Challenges facing liberal arts college libraries

In the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be interviewed for leadership roles in other academic libraries. One example was for a peer institution, where I was asked to present my perspectives on challenges facing liberal arts college libraries to a wider audience during my on campus interview.

As is usually the case in these situations, I had a limited timeframe in which to speak, so I chose only three challenges and then provided some ideas for solving them before inviting responses from the audience.

Here is what I came up with for challenges:

  • Relevance
  • Cost
  • Technology

Here is what I came up with for solutions to those challenges:

  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Cooperate

By communicate, I meant that we should do better at communicating our valuable contributions to student success; highlight how the library is an essential part of attracting the best and brightest students; and share not just key statistics of how heavily our resources and services are used, but more importantly, tell compelling stories. We also must ensure that we create a shared vision that complements that of the broader organizational environment in which we operate.

We won’t succeed unless we collaborate well within and outside of the library organization. For example, we should strive to integrate with the curriculum as much as possible; support and amplify faculty research and publication; and lean heavily on resource sharing networks in partnership with other libraries. We should also create a culture of exceptional service to our users and while fostering advanced technological expertise, we must be sure to make technology simple for users.

Finally, I emphasized the importance of cooperative endeavors, especially with regard to consortial buying power for e-resources, shared collections and staffing resources, and participating in the movement toward all things open: open access, open source, open educational resources, and so on.

The presentation was well received but as it happened, I didn’t end up with that particular job. I’d be interested in any feedback on the themes I highlighted. Those who operate in academic libraries should already be quite familiar with them and may have other ideas of themes to highlight.

Five laws of library data

I propose a Ranganathan-esque set of laws for library data. I do this without any grand conceit or purpose, and for all I know, someone else might have come up with this before and done it better. I haven’t checked.

I simply began thinking recently about library data and how it can be used, re-used, and so on, and it suddenly occurred to me that hidden in the mess of everything to do with it are some principles. Those principles then reminded me of Ranganathan’s famous laws of library science.

Part of why these come to mind stems from Sarah Lamdan’s excellent vision session presentation at this year’s NASIG conference. Another prompt is starting to do in-depth study of search logs in my library’s primary search interface as I try to figure out ways to use this copious data to improve user experience. Yet another aspect is my longstanding interest in the rights libraries may or may not have to their highly valuable metadata, especially bibliographic metadata.

One of the beauties of Ranganathan’s laws and part of why they are so influential is that they are both simple and profound. They provoke a lot of thought and consideration. I hope what I’ve come up with does the same in a small way, and honestly, I need to sit on them and just contemplate them over time. In that process, it may become clear that one or more of these proposed laws needs adjustment, or perhaps application will show them to be deficient and in need of refinement.

If you are familiar with Ranganathan’s laws, you’ll notice that I borrowed one of these laws from his, with slight alteration, so I can’t lay claim to full originality.

Without further ado, here are the laws I’ve come up with:

  1. Library data are for reuse
  2. Every library user deserves data privacy
  3. Library data is for the user
  4. Save the library user’s time
  5. Library data continually evolves

Dealing with profound disappointment

Sooner or later, you will almost certainly encounter a time when you are profoundly disappointed in your career. Suggestions for handling those periods is the focus of this post. Causes for disappointment are quite varied and the following might not apply to every situation. I have not “solved” this common problem and that is not what this post offers. But what I write is based on personal experience, and may be of some help if this is a situation you face.

Focus on what you can control

A hard thing to learn is that you have very little control over most things in life, and this is true of the workplace as well. Figure out, then, what you can control, and focus on making changes that will help you cope with negative situations. Things you can control include how you choose to respond to negativity. For example, if your habit is to vent to someone else or to try to retaliate, figure out or try something less corrosive. Venting is healthy and needed but it can also serve to simply exacerbate your unhappiness, too. You may have a measure of control over your schedule or even the potential of flexible or hybrid work arrangements. If that is possible, experiment with it to see if that helps alleviate your situation. Keep experimenting until you find a combination of factors under your control that help lessen the problem.

Identify ways to grow and learn new things

A key reason I remain passionate about my chosen profession is that it inherently pushes me to learn and grow all the time. I’ve discovered that this is essential to my level of career satisfaction. Often it is the lack of opportunities for learning and growth that cause frustration and disappointment. If your regular workplace stymies you then look elsewhere! Get involved in a volunteer opportunity in a professional organization or seek out side jobs that fulfill you. Start writing think pieces. Start your own blog. Do not let yourself fall into the trap of succumbing to whatever limits your workplace puts on you! Of course, there is a whole range of personal growth you can pursue as well, including a new hobby as one example. It’s important to balance work/career and personal life, too.

