Category Archives: personal

Welcoming myself back

It’s been over two years since my last post here. I doubt that anyone really noticed, but I’ve been thinking constantly about how to find the time and motivation to start writing again. It’s not for lack of things to write about, that’s for sure.

Two years ago, I was beginning work on the next phase of a website redesign project for our library, developing a content strategy that would align all the of the units across the library and emphasize how everything we do supports student learning. My mentor and one of our most active librarians decided to retire, which was heartbreaking for me. Things seemed a little bit up-in-the-air in the library as we felt our way into new roles and positions under the leadership of a new Dean. I had been asked to take on the position of interim systems librarian by our previous Director, but was feeling very unclear about what that meant and what I should do in that role.

I won’t lie: the last two years have been challenging. Over that time period two more librarians retired and three departed for other positions. Sonoma State also welcomed a new president and executive cabinet in the summer of 2016, and there have been a lot of changes on campus. It’s not unusual to see turnover when leadership changes, but I felt like I was losing some of my closest friends (we’re a very tight-knit little team here). Not to mention the work overload that resulted for the remaining six of us. The 2016-17 academic year was like a particularly grueling marathon, but I’m remarkably proud of all the things that we accomplished.

Over the last year my primary responsibility shifted (yet again), and I’ve been the project manager for our migration to a new integrated library system, Ex Libris’s Alma. Our entire library consortium (all 23 campuses in the California State University system) is migrating to this shared platform, so it’s been a massive undertaking. We are launching in less than two weeks, and I’m so excited to see all of our hard work come to fruition. And a little anxious, because change is hard, and managing change is hard, and all I can do is hope that I did enough to prepare people and make it a smooth and relatively painless transition for everyone.

Once we’re live, I think my role is shifting again (I think it’s changed a little bit every single year I’ve been here). We haven’t determined exactly what it will be yet. I’ll be moving back into more of a metadata-centered role, which I’m excited about. But I’m not enthused about giving up my web services role, either, because I had to abandon several projects mid-stream in order to take on project management of our migration. I’d like the opportunity to wrap them up before moving on. But we’ll see.

The 2017-18 year promises to be a little less painful as we’ll be bringing a few new librarians on board. I’m thinking a lot about how I can support the new librarians and build a strong team as the faculty chair. My new role, whatever it might be, also involves being the work lead for a bigger staff team (we’re not allowed to call it managing), so I’ve been doing some reading and learning to develop stronger management skills.

One thing I can say about the last two years is that, in the midst of the chaos and anxiety and frustration, I have gone through some significant learning experiences and sharpened my own sense of myself as a librarian, about the role of librarians in higher education, about the role of higher education itself, and about leadership. I have a lot of thoughts and ideas about all of these things, and I’m re-committing to spending more time writing about them. So I hope it won’t be another two years before I make an appearance here again.

One Year In

Hello, internet. I’ve missed you. Holy moly but it’s been a long time since I’ve had any kind of regular presence in blog-land. I’m not really sure how to account for that, other than to say that I’ve been busy. But aren’t we all?

I’m a little over a year into my job as the Web Services Librarian at Sonoma State and I’m happy to say that I still love it. It is hands down the most demanding, engaging job I’ve ever had. I don’t know that I’ve ever found myself bored at work, and I’ve never had a job about which I could say that. I might have shared that here before, but it still kind of amazes me. What it also means is that I’m actually mentally tired when I get home from work (in a good way), and I often feel like I don’t have a whole lot of energy for other things, like blogging or sewing or cooking. My work feels kind of all-consuming, again, in a good way.

So after one year in, what have I managed to accomplish? The biggest thing I did this year was to take stock of the existing SSU Library website and make some big changes to the underlying information architecture and content organization. I feel like this year was all about laying the foundation for the continued growth and increasing usefulness of the Library website.

I also took a seat on the University’s Academic Senate, participated in a couple of search committees, took on the role of marketing coordinator for the Library, and became the Library liaison to the Computer Science, Engineering, and Math departments. I’ll be teaching my first Engineering info lit class later this month, about which I’m both excited and nervous.

There are a lot of things that went into all the work I did last year that I really do want to write in more detail about. And I’m also excited about all the things that are coming up this year. The biggest thing is that the University is finally adopting a content management system for the web sites.

