A World with No Meetings?!

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.
— Dave Barry, “25 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years”

As funny as I think Dave Barry can be, and in spite of the fact that he is correct to imply that meetings are often not the most efficient way to get things done, I am one of those weird people that actually enjoys meetings. Not ALL meetings, obviously, but more than half of them. And even during un-enjoyable (i.e. unproductive) meetings I try to walk out with something that I can take with me and make useful…and I usually can (even if occasionally what I walk away with is a firm resolution to never impose a similar meeting on anyone).

Clearly, some meetings are more valuable than others but why? Reflecting on my current position in academia I feel that within the division of the library in which I work a pretty high percentage of our meetings are useful. Often they are a time to collaborate. The best meetings are those in which we get together with the intention of making decisions collectively and leave the meeting having done so…or in which the goal of the meeting is to learn something specific. The worst meetings, on the other hand, are those without a clear goal and, my personal pet peeve, those focused on brainstorming.

meeting flochart

As an example of a “good” meeting: twice a month I go to a meeting with the other members of the “Acquisitions Team” which consists of three collection development librarians (I am one of them), the Media Librarian and our Collection Assessment Librarian. We discuss areas of the collections that are important or need resources (based on data collected by our assessment librarian) and make decisions about how to curate our collection. And that is key: our goal is to make decisions; we do not just talk about ideas. There is a clear agenda for each meeting and a dedicated online space for our group to collaborate and communicate between meetings so that we are all up-to-date. These are useful meetings.

Quite a few of the meetings I attend are with vendors. As the Electronic Resources Librarian vendor communication is a huge (HUGE) part of my job. Some of these meetings are in-person while others are webinars, usually demos of products we own but occasionally demos of products we are evaluating or trialing. Sometimes these meeting are just myself and a vendor rep, other times these meetings involve more people – often subject librarians and even faculty. These meetings are almost always useful because they are an opportunity to learn about resources that support our users. Sure, you can read about vendors and resources online or watch tutorials but the chance to ask questions and see a demonstration of the value of a particular resource to our specific users is invaluable.

And then, of course, there are committee meetings. Whether you are a member of the teaching faculty or a faculty(-equivalent) librarian you attend committee meetings! Honestly, some of these are pointless in the sense that we could get done what we get done without meeting and in probably a lot less time. I think the reason these are “necessary” is often because the tendency of many people is to not participate if they don’t have to show up somewhere and I don’t know if that will ever change. Whether the main focus of your job is teaching, working in administration, or running the library, it is really easy to put committee work on the back burner. I have to schedule time on my calendar to prepare for meetings or else I will get busy and forget because my day-to-day responsibilities are more obvious. If I don’t respond to an email about an ebook issue or complete an order form, etc the library (or at least my little part of the library) will not be functioning smoothly. If I don’t prepare for a meeting of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee there is not an immediate problem although in the long term if committees aren’t doing the planning the university will stop functioning smoothly…therefore meetings wherein we vote on new courses are useful.

Okay, I’m backing myself into a corner defending the value of meetings so I will stop now. In each instance I mentioned the time spent in a meeting is only worthwhile if certain things happen. In my opinion, these things must include, at minimum:

  1. One or more concrete decisions being made or measurable outcome accomplished.
  2. An agenda in place and followed.
  3. Valuable information being disseminated.

I have certainly attended meetings that were not useful. My personal frustration is highest with “brainstorming meetings”. These are usually somebody fleshing out an idea while everyone else contributes minimally or not at all. The person doing the brainstorming is almost always the person who called the meeting. If you want to do collaborative brainstorming make sure you include 1, 2, and 3 from above. Have an agenda, be sure you have an objective outcome to attain and be sure that the project or program you want to brainstorm about will benefit from information that every single invitee provides.

This post has been a round-a-bout way of getting to my point: meetings can be useful but there are limits to that and requirements for any meeting that must be met in order to achieve usefulness. I absolutely love this flowchart from the Huffington Post. It doesn’t perfectly match my own opinion or what I perceive to be the needs of my department but I would like to rework it to do so. If I get that done, I will come back and update this post but I haven’t had time to get to it yet – to many meetings!

