Monday, August 31, 2009

PHR or Something Like It

When I started library school at Drexel University in 2003, it rapidly became clear how well suited I could be to being a librarian.

This statement is a setup to what makes me who I am as an academic librarian, so it requires me to step back a bit and recount my background. (Incidentally, I hinted about planning to write this post back several months ago near the inception of this blog. Now is definitely the time to do it. Bear with me.)

Educational and Professional Background
When I was a student at the University of Chicago, my first campus job was in the catalog digitization unit of Regenstein Library. Throughout my 4 years at UC, I worked across the library system. I briefly considered getting a library degree, but really had my heart set on medical sculpting. I wanted to use my hands to make medical models. I attended graduate school at University of Illinois at Chicago which had a program called Biomedical Visualization (medical illustration). The mind I developed for imagining the physical, relationships, and ideas, I continue to use. I received a Master of Associated Medical Science degree and came to the Philadelphia area to pursue a profession in applied materials science developing molding and casting processes for contract research. Yeah, there's more to that, but that's enough for now.

After 10 years of contract research, I got downsized and decided to change tacks. I went into non-profit administration and learned a great deal about customer service. Four years into that line of work, I decided to reconsider my whole professional game plan. Reevaluating my science background, my customer service experience, and my past jobs in the academic library, I concluded that academic librarianship would be an ideal new course of study.

Faith Background
There is also an ecclesial component in all this. A believing Christian from childhood, I became heavily involved in the leadership of Chinese Christian Church and Center, a Chinese church in Philadelphia's Chinatown. In fact, several of my years in the non-profit sector I spent at this church working as the office administrator. As administrator, I refined my organizational, communication, and public relations skills. As a lay leader, I developed new settings for applying all those skills.

In library school at Drexel University, these disparate pieces began coming together. I began to realize that I like seeing the big picture behind anything I undertake. I began to observe connections that drew together my fantastic liberal arts education at University of Chicago, my medical sculpting training, my research work, my administrative work, my lay leadership work, and now my information science training. And I happily took all that into my first and current library job at Arcadia University.

End tangent. (Don't forget this background information, though; I will undoubtedly refer to it again and again.)

Patient Health Record
For many months my pastor has been discussing the idea of how to develop church members and regular attenders. I called him to toss around his ideas and began shaping the idea myself of how to evaluate members and attenders. I understood what he said about church leaders needing to assess people as soon as they showed some signs of commitment to the church. I thought that any kind of assessment would have to get logged on a standard form of some sort that the evaluating leader would be able to share with any other leader. My library school medical informatics class abruptly came to mind and I realized that I was describing a patient health record.

When patients first visit their primary care providers, their family physician must perform a medical evaluation to determine their present state of health and any medical needs they might have, known or unknown. When patients return, their physician must use their medical records to assess their continuing health and treat their developing conditions. They amend their records and add appropriate ongoing documentation. When physicians identify conditions that require the intervention of medical specialists, they obtain permission of their patients and forward the necessary documentation to the specialists.

Spiritual Health Record
In the faith setting, members and regular attenders become patient analogs. With their permission, pastors, lay leaders, fellowship leaders, and Sunday school teachers (all primary care providers in their own ways) must perform spiritual health evaluations. They must use standardized evaluation criteria and document their observations in conventional formats. With permission, they can share the information with other spiritual care providers. When members and regular attenders have needs that require the intervention of spiritual health specialists, e.g., marital counselors, those specialists can consult the spiritual health records generated from the PCPs.

In a variation that rather incongruously blends health records with medical training documentation, those same records can determine members' or regular attenders' fitness for special training so that they can themselves be equipped to become spiritual primary and specialty care providers.

Professional Health Record
This all has a connection to the professional world because of a conversation I had with my brother-in-law while on family vacation together. I was sharing with him the challenges of equipping my instructional technology lab student workers, i.e., the padawans, to function more professionally. I equated that to the challenge of myself developing and improving my professional managerial skills. And everything came together. Those patient records and spiritual health records became professional health records. Those patients and faith-community members became professional trainees. And it was good.

