Thursday, May 21, 2009

Taking One on the Chin

I'd like to make it clear that I'm fortunate to have the boss I have. JB's a wise gal who knows how to use the strengths of us her subordinates. She began working for Library and Information Technology at Arcadia University in February 2008. I had high hopes for her from the start. She brought more than a few years of professional experience to the position. More importantly, she brought an amiable, warm personality that held high promise for bringing the reference librarians and instructional technologist into authentic synergism. Myself an aspiring manager (I also applied for the director's position she ultimately filled), I hoped to learn much by observing her.

I've paid attention to the suggestions JB's made for addressing various tasks and issues and I've valued each of her insights. A particularly thought-provoking lesson materialized today, though, and at my expense!

The library underwrote a number of information literacy grants that would pair teaching faculty members with faculty librarians to introduce IL to their individual courses. Three of us librarians paired up with faculty members for 7 courses. I had 2 courses, one in public health and one from among our first-year seminar courses.

My FYS professor is actually one I began work with this past fall. His grant would allow the course to incorporate IL even more fully. We met several times for the class last Fall. He already had numerous thoughts on how he could refine the course for next year.

The biggest hinderance to me and FYS prof working effectively together on this grant is that we're a bit too much birds of a feather. If I'm an idea person, he's an ideas person. We can come up with a lot by talking together, but I see him having difficulty nailing down all his ideas into a definitive few. And I was not the best partner to help him with the nailing.

With a major grant implementation deadline coming up at the end of June, JB told me she had spoken with him about his progress. She made an executive decision to switch collaborating librarians. I got benched for a nimble, more step-wise librarian.

Several factors came together to make this a good decision, though. My reliever is a hyperactive-type pseudo-ADHD librarian who has the best chance of fixing idea to paper by tirelessly interacting. For my part, I'm a pretty objective person who doesn't easily take things personally, so I was not offended by JB's decision. In fact, while she normally would go to great pains to make decisions like this with as much buy-in as time permits, she didn't even bother getting mine. She knew I wouldn't have a problem with it. And she was right.

Something I learned early about JB is that she values people's strengths and maximizes on them. Among the librarians, I'm probably the most willing and able to flex with the need of the moment. FYS prof needs a more step-wise collaborator? Give one to him. Even if it's not me.

For my part I did have a misgiving. I felt like I could have done a little better proceeding with my prof in a step-wise fashion. Here's what I learned from JB. When I shared this misgiving, she said, "Maybe you could have, but this is too small an issue to try to improve for. Let's save the effort for something more substantial."

I once heard a wise person say, "Pick your battles." This is what JB was saying to me: "Pick your battles against your own weaknesses. And I don't think this one is the one you should be picking."

Will I manage someone someday who also struggles with weaknesses? Sure. And I expect to draw upon this lesson when I do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Making Collection Development Friendlier: Wishful Thinking

Collection development has been an saga for me perhaps in part because I never took a collection development class. (Drexel University, where I got my Master of Science degree in Library and Information Science, doesn't require it.)

I was the first subject librarian hired at Arcadia University almost 4 years ago. I am subject liaison to the general and special science departments on campus and in that capacity conduct librarian research instruction sessions. I also provide collection development support to those departments.

Over the last 4 years, I've tackled CD on a task-specific basis. In Arcadia's Bette E. Landman Library, we've completed numerous projects that have helped me develop the way I think about our collection. We've evaluated our print serials collection. We've replaced missing books. We've weeded our collection. We're constantly recommending books to our departments to purchase. We process requests for new journals. And I'm still working on the way I see collection development.

Knowing myself, I'm not surprised at this learning curve. I've learned over the years of being a professional in several different fields that it usually takes about 3 years for me (for many people, in fact) to become comfortable with the responsibilities of a particular job. Since I don't do collection development as a primary function in my job--plus because there are so many facets of it--I'm still getting comfortable after 4 years.

With the end of the fiscal year approaching, June 30, our current effort is get departments to spend their department allocations. As a library, we have our budget divided among several line items. The book budget gets allocated among all the university's departments to ensure a well-balanced collection.

What I've discovered about our book collection because of the various projects we've done for it is that it seems to represent a kind of bell curve across time. (This is a guess, because I've never quantified it. This observation is also limited to our sciences--LCCO: Q.) Our oldest books seem to be 80-100 years old. The peak of the curve seems to be 1980-1990. Then the tail seems to drop off. Obviously we need to purchase more heavily to make our collection more current.

But if the collection should meet the needs of our users across the disciplines and the course subjects, the task of simply buying more books is complicated.

