and not just more of the same claustrophobic mess from upstairs, everything else was going to have to move, too, and we were going to need a hell of a lot less of it. But how to get started on evaluating dozens of subjects I didn’t know the first thing about? I’ll talk about that next time in this exciting series that I promise not to forget about.

Categories
library mgmt navel gazing

wat

Okay, so I am trying to write something in an attempt at doing NaBloWriMo, which is a thing I think I invented but am guessing if I put it in ye olde search bar I’ll find I am not nearly so clever as I’d like to feel–ugh, I couldn’t resist. Yep. Well, no matter who can lay claim to the concept, I’m going to try to write in this here blog instead of banging my head against the wall attempting to write a novel, for which I have two ideas that both suck and are way too much about my dumb romantic travails.

I’m not sure that I actually have anything more to say in the form of blogging, but I probably should given the amount of turmoil at pretty much all levels of life at the moment. A week and a half ago, I heard there will be a reorganization and layoffs starting very soon at work, and it’s still quite unclear how that’s all gonna go down. This past weekend, our beloved cat Avey brushed up against death from complications after a teeth cleaning (because they anesthetize cats for that) and we spent the entirety of it, and a whole bucketload of cash, on making sure he’s OK (he is, thank fuck). Now, we’re onto night two of election anxiety, though things are looking relatively promising for Biden at this point. Massachusetts is finally putting some restrictions in place for trying to reverse the huge spike in covid cases, though what Charlie’s suggesting doesn’t seem like enough when you consider the number of cases is up almost 300% since Labor Day.

This is ostensibly a library blog, so I guess I’ll write about library stuff, though to be honest I’ve had my head down in my own library for so long that I don’t feel qualified to comment on others. We had some drama in the state association last month after it spilled onto Twitter, and I was super irritated to be dragged into it in part because I guess I’ve developed some kind of “controversial figure” reputation. It’s sad that advocating for workers’ safety and dignity is controversial, but whaddaya gonna do. Anyway, between that and uncertainty regarding the whole being able to keep a roof over my head thing, I’m mostly not raging against the library machine for the time being (or if I am, I’m not being publicly vocal about it).

It’s been really tough to be a manager through the duration of covid, which is not a thing I am saying to diminish the toughness faced by anyone else out there. I should say it’s at least tough if you’re trying to do the right things and keep your staff safe and relatively sane. I have been trying to do that, and trying to make decisions with empathy and integrity at the center, not some meaningless obsession with productivity or vocational awe (“these students just NEED us to be in the building for them!!”). But wow. Trying to bolster people’s spirits when your own morale is circling multiple drains and has been for eight months is not easy to do. Given our situation, I’m not sure how to help people going without giving them false hope, but if I don’t keep them going, things are going to get unsustainable very quickly.

I’ve got plenty of work to do so I’m not that concerned about staying focused on my various distractions right now. Since we’ve been back in the building, I’ve gotten another thousand books or so weeded and have shifted a huge chunk of the collection. I taught myself how to put protective jackets on books (we mostly have GOBI do that, but it’s handy for these emergency Bookshop and BWB buys). I rearranged a good chunk of the lower level, relocating the 3D printers back to the shops where there is proper lighting and ventilation and making space for our fleet of sewing machines. While I’m at home, I’ve been wrapping my head around the ins and outs of Sierra, using Create Lists to generate reports that Tind always made too goddamn impossible (we did an ILS migration over the summer). I spent a good chunk of time analyzing our database use in the past few months and trying to improve upon our methods for gathering stats. We’ve got a new digital repository up and running. I wrote about our progress on our Spring ’20/Fall ’20 action plan in the school newspaper.

I guess I’m saying all of this because it’s nice to reaffirm for myself how much I’m getting done, even if it mostly goes unnoticed. I also want other people to know that they, too, can succeed on projects like these, even when the world is a flaming pile of garbage and your predecessor left you with an effervescing volcano of bullshit you need to fix. So here’s the motivational speech I couldn’t muster in person this week: if you have maladaptive coping mechanisms that tend towards workaholism, you’re not alone. Alright, that wasn’t all that motivational.

This wasn’t much of a post, but I’m whipped and I’m going to bed and I think you should, too. Unclench your jaw and stuff.