Category: librarian

The End of an Era: Stepping Down from the Maine Library Association Presidency

I had my last meeting as part of the Maine Library Association presidency today. It’s hard to believe it’s been six years that I’ve been doing this. Six years! So much has changed in that time. I remember first getting the phone call from the incoming president, asking if I’d be interested and willing to serve in the presidency (as Vice President for two years, President for two years, and then Past President for two years). It was a big commitment, especially for someone who had just been in the Maine library world for less than six years.

In the time since then, I’ve had five different bosses. I’ve changed jobs two or three jobs (at the same institution). It’s been a huge learning curve for me, and I can point to so many things that I’ve gotten better at through the opportunity to assume that leadership role in the state. A stark example would be conference planning. When I came on as VP, I suddenly found out it was up to me to set up the annual conference. That first year was very rocky (for a number of reasons), but when I contrast it with the conference I set up yesterday for Maine Academic Libraries Day, the difference is night and day. People kept coming up to me to thank me for setting it up so well, and I just didn’t feel like the thanks were that necessary. I found some presenters, arranged for food and rooms, emailed to promote it, had multiple meetings to coordinate it, negotiated some vendor sponsorship . . .

When I rattle off the things I did, it suddenly does sound significant, which is just a sign to me of how much I’ve learned being part of the presidency.

The organization itself has changed a ton as well. When I came on, we had around 300 members. Now we’re over 600. Six years ago, we were losing money, with our sole reliable “income stream” being membership dues. Now, we have multiple successful conferences that pay for themselves and bring in funds to help cover other important initiatives. We’re taking on new responsibilities and tackling new projects, like revising the public library standards for the state.

Through my time on MLA, I’ve gotten to know so many more awesome librarians across the state, to the point that I almost always feel like there’s someone close by I could reach out to for help, should I be anywhere in Maine. I know what libraries are struggling with, and where they’re excelling. I know about the challenges we face locally, across the state, and nationally.

It’s all come with a cost, of course. Weekly teleconferences. Board meetings every other month. Committee work across the gauntlet. When I first came on, we began weekly presidency meetings. For the first two years, it was just me and the president. Then we added a new VP for the next two years, and then I shifted to the past president role for the last two. It’s to the point now that those meetings are a permanent fixture (at least, that’s how it feels to me). We found a new Executive Director, revised the bylaws, and I learned much more about Roberts Rules of Order than I ever wanted to.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m grateful for the chance I had to make an impact, and happy the impact appears to have been a positive one. I still plan on being involved with MLA however I can help. Its mission is near to my heart for multiple reasons.

To all those who’ve helped me over the past six years, a huge thank you. It’s very much a group effort. I’d call you out by name, but I’ll hold back. For one thing, not everyone’s comfortable being name dropped on a blog without permission, and for another, I would inevitably forget someone hugely important. But I really am thankful for all the help I’ve gotten these six years, and the awesome things we’ve come together to achieve. I’m sure there’s even more awesomeness to come.

Go Maine Libraries!

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A New Desk

I started working at the University of Maine at Farmington in 2007. At the time, I was down on the main floor of the library, working as the Information Technology Librarian. After a year and a half or so, I moved up to the third floor when I became Library Information Services Manager. That lasted for a few years, but then four years ago or so I moved back to my original office and desk, to be closer to the action.

I’m still in that office, but today I upgraded my desk to a bigger one, and it feels lovely. By old one was all of five feet wide, tops. It was pretty cramped, and in a spot of my office that made it so I was always watching/noticing everyone passing by my office outside. Not that I’m not trying to be friendly, but that can get pretty distracting after a while.

With my new configuration, I have an L shaped desk with about 12 feet of desk space, give or take. I’m still facing the door, but angled so that I don’t see everyone passing by. It’s already helped me to feel able to focus more, and that’s great.

Another nice perk? When I moved everything from one desk to the other, it was a great chance to jettison a whole bunch of Stuff that had accumulated in my old desk over the years. It was kind of like moving houses, only on a much smaller scale. I do think I’m getting better at letting go of stuff and not being a packrat as much as I used to be, but it’s still something that takes effort for me to do.