Talk it through with someone you trust

Previously I mentioned the good and bad of venting. Venting isn’t always what is meant here, though. I have found it incredibly helpful to surround myself with people I can trust to tell me what they really think, not just what I want to hear. They help me by listening to my rants, and then pointing out ways to view the situation differently. Or they may simply agree with me, helpfully affirming that what I feel is a problem is in fact so. They make helpful suggestions about what to do or try differently next time. They point out when I’m wrong. Such people are rare and to be valued. And a key point to all of this is that word: trust. It is easy to break trust but so important to have, and it needs to be mutual.

Think about going elsewhere

People vote with their feet and when there is significant turnover in your workplace, that is a highly significant sign that things are not ok. I often think about this when looking at job postings over time. Sometimes I see multiple jobs open at the same time at a particular organization and I wonder why. Or worse, I see the same job posted over and over again over a period of years at the same institution—another red flag. When things get to a certain point, though, there may be no practical alternative than looking elsewhere. Just be darn sure you aren’t jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Always treat your exploration of other job opportunities as much about you interviewing them as them interviewing you. I can’t emphasize this enough! And also this step seems to me to be one of last resort, to be taken after trying other approaches I’ve already mentioned.

Nothing written here is revolutionary or groundbreaking. But I hope it will still be of use to someone, somewhere, at some point. Because it is almost as certain as death and taxes that you will face severe disappointment in your career, and you will need to figure out how to cope.

Above all else, remember that your career ≠ your life.

Trying out iOS 16 beta

The Apple hype machine is a key aspect of their success, and I am increasingly reluctant to add to it. Even so, this post is about aspects of their newest iOS release that I really like, and perhaps this post will be useful to others with Apple devices. I recently enrolled in Apple’s iOS 16 public beta and here are some thoughts.

Visual Lookup Tool. Apple’s newer iPhones have increasingly good cameras, which is a feature that I rely on a great deal and is one of the main reasons I choose to upgrade. iOS 15 introduced a method in Photos to automatically identify objects in photos and I use this all the time to figure out what something is in the natural world, including plants, birds, and insects. It’s very useful and replaces separate apps I used for this purpose.

In iOS 16, Apple takes this to a new level by allowing you to press and tap on an object in a photo, and then copy, paste, or share that object, stripped of the surrounding photo content. This includes creating a new, separate photo in the Photos app of just that selected object. Really cool, easy, and useful. Not foolproof (just like their portrait mode), but it works surprisingly well most of the time.

Lock Screen. iOS 16 allows you to do a lot of interesting things to customize the Lock Screen. I haven’t done a whole lot yet with it but the out of the box changes are welcome, such as a current time display that is in a significantly larger font that makes it easier to read.

Weather App on iPad. Technically this refers to iPadOS not iOS, but let’s not split hairs. Finally, something that should have been included from the beginning! Nice and useful visuals.

Health App. I especially like the added medication tracking features, including the ability to remind you whenever you need to take them. The app will also tell you if or when a medication doesn’t play well with another medication. I learned of a few of these interactions that I should have learned from my doctor that might explain some persistent side effects.

Message App. Finally, I am able to edit a message that I sent within the previous 15 minutes. Or even delete it. It works best when texting someone else who also has iOS 16 installed. I hate typos so this caters to that particular whim.

Notifications. I like that they now appear at the bottom of the screen and are better organized.

Of course, this is only a sampling of iOS 16 changes. There are many others that I simply haven’t tried yet. A final point is that the iOS 16 public beta is pretty glitch free / low risk so far in my experience, so I encourage you to give it a try, although as always, YMMV.

Things that annoy

This won’t be a feel good post. Sorry. Just move on if you’re not up for a bit of negativity.

Sometimes I’m told I’m opinionated, overly critical. I think that is true while I also reject the automatic corollary that that’s a bad thing in every situation. As I often say, I’m not negative, I’m realistic.

Anyway, now for some negatives: things that annoy me. I wonder if you can relate?

  • Typos (especially my own but also in a news article or even someone’s PhD dissertation).
  • People who are resolutely — as I like to call it — happy clappy. By this I mean, they are so positive oriented that they deny that anything bad exists, sort of like the band playing while the Titanic is sinking. People who, when you point out that the Titanic is sinking, say the problem is with you, not the fact that the Titanic is sinking.
  • People who ask questions as a way to make a point rather than in genuine curiosity.
  • Those who assume that being an extrovert is inherently better than being an introvert. Even worse is when people peg you as one or the other, or those who swear by what personality tests tell them.
  • Being forced to talk in the a.m. before I’ve had a chance to drink at least two cups of coffee.
  • Anyone who doesn’t use their turn signal or texts and drives.
  • Loud music.
  • Those who oppose gun control.
  • Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Apple’s nauseating product launch speeches and associated marketing.
  • Those who take phone or even video calls while in public restrooms. Just, gross.
  • Corporate speak. Also, academic speak.
  • Being asked questions at bedtime, when my brain is struggling to shut down.

