Category Archives: Project Management

When good enough is just right

Cooking dinner after work used to be my favorite way to decompress from the day, and express some love in my husband’s direction. I’m a good cook, and I love food, and I love the process of cooking. The knife work, stove work, assessing flavor profiles, all of it. I just love it. Today, as I sped through the grocery store after work because we’re out of milk AGAIN and the baby who is actually a toddler can’t go to sleep without her bottle, I stopped and snapped this photo, because damn.


That’s a whole lotta prepared food, right there. Gwyneth and I had fish sticks, peas, and sweet potato tots for dinner tonight, and my “cooking” involved putting frozen things on a cookie sheet in a hot oven, and other frozen things in water in a microwave. Nothing about that feels like a reflection of the things that excite me about cooking, or the way that I feel like food is an expression of things that I value about homes and family and caring and attention and craft… but at the same time, everything about it is reflective of my values.  I conceded the point to the realities of my life and reprioritized around those realities, and I bought a whole bunch of convenience food — but I did it my way. Highest quality available. Frozen not canned. Organic when possible. Veggies and fruit above all else. And some comfort food joy mixed in (woohoo single serve Stouffer’s mac and cheese! TOTS!).

What’s this got to do with my professional life and this blog?

Nothing, and everything, just like above.  At the request of the college president, I’ve recently formally taken on an additional set of responsibilities; I am now the Director of Applied Learning* for the college, in a newly created Center for Applied Learning, jumpstarted via a generous endowed gift from an alumna and her husband. There’s a whole lot wrapped up in that new appointment, and it’s an amazingly cool opportunity to make a real impact on the educational experience of our students, and to help support our faculty as they build our academic program. In writing the pitch to the donors, I had a whole timeframe outlined, a list of projects, an approach, a plan…

And then there’s contact with the enemy, as they say. Turns out there’s a big SUNY project happening simultaneously. So we received the gift, we got the campus initiatives formally started, and we hit the ground not just running but sprinting towards a May 1 deadline for a SUNY all-campuses project in which we need to define Applied Learning for our campus, assess the parameters by which we will decide if an activity meets our definitions, and propose a campus commitment for our Applied Learning work.

Plan? Staged rollout? Thoughtful strategic planning? HA. Concede the point to the realities of the situation, reprioritize, and convene a committee, write a report, submit it to stakeholders, and get it done  NOW NOW NOW — and do it our way.

Plan or no plan, our values are intact. The Director of Experiential Education, Toby White, had shepherded the project up to this point, and his leadership has kept us moving steadily in the right direction. With his help, we identified and convened the committee in record time. The stakeholders we’ve invited into our first advisory committee have impressed the hell out of me. This is a new way of thinking about what we do — we do internships, and service learning, and study abroad and away, and student research, and field experience, but we don’t think about them as a unified set of things. Instead of arguing about the validity of this new principle and approach and mandate from SUNY (which would have been an expectable if non-optimal response), they are grabbing onto the heart of the questions and, despite our short time frame and abrupt beginning, really attacking the complexities of defining, in a unified way, something that we just do, in fifty different ways, in distributed modes, across all of our departments and schools.

We’re doing it fast, and we’re doing it a little uglier than I would prefer, but we’re doing it well. We might be eating packaged food, but it’s tasty and nutritionally balanced. We’re not doing it “right”, but we’re honoring who we are. And sometimes that has to be good enough. Right is not always right, even when you know you’re right. Good enough is sometimes good enough, so long as it’s true and honest and real.

And, as always, I’m impressed with my colleagues and my campus. So very, deeply, impressed. I may have four jobs, and I may have eaten fancified tater tots for dinner, but they were tasty tater tots and my four jobs are more satisfying than I have any right to ask for.


*That means my official titles currently are: Director of Libraries, Director of College Archives, Director of Bicentennial Celebrations, and Director of Applied Learning. I maybe have too many jobs, and those titles don’t encompass all the things I’m actually doing for the College, but they’re all really cool and who am I to back down from a challenge?

Fresh starts

It’s spring break here, so the libraries are open but quiet, lightly populated and filled with silence and calm. I’m pretty sure it’s a great environment to get to work in… except that I’ve not gotten much work done this morning. My email’s binging at me, my calendar’s flashing, people are dropping in, the phone is ringing, my ipad’s talking to me…

We spend a lot of time and energy in libraries improving our workflows, our processes, and our services, hoping to be better, faster, more. It’s something I’ve engaged in for my entire professional career, and something I take a lot of pride in, and find pleasure in. Discovering the elegant solution to a problem feels good, and makes us look good, and helps us do good.

