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Open Access Tenure: There is Never Enough Time

Posted November 4, 2014 By Abigail Goben

I can always tell when I’m especially tired, my blog drafts all start with some variation of the opening line to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged….”

Today, that ends with “that a junior tenure track faculty member must be in want of more time.”

Odd, all the research that we do and no one has quite figured out how to add an extra 8 hours to Tuesday or put a pause on the clock.  In a recent meeting, a colleague made a very salient point: From Halloween to the end of December, minutes only have 25 seconds each.  Many days it feels that way.

And fall is a time of new ideas and initiatives, the majority of which seem to require meetings if not committees.  Projects are underway.  My two new coworkers have jumped in wholeheartedly and we’re seeing a lot of expanded engagement in colleges and departments from them. One, LabMouse, has been keeping me on track to make sure that our data consults and workshops are getting more traction. We know there are lots of people out there looking for help and we’ve got a lot of new opportunities. I have an increasing number of items on my calendar that read “Data Mgmt Consult/Workshop w/….” It’s pretty exciting all around. Slightly overwhelming though…

A discussion among my department turned the other day to what we do, or wish we could do, to make home life a little easier.  None of us presently have small children–either high school+ or no children. And so we weren’t trying to add that to the mix, but each of us mentioned different things we did or things we wished for. It reminded me of a presentation for tenure-track female faculty that I heard about a couple of years ago that led with the tenured professor’s best piece of advice in three words: “Get Domestic Help.”  Her argument was that it was better to find the money to pay someone so that you could spend the time with your friends and family or working on your research.

Time versus money, it’s a balance we’re always juggling.  For example: I take the Purple Line rather than the Metra every day because, while it’s a longer trip, it’s far less expensive. Also, I’d still have to take the Pink Line or a CTA bus every day in addition to the Metra–it’s not a one to one switch.  And the Philosopher is not at ease with the idea of someone coming in to clean. I’m not sure I am either. On one hand, it sounds wonderful, but it’s a trust issue and I’m just not sure I could add the guilt of “did I clean up enough before the cleaning person came.” Because I would feel guilty.

The time saver that I shared with my department was getting grocery delivery. As the Philosopher and I were trying to figure out eating more healthy foods, avoiding the call-for-a-pizza syndrome, etc, the prospect of intense grocery shopping lay before me. Now, in addition to figuring out recipes and menus and a grocery list and managing the pantry, I’d need to more frequently add a couple of hours of hitting the grocery, buying things, getting it home, finding parking and then getting it up three flights of stairs.  Enter Peapod. We started almost a year ago. Now, I keep a running order on the website–Philosopher and I both have the app on our phones–and about once a month I hit submit and a very nice man shows up in a designated time window with my groceries. I carry them up the stairs (they would delivery into the apt but I don’t feel like troubling them with the cats), put them away, and it’s done.

This doesn’t work for everyone; when I mentioned it the other day on Twitter a new mom I know pointed out that grocery shopping was her alone time. And it doesn’t fix the need to run by the grocery or farmers market for fresh fruits and veggies or whatever it was we forgot to order. But my time can focus rather than walking aisles to sorting out things I want to cook. I have an Evernote folder of recipes, I’m using my cookbooks more, and I’m not having to find an evening that the Philosopher and I are both home and have 2 hours just to orchestrate a grocery run. While I wait for the order to arrive in a two hour window, I can get a lot of other chores done at home.

Peapod is not available in a lot of places. But I think similar sorts of things are starting to crop up in many markets. A couple of people have asked me about cost comparison. From what I have paid attention to, it’s seemed fairly equivalent to the grocery stores near me. There are a lot of specials and they have a Peapod generic brand that works for canned beans and such–though as with all generic/house brands, there are times I find the other brands more cheaply available on the site.  And often I get coupons for free delivery in my email, so I mostly just need to pay attention and save those for the next round of shopping.

I share this with you to perhaps give you permission/impetus to try online grocery shopping, if it’s available in your area. Peapod’s been cheerfully sending me a “share with your friends and they get $20 off their first order”  ( my bias: I get $ off my next order if you do) so there’s that link if you’d like to take advantage of that.

But I’m curious what your time and sanity saver tips are? What do you do to squeeze out a little more time?


Supporting the Ada Initiative

Posted September 12, 2014 By Abigail Goben

I was incredibly impressed to hear of the #libsforada campaign happening this week, with fund matching from several colleagues and tweeps, including Bess Sadler, Andromeda Yelton, Mark Matienzo, and Chris Bourg (did I miss anyone?).  While the initial matching goal was quickly reached, I have no doubt the organization has more financial needs that the library community can help to meet.

