Build It Up; Take It Down — Professional Organizations

My professional organizations all seem to be in the throes of something major. Some are formalizing, taking on a much needed layer of governance as a group realizes we need something more than an email chain. Others are really finding their feet after flailing around. Others are heaving under longstanding bureaucracy and what appears to have been several serious rounds of questionable fiscal management. There are so many spreadsheets.

Being in the midst of all of this is exhausting. Several groups want people to help write governance documents or navigate what necessary infrastructure looks like. Others are looking at major disruption or end of life and need someone to acknowledge when things are done. Still others are just getting started and resisting any of that “formal document” stuff–although increasingly we recognize that this doesn’t work due to historical power, race, gender, etc issues.

I find governance development and maintenance fairly enjoyable, which surprises few as it goes back to that idea of process vs. product that I’ve discussed before. Digging through Bylaws isn’t my favorite pastime but so help me if it means we can edit language and create a checklist so this isn’t a headache for someone else in the future, sign me up.

But it’s exhausting. Having to try and tackle these varying fronts means I have lost a clear sense of what my professional organization home is, where I feel “my people” are, where I go to be inspired. I’ve both taken on more responsibility and given it up — indicating where I can the need for others to step up and keep work going if this is actually of value to the organization. There’s an overwhelming expectation that all the volunteers will want to spend an extra x hours a week on this organization, this new sub-group listserv.

And I am indescribably weary of paid staff members who dump their work onto the volunteers; seem incapable of major portions of their jobs; face no accountability when issues are raised; believe that budgeting is all magic handwaving; or who hand out guilt trips about how I’m letting the profession and the organization down by not doing ^insert time-intensive thing here^.

There are always compounding expectations.

I’m headed into conference season, all of which are tied to various organizations. I am in the midst of preparations to present research — all projects I have worked hard on and which I hope others can use, adopt, and engage with. Yet simultaneously I am running the cost balance and questioning if what I am getting back is enough. And the number of potential conferences I could attend, could pitch my research to…that seems to multiply every day. I could be somewhere every week and in many instances I would *love* to get speak to engage with those peers and learn from them. But (1) my job is my first priority and making sure I’m doing that well has to come first and (2) the cost both financial and of time can be enormous.

V and I were discussing last week why we stay involved. We have different understandings of the primary mission(s) of one of our mutual organizations and they overlap but I can see how that, multiplied times each member, makes things unwieldy. And that particular organization, it’s leadership, it’s staff do not articulate clearly either of the missions she and I see as an actual goal or how the organization is supporting the members. What do the members *get*? The opportunity to pay thousands of dollars to serve on committees, donate volunteer countless hours, and give presentations. Oh, and have our email addresses handed out.

Where does this lead? I don’t know. I have this hope that something this spring will inspire me and I will feel deeply connected again, rather than simply obliged. I’m working on a five year plan (separate post) and trying to determine who gets my energy and who has just become a drain. Donating my time comes with personal and professional costs and right now that feels out of balance. Perhaps I can come up with a checklist and Hedgehog Governance. We shall see.

Book Review: Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

The copy I read of this book was borrowed from my public library. 

Technically Wrong Cover

Technically Wrong takes the reader through an accessible discussion of issues currently affecting how technology is built and the biases built into it. Drawing on very recent examples including Uber and the 2016 US presidential election, as well as more universal examples that have had long ranging impact across technolology such skin tone and pretty much anything involving images, Wachter-Boettcher effectively shines a light on the practices that regularly frustrate many of us.

For women or persons of color who have run into these issues before, or been brushed aside as “edge cases” when we point out hardware or software problems, much of this will sound familiar. The belittling and sexual harassment or exclusion of women; the persistent othering of anyone not white; the heavy drinking young white male tech culture that has been told and continues to tell itself (and the rest of us) how brilliant and wonderful it is. Wachter-Boettcher is pragmatic about this culture, how it has spun it’s own web around itself with the glorification of the programmer and the reinforcement of their culture– nearly always “requiring” a degree from Stanford or MIT and the reliance on hiring those who already have connections in the industry.

