Archive for the ‘systems department’ Category

Jessamyn West wrote a rather thought provoking post on librarian.net recently entitled on heroism. In essence, she withdrew from a project that she was managing because she was “trying too hard to be the hero.” In the post, she references the essay “Don’t Be a Hero” by Alex Payne. Payne writes that:

Heroes are damaging to a team because they become a crutch. As soon as you have someone who’s always willing to work at all hours, the motivation from the rest of the team to produce reliable, trouble-free software drops. The hero is a human patch. Sure, you might sit around talking about how reliability is a priority, but in the back of your mind you know that the hero will be there to fix what doesn’t work.

It sounds as if West wanted to avoid becoming a human patch and believed the best way to do this was to remove herself as lead on the project.

Ultimately, this post made me think about my own experiences as my library’s technology expert (which is indeed part of my job description). In this position, it is natural for me to often be the lead on those projects that rely heavily upon technological expertise – or even just the lead on specific parts of projects. This means that my job responsibilities often change with each new technological initiative – as I become the owner of some specific task or system. It naturally follows that people continue to look to me to answer questions and/or to fix things.

But where does one draw the line? I definitely struggle with this issue. There is a fine line between becoming the expert (as opposed to the human patch) and creating an atmosphere which does not encourage others to step up and take ownership. For most technologies, I do become the expert and then depending on the situation either become the owner or pass along the reins to another individual designated as the owner. The end result depends heavily on not only the personalities involved, but also upon their workloads.

Letting go of things is not easy. I can admit to being a bit of a control freak – and as such, I have created situations where I am the only person who can deal with certain situations. Maybe it wasn’t apparent who should be co-owner of an application; maybe the people involved were not technical enough to take responsibility; maybe I was too rigid in my expectations. I suspect that the reasons why these things happen aren’t always clear cut or easy to untangle. Either way, it wasn’t healthy for me or for the library as a whole. And, I really can’t pretend that the situation doesn’t still exist.

However, I have made letting go a priority over the past couple of years. Has it helped? Sometimes yes, but very often not. I have felt as if the decision to let something go has come back to haunt me because it has on occasion impacted service to our students, which for me is the worst end result of any decision. This is one of the reasons that I feel as if our systems department needs a bit of an overhaul. It isn’t as simple as taking on all the responsibility or letting it all go. There has to be a middle ground where we are the technology experts, but also help people develop enough confidence and skill to be able to fix their own problems. And I admit that I need to find better ways to help people achieve this level of technical confidence.

As things stand, I am very often a human patch in my day-to-day work life. I’m starting to actually think we should not consider this a bad thing. It is all about balance. And, I have learned that people often feel better just knowing that there is someone in the building that can help if need be. Sometimes, this gives people the confidence to try things themselves. So, my goal is to let go just enough to let people become their own heroes every once in a while, but not let go so much as to frustrate the library staff or our students.


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My journey to librarianship is one of serendipity – and being in the right place at the right time. I never specifically planned to become a librarian, nor did I have any specific career aspirations. I definitely tend to the type of person who makes choices based upon the opportunities that present themselves without always looking at the total sum of possibilities.

So, how did I end up as a systems librarian? My route to my current career began when I transferred to small college close to home. While in high school, I choose to go to the School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington DC. I had to very vague plans for study – one involved studying computer science and the other involved working for the government in international relations. I was petrified of the math involved in studying computer science, so choose the second path. I found out early on that I wasn’t at all in studying languages, economics, foreign policy, etc. The only classes that I actually enjoyed were history. I also discovered that attending a large university was not a good choice for someone with my introverted tendencies. So, I transferred to a local college close to my home – where I could ditch dorm living and get my car back.

As part of my financial aid package, I received a work-study award. I distinctly remember sitting with the student aid person going over available jobs. Because I lived close to campus, she suggested that I apply for a job in the library. The government documents assistant needed someone who could work full-time over winter break because she would be on maternity leave. I applied and found myself shortly thereafter processing government documents and developing my love of SUDOC numbers.

Throughout my remaining three years in college, I continued working in the library, in government documents, serials and the college archives. I did briefly consider going to library school right after college to study archives, but wasn’t ready to make a definite decision about the rest of my life.

After college, I worked briefly in customer service for a catalog clothing company. I did decide to go to graduate school, but applied to a Ph.D. program in history. Again, I learned that there was something else I definitely had no desire to do. I hated the entire graduate school experience – and pretty much simply walked away from the program after a professor gave me grief for going to Florida for my grandfather’s funeral.

