The Empty and Fulfilling Winter Break

The first day back at work after a long winter break. It’s one of the nice perks about being in academic librarianship – (usually) being given several days off for vacation and “administrative closures.”

My wife joked that my desire for a time off and a “real” vacation consisting of not having to do much wouldn’t start until I came back to work. The intermixing and context for good luck / bad luck started with Jessica being sick on top of first trimester morning (or rather, all day) sickness. So she was able to turn off and stay in bed while I was able to be home and take care of the little man Charlie.

For the  most part, my break was a daily routine of waking up with Charlie, breakfast, playing, checking in Jessica, cleaning up, dishes, snacking/lunch, laundry, playing + reading, naptime, playing, reading, cleaning, making dinner, dishes, playing, bath time, reading / winding down, and off to bed with Charlie. It was very Charlie-centric.

It’s easy to answer the inevitable question of “Did you do anything over break?” with “not much.”
But I’m trying to have a more positive view of things. In that light, I can answer with “I got to spend more than 2 solid weeks hanging out with Charlie!”

Happy new year everyone and I hope you had a fulfilling winter break!


I hear and read a lot about innovation, creativity, organizational culture, assessment, and basically everything related to building a better library organization.

In all of this I also hear a lot about failure. That we should learn from it. That we shouldn’t be afraid to fail. That it is inevitable, especially if we are taking risks, trying new ideas or services.

But that’s it. We talk about failure as this “thing”, this concept, this idea. It’s usually so abstracted that I don’t ever really hear about actual failures. Sure, there’s always talk about “well, we tried this thing and it didn’t work (ie, it failed).” But I can’t remember the last time (or first time?) that I’ve been to a conference or a meeting and the actual failure was talked about. It’s mentioned, but it’s not discussed, as though the often-used quote or platitude is enough. We can’t get past a certain level when talking about a specific failure.


you know, don’t worry about defining or talking about failure or success, just do it (sorry nike) image from

Why did it fail? What were some of the issues and/or causes? Was it completely a total failure or can we change just a few things?

I don’t want to be overly pessimistic or unappreciative. Libraries (and librarians) do talk about how to improve, difficulties of implementing new ideas or services, and that’s important and helpful.

In the end, though, discussing difficulties isn’t quite the same as discussing failure. Along with the platitudes about failure – it’s inevitable, we can learn from it – the positive and encouraging leaders tell us that we should feel like it’s okay to fail. If we don’t ever talk about it, we never really get comfortable with the idea of it, and if we can’t be comfortable talking about it, I doubt we’ll be comfortable enough to actually take those risks that might lead to failure (and then, possibly, success).


Finding a voice

Finding a voice.
Specifically, my voice.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve published anything in this format (or any format for that matter). I looked over the very few and very general posts that I’ve made so far. I had the intent of creating a more well-rounded online personality, something that was more than facebook or random mentions or contact information listed on an employer website.

I could blame it on starting a new job – just trying to get my bearings in a new position, in a new place, in a new state, …I could blame it now on having a new addition to the family – of course I want to spend as much time with a new baby as I can, it takes more time getting things “in order” around the house, I had to change clothes before heading to work because I received an impromptu shower while changing a diaper, …

But, honestly, looking back at how I’ve worked so far, I’m not sure I know my professional voice yet. Sure, I’m comfortable in face-to-face meetings with my colleagues. I believe I could hold my own in a conversation at a conference with you. It’s that whole voice thing as it relates to finding a place at the larger professional table of the library world.

So, for those of you who have found a voice, or at least are further along in creating your own, what advice can you offer to someone looking to become more vocal in the online world? What are some of your habits to make sure you aren’t shrugging off writing? What sorts of mental exercises do you use to move beyond reading others’ blogs to interacting?

And for anyone interested, here’s a picture of the guy who has been taking up so much time lately.


I hope this isn’t the electronic equivalent of shoving baby pictures in your face when you don’t ask about it.

It’s the same. But different.

There are obviously a lot of similarities in academic libraries – there is a common language and similar goals (however broad they may be) that academic libraries share, research, and discuss.

And that’s where I am now. There are conversations and attitudes that I’m very familiar with, but the smaller, more granular elements are mixing differently, creating a different alchemy of organizational culture.

How do we do more with less? How do we create a culture of collaboration? of innovation? How do we move forward with a shared vision when everyone is already so busy and tired from keeping all the plates spinning?

These are questions that need conversations. [And ultimately, decisions, but that’s a little further beyond the point I’m trying to make right now.] In my very limited experience at two academic libraries, it’s these conversations that don’t happen. At least not on a larger organizational scale. They happen all the time among informal groups. But how long can these informal groups meet and discuss issues in an environment in a way that elicits change within the larger organization?

The movement to a more modern educational system that places more emphasis on collaboration and group work for our students, many libraries find themselves in limited spaces that discourage serendipitous conversations and critical thinking.

Many academic libraries I am familiar with have done well to create individual work spaces/stations for both their students and their employees. There’s been a major push and move towards creating collaborative spaces for students. But what are we doing for our librarians and employees?

Back from…where am I?

A lot has happened since I last wrote (part of the reason there has been a gap).

First: I moved. I accepted an Instructional Services Librarian position at Illinois State University in Normal, IL (part of Bloomington-Normal – and yes, the “normal” jokes are already rolling in). My wife and I moved in early May, which was right around the second point.

Second: My wife graduated with a Master’s degree in Public Health. Helping to keep her sane was a part-time job. Of course, part of the insanity was trying to pack things up and get ready for a big move while she was trying to finish school.

Third: It’s difficult to figure out exactly what to write about when there is so much going on – a new city, a new job, new responsibilities, etc… there’s just so much new that it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing.

For now I’m still finding my feet in all this change but I’m looking forward to catching up and finding new things to write about.

I’ll keep you posted.

The landscape of CMSsssss

I’ve been thinking about CMS(es?) [CMS – Course Management Systems (or Content Management Systems or Learning Management Systems)]

UK Libraries has been working with Blackboard (Bb) Outcomes to manage the assessment component of our library instruction sessions. It’s been a bumpy road, to say the least. Just when we get everyone used to the idea of assessment and how to use google docs/surveys, we introduce Bb Outcomes. I don’t know if people have similar issues, but for us it felt like the difference between the intuitive ease of a touch-screen tablet and working with MS-DOS.

We keep hearing that this system is going to be so much easier and better, especially with assessment activities. So far, I remain pretty skeptical. The time spent on working out all the bugs (which have been numerous and not all are solved) has created a workflow in which library instructors focus a disproportionate amount of time on assessment. To be more clear, this is time not spent on how to be a better teacher, how to improve instruction, or collaborate with classroom instructors. The assessment begins and ends with student learning. Not to downplay the fact that student learning has become a major part of library instruction evaluation but the assessment is not just about student learning. It’s about how we adapt and improve our instruction based on that assessment.

And then I read about this news. And this.
Is it too hopeful to believe that assessment may become part of a service and not a product?