Category Archives: sudden thoughts

Working Together: Tips for Vendors

When I was in library school, Lynn Wiley (who was at that time head of interlibrary loan at UIUC) said something about library vendors that made a big impression on me. She said that vendors are our partners – we could not do what we do without the content and service products they provide, and they could not do what they do without us, either – we provide an audience, an infrastructure, and end-user education for them. Throughout my career, first as an interlibrary loan librarian and now as an electronic resources librarian, I have let this idea be a guiding principle for me. I sincerely try to take time to talk to my sales and service reps and respond when they contact me, and one of the major reasons I never miss an ALA is because I feel like it’s essential for me to spend time on the exhibit floor touching base with vendors and publishers to learn what’s new. I easily get 100 e mails a day because I try to sign up for every vendor update list I can – it’s my job to know about database upgrades, downtime, content changes, etc., and I try to be conscientious about passing that information on to my colleagues. I have learned so much about what’s going on in the information services industry, and – just as importantly – what’s going on with other libraries in my region and in the country from my vendor contacts, and I truly value my relationships with them.

I don’t know how many librarians approach their relationships with vendors this way, but I imagine lots of us do. However, some vendors make my job easier – others don’t. I try to remind myself that sales reps are working in the business world, not the world of academia, and they have MBAs and quotas and deadlines that are probably getting harder to meet as our budgets shrink. I try to be forgiving when I feel like they’re pestering me, and remind myself they’re just doing their jobs. But a recent trial has produced a sales rep who’s really trying my patience by calling once a week, pressuring me for a decision, and sending “follow-up” e mails to my department chair and even dean. I have tried to respond to her queries with helpful information about our process and where we are in it, but I’m finding myself hoping sincerely our collections librarians decide not to buy this product because I don’t want to end up in a long-term relationship with this vendor at all.

So as spring trial season begins, I would like to offer some tips for vendors who want to partner with librarians and make our jobs easier, because making my job easier is the best way to ensure my long-term good will and a mutually beneficial relationship.

  1. E mail is the best way to reach me. I have probably been sitting at my desk in my office by my phone less than a dozen hours in the last two weeks. Instead of in my office, I have been at the reference desk, in a million meetings, and doing research for a conference paper I’m presenting this month. In those dozen hours at my desk I was working hard in software I can’t access wirelessly or from home. Getting a phone call during that time from a vendor who wants to sell me something is just poor timing for the vendor. A lot of times when I’m at my desk I don’t even answer the phone unless the call is coming from someone on campus for this very reason. E mail me. I hate the phone, it’s a terrible way to reach me, I don’t necessarily get to check my voice mail every day, and I will respond to your e mail.
  2. Libraries are on an annual budget cycle. That’s right. We usually make major purchasing decisions twice a year – once at the end of the calendar year (because we love those end-of-the-year deals vendors offer) and once in the spring, before the fiscal year begins in July. We may trial your product at any time, but we are only likely to make a purchasing decision one of those two times. Thus, while vendors may feel pressure to get us to make a decision, we feel no pressure at all, because we know the money doesn’t exist until the new budget cycle starts and now, with all the cuts going on, budgets never even come out on schedule, so we’re always behind. Therefore the decision process is long, is often delayed, and will not happen until the last possible moment. I do not tell my colleagues in reference and collection development when we need to get something. They tell me. They set the schedule. No matter how often you call (or, preferably, e mail), that schedule will never be in my hands.
  3. Make sure I get information I need. I think vendors should start combining sales and service. Maybe some do. But I feel like sales reps who want to sell me something are always figuring out how to contact me, while service information like database updates or downtime or content changes – vitally important information that I need to receive – often doesn’t get to me, or isn’t released in a timely manner. I have signed up for every e mail list I can, and every time we purchase something new I make a point of contacting the vendor and asking to be added to the list of people to receive technical and content updates, but I still feel like I have trouble getting that information. Vendors: libraries are truly interested in service and content. If you provide me with great information about that in a timely way, I am way more likely to listen when you have something new to sell.
  4. Make my job easier. I want to promote your products. There is nothing I would like to see more than our usage statistics for databases rise. Send me posters, pens, binder clips. The latest update to the OCLC Perceptions survey tells us patrons notice in-library flyers and promotions. If you send them, I’ll put them up. If you send me information in e mail, I’ll forward it to my subject liaison colleagues. If we buy something new, offer an in-person training or webinar for our librarians – I’m likely to take advantage of it.
  5. Inform me! I want to know what other libraries are doing, and I want to know where you think information services are going. What trends are you noticing in use statistics, in patron queries, in research patterns? Vendors have rich data and wide contacts. If you share that kind of information with me, I’ll eat it up, I promise, and I’ll listen to you when you have something to tell me.

