For vs. With: Approaches to Librarianship

Between data, all of the flavors of informatics, systematic reviews, visualization stuff, spinning up new services, the ACRL RDM Road Show, etc etc — I’ve run into a division of approaches to librarianship, liaison work, and tackling new projects.  While it simplistically comes down to two prepositions, it means an enormous difference in what one undertakes and how.

For vs. With

The For Approach: This approach to librarianship says that I will do things for my patrons. This may include mediated searches, identifying R libraries or building them on their behalf, doing data management. My default image for this is a corporate library or a research firm, presenting the packaged answer to a question.

The With Approach: This approach to librarianship says that I will do things with my patrons. This will again include searching, identifying R libraries, doing data management. But with implies a collaboration, requires more interaction, and integrates the librarian as a team member and as an educator. It is what I see as a more appropriate fit for academic librarians.

Why does this matter? Part of it is scale. Many times when I’m teaching the Road Show or talking to librarians about research data management I’m met with fear and hostility: we’re going to have to do ALL THESE NEW THINGS. The unspoken clause at the end of that is “for our patrons.” And I agree, that doesn’t scale at most of our institutions, this idea that each librarian will now serve as the data manager, analyst, reproducibility-checker, visualizer, and chief nitpicker for all of the research products created by each of their faculty. It also has potential to limit the campus understanding of the role of the library into repetitive — and oftentimes administrative — tasks.

Additionally it crops up in library staffing where X Hot New Expertise is hired so that the library can offer Shiny Service. This appears to be done mostly at larger institutions and it’s not clear the long-term stability of those positions when the institution has moved onto the next Hot New Expertise. It also doesn’t address if those institutions are simultaneously investing in developing the skillset of the library workforce that they already have. I’ve seen conversations go thusly:

“We’re going to hire an X!”
“Okay, and what is that person going to do?”
“But what exactly will they be doing? Can you define X? Where does this fit in our goals?”
“They will X!!”
“And then campus will see us as being the experts in X!!”

I understand: the lure of shine is there. So is the drive of being in a service profession and seeing a desperately under-filled need our patrons have. But rarely does this shine-chasing seem to come with full consideration of these short-term plans. Consider the challenges of coordinator syndrome, new hires without any other support, X experts who are minimally interested in any other function of the library, and issues with having only one person who can do Shiny Service when they leave for another position.


A specific example that comes up frequently is Data Management Plans. New-to-data librarians have an often fearful perception that they will be assigned to write a DMP for a million dollar grant fifteen minutes before the grant is due. After all, says the PI, it’s only NSF-needs-some-boilerplate, right? The DMP is perceived as a repetitive administrative task best shunted to someone whose time is less valuable. Gee, thanks for thinking of your librarian. Perhaps not surprisingly, I won’t write DMPs for research teams where I’m not a major partner. However, I will work with anyone who asks about a DMP. I will bring my data management expertise, my editing skills, my red pens and my whiteboards. Expect a lot of questions and a couple of drafts.  Next time, it’ll be a lot easier, because we’re been through this before. And your team will already know some of the questions to consider. And your data management might already be more planned because of what we discuss and implement this time.

With argues for a different mindset. I cannot do this alone; we cannot do this alone. We partner; we collaborate; we investigate together and combine our expertise. With requires patrons of all levels to bring something other than demands to the table, they must also bring effort. With is more scalable because it asks time not only of the librarian but also that of the patron asking. There are many patrons who will cheerfully ask a librarian to spend 20 hours doing something for them but are oddly reluctant to commit 2 hours to doing something with the librarian.

There are times when for is necessary, useful, or required. From a strictly political standpoint, I’m much more likely to do something for someone with Dean/Chief/Provost in their title. I also do mediated searches periodically for faculty peers in other disciplines, as do many of my medical librarian colleagues. I have expertise that I invite my colleagues to draw upon and for may be appropriate depending on the task or issue at hand.

I strongly prefer, however, to change the nature of the request. If it’s a request for a mediated search from someone I don’t know as well, I may instead set up a consult where the patron and I are able to work through things together. I do a little pre-searching and then we get together to refine. A for request becomes a with — and an opportunity to strengthen a relationship, do a little teaching, refresh understanding, etc.

Both approaches and prepositions have roles in my work, but where I spend my highest energies and my emphases impacts the future work that I will have the opportunity to do with my patrons and at my institution. My default is with. Let’s work together.