I’m wondering what works for meetings at other academic libraries. What makes your meetings useful? Are they ever useful? Would you be happy in a world with NO meetings? I wouldn’t but I recognize that I might be in the minority.

The Good Kind of Contagious

I haven’t written an ACRLog post in a long time. It’s an all too typical story of the combination short-on-time + writer’s block sort: a busy late Winter/early Spring (such a wintery late Winter, too), and I’ve had conference and other presentation preparations to do as well as the usual work stuff. And since this is only my second semester as chief librarian in my library, “the usual” still includes a fair number of tasks and responsibilities that are new to me, and I’m still learning a lot. I’ve had post ideas in my head for sure — about the ACRL conference (which was terrific), for example — but I’ve been slow on the uptake and time has passed. Lucky for me, with Jen, Sarah, Erin and Lindsay on board we’ve not lacked for great stuff to read here.

One of the overarching themes that my colleagues and I have been working on this year in our library is environment. What’s the environment like in the library, for students using our resources and services as well as for our workers: library faculty, staff, and students? Enrollment at the college (and at the entire City University of New York) has grown tremendously in recent years. Which is terrific! Though of course sometimes having more people in our not-any-larger space can be a challenge. We’ve also navigated some retirements and hiring of new faculty and staff, and it’s been a more change-heavy year this year than in the recent past.

Environment encompasses both a physical component as well as a mental component. I don’t want to minimize the challenges that can come from shortcomings of the physical facilities — these are real difficulties that can impact our ability to work. But sometimes I think that the mental environment is even more important. We can feel it now in our libraries with finals upon us (or nearly so) and many students hard at work and/or stressing out. It’s why academic libraries often offer finals week stressbusters like coffee and snacks or therapy dogs, to give a little positive boost to the mental environment in the library at a time when it’s much needed.

Last week my research partner and I presented at the Connecticut Library Association Conference, capping off these busy past few months. We weren’t able to stay for the whole conference, unfortunately, but we did catch featured speaker JP Porcaro‘s presentation. JP spoke about inspiration, leadership, and the importance of a positive attitude, and one of his slides really resonated with me:

Emotions are contagious.

We all come from different places and have different reasons for being here. Everyone has a bad day occasionally, those times when it’s hard to stay positive. I want to work in an environment where we give everyone the benefit of the doubt, where the mental component of the environment is more positive than negative, even during finals week. It’s an important part of my job to help make that happen, and one that I’m still working on, especially on those mornings that start off with subway troubles or my teenage kid waking up on the wrong side of the bed. I’m redoubling my efforts here as the semester speeds to a close, reminding myself that emotions are contagious.

Going National at ACRL

I had the great privilege to attend ACRL last month in Portland – my first national conference! ACRL veterans had given me the scare that ACRL conferences are intimidatingly large and difficult to get around, but I planned out what I wanted to see in advance and found the conference very approachable, especially after attending the first-timers presentation.

I was excited about my impending trip to Portland for ACRL 2015 for months in advance, and Portland was truly a fantastic location for a conference. The public transportation was incredible, and drivers so friendly to walkers and cyclists – a complete departure from my home in Orange County.

What I got out of ACRL 2015

The biggest takeaways I had from attending ACRL were from networking and learning about what librarians were doing at other institutions. The very first presentation I intended was about online embedded librarianship, which is a project that I’m working on at my institution since only a couple of librarians have done online work with students. I learned a lot from audience participants and from chatting with librarians sitting near me. I also really enjoyed the poster sessions – I attended all of them, and chatted with many of the presenters.

I also made friends with many librarians from my area of southern California! I had lunch with a librarian that works only 40 miles away from me, but, amusingly, we met in person for the first time in Portland. I also got to reconnect with colleagues from previous places I’ve worked. It was great to see familiar faces!

While planning out the events I wanted to see at ACRL, I crammed my schedule full of vendor lunches and social hours, but pared those back and I’m really grateful I did. I had much less free time than I thought I would, and social opportunities and other events cropped up organically. Deciding that I wouldn’t overextend myself also meant that I briefly felt guilty about skipping Jad Abumrad’s keynote for a nap, but the nap was totally worth it.

