What I didn’t know

Yesterday, I had lunch with a PhD student who had just successfully defended their dissertation proposal the day before. As we talked about why we do what we do in grad school, it prompted me to think through my own reasons for pursuing another graduate degree, this time in theology. There were things discussed in our lunch that previously, I would have had no concept of, but that I immediately understood and was conversant about. It prompted some reflection on what I didn’t know before I started the program:

  • I had heard of the Nicene Creed but did not really know what it was and why it is important.
  • I didn’t know how badly certain scriptures are misinterpreted or twisted.
  • I didn’t know what it means for someone to call themselves “complementarian” or even whether I was one or something else (I’m not complementarian, for the record).
  • I had no idea about the Council of Chalcedon and Nestorianism or Monophysitism.
  • I had never definitively documented reading the Old and New Testaments all the way through.
  • I had no concept or awareness of broad trends in theology such as modernism and post-modernism.
  • I did not realize the extent to which my fundamentalist, anti-intellectual church upbringing shared foundations with Anabaptists.
  • I had heard of “smells and bells” and high church vs. low church but did not appreciate why those differences exist and in particular, what might be attractive about a high(er) church tradition.

The list could go on and on. The point is, five years after starting my Master’s degree in theology as a part-time (and admittedly less-than-stellar) student, I am feeling a lot more confident about this new chapter in my education. And confirmed that it was a good and right thing to do in spite of all the difficulties. I have benefitted tremendously, and I am thankful it has been possible for me to do because of the educational benefit of my employment. I could never have afforded it otherwise.

Perhaps most of all, I have benefitted from the personal connections, especially to Bible and theology faculty. There have been some notable duds but mostly, they have renewed my faith in my faith and greatly expanded my horizons. There is such a deep and rich tradition to Christianity, including an enormous amount of warts and blemishes and downright evil. But my own faith has been deepened and widened throughout my time in the program. Another benefit has been to learn, as a teacher myself, about the craft of teaching from others.

People (including family) often ask me why? Why would I do this? Why add so much additional workload to an already very full professional and work life? It is not technically necessary at all for my career, nor is there an explicit career motivation to it, although it might be beneficial in that regard. I hope this post gives an appropriate response to such questions.

Sundays are in danger

Sundays are in danger of wholeheartedly turning into the I-am-dreading-Monday day of the week. I wake up and immediately start to worry about what I need to accomplish before having to go back to work the next day, which includes not just regular work, but also what I have to do in terms of completing course work in my Master’s program as well as what course work I need to complete for the class I’m currently teaching.

Obviously, this is not particularly healthy, especially from a faith-based perspective when Sundays are traditionally for gathering together with other Christians to honor and worship our God and to fellowship with one another. But this is all somewhat academic when you’re like me and you’re trying to move beyond the Great Disillusionment of your faith community caused by radically awful moves that a core group within that community continues to make. To put it more simply, we are in a months- and possibly years-long process of evaluating where we want to attend church, and it’s quite a difficult journey.

Part of the gloom for this particular Sunday is the reality that our youngest child, who has been home for Spring Break for the past week, is returning to college. They add much-needed noise and positivity to our usually humdrum days and they will be greatly missed. But it’s not all gloom, at least for me. As I’m writing this, snow is gently falling outside — something I’ve always enjoyed. Then, too, this coming week offers a break from my teaching side job due to a different institution’s Spring Break.

Another positive is that my family and I will get together for lunch this afternoon to celebrate a birthday. Our get togethers are rare and something to look forward to.

In other news, a family member gifted me the money to buy a complete set of academic regalia. No more renting or more likely, simply avoiding academic events because of not wanting to pay for that stuff. It was such a nice gesture, given as a gift for my anticipated completion of a second Master’s degree next Spring. I don’t know if the average person realizes how much this getup costs but it’s several hundred dollars, so a big deal.

At my regular job, we attended a mandatory conflict resolution training one afternoon last week, provided by the Center for Conflict Resolution, and that gave us all who attended a lot to think about. I also added another IT governance responsibility to the list of meetings I attend in addition to standing in for my boss on Graduate Council. Things never seem to slow down, only accelerate, and that is especially the feeling I get between now and the end of the Spring semester.

May your Sunday be warm, bright, and restful.