Book Review: Romancing the Werewolf

Romancing the Werewolf Cover

**This review was completed from an e-ARC provided by the author. I have also purchased the e-book and am probably going to get the print as well**

At first I was just behind in getting this review written because life had intervened–and then it was because I was savoring each page and didn’t want the story to end. There are likely to be spoilers if you haven’t read the Protectorate series.

Gail Carriger returns to the Parasolverse in the best way, with a short love story about everyone’s favorite Beta Professor Lyall.

I, along with many other fans, have adored Lyall ever since he fished a ham and pickle sandwich out of his waistcoat and presented it to the hungry Alexa after her tea was interrupted. Carriger gave him depth and charm and also, as the series progressed, complications. By the end of the Protectorate series we knew far more than a dapper wolf.

Biffy, too, evolved from being a name on a page to a full blown character to the brand new Alpha. And after one night, he and Lyall were separated.

Carriger brings these characters together again in a love story both between them and between her readers and her. This is not a story to jump into without the background; characters are referenced in a natural way but it assumes that you understand her already built world. For those already familiar, as Lyall does, we are coming home.

At it’s core the story is simple: two people who had found each other before, coming back into each others lives and wondering if the other still cares. It’s a different take from many romance stories — the vast majority of which focus on falling in love with someone for the first time. Here, rather than people falling in love, there is instead worry and wonder. Are you still the same person? Could you still love me? Are we still right together?

Carriger presents this entanglement with exemplar poignancy, realistic doubt, and hope.

Biffy has grown more as a character than Lyall in the intervening years, though Carriger doesn’t change either of them drastically. Instead it is a maturity that Lyall, already 400 years, carries and Biffy is beginning to acquire.

And of course while they are circling each other, there is a werewolf pack to be relocated; the appearance of everyone’s favorite vampire; and miscellaneous infants… [this last point took a plot twist I hadn’t expected but it made sense]. It was also nice to see Major Channing again.

For her long-time readers, this is a lovely addition and few minutes to spend again in the Parasolverse. Recommended with a cup of tea.

Process vs. Product

One of my coworkers asked me recently what my best advice was for getting through the tenure and promotion and research process.

Mine: Find colleagues to work with. Don’t try to do this alone.

In my post in July, I wrote an extensive list of names with thank yous — many of them my research or project partners. There are some common themes. Most of them are women. Many of them are within about 5-7 years of me age wise. Most of them are also academics.

And many of them are Product.

This is a knitting analogy that I am borrowing from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. She describes this extensively as it relates to the craft world in her book Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting. Summarily, she identifies two types of knitters:

  • Process Knitters — those who knit because they enjoy the process of knitting, the repetitive stitches, the calming effect, the movement of yarn.
  • Product Knitters — those who knit because they enjoy having a pair of socks or seeing the accomplishment of a cabled sweater

As with most things, knitters tend to be on a spectrum of Process v. Product. I certainly was in Product mode a couple of weeks ago as I churned through 3 hats (Mama, Papa, and Baby) for a baby shower and this also describes my usual frantic self towards the end of a Loopy Academy challenge and/or Christmas knitting. (Go see the knitting blog for more details about that).

Generally, however, I am a Process Knitter. This is why I have knit 70+ pair of 1×1 rib socks. It’s why AudioGirl sighs when she hears I’ve started yet another Log Cabin Baby Blanket. Contemplating hours of simple knitting doesn’t bother me. It’s usually to take the edge off while I’m trying to think about other things, read a paper, listen to an audiobook, pay attention to a webinar, not totally check out during a faculty meeting. It’s not that I don’t enjoy complicated knitting, but for me the primary focus of my craft is enjoying the journey.

This translates often to how I approach research projects. I’m interested in designing, gathering data, getting into the weeds of whatever it is that we’re working on. I’ll pull us back for a secondary analysis, point out an interesting tangent, and keep things rolling along.

My research partners tend to be Product people. They have an end goal (paper, curriculum, presentation) and we are getting from A->B.  They want the pair of socks.

My most productive research collaborations are when I am paired with a Product person who is happy to take that roll. I can pull them back; they can pull me forward. I catch details, they make sure we have a timely object out the door.  For myself, I struggle much more with a project when I have to be the Product person. I’m certainly capable and have done it, but it takes more effort.

