10 Lessons in Leadership: Honouring Norman Horrocks with the First Dalhousie National Leadership Award

This afternoon, I had the honour of attending the first annual Dalhousie Horrocks public lecture which was given by Madeleine Lefebvre, Chief Librarian at Ryerson University.

Honouring a great leader in our community, Norman Horrocks, the lecture presented one of our School of Information Management students with the first Dalhousie Horrocks National Leadership Award.

For those of you who knew Norman, I am sure you’ll agree that our lives were enriched by knowing him.  He was an unforgettable individual. While we gathered to celebrate the award in his honour, with the added honour of having his wife, Sandy Horrocks and daughter also in attendance, it was also bittersweet.

During the lecture, Ms. Lefebvre focussed on 10 key areas of leadership or, leadership lessons, that she’s learned over her many years as a library professional.  For those of you who know Ms. Lefebvre, I don’t think you’d argue if I rephrased it by say that she presented a list of top 10 leadership lessons that she has learned over her career as a leader in our profession.

Top 10 Lessons in Leadership

1.    Leadership happens at all levels

2.    Role models – good and bad – are important guides

3.    Luck, serendipity, opportunity – whatever you call it – plays a part

a.    Sometimes you must consider that it is “…not just a time to go but a time to grow”.  An idea Ms. Lefebvre expresses when recognizing a need for change or recognizing new opportunities

b.    Build confidence with the things you are good at

4.    Surround yourself with great people

a.    Stay away from energy drainers/naysayers

b.    Great people can be found everywhere in life, not just in your professional life.

5.    Read, observe, listen, communicate

a.    Any leader today has to deal with change management

b.    Be able to take your professional jargon and translate it for outside fields to understand.  This builds relationships and creates opportunities for communication

6.    Know yourself

a.    Identify your strengths and weaknesses.

b.    Know your value(s)

7.    Trust our instincts

a.    What are the values you believe in?

b.    What is your true North?

c.    Is this an organization you want to be part of?

d.    Discontentment is a trap that can feed on itself.

8.    Be thankful and appreciative of others

a.    Are you aware of the power of your attitude on others?

b.    Collaboration is essential – it works wonders on how you are perceived.

9.    Have passion for what you do.

10.Have fun!

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“MARC” Cataloguing

In preparing for class this week, I’m brushing up on some readings on the topic of authority control, controlled vocabulary and AACR2.  While reading Michael Gorman’s article Authority Control in the Context of Bibliographic Control in the Electronic Environment (2009), I stumbled upon these wise words:

People who talk of “MARC cataloguing” clearly think of cataloguing as being a matter of identifying the elements of a bibliographic record without specifying the content of those elements.  It is, therefore, clear that those people do not understand what cataloguing is all about. (p. 16)

While there are many of you who may not always agree with Gorman, you must acknowledge that this statement is spot on in its observation.  How many of us, in the practicing profession, have seen the devaluation of cataloguers from a position that requires training in cataloguing to a position that requires no more than a high school diploma?  Cataloguing is not simple data entry, and understanding how to catalogue within a MARC record is not as simple identifying the field and inputting straightforward data and punctuation.  However, in many public libraries with tight budgets, we often turn to library assistants for help in editing our MARC records.  Does this activity make them a cataloguer?  While using staff as a valuable resource, is this also confusing (sending mixed signals) management and other professionals about the knowledge, skills and judgement (Gorman) necessary to be a cataloguer?

Gorman goes on to state “[T]he most important thing about bibliographic control is the content and the controlled nature of that content, not the denotations of that content.” (p. 16)

While Gorman is discussing all of this in the context of his dislike of Dublin Core, his comments should have us all rethinking how we hire, train and educate our future cataloguers and librarians.  It should also have us questioning why such a vital service – the access to information and retrieval of information –  is so misunderstood.

A great discussion can certainly develop from the brief comments I have made, starting with the complexity of MARC and our descriptive standards, however, if our professional can’t clearly communicate the overarching goals and practices of cataloguing, the details about how we set out to achieve these goals will not matter in the long run.