Organizational weirdness, again

It is really painful when the OW Factor ratchets up to a ten. Remember: the OW Factor, a completely made-up rating, stands for Organizational Weirdness Factor, with ten being the highest and zero being the lowest possible score. I invented it when working years ago in an environment where there was enormous dysfunction, the most I’d ever experienced in a 30+ year career, and I used dark humor to help keep me sane. It is still relevant years later.

Usually when there is workplace dysfunction, there are complex reasons for it. Common contributing factors include low morale, lack of clarity about lines of responsibility or job definition, poor communication, ineffective management, and favoritism toward one or two people. Repeated, major, disruptive, and poorly planned and implemented change is another common factor.

Perhaps the most significant and venomous reason for dysfunction is deep-seated insecurity on the part of one or two people in the organization. This insecurity manifests itself in multiple ways, such as excessive attempts to make oneself look good at all costs, saying one thing in public and a completely different thing in private, criticism and suspicion of anyone else, a highly controlling nature, and loud and frequent complaining about other people in public and in private. Another aspect of this insecurity is a tendency to make statements that are sometimes wrong and a bitter resentment if their statements or their authority are at all challenged or even appear to be contradicted. Yet another aspect of this basic insecurity is extreme territorialism and defensiveness.

I deliberately used the word venomous previously because this type of behavior and personality literally and figuratively poisons any workplace. This type of behavior needs to be thoughtfully and empathetically confronted and curbed for the health of the overall organization. What is especially bad is when management panders to one(s) who complain the loudest in an attempt to placate them, rather than do the hard work of remediating bad behavior. It is like Neville Chamberlain declaring peace in our time after meeting with Hitler before the outbreak of World War II, and we all know how that turned out. Appeasement doesn’t work, and it can create excessive damage to everyone else who has to work in this environment.

Another insidious aspect of how this situation is sometimes handled by management is deploying false equivalency. By this I mean, equating a person’s bad behavior with that of another person, especially if there is obvious conflict between the two. In other words, a manager says, “Well, you’re both wrong and both doing the same things!” This can of course be true, but it shouldn’t be a normal, default response. Instead, care should be taken to observe and be as objective as possible in order to arrive at a thoughtful decision. Inaction and avoidance of dealing with the problem are two other common responses, and those don’t work, either.

Organizations rife with insecurity are especially harmful and should be avoided at all costs!

My mother and food

Since I was five years old, my mother worked full-time in order to help make ends meet for our large family. This was in the days before microwaves and a wide variety of prepackaged foods. It was also long before the days when you could easily buy in bulk at a Costco or Sam’s Club. When she got home from a long work day, she’d make dinner from scratch for all of us. She is an amazing cook but what is even more amazing and confounding to me now is how she managed to do this day after day without complaint and without recourse to eating out and many other conveniences we rely on today.

She loves to cook and she loves grocery shopping, so that helped. She also loves variety and because of her skills, we grew up enjoying many different types of food from all over the world. We learned to be polite and try something before declaring it “bad” or “good.” I recall one time that she took a class in sushi making and introduced us to that. As a child, that was about the only thing I ever turned my nose up at, but as an adult, I really enjoy good sushi. She instilled in all of her children the lasting love of good food, served family style, with all of us sitting together around our big dining room table. She also made sure that all of her children not only enjoyed food but that they learned how to make it themselves.

Even today when we get together as a family, a lot of our conversation revolves around food. Today it mostly happens via a group chat, but still, we swap stories about food we’ve had that we enjoyed, along with photos whenever possible. My mother is the one most responsible for this and I am forever grateful to her, and at the same time, I am awestruck by how she did it for all those years.

Most of the time, we didn’t have a lot of money. My mother excelled at making things stretch as necessary, and relied on many good money-saving techniques to provide for us all. For example, she made excellent and varied use of chicken wings. She grew lots of things in the garden as well and used them in her cooking. She could make more things out of ground beef than you could shake a stick it. If we had stale hamburger buns or leftover hotdog buns, my mother would make them into rusks as a delicious snack.

In fact, it’s the last point that inspired me to write this post because this a.m., I made a toasted leftover hotdog bun into a rusk and it made me think of my mother.

Again, I don’t know how she did it all, but I am forever grateful to her.