Ideally I’d like to trim down on more stuff at home as well, but that’s a process that will take me a fair bit longer. Many of the problems in a home come down to not being able to take sole ownership over the stuff. While I personally might not want item X, that’s not a guarantee someone else in the family doesn’t want it. So it’s almost as if you have to go through things as a committee to get rid of them.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just that it can’t be done as easily as I just moved desks.

Anyway, if you swing by the library, you’ll no longer see me at my desk, noticing everyone walking by. But I’m still here, and if my door is open, feel free to pop in!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Start of a New Semester

When I was in college, I only ever saw it through the eyes of a student. I went spring term a few times, and so I thought I knew what things were like in slower times. But I’m now heading into my 11th year working at a university full time as a staff member. You start to see things differently after you’ve been at a place for that long.

Of course, it also helps that I live in such a small town. There’s a huge difference when you take a town of 7,760 people and then add 1,750 students to the mix. It’s a difference that’s readily apparent, but it becomes even more stark with each passing year that I live here.

In the summer months, campus is almost in hibernation mode. (At least, the library is.) We do most of our renovations then. We go to conferences. We get things in order for when the students return. There are some summer classes, and there are summer camps that go on at the university, but much of that doesn’t end up directly affecting the library.

The week before classes start up again, students and faculty begin to return. It’s easy to mistake this initial influx of people for what things are “really like.” “Ah yes. This is what it’s like when people are back.” But then classes actually start, and you remember just how wrong that is. Sort of like when I drive down to Massachusetts and hit traffic in Portland. “Ah yes. This is what traffic is like.” And then comes Boston and I remember what it really is.

I’m always excited to see the students return each year. To see all the freshmen wandering around with confused expressions, looking more than a little bewildered, but doing their best to pretend they’ve got it all together. To see friends meeting up again after a summer off. It’s a great reminder for why I do what I do and just what goes on here.

Academia in America can get a bad rap from time to time. It’s accused of being too expensive and being irrelevant. And there’s definitely an argument to be made for each of those in some cases. But for many, many students, it’s still the best way to prepare for a long, successful career. It’s also a wonderful transitory period as students learn the ropes of being adults instead of children. More than a hundred years ago, “teenager” wasn’t much of a concept. You were a kid, and then you were an adult. But in the intervening time, that time of being a teenager has really developed and broadened, and now it’s very much an important part of a person’s life. College plays a real role there, giving people time to establish who they are and how they will approach life.

In any case, I’m excited to see everyone back, even though it makes for a harried start to my week. Students are the lifeblood of my workplace and my town, and it’s great to have them back.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How I Evaluate the News

I imagine it’s because I’m a trained librarian, and so people are curious about what I think about various information sources, but for whatever reason, I actually have a fair number of friends ask me about news articles now and then. I had one instance this morning, and I sent back a detailed response. After writing it, I thought it might be something the rest of you would find interesting, especially these days when “the news” so often seems more like “the opinion,” as opposed to anything resembling fact (from some sources.)

So first, the question. What did I think of this article?

For teaching purposes, I’d encourage all of you to click through to that article and read it for yourself and ask yourself the same question. What do you think of it? More importantly, why do you think that? Is it an article to be trusted or dismissed? Why? This will be more valuable if you come to your own conclusions first, I think.

Ready?

For those of you who just decided to keep reading and ignore my helpful advice, the article is about how Obama might have been a plant by nefarious anti-American sources, designed to ruin our country. For the purposes of this exercise (and for all news source evaluations), I think it’s important to distance yourself from what you personally might believe about the topic. Face the fact that your preconceived notions might be wrong, and approach it as objectively as possible.

People come to librarians all the time, asking us questions. We can’t laugh at them if we think their questions are silly. Our job is to find the information they’re looking for. So for this question, I treated as “Do you think this is a reputable article? Why or why not?”

Here’s what I responded:

Hmm. My first step is to look at the source. Both the publication and the author. The publication (Washington Times) is quite a conservative source that sometimes pushes the envelope when it comes to fair reporting. (http://www.allgeneralizationsarefalse.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Media-Bias-Chart_Version-3.1_Watermark-min.jpg). This is an editorial in that paper, so it’s under no obligation to present anything “fair” at all. I’d treat an editorial on MSNBC about the same way.