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Reading Habits of Professionals

While enjoying a coffee with a friend and colleague, we happened upon the topic of books and what is on our personal bookshelves.  I confessed that anyone entering my home would see an overwhelming amount of romance novels bulging from overstuffed bookshelves.

In fact, at home, I’ve organized the bookcases in a way that might say a lot about how society is perceived to judge reading topics and those who read certain genres. The bookshelves closest to “foot traffic” house literary classics, and a variety of nonfiction titles (biographies, how-to books, child rearing, fitness, professional titles, etc.).  That way, at first glance, guests or acquaintances aren’t immediately introduced to the romance collection.  Why?

Going back to my coffee date, my colleague, a well-respected member of our profession who holds a PhD and various other degrees, expressed a wise sentiment; we have nothing to prove by what we read,  and our reading habits certainly don’t prove how intelligent we are. Eureka!  This is an idea that should be shouted from the tops of libraries, schools, bookstores and homes.  We choose our reading material to fit our needs at the moment.  Our favorite genres, like romance, continue to be read more frequently because they are familiar, comfortable, and strike a chord that resonates within us.  For example, when reading a romance in the summer months, I am always filled with a sense of nostalgia for my teenage years.  Having discovered Harlequin romance novels in my mid-teens, I’d spend hours reading on my grandma’s front porch, with the hum of lawn mowers and the singing of birds to keep my company. We all have stories like that.

So let’s revisit my bookshelves and their strategic placement in my home.  I’m not sure if the original plan was to organize in a way that biased or influenced guests’ opinions of my reading habits, but it certainly developed into a cognisant awareness.  This is where the reading habits of professionals enters the equation.  As a professional, should we feel defensive about our choice of reading?  Are there different expectations placed on professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, librarians and teachers, to read books that are considered higher-brow or more educational?  As a professional, am I expected to read a higher quantity of non-fiction for pleasure because it is expected?

Instead of a female librarian, let’s try this with a well-respected, world-renowned surgeon.  You are fortunate enough to be invited to his home and when you enter, you see bookshelves lining the walls full of…graphic novels and fantasy fiction? Or, biographies, medical texts and literary classic?  In your mind, what did you anticipate and expect? Why?  If there were two surgeons, one with shelves full of graphic novels and the other with literary classics, would you judge their professional abilities differently?

One last scenario to share with you. A cataloguer is responsible for the cataloguing of popular fiction, the majority being either romance or mystery.  When a romance novel that borders on Erotica or “mommy porn” crosses her desk, she always writes “SMUT” on the instructions for the processor. As a joke, of course.  While this comment never makes it into the record and is never indicated on the book, it does indicate her views on material that is not to her taste. And, in fact, while it is an ongoing joke, she has a true distaste for this genre.  It is not respected.  What if you are her colleague, supervisor or director and your greatest pleasure is to sit down with an erotica novel and enjoy the escape it give you?  Should you hide it? Apologize for it? Defend it?  If your enjoyment of these novels becomes public knowledge, will it impact how your staff and colleagues view your intellect and expertise as a librarian?

We often talk about reading as a social or personal experience.  The way we share our reading experiences and how we choose our genres are often based on life-experiences, interest and personality.  For example, I am not a very social reader and am almost never influenced by a bestsellers list or ratings list. Also, I find romance – lighthearted chic-lit and regency romance – especially enjoyable after reading professional articles and journals.  It’s a way to escape and relax.  Am I alone in this?  I highly doubt it.

Are professionals subject to more criticism and judgement when choosing their leisure reading? Are there biases within our society that impact or influence the reading habits of professionals or at least with whom they share those interests?  I think so.  However, I will go back to my friend’s words and emphasize, for all of us, that our reading preferences do not reflect our intellectual abilities and we have no need to apologize for what we choose to read.

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Thoughts on Library Journal’s article: “Catalog by Design”

While checking out my Facebook timeline on Friday, I notice Library Journal’s new article, “Catalog by design: the user experience” written by Aaron Schmidt was available online.