What’s the ADA Initiative?

“The Ada Initiative supports women in open technology and culture through activities such as producing codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies, advocating for gender diversity, teaching ally skills, and hosting conferences for women in open tech/culture. Most of what we create is freely available, reusable, and modifiable under Creative Commons licenses.” –What We Do

Why is it important to me?

I’m by far in the vast majority of the demographics making up librarianship: white, female, adult. I’m also petite and rather conventionally attractive. Though I don’t always identify as a techie, it’s part of everything I do in my career and huge part of my professional service (says the Library and Information Technology Association Education Chair).  And I’m pragmatic enough to believe that one of these days, something is going to happen at a conference that I’ll be attending that is going to be inappropriate and where I will need backup or need to offer it to others. This comes from hearing too many of the experiences of friends and professional colleagues. This comes from being gently but rather obviously protected a few times before something happened. A not-unreasonable fear of having to deal with unwanted sexual attention or blunt dismissal based on my gender is a deterrent when I consider how much I’d like to expand my repertoire as a public speaker.

For these reasons and a host of others, codes of conduct are important.  And the work that the Ada Initiative does to support development of these policies, to advocate for people who are self-selecting out from fear, is essential.  The Ada Initiative helped tremendously when the Code4Lib community was developing a code of conduct just in advance of the C4L national conference that I helped to organize in 2013. I would like to see their work continue. I would like to feel like I can walk into a conference without needing that pragmatism, and that others feel enthusiasm rather than trepidation.

To that end, I have supported the Ada Initiative fundraiser. I hope you will consider doing so as well.

For more information, the excellent writings of some friends:

In FormingThoughts



Feral Librarian

Across Divided Networks


Open Access Tenure: Starting 4Y Update

Posted August 26, 2014 By Abigail Goben

I’m officially into my fourth year of tenure clock. It seems slightly unreal both in the “didn’t I just get started” way as well as the “haven’t I been in 4Y for 6 months already” as my brain flipped over to thinking about 4Y once I turned in my third year review papers last January.

For those just joining, or playing the home game:

My Open Access Plan

Description of the requirements I’m facing.

My 3Y paperwork

I’m still working on my three areas: Research, Librarianship, Service, though it’s kind of an off year for me. A heads down and work year rather than the frantic reviewing of last year, next year, or the year after that. So…where am I now?

Research. I’ve had a paper accepted! Huzzah! More details on that when it comes out in print, which won’t be for a few more months. With that, I now have a peer reviewed paper, a couple of book chapters, and a smattering of other stuff. Currently there are a lot of projects in my head but not as many in the writing phase as I’d like. One short piece I’d written now needs a huge rewrite or addition due to changes in the software I was using/describing. Another piece totally fell through at manuscript stage and I’ve not sorted if it’s salvageable in white paper format yet. Rewrites of that old pulled book chapter still aren’t done. Plus new stuff. My current interim boss and my new research mentor have both been leaning on me to block substantive portions of time at work so I can make some progress. If only everyday emergencies didn’t appear…

Librarianship. It’s fall and therefore I’m teaching my Dentistry students. I’m trying new classroom things this year, as with every year it’s a slow process of trying to repeat things that worked well, figure out why something failed and try to correct it. I’m on committees about Data and Digital Content–we’re hoping to get some workshops finally launched this fall to the west side of campus on data management/data 101 stuff. I’m serving on another tenure-track faculty member’s 3Y review. And I’m still supervising student employees, though how that will look is changing with a gut remodel of the first floor of my building.  On the professional development front is more continuing education on data, Python, R, and the French Revolution.*

Service. I’m Madame Chair for LITA Education, which has taken up a lot of brain space in the past couple of months. And it needs more. I’m seriously reliant on Andromeda Yelton, my most excellent Board Liaison, and Mike Kastellec, my super solid Vice Chair, for a lot of advice and help. And my committee has begun to find their feet and step up.  As expected, they need some help and direction to get rolling, but the enthusiasm is there. Beyond that, I’ve got Collaborative Librarianship–I’m currently the sole Reviews Editor; MLA Midwest Chapter; RDAP (might be helping to plan that conference); ….and I think that’s it?

