ten years in libraries

desk, with papers and broken tape dispenser
Today marks my ten year anniversary working in libraries, which is not a very long time to have worked in libraries, but it is a very long time for me to have done anything. I’ve never lived in a house or an apartment for more than four years, ever, and I’ve never had a job for more than five years. Some jobs I’ve had for less than five days. So a decade in one profession seems like a very long time.

I walked in to my first day — my first night, really, as I worked exclusively nights and weekends as a part time Youth Services Assistant — at my new library on Ash Wednesday 2005. The town had a large Catholic population, and seemingly every other person I saw that night had a smudgy forehead. I am Christian, of the Episcopalian variety, by both birth and inclination, but I was living with my deeply agnostic grandmother at the time and wasn’t attending church. I wondered about the ashes on the foreheads of many of the staff and how they made patrons feel. I wondered about the lack of ashes on my own forehead, and what that meant. But mostly I was excited. I’d been trying to get a job of any sort in a library for a long time (in my hometown, it’s hard to get even a volunteer position at the library because it’s so popular), and here I finally was, a semester into library school, and I finally had one.

I was very excited when I started working in libraries, and I was also very lucky. The excitement lead me to start a blog just a few months after starting my job, and the luck led me to attend the Radical Reference meetup and the OCLC Blog Salon at ALA where I met all sorts of wonderful and talented people, many of whom I now call friends. Getting into libraries changed my life, and I’m grateful every day to have found a profession where I fit in, where the codes make sense to me, for the most part, and where I get to do at least some things I’m pretty good at.

When I started I spent a lot of time thinking about all the things I was excited about. Alternative literature in libraries! Books I hope people will read! Intellectual freedom! Useable, fun library websites! Blogs! Folksonomies! I was the biblioblogger at the local branch library.

I still think about some of those things, but mostly I think about other things, the kind you see taking up space on my desk. I think a lot about tape. The big tape dispenser, used by volunteers, is missing the thing that the tape rolls around in, which renders it somewhat useless. So I snagged another tape dispenser out of the supply drawer, but it was the last one there, so I put the box and the broken tape dispenser on my desk to remind me to mention all of this to the person who orders supplies when she gets back to work. She’s out with a sick kid today. I’m also supposed to be thinking about receipt paper, and whether I want to get special receipt paper that we could use for holds or if we just want to keep taping the hold slips to the books with removable tape. There’s a list of some books I should go weed because I’ve pulled the rest of the books in the series due to low circulation. There’s a list our praticum student has been working on of mystery series we own, because we make little paper shelf tags for the series, and they need to be updated. (I’ve also taken our practicum student with me to look at all the fire extinguishers in the buidling, because the City wants to know when they were last inspected, and to the bank with the coins we’ve pulled out of our fountain, which are too dirty to run through the change counter and thus must be separated by denomination (thank you, library volunteers!) and then weighed.) There’s a list of some other stuff I should do. There are some paper purchase suggestion forms, because we still use a lot of paper forms here, even though it is 2015, because in many cases, paper is still easier. There’s my email, which always contains a much longer list of to do items, frequently related to gaps in the desk schedule or discrepancies in the cash register or ebook titles that are about to expire because of ridiculous publisher limitations. We recently decided to get MARC records for our ebooks, but that’s creating complications, because the MARC records don’t disappear when the books expire, and some of the books we’ll rebuy and others we won’t, and we share the collection with another library, and some they may rebuy, and I can rant all I want to about how much I hate DRM, the publishing industry, and current ebook licensing models, but none of that will deal with the immediate problem of the records in the catalog and what we want to do about them.

There’s a song by some indie band I can’t recall that I used to listen to in college a lot, and I find it running through my head these days. “I’ve become every thing that I hate / As if tragedy were my trade.” I think a lot now about how much people complained when I started out in libraries that we could never try new things, and I think about how wary I am of new things now, ten years later, when people propose them, and then I think about history repeating itself first as tragedy and then as farce. Then I shake my head and remind myself that I need to answer the emails that have shown up while I was typing this.

You’ll notice that there’s one thing in the picture I haven’t talked about. It’s a book. We still have those at my library. Ten years later, there are some things that haven’t changed. We still have books, and I’m still telling people that libraries are about far more. I expect that will be true in another decade, too.

hey, i’m doing a reading!