I read Mr. Schmidt’s article with interest.  In short, he summarizes his thoughts on the shortcomings of catalogue displays and functionality.  To Mr. Schmidt’s credit, he was not questioning the skill of cataloguers or the information found within our records, but making a common observation: the appearance that user functionality in catalogues is an afterthought in catalogue design.

I’ve linked to Mr. Schmidt’s article so that all of you can read it.  I also urge you to read the comments.  I find his article and the comments a good jumping off point for a conversation on cataloguing design and functionality.  What must be understand is that this article is very much like dipping your finger and sampling the icing on a cake and then wondering why it’s so difficult to make a cake that tastes delicious and looks good, too.

Rather than focusing on user tasks, let’s first just talk about design and Mr. Schmidt’s suggested design.  Immediately, I notice the similarity between the draft designs and a mobile application screen; big buttons, clean display and highlighting only a handful of key services.  This is interesting to me, that a catalogue design for a desktop computer should mirror the look and feel of a mobile application.  While we understand why mobile applications provide only key elements and simple displays, is it enough for desktop (non-mobile) designs to offer the same limited features?  I was once told by a mobile application designer that the average user is on a mobile site/page for 40 seconds.  Forty seconds.  Keeping that in mind, we can understand why a site, like a library, would offer a clean, simple interface that provided gateways into the catalogue/library with key entry points for a mobile app screen design.  However, as some of those professionals point out in the comments section of Mr. Schmidt’s article, it isn’t as clear as performing a known item search, especially when users are entering the catalogue from a desktop computer.  While many users may be performing a known item search, it is on a desktop display that we are provided with opportunities for searching newly catalogued material in the library, browsing reading lists, collections, similar titles or “wandering” virtually to stumble upon an item of interest.  When many of us use our phones, we use the apps for quick access into known item searches or activities.  When we sit down at our computer, we are often searching for more: that may be in the form of research, browsing, online shopping, or whatever activity that allows more freedom, options and navigation opportunities.

The second point is that many library catalogues, called social catalogues or social discovery tools, provide the flexibility and design clarity that Mr. Schmidt seeks.  One of the comments made by a reader suggests the popular social catalogue BiblioCommons.  This is an excellent example of a flexible, clear and user-friendly interface that has not only become a popular choice with many libraries, but users, too.

The interface designs of library catalogues have gone ignored for many years.  Functionality and the ability to recall information has traditionally trumped design and user-friendly interfaces.  This may be the result of a lack of research or options, but in recent years, there has been an increase in focus on user-friendly interfaces.  Librarians and decision-makers have been forced to take an interest in the design as well as the functionality of library catalogue interfaces and many are addressing the issues.

Vendors, aware of users’ growing expectations for intuitive interfaces are also attempting to address this shortcoming in the form of social catalogues and catalogue overlays. Just like the future of the library catalogue, I do believe vendors might also understand that their relevance is tied to providing libraries and users with products that meet today’s demands – not from within the library industry, but expectations created by the robust, user-friendly and customizable options available throughout the online environment.

While this topic can easily turn from a basic design conversation into an RDA debate, I’d like to keep it simple.  Up until now we, as professionals, haven’t demanded better interfaces for library catalogues.  We have moaned and groaned about them, but without real usage studies, evidence and support, it hasn’t been possible to force the design changes many of us know are essential.  We can credit the advent of the social catalogue with a push in the profession to study what, exactly, users’ expectations are in the catalogue.  Knowing that it is now possible to provide a social interface has provided many of us with an opportunity to bring in theories and evidence from the web design industry and ask for these same features within our catalogues.

Mr. Schmidt’s article only gives us a taste of the icing on the cake.  As cataloguing professionals, we understand the depth of the catalogue and the need to make something intricate appear simple, customizable and intuitive (or, like a cake, simple, elegant and beautiful) – while still meeting the demands of a wide variety of users’ needs (and that’s the rich, smooth flavour of our cake).