The challenge is how to craft a professional health record that standardizes professional health with the systemization of a patient health record. This will not happen overnight anymore than the development of the patient health record did. But once one does come into existence for my padawans or for me, whether because I find it or create it, I expect the merit to become as equally self-evident as for the now ubiquitous patient health record.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Making Your Way, Successfully

When you initiate a task, what are the ways you guarantee success? Whose advice do you seek before you start? How do you handle obstacles? How do you decide when to give up on an unsuccessful strategy or when to keep on keeping on?

Those were some of the questions that went through my mind when I got lost on a WV mountaintop the last day of vacation.

We had taken the ski lift up the mountainside of Canaan Valley Resort Ski Lift. In company were wife Barbara, father-in-law, 2 brothers-in-law, a spouse, and 5 cousins. One way to handle failure is to point fingers. Yes, that's it. It was my father-in-law's fault because he mentioned that it was possible to hike back down again. So, I announced that I would be hiking back. Barbara immediately said no to the idea, but when I confirmed from the lift operator that it was possible to do and not very difficult or time-consuming, she lost the argument. The laconic operator confirmed that the time it would take was neither as short as 20 minutes nor as long as 2 hours, the extremes I posed. So I was off. It may be easy to point blame at others, but ultimately no one made me hike. I made the decision myself—for better or for worse. In this case it was for worse.

In exploring the mountaintop, we had crossed from the top of the ski lift run that we ascended clockwise 100 feet to the top of the next ski lift run. I started down that run thinking I would cross over to the original run a bit further down. I trotted down to what was ostensibly the first bend in that run and ducked into the woods.

When you begin an endeavor, how well do you think through your options? I should simply have walked back across the top of the runs to the one under the ski lift we came up on, but I liked the idea of disappearing down the wrong path and appearing again on the right one. It's awfully easy to make decisions that on first glance seem reasonable that instead after consultation with wise and trusted peers one would make differently.

I hiked into the woods expecting to see the clearing to the next run quickly. I chose to stay on approximately the same altitude lest I waste too much energy descending parallel to both runs in the ruggedness of the woods. The clearing didn't appear. I got a call from my wife after half an hour checking on my progress. I knew it wouldn't work to hide my situation, so I reported that I expected to be into the clearing in less than 15 minutes. Barbara felt—in her own words—put out and hung up saying she would return to our cabin 10 minutes away. I could call her when I reached the bottom. Fifteen minutes later she called again to tell me she sent everyone on and she alone was still waiting for me. I had made progress, but still could not see the clearing. I told her to go back to the cabins. I would call her with status reports every 15 minutes.

I lost the cellphone signal after my next call-in.

How do you handle doubt over a decision? I never entertained the thought of turning back because I was convinced that I was right and I would reach the clearing for the next ski lift run in moments. Perhaps this is part of makes men refuse to ask for directions. It's not pride but self-confidence.

Well, what happens when you actually make that bad decision? How do you minimize collateral damage? I was hiking through the woods navigating sizeable rocks and rotten tree debris on a weak ankle that I'd twisted at the beginning of the week (but was managing very well, thank you) in sandals. Say what you want about idiotic decisions, but my sense of adventure demanded a hike and no one else's sense of adventure was accommodating enough to join me. Beside that was my absolute confidence that this detour was foolproof. Of course, that just means I was somewhat south of being a fool. Still I did awfully well under the circumstances. I became more conscious about grabbing branches to balance myself noting what could break under my exertions. I couldn't avoid stepping on possibly slippery moss-covered rocks, but I quickly learned which rocks were level enough to keep me from taking a spill. I stepped carefully into depressions that could just be leaf debris covering deeper voids.

About an hour after I lost my cellphone signal, I came across a vehicle path. I noticed right away that there were fresh tracks on it made by an ATV. Anything older than a day would have been washed away by recent rain, and none of the tracks had had time to begin drying out. I hiked down it still expecting at any time to see the ski lodge. Before long it crossed a gas pipeline right-of-way, one of those broad swaths of grass you occasionally see running up and down otherwise wooded mountainsides. In 40 minutes I got to a meadow at the base of the slope, crossed it, and waved down a passing car. In another 15 minutes, I got a cellphone signal, got a text message from my wife saying a park ranger was looking for me, left word about my status, and was back at the cabins. As thanks to my rescuing couple, we used the cabin welcome information to help them get to the tourist destination from which they had themselves gotten waylaid by a bad turn.