I call it a “down” year but mostly that means head down and trying to write and work as fast as possible. I’m newly moved to a new office — that 1st floor gut remodel meant my coworkers and I headed down to the lower level and we’re all currently unpacking, sorting, and trying to rearrange our lives. We’ve taken over study rooms until they build us new offices on the 2nd floor, but that won’t be until after the 1st floor remodel is done so we’re settling in and trying to make things comfortable. I’m headed to IKEA this weekend for decorative touches.

*Guess which one of those is easiest to listen to lectures for?

(Mis)adventures in Coding Self-Education

Posted July 31, 2014 By Abigail Goben

Recently I’ve been struggling through a coding MOOC. The class is only few weeks long and it has been a bad experience. The process, however, has reminded me of the challenges that I notice when I try to approach coding self-education.

The assumption that I’ve done this before

Classes that label themselves as introductory classes often assume a fairly high level of familiarity with another programming language for foundational knowledge. While they don’t really care what language it is, that baseline expectation is there. In this MOOC, the instructor launched into “here’s different ways you could do this one function” and told us they were all legal (his term) but then qualified that we shouldn’t really use them. He never did give us the structure that we should actually use. In conversation, the Philosopher* later suggested that the instructor is assuming that he’s showing parallels to how the language is similar or different to other language formats. For someone without that robust background in programming, this was just confusing. While I understand that not all intro classes, certainly not rather short ones, can cover all of the basics of programming, too many assume that it’s not their responsibility.

Failure is the best way to learn/is how coding works

I learn better with a little success before I start failing**. Coding instruction doesn’t seem to work that way. I’ve tried online courses and books and the examples seem to focus on repeated failure until you get it right, which is often what coding is once you’re sorting things out for yourself. While that may be what we’re getting to, starting me with failure sets me up for a lot of self-doubt that I struggle to get past.

One of my last classes in library school was Jim Vorbach’s MS Access/XML class. Dr. Vorbach would  lecture and then would give us very clear building-block type assignments to work through during the rest of class. The written instructions he gave at each step of the assignment were always excellent. As a result, I usually finished in 15 minutes what he allotted an hour to do. Grounded in that initial success, I built and supported Access databases professionally up until a couple of years ago. I figured out how to do all kinds of things beyond what he taught us, but I guarantee that the best practices that he led with are what I fall back on and are certainly the reason I still draw squares and arrows.

However, when I cannot seem to succeed, where it’s failure after failure and frustration–I stop (or certainly want to). Even though I expect to need this skill set in my career, my programming self-education is not part of my current job. That means it gets squeezed into a couple of hours following busy days and trying to work around all of my other obligations. Coming home and contemplating something that is continuously not working and where the rewards are only “finally, it’s over and isn’t spitting out error messages” is not especially appealing. I don’t expect everything I try to learn to be fun or easy but there have to be ways to make it feel less like I’m beating my head against a wall.

Bad Examples or No Examples

Writing universal examples is hard, if not impossible. I understand that. But writing poor examples or no examples at all is even worse. In my current class, an example was given on scoping. Unfortunately, because the instructor failed to be clear that he was using the same letter (x) to mean two entirely different things in two different functions and didn’t properly use formatting, I ended up completely misunderstanding what was scoping to what and how he was using x and hugely struggled to make heads or tails of what I was supposed to do.

If I’m going to be regularly using whatever it is I’m being taught, then I’d like a real world jargon-free example. Tie it back to something really general like laundry or grocery shopping or something that most people do at least semi-frequently. Also, if instructors want students to write clear, reusable, well documented code, then they should lead by example. Showing a quick and dirty function tossed off because it can be done in that few of characters doesn’t help me learn, again assumes that I have higher level knowledge of other languages that I can translate to this example, and promotes bad practice.

We had to learn it this way; this is just how you learn coding

“This is just how coding is taught.”

“You have to go get the foundations somewhere else”

“You’re getting more than I did, *I* had to start with the language documentation”

“You should have already __________ before you started this” (where blank is taken programming in high school or college; been exposed to this 9 other ways; read 5 books/take 3 in person classes; played more with computer code at age 12; given up all other hobbies)

If I had a dollar…

I disagree with the idea that this is how we should teach people and this is how coding should be learned. I’m trying to learn this now. The classes are being offered now, which suggests a desire for people to learn this in the present. While what is being presented may have been historically how one has learned things, that doesn’t make it the best way to go forward. Continuing to drum out potential coders by running them through this “how I had to do it” gauntlet does nothing to enhance the coding community. I fully expect to need to go bash around and break things, to read documentation and run into massive roadblocks when I get through the basics. But I look for these courses–labeled introduction–to give me some basics so I am confident to break things, to find out how to solve things, and to not penalize me for coming to this later in the game.


