Thursday, February 15, 2018

Interview Post: Spencer Brayton


Spencer Brayton

Current job?
Library Manager at Waubonsee Community College. We have campuses in Sugar Grove, IL, Aurora, IL and Plano, IL (all about 50 miles west of Chicago, IL). As Library Manager, I am responsible for day-to-day library services and operations for the three campus libraries, in addition to strategic planning for the future of our campus libraries.

How long have you been in the field?
7 years

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
Fish bowl. Not a lot of privacy, but I have a nice view of the library. It's great to be able to see students studying and working together. I like having an open door policy, so it works well. Also, we just installed some new technology in the study space next to my office, so I am eager to see how it is used.

How do you organize your days?
Calendar and post-it notes (a lot!). I think it's also important to block some time out for reading, especially about our profession, technology, and leadership. We sometimes are so busy dealing with what comes up on a daily basis. It's helpful to take a step back and reflect on your work and opportunities/possibilities.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Supporting staff and colleagues. Budgets and planning as well of late. I also spend a lot of time on professional develop work and writing. As I am still fairly new in my position (7 months!), I like to get around and visit each campus library location. This spring, we are embarking on a process to update our library mission and visions statements.

What is a typical day like for you?
Meetings, email. I'm focusing on building relationships internally and externally with other departments (academic and non-academic). Still learning about my institution as I settle into my new job!

What are you reading right now?
Re-reading Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Slow-down! Patience is important. Each institution has its own culture and it takes time to learn that. I value this advice as it allows me the time it takes to build good working relationships.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Supporting multiple campus library locations. I really enjoy visiting the different locations- all are great learning spaces with their own unique feel. 

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Being a chef. I always wanted to attend cooking school.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
K-12 teacher- I don't think I'd be very good at it. I have a lot of respect for these professionals and the time they put into their work.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Seeing the future (although I also recognize the importance of being present).

What are you most proud of in your career?
Being able to present and publish research with some great colleagues. This collaborative work has allowed me to travel and visit different countries and cities. I am also most proud to be a part of an awesome profession and great mentors and colleagues!

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I've moved too quickly with change in the past- which is why the professional advice above is so important for me! I value the importance of supporting colleagues I work with and working hard to be transparent and admitting when I make mistakes.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Reading, watching my favorite sports teams, being with family.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Christian Lauersen, Shirley Lew, Lauren Pressley

Spencer tweets at @brayton_spencer.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Revisiting the Dread: Public Speaking


The thing about speaking in public is... I still hate it. Loathe it. Get stomach aches over it. But I also still seek out opportunities to do it on a regular basis. So, despite the fact that it's been almost 6 years since I last wrote about speaking in public, and how important a skill it is, talking in public is still a stumbling point for me.

I have come to accept that my process is:

  • Agree to give a talk (sometimes I submit proposals, sometimes I'm invited);
  • Futz and futz about topic and title for an inordinate amount of time;
  • Write furiously and generally hate what I've written;
  • Pay way too much attention to the slide-deck, perfecting the flow of the memes and dumb jokes - sometimes to the exclusion of the content;
  • Practice and edit my remarks even more until I absolutely loathe them;
  • Leave the talk alone until the day before;
  • Edit again the night before until I only mildly hate what I've written;
  • Panic and breathe funny right before I speak;
  • Semi disassociate while I'm talking (honestly, it feels a little like an out of body experience) but somehow make complete sense and never seem nervous;
  • Relax, because it's over.

How do I know I made complete sense? By looking at Twitter. I'm actually sometimes amazed when people quote me in a tweet... "I said that? Really? Wow, that's kind of brilliant." Here are a couple of examples:

I had only vague memories of saying both of those things when I read them on Twitter. And these weren't the only positive things said. People mentioned the memes and jokes. People mentioned that I gave good advice. Even more, I've been invited to speak other places because of how well my talks have been received. So... I must be doing something right?