What I do less well is apply those same theories to my own productivity, workflows, and life. So, today, when I made up my whiteboard to-do list, I included”Lifehacker tweaks”. I bought the Lifehacker book last week, and am going to try out some of the ideas they present there. I’m going to start with the chapter on firewalling my attention, because if I’ve learned anything it’s that distractions are a killer to productivity. My day is filled with unavoidable distractions, so I’m going to work on cancelling out the avoidable ones.

Maybe it’ll work out well. Maybe it’ll revolutionize my productivity. Maybe it won’t. But, like our libraries, at least I’ll be trying, and who knows, p’raps it’ll stick. And really, what’s the worst that could happen? I can’t get much LESS productive than I’ve felt lately…


On weeding

I’m challenged to focus this morning, so I’m going to try writing as brain-organizer. The two things on my mental agenda to write about are our website launch and our weeding project. I’m going to start with weeding, but the website is coming.

On Friday, I hosted this semester’s luncheon for the faculty who serve as departmental liaisons to the libraries, and there I announced our upcoming weeding project. Late on Monday an all-faculty email went out, describing the projects and processes.

We don’t fully know the scope of the project, yet, but we do know that we need to move 12% of the collection out of the basement where it’s currently housed, and we need to make additional (as yet uncalculated) reductions in collection size in order to reset our stacks to ADA compliance. And 11% of the stacks are in spaces the architect intended for user space. I also know that we have 13,000 monographic records that show no use in the last 9 years but also were published before 1950, and that we’re starting with those. So those are some numbers.

The whole project and our process is described here, and is linked off our website. I’m aiming for transparency and collaboration, but I’m also struggling to ensure that we’re efficient and thoughtful about our professional obligation to curate these collections.

So far, I’ve gotten minimal feedback. A single request for more information from a faculty member who is a long-time engaged friend of the libraries, and a single “oh my, discarding books. Yikes.” response from another member of the faculty who admits to being “old school about libraries.”  Expected, and expectable, and both have received responses from me thanking them for their interest and opinions.

That said, I have quiet dread that this is going to get very hard as we move forward. Possibly hard because the voices of grave concern simply haven’t chosen to speak yet. Possibly hard because information and how we maintain it is at the core of the academic enterprise. Possibly hard because the librarians don’t think this is easy, and it’s not going to get easier as we push through the process. Possibly hard because we’re setting some other work aside in order to accomplish this, and prioritizing is complicated. Possibly hard because I’ve committed to being transparent, which often means people can ask smarter, more challenging questions based on the data you offer. Possibly hard because I’m conjuring unseen demons made of smoke and flame out of my own anxiety about doing something that is, as noted, challenging to the core of the academic enterprise.

But I believe in it. All logical and factual reasons based in construction schedules and space use data and collection use stats aside, one thing that we also know as service professionals in a library is that sometimes you help a student find the book they identified in the catalog and you think, “Why are you using that one? Is that the best we have?” and the answer, after you search, is No. No, it’s not the best we have. The best we have is two shelves away under a slightly different search, and that crappy one is just cataloged in a way that led the student to it faster. So if we want our users to identify, locate, and use the very good stuff that we have and to do it with ease, we have to ensure that the collection is healthy. We have to ensure that we’ve gotten rid of the “you’re using that?” stuff. We have to hone the last 100 years of collecting decisions down to the core of excellence lying underneath layers of decades of occasional bad choices.

It’s hard work.  It’s challenging, unpopular, sometimes controversial work. But it matters. So we’re going to do it.

Library Day In The Life: #libday8, Day 2

When we last saw our intrepid heroine, she was heading off to Tai Chi. And then I went home, chatted with my boyfriend for a  while, then gave myself a manicure. I was going to read Empire State (or maybe A Little Night Magic) while my fingernails dried, but I ended up working instead, as there was a new copy of the Middle States self-study in my inbox, and some interesting and challenging discussion happening on Facebook about the campus’s Facilities Master Plan, and it seemed appropriate to share what I know with the community rather than let the community get riled up at the College over what was generally a lack of context.