Laura poses with a copy of Night Sweats and the Library of Congress Subject HeadingsI took this series of selfies with my book and the Library of Congress Subject Headings by way of self-indulgence (and to show off my white hair) and to promote my reading tomorrow at the fabulous New Bo Books in Cedar Rapids.

That’s Saturday, March 8 at 2 pm! Be there to hear me read from Night Sweats, to buy some books, and to check out the artsy-fartsy section of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (really, there is one).

They’re doing a whole March is for Memoirs series with a lot of great events, so you should check those out, too.

open access rocks; Lambert Academic Publishing does not

Last April, after discovering that I could, I decided to add my MFA thesis to Iowa Research Online, the institutional repository at the University of Iowa, where I got my degree. For good measure, I slapped a Creative Commons license on it (and was told that I was the first person ever to request one at Iowa). I did all this not so much because I think you should read my thesis as because I believe in open access and I want to support it however I can. Iowa instituted its open access policy (since amended with various opt-outs) requiring the electronic deposit of theses and dissertations after I left, and I’ve written before about why I felt most of the outrage about it was hypocritical at best. The people who don’t want to make their theses open access are often the very same people who get snitty about why can’t they just make a bunch of copies of a New Yorker essay for their class. I rest my case.

Since I added it to the IR, it’s been downloaded 38 times, which is rather more than the one time the physical thesis has been checked out, so if my goal were to increase my readership, it’s certainly the way to go.

As I learned the other day, though, it’s also clearly the way to go if you want to get academic spam. Like many people out there (just look at the comment thread on that post, or heck, just Google Lambert Academic Publishing), I, too, was targeted by an academic vanity press with pretensions of scholarly greatness. I reproduce the full email below:

Dear Laura Crossett,

While researching dissertations and theses listed on the University of Iowa’s electronic library for publication, I became aware of the paper you submitted as part of your postgraduate degree, entitled “Encounters with dead white men and other excursions”.

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing is an academic publisher, which specializes since 2002 in the publication of high quality monographs, master theses, diploma theses, dissertations and postdoctoral theses from renowned institutions worldwide.

I am therefore inquiring whether you would be keen on publishing your academic work with us.
In other words, we would make your work available in printed form and market it on a global scale through well-known distributors at no cost to you.

I would appreciate if you could confirm your interest with a reply email and we will send a detailed brochure to you.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

With regards,

David Daniels
Acquisition Editor

LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing is a trademark of:
OmniScriptum GmbH & Co. KG

Heinrich-Böcking-Str. 6-8,
66121, Saarbrücken, Germany

d.daniels(at)lap-publishing.com / www.lap-publishing.com

Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRA 10356 Identification Number (Verkehrsnummer): 13955 Partner with unlimited liability: VDM Management GmbH Handelsregister Amtsgericht Saarbrücken HRB 18918 Managing director: Thorsten Ohm (CEO)

I was tipped off by the mere phrase “academic work.” One can only assume they did not read my thesis very closely, since, although it was submitted as part of an academic degree, it is a creative work, not an academic one. I am also not interested in publishing it: I already have published it. You can download it for free or borrow it through interlibrary loan. If you want to support my work as a writer, you can buy my book. I would suggest, if you are the recipient of a similar email, that you delete it, ignore it — or, better yet — put it out there for all the world to see. We escape scams through constant vigilance. Together, we can do it better.

night sweats: my book

Night Sweats: An Unexpected Pregnancy, cover featuring an old sofaAs mentioned here previously, about a year and a half ago I had a baby (and, as often happens, nine months before that I got pregnant). Now, many months and many lunch breaks and late nights and thank God for babysitters later, I also have a book. It’s called Night Sweats: An Unexpected Pregnancy, and you can buy it as a paperback or an EPUB ebook directly from Lulu.com or as a Kindle book from the Kindle store. It will eventuall be available through Amazon as a paperback, too, but apparently that takes six to eight weeks, so don’t hold your breath. I am also offering a free stapler to the first library to catalog it.

Half the proceeds for Night Sweats go to Our Bodies, Ourselves.

This book wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of help from a lot of people, but I’d like to give a particular shout out to a few people in libraryland:

Walt Crawford‘s book The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing led me through the process of taking my words and making them look like an actual book.