All of this is my way of saying that you're never as bad a public speaker as you think, and don't worry if your process doesn't look like what other people do. Yes, plan ahead. Yes, edit. Yes, practice. But beyond that, know you'll be okay. I absolutely dread public speaking, but I keep doing it because I know I have things to say. I also know you have things to say, so no matter your experience - keep talking. We'll listen.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Connecting Research to Practice and Practice to Research: A Brief (Fun!) Introduction, by Abigail Phillips

scrabble letters spelling data across the face of an open book

Back when I was in library school, I had few expectations concerning what I would learn or how it would apply to my previous experience work in libraries. (I didn’t plan on beginning this post the way it happened, but here we are.) I started my MLIS program in what was then the School of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University with the goal of becoming a librarian, learning whatever I needed to learn to become that librarian. I wish I could say that I had an interest in LIS scholarship beyond what an instructor required me to read as part of a course. But I didn’t. That’s why I think it’s a bit funny that I ended up with a PhD in Information Studies.

Looking back, I didn’t even have a solid understanding of what “research” meant, how it worked, or why it is important for practice. Our field is not alone in an often perceived divide between research and practice. Between academics and practitioners. In my postdoctoral fellowship, I work within education where there are similar discussions about this division. Now that I spend the majority of my day researching, writing, and reading about LIS and related fields, I have an improved perspective on the impact of research on practice and practice on research. I’ve also taught MLIS and professional development courses where I’ve introduced research principles, approaches, and examples in practice. For instance, the following two paragraph could be one example.

In an IMLS-funded study I’ve been contributing for the past year and a half, we’ve worked with school and public librarians to develop an understanding of what supports they need to provide STEM-oriented Making in their libraries. We began by observing librarian practices as they went about everyday responsibilities in their libraries and then used what we learned to develop professional training materials, potential library design hypotheses, and a framework for library teen program development.

What we observed in the library, supported by our understanding of LIS, education, and learning science scholarly literature, aided us in developing early findings and possible directions for additional research. Later formal interviews with the librarians participating in our study helped clarify the needs, constraints, and opportunities within their daily jobs that may not have been as clear during observations. A mixture of research methods, librarian supplied materials (such as program flyers and school newsletters), and participation in library program development added to even more data to analyze and make sense of for sharing.  

With an example of research supported practice in mind, I want to return to talking about the divide between research and practice. Others have explored the communication challenges between LIS researchers and librarians, describing librarians as indifferent to conducting or participating in research, unknowledgeable about conducting scholarly research, and focused instead on the day-to-day activities of library work (something I completely understand as a former public librarian). The piece I read suggests that researchers make more of an effort to publish in practitioner publications. This makes sense on the surface, but usually the tenure push is for publishing in traditional peer reviewed journals.

It is part of the culture and norms of academia that hinders communication between LIS researchers and those in the field. But the question I have is whether or not librarians will actually read articles in trade publications or see the value. Thinking back to my librarian life, I had little time or energy to read about research or discussion seemingly unconnected to my work. This post will not end with an answer but instead, encouragement more continued conversation.

There are no easy answers here. I think about this a lot, but even I struggle sometimes communicating to librarians the research I do and how it relates to real world librarianship. This should be an easier conversation because we both, researchers and practitioners, benefit from sharing discoveries, practices, and understandings.

Abigail Phillips, PhD is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University. Her research interests include digital youth, cyberbullying, empathy, libraries, librarianship, information ethics, and making. She can be found by email:, Twitter: @abigailleigh, or website:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Revisiting Difficult Patrons


I've discussed difficult patrons in the past, but in that post I was talking about people who are awkward or emotionally overwrought or out-of-sorts. My context then, as it is now, was an academic library. The advice I'm about to give might not apply in other kinds of libraries. Heck, it might be expressly against the rules, so check with your boss(es) before you do anything I've suggested.

Before I get into my advice, though, I want to tell you a couple of stories about difficult patrons I've had in the past, over the course of my career. Also, and this may go without saying but I'd rather be upfront about it, I've changed and/or left out personally identifiable details where possible.

