The Legible Librarian

The Legible Librarian

 

One of the challenges I find myself facing is the push and pull between a traditional library hierarchy and the role of the functional expert. Most of my career to date has been in the latter category, which may account for the warmth I feel towards those roles, but I now find myself in the former category, and I can see how decisions at the AUL/AD level can either make the walls close in around a functional expert, or can help them to soar.

It is the role of upper level leadership to ensure that a librarian in a functional expert role (aka “coordinator”) is legible to the rest of the organization.

A functional expert can be utterly amazing in all that they do, with endless potential and skill, but if their peers and the rest of the library don’t see their work slotted into the overall work of the library, if they see them as other or external in some way, there will be an a hard limit on how much they can accomplish.

The usual model for functional expertise, as well as ambiguous, new or rapidly-shifting portfolios (technology librarians of all stripes, assessment librarians, data librarians, digital humanities librarians, entrepreneurship, schol comm too, I presume) is often framed in what I think of as a retainer model: we hire the expertise, and anyone in the organization can call on them when needed. The result more often than not is a supremely qualified and able librarian sitting in their office twiddling their thumbs, or constructing a magnificent portfolio of work driven by their own hands that the rest of the library may admire, but don’t see as related to themselves.

Making a functional expert legible often falls to the functional experts themselves. After being on both sides of this equation, I’ve come to the realization that this is impossible. The functional expert may be as eloquent as they come, but it’s all talk if the organization isn’t shifting to adjust and accept their work. Carving out the paths that allow new expertise to fully join the organization has to be the work of library leadership.

How do you make this happen? We have to accept that it’s not just one conversation, and it’s not just an announcement. We have to address these issues step by step and project by project.

I think the first structural piece is understanding that coordinators/functional experts are peers of department heads, but different from them in important ways. In my experience, it is critical to form a permanent team that includes both. It’s true that department heads have radically different work and issues to face. But to function well, department heads and functional experts need to understand each other as partners and collaborators as well as peers.

We can’t just code a functional expert as an independent department head of a department of one. That’s very isolating and archaic, and I think this is where we tend to get this wrong. If the expectation is that a technology librarian, or data librarian, or schol comm librarian is going to bring expertise that will touch the entire campus, for instance, then they need to team up with the department head(s) for liaison/outreach to bring that expertise into the hands on, on-the-ground work. They can’t recreate a liaison network on their own (well, they can, but that’s just creating internal competition and losing valuable opportunities for the liaison librarians, as well as lessening their own potential impact). If we don’t use the structures we already have, we might as well hand the functional expertise off to another unit altogether, because the effect is about the same.

I know the immediate response to the suggestion that functional experts become leaders in partnership with liaison department heads: liaison librarians are already overwhelmed, too busy, too many projects as it is, etc. We can’t have more bosses, it’s too much, it’s too confusing! Rather than give up in the face of this outcry, we need to reorient how we’re viewing the work of the functional expert, and understand that there are many ways to be a leader.

It’s not separate work, it’s not on top of everything else work; it’s got to be integrated into the work of a department. A department head is focused on the vision, on implementation of work and goals, and on monitoring performance; a functional expert has their eyes on one impactful realm of knowledge. Together, they create the work going forward. As a team, they are dynamite.

But a functional expert will struggle to launch if they aren’t understood by the department heads as a partner rather than a competitor or just as another, disconnected peer. So the AUL/AD needs to be clear about the relationships and dependencies between them so that they can see each other as they are and work together to support the work of the library.

Often, it’s the liaison librarians on whom this kind of campus impact work fundamentally depends. A functional expert might have a key understanding of what faculty need to know/do/think about in order to move forward and meet needs in an area, but it’s the department head who is best placed to shape that idea into real and doable work that supports the mission of the department, and it’s the liaison librarians who make those connections and get it done. That’s how a functional expert can end up leading entire departments and having massive impact fast; with the support of the department heads, who understand how to construct a project that supports the existing mission and work of the department. The department heads continue to monitor performance and shape work even if a functional expert designed the project. They are stronger for working together.