What I would do differently next time

However, I did not attend any workshops or roundtables, or the Unconference – and I wish that I had. I was indecisive about attending the workshops and didn’t sign up before they all filled, but after the fact I realized that my work would really have benefitted from spending several hours developing a concept or a project. The roundtables probably would’ve been another great opportunity to learn from what other librarians are doing.

Next time I’m also definitely going to propose a presentation or roundtable (this year I was barely starting out as a librarian when the due date came!). A colleague and I were lucky to have a poster accepted for the virtual conference, but I would love to gather librarians interested in the same topics I am in one place to share and hear ideas.

What else should I attend as an Instructional Design Librarian?

I’m now pretty close to finishing out my first year as a new Instructional Design Librarian! While I got a lot out of attending ACRL, I wish that I had seen more presentations that were more directly relevant to what I do at work. Early in the academic year, I received the advice from a senior librarian to attend conferences where there are “people that do what you do,” but I don’t think there are that many librarians that do what I do, at least to the same extent.

I recently learned about the DevLearn conference, held in Las Vegas each year. It targets instructional designers and e-learning developers, not librarians – but it sounds right up my alley! I was intrigued by last year’s presentations that were focused on advanced aspects of Articulate Storyline functionality, or tutorial navigation design. While somewhat local, it’s really pricey! But perhaps it’s something to keep in mind.

Librarians at ACRL recommended that I attend Internet Librarian, or LOEX – but Internet Librarian doesn’t seem quite relevant to what I do. LOEX, though, has a lot of potential, and sounds like a great, small-ish, conference to attend as an instruction librarian.

Wrap-Up and Up Next

I stayed in Portland an extra day for sightseeing. I rented a bicycle for 24 hours and got a lot of use out of it, especially since the weather was sunny and perfect! I also ate wonderful food while I was in Portland (who knew a pickled beet and horseradish sandwich would be pretty tasty) and had the best toasted hazelnut latte of my life from a hipster coffee shop. I highly recommend taking time to sight-see after conferences, alone or with library friends. On my solo adventures on Saturday I ran into many a librarian, and then I went on a lazy bike tour with a friend on Sunday.

Alas, it seems like that day of sightseeing was the last day of not worrying about work for a while! In June, I’ll be attending the 2015 Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success in Madison, Wisconsin, as part of a university team; then I’ll be in San Francisco for ALA, where a colleague and I will be presenting a poster in-person. Previously I had been looking forward to my summer being slow so that I could tackle big projects, but I’m already anxious that I won’t have much free time at work, especially since I’ll be taking three weeks off work in July for vacation, and then my first tenure-track portfolio will be due mid-September. But I’m still looking forward to finishing out my first year as a real librarian!

(Un)Written Tips for New LIS Students (Or, What I Learned In Grad School)

It’s mid-April and so many things are wrapping up. Most of my class projects have been turned in. I’m calculating the last hours I owe at each graduate assistantship. I just landed my first professional position! And—maybe most excitingly—one of my largest projects, the 2015 Symposium on LIS Education just happened last weekend. I’m finding myself with more free time (thank you, Lord) but also more anxiety about the future of my career.

Why not take a minute to look in the rear view mirror and reflect on the past instead of getting caught up on the “what ifs” of the future? I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. Because I am the only graduate student voice on ACRLog right now, I feel an obligation to speak to graduate students’ needs and concerns. Thus, I thought I would write a short reflection on what I have learned in graduate school—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Fair warning: my experience in no way represents all LIS students’ experiences. My hope is that this reflection will give those just starting an LIS program or thinking about starting one some information about what it was like and what I might do differently if I had the chance. Hindsight is 20/20 so why shouldn’t we give others the space to learn from our misunderstandings and mistakes?