If you're fortunate, when you make bad decision, there are people around to cover your heinie. Even while I was traipsing around in the sylvanous, I thought the one big help to me would have been some guidance from someone who really knew the mountain. I had as back up the intervention of several such people. After an hour without contact from me, my wife drove back to the ski resort with my father-in-law. A lift operator offered to look for me. His ATV tracks preceded me on the trail by no more than 30 minutes. The facility staff had also notified the ranger staff of my plight. The ranger that arrived to get my report back at the cabins confirmed his hunch about where I would end up by my explanation of the path I took down the right-of-way. In the car with my rescuers, we had seen his vehicle pass as he sought to pick me up. He said he was never really worried about me because he had gotten the information from my wife that I was a healthy adult who was a former Eagle Scout. One wisecracking brother-in-law made it clear that he try to get that rank pulled from me for this escapade.

There were several ways I failed. That I embarked without water or proper shoes was relatively minor. I wasn't exposed enough to dehydrate and all I developed was a large blister on my foot. The big failing was in my determination of direction. When I looked at a satellite image of the mountaintop, one of a host in the Monongahela National Forest, I determined that what I thought was a slight clockwise turn from the ski lift run, turned out to be a 270-degree turn. Apparently being near the summit of the mountain exaggerated the extent of our wandering. When I thought I was turning counterclockwise toward the original ski lift run we ascended, I was actually exactly 180 degrees off. I learned later that no one could have corrected me because I began so abruptly in my haste to beat everyone down the mountain that nobody actually saw me take leave. Paradoxically, my haste also made me continue deep into the woods thinking the clearing was just ahead when sense should have told me the copse I thought I was traversing wasn’t more than 100 feet wide. With clearer thinking, I would have turned back promptly. It sickens me to realize how badly I had deviated from where I thought I was going, but Providence shown upon me because I could not have traveled more than a mile and a half without encountering either a different clearing or that right-of-way to lead me down the mountain.

The points as far as decision-making is concerned is the importance of proceeding with enough input from people you trust and of not acting hastily. I was closer to the long end of my estimated time of descent at 2 and a half hours, but aside from a late start on our return journey home and some angst on the part of my mother-in-law, I was little worse for wear and sated with a last morsel of food for thought.

The original ski lift run stretches from the parking lot to near the arrow. I started at that arrow and went directly down on the image to the right-of-way. The road where I flagged down a passing car is down just a bit further.

View Larger Map

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Get Back--Thoughts from Horseback Riding

As of this writing, I'm on vacation with my wife's family in Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center, Canaan Valley, WV. I'm blessed to have 2 fantastic families: mine and my wife's. I expect and receive good things when I'm with Barbara's family. Expect some good reflections. Here are some i-ruminations that come from a horseback outing with Mountain Trail Rides.

I went horseback riding for the first time in 20 years. I'm sure I enjoyed the experience 20 years ago, but I treasured this experience. I was the sole adult at family reunion who was interested in accompanying the five nieces. We were one group among 15 people going on a ride in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. All fine, really. Despite the sound of it, the company was quite nice. What made it a real pleasure, though, was the thinking.

The trail guides first mounted the children. Then they began mounting each of the adults. And slowly I started becoming self-conscious. There I stood in front of all the adults as each of them got her/his own horse. Wife Barbara watched while taking pictures and commented about my conspicuous lack of a beast. I nervously laughed and insisted with melodramatic petulance: I always get picked last! I edged even further forward to no avail. I got my horse dead last despite now being virtually in the center of the yard. I cried for all the times my awkward little boy self got picked last for kickball, basketball, and dodge ball. Not. Even as it has a way of recalling youth, adulthood also has a way of forgetting it. Good thing, too, I say.

If being high off the ground as you are on the back of a horse is the first thing that comes to mind, feeling your foundation jitter about must be the second. It's not like being in an earthquake, but it is oddly disconcerting. For a few moments. It is after all a creature that you are sitting astride, not a vehicle that you have to shift into gear to mobilize. Chamois, a buff-colored mare, is not docile. She shifts her weight and shuffles about the yard as she gets used to feeling me. Niece Tabitha watches me pat Chamois' neck and advises me not to pat her there. She takes horseback-riding lessons bi-weekly near her house in southern Maryland. She tells me that her instructor calls a spot closer to the horse's shoulder the friend spot. I lean over and pat the massive, muscular sturdiness of my mount feeling an odd combination of machine and living thing. I sense the humidity of her body through her coat. I pat her several times throughout the 65 minute ride and feel a variety of moisture levels from this base level to something approximating that of a mild workout as she walks, occasionally trots, and once canters (according to another sage young rider who sports her own helmet and riding pants).