Her overarching point, however,is that this can be changed and should be. That we should not blithely accept what we are presented with as immutable. With straight-forward examples of how forms require information they don’t need or ask for information in a way that asserts unnecessary or inappropriate choices, she indicates how more critical thinking and diverse representation and engagement is needed.

Perhaps the most interesting point for me was when she was addressing “meritocracy” — a phrase that at this point automatically conjurs in my head a petulant white dude who next will be telling me about his current trendy workout habits and how because I don’t love IPAs I will never be a true beer connoisseur. I hadn’t realized the source of the phrase: it comes from a satirical book from sociologist Michael Young in the 1950s.  It wasn’t intended as praise but as something to watch and worry for… That put a whole new spin on things for me.

She also vocalizes frustration I’ve felt but have not been able to coherently express: the problems with middle-school coding camps and the exclamation points which surround those with then how those minority and/or female participants are treated in the classroom, on projects, and in the workforce. Her derision is appropriately aimed at those who constantly assert the pipeline/lean in issues rather than addressing the toxic existant culture.

It’s a relatively quick read — about 3 hours for me while also doing laundry and cooking on Sunday morning. A fun fact: about halfway through the book I put up an Instagram post of the cover which I pushed to Facebook and Twitter.  Of the responses/likes/engagements I got by the time I sat down to write this post: there are only two men represented and one of them is transgender.

This book is recommended as a good reminder for those of us who are regularly in this every day, the examples are useful as ones we can remind others of. I’m also going to suggest it as reading for my Clinical Informatics fellows (all but one are male) because they are the ones whose goals are to build systems in healthcare and I want them to remember that *I* am not an edge case for “normal” health.


Planning for This Week/Month/Year or Just Tomorrow

Nine days out of the office was enough that I stopped dreaming about work and by Saturday, while I was still struggling to remember what day it was (note to self, it was “go to M&M’s open house day”) I noticed I was starting to be excited about the idea of To-Do lists and upcoming projects.

2018 promises already to be a busy year, kicking off this week with in-person interviews for a colleague who retired last summer. Here’s what is on deck so far:

  • I’m the Project Manager an ARL SPEC Kit on Library Analytics with a focus on patron privacy and data handling. My team is 7 institutions and they have been a joy to work with thus far. We launch the survey in late March and the late spring and early summer should bring us a wealth of data.
  • My first for-credit class that is all by me! I was approved to teach LIB 573: Intro to Research Data Management at the 11:59th of last semester. This 8-week course will launch in March and is the University Library’s first foray into hosting our own graduate courses. So far, three people have registered!
  • The usual courses I teach in the spring semester: two for Dentistry and one for the PhD in Informatics program. Those are already built and we did some refreshing of content at the end of last fall.
  • Submission of my first IMLS grant! I’m Co-I on the project and my PI has been doing a masterful job wrangling together all of the details. We received generous and thoughtful feedback and really high preliminary scores, so I’m encouraged.  We’ll hear those results in May (right about the time I get SPEC kit data….)
  • I’m organizing an accepted panel on Library Analytics/Patron Privacy for ALA 2018. See you in NOLA.
  • A research project Rebecca and I are leading on Nursing PhD/DNP programs and Research Data Management was accepted for MLA 2018; she’ll be there to present.
  • I’m hoping to be in Montreal for IASSIST; waiting to hear about a panel and a paper.
  • I’ll be at RDAP 2018, helping with local arrangements, dine arounds, and I led keynote planning. Can’t wait to see all of my Data colleagues; I really missed them last year.

Except for the course (“except” hahahahahahaha) all of these are team projects and while I’m integral, I’m poking around a bit to try to sort out what my next major thing is.  I have several ideas floating around but many of them feel nebulous. I would also like to do more continuing education for myself this year; I am trying to stay highly rut averse.

And I want to write more. I say that every year and it’s perennially true. I’m happiest when I write frequently: blogs, journals, papers, and more. So I’ll continue to see ways to do more of that more regularly.

Happy New Year!



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.