Old movies and theology

Sometimes I like to go back to an old movie and watch it over again. In my family growing up, we were not allowed to have TV but we frequently watched movies. (Don’t ask me to parse the difference in terms of right and wrong. This also did not mean that we didn’t watch TV because we did, often, in hotels when traveling or when visiting friends’ houses.) This was long before the days of videotapes so when I mention watching movies, that meant the old-fashioned way on Super 8 mm or 16 mm, and in most cases, these were old movies. We’re talking Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Basil Rathbone version of Sherlock Holmes, etc. Movies from about the ‘30s to the ‘60s. Occasionally we’d get more contemporary ones from the ‘70s, too.

There are so many stories and reminiscences I could tell about this part of family life. (The one about the time my clueless mother checked out Jaws and we actually watched it is particularly funny in hindsight.) We checked out these films from a nearby public library most of the time, and we watched movies as a family on weekends. That meant that they were checked out on a visit to the library after my mother left work on a late Friday afternoon and then returned on the following Monday. Friday or Saturday nights, we’d then gather in the family room to watch on a big portable screen with all the curtains closed and often, a fire going in the fireplace.

I’ve loved watching movies ever since, and have wide knowledge of movies most people today have probably never seen or heard of, as well as classic, well-known ones like African Queen, Casablanca, and the Pink Panther series. We even watched several Elvis movies — a favorite was Blue Hawaii. Much of the time, we rewatched these movies multiple times over the years as the selection wasn’t nearly extensive as, say, you could eventually get in a video rental store.

As I rewatch them today, though, I almost always see these movies in a different light. That’s understandable, of course, because over the decades, I’ve changed. This leads to a connection with theology, at least, in my mind. More specifically, it connects to my growing understanding of biblical hermeneutics. How so?

One of the most important things I’m learning is to think about how contemporary hearers and readers received scripture, and how critical that growing understanding is to arriving at a balanced interpretation. For example, I’ve learned contemporary hearers of the Psalms would have readily understood much more of the context and the approaches used in them than we do today. They would have understood certain meanings and inferences and would have been comfortable with styles and arrangements of certain words, or just sort of “gotten” stuff that today due to translation and also to a very different cultural context, do not come readily to our understanding.

In the same way, contemporary viewers of movies would have implicitly understood many cultural references and situations than we do today. As a child, I received these movies without completely grasping some of what is communicated in them, or at least their context, that I now see clearly several decades later. Here’s one example of what I mean.

In the 1970s version (by far the best, in my opinion) of Murder on the Orient Express, a key aspect of the plot revolves around a tragic story of a wealthy family whose infant child was kidnapped and murdered. Contemporary viewers would have immediately understood the inference and/or reference to the famously tragic Lindbergh baby incident from 1932. Yet when I recently rewatched the movie with one of my children, I had to spend a little bit of time explaining that context because they didn’t grasp it at all. I don’t mean they didn’t or couldn’t grasp the broad themes the movie communicates. But filling in some of the details gave them a better understanding overall.

So it is, I think, with scripture. Even the simple fact that most of what is in scripture was not read first but heard, i.e., listened to, shifts one’s understanding quite a bit.

An excellent book I’m currently reading and studying, written by Jeannine K. Brown, is Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics. The author cogently argues the point that the Bible is primarily God’s communication to us and explains in detail the ramifications of what that means for our understanding of it. I’m exploring new depths about communication theory and how that can help me when interpreting scripture.

Movies are also an act of communication, of course. I just had not seen or understood the connection before, and think it is an interesting one to make.

(Featured photo courtesy of https://cogdogblog.com/2011/07/rediscovering-tech-roots/.)

Six months later

It has been too long since my last post, almost six months ago. Simply put, I haven’t felt inspired to write a blog post in that time, or else too much was going on to focus on what I might want to write here.

Life continues to be very full and at times, painful, stressful, anxiety-inducing, and disheartening. Mixed in between those negatives are small bright spots here and there, such as last weekend when for whatever reason, I felt very motivated to get a lot of things done, and so that’s what I did. Another example of something positive is that I was given the ability to have a B grade for my Fall class (this is part of a second Master’s degree program I’m in) upgraded to an A, and yet another one is that this semester I am successfully managing a very challenging teaching load with taking another class in my program.

Life feels fragile, though.

Perhaps this initial post after such a long interval will help to spur me on to more regular reflection and writing. It is interesting and, sometimes, fun to share short posts on a few social media outlets. But that is not the same thing as a blog post, and I see tremendous value in blogging.

We are a very pet-centric household and each of our dogs and cats presents their own challenges. But the following photographs are shared here to illustrate how they all add to our lives.

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.