The Trouble with Technical Services, Part II

I was contemplating a new blog post. It would be about analytics trackers for websites. The library is wrangling 3 analytics tools for various websites, all of which have their positives and negatives. I thought I would present briefs about each of the 3.

As I was thinking about this (at the moment) hypothetical blog post when I remembered an essay by one of my colleagues in Computer Science. His project is to write an essay per day. (He is rather prolific: he often writes more than one per day.) He writes about writing, about teaching, about information pertinent to incoming students, about information pertinent to faculty, and about computer science. Some of those computer science articles are for the strict layman – like why one should study computer science at a small liberal arts college. And then there are the much more heavily technical ones.

After writing a series of technical essays, he found that some of his more vocal readers called for him to return to less technical writing. He then wrote an essay about it.

And I find myself in a similar place. I like getting readership on my blog posts and, thanks to WordPress.com’s analytics, I can track that readership. I have found that certain topics get a lot of readership: the job-search and all it entails, as well as identity politics in the library world. Other topics can be hit or miss. But the more technical or nitty-gritty ones (my rare book stuff included) gets far fewer views than anything else.

So, would a blog post outlining Google Analytics, AWStats, and ClustrMaps get a lot of readers?

Probably not.

Which brings me to the question: do I write it? or do I hold off for something more popular with my readers?

I’m a tech services librarian, a systems librarian to be exact. I find a lot of these technical things interesting and relevant. The trouble with tech services is: it’s hard to write about it in an “exciting” way, in a way a general readership would like.

So, the next question is: who am I really writing for?

Speed Friending

At the moment, I am not an outreach librarian. I’m not much of a public services librarian either, having been mostly in technical services for the past three years. But I still know a good outreach idea when I see one.

The University of Colorado at Boulder has created an outreach program called Culture Bridge. This tripart outreach program focuses on “connecting international and domestic students.” This program includes a talent show highlighting cultural diversity, a “speed friending” event (think speed dating but with less romance and with more information literacy), and a photo contest.

I’m too much of an introvert with stage fright to be much of a fan of talent shows, but the other two programs have my attention.

The photo contest would leverage the library’s existing social media accounts, primarily the library’s Instagram feed. And it would get our students to think about how other cultures, nations, countries, etc. think about information – how do they store it? how do they disseminate it? do they have libraries and librarians? is there information digital or print or verbal? Even I don’t get the time to think enough about how different cultures handle information – and I’m a librarian. So, having students thinking about this stuff is cool. Plus, we get to see pictures of cool places.

The speed friending event is what especially caught my eye.

I think convincing students to participate might be a challenge. The librarians at the University of Colorado at Boulder noted that food was an incentive. I might suggest doing this speed friending event during Orientation, because the first-years and transfer students would want to make friends.

But once we overcome the issue of getting students to participate in the program, I think this program would work well. From my experiences during my undergraduate education, I learned that my personal and intellectual life was enriched by knowing and being friends with people from a different background than me. I also found second languages to be a powerful tool to make connections across cultures. In graduate school, I found that having a school with a large international population suddenly opens up new avenues.

A five minute chat would not be comparable to the sitting in cafes with a Chinese grad student and comparing how our respective countries and cultures viewed the world. (“Why do you [Westerners] think dragons are evil?” is a question I have yet to be able to satisfactorily answer.) A five minute chat would not necessarily mean an evening in the dining hall discussing how people view their economic statuses – and how that affected their outlooks. But it might be a start.

If the library can start intercultural conversations, I say we should try.

Location and Academia

pink townhouse
By Beyond My Ken – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47207023

Happy New Year (a bit belated). I know it’s been a few weeks (I think I took off the whole of December from my blog), but I am back at it.

Throughout November and December, I had a main theme on my mind: location.

There is a pressure to find a home for most newcomers to the area. A mortgage is cheaper than rent. And one of the employers in town helps with a down payment and promises to buy the house should they relocate the employee. The housing market is also “just so” that yuppies like me can afford the American Dream (whereas, I couldn’t in my hometown). With this pressure, you start to wonder about what part of town you would live in. Or if you want to skip out on the overpriced town where your employer is and move to a nearby “bedroom community” or the bigger town 30 minutes away.

And then there’s the decision that really needs to be made: am I ready for property ownership? and will I stay long enough to warrant purchasing property?

At faculty get-togethers (there have been a few because of the holidays), I’m always asked, “How do you like [the town]?” I always say that I like it, “but it’s a little boring.” People laugh and then try to suggest that I head away to the nearby “cities.” Still, I think everyone realizes this location has its drawbacks.

The theme of location also presents itself due to relationships. At the beginning of November, my partner moved away to pursue his own career. A town of 9,000 can suddenly become lonely when you no longer have a constant dinner date and “partner in crime.” I currently love my job, and I love the opportunities a small town provides (it takes 7 minutes to drive anywhere, there’s free parking, rent and mortgages are cheaper than in larger towns, etc). But this is a place for families, not a singleton in a long-distance relationship. I kinda feel like a saltwater fish in freshwater.

But I’m not the only one in this boat. (Lots of water metaphors here.) As I meet more of the faculty, I find other “halves” of relationships. One visiting professor wants to find a career in the southeast to be with his partner, who has a stable job in North Carolina. An academic professional left behind her husband in Texas to forge a career in snowy Iowa. A couple moved here for a post-doc; when a second post-doc came up, the wife moved to Arizona and left her partner here. I learn of a professor who is in a long-distance relationship with her daughter, who lives on the east coast with her father; the parents are still married, but have tenure-track jobs in different geographical locations. After more than a decade, one professor is taking a new job to live closer to their sweetheart who lives halfway across the country. There are a lot of us in this location, with loved ones scattered in other locations.

This separation seems to have two roots. First, is my location. There just aren’t that many employers, and those employers only offer certain types of jobs and at certain prices. For my partner, with aspirations to work for a tech company, he had to leave this town. Second, is academia. Maybe people in higher education just complain about it more, but location does seem a rather integral problem to academicians’ personal relationships. So few of us can get our partners a job when we move for a new position. It’s nearly impossible to get two tenure-track positions at the same university, let alone the same department (though some are known to split lines). For a double-academic couple (or triple or quadruple, however the relationship is structured), finding careers in the same location looks impossible.

I am glad I’m at where I’m at. But contemplating the┬áconcept of location and academia presents several trains of thought.