So I went to bed around midnight, and I didn’t do a word of leisure reading. My Goodreads count would go up a lot if I could count things like Middle States self-studies.

That said, I have another easy day today, so I took a late morning. Up at 8:30, hair, makeup, dress, breakfast. Since I have no f2f meetings today (blessings!) I allow myself to wear jeans, tshirt, sweater shrug, and knee-high boots instead of work clothes. I was on-campus by 9:30, and started my day by buying my parking stickers for the year over at the campus Police station. Then to the Library.

10:00: Talk with Keith over building issues. Monitor mounts being installed in a study room, my (giant) new whiteboard has arrived, the ADA door opener is broken, etc. Print out the Middle States report for a finer edit than I did on the iPad last night, and while all 81 pages are churning out, take a few minutes to download some photos from my camera and upload to Flickr. Campus was picturesque in the snow this morning. Triage my email. Read, reply, repeat. Do some calendar maintenance.

10:20: Settle in to read and comment on the self-study, with document, pen, and sticky flags. Drink my breakfast smoothie.

10:30: Spend 5 minutes distracted by video and photo and blog posts on the Amanda Palmer/Dresden Dolls ninja gig hosted by Auckland Libraries. Amazing. That’s what a library can be when it’s engaged with its community and willing to take a few risks: A vibrant place that has meaning for its users and challenges expectations, all additive to not diminishing of its core mission. Bravo to Corin for making it happen, and to Alison and her team for letting it. Inspiring, in the good challenging way. (Damn, but I met cool people in NZ.)

10:35: Back to Middle States.

11:45: Finish reading all 81 pages (which was easier when I read draft 0, which was before this draft 1, because then it was fresh. Now it’s a repeat, and harder to read for changes), and send an email to the library staff linking to the report and detailing the pages on which the Libraries, information literacy, or libraries staff are mentioned. Send an email to the co-chairs writing the report with a few suggestions for polishing the draft.

11:55: While I’m doing some calendar maintenance, Justin stops by and I give him the parking sticker for his car so I can drive whichever of our vehicles is convenient on days when that’s relevant. Clean up my email, again, and check in on Twitter, FF, and FB. Argue some more about why copyright is relevant to all librarians, even catalogers, and why we must understand it, even if we don’t believe in it or want to enforce it, or, in fact, interact with users in our work as librarians. I refuse to back down on this: Understanding information policy is key to understanding the roles, rights, and possibilities of libraries in the modern information age.

12:10: Grab my coat and walk to the art building to meet Amy (a friend who is one of our painting faculty) for lunch in the dining hall. I love our dining hall. Stirfried shrimp and veg, to order, with peanut sauce.

1:30: Back in my office. Email triage, talk to Keith about a building issue, then back to email again. Then Keith again, this time with a tour of several of the things we’ve been talking about and doing – staring at our loading dock and brainstorming, pondering with wonderment the positioning of our handicapped-accessible door-opener paddles (one is in a stairwell?!), and looking at the in-progress installation of the 55″ monitor that’s going to turn our seminar room into a really useful seminar room.

2:00: Bathroom break and fill my water bottle. Realize I have a headache; take some Advil.

2:15: Oh, look, email. Including a request from a staff member (who I suspect does this to 1) make me smile and, more entertainingly, 2) see how far I’ll go) for a fireman’s pole between his office and his service desk.

2:30: Looking at the fall service desk and building use stats in LibAnalytics. Such a lovely tool. Everything looks normal in terms of volume, the new tech help desk numbers grew each month (presumably as people learned about it), and I can move into second semester with no worries.

2:40: Thinking about the ACRL stats that need doing this spring, and log in to the ACRL stats website so I can brace myself for the horror appropriately. Oh, look, it comes with 22 pages of .pdf worksheets, FAQs, and instructions. *weeps quietly*

2:45: Riding my LibAnalytics high and pretending ACRL stats never crossed my mind, I poke around with LibCal from Springshare, as well. If we’re getting the new seminar room up and running, it may be time to take room booking seriously.

3:20: That’s pretty damn cool, that’s what that is. I add it to the list of things to discuss with the public service staff and schedule a meeting. Now it’s time for a SUNY Council of Library Directors Executive Board conference call, though.

