All posts by Sarah

Pre #CILDC 2015 Adventures

You can’t travel across the continent,  to a previously unknown (to you)  destination and not take some time to tour.

Library of congress

I’ve spent the last three days exploring Washington, DC  with my mom.  It has been great.  The museums and galleries,  the monuments and memorials- I can’t get over how big this place is!

But now,  with the conference starting tomorrow,  I am even more excited about the sessions and change to meet new people who love Library technologies as much as I do.

Look forward to lots of post-session entries.

Delightful Data

This shouldn’t be surprising, but I love data. I love being able to look at data and see what it tells me about libraries, collections and more.

The last three months (well six) I have been surrounded by wonderful projects where I get to turn data into information that is useful for my library. Like using provincial and national data to answer questions about library ebooks and website usage.

Even today I was able to massage some results into lovely charts. There is nothing quite like taking a pile of cells in Excel and turning them into information that can be used to tell a story.

A story like the West Vancouver Memorial Library’s 2015 Onsite & Website Visitor Survey. We were able to get a snapshot of library user needs and usage.

But, I understand that dealing with data is not everyone’s cup of tea.

An actual teacup

Tips for Dealing with Surveys and Data

  1. Plan ahead for content: what do you want to learn? All questions should lead to this goal.
  2. Plan ahead for time needed: for the hours to write, revise, offer, analyse, report
  3. Test your survey: get someone not you to take the survey and
  4. Set goals for responses: but you will likely be surprised (in either direction)
  5. Analyse thoughtfully: Most times you will need an average or a simple “% of [population] said they found the [service] valuable”
  6. Charts are useful: they can distill a lot of information into a simple visual representation.
  7. Don’t forget that it is only a snapshot, a moment in time.

Some Helpful Resources:


App Review: Podcast Addict

I am a bit late to this party on this, but podcasts are great.

There is just something  about short form audio shows that is pretty great. I started with the incredible show Serial, and nothing has been the same since.

What became obvious once I started finding more shows to listen to is that I needed a way to manage them and keep track of new episodes without having to think about it.

podcast addictEnter Podcast Addict.

One of my wonderful co-workers suggested this app to me

Some of the features:

  • Keeps track of all of your podcasts
  • Get updates to easily download new episodes
  • Discover new podcasts by category or popularity
  • Have files automaticly delete themselves after you are finished listening
  • Back up your subscriptions


It is a bit difficult to figure out where all of the important settings, so here are some tips on getting it configured:

  • Settings > Update: includes the option to automatically refresh your list of podcasts.
  • Settings > Network: set to only download files via Wi-Fi
  • Settings > Playlist:
    • Automatic Playlist: adds newly downloaded episodes to your playlist
    • Add newer episodes first
  • Settings > Automatic Cleanup > Once listened to: deletes episodes once listened to
  • Menu > “+” lets you find new podcasts by “Search engine” or “Discover”

There are tons more settings, but those above are the ones that have helped me so far.

link to the play store


Bonus: Sarah’s favourite podcasts:

  1. Invisibilia
  2. Stuff you missed in history class
  3. 99% Invisible
  4. Radiolab
  5. This American Life
  6. Serial

Timelines go awry

this is a picture of a garden, projects like gardens need monitoring and maintenance at all stages of growthSomething that has been a frustrating learning experience for me is that projects almost always go long.

Now, I have been fairly lucky in that I am able to get more than a few projects done early, and almost all done on time. But some projects go long.

Way long.

Sometimes it is about completing priorities, others about partners with competing priorities. Delays are almost always unforeseen.


My boss is a project management expert, and super amazing. She has a couple of tricks to help ensure adherence to timelines.

1) Know when the project needs to be complete by and then break it down into microtasks with due dates working backwards. This means you know exactly when to start. The tick is to also set times for when you need to check in with others, like co-workers or vendors.

2) Before you start, think about what could impact the successful completion of the project. This could be not getting buy-in from stakeholders, or supplies not arriving on time. If you think about what could impact the project, you can also think about what you are able to do to minimize those risks.

But even then, disruptions can occur. If there is a hard deadline, then make sure you give yourself some cushion. Someone (or yourself) may become ill, or another project might come up that needs to be completed first.