But the task of making a functional expert legible doesn’t end there; it’s also the role of the AUL/AD to ensure that their own peers understand how a new or changing portfolio affects their departments as well, when it does. The amazing thing about a coordinator role is that it’s unhooked from a specific department and can creep into work all over the place; that’s only a good experience if everyone involves sees it coming, understands its purpose, and respects it when it comes. It’s important not to expect a functional expert to be able to carve that path themselves. No matter how good they are, this is beyond their scope.

At the AUL/AD level, we can see where the crossover is about to happen, and that’s when we need to provide the context required for a potential collaborator to be prepared to welcome it.  Project by project, ambiguity by ambiguity, these conversations need to happen not just once, but many times, as they appear, to translate the goals of the functional expert at the earliest stage so that they have the support and collaboration that will make them successful.

I have seen many discussions in the profession about coordinator roles and how hopeless they are; I have been struggling to understand this perspective. In light of that, I have become very aware of day to day work I find myself doing to ensure that the functional experts in my portfolio are able to do their work well and successfully, fully and joyfully integrated into the daily life of the libraries. The skills they are building by designing and implementing projects in their areas of expertise, collaborating closely with department heads and adjusting their ideas to the goals and strengths of the department, pitching ideas and gaining support, leading staff without directly supervising them; these are some of the most valuable and necessary skills for future leadership, and I think it would be a tragedy to have fewer of these opportunities available in the profession because AULs/ADs don’t know how to manage them well.

My goal is to know how. I’m learning.

#workatRCL

#workatRCL

#workatRCL

Until recently, I hadn’t had much need to think about recruiting. Suddenly, it’s critically important that I know how to do it well.

One of the things I’ve picked up is that often, particularly for leadership positions, the applicant you want won’t necessarily be looking at job ads or necessarily thinking about taking a step up on the career ladder. A person may be willing to make a move for the right opportunity, but in their day to day, they’re doing well, getting on with their jobs and their lives, and not spending their evenings cruising job boards. If you’ve got a role to fill, you have to go out and find the people you need.

So how do you do that? Pull a group of canny staff together to comb your networks and figure out who we know, dig into conference proceedings for rising stars, search Twitter for opinionated superheroes? (Done it; it was fun!) Cold call? (Hi there, you don’t know me, but WHY NOT WORK HERE, MY TALENTED FRIEND? HELLO? HELLO?)

What else can you?

I’m in the very interesting position of trying to recruit across sectors. I’m looking for a public librarian to potentially fill an academic position. How does someone deeply entrenched in the academic sector break out of a silo and get their job ad in front of a public librarian looking for a leadership opportunity? I can’t use our usual channels. I can’t just relax on this.

How about Twitter?

My colleague Lindsay Cronk (Mover and Shaker) and I hatched a plan; we’ll do what others before us have done: Twitter chat! Ask us anything! Let us tell you about our jobs! We’re hoping that answering questions on Twitter will help us find the people who might want to join us.

This is all a grand experiment for us. We haven’t really been active recruiters before. But we have some great jobs, and we’re looking for some great librarians. And we live in a great town that we love. And we have big, big plans to change the world, starting here, and we need co-conspirators.

So here we go: Monday, Sept 11, noon to 2pm EST, we’re hoping we can get the attention of some folks who might be interested in our jobs, or might know some people who might be interested in our jobs. Or might just want prod at us and help us understand how to be better recruiters. Which all of us are going to need to be.

See you there?

Leadership, Authority, Hierarchy, and Supervision

Leadership, Authority, Hierarchy, and Supervision

This is what I’ve learned: either you think library leadership roles must always come with direct supervisory responsibilities in order to be successful, or you think these two pieces can be disentangled. I fall into the latter category. I have recently encountered a number of people in the former category, and I am dismayed.