Amy Buckland led me to PressBooks, which made that actual book into a thing people can read as an ebook.

Steve Lawson took my photos and a half-baked idea and made a beautiful cover.

Jenna Freedman copyedited the book and reviewed it while it was in manuscript.

And David Fiander found a couple of glaring omissions in the EPUB version. Any remaining mistakes are, of course, entirely my fault.

And many of you — too many to name here — have read sections, offered commentary, chatted with me at various points while I was freaking out about either the book or the baby, and generally helped make this the best profession ever. My thanks.

an announcement

Dear Internet,

I interrupt the irregularly scheduled programming around here to let you know that I am expecting a baby boy in 2012, due in theory on January 20.

Thank you in advance for your congratulations and good wishes. I am not sure I can recommend moving 1200 miles, starting a new job, getting pregnant, and buying a house all in the course of nine months, but I never like to do anything by halves.

I’ll doubtless write more about all of this over on my other blog, but in the meantime, I just wanted you to know.


oh, you mean organizing skills!: activism as management metaphor

Long before I ever imagined becoming a librarian, I was an activist, and being an activist, as it turns out, has taught me how to be a librarian — or more precisely, perhaps, how to be a manager librarian.

Like many people, I had to take a required management class in library school. I loathed this class. I loathed it from day one, when the adjunct professor started talking about Dilbert and reading Peter Drucker to us. I did not go into librarianship in order to make a profit. I did not go into librarianship in order to talk about Who Moved My Cheese?. I did not go into librarianship in order to bandy about terms like “human resources.” (I quote the great Utah Phillips: “You’re about to be told one more time that you are America’s most valuable natural resource. Don’t ever let anyone call you a valuable natural resource? Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources in this country? Have you seen a strip mine? Have you seen a clearcut in the forest? Have you seen a polluted river?”)

They stuff they teach in management courses doesn’t resonate with me. It makes me ill. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. I think a lot of us went into librarianship because we didn’t want to participate in the market economy (and then, of course, we discovered database licensing and realized we were screwed on that point, but that’s another matter for another time). We may have made our peace with the fact that we do have to buy and process things in order to share them with our communities, but damned if we’re going to start saying utilize for use or making everyone read Good to Great or idolizing the Starbucks corporate model.

I talk about the reader’s advisory approach to life a lot (to the point that I was sure I’d written a blog post about it, but apparently I haven’t). If you do any reader’s advisory, you know that the first premise is that “x is a great book!” is a very unhelpful way to help people figure out what to read next. You have to figure out what they’re looking for in a book, what appeals to them, and try to find things that line up with that. It’s a refreshing approach to literature if you’re coming out of academia (and particularly out of a writing program). I try, then, to extend that idea as much as possible to the rest of life. If one set of metaphors doesn’t work for me, or one activity, can I find something that will?

And that’s when I hit on it: every skill I needed as a library manager was something that I’d actually learned as an activist and organizer.

I attended my first political meeting at age fourteen, in August of 1990. Saddam Hussein had invaded a country called Kuwait, which I’d known until then only as one of those tiny places in the Middle East — a place the New York Times described as “a family-owned oil company with a flag.” The United States was pondering intervention, and I was opposed to the idea, so when my friend called and said there was a meeting about it at the university that night, and did I want to go, I said sure.

In high school I protested a war, I helped defend an abortion clinic, I marched against the Ku Klux Klan. I wrote letters to editors and Congressmen. I sat at tables and sold buttons, and I stood on street corners and handed out leaflets. I worked as a marshal at marches, wearing a white armband and walking along the edge of the crowd to help keep things moving and to help prevent fights with hecklers. I went to lectures and read newspaper articles. I watched the vote to authorize the use of force in the Gulf on my friend’s television on January 15, 1991, and I listened to Neal Conan reporting about the start of the ground war on my Walkman while at a meeting at Schaeffer Hall a month later. And I went to a lot of meetings.

I went to tiny meetings like that first one, eight or so people in a room trying to take an amorphous idea, a feeling, and turn it into a movement with a name and a purpose. I went to bigger meetings where we argued about points of unity. I went to meetings where we made signs (the cement floor of North Hall, the sound of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and  the scent of permanent markers will be forever wedded in my memory). I went to meetings where we planned teach-ins and meetings where we planned actions.