Here's what I need to help me purchase well for our collection. I need a holdings-based application that can analyze our collection.

1) First, I want to be able to see the course topics laid out across the LC call number range as our collection currently looks. Makes sense, right? Our collection should serve our curricular needs at some level. Perhaps even better, though much more challenging, is to map course topics across LC subject headings; challenging because books can only have one call number in a given collection, but they can have many subject headings. One book may serve multiple courses. But such a book doesn't contribution to a very specialized collection.

2) Since our collection peaks in numbers of books around the 70s and 80s, I want to see a representation of topics across time.

3) I also want to be able to superimpose the idea of priority. We may not want to develop historical topics in our collection, but we may want to purchase in newer or more specialized areas.

4) Let's make this application more robust. I need to see our collection weighted by the number of students registered in the courses served by a given topic (as identified either by call number range or subject heading). Courses with large enrollments using a large number of books should have the same relative number of books serving them as courses with small enrollments using a proportionally smaller number of books.

I need to see all these things in a way that I can manipulate and modify so that I can see where I need to be recommending purchases.

That's not asking too much is it?

OCLC actually has a collection analysis product that can do some of what I want. Because Landman Library is a member of OCLC, it can look at our holdings and compare it to the holdings of all its member libraries, including ones of comparable size. It can analyze by publication date. It costs $500 to set up the service. The annual fee is calculated separately. But OCLC does not have access to our enrollment information. I don't know what visualization capabilities it has. I just registered to demo it, so I can find out.

I'd love to see if I can find an information sciences student at Drexel University's iSchool who could analyze this problem and imagine a solution, if not even design one. Dr. Chaomei Chen has done considerable work on information visualization, although not quite in this area. While a student there just over 4 years ago, I went to a presentation of his, so I know of his work.

Again, am I asking too much?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Clogged Drain II

Here's where I can extol the benefits of both Twitter and blogging. I may not be writing a lot of blog posts at the moment, but I'm still tweeting regularly. On the other hand, it's possible to string together 3 tweets into one long thought, but blogging works so much better for that.

Last Sunday night, I put my idea to the test about unclogging my master bathroom sink drain. The first thing I did was remove the pop-up drain plug. It's pretty simple to do because the nut holding the pop-up lever in place is nylon. I can undo it with finger pressure. Pull the lever out, remove the pop-up drain plug, then re-secure the lever (otherwise water would leak out from the open nut!). Removing the plug allows the plunger to move unimpeded. (I can't claim credit for knowing this. I read it when I was googling the topic of clogged drains before my last effort.)

With the drain out, I applied myself to plunging. Hold one hand over the overflow hole (don't want the valuable pressure to come out there) and shoofa, shoofa, shoofa. I tried a good 5 or 6 times with slight improvements in flow, but not enough.

When the drain is completely open, you should be able to open both faucet valves full blast and have all the water drain out without accumulation. In this case, the water kept filling the sink after each plunging effort.

The theory I had was that enough pressure moving back and forth across the septic accretion would eventually work it loose. The concern I had was that the clog was too far away from the drain opening for the pressure from a simple plunger to work it free. I already knew the clog was nowhere in the drain from the plug back into the wall where the drain flow dropped. This meant it had to been in the wall, a good 2 feet away from the drain opening where I was plunging.

It can't be a good practice, I know, equating septic accretions in drains to food particles in teeth, but I'm not Miss Manners. When you have a piece of food stuck in your teeth with nary a toothpick in sight, you can use your fingernail, but sometimes that doesn't work. So you can suck air through your teeth to try freeing up the renegade ort. This can go on for a while, but eventually you usually sense the particle freeing up. Keep sucking enough and that bit of roast beef will eventually succumb. Burp.

It's the movement of the particle back and forth that allows it slowly to work free from the dental crevasse detaining it. My logic was that enough plunging would accomplish the same thing with my clog.

After a couple more tries with the plunger, the drain abruptly cleared. My mental efforts were vindicated. My clog problem was over. And I never paid a plumber.

I concluded last blog asserting that a success could mean I have a piece of i-candy to share with you. I've changed my mind and decided that the term "i-candy" only works well when the product is intellectual in nature--an illustration or a concept. So, no i-candy for you in this effort. Similarly the mental effort I might apply when the outcome is not physical ought not be termed "i-rumination." So I'm working on the idea of applying the term "mental mechanics" to the thinking effort. I don't have a term for the product yet. I'll let you know when I conceive one.

Next post: A return to i-candy. I think.