All of the campus sites are currently manually created and maintained with basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. We in the Library are also lucky enough to have access to a server with PHP and MySQL installed so we can do a few more slightly fancier things than other campus departments. It’ll be a huge leap forward for us to move to a CMS, and it also means there are some governance, infrastructure, and management things that need to be decided between the Library and IT. The Library has always had its own server infrastructure, and I’d really like to keep it that way so that we can continue to do the work we need to do without being tied to the timelines of the under-resourced campus IT department. So far it’s been a bigger diplomatic struggle than I anticipated, and I am definitely having to practice a lot of patience and compromise, which aren’t always my greatest strengths.

I’m also working to craft an effective content strategy for the Library website, which is tied to a bigger marketing strategy for the Library overall. I think we struggle sometimes with putting forward the right content at the right time for the right audiences. We just put ALL THE INFORMATION on the website without being strategic or thoughtful about how we’re crafting our messages. I will just say that changing this practice is going to be an uphill battle. It has proven really hard to make people understand the role of the website and the content we put up there. So I want to amass a lot of data and information to help me argue for the changes that I think we need to make.

And I really want to make it a regular practice to come back to writing in this space. I haven’t been writing very much at all, and I think it makes such a big difference in how I process and work through what I’m doing. I’d also really like to share some of the things I’ve learned so far, and the things I’m sure I’ll continue to learn. I feel like this past year has been a HUGE learning experience, although I can’t think of a single year in my life that hasn’t been.

And in non-work and non-Libary related things, this weekend is my husband’s and my first anniversary. It’s hard to believe it was only one year ago that our friends and family were descending on Oakland for what was the most fun party of my entire life. I almost wish we could do it all again.

Jumping Right In

I can hardly believe it’s almost September. I know I’m not the only person saying this. Summer seems to have flown by, as usual. And this summer has been more exciting than most, at least for me.

I’ve made it through my first week in my new job as Web Services Librarian at Sonoma State University. I am so, so excited to be here. My new colleagues have been beyond warm and welcoming, and I feel like we are going to make an excellent team. I’m already compiling my list of projects to tackle, and I love that I will be allowed and able to experiment with new things and do the work I love most: using the web to make library services better for the community.

Of course, after the first week at any new job, I’m feeling filled up with information and newness and my brain is kind of swirling. It’s all good stuff, but man, I feel like I could sleep for three days. Unfortunately, I do not have the opportunity to do that, because I’m leaving for Greece tomorrow evening for a week-long Semantic Web Summer School. It is going to be fantastic, but at this point, I really wish it was happening, oh, I don’t know, next year.

And once I get back from Greece, we’ve got four weeks until our wedding.

So yeah, I’m jumping into this new year (well, new school year, for those of you who still think in terms of the academic calendar) with both feet, straight into the deep end. But the water is lovely.

Reflections on One Year at CDL

It’s hard to believe I’ve been back in California for over a year now. My one year anniversary at CDL was April 11, and it’s been a full year, with a lot of challenges, and a few bright and shining moments. My work now, and my day-to-day professional life, is very different from my previous workplace. There are times when it’s been a difficult adjustment, and times when I really miss my former colleagues and the work that I was doing. And there are times when I am very excited by what we’re doing at CDL, and the opportunities I’ve been afforded being where I am now. So, like everything, there have been ups and downs.
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Another Shiny New Year

Despite the fact that I’ve been a bit slow-moving into 2012, it is, in fact, here. It’s another new year, and for me, that always means time for reflection and planning.

I’m kind of sad to say that in 2011, I yet again didn’t write as much as I wanted to write. Not even on my food blog, which normally, sad but true, gets a lot more attention from me than this space. 2011 was a big year for me, with a lot of huge changes, so I’m feeling a little more forgiving of myself. But it might also be time to give myself a reprieve on that goal. Maybe I’ll want to write more if it doesn’t feel like such an obligation? Either way, I’m moving into 2012 without making the empty promise that I’ll have more to say.

