Category Archives: essays

Librarian Advocacy

Image from page 321 of "St. Nicholas [serial]" (1873) This week I attended an event called “Librarianship in the age of Trump”. I am super glad that I went, but I walked away a little discouraged and a lot frustrated.

I think it is important to reflect on professional values (one of the reasons why I blog) and also keep up what is happening in the world.

The meeting was very well attended for the time and location with 15 people, and I was pleasantly surprised by the people attending from different areas of the profession.

In two hours what I think was really achieved was feeling out the edges of the questions, and learning from each other what a group looking at direct action for librarians(*) might look like.

Two streams of ideas sparked my interest:

  • Really working on library as place: specifically safe space for hard discussions
  • Using our “brand” to support media literacy, fact-checking, and information work.

I also loved some of the example ideas around using art, social media, and video to spread messages. Not something you usually hear from library folk.

What I found difficult:

  • The idea that only MLIS carrying librarians have a role in this sort of movement. Because while I feel that with a MLIS comes an obligation for reflective practice and community engagement there are many out there who don’t hold an MLIS who are equally engaged and passionate. They should not be barred from participation.
  • That people weren’t really sure what is currently being done in the larger librar* community around these issues.

Anyway, I plan to continue participating, because I do feel like I have something to add to discussions like this, and want to be able to make a positive impact on my community with my skills.

Core Values of my provincial library association

  • Access and Inclusion
  • Intellectual Freedom
  • Innovation and Creativity
  • Diversity
  • Literacy and Lifelong Learning
  • Accountability

More here:

Raganathan’s 5 Laws of Library Science

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his / her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

And the variants:

Relevant Resources:

There are more that I wasn’t able to track down.

( many thanks to Kevin, Tami and Phil for organizing the meeting, and Myron for answering some think-y tweets of mine)

Reflecting on library education

A while back someone asked about how I felt about library school since it has been a few years (four and a half) since I graduated from Western’s FIMS MLIS program.

I had to take a bit to think about it since now it has been long enough that my other library education also has become quite embedded in my mind as well.

So I split my thoughts into three parts: the benefits over time of the library technician diploma, the benefits over time of the MLIS, and in general why library education is valuable.

1. Library Technician Diploma

I loved my time at Langara and cannot speak highly enough of their Library Technician program. What you get there is a great grounding in the practical skills required for library work, as well as a solid foundation in library theory. Like: what are libraries, the different types, the types of work done, and also why library work is valuable and how it contributes to the various communities served. As well, the very practical cataloguing skills and theory I gained (and have forgotten most of) has helped me countlessly over the years.

2. Masters of Library and Information Science

For me going completing my MLIS was sort of inevitable, and I knew exactly what school I wanted to attend long before I applied. I fell in love with Western’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies during my undergrad when visiting the school while a friend attended. The friendly, enthusiastic students and future-facing curriculum were what I wanted in a school.

As well, I was employed full-time at a library and had my library technician background. Therefore, the option of taking an intensive 12-month program was the best option for me. I also knew that (public) libraries were the right career path for me and that at its heart an MLIS program is a vocational school, and libraries are my passion.

So, the courses and their value. I’m not going to go back and look up every course since a reflection 4 years out should really be about what can easily be recalled.

Plan, practice, assess and evaluate. That’s what a lot of the courses boiled down to, they looked at different aspects of library work and function in different levels of detail but that is what is left once the details fade away. Living this practice of planning, acting, and assessing for the duration of the program has really helped in the long term. As well, we received the foundations for doing strategic and big picture sort of work – looking at why we do the things we do, and if it can be done better, and how to plan to go about making changes.

Stand-out courses for me were program planning and evaluation ones like the courses on web design and usability testing, outcomes assessment, and library management. I still have strong memories of the management course, it was tough but really valuable. And I hope to always remember by Reader’s Advisory class with fondness.

The more foundational courses on cataloguing and reference work were not as useful to me due to previous experience, but additional practice and reflection is always useful.