All of these factors are barriers to me wanting to continue to learn or continue with coding. And this doesn’t even touch on my concerns about when I get through the basics for a given language–trying to find a project, general trepidation about code being the thing most valued in OSS, specific trepidation about being female and seen as representative while I’m actively struggling to learn this. And honestly, I’ve found these online classes so frustrating that I’m hesitant to find a live course–because while I know that I can learn these things, I have this fear that I will fail and then it won’t be alone, where I can close the computer and walk away, but that it will be in front of people and then I’ll feel especially exposed.

I will be giving extensive feedback to the instructor of the class I’m currently in but this isn’t the first, nor I expect the last, iteration, and it seems to be pretty much on autopilot except for the forums so I don’t expect much to change. I’m not the only one who has struggled in this class, I’ve spoken to at least 3 other people who have dropped out from frustration and these are all people with capacity and strong interest in learning and using this programming language.

I continue to look for better methods to learn so that I can contribute, so that I am confident in programming. And maybe then I’ll start teaching and you can tell me how while I’ve addressed these points, I’m missing five others.

*The only way I am getting through this course, and I have no shame in admitting it, is that despite also not knowing the language the Philosopher is willing to explain some of this stuff to me and help me dig my way through it. I know I would not have gotten this far without him. Maybe I should add “don’t assume I have a willing-to-explain-all-of-your-bad-examples coder in the house” to this list.

**I highly doubt I’m the only person like this.

My Experience with a LibraryBox

Posted July 9, 2014 By Abigail Goben

Last summer, I had the opportunity to support Jason Griffey’s Kickstarter to improve the code for LibraryBox.  At ALA this summer, I got to take mine on a test drive.

LibraryBox is an open hardware project aimed at getting documents, information, and entertainment in places where wifi does not abound.  I’ll be describing what you get if you buy one from Jason already set to go–he also has all of the code freely available and very clear instructions on what hardware you’d need to build your own.

My LB about 2.5 inches square by about 1.5 inches high. It came with a preloaded USB drive and a power cord. It is very light–this easily disappears into the large purse that I carry everyday.  I also was able to run it off of the Anker battery that I’ve started carrying.

Once I plug it in, in about 5 seconds it shows up in my wifi options on my computer or my phone as “LibraryBox  Free Content!” (I need to rename it, this is just the standard name). On a PC or Android, opening a browser window takes me to a webpage from which I can download any content that is on the LibraryBox. On a Mac (and I assume Iphone), you need to navigate to librarybox.us, which will reroute you to the download page.

My primary use for this was my preconference: I was bringing data sets with me that I wanted my preconference attendees to download and use on that day.  I have been to too many conferences and watched wifi crash too often to trust that I could rely on the convention center internet, so I loaded everything onto my LibraryBox, which was as simple as plugging the content USB into my laptop and creating a new folder.  On that day, my attendees just needed to connect and download.

That same day, one of the other presenters had slides that he’d not yet had a chance to share.  He presented in the morning, transferred the slide deck to my USB at lunch, and that afternoon our attendees could get the slides to take home.  If we’d realized it first thing, I’d have grabbed them before his presentation but at least everyone had them before leaving.

I didn’t use my LibraryBox much the rest of conference but I see a lot of possibilities.  Right now it needs to be supplemental: it does assume that your users either have a laptop or a smart phone that can connect to it, but it’s another way to give handouts to people, to transfer documents to people in the room, to offer free library content at the park or farmer’s market. One folder on my LibraryBox is the collected works of Cory Doctorow, who has licensed his fiction in a way that we can share it this way. If my Box is plugged in, you can get a lot of books to read.

One question I got from Madame Storyteller (I was showing her this in a restaurant–hence the battery test), was if I could still use it to connect to the internet and the answer is no. LibraryBox only lets you connect to the content loaded onto it, there’s no web browsing.  This could have it’s own benefits, letting people download and access only what you want them to see and use. I could see setting up a LibraryBox for middle/highschool students that would have specifically curated material on it.

I also see great options for this in emergency settings or medical settings. If all of the forms or updated information could be sent out on a flash drive, all you need to do is power your LibraryBox and materials would be available to first responders, for download in a hospital (could we do extra patient ed this way?), etc.  You can power it either by plugging it into the wall or a battery or via a battery–Jason had a solar pad on his backpack that he was using in Vegas, what with it being so sunny there…

I see a lot of possibility with LibraryBoxen, now I just need to figure out what work’s best for me and also to rename mine.