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Be Versatile: Get the Perfect Degree for the Information Age

On February 13, Dalhousie University’s School of Information of Management is hosting an open house for those of you who want to explore the possibilities of what an MLIS offers.  With the ability to attend both online or in person, it’s the perfect opportunity to examine your role in the information world and if this degree is for you.  I urge those of you who are considering an MLIS to attend this event.

The theme, Be Versatile: Get the Perfect Degree for the Information Age says it all!

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Free Webinar: Are Books Your Brand? How Libraries Can Stay Relevant to Readers

Are you looking for something to do on Valentine’s day?  While this might not make the “Top 10 date list ideas” for V-day, this is definitely an event you might want to consider joining during the day (while looking forward to your date night!).

Here’s the information:

EVENT TIME AND DATE: Thursday, February 14, 2013, 2:00-3:00 PM ET/11:00 AM – 12:00 PM PT
Are Books Your Brand? How Libraries Can Stay Relevant to Readers

The core mission of libraries – providing books for readers – is as relevant today as it was years ago. In fact, it’s what people overwhelmingly identify as THE reason for libraries. Formats might change, and library patrons might only visit the library virtually, but the library is still the place where readers go to find books.  Libraries should embrace this role in their communities – and become “Centers for Readers.” But how?
The panel will discuss:
  • Shifts in how people are using the library
  • Examples of successful library programs and services for readers
  • Strategies and tools for engaging communities of readers
Panelists
Robin Nesbitt – Technical Services Director, Columbus Metropolitan Library 
Duncan Smith – Vice President, NoveList
Barry Trott – Digital Services Director, Williamsburg Regional Library 
Moderator

Laurel Tarulli – Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University

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A new year and perhaps, a bit more blogging too!

Although my posts are few and far between, I am attempting to get back on track in this New Year.  With the New Year, there are many new opportunities and challenges ahead.  I’m teaching a new (to me) course as Dalhousie University – Cataloguing & Classification II.  It’s an interesting change from last semester.  The Organization of Information class is really all about ideas and theories.  While introducing existing models, it’s a time to explore and talk about the abstract.  The first year MLIS students were a great group of young professionals and met the demands I placed on them;  namely, having to think critically about the profession and the application of organizing information beyond that of a position in cataloguing.

With Cataloguing & Classification II, I am entering a FRBR, FRAD and RDA world.  One in which, up until now, I have only had to understand at a superficial level.  With these models in their infancy while attending school for my own MLIS degree and not having a need for understanding it in any depth while in my last position, I am now delving into the interesting, confusing and fascinating world of FRBR and RDA.  Given that my current group of students are but steps away from graduating, it’s important to me that I not only provide them with an understanding of these models, their importance in the future of cataloguing and how to apply/implement them, but to also expose them to the very real threats to the future existence of cataloguing and cataloguing departments.  This involves new skill sets, navigating the changing demands and nature of cataloguing and how far these skills carry beyond that of the cataloguing department.  Of course, for now, I’m simply facing Friday’s class, which focuses on RDA.

In addition to teaching, I’m now in full writing mode to complete my second book (fingers crossed) by the end of March.  This book will focus on the education of cataloguers.  Appropriate, now that I’m teaching in that area and spending much of my time determining what it is our future and current cataloguers need to succeed.

What I am learning about this new career path is that I am able to accept many more opportunities that are important to me in contributing to this profession.  I am writing, reviewing, editing and teaching.  This is a fulfilling role and one that teaches me that I have so much to learn and hopefully, to contribute in shaping the cataloguing profession.  For those of you who know me, it’s a perfect balance between my professional life and my personal life (which allows me to raise my daughter, Millie).  Of course, there are times when I feel I’m making a deadline by the “seat of my pants” but, I think we all feel that way at times.  But I am enjoying the ride and all of the opportunities that I’m fortunate enough to receive.

So with that in mind, I will attempt to make this a better blogging year (I know, promises, promises) and to continue to seek out new ways to participate in an awesome profession.

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