If any vendors are reading this they might be thinking, well, what’s in it for me? I hope they think that my good will and influence with my students and colleagues is reward enough, because I certainly don’t have direct purchasing decision-making and I am not a subject liaison and I can’t guarantee we’ll have any money any time soon. Which is another problem, perhaps, with the way e-resources librarians’ jobs are structured, and perhaps a topic for another post.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

A Beloit Mindset Moment

As part of our Library event for incoming freshmen we organized a scavenger hunt. They are pretty popular right now, and putting one together takes some thought and effort. But we got the participants to get around the entire library, visit a few service areas, try our text-a-librarian and cell phone tour services, and overall it went pretty well. The students seemed to enjoy it, and we offered a few nice gifts. But clearly we aren’t able to completely put ourselves into the mindset of the college freshman, and as a result one student thought we had an unfair question. Seems we asked the students to record the name of a movie for which we have a poster hanging in our media services area. To find the right poster the students were told to look for Humphrey Bogart. According to this student, she had never heard of him – so how could she know who to look for (this is overlooking his name is on the poster in 12″ letters). My colleagues and I were a bit taken back by that – could you be 18 and not know Bogie? Then again, when the class of 2014 was born in 1992, he was already dead for 35 years. Next time, we’ll just go with the poster for the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Every college student knows that guy, right?

Here’s An Idea for an Experiment – No Academic Library for Two Years

I read an anecdote shared by a librarian from brand name, elite 4-year college, about a faculty member who said something along the lines of “Our students graduate and become incredibly successful. They haven’t had much research instruction, and they aren’t particularly good at conducting research, but they are successful. So if that’s the end outcome, why bother with the research instruction?” How do you respond to a comment like that? I’m not sure, but what concerns me is that the librarians will buy into that line of thinking, and just give up on instruction all together. Why bother if the students end up at Wall Street brokerage firms with six-figure incomes? Is that how we measure success? [quite possible the faculty member simply means “success” at whatever the students aspire to]

The next logical step from that line of thinking is why bother having a library at all? Just close the library and cancel all the subscriptions. Allow faculty to use the library budget to get personal subscriptions to the journals they want. Use library funds to buy every student an e-book reader with a quota of a few thousand dollars to buy whatever books and paywall content they want. If after two years of no library or librarians the results show that students still graduate and still become incredibly successful, that tells us that the library never made a difference in the first place – other then for faculty and administrators to gush about the library as the “heart of the institution” – and as a good stop on the campus tour. I wonder if it makes a difference that a faculty observation like this one comes from an elite, brand name institution where the students arrive with many lifestyle advantages that will contribute to their post-college success. What about the institutions, like Chicago State University, where student failure is the norm? I wonder what faculty there have to say about the need for research instruction? Do they have time to think about it at all?

What’s the Biggest Mistake You’ve Made As a Leader?

It’s a long road and hard work becoming an effective leader, whether you are responsible for the vision and direction of a library, a single unit or program within the library that needs leadership for it to survive, or leading your colleagues in an association effort. Along the way you’ll likely make some mistakes. Hopefully one of them one won’t be the “big mistake” that shatters your leadership potential. Best of all, if you are new on the leadership path – or if you’ve been traveling that path a long time – you can avoid the big mistake by studying the lessons learned by other leaders.