Let me offer some comparisons between mountain biking and horseback riding. Biking in a single file requires concentration. Riding permits you to enjoy the pastoral mountain scenery with just a rein held loosely in one hand. Biking leaves you anxious over your 2 wheels sliding into the muddy furrows of the trail. Riding gives the assurance of four-hoof drive. A bike requires effectively no maintenance on the rider's part. A horse snatches at birch leaves and thistles. A bike takes gullies in the trail with equanimity. A horse swallows them up with relish. A bike exerts itself modestly. A horse sweats. A bike is inanimate. A horse is Alive.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What Makes a Good Supervisor?

When I started supervising the instructional technology lab a year ago, I was eager for a new kind of challenge. As a reference librarian, I'd been working professionally for 3 years. Experience in several different jobs told me that 3 years working is about when the learning curve starts to level off and the urge for new responsibilities starts. I'd been looking for a chance to develop some supervisory skills. At that same time, Arcadia University finished its newest academic building, Easton Hall, and the instructional technologist with whom the librarians had developed some overlapping skills moved over to that building. This left her office in the library next to the 8 computer lab vacant and the then sole student without supervision. Since she'd heard me express a desire to do some supervising, she endorsed me to the library director as her surrogate.

This was not my first time supervising, but the previous experience was 20 years ago when I was fresh out of college supervising 13 reserve desk students as a library technician at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Main Library. I was a lot greener in those days--i.e., inexperienced, instead of more environmentally conscious. I did okay, but one does think quite differently as a new college grad from the way one does as an adult professional.

That one work/study student is now 4 students. Once Fall starts and those students fall under federal work/study guidelines which limit them to about 7 hours/week, the number will likely increase to 10.

The one student I hired to supplement the efforts of that summer student is the only one that's ever left me. It wasn't my fault. She'd stepped on her glasses and ended up straining her eyes doing the computer work I had for her. The 5 or so students I've had since then seem to enjoy working in the lab.

What should a supervisor offer to attract subordinates to stay? I have some ideas.

(1) Open-mindedness: When I interview students, I ask questions that help me identify personal styles but don't accept disclosures as any more than facts to help me figure out the best way to use that person. I make it clear that I'm not trying to judge, just gather information. It does help that a request for students who know something about computer technology seems to draw candidates who fall on the compulsive side.

(2) Communicativeness: I tell students that there is a bilateral evaluation period then I make clear what they do well and what I wish for them to change. I don't hold secret my sense of what's working and not.

(3) Light-heartedness: I like to rib students once I get to know them a little. But I only do this with unambiguous affectation so they can't misunderstand efforts to be good-natured. I'm not afraid to tease myself and accept counter-ribbings equanimously. I call my students padawans which always makes new workers laugh knowingly. (See my previous post about how Star Wars has replaced Mother Goose in this generation's literacy.) I quote Princess Bride in Chinese.

(4) Empathy: Not all students are equal when it comes to technological aptitude, but I remember what it was like to feel insecure about myself. When students are happy, I celebrate their accomplishments. When they're frustrated, I feel with them then coax them forward.

(5) Flexibility: While I train students to be budding professionals, I remember that they are not professionals yet. Social plans take place. People oversleep. I'm not hard-nosed, but I let them know where they need to improve.

We have a lot of work to do to make the lab the technology tutoring space and project lab that it needs to be, but if I can succeed as a supervisor, the goal is an eventuality, not simply a possibility.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Good Read—And Ingredients for i-Rumination to Boot

Yes, I know, the common myth about librarians is that all they do all day is read books. In fact, there's very little I've read for pure pleasure in many years. And not even much for professional reasons. Much of substance in that world is in the form of articles and book chapters. I will exclude from my list all the children's and juvenile audience books I've read to or in parallel with my kids. Sure, some have been diverting, well-written, and thought-provoking, but they are in a different class. What I have read for an adult audience are by authors I can name on one hand—four fingers on one hand, no less. Accept this posting as a brief reader's advisory before I get to my main point. If you know me, it's what I do; fly off on tangents a bit before returning to the flight plan.