The other key part of library school, for me, was truly living and breathing library theory and practice for a year. I participated in committees and groups, spent lunches and evenings talking shop with classmates, worked in the (fantastic) Graduate Resource Centre, and in my final two semesters steered a committee that planned and ran a student conference. I always say that you get out what you put into school, and I put it all in, and have benefited from it.

Despite leaving exhausted (and burned out), it was an incredible and valuable experience.

3. Library Education generally 

And I haven’t stopped learning since then. Conferences, courses, webinars, pop-labs, blogs, social media, committees, conversations with co-workers and friends, they all have allowed me to keep building my skills, have challenged me to think differently, and to grow.

I have met and worked with many incredible library workers who don’t have any formal library training, and that does not make me respect them or their work any less. I do feel that my library education has served me well and has made it easier for me to make an impact in my work. It has also made the decisions I’ve made easier, and allowed to draw on a background of research and theory to make them.

As I have continued to develop in my work I appreciate my education more and more which is neat. Thank you Western & Langara!


After working in training for nearly eight years – I tend to hear a lot of “you are so patient” or “how are you so patient?” A bit strange to me, because patience with technology feels natural to me at this point, but I understand that it isn’t the same for everyone.

I’ve been thinking a bit lately (as I often do) about why dealing with technology seems easier for some and not for others. And I am starting to think that working with technology helps, even if it hurts a bit at first. I think the below points are key concepts in building the mental models of adaptability and patience around technology.

It is okay to fail.

There is nothing quite like completing what you think are all of the steps correctly, and having the software or hardware not work. Luckily (most of the time) you haven’t broken anything, and can easily try again.

There is a lot of iteration in working with technology. Try once, adjust, try again. This is like the scientific method you learned in school, control (as many as possible) variables, change one, experiment, re-test.

You fail a lot when working with new tech, and sometimes even with something you are familiar with. Troubleshooting, and improving, is what you spend most of your time doing.

The reward for trying again is perhaps success. There is no reward for stopping at failure.

You don’t always have control over change.

Anyone who has worked with community members accessing their webmail after Yahoo! or Hotmail has made a style change, people feel lost and confused when change to the familiar occurs. And, with many technology changes, we, the users, don’t get to control when or how a change occurs.

If you know that change will happen, you can let yourself learn more naturally – watch trends – “what do website menus usually look like?” “what are common compose menus?” “how might that machine tell me that it is broken?”

Also – change is unavoidable, so rolling with it is less stressful than the alternative.

Coping with frustration quickly helps with productivity.

Whether it is taking a few deep breaths before dealing with a broken widget, or stepping away from a software snafu for a time, you need to take breaks from frustrations. Not indefinitely, abandoning the project, but for a set period of time.

The more frustrated, or angry you are, the less likely you will be able to spot the error that has occurred, and the less likely you are able to be think the problem through.

Learn what ways best work for you when you are frustrated, will help you move forward with technology tasks.

Practice helps beyond the initial task.

The more familiar and practised you get with dealing with webmail – that can also help with desktop mail clients. And the more you troubleshoot excel, the more you will feel comfortable troubleshooting Word problems – as you start to identify what sources are most effective. And the same patience you use when learning your phone / computer is the same that you can apply when approaching a different machine.


These tips might also help with issues outside of the technology realm. What works for you?

Some Resources:

A bit on Library Work and Self-Care

Recently I was lucky enough to be able to take a one week course on Supervisory Skills. It was the equivalent of a full semester course, and was intense, and wonderful. There was lots of time for reflection due to the immersion

I’ll unpack the ideas and concepts more here over time, but what I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is self-care and emotional labour.

This isn’t a new topic in the library world, and there are lots of more thoughtful people than myself writing about these topics (resources below), but here are my two cents.

Many introverts work in libraries. A lot of public library work is public service. Working with the public is exhausting, especially for people that don’t gain energy from being around people.

A key part of all libraries is finding information for others. Whether it be books, research, or resources, it is about serving the community. As is programming, like storytimes and computer classes, arranging for guest speakers (so many phone calls). This sort of service can be draining. We don’t always think about the energy this takes since we don’t always get a concrete result of our work. But is is work, and it can be very hard.