Several weeks later, I received a phone call from the college archivist for whom I had worked while in college. The government documents assistant that I had worked for was ill and had not been able to return to work after the birth of her second child. The library needed a temporary employee to come in keep the department running in her absence. I was currently unemployed – and quite honestly was very unsure about what to do with the rest of my life.

So, I returned to the library in June of 1994 and continued my love affair with government documents. I became a permanent employee when we learned that the woman who was my first library supervisor was terminally ill – not really a happy way to get my first full-time permanent job. Fortunately, she had taught me well. And, I have her to thank for getting me into library work.

While working in government documents, there were many changes in the library. In 1995, we automated. I started a project to catalog our government documents collection in order to make sure that they would be accessible in our online catalog. This gave me the opportunity to work very closely with our cataloging librarian (who was the project manager for our automation project) and to learn about MARC and bibliographic record structure. The automation project itself was fascinating, and it taught me a great deal about our library system.

Shortly after automating, the college began construction on a new library building. As part of the new building, the library was exponentially increasing the number of computers that would be available to students. So, as part of the project, a new department was created – that of systems. Our cataloging librarian was to become the systems librarian and a new job for a library systems technician was created. The cataloging librarian asked if I would be interested in this job. I, of course, jumped at the chance. Thus, when the new library opened in July of 1998, I left my beloved government documents behind and began a new path within librarianship. I was now working with technology, something that I truly enjoyed.

After only a year in the new building, our systems librarian decided to return to the West Coast. Her job was vacant for over six months. The library administrators did interview several candidates, but none were right for the job. Meanwhile, because the job was vacant, I took on more and more of those responsibilities. In February 2000, I was offered the job of systems librarian. Because I did not have an MLS, the job title was changed to Head of Library Systems.

I would have to say that I had contemplated going to library school off and on since the mid-1990s. Several things stopped me (or got in the way). I had student loans from college and from my ill-fated, first attempt at graduate school. I was unwilling to go into additional debt. I got married – which meant melding my finances with someone else. Decisions about spending money were no longer mine alone. My husband and I decided that buying a house was our first priority. Life just got in the way.

However, while I never actually made a conscious decision to become a librarian, I had indeed found a career that I loved – one that I felt suited me and one that I like to think I was good at. By 2003, I began to seriously think about graduate school. I realized that while I might have been starting to feel old (working around 18-22 year olds can do that), I had a long time until retirement. I had found a career with which I was happy, but I started to understand that wouldn’t be the end of the story. Life, technology and libraries would continue to change, and I needed to be able to keep up. I had been in my job 5 years. I felt very comfortable with the job responsibilities, maybe too comfortable. This is why I applied to library school in 2005.

Despite some difficulties with my online program, it was a good choice. I’m not entirely sure that I learned a great deal that I hadn’t already known from my many years of library work. However, it did get me thinking about my job and librarianship – hopefully, in some new ways. It also gave me the credentials which are important in the world of librarianship.

I am now a systems librarian. I love working with library technology and being the liaison between the technology and the people who use it. There are so many challenges, but I find it rewarding to be able to help people and to resolve problems. It is also an added bonus that while I do not still work with our government documents collection, the paper stacks are right outside my office. This means that I get to indulge my first library love by browsing the stacks and checking out the documents from my favorite areas of SUDOC classification (I love T 22.44/2:, SI 1.44:, PREX 3.10/4: along with many others).

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I guess it is only natural that people become reflective as milestones approach. Soon, we will say goodbye to 2009 – which oddly enough was a fairly decent year – and I find that I can’t help but think about the past 12 months and what I have and or have not accomplished at work. Part of the reason that I choose to start a new blog at this time has to do with my own belief that I am at a crossroads of a sort.

Over the past year, there have been many indications that the need for technology support within the library is growing exponentially – and I don’t think that my department has been able to keep up. The growth of wireless demand from patrons, the increase in the number of laptops that students bring into the building, the increase of electronic resources, the addition of a number of disparate web applications, along with so many other changes have led me to conclude that the library needs to have a better way of handling and resolving technical issues.

So, I’ve been thinking and thinking some more about what the systems department in my library has traditionally done and what it should be doing to better meet the needs of our students (and our staff members as well). Recently, the library systems technician job that reports to me became vacant. I was fortunate to be able to get approval to make the job full-time. I am currently in the process of hiring, and I’m trying to find someone who can help me take our department in some new directions. Someone that can help the department be more proactive rather than reactive. Someone that I can work with to make the use of technology within the library become more seamless for everyone.

All in all, it is in an exciting time, but one which also fills me with apprehension.  However, this is definitely one of my major goals for 2010.

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