Up first, the sportsball team. I've actually had similar interactions with football, basketball, and soccer teams, so saying "sportsball" is as much about protecting identities as it is about an umbrella term to capture the experience. If you've worked on an academic campus with a popular sports team, you can probably predict what I'm going to say. The athletes came into the library on a regular basis. Study hours are frequently a required thing for student athletes - after all, student is the first and more important part of that phrase - and the library and/or tutoring center is a good place for this to happen. Only problem with this is that they didn't always have work to do even though they always had to do the hours. With nothing else to do, they talked. They got loud. They collected people the way an electromagnet collects spare paperclips.

This led to:
  • Discussions and reminders that if they wanted to talk, there are other parts of the library available where that wouldn't disturb others. Verdict: completely unsuccessful. Had to do this repeatedly throughout the same evening or afternoon.
  • Sending a staff member who read as male to have the same conversations. Verdict: more successful than when I did it, but still not a true solution.
  • Jokes about, "don't make me call your coach." Verdict: this would usually quiet them for the rest of the time period - afternoon, evening, etc. - but it wasn't a permanent thing.
  • After a particularly difficult day, when even sending a male staff member only quieted them for 5 minutes, actually contacting their coach. Verdict: this was a permanent solution. Getting to this point was kind of a nuclear option, but we'd gotten repeated complaints from other students and hadn't found anything else that worked.

Up next, the angry teaching assistant. I'll tell you up front that it turned out to be a miscommunication between the professor and their teaching assistant - a minor one, at that. The TA came to the front desk of the library, and I'm not sure how the conversation started, but I was walking by and overheard this individual getting aggressive, so I inserted myself.

This led to:
  • "Is there something I can help with?" This is how I insert myself when I sense a tense situation anywhere in my library. Verdict: successful in that it brought the TA's attention off of the (if memory serves) student worker and onto the full-time staff member.
  • A lot of back and forth with the TA where I tried to pin down exactly what it was they wanted, to inform them it was not something the library did, and to suggest another department at that school that would be able to fulfill that need. Verdict: very unsuccessful. Even though I remained calm, used open body language, and stayed on topic, the TA got increasingly agitated and even started cursing at me about things.
  • "I won't talk with you unless you can be civil. And if you can't be civil, I'll also have to ask you to leave the library." The TA walked off in a huff. I would have called security, but I didn't need to go that far. Verdict: Very successful. The TA came back later to apologize and explain the miscommunication. Please note I might not have been this direct if I hadn't already known the TA.

Finally, the community member. I've worked at multiple libraries that allowed computers to be used by people who aren't attached to the school in any way other than they live in the same municipality. In this case, the difficulty was not as overt as either of the two cases above. This person was having difficulties with a particular thing on our network, and they weren't satisfied with the speed at which our IT department was addressing the issue so they asked to speak directly to me, the director.

This led to:
  • Vague threats about appealing to someone above me. I responded by making my own vague threats about changing the policy that gave this patron access to our space and resources. Verdict: partially successful. I needed to let this person know that I cannot be bullied, and this was the first step.
  • Walking away as soon as the initial conversation was over. I gave this person's concern attention, but not a single drop more than was warranted. Verdict: partially successful. Sometimes these kinds of things end up being attention seeking behaviors, and I didn't want to feed into that.
  • Communicating with appropriate staff both in and out of the library. Of special importance was that I spoke with my boss, since she was one of the people the patron had threatened to contact. Also of importance was that I brought security into the loop. Verdict: very successful. I took these steps mostly to help my own piece of mind. 
  • Documenting everything. If this person escalates, I need to have a paper trail to support the need to have this person banned from campus. Verdict: very successful.

In each of these interactions, I took responsibility for what was happening. As the director, it's my job to deal with the angriest of the patrons, but you won't always have someone higher up around to help. Common themes from each of these incidents:
  • I did my best to diffuse without backing down.
  • I had and was willing to fall back on contingency plans. 
  • I never took it personally, even though in each instance there was definitely a moment of the difficult patron making some sort of personal insult/attack.

Sure, each situation is different, but you have to have a way to approach difficult patrons. How about you? Have you had any difficult patrons? Had to anyone banned from your library?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Forget About Professional Development (For Now), by Sally Turbitt

Two words: Professional development. Talk of professional development starts in library school, with LIS students encouraged to volunteer at conferences, attend local events and generally “get involved” to accrue professional development points or hours. Maybe your workplace gives you opportunities to attend events on the proviso you come back to work and share your learnings. Or perhaps, like me, you realise that professional development activities are a way to learn and meet people in the industry, something that is really useful if you’re a library ‘outsider’ (e.g. not working in libraries).