A good opportunity for that type of learning can be discovered from Harvard Business Review’s video piece on “the biggest mistake a leader can make” which features a mix of academics and executives sharing what he or she thinks is that biggest mistake. Here’s a quick list of what I gleaned from each expert – but watch the video – it’s just over 7 minutes – there’s more good advice to be had there:

* Putting self-interest before the interests of the organization – leadership is about responsibility for the staff and stakeholders and putting yourself ahead of them is a fatal error.

* Betraying trust – if you fail here nothing else matters.

* Being certain – once you think you know how it all works there is reluctance to change; great leaders understand the power of uncertainty.

* Not living up to values – if you espouse values and fail to live up up to them you will rapidly be found out by followers.

* Overly enamored with vision – becoming single minded and obsessed with a vision makes a leader blind to other opportunities and possibilities.

* Personal arrogance or hubris – confuses the success of the organization with his or her individual persona; leads to the making of huge mistakes.

* Acting too fast – leaders need to step back and think before they act, and seek out advice from subordinates; re-think the vision/plan and then act.

* Failure to be consistent – followers need to know their leaders are authentic and predictable; if you are pleasant one day and a monster the next it destroys trust.

* Lack of self-reflection – leaders need to constantly review their own behavior and honestly contemplate what affect they have on others; good leaders are self-aware, learn from their mistakes and improve.

In my leadership positions I’ve made any number of these mistakes at one time or another; you can only hope to learn from a bad experience. But I’ve worked very hard never to betray trust, and I think that would be the ultimate leadership mistake. What about you? What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, what big mistake have you seen a leader make or which one on this list is the worst sin for you?

Some Writing Advice Worth Your Attention

I hope your regular reading regimen includes the Chronicle. If I had to guess I’d say it’s the most read non-library publication for the typical academic librarian. I’m also guessing many academic librarians will only go and read a Chronicle article or essay if someone else tells them they should go read it. As an academic librarian blogger I try to avoid leaning too heavily on the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed as a source. It would be all to easy to do that – and then I’d just end up writing about whatever other librarians are already reading and discussing anyway – not too challenging or exciting.

But this essay on improving your writing gave some good advice, and as an academic librarian blogger one thing in particular resonated with me. Number nine on the list of ten reads: Your most profound thoughts are often wrong. That’s a profound thought right there. I often find myself second guessing many of my blog posts because I question if I’m making sense or effectively communicating my message. Then again I’ll go ahead and post them anyway thinking I’ve come up with something profound only to realize it wasn’t something all that great and that it didn’t make anyone think twice anyway. There’s been talk of the death of blogging for years now. But blogs persist even though many librarians show a preference for sharing their thoughts – as much as that is possible – with a facebook or twitter update. Perhaps in those mediums, since what’s written quickly passes on and fades, there’s not much need to think about whether what’s being written is profound or possibly wrong. With 140 characters, it may not matter much. An exception – when a simple tweet sets off a strong reaction with a blogger. So even though there’s a good chance my profound thoughts are wrong I’ll likely continue to share some of them with you. One of the best things about blogging at ACRLog is receiving comments that help me to re-think what I thought was profound and become more clear about my thinking and writing. Not an easy task.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Even Lightning Gets More Time

I like lightning talks. I have given four of them now. It’s a challenge to come up with a sensible presentation that still manages a good learning experience while hopefully entertaining the crowd. All have been in the 5 minute range. That’s precious little time to say anything of much substance – but I talk fast. To my way of thinking 5 minutes is the right amount of time for a sensible lightning talk. And it’s still challenging enough that many who try cannot complete in 5 minutes. Well I just saw a program announcement where they are offering the stupendously generous time of 3 minutes for a lightning talk. My reaction to that is “why bother?”. Is there really much of anything you can say or do of value in so short a time – and would you really want to be in the audience at this thing? Are we now having a competition to see who can come up with the shortest lightning talk program? What’s next? A 30-second lightning talk? Perhaps a lightning talk where you only get 140 characters. This is getting ridiculous.