The first author is Jan Karon. I picked up a book a friend was reading more than a decade ago and started leafing through it on a whim. The narrative about a small-town, Episcopal rector in New England instantly caught my attention and the friend graciously let me borrow it. At Home in Mitford showed what a effective author could do with the idea of life and faith. A more recent volume from Karon, Light from Heaven which is based on the same characters, came across my desk within the few years which I absorbed with as much relish as for the first book.

The second author is Stephen Lawhead. Though one national bookstore classifies his book as young adult literature, Lawhead's Dragon King Trilogy was enticing enough for me to purchase the entire collection in one—the first fiction book I bought in decades. Passed on from a church friend as good reading about faith and chivalry from his younger days, I bought it to read to my kids and ended up finishing it myself staying up nights like I did in years long passed.

The next author, Alexander McCall Smith, came as a recommendation from Landman Library's circulation librarian when she heard me comment about enjoying Light from Heaven. She rightly believed I would enjoy the details of life in another place—in this case, Scotland. In my middle age, I guess my tastes have turned more toward traditional values, though, so I didn't enjoy Friends, Lovers, Chocolate as much as I might have without Isabel Dalhousie's ostensible preoccupation with non-marital amour.

I've just finished reading a second book from fourth author, Jason Fforde. The first of his books, The Fourth Bear, I read on a trip to China last year. It turns out that book was the second in the series. As I write in the middle of a camping vacation, I've just closed The Big Over Easy, the first book in the series. Okay, his characters are not without their own share of vices, but the creativity of his Nursery Crimes Division series more than compensated.

What I enjoyed about this series is Fforde's take on a fictitious Reading, England, world where nursery rhyme characters co-exist with a very modern and human world. Fforde does a delightful job of assimilating Mother Goose's characters with other mythical creatures—how about Prometheus—in two mystery books featuring Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and Detective Sergeant Mary Mary. In The Big Over Easy, the reader learns that Jack is also (without his awareness, even) he of giant-killer fame. In actuality, three of the four were just unusually tall. He eats de-fatted bacon sandwiches and doesn't disclose to his second, human wife (his first died from eating no lean) that he himself is a nursery character until the second book, fearing her rejection of him. Fforde manages to recall the tauntings DS Mary received as a child for being contrary and successfully kills off Humpty Dumpty and Wee Willie Winkie naming adult OCD pig thief Tom Thomm and retired masher Giorgio Porgia among the suspects.

Riding on the bus, The Big Over Easy was the stimulus for a conversation about changing cultural interests. Seatmate Margaret was on her way to visit her son's family when she took interest in my reading. What she couldn't help observing is how unlikely it seemed that children of her grandchild's age would even knew anything about the nursery rhymes of old. I myself realized that I had little reason to refer to Little Jack Horner or the Four and Twenty Blackbirds in conversations with my 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. I and my wife are more likely to refer to the king and knights of the Dragon King series and anyone from the Star Wars universe than Mother Goose's alternate reality. The books we read to my kids were more contemporary classics by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Cynthia Rylant, and Donald Crews.

Perhaps to the credit of my wife and me, we try to elaborate with my kids about anything that comes up in the news or in conversations or in information we want to share from our reading. So we talked about franchising when Rita's Water Ice got bought out and about nuclear non-proliferation when we drove by a display rocket. What I mean to say is that we talk about everything including Mother Goose if it's relevant.

I observed to Margaret that college students that I've spoken to have a way of knowing about a lot that predates them, such as rock and movies of the 70s and 80s. Those bits of entertainment form the backdrop of their lives in part because of what their parents knew and because of what they can still readily hear and see themselves. In the days before parents could put their kids in front of Saturday morning cartoons or DVDs collections, they would be reading children's classics of their day such as Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm.

This made me think about my job as an academic librarian. In Arcadia's Education Department students can take courses in children's literature that could very well detail works in earlier collections by earlier authors. Though the Sciences Librarian, I can easily be taking library research questions that look at Mother Goose and the place of nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The job of a librarian is to help bridge the gap between users' experiences and what they need to know. Will all young students learn about those characters and themes? No, but those that choose to learn, I'll be around to help.