That’s enough negativity for now — I need to show some restraint 😉

The Northwoods

Some people think the tropics, the beach, the sun — those are the best ingredients for a good vacation. Not me. Give me the Northwoods, give me cool temperatures requiring layers to keep warm. Give me a wood fire and plenty of mosquito and tick repellent. A little sarcasm there, but really, my ideal location for a vacation is somewhere where there is cool/cold weather and somewhere that is at higher elevation, with lots of woods and lakes and very few people.

We sort of achieved that ideal this past week. The weather was bad most of the time, preventing us from doing a whole lot outdoors due to extensive rain. We were bored and restless a lot of the time, but it was still good to get away.

One of the highlights was catching more fish (while freezing my butt off) than I’ve ever caught before, and we enjoyed eating the small number of fish we kept for supper that day. Another highlight was spotting a white (albino) deer in the wild, as well as seeing plentiful numbers of bald eagles, osprey, beaver, loons, and more.

Forest bathing

Have you heard of forest bathing? I have, but only in vague terms. This NPR story talks about it in more detail and I encourage you to read it if this concept intrigues you.

Forest bathing to me is just a fancier way of describing a walk in the woods, which I happened to do late yesterday. The reason for that walk was not to relax, however. It was to see if I might find my daughter’s driver’s license, which she unfortunately lost while walking her dog in a nearby forest preserve. The driver’s license remains lost.

In spite of this task, I tried to look around me at the new Spring growth as I walked along. I spotted the following wildflowers in bloom and couldn’t resist photographing them.

Food

In my family, a lot of talk revolves around food. I doubt we are much different from any other large family. The older we all get, the more we seem to talk and reminisce over food. This past weekend, my wife and I were able to spend time with extended family and we enjoyed some delicious food along the way.

One meal was rack of lamb, roast potatoes, and asparagus with a wonderful peach huckleberry pie for dessert. The portions were just right and there were no leftovers. Lamb has always been a favorite for me but I don’t think I’ve ever had rack of lamb before, and it was covered in bread crumbs mixed with several different ingredients including finely chopped anchovies.

On our way home, we decided to stop and eat at The Courier Café, a local institution that has a lot of history in our family for various reasons. However, in spite of that history, I had never eaten there before. We got a table right away and ordered two different appetizers that largely consisted of baked/fried potato skins with loads of stuff on top. Delicious!

We then drove to another local institution, Art Mart, where we enjoyed slices of white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake.

Neglect

I’ll admit it: I’ve neglected this blog lately. I’m not sure of all the reasons why although the most common one is that it has felt like one more thing to do. And I don’t need or want “one more thing to do.”

I read an interesting article recently about someone in higher education who discussed something similar to what I’ve been feeling. Essentially the author said that many people are at their limit of time and effort and that reasons for this vary. Undoubtedly the pandemic is part of it but also the increasing amount of work is too, when institutions cut back on their workforce. More work for fewer people.

This resonates with me as I have struggled with various health issues and more work responsibilities. I just don’t seem to be as capable of juggling everything as well as I used to. As a result, I have been taking a careful look at all of my time commitments and identifying those that really are not important to me. Whenever possible, then, I have tried to cut those less important things out of my life. It hasn’t been easy.

Increasingly I find myself asking, what truly makes me happy and fulfilled? If I’m doing something that doesn’t fill me up in this way then why am I doing it? I’m also asking myself each day questions like, what is one thing I really need or want to accomplish today? Then focus on that. Or, what is something fun and enjoyable I can find in my life today? And then revel in that fun or enjoy whatever it is that brings me joy. Each day is increasingly precious and only comes once.

As with most things in my life, this is a work in progress. Some days this new attitude works and some days it doesn’t. I am determined, though, to focus less on doing more things and more on enjoying and appreciating things in life, especially relationships.

Menagerie

Welcome to the new year, all.

New year, new start, including (hopefully) more regular posting on this blog.

We are a family that loves animals, and we have a bit of a menagerie now: three dogs, two parakeets, and the most recent additions: two kittens. You guessed it, the kittens were Christmas presents for two of our children.

Life is much more complicated with them about, to be honest, but so far, we are coping reasonably well. Many of us have cat allergies, and that is why we didn’t adopt any cats before now, but so far we are all doing pretty well. That’s a relief. Long term, more symptoms may appear.