Those Other L-School Grads Aren’t Getting Jobs and They Are Mad As Hell and Not Taking It

Have you been following what’s going on with those disgruntled law school graduates who are incredibly pissed off because no law firms are offering them high-paying jobs as soon as they are handed their diplomas? They made the choice to become lawyers, and they made the choice to go into deep debt ($100K or more is not uncommon). Now they are blaming their law schools and their career offices for misleading them about their job prospects. From a USA Today article:

A small but growing coalition of graduates, on blogs with names like “Scammed Hard” and “Shilling Me Softly,” blame their alma maters for luring them into expensive programs by overstating their employment prospects.

Then of course there is the law school graduate who calls herself Unemployed JD who is making an even bigger fuss by going on a hunger strike until law schools agree to divulge career data. That generated its own little controversy when it turned out the law school graduate behind the whole thing really did have a job. I’m not going to rehash all the details here – you can read the story if you care.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. I can understand the students getting upset if the law school recruiters and admissions advisers really did lead them to believe that 99.9% of law school grads get high-paying jobs within 6 months of graduation. But could the law schools have predicted three years ago when those students enrolled that the economy would tank and that law firms would lose lots of business. So it seems just a bit unrealistic for the students to turn around and blame the law schools.

Reading this, and knowing how the economic crisis has severely impacted libraries and their hiring practices in all sectors (both budget cuts and the slowing of retirements), it is difficult to feel any sympathy at all for law school students or lawyers. According to the USA Today article, among 2009 law school graduates, 88% are employed, and that’s down from 92% in 2007. I have no idea what percent of 2009 LIS students are employed, but I’m going to guess it’s no where near 88% – heck, I bet it’s not even 50%. So should we librarians really feel all that bad for the other L-School graduates? I don’t think so. And even if jobless LIS graduates were to go on hunger strikes, protest in the streets, run naked through the halls of Congress – do you think that even a single newspaper in this country would pay any attention (OK – maybe the running naked through the halls of Congress might attract some – after the arrests). Not a chance in hell. Did USA Today have anything to say about The Unemployed Librarian‘s blog? So sorry LIS grads. It looks like the lawyers will continue to get all the “Why Won’t Anyone Hire Me” attention.

BTW, I’m glad to report that Elizabeth, the unemployed librarian, is now the Employed Librarian. So there is some good news out there on the job front.

The Accidental Academic Library Janitor: Book Review

In this fascinating account of one librarian’s act of courage in taking on responsibilities at his library that no one else would dare accept, we learn the true meaning of professional passion. The Accidental Academic Library Janitor, authored by Jack Van Der Kammp, begins when Van Der Kammp is hired as the new Interlibrary Loan Librarian at Dippinger College. For two years Van Der Kammp labors at filling requests from students and faculty, all of which registers barely a nod of recognition from his co-workers or the administration. But like all librarians who achieve accidental greatness, Van Der Kammp passes through his crucible on a wintry day in February 2008.

Though not suitable for repetition in this highly respected journal, Van Der Kammp artfully recalls the worst poop incident in the history of the Susanna D. Drake Memorial Library. While his colleagues stand by in shock and disgust, Van Der Kammp goes looking for help only to realize the regular library janitor never made it to work that day. With no one else willing to go within 10 feet of the horrific scene, Van Der Kammp explains how he grabbed the pail, mop and Lysol, took matters into his own hands, and forged his destiny as The Accidental Academic Library Janitor.