The general feeling seems to be that any “coordinator”-type role without a bunch of direct reports is a sign of bad management and the role is doomed to failure.

I suppose, if you imagine that a leader can only influence, direct, or lead the people they supervise, then sure, a role where a lot of leadership is expected but no dedicated staff might seem like it’s set up for failure. But that’s a very traditional view of library structure and library work, and I think we’ve moved past that. That doesn’t describe every workplace. I believe what must be missing from this picture is an understanding of how a project-based environment works.

In an organization that functions in projects, work is organized not around a supervisor and their team, but by cross-departmental, short-term projects with specific, time-limited goals. The leader of a project team doesn’t need to approve vacation time in order to function as a fully-fledged leader.

It’s true that, without the power of hierarchical authority, convincing your peers and others outside your department that your idea is good can be hard. It’s hard for a reason. Our peers have good ideas of their own, and experiences to drawn on, history with the subject matter, and judgement; if your ideas doesn’t have the legs to convince intelligent library staff to get on board, do you want the weight of authoritarian power to be there for you to silence objections? That feels good, but is it a good idea? Isn’t it healthier to hear the skepticism, take the feedback, and make the idea better? Isn’t that a better way to learn to be a leader? To learn to take feedback, to be collaborative, to develop good, functional ideas?

Leaders who rely on the power of their roles rather than the strength of their vision and their ideas concern me. If you don’t have the skills to manage work without that power, are you really a leader?

What does it mean for the profession if we link up hierarchical, supervisory power with leadership in this way? What kinds of opportunities do new professionals get to even discover if leadership is of interest to them? How do we give staff a safe, lower-risk opportunity in which to learn how to lead, where failure is absolutely an option to learn from?

There are only so many supervisory roles to go around, and not everyone gets one. But everyone in a library can be a leader. I feel strongly about this; why can’t we open up this black box and give other people a chance to put their fingerprint on the organization? This is what it comes down to for me. If we can’t decouple leadership and supervision, we shut down a lot of learning and opportunity. Giving staff project-based leadership is great training and frankly great, fun, effective and sustainable work. The risk is low and the reward is huge.

To me, the real skill-building in leadership is being a leader among your peers, a leader without the power of the performance review to fall back on. Can you construct a viable idea? Can you get buy in? Can you take on feedback make your idea better? Can you get a project off the ground, through planning, through implementation, and into something sustainable? This isn’t easy work, but it doesn’t require anyone to be a supervisor. And it is work you can learn over time. It’s forgiving work that lets you try, fail, and try again.

Project-based work lets you break down silos of your organization. It lets you bring together skills and talent that don’t sit right next to each other. It lets staff have a chance to spread their wings and try something new. It gives hungry staff real, valuable opportunities to show their stuff. How do you know if you want to take a supervisory role if you’ve never had a real chance to lead?

A project-based environment asks a lot of an organization. It requires libraries to give staff the opportunity to be on a diverse project team, to get to know staff they don’t work with every day, to see a idea take form and participate in its formation, to see things go wrong in a safe place that anticipates things going wrong. It gives staff a chance to chair a meeting without their supervisor in the room, to have a deadline and a responsibility of their own, to have their own team. Any member of staff can be the one who updates library leadership on the status of a project. Project-based work is a forgiving structure in which staff at any level can have the opportunity to learn how to lead.

As someone who writes job ads and chairs search committees, I think it’s important that we learn to recognize leadership outside of direct supervision and respect it for what it is. It’s not only the department heads who lead.

This is particularly important to me because I leapt into senior leadership without ever having been a department head. There are other paths, and if we don’t provide these opportunities, and understand what this kind of leadership means on a CV, we’re going to overlook people with really great skills who can be an asset to our organizations.