All this means that you have to make time for yourself. Especially casual library workers. Take the time to do activities that recharge you, read a book on a topic you love, listen to music, go for a walk, work at your hobby.

Find community. We are all a sort of informal community, people in similar workplaces, doing similar work, but it is good to touch base directly sometimes as well. I take time to have lunch with co-workers sometimes, and have arranged a monthly evening get-together with local library staff. I find that talking with others about our common interests and concerns really helps me cope with stress and distress.
Some recommended reads

Emotional Labour and Mental Health in the Library

A Librarian’s Approach to Self-Care | Hack Library School

The Compassionate Librarian | Self-Care

#self care on Librarian Burnout


Places to look for people to talk to

An Open Thank You Letter to a Computer Teacher

Dear Mr. Zimmer;

macplusYou won’t remember me, but about 22 years ago you taught me about computers and programming. This was in a small, windowless room in a small elementary school in Surrey.

During my time as your student we used HyperCard to tell stories and create puzzles, and Logo to create designs and animations. I remember being challenged, sometimes frustrated, and ultimately so happy when I was able to make something work.


I remember your kindness, enthusiasm, and dedication. Thinking back, I am amazed and appreciative of the effort it must have taken to get 20 plus 8 – 12 year olds using computers. Knowing that most of us would never seek computers as a living, you still persevered, and encouraged us to go further.

And when I speak to other people my age, I realise that having an early computer education as I did is pretty rare, which makes me appreciate what you did even more.

Now, two decades later, not as a teacher, but as a librarian, I am helping in my own small way to show young people the wonder of programming.

Through library programs, kits, and other activities, I am (and many others) working to help young people challenge the way they think, to solve problems, and maybe, just maybe, discover a love of technology and programming.

When I think about when my love of computers and problem-solving, I am able to think back to those days in your class, and I am grateful.

Thank you,


PS: Recently, I’ve also been able to set up some activities using Python with the logo Turtle.


So many meetings.

They are an essential part of the modern working life. Some people hate them, and others only mildly dislike them. But, I would hazard to say that most recognize them as absolutely necessary for communication and successful project completion.

I normally wouldn’t have thought of meetings a topic that might be of interest for anyone who might take a look at my site, but over the last few months I’ve been told that I run some good meetings and I thought it might help others to share my process.

For someone who is only a couple of years post-MLIS, and isn’t in a management position, I’ve been very lucky through committees, and the like to chair and organize meetings for a variety of groups. Internally at my library I tend to chair meetings around digital content and staff training and have for a few years. Externally for the last year and a half I have chaired a local sub-group of an organization that consists of public library staff who work with digital resources and this summer I was made chair of a small group made up of mostly Academic librarians.