Where do you start? How do you find the right activities and opportunities for you? You’ve got to start by answering, “who?”

A wise person once said “know thyself” and yes, that’s what I’m talking about. We are all, as another wise person once said like an onion, and when you start to peel back your layers and know yourself better, you will be a better professional and it will be easier to find the right professional opportunities that suit you. Plus you might surprise yourself by taking bigger leaps and accepting challenges you would have run away from before.

Knowing yourself is hard and uncomfortable work, BUT, here’s the thing. If you’ve invested heavily like me (financially, personally, emotionally), in going to library school and carving out a new career for yourself, you want to get this right and be a great librarian, advocate for your community and co-worker. You want to be resilient and have the stamina and skills to stay employed right? Many of us work with a huge variety of people every day, and being a resilient and reflective librarian is a good thing! This is why I want to encourage you to peel back those layers and find yourself first.

I’m a deeply curious person, always exploring ways to understand myself and others and I like to use a variety of tools to do this. It did take me years to discover those tools and be brave enough to listen to what I discovered. Years ago, I read What Colour is Your Parachute?, took the Myers-Briggs test at a work conference, and went to a career counsellor. I tried to ignore everything I learned, but it didn’t work. Part of me was paying attention and each time I explored something new and uncovered a kernel of truth about myself, an onion layer fell away and I got closer to who I really am.. Acknowledging personal biases, privilege, weaknesses, and figuring out how to celebrate and make the most of your strengths are all challenging. It’s hard to acknowledge who you are and find ways to change and do better at living and working.

As an ENFP, I am always willing to find solutions, so here are some of my personal tools for digging deeper and being brave. At one point or another each of these has got me through a rough patch and opened up doors to understanding myself and other people.
  • Listen. TED talks, podcasts, online radio shows - there are so many ways to listen and learn. Don’t stick to just library related content, branch out and explore new topics! (An added bonus is that you’ll be absorbing good and bad storytelling - how many times have you heard how about important storytelling is for library advocacy and promotion?)
  • Explore personalities and preferences. Try 16 Personalities, The Four Tendencies or read What Colour is Your Parachute?. You don’t have to agree with all the results, but they will give you some insight that you can explore (or ignore, but really, I bet you find one useful nugget of truth).
  • Ask friends and family what they think. (Awkward yes, useful, YES). You’ll be surprised at what people see in you and it’s more insight for you to reflect upon. Remember that how you see yourself is completely different to how everyone else does.
  • Be really honest with yourself about things you could be better at, and then find ways to improve. Written communication not great? Offer to write a newsletter article at work or start a blog. Jump on Twitter and practice writing in short concise sound-bites. Write book reviews for your library or just your friends. Feel like your tech skills need a refresh? Find out if your organisation or local library has a subscription or ask a colleague you know has great tech skills to show you their tips and tricks.
  • Spend time getting to know the people you work with, and how your personality and behaviours fit (or don’t). Read up on teams and communication. Start a conversation with co-workers or ask your boss if there are any short training courses you can take to expand your knowledge of teamwork and strategic communication.
  • Seek professional help if you need to. Sometimes we need to dig further to find ourselves and a professional counsellor or therapist can help.

Most importantly, discover your “who” your way. Extrovert, introvert, ambivert - there’s a way to do this that will suit you. Just try to extend yourself a little from time to time, try something new, and you could surprise yourself.

So, new librarian, this probably seems like quite a lot of ‘work’. Well, it is. However, you don’t need to do it all right now! Take small, achievable steps, and be kind to yourself and choose topics and activities you enjoy. Spend ten minutes a day reading an article or blog post, ask a colleague to show you how to do something that seems easy to them. Send that email to five close friends asking them that difficult question. Think small, it all adds up.

Find your who and the rest will follow.