Over eight insightfully written chapters, Van Der Kammp enlightens other academic librarians on how they too can become an Accidental Academic Library Janitor. Topics cover all the vital skills for would be library janitors such as best cleansers for greasy sink goo, keeping urinal cakes where they belong, how to remove pornographic graffiti from the men’s stalls, advanced techniques for fast cleanups after library raves, and most important of all, how to stay one step ahead of the real library janitor. Van Der Kammp’s book is a timely addition to the library literature because in this period of harsh budget cuts our academic libraries are constantly threatened with the loss of the janitorial staff. And when that happens, readers of The Accidental Academic Library Janitor will be poised to jump into action. Like Van Der Kammp, they too can become a prime candidate for the American Library Association’s Milton R. Grenich Library Housekeeper of the Year Prize, awarded annually by the LLAMA Interest Group on Sanitary Facility Management. Highly recommended for all academic library collections.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

ALA Demo Hell

I usually avoid the orchestrated demos many vendors offer at ALA – you know the ones I mean. There is a small seating area and there’s an infomercial-type presenter – or even worse an annoying robot or Elvis impersonator. My preference is to have a rep take me through a one-on-demo where I can interrupt with my questions. But I wanted to find out what the vendor was doing with a new platform rollout, and they said “We’ll be starting the theatre demo in a few minutes”. I needed to take a rest anyway, so I sat down.

The “theatre host” (I don’t know what you call these people) came over and said hello and announced my name to everyone within 50 yards since their sound system broadcasts to several aisles away. Who needs Foursquare to let everyone know where I am? Ms. Theatre Host (MTH) just took care of that. After a few other folks sat down MTH delivered the canned speil about all the great new features. Then MTH asked us if we were ready to “get in the zone”. What? I just want a damn demo.

Turns out there was no theatre demo. We all just shifted over to one sales rep who gave a canned demo on a 20” monitor. It took all of two minutes and didn’t yield much information. Why are you making seven people watch the demo on this tiny monitor when you’ve got a 72” flat panel right over there? They did give away a $25 gift card just for taking time to suffer through this. I didn’t win. Overall I felt like a loser. Is there anyone who actually enjoys these things?

A Post-ALA Tip For the Hungry

Prior to ALA you’ll find all sorts of “how to get the most out of the conference” tips being offered. Beyond the “carry a snack” tip I don’t see many suggestions for satisfying one’s hunger – which gets worked up quickly walking the exhibits or sitting through an interminably boring presentation. It’s true the library mags offer lists of “nearby” eateries, but when I’m in the middle of a busy conference day, I just want to grab something fast and cheap – and those magazine articles tend to list pricier restaurants that are farther away and chew up more time. Did you see the long lines and prices at any food booth in the DC convention center? Wait 20 minutes for a $6 cold and dried out hot dog? Forget that.

Did you know there was a great supermarket exactly three blocks and a five-minute walk from the convention center? Nowadays most decent supermarkets have lots of prepared food options. I walked over there and got a custom-made sandwich for $4.99, a huge orange for $.70, and a bottle of cold water for $.79. You could barely buy a bag of chips for that total amount in the convention center. I was back in the convention center eating my freshly made, healthy lunch in an air-conditioned room 15 minutes after I stepped out to buy it.You were probably still in line waiting to buy a stale, overpriced burrito. So the next time the library mags prepare their articles on food options for the conference, I suggest they scope out any supermarket or convenience stores within a 3-5 block radius of the convention center. That will do all of us a favor – hey – the bus folks might even include it on one of the routes.

They Still Don’t Get Us

A favorite librarian past-time is locating an instance of a journalist or author using “librarian” in some way – a metaphor or otherwise – that demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what we really do or the skills we use in our work. For example, “Once she mastered speed reading, she could read more books in a day than most librarians could read in a week of sitting at the desk while they checked out books”. That sort of stuff tends to make our blood boil because whoever wrote it clearly has no idea what we really do and is just buying into that same old stereotype.