My trick so far has been to pin up my yearly workplan beside my computer and check off objectives as they are completed. I also am learning that if I take on additional projects I need to communicate how they will impact my current projects.

If you can take a project management course, and also never forget to look ahead when planning.

Work Life Balance

I have written about dealing with stress before, and I still feel it is one of the most difficult things about my job. The other night I had a nightmare about not being about to answer a patron’s reference question. I woke you with my heart pounding, convinced that I was unfit for reference work.

A good way to attempt to stop thinking about work all the time is hobbies, activities, and well, getting a life. Unfortunately, most of my volunteer activities are library-work related, and sometimes there doesn’t feel like there is enough time in the day to unwind.

My favourite ways to stop thinking about work are:

  • baking
  • knitting
  • reading
  • tabletop games
  • spending time with friends and family (mostly)
  • and creative writing

For many years creative writing was a great escape for me. Nothing serious, just a way to let my imagination take over for a time, and distract me from the outside world. As a teen I filled notebooks with stories, and during my post-secondary experience I continued to write, including participating in NaNoWriMo.

As an adult, I have tried to make room for this hobby that I enjoy, managing another year of NaNoWriMo, times when I was writing a bit daily, a bit weekly. But things slowed down. I try not to blame library school, but I feel like since heading out to go to school in 2012, my professional writing is all that I can manage. First with all of the essays (terrible stuff) and then since I’ve become a “Real Librarian” the amount of writing I do for work is sometimes over a thousand words a day. Now, I am not particularly talented at writing, and I don’t tend to have the patience for editing, but there is nothing quite like losing yourself in a story of your own design.

In an attempt to spend my commute to and from work thinking about non-work thoughts, I am going to try and write for at least 15 minutes a day in November. This is not the enormous commitment that NaNoWriMo is, and should be achievable for someone who is as out of the habit of wrtiing for fun as I am.

And who knows, maybe it will help with my blogging output as well.


Six Years of Instruction

About six years ago through a mix of luck and being willing to say ‘yes’ when opportunity appeared I taught my first computer class at my library. It was Internet Basics  – aimed at people with some basic mousing and keyboard skills, but no knowledge of the internet.

Since then I have offered classes on ‘Advanced Internet Use’, Microsoft Word, Excel, library databases, ebooks (ebooks and more ebooks), social media, privacy, and more.

Technology classes offered by public libraries are weird beasts. Very rarely are our classes about ‘library use’ or ‘library website use’ (although I have done those as well), but more about helping people develop the skills to participate in the digital world. This can involve buying and selling, job hunting, creating resumes, creating a digital presence, and searching effectively.

I like to call the skillset of ‘participating in the online realm’ Digital Literacy. This is a contentious term, some like to think digital literacy is just research based skills, others, coding skills. In my organization we also have used ‘Digital Life Skills’ as an umbrella term.

But, whatever we call it, the goal is to help our community members access content, and participate in the world. And the amount of time, and expertise that many public libraries are able offer suits the needs of our community members.

When I started teaching at my library I had zero instruction experience and very little public speaking experience. I had worked at a circulation desk at a different system for two years previous and had held a couple of customer service jobs beforehand.

So going into a session all I had was a brief orientation on the space and a set of outlines and handouts.

sometimes you feel like you might be straying from the path.

Then it was me, and twelve eager learners.

With very little it is possible to do a lot! You will make mistakes, there will be questions that you don’t know how to answer, but with patience and a loud voice you will be able to do it!

Instruction became of of my favourite activities, and something that I discovered that I am skilled at. Which I, as a shy teen, never would have guessed about myself. Instruction has allowed me to connect with my community, help fellow staff members, and develop a love of public speaking.

So, think about what opportunities that you might take advantage of, even if you don’t necessarily have any experience in them. You never know what you might discover.

App Recommendation: Mint

As a Vancouver resident who has spent quite a few years in post-secondary education, even with a excellent job, budgeting is necessary.

And technology is here to help with this.


I found out about Mint at one of our staff “App Chat” sessions, and then proceeded to forget about it until recently.

There are levels to using the service, but basically you link your banking information and let it sort transactions into categories to aid in the budgeting process.

Mint is easy and intuitive in design. And even if you use it only to keep track of expenditures, it is likely to be very useful.