That being said, I did just submit my first scholarly article for potential publication. I don’t have high hopes that it will be accepted, but I’m glad I went through the experience. It was a far more difficult process than I expected, but it was totally worthwhile: I learned a hell of a lot about linked data (although I still have SO MUCH more to learn), and I got the chance to think through some complicated problems and propose some potentially innovative solutions. I’ve always been more of a big picture person than a details person, so I think I could have done much better at laying out the actual work that would be involved in achieving this vision of mine, but still. I’m glad I had the chance to spend a few months imagining something and problem-solving in big, long-term-future ways. If the article isn’t accepted, I’ll probably share at least parts of it here. And I have to say that I’m extremely grateful to my organization for allowing me the time and space to work on this article, and for considering this kind of work as part of what I’m here at CDL to do.

We wrapped up a major project milestone right before the holiday break at work, which was awesome. We loaded 106 sets of MARC serials records into our database, and are ready to get to number crunching. I learned way more than I ever thought I wanted to know about MARC and holdings records in this process, and while I still wish MARC nothing but a quick and painless death, I’m so glad I had this chance to work so intensely with so many records from so many different institutions. I feel like I have a unique perspective on serials cataloging now, thanks to this project.

In 2012, I’m hoping to find the time to polish my PHP skills and learn more about application development. I’m looking forward to seeing the WEST archiving process play out, and to wrapping up the registry website component of the PAPR project. I’m looking forward to taking on new projects at the CDL, and to meeting more UC librarians as I start serving on CAMCIG (Cataloging and Metadata Common Interest Group). I’m excited for ALA Midwinter in a few weeks, and I really hope I get to see some of the people I met at Annual last year, and to meet more awesome librarians.

And here, at the end of 2011, I want to extend another “Thank You” to the wonderful people at Whitman College. I loved working with all of you, and appreciate every thing that you did for me as a new librarian. In many ways, I wish I could still be with you, working to push the library into new directions and building a great team to tackle all the challenges the future brings. Leaving was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, because you were one of the best groups I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. Thank you, again and again and again.

Here’s my late toast to 2012, and to all of you fellow librarians out there. I look forward to meeting even more of you this year, and to continuing to be inspired by all of you.

My long and winding road to the library

I’m guest blogging over at The Desk Set this month, and I’m pretty excited to have the chance to write about my work. My first post is up this morning, in which I recount the long and winding professional path that brought me eventually to the library. Throughout the rest of September, I’ll be talking about my work at the California Digital library, the awesomeness that is Harvard’s Schlesinger Library, and my advice for newly matriculated library school students. Go check it out, and if you’ve got some time, read some of their archives. They’ve had some very interesting guest bloggers in the past who really demonstrate the variety of work that we librarians do.

Phew, August.

So, about two weeks ago I broke my finger. You don’t realize how important a little tiny pinky finger is until the breaking of it necessitates the immobilizing of your whole hand in fiberglass. I have the use of my first two fingers and the thumb on my left hand, and thank god for that. It remains at least partially useful. And at least I am right handed.

It’s kind of amazing how, well, disabled I have felt, for lack of a better term. There are so many things I can barely do (including typing in any efficient and non-frustrating way). I can barely wash my hair. I can’t really cook, can’t do the dishes, it’s even challenging to wash my hand (the one I am allowed to get wet). I can’t work out because apparently the sweat would have some fairly gross consequences, what with the cast and not being able to clean it. Even going for long walks makes my hand swell up in a fairly uncomfortable way. No yoga, no running. I had to cancel the swim lessons I was very excited about.

I know, whine whine whine, right? I’ve been trying to be sanguine about this whole state of affairs, though that is easier at some times than at others. I frustrate easily, what can I say? But honestly, it’s been an eye-opening experience. I’m so used to go about the world fully abled, with all my fingers and toes. One tiny break, and lots of things suddenly feel out of reach.

There isn’t much library-related about this whole spiel. Other than that I’ve realized my whole job involves me being able to type effectively, and if I ever permanently lost the use of my hands, well, yikes. And to say, it might be even quieter around here than usual. But the thing comes off in two weeks, and I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately, so once typing becomes less of a PITA I will hopefully be back with something more interesting to say.