4:30: Call done. Go for a short wander around the library to bring my focus back where it needs to be after the all-riled-up-ness of dealing with system-wide multi-library issues. Also send an email in an effort to find a local source of Girl Scout cookies.

4:40: Email. Brief break to surf the web. Couture and cattiness call to me

5:00: Now, budget stuff: I need to make sure I’m confident about where our expenditures budget is for the year. I know where it should be, and I know where I hope it is… is it there? Made note of a few clarification questions for Angie about in-progress stuff.

5:10: Sit down with my to-do list to re-prioritize and re-organize my projects. Schedule a few meetings to discuss projects.

5:30: Set and email agenda for next week’s meeting of the faculty committee — Teaching and Learning Technology Roundtable — that I co-chair.

5:45: Since it’s OMG ACRL day, I go for round two of submitting ACRL proposals. Round one ended in early December with me rage-quitting over an epic fail on the part of the technology behind the submission forms. This should occupy all the time until Justin gets out of class at 7 and comes to retrieve me for dinner. We have grand plans of chinese takeout and Hulu tonight.


Library day in the life: #libday8, Day 1

Happy Monday!

I had a rough Sunday, on the pain front, so I set my alarm for 7:30, a full hour later than usual, anticipating that I would sleep poorly. I was right, and struggled out of bed, tired and sore, around 8. Shower, breakfast, dress, and go, with a travel mug of coffee, lunch, dinner, and a gym bag in tow.

9:30: Arrive work. Say good morning to Angie, hook up the laptop, plug the iPad in to charge, set up a Genius mix based on The Decemberists’ “Don’t Carry It All”. Open my mail. Fill out a travel form for ALA. Confirm that I have a meeting-free morning, extending until my meeting with the Provost at 1. Start this post, and drink my coffee:

10:00: Begin processing email: read, reply, study attachments, do tasks involved in messages.

10:50: Email is done, including reading a lengthy report about shared services between Potsdam and Canton, a draft proposal on updating our microfilm scanner hardware and software, a few data requests from campus offices, and replies to draft documents submitted to staff for feedback. Took a break to fill my water bottle, stopped to talk to five different staff members on my way back about circulation issues and policies, departmental liaison work, search committee stuff, more search committee stuff, and a scheduled TV interview our retired archivist is doing regarding our new campus history book.

11:30: Sit back down and do more email, then take a quick look at the three books that arrived today: Decision-Making in the Absence of Certainty, Managing Your Library Construction Project, and Checklist Of Library Building Design Considerations. Do a bit of online research about renovations, and start bookmarking links in delicious for later research and review.

12:05: Oh, hey, lunchtime. Eat at my desk, reviewing my notes and prepping for my meeting with the Provost at 1. Check in on the personal side of the internet, make a bunch of notes about music suggestions (thanks, internets!), and admire some couture from the SAG awards last night.

12:50: Get my coat and my iPad and head to the admin building for my meeting. After the meeting, stopped in Purchasing to talk about a vendor issue, and stopped in HR to pick up a W-4 and thank the secretary for her help with our new job posting. On the way back saw a student navigating our least-ADA-compliant building in a big powered chair, and re-resolved to fix this library’s issues.

2:00: Back in my office. Check my email, then project work. Interrupted by a phone call from the campus architect to discuss re-doing our loading dock. I promise to gather info and reply in a few days. Back to projects (which include Academic Affairs Assessment data for the Provost, working on this semester’s liaison luncheon on Friday, a staff performance plan for 2012, and a user appeal of fees).

4:00: Afternoon break to surf the internet, where I ran into the gem of a librarian stating that it’s ok not to understand copyright because it’s not librarians’ job to enforce copyright. The online discussion from the sympathetic and not-clueless was essentially: Ignorance just makes you look ignorant, and is not actually an excuse for not understanding a core legal tenet surrounding virtually all the work we do as librarians.

4:15: Begin work on orientation info for incoming new librarian. Libraries stuff, org chart, strategic plan, potential project list, etc.

4:30: Realize I’m starving, break to reheat my dinner in the cafe, eat it at my desk while reading some of the Oct. 2011 Project Information Literacy report on students and tech.

4:45: Back at the orientation stuff. Print some things, get distracted by some other documents on my desk that I meant to read and review. Read and review.

5:50: Call it, and start shutting down for the day. Leave my office to head to my on-campus Tai Chi class at 6:30.