Sally is a librarian who doesn't work in a library. Instead she supports library and information professionals for ALIA and co-hosts a podcast about libraries, galleries, museums and archives. Talk to her on Twitter @sallyturbitt.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On Still Not Knowing Everything

Since I just closed out my first six months of my not-so-new-anymore job, I figured it was time to revisit the idea of knowing that I don't know - something I wrote about almost exactly 5 years ago as I was about to start my first job as a library administrator. My mind was boggling at all that I had to learn, and the truth is that I hadn't even imagined half of all that there was to know.

This most recent job change was easier in some ways. I made a lot of mistakes as a new library director... mostly dealing with people issues. Learning that I couldn't think aloud anymore was hard. Learning to ask questions in a way that the staff understood it really was just curiosity with no subtext was even harder. Hardest of all was learning to look at the entire context of an issue before trying to come up with a response. So starting my second job as an administrator was smoother because of all my past missteps, but that prior learning hasn't actually made it easy.

Although I'd worked at a two year institution before, I've never worked at a public institution of higher education. Further, although we are relatively small at just under 6000 FTE, this is also the biggest school that has ever employed me. Another big change is the size of the staff - I have 17 people working for me. I have learned a lot a lot a lot, but I'm still adjusting to all of this. And there is still so much more to learn.

Here's a list of what I KNOW I need to do:
  • Experience all the ins and outs of our budget cycle;
  • Sit down with as many of the rest of the faculty as possible;
  • Live through the rest of our strategic planning process and experience its ramifications;
  • Understand all of my responsibilities as they play out through the school year;
  • Get to know all the nuanced (or not so nuanced) differences between working at a small liberal arts college and a small-ish community college.

And that's just the stuff I know that I need to learn. At least once a week I learn something that I had no idea I needed to know, like how we handle email when someone leaves the institution or who to contact when I want to reserve a room in one of our new buildings. We all know, in theory at least, that we never stop learning, but it's so very different to be living it every day of my life. I love it.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Just For Fun: Mayonnaise!

I'm going to go against the grain of typical blogs that share recipes. I'm going to give you my main recipe up front (based almost exactly on this one)!

1 cup extra light tasting olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg (size matters)
2-3 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Put everything into a container with a mouth wide enough for an immersion blender, but not much wider. You MUST use an immersion blender for this recipe. After everything is in the container, put the blender in, and turn it on high - holding it still - for 30 seconds. You'll be tempted to move it, but don't. After that, move it around and blend the rest of the oil in, for another 30 seconds. Et voilĂ : mayonnaise! There are other methods that call for letting the egg warm up to room temperature or pouring the oil in very slowly, but if you are like me and have no patience but still want homemade mayo, this is the recipe for you.

Now for the chatty bits! I told a couple of friends about making my own mayo now, and they demanded a taste test. With McDonald's french fries. Their idea, not mine, but it ended up working well. Anyway, I rose to the occasion and made four different versions (the one above and the others listed below), but there was no consensus on which was the best. I liked the spicy one the best, but both the original recipe (above) and the dill version got votes as well. We certainly had fun trying them, and I definitely had fun coming up with the different recipes.

Spicy: instead of lemon juice, I put 2 tbsp of original Cholula. You need an acid of some sort in mayo, and hot sauce is made with vinegar. When I tasted the Cholula mayo, though, it didn't have any kind of kick, so I added a tbsp of Frank's RedHot. If I make this again, I'll just go with 2 tbsp of Frank's.

Vinegary: instead of lemon juice, 2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar. This was also recommended by the person who wrote the recipe I cited above. It's not good for everyday applications, because the vinegar taste comes through super strong, but it's fantastic with potatoes. It'd probably be amazing for potato salad.

Dill: instead of lemon juice, I put 2 tbsp of pickle juice, I also added a small amount of fresh dill - hard to explain how much, other than to tell you I pulled off a couple of inches from the top of the dill I bought. Didn't chop it up, either, since the stick blender did that for me.

Yes, this does use fresh, raw eggs. That means it won't last as long as long as store-bought, but it will last a couple of weeks past the expiration date on the eggs you buy. But I gotta say - it never lasts more than a week for me.

Good luck with this, and let me know how it goes!