  1. Know your audience
    • This is probably the hardest for many, and the most important part. No matter how long you’ll be meeting together, you have to learn how the members communicate, as well as how they feel about the topic at hand.
    • There is a fantastic model about team formation “Forming Storming, Norming” that has helped me approach this issue.
    • I struggle with this, but find by listening a lot for the first meeting or two, and giving myself time for reflection, I can think about tactics that will ensure effective meetings.
  2. Have a plan
    • Often known as an agenda. I often have two versions, one with all of the topics for the meeting that is shared, and a second with notes for me about my speaking points. It might also include questions to ask the group for discussion topics and notes about extra information people might ask for.
    • Your agenda should only enough content than can be covered in the meeting time. Don’t put too much on, you don’t want to rush or run out of time.
    • Give the option of others submitting discussion topics for discussion.
    • I also really like being able to use a basic template (updates, roundtable), but also have a topic of note for a meeting. This means with planning you can prevent having too many meaty topics on the agenda.
    • The agenda should also include what decisions need to be made a the meeting.
    • This is something my boss does really well, and I’ve learned through observation and practice.
    • Some tips from the Harvard Business Review
  3. Have a timeline
    • Not only should you map your agenda points to a timeline, but also set timelines for different activities such as when to send out the draft agenda, when to have the draft minutes ready for review.
    • Also useful to mention is having a plan for how often to meet and when, ask what days and times work for group members and then making sure you work with those times.
    • Know what to do if the meeting looks like it might run over. Have a “parking lot” for later if time, or table for the next meeting.
    • Staying on time, and ending on time shows respect for those in the meeting with you.
  4. Encourage participation
    • Confession: I don’t allow for small talk at the beginning of a meeting. Any chatting, catching up, or sharing of cool stuff waits until the end when people can stay late if they are able, or if we end early we can chat together as a group.
    • But really, participation is key. This is looks like ensuring you have activities where all members can have input on a decision, not chose those comfortable with speaking. It could look like going around the table ans saying one thing each, or brainstorming and then voting with a set number of stickers that each member has, or using an electronic voting tool.
    • Leave at least 8 seconds of dead air for people to speak when you ask a question. Don’t follow-up right away.
  5. Set clear actions and deadlines
    • Make it clear in the meeting and after what tasks various people have agreed to. It might be as simple as “Sarah will send out a doodle poll for the next meeting date” to “Sarah and Jane will create a draft evaluation document and circulate it to the group by June 3”.
    • Volun-telling sometimes works, other times you just ask “can someone from —- help out with this?”
  6. Follow-up
    • If others are helping out with things, or haven’t completed something that they offered to do, talk with them. See how they are doing with tasks. Usually they have forgotten, but sometimes something came up and they didn’t know how to tell you.
    • Also, make sure minutes are circulated before the next meeting, and give people an idea of what is happening next.
  7. Thank people
    • People have given you time, either for 3 minutes or 3 hours. They have prepared and participated, making sure you are able to complete your task, project, or role.
  8. Admit when you’ve made a mistake or not met a deadline
    • This builds trust if it doesn’t happen too often. Don’t just let it fade to the background. It can be hard, but prevents an awkward question and answer interaction later on.

Things I need to work on.

  • Making sure that if I’m chairing, that I’m not also taking the meeting minutes. This prevents good notes from being made.
  • Don’t volunteer to take on too much yourself. I don’t like to feel that I am asking more of a group than I am able to give myself, but sometimes there are no volunteers. But it means over-committing myself, and making mistakes or not making deadlines.
  • Setting guidelines and expectations at the very beginning. This has only been an issue once, but I hopefully won’t forget again.
  • Finding participation activities that work when there is both an in-person and phone-in contingent.

And overall, just remember that the meeting you’re in is about ensuring communication and teamwork, things we all love, and doing our best in whatever role we’re in makes everything easier, and our communities stronger.

On idealism and bravery

The 2015 BC Library Conference was beyond fantastic. Every session that I attended was amazing, and I am inspired in numerous ways. Two sessions I attended, and the panel that I sat on had a real impact on me.

These sessions really focused on reflective practice, sticking to our ideals and that living authentically is valuable. I want to contribute to honest discussions and becoming the best person, and therefore member of the library community.

So, here are three things that I am insecure about:

  1. Getting older. I am getting close to thirty, and while I know that I have accomplished much professionally, I haven’t met many of the “social” goals that many of my peers have. And I haven’t reconciled how I feel about that.
  2. Writing. I am very insecure about my writing skills. Which is troubling because I love to write (see: this blog), but I don’t write creatively as much as I once did.
  3. Not knowing myself well-enough. Something I try not to think about too much, which isn’t healthy. But I have surrounded myself with goals that education and career focused and haven’t reflected on the rest of me.

By writing these items out, I hope to find opportunities to work with them, and be a better me.

But, to balance it, here are 5 things about myself that I like:

  1. My own. I am an ebook expert. I also hold a lot of knowledge about the publishing industry.
  2. My love of instruction and sharing information helps me be effective in what I do.
  3. I believe in what the library community can accomplish, and that hasn’t diminished over time.
  4. I deeply value my library technician diploma, am happy about my MLIS, and those years of education and immersion in practice.
  5. My relationships with family, friends and colleagues help me out immensely.

I know what I do, but I need to better learn who I am.

Here’s to personal growth!

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:


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.

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!