It’s important to give some context first. I have had what some might call an abnormal LIS graduate student experience. I attended the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) where I focused on instruction and scholarly communication. I finished the program in two years. During the course of my forty credit hours, I took only four online courses. Throughout my time at GSLIS, I held 1-2 graduate assistantships, either in our reference or instruction department. This means that all of my classes were supplemented with practical, tangible experience, including fielding reference questions, performing assessments, instructing workshops, providing internal education, and even attending committee meetings. I was extremely blessed to have these experiences. I was extremely blessed to have the mentorship that these experiences inherently provide. I am a white female in the LIS field and I undoubtedly have privileges others do not. I had support and freedom to uproot my life and move to Illinois and many others do not. It’s important to acknowledge these differences and work to change the structural issues in our current LIS education system to include more diversity, in terms of prior experiences, race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic/ first generation status, and library training.

Below are my tips, in a nutshell. I have to admit that these were influenced by the recent Symposium on LIS Education Keynote (recording forthcoming) by Micah Vandegrift, Brianna Marshall, and Annie Pho entitled “Go Forth- OR- Community is Easy, Change is Difficult”. I’d like to thank them for giving me the courage to share both my successes and my failures.

Don’t underestimate your peers

I can’t overemphasize this enough. I came to GSLIS thinking that I would only really learn from my instructors and my supervisors. While I did end up learning a lot from these people, I learned just as much (if not more) from my peers. These peers—everyone from my colleagues at the information desk to the committee I worked with to plan the symposium—pushed me to think more critically about librarianship as a profession. They challenged me to think in new and complicated ways, through Twitter or weekly coffee breaks. They learned right alongside me, often sharing their newfound knowledge and developing projects with me so that I had some level of fluency in digital humanities or critical pedagogy or some other area I might have never been exposed to. By not only sparking my interest in these topics but also challenging my long-held conceptions about librarianship, they made me a better student, graduate assistant, job candidate, and (I hope) librarian.

Don’t get me wrong. I would advise you to ask your supervisor about their first job. Ask your instructor more about their experience with that topic. But don’t underestimate your peers—near or far. They know what you’re going through. They are trying to digest and grasp all of these new experiences too. Lean on each other. Mentor each other. Complain to each other! But make sure you develop relationships with the students around you. They are the future of this profession and your connection with them will be invaluable.

In short, I think my friend Kyle says it best:

tweet  

Push yourself

When I moved to Illinois, I didn’t know a single person in the entire state. I left Ohio for professional and personal reasons and I thought moving two states away would fix most everything. All of that sounds great on paper. But when you arrive, you realize that it’s overwhelming and isolating. The first few months were lonely and, frankly, depressing. But I pushed myself. I pushed myself to meet people. I pushed myself to attend community events and get familiar with GSLIS.

After awhile, I found my footing. Eventually, I was able to push myself in new and exciting ways. I took classes that were outside of my comfort zone. I led more workshops and instructional sessions. I took on a more challenging assistantship. I took an international LIS class and met LIS students from around the world. While all of these decisions mean that I have more experience, I also believe they have made me more thoughtful. I can relate to others’ positions more now. I am more willing to try new things and take risks. Everyone has to follow the path that makes the most sense for them. I would just encourage you to find ways to get outside of your comfort zone while you’re on that path.

Take your own stance/ Push your teachers, mentors, and colleagues

You’re going to have a lot of different people tell you a lot of different things. Everyone has a different opinion on everything, from teaching methods to the best tools to use for a specific project. Moreover, many people—even within our small library world—take different high-level stances on things like theory and ethics. These people are people you look up to. They have been in the field for decades and they have professional experiences you won’t have for a long time. Take their wisdom seriously and let it shape and challenge you.

At the same time, hold your own! You have a voice! You are becoming a professional and an expert. They can learn from your experience too. I know it’s challenging and even scary to take a different stance then someone you look up to, but our profession will never grow if you don’t.

A quick note: I have to again emphasize that I have privileges that others do not. I am in no way advocating that this is feasible for everyone. We have bills we have to pay and sometimes challenging someone—especially if they have some level of authority over you—is not feasible. In short, if you have the privilege and space to challenge some of the issues in our profession, think about doing so, especially if they affect people that can’t have a voice.

