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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?

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(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.

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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.

LITA Education: Under the High Wattage

Posted July 7, 2014 By Abigail Goben

With last week’s ALA Annual conference, I resume fully my hat of Madame Chair. It’s the hope and goal that I will be the last two year chair of the Education Committee, as we’re slowly transitioning to a Chair/Vice Chair model for LITA in order to hopefully improve communication and handoff.

Over the past six months I’ve served as the first vice chair for LITA Education, with the idea of determining where some of the challenges for the committee were and identifying what needed to be changed, where we could improve, and determining our strengths. I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my Board Liaison, Andromeda Yelton, who has been giving LITA Education and the budget for LITA a great deal of brain power.

A major challenge for LITA Education is that without much infrastructure or particularly clear expectations it has become one of the primary revenue arms for the division. Having this particular obligation with some other challenges means that there’s a sticker shock of how much money it is anticipated we will generate–especially as historically the committee has not set those numbers themselves. With this ALA came the advent of a new LITA Financial Advisory Committee and I’ll be working closely with them (and Andromeda, let’s not pretend) to determine a realistic level of budget to try and target towards–keeping in mind that this work is nearly entirely reliant on volunteers who all have full time jobs and far many other obligations.
Beyond that, though, the committee needs infrastructure rather desperately. With a group of constantly rotating volunteers, we need better documentation of process and procedures if for no other reason than it gives us a jumping off point to say “we need to change what we’re doing” Currently it’s really hard to do that because we don’t know what we’re doing.There were specific areas that I outlined for the LITA Board at their Monday session (thank you again to now-Past President Cindi Trainor for giving me time on the agenda and to the Board for listening and discussing these points with me). If you’d like to hear my presentation to the Board, it’s available here. I start speaking at about 14:30 and continue for about 9 minutes. Our entire conversation was about 30 minutes.  For those not interested in listening or w/o headphones, here’s what I brought before them:

*Overall the LITA Education is a reactive committee, waiting for presenters to come to us, lacking documentation and training, and in severe need of infrastructure to carry us through from year to year.

*I have major budget concerns. To date, the group has been given goals in terms of program numbers, not revenue or expected registration. Those program numbers have assumed registration we haven’t been meeting and yet  the financial expectations have grown greatly without any input from the committee and without giving them any feedback as to how they have been doing in meeting those goals. For example, in the budget Andromeda pointed to in June, a third preconference was added to Midwinter 2015. Those preconferences are under the LITA Education purview, but that information was never conveyed to the incoming chair.

*The committee needs more formalized relationships and communication with other revenue generating committees: Program Planning, Forum, and Publication. Right now those relationships are in place only because I know the chairs and have no problem shooting them an email and vice versa. I will rotate off, as will they, and we cannot rely on personality. Nor should that soley be the work of the chairs.

*The committee should also be soliciting education from our Interest Groups. We had one IG do a webinar earlier this spring and it was well received.  The IGs have a wealth of knowledge and capacity and education would be an additional opportunity for them beyond the meetings at Midwinter and Annual, and would probably let others participate in programming who cannot attend the in person meetings.

*It’s very unclear how we handle partnerships. I’ve been approached by a LITA member who wants to reach out to an organization. He has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do and it seems reasonable in my head, the problem is that I have no idea how much it would cost. I want an approximate checklist to start with.  [Note: one of the board members has taken on this particular task]

*We need a better marketing plan because various people tweeting about our educational programs is insufficient. Part of this must be driven by education planning more than 2-3 months in advance so we can make various deadlines that are further out but most of that shouldn’t be coming from the content generating committee.

*Infrastructure is needed to better support our presenters.  There’s always a question of money–when it’s expected speakers will be paid versus not. But beyond that, we have other things that we can offer and aren’t: feedback from post-course surveys that we’re already sending out, improved format options and a submission process, better appreciation from the committee itself.

What are my goals? 

1. Establish infrastructure and documenation of procedures

2. Formalize relationships between other key LITA committees and Interest Groups [This includes the new Communications Committee, I had a chat at Annual with the founding chair Nina McHale.]

3. Proactively align with other division offerings: this spring LITA Assessment worked with LITA Education to survey what other divisions are doing. We have the raw data, now we need analysis.

4. Identifying the needs of our community. [A survey on this is going out to the LITA members soon. I am hoping this will identify not only needs but also potential instructors.]

5. Recruit the best instructors, collaborate with other divisions, expand our partnerships.

What I asked from the board

1. What other infrastructure ideas did they have that I’m missing?

2. What partnership ideas did they have?

3. How does LITA Education fit into their strategic vision for the next couple of years?

—————

This generated a lot of discussion among the group and some definite tasks that other people are taking on.  It also spawned about 400 new emails for me but hey, that’s pretty standard.

Why am I telling you all of this?  My final point to the board was the need for TRANSPARENCY. No matter how much I talk to people, I am only one person and I know that the ways of committees are often too opaque. It was something I tried very specifically to work to improve for the LITA Program Planning process.I have nearly an entirely new committee serving with me for the next two years including one veteran from my PPC years who I’m thrilled to have as a partner again. I also have a vice chair who’ll be working even more closely with Andromeda and I.  I am sure that everyone will have ideas about what else education needs to do and I can’t wait to hear them.  I am hoping to build this infrastructure with them so that they can take great leaps and our educational programs can truly meet the needs of librarians wrangling technology.

If you have any input on LITA Education or are interested in teaching a web course or a webinar, please feel free to check out:  or you can send me an email [MyFirstNameMyLastName@gmail]. I may hand you off to a committee member for further details but I’m happy to be first point of contact.

Three Things Wednesday: the ALA edition

Posted June 25, 2014 By Abigail Goben

Somehow, I’m leaving for ALA tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure how this happened and I’m not wholly convinced that I really will be standing in airport security in 24 hours with packed bags, handouts for my preconference, and snacks. We who are about to get no sleep for the next 24 hours salute you.

Anyway, an ALA edition this week.

1)  I’m speaking to the LITA Board on Monday about LITA Education, of which I become chair as of this conference. I’ll blog about it after, my notes are already rather detailed, but if you’d like to follow along, you can Livestream that meeting (Meeting II) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojATtBYTv_Q

Meeting 1 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u44mmPw2v0I on Saturday should also be well worth watching

2) If you haven’t read Andromeda Yelton’s extremely thoughtful blog post on the state of the LITA budget, stop and go read it right now.

3) LibraryBox  is a cheap/easy portable file distribution system. I bought one from LibraryBoxenMaster Jason Griffey. Last night I set it up, which took all of 10 seconds.  I’m loading handouts, notes, data sets, and other things on there for ALA this weekend.  It’s going to save me from having to fear wireless access on Friday for my preconference.  I won’t be the only one, so check your wifi channels for LibraryBoxen in the wild.