One consideration about this app/service (and ones like it) is that you are putting a lot of trust in a third party. This is something that many have decided to allow, but make sure to use a strong password.




Continuous Learning

I am all about professional development (which is a bit obvious, I’m sure), and I like to live my soapbox rantings.

In addition to workplace based professional development, such as webinars, workshops, conferences, and feeds/journals, there is also learning things by living them.

It is really hard to learn new technologies (Reader’s Advisory, Excel) if you aren’t using the skills you are being taught. But that doesn’t mean that learning can be avoided!

Next year I’ll be offering a “Getting Started with Instagram” session,but before I found out that, I had never used Instagram before!

So I created a learning plan.

Over my summer vacation my goal was to post one photo to instagram a day , follow 3 people, and practice the idiosyncratic tagging system.

my instagram landing page

It wasn’t a strenuous task, I do enjoy taking photos, and playing with social media is a lot of fun for me. But sometimes I do need to learn things that already 100% to my tastes.

What setting up learning goals for yourself consider:

  1. Do I need to be an expert?
  2. What will I be doing (teaching a class, running the library’s account, or gathering ideas for programming)?
  3. How do I learn (playing around, watching tutorials, reading instructions)?

Then set something up that works for you. Make sure to have goals, and an end point – when will you know that you are done?

In this case I am finished learning (for now) since I found a way to integrate Instagram into my social media workflow. I will likely dive in a little deeper when I get closer to my class.

Try creating a personal learning plan for yourself this fall!

Book Review: Written in Red by Anne Bishop

cover image for Written in Red by Anne BishopWritten in Red by Anne Bishop.
2013. Roc. 433 pages.

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.


Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

I love Urban Fantasy. And Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy is still one of the best examples of world-building that I have ever read. Bishop is a master of building worlds that deal in interesting ways with gender, race, class, and person-hood. The Black Jewels trilogy focused on violence against women and how dangerous misogyny can be. In Written in Red the first book in a new series, we get new issues  to explore and re-interpret, and think about. Race, land rights, the drug trade.

Of course, there is also magic, vampires, werewolves, assassins, intrigue, and more. Written in Red is fast-paced, with rich, interesting characters, and a mystery that keeps the pages turning.

In Written in Red we are given a world that almost is like our own, but subtlety different. There is technology – cars, computers, etc. But we are also given the “Others” non-human creatures who want access to human technology, and control natural resources (even the weather) there is a lot of tension, and politics.

I loved it and can’t wait to read the next book.


Video, Why Bother?

I’ve been having an interesting discussion at work lately. And by lately, I mean the last 2 years. Whenever the topic of marketing comes up, I suggest videos. And the response from almost everyone is:

“No one watches video.”

At which point the conversation is essentially over, because if you believe that no one is watching video, then, all my facts and figures about how video is the most popular format on the web aren’t going to have any effect.

Infographic of "Why Video is the Best form of Engagement" frm

What I think is happening when people are saying “no one watches video” what they are actually saying is:

“I don’t watch video, and don’t see the value of information shared this way.”

That is a discussion I need to start because video is fun! With video, tutorials become a lot more transparent, with video we can give library staff a voice and possibly face when they are communicating.

There are a lot of ways that video can help us add value to our community.

  • Storytimes
  • Puppet shows
  • Technology Tutorials
  • Book talks
  • Interviews with authors
  • Personal Histories
  • Highlighting Collections

This small set of ideas would mean that kids and their parents could re-visit their favourite programs, or watch one that they had  missed, or someone troubleshooting an ebook issue at home would be able to get help even when the library is closed. We could be adding to the historical record of our community by creating and sharing personal histories. And by putting faces and names to our staff, we are creating connections with the community without every leaving the building! (But we should do that as well). Video can act as an archival activity, creating a record for future staff and the community.

So, video is valuable. It is also not that hard. At least once you get over the embarrassment of hearing your own voice.

There are lots of different tools to create and edit video (I’m really fond of Camtasia at the moment), but really all you need is a script (words!) and patience (a real useful skill for library work). Building videos really fits with library work – providing information, attention to detail, sharing…

And because I might as well put myself in as a guinea pig, here is one of my most recent videos.