I’m 35 years old now, and off and on for twenty years I’ve been spending part of my time this way — as an antiwar activist and later as an anti-sweatshop and labor rights activist. That activism has taught me skills — how to plan an event, how to write a press release, how to engage people, how to speak in public, how to listen to people and how to talk to them — and it’s given me lifelong friends, and it has, perhaps more than anything I’ve ever done, made me who I am.

There are, I suppose, other ways to learn to deal with disappointment and rejection and failure. There are other ways to learn to find your voice, other ways to learn to wade through bureaucracy (getting money into and out of the UI Students Against Sweatshops student business office account at the University makes any budget cycle irregularity I have dealt with since seem simple), other ways to figure out how to inspire people to join a cause or to work together. But I learned all these things — all of which are crucial to my day-to-day work — not from any management guru, but from my comrades.

When I hear people talking about leadership and project management and teamwork, I often think I have no clue what they mean, and that these are skills I totally lack. Then I start to think about it, and I realize oh no, I do know. They mean organizing. And that? That I do know how to do.

So when people ask for my favorite management book, I say Rules for Radicals. When they want to know where I look for examples and inspiration, I say the Civil Rights Movement (and I mean the real stories, not just the Rosa Parks sat on a bus and Martin Luther King had a dream and now everything’s hunky-dory version — read the accounts of organizing the Montgomery bus boycott, and you’ll learn a lot about working with other people).

homeward bound

A little less than five years ago, I wrote to announce that I’d taken a job in Meeteetse, Wyoming.

Today, I write to tell you that my Western idyll is coming to an end, and I’ll be riding (metaphorically — I still haven’t really learned to ride a horse) into the sunrise as I head back east. Starting December 13, I will be the Adult Services Coordinator at the Coralville Public Library, in Coralville, Iowa, just next door to my hometown of Iowa City.

It has been a fantastic almost five years in Meeteetse and in the Wyoming library system. I’m proud of what I’ve learned and what I’ve done, sad to leave the mountains and my little town, and excited about my next big adventure.

i’ll see you on the internet: IL2008

Update: All the stuff from the presentation is really, truly online now. Slides, handouts, links, and more information than you could possibly ever want.

I’m writing this from some vast elevation on the first leg of my flight home from Internet Librarian, where I gave a little talk called How I Made a Website for $16 in Chocolate [not all the stuff is there yet; I’ll update it when next in the land of ftp]. It was a great honor to present in the same session as Sarah Houghton-Jan and to be a part of the fabulous group of speakers Aaron Schmidt put together for a track called Solving Problems. The conference as a whole was good. I particularly enjoyed hearing danah boyd, who synthesized so well so many of the things that we know, or half-know, about community and the internet but haven’t quite been able to articulate ourselves. I learned some great new tricks from Jeff Wisniewski’s Fast & Easy Site Tune-Ups, drooled over SOPAC and VuFind, and, after years of reading about them, finally got to see the Dutch boys.

As with most conferences, however, the best parts of IL this year were the unofficial ones, and about those I have much to say.

I arrived Sunday evening and headed over to the conference center to meet up with Iris, and, while sitting and waiting for her, I looked up to see a tall redhead, and I think “the shock of recognition” would be the best way to explain the look on both our faces. “I think I know you from the internet!” I said to Kate Sheehan. I used that line a lot over the next few days, because I got to meet a whole lot of people that I know from the internet. I’ll forget someone if I try to list them all, but let us just say that the LSW was well-represented (and add a shout-out to my awesome roommate and queen of Capslock Day, Meg). As I think I posted somewhere at some point, I wish the rest of you could all have joined us, although as it was we were having some difficulty getting groups of ten or twelve or fourteen people seated, and any more might have been impossible.