I made that one up (Ok, it’s not that great but you get the point), but here’s a real one I came across that’s a bit more sophisticated. In an NYT article about the opportunity cost of the wasted time people spend searching for things on the web (that is, there’s much free information, but is it really free if you spend 15 minutes trying to find it – what was the opportunity cost of your time), the author, Damon Darlin wrote:

Google makes it easier to get search results by suggesting possible search terms as a query is typed. (Engineers there, who must measure just about everything, had noticed that query lengths were becoming longer as we turned into a nation of research librarians.) Typing some queries gives you the results right on the top of the search page. Type in “poison center,” for instance, and you get the toll-free phone number for poison emergencies.

But he couldn’t have used “research librarians” more incorrectly in this context while trying to make his point. It’s just the opposite in fact. If we were turning into a nation of research librarians all the searching would in reality become incredibly compact and efficient – resulting in vast amounts of saved time. We’re not the ones typing statements such as “I need to find the phone number for a poison emergency center because I just swallowed some Drano” – that’s what everyone else is doing. Research librarians – knowing how Google is structured – would just type “poison center drano” or even more likely “antidote drano” (even in dire emergencies we can’t help but think smart). So while we all appreciate the power of search suggestions – it wasn’t needed because we turned into a nation of research librarians. It was needed because we are mostly a nation of search dummies.

Sheesh, will they ever get it?

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Sign of the Times

Here’s an interesting new blog started by the Chronicle, “Campus Cuts“. Too depressing maybe? On the other hand, when posts to this blog grow few and far between that will be a good sign. If you do need some cheering up stay away from the Chronicle and just stick with this.

Something is Just Wrong About This

I know it’s great to do marketing for libraries and to toot your horn and all that stuff. But is there such a thing as an inappropriate gesture? When I saw this press release from Capella University it just sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I think it’s great that the librarians there created a useful tutorial and decided to share it with others by submitting it to ACRL’s PRIMO repository of learning objects by and for librarians (and anyone else who can find a good use for them). But then issuing a press release that makes it sound like your library just won the equivalent of an Oscar or a gold medal at the Olympics – that just seems, well, not right. Sorry, but I can’t quite picture any non-profit higher education institution putting out a press release like this. Maybe you think they should. You could ask, “Why don’t more higher education institutions value their libraries and the work of their librarians the way that Capella does?” That’s a good question- unless you regard Capella’s press release as making a mountain out of a molehill for the sole purpose of getting any sort of attention from anyone. I applaud those who have their learning object accepted for addition to PRIMO, but is it an amazing feat worthy of an institutional press release? I don’t think so but maybe I’m just cynical. Here’s the odd thing though. If Capella is so proud of the online tutorial and their library – why doesn’t their press release link to either of them – or PRIMO. All the links are to – you guessed it – Capella University.

It Pays To Be Social Before Your Presentation

It used to be that you would just get to your presentation, set things up, give the talk, share some handouts, get done and then move on to the next thing. That won’t do anymore, especially if you want to get the audience to care about your topic – before you even talk about it.

The way to go now is to make your presentation “more social” according to a post over at Mashable. There are five things you can do to achieve this higher state of social connectedness. Consider discussing your presentation and sharing it on Facebook and Twitter in advance of the talk; invite your friends to comment on and critique your presentation. Be sure to give those tweeting in your audience sound bites that they can tweet easily. And you certainly keep it going after the talk by tapping into your network and delivering more content about your talk. I did question this particular piece of advice though:

Make sure you can see comments on the backchannel as they come in. While that can make for some complicated multi-tasking –- delivering a presentation, inviting interactive polls, and monitoring real-time backchannel comments at once –- it’s crucial for presenters to see what’s being said about them.

Perhaps you are a great multitasker, but for myself, I don’t think I could manage concentrating on my presentation plus what’s being said on social networks. And what if, like me, much of your presentation is getting away from the lectern and just talking. Are you supposed to run back to your computer to keep checking the backchannel? Seems rather awkward.

I have sensed that an indicator of a successful presentation these days is the number of librarians who become your Twitter follower within 48 hours of your presentation. I suppose that the way to gain even more followers is to be social before, after and during the program.