We do not always get to choose who and what balance of Process/Product end up on committees, team-assigned projects, or among our coworkers. But for some of our research or projects, this is an option and I’ve found it useful to identify which of us is what.  If you’re both Process, you may need to sort out how to meet deadlines so the paper doesn’t sit forever; if you’re both Product, how do you slow down to see the changes that may need to be.

It helps too that you usually have the same end goal: a paper or a poster proposal. You may just vary on the path and direction each of you takes.  My Product colleagues have helped me find a shorter path and reach the goal and I drag them off into the weeds at times to find an interesting flower I’m sure I can just see over there.

And it means neither of us is going alone. That helps too.



Tenure: Day 1

Today was Day 1 of my new contract year, which means that I really, truly, in all of the official ways am now a tenured associate professor. It feels mostly like yesterday. The to-do lists are longer, not shorter; the obligations and far overdue deadlines are still the same.*

But it’s a position of power and strength and it has brought changes. I can assert and have and will continue to assert on behalf of others who are not in the same position that I am.

Libraries have very firm hierarchies. Add the tenure ones onto that and it’s a very interesting play of power dynamics. But I remember what others have done for me, and it is my goal to do as best I can for those not in my position of strength.

And maybe to get this to-do list to stop hemorrhaging.



*Dear Everyone I Owe Things To: I’m this close to being done with that document. Promise.

Book Review: The Sumage Solution by Gail Carriger

**This review was completed from an e-ARC provided by the author. I have also purchased the book**
Carriger takes a turn away from steampunk with her newest series, the first full book of which is The Sumage Solution. The author has written about her change of genre (modern, X) on her blog and how under a slightly different identity (GL rather than Gail), she hopes to provide her current and new readers a visual cue.
The reader is dropped into an already built world and this comes with some initial flailing for the reader. I had skipped Marine Biology so I am not sure how much of that world is developed in the novella. I sorted out most of it through various backstory hints.
A new wolf pack has relocated to Central California and needs to register and apply to stay, which requires navigating the depths of supernatural government bureaucracy and tosses a very calm but closeted Beta into the office of a snarky and broken Sumage.
Bryan (called Biff by his pack) is a caregiver and calm wolf. As Beta he has both the role of managing pack down and managing his Alpha, who is also his newly merman mated younger brother. He’s closeted due to familial homophobia and embodies the strong silent stereotype.
Max is the failed product of generations of mage hopes — unable to control magic and working an underling job where he moves paperwork around, handles painful things, and trades good natured insults with his boss.
Their chemistry is immediate and it is not particularly long before they fall madly into bed together. If only the relationship part was equally as straightforward.
The book revolves around several themes: changing your self-identity, relationship as healing, finding partnership.  Bryan has to adapt to being an openly gay man — to himself, his brother and his pack. Carriger does this in a remarkably accepting fashion–pointing out the issues that will yet remain with family but not letting that get in the way of the love story. Max has fully internalized being a failure as a mage and as being uninterested in continuing his family line through procreation. He also  has some serious body images issues and self-loathing going on.
The major trauma in the book really revolves around Max figuring himself out. Some of how that would get sorted was apparent early in the book but didn’t detract from seeing the journey along the way.  Both men demonstrate a lot of vulnerability, in their own thoughts, and to each other.
I had some issues with the book. Whether it is because I don’t read as much modern paranormal or hadn’t read the first novella, it took me a long time to sort out what “sumage” referred to. I still don’t fully grasp what the various types of Mages/Sumages do, but I assume that may  be more fully addressed later or previously.
And I struggled with Max.  The “smart mouth” was, I think, intended to come off as bitchy funny gay boy but frequently just rang bitter or mean. This may have been intended to demonstrate his  brokenness but it made him a less relatable or engaging character. Max struck me as a person who in real life you would get tired of really fast because of the obnoxiousness. –That said Carriger shows the frustration I was feeling in other characters, so perhaps I just do not give her quite enough credit.
Carriger is smart enough not pull the “magical sexy-times heals all” that many romances fall into. Sex is complicated for these two men –passionate and wonderful for them (also very explicit) but with emotional repercussions that they both have to face and ultimately, it is outside of the bedroom that they get things sorted.
There were also a few relationship / conversations that struck me as odd. A character was just out of themselves or sounded wrong.  I was prepared not to like the merman based on the initial chapters; then he seems to shift and soften and be a much more relatable character.
Overall, I think this will have high appeal to paranormal and male-male romance readers. Some of Carriger’s trademark sly humor shines through and she has a complex set of new relationships to mine in future books.