Know your value

This is especially true in the job search. You’ll hear that jobs are difficult to land and they are. But you have worked really, really hard to be where you’re at. Recognize how incredibly intelligent, talented, and unique you are. I know that the job market is tight and you really just need to get your foot in the door. But remember why you came to library school in the first place—to do interesting, rewarding work. Think less about what kind of job you want and more about what kind of work you want to do. If a position doesn’t seem to give you space to do that work, seriously think about whether it’s right for you. This is all to say that if you believe you are a great library professional, others will often start to believe you are too. Don’t feel like you have to work somewhere were the work is mediocre, the pay is unfair, and the leadership isn’t active (often all in a region where you won’t be happy). You have to be realistic but  you should also realize that you are the best advocate you have.

Reflect

All of the things you’re learning are new and exciting. You’re reading new topics and scholars in your courses, you are developing new relationships, and you might even be teaching or programming or doing some other exciting activity for the first time. It all happens so quickly. You will blink and forget those first experiences. In some ways, this is great. You get to improve without ruminating on some the stumbling blocks you had to get over.

At the same time, you risk being able to tangibly see how far you’ve come. Take some time, either weekly, monthly, or even once a semester, and think about all of the skills you have learned and all of the connections you have made. Often writing, discussing, or critiquing something we have done allows us to digest it. We gain new insights and are better able to identify successes and failures, all of which make us better practitioners the next time we do something.

Start healthy practices now

I hope that this doesn’t sound preachy but this is so important! Grad school is a stressful time—financially and emotionally. If you work and attend classes, you have little to no free time. I get all of that. I have lived it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set boundaries. At some point, you and your needs have to come first. If you don’t set boundaries now, it will be even more difficult to suddenly start setting them when you start your professional life.

I know you’d really like to be part of that new project. Or you think it might not be that big of a deal to take on one more hourly project. Maybe you think you can pick up the slack for your group for an assignment. Habits are hard to break! Think critically about how you like to work. Do you lead? Do you let someone else lead? Are you a perfectionist? Think critically about how you communicate. Do you say what you think directly? Are you sometimes passive aggressive? It might sound silly but take note of all of these now. The better you know yourself, the better you can advocate for yourself and your time. The more transparent you can be with yourself (and with others), the more successful and healthy your life will be.

My advice is simple. Be intentional and realistic about how much time you have. SAY NO! You never want to be in a position where you really care about something you volunteered for but you can’t actually do what you said you would. Put your needs first. Realize that you have an identity outside of your professional interests and that’s okay. You are an entire person—with a family, hobbies, and interests. Embrace that now and set boundaries when you can so you can enjoy all of the aspects of your life, personal and professional.

Embrace rejection

Last fall, my proposal for a large international conference was rejected. Many of my friends were attending and I felt foolish for not getting in. When asked about it, I glossed over it like it wasn’t a big deal. The truth is that talking about it more would have helped me grow. I would have been able to think about the quality of my proposal sooner and more effectively. Moreover, this wasn’t a career changer! I can still submit an improved proposal to another conference. I can take their feedback and use it constructively to challenge myself. (Also, sometimes there are just a lot of awesome proposals and the planning committee can only pick so many. Now that I have gone through this process myself, I realize how difficult choosing really is!).

Failure is hard, especially when you care as deeply about the profession as many people do. But see it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and reflect. Embrace it, stand back up, and try again!

Be kind to yourself

I’m not sure if I’m qualified to write about this because I’m not the best at it. It’s a goal I’m working toward. Be patient with yourself. Remember that learning and growth takes time. Remember that you can’t do it all. You can, however, acknowledge your successes and be proud of how far you’ve come. You deserve it.

More Resources Worth Exploring:

Brianna Marshall, Professionalism and Self- Presentation

Brianna Marshall, We Need to Share our Rejections

Jennifer Guiliano, Time, Money, and the Academy

Gennie Gebhart, Five Mistakes I Made in My First Quarter of Library School

Amanda Hope Davis, A Librarian’s Approach to Self-Care

Lix McGlynn, On Overcommitting

Brianna Marshall, Library School Life Lessons

Robin Camille, Hello from New York! My new job, how I got here, and the value of my MLIS