At my library, a position with leadership but no staff means a position that will lead all staff at one point or another. It means a project-based role that works with the hierarchy to set expectations for the entire organization. It means collaborating with supervisors and partnering with them in managing staff. It means leading across the organization. It means breaking barriers and doing conference-worthy work, and finding talent where we didn’t know it existed. It means experimentation and taking chances.

I think we need this. I think it’s important. Non-supervisory leadership is also leadership, and it has value.

The Digital Academy: The Power of Audio

The Digital Academy: The Power of Audio

It’s funny: we can create images and video, and even animation, so much more easily than we used to, yet it’s now that we’re turning back to the power of pure audio. Below are two examples of games that are using audio instead of video to evoke a sense of mission and place. Rather than try to build something that looks immersive, these games let your imagination to that part.

The Nightjar is an entirely audio-based iOS game narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch. In it, you are abandoned in a failing space station and need to find your way to safety.

Put your earphones on and listen:

Another approach is Zombies, Run! This game also employs only audio, but it’s relying on a far more higher resolution image than they can produce: the real world. Zombies, Run! is a running app. You switch it on when you’re going for a run, and Zombies, Run! provides the motivation. The app pays attention to how fast you’re going and provides feedback based on that. It turns a run into an escape from zombies. Using pure audio and some data from its whereabouts, app makers are using the real world as their interface, overlaying information on top of it through audio.

Are there ways we can use audio? Can we overlay audio information on the library, or campus? On the stacks?

The Digital Academy: Record your Reflections

The Digital Academy: Record your Reflections

  1. Scan through your reflections and thoughts about the tools we’ve explored during the first two days of this workshop, and the prework for today.
  2. Choose three ideas you’d like to share. Focus on ideas for ways you can use these tools in your work. Feel free to include ways to use these tools if they were slightly different.
  3. Using  Quicktime, make an audio recording of yourself reading (or paraphrasing) these ideas. Record a separate file for each idea.
  4. Give each audio recording a descriptive file name including your name so we can easily see what it’s about.
  5. Upload your files to this Box folder.
Keener Task #1: Pixlr

Keener Task #1: Pixlr

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Yes, you are a keener. Be proud! All the best people are keeners! Since you’re done with everything else, try this:

  1. Go to pixlr.
  2. Create a picture. You can either a) take one with your webcam, or b) head over to your instagram account and take a screenshot of one of your photos.
  3. Modify your photo. Check out the overlays and stickers, and of course the effects. Make a collage!
  4. When you’re done, download your modified image(s).
  5. Upload them to your blog.
  6. Tweet your photos using the hashtag #digitalacademy!
One Bright Idea: University of Rochester River Campus Libraries’ Digital Academy Presents

One Bright Idea: University of Rochester River Campus Libraries’ Digital Academy Presents

Please join us at 3pm EST on Thursday, August 6th for our livestream broadcast, One Bright Idea, where the participants of the Digital Academy media creation workshop will share with friends and colleagues what they’ve learned during the workshop, and what they’ll experiment with as part of their work in future.

The Digital Academy: Video Editing

The Digital Academy: Video Editing

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There’s lots of fancy and expensive software you can use to edit video. Oftentimes, the many steps and $$$ required excludes a lot of people. But there are video editing tools that are available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Like youtube!

Log into the google account listed on the sheet inside your envelope.

  1. Go to the Youtube video editor. (You can find it linked under the upload link.)
  2. Create a new video merging at least three of the videos you see listed in the youtube channel.
  3. Edit the videos you’ve chosen. You can trim the videos by dragging the left or the right side of them. You’ll need some buffer room on either side of them if you want to use transitions! It makes them overlap slightly.
  4. Add transitions, text, and/or other effects.
  5. If you want to, add a soundtrack.
  6. Put your name in the title of your video so you’ll be able to see which one’s yours!
  7. When you’re happy with your video, press the create video button.
  8. Embed your edited video on your blog. (How to)
  9. Tweet your video using the hashtag #digitalacademy!