Library Day in the Life, Wednesday

Today is going to be a busy one, largely because yesterday I was a little bit of a slacker. Procrastination, thy name is Laura. I have a weekly project phone call with the WEST folks this morning, where hopefully we’ll be able to finalize our final project requirements (for this phase of the project, at least), a weekly Operations meeting (at which I’m mostly an observer), and two interviews for candidates for another metadata analyst position here. I’m also meeting with the head of another department: Now that I’m three months into my job, I wanted to start getting a sense of the bigger picture of CDL, so I’ve arranged meetings with the other Directors to talk to them about their projects and how all the moving pieces fit together.

I started the morning when the alarm went off at 6:30, already thinking about everything I need to accomplish. That can be both good and bad. At least it got me out of bed: showered, coffee-ed, oatmeal-ed, email read and random internet things watched, I got into the office by 8.

8:30: Downloaded the final re-converted set of MARC records for QA. I have a few scripts that I run the records through to check for various tags, and to make the records human readable. Unfortunately, I still can’t run these records, so something is probably wrong with the converter, and they need to go back to the programmer.

9:15: Quick coffee break with two colleagues. Mmm, cappuccino.

9:30: Back to the office, and time to switch gears. I used the QA time I had scheduled to create a check list of QA steps, so that when we’re in the thick of record analysis, I can be sure I won’t skip anything or forget anything. I also spent some time querying the database; hopefully I’ll be able to see there if anything untoward happened in the converter stage for the last set of records.

10:00 – We have a phone call meeting with the WEST team. This is where I practice patience and listening skills. We’re trying to pin down some communication workflow questions, finalize requirements for our last use case, and discuss some of the outputs we have from library records and whether they’ll work for the WEST team. Patience and listening skills.

11:00 – As soon as our phone call is over, we usually rush over to a departmental operations meeting, where we get updates on infrastructure and on various projects being undertaken by the team.

11:30: What was supposed to be a QA work session turned into an attempt to figure out why this set of MARC files can’t be properly run through this utility, or even opened in my text editor. Sounds like there are some problems with the patches to MARC4J that weren’t updated to the repository, and the discussion was quickly outside of my area of expertise, so I got out of the meeting early.

11:45: Updated the final use case for phase 1a development as discussed in our 10 am meeting, and sent it out to the team for final approval.

12:15: Lunchtime. Leftover bulgar and lentil salad, and writing a review of a cookbook for Library Journal. Yes, the review is due today, why do you ask?

1:00 – I met with one of the other Directors to find out more about her team, how it fits into CDL as a whole, and how it aligns with the work of team. We had a great discussion about the changing nature of library resources, and of licensed content, about how an organization like ours supports an academic entity like the UC. I feel like mental picture of our organization will be slowly expanding over the next few weeks as I meet with each of the Directors.

2:00 – Interview with a candidate for the open metadata analyst position.

3:00 – Writing up the draft for my performance self-assessment, which was kind of funny to do since I didn’t have any previously defined goals and I’ve only been here three months. I also wasn’t entirely sure how to write up performance goals for the coming year. Performance reviews can be great, and I don’t have anything against the concept, but I often find them fairly meaningless. And I don’t really know what I’m going to be working on in the coming year, so coming up with meaningful goals is kind of difficult. Ah well.

4:00 – Interview with a second candidate for the open metadata analyst position.

5:15 – Send out five more welcome-and-here-are-your-instructions emails to WEST technical contacts before I can pack up and go home.

I had plans to go for a run tonight, but we’ll see if that happens. I still have to pack for our trip tomorrow, and I’m pretty much starving, so it might be time for dinner already. It’s been a long day, but I’m looking forward to a brief vacation.

It’s been great reading everyone else’s Library Day in the Life updates. Thanks to Bobbi Newman for creating this project and keeping that ball rolling.

Library Day in the Life, Tuesday

Today? Well, today was kind of slow. I’m waiting for our programmer to make some changes to a MARC record converter so I can get a new set for QA, and I guess it’s more troublesome than he first assumed. I spent most of my work time today with another programmer, talking about workflow issues and hashing out the impacts of various database design and query decisions for the long-term efficacy of our project. We’re in a strange place right now where we’re supporting the archiving process for a single program, but trying to build a system that will be generic enough to support a variety of programs. That’s hard when we only have the example of how a single program works, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job of interrogating every design decision we make to ensure the decisions are right.