Focus and Spring Fevers

It always seems so unfair that people tend to get sick in the springtime. Just as the weeks of perfect temperatures and sunshine get underway and you want to be outside all the time just soaking in the gorgeous weather along come allergies, and sinus infections, colds and flu, etc. This year I was lucky enough to get sick twice in rapid succession so for the last week or so I have had a hard time focusing on anything more complicated than what time of day to take my next dose of decongestant and how many packages of tissues I need for any given event. And of course remembering to never forget to take hand sanitizer everywhere so as to avoid infecting others. I’m finally starting to feel human again which means now I’m realizing how quickly my task list grows when I’m not functioning at normal capacity. Basically, if you can’t focus you can’t get much done.

texastulips

I did an informal poll of my coworkers to find out what helps them focus and learned that what works for one person might not be helpful for another. For example, headphones were mentioned by several people but there was disagreement as to whether they foster concentration or create distraction. One of my colleagues mentioned that she gets distracted by new music but familiar tunes become a sort of background noise that help her focus on tasks. When she said that, I realized that I have the opposite experience. When I listen to music I know well, I start humming along and even dancing around (obviously it’s an understated nerdy seated dance only performed when nobody is looking). For me it’s often better to listen to music without lyrics.

Another colleague mentioned the value of white noise, which I have not yet tried but is an excellent idea. It’s the workplace equivalent of sleeping with a fan running to drown out noisy neighbors. I downloaded an app called White Noise Lite. It not only offers lots of sound choices, from box fan to rain forest, but also says users can “record and loop additional new sounds with total ease”. That is a really cool idea if there is something specific that you enjoy hearing. I’m thinking that the fountain and wind chimes on my patio would be perfect for relaxation; every time I hear these sounds I will picture myself lounging in the hammock (note: this may or may not be ideal for workplace productivity).

Another tip offered by several of my coworkers was to remove distractions. Put away your cell phone, turn off email notifications, log out of social media, etc.. You can employ a plug in like LeechBlock (for FireFox) or StayFocusd (for Chrome) that will limit the amount of time you can spend on distracting websites if that is an issue for you. Know the best time to perform certain tasks and organize your workday accordingly. Is the office noisy between 11am and 1pm? Schedule menial tasks that only require short attention span or get caught up on your emails during that time. If certain distractions are too much, you might even change the location of your desk. I recently moved to a new cubicle for reasons unrelated to concentration and was surprised to learn how much easier it was to focus in my new location – even though my former desk had been fine, this one was an improvement.

Another suggestion involved switching from a regular desk chair to a stability ball. Giving your body the ability to be positioned in a comfortable way makes it easier to keep your mind on task. A similar strategy is used successfully with students who have ADHD. I, too, find my stability ball conducive to getting things done efficiently. Something about staying physically engaged instead of slouching into my chair keeps my mind active as well. A stability ball might not be the best solution for everyone; finding a more comfortable chair that improves your posture could be just as beneficial. The key is finding what works for you, not settling for whatever dusty old seat was assigned when you got hired.

The most valuable and interesting advice came from one of our student assistants, Jessica. I was especially interested to hear from our students because their desks are in the most highly travelled area of our department, right out in the open without even cubicle walls to keep distractions at bay. Surprisingly, her first tip was not to avoid distractions but to “get comfortable with the distractions”. In other words, don’t get frustrated with them or try to pretend like they don’t exist – accept them and get over it. This fits in generally with the concept of mindfulness that has been proven in countless studies to boost productivity. Be present; focus on the here-and-now; be totally aware of where you are, what you are doing and what is going on around you. Mindfulness is a key aspect of many meditation practices but can also be as simple as taking a few seconds during a stressful time to focus on your breathing, notice your posture and get centered in your surroundings.

So, to summarize: the best tip to stay focused is to not get sick, ever. If that proves impossible, try some of these tips to get back and stay on track — especially practicing mindfulness.

Further Reading

Schilling, D. L., K. Washington, F. F. Billingsley, and J. Deitz. “Classroom Seating for Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Therapy Balls Versus Chairs.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 57.5 (2003): 534-41. Web.

Shao, Ruodan, and Daniel P. Skarlicki. “The Role of Mindfulness in Predicting Individual Performance.” Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science 41.4 (2009): 195-201. ProQuest. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.