Shifting Gears at #alaac17

I’m in Chicago, sitting in my best friend’s living room, having coffee and listening to Heart. I got married last month in this house, two towns away from the one I grew up in, 2000 miles from where I live now. The journeys life takes us on, huh?

It’s June 2017 and I have been a children’s librarian for twelve years. Or, more accurately- I was one for nine years, and three years ago I moved into collection management. 2.5 years in, I realized that I had stopped referring to myself as a children’s librarian. I was a librarian, and my role was to coordinate children’s book selection.

I love working with kids, and I love reading children’s books. I also love the coordination work that I do and solving problems for book selectors. This has led me to exploring questions about our users and about how staff manage the work of maintaining collections for children.

Also? I love data. In my current job I’ve learned Excel and it’s now one of my favorite things. Cleaning, analyzing, and visually presenting data have become a part of my job, and I’m realizing that there’s a TON for me to learn about data analysis.

So: for this ALA, I chose to shift focus from children’s publishing to data science and analysis. Here’s what I attended:

  • LITA AvramCamp. This was the first LITA event I’ve attended, with the exception of happy hour at Midwinter 2017. It was also the first time LITA’s done AvramCamp, which was a day-long unconference in the AdaCamp model. Billed as a feminist networking and learning event for people who identify as women in library tech, AvramCamp was facilitated by Margaret Heller, Digital Services Librarian at Loyola University Chicago; and Evviva Weinraub, Associate University Librarian for Digital Strategies at Northwestern University.

    AvramCamp was *awesome.* The facilitators polled participants at the end, and a huge majority of the room said it’s definitely something LITA should offer again. Since I was going into it as a librarian on the periphery of tech (collection management is sort of a bridge between public service and tech services), I was prepared to be mostly a fly on the wall, listening in on conversations among librarians doing web development, ILS admin, and cataloging. There was some of that, but a lot of the day’s conversation hinged on the difficulties participants face in their careers as people presenting as women.

    The first presentation was a workshop on imposter syndrome. Almost everyone in the room claimed to feel or have felt, to some degree, that they were not actually qualified for their jobs; that they had been promoted by mistake; that they were faking their skill set and would eventually be exposed as a fraud. I liked the “take a compliment” exercise where we wrote compliments on post-its and shared them with each other. I also liked just talking to the people I met there, learning more about the possibilities for careers in library tech. I got some great advice that, with my interest in library data, I should learn R and Python. Both are available on Lynda, which I’m lucky enough to have access to through work, and another student recommended Data Camp for R in particular.

  • Personalizing assessment: making collections data work for you. Also a great presentation, *also* included a recommendation for learning R, and combining that with learning Tableau. On my list. The presenters emphasized that the task of libraries isn’t really to provide more information; it’s to provide less. There’s so much information available now that libraries are called upon to curate. This is exactly what we do in children’s collections, and it’s what I’d love to learn to do with library use data.
  • Measures that Matter: creating a public library data and outcomes action plan. Measures that Matter is a joint project of COSLA and IMLS that aims to develop a coordinated approach to library data collection that is consistent with current practices. I’ve been watching their webinars, and their approach so far seems to be drawing connections between some of the better known efforts to collect library data, like the Impact Survey. This session recapped the first webinar, introduced team members, and allowed time for questions.
  • OKR: Strategic planning for makers, techies, and anyone else who would rather get things done than sit in a meeting. Great title, huh? Brett Bonfield of the Princeton Public Library initiated an OKR evaluation process for the library–staff as individuals, the organization as a whole, and departments within the org–after learning about its successful use by companies like Google and LinkedIn. The beauty of OKR–Objectives and key results–is that objectives defined for individuals support those of their department, which in turn support those of the organization, so priorities are clearly aligned all up and down the staff chain of command. Defining three to five key results for each objective lets everyone see the measurable impacts that will determine whether the individual, department, organization has met objectives. OKRs in tech companies are usually visible to all staff–an entry level employee can see the OKR of the CEO. No one’s priorities are a secret.

    I’ve been doing something similar for a couple years with goal setting: twice a year, I define my priorities and specific goals for the next six months, and talk about them with my supervisor. I’ll talk more about that in a separate post. 🙂

Okay, I lied a little bit when I said I shifted focus away from children’s publishing. I am a proud member of the 2018 Pura Belpré Award Committee. This was our second meeting; first was at ALA Midwinter in Atlanta. The next time we see each other will be February in Denver for Midwinter 2018, when we will be sequestered in a hotel conference room for 3-4 days to choose which creators–authors and illustrators–will be honored for the most distinguished children’s books published in 2017 that celebrate the Latinx cultural experience. I’m very excited to be on this committee, but can’t really talk about it much! Our proceedings are secret forever, like all ALSC award committees. Hey LITA, do you guys have committees with sealed discussions that can never be revealed even to your very best friend forever and ever and ever?

I also: ate an awesome veggie burger with the awesome owner of Cinco Books; had wine and chocolate with the Magpie Librarian and her boo; made the executives at Lyft an awful lot richer; pointed out one of my favorite views of Chicago, looking from the site of the Fort Dearborn massacre (listening for the ghostly screams) to the Wrigley Building while closing your left eye because something ugly is over there my goodness; walked around beaming with a plate of french fries at the EveryLibrary fundraiser; sweet-talked a vendor I’m mad at, and spent some good time with another I’m interested in; curled my hair in a bathroom at McCormick Place before getting a head shot taken; picked up exactly zero ARCs and had nothing to read on the plane home. Just kidding, I pored over the Reader’s Best of Chicago supplement (I miss the Reader so much!) and read two graphic novels on Hoopla. I am resourceful.

Good things:

  • Reasons to love Chicago
  • Garage sales (I bought culottes)
  • Tiny kids doing yoga
  • Wine with my BFF
  • Succeeding in sleeping through half that flight
  • Kind bars
  • Breakfast peanut butter (another post…)
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