I had a good conversation with Michael Porter at Library Renewal about what they’re doing and how I might be able to volunteer my time as an advocate, and potentially my metadata and systems knowledge. I’m glad I got a chance to hear more about the project outside of a standard pitch presentation. I often find that when I’m in conversations about big projects and big ideas, it’s hard to get past the surface level of enthusiasm and a desire to do something. I liked being able to hear more of the details.

I had a great lunch with the Tuesday Lunch Group at a new Mexican place in old Oakland. I had a decent torta, but nothing too special. The tacos, though, they looked pretty amazing.

I’m leaving work a little early today to pick up my bridesmaid’s dress from the tailor (fingers crossed). Tomorrow is packed full of about 4 1/2 hours of meetings, and I’ll probably have a lot of QA and continuing work on workflow and database design, as well as finalizing my self-assessment and submitting a review to Library Journal, so I’m sure tomorrow will more than make up for today’s relative staid-ness. I still do have that tendency to put things off until the last minute. Sigh.

Library Day in the Life, Monday

Another year, another round of the Library Day in the Life Project. The last time I participated, I was a shiny new librarian in a new job as Systems and Metadata Librarian at Whitman College. Now I’m a slightly less shiny new librarian in another new job, so I thought it would be fun to participate again, and share some of the day-to-day details of my new job.

I’ve been a Metadata Analyst at the California Digital Library for three months now, and have been working primarily on a project that, at this stage, is very closely aligned with the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST) archiving program. We’re working with the Center for Research Libraries to build a system called PAPR (Print Archives Preservation Registry) that is designed to help archiving programs with collection analysis and archiving prioritization. The site will eventually provide a directory of archiving programs and a catalog of archived materials. We’ve been working furiously on test data and building the backend programs and databases for the last three months, and are just beginning to accept library data for the next round of archiving by WEST. It’s pretty exciting: We’ll finally be seeing our system in action!

It’s been an interesting project for me so far, and in many ways different from anything I’ve done before. This project has several different stakeholders, and is moving at a very rapid clip to meet some imposing deadlines. I’m learning a lot, not just about serials records, but about project management, prioritization, and communication. Not to mention all the things I’m learning about archiving programs, MARC records, regional collaboration, and the programming that needs to happen on the backend for a system like ours to work.

So, there’s the background about my job. What about the day-to-day? This morning, I came in to find that about 20 WEST partners have submitted contact information, so I spent the morning sending all of them emails about how to submit their MARC records, and updating our project management system accordingly. Hopefully, we’ll start receiving data very soon, at which point, I begin the fun work of closely analyzing huge sets of MARC records to find the outliers, anomalies, and oddities of each library’s records.

Then I spent some time looking at data from our test records that has been loaded into our database. We’re basically putting MARC data into a relational database, which has some fairly significant challenges. I was checking out various control numbers to ensure that the correct data was loaded into the correct fields in a usable way. Our load worked as expected, so yay! But library data is often a complete mess, so boo. Unfortunately, the phrase “Garbage In, Garbage Out” comes up way too often these days.

I’m this year’s chair of the 3M/NMRT Professional Development Grant committee, so I spent my lunch break deleting all of last year’s work from the ALA Connect site before sending an introduction to all of this year’s new committee members. I’m excited about this committee; I had a lot of fun on it last year, and I’m looking forward to meeting the new members and getting to work. Hopefully we have as many excellent applicants this year as we did last year.

The rest of the day will be filled with two meetings: a weekly project meeting, and a meeting to update one of my colleagues on the hiring process for another metadata analyst to join the team. I have some QA work to do on a final set of test data that we’ve converted and loaded, and I have to write a draft of my performance evaluation self-assessment, which is due before we head out for a short vacation on Thursday: We’re going to Portland, OR, where two of my favorite people in all the world are getting married.

This job is very different from my former job, in some ways better and in some ways not as good. But I’m still being challenged and learning new things everyday, which is, to my mind, what really matters, and what makes being a librarian so awesome.

I’m planning to update everyday this week (well, at least through Wednesday), so hopefully there will be some exciting work in the pipeline. Come back tomorrow to find out more about the oh-so-exciting life of a metadata librarian!