Then there’s the author. From his bio on the Times’ site: “Todd is a contributor to Fox Business, Newsmax TV, Moscow Times, the New York Post, the National Review, Zero Hedge and others.” I’m not going to touch the Moscow Times reference. Newsmax is hyper-conservative nonsense; New York Post and Fox are borderline, and the National Review is a site I’d actually read and give some credence to. (Yes, you can critique the chart I’m consulting. I know there are quite a few conservatives who see where Fox shows up on that and immediately start accusing it of being biased. But I really believe Fox is put at about the right spot on that chart, just as I believe most of the other sites are placed in the general correct vicinity. I think a lot of the discrepancy of opinions people have about current events can be traced to this sort of bias. Which sources to believe, and why. But anyway.)

Going beyond that, L. Todd Wood helpfully has his own website we can read to see what his views in general are when he’s not tied to any particular news source. He lists his publications, and they’re recently almost all from The Washington Times, and they’re all squarely in a single worldview. From his biography (http://ltoddwood.com/l-todd-wood-biography/), he studied aeronautical engineering at the Air Force Academy, became a pilot, got a Masters in Engineering Management, served in Kuwait, became a Captain in the Air Force, branched out into investment banking, traveled internationally, became an author, and now splits his time between living in NYC and Moscow.

His publisher is Ice Box Publishing, which from what I can quickly gather is basically a company that only puts out books by Wood. It’s an LLC, and my guess is he started a company to publish his own books.

So I find very little reason to actually give him any credence whatsoever. He’s an ex-military engineer/finance guru turned author. Most of his claimed expertise comes from the hazy 17 years he was with an investment bank. “During this second career he became highly knowledgeable in Emerging Markets Fixed Income and traveled a great deal internationally with a focus on the Caribbean.  He has conducted business in over forty different countries.  He became acutely aware of the consequences of economic decisions and their effect on national and economic security.” I’m not sure how his focus on the Caribbean prepared him to become an expert on Iranian and Russian relations, but that’s where his focus seems to be now.

In the end, taking everything into account, I think Wood’s article is a biased, selective hack job–fairly easy to dismiss.

End of my response.

That’s my answer to the question. What would yours have been? How would you approach it? I’m curious if you’d do it differently, and why.

Thanks for reading!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Graduation

Confession time: I’ve worked at my university for more than ten years, and Saturday was the first time I’d ever attended graduation.

There have been many reasons why I didn’t go, ranging from family crises to just plain laziness. It seemed like something ancillary to what I did. I didn’t really have any strong connections to any of the students, did I? Not like they would have with their professors. I didn’t even go to my Library Science graduation. Why should I go to someone else’s?

So what persuaded me to go to this one? Some of it was my new role as Library Director, certainly. I felt like the library has a part in student lives, and it would be good for students to see a representative from the library at this, the most important last step of their schooling. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think my presence there made any students tear up or anything like that. I’d honestly be surprised if any students really noticed I was there. (Well, except for the part where they asked university staff to stand up, and I was like the only staff person in a twenty person radius of seated people . . .)

If anything, I think it was important to me to go to the ceremony. It had a bigger impact on me than I expected, certainly. Because as much as I liked to tell myself I hardly knew any of the students, when I was watching them go across the stage and get their diplomas, I was surprised to see just how many of them I did know. Students I’d taught in the graduate program. Students who had worked at the library. Students I’d played Magic with over the years.

And then of course there were the other members of the university in attendance. The professors, administrators, fellow staff. It was moving to see so many people I know and work with day to day gathered to celebrate. After all, the whole reason we exist is to do what we did on Saturday: to take in students and send out graduates. It’s a very rewarding feeling, seeing so much success gathered in one spot.

So will I be going back to graduation? Without a doubt. Not just because the library should be represented, but because I’d like to experience that same thing again. It’ll be a great reminder on days when I’m feeling pulled in a hundred directions, overworked and exasperated. A reminder for why I do all that I do. Paychecks are definitely a big part of why I work, but I’m very grateful for the reminder Saturday that they’re not the only reason I work there.

Congratulations, Graduates!!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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