There were all the usual shenanigans you might expect if you are a follower of ITI conferences — beer, karaoke, rickrolling, photographing, name-calling (I’m sorry, Greg, really I am), sea lion watching, and general hanging out. I have been privileged for most of my life to be around smart, talented, creative people, and this group is one of the best. The very last session I attended at LCOW was called Impractical, Unreasonable, Unfeasable, Unfundable Ideas for Your Library, and, as I’ve noted before, despite the utter whackiness of some of the suggestions, some were things that, as Jamie Markus pointed out, we could do or even were already doing. The best parts of IL felt like that: one big, ongoing session, punctuated by sessions and meals and drinks, where it seemed as though the sky was the limit. And the best part of all is that it didn’t end there. We all took our leave of one another with the same parting phrase: “I’ll see you on the internet!” I’m glad there are so many of you out there that I see there every day, too.

report from the road

I’m still in Denver and theoretically headed back to Meeteetse tomorrow, although word has it it’s snowing there, and wyoroad.info is advising no unnecessary for several of the roads I take, so we’ll see.

Yesterday was the hugely successful (I think — people are editing the wiki on a Saturday, which must be a good sign!) Library Camp of the West. There are some photos from the event up already and a few comments in the LCOW FriendFeed room. The event would still be pie in the sky IM conversations between Steve Lawson and me were it not for Joe Kraus at DU, who really got the whole thing going. Many thanks to him, to Steve, to Josh Neff for some great last minute advice, and to everyone who came. I was sorry not to get to spend more time with Matt Hamilton (aka the Brewin’ Librarian) and K.R. Roberto, and I somehow missed meeting Jill entirely, but I hope all these problems can be rectified by making LCOW an annual event.

Last week Kaijsa (also in attendance at LCOW08) and I gave a presentation (twice!) at the Wyoming Library Association conference in Casper. Notes and a handout and a ton of links from the presentation are up online. (And why design your own stylesheet when you can steal one from Jessamyn? That’s what I always say.) It was fascinating and instructive to do the same presentation twice, especially since the audiences in question were quite different in terms of what they knew, what they were interested in, and what, if anything, they had questions about. I’m not entirely sure that standing in front of a bunch of people and showing them stuff on a big screen is the best way for them to learn about technology and its uses, although people did seem to enjoy this IM conversation. I’m thinking about how best to do my presentation on technology for Internet Librarian, and I will let you know what, if anything, I figure out.

the lis.dom fall tour

I am going to a bunch of places in the next four weeks, and only one of them has nothing to do with libraries. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but here’s the round-up of trips (all of them are also on Dopplr):

This Thursday, September 25, I’m taking four planes in order to get from Wyoming to Iowa, where I’ll be attending my best friend Sara’s ordination. The service is in West Burlington, but I’ll be staying in Iowa City for the weekend and returning to Wyoming (again on four planes) Monday, September 29.

I’ll stop long enough to pet the cats and go to work for a day and a half, and then I’m off to Casper from October 1 to 3 for the Wyoming Library Association conference. Kaijsa Calkins and I will be presenting a 2.0 Toolkit for Libraries Large and Small. I wanted to say we were from the biggest library in the state and the smallest, but believe it or not, there are in fact smaller libraries in towns smaller than mine in Wyoming.

Then I come home for the grand opening of the new Cody library on October 4. All the staff got a tour on Monday, and I got to look again on Thursday before the board meeting, and there were already books on the shelves! It is a gorgeous space and is going to be a huge, huge improvement over the extremely old, cramped quarters. The opening ceremonies start at 3, and the ribbon cutting will be at 4. At 4:30, the live auction of the grizzlies will begin, and the library will be open till 8 p.m. for the public to tour. I’ll be hanging out in the subterrannean teen room at the back of the building.

After that, I have a few days to catch my breath, and then it’s off to Denver for Library Camp of the West. I’ll be getting in on October 9 and will probably stay through the weekend.

Then I get another short break and then head out for my final stop, Monterey, California, where I’ll be from October 19 to 23 for Internet Librarian. I’ll be talking about how to make a library website on the cheap by using free software, web 2.0 tools, and the great world wide community of librarians as a support team. If you make it through my presentation, you then get to hear the wonderful Sarah Houghton-Jan, with whom I’m honored to be sharing a session.

If you can pick me out of the crowd of Mac laptop using, messanger bag carrying, Moo card bearing, sort of square glasses wearing people at any of these events, please say hi. I’m looking forward to meeting a whole bunch of LSW people and a whole lot of other people, too. Also, I love coffee and food, so if you want to meet up for either, let me know!